You’re on a diet. You end up at work/school and midday notice big cookies in honor of someone’s birthday. You figure, why not have one and enjoy yourself? Immediately after you finish eating feelings of guilt set in. “I shouldn’t have done that, what was I thinking?”
Soon your mind wanders. “Well, since I had one cookie and ruined my entire diet, I might as well just eat whatever I want today and start all over tomorrow.”
This happens all too often. We have a goal, experience a minor set-back and then completely give up or perhaps reconsider our motivation. During some of my worst days with an eating disorder I began with a fresh desire to “get it right.” But by midday I had given into the voice in my head. Rather than stop or think rationally, I simply gave in and deemed the day a “bad” or “unsuccessful” one. At times I pushed even further and considered the entire week “unsuccessful” and used the excuse of one mishap to allow myself to do what I knew was not right for my health or my recovery.
As Rosh Hashana approaches we think about the concept of teshuva (repentence) and starting over. For ten days each year between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we generally guard our actions and words. We are careful not to speak l’shon hara, to think about mitzvot that we’ve struggled with, and to think ahead toward the upcoming year. This is a time for introspection as well as planning ahead.
The holiday is filled with the sounds of the Shofar, new fruit, lots of honey, and reflection. I can think back to when I was younger, setting many goals on Rosh Hashana and then looking back a few months later with disappointment in myself. One lesson that I learned during my recovery process and one that I constantly try to bring my clients is to realize that each moment of the day is new.
It becomes easy to think, “Well, I already spent an hour watching television when I should have been working. I guess my night is ruined and I’ll continue with the TV!” This is not to say that some TV is bad or that eating that cookie makes you “bad.” But if you are unable to meet a step in your goal, it does not mean that you are a failure. In a way this is the essence of teshuva: We are human and expected to make mistakes. One mistake does not mean that we cannot be forgiven or that we should give in to all temptations. Rather, we can learn from our mistakes or shortcomings and use them to help us grow.
One should not determine whether the week will be good or bad based on how Monday went. One should not decide that today will be a bad day because there were already failures in the morning. There are always possibilities to turn the moment around and the day around as well.
This falls into the concept of “black and white thinking” or “all or nothing thinking.” At times this is easy and even comforting in some way. But comforting will not necessarily lead to happiness. It is when we challenge ourselves and step outside our comfort zones that we are able to learn and grow.
By working to move past the labeling and the “all or nothing thinking,” we can stick to our goals and what we hope to achieve. I can recall that the first few times I reframed my thinking I felt nervous, unsure, and guilty. I felt as if I was wasting my effort. But, in reality, it paid off and brought me one step closer to achieving my goals.
As Rosh Hashana nears, we can all keep in mind the idea of teshuva and appreciate each moment we have. We are given each day as a gift and these gifts are not to be labeled or deemed successes or failures but instead should be lived to the fullest. In each moment we have the opportunity to ask for forgiveness and to do good in this world.
I wish you a happy and healthy New Year!
By Temimah Zucker