The Torah’s clear guidelines provide for the constant exercise of discipline. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains: Jewish law is an ongoing training regime in willpower. Can you eat this not that? Can you exercise spiritually three times a day? Can you rest one day in seven? Can you defer the gratification of instinct?
As the Talmud says: “Who is the strong person? He who conquers his lower desires.” (Avot 4:1)
(1) Avoid temptation.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 107a) advises: For things you find hard to resist, avoid situations that challenge your self-control. If you’re on a diet, don’t visit the bakery. We all make mistakes and the risk of failure is not worth it. God will send enough challenges without needing to tempt ourselves.
(2) Build “discipline muscles.”
Choice is like a muscle: use it or lose it. The more you train, the stronger you become. Set achievable short-term goals by addressing small (yet significant) issues: e.g. eating healthier; better time management; more even-tempered.
(3) Undertake disciplined hobbies.
Playing a musical instrument – the focus, repetition and structure – is a great way to build discipline. Ditto for the rules and regulations of sports. The key is to set goals, focus your mental and emotional energies, and work hard to do your best. The sense of discipline will integrate into everyday life.
(4) Sufficient rest.
When we’re tired, our ability to resist – to say “no” – is weakened. Don’t let “willpower fatigue” cost you mistakes.
This Shabbat, take advantage of the opportunity to rest physically and spiritually and recharge for the week ahead.