Continuing the topic of hisboninus discussed last week, we find in Alei Shur (vol. I pg. 90) that Rav Wolbe enlightens us to the proper method of mussar study. Mussar has the potential to change a person entirely - but only if studied properly. The most crucial aspect of mussar study is hisboninus: contemplating the idea being discussed in the mussar sefer. Moreover, one who studies Messilas Yesharim will discover that in truth, the way of attaining each end every spiritual level discussed in the sefer requires hisboninus.
There are two stages of hisboninus with regard to mussar study. Therefore, the amount of time allotted for mussar study should be divided into two halves. If one has ten minutes, the first five minutes should be spent on contemplating the idea being discussed to ensure that it is fully understood. One must bear in mind that there are no empty expressions in mussar seforim. Every word was measured and written with the intention of conveying a specific message.
Let us take an example from the Mesillas Yesharim. In the beginning of the second perek the Ramchal writes: "Hinei inyan hazehirus hu sheyheye ha'adom misbonein u'mifakeiach al ma'asav u'drachov ha'tovim heim o lo l'bilte azove nafsho l'sakonas ha'avdone chas v'shalom v'lo yeilech b'mihaleich hargeilo k'evair b'afeilah" - "Behold, the concept of vigilance is for one to contemplate and examine his actions and ways to determine if they are good or not; lest he abandon his soul and endanger it to destruction, G-d forbid, and he should not perform actions out of rote like a blind man in the dark."
Firstly, one must understand the difference between contemplating and inspecting, and actions and ways. Then he must determine why acting out of rote is dangerous to the point that it borders on a person's spiritual destruction. Finally, if acting out of rote is indeed so terrible, he must calculate what ramifications this fact will have regarding those actions that are in reality just habits from childhood.
The second five minutes should be focused on comparing what he has concluded from the mussar sefer with his personal state of affairs. He should determine exactly how far he stands from the ideal described in the sefer, and what the causes for the discrepancies are. When he has accomplished this, he should take the idea that he studied and repeat it over and over passionately, with the intention of internalizing the message and putting the newfound knowledge into practice. However, one must bear in mind that if he wishes to make a change, it must be done slowly. If one adjusts his behavior too drastically at once, he will most likely not be able to sustain the changes and will end up with nothing.
The above method of mussar study is tried and true. Why not try it today and see for yourself? You only stand to gain!