Thursday, March 27, 2008

What to Do When You Lose Your "Self-Motivation"

Click on over to A Simple Jew for our latest Q&A session. Here's ASJ's question and you can follow the link to see my answer.

A Simple Jew asks:

In our e-mail correspondence you indicated that you too have experienced the "lego castle phenomenon" in regards to your learning. After the thrill of starting something new slowly wears off have you found it to be difficult to maintain a daily learning regimen?

Dixie Yid Answers...

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of Shuvu

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Anonymous said...

I have a hard time saying that self-motivation is not from self but totally from Hashem. Bechira? Hakol b'yedai Shamayim chutz m'yiras Shamayim? Learning is certainly part of yiras shamayim. Sure, we thank Hashem for helping us and inspiring us but there's still bechira and an us.

I think the best way to handle your matzav is this:

Whenever I share the following insight with others, they seemed shocked by it. Here’s the insight: we as human beings are not designed to serve the Ribbono Shel Olam with constant enthusiasm and joy. In fact, it is quite normal and natural to have days when we serve Him that would be classified as ‘yemai sinah-days of hate.’ Days of hate?! Yes, you read that correctly. [This is explained in detail in Alei Shur, Volume 1, pgs. 34-35, based on the Sefer HaYashar (attributed to Rabbeinu Tam).]
Rav Wolbe, ztl tells us that we all experience times of aliyah, when we are super excited and energized with our davening, learning, chesed and general mitzvah fulfillment, but all of us also experience periods of yeridah, when we are ‘just aren’t into it’, when we drag our feet in our avodas Hashem. This is the normative cycle. When the times of yeridah occur, the instinctive tendency is for us to feel like ‘we failed again.’ We ‘beat ourselves up’ with thoughts of ‘I guess my avodas Hashem can never be on high level. If I can’t be consistent then I’m probably not real with it. I might as well give up on my high hopes and dreams and set my sights on a low level intensity of avodas Hashem.’ And this is where we make our colossal mistake, says Rav Wolbe.
The key for long lasting spiritual growth is to recognize and accept the fact of life that there are indeed going to be yemai ahavah, when we will feel great love for the Ribbono Shel Olam and His Torah, but there are also going to be days of hate, yemai sinah, when we just aren’t ‘in the mood’. The goal is to try to maximize the yemai ahavah, to maintain them for as long as possible, and to reduce and minimize the yemai sinah.
How should we handle ourselves when we find we are in the ‘days of hate’ mode? Rav Wolbe tells us the ‘way out’ of ‘yemai sinah’ is to make sure not to lose hope and be ‘meya’aish’. We must not give up our avodah entirely, not to resolve to stop whatever we were working on. As the Kotzker Rebbe said in a play on words from a famous sugya in the gemara, ‘Yeush? Shelo Midaas!’, Losing hope? That’s a lack of intelligence!
The proper way to deal with ‘days of hate’ is to go easy on ourselves somewhat, to lighten the load, but to still hold on to some aspect of what we were doing. If we had resolved to learn 4 hours a day and we find ourselves in a rut, unable to accomplish this, then we still must learn that day as much as possible, but intentionally less than our original goal. And so on for all areas of growth.
If we properly handle ourselves during the yemai sinah, then we will be able to get back to our grander goals that we set for ourselves when yemai ahavah come. But if we ‘crash and burn’ during yemai sinah, all of our spiritual goals will be lost.
This same idea is expressed sharply and succinctly by the Kotzker Rebbe (see Yalkut Maishiv Nefesh, page 129). We say in the Shema every day, that we must love Hashem with our entire life, bechol nafshecha, and Chazal say that this means even if Hashem takes our life away, even if we must die for Hashem. The same should follow, says the Kotzker, regarding the words bechol levavecha, that we must love Hashem with our entire heart, and we should extend the same Chazal, even if Hashem takes away our heart. Even if our inspiration to serve Him dwindles or is removed, even if we don’t presently have the passion to serve Him with the enthusiasm that we once possessed, we must still serve Him nonetheless.
The Yalkut Maishiv Nefesh (pgs. 124-125) quotes the same concept from Rav Chaim Volozhin in the Ruach Chaim on Avos: “A person is constantly going up and down (in ruchniyus). When he’s down, he feels as if whatever he does and has done in avodas Hashem was without a full heart, and he’s not accomplishing anything by doing it. He wants to rest and sleep deeply until the time of passionate avodas Hashem would return.. . .But a person can grow easily to a high level if he specifically maintains his avodah, even when feeling a weakening, a hisrashlus, rather than entirely giving up his service. If he gives up his avodah entirely (until he feels the passion again), he’ll distance himself further. . .’
Rav Chaim Shmulevitz (Sichas Mussar, 5732, Maamar 37) also states this insight into spiritual growth. The pasuk in Micha (7:8) says ‘Al tismechu ayvati lee, kee nafalti kamti, kee eshev b’choshech, Hashem or li-My enemies should not rejoice that I have fallen, because I have gotten up; when I sat in darkness, Hashem was a light for me.’ Chazal darshin and explain the pasuk as follows: that if I had not fallen, I would not have risen-ilu lo nafalti, lo kamti—I have only grown because I fell in avodas Hashem. I have only experienced Hashem as a light for me because I once did experience the darkness, the lack of spiritual growth.

And this: R’ Akiva Tatz in Living Inspired describes based on R’ Tzadok that the natural experience in life is that after we become inspired about something, the inspiration fades. We are incapable of maintaining the newness of any experience. Any true growth in Torah requires the following three step process: 1. A person is inspired artificially at the beginning of any phase of life, 2. Hashem removes the inspiration so that we work on acquiring a true connection to the issue which inspired us. In this stage, there is a danger that we will give up and fail to maintain the growth we did seek, 3. The challenge to fight back to the point of inspiration, and in doing so, to build it permanently into our character.
R’ Tatz writes: “Unfortunately, most people do not know this secret. We are misled into thinking that the world is supposed to be a constant thrill and we feel only half-alive because it is not.”

Freddie said...

This is relevant in so many ways. It is a bit of a relief to see that I am not the only one who goes through these cycles. Thank you both and thank you to ASJ for asking the question.

Anonymous said...

I can really relate with all this and I'm sure these insights are really gripping many others too!

Yasher Koach and keep up the amazing work being Mezakeh the Rabbim and being Mkarev Levovois Am Yisrael L'avihem Shebashamayim (if that is your desire that is)!

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Thank you very very much for your extremely thoughtful comment. I will definitely turn this into a post of its own!

Regarding your first point, of course it makes sense that "self" motivation comes from Hashem and not from ourselves. And it's davka from the ma'amar of "hakol biydei shamayim chutz miyiras Shamayim." Our inner wellspring of inspiration and natural motivation is outside the scope of "yiras shamayaim." It's something we *find* within, not create ourselves. We may sometimes do something despite the fact that we are not motivated to do so because we know it is the right thing, but the motivation its self is a gift from Hashem, like all kochos hanefesh that we are given by Hashem.

Regarding everything else that you said, it's great advice and well worth sharing. You might also like to see what I've written on the subject HERE. It's actually one of the first things that I wrote. Again, I'm going to have to re-read and think more about what you've written.


Thank you! And amen on the thank you to ASJ as well. And yes, I think the process of the ebb and flow of motivation is a fact of life so yes, I hope this is relevant to people!


Thank you very much! Amen to your bracha! And yes, my intention is to be mezakeh es harabim! IY"H, He should please make me a kli for that and not the opposite!