Can a cheating spouse be faithful again? Can people learn to control their anger? Many people believe that genetic disposition determines who we are and what we'll do. Rabbi Shmuley disagrees and says people can change. "If you don't believe people can change, you're going to discard so many potentially fulfilling relationships," he says.
Change is never about changing your emotions or your feelings, Rabbi Shmuley says, because we can never truly master our emotions. Instead, change is about changing our behavior, he says. "If someone says they are going to change by controlling their emotions, that's a recipe for failure," he says.
Philosophers Aristotle and Maimonides said there are two kinds of human nature, the first being congenital nature, or genetic disposition, and the second being human nature that is acquired by habit. Rabbi Shmuley says the more you do the same behavior, the more it becomes ingrained in your nature, and habit becomes more powerful than genetic disposition.
Therefore, it is not your emotions that create your actions, rather, it is your actions that create your emotions. "The great secret of life is that we change our behavior through action and not by mastering feeling," Rabbi Shmuley says. "This is why routine becomes important in life." He uses the example of giving to charity. Rather than giving $500 at the end of the year, give the money throughout the year, so that, by habit, you become more charitable and generous. "It should be something you are, not something you do," he says.
"The secret to a successful life is to understand that it is not the emotions which govern our actions, but it is rather repetitive action that creates desired emotions. Therefore, if someone tells you they are going to change by mastering their heart, don't believe them. But if they define a strict regimen of action to bring about long-term change, then they have every shot of achieving their goals."
Published on July 31, 2008