Saturday, February 6, 2016

Adar I: Enhancing our joy

Dear Friends,

This post is about the Jewish month of Adar I, as it relates to The Chazak Plan: A 12 Month Journey to Spiritual Strength.

This year is a Jewish leap year which means that there are two Adars: Adar I and Adar II. Purim is celebrated during the second Adar.

Rosh Chodesh Adar I begins Monday night, the 8th of February, and lasts for two days.

Our Sages teach that with the arrival of Adar we increase our joy, culminating in the festival of Purim. Purim commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people during the Persian exile.

While we do not have direct control over our moods, the following are six tools which can be helpful in enhancing them: Gratitude, acceptance, self-compassion, expressing ourselves, addressing festering issues and making lifestyle enhancements. Many times, even using just one tool will help us feel better and increase our enjoyment of life. For more info, see 6 Tools to Enhance Your Mood

After reading the above article, choose one tool which you will utilize this month. Then, decide on the one change, technique or behavior, related to that tool, you will do on a daily or regular basis, for at least this month. You can add it to your checklist and track how often you do it.

Questions for the month:

“What do I think is most negatively affecting my emotional health? How will I address it?”

“What will I do this month to enhance my emotional health/mood and become a happier person?”

Take care and may God grant us success in the coming month,

Yaakov

Saturday, January 30, 2016

What Exactly Am I Waiting For?

Dear Friends,

There is often an area of our lives where we have been sitting on the fence, e.g., something we are doing we know is wrong and want to stop, a mitzvah observance we want to strengthen or begin, an act of kindness we are contemplating, Torah study we are considering, or an estranged relationship we want to repair. Other examples include making a career shift, moving to Israel, becoming marriage minded or breaking a bad habit. But perhaps we are ambivalent and the status quo continues.

Recently, there have been a number of tragic deaths of young people due to terror attacks, illnesses or accidents. Use these tragedies as a wakeup call, a reminder that no one knows which day will be their last. Now is the time to get off the fence and take action. To make the most of each day, giving priority to what is truly important.

Often, people’s deepest regrets are not what they did, but what they never even tried. Take the first step of a worthwhile goal and make the most of the strength God gives you.

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Do You Have Any of These 21 Annoying Habits?

Dear Friends,

Marshall Goldsmith in his book What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful lists 21 annoying habits which can harm our relationships at home and at work. For a list of them, click here.

I mention this list as well as other resources for personal growth in this article:

Personal Growth: How to Upgrade Your Skillset

One of the most destructive interpersonal habits is being hyper-critical (of ourselves and others). See,

6 Ways to Kick the Criticism Habit

Have a great week,

Yaakov

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Overcoming Our Soft Addictions

Dear Friends, 

Many of us have at least one area of our lives that has become unbalanced and excessive, e.g., overworking, overeating, overspending, or overuse of the internet or our smartphones.

If you struggle in one of those areas or a different addictive behavior, please see:


Have a good week,

Yaakov 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Shvat: Elevating the Physical AND Updated Checklist

Dear Friends,

This post is about the Jewish month of Shvat, as it relates to The Chazak Plan: A 12 Month Journey to Spiritual Strength.

Rosh Chodesh Shvat begins Sunday night, the 10th of January, and lasts for one day.

The 15th of Shvat is Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for trees. An aspect of this holiday is celebrating and elevating the physical. Part of sanctifying the physical is taking care of the body with which God entrusted you. During this month, choose to upgrade either your sleep, exercise or diet habits.

Pick one change you will make on a daily or regular basis, for at least this month, and using your checklist, track how often you do it. If you find the change very easy, add another one. Some examples: Go to sleep 15-20 minutes earlier each week until you feel refreshed in the morning; exercise 2-3 times a week or go for a daily brisk walk; cut out sugary drinks and/or foods from your diet, limiting them to special occasions. Make water your preferred beverage. If you do not like the way your water tastes, consider a filter. (For an informative article by Dr. Edelberg, comparing two popular diets, click here.)

A related point of focus for this month is to consider if there is an area of your life, where your relationship with the physical has become unbalanced and excessive, e.g., overeating, overspending, overworking, or overuse of the internet or your smartphone (surfing, texting, checking email, using Facebook etc.). Most of us have at least one area which, at a minimum, wastes our time and takes us away from more fulfilling activities. This month, pick one behavior to rein in and one behavior you would like to do more of instead.

Questions for the month:

“What will I upgrade this month, my sleep, exercise or diet habits?”

“Is there an area of my life which has become unbalanced and excessive, which at the very least wastes my time? How will I rein it in and regain control?”

“What would I like to do with the new time or money I free up?”

I updated the article, The 10 Item Daily Checklist. I combined two areas and added an additional one.

Take care and may God grant us success in the coming month,

Yaakov

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Everything Works Out in the End: Even when it doesn’t appear to

Dear friends,

Especially during times like these, we have to remind ourselves that, Everything Works Out in the End: Even when it doesn’t appear to.

If you didn't get a chance to read my latest article, here is the link:
You’re Not Arrogant, But Are You Truly Humble?

Have a good week,

Yaakov


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

You’re Not Arrogant, But Are You Truly Humble?

Humility is one of the most misunderstood character traits. People often think of humble individuals as those who are in denial of their talents. But that is not true humility.

True humility is realizing that you are an incredibly gifted and talented person. But only because God made you that way. Everything you are, your looks, intelligence, wealth and success, are all gifts from God. You can only take credit for the effort you put into achieving your accomplishments. Success from those efforts comes only from God. There are many people who put in more effort and are more intelligent, yet did not succeed. God alone determines who will succeed and when.

Moses is described by the Torah as both the humblest of men (Numbers 12:3) and the greatest of prophets (Deuteronomy 34:10). Moses wrote those words about himself (at God’s command)! This is no contradiction. While Moses realized he was the greatest prophet, he also realized that it was God who made him that way to teach God’s Torah.

How do you know how humble you are?

Here are signs of humility (generally speaking, the more signs you exhibit, the more humble you are): You treat everyone well and do not differentiate between people. You are slow to anger and quick to forgive. You admit when you were wrong and apologize when you caused distress. You give serious consideration to constructive criticism, without becoming overly defensive. You solicit the opinions of others and ask for their advice and feedback. You avoid honor and prefer to keep a low profile (unless it would advance a worthy cause). You dress modestly and not in a manner which shouts, “Look at me!” You take the initiative to make peace with someone, even when you think they are at fault. You are accommodating, flexible and easy to work with. You are generous and look for ways to help others.

Here are six ways to increase your humility:


1. Utilize personal challenges and troublesome current events. Consider that even with all that we have tried to resolve our difficulties, we still struggle with them, e.g., health, financial and relationship issues, and terror attacks, both in Israel and worldwide. This demonstrates how desperately we need God’s assistance; only He can help us overcome our challenges. Because of this, turn to Him in prayer and ask Him to bless our efforts with success.

2. Acknowledge your failings. You are no better than anyone else; we all have weaknesses. Any advantage you have over another is a gift from God. As soon as you start to feel superior to someone, think of how puny you are compared to God, and how you are full of flaws, failings and frailties.

3. Use humble self-talk. Say daily, “Everything I am and have accomplished is due to the help of my Creator. My successes and achievements come only from Him. I am completely dependent on Him. I cannot even get up in the morning without His help. He is my strength and with Him, I can do anything. Without Him, I can do nothing and would be totally helpless. In truth, without God constantly infusing me with life, I would be nothing; I wouldn’t even exist.”

4. Humble yourself before worthy rabbis and rebbetzins. Treat them with the utmost deference, solicitude and respect. Besides being the appropriate way to act, this will make you more receptive to their wisdom and increase your humility.

5. Tune into God’s presence which surrounds you always. Before prayer and when you are tempted to do something you know is wrong and against God’s will, say to Him, “God, I humble myself before You.” It is helpful to say this while imagining you are on your knees with outstretched arms palms up, and head bowed. King Solomon prayed in a similar posture of submission before God when he dedicated the First Temple (I Kings 8:54).

6. Ask God for humility. Like any achievement in life, humility is ultimately a gift from God. Ask Him to grant you an awareness of your utter dependence on Him and of His supreme exaltedness. Keep asking Him for humility, until your prayers are answered.

For additional ways to deepen your humility, see “Surrendering to God: 3 steps to transcend your ego” and Adversity + Humility + Acceptance = Transcendence.” Also see the sections on humility in the classics, The Path of the Just by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto and Duties of the Heart by Rabbeinu Bachya.

Cultivating humility is an antidote to many bad character traits. Here are examples of the mindsets of humble people which help them avoid the following three bad character traits:

Being hyper-critical:

“Who am I to criticize and find fault with others? Am I perfect and never do anything wrong? Wouldn’t I possibly make the same mistake if I was in a similar situation? Do I really have to bluntly point out people’s mistakes? What is a more sensitive way of helping them improve?”

Being inconsiderate or harming others:

“Who am I to cause others distress? I have no right. I’m no better than them. Without warning, the tables could be turned and I could be at their mercy, pleading for their assistance. In addition, I exist only by the grace of God. How dare I go against His command and harm His other children?”

Being judgmental and condescending:

“Who am I to pass judgement on others? Maybe there is some merit to their behavior/viewpoint or at least they think there is. Who am I to look down on others? God could have created me to be in their situation. Perhaps in some ways they are more righteous than I am.”

Humility leads to faith, acceptance and gratitude, important pillars of spiritual and emotional health.

Faith:

“I don’t understand how this could possibly be for my benefit. But what do I know? God knows best and I have faith that He is guiding my life for my highest good.”

Acceptance:

“How can I know better than my Creator what I truly need? I accept that whatever happens to me is for my eternal benefit.”

Gratitude:

“I’m not entitled to anything; nothing is coming to me. I’m grateful to God for whatever He gives me. I show my appreciation to Him, by using His gifts in permitted ways and by using them to help others. I realize that with ability, comes responsibility.”

Arrogant people think, “It’s all about me.” But when we are humble, we realize, “It’s all about us” – no one is better than the other; we look out for each other, just like we look out for ourselves. When we are humbler still, we build on the previous level and realize, “It’s all about God’ – all that truly exists is God; everything else exists within Him, as His creations. From this heightened level of awareness flows faith, acceptance and gratitude, a sense of being in touch with our true essence and one with our Creator.

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