When it comes to money and power, people are drawn toward wisdom. But when it comes to life lessons, people often don't pay as much attention.
Yet if you ask someone – "Would you rather be wealthy and miserable, or poor and happy?" – most people will say they'd rather be poor and happy. Why? Because anyway the point of money is to be happy!
So why are so many people dedicating their lives to becoming rich, despite split family life, ruined health, moral compromise and other sacrifices of happiness involved in gaining that wealth?
Focus your attention on this contradiction. It comes from the failure to translate an intellectual concept into practical reality. If an idea makes sense and promises you more effectiveness in living – and you don't implement it – that's "temporary insanity." It's living on two different levels, disconnected from reality.
The Sages say that when a person makes a mistake, he is temporarily insane. People wasting time, fighting with their own children, wallowing in depression and misery. That's crazy.
Way #47 is ha'lomed al minat la'asot – literally "learn in order to do." The whole job of living is to put into practice what you know. That's the difference between "philosophy" and "wisdom." You can learn the nicest ideas in the world and pontificate all day long. But if you don't apply them, you're a bit mishooga.
The Power of Ritual
Human beings are creatures of habit. We enjoy the comfort and security of daily routine. But "ritual" often gets a bad name, because it implies an act done without understanding or feeling.
Of course, it's ideal when pure enthusiasm drives a person. But sometimes it has to work in the opposite direction: Ritual gets you to do things even when you don't feel like it, and even before you fully understand why. Then hopefully, once we get involved in the right activity, the emotional connection will follow.
For example, we teach our children to brush their teeth from an early age – as a ritual. And we teach them polite manners – "Please pass the salt… thank you very much… pardon me" – as a ritual. We do this even before they understand the reason. And we trust that as they get older, they'll recognize the value of good manners and clean teeth.
Ritual is a foundation of Judaism. The mitzvot are not empty actions in order to keep us busy. Rather, they enable us to put ideals into practice. For example, lighting Shabbat candles brings warmth, calm and peace to the home. Or we put a mezuzah on the door, to focus on the lofty ideals written inside. It's not hocus-pocus.
Use "habit" to your advantage. Take some wisdom you've learned and convert it into ritual. For example, make it a daily practice to articulate five pleasures you've had in the last 24 hours. Focus on them, count them, feel them.
Do you want to be a more caring person? In the meantime, until you're ready to think like a caring person, at least act like a caring person.
When you first begin a ritual, don't worry if it lacks enjoyment. Just do it. Later, you'll see some amazing effects. It will make you more sensitive and civilized. It will transform you.
Implementing any important idea doesn't happen overnight. You have to build momentum. Small success leads to big success.
Make a list of five ideas you'd like to integrate into your life. Each day, focus on one specific idea. Define it and plan how to implement it. You'll be surprised at how systematic your growth can be. One day, one change.
Start with easy steps, and work up to harder ones. For example, in the idea of "love your neighbor as yourself," one specific aspect is being friendly toward others. A small, practical step might be to answer the phone in a cheerful voice, as opposed to grunting "hello." A next step might be to do small unannounced favors – like offering to make coffee for a co-worker or roommate. And then it builds from there...
Push forward. Ask yourself every night, What did I learn today? Then apply that lesson to one item on your list. Even the smallest effort will get your momentum going. But at least do something with the wisdom you've learned. With every little effort, you inch up.
It Takes Study
Nothing aids the integration of ideas more than penetrating study. The more we understand, the more motivated we are to implement the idea into our lives.
With any wisdom, you must clearly define:
1) What have I learned?
2) What does it mean?
3) Why is it important for my life?
4) What are the implications?
5) How do I translate this into practical reality?
Applies this model constantly – whether you're having a conversation, or even as you read this essay. What should you be doing? Articulate to yourself the ideas contained here – and work through a practical method of integrating them into your life. Remember: The 48 Ways is more than just an intellectual exercise!
By asking, What am I doing? How should I do it? And what am I going to do about it?, you avoid many mistakes. As soon as you plug into the reality of thinking, awareness, definitions, and doing what's right, the insanity disappears. It evaporates.
It's difficult to stop in mid-action and ask yourself "What am I doing?" So you have to drill these steps, practicing them beforehand.
To increase your power for living, be aware of events happening around you, appreciate their significance, and learn from them. As the saying goes: "A fool learns from his mistakes, but a wise person learns from the mistakes of others."
For example, consider the idea of marriage in modern society. Every couple who gets married says they're in love. But half the marriages end in divorce. What happened?
Investigate the causes, and learn how to minimize the chance of your own divorce. Then make the commitment to make your insights practical. Because if we don't work at how to love, we may very quickly fall out of love.
True knowledge is getting the ideas deep into your bones. If you don't put an idea into practice, you don't really "know" it. Transfer that wisdom into day-to-day actions. Concepts like love and happiness are very nice – so nice that we often fail to see how much hard work they take to achieve!
Learn From Mistakes
But what about when you do make a mistake?
If you buy the Brooklyn Bridge, don't carry around a guilt complex of: "I'm worthless, I'm an idiot, I'll never do any good." Self-pity is a disgusting thing. A person full of guilt does it again and again and again. Guilt is the body's way of flim-flamming the soul into thinking you did something about it – "I am worthless, I'm no good. See, I took care of it!"
Instead of wallowing, correct the mistake. How? Regret it. Simply say: "I made a mistake, it was human, now I can learn from it." The most important thing is to get back to your natural state of productivity and joy. You threw the ball out of the park and the other team scored four runs? Okay, it happened. So now make it up and hit a home run!
Of course, don't deny that it ever happened. Analyze why you made the mistake. Because if a fool learns from his mistakes, then not learning from your mistakes is double-foolish.
Put your energy back into it. Learn from it, and undertake to never do it again. Fine. Life is good. Now move on.
Do it Today
There are lots of things we promise ourselves but never get around to doing. We fool ourselves into thinking we made a commitment, but we didn't. You overslept? It's because you weren't serious enough about the commitment. If there was a big business deal and you had to wake up at 5 a.m., you would have absolutely gotten up at 5 a.m.
Apply this idea to the greater goals of living. If you don't get started today, you may never do it. Even if you don't have the time now, at least write down your good ideas before they become lost forever. Put them on your calendar. This forces you to periodically review priorities – and gives you another opportunity to begin taking action. Because the difference between a dream and a goal is a dealine.
Another tool is to ask yourself: What would I want to teach others? How would I go about doing it? This is the essential process of living. Articulate it, teach it to others – and then put it into practice yourself.
It's Up to You
Accept responsibility for yourself. As the Sages say: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"
You know that certain things are haunting you. Do you want happiness, the good life, greatness, to become disciplined, to live in reality? It racks your brains. Don't give up. If you truly believe in something, get it done.
It is completely up to you. Resolve to be in control of your life. I can do it. I believe in myself. I'm going to get it done. No one can get into your brain and live for you. No one will "make you" great. Nobody can stop you and nobody can help you. That is your sole, independent responsibility.
Ultimately, of course, the final arbiter is God. But that's His domain. We have to make our effort.
The key to living is deciding to put what you know into practice. Either you are going to muddle through life, or you are going to take control and live according to ideals that make sense.
Make that decision right now. For if not now, when?
Why is "Learning in Order to Do" a Way to Wisdom?
- The whole point of wisdom is to apply it to make life better.
- Don't put off change for another day.
- Talk is cheap. Action takes commitment.
- Don't assume that just because you learned it, you'll use it.
- Making a decision to grow is based on free will, the essential power of a human being.
- Every concept in Torah is an instruction for living. Learn how to use it.
- If you undertake a deep commitment to change, it will positively impact the rest of your life.