Work = Love?

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One of the things that bind most humans together is that they work. It’s in our DNA and part of our survival instincts – and it also pays the rent.

There have been days when work has been less-than-uplifting that I’ve had to remind myself, “That’s why they call it a J.O.B.”

And that is why I was drawn to Tim Herrera’s great piece, “Learning to Love Your Job.” Here’s how he begins:

Do you like what you do?

Now, I don’t mean that in the broad sense of wondering whether you’re on the right career path. I mean on a day-to-day basis, if you thought about every single task your job entails, could you name the parts that give you genuine joy? What about the tasks you hate?

It’s an odd question. We don’t often step back to ask whether the small, individual components of our job actually make us happy.

But maybe we should. As many as a third of United States workers say they don’t feel engaged at work. The reasons vary widely, and everyone’s relationship with work is unique. But there are small ways to improve any job, and those incremental improvements can add up to major increases in job satisfaction.

A study from the Mayo Clinic found that physicians who spend about 20 percent of their time doing “work they find most meaningful are at dramatically lower risk for burnout.” But here’s what’s fascinating: Anything beyond that 20 percent has a marginal impact, as “spending 50 percent of your time in the most meaningful area is associated with similar rates of burnout as 20 percent.”

In other words: You don’t need to change everything about your job to see substantial benefits. A few changes here and there can be all you need.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Ordinary = Exceptional

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It’s fall, the season that, to some, is the most “ordinary” of the four. But for some of us,  it is the most memorable season, because things change in the most visible way.

That’s why I was drawn to Pico Iyer’s piece, “The Beauty of the Ordinary.” He looks at the seasons from the perspective of someone living in Japan. There, the seasons are looked upon with near-reverence – almost as a religion. Here is how he begins:

Falling in love is the easiest thing in the world. But staying in love, we all know, can be one of the hardest. How do we keep the glow, the sense of unending discovery, alive once we’ve pledged ourselves to familiarity? And how to sustain the sense of anticipation that deliciously quickened the honeymoon? Put differently, how might we be enchanted by discovery’s opposite — routine — and find in constancy a stimulation as rich as novelty provides? The story of every marriage, perhaps, is the story of what happens after the endless summer ends.

“To learn something new,” the wise explorer John Burroughs noted, “take the path that you took yesterday.” A knowing friend in New York sent me that line when he heard that I’d spent 26 years in the same anonymous suburb in western Japan, most of that time traveling no farther than my size 8 feet can carry me. I’d arrived in Kyoto, from Midtown Manhattan, just out of my 20s and alight with everything this wildly unfathomable place could teach me. I never dreamed that I’d come to find delight in everything that is everyday and seemingly without interest in my faraway neighborhood, nothing special.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Forgiveness

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Ask most people if they are willing to forgive others transgressions, their all-but-immediate response is, “yes.”

However, many add a caveat: “but, unless…” You can fill in the rest. That’s why I was drawn to a recent piece, “Taylor Swift, Philosopher of Forgiveness.” Here’s how it begins:

Taylor Swift is on fire. She just dropped her seventh album, “Lover,” and it’s already the top seller of 2019. She also dropped some wisdom that deserves to be as widely appreciated as her music.

In an interview on Aug. 25 on “CBS Sunday Morning,” Ms. Swift spoke up about our culture’s obsession with forgiveness. “People go on and on about you have to forgive and forget to move past something,” she said. “No, you don’t.”

She’s right. You don’t have to forgive and forget to move on. And sometimes, you shouldn’t forgive or forget. You should resent.

To see why, imagine that you’ve been wronged. Let’s say Kanye West just busted up your big moment onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards. So what? Why not be Jay-Z and brush the dirt off your shoulder? The reason — as many philosophers will tell you — is that wrongdoing sends a demeaning message that shouldn’t go unchallenged.

As the philosopher Jeffrie Murphy explains, that message is typically something like “I count, but you don’t.” Or “I am here up high, and you are there down below.” Or “I can use you for my purposes.”

Another philosopher, Pamela Hieronymi, teaches that the message implicit in wrongdoing poses a threat. The threat is that the message is true, that it’s O.K. for Kanye West to ruin your big moment, because you don’t matter as much as he does.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Do It Now?

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We all want to get things done, right? The easy answer is, “yes, of course.” We all do what needs doing right away, right? Hmmmm…maybe not such a good answer.

We all procrastinate. I know I do, but until I read an article, “Why You Procrastinate and How to Break the Habit,” I didn’t know WHY I did. Now I do. Here’s how the article begins:

If you’ve ever put off an important task by, say, alphabetizing your spice drawer, you know it wouldn’t be fair to describe yourself as lazy.

After all, alphabetizing requires focus and effort — and hey, maybe you even went the extra mile to wipe down each bottle before putting it back. And it’s not like you’re hanging out with friends or watching Netflix. You’re cleaning — something your parents would be proud of! This isn’t laziness or bad time management. This is procrastination.

If procrastination isn’t about laziness, then what is it about?

Etymologically, “procrastination” is derived from the Latin verb procrastinare — to put off until tomorrow. But it’s more than just voluntarily delaying. Procrastination is also derived from the ancient Greek word akrasia — doing something against our better judgment.

“It’s self-harm,” said Dr. Piers Steel, a professor of motivational psychology at the University of Calgary and the author of “The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done.

That self-awareness is a key part of why procrastinating makes us feel so rotten. When we procrastinate, we’re not only aware that we’re avoiding the task in question, but also that doing so is probably a bad idea. And yet, we do it anyway.

“This is why we say that procrastination is essentially irrational,” said Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield. “It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences.”

She added: “People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.”

Want more? You can read the full article here

Happiness

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Who doesn’t want to be happy? Even those of us who count ourselves as generally happy seem to always be looking for more.

That’s why I was drawn to a piece by Richard Friedman, “A Swimmer’s Guide to Happiness.” Here is part of what he shares:

Research shows that thinking too much about how to be happy actually backfires and undermines well-being. This is in part because all that thinking consumes a fair amount of time, and is not itself enjoyable.

The researchers behind this study, called “Vanishing Time in the Pursuit of Happiness,” randomly assigned subjects to one of two tasks: One group was asked to write down 10 things that could make them become happier, while the other wrote 10 things that demonstrated that they were already happy.

The subjects were then asked to what extent they felt time was slipping away and how happy they felt at that moment. Those prompted to think about how they could become happier felt more pressed for time and significantly less happy.

This jibes with the argument the journalist Ruth Whippman makes in her 2016 book “America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks.” Trying too hard to be happy — downloading mindfulness apps, taking yoga classes, reading self-help books — mostly just stresses us out, she writes. So what should we do instead? Maybe simply hang out with some friends, doing something we like to do together: “Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life.”

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Who Brings Us AI?

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When someone mentions artificial intelligence – AI – we typically think of some Silicon Valley tech titan dressed in jeans and an ever-so-sheik sport coat.

But as they say, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Few of us understand how enormous troves of data needed to have AI gets assembled and crunched.

Cade Metz helps us understand the unseen underbelly of the tech industry. It’s a revealing – and troubling – look at the cost of doing business to get that next cool app. Here’s how she begins:

BHUBANESWAR, India — Namita Pradhan sat at a desk in downtown Bhubaneswar, India, about 40 miles from the Bay of Bengal, staring at a video recorded in a hospital on the other side of the world.

The video showed the inside of someone’s colon. Ms. Pradhan was looking for polyps, small growths in the large intestine that could lead to cancer. When she found one — they look a bit like a slimy, angry pimple — she marked it with her computer mouse and keyboard, drawing a digital circle around the tiny bulge.

She was not trained as a doctor, but she was helping to teach an artificial intelligence system that could eventually do the work of a doctor.

Ms. Pradhan was one of dozens of young Indian women and men lined up at desks on the fourth floor of a small office building. They were trained to annotate all kinds of digital images, pinpointing everything from stop signs and pedestrians in street scenes to factories and oil tankers in satellite photos.

A.I., most people in the tech industry would tell you, is the future of their industry, and it is improving fast thanks to something called machine learning. But tech executives rarely discuss the labor-intensive process that goes into its creation. A.I. is learning from humans. Lots and lots of humans.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Charisma

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How many times have you heard someone say: “He (or she) has charisma.” Certain people seem to have it, while most of us think we don’t.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but all of us need at least a little bit of charisma. It’s how we influence people and get along in the world.

That’s why I found this article, “Becoming Charismatic, One Step at a Time,” so fascinating. Here’s how it begins:

Ask people to name someone they find charming and the answers are often predictable. There’s James Bond, the fictional spy with a penchant for shaken martinis. Maybe they’ll mention Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton or a historical figure, like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. Now ask the same people to describe, in just a few seconds, what makes these charmers so likable.

It’s here, in defining what exactly charisma is, that most hit a wall. Instinctually, we know that we’re drawn to certain people more than others. Quantifying why we like them is an entirely different exercise.

The ancient Greeks described charisma as a “gift of grace,” an apt descriptor if you believe likability is a God-given trait that comes naturally to some but not others. The truth is that charisma is a learned behavior, a skill to be developed in much the same way that we learned to walk or practice vocabulary when studying a new language. Other desirable traits, like wealth or appearance, are undoubtedly linked to likability, but being born without either doesn’t preclude you from being charismatic.

For all the work put into quantifying charisma — and it’s been studied by experts through the ages, including Plato and those we talked to for this piece — there are still a lot of unknowns. There are, however, two undisputed truths.

The first is that we are almost supernaturally drawn to some people, particularly those we like. Though this is not always the case; we can just as easily be drawn in by a charismatic villain.

The second truth is that we are terrible at putting a finger on what it is that makes these people so captivating. Beyond surface-level observations — a nice smile, or the ability to tell a good story — few of us can quantify, in an instant, what makes charismatic people so magnetic.

Want more? You can read them here

Can You Do It All?

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Do you want to do it all? You’re not alone. Most of us have lofty goals – let alone New Year’s resolutions – regarding what we want to accomplish.

That’s tough to do in series – so we do them in parallel. In other words, we multitask. So how is that working for you? It doesn’t for me.

That’s why I was drawn to Daniel Willingham’s op-ed, “The High Price of Multitasking.” He nailed WHY it doesn’t work. Here’s how he began:

Not only do smartphones provide unprecedented access to information, they provide unprecedented opportunities to multitask. Any activity can be accompanied by music, selfies or social media updates. Of course, some people pick poor times to tweet or text, and lawmakers have stepped in. Forty-eight states have banned texting while driving. In Honolulu, it’s illegal to text or even look at your phone while crossing the street, and in the Netherlands they’ve banned texting while biking.

But legislation won’t proscribe all situations in which multitasking is unwise; you need to self-regulate. Understanding how the brain multitasks and why we find multitasking so appealing will help you gauge the hazard of pulling out your phone.

Multitasking feels like doing two things simultaneously, so it seems the danger lies in asking one mental process to do two incompatible things — for texting drivers, watching the screen and the road. A lot of lawmakers must think that way, because 20 states have instituted bans on driving using a hand-held phone while still allowing hands-free calls. Yet hands-free or hand-held makes no difference — they impair driving equivalently as far as external hazards go. Why?

You actually manipulate your phone only briefly for voice calls. The real problem is the toggling of attention between the conversation and the road. Even simple tasks can’t be done simultaneously; you switch between them, and that affects performance.

But people don’t multitask solely because they see no harm in it; they perceive benefits. They say they multitask for efficiency, to fight boredom or to keep up with social media.

Music, likely the most common variety of multitasking, is added to tasks because it heightens arousal (for example, your heart rate increases), making it easier to stick with a long drive or a tedious textbook. Music was once common on factory assembly lines; the British Broadcasting Corporation offered a radio program for this purpose, “Music While You Work,” from 1940 until 1967.

Thus, even if you fully appreciate the cognitive cost, you might tolerate it in exchange for the emotional lift. Parents disapprove when their child studies with deadmau5 blasting because they compare that with studying in silence. But the child calculates that without the music, he wouldn’t study.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Decide!

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Whether it’s procrastination – or something deeper – many of us have challenges deciding.

Our ancestors didn’t have this issue – just surviving was an issue.

Today, with our embarrassment of riches, we have SO many choices.

I don’t know if you have trouble deciding, but I do.

That’s why I found Susan Shain’s recent piece, “Making a Decision Doesn’t Have to Be So Hard,” so refreshing, and helpful. Here’s how she begins:

Should you order tacos or tikka masala? Stay at the hotel with the free breakfast or the one with all the succulents? Melt into the couch or drag yourself to happy hour?

If you’re like me, even the simplest decisions can make your pulse race. And when it comes to big, life-altering choices, the need to get it right (because life is short!), combined with ever-looming F.O.B.O. (fear of better options), can cause a state of near paralysis.

While this abundance of choice is a result of incredible privilege — not everyone has the freedom to select where they work or live, or how to spend their time or money — it can still be overwhelming. As Barry Schwartz, the author of “The Paradox of Choice,” said, “I’m reasonably confident we’re operating with far, far more options in most parts of our life than we need and that serve us.”

Here are five strategies for spending less time agonizing over decisions and more time appreciating the results….

Want more? You can read them here

 

Our Phones – Ourselves

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Are you reading this on your phone? It’s likely that you are and that your smart phone is such a constant companion that it is on your person 24/7.

Was this the plan when Steve Jobs first introduced this magical device? Not at all suggests Cal Newport. Here is how he began his insightful piece:

Smartphones are our constant companions. For many of us, their glowing screens are a ubiquitous presence, drawing us in with endless diversions, like the warm ping of social approval delivered in the forms of likes and retweets, and the algorithmically amplified outrage of the latest “breaking” news or controversy. They’re in our hands, as soon as we wake, and command our attention until the final moments before we fall asleep.

Steve Jobs would not approve.

In 2007, Mr. Jobs took the stage at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco and introduced the world to the iPhone. If you watch the full speech, you’ll be surprised by how he imagined our relationship with this iconic invention, because this vision is so different from the way most of us use these devices now.

In the remarks, after discussing the phone’s interface and hardware, he spends an extended amount of time demonstrating how the device leverages the touch screen before detailing the many ways Apple engineers improved the age-old process of making phone calls. “It’s the best iPod we’ve ever made,” Mr. Jobs exclaims at one point. “The killer app is making calls,” he later adds. Both lines spark thunderous applause. He doesn’t dedicate any significant time to discussing the phone’s internet connectivity features until more than 30 minutes into the address.

The presentation confirms that Mr. Jobs envisioned a simpler and more constrained iPhone experience than the one we actually have over a decade later. For example, he doesn’t focus much on apps. When the iPhone was first introduced there was no App Store, and this was by design. As Andy Grignon, an original member of the iPhone team, told me when I was researching this topic, Mr. Jobs didn’t trust third-party developers to offer the same level of aesthetically pleasing and stable experiences that Apple programmers could produce. He was convinced that the phone’s carefully designed native features were enough. It was “an iPod that made phone calls,” Mr. Grignon said to me.

Mr. Jobs seemed to understand the iPhone as something that would help us with a small number of activities — listening to music, placing calls, generating directions. He didn’t seek to radically change the rhythm of users’ daily lives. He simply wanted to take experiences we already found important and make them better.

The minimalist vision for the iPhone he offered in 2007 is unrecognizable today — and that’s a shame.

Under what I call the “constant companion model,” we now see our smartphones as always-on portals to information. Instead of improving activities that we found important before this technology existed, this model changes what we pay attention to in the first place — often in ways designed to benefit the stock price of attention-economy conglomerates, not our satisfaction and well-being.

Want more? You can read the full article here