Hard to believe, but I used to get up at 5 AM to go for a 20-minute run, a long enough workout for me to become totally drenched in sweat and delude myself into thinking I'm Rocky Balboa on the streets of Philadelphia.

I don't remember the last time I went for a jog (I think it was around four months ago one Saturday night after psyching myself up all Shabbat. Thank God I didn't have a coronary, even though there was a voice screaming in my head, "Stop right now! You're going to have a heart attack!")

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of a chubby guy in the mirror that I don't even recognize.

These days, I get up at 5:30 AM to get ready for my early morning minyan which I lead, since I'm in the year of mourning for my father. So running has basically fallen by the wayside, and boy, I'm feeling the effects of it. Shirts getting tight, feeling out of shape. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of a chubby guy in the mirror that I don't even recognize.

And in case I'm fooling myself into thinking I haven't gained that much weight, I can always count on my kids to set me straight. "Abba, you're fat!" my son Yehuda recently told me with the candor and honesty only a teenager with Downs could muster.

The truth hurts.

The good news is that next week begins the Hebrew month of Elul, the last month of the year when we up the ante, stretch our spiritual muscles, and recalibrate our life goals as we prepare for Rosh Hashana, the New Year. And for me, running and eating well are some of the ideal ways to get into spiritual – and physical – shape. Here's why.

1. Direct battle with my yetzer hara, my lower self

Hitting the pavement is like entering the ring to contend with the part of you that wants to flee from pain, run away from challenge and escape into the clutches of numbing comfort and counterfeit pleasure.

Going for that run shows me who really is the boss – my soul. It's an invigorating demonstration of my ability to conquer my inner demons and utilize my free will muscles.

2. One action that affects my entire day

Accessing my spiritual muscles and vanquishing the lazy part of me that wants to sleep in, space out and eat insanely fattening desserts spills over into the rest of my day. Starting the day with that spiritual win is a real confidence booster. It's tapping in to the only real power we have, our ability to choose to overcome my lower self, as the Mishna say, "Who is the powerful person? The one who conquers his evil inclination" (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1).

And with strengthened self-esteemed and feeling good about myself, I am more likely to assert my free will in other spiritual pursuits.

3. It's a concrete, measurable goal that's difficult but doable

Real growth doesn't come through the grandiose actions you find in the Marvel Universe; it comes through sustainable, concrete and consistent steps that get you out of your comfort zone and eventually form new habits.

For me, running strikes that right balance -- it's a real challenge that requires me to push myself, but it's not impossible. I'm not setting myself up for failure. But I am going to have to dig in deep to find the strength to overcome the formidable hurdles to make this happen (hey, maybe it is impossible?).

Telling you all this is either a clever way of putting myself on the hook to start running again next week, or a rather dumb thing to do that may prove embarrassing. Either way, I will report back to in a week or so and will let you know.

In the meantime, let me know in the comment section below what step in your personal growth you're taking on for the month of Elul.