• Rabbi Marc Kraus

New Year's Habits That Stick

Did you know that the New Year is like tax season for the awesome people who work at Weight Watchers? So many people feel driven to set new goals for themselves at the turn of the year that the entire organization pivots around January 1st.

Nevertheless, all of us know that not everyone who sets a new goal for themselves manages to attain it. Part of the problem is the language: A “goal” is a lofty target, often one that is too far out of reach and often we don’t draw a realistic roadmap for how we will get there.

Lasting change comes from cementing new habits in our lives, so here are a few tips. The early rabbis, most of whom worked for a living and studied Torah in their spare time, suggested that we “set aside a fixed time for Torah study.” [1]

(1) Take out your smartphone and select a repeating block of time (with reminders) for whatever action you need to take to get you where you want to go.

Trent Dyrsmid was a rookie Canadian stock-broker in the early nineties who made immediate progress and lasting success with a simple method. He placed two jars on his desk, one filled with 120 paperclips and the other empty. He said, “Every morning I would start with 120 paper clips in one jar and I would keep dialing the phone until I had moved them all to the second jar.” Yes, that’s it. [2]

(2) If you are anything like me, you will find visual markers of accomplishment rewarding. They show how far you have come, and drive you to want to “win” the game you’ve created for yourself.

(3) Also, forget the lofty “goal,” just develop the habit one paperclip at a time. The rest will take care of itself.

Rav Kook, the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of mandate-era Palestine is famous for saying, “The old will become new and the new will become holy.”

(4) Find a new location for your activity. Find a new café to work in, or even a different gym locker. When we dedicate a new place to a purpose, it takes on special importance in our minds and can help alter our normal mindset.

It has become traditional over the past two centuries (at least) for students to study Torah in pairs, called hevrutot. Not only does having a study-buddy help you work through an issue from multiple perspectives, but it also helps hold you accountable. One of the reasons that Crossfit has become so successful and effective is because it generates exactly this dynamic: “The community that spontaneously arises when people do these workouts together is a key component of why CrossFit is so effective.” [3]

(5) Find people who you will feel accountable to. That could be a group of people that meets in person. It could also be holding yourself accountable to the readers of your blog to publish on a specific day each week.

I hope you’ve found these habit-forming tips effective helpful… good luck and happy New Year!

P.S. VB friends, I’ll be teaching a session entitled “Rabbis and Prostitutes (No Charge)” on January 4. Click here for event details on Facebook!

[1] Mishnah Avot 1:15


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