The literal translation of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is “head of the year.” The word shana also contains the root of the word that means “change,” which gives us a secondary meaning of “head of change” or the “beginning of change.”
This is part 2 of a series exploring some ideas about what this means and what we can learn from it. In Part 1 I shared 3 steps to beginning a change.
Change is a Process, Not an Outcome
Have you ever committed to making a change in your life, and then after a few weeks, you fell off the wagon? Or perhaps you returned from a seminar (in the pre-COVID days) motivated and inspired to take new actions, but a month later the only function your workbook is serving is as a door stop.
If you’re human, and you’re being honest, the relevant question isn’t “have you ever” but “how often?” It happens to everyone.
Consider that the vast majority of people stick to their New Year’s resolutions for 2 weeks before falling off.
Why is it so hard to make changes that stick?
This is something I have investigated and experimented with for years. I’ve implemented several changes that I’ve sustained for years, so I have some good field tests and insights to inform my views.
One factor seems to be how we think about change, which is reflected in our language. We often speak of change as the outcome, or the end-goal:
Things change. People change. I’m going to make a change.
The literal meaning of Rosh Hashana teaches us that change is a process, not an outcome. If change has a beginning, then it also has a middle and an end.
Yes, things change and people change. But they don’t change once and stop. Everything is constantly changing, until it dies. Between birth and death, we are in the middle; always changing.
Change is the Beginning of the Process
Another way we can understand this is to put a pause between the words: Rosh, Hashana means “first, the change.”
We get the same meaning if we reorder the words: Hashana Rosh: the change is first.
What this tells us is that change — or the process of change — is only the first step in a bigger process that leads us to our outcome.
When we set out to make an intentional change, the change itself isn’t the end goal. It’s the path to the outcome.
Consider that personal development seminar. Your outcome isn’t simply to attend the seminar and get inspired. You want to create a transformation in your life. The seminar is the catalyst for the change that starts your journey. It is the beginning, not the end.
The Jewish High Holidays are like a personal development seminar. A pause in time to examine our lives, and determine what we need to change. A month of observances starts us on the path to embody a transformation.
But change in and of itself is not transformation. For transformation we must repeat the change — for a long time. (Much longer than the 21-day myth that gets circulated.) And transformation itself is a process.
Making a change and repeating that new action over time yields insights and revelations, which may inform new actions, which yield new insights. This is a cyclical process, a spiral. Over time, and many revolutions of this cycle, we find ourselves transforming.
We respond to situations differently, our perspective shifts, we expand our capacity to hold more.
Change > Repetition > Revelation > Revolution > Transformation
Rosh Hashana isn’t the moment of change; it’s the initiation — a catalyst for the process of changing our direction and returning home to ourselves and restoring our wholeness.