What's Ruining Your Life?
It is our habits, not our wishes that shape our lives. How many of us are still keeping our New Year's resolutions? Are you? It is said that 90% of people break their New Year's Resolutions before Valentine's Day. We enter the new year with the best of intentions to access the better part of us--the svelte, more successful, smarter, happier version of ourselves. They are worthy goals, reachable goals, yet in the un-actualized state they feel like “from here to eternity.” And though we deem ourselves free men in the world's greatest democracy, we are rendered slaves not by taskmasters but by our own doing. We become the imprisoned victims of our habits and slaves to our passions, be they food, gambling, sex, materialism, anger, etc. Such indulgences which we deem as self expressions of freedom are really shackles and leashes on liberty. Habits seem so benign. Even phonetically the word is soft and subtle unlike such words that grate on our ears and sensibilities like cancer, Al Qaeda, foreclosure. But habits, though they be silent infiltrators, wreak more havoc into our lives than the aforementioned. That glass of Scotch is ever so comforting as we go through our divorce, our financial troubles, our rough patches. And, as with all bad habits, it enters one’s life like a guest but it proceeds like the host. What’s one small piece of cake, cookie, potato chip? They are the momentary appeasers that wear away your will. If one cookie didn’t kill you, neither will two. Well, then, how can a third? Then your mindset changes: Well I already had so many what’s the difference now if I have more. Bad habits, my friends, are little devils chaining you to the past and murdering your future. They try and please you and appease you as they steal your life away. For how many years have you been trying to lose weight, quit smoking, cut down on alcohol, learn Spanish? As I’ve written before, we must learn to be masters of the moment and not succumb to them, for the aggregate of these moments is your life. The distance between our wishes and goals seems like “the longest yard” because we are not focusing on the immediate step in front of us but on the entire conquest--exhausting us by its magnitude even before we get started. You must learn to say a decisive “NO” when a bad habit offers you an invitation--not a taste, not a sip, not another single lazy minute in bed. In this week’s Torah portion we read about the seven of the ten plagues and how Pharaoh hardened his heart against freeing the Hebrew slaves. The question has often arisen whether Pharaoh ever had free choice as to what he would do because it says on some occasions that it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart. But Maimonides teaches that the Egyptian ruler was himself responsible because he used his free will to “deal wisely with the children of Israel” and refused to let them go. He developed some pretty bad habits and the more a person engages in wrongdoing the harder it is to do good. He became a victim of his own actions. His lash may have enslaved the Jews, but the repetition of his own misdeeds enslaved himself and prevented him from repenting. Turning one’s back on God is hard the first time. It gets easier every time one does it. Pharaoh was caught in his own cycle of abuse. The initial performance of a wrong doing may arouse serious guilt, but when a person repeats it over and over again one eventually comes to deem it as permissible and soon elevates it to the status of a good deed: “If I didn’t have that drink, I’d go crazy”; “If I didn’t sleep with that other girl, my marriage would have never survived”; “If I didn’t eat that chocolate bar, I’d have no energy.” We are masters at manufacturing excuses for our weaknesses. But the prosecutor has the winning argument-- Exhibit “A”: Let the results speak for themselves. My friends, tomorrow, later, the first of the month, New Years are all false starting dates. There is nothing magical on those days that will transform you from what you are to who you want to be. The magic is in the current moment. It is up to you whether you will be its master or its slave