Routine Rehab

Have you fallen into any fixed habits?  I know I have.  I have uttered some phrases so many times that they are often the first expressions that come to mind. Not surprisingly, I occasionally overuse them.  It is also why I tend to buy the same brand of toothpaste year after year.  No, I do not know which brand nine-out-of-ten dentists prefer.  My brain just prefers not to think about toothpaste brands.

Do you greet customers or clients exactly as you did four years ago?  Do you respond with almost the same words no matter what question your child asks?  Do you welcome friends with the tired cliché you’ve always used?  Do you view a sunrise with habitual jaded indifference?  I began by asking if you’ve fallen into any fixed habits, but I already knew the answer.  I don’t know exactly what they are, but I do know that you’ve got them.

How do I know?  Well, because we all do it.  Over the last decade much research has been done on human habits.  For instance, a Duke University study concluded that habit rather than deliberation shapes over 40% of the decisions you and I make every day.  Both Columbia University and the University of Alberta measured the vital role that habit plays in exercising.  Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified how our brains convert repeated behaviors into habits thus reserving our real brain power for unpredictable circumstances.

While converting frequent activities into automatic habits is quite natural, that doesn’t mean that it is always desirable.  We engage in many regular activities that should certainly not be automated.  Many of us are blessed to be able to say, ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’ to our spouses every day.  That should be personal, authentic and heartfelt every single time.  Neither do we want autopilot switched on when we interact with children, friends or clients. 

What about praying to God or learning Bible each day?  Want that to be meaningless rote?  And if you do feel that merely mouthing the words today just as you did yesterday is okay, would it be equally acceptable if God began treating you the same way?

Allowing our repeated prayers and study to become automatic routines is such a real danger that God explicitly warns against it.   Regular Thought Tool readers will remember this rule of Ancient Jewish wisdom; any word repeated exactly seven times in a passage is the crucial word in that section.

Leviticus chapter 26 contains horrifying details of the consequences when God’s covenant with Israel is shattered.  The word repeated exactly seven times is KERI.  (Leviticus 26:21, 23, 24, 27, 28, 40, 41)  It means casual, random and mindless.  These verses indicate that of all the damaging results of relating to God with unthinking casualness, the worst is that He subsequently relates to us in exactly the same way.  Obviously God intends us to exert effort to ensure that our relationship with Him remains forever fresh, vital, and genuine.

In exactly the same way, we should constantly struggle to relate authentically to God’s other children be they family or friends, customers or clients.  It is fine to drive your regular commute on cruise control and it is fine to pick your toothpaste out of habit but it is really not so wonderful to relate to different, individual human beings in that automated way. 

Instead, try to delight the people with whom you interact regularly with an unexpected activity or a novel service.  Look at the world around you with renewed appreciation. While we’re at it, praying deliberately and thoughtfully would also be an improvement.

This Thought Tool was updated from February 2012

17 thoughts on “Routine Rehab”

  1. I was cleaning out my inbox, and came upon this gem that I somehow missed the first time. Thank you Rabbi for making me pause and consider the habits that I have developed, many of which seem to happen of their own volition. I will make it a priority to be more conscious of my interaction with people. I appreciate your words of wisdom.

  2. As always the illumination you bring to life from the scriptures is deeply appreciated; even more so now that we are working our way through a new and somewhat perilous season.
    Donna Martin

      1. Good morning, I just discover you this week, I decided I need a Rabbi in my life, your message on automated pilot was talking about me and gave me the jolt I need to snap out of the everyday morning prayer routine. I just order your lasted book on amazon, and I am looking for the information on your daily Pod-cast?, I look forward to your teachings and new discover in my life.
        Thank you for sharing your teachings (Sharon)

        1. Hi Sharon, Glad to have you with us! You can sign up for notifications of podcasts and/or our other teachings Here:

          You can always find the latest podcast from our home page as well. Hover over “Teachings” and you can link to the Thought Tool or podcast from that week as well as the archives.

          Please stay in touch.

  3. I also have to ditto all the above affirmations. I especially agreed ( with a jump up & down cheer ) this morning as I listened to the most sensible and words myself have expressed, to myself for years! The podcast of family planning. Honestly… thank you, so much. I’d love to hear it again, that is how much I so enjoyed the two of you’ teaching and advice. I’m now thinking there is hope.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Debbie–
      Your exuberance came through loud and clear and we appreciate it. You are actually referring, not to our podcast here but to our daily television show Ancient Jewish Wisdom here where Susan and I discussed Faith Fertility and Fear. It aired on March 13 but you can see it online also. That’s where you can hear it again. Just click.

  4. Brian F. Tucker

    Dear Rabbi,
    You know me so well, we might have grown up together. Plus you have given me another wake up call. I will henceforth endeavor to refrain from from answering ” OK I guess” when someone asks how are you. You have also awakened a thought that I have had for sometime. I attend an independent christian church. Over the years our service has become (with the exception of some musical specials or perhaps a guest speaker) just as routine as the Lutheran church that I grew up in. I think it may be time to rattle some cages. As for personal payer and worship you never fail to show me something I didn’t know. And while I still can’t read or understand Hebrew, Your teachings have given me a much deeper understanding of what God really wants from me. Thanks and God Bless to both you and Susan,Brian

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for writing again Brian-
      Go ahead and start rattling those cages and shaking things up a bit. It will revive the joie de vivre-the joy of life.

  5. I really enjoy your thought tools and daily readings. In the past 10 years I have had two experiences which nearly resulted in my death, an infection that I nearly died from and a heart attack last year. At my age, 65, it seems like life is passing by faster than ever and I long to be mindful of the days I have left. Thank you for everything you share. I long to connect with others on this level.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      I am so happy you overcame these two life-threatening medical crises, Steve,
      Never mind your age, you are not a body with a soul but a soul with a body and your soul is ageless.
      Take care and stay well,

  6. I enjoy reading your teachings. I do agree that it is important to “be present”, rather than absentmindedly going about our routines. How much we miss because we fail to take notice or the opportunity to bless someone. Even more important, our God is so much more than “routine” and He deserves so much more than “routine.”
    Thank you.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      That was exactly what we were trying to convey, Judith,
      a wonderfully easy way to enhance the quality of life is switch off the autopilot.

  7. Darryl J J Jones

    Keep up the good work! Your teachings have truly changed my life for the better. I’ve read your books and listen to your show each week!(don’t stop)

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Darryl-
      It is impossible to overestimate how encouraging words like yours are to us. Whenever we occasionally feel down and a bit overwhelmed, along comes your letter and gives us a huge boost.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Ben
      I cherish every comment we receive because each one attests to someone having found the teachings that Susan and I assemble to be useful.
      Warmest regards,

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