Positive Vision - Day 34
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger
Our weekly excerpt from the book "Positive Vision"
Day 34 - The Laundry List - What You Have to Lose
We humans are both blessed and cursed with the need for our behavior to be consistent with our beliefs.
On the one hand, this is a blessing because if we figure out what we really believe in, we instinctively wish to act in accordance with that. It is a curse too, because if we act self-destructively, the need to justify our behavior is so strong that we allow ourselves the most far-fetched rationalizations. We change our beliefs to be consistent with our actions.
For instance, everyone knows that smoking is dangerous, but some will continue to smoke nevertheless. To justify their behavior, they will convince themselves with the most far-fetched arguments: “It’s so enjoyable, it’s worth it.” “The chance of contracting a serious disease is grossly over-estimated.” “It’s anyway impossible to avoid every possible danger.”
And of course, the ever-popular, “I can stop smoking at any time, so why stop now?”
These ridiculous rationalizations address “cognitive dissonance” - the feelings of discomfort that result from the discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors. At the moment of a nisayon, our mind becomes “fried.” We throw the yetzer tov some meaningless rationalization and plunge forward, ignoring the inner voice in our head that is telling us, “You’re gonna regret it.”
To avoid these contrivances, we must prepare a quick mental list of the downsides of submitting, and the reward for persevering, even before the challenge presents itself. (Bear in mind that the more these considerations are focused on self-interest, the more powerful they are.)
Here is a sample:
• I will feel depressed afterward; the pleasure lasts only a very short time. I remember how I felt after the last time I did this.
• I want to have a happy marriage and I don’t want to undermine it.
• I’ll never be satisfied, and it will just get harder to stop; it is like trying to quench thirst with saltwater.
• Eventually, I will lose all pleasure and will be left with out-of-control behaviors from which I will derive absolutely no pleasure.
• Everyone gets caught sooner or later - picture what that will feel like!
• I will pervert my mind and forfeit my desire to learn.
• How can I be a two-faced faker all my life?! If I live a double life with a hidden secret, it will eventually catch up with me and I will live in shame.
• Living a double life brings on social difficulties. It will distance me from my friends and will leave me excruciatingly lonely. My underlying guilt will turn against me and cause the many disquieting physical manifestations of severe anxiety.