EmunaDating re-post: I think she's had some work done

By: Samantha Hulkower

People go to all sorts of extreme lengths to make themselves more attractive to the opposite gender, but very few take it to the extreme: getting 'work done'. No, I don't mean plastic surgery, I mean working on their middot, or character traits, to make themselves more appealing. This is hard. It's easy to fix yourself when it means paying some money and waking up with a new nose or smaller waist, but it's a lot harder to actually take the time to change yourself from the outside in.

Something I've heard time and again from my married friends is that they wished they'd spent more time working on their middot while they were single. Working on refining our character traits is like any other sort of exercise - the more you do it, the easier it gets. It's much easier to work on being patient before you are saddled with a spouse and lots of kids, than first starting the process en media res

The question becomes, what should I be trying to improve about myself? Most of us are aware of at least a few things we could be better at (being on time, procrastinating, jealousy), but we can also look to Judaism for help. Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of Our Fathers, actually lists for us 48 ways to improve ourselves (6:6). They are listed as the 48 ways we 'acquire Torah', but since derech eretz kadma l'Torah, you need to be a mench before you can even think of trying to learn Torah, I think they can be applied to improving yourself in general.

So where to begin? From my anecdotal experience, it seems that most people try to work on the big, obvious ones: reducing anger, being more patient, trying to be happier. These are of course very important areas, and will not only help you in dating, but in all areas of your life. However, our Sages go through dozens of ways to improve ourselves, which can also be incredibly useful, and more powerful than they may seem at first glance.

For example, the second middot listed is bishmiat haozen which literally means listening ear. Isn't that redundant? Of course ears are for listening! Ah, but this is the key - how often are we in a conversation with someone and instead of hearing what they are saying, are only listening for a break so that we can share what we think. That's not really hearing anyone. When we actively listen to others, we are focused on them: their words, their body language, their facial expressions. When taken together we're even able to hear what isn't being said. Often, when people are in a bad place emotionally, they might say everything is fine, but if we really listen to them, we can hear they really need help but perhaps are to proud or shy to ask for it.

Another under-appreciated middot is yishuv bemikra, which can be translated as prudence or deliberation. Not to sound like your bubbe, but we live in a reactionary-make-a-decision-now-and-change-your-mind-later-ADD world.  The frenetic energy with which we live our lives is not conducive to behaving in a cautious manner. There is a correlation between cell phones and people flaking on commitments in life because it's so much easier to send a text informing the other party you changed your mind. Perhaps you knew you wouldn't have time for the three things you agreed to do in one night, but didn't want to miss out on the fun. This is where we need more yishuv bemikra in life. Before over-committing yourself, think about if you really can make it. No one likes to be thought of as a flake and you build a lot more social capital when you are reliable. When we are conscientious with our actions, we'll inevitably become more sensitive to others and how our actions impact them.

Being self-aware is a great start, but not necessarily enough to change our behavior. In the video above, Rabbi Twerski goes over how to refine the middah of anger. We can extrapolate from his example ways to improve all of our middot. When exhibiting the negative trait we want to be rid of we can break the experience down into three steps:

1) Feeling
2) Reaction
3) Letting go

We have no real control over our feelings. Experiencing emotions is natural and part of being alive. The second phase, reaction, is where we can start to exhibit self-control and thereby work on ourselves. We can fall into our former habit of being reactive and relying on the bad middah, or we can be proactive and change the way we are viewing the situation. This is a great way to not get carried away by negative emotions, like anger. In the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Steven Covey tells a story of a dad riding the subway with a bunch of really rambunctious kids. One of the people finally goes over to the dad and asks him why he isn't doing anything to control his kids. The father explains that his wife, their mother, just died, and everyone is having a hard time processing that information. With this information, how could anyone on the subway be mad at the commotion? Not that we need to always assume the worst case scenario to explain away people's behavior, but we can see why there is a mitzvah to dan l'kuf zechut - judge someone in a favorable light, or give them the benefit of the doubt (which by the way, is one of the 48 ways to improve yourself!).

The last step is perhaps the hardest - we have to let go of the way we are used to responding. Habits can be good or bad - so if we are trying to rid ourselves of a bad habit, we can do so by creating a good habit in its stead. If you have a tendency to interrupt people in conversations in order to let them know what you are thinking, we can let go of this unhelpful habit by trying to actually listen to and take pleasure in what the other person is sharing with us. Or if the habit is trying to be more prudent or thoughtful, rather than being reactive and regretting our decision later - stop and really think about your options and each possible outcome. The more you stop and think about something before reacting, the easier it becomes, and the better you'll feel about your decisions (and be less likely to suffer from FOMO). 

Making any positive change in ourselves is hard. Whether it's starting a new workout routine at the gym or with your habits. One way or another, the time will pass, it's up to us to make the most of this time and the opportunities we're given. 

No comments:

Yashar LaChayal

The majesty of the Western Wall

Nefesh B'Nefesh