[ Note: This is a three-part post, dealing with Teshuva (repentence), change, and helping our children to change. While the first section(s) may look to be wholly Elul-Rosh HaShana (Jewish New Year) oriented, special needs readers are urged to read them, as the conclusions reached will impact and dictate the later post on effecting change in our children.]
As we draw near to the high holidays of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur (and the days of repentance between them), we are inevitably faced with the question: What good is it to “repent” when I KNOW that I inevitably will become lax, and fall back into my former bad habits. I think that we all know the frustration of wondering why we “can’t” keep our diet, still find ourselves yelling at our kids, and even listen to the neighbor’s evil gossip , despite our determination to make a change in our behavior.
True change is not easy. Our sages say that if one can change a bad character trait in 70 years, he is doing pretty good. [And isn’t it amazing how we see that this is so true for ourselves, while we still expect our children, spouses, and cranky neighbors to change as soon as we inform them of their misdemeanors....?] So HOW do we effect a more lasting commitment towards change?
1) People who are overweight usually believe (as EVERYONE ELSE does), that losing weight is simply a matter of having enough “will-power”. If this the case, why would a person who has lost 35 kilos (as I once did), and who had the will-power to do so, suddenly not have will-power, and gain it all back (and with interest, as well)?
2) Why is the Jewish New Year before Yom Kippur? Wouldn’t it make sense to repent, and then crown that achievement with a celebration of G-d’s kingship (which is essentially, what Rosh HaShana is)?
Misdenomer:” Will Power”
True change is not dictated by will-power. Witness the drug addict, or drunkard, who has absolutely no will to change his obviously destructive habits (obvious to everyone but him...). Enter a good, experienced “intervention” guide, and the chances of him effecting a change are pretty good. Why? How is that? Because the intervention is designed to make the addict take a good hard look at what the losses from his addiction are, and to remove the “benefits” he has been receiving courtesy of enabling behavior by others. An addict in an intervention may be told by his co-worker “I will no longer cover up for you at work”. His daughter, after telling her Dad how much she loves him, and admires his abilities, may regretfully inform him that she will no longer let him visit her house, unless he starts treatment, because of the effect it is having on HER children. Bit by bit, the parties to the intervention show the addict that the “pros versus cons” has changed, and that it is no longer to his advantage to continue his substance abuse.
So what has changed? His self-control? NO! What has changed is his perception of the results of his behavior.
This is why it is easier to diet when you are extremely overweight, and your varicose veins are hurting. They are a constant, real reminder of the results of overeating, much more than the scales which we may (or may not) step on. And that is why it is so easy for the dieter who has lost a significant amount to gain everything back. He may still be getting compliments on the “new, thin” body while he has already slipped and started overeating. He is able to have the joys of overeating, along with social accolade all at once. And how does he deal with the long-range effects of overeating? For the meantime he is “forgetting” that point, or kidding himself that “next week” he will return to the diet, while enjoying the immediate “benefits” of cake and pie.
[To be continued, G-d willing, tomarrow.]
Yesterday's New York Times magazine had an interesting article about how our friends can "make us fat"; not just regarding weight, but how happiness and other traits and behaviors spread through social networks. I was discussing it with my daughters, and I immediately thought of a good example. My husband, who could have stood to lose about 25 pounds, was working for a boss who was much more overweight than he was. In such a situation, it's easy to think "my weight's not so bad, compared to his", or "I don't really have a problem compared to him", and promptly have a bagel or a doughnut. It's amazing how much of our character and traits depend on those of the people around us.
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