This article was published by AuthorityMagazine.com by Simon Jacobson
Asa part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rabbi Simon Jacobson.
Rabbi Simon Jacobson is author of the best-selling book “Toward a Meaningful Life,” a William Morrow publication that has sold over 400,000 copies to date and has been translated into Hebrew, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, German, Hungarian, Czech, and Georgian.
Rabbi Jacobson heads The Meaningful Life Center, which bridges the secular and the spiritual through a wide variety of live and online programming. The Meaningful Life Center presents to people of all backgrounds the universal teachings of Torah as a blueprint for life.
MLC, called a “Spiritual Starbucks” by the New York Times, is an outgrowth of Rabbi Jacobson’s teachings, which have captured the hearts of thousands of participants over the last 40 years with their spiritual message and profound insights into the human condition.
For over 14 years Rabbi Jacobson, as Editor-in-Chief of Vaad Hanochos Hatmimim, was responsible for publishing the talks of the late Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century. Beginning in 1979, Rabbi Jacobson headed a team of scholars that memorized and transcribed entire talks that the Rebbe gave during the Sabbath and holidays, as writing and tape recording are not permitted on holy days. In this position, he was privileged to work in close association with the Rebbe and published more than 1000 of the Rebbe’s talks.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Iwas born and raised in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. Both my parents immigrated to the USA from the former Soviet Union after WWII. My upbringing was quite unique by virtue of it combining two extremes:
On one hand, I grew up in a family and community of Chabad Chassidim, who follow strong and strict Jewish traditions. I received an intense Torah education, studying in-depth Biblical and Talmudic studies over 12 hours a day in Chabad Yeshivot. On the other hand, my home was utterly non-dogmatic and non-conformist. My parents were extremely open-minded. They instilled in me the confidence to explore a wide range of ideas and different schools of thought. The encouraged me to be a critical and independent thinker and to “own” the beliefs I would choose to embrace, instead of imposing them on me. My father was a journalist, a global citizen, and a free spirit who taught me by example to create a poetic balance between faith and reason, and to have strong foundational values while remaining utterly non-judgmental and open to all types of thinking.
My upbringing has shaped my life and provided me with the courage and vision dedicated to the labor of love of my life: applying the universal truths of the Bible and mysticism to the contemporary challenges of people of all backgrounds.
This has been the driving passion of my life since my late teens until this very day. Beginning over 40 years ago, with my work in remembering verbatim hours of my mentor’s talks and then publishing them, and then authoring “Toward a Meaningful Life” and other books, and then establishing the Meaningful Life Center — I would not be the person I am today were it not for the influences of my early formative years.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Two people come to mind. The first is my great mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known by many simply as the “Rebbe” (teacher). He impacted my life forever, not by his powerful presence and sheer charisma, but by believing in my potential — and in the potential of all those he came in contact with. My soul was ignited through his encouragement and teachings. I came to feel that I can achieve anything I set my mind to, and that I have a unique and indispensable mission to accomplish in my life. The second person is my father. His unwavering non-judgmentalism, his patience and restraint, his broad-minded ability to hear out even jarringly different views than his own, all left an indelible impression on me and my interactions with people of all backgrounds.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
In addition to the two inspirations described in my previous answer, I would add that my students over the years, and until this very day, serve as my greatest source of inspiration and motivation. Two that particularly stand out are survivors — I call them my heroes — of unspeakable abuse and trauma. They are the single most refined people I have ever met. Their superhuman resilience in face of suffering has elicited a divine glow in them that continues to empower and drive me to excel beyond my natural abilities. Adversity is a powerful driving force in my life — the challenges that compel to me to dig and access deeper resources.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
We published a foreign edition of “Toward a Meaningful Life” with a number of embarrassing typos in the book’s prominent front page dedication! I cannot begin to describe how ashamed I was to inform the donor about this glaring error. I was certain that we had burned our bridges with him. As atonement, I decided to return his sizable donation to us. I wrote him a heartfelt letter of apology, taking full responsibility for the error, and sharing with him that I am as flawed as any human, but I will use this experience to grow and become more vigilant than ever, and strive for higher levels of excellence in our work.
Not only did he refuse to take the money back, in time my transparency and accountability rebuilt his trust in me and he became an even greater donor than before.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
For a young person starting out, you have an advantage over everyone else — the optimism and passion of being youthful. Youth is an incredible force that the older, wiser ones wish they could bottle up and employ.
In terms of advice, I would encourage anyone, not just a person starting out, that to be successful, you must be mission-oriented and to take the time needed to clarify your higher calling. Your mission describes the purpose of your life, the direction it is taking, and the larger goals you want to achieve. It’s not about short-term gains, financial goals, and other means, but about what cause greater than yourself you are serving — what mark you, and you alone, will make on your world.
When this mission is clarified, then the next step is to live with intention and focus your activities to fulfill your mission. Your mission should become the center of all you do, whether professionally, in relationships, with friends and with your own personal growth. Living with your mission as your hub and connecting all the seemingly disparate pieces of your life will ultimately lead you to actualizing your highest potential and true calling.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I will mention two — very different type of — books, which contributed greatly to my life and my work. “Vanity Fair” by William Makepeace Thackeray. “Hemshech Ayin Beis” by Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneerson.
The former was the first book that gave me a perspective on the spectrum of different personalities in every society, from the naïve innocent ones to the shrewd manipulators and everything in between — how different people, especially when under pressure, gain happiness and security by being either selfless or selfish; how vanity and self-interest often hijack the true meaning of life and turn it instead into a “comedy” or “tragedy.” “Vanity Fair” crystallized for me the stark choice people have to make in life whether to serve themselves or serve a higher purpose to transform the world through goodness and kindness.
The latter book — actually a series of esoteric psycho-spiritual discourses — expanded my spiritual horizons in ways that are hard to describe. It provided me with the broadest panorama one could ever imagine: an x-ray of the soul and the cosmos, exposing the very spiritual DNA and building blocks of existence and beyond, offering a comprehensive blueprint for life, a type of life operators manual. It is in this magnum opus that I discovered a holistic perspective on every dimension of life — a unified field principle integrating and fusing psychology, spirituality, and science/physics.
As a young seeker, a type of “rebel without a cause,” these books, among many others, excited my soul and ignited my passion to want to make a difference in this world.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
If I had to choose among many powerful quotes, I would focus on this one: “Words from the heart enter the heart. People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
I heard this line once while participating in a panel discussion on how to cope with pain and suffering. One of the panelists was responding to someone in the audience who had suffered a terrible loss, and was in an obvious state of deep grief, struggling with the big questions “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “How does one find the strength to carry on?” The panelist, a proficient philosopher, was pontificating on the topic, analyzing it from every angle, but clearly remaining quite cerebral and aloof, with a visible lack of empathy, and even being condescending at times. In middle of his lengthy presentation, the grieving questioner interrupted him, and says: “Sir. You sound very bright and well read. Have you ever suffered? Because with all due respect, I have no clue what you are talking about. I don’t feel that you are speaking to me. Don’t take this the wrong way, but always remember: People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
The audience was stunned. I never forgot that moment of truth.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Over my many years of writing, teaching and counseling men and women of all backgrounds, I have discovered that the single most important ingredient for a successful life is meaning: identifying the unique purpose of your life, and redirecting all your activities toward that goal. In response to this vital need, I have a developed a program, based on centuries-old wisdom, to help you discover your personal mission. The six-step plan to discovering your personal mission is now available as a home-study program and has helped people define their personal mission and infuse it into every aspect of daily life: MeaningfulLife.com/miracle.
In addition, since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, my mantra has been #SociallyDistant#SoulfullyClose. Now more than ever we need to make extra efforts to connect with other humans on a soul level and that can be done safely (following the recommended health guidelines). In response we launched the MeaningfulLIVE where I go live on my social media platforms to discuss current events and personal challenges, connecting to and coaching our audience growing through the unknowns and shifting perception of normalcy. It’s really helped people connect with a larger community of mindful people interested in personal and global transformation, and to escape the feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anxiety much of our society is struggling with. Please join us on Sunday on Instagram and Facebook, or watch replays on YouTube.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Habits shape and define so much of our lives. It’s one thing to randomly and intermittently be kind and virtuous. It’s quite another to cultivate good habits — to consistently be kind and giving — to the point that it becomes your second nature. That is why it’s so vital to develop good habits, which reflect who you are, not just what you do.
Once good habits become ingrained in your routines, they begin having deep and long-lasting impact on you and all those around you. Good habits are also critical in training and educating our children. When a child learns good habits in his or her formative years, it will remain etched in the child’s psyche throughout his/her life, like the marks made in a warm ball of wax, which forever remain engraved in the wax as it hardens.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
The sages say that the world — and the human who is a “universe in microcosm” — stands on three pillars: study (cognitive conditioning), prayer (emotional conditioning), and good deeds (behavioral conditioning). In my life three habits that have helped me the most correspond to these three pillars.
(1) Study: Habitual study nourishes your mind, challenging it to continuously explore, expand, and grow. On a daily basis I schedule time to study various texts and allow myself to absorb new ideas, always seeking ways to apply and personalize these teachings to contemporary life.
I would encourage every person to designate a time for learning every day, even if it’s 10 minutes, to expand your knowledge base and practice the act of thinking and processing new information. It can be on any topic that interests you. The key is making it a habit — not sporadic or occasional, but consistent day after day. A short few minutes a day has more impact than a few hours once a week.
(2) Prayer: I pray three times every day, as mandated by Jewish tradition. Prayer is “service of the heart” — emoting with your soul, with God. Prayer consists of actually articulating the words we are reading from the prayer book. This habit has helped me grow in many ways. First of all, consistency of doing the same act everyday yet doing it mindfully — not by rote or mechanically, not letting the mind wander — creates tremendous focus and self-discipline. It also helps me align my mindset and heart-set with the positive energy of prayer, evoking a sense of awe and connecting to the divine wonder of life and the universe. Ritual prayer is a powerful habit to incorporate into your life, regardless of religious background.
(3) Good deeds: Daily rituals and kind acts condition your behavior and train you to naturally and instinctively be a beacon of light and warmth wherever you go and to whomever you meet. I am committed on a daily basis to giving charity and other acts of kindness. I have made it my habit to do a favor to anyone that requests it of me. Even if I cannot fulfill the request immediately, I make sure to respond in a timely way.
Additionally, in my teaching and writing work it is absolutely essential to maintain a consistent schedule. I presently give over 15 classes a week, at designated times. The impact of this “habit” is immeasurable. For example, I began giving a live Wednesday night class in 1982, which I have never stopped until this very day, 39 years later. The thousands of people I have met, the experiences I have learned, the soulful connections I have made, all have endured — and create eternal bonds with the many people I have encountered and has changed my life forever. The habit of teaching in a consistent manner internalized and integrated the teachings into my own being. This also keeps me connected to the vibrant human spirit. When I look at my students eye to eye, heart to heart, soul to soul, the teachings stay alive — relevant and fresh and connected to the humanity I seek to serve.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits?
I like to refer to the three R’s of new habit formation.
(1) Reminder: Create a cue or trigger that starts the habit. For example, every time you log into Facebook or other social media, make sure you start by sending a positive and friendly message to an old or new friend.
(2) Routine: Repeat the good thought, speech or action again and again. Keep doing it until become your routine.
(3) Reward: Be cognizant of the benefits you reap from your good habits. For example: The good feelings born from your ongoing kind and meaningful conversations with friends or strangers. If the reward is positive, then you’ll have the desire to repeat the action the next time a reminder pops up. Repetition coupled with awareness of the benefit and reward for your behavior help foster and solidify your good habit, and help you avoid relapsing.
TIP: It is important to start small and take baby steps. Write a clear game plan for when and how you are going to accomplish it. Give yourself a deadline and put it into your calendar or day planner.
Always remember: A habit develops when one’s brain becomes used to firing in a certain way. The way your neurons are fired is the way they are wired. When your brain fires towards a certain thing, before long the neurons become wired that way. When that happens, it becomes automatic for your brain to process in this way and thus the habit is born. Your brain is like a map. The more you walk down certain paths, the more beaten those paths become.
Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
Just as positive habits wire our brains positively, negative habits rewire our brains and natural selves in a misaligned and unhealthy way. Therefore, the cure would be to unravel this habit by dislodging the negative wires and realigning your being in healthy and positive ways.
The following five steps, based on millennia old mystical knowledge of harnessing the true power of your mind, can help you to move beyond your bad habits. If you can pick up a habit, you can break it.
- Know that the habit is unhealthy: Thinking your habit is healthy is like thinking pain is pleasure. Know that there is a problem. Your habits are not who you are. Awareness of a problem is half the cure.
- Know what caused the bad habit: Was it boredom, loneliness, stress, thrill, or a specific event that caused you to establish a negative habit in the first place? Getting to and addressing the root of the habit can help unravel it.
- Know that it is a battle to break a bad habit, but you will win: There is no magic potion. Breaking a habit is going to be a battle, a hard-fought battle. But…you will persevere. Sing a victory march, even before you enter the battlefield. You have the confidence and certainty that you will win this war.
- Know that bad habits despise knowing: Habits are automatic pilot; they are comfortably numb; they are preprogrammed templates followed effortlessly. Habits thrive in the dark. They therefore cannot stand when someone asks them questions or puts them under the microscope. Therefore do both: Ask your habits questions and examine them. Challenge them.
- Action must be taken: Awareness is half the cure; not the whole cure. The other half is to take action. Life by definition is a journey. Your soul thrives on movement. Every moment of every day is a revolution in the making. Habits are a form of paralysis; they are trapped in their routine. They defy movement and change. Action — not giving in to your habit, and changing its course — breaks the habit out of its frozen mold. Any shift shakes up the habit locked in its place. When you feel yourself acting out that bad habit, stop right at that moment and choose to do something different. Refuse to live habitually. For instance: If you are biting your nails, take your hands out of your mouth and do something unusual with them. You could sit on your hands, or you could tap your fingers together. Just do something different!
As a non-threatening exercise for yourself, practice breaking neutral habits just for the sake of learning to bring more consciousness to your actions. If your habit is to shampoo your hair before you wash your body, reverse the order of your cleansing in your morning shower. If you always drive to work the same route, try driving an alternate route one day, even for just part of the drive. If you’re accustomed to pouring milk into your coffee, try pouring coffee into milk. Shaking up your routines allows in fresh air, and help you untangle some of your harder habits to break.
Your brain is like a map. The more you walk down certain paths, the more beaten those paths become. The human being’s purpose is not to follow old maps but to write new ones. The human being’s purpose is not to live in habit, walking where walking is the norm. No, the human being is meant to run wherever it is habitual to walk; and where it is habitual to run, the human is meant to fly. Just knowing this is already half of a new map.
Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each. Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Optimum wellness includes spiritual, not just physical, wellness. Indeed, nourishing and nurturing your soul is as important for your well-being as nourishing your body — if not more important. So let’s talk about soul care a bit and a few practices that will facilitate the process of good habits that will nurture your inner light.
(1) Shake up Your Life: Though there are many factors that make it difficult to break an old habit, one important element to consider is the enormous power of inertia, the force of the status quo — being stuck in your comfort zone. To break out of the powerful inertia exerted by your comfort zone and to create a new habit, you must be willing to shake things up a little — or a lot. To shift the status quo and go beyond your conventional routines. Initially it may feel unnerving and uncomfortable, but it’s well worth it, because every shift opens up new doors. And a shift in one area of life spills over and helps you expand your natural boundaries in other areas of life. Change breeds change. One change leads to another!
(2) Mind Over Emotions: Why do you stay in your comfort zone, even when it may result in harmful or limiting behavior? One reason is because you become emotionally invested in and trapped by your repeated behaviors. Look carefully at yourself: Are you afraid to leave your comfort zone? Free yourself by listening to your mind instead of your emotions. Allow your reflective mind to challenge your impulsive emotional and subjective concerns. Allow your mind to imagine and dream of a place that is beyond your present comfort zone. It takes introspection and practice to master knowing if your intellect or emotions are “speaking” to you, but the practice of separating your intellect from your emotions and acting on your intellect will empower you to do things that you are not accustomed to; to dare explore new vistas.
(3) Make Your Rituals Less Habitual: Look carefully at your day: How many things do you do by rote, without giving it any thought? Many of our habits are things we learned from our parents, educators and culture. Very often we just mindlessly mimic these routines, which are habits that we do not own and behavior patterns that we acquired (or were imposed upon us) — especially in our impressionable years. A way to weaken your habitual behavior, then, is by focusing and examining your routines and making them your own — a routine that is relevant and customized to your needs. Identify your daily rituals, and don’t allow them to control you. Think about each one of these routines deliberately, and see how you can personalize them. For instance: Instead of mindlessly following your morning routine, which you learned from someone else, tailor that routine to your style, and not the default that you picked up from childhood. Instead of, say, rushing out of the house every morning, replace that routine with getting up earlier and streamlining your pre-work ritual. Ask yourself: What can you do to make your routines more relevant to you? Even good habits need to be reviewed and integrated. Even if your habits would work for someone else — you must find what works for you.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each. Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
What is more powerful: small incremental moves, or one great leap? The answer can be found in looking at the secret to all growth. True sustainable movement and growth can always be traced to small, but consistent, moves on a forward direction.
Your potential is unlimited. You are not bound by the events of your past, nor by negative voices from inside (or outside) yourself. If it seems like you are incapable of living up to your potential, remember that your frustration is a sign that you want to change. However, bridging the gap between wanting to change and taking action is where many people falter. The most accessible antidote to that challenge is to make small moves. The following explains the value of small steps in light of the 4000-year-old spiritual tradition of Kabbalah.
(1) Challenge Yourself: Think back on your own life: When did you accomplish most? While you were still at home, provided for by your parents, or when you left home and were on your own? Comfort zones are more comfortable. But they are never more growthful. Yes, there is a time for being in a nurturing environment, a home, where we can feel comfortable to explore, to just be. But the real challenge — and true growth — begins when you leave your comfort zone, when YOU are compelled to initiate and create on your own. Therefore a good habit is to sometimes bite off more than you can chew, take on a new role, and set goals higher than your normal workload or athletic performance so you are propelled to grow higher.
(2) Don’t Avoid Failure or Trial and Error: Every form of training — to master an art, music, language, or sport — is a step-by-step process. No one becomes an expert overnight. It takes repeated steps, learning from mistakes, and developing good habits and best practices to excel at whatever it is you are trying to learn. Even when you are skilled in a given area, it is only with years of experience that you become confident in yourself and your accomplishments.
The same is with your life journey: You learn and grow through a step-by-step process, with plenty of trial and error. Through experience and training — testing different approaches that work or don’t work — you develop successful methods to navigate life’s twists and turns.
You cannot gain experience without failure. When you take small steps, you are able to slowly and carefully adapt and assimilate healthy approaches by learning from your failures and successes. These small steps help build your confidence and resilience.
As you discover your own skills and talents, you’ll probably surprise yourself with how much you are truly capable of achieving.
(3) Behavioral Shifts Reach Your Soul: Behavioral shifts that introduce confidence into your actions acclimate you to your inner strength — the unjaded part of yourself known as the soul. By digging from the outside — behaviorally, through small moves — you reach within your soul. Coupled with a growing inner awareness, behavioral confidence will fan the soul’s pilot flame and make it come alive. Then you can truly access your great potential.
A great practice to embrace is to think about your goals and identify the first small step you can take toward reaching one.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each. Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
True focus — while it may be on the smallest detail — should be connected with the bigger picture. As I mentioned earlier, helping people tap into their personal life-missions is a driving passion of my life, and what I believe is the single most important ingredient to success, meaning, and satisfaction in life. Therefore habits around optimal focus should be centered on one’s mission.
(1) Morning Mantra: Optimal focus starts first thing in the morning when you wake up. One key suggestion I make to people I coach is this: Embrace your personal mission statement each morning. As soon as you awake, before doing anything else, reaffirm and reconnect with your soul’s calling. While most people don’t jump into a business meeting first thing in the morning, make a business meeting with yourself to check in and use this precious moment as an opportunity to direct your awareness and gratitude for being blessed with a new day, with new energy and life. For your cosmic “contract” being renewed. This focus is key to staying mindful throughout the day, filling your activities with energy, optimism, and above all, clarity to distinguish between the means and the end. Here is a mantra, based on the ancient Hebrew prayer called “Modeh Ani” which roughly translates to: “Thank you for restoring my soul within me” — for giving me my mission and mandate, and for making me indispensable. Make it your habit to say this and internalize it every morning.
(2) Checkpoints: Each day, like it or not, is filled with routines that we can’t avoid — grooming, meal planning/prepping, commuting, dealing with colleagues, laundry. While these actions may feel mundane and devoid of deeper meaning, a healthy habit is to schedule in routines that are meaningful amid the mundane. I suggest creating physical, mission-oriented habits throughout the day — deliberate acts that prevent the power of inertia from pulling you down. These can be good deeds, memos, meditations, social interactions, affirmations, or otherwise. For example, make an effort to do one deed related to your mission on the way to work; hang a beautiful sign with a daily affirmation related to your mission in your workspace; schedule time outside of work to do activities that fulfill your mission; message one friend a day who needs the kind of support that your mission provides to others.
(3) Evaluation: Success and progress is only truly realized in the stage of evaluation. When a businessperson embarks on a new campaign or investment, success is only visible at the end when the accounting is done. The same is true when you embark on living a mission-centered life. Make it part of your personal business to incorporate a “stock taking” into your nightly routine by taking a thoughtful and organized look at your day as it comes to an end. Keeping a written journal or log is a great idea. Take stock and make an accounting of your activities, interactions, mindset, and energy of your day and elaborate where necessary. Mention what you would have liked to have done better. Writing these things down concretizes them, and reading them out loud solidifies them in your mind, allowing you to recognize the good things you are doing and resolve to change any habits you’re not happy with.
As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
As a child I suffered from a severe ragweed allergy which often turned beautiful summer days into miserable bouts of contending with a runny nose, itchy eyes, and a tickling throat. I desperately awaited the arrival of the first freeze. When I was in my early twenties, it got so bad that one summer day I had a borderline asthma attack and needed medication to keep my constricted air passages open. A top allergist in those days injected me with a shot of something that immediately cleared up all my symptoms.
Highly curious — and quite desperate — I asked the good doctor, “What did you just inject me with that rid me of all my allergy symptoms?” “Adrenaline,” he answered. “Adrenaline?! Do you mean the same adrenaline that we humans produce when we get excited or panicky?!” “Yes sir,” the doctor responded.
At that moment a thought struck me. For some strange reason I never felt allergic symptoms on Sundays. I always thought that the reason for this was because Sunday was my busiest day of the week. At the time (beginning in 1979 and for 13 years, until the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s stroke in 1992) I was the primary writer of the Rebbe’s — my mentor’s — talks. My responsibility was to listen and memorize verbatim hours of the Rebbe’s dense scholarly dissertations, which had to be memorized on Shabbat and Holidays (when recordings and note taking is not permitted), and then reconstruct them from memory, and research, document, annotate, and publish these talks for posterity.
Sunday, the day immediately following Shabbat, was my most intense day of work. I was completely inundated by the effort to reconstruct the words we heard on Shabbat. No words can describe the mental exertion necessary to both remember and then commit to paper these complex and diverse expositions. I always felt that this was the reason that I didn’t experience allergic symptoms on Sundays. Not because I didn’t have any, but because I was so consumed that I was oblivious to them.
But now that the doctor mentioned adrenaline, a new thought came to me. So I asked the doctor: “Is it possible that intense focus and pressure would generate a natural adrenaline rush that would subdue allergic symptoms, just as your injection of adrenaline just accomplished?”
“Why, of course,” the doctor replied. “Didn’t you ever notice that concert pianists, Broadway actors and opera singers never yawn or sneeze in middle of their performance, even if it’s hours long? A sneeze and a yawn are natural bodily reactions that can’t be suppressed. So how is it that they can maintain such control on stage for hours on end? Because the adrenaline rush produced by the intense pressure of performing on stage infuses a person with another level of control that one usually is unable to muster.
“Adrenaline,” the doctor went on, “in some mysterious way brings to the surface superhuman energy and abilities that are conventionally inaccessible. People in danger, for instance, have been seen lifting objects, fitting into spaces, reaching heights or achieving other feats that they naturally are incapable of. Or you can set your mind to wake up at a certain time, and you will wake up exactly at that moment without an alarm clock.”
“Why then,” I asked the doctor, “don’t you just give me adrenaline to inject myself with every morning when I feel the onset of allergic symptoms?”
“Because you would eventually build up immunity to the adrenaline and continuously need stronger dosages to achieve the same result, which would ultimately burn out your system.”
This taught me a most powerful lesson in life: Having a compelling mission in life is not just good for the soul; it’s good for the body. Health — physical health included — is not merely about oiling the machine, eating right and exercising; it’s about allowing your system to breathe. It’s about waking up in the morning jumping out of bed with excitement to take on a new day. When was the last time that you felt that way?
We all need a passion, a mission in life — a calling that demands a sense of urgency. This passion not only keeps your mind and heart healthy, but it also produces chemicals that actually strengthen your immune system.
Until that day at the doctor’s office I never connected our spiritual mission in life with our physical well-being. That day taught me that there is a profound link and relationship between your body and soul. Your strong and healthy commitments and passions open new possibilities and access new strengths that otherwise lie dormant in your inner system.
This is what I would call the “state of flow” you are asking about. Some call it being “in the zone.” It’s when you have that ultra-laser focus in your life — when you are completely consumed by your mission and passion, to the point that you aren’t conscious of yourself; object and subject fuse into a seamless one. All you are is a channel of a higher energy flowing through you.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I was trained to see every experience in our lives, pleasant or disturbing, as an opportunity that can and must be transformed into a force for good. Since the onset of the pandemic, it has been clear to me that we need to turn this global disruption and upheaval into a Pandemic of Goodness and Kindness — an unprecedented grassroots call to action, galvanizing people around the globe to increase in good deeds and virtuous acts.
As relentless and widespread as this virus may be, we must counter it with an even stronger show of love and unity between all human beings — regardless of race, creed, or color — which will create a viral groundswell rippling across the planet. Nothing less will do. Together we can impact a critical mass and change the world with a goodness revolution the likes of which the world has ever seen, demonstrating for posterity the limitless power of the human spirit.
The pandemic and all the upheavals of our time have created a once-in-history global wake-up call. First COVID-19 ravaged the world and continues to destabilize virtually every sector and industry and demoralize the world’s population, followed by racial tensions, and a country polarized and divided further upending our infrastructures and social fabric.
The individual and collective impact this is having — both short-term and long-term — is impossible to gauge and describe. But one thing is certain: There never has been such a global shakeup of our systems, and there never has been such a vulnerability and receptivity for an inner message. People everywhere are desperately in need for guidance and direction, for hope and confidence, for ways to embrace their higher values and moral standards, to answer the biggest question of all: Why am I here and what do I stand for? And what can I do now to live up to my calling to improve myself and the world around me?
The time is therefore riper than ever to launch a global movement, a pandemic of goodness and kindness, using a two-pronged approach — information-based and action-based — to engage both thought leaders and influencers as well as grassroots mainstream in a powerful demonstration of doing millions and billions of acts of goodness and kindness.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
If allowed, I would like to meet every single person on this planet, and share the above message with. Barring that, I would seek to meet the President of the United States and discuss how we can turn this wake-up call into a global movement — a worldwide viral pandemic of goodness and kindness.