Category: Happiness

Luck, coincidence and shooting stars

Luck, coincidence and shooting stars

It’s a common esoteric trope that all the decisions you make, big and small, lead to where you are, and that even one small change could lead to a drastic difference in our lives. Some people call this the sliding doors effect, after a 1998 movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah in which two versions of a life are narrated: one in which Paltrow’s character makes her train, and one in which she misses it.

I saw a shooting star a couple of days ago. Not the one at the top of this post; that’s just something I found on a free photo site to accompany the text here.

It was about 5:20 a.m., and just as I turned onto the street while walking the dog, I saw it streak across the sky, a blue tail, and then it disappeared. It was framed, perfectly centered, between the two houses at the top of cul-de-sac at the end of the street. It was beautiful, and unexpected.

I immediately thought of the sliding doors effect. All the different choices I had made that morning allowed me to see that shooting star. I set my alarm for 5:02 a.m., intending to get to the gym by 6:00 so that I could come home, do a couple of things and get to work on time. But my daughter woke up at 4:55 and needed some snuggles, so I was out of bed just a few minutes before I had planned.

Normally, I wait for the Keurig to warm up and make a cup of coffee with collagen peptides, but I decided on an energy drink instead. I filled two water bottles to make sure they were cold when I got back; typically I would have done that the night before. I woke up the pup, gave her some love and a little stretch time, then clipped on the leash and wandered out the door.

She sniffed around the bushes at the front of the house; we’ve had some cats spending their nights sleeping there — generally it’s safe from predators and we always have plenty of anoles running around for a midnight snack. Then she followed a trail down the lawn, paused by the mailbox to take care of some business, and then we were able to proceed on our walk, turning left just in time to see the shooting star.

How many of those must I have not seen because I made coffee or the pupper sniffed a little longer or I slept until my alarm instead of getting out of bed a few minutes earlier?


Shooting stars are, of course, not stars. They are space debris burning up in the atmosphere, leaving a trail of dust that forms a visible contrail. As they’re falling, they’re called meteors. If any of the debris hits the ground, it becomes a meteorite.

In many cultures, shooting stars are a sign of luck, or of impending change. In other cultures, they are bad omens.

Either way, shooting stars are beautiful, but fleeting.

Here’s what was really weird about the morning. I got in the car to go to the gym, and, not enamored with whatever low-energy interview was going on just before 6 a.m. on a Sunday on the last radio station I had been listening to, I switched to the local classic rock station (broadcast locally; I’m sure it’s controlled from elsewhere). What song had just started? “Shooting Star” by Bad Company.

I wouldn’t even have thought to lie about that.

It’s a song about a kid who gets a guitar, becomes a big rock star, then dies in his bed with whiskey and sleeping pills nearby. A shooting star — it puts on a big show for a brief time, then poof!, it’s gone.


I’m not much for signs, or omens, or whatever. But I’m into urges. Sometimes they come to encourage us to do something we should be doing. Sometimes they come to encourage us to flex our will power muscles.

The urge that came after I saw that shooting star this morning, was to formulate a little something for the blog. The urge was reinforced by Bad Company.

Perhaps, then, I’ll be back here more often for a while. I need to flex that writing muscle.

what are the things in your life telling you?

Build || Rebuild

Build || Rebuild

Among my favorite stories about Gandhi may or may not be apocryphal, but it goes something like this:

A woman walked many miles for hours with her young son to see Gandhi and ask him to tell her son to stop eating sugar. He told her to come back in two weeks. She did, and upon arriving, asked, “Why did you send us away after we traveled so far?”
“I had to stop eating sugar myself,” he told her, “before I could tell your boy to stop eating sugar.”

Take care of your own house, first.

I let the chaos of 2020 get me, these past few months. In September, I was down 20 pounds. I was running double-digit miles. I caught some bug, which turned out not to be COVID. It knocked me out for a few days. While I was out, both races I had been training for were canceled.

I never got back. I sat by and let the year hit me.

As I write this, I’ve just finished a round of antibiotics after a bronchial infection (also not COVID). I put all the weight back on. I feel like garbage. I’m drinking kombucha and eating an Asian pear. I guess those are steps in the right direction.

If you listened to the kicking off 2021 episode of JKWD, you heard me say I’ll post less here, and try to write more elsewhere. I’m doing that, and I’m doing other stuff to build, or rebuild, my own house.

This is not a Baldessarian effort; it’s more of a Gandhi dump the sugar effort. It feels wrong to tell you to dominate your day when I’m barely dominating a few hours of my week, it feels like.

I’ve submitted to a couple of writing contests, got some training programs set up, with accountability partners. JKWD is doing well; if you haven’t listened, please do. We’re having some great guests during the first quarter of the year.

In an effort to give myself some grace and get through 2021 healthy and happy and leading my family to greatness, I’m going to put this here: expect not much in public spaces from me this year. Most of those who know me have my phone number or can connect on WhatsApp; you can also go over to the contact page and fill out the form to be in touch by email.

Be well. Win your day.

A gratitude for today, and this moment

A gratitude for today, and this moment

There’s a catch-all prayer in Judaism for gratitude. I’ll use my own transliteration here (that is, I’m going to write the Hebrew words using English letters in a rough pronunciation), but the prayer is called the shehechiyanu. The full prayer roughly translates to, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this day.” It goes like this:

Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, shehechiyanu v’kiyamanu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh (hear it here).

It’s said a lot. The beginning of every holiday. When friends gather for the first time. When family gathers for the first time in a while. The first time you perform a commandment in the new year (such as giving to charity or going to synagogue). The first time eating a particular food in the new year.

It’s an eleven-word gratitude practice you can utilize any time you need one. Twenty words if you want to use the English translation I gave.

In case you want to go deeper:

• My Jewish Learning points out the shehechiyanu is a reminder to stay present.

• The Trust Center for Early Education at Temple Ohabei Shalom points out that the shehechiyanu is a good marker for observing otherwise overlooked events in our children’s lives; birthdays, sure, but also physical growth, science projects and recitals.

• Two rabbis at a Texas synagogue give a sermon on shehechiyanu, including the importance of being alive in regard to prayer.

• Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff takes a deep dive on when the oral tradition tells us to recite shehechiyanu — and when not to. Note: Bracha means “prayer” (some translate it as “blessing,” but the context is “a blessing over a meal,” not “the post-op nurse was a blessing”).

• Here’s more deep discussion from Rabbi Avi Zakutinsky.

Incidentally, the way rabbis Kaganoff and Zakutinsky discuss the question of when to say shehechiyanu — with reference to various texts, many of them conflicting — is how Jews discuss matters of faith throughout history. It can be very interesting. One example is the argument several rabbis have in regards to when you can say evening prayers. Some say they should be said after sundown but before midnight. Others say evening prayers can be said after midnight but not after first light. Still others argue that the prayers may be said at any time before someone goes to bed, even if it is before sundown or after first light.

Motivation, mindfulness and meditation

Motivation, mindfulness and meditation

Note: As of this writing, over a hundred million Americans are under stay-at-home orders due to a pandemic of COVID-19, a disease caused by a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Unemployment claims are through the roof as non-essential businesses have been told to close, and some businesses that were allowed to stay open are starting to close as the customer base stays home.

For a lot of people, it’s a really hard time to get motivated to do anything. A lot of people haven’t been working their day jobs for the past month. People who work day jobs outside the house are doing their best to stay away from people they work with and for. And some people who work day jobs out of the house — many medical professionals and first responders, for example — are living on the opposite side of the house from the rest of their families.

People who can work from home are trying to balance work with homeschooling their kids, or simply keep their not-yet-school-aged children busy and themselves sane.

Extroverts who need groups of people to recharge are surrounded by only their families. Introverts who need to be alone to recharge have their families around all the time.

In other words, life is not what people have become accustomed to.

When most of what you know disappears, how do you get motivated to do even the day-to-day stuff, never mind extend yourself to reach new goals and try new things?

It starts with finding some peace of mind. Which starts with mindfulness. Which starts with (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) meditation.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in The Miracle of Mindfulness, wrote something that finally connected to me: “Do the dishes to do the dishes.”

Feel the water on your hands, smell the soap, feel the dishes return to their clean state. If you’re thinking about sharing dessert with your friends and family while you’re washing the dishes, what are you going to be thinking about when it’s time to share dessert?

Be where you are, do what you are doing. So simple, but not easy.

When we were writing about finding more empathy for other people, meditation came up.

When we were writing about bringing more happiness into your life, meditation came up.

When we were writing about finding your creativity, meditation came up.

Focus, confidence, patience … meditation keeps rearing its head.

A study recently found that meditation kills motivation, but I think there are a couple of design flaws with the study.

Subjects were either given a guided meditation, or told to sit and let their minds wander. Then, they were given busywork. The people given the meditation were really unmotivated to do the work.

The two biggest problems I see here are:

(1) The tasks were consecutive. Chances are, if you have a meditation practice, the thing you do immediately following your meditation is generally not some focus-based busywork task — more than likely, you’re going to bed, or making coffee, or brushing your teeth.

(2) The assigned tasks were someone else’s tasks. If you’re already not motivated by anything other than the paycheck to do the work your job assigns you, nothing else is going to help you get motivated to do it — especially when the thing you’re testing is something that generally relaxes you.

But what about when the task is something you’re trying to get up to do? What if it’s a new exercise regimen? Doing more cooking at home? Writing a book? Designing summer programming for your children?

Meditation can absolutely help you.

But a meditation practice needs to be a practice. Do it every day. Start small. Give yourself some grace to let it take time for your practice to solidify. Let yourself have bad days.

When you meditate day after day — even just five minutes at a time — that quiet that you invite in becomes accessible. You can summon it when you want to be focused, or creative, or happy, or motivated.

And right now, when so many of us are out of sorts, accessing quiet within us is really important.

Coronavirus: Personal responsibility, public responsibility, truth and vetting

Coronavirus: Personal responsibility, public responsibility, truth and vetting

It’s been a crazy couple of months, right?

It’s so difficult to vet information about something as confusing and fast-moving as a new virus — that’s what this new coronavirus, COVID-19, is — and knowing what to do and when to do it is tough.

The most level-headed discussion I’ve heard so far is Joe Rogan’s podcast with Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. Keep in mind that the up-to-the-minute facts will be outdated, but you can’t avoid that when you’re just having an off-the-cuff conversation.

There are a few things we should consider, and some things that will be interesting in retrospect.

We talked about vetting good information on JKWD a bit ago, so let’s start there.

I will admit that I have no concept of what the “average” person is getting for news about coronavirus. I work closely with 10 newspaper-affiliated websites for 40 hours a week. I probably see 100 coronavirus-related stories per shift, in addition to the items I seek out in my preferred local, state and national media outlets, my Twitter feed (including the governor of Georgia, the CDC and WHO) and whatever else happens to cross my eyes and ears while I’m not working.

Most of you probably aren’t getting 750-plus pieces of information a week unless you’re sitting there glued to it at all times, and if you are, you should probably stop that immediately. It’s exhausting, and it’s going to be around for a while.

But I did talk to someone at a local business recently, who had no idea that Italy was entirely shut down and had thousands of deaths.

If you want to be informed about this — and I think you should be; I’ll address that when I discuss personal responsibility — don’t go overboard, but choose wisely. Read your local newspaper website, and maybe a couple local TV websites. Check the website of the biggest newspaper in your state, and, if it doesn’t have good capital coverage, the site of the paper in the capital area (in many states, the biggest market is the capital, but that’s not true across the board — Illinois and Pennsylvania are two examples). Check traditionally reliable sources like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

If you want international coverage, the BBC is always a good place to turn.

Find places that report the facts. If they make recommendations and/or criticisms, make sure they’re backed up with reported facts, not viewpoints from politicians. For example, “three people died in such-and-such city” is a fact. “Only a few people died in such-and-such city” is a viewpoint. Tell the families of those three people that it was “only a few people.” Now extrapolate that to the hundreds that are dying a day in some places.

It’s easy to get people to freak out too much or not enough by putting a viewpoint on our facts. But people are smarter than we give them credit for — let’s give them the facts and let them make informed decisions.

Let’s talk responsibility, and two types, which I’ll call personal and public.

Personal responsibility pertains to the things you owe yourself — information gathering, self-reflection, good habits, etc.

Pubic responsibility pertains to the things you owe to others — to not infect your neighbors and family, to tell people the truth as you understand it, etc.

Most adults will probably get this virus, even if they show mild or no symptoms (that’s important because you can have no symptoms and pass it along to people you come in contact with). Flu pandemics seem the model we can learn from (long read: a NIH workshop summary on Spanish flu of the early 20th century). Some 1.4 billion people tested positive the H1N1 flu (about 20% of the population of the world, including minors) a little over a decade ago, and at the high end of estimates, killed about 575,000 people (about .04%).

If you figure that you didn’t get tested if you had no symptoms or only had mild cold-like symptoms, a lot more people had it.

With COVID-19, we’re also having a problem with getting enough tests, so our current numbers are underreported because technically, if you can’t get tested, you don’t have it.

As I’m writing this, Georgia’s (USA, not the country) reported cases are increasing between 40 and 50 percent per day. I know of one person who said she couldn’t get tested at a local health center despite being immunocompromised and showing symptoms because they didn’t have any tests. The local health department said they were waiting on tests, and the local office of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was also waiting on tests. So if some high-risk people aren’t able to get tests, you can see how most people who are asymptomatic or only get mild cases (which is about 80 percent of people who test positive, by the way) won’t get tested.

No matter how high the numbers climb, we won’t be reporting all cases.

Centers for Disease Control info & guidelines | World Health Organization information

Even health professionals don’t seem to be able to predict how the virus will hit any one individual. We know that the respiratory repercussions seem to be really bad, so people with COPD or asthma or who are smokers are likely to get hit pretty hard, but sometimes they’ll get a mild case.

Which means that no matter how health you are, you can’t predict how it will actually hit you if you get it. So try not to get it.

And in case you are asymptomatic, you can’t predict how it will affect other people if you pass it along, so try not to. You’re probably going to pass it along to people you live with. But there are some easy steps you can take to make sure you don’t give it to anyone else — steps like stay the heck away from them.

We have an elderly neighbor. She has adult children who stop by and check in on her, and I imagine they call her, too. When we go to the grocery store, we call her to see if she needs anything.

Our responsibility to her in delivering things to her should be to wash our hands, wipe down the goods we’re bringing her, put them in a separate bag, place them outside her door, and ring her bell or call her to let her know they’re there.

Our responsibility to ourselves in that case would also be to wash our hands again after touching her bell.

It’s not that difficult, but it’s important.

We also owe it to ourselves, if we wish to stay healthy, to only go do important things, like getting food and medicines. Yeah, it stinks staying home. But think about things like going out to eat. Do employees at your favorite restaurants have paid sick leave? Are they likely to stay home if they’re mildly symptomatic — say a little sore throat and a sniffle, like if they had a cold? Probably not, if they don’t have much in the way of sick days.

Our trusted officials (such as elected and appointed members of government, but also the heads of organizations like hospitals and urgent cares and shopping malls and the sorts of places people gather) also have a responsibility to us. We’ve asked them to lead in times of crisis, and this is most certainly one. Give us facts. When you give us directives and/or suggestions, back them up with facts, because people will be more compliant if they understand why.

Viruses aren’t partisan — they don’t stop outside your mouth and ask who you voted for before deciding whether to infect you — so neither should the directives handed down by particularly government.

When this pandemic ends, there will be some interesting things to study, from a social science perspective (we know that biologists and virologists and geneticists will do their thing).

• What traits of leaders did the best and worst at containing the virus? China, where the virus started, was slow to admit its existence. The US, fairly far away from the epicenter of the pandemic, didn’t take it seriously at the start.

• What cultural traits did the best and worst at containing the virus? Did people stay home when told more in collectivist cultures than in individualist cultures?

• What cultural and leadership traits correlated with the least economic interruption and quickest recovery? What measures had the highest impact, both positive and negative?

• From a media perspective, how does this new era of reader-driven content selection and bottomless news hole affect coverage, especially deep reporting?

Stay healthy and safe, folks, and don’t overwhelm yourself with too much information.

Legacy: Changing your stars, Kobe Bryant and your direction in this life

Legacy: Changing your stars, Kobe Bryant and your direction in this life

Legacy is one of my personal pivotal needs (PPNs). This is something I picked up in the Master Key Experience. There are seven, and two stand out for each of us. The others naturally follow, most of the time, but when our actions align with our two primary PPNs, we feel happiest and most fulfilled.

The other six are spiritual growth, autonomy, liberty, helping others, true health and recognition for creative expression.

For what it’s worth, helping others is my second.

Abundance and PPNs »


Since the birth of our (first) child, I’ve been thinking more and more about the legacy I want to leave. She — Marlena — is certainly part of that legacy; hopefully I can instill in her some sense of wanting to change the world for the better, and give her the tools to start on that journey. But also I want to leave the world a little better than I found it.

A legacy is anything handed down from the past. It could be money or property, or historical lessons, for instance. We get the word in this form in the mid-15th century; before that it referred to a group of people sent on a mission. Maybe those aren’t that different.

When Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26., I immediately started thinking about legacy, particularly in our current climate of what some call “cancel culture.”

Bryant, of course, is best known as a star for the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers. He played 20 seasons, with two of his final three severely shortened thanks to knee injuries. Over that time, he averaged 25 points per game and helped the Lakers win five championships.

He famously feuded with Shaquille O’Neal, whom the Lakers eventually traded, and, at one point, found himself embroiled in a sexual assault allegation in Colorado. That charge was dropped and a civil settlement reached with the accuser. That accusation led him to lose several endorsement deals.

Today, the Shaq feud would have branded Bryant a locker room problem and the sexual assault allegation would have forced the league and the team to consider suspending or releasing him, despite the charges being dropped. Instead, he went on to continue being a star, a father to four daughters (the youngest of whom is under a year old as of this writing and the eldest of whom was headed toward a pro basketball career before she perished in the helicopter crash with her dad), an author and a businessman. Oh yeah, and an Oscar winner, too.

He could have been the guy who threw a potentially great career away, but he left a different legacy. His life is a good reminder that we are not defined by only our past actions. We can change course. It reminds me the film A Knight’s Tale, in which a boy who grew up in poverty goes on to “change his stars,” becoming a knight first in action, then in name.

Let’s talk legacy, then.

What would you like yours to be? What do you need to make that happen? What do you need to get rid of?

You may well be aware of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At the bottom of the pyramid you’ll find the things people need — food, air, clean water — and at the top, you’ll find self-actualization: stuff like spiritual fulfillment and legacy and all the things that make us feel good about being us.

You probably aren’t going to try to defeat malaria, or get malaria a bunch of times trying to bring clean water to the Ubuntu pygmy people of the Congo.

But you are going to die someday. So far, being human has a 100 percent mortality rate. How will you be remembered? That’s what legacy is. If “husband” and “father” aren’t on the list of how I’m remembered, I’ll have missed some opportunities. But if I’m honest, there are a few other things I want on that list. I’m not guaranteed tomorrow, though, so it’s time to get crackin’. You, too, then. Onward.

Impostor syndrome: What it is and how to beat it

Impostor syndrome: What it is and how to beat it

Something that many people moving on and up in their careers — or starting new businesses, raising their prices, etc. — suffer from is impostor syndrome. Wikipedia offers a fairly straightforward definition:

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

In other words, people doubt themselves. But there’s more, and this is important:

Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be.

Many of these people may have started with the attitude “fake it ’til you make it,” and when they’ve put in the work and actually made it, they still feel like they’re faking it.

Aside: Although I’ll generally refer to it as a syndrome, the DSM doesn’t identify it as a pathology to be treated.

Megan Dalla-Camina points out that it is often situational — that there are circumstances in which we feel perfectly confident, but if we move into a different situation, KA-POW!, impostor syndrome.

While you may feel fully confident speaking to a group of more junior people, addressing your peers could completely undo you. Or you could be fine at work, but having to speak up at the local school meeting? Forget about it.

Kirsten Weir writes in terms of graduate students moving their way into the world of work, teaching and research (not that teaching and research aren’t work; you know what I mean). She cites pressure to achieve as a common driving factor, and quotes psychiatrist Carole Lieberman:

Most people experience some self-doubt when facing new challenges, says Lieberman. “But someone with [imposter phenomenon] has an all-encompassing fear of being found out to not have what it takes.” Even if they experience outward signs of success — getting into a selective graduate program, say, or acing test after test — they have trouble believing that they’re worthy. Instead, they may chalk their success up to good luck.

Weir offers a few suggestions for overcoming — or at least working through — impostor syndrome:

• Talk to mentors
• Recognize your expertise
• Know what you do well
• Don’t be a perfectionist
• Change your thinking
• Talk to someone who can help (like a coach or a therapist)

Ellen Hendriksen identifies several flavors, if you will, of impostor syndrome (we’ll get to Valerie Young in a minute, don’t worry):

“I’m a fake:” The fundamental fear is being discovered or unmasked. Achievers often feel like they’ve made it thus far under wraps, but the day will come when their cover is blown and they will be revealed as a fake.

In other words, people don’t believe in their own achievements.

“I got lucky:” The second flavor of Impostor Syndrome attributes achievements to luck. A twist on this is “I’m not smart/talented/gifted. I just work hard.”

I actually take issue with this. I coasted through high school on being smart, and got hit with the “you’ve never had to work for anything” stick in college. Smart gets you a 1320 (out of 1600) on your SATs with a bloody nose after studying for a week. Hard work gets you places in life, while smart only gets you so far. Anyway.

“Oh, this old thing:” In Impostor Syndrome, sufferers truly can’t take a compliment. In the last variation of Impostor Syndrome, the receiver of an award or recognition discounts or downplays the honor.

Hendriksen likens this to the scene in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” when George compliments Violet’s dress, and she replies, “Oh, this old thing?” It might be actual modesty, or a humble-brag, or, in the case of someone with impostor syndrome, she truly couldn’t take the compliment.

Kelvin and I discussed this on JKWD a while back. It can be difficult to take a compliment, but, hey, fake it ’til you make it, right? Just say thank you — eventually, you get the same compliment enough times, you’ll start to believe it.

Valerie Young is perhaps the most prominent expert in impostor syndrome these days. She first heard about it in 1982 when a fellow student read from the original paper identifying impostorism by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes.

Melody J. Wilding summarizes five distinct types of impostor syndrome identified by Young, and offers some solutions for combating them.

First, perfectionists:

Perfectionism and impostor syndrome often go hand-in-hand. Think about it: Perfectionists set excessively high goals for themselves, and when they fail to reach a goal, they experience major self-doubt and worry about measuring up.

Basically, the prescription here is get over it. Maybe saying it that way isn’t helpful, but it’s really what it all comes down to. In Wilding’s words:

For this type, success is rarely satisfying because they believe they could’ve done even better. But that’s neither productive nor healthy. Owning and celebrating achievements is essential if you want to avoid burnout, find contentment, and cultivate self-confidence.
Learn to take your mistakes in stride, viewing them as a natural part of the process. In addition, push yourself to act before you’re ready. Force yourself to start the project you’ve been planning for months. Truth is, there will never be the “perfect time” and your work will never be 100% flawless. The sooner you’re able to accept that, the better off you’ll be.

Yeah, basically, if you’re a perfectionist, you just need to learn that you’ll never actually be perfect and most of the time you’ll exceed everybody’s expectations except your own.

The next type is the superman/woman:

Since people who experience this phenomenon are convinced they’re phonies amongst real-deal colleagues, they often push themselves to work harder and harder to measure up. But this is just a false cover-up for their insecurities, and the work overload may harm not only their own mental health, but also their relationships with others.

Hey, guess what? Busy-ness isn’t sexy. Neither is burnout. You don’t need kudos for working longer hours — prove yourself by working smart and well, not long.

The third type is the natural genius:

Young says people with this competence type believe they need to be a natural “genius.” As such, they judge their competence based ease and speed as opposed to their efforts. In other words, if they take a long time to master something, they feel shame.

This is the “I’m not smart, I’m just lucky” bit Hendriksen writes about. The fix, writes Wilding, is to build your skill set. Practice stuff and get better at it, rather than avoiding things because you’re just not good at them.

The fourth type is called the soloist:

Sufferers who feel as though asking for help reveals their phoniness are what Young calls Soloists. It’s OK to be independent, but not to the extent that you refuse assistance so that you can prove your worth.

I stopped suffering from do-it-all-yourself-itis at the beginning of the year. You’ll notice that’s not my voice over the intro and outro of the Better Humanhood podcast. I didn’t sit at GarageBand for hours composing the music clip like I did on previous versions. You’re probably never going to be great at everything. We grew as a species because we could cooperate. Why would we go solo now?

The final type is called the expert:

Experts measure their competence based on “what” and “how much” they know or can do. Believing they will never know enough, they fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable.

Wilding offers up some good advice here:

Start practicing just-in-time learning. This means acquiring a skill when you need it–for example, if your responsibilities change–rather than hoarding knowledge for (false) comfort.

Here are some (more) action items if you’re dealing with impostor syndrome, culled from the sources above, a couple of others, and some personal experience.

Don’t wait for perfection. You can always improve later. From the founder of a small website you may have heard of called LinkedIn:

Do some affirmations. Here’s a variation on an exercise I picked up from the Master Key Experience. Get 50 index cards. Set 25 of them aside for the moment. On each of the 25 in front of you, write one thing you’ve accomplished in your life, big or small. “I graduated high school” could be one. “I won the third-grade spelling bee” could be one. “I raised a child to adulthood” could be one. Whatever. They’ll come easily pretty quickly.

Every day, you’re going to shuffle the cards and read through them when you wake up, around lunch time, and before bed. Over the next five days, you’re going to add five cards a day, so your total is 50. If you want to keep adding after that, go for it. You don’t have to shuffle through 150 cards at a time if you don’t want. Read 20 at a time if that gets you through.

After a week or two, you’ll internalize that you’ve made a lifelong habit of accomplishing things. It’ll be easier to keep accomplishing after that.

Celebrate small victories. We learned in our series on happiness that reaching a goal brings a feeling of relief, like taking off your pack at the end of a hike. But checking off milestones along the way floods us with happiness chemicals. Having small victories to celebrate can build confidence, and confidence kills impostor syndrome.

Posture. You know the victory pose? The one people display when they win a race — or basically anything else? Arms overhead in a V, head back, back arched? This one –> \o/

Even blind people, who never saw anybody do it, strike that pose at moments of victory.

There’s strength in how you stand. Here, watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on the subject.

Practice. Impostor syndrome is, in part, about not having confidence that you’re good enough at something. It can never hurt to get better, but, as we saw above, don’t wait until you’re perfect.

Be objective. Have you ever slow-cooked some food over the course of several hours? Some ribs or brisket, maybe, or some marinara? If you stay in or near the kitchen for five or six hours or however long you’re cooking, you’ll never smell it. But if you walk out of the house to check the mail, you’ll notice the delicious aroma the moment you walk in the door. You didn’t notice the product of your work until you stepped away.

Do that for your life, your career, whatever you’re feeling impostor-ish about. Step back. Take an objective look at your qualifications. If you’d hire the person with those qualifications for the job, you’re good enough for the job.

Now, go forth and rock.

Getting in your head

Getting in your head

Toward the end of his appearance on Duncan Trussell’s podcast, Dr. Drew notes that he needs to spend more time in his head.

It got me thinking about silence.

Meditation has been an on-again, off-again habit for me (it’s on-again right now; if you’re curious, I use the Oak app (for iPhone).

One of my favorite things to do is to visit my friends at Remedy Float and climb in a float tank. Also called “sensory deprivation chambers,” these are light-less, soundless rooms about 4 feet across, 8 feet long and 7 feet high with 13 inches of water heated to 94 degrees (roughly skin temperature) and 1,000 pounds or so of Epsom salts, so you’re definitely going to float, no matter who you are.

It’s 60-90 minutes of about as quiet as you can get.

That’s just a starting point, apparently. Much longer in silence than that, you might actually start growing new neurons.

Crazy, right? New brain cells for being quiet for a couple of hours! Some people think that means silence might be a viable treatment for Alzheimer’s and other neuro-degenerative diseases.

In a study testing music in both musicians and non-musicians, rate of breathing, heart rate and blood pressure all went down when there was a pause in the music. Musicians more easily synced their breathing to the rhythm of the music, but otherwise, pauses in the music — the silent parts, in other words — were the bits that people were calmer during.

It’s not just for calm, though. During silence, we work things out. A couple of Australian scientists discovered that our brains are actually more active when not dealing with stimulus than when they are. The space between the stimuli is when we figure out what the stimuli mean.

We’re just starting, over the past couple of years, to understand the groupings of which neurons handle which stimuli.

Working things out during periods without stimulus, by the way, is the same reason we need to dream: we process what happened during the day and learn from it.

Silence can be so hard to come by that over the past decade, Finland has made solitude a central piece of its marketing to attract tourists.

Now, not everyone meditates in silence, but meditation can, in fact, quiet our brains. We discussed the benefits of meditation as it relates to increasing both happiness and patience.

We also know that meditation can make for better sleep, can help with self-relational feelings like personal empowerment and staying in love and help improve learning.

Silence leads to better focus. And there are a host of other benefits.

One of those benefits I want to discuss specifically is creativity. We’re going to have a series on creativity later this year, probably as fall approaches. Creativity isn’t just about art, or writing, or comedy or podcasting. It’s also about scientific innovation. Creativity allows us to see where we can combine fields or jump a gap.

Peter Gasca puts it simply:

If we are always focused on information input, it becomes even more difficult to force your brain to produce any output.

In other words, if you have to process noise (sounds, words, music, etc.) coming in, it’s hard for your brain to create some output.

If you’ve ever heard the term “content zombie,” you know what I mean. These are people who read a lot, listen to a lot of podcasts, squeeze in some audiobooks, take online courses, watch videos, and then … they can just spit back what they read or heard or watched but never put any of the knowledge or wisdom they absorb into practice.

There’s just so much input, they can’t seem to create any output.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a ton of great content out there. We’re producing a ton more every day. It’s easier than ever to publish content, in text, audio, video or even a combination of those.

Thomas Oppong notes that collaboration can be important for creatives (where would a lot of musicians be without Quincy Jones as a collaborator?), but, at the same time, it’s solitude that allows is to get into flow (we’ve written about flow before, and there will be much more coming on it in the coming months), and, he notes, Einstein and Newton, among others, worked almost entirely alone.

Oppong also offers an important reminder: you can choose solitude. While you may be forced into collaborative situations at work, there are plenty of ways to get some silence in your day. Get in early, he writes, or find time before your family wakes up or after they go to sleep. Turn off your phone. Get away from anything that can give you notifications.

Let me offer up three action items, if you’re looking for a place to start.

1. Download and start with a meditation app. You can use Oak (my app of choice), Calm, Headspace, Omvana or any of the dozens of other apps available. Just pick one and do 10 minutes, every day for a week. If you find trouble finding the time and space in your house, grab some headphones and lock yourself in the bathroom for 10 minutes (not kidding).

2. Ditch your phone. Even for five minutes. Just turn it off, tuck it under your pillow, and go sit on the deck or the porch or the balcony or, again, the toilet. Just shush and don’t scroll through anything.

3. Block stuff out. I’m not saying get in float tank for an hour (though I’m definitely not not recommending that), but get yourself a nice sleep mask and some ear plugs (total under $25, if you didn’t click on them). Wear them for five to ten minutes, and don’t be scared of what runs through your mind.

Now, go do something awesome.

Patience, success, confidence and happiness: What’s up in your brain and how to improve

Patience, success, confidence and happiness: What’s up in your brain and how to improve

I’ve been a dad for a touch over six months now. I stay at home with the baby during the day, and then work (from home) in the evening.

If nothing else, I’m learning patience.

Which of course got me thinking about patience.

A lot of the studies in patience are about delayed gratification. Maybe the most famous experiment in delayed gratification started in the 1960s when a Stanford professor bought a bunch of marshmallows. He sat down with children (most of them four or five years old) one at a time, placed a marshmallow in front of them, and told them that if the marshmallow was still there when he came back, they could have a second marshmallow as a reward; if the child ate the marshmallow, he or she just got the one.

They then followed those kids for a couple of decades and found that those who were patient enough to get the second marshmallow went farther in life.

So, patient people are more successful. But I’m more interested in the causes of patience and how we get more of it, as opposed to what the ability to wait 15 minutes before eating a marshmallow when you’re four years old means.

You remember our series on happiness a couple of months ago? In the first part of that series, we went over the chemicals in our brains associated with happiness. One was seratonin.

Christopher Bergland describes seratonin this way:

Serotonin plays so many different roles in our bodies that it is really tough to tag it. For the sake of practical application I call it “The Confidence Molecule.” Ultimately the link between higher serotonin and a lack of rejection sensitivity allows people to put themselves in situations that will bolster self-esteem, increase feelings of worthiness and create a sense of belonging.

It turns out that seratonin also regulates patience and impulsivity.

This particular study is on rats (we’ll discuss a related human study, too). The usual method for measuring impulse reactions versus patient reactions goes something like this: A rat is presented with two levers. One lever releases one pellet immediately. The other releases four pellets, but after a delay.

In other words, the rat is presented with two potential rewards, but if the rat is willing to wait, the reward will be larger.

Now, if you administer to one group a selective seratonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) — something like Zoloft or Lexapro, for example — you find that this group is more likely to wait for the larger reward.

In case it’s not entirely clear what an SSRI does, here’s a rudimentary description of what happens in a person taking, for example, sertraline (Zoloft) for anxiety: When the brain releases seratonin in a non-anxious person, you get a “normal” response, such as the confidence Bergland writes about.

In the brain of an anxious person, some of that seratonin gets re-absorbed (in an action called “re-uptake”), causing anxiety (or lack of confidence, as it were).

An SSRI blocks the re-uptake (that’d be the “inhibitor” part), so a person who would be seratonin-deficient gets a normal amount.

Presumably, rats in both the control group and the group getting the SSRI come in with a roughly equivalent baseline seratonin response (that is, they all have a normal “confidence” response to a seratonin release, without some subset facing the challenge of an anxiety-inducing re-uptake). Some seratonin is going to be lost to re-uptake, and both groups of rats would have the same amount of re-uptake occurring if it weren’t for the SSRI.

When you administer the SSRI, less seratonin than normal would be re-absorbed.

It turns out that significantly more rats in the group getting the SSRI are willing to wait for the four pellets than those not receiving the drug.

In other words, the rats with more seratonin running around in their brains are more patient. We see a similar thing in mice — when seratonin production is stimulated, mice are willing to wait longer for a bigger reward (as long as they actually believe the reward will be forthcoming).

Now, you probably couldn’t get a review board to approve a double-blind study like this with humans (that is, one in which the person wouldn’t know whether they were being administered a drug), but we do have technology — functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) — that allows us to see things like seratonin release in the brain.

Here’s that related human study I mentioned.

This time, a bunch of people were offered either $100 tomorrow or $120 at the end of the month. Some people didn’t want to wait for the extra cash, and, if I explained the rat experiment well, you probably guessed that the fMRI results showed that people who elected to wait showed more seratonin was present.

The good news is, patience is trainable. Or, at least, we can un-train impatience, according to Dean Griffiths. Griffiths writes that there are two parts of the brain — the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — that take prominent roles in patience. Both are part of the default mode network, which is still a new enough concept in neuroscience that it’s not super-well defined.

Basically, if you’re focusing on something, the default mode network is pretty quiet, but if you’re not, well, watch out. It’s that bundle of brain parts that spins and whirs and generally won’t shut up when you’ve got nothing else to do. If you live with depression or anxiety, chances are you have a very active default mode network.

Meditation appears to do a pretty good job shutting it down.

In part three of our series on happiness, we discussed meditation as a training method for bringing about joy and training confidence, creativity and more. As Chade-Meng Tan writes in Joy on Demand, “One of the biggest surprise discoveries of my life is that self-confidence can be trained by putting my butt onto a meditation cushion” (p. 33).

More seratonin makes us happier. More seratonin makes us more patient. Patience yields success. Success presumably makes us happy. Meditation makes us happier and more patient.

I’m not saying maybe we should meditate more, but if you’re wondering, I use Oak (only available for iPhone at this writing).

There are plenty of reasons to to be patient, pushing off gratification. Consider the subprime mortgage crisis in the U.S. in the first decade of the 2000s. Many people who could have qualified for “normal” mortgages instead opted for what were called “2/28” mortgages — loans with far lower than prime interest rates for the first two years that then cranked up high for the rest of the term of the loan. People figured, oh, we’ll refinance before the end of those first two years, and then they didn’t and wound up upside down.

Some people chalk this up to poor impulse control, the same thing that keeps us going back for seconds at the dessert table.

And if that all seems a little too personal, maybe sometimes we just need a little perspective.

Happiness, joy and contentment: What makes us happy?

Happiness, joy and contentment: What makes us happy?

“Animals are born exploiters,” writes Steven Pinker in Enlightenment Now. “They live off the hard-won energy stored in the body of plants and other animals by eating them” (p. 19).

Pankaj Mishra, in Age of Anger, points out it’s not just animals who are exploiters; people do it, too. And it’s not just the strong people — weak people try to mimic the strong.

It isn’t just that the strong exploit the weak; the powerless themselves are prone to enviously imitate the powerful. But people who try to make more of themselves than others end up trying to dominate others, forcing them into positions of inferiority or deference. The lucky few on top remain insecure, exposed to the envy and malice of the also-rans. The latter use all means available to them to realize their unfulfilled cravings while making sure to veil them with a show of civility, even benevolence (p. 89).

But this is all a show. This “show of civility, even benevolence,” doesn’t make us happy.

We know that much of what makes us happy is anticipation of how we’ll feel about something. But what does make us happy?

In her book of the same name, Sonja Lyubomirsky debunks some myths of happiness.

Nearly all of us buy into … the myths of happiness — beliefs that certain adult achievements (marriage, kids, jobs, wealth) will make us forever happy and that certain adult failures or adversities (health problems, not having a life partner, having little money) will make us forever unhappy. This reductive understanding is culturally reinforced and continues to endure despite overwhelming evidence that our well-being does not operate according to such black-and-white principles (p. 1).

The things people tell us should make us happy? They don’t, necessarily. So again, what does make us happy?

Where have you been, where are you going?

“The pleasure of getting what you want is often fleeting,” Jonathan Haidt writes in The Happiness Hypothesis(pp. 82-3). The idea really is to make what you want a moving target.

Let’s start first with where you’ve been. Lyubomirsky notes that “people who have experienced some adversity … are ultimately happier (and less distressed, traumatized, stressed, or impaired) than those who have experienced no adversity at all. Having a history of enduring several devastating moments ‘toughens us up’ and makes us better prepared to manage later challenges and traumas” (p. 3).

In other words, if you’ve been through some things, you’re ultimately happier.

Now, I don’t know if that just means the bar for happiness is lower for people who have struggled than it is for people who haven’t, or if it’s the perspective that struggle brings, or something else. For example, if you grew up a constant victim of domestic violence, any day that you didn’t get beat up might be a happy day for you; that’s just a normal day for everyone else.

Let’s say the low-bar argument is correct. What implications does that have for us in the modern Western world?

Pinker points out that the default state of the world throughout history is poverty, but that things are getting better.

Poverty, too, needs no explanation. In a world governed by entropy and evolution, it is the default state of humankind. Matter does not arrange itself into shelter or clothing, and living things do everything they can to avoid becoming our food. As Adam Smith pointed out, what needs to be explained is wealth (p. 25).

“Here is a shocker,” he writes (emphasis his): “The world has made spectacular progress in every single measure of human well-being. Here is a second shocker: Almost no one knows about it” (p. 52).

Think you’re smart? Take the Gapminder test. The world’s probably in better shape than you think. We were surprised over at JKWD.

“We are happier, in general,” Pinker writes, “when we are healthy, comfortable, safe, provisioned, socially connected, sexual and loved” (p. 267).

So why do choose to spend our time battling it out on Facebook and Twitter? We’re addicted to the dopamine hit of likes and people agreeing with us.

Long before the advent of Twitter, Facebook, the Internet or even the personal computer, Rollo May wrote about happiness and our values in Man’s Search for Himself. More accurately, he wrote not about happiness, but one of its obverses: anxiety.

A shift in the values and goals of our society, he writes, is a central reason for anxiety (p. 28). Really, though, if you want to be happy, he writes, you have to live up to your own values.

On the deepest level, the question of which age we live in is irrelevant. The basic question is how the individual, in his own awareness of himself and the period he lives in, as able through his decisions to attain inner freedom and to live according to his own inner integrity” (p. 206).

Be true to yourself. Find a job that pays your bills and fits your values. Surround yourself with friends and family members who keep you safe but challenge you instead of allowing complacency. Simple to conceive of, but not easy to do. That’s a much higher bar for happiness than we used to have. Try new things, see how something else can make you feel happy, maybe the stress of your job or everyday life is getting to you, that type of stress can be damaging to the body and cause more problems for the future, some people in that position have turned to things like marijuana to help calm them and relax them to feel better or to get to sleep at night! Click here to read more about it and see what is out there, who knows it could be an alternative medicine for you.


“Set for yourself any goal you want,” Haidt writes. “Most of the pleasure will be had along the way, with every step that takes you closer. The final moment of success is often no more thrilling than the relief of taking off a heavy backpack and the end of a long hike” (p. 84).

This, again, goes back to our dopamine hits. “I hit a milestone! Yay! I hit another milestone! Yay! Oh, I reached my goal! Now what?”

James Victore addresses this in Feck Perfuction. He set himself a 15-year plan. When that 15-year period was up, he was far beyond his vision. Five years later, he was floundering, because he didn’t have any plan beyond his initial plan. It may be cliche to say it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, but we should remember that the “destination” is just a stop along the way: we’re not done when we get there.

And remember this about goals: The universe, as a functioning entity, doesn’t care about your goals. We used to think it did, and then science came along — the Galileos and Newtons of the world — and discovered that things work systematically and predictably, and your goals have nothing to do with it.

“People have goals, of course,” writes Pinker, “but projecting goals onto the workings of nature is an illusion. Things can happen without anyone taking into account their effects on human happiness” (p. 24).

This doesn’t mean the spiritual side of the universe isn’t on your side. It doesn’t rule out the law of attraction. It means that you have to work within nature’s physical rules to capitalize on its spiritual rewards.

It is important, however, to set your goals to be your goals, or checkpoints along the path won’t mean anything to you. As May put it, we’re really good at articulating what society says we should want, not what we actually want.

From happiness to contentment and joy

Chade-Meng Tan was an engineer at Google. True to the company’s early style, he had an unusually job title — “Jolly Good Fellow (which nobody can deny)” — and description: “Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace.”

He started a little smaller than the world, creating a course at Google called “Search Inside Yourself,” then wrote a book by that name.

In Joy on Demand, he makes the case for meditation as a training mechanism for creating joy and thereby compassion, kindness and creativity, regardless of outside circumstances.

“People have a remarkable ability to adapt to both good and bad fortune,” he writes, “and that we each have a relatively stable level of happiness that we eventually return to even after major positive or negative life events” (pp. 3-4).

Lyubomirsky echoes that sentiment. “Which events are life changing, and in what ways, is often not immediately knowable” (p. 5). Beyond that, she writes, “instead of being frightening or depressing, your crisis points can be opportunities for renewal, growth, or meaningful change” (p. 3).

The same way that you can train yourself physically — start with light weights, get heavier, and eventually you’re strong, Tan writes, you can train mentally (p. 5), and part of that ability to train is the ability to train yourself to access joy (p. 3).

He proposes meditation as the training mechanism. Obviously, this is not a new mechanism, and it is not new as a path to happiness, joy, compassion, creativity and more.

“One of the biggest surprise discoveries of my life is that self-confidence can be trained by putting my butt onto a meditation cushion,” he writes (p. 33).

But joy and its side effects also link to something like kindness and compassion, things that are going to be even more important as we move forward into an ever-more crowded world.

Compassion and kindness arise from inner peace and joy. Compassion is both the fruition and the multiplier of joy — another one of those cycles of goodness. In other words: joy makes you a kinder, more compassionate person, and kindness and compassion bring you more joy” (pp. 20-21).

Interesting notes on happiness

A few other items of interest popped up in the happiness research that aren’t worth separate posts but are definitely worth noting.

“Although it may appear that some” crisis points in our life “will definitively and permanently change our lives for better or for worse, it is really our responses to them that govern their repercussions” (Lyubomirsky, p. 2). If you’re not sure what that looks like, listen to our JKWD episode on response versus reaction.

A reaction often looks like anger; a response often looks like problem solving.

I was side-swiped while driving by a teenager a couple of years ago. I was driving in the left lane of a one-way street, and she took a left from the right lane. She didn’t know she was on a one-way street, and was looking in front of her to see if she was OK to turn, not behind her. We pulled over. I had some scraped paint; she had a small dent on her bumper, which was metal, being an older SUV. Nobody was hurt.

She was visibly shaken, on the verge of tears. I could have reacted by yelling at her for not knowing the rules of the road, not understanding where she was, not being careful enough with the privilege of driving — and with it, not only would I have ruined her day, but her self-confidence while out driving. Already that had taken a major blow, but I could have shattered the rest of it. Remember when you were first trusted to drive on your own? There was a sense of freedom with that, and I could have made her emotionally dependent on someone else to drive her around.

Instead, I calmly got out, made sure she wasn’t hurt, had her take her insurance paperwork out of the glove compartment, walked with her over to my car, got my insurance stuff out. We took photos of each other’s paperwork and exchanged phone numbers (it wouldn’t matter if she’d given me a fake number; I had her insurance information).

I made sure she felt OK about driving the rest of the way to her destination, and we went our separate ways.

That’s the difference between reacting and responding, and making the right decision in that situation can turn a crisis point in your life into something that propels you toward happiness rather than something that sends you into a spiral.


In a paper called Happiness is a Stochastic Phenomenon (PDF), David Lykken and Auke Tellegen discover that where we come from — our parents, not our place of origin — is the biggest factor in our happiness. Half our happiness, they write, is associated with genetics. No other factors studied — socioeconomic status, education, income, religiosity, marital status, etc. — accounts for more than three percent of overall happiness.

Don’t let that give you any excuses for wallowing, however. Remember, as Tan shows, you can absolutely train yourself to overcome whatever you need to!


One more. In Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert addresses the language of ranking happiness.

The language-squishing hypothesis goes like this: We get the same exact feeling as someone else from an experience, yet describe it differently. For example, you describe your feeling of happiness when you have birthday cake as an “8” while I describe it as a “4” — you’re not necessarily objectively happier in rank order, we just describe the feeling differently (pp. 50-51).

Experience-stretching, on the other hand, is like this: We might mean the same thing when we say “8” and “4,” and I’vee had experiences that make birthday cake seem mundane, while birthday cake is at the top of your experience for happiness (pp. 54-55).


Hopefully, this series was at least somewhat instructive for you. Let us know if there’s an aspect of happiness you’d like to get deeper in on.