Renewal, a practical Guide

by Orly Wahba

How do we successfully hit the reset button and give ourselves the chance to begin again without the baggage from past poor choices? I’d like to share with you some of my own methods of renewal.

For me, September has always been a month of renewal. Not only is it my birthday, it’s the beginning of the school year. Being that I have been on a school calendar for almost my entire life; first as a student and then as a teacher, September has always felt like the start of something new. On an even more personal note, the month of September also marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year.

I just want to interject that I have always been super careful not to bring up anything related to religion in regards to Life Vest Inside as the organization is an organization of the people; for all people regardless of what they believe or don’t believe; it’s place and platform where everyone is welcome and invited to be just who they are. That being said, I thought that these emails/blogs can be a fun way for you guys to get to know me a bit better. I just want to say that if perhaps I share something about myself that you don’t agree with for some reason or another please reach out to me. For me dialogue is key and I think that the world needs to be doing a bit more of that. I’m beginning to realize that we shouldn’t avoid speaking about certain things, instead what we should be focusing on is how to have open, honest and sincere dialogue with people that may believe or live differently than we do.

That being said, I guess you can say this post itself represents renewal; a renewed state of connecting of understanding and of sharing.

So why did I mention the Jewish New Year? As we all do, the new year forces us to reflect on our past year and take an accounting of all we’ve done and all we’ve accomplished. It’s natural then that we also take an accounting of all we haven’t been able to accomplish and the areas where we fell short. Looking at both are important when we’re hoping to start anew because it allows us to be realistic about the goals we hope to set for the coming year.

I have a very specific ritual I do every year; while I may not be successful in upholding the ritual to the letter of the law each and every year – the simple act of doing the exercise helps me focus on what I hope to bring into my life.

While the new year comes around only once a year I’ve oftentimes practiced this ritual mid year or revisited and modified the exercise midway.

Step 1: R&R

Find a relaxing place where you can let your mind rest and find calm

Step 2: Create a list

Make a list of personal, professional, and spiritual goals that you hope to accomplish by the end of the coming year, or the end of a given period. Ask yourself, how do I want these areas of my life to look like in so and so amount of time from now. Be as specific as possible.

Step 3: Break it Down!

Now that you know your goal, the next step is to create a spreadsheet that you will look at and consult each day. Listing large goals is not enough, we need to break them down into their parts. For example, what practical thing do you need to do either daily, weekly or monthly so that you can guarantee you will achieve your goal by the end of the year. For example, if I wanted to build a better relationship with my family. One of the more specific things I can list on the weekly section of my spreadsheet would be to call or visit my grandma, to organize a monthly family outing, etc…

What routines can you begin to implement in your life and/or what renewed vision can you adopt so that your goal doesn’t simply remain an item you wrote on a list but something you truly embody. A goal isn’t something you check off of a list. A sustainable goal is one in which you find a way to infuse into your daily life so that it becomes synonymous with who you are. The key is to remember that the greatest thing in the way of us achieving our goals is ourselves and so a renewed mindset is vital.

Step 4: Accountability

This is the most important part., and oftentimes the hardest. Print out your spreadsheet and keep it by your bed side. Make a commitment to read through the list every morning when you wake up and every night before you go to bed. Check off which things you were able to do that day. The left column should have a list of daily, weekly, monthly goals and the top row should have the dates for the month. Check off the boxes each day of the things you were able to accomplish. You want to make sure your goals are super small and achievable; after all it’s important to work off of positive momentum.

Regardless of whether you are able to check off everything on the list on a given day or whether you aren’t able to check off one item, the important thing to remember is to read through it. I’ve found that when I start I’m filled with so much excitement and energy I end up being able to check off everything from the list. If I find myself at the end of the day and there is only one thing not checked, simply reading it infuses me with energy to complete it just so I can check off the box.

Here’s where to be careful. The question isn’t whether you read the list on the day you accomplished everything. The question is whether you continue to read it on the day when you aren’t able to check one thing off the list. Guilt prevents us from wanting to even glance at the list; don’t fall into that trap. It’s ok to have days where you are on the ball and days when you’re not, but if you stop looking at the list, you will come to resent the things on that list because they make you feel guilty for not accomplishing them. It’s true what they say ignorance is bliss. We prefer to dismiss the list from our mind instead of looking at it and realizing that we are nowhere near being able to accomplish the tasks.

At the end of each year as I would take an accounting of my year, I would sit with all of my monthly checklists and analyze the points where I fell short, the times when I was successful in checking everything off my list and the times where it was clear I wasn’t even reading the list. I found certain patterns and took strides to prevent myself from falling into the same pattern. Whenever I find myself feeling overwhelmed, stressed or confused as to where life is going and my role within it all; doing this exercise affords me the opportunity to reconnect to a part of myself and look with fresh eyes to the future.

Don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself! I would never be so audacious to say that my method is the best method. I think that when it comes to personal growth we all need to find our own pathway. Perhaps there is something I’ve written here that speaks to you, perhaps it will lead you to creating your own tailor made formula for renewal. The one thing I have learned is that there is always something to learn from everyone and everything. Never close yourself to soak in tidbits of inspiration, motivation or knowledge from any sources. You may not enjoy an entire album, but you just may fall in love with one song.

Something to keep in mind when committing yourself to a renewed way of thinking or a renewed way of life – don’t fall into the trap of allowing your past decisions, choices and reality become your future. Think of each day as a blank canvas and you are the sole artist making all the calls. Perhaps today’s painting may not have come out the way you had hoped, but tomorrow is a new day with a fresh canvas waiting for you. We are not our mistakes, but if we allow our mistakes to define us we will never escape them.

I’ve found that in addition to allowing ourselves get in the way of our growth, sometimes those closest to us hinder our growth as well. Not because they don’t care or are unkind, but rather because they have a certain picture in their head of who we are and shifting that picture isn’t always an easy task.

I happened to have been a really tough child, always throwing temper tantrums growing up. I remember wanting to change and being embarrassed of how I acted but it was so hard for me to prevent myself from lashing out. My family members would often make fun of me and rightfully so, but worst of all I was labeled as the kid that would lash out and throw temper tantrums at the drop of a hat. As I started growing I made a very conscious effort to change. It took a lot of work; working on who we are on the inside is much harder than any physical work we can ever do. I was making great strides and I felt proud to see myself grow. But then I would “fall off the wagon” and have an isolated episode. I would immediately feel terrible but the hardest part was people saying, “You’re still the same. You never change.” I had changed and I was always working on how to improve myself, but one mistake erased all the progress in the eyes of others. This feeling can be disheartening and make you feel as though, “What’s the point in trying,” they’re always going to see me in the same light. It’s hard to convince ourselves otherwise, but we can’t change how people react to us all we can change is how we react to them, the choices we make. Perhaps you won’t get a pat on the back for the strides you’ve taken to improve yourself, but you know in your heart all that you’re doing.

I have changed so much since I was that child throwing temper tantrums. The truth is, having been that kind of a child allows me to connect and empathize with children who act out. It’s no wonder that during my years teaching, I always connected to the kids that teachers didn’t want to deal with. I would NEVER give up on them just as I never wanted anyone to give up on me. Our mistakes therefore, are the key to where our greatest achievements may stem from. I was the teacher I was because of those past mistakes.

Let’s remember that everything we are and all that we’ve experienced is yet another piece in our puzzle. It’s up to us to figure out how those pieces come together to make up the beautiful and unique picture that is YOU!

To all of us I say, allow the people in your lives to change for the better. Allow yourself to see those positive changes, those efforts at renewal, however small and seemingly insignificant they may be. Call attention to the positive even more so than the negative. By doing so, you become a part of a much greater change they are headed for.