I recently found myself at a gas station somewhere in rural New Jersey, where there’s no such thing as self-serve; state law requires that the attendant fill up your tank.

I opened my window to talk to the fellow who filled us up. Nice guy, mid-30s, with flowing blond hair and hands bearing tattoos that didn’t match his soft demeanor. It was instantly clear that this man had lived more life than his years belied.

As my tank filled, he pulled out a squeegee to clean the front windshield. I thanked him and told him it wasn’t necessary. “The window isn’t perfectly clean; I’d like to do it at no extra charge,” he said. Then he added, “I’m just trying to do the next right thing.”

Anyone familiar with the recovery programs would immediately recognize that as a recovery term that essentially means, “I don’t have to figure out how to live the rest of my life clean and sober, or know now and today how I am going to navigate every upcoming crisis without ‘picking up’ and ‘using.’ I only need to do the ‘next right thing.’ ” It is similar to another recovery slogan: Take it one day at a time.

I thanked him and shared a few recovery slogans of my own to continue the kinship. He smiled and thanked me for the encouragement.

It struck me that this slogan is an excellent metaphor as we prepare to experience the High Holidays.

As the Days of Awe approach, most of us realize that we are not where we’d like to be spiritually. We haven’t attained the goals we set ourselves in the previous year, or the many years prior.

We try again and again to set these goals for our Jewish development, and time after time we fail, leaving us to conclude that there must be something wrong with us.

But my conversation with the gas station attendant taught me the answer: Our problem isn’t that we don’t want to do the right thing or that our goals are too lofty. It’s that we expect to change ourselves in a single moment without ever regressing.

If you had a 100-lb. bag of diamonds that you needed to carry to your upstairs apartment, you wouldn’t be able to lift it, and if you tried, perhaps the bag would tear. But take the same bag and break it up into smaller packets, making multiple trips up the stairs, and the task will be easily accomplished.

Addicts know that even though they cannot choreograph their entire life, their entire year, month or even week, they can manage if they take it one day at a time.

The same is true for every person who is lovesick for a deeper G‑dly connection. If we insist on trying to achieve our spiritual goals all at once, we will inevitably fail. We can, however, succeed if we simply try to do the “next right thing.”

If we take our spiritual journey of recovery one day at a time, one step at a time, one thing leads to another and we will be able to look back at the year with pride at what we’ve accomplished.

This must be our Rosh Hashanah resolution. Sure, it’s important to set goals, to know what we are striving towards. But by breaking down those goals into small, manageable increments, we will move slowly and steadily in the right direction.

And when we finally get there, we’ll know it happened, not by trying to do it all at once, but by simply taking it one day at a time and doing “the next right thing” day after day after day.