Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Adar I: Enhancing Our Joy

Dear Friends,

This is a post 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 months of Adar. Purim is celebrated in the second Adar. Rosh Chodesh for this month is this Friday and Shabbat, January 31st and February 1st. The month of Adar I begins on Shabbat.

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.

Six tools to enhance our moods are: Gratitude, acceptance, self-compassion, expressing ourselves, addressing festering issues and making lifestyle enhancements (these tools are discussed in the readings below). Many times, even just using one tool will help us feel better and increase our enjoyment of life.

After reading the articles, choose one tool which you will utilize this month. Then, decide on the one change, technique or behavior, related to the tool, which you will do on a daily or regular basis, for at least this month. Use your own checklist or the Daily Checklist Template to track how often you do it.

Readings for the month:

3-Dimensional Acceptance: A Pathway to Peace and Power

6 Tools to Enhance Your Mood

The 2 Forms of Divine Providence: Purim and Passover

Please help spread the word about The Chazak Plan to family and friends.

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

Yaakov

Sunday, January 26, 2014

On Aish.com: 10 Ways to Tackle Your Challenges

Dear Friends,

Aish published a version of my article, “How to Overcome Your Challenges: 10 Ways.”

Please click on the link to access the article.
http://www.aish.com/sp/pg/10-Ways-to-Tackle-Your-Challenges.html

If you like the article, please share it with family and friends.

Thank you and take care,

Yaakov

Thursday, January 23, 2014

3-Dimensional Acceptance: A Pathway to Peace and Power

Our attitude toward life exists on a spectrum. On one side is total resistance, where we resist anything we do not like. On the other side is total acceptance, where we accept life as it is. Generally speaking, the closer our attitude is to the side of resistance, the more irritable, depressed and anxious we feel. The more we shift our attitude toward one of acceptance, the more peaceful, content and calm we will feel.

At the root of resistance is often a sense of entitlement. When people think they are entitled for their lives to be a certain way, they expect life be that way. When life does not go as expected – which it rarely does – they become distressed.

We have to question our sense of entitlement. When we were born, did God give us any guarantees or make any promises?

In truth, nothing is coming to us. Everything we have is an undeserved gift from God for which we must be grateful. Once we are ready to let go of our sense of entitlement, we are ready to reap the rewards of acceptance.

There are three dimensions of acceptance: Accepting your present circumstances, accepting yourself and accepting other people.

Accepting your present circumstances

To do this, trust that God is guiding your life and doing what is best for you, even though you do not understand how. Do not resign yourself to a situation, work toward a better tomorrow, even as you make peace with the way things are. God wants you to do what you can to improve your life, while at the same time accepting each challenge as His will and for your eternal benefit.

Comparing your life to others undermines acceptance. For example, you may think, “Why can’t my life be like theirs? Why can’t I have a wonderful spouse, great kids, good health and earn a comfortable living?” To counter this, say to yourself, “God gives each person what they need to fulfill their unique purpose in life. If they have those blessings, then they need them. If I don’t have them now, then right now, I don’t need them.” Turn your attention to what you do have; be grateful for your talents, gifts and blessings. Use them to find meaning and fulfillment now.

To gauge your level of acceptance, note the level of tension you feel when you think about a difficult issue. The more you are able to accept a situation, the more relaxed and calm you will be when thinking about it.

Choose one of the following three breathing techniques, to enhance your acceptance of a challenge, and use it regularly:

(1) Think while slowly breathing in, “This is God’s will” and while slowly breathing out, “I accept this.”

(2) Think while slowly breathing in, “God is with me” and while slowly breathing out, “I relax into my Father’s support.”

(3) Think while slowly breathing in, “God is with me” and while slowly breathing out, “God is giving me ____.” (Fill in the mindset you need to deal with a challenge, e.g., peace, comfort, strength, courage, patience, acceptance etc.)

When we view our difficulties as bad, we resist and say “No!” to them. With faith in God, we can shift our attitude from “No!” to “OK” and sometimes, even to “Yes!”

Saying “Yes!” to your issues does not mean you like them or that things will work out the way you want. It means you realize that your challenges are from a loving God and that in some way – often beyond your comprehension – you will benefit from them.

The next time you have a difficulty, think “Yes!” If no one is around, repeat this word out loud with feeling, while pumping your fists triumphantly in the air, confident that God will help you overcome.

When faced with a challenge, an alternative to saying “Yes!” is to tell yourself enthusiastically, “It’s going to be great!” You don’t know how or when – in this world or the next – but somehow you will gain from this challenge; it will be a steppingstone to achieving greatness.

For some situations, less exuberant statements are more appropriate. Here are some to choose from: “It’s going to be good,” “This will work out,” “I can handle this,” “I can do this,” “I can get through this,” “I will triumph,” “I will overcome,” or, “I can overcome this.” Once you have found the phrase that feels most empowering, say it whenever you think about or encounter a difficulty.

Accepting yourself


Do you accept yourself the way you are?

If not, then you have not yet accepted God’s will, because God created you the way you are. None of us is perfect. God created each one of us with a unique set of weaknesses and strengths. By overcoming our weaknesses and developing our strengths, we best fulfill our life’s purpose. Do not berate yourself over a weakness you may have; just do the best you can. God knows what He is doing and He created every aspect of your life for your highest good.

Sometimes we think, “I like this part of myself but not that part.” We only think this way because of our limited understanding of what is beneficial to us. If we shared God’s perspective, we would love every aspect of ourselves, just as our Father in Heaven does. We would realize how each part coalesces to enable us to fulfill our life’s mission.

Part of accepting yourself is accepting how you feel. Often, when we feel depressed or anxious, we get upset with ourselves and ask, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be more positive or calm?” There are a number of contributing factors to your mood, some you can control, others you cannot. Keep a list of what has helped boost your mood in the past and do them when you feel down or anxious. But if those do not help, then accept your painful emotions as they are; do not be afraid of them or try to get rid of them. Instead, focus on what is within your control and engage in meaningful and fulfilling activities.

How do you know if you accept yourself? You have not yet fully accepted yourself if you frequently say, “I should have done X,” “Why didn’t I do X?” Or, “I’m such a fool for not doing X!” People who accept themselves do not berate themselves over the past; instead, they focus on changes they will make in the future and say, “Next time, I’ll do X,” or, “Next time, I’ll do better.”

When you are upset with yourself over a mistake, ask, “What did I learn from this and what will I do differently in the future?” Then ask, “Do I need to ask someone or God for forgiveness?” If yes, do so. If not, or afterward, think while slowly breathing in, “I did my best,” or, “Next time, I’ll do better,” and while slowly breathing out, “I forgive myself.” Alternatively, look in the mirror, think about the mistake and say out loud, “I forgive myself.”

Accepting other people


Acceptance plays a role in our relationships with others. If we do not accept others, we may get upset with the way they act and try to change them; they will sense being judged and resent it. In addition to accepting our own flaws, we have to accept the imperfections of others. When people notice our nonjudgmental attitude, they will often be more open to improving.

At the same time, if people try to infringe upon our rights or take advantage of us, we have to be assertive and stand up for ourselves. In addition, parents, while accepting the uniqueness of each child, should not tolerate unacceptable behavior. They should give their children clear guidelines of appropriate behavior and the consequences of not following those guidelines.

Part of accepting other people, is accepting what they think of us, without being bothered by their opinions. A surprising amount of emotional pain is caused by wanting others to like us, i.e., being a people-pleaser. When we think that others think poorly of us or dislike us, we often feel distressing emotions: Hurt, depression, anxiety, or self-loathing.

It is important to treat others well; if we make a mistake and cause a person distress, we have to promptly apologize and make amends when applicable. But needing others to approve of us is damaging. It fills us with angst and we rehash what they said and meant; frequently, we read into statements things they never intended. As has been said, what others think of you is none of your business.

We only need approval from God. It doesn’t matter what others think of us. As far as we’re concerned, even the whole world can think we’re crazy; they did about our Forefather Abraham, and we are here today because of what he stood for.

Sometimes, people give us constructive feedback, which can potentially be very helpful. But, if we are overly concerned about the opinion of others, we will often get defensive, make excuses and disregard on target criticism. Instead, thank them for their comment. If you realize they are right, let them know that. If you are not sure, tell them that you will give their comment serious consideration.

Even though we should not be fixated on what others think of us, their opinions can be a valuable source of feedback. For example, you will learn a lot by asking others how you are doing in a particular area, or ways you can improve. In addition, if someone is acting aloof, find out if you mistreated them in any way. But if you are not at fault, then their attitude is their issue, not yours.

To neutralize emotional pain caused by an approval-seeking mindset, ask yourself, “Am I upset because I want them to think highly of me?” If yes, and you did not do anything wrong, then tell yourself, “God approves of me and that’s enough.”

We are drawn to people who are accepting. They make the most of difficult circumstances and enjoy the blessings in their lives. They let go of the past and live in the present, accepting each moment as it comes, while doing what they can to enhance their lives. They accept and feel good about themselves, appreciating their good qualities and not getting worked up over their weaknesses. They know what they do well and focus on doing that as much as possible. They accept others the way they are; no one needs to put on a show for them. They are comfortable in their skin. They do not seek the approval of others or feel a need to put on a fa├žade; if people like them, great, if not, they move on to other relationships. These individuals do not belong to an exclusive club; you too can join their ranks.

Give acceptance a try. The next time you feel emotional distress, ask yourself, “What am I resisting?” Or, “What was I expecting to be different than the way it is? My present circumstances, myself or other people?” Then ask, “Can I accept it the way it is?”

If not yet, then use the techniques in this article and see if you can shift your mindset even just a little toward the side of acceptance. Remind yourself, “What do I gain by resisting or rejecting aspects of my life? If that’s the way things are, that’s the way they’re supposed to be – at least for the time being.” When possible, focus on improving a situation, but first accept it. Then you will act from a place of peace and power.

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

How to Overcome Your Challenges: 10 Ways

Ever notice that throughout our lives we’re always struggling with something?
Instead of feeling down over your difficulties, here are 10 strategies to overcome them.

1. Make a game plan. Try to get outside input from those you respect. (If there’s no one you can ask, often a recommended therapist can be very helpful.) Focus especially on the next step you will take to address your issue. Even if you have no idea how you will overcome the challenge, be optimistic things will work out; with God’s help, anything is possible.

Include in your game plan ways you will use the challenge as a catalyst for growth, to become a better and more spiritual person. (This topic is discussed in, ““Why?” 5 Reasons for Suffering.”)

Periodically review your plan to see if it is working or if you have to make changes. At the same time, accept that your challenges are given to you by a loving God for your benefit and that you will grow from them.

2. Keep your cool. When dealing with difficulties, patience is needed. Frantic and desperate measures are unlikely to help; these drain you physically, emotionally and financially. Success and healing come from God. He has ordained the precise time and manner by which you will receive your blessings. All you need to do is make reasonable, persistent efforts and ask God for help; leave the rest to Him.

3. Forgive. Often, we blame others or ourselves for our problems; this only exacerbates our pain and distracts us from addressing the issue. Ultimately, everything comes from God for our highest good. The question is not, “Who can I blame?” The question is, “How can I grow and overcome this?” (At the same time, when appropriate, we can still hold others accountable for their behavior). For more on forgiveness, see, “The Freedom of Forgiveness: 3 Strategies to Letting Go.”

4. Avoid dwelling on your problems. Often, what wears us down most is not the actual problem; but the constant thinking about it, when we spend our days and nights consumed with the issue. Have a set time when you think about and update your game plan. In addition, have a set time when you express your pain, either to God, a friend, family member, therapist or in your journal. The rest of the time, try to keep your mind elsewhere.

When you notice yourself dwelling on your problems, gently shift your attention to other thoughts. Each day, take your mind off your difficulties by doing something relaxing, enjoyable or fulfilling. Some examples: Read inspirational stories, sing or listen to music, recite Psalms with understanding, meditate, set a meaningful goal and work toward completing it, declutter, engage in creative activities, spend time with family and friends, volunteer, go to lectures, or study inspirational Torah teachings.

5. Live life. You may think, “When will this problem be over with already, so I can get on with my life?” The truth is, right now, this is your life. This is the best use of your time and how you currently fulfill your life’s purpose.

That being said, don’t put your life on hold just because you’re struggling in one area. Continue to strive and accomplish whatever meaningful pursuits God enables you to. Give yourself permission to be happy and enjoy life, as best you can. Throughout the day, look for reasons to smile or laugh. Having a slight smile on your face, even for no reason, can shift your mindset to a more positive one.

6. Help others. Even if your life is full of struggles, see how you can be of service to other people. We’re all in this together; by assisting each other, we will get through our difficulties.

7. Focus on what’s going right. When dealing with an issue, our tendency is to hyper focus on the difficulty, to the exclusion of everything else. Instead, make sure to notice and appreciate your blessings, savoring and delighting in each one. Also consider the silver lining of your challenges and the ways God is sending you relief amidst your pain.

8. Realize everyone has difficulties. Often, we compare our lives to others, especially the airbrushed Facebook versions, and wonder, “Why can’t my life be like theirs? Why is my life so full of struggle?” But we are only seeing a small part of the overall picture. If we knew all their struggles, psychological problems or family difficulties, we would prefer to keep our own strengths and blessings, even if they come with challenges.

9. Take care of yourself. Don't overextend yourself. Many times, we become so consumed with our difficulties that we neglect our health, which only makes matters worse. As best you can, eat nutritious meals and get adequate sleep and exercise.

Set clear boundaries as to what you can and cannot do. For example, if you are caring for a child, spouse or parent who is in the hospital, decide how many days a week you can go, how many hours you can stay and how many nights you can sleep over, before it takes a toll on you. Then elicit the help of others to fill in the gaps.

10. Reach out for support. There are three sources of support. The first is God. Unburden yourself to Him; tell Him about your struggles and fears and ask for His help. If you feel overwhelmed and are having trouble coping, tell Him that and ask Him to strengthen you. Remember, God says to us (Isaiah 41:13), “For I am God, your God, who takes hold of your right hand, and says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” 

The second is other people. Let them know what you need, whether it is emotional or material support, or both. Don’t be ashamed; everyone needs help at some point. One reason God puts people in this world is to give them the chance to help others; do not deprive them of this opportunity.

When asking others for help, be respectful of their time and appreciative of their efforts. Include as many people as possible in your support network, so that you do not overburden anyone.

Depending on the issue, you may want to consult with an agency based social worker to see if there are any social services available to you. In addition, is there an organization that provides support for people in your situation? If not, consider starting one; that’s how many organizations where founded.

The third source of support is ourselves. We need to talk to ourselves with words of compassion and encouragement. Show yourself the same kindness, warmth and care you would show a family member or friend who is going through a tough time.

Life involves struggles. Instead of trying to avoid them, use strategies to meet your challenges head on and triumph – that is what life is about.

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