I have got to admit I am a big fan of this Pope. Very early in his papacy he was asked why he wasn’t talking about traditionally thorny issues like abortion, priest abuse and gays in the church. He replied ” who am I to judge?” Many were stunned. Isn’t the Pope the one who judges us here on earth? Actually no. Only god judges in the end. This pope has really focused on being humble (very Jesuit trait) and helping others. His talk focuses on reminding us all of our common humanity in a time of extreme divisions. While spiritual it is not a “Catholic” ideological pitch. It is reminding us of universal truths and the value of kindness, humility and our common human journey. Very timely and useful.
The Stoics say that the only thing that is truly ours is our agency to make a decision. To decide how to react in a situation. We can’t control anything outside ourselves, but we can control our reactions and decisions. That has been very important advice to me.
But what if our decisions are tainted? Do we always have the right information to make the best decisions? Dan Ariely has been studying how people make decisions, specifically in a commerce setting, and has found that how the options are presented has a profound impact on the decisions people make. As a result of this talk, I have added a new guideline to my own “How I make decisions” list. If you are making decisions and are presented by someone else with the options in that decision, always ask yourself “Is there a third way?” or “Are there other choices for this decision which are not here?”. Otherwise you are handing most of the agency for that decision over to the person who designed the question. Don’t do that.
Ok, so this is not a TED talk. It is a commencement speech from Kenyon college. And a very good one. Since I am touring colleges with my junior now, I am considering what to say to her as she goes off to college. It occurs to me that many of the commencement speech contents after the fact may be relevant prior to entry into college. This one is exceedingly appropriate.
Been thinking a lot lately about how brands get embedded into our lives. Why did Apple beat IBM and Microsoft? Because Apple sells us on Why they are making the products they are, not just the What. People buy why not what is the premise. A good premise. Watch this.
Mark Twain once said “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
My oldest, Finn is a Junior in highschool this year. Yea, the worst year in highschool. You have to do all your normal school work AND buff up the extra curricular activities AND do well on the SAT test AND figure out what colleges to apply to. The pressure is intense. And the only thing that seems to matter in Junior year are the results. Grades. Test Scores. College acceptance letters. The focus is 100% on Outcomes. No process. No creativity. No talk about the purpose or meaning behind all these outcomes. No deviation from the objective measures of “success” as defined by our western academic system.
But does this model of education produce the best possible humans? Does it work for the wide variety of personality types out there? Where does creative thinking come in? America prides itself on innovation. But the educational system doesn’t teach innovation. By definition, any standardized system kills the outliers. Yet the outliers is where the creativity and innovation comes from.
Leave it to a Brit (lovers of organization, conformity, empires) to ask the right question. Are we teaching the skills we really want in our kids? Or just stamping degrees on them?
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.
Ok, this talk is from way back in the stone ages (2004), but the message is eternally relevant. Ricard is a French scientist who turned Buddhist monk in the Himalayas. His scientific western mind syncs well with my own, making his framing of happiness as really “well being” is very accessible to me. This is really a deep dive into how/why we “search for happiness” and how that search is in vain and going for the wrong goal. Why do so many people “search for happiness” through conditions (get this car, get that place, do x, y, z) yet so few are successful. By reframing the search and reframing the goal away from conditions and toward inner strengths, success is possible. Ricard describes how to build the INNER conditions that are the real foundations of true happiness.
I can also recommend any of his books.
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!
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:
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.