By Mushka Silberberg
MyLife Essay Contest 2017
Pulling oneself out of bed at the command of the six a.m. alarm clock is never easy.
Most people want to be successful and productive, but when the daily grind hits, many cannot gather the motivation to actually do what they must. While they understand the negative results of not accomplishing tasks, somehow this doesn’t seem to motivate them to do things that they don’t like.
Chassidus teaches that one primary point is missing in people who are not motivated: revealed Ratzon (will, desire). Throughout Chassidus, Ratzon is described as an essential and powerful force so strong that, if channeled correctly, will impel people to do whatever it takes to fulfill their desires; it motivates them to do their daily important jobs not because they have to, but because they want to. In this essay I will attempt to explain parts of the Frierdiker Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson)’s maamarim[i], part of the Maamar יו”ט של ר”ה תרס”וfrom the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneerson), and part of באתי לגני תשל”זfrom the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson to answer the question “How can I motivate myself to want to do my daily jobs?”
In order to understand how to turn daily (boring, uninspiring, uninteresting) tasks into desirous actions, the concept of desire must first be explained according to Chassidus.
Humans are complex beings. Each person comes from one essential source, both physically and spiritually, which then differentiates into many parts. Physically, humans start off as a single cell, a zygote, which develops into many different organs in utero. Nevertheless, at birth there is one baby – the child itself, no matter how many distinct parts he has. The Frierdiker Rebbe explains[ii] that the same idea of separation and unification happens spiritually as well. The essential soul is divided into many different parts of our personality, into powers such as thought, love, discipline, perseverance, connection, talents and many others. There is one power, however, that unifies the entire person and is the direct expression of the essence of the soul – the power of desire, Ratzon.
Ratzon has an edge over all other qualities in three ways:
- Its essential nature. Ratzon is rooted in the essence of a person (essential desires like the desire for love, acceptance, respectability, family, purpose, independence, meaning), thereby defining him.
- Its main characteristic- its strength. “אין לך תקיף כרצון” – there is nothing as powerful as Ratzon. When a person desires something he will do everything in his ability to get what he wants[iii].
- Its dominance over the other powers of a person (thoughts, emotions). The Frierdiker Rebbe explains[iv] that desire subconsciously dictates to the person what he should do and why he should do it, why he should think what he thinks or want what he wants, all in order to get those essential desires fulfilled. Moreover, Ratzon empowers the brain to work harder and better when it is being used for that which the person desires. Thus, the Talmud states[v] that “a person should only learn in a place that his heart desires” since a person will actually perform better in a place where he wants to be.
But people are not always in tune with what their essential desires are, and real desires can remain quiet for a long time. A person might think that he wants something and do everything in his power to get it, but really achieving that desire will negate the fulfillment of his deeper desire. Example: A dieter thinks that he wants a piece of cake; what he really wants, however, is to be thin The desire for the cake actually contradicts his more essential desire to be skinny (which itself is only a means to achieve the even more intrinsic desire of feeling accepted by others).
The Frierdiker Rebbe explains[vi] that there is essential Ratzon and ‘borrowed’ (more superficial) Ratzon[vii], which consists of desires that a person has because of outside influences. Both types of Ratzon are very strong and affect behavior. Precisely because it is so strong, superficial Ratzon can be very dangerous. It can cause a person to fulfill his essential desires via external desires which can be very harmful. Example: a person internally wants to be at peace, but when he translates it to physical desire, he is affected by his surroundings which tell him that drugs will make him happy. He therefore works hard (because Ratzon is very powerful) to obtain drugs. Drugs of course will mess him up more and won’t get him to the peace he subconsciously seeks.
How then are people able to ensure that their real desires are the ones that are ultimately fulfilled, if superficial desires seem to usurp them?
The Rebbe Rashab explains[viii] that although a person’s Ratzon is very powerful, revealed Ratzon (which motivates people to do things, unlike essential Ratzon that can remain hidden) can actually be created by an even higher power – the power of Daas, higher reasoning and application[ix]. Through making the decision to apply oneself to a particular thing or idea, a person can actually create within himself a desire for that thing, something that he never wanted before. This is done by deciding that this will bring him to his essential desire. Example: Sarah may create a desire to be a doctor, based on her essential desire to feel respectable and independent. Therefore, she creates a list of new desires – to go to school, become familiar with biology, study instead of vacationing – that will subconsciously fulfill her essential desire. So although the new desires weren’t originally essential – because the person had to create them – they effectively become essential because they lead to the fulfillment of the essential desire. As the Frierdiker Rebbe states[x], the only way to fulfill essential desires is by getting to them through external desires – like the desire to be a doctor which was only created because of the essential desire for respect and independence.
However, these new-found desires may not be so enticing. Notwithstanding the fact that they were created to eventually fulfill the person’s innermost desires, the daily tasks themselves may not be especially enjoyable. The Rebbe in Basi Legani[xi] gives a solution to this problem: reminders. While explaining how to be motivated to serve God even when one doesn’t feel like it, the Rebbe says that reminding oneself about the purpose of his behavior is the key to being motivated. The job can be tedious, but if one is constantly reminded why he is doing it, he will begin to feel that he is fulfilling his innermost desire, and that will make him want to do it. Example: David decides to run a marathon to raise money for a playground for special needs children, because of his desire to feel purpose and needed. He motivates himself to make phone calls to prospective donors by reminding himself of the children’s smiles when they will use this playground.
An example of this concept in Torah is in Parshas Vayetzei [xii]when the Torah describes Yaakov’s enthusiasm to work for Lavan, his future father in law. The Torah states that Yaakov worked for seven year but it only felt like a few days because he loved Rachel so much. Yaakov didn’t necessarily enjoy shepherding, but because he constantly reminded himself that his work would bring him closer to Rachel, he loved the work as well.
Practically creating Ratzon
Five steps to help cultivate motivation, based on the Chassidic concept of Ratzon. Sit down with a pen, some papers and sticker labels (or paper and tape) and give yourself at least a half hour without interruptions.
- Write down the problem. Make a detailed list of all of the jobs that you have to get done but for which you have no motivation (include annoying little jobs like taking out the garbage). Then put the list aside.
- Inner awareness. Make another list, this time with a lot of thought. Reach deep into yourself and think of seven essential desires that you have or things that you want out of life. They should be things that, without them, you would feel incomplete. (Examples: feeling accomplished, love, family, purpose, etc.)
- Daas – Creating Desire. Bridge steps one and two. Pull out a third piece of paper, choose one of the seven essential desires that you listed, and make a process chart describing how you will fulfill your essential Ratzon. Example:
Make a chart for each one of your essential desires. Then take out the list from step #1. Make sure that everything from list #1 makes its way onto the seven charts.
- Analyze your charts. Realize that the only way to fulfill your essential desires is by doing the nitty-gritty daily jobs. Tell yourself: I don’t have to do them, I want to do them. If I don’t do those jobs, I am going against my very self.
- Reminders! You may understand now that you sincerely want to do these tasks, but remembering that might not be so easy tomorrow. Write on sticker labels reminders of why you are doing your work and stick them all around the place where you have to do your jobs. Examples:
- Stick a label on your steering wheel and write that helping others gives you purpose and meaning. Or write that you do carpool to take the burden off your husband because you love him.
- Paste a family picture on your filing cabinet at work – you are doing it for them!
- Paste a label on your laptop that says in big letters: I study and do reports so that I will graduate from college and become an engineer, which will make me feel accomplished and knowledgeable.
People don’t need to be motivated to do what they want. It may be hard to wake up at six am, but if there was a million dollars for the taking on the other side of the door, waking up suddenly wouldn’t be so hard. The trick is to switch all of the ‘have to’s’ in life into ‘want to’s’, because it is the daily tasks that truly fulfill one’s essential desires, without which he would be incomplete. And once the tasks turn into desires, people are motivated to do them because, after all, אין לך תקיף כרצון – there is nothing as powerful as willpower.
Sources and Footnotes
[i] . כללי חינוך והדרכה, פרק ט”ז. ספר המאמרים: תש”א-6,25. תש”ג-12-13
[ii] (pg. 25) ספר המאמרים: תש”א
[iii] )Pg 6ספר המאמרים: תש”א (
[iv] (pg 12) תש”ג ספר המאמרים
[v] מסכת עבודה זרה דף יט
[vi] כללי חינוך והדרכה, פרק ט”ז
[vii] In the words of the Frierdiker Rebbe, רצון עצמי and רצון מושאל
[viii] יו”ט של ר”ה תרס”ו, (ע’ תכח)
[ix] This Da’as is a higher level of Da’as than the one that’s generally spoken about in relation to Chochma and Bina. This Da’as is from, in Kabbalistic terms, the אווירא מהגלגלותא , and is called Da’as mainly because of its ability to connect the essence of a person to an outward desire that he wouldn’t have wanted otherwise.
[x] (pg 13) תש”ג ספר המאמרים
[xi] באתי לגני תשל”ז אות ז’
[xii] בראשית: כט,כ