Good morning and welcome to your forty-seventh meditation. How much do you read? Don’t worry, this isn’t a test. There’s no judgment in the question. If your answer is hardly at all, that would make you completely normal on this particular score. A recent survey conducted by Pew Research showed that more than a quarter of Americans said they hadn’t read a book in over a year. The New Yorker said that as of 2016 the amount of time  the average American spent reading was down to .29 hours, or just 17 minutes, per day. By 2018 that number was down to 6 minutes per day among adults aged 20-34, according to Statista. 

It’s easy to think this is some kind of a sign of the decadence of the modern world. The dumbing down of civilization. But this attitude is unnecessarily judgmental, and wrongheaded. Consider for a moment how many more ways we have to access information nowadays than did the reader of yore. They depended on the written word in order to learn anything that was beyond the scope of the people within their immediate vicinity. How horribly unfair history was to those of us who learn better from listening, or from watching, or from doing, as so many of us do. Thank goodness that now there is TV, movies, radio, podcasts, apps, video games, and the internet, each medium offering access to information in its own unique way. To regard people who don’t read as stupid or uneducated, then, is not only an unfair judgment, it is also inaccurate. So if you number yourself among the legions who don’t read, or don’t read much, be careful not to judge yourself. You have no reason to feel guilty. There are lots of other ways you can educate yourself that may be better suited to your learning style.

But… 

there are also some arguments to be made for picking up a book if you aren’t in the habit of it already. Firstly, since none of those other mediums mentioned above existed before around the twentieth century, we can access most of the wisdom of the many centuries before that only through books. It would be unnecessarily limiting to consume only media produced after, say, 1950, when there is over a millennium of thought that precedes that date, documented for our education and enjoyment. Of course, there are always audiobooks. And if these work better for you than words on a page, great. But there is also something special about the silence involved in actually reading. To say nothing of the benefits of quiet time to our minds and bodies, to read a novel or a poem is to enter a world of the mind. A world that is all your own. Sure, the author supplies you with the words and the images, but it’s your imagination that decides what those images really look like. It’s your own creativity that allows you to hear the timbre of the characters’ voices, and the varied sounds of the landscape. In this way, reading is a highly interactive form of media because you are called upon to create along with the author, so that any book you read becomes your own, in a sense. So if you don’t read now, no worries. There are lots of other ways to receive information that surely have their own unique advantages. But without doubt reading has its singular benefits too, and perhaps those are enough to persuade you to have another crack at it. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your forty-sixth meditation. Do you struggle to stay in touch with old friends? Does it cause you undue stress? Does it feel like just one more thing you have to do? This meditation will suggest some ways of dealing with that feeling on an emotional level, as well as offer some practical tips of what you can do (and avoid doing) to make it easier for you to stay in touch, and maintain and nurture those relationships that enrich your life.

First thing’s first, don’t punish yourself for being a bad friend because you haven’t called in a while. Don’t think that you are failing to fulfil an obligation that is required by friendship. Back in the days before air travel and rapid communication, people mostly stuck with whatever communities they found themselves in. This meant that your group of friends and family was generally pretty small, contained, and close by so that staying in touch wasn’t an issue. These days, people are able to travel all over the world easily and quickly, live in massive cities and contact friends, no matter how far-flung, with a flourish of their fingers. As a result, it’s now possible to literally have thousands of friends. With so many people in your life, you could spend all your living hours staying in touch with friends. This, of course, isn’t realistic, nor is it recommended. And it is definitely not an obligation. So don’t sweat it. 

Although travelling around and making lots of friends is all fine and well, in order to avoid the stress of maintaining so many friendships we need to make some cuts. This is not to say that we excommunicate anyone, only that we actively decide which relationships are most important to us, and then confidently allot the proportional amount of time and energy to maintaining each respective relationship. To do this, make a list. Prioritize your friends and family in terms of those who enrich your life, numbering them from the most to the least. Assign percentages representing how much friend-time you want to dedicate to each one. It may seem a little callous at first, but think about it, you are effectively making these same decisions in a less controlled way whenever you give some of your time to someone else. Remember that your time is finite and precious. To offer it to someone is to offer them a gift. So it’s only right that you give that gift to someone that you would like to receive it. That means you don’t need to say “yes” to everyone. Practise saying “no”. You don’t need an excuse. However, if pressed, “I just feel like hanging out alone tonight” is a perfectly legitimate reason.For those relationships that you value most, set aside specific times to nurture them. If you are busy focussed on work, and a thought of an old friend pops into your head, make a note of it, and continue working. Later, say, after dinner, if you decide that you would be enriched by communicating with that person, go for it. If, on the other hand, your being reminded of them was just a pleasant memory, then just enjoy that feeling, and then move on. Relationships grow and fade. They are under no obligation to remain meaningful, and we are under no obligation to try to force them to do so. Forget about which bonds you used to value the most. The question is, which do you value now? Focus on those. Make time for them. Stay in touch. And let them know how much you value them. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your forty-fifth meditation. Imagine that you are engaged in a heated argument. You feel yourself becoming frustrated and angry. You can observe yourself being swept up in this powerful and acute emotional energy, and yet are unable to stop it. You even know that these emotions can give you an inflated sense of conviction of your own rectitude and of the utter injustice of the other party’s argument. And yet, in that moment, those convictions are the realest things you know. And you let the other party know it too. You may be the type to lay out all the reasons they are wrong and you are right in a torrent of words. Or perhaps you incline toward silence in these situations, shutting down and blocking the other person out. Of course, neither of these methods is an overly effective means of persuading them of your argument. Rather, this approach is more likely to hurt or offend, than help. 

But don’t worry. We all lose our cool sometimes. That’s just part of being human. The important thing is that we then take responsibility for it. To do this, saying sorry is a good place to start. But “sorry” is only the very beginning of a true apology. A true apology means that you genuinely understand that you got carried away, that you exaggerated, that you weren’t completely fair, or that you made a mistake, whatever the case may be. A true apology means acknowledging these missteps openly to the other party. A true apology may contain some explanation, but does not contain excuses. Ask yourself, who is benefitting from your explanation? Does it offer the other party some valuable insight that helps to clarify the reason for the dispute, and helps to avoid such disputes in the future? Or does it offer you some kind of defense or immunity? If it’s the latter, nix it. You will only be undermining your apology by simultaneously trying to defend the very thing you are apologizing for.

Beware if you are the type that shies away from confrontation. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we were wrong just to get out of being in a fight. Although this little manoeuvre may spare us discomfort in the moment, to do so is a betrayal of oneself. It is inauthentic, and will likely lead to some problematic relationship dynamics in the future.

Instead, give yourself space and time to settle down. Consider what was said and how it made you feel. Consider how you imagine the other person feels. Ask yourself if you went too far, or if you didn’t go far enough. Be fair. To the other person, and to yourself. If your interlocutor is worth your time, not only will your sensitivity and candour be a balm to cool the heat of the conflict, it will also set a precedent to inspire regular openness of this kind in your relationship. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your forty-fourth meditation. When’s the last time you dedicated yourself to learning something new? Has it been a while? Do you feel a little intimidated by learning in a way that you never did when you were young? Like perhaps your mind has been gradually getting duller and duller, and your inevitably failed attempts at learning will only be a testament to that suspicion? Don’t worry! So many adults feel this way. Having been out of school for so long; having focussed for an extended period of time on the set of skills and intelligence that you depend on to take care of your regular, daily responsibilities; struggling to find the time even to take care of these, let alone finding the time to learn new skills. This is simply adult life for most of us. Don’t feel bad about it. 

The misconception is that this relative absence of learning in your current life will somehow render new learning impossible. That is just wrong. Although for a long time scientists believed that the brain stopped making new connections in adult life, recent neuroscience has shown that the brain can preserve its plasticity and can continue to generate new brain cells well into old-age. And what helps to maintain and enhance the function of brain plasticity? …that’s right, learning. Studies have shown that learning multiple languages, playing a sport, doing theatre, and other activities contribute to what is called experience dependent structural plasticity.

You may argue, “but if learning helps with neuroplasticity, and I haven’t learned in a long time, my brain may no longer be adaptable, and so I’ll still likely fail, or at least do poorly, at whatever I try to learn now”. But to say this would be missing the point, wouldn’t it. The point is not to succeed or fail at what you’re attempting to learn. The point is just to be engaged in the process of learning. It wasn’t through being good at music or language or sports that participants enhanced their brain function. It was through the simple act of learning it. Working on it regularly in a dedicated fashion.

So think of it this way: you could either try taking up that new skill that has always interested you, enjoying the process, unworried about results, all the while contributing to the heightened functioning of your brain; OR you could NOT do the thing you always wanted to do, NOT ever know the joy of doing it, and accept a generally lower functionality of your brain. The choice is obvious. Make the time, learn the thing. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your forty-third meditation. Let’s say you think of yourself as a good person. You have a desire to help others. You’re kind, patient, understanding. But sometimes you feel like embodying these qualities gets you into trouble. You feel like you get taken advantage of, like people don’t value your time, you miss out on opportunities because you put others before yourself. You find yourself feeling a bit bitter and jaded, thinking “what kind of world do we live in if trying your best to be a good person leaves you worse off?” Meanwhile you witness people with questionable ethics, to put it mildly, rise to the top of society and seemingly get everything they want through sheer force, pushiness, and lack of consideration for anyone else’s desires but their own. Sometimes it can feel like being a good person precludes being ambitious; and vice versa. And, unfortunately, it’s true that our capitalist society often rewards pushy, inconsiderate, ambitiousness. Definitely. But these distasteful qualities are not a prerequisite for success in this world. And there are ways to be good while not being walked over; ways to assert yourself without compromising your determination to be good. Sometimes it does take some tweaking of classic ideas of what it means to be a good person though. For example, we have all heard that we should put others before ourselves. Of course, this axiom means well. It’s trying to say that if we all take care of each other then everyone will be better off. And who couldn’t agree with that? However, it’s only possible to take care of others if you have taken care of yourself first. If you are embittered by feeling taken advantage of, how do you expect to spread positive energy? You have to love yourself first, and then go forth and share that love with others. A very simple and concrete analogy is the oxygen masks on airplanes. They always say that if you are with a child or dependent, it is necessary that you put your own mask on first, before helping the child with theirs. This is because if you become incapacitated by lack of oxygen, who will help the child? Think of your goodness this way. Be good to yourself first, and then you will be equipped to be the person you want to be for others. To do this we have to establish our boundaries with ourselves, and then with others. How much time do you need to do what you need to get done? How much time do you need to just relax? Answer that for yourself, and be very strict with not allowing anyone else to encroach on that time. What are your skills? Are people asking to exploit them without offering fair compensation? Remember that you have to respect the value of your own skills if you want to expect others to do so. This is true whether you are dealing with strangers or loved ones. Know your worth, and charge it. To do this is not evil, or greedy, or particularly capitalistic. The exchange doesn’t even have to be monetary. There just has to be an acknowledgement of your value, first from yourself, that is then reflected by the other party. Once more, it is only by loving yourself that you will truly be able to love others. So set an example. Demonstrate how you want to be loved by loving yourself that way. Others will follow suit, and you will be full of love to share as a result. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your forty-second meditation. Do you ever feel like you’ve got too much stuff? Like your belongings are cluttering up your living space, and, as a result, your whole life feels a bit cluttered as well? One problem with having too much stuff is that it can obscure the value of what you have. If your belongings that you value most are buried within an excess of things you have no use for, it’s easy to forget about the very existence of that which you value, let alone be able to appreciate its personal importance and significance for you. In our turbo-charged consumerist world, there is an alarmingly greater emphasis placed on acquisition than on what is practical or sentimentally significant. We are persuaded at every turn to get the latest model of such-and-such product; to update and stay current. We are held in the sway of mass-marketing campaigns that effectively pit us against one another in a race of gaudy and conspicuous consumption, where the type, novelty, and amount of products you own determine your social value or status. And amidst this consumer chaos, we can forget what is meaningful to us personally. The private value of things. The value of being free of things. And the value that we make for ourselves, within ourselves, that is independent of having and is instead about being. Who are you? And would you be any less you without all your possessions? What of your possessions are most intimately linked to who that person is inside of you? Which are extraneous? Ask yourself these questions from time to time. Have a day, say, once a month, when you take stock of all your belongings, and assess what could be gotten rid of. And then… get rid of it. Donate it if you can. There is likely someone who will get more use out of it than you do. 

By regularly asking yourself what of your belongings you really need and don’t need, you will be practising a kind of mindfulness about what you own; about what is in your space. And that will bring mindfulness to what you acquire as well. And you will see that your whole life will become a little freer and more streamlined as a result. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your forty-first meditation. Do you experience noticeable vacillations in self-worth? In how talented you think you are? In how likeable you view yourself to be? Do you feel on certain days like you’ve assembled the pieces of your life into a pretty solid structure, while on other days all those pieces seem to be just lying on the floor in disarray? If your answer to these questions is “no”, you can count yourself as a rare exception. For the rest of us, know that changes in your levels of self-esteem are as natural as the rising and lowering of the tides, and sometimes can occur as frequently. This can be disorienting. It’s already hard enough to try to figure out who we are and what kind of pursuits and occupations suit us best in life; but when our self-image is constantly shifting, sometimes to extreme degrees, this task of self-discovery and -realization can seem impossible.

So how do we manage it? How do we keep ourselves strapped in on such a rollercoaster ride? Well, first thing’s first: acknowledge that this is how self-esteem operates. Erratic is its MO. This is truer for some than it is for others, and that’s fine. If you think you might be on the more sensitive side, and have noticed you are subject to more extreme swings in self-esteem, mark that about yourself. This way, when you feel that you’re in a slump of self-esteem, you can remind yourself that it is a feeling that will likely pass just as quickly and easily as it made its unwelcome entrance. Acknowledging this might not instantly free you from the slump, but it will help you to avoid blowing the feeling out of proportion. You may feel like a failure from time to time, and that’s ok, but let’s try to avoid despairing thoughts like “I’ve always been a failure, and I’ll always be a failure”. That’s simply not true.

Second, it’s a common tendency for someone who is in a moment of low self-esteem to view everything they do as a failure. Maybe you misplace your keys and think “I can’t even keep track of my own keys!”. Or maybe you drop your bag of groceries and think “I can’t even do groceries properly!” These are absurd thoughts and should be treated as such. In moments like these it helps to have a sense of humour about how silly we are for thinking that way. Not that you should punish yourself for doing so. It’s perfectly natural to think those thoughts. But if you have to suffer such self-castigation for such small things, at least do yourself the favour of deriving a little entertainment from the whole predicament. As though you are watching yourself as a character in a sit-com. You have empathy for the character, but also you can appreciate the humour of the situation from your seat on the couch.

Lastly, as forced or disingenuous as it may feel, don’t forget to remind yourself of your winning qualities when you are struggling with low self-esteem. And no matter how inadequate you may feel in your career at a given moment, no matter how talentless, or charmless you may perceive yourself to be, you always have the power to be kind, to be generous, and to care about others. And those are qualities worth celebrating. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your fortieth meditation. How do you deal with the feeling of overwhelm? With the feeling that there are just too many things to do and not enough time to do them? Do you just jump right in and start doing what needs to get done? Or do you do anything but those things in a semi-conscious effort to avoid having to do them? Maybe sometimes you feel totally paralyzed and can’t do anything at all. And then the guilt builds, which, in turn, increases the overwhelm, and, before you know it, the very things that you love to do most in life can become your greatest sources of stress. So let’s discuss how we might escape this counterproductive feedback loop, and try to think of some ways to avoid, or at least manage the feeling of overwhelm. 

For starters, try externalizing all of your responsibilities. In other words, make lists of everything you need to do. What this does is separates the responsibilities from you. It gives you space to breathe. You no longer feel like you’re a jumble of unfulfilled responsibilities, rather you are you, an agent who can look upon all the things you need to do, and assess the importance and urgency of each one, and organize and order them as such. On the other hand, when you’re carrying all those not-yet done deeds around inside you it can be difficult to distinguish how urgent or important each one is. And without the benefit of a list organized by priority, everything you have to do can seem equally pressing and crucial. As though without the critical distance and order that a written-down list provides, the importance and urgency of the top priority item bleeds into all the other items resulting in an oversized, stress-inducing mass of importance and urgency. Most of us can’t handle that, and so we tend to shut down in response to it.
So make your list. Order it in terms of urgency and importance. Allot the earliest available time to do the urgent stuff and the most available time to do the important stuff. This approach, although somewhat counter-intuitive as it involves one extra step, is so much more efficient than the just-jump-in-and-start-working-on-something approach. With all of your unfulfilled tasks organized you can work with the calm reassurance that you are working on what needs to get done at that particular moment. This allows you to focus better on the task at hand, avoiding task-bleed, meaning that you will do higher quality and more efficient work. It will also likely help you sleep better, and enjoy your time away from work more, freeing up mental space so that you can be more present in that long-awaited conversation with your friend, so that you can relish the taste of the food you eat, or so you can derive pleasure listening to the songs of the birds you pass on a walk. With the freed up mental bandwidth to enjoy things, life, well… becomes more enjoyable, and thus a new and positive feedback loop is born. 

So take the time. Make the list and sort it. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your thirty-ninth meditation. Every conscientious person spends a lot of time thinking about and crafting a moral system that can guide their decisions in life. That system tells us how to behave, dictates what is important to us, and plays a huge role in the type of person we are generally. Each of us has our own unique system, informed by our singular life-experiences. Of course, we don’t simply decide every facet of our moral systems for ourselves. We are born into the moral framework of our families, the social mores of our community, of our culture, and our nation, etc. All of this shared information that we receive early on, and continue to receive into adulthood, forms the building blocks of the moral systems we come to develop for ourselves as individuals.

This is all obvious enough. You may be thinking, “of course each of us learns to be moral from different sources and in different ways.” And yet, we often fail to take these considerations into account when regarding people whose views, traditions, or conduct differ radically from our own. If we have learned that some aspect of social etiquette is important, we can be harshly critical of those who ignore it. If we don’t understand why someone would behave a certain way, we may think that they are crazy or irrational. And if someone holds views that clash with our own, we are often unwilling to hear them out. 

If you are guilty of making judgments like these, don’t be too hard on yourself. We all do it. And it is perfectly natural to do so. When you have learned to see the world a certain way, alternative views can seem plain wrong. Especially if you have taken the time to do the work to really craft a moral system that makes sense to you. But that’s the point. It makes sense to you. The system you have arrived at is based on your unique experience, that only you know how to interpret. No one else could fully understand that. Which is precisely the reason why you can’t fully understand someone else’s moral system. And nor should you be able to. And while you probably wouldn’t think it fair for someone else to judge you harshly for your cherished values that, for you, may be basic tenets of life, it certainly would be no less unfair for you to judge them on similar grounds.

So here’s a suggestion: what if you made it part of your moral system to be open to alternative views, behaviours, cultures? What if a willingness to incorporate the very ideas that you are opposed to into your moral schema was a pillar of how you conceive of morality? Of course this will result in contradictions. But life is full of contradictions so why shouldn’t morality be too? And judging someone who holds opposing views because you can’t understand the complex forces that motivate those views doesn’t seem like a particularly contradiction-free approach to morality either. Remember that having strong values doesn’t mean having finalized values. Individual morality can and should always be challenged and evolve, just as the morality of a nation changes and evolves over the centuries as is expressed in changing laws. The more moral information you let in, the more expansive a moral compass you will have, and the easier it will be to understand and connect with people that are different than you. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

Good morning and welcome to your thirty-eighth meditation. There is a narrative that has existed for a long time that says that we should silently, stoically endure whatever hardships life throws at us. It tells us that to be vulnerable is to be weak, and what’s worse, it makes us appear weak to others. According to this line of thinking, candour about one’s own vulnerability is like an open invitation to the world to trample us. To take advantage of us and to hurt us. And so, the argument goes, to protect ourselves, we shouldn’t reveal when we are hurt, or uncomfortable. 

In more recent times, an opposing narrative has gained authority in the popular discourse. It tells us that to be vulnerable is to be strong. That in order to overcome, or at least manage, our personal struggles, we need to acknowledge what they are and confront them; not pretend as though they weren’t there. 

Without doubt, as is evidenced in episode 29 Strong Enough to be Vulnerable, this podcast subscribes more to the latter school of thought. But perhaps the first view can offer us something of value as well, even if we reject the premise that it is bad or weak to be vulnerable. It is true, after all, that there is a risk involved in openly acknowledging your vulnerabilities. Not to say you shouldn’t do it. You should! Only that you should be careful not to take it too far. That you don’t indulge your pain, your discomfort, your affliction. That you don’t think about them, and talk about them so much that you come to identify with them, so that they dominate your consciousness and you forget that this acknowledgement is only half of the equation. It is not enough to simply say “I am an anxious person”, for example. Identifying that you suffer from anxiety may be helpful as an explanation for why you feel or behave in a certain way, but it is only the first step. The next step is where you do the real work of establishing habits that help you deal with, and perhaps even overcome, whatever it is you are struggling with.So what can be the consequences of failing to move beyond that first step of acknowledgement? We can turn into chronic complainers, convinced that it is our fate to be the gilted, the afflicted party. The underdog. In this way we become our own worst enemy because we resign ourselves to failure, to hurt, to unhappiness. We relinquish our agency, assuming that we are simply subject to the will of forces beyond our power. We think things are always being done to us, or that we are just that way, and take no responsibility for our own power to effect change. And this apathetic, victimized attitude almost inevitably results in discontent. So next time you find yourself thinking about, or discussing things that you struggle with in life, be careful not to wallow. Remember to take the second step. Take the reins. See what you can do to improve the situation, and form positive habits. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.