"You are the best of the best!" shouted the special forces air force commander at the Top Gun training facility.
"Your training is over. I am pleased to say that each of you has graduated Top Gun."
"Thank you sir!" echoed the class.
"Don't relax. We have a mission for you. It's not going to be easy. You will not make it unless you follow the instructions exactly! Are you listening Maverick?!"
"I hope so. You are to fly your F15s 365 miles across enemy territory and land safely at base. If you make it, you will give a report concerning your mission and will be evaluated.
"Do not be deceived by how easy this mission sounds. The enemy will be using real ammo. Every mile of land that you fly over will have land-to-air missiles primed and ready to shoot you down. The only way... are you listening Maverick?!"
"The only way that you will make it through is if you are not detected by the missile's radar system. The radar will not detect you if you fly below 900 feet. I don't want any of your flashy highflying Maverick. It may look good but that's exactly the type of flying that is going to get you killed. Do you understand?"
"Do you understand?!"
"This is what you have been trained for gentleman. Good luck and may God be with you."
"Thank you sir!"
Keeping New Year's Resolutions
Last year on Rosh Hashanah, I made a resolution to keep throughout the year. Did I keep it? The truth is, I don't even remember what it was.
We've all made resolutions that we didn't follow through on – a certain diet, to stop smoking, to pray three times a day. One month later, they have given up. Giving up smoking is easy, right? I do it ten times every year.
Making resolutions for the New Year is very important. It begins when we dream about who we want to become and what we want to achieve. Then we break our dreams down into specific goals and launch ourselves into them while the vision and excitement still remains fresh in our hearts. The excitement, however, doesn't usually last.
Every time we throw in the towel, we reaffirm the inner beliefs that destroy our confidence.
As the going gets tough and the inspiration starts to disappear, we begin to realize that these commitments we made are going to require a fair amount of self-discipline. Our inner voices begin to make them selves heard: "It's too much effort! I want a break!" And another resolution ends up discarded.
It's sad when we give up on our dreams. We lose out on the specific benefits that following through would deliver. Even worse, every time we throw in the towel, we reaffirm the inner beliefs that destroy our confidence and rob us of the future that we could have had. Beliefs like:
I am a loser.
I am not capable of success.
I am a failure.
Walking around with these inner beliefs causes us to sabotage our relationships and opportunities for growth. It's like walking around with a dirt-smeared pair of glasses. Wherever we look things seem dark and scary.
Rosh Hashanah is the time to make a new start, to recommit. A person who does teshuva, repentance, in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, starts his new year afresh by recommitting to his goals and by making specific resolutions.
But if we gave up on our goals last year and we didn't manage to see our resolutions through to the end, what makes us think things will be different this year. Did something change? We're fooling ourselves if we think that everything's going to somehow get magically easier.
Some people just stop trying to make a new start and give up completely. After all, they tell themselves, if we don't try, we won't fail.
Getting Out of the Endless Cycle
Here's an approach to this seemingly endless cycle of failure that our sages write about extensively.
It's natural to have a desire to do more than we are able to do. Each year we think of all the time we've wasted and how much farther we are from where we want to be. Then some of us do something ridiculous like putting together all the resolutions and goals that we haven't achieved in all the previous years, add a few more for this year and then take everything on as our resolution and goal for the year to come. For most of us, this option doesn't work. It's like a weight lifter who after having spent a period of time training to lift a certain weight, but fails, starts to train this time for a much heavier weight to catch up on lost time from past failures. I know for myself, it's not going to happen.
We need to build confidence by showing that we can commit and follow through, even if it isn't as big as we'd like.
Taking on new big, impressive goals is great when they're realistic. But we need to build up our confidence by showing ourselves that we can commit and follow through on something, even if it isn't as big as we would like. We need to rebuild our personal integrity, our belief in ourselves, our belief that we can succeed and that when we give our word and commit to something, our word is our word. Once we have begun to heal our broken self-image, we are ready to tackle the 'heavier weights.'
The Sages recommend committing to something so small that those inner voices that scream out after two weeks: "It's too difficult! I can't go on!" don't have anything to scream about.
These voices are the ground-to-air anti-aircraft missiles mentioned above. Our goals are the planes. If we fly too high, setting our goals impossibly high, the enemy will spot us and shoot us down. The strategy is to take on something relatively easy, to fly so low that the enemy doesn't even see us.
By choosing to keep the small resolutions for an entire year, we can change and upgrade the negative patterns that many of us suffer from. We upgrade our system of beliefs and in doing so upgrade our self-image, showing ourselves that we can commit, we can succeed. We open the door to a whole world of new possibilities.
So take two minutes right now to think of one meaningful but relatively easy resolution that you can see yourself realistically doing for the entire year and commit to it. Get ready for the flight of your lives. It's still not going to be easy, but you wouldn't have been selected for this mission if you weren't capable.