The astronaut attitude

Not everything has to be geared towards achieving a specific future purpose to be worthwhile.

Let me rephrase that:

Don’t try to live in the future. Appreciate the present.

My dad was a storyteller. He grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, and he had a great fund of stories featuring hard work, honesty, thrift, and generosity. The theme, in addition to whatever specific value was being imparted, was that living by that value would pay off in the end. Hard work pays off in a satisfying career. My dad’s thrift as a child enabled him to lend his parents money when times were tight in the Depression. His honesty in remembering all winter that he had to repay a penny as soon as the roads cleared earned him a whole bag of penny candy from the surprised storekeeper. His mother’s generosity to a band of traveling Cree people was repaid with moccasins for him and his brother every year.

The corollary my subconscious pulled out of Dad’s stories was that you shouldn’t waste time on things that don’t have a purpose.

Or, as that annoying student used to say (there’s one in every class): will this be on the test?

This isn’t fair to my dad, who was great at having fun for the pure joy of it. But – you know how it is with your subconscious. It thinks what it thinks.

Work hard. Enjoy it.

In An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield proposes a different approach to thinking about what you’re doing. An astronaut who gets all his or her job satisfaction from space flight is going to be a miserable astronaut, because space flight is such a small and uncertain part of the job. For one thing, there are years of training for one day of space flight. For another, many factors outside your control determine whether you’ll actually go to space. When the U.S. space shuttles were retired, astronauts who were too tall to fit in Russian ships had no chance of space flight. Congressional budgets, disaster investigations, illness, family events – all can mean you miss your window of opportunity.

Your sense of self worth, identity, and happiness can’t be tied up in an ultimate goal that might never happen. The training and everything else that goes into the job is hard, fun, and stretches your mind. Space flight is a bonus. You don’t determine whether you arrive at the desired professional destination, but you can determine your own attitude. Work hard and enjoy the process.

Chris Hadfield is the astronaut who recorded David Bowie’s Space Oddity IN SPACE, so it wasn’t a surprise to hear him talking about learning Rocket Man before he met Elton John, just in case. He pictured the most demanding challenge he could imagine – being asked to perform on stage with Elton John – then determined what he’d have to do to be ready to meet the challenge, then practiced until he was ready. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t actually asked to perform on stage. The important thing is that he was ready.

You might learn things you’ll never use, but it’s better to know them and not need to than the reverse. You’re getting ahead if you learn, even if you stay on the same rung of your career ladder. Learning is the point.

What does this mean for writers?

A writer’s chance of getting a book published and having it succeed with readers, like the astronaut’s chance of spaceflight, is affected by a whole range of things that aren’t in the writer’s control. Writing, studying the craft, writing, researching, writing, connecting with other writers, and writing (not to mention querying, networking, developing an author platform, etc.) are hard, fun, and stretch your mind. Don’t base your sense of self-worth and satisfaction on the end result. Challenge yourself, work hard, and enjoy the process!

Watch this!

After you read the book, check out this little video that sums it up nicely. I’m listening to the audio version of the book, which is especially wonderful because it’s narrated by Colonel Hadfield himself.

 

 

Advertisements

Seeing clearly

I have new glasses, and I’m seeing the world in a whole different way. Colors are more intense. There’s a bright prism-like outline of light around far-away objects. My laptop screen looks twice as tall as usual, with two copies of my header one on top of the other. Same with my little dogs – they look like elongated dachshunds. But if I move my head a certain way, everything is half its normal size. If I turn my head from side to side without paying attention, furniture comes to life and threatens to fall on me. And if I look into the distance, I see two versions of reality side by side.

Don’t worry, I’m not driving with these yet. The roads are safe.

Life with amblyopia

I have the insultingly named condition “lazy eye”. My left eye is extremely nearsighted, and what I see through it wriggles, and vanishes if I try to focus on it. An eye doctor once told me the reason for the latter problem was that at birth, your brain learns to interpret the information coming in from your eyes, and if there’s too much variation between your eyes, it might decide to ignore one of them. My right eye is fine, so apparently my brain made the efficient decision to only pay attention to it. It’s called suppression.

All this means that all my life, I’ve used my right eye to see, and my left eye just goes along for the ride. My 3-D vision is pitiful. They used to show me a holographic picture of a butterfly and ask me to try to grab it. I figured out the right answer was somewhere above the page, but my pediatric eye doctor wasn’t fooled. The old-style 3-D movies, where you’d wear cardboard glasses with one red lens, never worked for me, and when those magic-eye pictures were a fad back in the 1990s, I could never see the hidden image. My eyes just don’t work together that way.  (Here’s a fun article about those magic eye pictures.)

Treatment…and not

When I was a kid, I had eye surgery twice, at age 5 to correct a cross-eyed look and then at 15 to reverse a trend towards being wall-eyed. What they actually did was cut muscles, first on the inside (nose side) and then on the outside (ear side) of my eye. (I also had a stainless steel front tooth, thanks to a mishap with a swing set in sixth grade. It’s a wonder I survived middle school.)

Walleye_Male_Sander_vitreus_3-2017
Walleye

 

 

I also had glasses, starting at about age 4. For a few years, there was a serious effort to force me to use my left eye. This was accomplished by putting a bandaid-colored patch over my right eye, or painting the right lens of my glasses with clear nail polish.

Here’s the thing. I’m a reader. I learned to read when I was four, and I liked it. Those patches and the nail polish meant that books were a frustrating blur of squirmy spots surrounded by bright prisms, with blotches of nothing in the middle. So I got really good at pulling off just enough of the patch to see under it, and learned to tilt my head so the fuzzy glasses didn’t get in my way.

Finally, about the same time as that second surgery, the adults in my life decided that if my vision was fine in the eye I actually used, I didn’t need glasses. I saw the world without a smeary plastic filter for the next three decades, until I was old enough to start having trouble with small print.

After a few years of buying readers at the drugstore, I got tired of putting them on and taking them off and spending half my time looking for them, no matter how many pairs I stashed around the house, car, and office. I went to the eye doctor for the first time as an adult, and got a prescription. Because I wasn’t using my left eye anyway, the prescription was just for my right eye, and the optician who made the glasses made a matching lens for my left eye so I’d look more or less symmetrical.

 

New hope

Because my left eye’s so useless, I’ve always had a little undercurrent of anxiety about my right eye. The anxiety level increased a few years ago when my eye doctor told me I had cataracts developing. Cataract surgery is pretty commonplace now, and they seem to have it down, but they still only do one eye at a time – just in case.

As it turns out, there’s new research going on about treating amblyopia in adults. I’m not the only kid who didn’t comply with the patching-and-nail-polish routine. A doctor at McGill University in Canada has been experimenting with using a stereoscopic device and video games to help adults with amblyopia improve their vision – see this easy-to-read article, or this example of Dr. Robert Hess’s peer-reviewed articles about it.

And when I had to switch eye doctors because my insurance changed, my new eye doctor suggested trying a new prescription. She showed me that my left eye vision can be partially corrected, so even if I still can’t read small print with it I can read, say, 24-point font. Which might not sound like a big deal but given that uncorrected I can only read the very top line of the eye chart with that eye, it’s pretty astonishing.

Hence the new glasses. The left lens is made with some space-age plastic that keeps the thickness down, but it still has a bit of that old Coke-bottle effect. The right lens is downright weird, though. It has a line across like the one in the picture on the left below, which is the source of my up-and-down double vision. It’s called slab-off, and it’s kind of a reverse prism to make light from the thinner right lens hit the back of the eye at the same distance as the thicker left lens. The picture on the right illustrates the different angles. Physics.

When I picked up the new glasses, the optician said to try them for two or three weeks and see if they drove me crazy. I’ve had them for a little over two days, and the jury’s definitely still out. I’m happy to have better distance vision than I’ve had with my old glasses, but I’m not a fan of the bifocal-type line. I expect I’ll get used to it, as I got used to my old progressives. The real questions are whether I’ll adapt to using both eyes, whether those bright lines will disappear, and whether (heaven forfend) my left eye will start drifting inward or outward again.

I’m hopeful. I’m wondering whether my binocular vision will improve. Even my posture could potentially get better – I hold my head and shoulders a bit crooked, which is probably partly from years of carrying bags on my left shoulder but might also have something to do with subtly turning my head so my right eye faces front and center.

On the other hand – before I had that second surgery, when my left eye tended to wander outward, sometimes people would try to make eye contact with it. It’s really disconcerting when someone’s staring off towards your left ear. I haven’t had that experience in years, until yesterday: the guy in Costco handing out $2-off produce coupons stared at my left eye the whole time he was talking to me. My left eye looks a little bigger through that Coke-bottle lens, so maybe that’s what attracted him to it.

My gift to you

I did a bit of poking around on the web to see if anyone else had any advice on adjusting to new glasses with the slab-off feature. Dr. Hess says 5% of people have amblyopia, so you’d think someone else would have posted something. I couldn’t find much of anything besides articles written for people in the business. For example, here’s a good article that explains the slab-off technique. I did find a few items about adjusting to new glasses in general. In a nutshell, the advice is to wear the new glasses, don’t keep switching back to your old glasses, expect that for a minor change it will take a couple of days but for a big change it could take a couple of weeks, and be prepared to go back to the doctor if you still haven’t adjusted after a couple of weeks. I also found some YouTube videos of eye exercises for lazy eye, and a weird one about using something called eccentric circles to train your eyes, which seems to be aimed at people with wall-eyes.

If you found this because you’re struggling with a similar problem, I’d love to hear about how you’ve managed to overcome it in the comments below. I’ll update this post in a couple of weeks and add anything I think might be useful to other amblyopic adults.

 

Goals (reprise)

In my post on goal setting for writers, I wrote about things like setting measurable, achievable goals. Today’s longer post dives deeper into the idea of using goals to achieve what you want in life. It’s inspired by Brian Tracy’s Goals! (The link is to the new edition that just came out in December; I got the audio version of the 2003 original from the library, in keeping with my longstanding goal to get a handle on my overflowing bookshelves.)

The 5-minute summary

Write down your goals, make plans to achieve them, and work on your plans every single day.

Success starts inside

Tracy says, “you become what you think about most of the time.” Once you have clear goals, you’ll move towards them. Think about the future, what you want out of life, and who you want to be, and that’s what your life will be about. Don’t constantly think about the past, all the reasons you haven’t succeeded yet, all the people who hurt you – those negative emotions will hold you down. To free yourself, see yourself as in control of your own fate. Psychologists call this “locus of control,” and you’re happier if you have an internal one as opposed to external.

The timing for this couldn’t be better for me. In November, I used NaNoWriMo to write a memoir-y piece in which I dug deep into old memories, looking for characters and emotions I could work into my fiction. Great idea, right? Except…it was kind of like opening Pandora’s box. I tapped right into a deep well of fears, doubts, resentments, and guilt. And blame, which Tracy describes as the trunk of the tree of negative emotions. Good for my fiction, no doubt.

Ahem.

Clarify your values, because your goals need to be congruent with them. Integrity is the overarching value. When you have integrity, you live in alignment with your values, which makes you a happier person. Create a big dream, clearly envision your future, and don’t let self-limiting beliefs of your own inadequacy get in your way. You need burning desire to sustain the kind of work you’ll need to put in to achieve the highest level of success. Analyze your beliefs because whatever you believe with conviction becomes your reality. Your own self-limiting beliefs can be the biggest obstacle to your success. You have the intelligence, talent, and creativity you need; you have more potential than you could ever use in your lifetime. Reprogram yourself with positive statements, and learn to see setbacks as part of the plan because you’ll learn from them.

Live as though you were already the excellent person you want to become.

Now that you’ve set the stage…

You’re ready to determine and clarify your goals. You can’t hit a target you can’t see. Keep returning to the question, what do I want for my life? Start general, then move to more and more specific goals. Do a baseline assessment: identify your starting point, what good habits are helping you, what bad ones are holding you back, what your best and weakest qualities are, and what new habits and qualities you need to develop. Set deadlines and benchmarks to measure your progress. Commit to them, and discipline yourself to complete them. If you miss a deadline, set a new one: the more you use deadlines, the better you get at setting and achieving them, and the more dependable you become.

Achieving your goals

Remove roadblocks instead of giving up. Brainstorm potential obstacles and focus on solving the ones that will make the most difference. Most of your constraints will be within yourself. Don’t focus on causes of the roadblocks, but rewrite them as positive goals. Expect to fail and fall short many times.

Failure is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.

Tracy says the best way to develop yourself is in the direction of your natural talents. Signs to look for: you enjoy doing a thing, you do it well, time stands still when you do it, and you really admire and respect other people who do it. Once you know what “it” is, become an expert: commit to excellence, to becoming one of the best people in your field. Put your whole heart into it. Work on developing the skills you need to be the best, by practicing imperfectly until you can do them perfectly. Remember that the top people in your field were at one time not even in the field at all.

Look for opportunities to help other people and make their lives easier. You’ll need lots of help to achieve your goals. Be kind, courteous, and compassionate; get to know people, and recognize and compliment their work. Come prepared, arrive early, volunteer, and cultivate a reputation as the person everyone can depend on. Choose a reference group (the people you associate with) of people you look up to; positive, goal-oriented people that you like, admire, and respect. Don’t neglect your home life, either. Treat everyone like a million dollar customer, and look for ways to make their lives better.

Plan how to achieve your goal. Even if you never look at the plan again, the process enables you to organize your thinking, figure out how to compensate for flaws or weaknesses, identify resources you need, focus on first things first, and avoid wasting time on things that aren’t possible with existing resources. Expect plans to fail at first, and learn from those failures. Manage your time by maintaining prioritized lists of what you need to do to achieve your goals, making decisions about what’s the most valuable use of your time at the moment, and following through.

The step that will change your life

Get a spiral notebook and write your goals daily. Without looking at yesterday’s goals, list your top 10-15 goals, using the 3P formula: positive, present tense, personal. “I weigh X pounds by December 31, 2018.” Your goals will change from day to day, but over time you’ll refine them into a consistent list. What you’re doing is programming your subconscious so it will help ensure all your actions are consistent with your goals. Do it last thing at night so your subconscious will work on it while you sleep, or first thing in the morning to set up your day. To multiply the effectiveness, add three actions you can take to achieve each goal, also using the 3 Ps: “I plan my meals in advance. I eat fruit for dessert. I exercise every day.”

Take control of your mind

Use mental rehearsal and constructive visualization to help you achieve your goals. By changing your internal pictures, you’ll change your reality. Improvement starts with improving your mental pictures. This sounded like mumbo jumbo to me until Tracy pointed out the flip side of this coin: when you worry excessively, you’re mentally rehearsing the negative, with the result that your life is worse than it needs to be. I do believe that, and have a handful of aphorisms squirreled away in my brain, like:

Don’t borrow trouble, or the more fun-to-say don’t trouble trouble till trouble troubles you.

So my mind is open, which is Tracy’s next point: be open to possibility that comes through serendipity or synchronicity, and be open to new ideas. Change will happen, and you have to deal with things as they are. Be flexible – be clear about your goals, but flexible about the process of achieving them. Tap into your intuition by either working on your goal wholeheartedly or taking a break and getting your mind busy elsewhere.

Strengthen your creativity by using “mind storming” to generate ideas. Write your problem as a question, and force yourself to come up with at least 20 answers. The last ones will be really hard, but sometimes that’s where the breakthrough insight occurs. You can take the best idea and repeat the exercise by writing it as a question (“how can I…”); and you can repeat the exercise on the original question every day until you get the insight you need. Use mind storming to do scenario planning; start by thinking of the three worst and three best things that could happen in the next few months, then ask how to guard against the setbacks and how to encourage and take advantage of the good things. You need to have options so you can respond to change.

Action, self-discipline, and courage

Do something every day towards achieving your goals. Go beyond what’s expected, and persist until you succeed. Build the habit of persistence; do what you need to do, whether you feel like it or not. Disappointments and adversity are normal parts of life. The higher and more challenging your goals, the more adversity you’ll face. The way you respond to disappointment predicts your success. Don’t give up.

Tackle your fears head-on. Most of us fear failure and rejection, and that’s okay – courage is mastery of fear, not absence of fear. Confronting your fears will diminish them and build your confidence, while hiding from them allows them to grow. Write a list of your fears, identify the one that’s holding you back the most, and ask how it’s holding you back, how it’s helping you, and what the payoff would be for eliminating it. Take actions consistent with courage and self-confidence, and think of yourself as courageous and self-reliant.

Where do I go from here?

There’s a lot of great advice in Brian Tracy’s book, but as he says, the best advice in the world won’t help you if you don’t act on it. I’m going to try the write-your-goals-daily thing for the rest of January 2018, and I believe that will also help me with developing a clear vision and keeping it alive in my conscious and subconscious mind. I love his advice about treating other people well, and his counsel that you become what you think about most of the time. I might cross-stitch that on a sampler to hang over my desk.

What do you think? If you’ve tried any of these ideas, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

Purging books

Today, I’m acknowledging three things. #1, I am not going to live forever. (What?!?) #2, I am never going to live in an English country manor with an enormous library with shelves to the ceiling. #3, my daughter and granddaughters are not going to see it as a positive thing if they inherit thousands of books. Okay, four things: #4, my paperback Soylent Greencopy of Harry Harrison’s Make Room, Make Room with the movie tie-in picture from Soylent Green, cover price 95 cents, whose glue has disintegrated so the cover is just a holder for the loose pages, isn’t worth any money now and never will be.

So I’m purging my shelves

The Marie Kondo approach didn’t work for me. You know – take all your books out of the shelves and touch each one, and only give shelf space to the ones that spark joy. I’m not the exact same person every day, and I don’t trust myself to guess what will spark joy for Future Me.

Deciding if you can safely purge

The best advice I found online is The Booklover’s Guide to Purging Books, which recommends using Google to help figure out what to get rid of:

  • Can you get it digitally for free?
  • Is it obsolete? This applies mostly to nonfiction.
  • Is it worth something?
  • Is it still in print? I would add, is it available as a paid ebook?

Once you’ve done your research, you can decide:

  • Would you absolutely love reading it again?
  • Is it a book you cherish and want to keep? (Ah, there’s that spark of joy!)

And I would add to that:

  • Is it cited often? I like being able to pull my Modern Library edition of Poe Poeoff the shelf to read The Raven when I come across a reference to it. Same with Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and Shakespeare’s plays. I know I can easily find these things online but what if the internet’s down?

Which brings me to the zombie apocalypse. Or, if you prefer, the lingering illness or debilitating injury. I can easily imagine a scenario in which I’m trapped at home and have no internet or even have no electricity, so couldn’t charge up my Kindle. (And by the way, I’m on my fourth Kindle; they don’t last forever.) This is the real reason I’ve accumulated so many books – the fear of having nothing to read (Twitter calls this abibliophobia).

I’m pretty sure that once I’ve finished my purge, there will still be plenty of things to read in my house. So I’m making a start today with the top shelf of my science fiction paperback bookcase – Aldiss through Bova, with a smattering of others that snuck in because their own shelves were full.

How do you manage to keep your bookshelves under control? I have a feeling I’ll be working on this for a long time. Any tips gladly appreciated.

Living better the Nashville way

I went to an all-day seminar last weekend with my friend Maureen and a group of people from my old office. We got a great group price on tickets. As it turns out, some elements of the conference weren’t exactly my cup of tea (like the woman who planted herself in our friend Tanya’s seat during the morning break and refused to budge – we got the last laugh, though, because after lunch the venue moved our group to a VIP suite), but with 9 speakers, I came away with a bucket full of ideas for making life better.

Intentionality (Dave Ramsey)

  • You become what you think about. Be intentional about what you think about.
  • Decide to change, then change. Set goals that are specific, measurable, have a time limit, are your own, and are in writing.
  • You’re not failing if you don’t quit – you’re experimenting. Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.
  • When choosing between options, think about where you want to be in 10 years.

Priorities (Christy Wright)

  • Spend your time on what’s important to you. Cut out what doesn’t matter, and do more of what you love.
  • Be 100% present. If you tend to get caught by social media (who doesn’t?) think about two questions: 1 – is it more important to know what the rest of the world is doing than to experience what I’m doing? 2 – it is more important for the rest of the world to know what I’m doing than for me to experience it myself?
  • Say yes to your own priorities, not everyone else’s. For people-pleasers: there’s a difference between doing something to be loving and doing it to be loved.

Gratitude and generosity (Chris Brown)

  • You can be resentful or you can be grateful. Gratitude makes you want to give to others.
  • You don’t have to feel rich to act rich – the magic number for feeling rich is always double whatever you have. Be generous.
  • Gratitude breeds contentment and generosity. Try this: every morning when you wake up, think about two things you’re grateful for. Write them down on a running list.

Money (Rachel Cruze and Chris Hogan)

  • Don’t compare yourself to other people. (You’re probably only seeing their highlight reel, anyway.)
  • Stay out of debt, have a plan for your money (a budget), and think before you spend. Rachel Cruze recommends the everydollar app for budgeting.
  • Save for emergencies, then to have 3-6 months of living expenses, and then for the future.
  • Give a little until you can give a lot.
  • Talk about money with your partner and your kids, even if it’s uncomfortable.
  • Plan for retirement so you don’t have to worry about money.
  • Talk about your retirement dreams with your partner. Make the dreams vivid and specific, so you know where you’re going.

Relationships (Les Parrott)

  • The four horsemen that ruin relationships are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.
  • In contrast to the world of work where the “praise sandwich” has a bad reputation – poor performers may not get the message, and be surprised when they lose their jobs – in a personal relationship, wrapping a negative between two positives makes the message go down easier.
  • Marriage doesn’t make you happy; you make your marriage happy.

Parenting (Meg Meeker)

  • Kids need to know they’re important to their parents. Spend time with them.
  • Don’t take teenager behavior personally.
  • Model great character – integrity, patience, courage, and perseverance.
  • Praise for character, not just for achievements.

Growing up (Anthony O’Neal)

  • Be determined to be the best you can.
  • Be uncomfortable. Don’t let comfort kill your dreams.
  • Mistakes in the past don’t define us, they refine us.

The presenters are headquartered in Nashville, and several of the speakers had that passionate bible-belt presentation style that got the crowd on its feet. They all have books and podcasts. The ones I plan to check out myself are from Christy WrightRachel Cruze, Anthony O’Neal, and the star of the show, Dave Ramsey.

Happiness

There’s something about being human that makes us less happy than we ought to be. I grew up on A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson and knew a lot of the poems by heart when I was little. One little poem has bounced around in my head all these years:

The world is so full of a number of things,

I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Research has shown that the benefits of an optimistic outlook include flexible thinking, creativity, longevity, and better health. What better way to solve the problems of the world, then, than to cultivate happiness in ourselves?

According to Dr. Lamees Khorshid, about 40% of our happiness comes from our genetic preset, our predisposition towards being sunny or gloomy. That means over half can be influenced by “happiness habits.”

Happiness and Mindfulness

  • Cultivate positive emotions and work on countering the natural negativity bias (a survival trait when it was important to remember the lion attack). Rewire your brain through practice:
    • Choose to see problems as challenges and opportunities. This will increase your sense of control.
    • Reverse the tendency to blame others when they make mistakes – we tend to blame the environment when we mess up, but think other people cut us off in traffic on purpose. Let it go.
    • Change the channel – choose to forget negative things after they happen.
    • Think happy thoughts.
  • Practice gratitude.
    • Make a list of what you’re grateful for. Keep going past the obvious first few things.
    • Pick one of the people you’re grateful for and write a paragraph about why. Read it to them. It will be good for both of you.
  • Engage in life. Plan your time so you include the things that give you pleasure.
    • Figure out the things that take you to a flow state where you lose track of time, and plan your day to include those things.
    • Identify your time thieves and the things that replenish you. Schedule time for the things that nourish you. Things that give you short-term happiness, like watching tv, can detract from your long-term happiness.
  • Get adequate sleep. Without it, it’s harder to regulate your emotions. You function better and your memory’s better when you have good sleep. A lot of people have trouble sleeping. If you do:
    • Create a sleep climate about an hour before. Dim the lights, do relaxing things. Don’t eat for 2-3 hours before bed, don’t exercise for 4-5 hours before, and avoid stimulants after 2 p.m.
    • Keep a regular schedule, even on weekends.
    • Don’t have a tv, phone, etc. in the bedroom. Keep the lights off.
    • If you’ve been trying to get to sleep (or get back to sleep) for 30 minutes, get up and go do something boring. If you still can’t sleep, do it again. Don’t just lie there and worry about how you ought to be sleeping.
    • Naps reverse your sleep drive. If you have insomnia, skip the naps.
  • Movement and music. If you can only do one thing to improve your mental well-being, make it exercise. A brisk 10-minute walk is better for mild to moderate anxiety and depression than medication. If you have to choose between 30 minutes of sleep and 30 minutes of exercise, you’ll get more benefits from exercise.
    • Don’t schedule exercise for your most tired time of day.
    • Morning workouts give you a stress buffer that lasts through the day, and your schedule’s less likely to be interrupted by things that come up during the day – but if you aren’t a morning person, you won’t stick with it.
    • Make it a routine, not dependent on whether you feel like it. You still get the benefits of doing it even if you don’t want to.
  • Nutrition. A low glycemic diet is best for your mood; it keeps your blood sugar on an even keel. Frequent small meals are better than a couple of large ones. Avoid sugar, which lights up a part of your brain that makes you want more and more – this is even true of sugar you don’t taste that’s been added to non-sweet foods.
  • Manage stress. Identify your stress triggers so you can avoid them or prepare for them. Having a baseline level of energy and physical health (sleep, exercise, nutrition) will help. Use relaxation techniques like deep breathing and rely on your social supports and relationships. If your stress comes from all the unfinished tasks on your to-do list, start with the one thing on the list that will make the greatest difference today.
  • Practice mindfulness. We recycle 95% of the same thoughts every day. Mindfulness keeps us in the here and now. Use meditation, which will improve your ability to process emotions and be less reactive.
    • Non-judging awareness: notice your wandering thought, name it, and then come back to the here and now.
    • Beginner’s mind: don’t expect a life-changing epiphany every time you sit.
  • Take care of relationships. Other people can be a major source of both happiness and stress.
    • The 4 horsemen of broken relationships are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. This applies to friends  and coworkers just as much as it does to couples and families.
    • Check out the Seattle Love Lab for tons of information on this topic.
    • If you have gridlock problems that you can never fix – like your and your uncle’s opposite views on politics – it’s actually healthier not to talk about them.
    • Practice the art of the start: the way you introduce a topic predicts how the discussion will end.
    • Support the other person’s goals, hopes, and dreams. Ask their opinion. Look for moments of connection.
    • Learn the other person’s “love language” – what makes them feel loved. It could be gifts, acts of service (doing things for them), physical touch, words of affirmation, or quality time spent together. This works both ways: you can give the other person what they need, and you can also recognize the ways they’re trying to show you their feelings.
  • Find your purpose. Not having a purpose or mission is as bad for your health as smoking. When you’re doing things that align with your values, you’re happier. Figure out your own top values, and set goals that align with them. Dr. John Izzo studied end-of-life reflections and identified being true to yourself and following your heart and dreams as two important factors in a well-lived life.
  • Simplify. Forgive and let go, don’t make social comparisons, and spend on experiences instead of things.
  • Adopt a growth mindset. I wrote a bit about this a few weeks ago when I talked about Mike Robbins’ class. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing.
  • Use humor and laughter! Learn to appreciate the ironies in life. Bring funny stuff into your life – photos, videos, comics, comedy shows, that coffee mug showing nervous little dogs preparing for their day by making espresso. Laughter is contagious. It induces a relaxation response and it benefits the immune system.

Read more

In Dr. Lamees Khorshid‘s book, I Want to Be Happy, which provides a 21-day plan for forming happy habits. Her class at my office inspired this post.

In Jon Kabat-Zinn‘s books, like Wherever You Go, There You Are, to learn more about mindfulness and meditation, and to find video guides.

In Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project (and on her website & podcasts).

On Eric Barker’s blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree (he writes about this topic often!):

Mike Robbins on Authenticity

I had the good fortune to participate in a Mike Robbins workshop on authenticity a few weeks ago. Mike is a Stanford graduate and a former pro baseball player who injured his pitching arm in his first year in the Kansas City Royals’ farm team. He turned his bad luck into good luck for the rest of us. Now, he’s an author and an inspiring, energizing speaker. His website has loads of resources, including a blog, a podcast, and links to other things like a free meditation audio and a 4-part class on authenticity.

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-10-28-57-am

Emotional intelligence and the growth mindset

We all know by now that emotional intelligence is just as important as intellect in determining success. It involves self-awareness and social awareness; the ability to manage relationships with other people.

  • One component is the growth mindset that Carol Dweck identified and wrote about: when faced with a problem or challenge, you are curious and engaged and work hard to figure it out (as opposed to a fixed mindset where you want to get the answer fast, and if it’s hard you assume you just weren’t born with the right abilities). Dweck recently updated her 2006 book on the subject because she found people were misusing the concept; see this Dec. 2016 Atlantic article on the difference between a true growth mindset and praise for effort as a consolation prize.
  • When bad things happen, our first reaction might be to ask “why is this happening to me?” This is a dangerous, insidious question that makes us a victim. Mike says a better question is “why is this happening for me?” which shifts your perspective and gives you more power. In other words, what can I learn from this? How will this make me better and stronger?
  • Accept things the way they are. It’s the first step in having the power to change. When you argue with reality, you lose.
  • Communication is the bedrock of relationships. Each person in a conversation may be having a different kind of conversation. Listening is harder than you think – Mike had us pair up and just listen to each other without interruption or comment or thinking about how we’d respond; it was really difficult. But if you can figure out how to pay attention it makes the other person communicate better – those people who just ramble on are usually doing it because no one is actually listening to them.
    • Be present – the first level is attention to what’s being said, the information. Notice when you check out of the conversation; you’ll be surprised at how often you get distracted and miss part of it. Try admitting it to the other person.
    • Look for and feel underlying emotion with empathy – the second level is listening to what’s not being said, like how the other person is feeling, where they’re coming from. Notice the triggers that get you to stop paying attention.
    • Let go of negative judgments – the third level is noticing your own filters and upgrading them. We all have filters we listen through. To upgrade your filter, deal with the issue directly until it gets resolved, or let it go – really let it go, don’t just act that way.

Authenticity

It takes trust and courage to be authentic. Mike views it as a continuum, from being a complete phony at one end, through honesty in the middle, with authentic at the far end beyond honesty:

honest – self-righteous + vulnerable = authentic

Inauthenticity shows up because of social norms, or when we don’t know or understand something (but we pretend we do), and when we’re having a difficult conversation. Often, what stands between you and authenticity is a 10-minute sweaty palmed conversation. It takes mental gymnastics to be inauthentic, because you have to keep remembering what level of honesty you have with each person.

Self-righteousness is having opinions and knowing you’re right; thinking your opinions are facts. It fundamentally separates you from other people. We react to others’ self-righteousness with defensiveness. You might win the argument, but you damage the relationship. There may be other ways to see things.

A key driver in human relationships is trust, which requires vulnerability. The natural human response to vulnerability is empathy. A growth mindset requires vulnerability: you have to tolerate the discomfort of not knowing. Ask for help! Everyone loves to help, although nobody likes to ask. If you compare yourself to an iceberg, with the greater part hidden from public view, it turns out that the further down you go on the iceberg, the more universal the experience.

Mike said at one point in his life when he was down, one of his mentors told him:

“You live your life like you want to survive it, but nobody ever has.” 

Summing up: Ways to practice authenticity

  • When something happens that you don’t like, ask why is this happening for me?
  • Focus on the things you can control (your attitude, perspective, and effort)
  • Give people your undivided attention – don’t multitask
  • Use email, text, etc. for idea/info sharing, not conflict resolution and problem solving
  • Admit when you don’t know something, need help, or make a mistake – be real
  • Ask for support from others in a genuine way
  • Address challenges directly; don’t let things fester
  • Challenge yourself to take yourself out of your comfort zone and take bold action
  • Lower the waterline on your iceberg – allow yourself to be vulnerable to others

A lot of things about this workshop resonated with me, but the one thing I want to make a priority is that idea of self-righteousness. Especially now, after the divisive election season and with everything that’s going on with the new president, I see things several times a day that push my buttons. I intend to do better at examining my own opinions and reactions, and work harder to find common ground with the people who, for one reason or another, see things differently than I do. As Mike put it in a blog post on his website, “The challenge I’m sitting with personally at the moment is how to speak up for what I believe to be true and important, and at the same time do so in a way that brings me closer to those who may disagree with me?”

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments.