What will you do better this year?

I’d like to do EVERYTHING better this year. Isn’t that what overachievers are supposed to say? But trying to do everything better seems like a recipe for hardly doing anything better. Woody Allen pushed this idea to the limit when he famously quipped “My only regret in life is that I’m not somebody else.” We’d all be wise to stop well short of trying to be other people and concentrate instead on how much we can hope to be better in the coming year. Rather than make a few random resolutions for 5773, the big questions are: What should I learn to accept about myself and others? What should I try to change?

A spiritual practice requires us to ask these very questions regularly. Jewish spirituality teaches us not to accept ourselves as finished products; we are works in progress. Beyond simple personality quirks, there is much about each of us that could be better–though our efforts to improve ourselves can be excruciatingly difficult. Rabbi Israel Salanter, the founder of the Musar movement in Judaism, taught that it is easier to learn the entire Babylonian Talmud than to change even one character trait. Being spiritual means working on ourselves daily so that we can more fully actualize our true spiritual natures.

What Will You Do Better This Year? Being spiritual also means being generous in spirit, not only during the Days of Awe but all days. The only thing that is harder than changing our own character flaws is to stop focusing on the faults of everyone around us. Many wise teachers have suggested that we should each possess a good size cemetery in which we can bury the faults of our friends and neighbors.

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