Tag Archives: positive habits

Overcoming Obstacles Starts With Getting Out of Your Own Way

Parsha Nugget Bamidbar – Numbers 1:1-4:20

Successful members of the military and entrepreneurs never say, “can’t.” Rather they say, “how.” This "can do" spirit impels them to overcome or get around obstacles. G-d wants you to embrace the same attitude in civilian life, alluded to in Parshas Bamidbar:

G-d spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai . . . (Numbers/Bamidbar 1:1)

Overcoming Obstacles Starts With Getting Out of Your Own Way

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This Sabbath’s parsha begins the fourth book of the Torah. In it, G-d commands Moses to take a census of the Children of Israel, first of the 12 Tribes and then of the Levites. Next G-d gives the arrangement of the tribes into four camps that will march at the four sides of the Ark. Then the Levites are appointed to the service of the Tabernacle in place of the firstborn. From this comes the mitzvah of Pidyon Haben, the redemption of the firstborn, still done today.

Although most people know the fourth book of the Torah as “Numbers,” in Hebrew it's called Bamidbar meaning “in the wilderness.” This parsha is always read on a Sabbath before the festival of Shavuos. The proximity is no accident. Shavuos is called Z’man Matan Torah, “the time of the giving of the Torah.”

When It's More Blessed to Receive

Our Sages teach G-d giving us the Torah is insufficient unless we are open to receiving it. What makes us worthy recipients of this most precious and timeless gift? The meaning can be found in bamidbar. A wilderness is ownerless and barren. Similarly, students of Torah must know they are empty vessels. Vanity is one of the biggest obstacles to divine wisdom. Humility makes it accessible.

A self-absorbed person has preconceived notions. He can't integrate G-d’s word into his being. The Kotzker Rebbe adjures even accomplished Torah scholars to remember, “as much as you know, you are still an undeveloped wilderness.”

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Maimonides in his Laws of Torah Study (3:1) states, “With three crowns was Israel adorned: the crown of Torah, the crown of the priesthood, and the crown of royalty. The priesthood was the privilege of Aaron. Royalty was the privilege of King David. The crown of Torah is ready and waiting for all of Israel. And it is the greatest crown of all.”

Conquering the Obstacles to Divine Wisdom

The Torah may be free to all. But like a desert wilderness, you must surrender yourself to it rather than attempting to adjust it to your own wishes and lifestyle.

So reconcile yourself to the idea that like the empty, uninhabited wilderness, as a person of G-d you may find yourself alone, even isolated. The values you live by and the activities you pursue may not be reflected in broader society. Rather than thinking you can't, be like a member of the military or an entrepreneur. Commit to finding how you will maintain and enhance your bond to G-d.

When do you find yourself most at odds with society?

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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. Its name comes from 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!

3 Reasons You Should Not Abstain

Have you been following the news about sugar lately? Even the health press has declared it as bad as smoking. Many people I know are swearing it off.

3 Reasons You Should Not Abstain

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Indulge me for a moment. This means no:

  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate
  • Cake
  • Cookies
  • Wine
  • Liquor

Besides toothpaste, have I missed anything?

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These are the obvious foods. Sugar is an ingredient in many others. Aside from the health benefits of wine and chocolate, I find a great deal of emotional satisfaction from having a dish of fantastically creamy ice cream or a nicely chilled martini.

Abstain or Indulge?

Undoubtedly it's the case that many people eat too much sugar. However, unless you have a serious health condition that warrants it, you shouldn't abstain. Consider its adverse effects:

  1. Indulgence and abstention are the same. They both indicate a person has insufficient self-control. If you abstain from cookies because when you eat one you eat the whole bag you're avoiding the trigger not demonstrating willpower. Self-control means you decide how many cookies you'll eat despite your urge to do otherwise.
  2. Abstention is rarely a long-term solution. Alcoholics can attest to the difficulty of renouncing liquor. According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter 50% relapse into drinking. Most often abstention works only after a serious accident or the onset of health problems.
  3. Abstention creates stress. When you abstain as the cure for overindulgence you are constantly under the pressure of suppressing your desire. Backsliding often leads to self-condemnation. In the end, you have traded the stress caused by a negative behavior with a different stress source.

The better response is to:

Use your aspiration to a healthier life as the catalyst for greater self-discipline.

Running 45 to 50 minutes burns the 600 calories contained in half of a pint container of Haagen Dazs. Use the ice cream as a reward for stepping up your exercise program.

Instead of buying a regular bag of Oreo cookies, get the 100-calorie packs. Commit to eating just one package per day.

Make a ritual of drinking a glass of wine, perhaps with your spouse or a friend with whom you can be mutually accountable.

With all of the delights in this life, why restrict yourself? As I wrote several months ago, moderation is the key. While lack of restraint is destructive, abstinence is not the answer.

In which situations do you think abstention is the only choice?

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What I Learned from a Bugler

Countless people castigate me for my taste in music. Yet until I finish mining the enjoyment and meaning from Nostalgia Music (a term the folks at Kings Radio in the California Central Valley minted for popular music from the 1930s to the 1950s) I feel no compulsion to listen to anything else. Case in point:

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B

So what can a bugler teach? Virtually every line of this song has a lesson for life and business:

  • Start the day off with a blast, like a bugle call.
  • “He was the top man at his craft, but his number came up and he was called to the draft.” – No matter what your place in life, the unexpected will happen. Always bring in the best to your life and business.
  • “They made him blow a bugle for his Uncle Sam. It really brought him down because he could not jam” - Even when life or your business isn't working out the way you want it to, be upbeat.
  • “The captain seemed to understand, ‘cause the next day the cap went out and drafted a band” - Great entrepreneurs, leaders, and parents look for opportunities to support their customers, people, and children by supplying what they need to be successful.
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  • “He can’t blow a note unless a bass and guitar is playing with him” – Life and business are team sports.
  • “He makes the company jump when he plays reveille” - WQe all need to inspire others.
  • “And when he played boogie woogie bugle he was busy as a bzzz bee” – Occupy yourself pursuing your passion.
  • “He puts the boys to sleep with boogie every night and wakes them up the same way in the early bright” – The way you go to sleep determines the way you'll wake up the next morning.

Don Raye and Hughie Prince wprobably just wanted to write an upbeat, popular ditty to lift America’s spirits after the imposition of the draft during the lead up to World War II. But whether I'm running, cooking, or just listening. When Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B plays on my iPod or KCEA my life immediately perks up!

What song describes life as you think it should be lived?

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Why You Should Cultivate a Positive No

My family, the U. S. Navy, my platform, working on a Masters of Library and Information Science, and self-care. I have a wonderful, full life. But in order to get it all done, I must be mindful of my priorities. Many people want to place demands on my time so I have numerous opportunities to cultivate my positive no.

 Cultivating a Positive No

For a long time, whenever someone asked for my time they got some. But if what the person wanted me to do did not fit with my life plan two things happened:

  1. The person got an inferior job
  2. I resented the time it took

Often the results did not benefit either one of us. The person would have been better off if I had said, “no.”

Yet surely his priorities were as important to him as mine were to me. So he might interpret my refusal of assistance as a personal rebuff. Too many of those can damage a relationship. I had to learn to say “no” in a way that felt like “yes.”

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Some requests do not warrant a response. They get the equivalent of a pocket veto, no reply. An assistant could politely decline but for now I have to let them go.

How to Say No in a Positive Way

When dealing with someone I know or with whom I am building a relationship, a response is required. As such, even if I cannot commit my time, I look for another way to help. Here is my process:

  1. Acknowledge the importance of what the person is asking. Almost everyone can understand being busy, but recognizing the significance of another’s priorities creates a mutual affinity.
  2. Briefly explain the conflict. Giving someone insight into my life will improve our relationship. If I think the person will be offended by my priorities, I take a moment to reconsider. Maybe what he needs me to do is more important than what I have going on.
  3. Offer an alternative to my help. Can I introduce the person to someone who can handle the matter, perhaps better than me? Is there some part of the task I can do with a minimal time outlay, and immediately so that it does not clog my mental to do list?
  4. No matter what, thank the person for asking and wish him luck. I learned this from working in real estate. The client that thanked me for telling him about an investment even though he turned it down got greater priority the next time I had something good. Most people find asking for help difficult, so when someone reaches out to me it's a compliment.

Not all my friends are sensitive to being turned down. So sometimes a simple no will suffice. Not long ago a colleague told me I have a way of telling people difficult things that makes them easier to hear. As someone who hates being told “no” I can think of no higher praise.

How do you say no without alienating people?

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How to Tame Anxiety

2014 and 2013 could not have begun more differently.

 How to Tame Anxiety

A year ago: I was suffering from the worst back pain I had ever experienced exacerbated by a terrible reaction to pain medication. A spine specialist told me even after recovering from the pain and medication it would be months before I could run and I ought to start thinking about another form of exercise.

I had no income because my civilian business plans had fallen apart when the university I had partnered with backed out leaving me with no financial backing.

Everywhere I turned anxiety greeted me.


Today: No back pain, I am running almost 25 miles a week. I got through the nasty respiratory ailment plaguing my family with no medication. This week I launch a new venture that is more exciting than what I had planned to do with the university.

Still, everywhere I turn anxiety greets me.


Why did life seem so lousy a year ago and so good now? I made one simple change that completely altered my perspective.

Last January I made of list of the things that caused anxiety in my life, separated into two categories:

  • Potentially Less Than a Year to Resolution
  • Most Likely Long-Term or Never Ending

Two things stood out about my list when it was finished:

  1. Though I spent a lot of time thinking and making notes about the things causing me stress, the list was surprisingly short.
  2. Merely writing down the things I worry about took most of their power away. I resolved to review the list when I did my weekly planning but after a month or two, though none had been resolved, they no longer felt like a burden.

Earlier this month I think I found out what happened. According to health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, people who experienced a lot of stress but did not think it was harmful had a lower risk of dying than those who experienced little stress in their lives. Put another way, if you believe stress will kill you your chances of dying are 43% higher. (Read the article here.)

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Quantifying my anxiety by writing it down prompted me to see it was not nearly so engulfing as I imagined and helped me to shift my belief about stress.

Now I know that being well rested is the determinant of whether I will deal with stress well. Seven hours of sleep a night with some extra rest on the Sabbath and I am good to go. Several nights with six hours or less sleep and I am hard pressed to deal with my burdens.

For 2014, do the following:

  1. Make a list of your anxieties. Are they as onerous as you thought?
  2. Compare them to your goals. Will accomplishing your objectives reduce your burdens?
  3. Finally, assess your attitude toward stress. Read Ms. McGonigal’s article. Must you believe that stress will harm you?

If you are starting this year the way I started 2013, I pray that 2014 will bring you the kind of transformation last year brought me. If you hit the ground running on January 1, make a quick assessment of your beliefs about stress: No point letting some latent attitude ambush your road to success.

Am I crazy to think stress cannot harm me? Please comment yes or no, more if you care to elaborate.

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