This month in the Jewish calendar is the month of Elul, the last month of the year. The days of Elul lead up to the new year (Rosh Hashana), which in the Jewish calendar is a time of celebration, but also one of serious reflection and accounting for one’s actions.
This Elul, I and countless others across the globe are taking upon ourselves different challenges that are designed to push us to grow, to overcome negative habits, and to nurture positive ones.
I like to call it my 1-month self-development boot camp, and encourage every leader to engage in such a process at least once a year. Here’s the breakdown:
- Pick one small area you would like to work on abstaining from, and commit to it for the next 30 days. This should be a very, very small goal—one that you can accomplish. If the goal is too big, it will become overwhelming and you are likely to slip up. For example, a friend related that her goal for the month was to stop sending smiley faces in her emails to clients and co-workers. She felt they were juvenile and gave the wrong impression, but always seemed to default to them anyway. Another friend mentioned that she was going to commit to stop rolling her eyes at her employees from 9-10AM for the next month. She did not say “I am never going to do this,” but rather gave herself a realistic but challenging goal that she did accomplish (and in time, was able to completely stop this negative habit).
Starting with something small allows you to taste success, to get used to avoiding the negative behavior, and to move forward with confidence that you can overcome any negative tendencies.
- Do a personal accounting of your actions every day. Get a journal or even a Word document on your computer, and spend five minutes at the end of each day writing down what you did, how you feel about those actions, and what you would like to improve tomorrow. For example: You may have woken up 15 minutes early for a stretching routine and tea before your kids get up—amazing! Write about how this made you feel, and commit to doing this again if it served you well. You may also have snapped at your co-worker who made a huge mistake that cost you a lot of time. Write about how you would like to respond the next time something like that happens.
Personal accounting can be a bit uncomfortable at first, but is perhaps the most valuable tool in identifying behavior patterns and changing them, as well as recognizing and celebrating all the positive things you do. I would also encourage you to read the previous day’s accounting each day to set the context.
- At the end of your month, pick three focus areas for the next year. After 30 days of working on rectifying a negative habit and journaling about your self-development journey, you will have a much clearer idea of what you truly need to and wish to focus on. Take some time to reflect on your effort to abstain from a negative habit: were you successful? How did that success make you feel? Do you feel more empowered to chip away at other negative habits? Then, read through your journal. You will start to see patterns that pop up, often related to the struggles you experience with #1 in this process. Based on your findings, determine what three areas need your most focus in the coming year. They could be in different categories, such as spiritual, physical, and professional. Or perhaps they are relational, professional, and professional. The point is that these three areas represent the areas in which you want, and need, to grow. Pick words or short phrases to represent these areas. Write them on your bathroom mirror. Put a notification in your cell phone. Whatever you need to do to keep these words in plain sight; do it.
When your 1-month self-development boot camp is over, you should have a lot more clarity about what exactly you need to focus on to grow as a leader, and as a human being. You will know, with certainty, that any extra time or energy beyond your regular responsibilities should be devoted to working on those three areas that you identified through your boot camp process.
Accounting for one’s actions and taking initiative to grow is not an easy process, but it is perhaps the only way to truly grow and to reach your potential, which is far, far greater than what you perceive.