Over and over again we hear that the best way to make longterm spiritual improvements is through slow and steady work towards our goal. How many times have any of us been told that the surefire way to a BT backslide is to take on too much too fast.
Recently, on a personal productivity blog, I learned of the Jerry Seinfeld method of self improvement and thought it was very well suited to spiritual improvement and Torah learning. Granted, it is not an earth-shattering, ground-breaking method. But nine times out of ten the best way to do things is so obvious it is overlooked.
Basically, the way Jerry Seinfeld became a successful comedian was through self-discipline and a visual method of encouraging himself to keep up the good work. He purchased a large wall calendar (the kind where you can see the entire year on one page) and challenged himself to write one new joke a day. Every day that he wrote a new joke, he got to draw an ‘X’ through that day on the calendar. Once he had a few days in a row with X’s through them, he had a chain and was motivated to “not break the chain.”
Again, this method sounds very simplistic, but I can tell you it is very satisfying to see a wall calendar with weeks worth of red X’s. And this method is particularly well-suited to Jewish learning as so many of our most important texts have already been broken down into segments suitable for daily learning.
I personally have moved my Seinfeld-style chain to a website called ToDoist (www.todoist.com). It’s a website that allows you to set up all sorts of “to do” lists and manage large projects. The site’s creator has created a tool within the site meant specifically for the Seinfeld method of self improvement. I’d be happy to explain how to use ToDoist in the comments if anyone is interested.
So why not challenge yourself to learn a little Torah each day and pat yourself on the back with a a visual record of your accomplishment? If you are still growing in your mitzvah observance, this could also be a great way to progressively take on new mitzvot. For example, you could use this method to start saying the bedtime Shema each night, or laying teffilin, or saying the Birkat Hamazon. Seasoned BTs might want to challenge themselves to eliminate loshon hara from their lives; they could mark their calendar every day they filled with only positive speech. The possibilities are endless.