Steven Pinker’s TED Talk: Is the world getting better or worse?

I read Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now, and came away more optimistic about humanity. We’ve made remarkable progress in even the last few decades, not to mention the drastic difference in the human experience over the past two centuries.

The book, though, is filled with an extraordinary amount of data backing up his arguments and is slow going.

TED recently released this video of Pinker’s TED Talk on the subject. In just 18 minutes, Pinker clearly makes his case. If you don’t want to make time for the book, this talk will suffice.

Sebastian Junger’s TED Talk: The consequences of a more disconnected society

This theme, that it’s all about relationships, keeps appearing in what I’m reading and watching. 

I watched this sobering TED Talk today by the author and war correspondent Sebastian Junger. It is a pointed indictment of a culture that is more disconnected and less tribal than ever. 

The rise in PSTD among returning soldiers, he asserts, may be more about the culture they’re coming home to than it is about their combat experiences. 

We are wired for community, for connection, to be a part of something beyond ourselves. If our culture is trending away from genuine, face-to-face human relationships, it’s on us to cultivate that connection. Our health and well-being are dependent on it. 

The quality of your relationships will determine the quality of your life. 

It’s all about relationships

I somewhat randomly clicked on this TED Talk by Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger this week.

He has carried on the research in one of the longest running research projects of its kind, the Harvard Study of Adult Development. For more than 75 years data has been collected that has led to some clear answers about what makes for a good life.

Younger people tend to predict that fortune and fame will lead to happiness. That prediction doesn’t hold up.

Studying older people who have lived more life shows there is one key indicator for happier and healthier lives.

It’s actually simple and ultimately rather obvious. According to Waldinger and the study’s research, this is your ticket to a good life:

“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

It’s all about relationships.

Not only will you have a happier life if it’s built around positive relationships, you’ll live a healthier and longer life as well:

“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”

Even brain health and mental function were notably better later in life for those who reported stronger connections in their relationships.

Waldinger closed his talk with this:

“The people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships—with family, with friends, with community.”

“The good life is built with good relationships.”

I think most people will say they want a life filled with good relationships, but how often are we intentional about investing in our connections with family and friends and community?

What if you “leaned in” to the relationships that matter most? Imagine making family and friends your true priority in the way you spend your time and where you devote your greatest energy and creativity.

If you want a satisfying life, career success and financial well-being should be subordinate to the strength of the connections you make with the people who matter most.

If you don’t have close friends, make some. If your family life is suffering, get busy making it better. If you don’t have a community that you support and that supports you, do something about it.

Life as a human here on Earth is ultimately all about relationships.

“There isn’t time—so brief is life—for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving—and but an instant, so to speak, for that.” –Mark Twain

 

 

Band camp and intrinsic rewards

I was in the marching band in high school. Trumpet and French horn. I was no great musician, but I especially enjoyed the camaraderie. During the summer we all had to participate in band camp, where we learned the music and the show we would perform at football games and in competitions. (There was no actual camping, by the way. Not sure why it was called a camp.)

It was tedious and hot. Georgia-in-August hot. Putting the show in during the first days of camp took a lot of do-overs as everyone was learning where to go and when. After the band director would stop the show to correct something, we were then exhorted to hurry back to the sideline of the field to start over.

Well, it was hot. And tedious. And most teenagers in August who were waking up early maybe for the first time all summer are inclined to move slowly as they do this hard thing. And the director and the band officers would implore everyone to hurry, to run to get back to the starting point. It was mostly a futile effort getting a hundred high school students to run in the August heat across a dusty field.

I, however, was that kid who made a game out of it. I put a smile on my face and raced back across the field to the line every time, cheering and acting silly as I passed by many of my fellow band members. If I was going to have be out in the heat of an August day in Georgia doing this band practice, I might as well try to have fun.

If I’ve got a choice (and I do), I’m going to choose to be happy. And sprinting across the field at band camp while joking with friends made the tedium less tedious and added a dash of fun. I hoped to make someone else smile along the way as well. There were always a few of us who chose to make it fun.

Not many of my classmates, though, chose a similar response. Most dragged their feet and complained the whole way back to the line. Getting the band back in place to start over was a chore every time.

One day the director gathered the band up as practice was starting and offered a challenge. He would give fast food gift cards to those band members who showed the most spirit and energy running back to the line that day.

Well, every time we stopped and had to start over that day, the whole band went crazy, running back to the line with hyped up glee, yelling and cheering. One of my friends, who could have been the poster boy for the feet-dragging whiners previously, was all of a sudden Mr. Spirit, whooping and running each time we had a do-over.

Almost everyone seemed to be responding to this new motivational tactic. Except, it seemed to have the opposite effect on me. I hurried back, but not with my usual enthusiasm. Now, with a prize at stake, my motivation was gone. I didn’t want to be seen as faking it just to get some free food. And I did not win a spirit award that day. My friend, Mr. Spirit, did.

I remember feeling perplexed by my response. Why had I been bothered by the reward? Why was that enough to tone down my enthusiasm?

The reward for me previously had been an intrinsic one. It was the fun I had doing the thing. But when the reward was a free hamburger and being acknowledged in front of my peers, I put the brakes on. I didn’t understand the psychology then, but I now know that the extrinsic inducement sabotaged my motivation that day.

The next day at band camp there were no more gift cards to be awarded. And everyone went back to business as usual, with just the usual few choosing to delight in running back to the line just for the sake of it, not for any prizes. Those rewards had a very limited impact.

I know there is research now showing that extrinsic rewards turn out to have limited success and work primarily for tasks requiring a low level of mental and emotional investment. Bonuses and prizes and other external payoffs just don’t have the impact and staying power that everyone assumes.

Intrinsic rewards, though, are where the real juice is, especially for higher level work and organizational excellence. Finding how to tap those for yourself and those you lead can open possibilities for deep satisfaction and exceptional performance.

Check out Dan Pink’s TED Talk explaining what he discovered about the power of intrinsic motivation.

 

Mindfulness in ten minutes: Andy Puddicombe’s TED Talk and meditation app

My friend Jill came by my office yesterday. She reads this site and often sends me an encouraging message. I’m kind of freaked out when anyone lets me know they read this. It’s still in my head that I’m writing this just for my own benefit. Thanks to anyone who spares a moment for anything I’ve shared here.

Jill was telling me that she’s been using Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace app for a daily meditation practice. (And there, over on that Headspace link, you’ll find Hermione herself giving it a thumbs up. Brilliant!)

I’ve downloaded the app, and it’s impressively designed. I’m going to give it a go. Meditation has been on my to-do list for a while, but I just haven’t made it a habit. I’ve even got a couple of mindfulness books lined up in iBooks waiting on me. But this app just might be the tipping point for me. It literally talks you through the practice. I might have room for one more daily habit to track.

And here is Andy Puddicombe’s TED Talk advocating taking just ten minutes each day for intentional mindfulness (and there’s juggling, which is a fun bonus).

Digital AND analog

This talk by master penman Jake Weidmann about the dying art of penmanship is fascinating:

Weidmann’s talk makes me care about penmanship. He’s got a great stage presence and makes a somewhat obscure topic something worth talking about.

I have terrible penmanship. I’m left-handed and struggled as a kid trying to use a fountain pen. My gnarled death grip on the pen would have me smudging the wet ink with my hand. I remember being frustrated and a bit embarrassed about my sloppy writing. The only average grades I ever got were in 5th grade for handwriting. (Most schools today don’t even teach, much less grade, handwriting.)

So, I later took to a keyboard with enthusiasm and became a decent typist. To get in to the journalism school in college I actually had to either pass a typing test or take a typing class. I passed the test and can write pretty fast with a computer keyboard. (I think the journalism school not only dropped the typing test a year or two after I graduated in 1986, but probably even shipped out all the typewriters soon after as they made room for computers.)

Now, I find myself resistant to writing anything more than a few sentences by hand. I’ll use my phone or iPad or computer keyboard when possible. They’re convenient and fast and guarantee a neat, legible, electronic copy of what I write.

However, I do switch to thinking through some ideas by sketching out mind maps on my whiteboard and on the big notepad on my desk. I’ve got a clear separation between the digital and analog work spaces in my office. It’s nice to change gears and brainstorm with a marker in hand then turn back to the computer to input and polish and tweak.

IMG_1089.JPG
The digital side of my workspace

 

IMG_1090.JPG
The analog side of my work space (My family came in this afternoon and added their own touches to my work. My daughters cannot resist writing and drawing on the whiteboard.)

This talk about penmanship is a good challenge to care more about how well and how often I write by hand. Maybe I’ve been holding a pen all wrong all my life. My wife has lovely handwriting and is meticulous and careful about making her writing just right. She should have a font named after her.

I don’t think you need to ditch your handy digital tools. We don’t have to choose sides. You can use both. And if you’re lost in the distractions of your electronic life, try grabbing a pencil or some colorful markers and a big sheet of paper or massive whiteboard. They’re all just tools. Use them to bring out your best.