Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Broken Windows Approach to Kavvanah

"Broken Windows" is a name for a crime-fighting approach which says that society can reduce the overall level of severe crime if it takes action against the initial steps of lighter crime - vandalism, for example. You can see more information about it, as well as criticism, here.

I have found that the same approach helps with my continual search for greater kavvanah (focus) in my davening (prayer). There are initial steps that begin the distraction, and if I can catch those and halt/prevent them, I am more likely to succeed in davening as I wish.

Examples of "broken windows":
1. The first moment when a voice in my head says, "Have you taken care of..." or "What will you do about...". (When possible, I jot down the subject on a piece of paper, enabling me to dismiss it without fear of forgetting it.)

2. Having a distracting object in my line of sight. (See Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 90:23.)

3. Walking around while davening.

4. Coming into davening as it starts (or later).

5. Engaging in a serious conversation right before davening. (Yes, this is already identified as a problem in the fifth chapter of Berachot. For that matter, so is #4.)

6. Learning Torah during davening. (See my Chocolate Chip Pizza post here.)

7. Telling someone, "I'll speak with you right after davening." (cf. Rabbi Preida on Eruvin 54b.)

Does this resonate? What "broken windows" would you add?


  1. You right it down In the middle of davening or later on?

  2. You could turn the distracting thought into a prayer. From "did you take care of" to "Hashem, help me take care of", and thereby naturally segue back. Similarly, thoughts that aren't concerns naturally flow into gratitude or praise. After all, He created anything we might be thinking about, from the cute thing our kid did to anything -- even sexual attraction.

  3. Mark-
    In the middle, other than Shema/Shemoneh Esreih. But I am working on training myself to wait for paragraph breaks.

    R' Micha-
    An interesting thought, thanks.