I'm not overtly religious or a perfect Catholic in any sense, but one of the things that always bothered me growing up in a Catholic school and environment was the attitude people my age took towards Lent. In the Catholic Church, Lent is a time to spiritually prepare yourself for the celebration of Easter, by committing extra time to prayer, making small sacrifices, and putting more effort into good deeds.
However, in my Catholic high school, and more generally among young adult Catholics, Lent has become somewhat of a game of self-improvement. While a major component of Lent is definitely self-improvement, this is in the spiritual sense. It is not a time to get your beach body or fix your bad habit of watching too much TV.
One of the most common things to give up for Lent is some type of food or food group - candy, junk food, starches, and alcohol are popular ones. Other popular choices are smoking, coffee, swearing, and social media.
The idea is that you are giving up something you enjoy for the duration of Lent as an offering to God and as a replication of Jesus' sacrifice. In theory, any of the above Lenten sacrifices are suitable, but you need to consider the intention behind the sacrifice.
Are you giving up desserts because removing them from your diet will allow you to reflect on yourself and your faith? Or do you want to lose five pounds because spring break is around the corner? Are you quitting social media for forty days in a genuine attempt to improve your social media habits and be wiser about how you allot your time? Or are you going to go back to 6 hours of Instagram a day at 12:01 on Easter morning?
It's important to consider why you are giving up what you choose to. Of course, any sacrifice is difficult, and there is significance in that fact; however, just because you're making a sacrifice during Lent, doesn't make it a Lenten sacrifice. The sacrifices you take on during Lent should be making you aware of things in your life that are taking priority over faith, of things that make it difficult for you to live a good life, and of things that detract from your sense of self.
A Lenten sacrifice should be made mindfully, with the aim of bettering yourself as a member of the Church (continuing beyond Easter), and in an effort to open up time and space in your life to reflect on and grow in your faith. If you are giving up something for Lent this year, think about why you chose it, and how you can create purpose out of that sacrifice.
If you don't feel like sacrificing is your thing, you can always attempt to add new habits and practices into your life. This could be as simple as ending each day with a short reflection or prayer, adding Bible study to your weekly to-do list, seeking out ways to volunteer in your community, or committing to doing one unprompted and unrepaid kind deed a day.
However you choose to observe Lent, if you choose to, try to remember the purpose of this season. Do not get lost in the superficial aspect of self-improvement, that focuses on physical or social appearances. Instead, try to consider how you can become a better person in your day-to-day life, and in turn how small personal adjustments can make you more aware of the role of faith in your life.