Smile and wear sunglasses

One of the many doctors who I’ve gotten to know through my work with Yale New Haven Hospital was explaining the science of biofeedback to me.

It’s fascinating.

Biofeedback is the idea that your brain is always monitoring and sensing what is happening in your body, and it reviews the information being received and uses it to decide how it should feel about the world.

For example, when you feel happy, you smile. However, it works in reverse, too. When you smile - whether you’re happy or not - your brain detects your smile and says, “I’m smiling. I must be happy.”

Research shows smiling gives the brain as much pleasure as 2000 bars of chocolate or $25,000.

So if you’re feeling blue, smile. A simple smile can actually change the way you’re feeling.

Sunglasses oddly have a similar effect. Squinting when a light is bright - like on a sunny day - causes you to flex the corrugator supercilii muscle, which causes you to look worried. Your brain reads these signals and thinks, “Oh no. Something must be wrong because I’m worried.”

Sunglasses reduce and/or eliminate the squinting completely, thereby eliminating the unintended effect.

I don’t wear sunglasses for the same reason I’ve never owned an umbrella or a watch. Less stuff makes my life less complicated. But maybe I need to rethink the sunglasses.

My doctor friend also explained to me that research seems to indicate that what you say can have a similarly profound impact on your mood, general disposition, energy levels, and more.

If someone asks you how you’re doing and you say, “I’m great,” you’re much more likely to actually feel great, even if you didn’t feel great prior to answering the question.

Conversely, if you’re a person who complains frequently or tends to speak negatively about yourself, others, or the world in general, you are much more likely to feel rotten. Speaking negativity results in actual feelings of negativity, and this can create an awful, endless feedback loop that becomes hard for folks to escape.

I think we all know people who seem trapped in a tragic loop like this. Regardless of their circumstances, every day is another impossible, unjust, depressing dip into reality for them.

Perhaps they are the victims of a negative feedback loop.

I’m not so sure abut this one. I tend to believe that most of these persistently negative people are just dumb, miserable, self-serving parasites who would choose to complain and speak poorly of others regardless of biofeedback, but I’m not a doctor.

What do I know?

smile.png

Physics and philosophy at bedtime

Before bed last night , Charlie, age 6 asks:

“When the Big Bang reverses and the universe compresses into a tiny dot again and then we have another Big Bang, will we all eventually get born again like this time, or will it be different?”

“That’s a big question,” Elysha said.

I wanted to say, “Who the hell has been teaching you physics and philosophy? Where in the hell did you learn enough to ask a question like that?”

Before I could say anything, Charlie answered his own question. “Probably not,” he said. "Probably not."

Charlie eventually told us that he was reading about the Big Bang in a book. Clara then reminded us that I had explained the Big Bang to both of them a few months ago. Charlie added that his babysitter, Kaia, had answered some questions about it, too.Before going to bed, I explained the possibility of entropy (let him go blow someone else’s mind) and touched on the theory of the multiverse.

But he’s only six years-old, so he might need a second lesson.

zNn9v4Y+RP+voT7V2SJm5w_thumb_d862.jpg

An answer to the stupid question, "How can it be so cold if global warming is real?"

Trump tweeted about the weather at least twice last week, calling into question climate change and global warming given the cold temperatures that have recently gripped the nation.

This is so stupid and so dangerous. Climate change is one of the greatest threat to our country. American intelligence agencies, including the Pentagon, have said so repeatedly.

This is no joke. Our inaction will cause enormous suffering for our grandchildren and great grandchildren.

And the science is clear and peer-reviewed. Seventeen of the warmest years on record have occurred in the last 18 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Isn’t that enough evidence? In the 169 years that we have been methodically recording global temperatures, the last 18 have been warmer than the previous 151. Beyond the mountains of data collected by climate scientists, isn’t that enough to convince even the most willfully ignorant that climate change is happening?

When faced with one of these climate-denying morons (like Trump) or someone who is honestly and naively questioning the science because of an especially harsh cold spell, this xkcd comic might be helpful:

xkcd-cold-weather-global-warming.jpg

They love themselves more than they love their children.

Greta Thunberg, age 15, is a climate activist who addressed the U.N. plenary last month in Katowice, Poland, condemning global inaction in the face of catastrophic climate change.

Thunberg was brilliant. She speak for four minutes. You should watch it. She is the calmest, angriest child I have ever seen.

Her most compelling argument is this:

“You say you love your children, but you are stealing their future from under their feet.”

It’s a fine point. When 99% of scientists agree that climate change is manmade and you continue to deny climate change, you are staking out the position, in no uncertain terms, that your life as it’s constituted today is far more important than every single generation of human being who follows you, including the children I am teaching in my classroom today.

If you are a political leader of any stripe with children and you continue to deny climate change and pass legislation that helps to perpetuate the coal, oil, and gas industries at the expense of green technologies, there is an absolute and undeniable financial limit on your love for your children.

Donald Trump, for example, opposes wind power because… it’s actually hard to understand why.

He claims that turbines kill thousands of birds, but in truth, the average wind turbine kills about five birds a year.

He argues that wind turbines are ineffective because when the wind doesn’t blow, you have no power. This, of course, demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the electrical grid and battery technology.

He claims that people living near wind turbines lose their minds because of the sound generated by the spinning blades, when in truth studies indicate that people living near turbines are rarely exposed to average sound levels beyond 45 decibels, which is akin to the hum of a refrigerator. 

In truth, Trump thinks wind turbines are ugly and has fought against the building of them near his properties for more than a decade.

He also recently tweeted about wishing for a little climate change on an especially cold day on the east coast because he doesn’t take the issue seriously and would prefer to dog-whistle his denial to his base.

Trump is willing to sacrifice his grandchildren’s future for personal preference, profits, and political gain. He’s no different than any politician who denies manmade climate change.

These are men and women who care more about their power, wealth, and lifestyle than the lives and wellbeing of their children and grandchildren.

Greta Thunberg is right. We are stealing her future through inaction. We are altering the habitability of our planet for ages to come.

She’s right to be angry. We should all be.

Let the anger go

Someone was annoyed with me this week because, in her words, "You're always great."

Sadly, she was not implying that I'm a persistently remarkable person.

In fact, I suspect that she thinks I’m not persistently remarkable in any way.

Instead, she was annoyed that I don't allow much to bother me. Petty disagreements, disputes over not-terribly-important issues, and even rude remarks tend to pass by me unnoticed.

When I'm asked how I'm doing, I almost always respond with something positive.

And why not? I’m a healthy, educated American doing several jobs that I love, and I get to come home every day to Elysha Dicks, two healthy, hilarious, intelligent children, and two cats who love me more than anyone else in the house.

I’m too damn lucky to be complaining about nonsense.

But here's the important part:

It turns out that not complaining may actually be contributing to my happiness. Studies show that the notion of anger catharsis is nonsense. The belief that expressing your anger prevents it from building up is simply an urban myth. In fact, expressing anger related to minor, fleeting annoyances just amplifies those bad feelings, while not expressing anger often allows it to dissipate.

Research shows that the more a person ‘vents’ about their struggles, the more they report having had a bad day. Psychologist Brad J. Bushman, for example, concluded that venting increases anger and aggression. After studying the emotional responses of people using punching bags to exorcise their rage, he concluded that “doing nothing at all was more effective.”

Also, and just as important, nobody likes listening to a complainer. Persistent, purposeless complainers are often shunned by the people around them and eventually despised.

So yes, I’m great. Most of the time, in fact. Perhaps in part because I'm constantly telling people who are kind enough to ask how I'm doing that I'm great.

I don't have T-rex arms, but if I did, it would be for a very good reason.

One of my friends famously described me as a "neckless stump with legs for arms."

This wasn't nice, but when I use that description onstage to describe myself, it always gets a laugh, so I embrace it.

Anything for the laugh.  

Another friend watched me golfing one day and described me as having T-Rex arms. Short and stubby.

I have since proven that my arms are appropriately proportioned to my body.

Sadly, the T-rex comment has stuck, so even though I have taken the measurements and proven him wrong, I still hear this less funny insult from time to time. 

So now... good news. The discovery of a new dinosaur in Argentina, which has arms similar to the T-rex, has scientists convinced that these arms weren't just useless appendages that evolution forgot to eliminate but important parts of the dinosaur's anatomy. 

"The more dinosaurs we find, the more it is becoming clear that many theropods reduced their forelimbs. It is a recurring pattern," said Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at University of Edinburgh

The purpose for these short, stumpy arms?

"I think there is good evidence that the arms got smaller as the head got larger, so the head was taking over many of the duties that the arms once had, like procuring and processing food. But they must have still been doing something, or else evolution would probably have just gotten rid of them, the same way snakes lost their legs when their legs no longer served a purpose."    

So if I had short and stumpy arms (which I don't), they would probably serve some extremely useful purpose related to a larger head size (I do have a large head) that has yet to be determined.

All of this is moot, of course, because my arms are perfectly proportionate to my body in every way. Regardless of what my friends my say.  

Not quite immortality, but 95 is a decent start.

If you know me at all, you know that an enormous part of my mental energy is directed at my relentless fear of death. 

It is more constant and overwhelming than you could ever imagine.

And perhaps for good reasons. Two near-death experiences (one and two) involving paramedics and CPR and an armed robbery that resulted in a gun to my head and the trigger being repeatedly pulled might understandably change a person's view of death. 

As a result, my hope is for immortality. My plan is to never die. While this may seem ludicrous, my ability to believe in its possibility is necessary to get me through each day without collapsing into an existential meltdown. 

So here's some good news in that regard:

Two researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have designed a test that utilizes the eight most predictive questions related to American life expectancy to determine a person's probable lifespan. “These are the most important risk factors that we have solid evidence for,” says Lyle Ungar, professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania.

He adds: “If you’re in a happy marriage, you will tend to live longer. That’s perhaps as important as not smoking, which is to say: huge. So feel free to give yourself a little bump if you’ve got a happy relationship."

I took the test, and I was pleased to see that my life expectancy - before the happy marriage bump (which I have in spades) - is 95.

Not quite immortality, but perhaps enough years for the scientists to find the magic elixir.

Or at least to find a way to download my consciousness into some hard drive somewhere, which would be good enough for me.  

I hate broccoli and kale and cabbage, and the reason is science. Maybe.

My least favorite vegetable is broccoli. It is unpalatable. 

It's followed closely by kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. I hate them all. 

I would like to like them. I really would. But I don't. I can't imagine why anyone likes these green, leafy monstrosities.

Yesterday, I may have figured out why I hate these vegetables so much. 

It turns out that all of these vegetables were genetically modified from a single plant. Over the generations, farmers and botanists manipulated a single plant in order to create all of the vegetables that I despise the most. 

That plant: Wild mustard.

And what is the only food that am I allergic to?

Mustard.

No wonder I hate those leafy piles of garbage. 

Scientists have already found evidence that that that broccoli (and its leafy cousins) are actually toxic to more than a billion people worldwide because of a component inside the vegetable that inhibits thyroid function, and that these people also find broccoli unpalatable.

Is it too much of a leap to presume that I find these food unpalatable because of their link to a food that causes me to break out in hives and compromises my respiration ?

It's a good reminder to all the food snobs of the world (and there are a lot of you) that taste is not a choice. We cannot control the foods that we like and don't like, and that if you enjoy the taste of many, many foods, you probably have fewer taste buds than a person like me - a confirmed super taster - who doesn't like a lot of foods.  

More importantly, perhaps my dislike for so many foods is my body's way of protecting me from their adverse effects. 

The tragedy of the philtrum: Join me in elevating it to its proper status in the American lexicon.

The philtrum is the space on your face between your nose and your mouth. It’s that vertical groove that drops from the nose and to the lips. It’s the place where hipsters grow mustaches and noses drip in the winter. You probably didn’t know this. Or if you did, you recognized the word but probably couldn’t have retrieved it from your memory banks without prompting. Correct?

The software that I am using to write this post doesn’t even recognize philtrum as a real word.

Think about that:

We can identify every other spot on our face. Mouth, nose, chin, cheeks, nostrils, lips, forehead, temples, eyes, eyebrows, hairline, jowls. But the spot on our face that is arguably smack dab in its center is forgotten. Ignored. Unknown.

The philtrum is the He Who Should Not Be Named part of our body, and yet it’s out in the open every day, looked upon by every person to whom we speak.

image

The philtrum, people. It’s been left out of the American lexicon far too long.

Why is this? Have our teachers failed us? Have our parents left the philtrum out of the conversation for a reason? Is there an anti- philtrum conspiracy that seeks to keep this central part of the body hidden in the shadows?

Is this the result of secret philtrum shame?

The philtrum. You probably touch it one hundred times a day, yet most of us have never used the word in our lives. We have probably said the words vagina and penis ten thousand times for every one utterance of the word philtrum.

The philtrum. Let us ignore it no longer. If you are as passionate about the philtrum as I am – and I can’t imagine any reason why you might not be – go forth today and spread the news of its name like you might spread the news that your child has been born.

Let the philtrum be your baby. Shout its heretofore unknown name from the rooftops of the world.

Or at least just tell a few people what it’s called, so we can end the plague of philtrum ignorance.

I think my wife married me to compensate for her lack of a sense of direction.

I’ve always been able to navigate well without a map.

Years ago, in a time before GPS, I brought Elysha – who was still my girlfriend – to Rhode Island to visit my mother. When we arrived at my mother’s building, I suddenly remembered that she had moved across town just a week before. 

In the distance, I could see my mother’s new building, a tiny speck on the horizon. We climbed back into the car, and using nothing more than my sense of direction (mostly the position of the sun), I found my way to her new home.

image

Elysha, who is directionally challenged, couldn’t believe that I had navigated across town without a map and had managed to find my mother’s home. This is a woman who once drove halfway across the state of Connecticut, stopped for a cup of coffee, and then drove almost all the way back home before realizing that she was heading in the wrong direction.

When she told me about this, I asked why she hadn’t noticed that the position of the sun was reversed as she drove in the wrong direction.

I think she wanted to punch me. 

But as we pulled into the parking lot at my mother’s building that day, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen her more impressed with me. I sometimes think that was the day she decided to marry me. My skills, in light of her deficiencies, were just too good to pass up.

It turns out that this disparity in our senses of direction is probably biological and therefore unavoidable. Scientists recently located the part of the human brain where our sense of direction is located and have determined that the strength and reliability of these ‘homing signals’ in the human brain vary among people and can predict navigational ability.

It turns out that my brain is just better than my wife’s brain.

Stupid people think they’re smart, and smart people think they’re not. Most important: They can’t help it. This explains everything.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias that causes incompetent people to believe they know more than they think they know.

Unskilled individuals suffer from a false sense of superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is the result of the inability of the unskilled to recognize their own ineptitude.

If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent. The skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.

—David Dunning

Conversely, highly competent individuals tend to underestimate their relative competence, falsely assuming that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.

image

If this is true (and the research seems to support these conclusions), this explains almost everything.

Ignorant people can’t avoid thinking that they are smart.

Zealots, fanatics, ideologues, judgmental family members, Fox News pundits, preachy douchebags, incompetent politicians, Biblical literalists, New York Jets fans, and the like are trapped in a world where it’s impossible for them realize that they are ignorant because they are ignorant.

image

This makes their stupidity so much more understandable.

I can see it now:

Some idiot will be spouting off against gay marriage, or trying to explain how vaccines are dangerous, or insisting that backing into a parking spot makes sense. In the past, I might have argued these points. Tried to change the person’s mind. Defended the truth.

Now I will simply nod my head, smile, turn to my wife, and whisper, “Dunning-Kruger. Poor thing.” 

No longer will I have to wonder if a person actually believes the nonsense that he or she is spewing. They do. And they can’t help it, because they are incompetent.

The best part of the Dunning-Kruger effect the man who inspired the initial study. 

McArthur Wheeler was a man who robbed two banks in 1995 after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, as lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras.

image

David Dunning and Justin Kruger heard about this man and wondered how stupidity of that magnitude is even possible.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is how. Poor guy.

Arrogance may be the perfect replacement to an extra hour or two of sleep

Some fascinating research seems to indicate that dwelling on how tired you are might actually make you more tired, and your perception of the quality of your sleep (regardless of reality) can impact your performance the following day.

I’ve always argued that one of the reasons that I’m able to sleep fewer hours than most people is my ability to sleep efficiently. I am asleep within a minute of closing my eyes each night, I don’t toss and turn throughout the night, and when I awake, I am instantly out of bed.

There is no wasted time in bed. I sleep, and then I leave. There is not lounging in bed in the morning. No book reading or television watching. I may only be in my bed for about four or five hours each night, but I am asleep for all of those hours.

image

Many (including my wife) think that my “efficient sleep” argument is nonsense.

It turns out that even if it’s nonsense, simply believing that it’s true may benefit me, thus making it true.

Huzzah.

My possibly petulant “I told you so” climate change Kickstarter idea: I need your feedback. Am I an idiot?

Earlier in the week, I wrote about the sound byte being used by Republicans in response to questions about the existence of climate change:

“I’m not a scientist.”

Variations of this ridiculous statement include:

“The science isn’t all there yet.”

“I’ve heard arguments from both sides of the scientific aisle.”

House Speaker John Boehner: “Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change. But I am astute enough to understand that every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs.”

image

Here’s the thing:

When a politician tells us that he does not believe in climate change or does not accept that climate change is the result of human activity or can’t be certain enough about the science to take action, he or she is either lying or stupid. The science is simply too overwhelmingly in favor of manmade climate change for anyone with half a brain to deny it.

The latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) — a massive international effort to synthesized scientific knowledge on climate change from around the world — concluded with 95 percent certainty that the vast majority of the rise in global temperatures observed since the 1950s has been man-made. (Ninety-five percent is the same certainty that scientists assign to the assertion that cigarettes kill.)

It’s simply become impossible to deny climate change, which is why this “I am not a scientist” sound byte has come into fashion. Claim a lack of expertise and training and you don’t have to take a stand.

Convenient. Stupid but convenient. 

More than likely, these “I am not a scientist”  politicians are receiving campaign contribution from oil, coal, or natural gas companies and do not want that funding to dry up.

The largest contributors to John Boehner’s campaign, for example, are gas and oil companies.

But even those of us being paid by the fossil fuel companies to keep silent or plead ignorance know that climate change is real, and in the not-too-distant future, when sea levels rise to the point that the map begins to change and once valuable real estate is underwater, denying it will be even more difficult.

There will come a day when man made climate change will be undeniable by even the most ardent fossil fuel advocates.

My fear is that the politicians who are denying the existence of manmade climate change today will be forgotten tomorrow. Thanks to the short memories of the American people and the disregard for history, these men and women lie with impunity, knowing that they will no longer be in office and will probably be dead by the time large portions of southern Florida are underwater.

They are relying on the fact that history can be slippery and forgetful.

Ask an average American how many US Presidents have been assassinated while in office, and he or she will likely say two.

Just imagine: Two United States Presidents were murdered while in office after Lincoln’s assassination, and they have been all but forgotten.

image image

What does John Boehner have to fear when he lies about climate change? Who will ever remember his lies in light of everything else that is forgotten.

But in the not-to-distant future, my children, or perhaps my children’s children, will ask me what the hell we were doing when there was still time to reduce CO2 levels, impose a carbon tax, and make serious investments in green energy. They will want to know why we fiddled while Rome burned, and I want to be able to name names. I want to be able to tell them the names of the liars who took no action and impeded the action of others in the face of over whelming scientific evidence. I want those names etched in history.

So my Kickstarter idea:

I’d like to publish a book entitled:

United States Politicians in 2015 Who Denied the Existence of Manmade Climate Change Despite Overwhelming and Undeniable Scientific Evidence in Order to Further Their Political Careers At the Expense of Future Generations

Each page of this book will feature one of the politicians and their exact words in response to questions about climate change.

That’s it. Lying politicians and their exact words.

I’d like to print one billion of these books, to ensure that physical copies will exist for future historians, but one billion may be a little unrealistic. But I’d like to convince as many people as possible to purchase this book, and to also have the book logged in the United States Library of Congress.

I want people to place this book, which would be handsomely bound, on their family’s bookshelf alongside their copies of The Bible and Huckleberry Finn. I want this book to become a family heirloom. Something passed down from generation to generation.

I want this book read when a father explains to a son that the Des Moines Dolphins were once known as the Miami Dolphins, before Miami was underwater.  

image

Ideally, I’d love to see a granite monument with these politician's names etched into its side, added to yearly like the Stanley Cup, but I’m an author and books are my thing. But if a sculpture is interested in pursuing this project, I’d be more than willing to back it as well.   

One of my stretch goals would be to have one of these books printed on a material other than paper. Something that will last a thousand years or more and be kept on display in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Maybe thin sheets of gold? Or platinum? Whatever the scientists suggest. Because I may not be a scientist, but I trust them to tell me what material makes the most sense for this project.

So my questions:

Is this a crazy idea?

Would it be ultimately pointless?

Would the Kickstarter be unsuccessful?

Is this merely my way of publishing a petulant, historical “I told you so” that will change nothing?

Would people support something like this?

Would the money be better spent supporting climate change activism or green energy research?

Should I try that monument idea even though I wouldn’t begin to know where to start?

What are your thoughts? I really want to know.

“I’m not a scientist” is a perfectly acceptable response to climate change questions, as long as you’re willing to acknowledge everything else that you are not.

Republicans who have found the denial of climate change too ridiculous and inconvenient to continue to perpetuate have turned to a new strategy. In response to questions about climate change, they have adopted a single sentence sound byte that they are repeating with disturbing regularity.

“I’m not a scientist.”

“I can’t comment on climate change because I’m not a scientist.”

“I’m not qualified to make determinations about climate change because I’m not a scientist.”

image

This remark might seem genuine and even thoughtful and measured if it wasn’t being repeated with the frequency of a car alarm in New York City. Republicans everywhere have clearly been given this phrase as a talking point and are using it with great abandon, as Stephen Colbert points out in this segment.

Despite the sudden and overwhelming use of this sound byte as a means of doing nothing about climate change, I’m willing to accept these Republican’s admission of ignorance as long as they are willing to also admit that they are also not:

  • economists
  • military strategists
  • healthcare policy professionals
  • gynecologists
  • teachers
  • Biblical scholars

If these white men (because that is primarily who they are) are unwilling to accept the findings of the vast majority of scientists who assert that climate change is both real and man made because they are not scientists themselves, then they must also renounce themselves from decisions involving the economy, monetary policy, the military, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, abortion, contraception, education, and any policy enacted in accordance or alignment with Biblical principles.

This is what Democrats need to be saying every time they hear a Republican say, “I’m not a scientist.”

“Yes, but you’re not an economist, either. And yet you seem to be acting like you know something about the economy.”

“Sure, but you’re not an expert on teaching or being a woman or fighting a war, either. So shut the hell up with it comes to those things, too.”

“If you can’t act on the advice of the majority of scientists because you yourself are not a scientist, then you can’t quote the Bible either when defending bans on same sex marriage or just your own bigotry. You probably haven’t even read the thing cover to cover, and even if you have, that doesn’t make you a Biblical scholar.”

I have yet to hear a Democrat respond aggressively or appropriately to this ridiculous sound byte. Perhaps Democrats have and I have yet to hear it, but I couldn’t find an adequate response through a Google search.

Stupidity cannot go unchallenged or it becomes doctrine.

And while people like Stephen Colbert do a fine job of bringing this issue to light and pointing out the lunacy and virus-like spread of these four words, talk show hosts are not enough. Elected leaders must stand up against this ridiculous blanket of words that climate change deniers and ignorers are suddenly wrapping themselves in. 

How I Function on Less Than 6 Hours of Sleep (and how you could, too)

Alexandra Damsker, CEO of Kira’s Kiss Desserts, explains how she is able to function on less than six hours of sleep.

As a person who also sleeps less than six hours every night, I utilize many of Damsker’s strategies, and I’d like to add a few of my own.

First, Damsker suggests reducing your television intake.

You sleep much better, and do much more work, when you don’t watch much TV. Your brain is actually less active watching TV than when it’s sleeping. This dullness is addictive.

I agree wholeheartedly. I watch less than an hour of television a day, and I find that the more time I spend engaged in reading, writing, conversing, playing with my kids, and exercising, the better I sleep.

Damsker also believes that her career is a contributing factor.

Most important, I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY LOVE WHAT I DO. I love it so much! I am so incredibly happy that I get to do my job. I have days that suck. I have strings of days that suck. But they are just sucky days — my life is still pretty spectacularly awesome.

I also feel that same sense of excitement about what I do. Between teaching, writing, storytelling, and the handful of other vocations that fill my day, I can’t wait to get out of bed every morning and get started. I often bemoan the fact that I need to go to bed at all. I’ve been known to tell my wife that I can’t wait for the next five hours to be over so I can get going again.

Once or twice a week I reverse nap for this very reason.

I don’t know many people who look forward to their days with as much enthusiasm. If you don’t love what you do, then do something about it. Make a plan. Set a goal. Begin the process of changing your life.   

I also have a few suggestions of my own:

1. Spend your time in bed sleeping and nothing more. When I climb into bed every night, I am asleep within a minute or two, and when I awake (usually on my own but sometimes with the help of a pet or an alarm), I am out of bed almost immediately.

The amount of time people spend lounging in bed in half-conscious states of unproductive slumber or (even worse) watching television is astounding. Oftentimes they will include this non-sleep time in their total amount of sleep, bringing five or six actual hours of sleep a lot closer to seven or eight perceived hours of sleep. But the number of hours spent in bed is not the same as the number of hours spent sleeping. The goal should be to spend nearly every minute in bed in meaningful, productive sleep.

image
image

2. Exercise regularly. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the more I exercise, the more energy I have and the less sleep I appear to need. A sedentary lifestyle results in the need for more sleep. 

And if you're experiencing an energy slump or feeling sluggish, exercise.

Go for a 15 minute run. Do push ups and sit ups. Do something to increase your heart rate for a sustained period of time. A 15 minute run at 8:00 PM will often sustain me until midnight or later with ease.

3. Train yourself to fall asleep quickly. The quicker, the better. Be a productive sleeper. Treat the time you spend in bed as a precious commodity. If I spend five hours in bed, I spent almost every minute of that time in sleep. If you have to sleep, at least make it worth your time.

It sounds fairly obvious, but I think it’s often overlooked:

It’s much easier to function on less sleep when you actually spend your time in bed sleeping. To this end, a few strategies to help you fall asleep faster and remain asleep throughout the night:

  • When I was a boy, I had a difficult time falling asleep, so I developed a routine to relax each part of my body, beginning at my toes and moving up to my head. I can do this automatically today, and it helps me fall asleep much faster.
  • This process has also made me aware of the two places on my body (my hands and my jaw) where I are likely to still be tense when I lay down, so I purposefully relax those two places as soon as the light is turned out. Find your centers of tension and learn to relax them as quickly as possible.
  • Awaken at the same time every day. I may go to sleep at 11:30 or 1:30 or 3:30 depending on what I am doing, but I awaken at the same time almost every day. Most of the time, I wake up without the assistance of an alarm clock, and rarely do I awaken not feeling refreshed. It's only when I sleep late - usually because I have arrived home and gone to bed so excessively late - that I feel sluggish the next day. I firmly believe that it's better to sleep four hours and wake up at your regular time than sleep six hours and awaken later than normal.
  • Don't sleep later on the weekends and holidays. It only serves to confuse your body and make sleep times less certain. Consistency is key.  
  • Use a white noise machine to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Even if you don’t think you need one, the white noise will serve as a trigger to your body that it’s time to sleep, and you will fall asleep faster. It will also filter out any sounds in the night that might awaken you unnecessarily.
  • Don't eat before bed. I eat almost nothing after dinner. If your body is digesting recently eaten food, it will be more difficult to fall into a restful sleep. 
  • I’ve always been able to clear my mind fairly quickly, but since I began meditating in the mornings, this ability has increased exponentially. Many people have trouble falling asleep because they cannot quiet their minds. Learn to quiet your mind through meditation.
  • When your alarm goes off, get your ass out of bed immediately. Start your day. Find a reason to want to get up (love your life) and create a routine that you enjoy. For me, my morning routine includes reading, writing, sitting with my dog and taking her for a walk, doing pushups and sit-ups, meditating, sweeping the kitchen floor, listening for my children to wake up, and eating an Egg McMuffin. All before 7:00. All before most people are awake.
  • Hate sleep.

This may be the least helpful bit of advice, but if you love to sleep, it will be hard for you to sleep less than six hours unless it's a necessity. And if you love sleep, then sleeping less than six hours a night is probably a bad idea. Do what you love.

But if you want to sleep less, learn to I despise sleep.

I believe that human beings' need to sleep is their greatest weakness, and I've been saying that since I was a teenager. Sleep interferes with all of the things I want to do and accomplish in life. Sleep is time stolen from me. An interruption in the flow of my day. It resembles death in a way that makes me entirely too uncomfortable.  

I can't stand going to bed every night.

It’s become popular amongst some of my friends to scoff at my five hours of sleep and worry about my future health. In response to these concerns, I offer the following:

Science has proven that a small segment of the population are genetically predisposed to needing to sleep less. This predisposition seems to run in families. Since I have rarely slept more than 5-6 hours for my entire life, and since my brother and sister are also extremely short sleepers, I may be one of these genetic mutants. 

Alexandra Damsker may be as well.

So I may have an unfair advantage over most people.

Even if it’s not genetic, I ask these naysayers and detractors a simple question:

Do I ever seem tired? Lethargic? Do you think that the quality of my work is suffering due to my lack of sleep? Am I not accomplishing enough because of my need for rest? Am I short tempered? Prone to depression? Abusing drugs or alcohol?

If you were to pick ten people from your life who appear chronically tired or fatigued, would I make the list?

Would my name have even popped up in your mind?

I don’t think so. It’s convenient to think that sleeping as little as I do is somehow hurting my productivity or turning my days into fatigue-riddled disasters, but it’s simply not the case. 

Here’s the real problem with all of this advice that Damsker and I offer:

Following it will require people to watch less television, cease snacking in the evening, exercise more often, learn to meditate, and make changes in their careers that will require great effort, long term planning, patience, and enormous sacrifices.

I do not know many people who would be willing to make these changes in their lives.

I sleep as much as my body wants me to sleep. But I also believe that most people could be sleeping less. By avoiding wasted time in bed and by making a concerted effort to awaken one hour earlier than usual, I think most people could shave at least an hour of their sleep each night. 

Last year a friend asked me how to be more productive. She had just had her second child and felt like she was never getting anything done. I told her to wake up an hour earlier than normal each morning and use that hour as productively as possible. "Give it a week," I advised. "See what happens." 

A few weeks later, my friend posted a public thank you on Facebook, telling her network that she had taken my advice and had accomplished so much in the hours she had recaptured and felt no negative impacts to her loss of sleep.

That was more than a year ago. She has continued to sustain the change and remains happy about it.

You could probably do the same if you're sleeping eight or more hours every night.  

Give it a week. See what happens.

Conscientiousness is the most important trait. This may explain how I manage to overcome the absence of so many others.

Great news. Research is pointing to conscientiousness as the one-trait-to-rule-them-all in terms of future success, both career-wise and personal.

How do the researchers define conscientiousness?

Basically, it’s being “efficient, organized, neat, and systematic.” It’s a trait that has been shown to increase your chances of finding a job, living longer, and living healthier. It is also strongly correlated with longer marriages and greater money and job satisfaction. 

image

“It would actually be nice if there were some negative things that went along with conscientiousness,” researcher John Roberts said. ‘But at this point it’s emerging as one of the primary dimensions of successful functioning across the lifespan. It really goes cradle to grave in terms of how people do.”

I’m pretty excited about this finding.

“Efficient, organized, neat, and systematic.”

That’s me. Four words couldn’t describe me better.

If I’m wrong, I’m sure I’ll hear about it in the comments.

Perhaps it’s this trait that counteracts all of my flaws and shortcomings, as well as the multitude of traits that I lack, including:

  • attention to detail
  • restraint
  • tact
  • humility
  • caution
  • charm
  • respect for authority
  • moderation
  • mechanical aptitude
  • a decent golf swing

The Mystery of Prince Rupert’s Drop: A small piece of glass made amazing

This is six of the most fascinating six minutes of video on the Internet today. Both in terms of subject and presentation.

Stop and watch.

The Prince Rupert Drop is named after Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who I recommend you don’t spend any time reading about lest you end up feeling terrible about your own accomplishments.

image

The man was ridiculous.

For example, he was a soldier from a young age, fighting against Spain in the Netherlands during the Eighty Years' War and against the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany during the Thirty Years' War. At the age of 23, he was appointed commander of the Royalist cavalry during the English Civil War. He surrendered after the fall of Bristol and was banished from England. He served under Louis XIV of France against Spain, and then as a Royalist privateer in the Caribbean. Following the Restoration, Rupert returned to England, becoming a senior British naval commander during the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch wars.

That doesn’t even touch on his role as a colonial governor in Canada, founding member of the Royal Society of Science, and his work as a scientist, inventor, and artist. The man was also a cypher, a manufacturer of weaponry, and a metallurgist.

I’m all for over achieving, but Prince Rupert took it to an obscene level.

But he left us with, among other things, the Prince Rupert Drop.

Purposeful procrastination: Are slightly lower grades really all that bad?

A new study suggests that students who turn in homework at the last minute get worse grades.

Of the 777 students involved, 86.1 percent waited until the last 24 hours to turn in work, earning an average score of 64.04, compared to early submitters’ average of 64.32 — roughly equivalent to a ‘B’ grade.

But the average score for the most part continued to drop by the hour, and those who turned in the assignment at the last minute had the lowest average grade of around 59, or around a C+.

It’s a bit of a no brainer and something that a reasonable person might have accurately assumed absent this research, but I think a more important question remains unanswered:

Are the procrastinators learning less?

image

I am a strong advocate of purposeful procrastination in all non-critical tasks. If I report is due to my boss on Friday, I will wait until the last possible moment to begin working on it, filling my time in between with more meaningful and enjoyable tasks. Being constantly concerned with the prospect of death, the last thing I want to do is spend my final day on Earth completing something mundane or ultimately unnecessary that I could’ve been done three days later.

Many think that factoring in the possibility of death into my to-do list is fairly insane, but those critics will die someday, and it will probably be on a crisp, September day spent sorting receipts for next year’s taxes.

As a purposeful procrastinator, I’m left wondering if the procrastinators in this study who are turning in work at the last moment and achieving slightly lower grades are actually learning less, or are their grades merely a reflection of a rushed effort that contains all of the learning required but with less polish?

And if so, do these lower grades actually matter? If the procrastinators and the non-procrastinators are equal in their learning, do the slightly higher grades of the non-procrastinators yield a greater number of job offers? Higher starting salaries? More rapid advancement?

In most cases, I don’t think so.

I’d also love to see the differences in happiness between procrastinators and non-procrastinators. In my admittedly biased and anecdotal experience, the procrastinators of the world seem to be a more relaxed and less anxious group of people. They seem to handle stress and uncertainty better. They appear to be less concerned with the opinions of others. They are not the ardent people-pleasers that aggressive completionists tend to be.

Don’t get me wrong. All procrastination is not good. Allowing your laundry to reach the point that you must devote an entire day to it is not a good idea. Waiting until the last minute to write your novel will probably result in a poor effort. Forgoing your oil change for another 5,000 miles is not a wise decision.

But a fairly innocuous college assignment?

Maybe the slightly lower grade isn’t such a bad thing if you fill the time that you spend procrastinating with something that is meaningful or joyful or more valuable.

And perhaps the process of completing the assignment at the last minute has its benefits as well. By purposefully procrastinating, maybe a person learns to manage stress better. Focus more effectively. Handle uncertainty with greater deftness.

This is the kind of research that I would like to see.