A Clear Head: Rabbi Abraham Greenbaum
A clear head is one of the vital ingredients of success in any area. Following a few simple practices on a regular basis can bring about substantial increases in physical stamina and mental clarity, improved concentration, enhanced creativity, higher efficiency and productivity, and greater enjoyment of life.
Time for Yourself
Anything you want to achieve in life needs time. Not just the time it takes to do it, but even more important, the time you invest working out how you are going to achieve it. Every goal starts off as an idea, which may be clear or vague. To make the potential actual, you have to develop the idea and work out exactly what you will have to do, step by step, in order to succeed. Taking the time to do this will only save you time in the long run.
Make it a regular practice to set aside quiet times to unwind from the pressures of everyday life and think seriously about your various activities and involvements. Ask yourself what your goals really are, what factors are holding you back, and what you should do to achieve what you want.
When things are getting on top of you, one way to break the vicious cycle of tension and confusion is by just sitting. Deep relaxation in a chair can free your mind and help you get in touch with your thoughts, feelings and creative powers. The aim is not to go to sleep, so choose a time when you are not over- tired and have not just eaten. Go somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed. Use a chair which has a firm seat and gives good back support.
Sit erect with your head balanced comfortably and your eyes closed. Start by focussing on the different parts of your body one by one in order, from the feet upwards. Which muscles are tense? Being able to relax takes a bit of practice, but the key is knowing that no effort is called for: simply let go of tension. If you get restless, stretch and move around a bit, and then go back to quiet sitting.
As you become more relaxed, be aware of what is happening in your mind. Don’t try to direct your thoughts at first: just watch, and get acquainted with yourself. What is in your mind? Where are you at? What is your purpose in life? Don’t be surprised if your tensions and problems surface: with patience, you will learn that you can be the master of your problems. Sit this way for about 15-20 minutes at a time.
With practice, this technique will enable you to let go of all your tensions, leaving you with a feeling of deep calm, liberation, enhanced sensitivity and alertness. Your powers of concentration and creativity will be released, and you will be able to choose what you want to think about, sort out your problems, and work out how to achieve what you want in life.
The Power of Speech
Talking to yourself is one of the sanest things you can do to focus your mind and direct yourself to where you want to go. When thinking about your goals, projects, problems, etc., instead of just letting insubstantial thoughts float around your mind, try spelling them out to yourself in words. If you feel embarrassed, whisper under your breath.
Listen carefully to what you are saying: this will help you understand what is really in your mind. Try to express what you are thinking and feeling as clearly as you can. You will then be able to see where your ideas need further clarification. Ask God to guide you and help you achieve your goals.
Just as you would tell someone else what you want them to do, learn to tell yourself to do exactly what you want. For example, when you want to relax, you could gently tell yourself: “Relax”. Talk to the part of your body you want to relax and soothingly tell yourself to let go. As you start some task or activity, tell yourself what you are trying to do and how. Ask God to help you. Formulate your goals — write them down if it helps you — and say them out as affirmations to keep yourself on the track you want to be on.
Learn how best to relate to yourself. Choose your words with care — words that have meaning for you. Encourage yourself, and avoid putting yourself down in any way — self-criticism should be constructive. With the right words, you can always keep yourself in the right mood for positive achievement, as you can with songs and melodies. Make it a habit to sing or hum your favorite songs and tunes through the day to keep yourself in a good frame of mind.
Your food is a major influence on your thoughts and states of mind — not only what you eat, but when and how you eat it. Of course all your food should be kosher: impure foods lead to confused thoughts. Even within the realm of the kosher, different constitutions react differently to different foods or combinations of foods. Some of the things you are eating and drinking could be taking the edge off your physical and mental performance, or causing nervousness, agitation, etc.
Eat to live and not vice versa. Experiment to find the foods most conducive to your own optimum functioning — or consult a good nutritionist. In general, too much rich food is likely to cloud your mind and leave you feeling heavy and sluggish.
Eat moderately. Use trial and error to learn how to pace your eating through the day to keep you at your best. Try to avoid scheduling tasks requiring extra clarity and concentration directly after a big meal. Eating just before going to bed may make you sleep more heavily and leave you with a slow feeling next morning. It is best to eat at least two to three hours before going to sleep at night. Chewing everything you eat properly will give you greater satisfaction and aid your digestion and general health. Your food is the source of your life: eat with dignity, and be thankful to the Giver of food.
Health, energy, moods and creativity all depend on the vital function of breathing, through which the body eliminates waste gases and replenishes itself with fresh oxygen. Inhibited breathing leads to a loss of energy and clarity, to nervousness, and a lowering of resistance to disease.
Breathing needs are different when we are resting or engaged in activity of different kinds, but in general we need to learn to relax so as to breathe freely and fully. The exhalation of waste air should be slow and complete, followed by a brief pause before inhaling. During the inhale, the abdominal region swells as the diaphragm lowers, drawing air into the base of the lungs. The rib-cage expands, filling the middle section of the lungs. Finally the collar-bones are raised, allowing the lungs to fill to capacity.
Deep breathing before going to bed at night will prepare you for a restful, refreshing night’s sleep. Ten slow, deep breaths immediately after waking up will help banish drowsiness and heaviness and set you up for the day’s activities. From time to time through the day, stop to re-energize with a few long breaths. Do the same if you find yourself dozing just when you need to be awake. While working, studying, meditating and in other activities, breathing fully will keep you fresh, alert and balanced, and aid concentration.
Getting dizzy from breathing is a sign of hyperventilation. Use up the extra oxygen with a few vigorous movements. If the feeling persists, stop practicing deep breathing for the time being.
Even when you’re in a hurry, the best way to do things well is not necessarily by rushing. The tendency to delay, procrastinate and dally over what we have to do should be fought against. But creative pausing, far from being a lazy indulgence, is actually the way to resist outside pressures and bring the clarity and direction attained during quiet times into moment-to-moment living.
Make it a habit to take short breaks and pauses as you go through your daily activities. With practice, even split-second pauses will be enough to release you from tension and gear you for the next phase of the activity you are involved in, giving you a sense of calm and confidence even when working under great pressure.
As you come to start doing something — whether beginning a work session, going into a meeting, driving off in your car, eating a meal or anything else — give yourself a moment to check yourself for unnecessary tension, take a deep breath or two, focus on what you are about to do, offer a prayer for success, etc. During the activity, stop from time to time to relax, breathe, take stock of your progress, refocus, etc.
If problems crop up, sometimes the only way to overcome them is with determination and persistence. But other times it may be best to break the impulse to press on, sighing patiently and praying for help and guidance. In creative work, leaving your mind to wander freely can often lead to fresh insights which greatly enrich the work.
Don’t let yourself be pressured by other people’s tension. If you need to think before responding to a question, suggestion, invitation, etc. that is your privilege. Often one’s first thought is not the best: by waiting just a moment, you may have a better one.
Certain basic attitudes to life can immeasurably enhance your clarity of mind and ability to succeed.
LOOKING FOR THE GOOD
No matter what you may be up against, try to look on the good side of things. When problems come up, have faith that something good will come out of them. This will help you find ways of turning even disadvantages into advantages. Look for the good in yourself. Don’t dwell on your short-comings or on what you don’t have. Think about your positive points and what you do have.
Small tangible gains are better than swollen ambitions and heavy failures. Instead of trying to achieve too much too quickly, do one thing at a time and be content with steady progress in the right direction. What you do today takes you further ahead than what you dream about doing tomorrow. Live in the present moment and make each day into a project on its own — make a success of today!
Be realistic: don’t pretend that things you don’t want to confront are not there. Facing problems honestly is better than letting them fester and grow more complicated. Don’t deceive yourself about who and what you really are — you will only spend a lot of effort maintaining your illusions. Being truthful with yourself does not mean you have to be harshly self-critical: know your good points and be thankful for them.
Usually, the more valuable the goal, the greater the obstacles which stand in the way of achieving it. Don’t be discouraged if things go against you or your efforts seem to be frustrated. If what you want is God’s will, failure is only a preparation for success: nothing will stop you from achieving what you want in the end. If it is not God’s will, it would in any case be no good for you in the long run.
Be willing to learn and change. Nothing obliges you to act out old patterns of behavior just because you followed them until now. The past is gone. Forget about previous failures and make a whole new start. Don’t worry if you fall down again. Just pick yourself up and start again, even if you have to do so many times. Every little effort you make is taking you closer to your goal.
[box type=”bio”] Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum is an internationally-known Torah teacher, author of over twenty-five books, and one of today’s foremost expositors of Chassidut and Kabbalah and their practical contemporary relevance in personal growth and wellbeing, preventive healthcare, healing and other vital areas. Rabbi Abraham also provides rabbinical oversight for the Netiv community in Humble,Texas.[/box]