Posts tagged " breaking habits "

Changing a Lifetime of Behavior

November 6th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 24 comments

I am a 61 yr. old Christian male. I was brought up in a strict home, children should be seen but not heard. My Father was a stickler about everything; lights, water, doors and was constantly correcting me. I too have become a nit picker.

I pray for Go d to grant me patience and understanding, but it is so hard for me. What can I do in addition?  Is there a passage in the Torah/Bible which will give me guidance and help me to grow and become a better husband, grandfather etc.?

I don’t want people, my wife in particular, to become bitter and resentful towards me. G d willing you can give me an answer.

Oh by the way, my wife and I are regular watchers of your program on TCT. G d Bless you, your wife and family for you are a ray of hope in a dark world.

Kurt G.

Dear Kurt,

Wow. That is our reaction to your letter. Being willing to assess things afresh and to embrace the hard work involved in uprooting decades of bad habits makes you a rare individual.  We feel proud to have you among the audience of  our Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV show

While we greatly value prayer and Bible study, our answer is not going to be to read a few verses of Scripture or an exhortation to pray harder. We have something far more challenging for you to undertake.  But it will work.  We believe that when it comes to working on our character traits, only actions count.   You should certainly pray for His assistance and there are many verses that can speak to your heart, but you need to take action.

One of the great flashes of Biblical insight that we can all use effectively to transform our lives for the better is this: It’s not our thoughts that change our actions as much as it is our actions that change our thoughts.  Act now the way you would act if you already felt the way you wish you felt and your feelings will eventually fall into compliance with your actions.  Please reread that last sentence again.  Then you will understand why there is no more ardent advocate for the anti-smoking position than the former smoker who took the profound action of quitting. 

Rather than trying to acquire patience and understanding as emotional abstracts in the hope that they that will then change your actions, realize that changing your actions (even if, at first,  it feels false to you) will result in greater patience and understanding. The trick is consistency and expecting a long race, not a sprint.

Therefore for right now, focus on the specific few actions you most wish to start doing and upon those you most wish to obliterate from your repertoire

Having watched yourself follow in some of your father’s damaging footsteps, you are well aware of the negative consequences of your behavior. We would like to offer four concrete ideas with which to start your journey. 

  1. Pick one or two very specific things to work on that are within your reach. Trying to do too much almost inevitably will lead to giving up. Perhaps you can make one positive and one negative resolution. For example, commit yourself to one hour a day—maybe in the morning or at dinner time— when you will say nothing negative to or about anyone!  At the same time, commit yourself to noticing and articulating something once a day that your wife does for which you are grateful or something you appreciate about her. If you are critical outside that hour or fail to thank her properly for everything she does, don’t beat yourself up. Once this hour of the day and this one positive statement have become routine and easy, add another incremental step. You might extend the time to two hours. 
  2. Start your day by writing down in a private notebook three things for which you are grateful.
  3. Each night before going to bed/sleep, maintain a written daily journal of your successes and failures that day in the specific area on which you are working. This keeps you accountable to yourself and to God. If you have a male friend in your life to whom you can report once a week, that will be a great help. He should be someone who can provide strength and support as you fight this battle.
  4. Let your wife know how much you care for her and how you are working to be more worthy of her. Ask her to have patience with you as you strive to improve. You and she must both know that you will sometimes fail. Greatness comes from trying again and again.

Based on our experience with many other wonderful warriors fighting the war of personal development, we can confidently say that using these four tactics, we expect you will achieve encouraging results by the end of the first thirty days. Then on to the next stage!

The American folk-artist known as Grandma Moses began painting seriously at the age of 78. The original Moses began his career in leadership at the age of 80. Harland David Sanders was older than you are now when, after a lengthy string of business failures, he got the idea of franchising his chicken recipe, creating Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Ignore any voices inside of you telling you that you are too old or entrenched in your ways to change. As ancient Jewish wisdom states, “According to the effort is the reward.” It also says, “Who is strong? He who can overcome his bad habits.”

May your efforts bear fruit and bring happiness to your family,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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