“Don’t talk like that to your brother.”

“Don’t talk like that to your mother.”

“Are you telling the truth?”

“Hurry up! You need to learn how to be on time!”

Do you ever find yourself issuing a train of commands to your child, student or even yourself?

“You should budget better.”

“You should be more organized.”

“You haven’t volunteered in a while.”

“When was the last time you prayed with real feeling?!”

Here’s the thing with trying to tackle a number of things at once: It simply doesn’t work.

In Chapter 16 of The Principles of Education and Guidance, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe states clearly that an educator or counselor should not attempt to rectify two things at the same time. If a student struggles with both lying and getting angry, the educator should focus on working on the anger first. Anger has worse repercussions, and tackling it is a priority.

We are all mentors to someone, and as a mentor, it is your responsibility to focus your clients, students, children or friends. You might be tempted to have your client roll up her sleeves and get to work eradicating all bad habits. But a person’s behaviors and desires are a force to be reckoned with. (See: Are Your Habits Your Best Friend or Worse Enemy)

If you try to put a stop to too much, there will be an overwhelming amount of inner resistance. By allowing your client or student to indulge in desires for the time being, even if they are not the most positive ones, your client can focus her energies on her most glaring character defect. Of course, this is only the initial process, for once a person has incorporated new positive habits in life, he or she can get to work tackling the next most pressing behavior.

So put first things first.

Self-Reflection: Am I directing my client to work on the most important imperfection, or to acquire the most important positive quality?