The ritual of teshuva can be set up as a time to reassess the past year, and come up with ways to improve and change in the coming year. Sadly, many of the promises I make to myself turn out to be empty promises.
The three main reasons I don’t keep my promises to myself are:
- My promises are actually a lot of abstract wishes
- I have no accountability structure for the promises I make
- I do not take the time to “fill out” my promise
In terms of personal change and improvement, an abstract wish list is a good place to start. Writing down or thinking about all the ways you may have “missed your target” this year and all the ways you wish you would change can feel like a huge release emotionally.
However, how many of us can really focus on improving 10, 20 or 50 of our personal behaviors? Choosing one of two items on the wish list and transforming them into goals is a relief and makes change feel possible.
As with any hopes for behavior change, setting up an accountability structure increases our chances for success. Accountability is how you “hold” your promise to yourself. Some people can do this themselves but most of us do better with support.
Solo accountability structures include putting a reminder in your calendar, wearing a piece of jewelry to remind yourself or putting a sign with your written promise somewhere where you will see it every day. Support accountability structures include joining a class or group, hiring one-to-one support, or finding an accountability buddy who is hoping to achieve a similar change.
I am yet to meet a person who is able to change a behavior by just casual thinking alone. That is called “wishful thinking.” To change a behavior, most of us have to spend time to clearly and specifically define what we want to achieve. One of the best ways to do this is to use prompts that get your ideas and emotions flowing. Some people learn more about what they want through dialogue while others while others find solo reflection and writing to be more beneficial. Many people do both.
Here are the prompts for Yom Kippur. You can, of course, add your own prompts to these. Fill them out alone or with a friend.
Prompts for Yom Kippur Promises:
On a blank piece of paper, write down all the big, hidden and tiny ways you “missed my mark” this year.
Fill in the blank promises:
I promise to ______________,
I will make space in my life for _____________
How is this promise so important to me this year?
How will I know if I am keeping my promise?
What will my day look like when I keep my promise?
What differences will I and others notice as I keep this promise this year?
What might get in my way as I try to accomplish my personal promise this year?
Name three ways I will hold myself accountable to the promise I make today?
Name one to three people who can support my accountability to this promise?
Your turn: How do you define teshuva? How do you make time for it before Yom Kippur?