Tag Archives: positive habits

The Key to Leading a More Serene Life

As a runner in Los Angeles, I think it's fair to say I take my life in my hands on a regular basis. About once a month a car bumps me and I have narrow misses almost every run. With so many encounters, sometimes it seems drivers are not preoccupied but antagonistic. Fortunately, the parsha for this Sabbath, Yisro, puts matters in a better perspective:

“The father-in-law of Moses saw all that he was doing to the people and he said, ‘what is this thing that you are doing to the people? . . .’” (Shemos/Exodus 18:14).

The Key to Leading a More Serene Life

This week’s Parsha Nugget sees Moses reunited with his father-in-law, a Mindianite priest who heard about the wonders G-d performed for the Children of Israel.  Yisro goes on to outline a leadership plan that Moses adopts. His reward? A parsha is named after him - in Biblical terms, this is like appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. Fantastic right? Not so fast.

After Yisro departs, the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai where they voluntarily accept the Torah and prepare themselves to receive the Ten Commandments. The commentators bring several opinions as to what our forebears heard. Rashi and the Rambam explain that they heard all Ten Commandments in one instant but could not comprehend them. So G-d repeated them and after the first two our ancestors were so overawed they begged Moses to intercede and then teach them the other eight.

Yisro’s sensible leadership plan came from his sincere belief that constantly teaching and judging the Israelites would exhaust Moses. G-d rewarded him because his intentions were l’shaim shamayim, for the sake of Heaven.

But the Children of Israel should have insisted that Moses remain as their direct teacher. Consequently, their understanding of the Torah was less than it could have been, later causing problems. They did not act l’shaim shamayim.

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Actions Versus Intentions

The plan is rewarded but its implementation is rebuked. illustrating an important concept:

G-d judges intentions. Humans judge actions.

Judaism has long understood that it is impossible for one person to really know the mind and motivations of another. As a result, it has always focused on a person’s actions as the indicator of character.

As I stride along the sidewalks of Los Angeles I try to keep this lesson in mind. I temper my anger at drivers’ actions with my inability to know why they acted inattentively. They could be late for an appointment. Or worried about a sick child.

Now instead of shouting at them or shaking my fist I merely stare at the portion of their car that is in the crosswalk. Well, actually I have not given up shouting. I make it a point to call out “THANKS” to the drivers who stay out of my path.

How do you distinguish between people’s action and intentions?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

10 Books that Will Improve Your Life

Every year I read at least 50 books. With so many goods ones even at one per week it seem to make hardly a dent. My reading focuses on the three categories below (my guilty pleasures are detective and historical fiction).

What are you reading?

While I generally keep abreast of current works, I also look back to see what classics I have missed. Here are the best:

Life Design and Business:

Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by Dr. John E. Sarno

A year ago I was so badly laid-up by back pain my doctor told me it would be six to nine months before I could consider running again. Six weeks after reading Dr. Sarno’s book I was back doing roadwork. Today I average 25 miles a week. When my friend Bill Gross told me this book changed his life I was skeptical. He was right.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

A writer for The Wall Street Journal, Duhigg gets to the heart of how habits are formed. More importantly he explains how to use his research to break your bad habits and form positive ones.

Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway & Katie Yezzi

Riffing the old saying, Lemow and company opine that if you are practicing incorrectly you will not approach perfection. Their 42 rules are clear, sensible, and proven in the real world. This truly is the textbook for getting better at getting better.

The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential by John Maxwell

If you are a regular reader of my blog then undoubtedly you are working to improve yourself. A master on this topic, John Maxwell distills his wisdom into actionable principles that you can readily integrate into your life.

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

Harvard Business School professor, and aspirant to editor of The Wall Street Journal, Christensen asks powerful questions to stimulate your thinking about what success is and ought to be to you. Among the important themes of his book is how to better integrate your values and work.

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History and Biography:

Patton (Great Generals) by Alan Axelrod

If what you know about this controversial, powerful icon comes from the caricatured portrait in the 1970 movie, Axelrod’s short, well researched, incisive biography will introduce you to a man who devoted his life to identifying and overcoming his character flaws and weaknesses. Patton will show you how to live intentionally.

On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Though I am not a fan of Stephen King’s books, his memoir is enormously educational. If you have always wanted to be (Fill in the Blank), whether a writer or whatever, King will instruct you. His story of overcoming a horrendous accident will inspire you.

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson

So much of World War II history focuses on the battles and major characters that influenced the conflict. Olson’s book examines the impact three lesser-known Americans had on creating and maintaining the American-British alliance at the senior and at the person-in-the-street level. Each had a different character, style, and motivation. You can glean a lot from this study of how they created and nurtured relationships.

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir by Dick Van Dyke

If you love The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Poppins then you have reason enough to read Dick Van Dyke’s autobiography. Neither salacious nor gossipy, it is an absorbing portrait of a flawed man who has done his best to live life honorably. Most impactful is how despite many setbacks he maintained a positive attitude.


The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

A work of historical fiction for juvenals, I read this book to my six-year-old daughter who was fascinated by a teenage girl’s life in Colonial America. Exciting and thought-provoking, this 1958 Newbury Award winner will delight and engage your children and you.

What worthwhile books did you read this year…

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The Secret to Seeing the True You

Watching my daughter grow up provides an endless source of lessons. One of the most startling is how her self-perception differs from how I see her. Sometimes it seems we are talking about two different people. On the one hand, I want her to have a healthy self-image and not be swayed by the perceptions of others. Yet at the same time, we all benefit from understanding how others perceive us. This led me to a question: When you want to see the true you into whose mirror do you look?

The Secret to Seeing the True You

If you have been to a house of mirrors then you know what I mean. One makes you look taller and thinner, another shorter and fatter, and yet another essentially diamond shaped. With physical image, you can go home and look in a regular mirror and see your actual appearance. But when it comes to such things as emotional soundness, intellect, character traits, and core values gaining a clear perspective is more problematic.

On one end is the person who only looks in his own mirror and refuses to see his reflection in how others perceive him. Consumed by a mental and spiritual narcissism, at its extreme is the sociopath who is so dismissive of others he sees them as his prey.

On the other end is the person who only sees himself through the eyes of others, legitimizing everyone’s views, whether good or bad. Adrift on a turbulent sea, too often such a state leads to tragedy. Judy Garland comes to mind – consummately talented but unable to see herself in any light other than that reflected by her family, friends, business associates, and public. If they adored her she esteemed herself. But criticism filled her with self-loathing.

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Best is to have multiple mirrors so that you can guide and repair your self-perception. When you have had a particularly difficult day, it can be hard to maintain a positive perspective. Connecting with people in your life who reflect a positive image of the true you will help you mend. Likewise, when you need an ego check friends who do not overlook your faults can help you.

Here you can see how the building blocks of the Mental Pillar of Fitness work together. Social engagement buoys emotional soundness. Healthy, balanced self-perception is such a crucial component of living intentionally this holiday season shine up some of your mirrors.

Please take just a minute to share one thing you do to maintain a truthful self-image…

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Should You Be a Fanatic About Moderation?

“Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

Having at one time been borderline obese, I confess to intermittent zealousness about diet and exercise. Evolving from the extreme position often necessary to changing your life to a more sustainable posture poses an unending challenge. But indeed moderation is truly a virtue that is sensible in most, if not all, aspects of life. Let’s look at it through the Three Pillars of Fitness.

Should You Be a Fanatic About Moderation?

Physical Realm. There seems to be broad agreement that sleeping too little can cause a range of problems from lack of focus to weight gain. But too much sleep may lead to diabetes, heart disease, increased risk of death, and could be indicative of depression.

Drastic diets can help you lose weight quickly but are ineffective for long-term maintenance and nutrition. Protein-heavy diets dehydrate your body. Vegetarianism can cause protein-deficiency. Very low-fat diets deprive the body of its ability to store energy, adjust temperature, and lubricate tissue.

Lack of exercise is bad for your health, but many health professionals advise that extreme regimens like P90X are harmful by unnecessarily stressing the body.

With your finances, you should strike a balance between funding your current cash flow needs and saving for the future.

When investing, a portfolio diversifying risks and terms commensurate with your stage in life is universally recommended. Being opposed to debt probably means you will not buy a house.

Recognizing many children have been destroyed by inheritances, should you donate your wealth to a worthy cause? Yet, if you follow Andrew Carnegie’s advice, leaving nothing to your children, are you sure the organization to which you leave it will follow your wishes?

In your leisure pursuits and entertainment, are extremes wise? With extreme sports comes increased risk of extreme injuries, even among top athletes. People lose their jobs by staying up all night playing online games and being late for work. Recreation and diversion are healthy, danger and mania are not.

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Is there anyone more boring than the person so immersed in a hobby he thinks everyone is as fascinated with Cirripedology (the study of barnacles) as he is? The line between passion and obsession is fine. When your friends’ eyes glaze over you have crossed it.

Moderation is Essential to Sustaining the Physical Pillar of Fitness

Mental Realm. To be emotionally sound requires well-developed cognitive skills, moored self-esteem so you can be balanced in your societal habituation, and psychological resilience that supports you through the emotion roller collar called life. Extremity impairs development of these skills.

When approaching societal engagement, enduring friendships require a balance of empathy and self-concern between two people. Beyond your close circle, the demands of a larger community can engulf you. But sacrificing yourself to such claims, without periodic self-care, will eventually retard or prevent your community service.

Pets provide companionship and opportunity for stewardship. But infatuation with a pet can hinder the ability to forge human ties and their accompanying growth.

Intellectual challenge stimulates the mind. But obsession with such activities, be it reading, education, or avocation poses the same danger as that of an obsessive hobby, often at the cost of not exercising or engaging socially.

Definitionally, Moderation is Crucial for Sustaining the Mental Pillar of Fitness

Spiritual Realm. Does G-d want a moderate relationship with you? This is a complex, intensely personal question. Your love for G-d, like His for you, should be limitless. A strong connection entails balance among prayer, fulfillment of duties, and engagement in rituals. Should you reject the secular world? According to my faith no, but I would not argue with those of other faiths who disagree.

Familial relationships also challenge the question of moderation. You should love your spouse, parents, and children without limit, abusive situation excepted. In other areas, such as material support and giving advice, restraint is wise. But unbounded love does not preclude having to say no.

“Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice.” ~ Thomas Paine

With core values, I agree with Paine. Having once compromised your principles it can become habitual. Have you engaged in the process of identification, articulation, practice, and assessment? Principal among my values is humility. Discourse, not imposition, enlightens.

G-d, Family, and Core Values Are Exceptions to Moderation in the Spiritual Pillar of Fitness

Moderation applies even to moderation, love and core values being the exceptions. As you instill new habits and take on new vistas to conquer, the tendency to excess is tempting. By keeping moderation as a value you keep your life in balance, sustain relationships, and are truly #LivingIntentionally.

Where do you think moderation does not apply?

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8 Ways Life is Like Laying Wood Laminate Floors

When even my daughter chided me that our house was not unpacked after almost three months I knew it was time to buckle down and get it done. I am the hold up. Our living room and dining room have tile floors that make the rooms cold, noisy, and well, shall we say unattractive? Melanie and I decided the answer was wood laminate floors. Having been taught to be handy around the house by my father I figured I could install them no problem. Yeah right …

8 Ways Life is Like Laying Wood Laminate Floors

Have you ever laid flooring? It is not as easy as it looks. The dining room took more than ten hours to complete. But at least we had a place to eat. The living room, which is bigger, took about the same amount of time. Experience was useful.

Why was it so difficult? While showering my aching muscles it hit me. Laying the floors is a microcosm of life. Here's why:

You have to keeping searching until you find yourself and the right set of directions. I spent hours just figuring out how install the flooring since the directions did not make sense and the techniques in videos I found online did not work. Three false starts and a fortuitous call to Lowe’s customer service later, at least I knew what needed to be done. It turns out that was the easy part.

  • You come into this world not knowing who you are and what you are supposed to do. Lots of people want to tell you, but many times they do not have any better direction then you do. Much of life is trial and error. Face it and move on.

You need to have the right tools and know how to use them. A miter box and back saw are fine for cutting base molding, but an electric saw is what you need to cut wood laminate. Kneepads are a must. I have the bruises to prove it.

  • My friend Bill Gross, who coaches real estate agents, insists that they know how to fill out the basic forms without hesitation or needing to read them. If you are a Marine, you better know how to use your rifle and field strip it, in the dark.
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Just get started. Most of the time I spent studying the directions would have been put to better use working on the floors. Trial and error taught me much more hence why I got more efficient the more flooring I laid.

  • You can read the directions a million times but until you put them into practice you will never get anywhere. In fact, you probably will not know if you have good directions until you try them out.

You are going to make mistakes. My perfectionism caused me huge anxiety. While the defects stare at me, the people who have seen the floors do not even notice them.

  • Blunders and failure are as much a part of life as breathing. You can avoid them, but only by never attempting anything new.

Most of life is grinding it out. The work was mind-numbingly boring: fitting pieces together, sizing boards correctly, taking apart some of the finished work to redo it correctly. But since I wanted the prize of nice floors, monotony was the price.

  • The breakthrough moments in your life will be few and far between. And they will be surrounded by a massive amount of hard, routine, work. Setting goals is the fun part. Reaching them requires disciplined daily action.

Life is not always on the square. When I completed the dining room I found out one end of the room was about an inch and a half wider than the other and the floor was slightly bowed. Hence one of the reasons the flooring did not set quite right.

  • Some people refuse to play by the rules. Often you do not find this out until you have already been burned. But if you did the job with integrity you can walk away with your head high and a sense of accomplishment no matter what damage the other person did.

Emotional release has its place. I confess to an inappropriate amount of pouting and self-pity. Who wants to be beaten by a bunch of floor boards?

  • You have to let out your frustration and anxiety. While you cannot throw a fit in your workplace, I bet if you threw a pep-rally at the office with every body screaming for 15 minutes productivity would skyrocket.

You need a true friend to help you through. If Melanie was not there to help me calm down and get back on the right track those floors would still be in the packages.

  • What is the point of life if you cannot share your triumphs and frustrations? A spouse and several friends are best, but at least cultivate one close friendship.

The floors are done, the rooms are much nicer, and there is one blogger who is very glad to get back to writing.

Do you agree with my life lessons?

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