Chodesh Elul is the perfect time to pick something and stick to it. All month.
Every spring, I get a clear reminder of how hard it is to create a new habit. I suffer from seasonal allergies, and taking my allergy medication is something I will constantly forget, only to be reminded as the day progresses along with the pile of used tissues.
By week number three I am automatically reaching for my Claritin without giving it much thought. This means three weeks of unnecessary suffering have passed and I have finally learned, the hard way, and made it into a habit to take my allergy medication with my coffee.
Why is it so hard to remember?
It’s not a hard thing to do. It’s just not part of our routine. So, making it routine, would mean making it a habit.
For the longest time, I’ve been trying to make it into a habit to daven before I begin my day. Somehow, it just didn’t happen. I’d be successfull for 2-3 days, then forget, get busy. There was always something distracting, something that seemed more important that needed my immediate attention. No matter how much I wanted it, it just didn’t become part of me. Many days, before I knew it, it was 1 p.m., and my opportunity was gone.
Right before Purim I read an incredibly inspiring article right here on Between Carpools on the topic of the women’s role in tefillah (see the article here). I have heard countless of shiurim on the topic, yet, somehow, this one hit home.
I started davening Shacharis from that day on.
I admit, it was hard. It seemed like it didn’t always “fit in” in my schedule. Some days were just too hectic. On those days, Hashem sent me a message to show me how time is His and not mine to decide how to use it. My 20 minutes that I couldn’t spare in the morning got wasted at Target with a new cashier his first day on the job. Or another time, it took forever to fill up on gas. As I sat there gritting my teeth, the message came across loud and clear, and I said “Thank you.” I was reminded, again, that I didn’t save any time that day by not davening.
Still, it was a daily struggle. I had to make it work. But how? I was determined to make tefillah part of my day.
As I looked into the challenge I realized that I was struggling with creating a new habit. I started researching the challenge to create new habits and stumbled upon charts called “habit trackers” or “bullet journals.” It seemed I was not alone. Change is hard.
There is a controversy whether it takes 30 or 60 days to create a habit, but either way I did not care, I was loving the journals. The dot to dot method really appealed to me. Connecting the dots, not breaking the line, it’s almost addictive. You’ll do everything you can to keep the flow. And so, I decided to give it a try. I printed a simple paper filled with…….just dots. I wrote my name, and hung my chart in the kitchen. I labeled it “Mommy” and displayed it right there, proudly, next to the Hatzalah number and Child D’s artwork.
The next morning, at breakfast, everyone was intrigued.
“Ma, is that a picture you, uhm, drew?” asked child C, attempting to keep a straight face. I resisted the urge to pinch his freckled cheeks. I wanted to see where this is going. Sometimes, if you don’t answer immediately, interesting debates will evolve. And like I said:
“It’s not nice to make fun of Mommy’s art! She’s not so good at drawing because she doesn’t have time to practice! She also doesn’t have good crayons.”
Child D was coming to my aid. She looked so serious and a bit sad for me.
“Hellllllooooo, it’s just a new diet. Can’t you see?” said my eldest. “It’s so obvious.”
“Gee. Mom’s diet flatlined.” said wise man, Child B.
At this point, I decided to come clean. I told them about my struggle to make tefilah a part of my routine, and how, my routine always changes, yet I never forget to drink my coffee. Or eat.
How I always find time to check my emails. So why, wasn’t I making the proper time to daven? What was my excuse, exactly?
They sat quietly, listening as their Mother shared a struggle. And maybe a method to find a solution. Child D suggested colorful markers will help. And then, it was time to catch the bus.
The next day, as I walked into my kitchen, I saw it immediately: Child A had added her name to my chart. Halfway through the page, there it was. One dot, connected to the next dot.
I looked at her, and she quickly said “It’s a different struggle. Not Tefilah. You mind?”
Of course I didn’t. And I didn’t ask either. Because, big or small, we all have things we want to improve.
So far, she’s going strong. And so am I.
We are making waves. Or rather, straight lines.
How to use the chart: Simply draw a line for every day that you complete the task. The goal is to not break the chain! That’s what makes the chart addictive. The chart is also completely versatile. You can use each line to keep track of different tasks, or use them to list the months of the year and keep track of just one, or use them to list different family members. Customize it for you! It’s also practical for both children and adults.
What are some things your children might want to track? Doing homework, brushing teeth, flossing, washing negel vasser…whatever needs to become “a habit.” Good luck!