What is the purpose of a fence? To guard and protect. If there's a hole in the middle of the street, the municipality comes and erects a fence so no one will get hurt by falling in. The fence keeps us safe from danger.
Way #28 is ha'oseh siyag lid'varav – literally "make a protective fence." When you find a "hole" in your life, you need a fence to avoid falling in, and hurting yourself and others. You need devices to help you avoid stumbling into errors.
We all make mistakes. But what if you find yourself making the same mistake again and again? For example: If you have a fight with your spouse and you regret it… and do it again and regret it… and do it again and regret it…
Life is too short to wait until after the damage is done to build your fence. Start now by making a list of weaknesses you need to correct – like spending beyond your budget, or neglecting your spouse and children, or always being late.
King David said in Psalms: "My mistakes are in front of me constantly." Keep a list of your mistakes, and review them every day to make sure they don't happen again.
Take precautions. Figure out which fences you need – and erect them today!
People relate better to technical procedures than to vague dreams and aspirations. So if you have any hope of actualizing a dream, it needs to be concretized. Make a step-by-step, detailed plan. The more concrete the strategy, the more effectively it will work.
Whenever you make a resolution, pin yourself down. Set a date and a time by which you'll put it into action, and write it on your calendar. Set goals, and then monitor your progress.
As you evolve your game plan, visualize possible pitfalls that could arise, and construct strategies for avoiding them. Then if obstacles do arise, remind yourself: These are here for me to overcome, to strengthen my resolve and help me grow!
Personal Quality Control
Successful businesses have a system for quality control. Any business will rapidly lose market share if some products are shoddy, even if the others are perfect.
Throughout our lives, we cannot allow our performance level to shift every time we run into a problem. The key to success is to remain consistent. People who go through mood swings – up one day, down the next – have a much harder time achieving goals and sustaining relationships.
That's where the fence comes in. Without clear lines of demarcation, people can come up with all types of twisted logic to rationalize their behavior. For example, "my case is an exception," or "it won't affect me," etc.
If we've objectively set a fence, then at the moment of temptation, the door for rationalization is closed. Either something is permitted or it's not. There's no room for debate or subjectivity to color our reasoning.
Fences are needed most in those areas where the physical pull can override our objectivity.
Devise methods to ensure that whatever you do never falls below your abilities and goals. Set standards of excellence and hold yourself to them.
Protect Your Confidence
A key "fence" is to resolve that when you undertake something, you are totally committed to carrying it out.
Every time you fail to follow through with a decision or an idea, you suffer not only from the waste of time, but the lack of self-confidence this creates. It wears away at your sense of credibility. After a while, you won't even make the effort anymore.
Ask yourself at which point you usually lose the inspiration to carry out a decision. Then set up a system that will make it difficult for you to back out.
To build confidence, choose things from your "to-do" list, even some small, non-time-consuming items. Completing 10 smaller items will boost your confidence more than one big item. And your success with the smaller items will give you added confidence to tackle the big ones!
Self-esteem is the fuel that drives us to greatness. What could be more valuable? Don't let your self-esteem slide. It's worth protecting!
Spiritual Accounting System
The best fence against wasting your life is Cheshbon Hanefesh – "spiritual accounting." You need a regular system to evaluate how well you performed and to take stock of where you stand.
Every night before going to bed, look back at that day's events, and evaluate where you gained and lost. Then make a plan so the next day will be more productive.
- What did I accomplish today?
- Did I accomplish what I intended?
- How am I going to improve tomorrow?
- What are my strengths and weaknesses?
- What is my profit? What is my loss?
- How far have I come in my long-term goals?
- What's holding me back from growing?
Track down your own Achilles heel – whether it be laziness, envy, or bad temper. Concentrate on that and remind yourself, "This is the enemy." Get angry at your own stupidities, and utilize that anger to motivate you to change.
Travel Ahead of Yourself
If you're traveling to Europe, you'll of course first read a travel guide to find out what to expect. You don't just "show up" – you don't want to miss any important sites and experiences!
The same is true about life. Someone who just "shows up" is left in the dark about what life has to offer. The more you're prepared, the better your ability to improvise according to the circumstances. So sit down and plan your life. (And don't forget lots of contingencies!)
"Travel ahead of yourself" also means to look into the distant future. The Sages teach that "the wise man's eyes are in front of his head." This means that a wise person does not waste time obsessing about past mistakes, but looks ahead to see how to correct them. When you're 70, what will you want to look back on and see that you've accomplished? If you knew that you have one day left to live, you'd be asking: "Who am I? What is life all about?"
It's too late then. Ask now.
Enlist the Help of Others
We're not alone. Many people have gone through the same predicaments. Some have succeeded in overcoming the obstacles, while others are still struggling. But all have insights and advice we can benefit from – and they are usually more than happy to help out.
A good way to erect a fence is to hire a friendly "nudnik." If you want to diet, for instance, ask a friend to point out every time you take more than one piece of cake, or nibble in-between meals. He'll help guard against your crossing over whatever line you've drawn for yourself.
You can even set up a penalty system. Tell the nudnik: "If you catch me biting my nails, then I'll pay you $50." At $50 a bite, you'll probably break your habit long before you break your bank account!
The Sages teach: "Two are better than one. When one falls, the second picks him up." When things get tough, look for a support system. There is power in numbers.
Build a Fence From Society's Ills
A foundation of freedom is the ability to elevate ourselves above the lowest common denominator on the street. Everyone has felt the sensory assault of billboards, gratuitous talk-radio, immodest fashions, and violence on TV.
Before a person eats, he washes his hands to make sure that he doesn't consume any dirt or germs. So too, one who is concerned with his spiritual health is discriminating about all forms of consumption: which movies to watch, which friends to spend time with, and what standards of business ethics to uphold.
The streets are filled with a multitude of options. But we should not consume indiscriminately. Avoid the mistakes that humanity makes as a whole. For example, many people:
- Don't appreciate what they have.
- Think that financial success means you're a good person.
- Don't like to make decisions and take responsibility.
- Don't know what they're living for.
The 48 Ways says: Set boundaries. Think before you consume. Freedom is the ability to say: "I choose not to partake."
Why is "Building Fences" a Way to Wisdom?
- Life is difficult. When you have tough work, you need tough tools.
- If you don't protect yourself, you'll lose self-confidence and give up on life.
- Wage war with strategy. Make a plan to know where you're going.
- Don't try to do it all alone. Enlist the help of others.
- Protect your values from the onslaught of society.
- Maintain high standards and implement a method to check yourself.
- Given the opportunity to rationalize, many will "distort reason to indulge desires."