The doctor gave me one year. I either lowered my cholesterol or I was starting medication.
Unquestionably, I needed to get my act together. So I began the process of eating less. Eating healthy. Working out. And hoping that it would make a difference. With genetics against me, I knew I could do everything right and still have high cholesterol come the end of the year. But nothing was for nothing. Even if I couldn't lower my cholesterol, a healthy lifestyle and moderation with eating was something I desperately needed.
Over the last year I saw a lot of changes and shifts. Not just in my body, but my overall attitude and perspective. And I learned that it is not about huge changes but the small steps that very quickly add up. One day I wasn't able to do five push-ups. A few weeks later, I was able to do almost 20. It was about consistency, determination and ensuring that I was constantly aware and focused on the end goal with every decision I made along the way.
And then it struck me.
When it came to my body, it was easy to chart and see the changes. I could write down what I ate and compare the caloric intake to a different day. I could see when I was doing well and when I wasn't. I could easily calculate how much more weight I was able to lift, squats I could do and pounds I had lost.
And somehow, in a day where I didn't think I had any extra time, I managed to squeeze in that workout and take an extra 10 minutes to record what I was eating. Because it was important.
But what about all the other aspects of my life? Did I truly believe I could change in the ways I reacted or interacted with others? When I saw behavior patterns I didn't like or were unhealthy, did I feel I could overcome them? Intellectually, I knew that if I could alter my body I could alter my behavior. But emotionally, I didn't believe it. It wasn't until I spat out in a confrontation, "Well, this is who I am... deal with it!" that I realized I had given up on myself in the ways that were just as important, if not more so, than my physical health.
My children needed a more patient and focused mother. My husband needed a wife that was truly able to listen and connect. I needed to stop allowing endless distractions to keep me from my goals and what I so badly wanted to accomplish. But I just didn't know how to get there.
I had to face the reality that I had been lazy. On all levels. I didn't have the strength to do a push-up a year ago any more than I had the attention span to listen in a focused way when others tried to speak to me. But if I deemed it important it could change.
There is a powerful concept in Jewish philosophy that until recently I hadn't fully grasped. Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneerson, known as the Rebbe Rashab, taught, "It an absolute duty for every person to spend a half hour every day thinking about the education of his children, and to do everything in his power -- and beyond his power -- to inspire his children to follow the path along which they are being guided," (Hayom Yom, 22nd of Tevet).
A half an hour a day. Thirty minutes. Less time than the average TV show. Less time then I spend checking Facebook statuses. Less time than I work out each day. Just 30 minutes.
But can you imagine the outcome and results of a focused half an hour really thinking about our children and their education? A half an hour asking the following questions and coming up with solutions to: How can I ensure my children are inspired? How can I enrich what they are getting in school? How can I help them put their knowledge into action so that they are not just learning concepts but truly understanding them, integrating them and living them?
And this idea applies to all of those relationships and situations near and dear to us. We must invest time -- daily -- in being a better spouse, a better friend, a better employer or employee.... If we want to be successful and healthy, it takes hard and consistent work.
When I am honest, I realize that while I have spent endless hours worrying about and even fixing situations with my children, their education or their predicaments, I usually waited until there was a full-blown problem to get involved. Only when a child was not succeeding or an issue was present did I step in. But preemptively? Proactively?
We shouldn't wait for the bad report card, a call from the principal, blood work that is off the charts or the threat of divorce to do what is healthy and right. We shouldn't wait to fix problems that are already there but to create an environment so that those problems ideally won't arise. And even if they do, they will be noticed right away so that they can be dealt with before they intensify and get seemingly out of control.
But it is never too late. There is no such thing as going past the point of no return. Is it harder? Sure! Will it take that much more dedication, focus and extreme measures? Yup. But it can be done. Yet it won't happen until we truly open our eyes, look at our lives and those around us, and do an honest assessment of what needs to change.
So the year my doctor gave me has come and gone and I just got back the results from my recent blood work. My cholesterol amazingly dropped 36 points putting me in the "desirable" category from the "moderately high/high." I have proven to myself that change is not only possible, but necessary. And whatever can be done physically must be done emotionally and spiritually as well. I owe it to my children. To my husband. To myself. They need and deserve a healthy wife and mother on all levels. I deserve a healthy me.
So this year, I have new workouts to try. New choices to make. New goals to reach. For my body, my mind, my heart and my soul. There is no such thing as "this is who I am." I am who I work on becoming. As Jewish philosophy teaches, "Nothing stands in the way of will."
And it all begins with just 30 minutes a day. Thirty minutes. Every day. One day at a time.
Sara Esther Crispe is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, where this piece originally appeared. Interinclusion is a multi-layered educational non-profit celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom.