I've said in the past that I am not so good at pennance and mortifications of the flesh. That is not entirely true. I am, in fact, VERY good at them. It was the whole absolute celabacy thing that I wasn't good at. However, the whole hair shirt, pennance whip, not eating thing I was actually talented at. It wasn't the acts themselves that ever were difficult to accomplish; it was the hiding them from prying eyes and modern minds that wouldn't quite understand them. It's why I dug Opus Dei so much when I was active in the Church. They gave more traditional austerities an acceptable cultural context, at least locally.
After my less than successful talk at Arisia (most of the audience liked it, but the fact that some didn't, and I KNOW I could have done MUCH better is the pea beneath my bed, here.) I've come to re-realize the power of austerity.
Taking a tip from Linchpin: The Lizard Brain loves comfort. The Lizard Brain is the most hard wired and has the most override authority in your daily life. The Lizard Brain is a pain in the ass when you are trying to do something new and scary. Honestly, because you are hard wired to NOT do things that are new and scary. New and scary can get you killed. The Lizard is there to see that you survive.
Now, the Lizard governs fight/flight response. Being economical it only makes you fight or fly as hard as it takes for you to be safe again. Now, if you want to do anything big or new, it WILL fight you, or try to make you GTFO. A simple removal of drive is all it takes for that brand new plan to become something that you will get to.. eventually.
It's fairly easy to get the lizard to duck it's head and run. Just look at it. Animals do not like being looked at. The Lizard is our most animal self. If you just sit back and realize: "This is a Lizard Brain defense mechanism," it usually will shed it's tail and let you get on with your day. Because running for now is easier than fighting. That's good for a short burst, but for sustained long term activity you need to learn to ride it.
What is the key there? Discomfort. The Lizard is privy to all your plans on a level that you are not aware of, so you can't trick it for long. But if you wedge sand under it's scales you can direct the force of biological survival towards fighting FOR you instead of AGAINST you. Austerity, especially prolonged Austerity can rile up your Lizard Brain mechanisms, and get you that lean and hungry look you will need to get shit done. For those of us most stubborn, sometimes that is the last, best option.
Now there are problems here, like the first response will be to just stop doing that painful thing. After that you'll gain clarity and acceptance. Sometimes too much. Another problem is that you will need to keep uping the ante here, because a human being can normalize just about anything into a new form of comfort. Once it's obvious that this thing will not kill us, it just because another shady rock or patch of sun, so you have to periodically mix it up.
I am not just talking about physical acts, but mental ones too. The Magic of Regret, a long lost Love, a mission of self redemption can all be more than adequate to get you moving in the right direction for a very long time. And unlike physical austerity the mental kind can stay fresher, longer.
The trick is to not trip down the downward spiral. You are going to need to take a step back sometimes and reevaluate, "Is this a spur or will this kill me?" If you start to even slightly endanger yourself for real instead of riding out biology you need to STOP IMMEDIATELY, and work on being kinder to yourself. This is not an adversarial battle. You are not at war with the flesh and the world. You want to use the mechanisms of the flesh, the mind, and the world to achieve your goals. Do not let your end game get threatened by anything, even the means you use to get there.
Also, many of you out there might not need to do all this. It might, in fact, be harmful to you. If that is the case, DO NOT ENGAGE! Your safety is paramount here. Especially in the case of physical Austerity, or even mental if you have issues such as Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, etc. I repeat: DO NOT ENGAGE! Any and all such practice would ideally be supervised by a medical doctor, a councillor, and a spiritual director.
In my own personal Austerity practice I am going to be writing up errata on my lecture in the days to come, correcting everything I misspoke, flubbed, or other wise botched.