It’s that time of year again. The “Aseret Yemei Teshuva” (10 days of repentance, which last from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur), and we are busy, busy, busy making our New Year’s resolutions. We list, in great detail, all the ways we screwed up last year, beg God to forgive and promise Him that this year, it’s going to be different. We’re going to be good people, swearsies.
It’s amazing that He still believes us. Because for me, at least, all my good intentions last for about 6.5 seconds, till I realize that it (it = whatever praiseworthy thing I decided to do) is too difficult and I give up.
In my defense, resolutions are hard. I think I should be commended for even trying to make some. Just wanting to improve is half the battle, right? Right??
However, I thought would be a nice change to make some keep-able resolutions, for once. I devised my own “Guide to How to be a Better Person Without Really Trying; Or, Trying Just a Little” (patent pending).
Here’s how it works:
- Think back to the good things you did last year. Don’t focus on things-you-screwed-up-that-need-fixing. Think about what you did well, whether it’s “bein adam l’makom” (between a person and God) or “bein adam l’havero” (person to person).
- Decide how you can do that thing (that you are already good at doing) even better.
- Do it!
Voila! An easy, doable resolution!
See, you gotta start with small steps. If you choose something insurmountable (“I will never yell at my kids,” “I will spend all of my free time engaged in acts of kindness” “I will go to synagogue all the time” “I will pay close attention to every single work story my spouse tells me”) then the minute you find that you cannot, in fact, surmount it, you will feel dejected and overwhelmed and you may just give up.
But if you pick something you already know you can do, well, then, you are almost there!
Lev Vygotsky understands this. Vygotsky is the psychologist who developed the idea of “zone of proximal development,” a fundamental teaching theory. (I know teaching theories because I used to do it—teach, that is. Not have theories. Having theories is my current job.) The ZPD is the difference between what a child can do with help and what he/she can do without help. A teacher’s job is to work within a child’s ZPD—their comfort zone—so the child can develop and enhance skills by completing tasks on their own. Once they gain skills and confidence, their ZPD gets pushed out—a task they could previously do only with help becomes something they can do independently. Start with what a child is comfortable with, let them achieve success, and they will be able to take risks and learn new skills.
Teshuva has to begin the same way. You have to start in your comfort zone. So pick something you are already good at. For example, for me, “never yelling” is as likely to happen as eating only half the Snickers bar and “saving some for later.” Last year, though, in lieu of birthday parties for our children, my husband and I took each of the kids out on “date night.” The kids loved it—even the 3-year-old, who had no idea why Mommy and Daddy were taking him to a park but was relishing every minute—and my husband and I enjoyed spending alone time with them.
Alone time with the kid = a good, positive thing, which is also something doable. (And who knows? Maybe in the end it even leads to less yelling? A girl can dream). So perhaps this year, my “resolution” is to carve out alone time with each kid more often. Where “alone time” is defined as parent and child doing an activity together, not parent and child both alone in the house by happenstance, with parent cooking dinner and child sitting in front of the TV. An ice cream date, reading a book together, a trip to the mall—small things to remind myself that I’m also their parent, in addition to being their chef/chauffeur/nurse/referee/Homework Enforcer (<–It’s a real thing. Look it up.)
Another thing I’m good at? I’ve made many “new mom” dinners for friends who’ve had babies. Perhaps this year I expand my circle, extending the mitzvah to new moms who aren’t necessarily my good friends. When the email comes around asking for volunteers to cook a meal, I’ll sign up, even if I don’t know the parents.
So those are some “bein adam l’havero” ideas. What about the Big Guy? Besides calling out to Him several times a day during some trying parenting moments—what could I do?
Well, this year, I channeled my pre-kid self and starting using the early morning time to pray. I will be first to admit, it’s a quick, Cliff’s Notes version of the morning services, but still, it’s something. So this year, I will make an effort to make that a daily occurrence, not only a once in a while thing.
In addition to determination and a desire to improve, we also need success and confidence to pull off a really solid, doable “New Year’s resolution.” Those qualities are crucial to pushing our teshuva comfort zone out just a little bit, so that next year, we can tackle something new.
And that, my friends, is how a Lazy Person approaches teshuva. What about you?