Skip to content
Nov 22 21

In Praise of Pride

by Beth

Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, but is it really that bad? Pride is a positive emotion and there is a lot of research showing the benefits of experiencing pride. A sense of pride can motivate us to work to achieve our goals to better ourselves or to help others. Anticipating future pride increases performance, perseverance, and self-control in resisting temptation. In one study, participants who were told their scores on a cognitive test were especially high spent twice as long working on another task as participants who were not induced to feel pride. In another study, 40% of the people who were asked to think about how proud they would feel if they could resist temptation were able to refrain from taking a bite of cake. Only 19% of the people in the control group resisted the temptation to eat some cake.

So why is pride considered a sin? That’s because there are two distinct types of pride: authentic pride and hubristic pride. Authentic pride is feeling good about yourself, experiencing a sense of competence or accomplishment. You’ve worked to achieve your goal and you are proud of the result.

Hubristic pride involves egotism and arrogance, the feeling that you are better than others. Hubris is self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. It’s associated with insecurity and anti-social behaviors like aggression and dominance, whereas authentic pride is associated with confidence and pro-social behaviors like generosity and compassion.

Pride is good when paired with humility. It’s nice to do things that give you a sense of self-respect and satisfaction. Anticipating feeling proud can provide the motivation needed to learn to speak a new language or play a musical instrument, to get good grades or a promotion at work, to lose weight or get into shape.

Pride is bad when you feel your accomplishments make you superior to other people. When your drive to achieve is fueled by anxiety or a fragile ego. Recognizing that you may do some things well, but that you can’t be great at everything can help keep you humble. Hubristic pride may be a sin, but authentic pride is a virtue, not a vice.

Oct 13 21

Life is Short; Make Good Choices

by Beth

Your time on earth is limited. You might not be here tomorrow. If you’re lucky enough to live to 90, you’ll have almost 4,700 weeks. That’s where Oliver Burkeman got the title for his new book, Four Thousand Weeks. This finitude means you can’t get everything done. You must make tough choices about how to spend your limited time.

Embracing this truth can set you free. It can empower you to accomplish more of what matters to have a more joyful, fulfilled life. Accepting that you don’t have time for everything means you have to decide what to focus on and what to neglect. It means learning to tolerate the discomfort of knowing that balls will be dropped.

Making these choices is hard. But being in a position to make such choices is pretty amazing. The fact that you are alive is a miracle! Contemplating the certainty of death helps you realize that all you have for sure is the present moment. Each day you have is a blessing. You don’t have to make choices; you get to make them.

So how do you decide? If something really matters to you, do some of it today. Don’t wait until you have more time. Don’t worry if you are settling or if you won’t do a good enough job. Making any choice at all is settling and nothing you do will be perfect.

Here are some more suggestions for how to spend you limited time:

  • Don’t use busyness to distract you from the reality of your short life.
  • Get comfortable with having problems. Life is but a series of problems.
  • Don’t use the present solely as a path to a better future. Use some of your time to do things for their own sake. Find pleasure in a good hobby.
  • Planning doesn’t eliminate uncertainty; it just pushes it further into the future. Taking steps to reduce the chance that bad things will happen is smart. But remember that a plan is your present-moment statement of intent. It does not ensure that things will go your way.
  • Don’t overvalue your existence. It’s highly unlikely that you will put a dent in the universe. Spend your time doing things that give you a sense of meaning.
  • Life will always feel uncertain and out of control. Everyone is winging it! So let go of your impossible standards and get to work doing what you can to help.

Burkeman covers a lot of ideas in this book. My main take-away is that I should be grateful for my limited time here, and I should spend each day doing things that matter to me. I choose to exercise, make healthy meals for my family, tend my garden, write blog posts, and give talks about well-being. What about you?

Sep 17 21

How to Spend More Time on Meaningful Activities

by Beth

Two types of activities contribute to our well-being: 1) activities we like to do because they bring us immediate pleasure and 2) activities we want to do because they give us a sense of meaning in life. We tend to spend a lot more of our time on activities we like for a couple of reasons. First, our brains have a present bias, which means we prefer immediate gratification over something that will benefit us in the future. Second, the reward system in our brains reinforces this by making us crave what feels good in the moment.

This is why I’d prefer to stay snuggled in bed rather than getting up to start a Peloton ride. It’s why I keep scrolling through my Twitter feed instead of writing a blog post. And why my fingers are stained from eating Takis instead of making a healthy snack. This craving for activities that bring immediate pleasure can prevent us from doing things that would bring us greater life satisfaction.

In order to live a more meaningful life, we need to figure out how to resist the temptation to do what we like, so we can do more of what we want. Mindfulness can help.

Urge surfing is a mindfulness technique that has been shown to help addicts resist temptation. The first step is to notice and acknowledge that you have an urge to do something. Next is to refrain from doing it. Yep, this is the hard part, but cravings are temporary. They are like a wave that grows bigger, crests, then crashes on the shore. It might be easier to delay action at first. This will help you see that the craving will go away. I’m trying to restrict my eating to a smaller window of time, so I delay or skip breakfast most days. I still get a feeling of hunger some mornings, but I’ve learned to distract myself and then it goes away. The process of mindfully noticing a craving without acting on it because you know it won’t last long gets easier with practice.

Turning your attention to the negative aspects of the activity you are craving also helps. Imagine how tired and sluggish you’ll feel when you get a sugar crash after eating those cookies. Or the disappointment you’ll experience tonight if you skip exercising.

Savoring is another mindfulness technique that can motivate you to engage in more meaningful activities that require effort. In this case you want to think about the positive aspects of the experience. When it comes to exercise, I think about how much I enjoy listening to the music while I ride, how energized I’ll feel for the rest of the day, and the sense of pride that comes from doing something that aligns with my value of healthy living. To get started on a blog post, I think about how much I enjoy entering a state of flow when writing and how it supports my goal of helping people increase their well-being by sharing information.

Resisting the momentary urge to give in to a craving and mindfully savoring the future benefits of an effortful activity can help you spend more of your time in ways that will give your life more meaning.

Aug 17 21

Sharing Mental Health Struggles

by Beth

This summer we witnessed more professional athletes sharing their mental health struggles. Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open to tend to her mental health, then Simone Biles chose not to compete in gymnastics events at the Tokyo Olympics due to her state of mind.

Naomi and Simone followed the example of other athletes who have also shown the courage to speak openly about their mental health challenges. In 2016, before the Rio Olympics, Michael Phelps shared that he had faced depression and suicidal thoughts. In 2018, Kevin Love had a panic attack during an NBA game, which led him to talk about his battle with anxiety and depression. Another NBA player, DeMar DeRozan, opened up about his depression earlier that same year.

It’s especially powerful when professional athletes talk about their mental health struggles because people see them as superhuman. But they are human, they have feelings, and they aren’t always OK. Having the courage to share their stories and admit when they are not OK helps them and helps others.

Over 50 million American adults suffer from issues related to their mental health, yet, as common as it is, there is a stigma surrounding it. When people speak openly about their challenges it helps to normalize the anxiety, fear, and depression so many are feeling. DeMar has said that he is trying to do his part “to make sure there is zero shame or stigma for anyone working to make their mental health a priority”. Athletes who share their stories help to promote understanding and empathy among those without mental illness. They also let those who are struggling know they are not alone, which could encourage them to seek help. Michael Phelps told Naomi that she may have saved a life by speaking up. 

People who talk about their mental health challenges often report feeling much better, experiencing greater self-awareness, stronger social connectedness, a sense of purpose, and personal growth. According to Michael Phelps, “life became easy” once he began to talk about his feelings. Naomi said it “taught me so much and helped me grow” and Kevin Love wrote that “being able to speak about it has been therapy for me as well.”

I’m so grateful to the athletes and other celebrities who have been brave enough to share their mental health stories. We all either suffer from mental health issues or know someone who does. People who speak up and encourage open dialogue about mental health help us all.

Jul 22 21

The Wonders of Walking

by Beth

Walking is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental well-being. I make sure to get as many steps in each day as I possibly can. On vacation in Spain last week, I averaged over 16,000 steps a day! Walking is easy to do and it makes me feel good.

If you need motivation to walk more, here are some of the many benefits of walking:

  • Boosts energy – walking increases oxygen flow and levels of hormones that elevate energy levels. One study found walking to be more energizing than caffeine consumption.
  • Improves mood – multiple studies show that walking reduces anxiety, depression, and negative moods.
  • Enhances creativity – according to a Stanford study, walking increased creative output by an average of 60%.
  • Boosts immune function – a study of over 1,000 people found that those who walked for 20 minutes at least 5 days a week had 43% fewer sick days and those who did get sick had lesser symptoms.
  • Lowers body weight – a Harvard study showed the effects of obesity-promoting genes were cut in half for people who walked briskly about an hour a day.
  • Improves sleep – a 4-week study of nearly 500 people found that those who averaged the most steps reported significantly better sleep quality
  • Eases joint pain – walking protects joints by lubricating them and strengthening supporting muscles. Walking is recommended for reducing arthritis-related pain.
  • Reduces risk of disease – walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week has been shown to reduce heart disease risk by 19%. A meta-analysis of 42 studies found that walking reduced blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, body fat, and depression.
  • Reduces breast cancer risk – an American Cancer Society study found that women who walked more than 7 hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer.
  • Slows memory decline – a recent study of 250 older adults who started walking three times a week for 40 minutes found that they gained white matter, the brain’s wiring, and cognitive improvements.

Pretty impressive, huh? I encourage you to set a goal to walk a certain number of steps each day. Walking outside boosts your well-being even more given the positive impact of being in nature. And walking with a friend adds the most important factor for well-being, social connection!

Jun 14 21

The Joy of Cooking

by Beth
Mise en place

For most of my adult life, I considered cooking a chore. I didn’t find much joy in meal planning, grocery shopping, or preparing dinner at the end of a long day. I focused on finding as many quick, easy, kid-friendly recipes as I could. Over the past few years, I’ve come to view cooking in a very different light. It’s a mindful practice that gives me a sense of meaning and lets me use one of my top strengths.

All three of these are strategies that have been shown to boost well-being:

  • Strengths – One of my top strengths is learner. When I stopped eating meat, I needed to learn how to cook more plant-based meals. I started reading books and following vegetarian cooks on Instagram and I took a plant-based cooking class online. Learning about the health benefits of different foods and how to prepare new recipes made cooking much more enjoyable because I was using one of my strengths. All sorts of different strengths, like curiosity, achiever, adaptability, or focus, can be applied to make cooking more fun.
  • Meaning – As I learned more about the impact that food has on my mental and physical health, the health of my family, and the health of our planet, I began to see the value of carefully choosing what foods to buy and cooking healthy meals. I now derive a real sense of meaning from both shopping and cooking. Buying more organic food is good for the environment. If I buy fewer processed foods and sugary snacks, my family will be healthier. Using spices and sauces to make flavorful plant-based recipes can encourage them to embrace more nutritious meals. I now view cooking as an important way to keep myself and my family healthy.
  • Mindfulness – One of the first things you learn in most cooking classes is the concept of “mise en place”. This is a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place”. Chefs are taught to have everything they will need to make a meal setup before starting to cook. All the ingredients should be washed, chopped, and measured ahead of time. This allows the cooking process to be a mindful, relaxing experience. You can calmly focus on each aspect, noticing the flow of water as you wash produce, the array of colors in the assembled ingredients, the smell of fresh herbs as you chop, and the aroma of onions as they brown.

These positive strategies can be used to make any chore more enjoyable. If there is something you must do around the house or at work that you really don’t like, try to intentionally apply one of your strengths while doing it. Look for the value for yourself or for others in what you’re doing. Focusing on the why can make it more meaningful. And, finally, give it your full attention. The experience of being present can make any task more pleasant.

May 14 21

Embracing Lifequakes

by Beth

A recent article in the Washington Post reported a survey showing that 66% of people returning to work after the pandemic are considering changing fields. This is not as surprising as it may sound. Disruptions in our lives often cause us to rethink things. They provide an opportunity for us to reevaluate our lives and consider new possibilities.

In his book, Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age, Bruce Feiler refers to lifequakes as signature events that upend and reshape our lives. A global pandemic certainly counts as one! He found that 90% of people come to view these life changes as something positive over time.

Post-traumatic growth is the positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances. Experiencing adversity builds our resilience. We learn coping skills that can help us weather the next storm. Difficult experiences often strengthen our relationships and give us a renewed appreciation for life. They can also lead to a desire for change.

Even minor disruptions that force us to do things in a new way can result in improvements in our lives. In 2014, workers on London’s underground went on strike. Some of the Tube stations were closed, forcing people to find alternative routes to work. When the stations reopened, many of the commuters did not return to their prior routine because they had discovered a better route.

The pandemic has disrupted all of our lives, and it has caused many people to reassess what they want to do and how they want to work. There are restaurant and healthcare workers who would like to find jobs where they will be less exposed if there are future outbreaks. Others want to move away from the travel or entertainment industries and into jobs that are less vulnerable to pandemics. There are people who want a career that gives them more meaning. And after spending more time at home with their families, some people realize they don’t want to return to jobs with long commutes or excessive travel.

According to Feiler, most of us will experience three to five lifequakes. Rather than resisting them, we are better off accepting them as an integral part of life and embracing the positive changes they can bring. How have you grown as a result of your experiences over this past year? What strategies helped you to cope? Who helped you to get through the challenges? What new possibilities might you want to pursue?

Apr 6 21

Bouncing Back Better

by Beth

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” ~Sir Winston Churchill

As we emerge from the pandemic, let’s think about how we can bounce back better. Returning to work and life after a very strange, very difficult year can give us a fresh start. We can use this opportunity for a post-pandemic reboot!

The sudden changes in our lives a year ago interrupted many of our routines. Habits are highly situation dependent. When the cues that triggered some of your past behaviors were gone, the behaviors likely stopped. Instead of just automatically going back to everything you did before, identify the behaviors that weren’t contributing to your well-being or your performance and consider what you might do to avoid returning to those old habits.

You can use this fresh start to think of a pre-pandemic you and a post-pandemic you. This new identity makes it easier to change your behavior. Perhaps you had a habit of stopping by Starbucks for a coffee, and sometimes a sugary muffin, on your way to work. A habit that wasn’t good for your wallet or your waistline. The post-pandemic you could make sure to eat a healthy breakfast and bring a full mug of fresh coffee with you each morning instead. You might also choose a different route to work to avoid passing the Starbucks. Maybe you spent much of your pre-pandemic time traveling for work, which was exhausting. Could some of those meetings that you assumed had to be face-to-face now be held using virtual technology?

Just as you stopped many of your old habits during the pandemic, you also started new ones. Think about the ones you’d like your post-pandemic self to keep. Maybe you started sleeping more since you didn’t have a long commute and you realize how much more energy and focus you have. How can you be intentional about prioritizing sleep when you start commuting again? You could set an alarm at night to make sure you wrap things up in time to get a good night’s sleep. Were you eating more home-cooked meals during the pandemic? Instead of going back to eating lunch out on weekdays, the post-pandemic you could do some meal prep on Sundays making it easier to bring a healthy lunch to work each day. Perhaps you started doing Yoga With Adriene during the pandemic. Could post-pandemic you keep your practice going by leaving a yoga mat in your office?

Take some time to make a list of the behaviors you started over the past year that you’d like to keep doing and the pre-pandemic behaviors you don’t want to start up again. Now make a plan that will help you maintain these changes as you return to work and life. Don’t let this “annus horribilis” go to waste! How will you use your post-pandemic reboot to bounce back better?

Mar 15 21

Your Personal Highlight Reel

by Beth

Our need to make sense of the world causes our brains to create a narrative that explains our experiences. The resulting story shapes our personal identity or what we believe about ourselves – what kind of person we are, what we are capable of. These beliefs influence the goals we set and the outcomes we achieve.

The good news is that you are the author of your own story, which means you can edit your narrative in a way that results in a more positive self-concept. You can shift your guiding story to one that empowers you to pursue desired goals.

One way to do this is to make your success experiences more salient, so they are more likely to become part of your story. In his book, Exceptional, Dan Cable suggests that we all need a personal highlight reel. You’ve seen the sports clips of professional athletes that replay their best performances. LeBron James dunking the ball again and again. Serena Williams hitting killer shots on the court dozens of times in a row. This helps build a story of their excellence.

In the same way, reflecting on moments when you were at your best can help you reframe your own story to reflect a more positive version of yourself. Here’s how to create your personal highlight reel:

  1. Take some time to think back over your life and remember experiences that made you proud. You can start with high school and college. What were some of your biggest achievements? How about your career? Your personal life? Write down all of the memories you can recall of times when you were your best self.
  2. Keep your list handy so you can add to it and reread it. Any time you do something that you feel good about, add it to your highlight reel. And while you have it out, reread it in order to keep your highlights top of mind. On days when the story you’re telling yourself isn’t so positive, pull out your highlight reel and read it again.

Unfortunately, bad is stronger than good. We remember times when we failed more easily than we remember our successes. That’s why creating and reviewing your personal highlight reel is so important. It reinforces your story as someone who is capable of achieving great things. And that will set you up for your next success.

Feb 15 21

Two More Rules of Habit Formation

by Beth

In my last post I discussed the first two rules for creating good habits from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, 1) make it obvious and 2) make it attractive. Here are the other two rules:

3. Make it easy – Habits are formed based on frequency, not time. So forget the idea that it takes 21 days to build a habit! Each time you repeat a behavior, specific neurons in your brain fire. The more they fire together, the stronger the connection becomes, eventually making that behavior automatic. The easier it is to do something, the more likely you are to do it. Making a behavior easy will lead to more repetition and faster habit formation. 

One way to make a behavior easy is to do the minimum necessary to ritualize the behavior. Start by meditating or journaling for 2 minutes or practicing yoga or walking for 5 minutes. The key is to master the habit of showing up. Then you can start doing more. Taking that first step gives you a sense of confidence and momentum, making it easier to take the next.

Another way to make a behavior easy is to reduce friction. Your are more likely to go to the gym if it’s near your home. Chopping veggies on the weekend makes it easier to eat them during the week.

4. Make it satisfying – We are more likely to repeat behaviors that provide immediate rewards. Humans have a present bias, which means we value the present moment or instant gratification more than we value the future. This makes it hard to form habits that are good for us because many of the behaviors that provide long-term health benefits don’t have immediate rewards. So we need to find ways to add something positive to behaviors that pay off in the long run.

One way to make good behaviors more rewarding is to celebrate each time you do them. After each workout do a fist pump or a happy dance or shout “hell, yeah!” Anything that generates a positive emotion will reinforce that behavior.

Making progress is also satisfying, so tracking good behaviors can act as a reward. Put a star on your calendar every day you meditate or record how much time you read or how many vegetables you eat each day in a journal. I downloaded a habit tracker app in January and it’s very satisfying to see my streaks!

Your daily behaviors determine the person you will become. You can become a happier, healthier person by making beneficial behaviors more obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.