Reb Chaim Sholom Deitsch relates:
“There was a very serious bochur with whom I was in close contact. He would daven be’arichus, learn diligently, and make a regular cheshbon hanefesh.
“This bochur was a very deep thinker and was also very self-aware. Being very honest and naturally critical on himself, he was always working on different parts of his character which he believed needed improvement.
“Before he went in to yechidus, he prepared many pages of self evaluation, of his past and his present, providing detailed descriptions. It was a masterpiece of a cheshbon hanefesh.
“When he went in to the Rebbe’s room, the Rebbe lifted the stack of papers and said, ‘A shod! In der tzait volstu gikent shraiben a chibbur in Torah…‘ (What a shame! In the time [you spent on the cheshbon hanefesh] you could have written on Torah matters…)
“The bochur was shocked. It took him time to realize that he had been overly engrossed in himself to the point of obsession. In one minute, the Rebbe pulled him out of self-absorption, and saved him from himself. Indeed, today he devotes his time to studying Torah rather than studying himself.”
I’ve been digesting this for a few days and letting it absorb into my heart and mind. Why? Because I try to be open to change. I’ll admit, there are minutes spent, words spoken, and characters typed that have I’ve used for many years as part of my own person cheshboning (I tried to submit the word to UrbanDictionary.com, but it was rejected). Were they wasted? Not at all. Could that time have been spent engaging with people instead of with myself? Difficult to say (this answer is sponsored by my “Magic 8 ball”).
What I take from the above story is that, and this is going to sound uber-Brisker of me, through learning and writing d’vrai Torah one could possibly come to a similar end point as one who properly makes a consistent cheshbon hanefesh. The end point being tikun hamiddos.
A chiddush, a new idea, that one comes up with in learning is a very deep expression of the neshama. The ability to bring a new Torah idea into the world is, I think, an aspect of creation. “Hashem looked into the Torah and created the World,” say the Zohar (can’t tell you where, but it’s definitely a Zohar). So something like a chiddush or writing d’vrai Torah is connected to creation.
We also know that each person is like a whole world. “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world,” from Sanhedrin 37a. The concept of a person being like an entire world takes on a whole new meaning now, because the Vilna Gaon teaches that the mitzvos were given to us as ways to engage in tikun hamiddos. Tikun hamiddos and making a chesbon hanefesh is, in fact, tied to mitzvah observance. So working on yourself is an aspect of creation, as well.
So, it could be that a little less cheshboning and a little more learning and writing on Torah matters might be a revised approach.