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Awareness is the first step to change.
A while back I went on a road trip with a couple of friends from Chicago down to Houston. After six hours in the car, we stopped at a rest area in Missouri. We got out, stretched, I went into the restroom to wash up and wet my face.
I immediately noticed something different about the restroom. It was sparkling clean and there was no cracked tile or graffiti. There were more mirrors than I was used to seeing.
As I washed up at the sink, the door opened and in walked an elderly woman. She was short, gray, and looked somewhat dazed. I was surprised to see her there but she looked harmless, bewildered – probably tired from hours of driving. She stood in the doorway staring but I confidently strode over to the air dryer then looked myself over in one of several full-length mirrors. I gave her a polite nod and walked out.
The bathroom door closed and that’s when I saw the sign on the door.
Gulp. I had entered the wrong restroom.
We all make mistakes. Here I was thinking that this woman was dazed and confused, entering the wrong restroom, when all along it was me who was confused and making the error. I blushed in embarrassment and laughed at myself.
We can go through chunks of time thinking we’re doing just fine, when in fact we are just unaware of reality. And that’s the first step to change: recognize that you’re the one standing in the wrong bathroom. If you don’t become aware of your mistakes, how can you own them and work on doing better?
It’s a challenge to admit a mistake. We like the illusory comfort in thinking we’re just fine the way we are. Owning up to a flaw pushes us out of our comfort zone and makes us responsible to actually fix it. That is exactly what the month of Elul is all about – becoming aware of the things we need to fix and getting more serious about correcting them.
The “Pillow Test”
One simple exercise to start with is what I call “The Pillow Test.” When you lay your head on your pillow to sleep, replay your day. Ask yourself:
This short practice re-enforces positive behavior and helps develop a habit of being more self-aware and objective about your actions.
When you decide to take steps to improve something about yourself, pick something small and manageable. Having someone to confide in and cheer you on or do the action with you is very helpful too.
Every day during the month of Elul we blow the shofar. It’s a wake-up call to the soul, my reminder to take an honest self inventory. Reflecting and taking small steps to change is the most powerful way to ensure you have a sweet new year.