How Can We Break With the Old and Create a New Season?

This week started the Days of Awe, as some Jews call the Jewish New Year. One prayer I particularly like on Rosh Hashanah is Rabbi Jack Riemer’s A Time for Turning. Here’s a highlight:

… takes an act of will for us to make a turn. It means breaking with old habits.

It means admitting that we have been wrong; and this is never easy. It means losing face; it means starting all over again; and this is always painful.

It means saying: I am sorry. It means recognizing that we have the ability to change. These things are terribly hard to do. …

Note that we first start by admitting we have been wrong. (I like to say I am a work in progress, and oh yes, I am definitely working on my progress.)

When Can You Say You’re Wrong?

Do I like to be wrong? No. Even worse, I dislike admitting I’m wrong to other people. That’s why I practice so much.

You might think that’s counter-intuitive, to practice admitting I’m wrong. However, the more I practice those “I was wrong” words, the more likely I can say them when I need to. When I do, something magical sometimes happens. The other person might say, “Hmm. Maybe I was wrong, too.”

I won’t guarantee you’ll hear that from the other person. However, if you show your flexibility, sometimes, other people mirror you.

Since I have been a work in progress for years, I learned the power of saying I was wrong as a technical person and then as a project and program manager. However, I saw much larger returns when I was a manager.

The first time I said I was wrong as a manager, the other person almost fainted. Then, he said, “No one in management has ever admitted they were wrong to me. I respect you so much more.”

I didn’t have a goal of getting more respect from him. In fact, I just wanted to get through the rest of the meeting and then cringe in my office. He told other people I wasn’t like the other managers. That helped people work with me more easily.

Once we can admit we’re wrong, we can break with the old and start anew. We might have trouble with that, too.

How I Break With the Old

At services (remote or in-person), I think back to my behaviors. Since I’m human, I tend to repeat behaviors, regardless of how well they worked for me before. I look for patterns. Then I ask these questions:

  • When do those patterns work for me?
  • How often do those patterns work against my desired outcomes?

Since I can now assess the success (or failure!) of those patterns, I can decide what to do.

I use a variety of habit books to help me learn new habits: Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, Fogg’s Tiny Habits, and Clear’s Atomic Habits. You might prefer Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. (I make no apology for my book addiction. That’s not going to change! I did not include links to the books.)

They say this differently, but they each recommend replacing an old habit with a new one. Then practice that new habit.

For me, it looks like this:

  • Find one small thing
  • Set up a reward system (that does not involve food!)
  • Make it easy to repeat that new behavior so the new behavior becomes my default.

That new behavior is how we start a new season.

That’s the question this week: How can we break with the old and create a new season?

And for my Jewish friends and colleagues, Shanah tovah.

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