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The Battle of the Generation - Day 27

Our weekly excerpt from the book "The Battle of the Generation"

Chapter 12 - Quitting Cold Turkey vs. Quitting Gradually

There are two ways to change bad habits and break free of addictions. The first is to quit cold turkey: the person departs entirely from his unsatisfactory behavior at once. The other method involves gradual change. The person changes one kind of inappropriate behavior at a time until he escapes it completely.

Quitting cold turkey has its advantages. When done right, a person can leave entire addictions behind in a short time. He won’t need to maintain his attention and effort for nearly as long. Although at first he will need extreme willpower, he will quickly develop new habits and need even less willpower than a regular person. Once he gets through the initial difficult period and eases into a new way of life, it becomes much easier to control himself.

However, quitting in one shot requires much internal strength and willpower. It is best employed by someone with a clear, unstressed mind. (See Sefer Cheshbon Hanefesh, subsections 11-12.) Usually, it takes strong motivation for someone to make such a dramatic change and stick to it.

Often, this method needs a life-changing experience that creates a sudden shift in perspective. Feelings that can spark such a change include a surge of strong positive motivation and healthy ambition, or the guilt and clarity obtained from hitting rock bottom. The most effective transformations combine both — the person is shaken up but is also excited to do something about it and become great.

Healthy Ambition

Ambition is spiritually and emotionally healthy when the person wants to reach what he aspires for — rather than feeling pressured to do something against his will. The person is excited about fulfilling his dreams, rather than feeling that those “dreams” are unwanted obligations that just cause him pain. He must also feel capable of fulfilling his aspirations.

Thus, our true goal must be to put in effort and fulfill our potential, rather than to achieve a specific goal that might currently be beyond our control or capabilities. Although we should set clear goals to attain certain spiritual levels and achievements, our real goal must be to do our best. Specific goals are important because they help us grow, but at the core of any specific goal must be the understanding that true greatness is determined by effort and capability. We must also be flexible and adjust our expectations based on our circumstances. We must keep asking ourselves what is healthy for us and what will last.

We must remember that if we do what is appropriate for us, that is true success no matter what we tangibly accomplish. Achieving what we are capable of places us at the greatest spiritual heights with everyone else who has achieved greatness. There is nothing more that Hashem wants from us or that we should demand from ourselves. For more on this, see Chapter 23.

This combination of clarity and motivation decreases the amount of willpower necessary to overcome bad habits. The person can ride this burst of determination to be much stronger than usual. Once he has acted properly for enough time, new habits will form and override his old ones. Thus, this initial burst of strength makes it much easier for him to quit cold turkey.

How do we figure out whether a sweeping, instantaneous change is a good idea? If the person wants to leave the bad behind and believes he can succeed, he should try it. But if he doubts he has the strength to pull it off, or if he is not sure he wants to give up his old ways, this method is unlikely to work. He should not expect himself to be instantly changed. Without that initial burst of energy, he probably won’t be able to break free in one shot. He must plan accordingly and change gradually instead.

Thus, a plan involving gradual change often is the best way to attain self-control. If a person just “does not feel it,” it will be hard for him to change his life. Though he knows he should stop sinning, he might not have the strength to sustain such a big change. But because deep down he wants to be good and do what’s right, he can set up a plan to change his behavior step by step until he achieves his goals. This method requires much less motivation and willpower than instantaneous, complete change.