When you look back on last year, are there things you did or did not do that you wish you could change for the new year? Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Ten Days of Awe, during which we Jews reflect upon our actions over the past year, seek forgiveness for transgressions and plan a better life.
The work, which really begins in this month leading up to the High Holidays, starts with introspection, examining our lives and taking responsibility for it. Although God is the final judge, we individuals consider who we were over the past year and who we would like to be in the year to come. As we go through life, it is very easy to fall into the habit of blaming outside forces or people for what we have and don’t have, and much harder to own up to our roles in creating our world.
But we play a big part. One instance is how we set priorities. Every “yes” has an equal and opposite “no.” So, if you say, “Yes, I will attend a meeting after work,” you are saying, “No, I won’t be home for dinner.” If you say, “Yes, I will stay up to watch The Tonight Show,” you are saying “no” to rest, rising early and other uses of that time. Time management is, in some ways, a misnomer, because everyone gets the same 24 hours each day. The question is, how do you manage yourself?
With every Rosh Hashanah, you have a brand-new chance to do it thoughtfully, mindfully, intentionally and strategically. Rosh Hashanah provides a natural time and place to take stock of your life. It is a gift, a yearly pause to reflect and an organic opportunity for reinvention. Ask yourself what changes you would like to report a year from now. Where might you find time for the things you think are important but never do?
As you prepare for Rosh Hashanah, consider taking written inventory of what you want to do differently this year and why. How will your life improve if you make a change? How will those changes help you better serve your values, beliefs and God? Be as detailed as possible. Writing is powerful and something you can return to as you progress through the year.
Keep in mind that any goals you set should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. You can set short-term and long-term goals, and they can be things you want to do or new ways you want to be. For example, you may want to be less judgmental. That involves a new way of being, a shift in perspective.
To help identify areas for development, I have my clients rate their satisfaction level on a scale of 1-10 in the following major life categories: spiritual, career, finances, physical environment, health/fitness, friends/community, family, fun/recreation, significant other/romance and personal development/education.
Let’s say that as you reflect upon last year, you realize that you didn’t spend as much time as you’d like with your children. Make that your goal and commit. Write it on your calendar. A client of mine has a ritual with one of her sons where every Sunday they go out for breakfast together, just the two of them.
When I was a kid, my dad worked all the time, except for Shabbat. I got up as early as I could every Shabbat, and when I came downstairs, he put down his book or newspaper and I had his full attention. He’d take a slice of challah and spread cream cheese on one half and butter on the other and fold it. Then I was allowed to dip it into his coffee. It was a simple, yet memorable time we shared.
A critical piece of goal-setting is accountability. Here are some tips for staying on track:
- Ask someone to hold you to your goals. We are much more likely to break promises to ourselves than to others.
- Enlist support. If your objective is to read more books this year, decide how many and find a partner to participate or join a book club.
- Keep a journal to log your efforts. This is more powerful than you may think. I have a client who is tracking what she eats. She is reluctant to slip because she must write it down and that makes it real.
- Create a reward system, something to look forward to for your efforts.
- Celebrate your accomplishments. Changing habits takes discipline, so decide what commemoration would have meaning for you.
Whatever you identify – whether it is to be more charitable, attend services regularly, read more, get involved in a cause, etc. – there are small steps you can take to make it happen.
Use Rosh Hashanah as your springboard for change. L’shanah tovah!
Originally published in “The Jewish Exponent“.