I’m not a big believer in making New Year’s resolutions, but this Rosh Hashanah I made a simple resolution that has the potential to have a profound impact on myself and others. I set a goal to do one extra thing each week to better myself and one thing each week to help others. True fitness encompasses the body, mind and spirit. Each of us has the power to work towards achieving our full potential. This is a lifelong endeavour and though our motivation may ebb and flow, it’s a worthwhile pursuit.
Self-improvement starts with acknowledging areas within ourselves that warrant change. In my case, I’d had a lazy summer in which I slacked off with my exercise. Although I ran my usual half-marathon in September, I hadn’t trained properly for it. I managed to complete it despite the extreme heat on race day and my lack of preparation in the preceding months, but I knew I could do better. I normally enjoy strength training several times per week, but this past summer I lost most of my motivation. The results showed. I gained some unwanted weight and felt a bit flabby. My pants were tight.
Success is not built solely on good intentions. Just a few days after getting back to the gym and the physical activities I enjoy, I pulled my lower back out. I wish I had a glamourous story about how that happened but it was really just a matter of coughing hard. Bending and getting up from a chair were moderately painful so I avoided exercises that might aggravate my condition, such as squatting and kickboxing. Instead, I did what I advise clients to do when they have aches and pains: I went swimming and I modified my strength training exercises. The worst thing to do when not feeling well is to avoid all physical activities. Swimming and other gentle exercises made me feel more energetic during this period. Once I was back into a routine and rededicated to my own health, I was mentally ready to do more for others.
The commitment I made to regularly do good things for others enhanced my spiritual fitness. The first week of the New Year, I delivered a health and wellness workshop at a dress-for-success women’s conference. I did this as a volunteer and spent about 20 hours
preparing my presentation.
The next week, I heard that the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank was low on supplies so I bought a cart full of canned goods and dropped them off. After learning of an old friend’s difficult situation with a very ill spouse, I reached out, reconnected and invited him to my home for Yom Kippur breaking-the-fast.
Another day, I raked all the pine cones from my front lawn and did my neighbour’s lawn, too. While I’ve heard that the best way to give to charity is to do it anonymously, I believe that sharing one’s good deeds inspires others to perform acts of kindness. The interesting thing about doing mitzvot is that it’s like exercise for the soul. In a world that sometimes seems frightening and hopeless, consciously doing good deeds helps remind us that there is more good than evil in the world. Whether you give of your time or your money to those less fortunate or simply smile as you pass a stranger, it’s a gift to yourself as well. Giving lifts your spirit.
If you are stuck in a rut and want to do something similar, identify what you’d like to do for yourself and ways you can help others. The best way to help others is to ensure you’re looking after yourself. When you’re not feeling well, you’re not in the best position to give of yourself. The more we practice something, the more habit-forming it becomes. At first, we may have to really think about “What exercise should I do today?” or “How can I help someone less fortunate today?” Eventually it becomes second-nature.
The best gift may be the gift of compassion, whether it’s compassion for yourself and tending to your health or compassion for others. Whether your contributions to yourself and others are big or small, whether they involve your time, money, energy or skills, they add up and make a difference. I’d like to challenge everyone to do one extra thing each week that makes a difference to your own well-being and that of others.