Be Kind

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I recently took a great course on mindfulness meditation. In the last one of the 24-lesson video, the instructor suggested that the best way to sum up his 12 hours of instruction was to suggest that the world would be a better place if we all were just a bit kinder to each other.

That’s why I was stuck by David Brooks’ recent op-ed, “Kindness is a Skill.” While we all might have the intention of being kinder, we all could use some help in doing so. Here’s how he began:

I went into journalism to cover politics, but now I find myself in national marriage therapy.

Covering American life is like covering one of those traumatizing Eugene O’Neill plays about a family where everyone screams at each other all night and then when dawn breaks you get to leave the theater.

But don’t despair, I’m here to help. I’ve been searching for practical tips on how we can be less beastly to one another, especially when we’re negotiating disagreements. I’ve found some excellent guides — like “Negotiating the Nonnegotiable” by Daniel Shapiro, “The Rough Patch” by Daphne de Marneffe and “The Art of Gathering” by Priya Parker — and I’ve compiled some, I hope, not entirely useless tips.

He offers 14 tips. Here is my favorite: The best icebreaker to start such a gathering, have all participants go around the room and describe how they got their names. That gets them talking about their family, puts them in a long-term frame of mind and illustrates that most people share the same essential values.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Markets!

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Suddenly economic populism is all the rage. In his now famous monologue on Fox News, Tucker Carlson argued that American elites are using ruthless market forces to enrich themselves and immiserate everyone else. On the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are telling left-wing versions of the same story.

In an era of tribal emotionalism, you’re always going to be able to make a splash reducing a complex problem to a simple narrative that separates the world into the virtuous us, and the evil them (the bankers). But I’d tell a third story about our current plight, which is neither economic populism nor free-market fundamentalism.

My story begins in the 1970s. The economy was sick. Corporations were bloated. Unions got greedy. Tax rates were too high and regulations were too tight. We needed to restore economic dynamism.

So in 1978, Jimmy Carter signed a tax bill that reduced individual and corporate tax rates. Senator Ted Kennedy led the effort to deregulate the airline and trucking industries. When he came into office, Ronald Reagan took it up another notch.

It basically worked. We’ve had four long economic booms since then. But there was an interesting cultural shift that happened along the way. In a healthy society, people try to balance a whole bunch of different priorities: economic, social, moral, familial. Somehow over the past 40 years economic priorities took the top spot and obliterated everything else. As a matter of policy, we privileged economics and then eventually no longer could even see that there could be other priorities.

For example, there’s been a striking shift in how corporations see themselves. In normal times, corporations serve a lot of stakeholders — customers, employees, the towns in which they are located. But these days corporations see themselves as serving one purpose and one stakeholder — maximizing shareholder value. Activist investors demand that every company ruthlessly cut the cost of its employees and ruthlessly screw its hometown if it will raise the short-term stock price. Want more? You can read the full article here

Rut Cure

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Ever been in a rut? I know I have. It happens to all of us. You lose your motivation and just get stuck. Most of us usually climb out – but if often takes longer than we like.

That’s why I was taken by a short piece entitled, “How to Stay Motivated When You’re in a Rut.” Here’s how it began:

It’s few weeks after the holidays, and we’re all feeling the same thing: “It’s been Saturday for about 3 days and thus, I’m not prepared for Monday.”

But that’s O.K.! Whether holiday-induced or not, the occasional sluggishness of having to put in effort at work when you’re not feeling it is a perfectly natural part of having a job, like feeling burnout or feeling stalled in your career. No one bats 1.000, and no one is motivated every workday of the year.

The situation isn’t hopeless, though, and don’t write off today as a loss. Even if you’re not feeling 100 percent, there are ways to structure your day today — or any day you’re feeling a lack of motivation — to maximize your productivity. (Or, at least, minimize your losses.)

Want more? You can read the full article here

Bouncing Back

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Does this sound familiar: You’re at work, or undertaking an important home project? Everything starts off on track, “stuff” happens and it all unravels, sometimes disastrously.

The ability to roll with the punches, bounce back, and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat is often labeled “resiliency.” I suspect most of us would like to be more resilient. I know I would.

That’s why I was drawn to a recent article, “How to Be More Resilient.” It offered some great tips. Here’s how it began:

I’ve long wondered why some people get ill in the face of stress and adversity — either mentally or physically — while others rarely succumb.

We know, for example, that not everyone gets PTSD after exposure to extreme trauma, while some people get disabling depression with minimal or no stress. Likewise, we know that chronic stress can contribute to physical conditions like heart disease and stroke in some people, while others emerge unscathed. What makes people resilient, and is it something they are born with or can it be acquired later in life?

New research suggests that one possible answer can be found in the brain’s so-called central executive network, which helps regulate emotions, thinking and behavior. In a study published last month, Gregory Miller, a psychologist at Northwestern University, and colleagues there and elsewhere used M.R.I. to study the brains of a racially diverse group of 218 people, ages 12 to 14, living in violent neighborhoods in Chicago. They reported that the youths who had higher levels of functional connectivity in the central executive network had better cardiac and metabolic health than their peers with lower levels of connectivity.

What Dr. Miller and his colleagues discovered was that when neighborhood homicide rates went up, the young people’s cardiometabolic risk — as measured by obesity, blood-pressure and insulin levels, among other variables — also increased, but only in youths who showed lower activity in this brain network. This was true even when the researchers controlled for other factors, like psychological distress, economic status, race or ethnicity. No link was found between brain connectivity and cardiometabolic health for youths in neighborhoods with low levels of violence.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Timefulness

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Like an increasing number of people, I find mindfulness meditation is a great way to live in the moment, stop reliving the past and stop being anxious about the future.

That’s why I was taken by a book review of a new book, “Timefulness,” which has as its central argument that,

With mindfulness, the goal is to focus on the present. With timefulness, it’s to see the present as a tiny detail in a complex grand sum. Here is how the piece begins:

At midnight, the glittering crystal ball will drop in Times Square. Revelers around the world will straggle home, nod off, and greet the new year with a dullness caused by sleep deprivation, overstimulation and inebriation. This behavior suggests that we give higher priority to the final few hours of the past than the first few hours of the future—perhaps because endings are more concrete than beginnings, and regrets sharper than resolutions.

Geologists don’t think this way, particularly Marcia Bjornerud, author of “Timefulness,” a profound meditation on the richness, depth and entanglements of geologic time. Her brief book on a big subject puts the ball drop in proper perspective by reminding us that the Gregorian calendar is anachronistic and by elegantly condensing the landmark tomes of geology, from James Hutton’s “Theory of the Earth” (1788) to John McPhee’s “Annals of the Former World” (1998).

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Work-Life Balance

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This is the time of year for New Year’s resolutions, and since the majority of adult Americans work, many of us make promises about work, mainly to be calm and not frazzled.

That’s why a piece, “4 Reasons We’re Frazzled at Work,” caught my eye. As I read the article, I found myself saying, “So that’s why!” Here’s how the writer began:

Your better mind knows exactly how to manage your time better at work but a primal, seemingly uncontrollable urge to do the opposite overtakes you.

You know you should say no when you’re asked to take on that new project, but you say yes. Or you know your boss said your report was good enough, but you work until midnight perfecting it. Or you’re just stuck — wanting to do better but unsure that trying will help — so you do nothing.

If you are frustrated with your seemingly irrational behavior, the root issue may be deep subconscious programming known as your “attachment style.” Your attachment style dictates how you relate to other people, particularly in situations that trigger stress.

The good news is that many work places are providing on-site yoga classes for their employees. Here’s how a recent piece put it:

I have always been a type-A person — I like structure, planning and efficiency — and while that has certainly helped me get a lot done, it has also sometimes pushed me to do things too quickly, to be impatient and to miss opportunities to learn through listening.

Yoga has been the counter to that motor — even when I am upside-down in a headstand. The practice of yoga involves breathing, meditation and postures, sometimes physically challenging ones and sometimes poses that are challenging in their simplicity — like just being still. I have been practicing yoga for nearly two decades, after being drawn to the physical comfort the stretches brought me as a teenager, and completed my 200-hour teaching training in 2011. In recent years, I have brought that practice to The New York Times, where I have worked for over four years and am now a director of communications.

This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full articles here and here.

Why Gig?

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As you hold your smart phone and consider how it has changed your life, you could be inclined to think that the tech industry alone has created the gig economy. But you would be wrong.

The gig economy is enabled by technology, but technology didn’t create it, it was a result of the insecure nature of work today – which is a far cry from baby-boomers’ parents who went to work for one company and retired at 65 with their gold watch.

I read one of the best explanations of this change in piece entitled: “The Gig Economy Isn’t the iPhone’s Fault. Here’s how it began:

When we learn about the Industrial Revolution in school, we hear a lot about factories, steam engines, maybe the power loom. We are taught that technological innovation drove social change and radically reshaped the world of work.

Likewise, when we talk about today’s economy, we focus on smartphones, artificial intelligence, apps. Here, too, the inexorable march of technology is thought to be responsible for disrupting traditional work, phasing out the employee with a regular wage or salary and phasing in independent contractors, consultants, temps and freelancers — the so-called gig economy.

But this narrative is wrong. The history of labor shows that technology does not usually drive social change. On the contrary, social change is typically driven by decisions we make about how to organize our world. Only later does technology swoop in, accelerating and consolidating those changes.

This insight is crucial for anyone concerned about the insecurity and other shortcomings of the gig economy. For it reminds us that far from being an unavoidable consequence of technological progress, the nature of work always remains a matter of social choice. It is not a result of an algorithm; it is a collection of decisions by corporations and policymakers.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Selling You

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Remember when there were salesmen – perhaps those people who went door-to-door selling vacuum cleaners – and the rest of us? That line is now blurred – and perhaps completely erased,

 

I had that inkling as I got more and more requests for blurbs, book reviews, likes, follows etc., but wasn’t able to really clarify what was going on until I read a piece, “We’re all in Sales Now.” Here’s how it began:

 

There is something about the consumer madness of the holiday season that makes me think of my friend Rebecca’s mother. When I was in middle school, she had a side hustle selling acrylic-rhinestone bug brooches. The jewelry was hard to move on its merits — even for the 1980s it was staggeringly ugly. But what she lacked in salable product, she made up for in sheer selling stamina. Every sleepover, school fair or birthday party, out would come the tray of bejeweled grasshoppers and stag beetles, glinting with Reagan-era menace.

Presumably, someone was making money from this venture — some proto-Trump barking orders from his tax haven — but it certainly didn’t seem to be Rebecca’s mother, whose sales pitches took on an ever more shrill note of desperation.

Soon she had given up even the basic social pretense that we might actually want the brooches. The laws of supply and demand morphed seamlessly into the laws of guilt and obligation, and then into the laws of outright malice, mirroring the trajectory of capitalism itself.

At that time, when naked hawking to your friends was still considered an etiquette blunder, the sales pitches by Rebecca’s mother felt embarrassing — as gaudy and threatening to the social ecosystem as a purple rhinestone daddy longlegs. But 30 years later, at the height of the gig economy, when the foundation of working life has apparently become selling your friends things they don’t want, I look back to that raw need in Rebecca’s mother’s eyes with something terrifyingly approaching recognition.

Want more? You can read the full article here

President George H.W. Bush

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The well-deserved tributes to President George H.W. Bush have dominated the news for the past week. One article leads my list as words that best captured what he meant to our country. Here’s how it began:

Historians will measure the presidency of George H.W. Bush in familiar ways — by how well or poorly he managed the major domestic and international challenges of his time, his leadership qualities, the moral and social legacies he left for future generations.

Mr. Bush’s death on Friday is also a moment to recall a less quarrelsome political order, when relations with traditional allies were more cordial than combative, when government attracted people of talent and integrity for whom public service offered a purpose higher than self-enrichment, when the Republican Party, though slowly slipping into the tentacles of zealots like Newt Gingrich, still offered room for people with pragmatic policies and sensible dispositions.

This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

Decision Time!

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We make decisions every day – dozens, scores, or even hundreds. Our brains are constantly juggling a dizzying array of choices. Somehow we do this with ease.

 

But it’s the big decisions that often trip us up and leave us befuddled. That’s why Steven Johnson’s book: “How we Make the Decisions that Matter the Most” is being wildly hailed as a breakthrough in helping us cope with the act of deciding (see the review of his book here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/02/books/review/steven-johnson-farsighted.html).

Johnson shared the highlights of his suggestions in a recent piece in the New York Times. Here’s how he began:

In July 1838, Charles Darwin, then 29, sat down to make a decision that would alter the course of his life. The decision he was wrestling with was not related to scientific questions about the origins of species. It was a different kind of decision — existential as well, but of a more personal nature: Should he get married?

Darwin’s method for making this decision would be recognizable to many of us today: He made a list of pros and cons. Under the heading “not marry” he noted the benefits of remaining a bachelor, including “conversation of clever men at clubs”; under “marry” he included “children (if it please God)” and “charms of music and female chitchat.”

Even if some of Darwin’s values seem dated, the journal entry is remarkable for how familiar it otherwise feels. Almost two centuries later, even as everything else in the world has changed, the pros-versus-cons list remains perhaps the only regularly used technique for adjudicating a complex decision. Why hasn’t the science of making hard choices evolved?

In fact, it has, but its insights have been underappreciated. Over the past few decades, a growing multidisciplinary field of research — spanning areas as diverse as cognitive science, management theory and literary studies — has given us a set of tools that we can use to make better choices. When you face a complex decision that requires a long period of deliberation, a decision whose consequences might last for years or even decades, you are no longer limited to Darwin’s simple list.

Want more? You can read the full article here