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Month: March 2020

Don’t Pick That Scab!

Don’t Pick That Scab!

If you spend more than 30 minutes a day consuming news I want to convince you to cut down your news consumption.

I’ll start by asking and answering (for myself) three questions.

  • What is the purpose of your life?
  • Would you like to be happier?
  • Do you like repetitive stress injuries?

Here are my answers.

What is the purpose of your life?

The purpose of my life and, I think, the purpose of everyone’s life, is to bring as much love and joy into the world as possible and to take care of myself and the people around me.

(It’s not, by the way, to survive no matter what. That used to be our purpose when we were being hunted by saber-tooth tigers and cave bears but now it’s really a silly goal. I’ll break this down in a future post).

Being informed about the world serves that purpose but on a typical day, it takes just a few minutes to get the information you need to go through life effectively and do what you need to do.

Spending more time digging into the news takes time away from your life’s purpose (unless reading the news is your life’s purpose, in which case you can go ahead and stop paying attention to this). It also can weaken your ability to care for yourself and others.

That brings me to the next question.

Would you like to be happier?

The news is bad. What I mean is that 90 percent or more of the news is bad because news is a money-making business based on audience size and we have been trained by evolution to pay attention to possible threats and ignore things that are not threatening. Bad news attracts more eyeballs in the same way that a lion walking on the Serengeti gets more attention from the herds of potential prey animals than a cute baby wildebeest (is there such a thing?) does. The news media has learned this and delivers what attracts people’s attention. If it bleeds, it leads.

Spending more than a few minutes a day finding out what happened in the world really means exposing yourself to bad, scary stuff for longer than is necessary. This will make you more unhappy, mostly about things you have no power over, and impact your ability to take care of yourself and others.

Additionally, the news is made up of two levels. There’s the factual layer and then the analysis. The amount of factual news that is important to know about for most people can be covered in a few minutes a day or even less. My definition of what’s important is based on what you need to know to take care of yourself and others and what is useful to you. In other words what you can do something about. I often go back to the ultimate litmus test of the Serenity Prayer.

Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Immersing yourself in a whirlpool of information about things you cannot change is contra-indicated if you want to maintain some level of Serenity.

And continuing to dive into the news means you get past the facts into analysis and that way lies madness (or at least angry-ness).

That leads to the last question.

Do you like repetitive stress injuries?

A repetitive stress injury happens when you do something, like typing or hitting a tennis ball, over and over again. When you expose yourself to outrage and fear you stress your body and your mind. We are designed to deal with scary situations as if our lives depended on it because it used to. Now it doesn’t. That White House press conference isn’t going to kill us and eat us but our bodies don’t know that. When we read or watch something that causes anxiety or anger our bodies are flushed with flight or fight hormones which, over the long term, cause lasting damage.

Back in the old days we’d avoid the cave bear or get a bunch of people together and kill it. Then we’d relax and have a chance to repair the damage. Now we read about a cave bear and then click on another story of a cave bear and get shown a list of headlines of cave bear rumors and saber tooth tiger sightings. Most of these stories have very little impact on us but we HAVE TO READ THEM because the modern design of news is aimed directly at the scared caveman that lives in each of us. Once we are properly frightened, we get into the analysis layer which consists of pundits whose job it is to upset you.

Let me say this again because it is obviously true but not said enough.

Pundits are paid to upset you.

If Alex Jones or Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow or Ann Coulter or Laurence O’Donnell or Sean Hannity pisses you off, they have succeeded. That’s their job. They are not there to deliver information. That’s the job of News Anchors most of the time. 90 percent of the “news” is actually outraged opinion presented in the same format as informational news in the same channels.

So if you want to stop damaging yourself and be happier and more purposeful and more able to take care of yourself and others, spend less time consuming news.

Use the extra time to meditate or sleep or exercise or call a friend or write a novel.

Tragedy or Opportunity? Both?

Tragedy or Opportunity? Both?

Hi Everybody,

I’m back again with more thoughts on happiness and productivity and peace at a time when we all need it.

As most of you know, I posted a daily video for more than a year back in 2017 and 2018 and I got a lot of great feedback from a few people who saw some of them. My goal then was to get some of my thoughts on life out into the world.

About 2 years ago a curious thing happened. I was laid off from my job and almost immediately stopped posting video. I didn’t stop posting because I was depressed. In fact, I disliked that job intensely and when that company closed down, I pivoted to doing things I really loved. The reason I stopped posting is that my routine was disrupted and I developed other outlets for my creativity.

I also felt like what I was saying wasn’t needed and it wasn’t having a big impact.

I don’t think I was right about that last part but I am sure that people need it now and I know for sure that I need it.

So I’m back.

Fans of the old videos will have one big question and the answer is yes. The Friday Morning Dance Party will be BACK! 8 AM Friday. Be here with your dancing shoes ON.

Today I want to offer a new way of looking at the current situation.

I don’t want to minimize how terrible this is and that people are suffering in our country and around the world but I feel like there’s plenty of places to get information about that.

What I would like to suggest is that by changing your point of view of what is happening to you right now, you may be able to get through the coming weeks and months with less pain and more happiness.

That’s what I think I can offer more than anything is new ways of looking at things. I think I’m good at that.

Having said that, I do want to admit that most of the things I say won’t be completely original but maybe they’ll be new to you.

Okay so here’s the deal. Like I mentioned before, transitions are a time when habits, good and bad, get disrupted. I used to get up and do a video and jump on the train and go to work. When I lost my job I stopped doing that and didn’t create a new habit that would support making those videos.

I also lost track of the difference I was making in people’s lives.

So we’re all going through a huge disruption in our lives. Habits have three parts. Triggers, Actions and Rewards. The trigger might be feeling anxious, Action is eating cookies, Reward is a sugar rush. No thinking involved. Good habits work the same way. My friend Marty runs with his dog every day and has done so for years so the Trigger might be waking up or his dog whining at him, Action is running, Reward is exercise endorphins.

So my Make a video trigger was getting up to go to work. Once that was removed, the videos stopped happening. Most of us are living in a new situation where all the normal triggers are gone. We’re not going to the office. We’re not meeting friends at a bar. Thus most of our triggers are gone. We have a chance to remake our habits. This is a great opportunity to change normal behaviors that bug you and add in good habits.

Like doing a daily Facecast for me.

Another thing I want to point out is that you make a difference. I make a difference. We all make a difference to the people around us. It can be good or bad but we, you, affect people. I invite you to take responsibility for that. If you focus on bringing joy and connection to other people, you will be rewarded in kind, ten times over.

Instead of social distancing, think of it as distant socializing. Call people. Skype people. Get in touch and check-in.

Thanks for watching. See you tomorrow!