Tafasta merubah, lo tafasta; tafasta mu'at, tafasta.

If you [try to] take many, you will not take [anything]; If you [try to] take a small amount, you will take [it]. (Chagigah 17a)

Feelings of anxiety often result from believing that you need to do more than you can possibly do.  Unfortunately, anxiety often is expressed in the form of anger at the people and tasks you have taken onto your plate to do.

Feelings are messengers, they tell you that something is happening inside of you.  You may be feeling happy, sad, anxious, scared, or innumerable other sensations.  Just like with human messengers, when you do not like their message, do not shoot them.  Denying or ignoring your feelings won’t help. 

What will help is to listen to the message and take the time to figure out where it is coming from, what are you thinking when you are experiencing that feeling.

For example, I see a white object rapidly coming towards me.  I think it is a baseball and I feel afraid.  Feeling afraid is helpful if it is a baseball because you need to get out of the way to prevent getting hurt.  When I see it more closely and think it is a Nerf ball I no longer feel afraid because I think I am safe even if it hits me.

Too often, we use the following pattern: I feel an emotion; I react.

When you adopt the pattern I feel an emotion; what do I think might happen, or did happen, that is causing me to feel this way; what would be my most helpful behavior now, you replace reacting with responding.

When you are, chas v’shalom, in immediate danger, you need to react.  At other times, responses are usually helpful and reactions are usually harmful unless carefully harnessed.  Perhaps that’s why we have nuclear reactors and first responders.

Okay, Rabbi Ackerman. I was feeling stressed, perhaps anxious, edgy, and easily angered.  I thought about where it was coming from and I figured out that it was coming from having too much on my plate.  So now I am ready to respond instead of reacting.  What is my response supposed to be?  And why is it that I can manage my plate for a while and then suddenly I can’t?  I don’t think I just added anything.

I don’t think your feelings are the result of a sudden change in the contents of your plate.  In order to answer your question, I am going to switch metaphors from plates to camels.

A straw cannot break a camel’s back.  Not even THE straw can break a camel’s back.  That one straw broke the camel’s back only because it was placed on top of many other straws that were already there.

So you are saying at that some point I have to let some things go?

Not necessarily. Prioritizing and letting go is one strategy you can employ.  There is another.

When your camel is stressed by the weight of the number of straws, there are two ways to respond.  One, you can remove some straws.

Ayn adam yotzei min ha'olam v’chatzi ta'avosav b’yado.

No one leaves this world having fulfilled even half of his desires.

(Koheles Rabbah 1:13)

Choose which ones are most important to you, which people in your life are most important to you, then which tasks.  If you do not make these choices with your thoughts, they will be made for you by your emotions.

Two, you can strengthen your camel.

You may be able to increase your tolerance for stress and, perhaps, to become less stressed by the demands made upon you by others and by yourself. 

Here is how some people manage the stress of meeting many demands.

Someone recently posed this question to me: we all know that “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” But why is that? Why exactly do busy people seem so reliable?

It is true that those with a lot on their plates are often willing to take on more...

I think reliability and busyness go hand-in-hand for two reasons. First, those who are successfully juggling a lot have good systems for avoiding dropping balls. They intuitively think like project managers. How long will the proposed task take? What steps are involved? When would each step need to be completed by, and what problems might arise that would preclude meeting those deadlines? They keep looking ahead to see what’s on deck. Then they build in enough margin so that when things come up, as they inevitably do, they stay on track.

To continue the juggling metaphor, someone who has figured out how to juggle six balls won’t be flummoxed by a seventh. It just goes in the queue and  cycles around like the rest.

But the equation goes the other way, too. It’s not just that busy people are reliable. The more profound insight is that reliable people become busy.

I’m always surprised at how infrequently reliability–that seemingly obvious strategy for career success–gets employed. I’ve had conversations with book editors who report that they set “official” deadlines far ahead of the real ones, because they assume a big chunk of authors will be late with their manuscripts. There are obviously reasons for this self-preservation strategy, but it’s also sad. Reliability fundamentally comes down to keeping your promises. You are as good as your word. Being a person who can be counted on builds trust, and trust is the foundation of deep, long-lasting relationships.

If you’re choosing who to work with, wouldn’t you rather choose someone you trust than someone you don’t? If a person has shown himself worthy of your trust, you want to work with that person again.

Over time, as this realization gets repeated, the reliable person winds up with many opportunities. He becomes busy. That’s why if you want something done, you ask a busy person. He’s busy because he’s shown he can get stuff done.

(Why Already Busy People Are More Likely To Get More Things Done, Laura Vanderkam, Fast Company, April 22, 2015)

Reliable parents rarely say this:

I know I said I would take you there.  I’m sorry, sweetheart, I won’t be able to. Something came up.

We remind ourselves of the importance of reliability every morning.

Va’tahkem es divarecha ki tzadik atah.  And You kept Your word because You are a Tzadik.

You don’t think you are a tzadik? 

She’harei b’midas hatzedek atah noheig. You conduct yourself with the middah of tzedek.  (Yesod Malchus Siddur)

Employ your middah of tzadek when it matters to your child and you want your child to know that he matters to you.

Anyone who does not live up to his word in business dealings and in all interactions with others and retracts his word has to accept upon himself mi shepara, [an awareness of misdeed].  This is because those who do not keep their word bring themselves to speak falsehoods and accustom themselves to it.  (Kad haKemach, Emunah)

Parents who keep their word earn their child’s respect, love, and trust.


Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.

He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time  Available at bookstores and on Amazon.

He can be reached at 718-344-6575.