We don’t want anyone to think that we’re just giving advice from our ivory tower. We try to practise what we preach. We even want to take it a step further and experiment with different techniques that might benefit flow, productivity and happiness.
For this blog post, I had a go at a fasting technique which Tim Ferriss regularly talks about in his popular podcast “The Tim Ferris Show”.
About once every three months, he completes a fast related to Stoicism. More specifically, it is related to premediatio malorum, or exposing yourself to feared events. Seneca talks about this fasting practice in his letter on “festivals and fasting”. (It’s letter 18 in Volume 1 of the Tao of Seneca.)
‘Set aside a number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?”
It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence.’
So for a few days each trimester, Tim Ferris lives with the bare minimum. For example, he doesn’t shave, he only eats rice and beans, and drinks nothing but water.
The idea is to show yourself that you don’t need much to be ok. Doing this regularly teaches you to be more appreciative of all the luxury and benefits you have.
Over to me
Here’s the plan:
- No social media. No Netflix. No games.
- Fasting for 16 hours (since previous night).
- No fancy food. I wouldn’t have eaten meat, but I had some chicken in the fridge that would go bad…
- I planned not to drink coffee but compromised on that as well. I drank two coffees without sugar.
- No luxury. I ate everything out of the same plastic plate.
I used my phone for the bare minimum: Pomodoro timer, messaging and Duolingo (I didn’t want to mess up my 150+ day streak). I also used my laptop for work purposes.
(I did it on a day when my girlfriend had a 24-hour hospital shift)
Even when doing this for just one day, I felt these benefits:
Benefit 1: Enjoying the little things
As I didn’t allow myself to spend my breaks on my phone, I had to find alternatives. I spent more time meditating and enjoying the little things life has to offer.
Even though the sun shines through my window every day, I never take time to enjoy it. And that’s stupid. The warmth of the sun on my skin is one of my favourite feelings in the world.
So on that day, I took the time to sit in the sun and enjoy its warmth on my skin. Eyes closed. In silence. Just sitting and enjoying the warm comfort of our dearest star.
Not being allowed to use a phone or laptop for leisure leaves little room for multitasking. As a result, I could completely focus on the present. While eating, I really experienced the taste of every morsel of food – imagine if I also did this with the lovely meals I cook on other days …
As I was eating, my mind was free to wander. There was no external input distracting me.
So, eating that plate of beans and rice took my straight back to Uganda, where I volunteered for a few months. Beans with matooke or posho were often all I had for lunch. Rice is actually considered a luxury food in that area.
Considering this, another Seneca quote fits perfectly:
‘There is no reason, however, why you should think that you are doing anything great; for you will merely be doing what […] many thousands of poor men are doing every day.’
Benefit 2: Being more productive
Less time for leisure and multitasking left me with plenty of time to work through my to-do list.
I usually don’t overplan my days, yet I often struggle to get everything done. The reason being that I leave to much space for distraction.
I especially allow myself to get distracted after lunch. As a result, I end up losing two of my most productive hours, simply through a lack of self-discipline.
However, with this system in place during my stoic fast, I wasn’t allowed to watch Netflix during lunch. So after lunch, instead of finishing an episode of whatever I would have been watching, I got back to work.
Because I had nothing else to do, I finished my tasks for the day sooner than expected. I even had to find other activities to stay occupied. For example, I started cleaning the bathroom, mopping the floor and reorganising my closet.
Completing these tasks felt like a big relief, especially as I had been putting them off for some time.
Benefit 3: Feeling less stress
Again, since phone use for leisure wasn’t allowed, there was little room for multitasking.
I didn’t start watching Netflix while eating and I didn’t start playing games on my phone while watching Netflix. (Football Manager Mobile is my vice.)
Not wasting time on those activities gave me so much free time. And since I had so much time on my hands to complete my to-dos, I didn’t feel any stress that day. Not a single gram. Percent? Inch? Byte? However you express it, I was totally stress-free.
It felt liberating.
Conclusion about living with the bare minimum for a day
Living with the bare minimum is something I should and will do more often. Why don’t you give it a go, as well?
Just one day felt refreshing to refocus, but I know it wasn’t enough. I’m finishing up this article about two weeks later and the effects have mostly gone.
So next time, I plan to repeat this routine for a full weekend. And I’m going to take it a step further. It’s going to be a complete technological fast. I won’t use my phone or laptop at all (only exception: Duolingo. The 150+ streak, remember).
So it’s going to be an interesting experience. I doubt I’ll reap much productivity benefits from it but I’m certain that I’ll come out of it with renewed passion, less stress and more time to enjoy the small things in life.
If you would like to try a stoic fast yourself— because this is a “do try this at home” type of activity— follow these 3 rules:
- Use your phone only for the bare minimum (e.g. emergency calls and family communication)
- Avoid all luxury. (e.g. drink from a plastic cup, eat from your cheapest plate)
- Eat the very basics. (e.g. imagine what poor people in a poor country eat. Eat what they would eat, but less.)