This is a new feature which I’m really looking forward to doing. Each week, I’m aiming to listen to (or read) a shiur, and then give it over in a way, using good ol’ Jewish wisdom, which is readily applicable to our lives.
This week’s topic comes from an email I received yesterday from a friend. It was her Hebrew birthday, and she took the opportunity to send out an email with a shiur from Torah.org. I read it, and thought about it, and, well, here it is:
The Kotzker Rebbe said that the distance between heaven and earth is a journey of hundreds of years, but the distance between the mind and the heart is even greater. A person may intellectually acknowledge that there is a task to be done. Yet, if the person does not feel the commitment to that task in his heart, and does not involve his emotions somehow in that commitment, the task will not get done . . . If a person is lacking any feeling and is indifferent about their behavior, the behavior won’t change. If a person does not really believe they have the capacity to rise to greatness, they will most definitely not rise to greatness. The gap between the mind and the heart, the intellect and the emotion, must be bridged in order for any goal of improvement to be met.
What is this saying? To me, it says that it’s possible in your mind to want to do something, let’s say, eating healthier, or exercising more, or not reacting with anger. However, because the feeling isn’t secure in your heart, there’s nothing doing. Intellectually, it makes sense to make these positive choices, but it’s easy to not believe that such a change is possible. That little voice (you know the one) says,
“Oh, come on. You always eat that/sit there/get angry. It’s who you are. You can’t change.”
Poppycock. You can change, but it takes work. So, how do we bridge the gap? How is it possible to succeed at something without really believing that it’s possible?
First you need a goal. It’s a good idea to start small For instance, instead of trying to always eat healthier, you could focus on always eating a healthy breakfast. Or instead of trying to exercise every day, you could aim for twice a week. Rather than cut out yelling altogether, you could focus on not getting mad from five to six’o’clock in the evening.
After picking a reasonable goal, here are five concepts to help you get there:
- Take advantage of the inspiration when it’s there
- Do the actions, even if it’s insincere
- Do it for 40 days
- Keep track of your progress
- Focus on your accomplishments, not your failures
1. Take advantage of the inspiration when it’s there.
The Kotzker Rebbe goes on to say:
. . . the heart, one’s emotions, is compelled to act based on the processes of the mind, one’s intellect. The effect the intellect has on the heart varies. At times, an intellectual realization can be so powerful that it results in immediate action. The emotional reaction can be overwhelming. At other times, the power the intellect wields over the heart is minimal. Almost no inspiration results, and a person will maintain the status quo.
So we see that there are times when the heart and mind are aligned closely. You’ve experienced this. It’s the feeling you have when starting a diet, or joining the gym, or resolving not to yell. The desire to change your behavior is overwhelmingly strong at these moments. This is when to start taking action toward success. Take advantage of that moment and start to act upon the inspiration because if not, the distance between the mind and heart will grow again, and it will be much, much harder to start the process of change.
2. Do the actions, even if it’s insincere.
Okay, you acted upon the inspiration, and it was great for like, a day, and now life is back to normal, and the routine has kicked in and, well, it’s just easier to snack on what’s handy, or to sit and read that blog (what? no, that’s okay, keep doing that), or to snap at your loved one. After all, that’s the status quo. Inertia is a powerful thing. Well, stop it. Keep on trying, even if you feel like a phony. There is an expression in the Talmud:
Mitoch Shelo Lishma Ba Lishma (from within an incorrect intention comes the correct intention)
This means that even if you’re doing a good action for the wrong reason, keep doing it and eventually you will come to do it for the right reason. At first glance, this may seem improper. What do you mean, do it for the wrong reason? Isn’t that disingenuous? Hypocritical? Well, it’s definitely not the optimal way to roll, but there’s a concept in Judaism that our actions influence us so much so, that if we continue to do a good deed, even for the wrong reason, it will change us internally so that we will eventually do it for the right reason.
3. Do it for 40 days.
Why 40? It’s a big number in Judaism, for a few reasons. One reason is that Moses got the Torah after being on Sinai forty days and nights because it takes forty days for a person to transform him/herself into a new being. The idea is that after 40 days of continuous, consistent effort to improve, you are closer to the ideal version of yourself.
4. Keep track of your progress
When I was at Neve, a lot of girls were sporting little charts with various goals, boxes and checkmarks. It seemed like most of my friends had one of these up on their walls. They were sheets given out by Rebbetzin Chana Levitan, who is phenomenal at helping people improve themselves. The idea was to set goals and then keep track of when they were successfully carried out and when they weren’t . It was a wonderful tool which was both a tally and an incentive. I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t want a gold star? I employed this method in the Challenge.
5. Focus on your accomplishments, not your failures
Okay, so you just polished off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s on the couch after not exercising and giving your husband/boyfriend/roommate attitude about it. Don’t stress. Remember your chart? Look at the gold stars and focus on the fact that you did accomplish your goal at least once, which means that it’s possible to do it again. Try again tomorrow. You can do it.
* * *
Well, that’s pretty much it. It just so happens that this is the perfect time of year to start to start working on self-improvement, since we just entered the Jewish month of Elul. So, what are you going to work on for the next 40 days?