Preface – It’s Within You

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“When the soul is starved for nourishment, it lets us know with feelings of emptiness, anxiety, or yearning”

– The Rebbe

“You’ve got to get your life together!” How many times have you heard these words, or said them to yourself, when feeling frustrated? Maybe it was said to you, or maybe you’ve yelled it to someone you love. Perhaps your parents said it to you in a moment of anger. Or maybe, in your anxiety about one of your own children’s inability to launch into adulthood, you’ve said it or thought it on what feels like a million occasions.

It’s possible you bought this book with the intention of giving it to someone who should probably get their act together. If that’s the case, we’re sure you’re coming from a place of real caring; the problem, however, is that when we’re so focused on others, we can end up with a major blind spot that doesn’t let us see the changes we need to make within ourselves. Most of us think that if only the people in our lives would change, we’d be able to move happily forward with our lives. It’s easier to think that if we can get people to change—or avoid certain difficult people altogether—we’ll be free to have the problem-free life we envision for ourselves.

We’ve found that this path of pushing others to change doesn’t deliver long-lasting happiness or fulfillment. If every time we encounter a new drama in our relationships, we blame others or try to change them, we’ll end up pretty disappointed. We might become resentful when we try to help others and they don’t improve; or, instead, we might cut the people who disappoint us completely out of our lives. Real change takes place when we learn to observe ourselves in our relationships and appreciate that problems don’t come from other people, but rather from the connections between us. Understanding that we play a part in contributing to the problems we face isn’t exactly the easiest realization; few of us like to think we could benefit from making changes. However, when we’re willing to be honest with ourselves and work on the only part of our relationships and lives that we can actually change, the benefits—for ourselves and others—are endless.

This book addresses a big question: Are you willing to take a good look at yourself and make changes, instead of insisting that others need to change? It may sound like a lot of hard work to fold into your already busy life, but it offers an opportunity to make true, meaningful, and lasting changes. Imagine living with control over your emotions, your responses to others, and your life in general—a life that isn’t dictated by your circumstances, but instead ruled by how you decide to view and live it.

Stepping Up to the Challenge

We want you to know that we don’t take commitment for change lightly. We’re fully aware of how difficult it is to recognize that you need to work on yourself; and we know it’s even harder to actually make meaningful and productive changes, even when you’re aware of the potential they have to benefit you. In our efforts to write and teach the concepts in this book, we’ve come to understand that the journey of making your own changes is transformative, as long as you commit to the process. We also recognize that this is by no means an easy process. There may be times when you feel that you aren’t making significant progress; please don’t let that stop you. Sometimes we have to take a few steps back before we can move forward.

It’s also important to keep in mind that this book isn’t just a bunch of concepts for you to learn; it’s meant to offer a new way of thinking—one that comes from traditional Jewish ideas and a family therapy model known as Bowen Family Systems Theory. However, the book isn’t intended for an exclusively Jewish or psychology-minded audience; anyone can apply the ideas contained within it. Our intention is to give grounded and practical advice that anyone can benefit from considering. We occasionally reference G-d, Jewish figures, and psychology research to support our position, as we believe this adds richness and uniqueness to our message. But if you have a different faith or aren’t religious at all, you can still greatly benefit from the ideas we’re sharing. We merely hope to share with you a way of thinking that can improve your quality of life.

In the different chapters of this book, you’ll experience distinct breakthroughs. Each chapter presents new concepts, with plenty of examples and stories to help you understand why this information is important. However, it’s good to remember that the transformation you’ll experience through this book won’t happen while you’re reading the lesson; it will happen when you put what you’ve learned into practice through the activities at the end of each chapter. These are vital. They don’t take a lot of time, but they will require some introspection. The more thought you give to these activities, the more you’ll get out of them. It’s a well-known fact that change begins with action. You’ll likely find it most helpful to concentrate on one chapter at a time, applying each activity to your life for as long as you believe you’re making meaningful changes.

What’s most important is that you be intentional about applying the concepts without feeling constrained by time. Learning new behaviors takes a lot of patience, persistence, and time; there’s no need to rush. Our hope is that, after learning the different concepts in this book, you’ll see a change in the way you respond to different experiences and people in your life, which will lead you to feel a sense of worth, value, connection, and control over your emotions, so that you see yourself living a life you choose, rather than one you’re merely floating through. We’re confident that you’ll experience significant improvement in your life through this book, because we’ve gone through—and continue to go through—everything we’ll be teaching you.

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