This is from Alan Morinis’ Every Day, Holy Day:
MAN IS BY NATURE very “weighed down” by an earthiness and coarse materiality. That is why he does not want to exert or burden himself. But if you want to merit to divine service, you have to fight this nature and be self-motivated and enthusiastic. For if you abandon yourself to this heaviness, you will not succeed in your quest.
—RABBI MOSHE CHAIM LUZZATTO (1707–1746)
PHRASE If not now, when?
PRACTICE Every day, tackle one of the things that has been languishing at the bottom of your to-do list.
(Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Days of Teachings and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Mussar (p. 14). )
I have to agree with Rabbi Luzzatto. For the most part, humans are by nature weighed down. We tend towards inertia. Some more than others, but I can imagine that everyone knows what this feels like. That sense of “I really should get up and do X, but I just want to sit here and do Y.” Y being the thing that will not move you in the direction of accomplishing anything meaningful, and X being the thing that will.
Why is this? Luzzatto observed this in the 18th century. Morinis writes, “It is reported that when Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv (1824–1898), the founder of Kelm Mussar, awoke in the morning, he would immediately spring out of his bed in great haste, as if a highwayman was standing behind him threatening to kill him—in order to overcome laziness and implant in himself the trait of enthusiasm.” (Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Days of Teachings and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Mussar (p. 12))
I find that habit amusing and somewhat extreme, but it’s telling. This reminds me of a mind game I played with myself when I ran and swam. When I ran, I would pretend that I was being chased by a serial killer and had to run to get away from him. I can tell you that I did run faster. When I was doing laps, I would pretend that a shark was in the water. I had to swim to shore to avoid being eaten. It certainly was a way to “instill enthusiasm” into my workouts.
How do we find a way to instill enthusiasm into our lives and growth process then? Pretending that there is a killer standing behind me threatening to take me out every morning doesn’t sound appealing. I already consume enough coffee to cause my cortisol levels to spike.
The only answer I can find right now is hope. We must have hope. We must come to the conclusion that there is a valid reason to get out of bed in the first place. We have to give ourselves permission to fantasize. To dream. To ask the question, “What is possible for me?” And the answer cannot be, “Nothing.” Something must be possible for us. Just because we haven’t thought of it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
A few years ago, I was working on a project with two very interesting and very intelligent people–two mathematical savants. I wasn’t sure what I could contribute, but they said I was needed. I just sat there. The intellectual third wheel. Listening to them problem solve was fascinating. They couldn’t solve the problem, but David was not to be thwarted. I heard him say, “It’s either Option A, Option B, Option C, or…Option D.”
I had been listening to them try to figure out the problem all night. I knew what the possible solutions were, but I had no idea what Option D was.
“What’s Option D? You haven’t mentioned that yet,” I asked.
David grinned at me and answered, “Option D is something I haven’t thought of yet.”
That is a genius approach to problem solving. Option D. Always leaving room for possibilities and positive uncertainties. Option D represents our hope that we will come up with a better solution. At some point. We just don’t know it. Yet.
Option D takes the pressure off, too. Why? Because it leaves space for creative thinking, risk taking, and going off the map. Option D is out there. We can only see so far. Option D, the right answer for our problem, might be right over the horizon. Or, we might meet a person who has the answer, and we have the question. Put the two of us together, and, suddenly, magic has been created. History has a plethora of examples of Option D couplings–those creative partnerships that change the landscape of their part of the world. Think of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the Warner Brothers, the Wright Brothers or even William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson.
In any case, part of instilling enthusiasm into our lives is leaving room for Option D. We might be feeling pretty defeated and anything but enthusiastic, but when we consider that something else is possible hope is kindled.
Option D is an idea worth looking at. So, if you are in a situation that feels binding and impossible, then consider applying a new filter–a reframe if you will. Go through all your options. Problem solve until you can’t problem solve anymore. And then, add on Option D–“Something I haven’t yet thought of.” Pay attention to any shifts that occur inside you. Give it time. If you have been entrenched in circular thinking and panic, then be mindful of yourself now.
Removing limitations on possibilities allows for more creative flow, calms down the limbic system, and actually allows us to problem solve more effectively. Option D acknowledges that we do not know what will happen while acknowledging that we know something good just might. We are allowing ourselves to plan for goodness rather than catastrophe. It subverts the automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) so common to anxiety-provoking uncertainties which are common to life.
If you want to try to cultivate enthusiasm for your life which will fuel your own transformation, then I suggest taking a look at the Option D Approach. Suddenly, a lot more becomes possible when you remove your own mental limitations.