A New Attitude

Written by Michael Milgraum on . Posted in Advice Columns

Pesach is a season of liberation, both externally and internally. In fact, the root of the word Mitzrayim (Egypt) is tsar, which means a narrow place. It is during the season of Pesach that we reflect on the narrowness that constricts our lives, such as prejudices, lack of proper perspective, pessimism, and being stuck in bad habits. Some people struggle with repetitive thoughts of resentment, regret, or hopelessness. Others might incessantly worry. Then there are those who engage in emotional eating, excessive screen time, staying up too late, or spending too much time on the couch. Below, I offer few suggestions to help shake up your life and get you out of that rut.

Think Top Down. If you don’t know what habit you want to change, then you are very unlikely to experience any changes. Some people only have a vague sense of discomfort and have not really identified what needs to be reworked in their life to feel better. Take some time to really identify how you need to improve. If you are unsure of the answer, maybe you can ask your significant other or a good friend. Or maybe you can read a Mussar (character development) book to clarify areas in which you would like to improve.

Write it Down. The Hawthorne effect refers to a well-known series of psychological experiments, in which it was discovered that merely observing a phenomenon can cause it to change. One of the best ways to observe ourselves is by committing observations to writing. For example, it is clinically known that merely writing down the time, quantity, and type of food that one is eating can lead to weight loss. This weight loss effect probably is the result of the increased awareness of the details of food intake, as well as a greater feeling of accountability (e.g., I don’t want to look over what I ate this week and see written down that I ate that whole tub of ice cream). Trying too hard to lose weight can be very stressful and is hard to maintain. The method of writing things down to build awareness, without trying too hard, is a gentler strategy that may work better over time.

Regarding bad mental habits, making notes of excessively depressing or anxious thoughts during the day can help us find a path to more emotional stability. One can do this in journal form or can make a chart noting the distressing thought, the related emotion, and a more positive thought to focus on instead.

Don’t Go It Alone. Having a partner involved in your change process is a tremendously helpful strategy to get over inertia and to make lasting changes. Exercise with a friend, or ask your spouse to give you a gentle reminder that you made a commitment to go to sleep before 11. Discuss your daily progress and challenges with someone close to you. Make arrangements to reach out to a good friend if you are about to engage in a behavior that you know you will regret.

Less Stress. One of the primary reasons people abandon their resolutions is that they are feeling too stressed to persist. The bad habit that you have classically reached for in times of stress is very likely to rear its ugly head again when stress is at a high point. Place a stress-buster routine in your daily schedule. It could be whatever works for you; e.g., going for a walk, calling a friend, some gentle stretches with deep breathing, listening to music, or sipping hot tea.

Inspiration Upholds Aspiration. Focus on sources of inspiration to help you stay motivated. Read a self-help book; pray for help; or listen to an inspiring Torah class, either in person or online. Remind yourself how your growth and improvement will positively impact on the lives of your loved ones. Read biographies of people who have overcome severe obstacles.

May Hashem grant you all success and a happy, uplifting, and meaningful Pesach!

By Michael Milgraum


 

Michael Milgraum, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist who sees individuals, couples, and families in Kensington, Maryland. He can be reached at (301) 980-3997 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.