DO THIS: Be kind to your older self (exercise)

Barrels of ink has been spilled over “be kind to yourself.”  This one guy even wrote a new song about it.  So how can we get a new twist on this ancient advice?  I thought about this over the break while watching SuperWhy (ignore the haters) with my daughter Madison.  In every episode, the characters change just one word in a story to change the whole story.    Let’s try it here.  Insert “older” between “to” and “self.”  So “Be kind to your older self.”  The self you are going to become.  The old guy farting in the corner.  The slow driver in front of you.  The guy in the grocery checkout line digging for change in a wallet while you impatiently clutch your ApplePay iPhone, thumb hovering over the touchpad.  Yea that guy.   So here is how to do it

The Exercise:

  1. Download one of the photo aging apps.  I used the free AgingBooth.
  2. Take a picture of yourself, age it at least 30 years (the default in AgingBooth).
  3. Put this picture somewhere you will see it every day for at least 30 days. I put next to my computer monitor next to the Lucy skull (double whammy).  I will likely move it around the house.
  4. When you see the picture, say or think something kind of the person.  Initially, there will be revulsion. Get over it.  It is you.  Be kind.

Results Hypothesis:

I didn’t want to do this.  My father is 30 years older than me.  I don’t want to be my father.  Ever.  Getting old is scary.  But that is why I needed to do this.  It is very Stoic to face your fears. And the fear of getting old is one of the strongest in life.

I hypothesize that facing the fear of getting old will reduce the charge that fear has.  I hope to be less fearful of getting old and more at ease with my place in the world.

Actual Results:

It is Feb. 2 and I have done this for the last 32 days.  Noticeable results include:

  1. Less emotional charge when I see the picture of my older self.  Less revulsion.  Less tilt.
  2. Meaningful conversations have been started.  “What is that all about?” a couple of friends asked on seeing a copy of the “old” picture on my coffee table.  I am always looking for smart conversation triggers and that picture has been a good one.
  3. A couple people saw the picture and shut down completely. Didn’t want to talk about getting old or the exercise at all.  Upon reflection, these people are generally asleep, generally plowing through life with blinders on, generally adverse to contemplation.  I didn’t try to prod them into anything, but it was an interesting confirmation bias test for a couple of people I thought were asleep to life.  Show them this exercise.  If they are asleep they won’t want to engage.

Summary:

A fun exercise that reduced the emotional charge of a common fear in my life as well as energized my tribe with contemplative conversation.  Worthwhile all around.  I will keep the pictures around, but likely not focus on daily observation.

The Science:

There is plenty of science on Kindness in general, usually focusing on being kind to others. There has been plenty written on random acts of kindness.  I found far less relate to self-kindness.  Some recent studies show self compassion can improve mental health (duh).  I don’t know of any specific science studies around self kindness to your older self, but the general kindness research would apply.

References:

The idea to practice self-kindness to my older self I must admit was not my own, it came from a Tim Ferris podcast with AJ Jacobs.

http://www.refinery29.com/2016/09/123999/kindness-health-benefits-selfless

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161005102254.htm

7 Science-Backed Health Perks of Being Kind

DO THIS:  Contemplate the impermanence of things (exercise). 

Today a friend said “I am worried about loosing my money in XYZ investment.”  To my own surprise my first thought was “You really believe it is YOUR money?”  The stoic stuff is really getting ingrained. I recently highlighted these passages:

“What fortune has made yours is not your own.”

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

“Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We’ve been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.”

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

“No man is crushed by misfortune unless he has first been deceived by prosperity.”

Seneca, Dialogues and Letters

“There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with.”

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

“Fidelity purchased with money, money can destroy.”

Seneca, The Conquest of Happiness
Okay.  Okay. Enough quotes. It is better to really experience a concept than just read it.  So I have been making up practical exercises to remind myself of these truisms (exercises are very stoic).  Here is the one i developed today to remind myself that none of the things in my life are actually “mine”. I do this about once a quarter. It will take you 10 minutes. Do it right now!

The impermanence of things exercise.

On a rulled sheet of paper write “things” in the center at the top of the page.  To the left write -5, -10, and Birth.  To the right write +5, +10, and Death.  Make columns for each with the middle one under “things” the widest.

Now look around where you are and start writing down the middle column all the things that are “yours” that you see.  Fill the page, should be just over 20 or so.  Now down the left columns for each thing put a “Y” in the -5 box if it was in your life five years ago, or ten years a go or at your birth.  Do this for all the things.  Then go down the right side columns and predict if this thing is going to be in your life five years from now +5, ten years and at your Death.  You get the idea. Now count up the number of “Y” in each column and put it at the top along with what percentage it is of the total number of items. Here is one I did today in my hotel room in Honolulu.


Of the 24 things on my list (and there were like over 100 things around the room) less than half (42%) were in my life 5 years ago, almost none (8%) were in my life 10 years ago and exactly zero were in my life at birth.  Looking forward I was fairly optimistic that a majority (62%) would be in my life five years from now, exactly a third (33%) would be around in 10 years and 17 % would be with me at death.  But then I will be dead and I can’t take them with me so they will be someone else’s at that time so 0% will go with me at Death.

What did this exercise remind me of is a very visceral and visual way ?

1. Coming into this world I had nothing.

2. The majority of things around me are recent additions.

3. The things I believe will be with me at death have lots of experiential value to them (I have had meaningful experiences with them with other people to create memories additional to the thing itself).

4. Most of the things I see are temporary objects in my life (were not here 5 years ago and will not be here 5 years from now).

5. While some things may be with me at death I can’t take any of it with me so the things really are not “mine”.

Side note:  I have an absurd number of things with me on vacation. And multiples of things. Seven paddle shirts. Three surf shorts.  The experiential value of a thing is inversely related to the number of them I have. For example I have only one watch with me (while I own many). The one watch i wear the most often has the most experiential value. Is the one I see myself with at death.  So the obvious question is “do in need all those other watches?”  This exercise made me contemplate that question.  While I don’t have an answer it is a good thought exercise and moves my thought in the right direction (which is to keep asking the questions).

Summary:

This exercise builds on the stoic idea that DOING philosophy is the best way to ingrain the core ideas.  I like this exercise because it is short, can be done anywhere, and is a stark reminder of a couple major philosophical concepts that I struggle to keep the top of mind including:

  1. Give up your attachments (they aren’t yours anyway)
  2. Things don’t make a life.
  3. Meaning comes from experiences with other people.
  4. I was born with nothing and will die with nothing.

The Science:

I designed this exercise myself so it is not based on any academic or scientific study.  There has been a lot of research around attachment theory which sometimes includes “stuff” but mostly is focused on relationships.

References:

The Psychology of Stuff.

How interest in science has been fueled by attachment to “things” but that is fading.  A little off topic, but interesting idea.

Why am I blogging again?

It has been about 18 months since I began posting semi-regularly.    At the time, something indefinite was pushing me to write down some stuff I thought important.  Today as I sit on the balcony of my suite overlooking the surf in Honolulu, and looking back on 2016, the focus is becoming a little more clear.

During the last year a number of people have asked me “What are you blogging about really?”  or “Are you trying to make this a business?” or “Why are you doing all this work?”  I have asked myself those questions as well many times.  While there have been temptations to make a run at becoming a “famous” blogger, someone with a large following ala Tim Ferris or Dave Asprey, I keep reminding myself “Been there, done that” on the “famous” thing.  I have been mining a much more personal vein.  Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations primarily for himself.  As little reminders to turn back to in times of crisis or decision.   I have found myself doing the same with a number of these posts, going back to take more self-assessment tests, re-reading posts like “how I prepare for conflict situations” before a conflict situation and generally using this blog as a personal reference.  To that end, I have not done a lot of syndication, cross posting, nor have I gotten a newsletter going.  That all sounds like work to build an audience.  I don’t intend this to be a business, nor do I intend to be any kind of authority on anything except my own personal life journey.

So in 2017 I will be doubling down on the Marcus Aurelius aspect of this blog.  All advice and documented learnings of myself for my better self.    Don’t expect me to change your life.  That is up to you.

 

DO THIS: 30 days of Thank You

New Year, New exercises for your well lived life.

One of the most impactful category of exercises and practices for me in 2016 were those related to Gratitude.  For 2017 I am building on those with a specific practice around “Thank You”.  While many Gratitude exercises are internally focused on building your OWN CAPACITY FOR GRATITUDE, the Thank You practice turns gratitude outward and includes the objects of your gratitude in the practice.  In some ways externalizing gratitude is a “next step” or “advanced” gratitude practice as you are taking a risk putting yourself out there to other people.  While there is very little downside to this (and lots of potential upside!) I would not recommend the Thank You practice as a first step gratitude practice.  This is best done from a place of quite confidence built on a solid Gratitude foundation.

Lots and lots and lots of other bloggers have written similar challenges, but I like mine because it is all notes to people.  External.  Not just a list of cues for a personal journal.

The Exercise:

Every day for 30 days I send an asynchronous “Thank You” note to someone who has done something for which you are thankful as part of your morning routine.

Try to be specific.  Thank them for something specific.  Like “remember the time you came and brought flowers to the hospital when my daughter was born? Thank you.”  You can go general, but the more personal the connection, the more authentic.  Do NOT include anything else with the thank you.  Focus on sincerely expressing the gratitude.  You can catch up in the follow up.  And remember to leave out the weasel words.

In my case, I wanted this to take less than 5 minutes each day from beginning to end, so I allowed the Thank You to be either a text, email, phone message, thank you card in the mail, Slack message, Facebook message, Instagram comment, or any other form of asynchronous communication.  No phone calls.  Why Asynchronous?  Because I didn’t want to blow the 5 minute budget catching up or getting off topic.

Pro TIP:  Because I am a nerd, I actually brainstormed a list of almost 100 people and created a google spreadsheet of the 30 I was going to do this exercise with before hand.  I listed what I am going to thank them for and I am tracking the reactions also.  I put them into three categories, Family, Close friends, Acquaintances with 10 in each.  I wanted to have a balance of close, near and far to see if there is any material difference in the reactions or the feeling of different categories.  You don’t have to plan it out that much if you are more spontaneous (and less of a data nerd).  You should be intentional about it though. Think through who you are going to include and why.  Try to reach a bit to people who you should have thanked long ago, but have not talked to in quite a long time.  The oldest “thank You” in my list is 40 years ago.

Results Hypothesis:

My hypothesis is that the exercise will:

  1. Build gratitude and overall happiness of myself with my life and friend network through the regular recognition of thanks to other people.  I hope that engaging with the network will reinforce the internal feelings of overall gratitude in life (and replace the negative monkey).
  2. Re-ignite conversations with some network nodes (ok friends/acquaintances yes I am a nerd) that have been dormant.  (excuse for connection). I am interested in the long term network effects here.  How many people will get “infected” and do something similar?  How many dormant connections will be reconnected?
  3. Make each day happier by starting off with memories of someone I am thankful for and acting on that thanks.
  4. I also believe this exercise has a chance to reinforce resilience.  Or build some resilience.  When the day shovels me a pile of shit I can remember that just earlier that day I had something to be thankful for. That should make the pile of shit easier to dig through.

Actual Results:

Not complete yet, will post in Feb.

Initial results (after five days) include:

  • My daughter Finn (16) cautioned: “You should probably tell people why you are sending the notes up front so they don’t think you are going to kill yourself.”  A highschool student in our town had sent a series of “thank you” texts just hours before committing suicide earlier in the year.  Result:  This post and linking to it in my messages as explainer.
  • Since I planned the whole thing in advance and had a list much longer than 30 people to thank, the exercise of planning was very interesting as well, figuring out the categories of people, who to include and who to drop.  Who would make your list?  Who will you cut?  Why?  I prioritized the top 30 as the “greatest” appreciation I had for the event. Sure it i subjective.  And not all the things I am most thankful for in life have gotten thank you cards in this exercise, it is more related to finding 30 people who I am most thankful for.
  • I read a good blog post and added the guy to my list for that day, dropping him a email just saying “thank you for writing that post”.  Not asking for anything. He sent back a nice note as well.  Small connection.  Authentic appreciation.  Maybe I will email him again about something else, but the start was not an “ask” it was authentic thankfulness, gratitude.

 

Summary:

Gratitude is a well documented good life enhancement.  Externalizing this with outbound thank you notes is an advanced practice with interesting potential network effects.

More coming in Feb.

The Science:

Harvard wrote about this

There is a 26 study round up here.

Berkeley is doing good work here.

 

 

References:

There is a Coach.me 30 day thank you exercise here (slightly different as they tell you what to be thankful for each day).

There is of course lots of Pintrist boards on this  (also typically giving ideas of what to be thankful for each day rather than focusing on people).

 

TEDFAV: How positive psychology has reversed how we “get” happiness, now you actually can

Pretty much all my life when I have wondered how to “get” or “achieve” happiness, the answer has gone something like this:  “First do X,Y,Z, then when you have achieved A,B,C, you can then be happy.”  Pretty much the entire western world has a cognitive happiness model with happiness delayed in the future after some long journey with various achievements along the way.  Consumer society is the most obvious offender “Buy This and get That”.  But career advice, most religious traditions and even the “self help” industry reinforces this delayed gratification mental model.

This model always caused my BS meter to go off.  Wouldn’t being happy now cause you and everyone around you to be happier now?  Why couldn’t I be happy now but still have dreams?  When hard or bad things happened, why should I allow that to make me unhappy?  Are there ways to build happiness NOW without buying into some huge new mental model of the world (one religion say), or hanging my hopes on THE ONE TRUE THING sold by GURUX?  I was always VERY skeptical that anyone or any organization had THE ONE TRUE THING that if I just bought it, practiced it, or believed it, all my problems would disappear and happiness would bloom like flowers.  Or Unicorns.

Well it turns out my contrarian view has attracted some scientists who have been building a new mental model about happiness which is EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what we have been taught.  The field is Positive Psychology.  One of the lights is Shawn Anchor and he has a brilliant TED talk about the new model.   Anchor is also very entertaining and funny using many personal stories to describe the new model.  In the end he gives five evidence based practices that have been shown to be able to raise the “base happiness” level in people NOW.  You don’ t have to believe anything, buy anything, or join a cult.  By adding a couple of simple practices, in total of less than 20 minutes a day, you can reliably and quantifiably increase your base happiness level.  When you do that, it is self reinforcing and the world around you (seems to) change.  Actually what you have changed is your mindset from a “everything sucks, i am going to be happy later”, to “I am happy now and happiness is my natural state.”  If you are looking for an evidence based approach to happiness with some concrete exercises, this is for you.

Grab some popcorn.  Watch this one.  Change your life.

TEDFAV: Andy from Headspace on mindfulness

I had heard about meditation for along time before I was actually able to actually learn it.  It wasn’t until the Headspace app came out from Andy Puddicombe that meditation became accessible to me.   While many people deal with a busy mind by drinking, working, exercising, Andy went to Tibet and became a monk.  Now he is back to describe this ancient practice in very accessible terms to all of us in the west.  Oh, and he juggles as a visual aide.   Worth 10 minutes!

TEDFAV: Eckart Tolle on meditation

Ok, not a TED talk, but a very short and interesting talk on what meditation is, how it works, and why it is important.  In Eckhart’s unique self deprecating style.  Meditation is not a “doing” it is a “being”.

It is about being in the present moment. About tuning into the present.  In his words:

All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence. People don’t realize that now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind. 

In 8 minutes, this is what Meditation is and how it will change your mind:

 

TEDFAV: Talk to your kids about food

One of my daughters, Madison, had alopecia.  Yea I had to look it up too.  It is a autoimmune disease that causes the hair to fall out.   For a six year old girl it was particularly horrifying to have big bald spots on her head.  In the mad scramble for the cause and a cure, we ended up learning quite alot about food.  Ok, mom Jen Pitts learned alot about food and Dad came along begrudgingly.  Yea like usual.  Good food, bad food, and especially rethinking what I learned about food in school, especially the “food pyramid”.   Turns out the “food pyramid” was created mostly by industrial food lobbyist rather than nutritionists.  It also turns out that school lunches are one of the leading contributors to our overall decline in child health in America.  School lunches are all too often the target of easy recipes and  cost cutting.

Jamie Oliver has a different idea.  In this TED talk he really lays bare the bad trade we are making with out children’s health when we go for industrial food lobby cheap lunch programs.  He has successfully delivered healthy food in the same budgets around the world.  It is really all about attitude.  Watch the talk, change your mind.  Pack your own lunch.

TEDFAV: Everything you think about addiction is wrong

I am starting a new category here at DGC, my favorite TED talks of all time.  Sometimes they will be on-topic with the other themes here at DGC, sometimes they will be totally random.  The common thread will be that these talks made me think, made me contemplate in a new way.   Maybe the talk challenged a belief or bias I had.  Maybe it introduced me to a new field I never considered.  Maybe someone just communicated an eternal truth in a new and interesting way.  In any case, I have listened to hundreds of TED talks and attended a couple of their in person meetings.  These are the ones I pass on to friends.

The first one I want to share is about addiction.  Maybe you have struggled with it yourself as I have (gambling, cell phones, etc.) or maybe you know someone who has.  But the question is, how should addicts be treated? The common method in America is to shun them and punish them.  Yet much of the addictive behavior is a cry for attention, for attachment, a reaching out for connection.  Pushing them away is exactly the opposite of what is needed.  Hari really breaks it down for us from debunking the erroneous studies behind current policy to highlighting success with new approaches.  This talk is not just for policy wonks, it is for all of us. It can help us have more compassion for the addicts in our lives, including ourselves.  Watch it.

Pilosophy is for everyone, every day. 

I used to think philisophy was for academics. Then I grew up and recognized many of the timeless philosophical questions repeating themselves in my own life. 

The primary one of course is “How does one live this life?”  Actually this death. Because we all are born to die.  We are trying to do this very difficult thing – living and dying – as well as we can.  We can let circumstances push us around and passively be a passenger on the trip.  Or we can engage our reasoned choice of how, why, and what for to live.  In that way we must become philosophers.  

The philosophers who have made the most sense to me are the Stoics.  The don’t ask us to believe in anything really. Just to wake up, contemplate, pause, question and decide for yourself.  A pretty good program I must say.