Category Archives: Relationships

How to Achieve More and Still Have Peace of Mind

 “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” Albert Einstein

While fitness in the physical pillar is basically objective, your path to emotional wellness and intellectual satisfaction will be much more individualistic. The psychological inputs you had during your life are unique. Your path to resolving the challenges developed during your childhood is likewise unique. The topics you and I find mentally stimulating may be quite different.

How to Achieve More and Still Have Peace of Mind

The mental pillar of fitness has three realms:

  1. Emotions – Cognitive Development | Societal Habituation | Mental Resilience
  2. Relationships – Friends and Colleagues | Community Connection | Pets
  3. Learning – Education | Reading | Avocations

Having been through the process of attaining physical fitness, you will find it is similar for mental fitness. First you need to assess your state with respect to each realm. Some questions are:

  1. How content do you generally feel?
  2. How resilient are you when faced with life’s emotional ups and downs?
  3. How often do you feel the blues or depressed?
  4. How well do you bounce back from setbacks?
  5. Are you able to build and maintain satisfying relationships?
  6. Do you feel connected to a larger community?
  7. What is your plan for lifelong learning?
  8. What interests do you pursue and how passionately?

Use these to start your discovery of your state in each realm. As you identify challenges you may need to consult with others. Significant psychological issues may require your seeking help from a competent mental health professional. Yet this need not prevent you from making progress in other realms.

Next gather sufficient information from reliable sources on such issues as emotional health and resiliency, relationships, and education, so that you are comfortable making decisions about your life direction in each realm. Some of the resources I use are:

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Now, start setting goals. Unlike with fitness in the physical pillar, setting measurable goals is more difficult in the mental pillar, especially if you want to boost your emotional soundness or relationships. Improvement will come through identifying quantifiable behaviors that you can habituate. For example, to improve my marriage every day I write something positive about Melanie in my journal.

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The key to fitness in the mental pillar is self-awareness. Without this quality, you will not know the true state of your emotional and intellectual fitness. As well, you will be unable to ascertain your progress. Of course, as with any behavioral change self-discipline is crucial. But unless it is coupled with candid, periodic self-assessment it is too easy to conclude you are on the right track when this is not the case.

I learned a terrific practice from Michael Hyatt in his blog post The 7 Benefits of Keeping a Daily Journal. He recommends noting your emotional state each day. Having used this technique for a few months, I have made more progress on one of my key issues than in years of trying any other approach.

While college degrees purportedly attest to greater fitness in the mental pillar, they confer no such condition. Your emotional and intellectual fitness is highly subjective and cannot be measured against that of another person the way physical fitness can. In any event, the goal is not to become superior to others, but through self-awareness and self-discipline to intentionally direct improvement on your path to holistic fitness.

Question – What exercises do you use to gain greater self-awareness?

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Ever Have Trouble Finishing Projects?

“Then Moses separated three cities across the Jordan, from the east. To flee there a killer that killed without intention . . .’” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:41-42). Moses fulfills the commandment to create three cities of refuge. But why should he bother since they will not become havens until the Land of Israel is conquered and the other three cities are established?

Ever Have Trouble Finishing Projects?

The parsha for this Sabbath is Va’eschanan. It begins with Moses praying that G-d will change His decree and let him enter the Land of Israel. Then Moses exhorts the Children of Israel to keep G-d’s commandments and sets the example himself by fulfilling the mitzvah to set aside Cities of Refuge. Next Moses reviews the Ten Commandments and teaches the Israelites the Shema. The parsha ends with Moses urging the People not to succumb to prosperity but rather to diligently teach their children about the exodus from Egypt and to follow the Torah.

Instant Gratification vs. Enduring Value

While many Americans are in need of instant gratification among other indicators, the number of people in their 20s buying homes demonstrates that some are aware of the wisdom in saving and investing for their future. Still, I am left wondering if they knew they had no chance of paying off their mortgage before they died would they still become homeowners?

Moses provides a contrast. The Hebrew word used for separated, yavdil, can also mean set aside. Rashi points out that this indicates Moses set his heart to the task of establishing the three cities of refuge. The opportunity to comply with G-d’s will and provide a benefit to future generations had him trembling with anticipation about fulfilling this mitzvah.

Finishing Projects Isn't Always the Point

Are you prone to beginning projects but lose enthusiasm and leave them incomplete? Of what value is this to you and others? Are you unwilling to begin a project unless you are certain it will come to fruition within your lifetime? What about worthwhile causes that may not bear fruit for generations to come? Are they to go wanting?

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I am convinced one of the reasons people reject religion and marriage is both are lifelong undertakings. Nobody’s relationship with G-d is ever finished nor is a marriage perfected. It seems pointless to go through all the struggle and heartache. Yet the point of both is to work continually to improve yourself and set an example of how to be better for your friends and loved ones, especially your children.

Moses creates the paradigm. His excitement at improving his connection with The Creator was boundless, even though the task seemed fruitless. Yet undoubtedly Moses was blessed many times by killers, whose lives were spared, and their loved ones because he set up the cities of refuge east of the Jordan.

Question – What will you do in your lifetime knowing that, at best, future generations will bless you?

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Give Compliments Like a Devotee

“. . . and they said, ‘good is the land that G-d gives to us.’” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 1:25). Who is the “they” that said this? Was it Joshua and Caleb or the other ten spies? Why would it make a difference?

Give Compliments Like a Devotee

The parsha for this Sabbath is Devarim, beginning the fifth and final book of the Torah. It is known as Mishneh Torah, which means either repetition or review of the Torah or explanation of the Torah.

The Israelites heard the previous four books of the Torah directly from G-d who spoke through Moses’s throat. But Moses received Devarim from G-d in the way that other Prophets received their messages from G-d, then at a later date conveyed the message to the people.

A few weeks ago the submarine I was riding had a small casualty. Several sailors reacted quickly and solved the problem. Later that evening the Executive Officer praised the crew over the intercom then said, “I wish you would do it this well during drills.” He nullified his compliment with criticism.

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Back to the questions. Rashi gives the obvious answer. Since the words are praising the Land, Joshua and Caleb must have said them. But the Chasam Sofer disagrees. He points out that the other ten spies could have said them since they initially made a positive statement about the land then preceded to undermine it by declaring it was so good the giants living there would never give it up.

How often do you spoil positive reinforcement by tagging on recriminations or implying that it happens too infrequently? Think about the last time this happened to you. Did you remember the compliment or the condemnation? It was the latter, was it not?

If an act is worthy of praise give it its due, publicly if possible. Leave fault-finding for another day and do it privately. By contrast, if you receive a back-handed compliment do your best to forget the negative and retain the positive.

Question – How do you make sure your compliments are purely positive?

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How to Improve Your Relationships Through Selective Memory

Remember when someone humiliated you? Perhaps your spouse treated you badly. Are these experiences still as clear as day? Are you still pained by them? As a result, did your relationship with the person stagnate or atrophy? Has your behavior toward other people changed?

Would you like to be relieved of these wounds?

How to Improve Your Relationships Through Selective Memory

The more important a relationship, the more crucial it is that you develop a selective memory.

Throughout my ten years of marriage, I have made it a point to forget the hurtful things my wife has said and done to me. All pandering aside, I am fortunate that they are few and far between. Nonetheless, early in our marriage. I became convinced that storing up these pains would destroy our relationship. Now, when we have an argument that relates to a past hurt, in most cases, I am forced to deal only with the situation at hand. Here are ways to condition yourself to forget:

  1. Whenever you find yourself dwelling on a painful incident, refocus your thoughts to something positive but unrelated to the person and incident.
  2. Play some music that you like and that puts you in a good mood. (See why I love swing? How can you be unhappy when listening to such peppy tunes?)
  3. Exercise causes so many positive physiological changes in your body it will be difficult to retain negative thoughts about a loved one.
  4. Develop a counter mantra for the incident so that when you think the negative thought follow it with a positive one.

If you find you cannot forget what happened this is a good indication that the issue was not resolved. You either need to re-engage the person to do so or determine how the relationship needs to be permanently altered so you can move on.

But this is only one-half of being selective about memories. Of at least equal importance is that each day I write in my journal something good that Melanie has said or done, or a good quality she has. By doing so I keep my mind focused on the positive aspects of my bride and our relationship.

According to the Harvard Business Review, it takes five positive comments to outweigh one bad one, so when you daily journal favorable and constructive characteristics and behavior about your loved one you build up a reserve against a negative incident.

You can control only two things in your life: what you say and what you do. But with practice, you can achieve some discipline over your thoughts. For living intentionally there is no more important skill to work on.

Question – How do you accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative in your relationships?

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What Everyone Ought to Know . . . About Attaining Greater Contentment

“And they [the spies] spoke to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel saying, the land that we passed in it to spy it, the Land [of Israel] is very, very good.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 14:7). The men that Moses sent to check out the Land of Israel come back and report. Do these spies have any intelligence for us?

What Everyone Ought to Know . . . About Attaining Greater Contentment

The parsha for this Sabbath is Shelach. In it is the infamous story of the twelve spies who reconnoitered the Land of Israel and caused the Israelites to lose faith that they could conquer it. As a result, G-d decreed that they wander in the wilderness for 40 years. It also details the meal and libation offerings to be brought with the korbanos, animal sacrifices. The penalty for desecration of the Sabbath is determined. Finally, the commandment to wear tzitzis, fringes, on the corners of a garment is given.

A story is told of Rabbi Moshe of Lelov who was visited by a resident of Israel. The person complained bitterly about the land. Rabbi Moshe reprimanded him saying, “the Torah tells us ‘the Land [of Israel] is very, very good’.” He went on to point out that the Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 4:4) says, “be very, very humble” concluding that when someone is arrogant nothing will be good enough.

A person filled with self-importance is more likely to insist that life be in accordance with his expectations. He views his own behavior and worth in lofty terms, consequently belittling others. A humble person, lacking the burden of expectations, is more easily able to focus on the good aspects of people and things. In doing so he improves his spiritual connection to the world, thereby furthering his ability to see good in it.

Think about when your spouse makes you angry. Is what he or she did really bad or does it seem bad in comparison to how you perceive your behavior? If you view yourself with humility, honestly assessing your own shortcomings, you are far more likely to view your spouse’s behavior as good. The result is greater marital satisfaction.

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This principle applies to all areas of your life. A radio personality I know once reported on the outcome of a vodka taste test. First, participants were asked which brand they thought was best. Most named super premium brands such as Grey Goose or Finlandia. Then they did a blind taste test. The result: an overwhelming majority thought Smirnoff tasted best. Unconvinced, my wife and I took the test. Our winner: Smirnoff. Here is the funny part: vodka is tasteless.

If you view yourself as deserving to live life at a certain level you create contempt for anyone or anything that does not live up to this expectation. Worse, you cause yourself a great deal of dissatisfaction.

The Land, indeed the world, is very, very good. Will you have the humility to see it that way?

Question – What do you do to gain a balanced perspective of your behavior?

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