Feb 26

Rules of Three: How to Live Better

When seeking advice on how to live better, many have found that things in threes, stated succinctly, are often more digestible than longer treatises.

One recent example: Actor André De Shields drew attention last year when, during his Tony Awards acceptance speech, he offered the three rules of longevity he’s learned: 1) Surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming, 2) Slowly is the fastest way to get to where your want to be, and 3) The top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.

And, maybe you’ve seen the following popular graphic online:

Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz‘s “3 Things” lists what the singer does “when my life falls apart”:

…I cry my eyes out and I dry up my heart…

…close both of my eyes
And sing my thank yous to each and every moment of my life…

take a breath and bow and I let that chapter end
I design my future bright not by where my life has been
And I try, try, try, try
Try again

In other words, 1) grieve, 2) express gratitude, and 3) move forward.

Psychologist Daniel Tomasulo‘s three rules for a positive transformation (Psych Central):

  1. Change takes time.
  2. Notice and allow the changes.
  3. Be the change.

Miriam Tatzel is another psychologist with rules: three for a happier life (Inc.):

  1. Cultivate your talents.
  2. Accept yourself.
  3. Seek out new experiences.

From Success.com, “Author and speaker Denis Waitley shares three guidelines to transform negative anxiety into positive success. Follow these rules and take action now to let go of your stress.

  1. Accept the unchangeable.
  2. Change the changeable.
  3. Avoid the unacceptable.

The recently published book by former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, Three Rules for Living a Good Life: A Game Plan for after Graduation, expands on the following:

  1. Do what is right.
  2. Do everything to the best of your ability.
  3. Show people you care.

But it’s not just the modern world that’s produced rules of three.

Writer Henry James(1843-1916): Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind. 

Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. 

Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.

Mar 20

“10% Happier”: Author Dan Harris Advocates Meditation

Initially I wanted to call this book “The Voice in My Head Is an A—–e.” However, that title was deemed inappropriate for a man whose day job requires him to abide by FCC decency standards. Dan Harris, 10% Happier

That “voice” to which TV news correspondent Dan Harris refers above and in his new book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story, is the internal chatter we all have to some degree. Internal chatter that for Harris was getting out of control.

A major catalyst for Harris seeking change in his life? His on-air panic attack in 2004—he was on Good Morning America when it happened. As he states, it was “the single most humiliating moment of my life.”

In the recent ABC News video below, Harris shows a clip of that attack:

Harris embarked on a specific quest. From the official description of 10% Happier:

A lifelong nonbeliever, he found himself on a bizarre adventure, involving a disgraced pastor, a mysterious self-help guru, and a gaggle of brain scientists. Eventually, Harris realized that the source of his problems was the very thing he always thought was his greatest asset: the incessant, insatiable voice in his head, which had both propelled him through the ranks of a hyper-competitive business and also led him to make the profoundly stupid decisions that provoked his on-air freak-out.

What did he eventually find that helped? MeditationKirkus Reviews recounts some of his process toward this realization:

Though Harris’ journalistic assignments would bring him face to face with influential self-help spiritualists Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra, neither dispensed the precise amalgam of assurance and credibility necessary to truly diffuse his afflictions. After his wife Bianca’s success with books by sage psychiatrist Mark Epstein, Harris found himself connecting with the good doctor’s Buddhist leanings, befriending him and swiftly embracing the art of meditation, instead of debunking it as the hokey ‘exclusive province of bearded swamis, unwashed hippies, and fans of John Tesh music.’

From Harris’s Preface to 10% Happier, in which the book title is explained:

Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, largely because its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment. If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you’ll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It’s a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose. To be clear, it’s not a miracle cure. It won’t make you taller or better-looking, nor will it magically solve all of your problems. You should disregard the fancy books and the famous gurus promising immediate enlightenment. In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier. That’s an absurdly unscientific estimate, of course. But still, not a bad return on investment.

At first it was only five minutes a day that he meditated. But the three benefits he found immediately, he says, were:

  1.  Increased focus
  2.  A greater sense of calm
  3.  A vastly improved ability to jolt myself out of rumination and fantasies about the past or the future, and back to whatever was happening right in front of my face

Now Harris has been practicing meditation for about four years, 35 minutes per day. Another important benefit he’s been able to find? It has to do with that “voice”:

I created a different relationship to the voice in my head. You know the voice I’m talking about. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, checking our e-mail while we’re in conversation with other people, and losing our temper only to regret it later. The ability to see what’s going on in your head at any given moment without reacting to it blindly—often called ‘mindfulness’—is a superpower. I’m certainly not arguing that meditation is a panacea. I still do tons of stupid stuff – as my wife will attest. But the practice has definitely made me happier, calmer, and nicer.

Things he still struggles with are decreasing his multitasking attempts and his mindless and compulsive eating. Habits he’s broken are his use of self-medicating drugs (cocaine and ecstasy) which he’s now learned had led to brain changes (too much adrenaline) that likely contributed to his panic.

Apr 26

AJ Jacobs: Is Now the Time To Outsource Your Worries?

A 2005 article in Esquire entitled “My Outsourced Life” by writer/editor AJ Jacobs humorously details an interesting experiment he’d conducted about outsourcing to India his usual day-to-day life tasks, both personal and professional. He winds up with a couple female helpers named Asha and Honey.

Ultimately, after a few weeks, AJ Jacobs realizes that although he’s benefited from this type of remote assistance, he still feels too stressed. So now he turns his attention to his “inner life,” including his therapy.

The following article excerpt describes the ensuing process:

First, I try to delegate my therapy. My plan is to give Asha a list of my neuroses and a childhood anecdote or two, have her talk to my shrink for 50 minutes, then relay the advice. Smart, right? My shrink refused. Ethics or something. Fine. Instead, I have Asha send me a meticulously researched memo on stress relief. It had a nice Indian flavor to it, with a couple of yogic postures and some visualization.

This was okay, but it didn’t seem quite enough. I decided I needed to outsource my worry. For the last few weeks I’ve been tearing my hair out because a business deal is taking far too long to close. I asked Honey if she would be interested in tearing her hair out in my stead. Just for a few minutes a day. She thought it was a wonderful idea. ‘I will worry about this every day,’ she wrote. ‘Do not worry.’

The outsourcing of my neuroses was one of the most successful experiments of the month. Every time I started to ruminate, I’d remind myself that Honey was already on the case, and I’d relax. No joke—this alone was worth it.

No joke at all—I totally believe this could work. If anyone out there has found a “Honey” of your own, I’d love to hear about your experiences.