What 40 Days of Self-Discipline Can Do For You & For Your Writing
August 30, 2021 § 6 Comments
By Sweta Srivastava Vikram
Summer of 2020 was a wash for most of us. Between social distancing and hanging out (whatever little) with our bubble pod, I couldn’t tell much difference between the seasons or my stories. Everything felt mundane and predictable.
Come 2021 late spring and summer, when businesses, restaurants, bars, cafes in NYC reopened at 100% capacity, and in-person meetings started to happen, I felt both grateful and exhausted. Being fully vaccinated felt like a superpower. Hugging people after 16 months felt emotional. I was able to take the NYC subway and Long Island Railroad. Writing and reading in spaces that felt both familiar and unfamiliar.
But in less than a few weeks’ time, I started to feel the overwhelm creep in. We returned to a new normal so suddenly that my brain and body rebelled….and because of it, my creativity. Despite living a mindful life where I pay attention to what I feed my mind-body and have sacred movement practices in place, I felt slowed down. I didn’t feel as enthused to write or even brainstorm new ideas. The mid-week chai, desserts, and sometimes wine get-togethers had started to impact my sleep cycle, energy, my workouts, food choices, and as a result…writing.
Why did the alarm in my brain go off?
I have a new book, A Piece of Peace, coming out in September 2021. I figured I needed better practices in place before summer of 2021 flew by, and I wasn’t ready for the book. Writers need their solitude to get their work done. But I am aware that I prefer a balance between me-time and being in good company. I didn’t like feeling exhausted or the brain fog stifling my creativity, or the lethargy brought about from being uninspired. Between juggling a day job, home, my writing commitments, and a wellness company….and now meeting small groups of vaccinated people more regularly (something I will never take for granted), I had to shift certain habits, so I was truly present for both life and my book.
What did I do?: I decided to forego any wine or desserts for 40 days.
· You probably already know what we eat impacts how we think.
· There is a close relationship between your brain and gut.
· There is a reason that the gastrointestinal tract is referred to as your “second brain.”
· About 90-95% of serotonin is produced in your digestive tract.
· Doesn’t it make sense that the digestive system doesn’t just help you digest food, but also guides your emotions?
· Do you see the correlation between what you eat and its direct impact on creativity and productivity?
Eating healthy food promotes the growth of “good” bacteria, which in turn positively affects serotonin production. Good bacteria lower inflammation and positively impact nutrient absorption. A steady diet of sugar, alcohol, too much caffeine, and junk food, on the other hand, can cause inflammation that hampers production of serotonin. When neurotransmitter production is in good shape, your brain receives positive messages loud and clear. And you see your emotions reflect it. But when serotonin production goes awry, so might your mood.
Do writers need to be reminded about our emotions and moods and how they can impact our writing days?
Why forty days?
The significance of 40 days holds a deep meaning in spirituality. Forty days is powerful, not some superstition. It’s considered a period that allows transformation (renewal, repair, regeneration, and rebirth) to occur. The philosophy behind it states that it takes 20 days to break old habits and 20 days to form new ones.
Let’s get to physiology. Our skin cells on average take 40 days to renew, our red blood cells start dying from 40 days onwards and sperm count can be increased in 40 days. I wanted to stick to my “cleanse” for 40 days if I wanted to do any justice to my writing and new book.
It takes 40 days from conception to a fetus becoming fully formed, the 40 weeks of an entire pregnancy from conception to birth. In India and China, a new mother is confined to her home for 40 days after she has given birth. This gives her body the time to heal and recuperate from childbirth. It is traditional to spend 40days in mourning in many Islamic cultures. I am told that in Judaism, there’s a mystical practice that says one who seeks an answer to their prayers should pray the same prayer request for 40 consecutive days. Buddha attained enlightenment after 40 days. This number also has a significance for Christians who fasted for 40 days during Lent.
Initially, I was a little concerned how difficult it would be to not eat desserts. There were plenty of memes being circulated, encouraging us to continue with mindless indulgences as a pandemic survival guide. I also pondered about the social etiquette of sticking to my chai every time someone offered me a glass of wine. The first 7 to 10 days were the hardest, but after which it was a piece of cake (no pun intended!!). No temptations or FOMO or agitation. The focus was on point. Gatherings were nourishing but never a distraction because I was diligent about what I put in my body.
I noticed a huge difference in my energy levels despite late Saturday nights or mid-week trips to the beach post work. I was able to wake up at the crack-of-dawn and carry out my morning, creative rituals. I started to write 5-6 essays a week, did the publicity work for my upcoming book, ruminate over ideas for my next book. Because there was no sugar (my weakness) or alcohol, nothing messed around with my mood or emotions or hormones. I felt recharged around people (emotionally), not depleted. I had the energy to show up to my workouts diligently, which helped my creative juices and mental well-being.
Not only did I stick to my cleanse and benefit from it, but also my experiment inspired others to try out the 40-day experiment to improve their productivity.
If you are feeling stuck, maybe shift your habits and see if that impacts your writing practices?
Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an international speaker, best-selling author of 12 books, and an Ayurveda and mindset coach who is committed to helping people thrive on their own terms. Her latest book, A Piece of Peace, comes out in September 2021. As a trusted source on health and wellness, most recently appearing on NBC and Radio Lifeforce, Sweta has dedicated her career to writing about and teaching a more holistic approach to creativity, productivity, health, and nutrition. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries on three continents. Sweta is a trained yogi and certified Ayurveda health coach, is on the board of Fly Female Founders, and holds a Master’s in Strategic Communications from Columbia University. Voted as “One of the Most Influential Asians of Our Times” and winner of the “Voices of the Year” award (past recipients have been Chelsea Clinton), she lives in New York City with her husband and works with clients across the globe. She also teaches yoga, meditation, and mindfulness to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence as well incarcerated men and women. Find her on: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.