Changing Unwanted Behavior [#14617]

August 19, 2021


Many people feel “stuck” in their life in certain areas, whether in spiritual areas or in material matters, and they aren’t succeeding in changing any unwanted habits, whether it comes to things they need to take care of, or whether it comes to things that they just want to simply stop doing. My question is, how can a person succeed in changing an unwanted habit?
How can a person begin to change even when it comes to even the simplest matters? For example: If a person wants to begin running [and he doesn’t feel like it], what can he do [to come out of his lethargy and get moving]? What can a person do to stop the habit of smoking? Applying this to the spiritual, if a person wants to be consistent in keeping to a certain Torah study session, how can he begin changing? If a person habitually commits a certain sin, what can he do in order to stop, especially if he feels that he simply can’t overcome these negative habits?


Generally speaking, there are two root ways of self-work. One way is through taking the “all-inclusive” approach (kelalus), and it is also known as mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice). The other way is through specifics, known as peratus also known as hadragah, progressing step-by-step.

In the first way, kelalus, a person firmly establishes a mental conviction, in his intellect and heart, that he is making an absolute decision to change. He makes up firmly in his mind that he will have the boldness and strength of character to change his behavior. Sometimes a person can employ the use of other external “anchors” which will make him feel somewhat obliged and forced to keep to his decision. For example, if a person wants to become serious about learning Torah, he may decide firmly that he will not eat or go to sleep that day unless he has fulfilled his quota of Torah learning. This approach is extreme, and “many tried to do it but did not succeed”, as it was said of those who tried to be like Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

The other approach, peratus, is where a person makes smaller goals for him to accomplish, which require only a bit of willpower and minimal exertion to accomplish. Each day, the person examines if he has fulfilled this small accomplishment. This also entails making use of various external “anchors” that will make him feel personally obliged to fulfill his goals. Realistically speaking, he should use “anchors” that speak to his particular personality and his current level. Using this approach, one makes gradual progress, getting further and further – progressing slowly, but with consistency.

It should be emphasized, however, that if a person is trying to overcome a sin which he commits habitually, G-d forbid, then there is no advice which can help a person go against Hashem. The only thing a person can do for this is to try with all his energy, with sensibility [to overcome the sinful habits].