Do you struggle with willpower or moderation? Have you ever forgot how underappreciated the simplest “luxuries” are? What if you could reconnect to this gratitude and develop more discipline in your life? Allow me to introduce something that’s helped me with these things called micro-sacrifices.

But first I want to state that I don’t believe willpower is something we can master. Instead, I believe it’s our systems and environments that enable us to make disciplined decisions. And sometimes, “in moderation” fails and results in us using things as crutches that take us away from being present.

If you build a life around staying grateful for the littlest things, for developing resiliency and resourcefulness, you’re better able to thrive in good times and bad. Micro-sacrifices are about delaying gratification by practicing saying no more often. Including the things you love (or might be growing an addiction too) and things you take for granted.

Micro-sacrifices are designed to humble you and help you remember that no matter your situation, some people aren’t as fortunate as you or have what you have. Micro-sacrifices train you to be grounded and more disciplined in times of awesomeness and in times of chaos. Like now.

What are micro-sacrifices?

Micro-sacrifices are self-explanatory. The practice is to sacrifice, say no, or live without things, experiences, or actions through any specific time period. It’s not about moderation rather a complete sacrifice for a short (or long) period of time. But you have to commit fully. So if you lack confidence in yourself, start small and build up.

It’s a practice that also dates back to Stoicism. Our friend So-crates talked about this in his moral letters to Lucilus.

“I am so firmly determined, however, to test the constancy of your mind that, drawing from the teachings of great men, I shall give you also a lesson: Set aside a certain 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. In days of peace the soldier performs manœuvres, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by gratuitous toil, in order that he may be equal to unavoidable toil. 

If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes. Such is the course which those men have followed who, in their imitation of poverty, have every month come almost to want, that they might never recoil from what they had so often rehearsed.” 

Socrates, Moral letters to lucilus

The power of micro-sacrifices is to help you remember gratitude. It helps you remember that you are capable of saying no to something when tough times hit because you’ve proven to yourself before. It’s a way to help you remember how resilient and resourceful you can be. Because when you remove something or make a commitment to say no, it becomes easier and easier to not rely on things you think you need. 

Set up your micro-sacrifices

The possibilities of what you choose are endless. They can be as silly or serious as you wish. I once gave up using condiments (i.e. hot sauce) on meals for 3 days. I also like to “boycott” things to stick it to businesses or items I feel slighted by. Here’s a couple of others that come to mind.

Maybe you…

  • Don’t drink for a weekend or a month
  • Give up IPA’s for a month or only drink wine
  • Give up driving on Tuesdays. i.e. carpool, bike, or walk to work one day
  • Limit travel/driving to a max of 2 trips per day
  • Don’t eat meat on Mondays or at all (more on this later)
  • Eat the same thing for lunch every day of the week
  • Stop eating a smackerel of chocolate after every dinner (guilty)
  • Don’t turn on the TV or unplug it
  • Try limiting outfits
  • Fast for 10, 12, or 16 hours
  • Not complaining
  • No pillows or sleep on a couch
  • Don’t eat out during the week or just once
  • Save your “would be” spent money from any of these and splurge on something better
  • Wake up at 4:30 AM or without an alarm
  • Sacrifice the gym and workout from home
  • No weekend spending (only necessities)
  • No afternoon coffee
  • Stop apologizing
  • Stop saying yes to things that don’t light you up
  • Stop feeling like life is a problem to solve
  • Stop thinking you’re alone or lacking something
  • Forgive yourself…just once

Get creative! Anything can be made into a challenge. For any period of time. Test your resiliency and start small eventually building up to something great.

You might even think of micro-sacrifices in the reverse and think about what you can add. If this is the case, you’re really sacrificing your procrastination, inaction, anxiety, etc. by taking action.

Remember to reflect

Essential to this exercise is reflecting after any chosen micro-sacrifice. If you disconnect from the item or thing by taking will power out of it such as not buying it or storing it away or staying away from environments that encourage it, you realize that you have no choice of picking that item. 

Great work happens when you pay attention to your mind in times of perceived lack. Where does it go when you don’t have that crutch or that thing you’re putting on hold? Do you feel you need something else to replace it with? Do you feel anxious, upset, happy? What does your mind focus on now that the item is removed? Are you able to move on or do you dwell on not having it? Does it make you grateful for other things you have or can focus on instead?

Test. Reflect. Test. Reflect. How did you feel? What did you learn? Keep exploring. You might just find that this small space to think allows you to reset and rediscover more of the items, the experiences, the moments, etc. that light you up. The same for learning your true addictions, crutches, and anything else.

You might just learn

The “meaningless” things we take for granted are actually very special. They are gifts that go underappreciated every single day. They are gifts that others may not have.

Or when the shit really hits the fan, you’re prepared to respond and not react. To love your fate – Amor Fati.

It is why amor fati is the Stoic mindset that you take on for making the best out of anything that happens: Treating each and every moment—no matter how challenging—as something to be embraced, not avoided. To not only be okay with it, but love it and be better for it. So that like oxygen to a fire, obstacles and adversity become fuel for your potential.

Ryan Holiday, The Daily SToic

It’s like hitting the reset button on what you think you need. Living without luxuries helps you realize how lucky we have been to have them. It brings a newfound appreciation and respect for our items. And sometimes, it also indicates how little you actually needed that item.

If we teach our minds not to fixate on something or use it as a crutch, our focus and intention can be directed towards something more brilliant like an inspired idea or newfound presence.

When the mental attachment is released, we start to look inside our hearts and less at what we lack. We refocus our minds on what lights us up. Creating this space is what needs to happen before we successfully identify what it is or what we own or do – no matter how small, or insignificant – that brings us joy.

Followed by letting go of the lower valued things in our lives to make room for the things that light us up.

Your Turn

This is an exercise to take a look at yourself and the things you have in your house, the things in your closet, the things you own, etc. Are they there because you’ve had them for a long time or do they actually light you up? Are you mentally attached to them because of some old story or belief you once held? When’s the last time you revisited that old belief? Is it still true?

If you want more abundance, let go of the things that are taking space up in your life. And the starting point is to start with micro sacrifices. Ooch into it. You don’t have to burn it all. 

Just take a step.