Slow and Steady: Accomplishing Goals the SMART Way
MyLife Essay Contest 2018
Living in an ‘all or nothing’ kind of way is a fun kind of way to live.
Seeing immediate results is exciting, just as living off of inspiration is energizing. However, there is one caveat to this ‘inspiration-fueled’ lifestyle: each bout of motivation is usually short lived.
Take, for example, the following situations:
- Sarah lost 60 lb. in 3 months by following an intense diet. A year later she was back at her starting weight.
- Jenny, a college student, worked extremely hard and received an A+ on all of her assignments during her first month of school. Her semester average though turned out to be a B- due to her inability to keep up with her first month craze which led to her cessation of investing any effort at all.
- David gave a very large amount of money to a charity he felt to be worthwhile, an amount too large for him to live comfortably with the losses. He henceforth decided to stop giving charity based on how difficult it was to live off of what he had left.
As humans, we have an inborn need to feel meaning and purpose in everything that we do. As a result, many of us resort to high inspiration as being our motivation for getting things done. Knowing the fact that inspiration is short lived doesn’t usually affect our ‘all or nothing’ attitudes, for we like to fool ourselves saying that “this time it will actually work”
Sounds hopeless? Thankfully, it’s not. To all those Sarahs, Jennys, and Davids out there, Chassidus has the answer of how to live a life that supports personal goals not through achieving them, but through becoming them. In this essay we will discuss some of the components that Chassidus brings to the table, concepts such as Gevurah (discipline) coming from Binah (understanding), inspiration vs. work, the power of many actions, and the virtue of habit. These concepts will lead to a systematic strategy which will enable us to live lives in which our goals become who we are.
1- Gevurah that comes from Bina
This world, having been created by Hashem, is constantly fueled by His energy. The Tzemach Tzeddek(1) explains that in order for any light of Hashem to come into this world, the light must to go through the process of Tzimtzum, of condensation of Hashem’s infinite light. Just like in order to fill up small cups with water one must use a small spout and limit the amount of water being poured, so too condensation of infinite light had to happen in order to fill up limited creations.
In Chassidic terminology, an abundance of light from Hashem is called ‘Chessed’, and the restriction of the amount of light is called ‘Gevurah’. The Tzemach Tzeddek explains that since the only way for light to be received in this world is through disciplined giving according to what each creation can handle, Gevurah is essentially the higher and more powerful attribute.
The ability for Gevurah to appropriate energy appropriately to each created being comes from its direct connection to the intellectual attribute of Bina, understanding/power of analyzation(2)(3). Gevurah is generally a very powerful force, but when tied to Binah, gevurah can be tapered down and give the proper amount of Godliness to each being. Binah analyzes where the energy has to go, and Gevurah will give each exactly what it needs. Gevurah teaches that saying ‘no’ to extreme energy is really a stronger way of saying yes to the ultimate goal.
The specialness of Gevurah can be seen when contrasting it to Chessed. The patriarch Avraham represented the idea of bountiful chessed; he gave physical and spiritual goodness to everyone that came to him, regardless of whether they deserved the goodness or not. As a result, Avraham has a son Ishmael who represented chessed in an improper way. Chessed just wants to give, no matter to whom(4). On the other hand, Yitzchak the son of Avraham represented this idea of Gevurah, of only giving where giving is appropriate(5).
Point to ponder- Chessed seems so much grander but it can’t sustain life. Proper allocation of energy is the way to get anywhere.
2- Inspiration vs. Work – אתערותא דלעילא, אתערותא דלתתא
The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, explains in Likkutey Torah(6) that there are two ways to serve Hashem; a- through inspiration- אתערותא דלעילא, and b- through inner arousal – אתערותא דלתתא; internal work. Someone working off of inspiration will do wonderfully big things, but since the inspiration didn’t come from the effort of the person, it will not last. Inspiration is the direct opposite of work; work is a lot less grand, but when it comes from the power and talents of the person, the work becomes who the person is. Therefore, the effects of the work will stay with the person forever.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, expounds on the concept of inspiration vs. work(7) and emphasizes that the work does not add new qualities to the person; rather the person is just working to reveal who he/she essentially is. Inspiration is a great thing and it kickstarts any motivation for working, but consistent work is when the person refines and reveals who he/she is in the context of the ‘goal’ to be achieved.
Yitzchak again comes in as the paradigm of internal work(8). Yitzchak was known to be a “well digger”, as opposed to Avraham who’s ‘profession’ was a teacher of G-dliness to all of mankind. The difference between well digging and teaching is that teaching puts new information on to people, while well digging reveals the fresh, clean water that was there all along. Yitzchak, through his emphasis on the power of inner work and Gevurah, teaches how to work on becoming who we really are.
Points to ponder:
Sarah-“Inspiration to lose lots of weight is easy to get. I need to work on implementing a healthy lifestyle to become the real, happy and healthy me.”
Jenny- “Being on a ‘working high’ for a month is ok if I’m pumped for it. I need to work on myself to become a consistent, moderate worker.”
David- “lots of charity at once makes me feel good. I need work on myself to become a proper charitable person to give the right amounts, at the right times, to the right causes”.
3- A multitude of actions
The fourth section of Tanya, called אגרת הקודש, is made up of different letters that the Alter Rebbe wrote to people. At the end of letter (epistle) 21, pg. 266, The Alter Rebbe says, regarding the mitzvah of Tzeddakah, that it is better to give a small amount of money many times over rather than giving one large sum. The reason he gives is because each time one does the Mitzvah he is accomplishing the spiritual purpose of the Mitzvah, namely of bringing Hashem into the world. Every action re-enforces that purpose.
The Alter Rebbe is teaching that every action, no matter how small, re-enforces the ultimate goal for the person. It doesn’t matter if the sum of the small actions and the one time big amount are equal; it’s the amount of actions that count.
Point to ponder: the actions for my goal mustn’t be big; it’s the fact that I do a lot of actions that makes the goal a part of me.
4- Habit becomes nature
In the end chapter 14 of the first section of Tanya (pg. 40), the Alter Rebbe says the famous line “הרגל.. נעשה טבע שני”- your habits become your second nature. The Alter Rebbe is, if you will, ‘cheerleading’ people on and telling us that it doesn’t matter if a certain good action doesn’t feel like its “you”. If you do the action enough times it will become you.
Point to ponder: The alter Rebbe is advocating for work and time. I need to set a goal, work at it, then slowly, slowly that goal will become me
Accomplishing goals the SMART way
Taking all of the above into account, making goals and sticking to them in a way that they will stick forever can be broken down into five steps abbreviated in the word SMART:
- Set goals – “What do I want?”
- Modify – “How can I break it up to work for me and put my energy in the right places?”
- Action – “What should I do today?”
- Repetition – “Let me do it again tomorrow. And again the next day. And again. And again.”
- Time – “Don’t expect instant results. I’ll get it. Slowly but surely. And then it will be me”.
1. Set goals
You need a clear image of what you want to happen. Sit down, and realistically think of the kind of you that you want to be after the goal is accomplished. Write it down.
Sarah: I want to lose weight and be a healthy person in general. I want to lose 60 lb. and keep it off.
Jenny: I want to be a conscientious student with mostly As, but still have a social life.
David: I want to be a charitable person who feels the joy of giving but still lives comfortably.
This step is taking a good look at yourself and seeing how you can practically implement that goal in your life by taking it slowly. Use your power of Binah to analyze where you have to put set amounts of energy, making sure that you will be able to sustain your goal long term.
Sarah: “I like vegetables and proteins, so I’ll focus on making my meals consist of them mostly. I have a soft spot for chocolate, so I’ll allow myself to have one treat a day before two o’clock”.
-Sarah is giving herself some stretch space so that she can slack a bit but still be on the right track.
Jenny: “two hours a night will be dedicated for homework (phone off) – no more and no less. Hang out with a friend at least once a week. Get early nights to be awake and alert during class time so that I won’t need to re-learn it later.”
-Jenny is being more ‘efficient’ with the energy that she is putting in.
David: “I’m going to re-evaluate my finances and see what I can give, besides for the Maaser (tenth of earnings to charity as required by Torah law(9)). I will pledge to give a little less than I am able to every month so that in case of emergency I will have extra to give.
Sarah: Collect healthy sugar free recipes. Go vegetable grocery shopping. Prepare cut up fruit in advance in case of cravings.
Jenny: Download white noise track on phone to aid with sleeping. Arrive in class early to sit in front seat. Time self at library to work for two hours after school. Arrange Sunday shopping trip with friend.
David: Sign up credit card to be automatically billed 15$ every month to a worthy cause. Keep charity diary too see how much was given and how much can still be given.
The actions need to be repeated. On Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, and then again on Thursday. If the actions are too hard to be repeated every day, more work has to be done in stage 2- modifying. The goal of repetition is to slowly but surely turn your personal goals into the person that you are.
The longer that the repetition goes on, the more permanent the goal will be. Now, instead of working on the goal all of the time, as time goes on, the goal turns into the person – becomes their second nature.
Sarah now leads a healthy lifestyle, Jenny has a GPA of 3.75, and David is a charitable person.
Making goals and keeping to them is a very hard thing to do, but Chassidus teaches us how to do it in a sustainable way. Rather than pulling out all your cards at once and then crashing, Chassidus shows not how to reach your goals, but to become your goals. Through using the SMART method which internalizes the concepts of Gevurah from Bina, Inspiration vs. Work, the virtue of many actions, and habits becoming second nature, one can truly become what they want to be.
Turns out that living in a “becoming my goals” kind of way is the most rewarding kind of way to live.
1. ספר הליקוטים, אות ג’, קיז
2. When the 10 attributes are lined up in their set of three triangles, Gevurah is placed directly under Bina. Go to http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/361885/jewish/The-Sefirot.htm for more information on the 10 divine attributes.
3. ספר הליקוטים, אות ג’, קב-קג, קכג
4. ספר הליקוטים, אות י’, א’קפג
5. Yitchak however also had a son (Esav) that went astray, that is because gevurah can lead to very intense harshness which can lead to bad impurities.
6. פרשת ויקרא ב,ב-ג
7. לקוטי שיחות חלק י”ז, פרשת בחוקותי, שיחה ג’, אותיות ג-ה
8. לקוטי שיחות חלק ט”ו,פרשת תולדות שיחה א’, אות ו
9. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 34:4