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June 15, 2012

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PAGE 4B HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 15, 2012 By Matt Robinson JointMedia News Service When it comes to the quest for perfection, former Israeli squash champion Tal Ben- Shahar puts a positive spin on things. Ben-Shahar--who lectures at Harvard University, the Iriterdis˘iplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, and to For- tune 500 companies--doesn't ask, "What'swrong?" Instead, he uses positive psychology to look at what is working, and he explores this methodology in the recently published' The PursuitofPerfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life" (McGraw-Hill). While the field'of positive psychology has taken hold in such vaunted venues as the University of Pennsylvania (where professor Martin Selig- man is a pioneer) and Harvard (where Ben-Shahar's sessions are always overbooked), Ben- Shahar's contributions to the field have taken it in exciting new directions. "Positive psychology fo- cuses on flourishing," Ben- Shahar tells JointMedia News Service. noting the field's focus on self-esteem, optimism, and joy, as opposed to the more traditional triad of neurosis, anxiety and depression. "In addition, positive psychology focuses primarily on what works, whether in individuals, relationships, and organiza- tions." "'What is wrong'.., is an important question," Ben- Shahar admits, "but it's not enough." By focusing first on success, positive psychologists can look at what needs to be done next from a better, happier and more productive place. "By starting outwithwhatworks," Ben-Shahar says, "there is more likelihood of success." This perspective can also help strengthen people when things do not go as planned. "These positive questions should not only be asked when things go wrong," Ben-Shahar says. "They are potentially preventative in nature, strengthening the relationship so that it can deal with the inevitable hardships "that arise over time .... The answers to these questions provide a good platform for dealing with the challenges." Ben-Shahar explains that he became involved in the 1 squas study of perfection due to a "personal need" to "struggle" with it. "Initially, what got me interested inthe subject of happiness was my unhap- piness," he recalls. "I was do- ing well as an undergraduate student at Harvard, I was a top athlete, I had a good social life--rand I was unhappy." "It didn't make sense to me," he continues, "because from the outside, everything seemed great, but from the inside it didn't feel that way. I wanted to overcome this per- sonal challenge that I faced, and that got me to learn about the field." Since Ben-Shahar had come so far in the competitive world of squash and also in his academic career, he was able to glimpse what others call "perfection." In the process, however, he realized that this goal was an illusion. "I have not reached per- fection," he admits, "as it's unattainable." What is attainable, he discovered, was the power to reframe experiences based on what he calls "optimal" outcomes. "Perfect is ideal, something that cannot be improved," he suggests. "Op- timal is the best possible [out- S n come] given the constraints of reality." Ben-Shahar concedes that optimization is not always easy to achieve, either. He claims it can only be achieved: by "learning to fail [and] by accepting painful emotions." On the other hand, this new perspective ultimately leads to greater reward because it emphasizes the acceptance of all that is positive in one's life. "It is about putting our- selves on the line, trying, falling down, and getting up again," Ben-Shahar explains. way that works for modern Zen masters like professor Jon Kabat-Zinn (whom Ben- Shahar quotes liberally in his book) and college fresh- men alike. No wonder, then, that Ben-Shahar's lectures regularly set attendance re- cords and have encouraged even the perfection-seeking students of the Ivy League to reconsider their lives and how they evaluate them. "Students connect to it on a personal level," Ben-Shahar says. As much as his thousands By "getting up," Ben-Shahar- of students have learned saysthat we end up higher- from him, Ben-Shahar says than when we began, at least that he has learned at least in terms of our own perspec- as much from them. The tive. g eatest lesson, he says, has While optimization may be been that he is "not alone" in more attractive and attainable than perfection, Ben-Shahar cautions that its achievement involves challenge and poten- tial pain. "It's important to keep in mind that the change cannot happen perfectly," he says. "There are inevitably ups and downs." Optimizationalists focus more on the ups and do not get as distracted or discouraged by unavoidable "failures." Ben-Shahar has been able to formulate this idea in a perfectionism. Among the other lessons that Ben-Shahar shares in his new book are about being grateful for what you do have, simplifying your life, giving yourself "permission" to be human, keeping in mind that happiness is greatly depen- dent on your mind, and only seeking happiness at what he calls the "intersection" be- tween pleasure and meaning. "Whether at work or at home," he suggests, "the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable." Ben-Shahar observes, "We are a culture obsessed with pleasure." He said mostpeople believe the mark of a worthy life is "the absence of dis- comfort," but' that there is "something wrong with us if we don't experience sadness or anxiety at times." However, as these are "hu- man emotions," Ben-Shahar says they are not only inevi- table, but they can also be pro- ductive. "The paradox," Ben- Shahar says, "is that when we accept our feelings--when we give ourselves the permission to be human and experience painful emotions we are more likely to open ourselves up to positive emotions." In addition to positive emotions, Ben-Shahar em- phasizes the importance of exposing oneself to positive people. "The No. i predictor of hap- piness is the time we spend with people we care about and who care about us," he says. "The most important source of happiness may be the person sitting next to you. Appreciate them, savor the time you spend together." By Dvora Meyers NEW YORK (JTA) Nine- teen years ago, gymnast Dax)id Sende'r and his family attended the opening ceremonies of the Maccabiah Games in Israel, where the then-7-year-old told his morn. "Someday, you're all coming back here to watch me back down here." Sixteen years later. Sender was one of the U.S. cont'in- .gent's official flag bearers at that year's Maccabiah Games in Israel. The gymnastwent on to win five medals, including three gold ones. Now, at age 26. Sender has qualified for the Olympic trials, the first competitive step in the process that will select the men's U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. The Maccabiah Games was supposed to have been Send- er's final international meet as an elite gymnast. But.less than ayearago2 he announced his return to training and competition with an eye on making the U•S. gymnastics team for the London Games. A fluke training accident had kept him from vying for a spot on the 2008 squad in Beijing. "Things feltabitunfinished for me." Sender said. explain- ing the reason for his return. In 2008. Sender had just won the men's gymnastics competition at the National Championships. Hewas prac- ticing on the high bar during an Olympics Trials training session. He jumped up to still the apparatus, something male gymnas.ts do thousands of times without incident. When he jumped down. he rolled his ankle, forcing him to withdraw from the event. His Olympic bid. however. was not necessarily doomed. After the Trials. nine gym- nasts were named to the training squad and the Beijing lineup was chosen after a selection camp. Sender petitioned for a spot on the training squad, h0p- be sufficiently healed by the time of the team's selection. He was rejected.An- other injured gymnast. PaiJl Hamm. the decorated World and Olympic champion, was named to the group and then to the team; Hamm eventually was forced to withdraw and replaced with an alternate. Nearly four years later. Sender is asked if he under- stands why he -- national champion at the time -- was left off the training squad. He offered a lengthy pause before replying. "The bottom line is no." he said. "I don't really under- stand it now more than I did then. I.can kind of accept the decision that was made. but F LOR/ IDA - Call us Today ;469! Laundry . .......... .... Range of Motion Exercises ii.: • . .... Walking Ass,stance Companion Services . Light housekeeping ii ii: Meal prep and clean-up Medication Reminders "- Errands & Transpo tion Alzheimer s & Dementia Care Bathing/Transferringrroileting Get 10 hours of Call us TODAY for details... State o'~ ~:L/'-.l~,C/:t L~cens˘ ~ NR 302t !467 State of FL/\HCA Lloen~e # 23-012 Ineareo aria ~son~:!ea Courtesy of Maccabi USA David Sender at the 2009 Maccabiah Games Tel Aviv. I still can'Lquite make sense of it because I wasn't in that meeting room." Sender retired from the sport after" finishing his undergraduate studies and NCAA eligibility at Stanford University. He went on to veterinary school at the University of Illinois, which has a strong men's college gymnastics program. In fact, the team just won the 2012 NCAA title and is coached by Justin Spring, a member-of the 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medal-winning men's team. Sender insisted that he would not return to gym- nastics. Spring said, and was content to be the athlete representative on the men's selection committee. Still, Sender frequently worked out in the gym. He even practiced on the pommel horse, his worst event and the bane of most male gymnasts' existence. "Everything about this says that he was keeping in shape to. make this unexpected comeback." said Spring. who is now coaching Sender in his Olympic quest. Spring and the rest of the Illinois team might have ex: pected and welcomed Sender's comeback" announcement• but his parents were more wary. He told them about it over the telephone. "lit was] one 6f these calls that a parent dreads: 'Can you get dad on the phone? I want you both on the phone.'.• recalled his mother. Bonnie, adding that her physician husband is sometimes sum- moned to the phone for less- than-positive reasons. Sender acknowledged his family's ambivalent support. "My family was a little bit nervous about me coming back to the sport." he said. referring to their concern for his physical and emotional welt-being. "All I can think of is I don't want another injury," his mother said. This time, Sender is not a student-athlete; he has taken a year off from veterinary studies. It was easier as an under- grad, he said. to miss classes for national team training camps and international com- petitions. In graduate school. he simply cannot miss a week of labs and patient hours to compete in gymnastics events nationally or abroad. "If I was going to be going back. to gymnastics. I wanted to put everything that I had into this year and give myself the best chance." Sender said. So far, Spring likes what he sees. "[He's] the easiest gymnast I have ever worked with." he said. "I'm hardly his coach. I'm there to keep him balanced. He's so internally motivated. I'm there to stop him from hurting himself." The effort is showing posi- tive results so far. Sender had a strong showing at the Winter Cup, the midseason re- ranking of the men's national team. Before the competition. most of the buzz was about Harem's comeback. But that soon shifted to Sender, who placed sixth in the all-around. second on the vault and third on the still rings. Perhaps even more heart- ening for Sender than the official results was the warm reception he received from- gymnastics fans. • "I think that at least some of the fans out there feel bad that things didn't go very well for me in 2008 so they're hop- ing I have a good comeback." Sender said appreciatively. Sender knows it will be even more difficult to make the 2012 team; the International Olympic Committee has re- duced the number of athlete spots from six to five, Back in 2008. Spring added; Sender was a solid all-around competitor, but he did not have a "wow" event. He does now with the return of the spectacular Yurchenko double pike vault he debuted in 2009 and upgrades he's made to the parallel bars. Most significant are the improvements he's made to pommel horse, the weakest event for the U.S. men's team. "He's got a better shot this year," Spring said. Sender knows the compe- tition will be intense, but is staying focused. As he said. "I want to finish with this sport with absolutely no regrets."