When our old ways of thinking and behaving are dragging us down, it’s time to build a new routine.
This month is a propitious time to move on and set ourselves free from what has been bogging us down over the year. This time of Elul lends us the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Hashem and with our loved ones, and deepen the connection we have with ourselves. We do this by returning to what we know to be true and good.
We’ve all got problems. We’ve all felt lost, confused and out of sorts at one time or another. It’s not unusual for people to feel anxious or down in the dumps. Our downfall is when we start to identify ourselves with these feelings. It’s so easy to stumble when focusing on the negative things in our life. It’s like we’ve turned a blind eye to what we greatly value and who we really are. Instead of focusing on our positive attributes, we look to see what’s wrong, ignoring what we truly have to offer.
It’s human nature to focus on what’s broken. We’re built to seek what’s deficient and strive to repair it. It’s easier to get stuck when we’re hyper-focused on what we’re lacking. Viewing our glass as half empty encourages us to feel stressed, off balance or even torn apart. When under immense pressure we tend to judge ourselves and others unfavorably.
We have a tendency toward feeling distant and disconnected from ourselves. Dissociation breeds discontent. We can’t help but notice the gap between who we currently are and the person who we truly want to be. We feel distant from Hashem at these times. To fill the void, people have learned to reach outside of themselves for answers. Filling ourselves up with such externals dissociates us further from our most authentic selves. It’s an act of self-subterfuge.
When feeling down, anxious, or out of control, we may perceive ourselves as being off track, but in truth, we haven’t veered away from ourselves and Hashem at all. Our perception has certainly become muddied, our view of reality has become distorted, but it’s all a ruse put on by our old, skewed ways of thinking and behaving. In truth, Hashem is reality. When we’ve lost sight of ourselves it’s a good indicator that our relationship with reality has become strained.
How do we bridge the gap that has formed between us and Hashem? How does one start to change? How do I become a better me?
When stuck in a rut, we must first get our legs moving. According to the Tur, our legs are built for doing acts of kindness both for ourselves and others. Each step that we take towards goodness creates another channel for good. Putting our legs into motion invites more goodness into our life and into the lives of others.
When we endeavor to do something good for ourselves or a friend, Hashem gets involved. He helps us see it to completion.
Doing acts of kindness also permits us to rise above our material nature. They remove us from the person we’ve become and bring us one step closer to the person we’ve always dreamed to be. Our acts of kindness invite good energy to cascade from above, inspiring us to do more positive acts for ourselves and for others. Acts of kindness empower us, giving us just the boost we need to progress forward on our true path in life.
Placing ourselves in a giving position makes it easier to reach out to others in their times of need. That’s why Hashem’s Torah is called chesed, kindness. Its influence on others is an act of generosity. It’s not limited to one idea or one person. It’s expansive like water. It’s remarkably inclusive. We all need it.
The trick to making long-lasting change in our lives is by first focusing on the small stuff. When at an impasse, the clever way out is to take something that we’re already good at and work at it just a little bit harder. We’ve been granted such amazing talents and abilities. We’ve been imbued with extraordinary gifts and strengths. Intensifying our good parts is how we create change and move forward in life.
There’s no greater investment than focusing on our positive strengths and just trying to make them better. Here are a few examples of personal strengths that people have reported come natural and easy to them. And although they initially saw these actions as small in their eyes, lending them a tad more emphasis allowed them to make compelling shifts in their relationships and in their lives:
- Saying thanks
- Writing that letter or email
- Returning phone calls
- Taking a walk
- Showing up on time for appointments
- Listening intently
Putting slight pressure on what’s already natural and positive permits us to grow organically. When we cultivate a good idea in this way, it eventually leads to great results. With every act of kindness, we may bridge the gap that has formed over the course of the year with our loved ones, with ourselves, and with Hashem. We simply can’t know what sort of gift might result from each and every good deed.
Shimshon Meir Frankel is a psychotherapist and rabbi who lives in Zichron Yaakov, Israel with his family. He is the author of the new book “The Wisdom of Getting Unstuck” (Mosaica). He can be reached at: [email protected]