If one has a several undesirable qualities of character that have to be changed, should he try to correct them all at once, or separately?
That depends how much time a person has. But practically, it’s advisable to take one at a time. And one at a time really means months and months. It takes months of hard work to uproot a bad middah.
However, there is a sefer called Cheshbon Hanefesh, and he has a program for working on many middos at one time. But it’s a system, a system with a plan that has to be followed rigorously. According to his system, you choose thirteen middos that you feel are necessary for yourself to work on. And then you compose thirteen paragraphs, one for each middah, that are full of admonitions and wise counsel about these middos. It would include מאמרי חז”ל, advice culled from the mussar seforim, practical עצות for your own situation, and anything that would help you move forward with that middah.
Now, each week you concentrate on only one of the thirteen. Thirteen is a fourth of the year, so in the course of a year, over fifty-two weeks, each middah is repeated four times. Thirteen middos in thirteen weeks, and in the course of fifty-two weeks, you’ve gone through each middah four times.
He advises however, that even though each week is to be devoted to its own middah, but it’s still good to skim through the list every day, just to remind yourself. Even the middos that you’re not working on this week, the names of them on the list will remind you about them.
And therefore, there are systems of how a person can succeed in working on his middos. And the Cheshbon Hanefesh’s system is a valuable one. And there could be other ones, other programs as well. Whatever it is, it will require planning, and it will require effort. Good things don’t come easy.
TAPE # 607 (August 1986)