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Resolutions that Last

Resolutions that Last

A little black book will help you keep the lessons of the holiday long past the week of celebration.

by Emuna Braverman and Kabrel Geller

In order to succeed at weight loss, responsible counselors advise -- no, not the grapefruit diet -- keeping a food journal. Amazing what "little" snacks we eat and don't even notice. We find ourselves shocked by the size of our portions, by the quantities consumed. And then we record our goals for tomorrow. This not only keeps us focused, the diary also acts as a powerful wake-up call. I thought I only had a few potato chips, a spoonful of ice cream, just a taste of chocolate cake… Now I see I really lost control!

For centuries Jews have been exhorted to use a tool like this, not just to deal with food issues (think a world before Weight Watchers and Atkins!) but for all our areas we want to grow and change. We call it a cheshbon hanefesh, a spiritual accounting.

Just as dieters write down detailed lists of foods consumed -- appropriate and otherwise, so too we list all our actions -- appropriate and… ahem… otherwise. To make it practical time-wise and reduce the chest beating and unproductive guilt, we try to list five positive actions and three less positive ones, with perhaps some suggestions for future improvement.

It's an opportunity to evaluate our behavior towards our spouses, children, parents, and friends, and to make plans for change where necessary. It takes a maximum 10 minutes (on a slow day) and it can be life-changing.

Just knowing that we have to record our actions helps keep us in line. Do I want to write in my journal that I yelled at my neighbor, screamed at my children, ignored my husband?

And we can give ourselves credit for any positive action, no matter how (seemingly) large or small. I smiled at my wife when I walked in the door. I called my mother just to say hello. I helped my son with his homework. We become more sensitized to our own actions -- and to those of others.

A friend related this story of desperate need for an objective accounting.

We had a house guest recently who arrived in his beautiful new $90,000 (at least!) Mercedes Benz. He parked it in front of our home under the beautiful blooming Jacaranda tree. After shmoozing for a few hours, we decided to leave for dinner. He couldn't wait to take us for a spin.

As we approached the car, his face turned ashen. I couldn't imagine what could have happened. To his horror, the tree had shed its soft mauve petals all over his new vehicle. He was apoplectic. He couldn't believe it! How could this have happened?!

On the way to dinner, throughout dinner, and all the way home, he couldn't speak of anything else, constantly wondering aloud how early he could get to the car wash.

Early the next morning we all awoke and began our search for just the right facility to return this car to its original pristine state. Finally we found it and the attendants went to work. But our guest was not satisfied. Yelling and screaming, ranting and raving, he berated all the employees of the car wash until the desired perfection was achieved. And I couldn't have been more humiliated.

Maybe the car was perfect; but our friend sure wasn't.

Were this acquaintance to make a spiritual accounting he would (hopefully) gain perspective on his lack of perspective.

But all situations are not so dramatic. Usually, we want to be just a little kinder, a little more focused, a little more thoughtful. And we want to feel we used our day productively.

My friend keeps her journal next to her tzedaka box, guaranteeing her first positive entry.

When we get busy, we get distracted. We can go through our days on automatic pilot, driving the same routes day in and day out, engaging in the same rote behaviors.

Keeping a spiritual accounting heightens our sensitivity. We are more conscious of our constant ability to choose, more aware of the consequences of our choices.

Some write this question at the end of their accounting, at the bottom of the daily page: What am I living for? The point is not to write an essay answer (with no points off for punctuation!) but to think. Am I living my life in a meaningful way? Do my actions reflect that? Am I deepening my relationship with the Almighty or distancing myself?

Just seeing the question provokes thought. If we don't write it down, our minds will be consumed with other questions: What should I make for dinner? Who's taking Shelley to her dentist appointment? Are those black shoes I like ever going on sale? And we'll never make to the deeper, more significant, potentially life-changing ones. (I know -- the right shoes can also be life changing!)

It's a small time commitment with the possibility of disproportionately greater gain. The shifts are subtle but significant. It's also possible to take a specific character trait that needs work or a particular relationship that requires healing and make that the focus of our accounting, slowly transforming ourselves or our relationships as we keep that daily recording.

A friend of mind used to be a "screamer" but seeing that description of herself day after day started to wear on her and she began to work on stopping.

The sages exhort us to "repent the day before we die." Since we obviously don't know what day that will be, we learn that we should repent everyday and resolve anew. We don't need to wait for Rosh Hashana, nevertheless the holidays bring with them unique spiritual opportunities. There's "something" in the air.

Passover carries the potential for freedom -- freedom from destructive habits, from activities that damage our relationships and callous our souls. So the days leading up to the holiday, as well as the Yom Tov itself, seem the perfect time to engage in spiritual accounting. To diminish the power of old bad habits. To enhance the power of newer healthier ones. Starting with a commitment to do the accounting.

At Passover time there is always a lot of shopping to do -- food, some new dishes, clothing for the kids (clothing for the mothers!). Perhaps we could add one small item to our list. As we roam the aisles of Costco or Target searching for the new hand towels and kosher for Passover shampoo, we could slip in one small journal. Our record book for our freer more spiritually aware selves.

The most effective weight loss plans are the ones where there is slow, gradual weight loss with moderation in eating. Sensational "new" plans come and go, as does the weight loss they promise! Only the slow, methodical, patient way works.

The same is true with personal growth. If we write in journal every day, rain, sleet, snow or shine, we will definitely see and experience change. Will we become new people overnight? No, and not a size 4 either (especially after all that matzah!) But we will be on a good, solid, healthy path, and much more likely to stop and smell the petals on our Mercedes!

Passover is a lot of work. But it's really worth it, especially if we take the lessons of the holiday with us long past the week of celebration. We will -- if we keep writing in our little black (or flowered) book.

April 16, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) john orta, July 7, 2005 12:00 AM

nutritional accounting is something many know

I, like the accountant who responded, have a unique professional perspective on this wisdom. As a nutritionist, one very effective, but often ignored, weight control strategy is keeping an account diary.
Perhaps the major obstacle is one's unwillingness to face or account for our daily actions in a meaningful way.

The key is to get started, and reading and studying your article is a beginning.

Best wishes and thanks for the inspiring words.


John Orta

(5) Merlock, May 10, 2005 12:00 AM

What A Great Idea!

I've been trying to improve myself for a long time now, and this or something like it may be just the way to do it. I already try to think of the bad things I do when I pray; now I may try a little bit more self-reflection. Thanks, and God bless!

(4) Donna Nitti, April 22, 2005 12:00 AM

Accounting In The Game of Life

Excellent thoughts and recommendations. Working in the accounting/management field(s), as an manager, I learned a long time ago it is best to keep your own accounting of facts and situations because this is your perspective. It is an excellent source of review at the end of the year and can be very valuable if you should find yourself involved in "he/she/they" said.

I do believe I gleaned the following quote from your Web site and I think it summarizes this article perfectly. It is as follows:

To be successful in business, you need a good accountant.

The same principle for success applies in the game of life.

(3) Anonymous, April 21, 2005 12:00 AM

Thanks for the advice - I'm going to try to do it

Since I have weaknesses in both areas mentioned, I will add 2 entries per day to my journal. One side of the page will be spiritual, the other, nutritional. Interestingly, I have found in the past that if I wake up on time so I am able to take care of my kids in a calm way instead of rushing them, and I make time to daven appropriately, I tend to feel more organized & energized about all things spiritual & physical. I end up sticking to a healthy diet on those days too! Thanks for an encouraging article.

(2) Irina Galper, April 19, 2005 12:00 AM


Since my husband passed away on 25th of April 2004 I changed as a person. I am keeping a diary on the internet - blog and it helps me to improve myself. I suggest everybody to keep a blogger - you don't have to carry it and it si accessable from everywhere in the world.

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