We all have them. Some of them are good, others are not so good. Some manifest themselves as traits, middos (tov v’ra), and personality quarks. Here are a couple of examples of habits that I’ve taken note of over the past few months:
1. We spent about a month before Rosh Hashana trying (with success in the end) to de-Crocify our son. He spent a fun filled summer wearing his Crocs almost every day. While we were happy to see him enjoying them, the downside is that once you start wearing Crocs your foot feels very confined in anything else (I will attest to this). Throughout Elul he had been wearing his new Shabbos/Yom Tov shoes around the house so that he can get use to them. At first there was great resistance. “They are not a comfortable as my Crocs”, was a common line from him. With patience and effort he successfully wore ‘regular’ shoes all Rosh Hashanah without too many complaints (only to relish in the fact that he could rock his Crocs on Yom Kippur). I realized during the month that were letting him get use to his Shabbos shoes, that some habits are easier to break with when attacking them in small doses (like slowly chiseling away at something bit by bit). This technique is used in popular Shemiras Ha’Lashon programs, where in individual makes a commitment not to speak Lashon Horah from a set amount of time.
2. Recently we stayed with my brother-in-law, his family, and their two dogs. My one year old Uberbaby daughter was not to hip to the dogs at all. For the first 5 days she could cry if a dog came near her. We debated about what to do to get her acclimated to the pets. At first we tried to get her to pet them and sit next to them. Well, she happens to be a pretty fast crawler and is becoming a confident walker, too. So we then opted to do nothing. We simply allowed her to get use to seeing us interact with the dogs and go about our business. Within, as I wrote, 5 days, her fear was gone. She would pet them and even give them her food. This approach of breaking a habit by watching others set an example happens to be one of the most effective middos management tools used both in chinuch and more importantly, in the home.
3. I do a lot of our grocery shopping. Usually, I’ll pick up non-food items at one store and then get actual food at one of several stores in the area. Because of time constraints prior to the Yom Tovim this year I found myself doing massive shopping at one store that has both non-food, food, and extensive kosher deli/bakery/take-out as well (if you live in Chicago, the name of the store happens to rhyme with the word cool) and it seemed to take forever. I was very frustrated by this. Mostly by the fact that I wasn’t so familiar with all the aisles and where certain products were. I was in the habit of not knowing my way around the store.
After Yom Kippur I was reading an article in Fast Company (one of my favorite websites and mags) about Design Thinking and I realized that I could use the concepts behind design thinking to help me with my grocery shopping issue. In brief, if you haven’t read the entire article yet, the ideas behind Design Thinking are:
- Define the problem
- Create and consider many options
- Refine selected directions
- Pick the winner, execute
Applying the steps of Design Thinking to spending less time in a particular grocery store might look like this:
- The problem is that I don’t know my way around
- My options might be that I could study a map of the store, do more shopping there, spend my lunch hour walking around the store to see where things are, or just not change a thing
- Doing more shopping there might help, but the learning curve will be slow. I like the idea of spending my lunch hour there. The extra exercise wouldn’t hurt me.
- I started walking around the store and I feel like I have a better grasp of which aisle I can find things like: plastic wrap, flour, rubbing alcohol, chullent beans, and toothpaste.
One cool thing about the first step (Define the problem) is that it really make you think. At first glance, it might seem like the problem was that grocery shopping took to long. That’s really not the problem. The problem was that I didn’t know my way around the store.
The Design Thinking approach can also help with things like anger. Why do we get angry? Usually it seems on the surface to be for different reasons. I’ll use the example that happens to me. I get upset or angry sometimes when my son doesn’t do something right away when I ask him (of course this is only a reflection of the same lacking on my own part). But that’s not the real reason I get angry. I was zoche to be in Woodmere, NY to hear Rav Moshe Weinberger’s 2005 Shabbos Shuva drasha at Aish Kodesh (totally rainy night, thunderstorms, and over 1000 people showed up). The following is based on my own notes:
Why do we scream and get angry? When we miss the train or when your wife burns the kugel. Why do you yell at your kid? You yell at your kid for not cleaning his room. For something like not looking in the zemiros book? That is what kids do. Rav Kook says the source of your anger is with yourself, because you can’t control yourself. It’s not due to the people that are trying to be good to you and love you.
In my case, the emes is that I get upset because I feel that what I ask to be done should be done right away. It’s guyvahdik, plain and simple. Rav Kook’s words seem to imply that it’s all about a lack of self control. Either we feel that we need to be in control or we simple have no control over our anger.
If anyone has any ideas about dealing with habits, I’d love to hear them. Thanks for reading.