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.
At this time of year we are thinking about the year just past, reflecting on where things could have gone better, and preparing to make a fresh start. This can feel overwhelming. We also might make the same old annual promises we failed to achieve last year, but without adjusting our strategy for getting there.
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
Therapeutic Writing Exercise
It’s one thing to talk about and share things with others. From a therapeutic point of view, personal writing takes things to a whole other, much deeper level of reflection. This paves the way for being able to move forward meaningfully. As a psychotherapist, I offer these kinds of exercises to my clients all the time. That is why I decided to make a therapeutic writing exercise for us for Yom Kippur.
This guided writing exercise includes specific questions to help identify what we want to achieve and how to get there.
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 find solo reflection and writing to be more beneficial. Many people do both.
Prompts For Yom Kippur Teshuva
I developed a Women’s Guide to Yom Kippur that is a therapeutic experience that you can do alone or with a friend. It includes a bit of reading, answering prompts and therapeutic writing. It is basically a therapeutic tool to support you to make Teshuva meaningful and actionable.