Posts tagged " habits "

Change of Heart

November 7th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

This week, the young granddaughter of a friend of mine had a heart procedure, part of the continuing treatment of a condition with which she was born. Within 36 hours, she was home from the hospital and smiling. While I don’t know the particulars of her medical circumstances, I think it fair to say that had she been born in an earlier  time she might not have survived the challenges she faced in infancy. Certainly, the continuing care would not have had her so quickly back at home and feeling well. God’s mercy is good and we are grateful for His medical messengers.

Working on our own hearts, however, has not become any easier over the generations. Whatever our flaws, be they a tendency to anger, to envy, to vanity, to holding grudges, there has been no advance in technology that allows us to quickly overcome our internal adversaries. The list in the previous sentence could be much longer and each individual’s particular challenge presents in a slightly different way. Not only is there no quick fix for our character flaws, but our hearts and minds rationalize our shortcomings so that even acknowledging the existence of our defects requires real  courage and honesty.

I once had the privilege of being consulted by a wise woman who was facing secondary infertility. Although her first pregnancy and delivery came with stunning simplicity, the years were passing and a much desired second child was not coming. At the same time, she and her husband were contemplating accepting upon themselves a particular religious obligation. She confided to me that she was nervous that, even subconsciously, she might be making a deal with God: I’ll commit to this behavior  for You  and in return You will give me another child. If God didn’t keep His end of the deal, she might distance herself from Him and resent the observance. Only once she had  worked on herself to separate her prayerful pleas from her commitment to religious growth did she and her husband incorporate this new practice into their lives.

While this couple did indeed welcome a new child within the year, they were correct in recognizing that we don’t make quid-pro-quo deals with God. We can only commit to what we will do, not to His response. This idea was tragically illustrated when, in 2014, three Israeli teenage boys didn’t arrive home when expected. Their kidnapping (by a Hamas-inspired Palestinian) galvanized the Jewish community (among others) around the world. The eighteen days until the boys’ mutilated bodies were found sparked hundreds of thousands of heartfelt prayers and many commitments to good deeds. Speaking of that time, Racheli Frankel, the mother of one of the boys said,

“I thought that prayer had a lot of power to it, but it doesn’t work like an ATM. You don’t press buttons and get results. G-d isn’t my employee. I told my children, ‘We will pray, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu [God]  will act in accordance with His will.’”

Just as we know that God may not respond in the way we wish He would, we also know that He cherishes our growth. We can soften our hearts instead of adamantly defending our right to be hurt, or extend charity and graciousness to others way beyond what we thought we could, or push back in others ways against our often deeply embedded, instinctive way of looking at the world. When we do so, our healing and good spiritual health can be genuine and long-lasting even if we need to work on ourselves for more than 36 hours.

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Lather, Rinse, Repeat – Again and Again

April 8th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 16 comments

After two tragic airplane accidents, Boeing is in the news. Possible liability has depressed its stock price and shaved tens of billions of dollars off the company’s valuation.  I covered troubling questions of cut corners in the design of the latest generation of the 50-year-old 737 and the disturbing relationship between government and one of its largest military contractors in my podcast here.  However, today let’s look at the approximately 2,000 Boeing 737s in the air at any given time every day and the fifteen normal take-offs made by a 737 every single minute of every day. 

Before each 737 starts to taxi away from the gate, the pilot in the left seat and the first officer in the right work their way down a printed check list that each could recite by heart.  “Navigation lights” calls out one and the other glancing at the panel responds, “On.”  Then comes “Taxi Lights.”  “On.” This is followed by altimeter, radios and autopilot and the correct response for each is “Set.”  Not until the long check list has been completed does the airplane begin its pushback.

The repetitive routine could anesthetize ordinary people into robotic compliance.  But commercial pilots are not ordinary people, they’re professionals and they’ve trained themselves to view each and every run down the check list as if it was the first time.  They might have asked one another those same questions on three earlier flights that day but on the fourth, their eyes still scan each switch and gauge with the same alert focus they did on the first.  Their confirmations are still precise and accurate.

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Kicking the Snooze Bar Habit

December 19th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 10 comments

Upon stumbling on your teachings and podcast, I caught a comment you said about how a man should never hit the snooze button (along those lines).  I, however, hit my snooze button all the time!

It’s really bad, and the reason why this is important to me is because for the past 4 years I have been trying to reach a goal of waking up at a certain time every morning so I have personal time to do things that I can’t find time to do later in the day. But my bad habit of snoozing is very difficult to combat.

Any wisdom and insight would be highly appreciated, thank you!

Alex G.

Dear Alex,

We had no need to ask you to type in a string of numbers and letters to prove you aren’t a robot, since you are all too clearly human. As are we. Whether it is hitting the snooze button or succumbing to any other bad habit, wanting to change is only the beginning of actually changing.

If you have been working on this for four years, then we imagine that you have tried putting your alarm clock out of reach – and making sure that it is horribly irritating. We assume that you go to bed early enough to log enough hours of sleep and have possibly even medically checked that you are, in fact, having a restful sleep. You have probably tried incentives and rewarding yourself for successes.

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Routine Rehab

March 12th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 17 comments

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.

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