Gratitude also helps us cope with life’s challenges. Gratitude orients us towards the resources we have rather than those we lack. In today’s world, we tend to live our lives comparing ourselves to others. We compare what we have to what “they have” often telling ourselves “if only” or “I wish.” Jewish teachings use gratitude to help us counter-balance this tendency. The ancient Jewish proverb (originally found in Psalms 128:2 and later interpreted by the great 2nd Century scholar, Ben Zoma, in Ethics of the Fathers) “Who is rich?” “He who rejoices in his own lot,” is a reminder of an essential life coaching concept that “In life, it is not so much what you have that matters, but how mindfully and gratefully you experience it.” (ICA, Gratitude Module p. 4) By reminding ourselves to be grateful, we change our perception of our lives and, in turn, actually change our lives.
To help shift a client’s mindset of “lacking” to one of “abundance,” a coach may request that the client keep a daily gratitude journal or a “top-ten list” for which the client is thankful. An inner “attitude of gratitude” promotes generosity towards others, helps us to see the good in others and supports us during life’s challenges.
TRUST = BITACHON
The Hebrew word for trust is Bitachon, which means trust in God. In Judaism, trust in God is not only the belief that God will look out for us but, here, trust also implies that there is a plan and an order, that things are not random in nature. Though Judaism affirms that God has a plan and order, this belief certainly does not intend to encourage reckless behavior or a lack of responsibility. While the outcome is ultimately in the hands of God, Judaism asserts that we must act responsibly, use all of our capabilities and put forth all of our efforts. There is an emphasis on free will, choice and self-responsibility. Alan Morinis further explains
Bitachon is the inner attitude that respects that whatever is happening in our lives is nothing more or less than the curriculum that God gives us. (Morinis, 2008, p. 217)
There is an understanding and acceptance that what happens in our lives occurs for the purpose of our own personal growth. Challenges and struggles are dealt to us so that we will stretch and grow in ways that we would not choose ourselves. In fact, instead of questioning “Why is this happening?” Jewish Spiritual Leaders often ask, “What is the reason why this is happening.”
Another point regarding the Jewish philosophy of Trust, is the belief that we cannot evaluate or judge our present situation when we do not know how our story will unfold. How certain are we that something happening to us right now is “good” or “bad”, when we do not know what will happen next? We can only grasp the meaning of our current circumstance when we consider the bigger picture. Just as Trust in God is an essential Jewish principal, trust, itself, is a key concept used by coaches regardless of their own religion or that of their clients. The ICA’s module, “Trust vs Doubt” explains that the
Antagonists in our lives are there to provoke us, move us, challenge us and keep life interesting. (ICA, Module: Trust vs Doubt p.2 )
The module implies that our life’s challenges are perfect. Similar to Judaism’s Bitachon, the module explains that when we view our antagonists as “perfect” or “meant to be,” rather than judging them as “good” or “bad,” we have the power to change the way we feel about our circumstances and as a result, change our overall perspectives and our lives.
When a client feels uncertain about how things will work out, developing trust may help alleviate the anxiety and fear that uncertainty brings. Uncertainty about how a challenging circumstance will work out often brings fear, anxiety and doubt. When consumed with fear, anxiety and doubt, individuals cannot respond rationally but instead, become more reactive. When an outlook of trust replaces doubt and fear, individuals are able to respond to situations more rationally and calmly. When one acts from a place of trust, rather than fear, life is more manageable.
By exploring the notion that every situation is “meant to be,” for the purpose of encouraging personal growth and change, a life coach helps loosen the grip of fear, doubt and anxiety, allowing the client to adopt a more positive outlook on his situation. One exercise a coach may use with a client is to ask the client to recall a situation in the past that was “wrong” or “bad.” Then the coach asks the client what lessons they have learned from the experience. This exercise conditions the client to view current or future challenges through an outlook of trust rather than that of doubt.
Another way that a coach helps a client instill and cultivate trust, is by asking the following questions:
- What is the reason why this happening?
- What are you meant to learn from this experience?
- How can you change and grow from this experience?
A Point About Trust In God:
For the purpose of this paper, the Hebrew word “Bitachon” or “Trust” is defined as a trust in God. However, I would be remiss to suggest that all coaches and clients believe in a God or even a higher power. For those who do not believe in a higher power of any kind, trust is still used as a powerful coaching tool. In these cases, coaches can help clients develop self-trust.
HONOR – KAVOD
Honor of a fellow human being, even one who is no longer alive, is a core principal of Judaism. Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, a forerunner of the Mussar movement explains that
One should honor all people simply because they are the handiwork of God. (Morinis, 2008 p.109)
Judaism teaches that we treat others with respect, dignity and honor not because of their successes or their behavior but because they have a holy soul.
Jewish tradition encourages us to celebrate another person’s good fortune. Rabbi Meir Chosdosh, one of the great Mussar teachers, explained
We must remember that another’s elevation and honor do not take anything away from us.
When we honor others, we no longer focus on ourselves but are able to delight in and celebrate another’s good fortune. By honoring another person, we come from a place of humility and for this reason, others will honor us too. This key point that “we merit honor by giving honor,” is explained in a phrase coined by the great 2nd Century Scholar, Ben Zoma,
Who is worthy of honor?… The one who treats others with honor. (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1)
Rather than seeking honor for ourselves, honor becomes a by-product of giving honor to another. Similarly, honor, in the form of acknowledgment, is a core concept of coaching.
Acknowledgement is the capacity to recognize something wonderful about a person and to let them know about it. (ICA Module, Acknowledgment p. 1)
When we put aside our own egos, we move beyond ourselves and see the greatness of another.
Like all soul-traits, honor is both a state of awareness and a deed.
It is not enough to feel reverence, one must act reverently. (Morinis, 2008, p112)
We must put to practice what our mind understands. We act with honor when we honor others and treat all others with respect and dignity. Practical ways to honor people in our daily lives includes listening carefully to the needs of others, greeting others with a smile, making a concerted effort to elevate others, acknowledge and celebrate others’ successes.
Honoring others, however, does not come easily to most people. Rather, our tendencies are to evaluate, judge and criticize others. One reason we are so critical and judgmental of others is because we are in search of honor ourselves and feel we are not receiving it. When we are unhappy with ourselves, we withhold honor and even shame others, out of our own desire for love. Our own ego and hunger for honor is the very obstacle to giving honor to others. We have it backwards! We are only able to give honor to others when we ourselves, are able release judgment. The International Coach Academy similarly explains,
A person who doesn’t judge is able to respect and celebrate the separate and unique human journey of another person. (ICA, Releasing Judgment, p. 3)
Coaches can bring this understanding to a client’s awareness. When a client is in a judgmental frame of mind, a coach might first help the client explore and discover the origin of his own lack of self-honor. Once this is brought to the client’s awareness, a coach can help the client honor and value himself by releasing the disempowering, judgmental perspective. One way a coach encourages the practice of self-honor is to help the client acknowledge the successes, celebrations and goals the client has achieved.
Soul Traits And Their Opposites:
The Jewish spiritual practice of Mussar emphasizes that a person
must endeavor to acquire within his soul each character trait and its opposite. (Morinis, 2008, p. 110)
Mussar teachings suggest that when we are awakened to a negative soul trait in ourselves, perhaps it is the positive, yet opposite, trait that needs our attention. Using the positive trait to work on the negative one is essential to personal growth. By focusing on the positive trait, we relieve the negativity we feel about ourselves brought out by its opposite, negative trait. In contrast, if we were to focus only on the negative soul trait, it would likely frustrate us even more thus, fueling our negativity. Working on strengthening a positive trait creates a ripple effect and even the smallest successes produce future ones.
Similarly, the coaching community embraces this polarity and uses it as a powerful coaching tool. Coaches often employ the opposite viewpoint to help a client reframe a disempowering perspective. As illustrated above, to help a client replace a judgmental perspective, a coach may address it’s opposite trait of “honor.” When a client is consumed with doubt, a coach may address the opposite trait of “trust.” When a client is feeling ungrateful or harbors feelings of “lacking” or “wanting,” it is the opposite trait of gratitude that a coach will address to move the client beyond the unfavorable perspective.
Finally, Mussar and coaching both recognize that personal growth itself is a life long journey that requires daily practice, discipline and commitment. Examples of practical ways to help strengthen each character trait were addressed above. In regard to the general practice of personal-growth, some other ideas shared by both disciplines include meditation, prayer, self-reflection, visualization and introspection. Working on a specific character trait by setting a daily or monthly intention for that trait and keeping a diary or a “soul journal” are other ways to foster and encourage personal growth.
Ancient Hebrew principals such a gratitude, trust and honor are as applicable to our lives today as they were 1000 years ago. These universal spiritual principals are not only concepts used by life coaches, but are also appearing in other fields of practice. I was thrilled to learn that Biblical tales, specifically Hebrew stories have already been incorporated in the field of mental health. I recently attended a lecture that featured Dr. Kalman J. Kaplan, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Medical Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. Dr. Kaplan is a pioneer in the emerging field of “Biblical Psychology.” Dr. Kaplan’s Biblical Psychology program uses Hebrew narratives; which portray people growing, developing and overcoming challenges to treat mental health patients. This program is an excellent example of how ancient Jewish wisdom, applied to modern, daily life can inspire hope and the capacity for change.
Dr. Kaplan’s program has bridged the gap between religion and the mental health profession. Historically, however, there has been resistance toward incorporating religion on the part of mental health professionals, counselors and therapists. Life coaches, too, are often hesitant to incorporate religion into their practice. Part of this dilemma lies in the key coaching belief that the coaching process itself must be client-directed. Unless a client requests that the coaching process includes religion and spirituality, a coach must be careful not to introduce religious viewpoints. Coaches, cannot bring any assumptions about their client’s religious or spiritual connection into the coaching relationship. Just as Dr. Kaplan’s Biblical Psychology program in Chicago demonstrates how religious principals can be successfully incorporated into the mental health profession, this paper illustrates that ancient Jewish spiritual teachings, such as Mussar, are universal. The gifts its wisdom offers, such as gratitude, trust and honor are invaluable principals accessible to all coaches and clients regardless of their religious beliefs.
As a life coach, I look forward to integrating these Jewish spiritual principals into my own practice to help clients overcome the inner obstacles that hinder them. These highly practical and approachable teachings, which encourage personal development and spiritual growth, will undoubtably empower and inspire clients to live their lives in a more hopeful, positive and fulfilling manner.
Morinis, A. (2008). Everyday Holiness. Massachusetts: Trumpeter Books http://www.icoachacademy.com
International Coach Academy Learnsite, Modules:
Trust v Doubt
Coaching what is it?
Ethics of our Fathers, Babylonian Talmud, Avot 4:1
The Torah: Genesis/BERESHIT 29:35