Part I:
The Theory

The Rebbe once encouraged a man seeking guidance to use his unique talents to the fullest. At a subsequent meeting, the Rebbe said, “I hope you are fulfilling what we discussed. Don’t turn me into a sinner!”

Taken aback, the man asked, “How could I possibly do that?”

The Rebbe replied, “Our Sages teach that ‘whoever engages in excessive talk brings on sin.’ If our previous conversation led to no practical outcome, it was merely ‘excessive talk.’”1

The Rebbe’s every word and teaching was designed to inspire and elicit practical and positive change in the lives of the people with whom he interacted. He saw no need for empty pontification; therefore, he relentlessly pushed all those with whom he was in contact to see Torah as a guide for life—a G‑d-given instruction manual that teaches us how to sanctify every aspect of our lives through concrete actions.

“The Torah is the blueprint of Creation,”2 the Rebbe would often say. If one would look into the Torah’s illuminating passages, they would be sure to find life’s passageways illuminated before them.

But for the Torah to have such benefit, we need to see it as such. Imagine reading a computer manual as poetry or studying it solely for arcane grammatical principles! Accordingly, the Rebbe was fond of reminding people that the word Torah is etymologically related to the word hora’ah, instruction. Similarly, a moreh, also from the same root, is not just a teacher, but a guide who shows people the way to live their lives in accordance with Jewish teaching.

In this respect, the Rebbe would highlight the difference between Torah and secular wisdom by pointing out that secular knowledge is judged and valued on its intellectual merits alone, not on its practical applicability. Therefore, in the secular world, the merit of philosophers and scholars is not related to or measured by their personal behavior. How they live is deemed irrelevant to their intellectual discoveries and contributions.

On a number of occasions,3 the Rebbe told a related story about Aristotle, whom he would stress was admired greatly by Maimonides as a wise man. Aristotle was once confronted by his students in the midst of engaging in immoral behavior. When asked how he—the author of Ethics—could stoop so low, he responded: “At this moment, I am not Aristotle the teacher, but Aristotle the person,” implying that he was not to be judged by his inability to live up to his own philosophical ideas and ideals.

From this perspective, the veracity of a person’s knowledge or even ethical philosophy need not be linked to their behavior. Therefore, their intellectual contributions are valued independent of their behavioral integrity, or lack thereof.

Contrast that approach with Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of Our Fathers, where each and every teaching is connected to a specific author to make the point that we must look not only at the message itself, but also to the messenger, in order to validate its credibility. This means that if a Jewish teacher does not live up to or by his teachings, they are essentially invalidated. As the Talmud teaches:4 “One who says ‘I have only Torah’ (meaning learning without practice), lacks even Torah”; revealing that the ultimate purpose of Jewish learning is practical action.

This idea was fundamental to the Rebbe’s theology and overall worldview.

A Practical Guide to Life

A scholar once came to see the Rebbe to ask a question that was bothering him. His exploration of Jewish texts had brought him to study Maimonides, the great Jewish teacher and philosopher of the Middle Ages. Maimonides authored several monumental works, including Mishneh Torah, a comprehensive compendium of practical Jewish Law, and Moreh Nevuchim—A Guide for the Perplexed—which is a work of philosophy.

The man observed, “Each of these works reflects a very different, and sometimes contradictory, face of this legendary Jewish teacher! But which of his works represents the real Maimonides?”

The Rebbe responded: “The true Maimonides is seen in his work on Jewish law. It is a practical work with clear instructions for life.”

With a hint of a smile, the Rebbe advised: “Better to study the Mishneh Torah and learn how to live as a Jew than to memorize A Guide for the Perplexed and know the answer to questions you didn’t even have.”5

Indeed, this idea was so important to him that, as the following story conveys, he saw it as an essential feature in religious and spiritual leadership, and criticized its absence as a fundamental shortcoming in other approaches to leadership.

I Think, Therefore I’m Not

A writer researching a book about great Jewish scholars and leaders mentioned a well-known and important modern figure during a conversation with the Rebbe.

“He was a wonderful man,” the Rebbe commented, before his voice trailed off.

“What is it?” the writer prodded.

“Well,” answered the Rebbe, “if there were one critique I would offer, it would be that his writings lack tachlis—a bottom line or focused points of action. His followers are left unsure of how to act upon the knowledge and inspiration he imparted.”6

When a great speaker finishes speaking, his audience erupts in applause and goes home. When a great leader finishes speaking, his audience jumps up and exclaims, “Let’s march!”

Organize or Mobilize

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister of Israel:

“The Rebbe was perhaps the greatest believer I’ve ever met in the G‑d-given strength of the Jewish People. He most definitely believed in the strength of the Jewish Nation, and he felt that Jews don’t believe enough in their own strength.

“The Rebbe once said to me, ‘The Jewish People must be mobilized.’ When I concurred that they must be organized, he corrected me, meanwhile demonstrating his exceptional wisdom and wit: ‘Not organized,’ he said, ‘mobilized.’

“What does it mean to organize the Jewish People? A few Jewish leaders get together for dinner, and the next day the newspapers report that they came to the conclusion that they must get together for another dinner….

“When it comes to the Jewish People, a different approach must be taken. The Jewish people must be directed and instructed—they must be shown what needs to be done. It’s not about organizing the Jewish People, it’s about mobilizing them.”

Further on, their conversation turned toward Jewish education and identity. Here, too, the Rebbe stressed the importance of actual experience over abstract identification. In the words of Sharon: “Although I am not a religious Jew, I am a Jew, and for me, to be a Jew is the most important thing. I worry about the future of the Jewish People, and I believe that Jewish education is very, very important…. Whenever I had an opportunity, I would speak to university students. I would say to them, ‘The Jewish People are a nation. Judaism is not only a religion—it is a combination of religion and nationalism. Take pride that you are part of the greatest nation in the world.’

When I shared this with the Rebbe, he asked me, “But what did you tell them to do?”

“To identify as Jews,” I replied.

The Rebbe said, “For a young person who grew up in a traditional Jewish household, perhaps identifying as a Jew will hold him for one generation, but this alone will not guarantee the future of the Jewish People. Identification must be coupled with action—with practical observance of the commandments.”

The Rebbe went on to explain that everything in Judaism is connected with action; settling the Land of Israel is an action, keeping Shabbat is an action…

“One can always add,” the Rebbe continued. “No one is perfect. I, too, am not complete in the mitzvot. The fact that I do not live in the Land of Israel makes me incomplete.”7

So many people stop their Jewish journey before it has even begun, because they are afraid that there’s no point if they don’t fulfill every commandment. This all-or-nothing approach robbed so many people of their own Jewish experience. It also deprived the world of their good deeds. In the Rebbe’s eyes, it was not about doing everything, but about doing something. Each act has unlimited potential to bring light into our lives and into the world.

This focus on the practical expressed itself in many areas. Below are but a few stories that further highlight this point.

We Were Created to Act

A group of Chabad shluchim from across Canada arranged to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

They purchased a beautiful silver Kiddush cup to present to the prime minister as a gift. They planned on explaining to the prime minister that every human being, especially a government leader, has the ability to figuratively “make Kiddush”—to sanctify his or her surroundings. The gift of a Kiddush cup would symbolically remind the prime minister of this noble thought and intention.

The day before the meeting, R. Zalman Aaron Grossbaum, a senior shliach in Canada, wrote to the Rebbe telling him of their planned appointment with the prime minister and the gift they had prepared.

The Rebbe’s response proved enlightening.

“Of what practical use is a Kiddush cup to the prime minister? [As he was not obligated by Jewish Law to recite the Kiddush.] I would suggest, instead, that you present him with an English prayer book, as it includes prayers such as Modeh Ani—a prayer recited each morning thanking G‑d for giving us life—which are relevant and meaningful to all humans, Jews and non-Jews alike.”8

Don't Forget to Include the Instructions

During the 1960s, a newly-appointed campus rabbi placed an advertisement in the university paper promoting his activities and offerings for the upcoming festival of Pesach. The clever ad played on contemporary themes that would resonate with Jewish students, calling on them to “Take up arms for the cause of liberty, like your radical ancestors in Egypt!”

Proud of the contemporary aesthetic and current terminology, the rabbi sent a copy of the ad to the Rebbe, expecting to be congratulated.

The Rebbe sent back the following message: “In future advertisements for Jewish festivals, remember to mention the relevant mitzvot that must be fulfilled.”9


A seasoned rabbi and motivational speaker once shared his self-doubts with the Rebbe. “Rebbe,” he said, “I am considered a gifted public speaker, and I must have given thousands of talks, yet I wonder: how many of my talks actually hit home? I don’t see practical changes in the lives of my listeners.”

The Rebbe responded: “Our Sages teach, ‘Words that come from the heart enter the heart.’ If you speak sincerely and with passion, you can be assured that your words will enter people’s hearts, whether you see it or not.

“If, however, you want to be able to observe the actual change you inspire in your audiences,” the Rebbe continued, “I suggest that you not speak in abstract terms. Teach your audiences a practical Jewish tradition, and leave them with an action point, even if it’s only one thing, and even if it seems minimal. This is how you inspire change.”10

One would be hard pressed to find a talk of the Rebbe that did not contain or conclude with a call to practical action. In this way, the Rebbe transformed every one of his teachings, no matter how esoteric, abstract, or impractical it may have seemed, into a direct marching order.

Part II:
Ten step program for Designing
a Life of Positivity

The Rebbe would often cite a teaching of the Mishnah11 —“hamaaseh hu ha’ikar,” which means that the essential thing is the deed, not abstract study.Otherwise, teachings and words, no matter how beautiful, wise, or aesthetic, are devarim beteilim “empty expressions” and their power to move and inspire actions was wasted.

To that end, we will now highlight ten practical steps that will empower you to design a life of positivity. While there are countless other powerful instructions throughout the recorded encounters with the Rebbe, we have designed a program of ten essential directives to help you reframe your perspective in order to see yourself and the world in a more positive way. In Part III of this chapter, “A User’s Guide to Practical Action,” we conclude this work with a beginning for you: A program of specific written exercises to help you establish and maintain your own personal “Positivity Bias” in every aspect of your life.

You may want to keep a journal to record your progress and share it with others. When you make a decisive shift in your life, it becomes easier for others to do so as well. Imagine creating a wave of positivity in the world!

It all starts with you.

1. Choose Your News

One of our main interfaces with the world is the news. We understand both current and historical events through the narrow prism and the naturally biased narrative of the news we watch, the websites we visit, and the books and papers we read. These usually present the most urgent, sensational, tragic, and fear-inducing viewpoints. We are fed only the things that draw attention, and they shape our view of life.

It is thus in the nature of news media to be disproportionately filled with disturbing and depressing stories. But that is not the whole picture of life—even though readers may think it is.

In an encounter with New York Times correspondent Ari Goldman, the Rebbe urged him to remember to “report good news.”12 This humble but pointed request influenced Goldman to report more regularly about things that were going right, not just those that were going wrong.

The Rebbe’s advice to an influential journalist can be expanded to consumers of media as well. Meaning that as consumers, we need to be conscientious about our media diet. When we recognize how deeply our moods and mindsets are affected, and how influential such information is upon our psyche, we become aware of how important it is to consciously curate our data intake and nurture a healthy, balanced, and positive worldview.

Don’t just passively read the bad news that is broadcast everywhere; rather, actively look for the good news that is quietly happening all around you!

2. Delete Cynicism

We live in a world that is more cynical than ever. Satire, sarcasm, and scorn have replaced compassion and civility in national discourse and have become the chosen tone of communication among many news outlets. Public scandals are used to teach and reinforce the general mistrust of leaders of any kind. Cynics and skeptics are seen as sophisticated, witty, and enlightened. People of faith and open-minded idealism, on the other hand, are viewed as naive, child-like, and uncritical.

The problem with cynicism is that it shrinks and darkens our belief in the power and potential for positive change within ourselves, in others, and in the world around us, further perpetuating a vicious cycle of distrust and despair.

In private encounters and public addresses,13 the Rebbe emphasized that only through countering default cynicism and actively embracing educated optimism can we see the true import of our lives and move toward reaching our highest potential.

3. Share Good News

The Rebbe once followed up with an individual who had previously asked for a blessing for someone undergoing a difficult challenge. “How is he doing?” the Rebbe asked. “Thank G‑d, everything worked out in the end,” the man answered. “Why is it,” said the Rebbe, “that people freely share their bad news, but fail to follow up when there is good news?”14

After a day of working or running errands, we often readily share the negative things that happened. If we have ten interactions with people and nine are positive and one is negative, we usually dwell on the negative one and feel a need to talk about it. This is only natural; we’re holding onto it because it still needs resolution.

In fact, a number of scientific studies have suggested that negativity and complaints are powerful attention magnets and create a “negativity bias.” Therefore, it requires an equally powerful intentionality and consciousness to become free of its gravitational field and create a “positivity bias” within our inner universes.

One practical way to make the shift toward positivity is to proactively change our default responses to questions about our day or life. Instead of immediately offering the most negative experience or challenge we are currently dealing with, try to mention something positive—at least as a starting point. This is not to say that we should ignore the negativity or challenges in our lives; we can always come back to them. The point is to begin by mentioning a highlight of our day or something exciting we are working on.

Prioritize sharing positive reports about your experiences.

Another deceptively simple way to positively influence the course and cadence of our conversations is to make a point of greeting others warmly, with a smile, and with a positive demeanor. By turning up the joy and warmth levels in our greetings and interactions, we elicit the same in others, thus generating an undercurrent of goodwill and positive energy that can elevate each encounter.

In a related anecdote: When media outlets began asking for a photograph of the Rebbe for publishing purposes, he requested that a photograph with a smile be selected.15 Additionally, when a celebrated Chasidic artist was painting a portrait of him, the Rebbe asked that his serious expression in the painting be changed to a smile if this would not be too expensive.16

Not only does consciously crafting a positive demeanor impact our own joy and positivity levels, but as a side effect, our company will be more enjoyable and desirable to others due to the magnetic power of positivity.

4. Drop Negative Self-Talk

A man visiting the Rebbe bemoaned his spiritual state. “Rebbe, something must be wrong with me! I have spent a lot of time in the company of saintly individuals, but their example doesn’t seem to affect me. I must be insensitive to spirituality!” The Rebbe interjected, “Just as it is forbidden to speak disparagingly about someone else—even if speaking the absolute truth—it is also forbidden to speak negatively about oneself!”17

It is important to free ourselves from limiting and self-deprecating words and thoughts. These create and reinforce negative beliefs about our capabilities and only serve to hold us back. Some seem to think that self-judgment is positively motivational. But as Chasidic thought teaches, emotions are like children. Just as a healthy parent would not insult their child, so too, we shouldn’t insult our inner selves. Whatever you wouldn’t say to someone else in decent company, don’t say to yourself.

When negative self-talk is habitual, changing it requires proactive effort. By becoming aware of the pattern and identifying our triggers, automatic reactions, and words of self-denigration, we can begin to eradicate them from our mental vocabulary. The secret to this process is expressed in the following anecdote:

A woman who once complained to the Rebbe that she regularly experienced unwanted thoughts received this directive: “The mind cannot think two different thoughts at the same time. The next time you want to get rid of a thought, don’t try to fight it; simply replace it with a different one.”18

Through this process of becoming aware of and actively replacing our negative self-talk with kind words of affirmation, our inner narrative and resultant self-image will gradually be transformed into one that is confident and empowered.

5. Praise Effusively, Not Economically

A shliach who was stationed in a particularly challenging location once came to see the Rebbe. The Rebbe gently asked, “How is your relationship with your wife?” He then asked the shliach to write down the dynamics of his marriage. The shliach freely elaborated on his wife’s many virtues, and ended with the words, “Perhaps I should not have been so profuse in describing my wife’s qualities.”

The Rebbe examined the page, crossed out the word “not,” and underlined the word “should,” leaving the sentence to read: “I should have been so profuse in describing my wife’s qualities.”19

Create a habit of regularly offering others generous words of praise and compliment. It may not seem obvious, but every human being, no matter how accomplished or altruistic, feels uplifted when acknowledged and affirmed.

Also, avoid qualifying your compliments—they need not be earned, deserved, or reciprocated. Be full-hearted, not begrudging, and do not take others for granted.

Some people fear that freely giving compliments will place them at a disadvantage in a relationship. The truth is, however, that kindness begets kindness and generosity of spirit is contagious.

6. Focus on the Present

Following the terrifying Crown Heights Riots in 1991, a community leader suggested arranging tours of Crown Heights to show that the area was back to normal. The Rebbe advised: “In principle, it’s a good idea, but it [might highlight] that there was something negative here in the past…. Emphasize the positive [in the present], not mentioning that it was once otherwise.”20

The Rebbe was saying that the community or certain locations on the tour shouldn’t be defined negatively by what happened in the past, such as: “Here is where a terrible event in the riots occurred, and as you can see now things are fine again.” The Rebbe wanted to allow visitors to see and experience the community’s joy, sincerity, and togetherness in the present, untainted by the negative context of a previous tragedy.

In a related encounter, the Rebbe told a man who had been incarcerated, “Focus on the benefits of being free rather than dwelling on memories of your prison time. This may be difficult at first, but you can do it.”21

Sometimes we view our current life circumstances through the lens of previous negative experiences. Comparing good with bad colors the good. When we carry anger, fear, or sadness from the past into the present, it makes room for its continued influence.

One area in our lives where this issue is particularly pertinent is in our personal relationships, especially with our loved ones, with whom we can fall into the trap of holding onto previous mistakes and disappointments.

We often engage with them as if the past is present, and we view them through the prism of our judgments. The images that we have created of them do not reflect reality. Visualize how different our relationships would be if we released our grip on past hurts and saw people with new eyes.

G‑d creates the world and our lives every day—and moment—anew. Let us emulate our Creator and live our lives in kind, approaching each day and every encounter afresh.

7. Surround Yourself with Good People

Mr. Freddy Hager, a businessman from London, visited the Rebbe in search of guidance and blessing. During a private audience, the Rebbe advised:22 “Make it a point to meet upbeat, positive people…. Look for and interact with people of good will at work.”

We are deeply affected by our environment and the people around us. Our Sages taught that a neighbor—a close stranger—can be more influential than even a friend or a loved one. Make it a point to find and associate with the positive people in your environment. Let go of socializing with individuals who are negative or cynical, or who make you feel inadequate, insecure, drain your energy, or bring out the worst in you. Even if an interaction with such a person seems enjoyable and exciting in the moment, sense how you feel afterward.

In the words of R. Yosei the Kohen,23 the Talmudic sage who traveled the world searching for the best advice for a happy life: “A good neighbor [is paramount]!”

8. Do What You Love

A British school teacher visited the Rebbe for a private audience. He handed the Rebbe his note, outlining some of his innovations and accomplishments in the classroom over the previous year. After reading the note, the Rebbe looked up and responded gently: “While it is obvious from your report that you are devoted to your mission, I do not perceive that you find joy in your work.”24

It’s not enough to be good at what you do; the key to success is loving what you do. You can do something you don’t enjoy for a few years, perhaps, but there will come a time when it starts to build resentment. We are programmed to pursue contentment; we are not meant to force ourselves to be productive.

This is reflected in another story. The Rebbe once asked a leading rabbi to continue at his community position in South Africa rather than moving to Israel. “But I do not want you to stay there because you ‘received an order’ from me. You should only do it out of conviction and love.”25

Similarly, when a young couple decided that they were ready to serve as shluchim, they signed a letter of commitment. The Rebbe met with them and asked the wife, “Did you sign this letter happily or because you felt compelled?” Only when she confirmed that she was willing and glad to selflessly serve any Jewish community did the Rebbe give the couple his blessing and approval.

In all of these stories, the Rebbe consistently expresses the liberating truth that we only reach the ultimate joy and fulfillment in life when our passion and profession intersect, and where our source and sense of purpose, productivity, pleasure, and profit converge and coalesce.

If you do what you love, you will love what you do.

9. Lose Yourself

A person once wrote a letter to the Rebbe while in a state of despondency: “I wake up each day sad and apprehensive. I can’t concentrate. I find it hard to pray. I keep the commandments, but I find no spiritual satisfaction. I go to synagogue, but I feel alone. I begin to wonder what life is about. I would like the Rebbe’s help.” The Rebbe replied without writing a single word. He merely circled the first word of every sentence and sent the letter back. The person understood and entered a path of spiritual recovery. The circled word at the beginning of every sentence was “I.”26

Over-focusing on ourselves is the root cause of suffering and negativity. Stop thinking about yourself so much. Your ego can never be a source of happiness. Instead of seeing yourself through your own eyes, start seeing yourself through the eyes of G‑d, Who chose to be in a relationship with your soul. Real joy comes from stepping out of yourself and into the Infinite.

A student once asked the Rebbe, “How can one be joyful all the time, as taught in Chasidic philosophy?” The Rebbe replied, “Reflect upon the fact that you are a finite creature whom the Creator has given the privilege to be bound with the Infinite through the mitzvot. If you keep in mind that your soul is a part of G‑d, how can you not be constantly joyful?” From then on, whenever the Rebbe would see him at a Chasidic gathering, he would ask with a twinkle in his eye, “So, how is the joy going?”27

Only when we shift our focus from our personal productivity and achievements to our unconditional bond with G‑d do we have a framework for consistent joy. Ego-driven achievements are dependent on external expectations and circumstances. G‑d’s unconditional love for us is not dependent on anything. A soul-based life is rooted in the bliss of “being” rather than the anxiety of “becoming.”

10. Become Other-Centered

The Rebbe once inquired about a woman’s father who was unwell and in the hospital. In response to the daughter’s report, the Rebbe said: “When he sets out to teach others and raise their spirits, this will automatically have a positive effect on him.”28

A central teaching of the Rebbe is to replace our constant thoughts about our own wellbeing with thoughts about the wellbeing of others. Through this practice, we can craft an other-centered life regardless of our circumstances. Actively attuning ourselves to the lives and struggles of others will help us take notice of—and reach out to—those in need.

This shift can also involve major life decisions. A young man consulted the Rebbe on choosing a career path. “If making money is not the main priority for you, I would encourage you to go into education,” the Rebbe replied.29 As a teacher, he would have the opportunity to produce and nurture emotionally healthy children and set them on course for a successful life.

The beauty of this story is that the Rebbe did not tell the man to choose one way or another. He merely pointed out that if becoming wealthy was not his priority, he would be free to choose a career overtly guided by a deeper calling. This would allow him to earn a living while bringing life to others.

In a related story, a newly engaged couple wrote to the Rebbe asking that they be blessed with warmth and positivity in their home. “See to it that others have warmth and positivity,” urged the Rebbe, “and as a result, your lives will be warm and positive, as well.”30

Helping others is the most effective form of “self-help.”

Part III:
A User’s Guide to Practical Action

As Chasidut teaches, the goal of the Torah is to be manifest on the level of action, particularly in the performance of the spiritual practices called mitzvot. Therefore, it is never enough to allow its teachings, no matter how inspiring or wise they are, to remain in the realm of thought alone. Truth seeks expression in the world and in our lives. This last chapter concludes with an effort to help the reader put the transformative principles contained within this book into practice. For it is only through such practice and experience that we are able to personalize, internalize, and actualize these teachings, empowering us to create a positivity bias of our own.

With this in mind, I have selected nine practices that can be helpful toward this redemptive end. You may find these practices easier to implement with the aid of a mentor or friend with whom you can share your commitment and experiences.

1. Create a Daily Gratitude List

Set aside a few minutes each day, after reciting the morning blessings31 and before reciting the Shema prayer when retiring at night,32 to write down a minimum of five things that you currently have in your life that you are grateful for. Think about each for a moment, relish it. Now say “Thank You” to G‑d for each one of these blessings. The next time you feel yourself starting to become preoccupied with anxieties, stop for a moment and recall some of these fundamental blessings. For further insight, see Chapter 2: Dwell on the Positive.

2. Identify and Reframe Your Negative Language

Commit yourself for one day to be aware of your language. Record any negative speech or even any negative phrasing that you use, and review the list at the end of the day. Do you notice any patterns or repeated phrases of negative speech?

Select a particular person, subject, or saying from this list that you often use or speak about in negative terms. How might you rephrase or reframe your language in this case to reflect a more positive outlook? Now commit yourself to implementing that verbal shift in a positive direction. For further insight, see Chapter 10: Positive Language.

3. Identify the People You Resent and Reframe Your View of Them

Think of a particular person of whom you have a negative opinion. Write down the most recent incident that gave rise to your negative interpretations of their actions or motives. Now, think about the same situation from the other person’s point of view. What might they be dealing with or trying to balance in their handling of the situation? What commitments might complicate their involvement or intentions in the situation? What interests or goals of theirs might be threatened or compromised by you directly or by this situation in general? Is it possible that there is a major problem in their lives—even a tragedy—that you know nothing about? On a separate sheet of paper, write down all of these counter-points or contextualizing factors to balance out your prior judgments. Read both pages and breathe in compassion and patience, while exhaling judgment and arrogance. For further insight, see Chapter 6: Seek Merit, Not Mistakes.

4. List the Positive Qualities of Three People in Your Life

Think about three people in your life: a) Someone you are close with, b) someone you work with, and c) someone you find challenging but must interact with. Write down three positive things for each person: a) A compliment, b) some sort of empowerment, and c) something unique about them that you appreciate. Try to remember these positive aspects of each person and look for an opportunity to verbally express them to them. This is, of course, a good general practice to adopt for anyone you come in contact with—constantly strive to say something positive or empowering in every interaction. For further insight, see Chapter 9: Lashon Tov.

5. Record a Setback and See How It Was a Springboard

Think of a setback you have experienced in your life that was especially challenging and difficult. Try to locate the positive outcomes of that setback and write them down. What did you learn? What were you forced to overcome? In what areas did you grow? How are you a better, stronger, more conscious or caring person because of that experience? Then, insert the answers into this formula (tweaking as necessary for your personal purposes):

“Before I…(insert setback or challenge here), I…(insert old paradigm here—thought/felt/acted/etc.). Now I…(insert new paradigm here—know/feel/do/etc.).”

After the writing exercise, read the list aloud to yourself. Keep it and return to it—or add to it—as needed. For further insight, see Chapter 20: Setback or Springboard?

6. Make a List of Your Five Highest Values

Think about and write down five of your highest Jewish values. What morals, ideals, commitments, or allegiances do you hold most dear? Now choose your three most core principles from this list. Which of these values are non-negotiable or most worth living for? Write out these three pillars of your conscience on a separate paper, so you can return to and contemplate these sacred commitments regularly and impress them deep into your soul. For further insight, see Chapter 23: A Rebbe Revealed.

7. Redeem Unresolved Issues from Your Past

Call to mind a past experience that was challenging or painful at the time and still feels unresolved; something that has impacted the way you view and define yourself and the world. It could be a blown opportunity, a broken trust, an injustice, or a seemingly random “act of G‑d” or catastrophe. Through the lens of redemptive reframing, imagine having a conversation with your past self, the “you” who lived through that experience. What would you say to that person to bring a sense of healing and understanding to their soul? Either write these consoling words down or speak them out loud in a form of personal prayer. For further insight, see Chapter 25: Reframing and Redeeming the Past.

8. Identify the Silver Linings You’ve Experienced

Think about an experience from your more distant past that you felt you could not possibly survive or recover from. Now take a moment to recognize that here you are, and you have indeed survived. Now, if possible, think back on the situation and write down for yourself: What were the specific events, people, practices, or experiences that helped you get through that challenging time? Did you recognize them in the moment for the redemptive role they were playing? Write a letter to a person, teacher, book, teaching, practice, event, or anything else that helped you survive and grow from that place of fear, pain, or brokenness. You can choose to send the letter or keep it as your own reminder of the hidden redeemers in your life. For further insight, see Chapter 26: Silver Linings.

9. Commit to Good Deeds as a Positive Approach to Loss

Who is someone you were close with or means a lot to you who has passed on? What is the anniversary of their passing? What is a good deed or mitzvah you could do in their name and honor that would bring their soul nachas, deep pleasure? A few examples from Jewish tradition are wrapping tefillin (for men), lighting Shabbat candles (for women), giving tzedakah (charitable gifts) or studying Torah in their honor. Commit yourself to this holy deed on their yahrtzeit. For further insight, see Chapter 27.


One bitterly cold night, R. Shmuel Munkes embarked on a journey to his Rebbe, R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi. The wind pierced his bones, and he was relieved to see a wagon passing by. The wagon stopped, and the driver happily offered R. Shmuel a ride. The driver was a liquor merchant, and R. Shmuel made himself comfortable among the many bottles of liquor that filled the wagon. Still chilled to the core, R. Shmuel realized that drinking some of the vodka would warm him. The driver agreed, and after drinking the vodka, R. Shmuel felt warm through and through.

When R. Shmuel entered the room of R. Schneur Zalman for a private audience, he said, “The Rebbe has taught his Chasidim that they must take lessons from every life experience,” and went on to recount the events of his journey. “The air had chilled me to the bone. I sat among the bottles of liquor for quite a while, and although liquor has the power to warm a person, I still remained ice-cold. Only when I actually drank the vodka did I become warm.”

R. Shmuel said that this taught him an important lesson about Divine service. A person might dwell in an environment of Torah, surrounded by inspiration, yet it can only have a great effect on him and warm his soul once it is internalized.33

Books, like bottles, are exceptional vessels. But every book needs a reader to open it in order for its light to enter into the world. Similarly, words and ideas also contain great power to motivate and transform people—but only if they are taken seriously enough to be acted upon. If a word remains inert on a page or trapped inside our heads, it is as good as fine wine in a corked bottle. Its true flavor and potential is only fulfilled when it is taken deeply into the core of the person’s very being. For this to occur, we must “taste and see that G‑d is good.”34

It is our sincere prayer that each of you, in your own way, imbibe these teachings, bringing them into your lives and relationships through continued reflection, passionate conversation, and practical action. May we all merit to see the Infinite light and Divine goodness shining out from within ourselves, within each other, and within the world, always and forever! This is the essence of the Rebbe’s Positivity Bias.