Every year, as Rosh Hashanah approaches, we take stock of our lives. We examine the year that’s just passed and we starkly see how we’ve strayed. We know we need to be closer to Hashem, kinder to our spouses, more merciful to ourselves. We admit that we should be leading more focused lives, and seizing the spiritual potential in every moment. Quite possibly, too, we should be leaving the confines of our insular bubble and reaching out to help others.
With the onset of Rosh Hashanah, we resolve to do all of these things – to live better, fuller, more meaningful lives; lives which we use to make a contribution, lives that are happy because they are never empty. And we resolve to live with greater self-awareness, to be more cognizant of our own psychological pitfalls and more determined to avoid them.
Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we behave angelically –
or try to, anyway – performing all our duties to the utmost of our abilities. We take this feeling into the first few days of the new year, and it succeeds in altering our behavior for a while.
Then, sometime after Yom Kippur, this success begins to wane. We stop living with so much focus and attention. We fall back to our old routine of the previous year – filling our time with work, school, and the grind of day-to-day life. We begin to slip yet again, as our new year resolutions slowly drift away.
The question is, how can we make this year different than years past? What can be done to ensure that we stick to our resolutions for an entire year?
While there are certainly no foolproof answers to these questions, it helps to ground the task a bit, to take it from the impossible to the real. Perhaps we can start by picking one area to focus on – whether it concerns our spiritual lives or the lives that touch closer to home. Then, we might narrow it further, by picking one aspect within that area to which we devote our attention. A lot of thought needs to go into the decision, of course, because the area we choose needs to be important enough that it overrides everything else and has our unwavering commitment.
That’s the key word here: commitment. Truly committing to something means making a sacred vow, setting a goal that fills your waking thoughts to the extent that it could very well be the first thing you think about in the morning. That goal must set up shop in a corner of our mind and never really leave our consciousness.
To make our resolution last, it must be transferred from the mental, theoretical realm to the real-life, pragmatic realm. We need to find ways for our resolutions and our real lives to intersect. Perhaps we can write it out in bold and hang it in the office, in the kitchen, or somewhere else where we spend a lot of time. Like a petulant child, it needs to repeatedly nag, begging to be let in to the fabric of our lives. Following through with it means giving into it, actually doing it again and again until it becomes perfectly natural and second-nature.
Still, the fact remains that change, breaking old habits, shifting directions, becoming a better person, will always be difficult. The prospect of change, for most people, is either frightening or impossible. One way to overcome our natural obstacles is to share the burden, by expressing our desire to change to the most important people in our lives – spouses, parents, co-workers, and yes, even children. We can delegate the responsibility of our improvement to those who love us, and let them monitor our progress. Sometimes, the perspective of a different set of eyes can help us understand ourselves more clearly. It’s so hard to face the truth about ourselves –
but it becomes much easier when it is couched in the gentle love of those who care for us.
So this Rosh Hashanah, let us all make that all-important accounting of our lives, and carefully choose one specific area of improvement. Let us then take the steps needed to make our resolution real and concrete, recognizing that we don’t have to do it alone. Perhaps, when we all watch out for each other and truly accept this mutual responsibility, we will become the best selves that we can be.