Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves.”
Is that true?
We all want to fulfill our potential. We all want to improve our relationships with our spouses, our children, our friends, our colleagues, and most important, with G-d.
We may want to change our physical selves by losing weight and eating healthier (could be I’m self-projecting). Is that not a desire for change?
I believe we all want to change, not just for its own sake, but to enrich our lives and of those around us. The challenge for most of us is twofold: starting and fear. We don’t know how to begin change, and even if we do, we are afraid of the new lifestyle that comes with change.
So how do we begin?
Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira hy”d was a Chassidic rebbe in Poland who served as the Rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto and was later murdered by the Nazis. In his book, Tzav Vziruz (To Heal the Soul), he writes:
“If you want to know if you’ve progressed on your spiritual path over the years, the way to judge is to look at your resolution – at your inner drive – and not at your wishes. Only the inner drive with which you work to attain your desired goal is called a resolution. But if you don’t work but rather just want, this is not called a resolution. It is just some wish that you wish for yourself to be blessed with that desired objective. For example, the pauper who works to sustain himself, this is a drive, because he is doing something constructive towards it. But the wish that he’ll find a million dollars is just a wish to be rich and not a resolution.”
The secret? Distinguish between our wishes and our resolutions.
We all want to change. We want to eat healthier, spend more time with the kids, develop more meaningful relationships with our spouses, increase our knowledge, do more acts of kindness…. The list goes on. But wishes, desires and hopes are just that. Without specific and stated goals and actions, we will never achieve our desired outcomes.
We must make resolutions. We need to have a plan of action, mapping out the steps to take to achieve our goals (and plot the pitfalls along the way). A resolution needs to be written down, taped to a mirror and read daily (thank you Zig Ziglar), and shared with a confidant who will encourage you when the initial enthusiasm wanes. The more specific and frequent we make our plan and goal, the more realistic it becomes. These words that were once a wish are transformed into real resolve.
Then we can deal with the fear of change. We have made our commitments, written down our action plan, yet we still feel paralyzed by overwhelming fear.
What will my new lifestyle be like? What will my friends say when I no longer act like my “usual” self? Will I be seen as a hypocrite? These questions are only natural when we try to change; the fear of the unknown is such a powerful emotion. How do we move beyond this fear?
We must understand the true nature of this fear. We feel trapped and limited, because of the habits of a lifetime; the way we think and act have been programmed into our psyche; we go through life on autopilot. We feel this will always be reality.
Stop! Think! Our current habits are not set in stone. They are only reality because we allow them to be our reality. We have the power to right the ship and change course.
This Rosh Hashanah, instead of wishing to change, let’s think, articulate and write down our plan. Let’s allow the sounds of the shofar to be our spiritual alarm clock and jump off the fast-moving, nonstop treadmill of life. G-d willing, we’ll reach next Rosh Hashanah as the changed individuals we seek to be.
(Rabbi Simcha Snaid is the spiritual leader of Anshei Sfard.)