How Is This the Best Thing That’s Happened to Me?

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kenny sandals maple ridge 5k 2022 tulsa, ok

One of the last cool spring breezes of the year rolled over the historic neighborhood as folks of every age, shape, and goal-set pinned race number bibs to their shirts, stretched out legs, and bounced around in anticipation of the starting gun. Scanning the crowd for familiar faces, I spotted my Rabbi, his family, and many others from my synagogue. Minutes before the starting gun, I swam through the crowd of runners over to give my “good luck!” wishes and perhaps run alongside a few friends. 

“I didn’t know you were a runner!” My Rabbi exclaimed, seeing me behind the starting line in my runner’s duds for the first time.

“Well, as of just the last couple of months. It’s a funny little story.” 

“You’ll have to tell me sometime,” he said looking at his watch before looking back up, “or, just now.” 

My eyes shot towards the bill of my cap as I processed the short version of the story.

“I used to jump rope on my backyard deck every morning. During Sukkot this fall, however, the best spot for our sukkah was where I would usually jump rope. So, instead of jumping rope, I went for runs in the nearby park that week. I ended up really enjoying running and, thus, why I’m here.” (Don’t worry, I’ll explain what on earth this means.)

“So, the Jewish holiday of Sukkot made you a runner?” 

“I guess you could say that.” 

I could see the Rabbi-wheels turning behind his eyes, pondering how the tale could be leveraged for the sake of Judaism.

As I wrapped up my short story, the starting gun went off. 

We wished each good luck and I ran across the line. The cluster of runners became a long stream as their varying speeds stretched out the shape of the formation. 

Putting one foot in front of another, I started to realize how what was originally perceived as an inconvenience led to what is now one of my favorite activities—one that has reshaped my relationship with my body, mind, and community. 

And it was true; a Jewish holiday had made me a runner. 

For many years, I had grown to enjoy jump rope. The activity was not only a great way to kickstart my day but had resulted in nearly 40 pounds of weight loss. My favorite place to jump rope was a section of a wooden deck in my backyard—just the right amount of give. However, this section of the deck was also the best place in my backyard for the construction of what is called a “sukkah.” Huh? Don’t worry—I’ll explain.

Every year, immediately after the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), there is a week-long holiday called Sukkot (“sue-coat”)—the Festival of Booths. The “booths” reference the temporary dwellings that the Israelites lived in while traveling through the desert for 40 years. To commemorate this time, Jewish people erect temporary dwellings and host an array of festivities within. Our synagogue builds a sukkah on-site nearly the size of our sanctuary. My family does as well—erecting a 6×8 foot screened-in room with a roof made of bamboo thatch in our backyard. My non-Jewish friends just call mine “Ken’s Jewish Party Hut” and come over to clink a few pint glasses, eat some tasty grub, and enjoy the last of the temperate fall weather before winter forces us inside. 

There was only one problem—my sukkah took my jump rope spot. Jumping rope on my concrete driveway was too firm and attempting to jump rope on another section of the deck presented the possibility of hitting low-hanging utility wires. Just greeeat. 

It only took a few days of Sukkot before I started getting the itch to break a sweat. Leaving my jump rope behind, I headed off to a nearby park to attempt to scratch the itch with a walk. After a kilometer lap or so, it was clear that simply walking wasn’t going to cut it. So, I decided to pick up the pace and run. 

After running a kilometer lap, my heart was racing and my lungs were looking for air wherever it could be found. It felt great. Though my cardiovascular system was grinning, my legs, knees, and hips were not. Being clueless about proper technique, I had forced them to carry me around the track—pounding my lower extremities against the pavement. 

My quest to figure out how to run properly took me through a whirlwind of technique tutorials far exceeding the week of Sukkot. I dove headfirst into any books and videos I could find on the subject, including:  

It didn’t take long before I was fairly obsessed. I went from pushing myself to 5k (or 3.1-mile) distances at slower paces (well over 11 minutes per mile) to breaking a 12-mile distance barrier and finally being able to run a mile in under 8 minutes.

More than fitness, running became a practice—as important for my mind as much as my body. Figuring out how to improve or seeing what my body can accomplish feels like gradually working on a huge puzzle with little boosts of encouragement every time a new piece falls into place.

Even though I could ramble on and on about what I think about while I’m putting in miles (absolutely nothing, refreshingly enough) and what drives me to put one foot in front of another, my favorite fictional runner already summarized this in the 1994 film Forrest Gump,

 “I just felt like running.”  

But the events that eventually led to my love of running originally came from a much darker place: cancer. 

In 2017, I was diagnosed with and treated for testicular cancer—an experience that forever changed my relationship with my own body. After bouts of health anxiety in the wake of such treatment and surveillance, I started jumping rope. Thus, my cancer inspired me to seek fitness as a means of preserving my mind and body. If you poke around online, you’re likely to find hundreds of such stories of folks, who, after staring death in the face, went on to change their lives for the better.

Though I had successfully transformed what was the worst thing that could have happened to one of the best things, it wasn’t until about a week ago that I realized this—as well as how much time and pain I could have avoided if I’d had such foresight instead of this hindsight.

But wishing for foresight makes about as much sense as wishing for a crystal ball. What we can do is ask ourselves one question: How could this situation actually be the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me? 

This practice was first introduced to me through a YouTube video called “8 Habits that Changed My Life” by the creator Struthless. I remember watching this video on my couch while nursing a case of metatarsalgia (inflammation of the forefoot) that kept me from running. The host mentioned a mental exercise he had taken on—simply, when faced with a difficult situation, instead of getting frustrated, asking one’s self, “How is this the best thing that’s ever happened to me?”

What was a frustrated pity party with a side of an itch to run became wondering…how is this the best thing that’s ever happened to me? 

In this instance, I realized that my metatarsaliga was a symptom of a larger problem—my running form. I was landing on my forefoot with too much force. I used my downtime to figure out how to remedy the problem and how to distribute force across my entire foot. After doing so, I ran my fastest mile ever about a week later—even faster than I was before my injury. 

While helpful, I feel like my piddly instance of going from a sore foot to breaking a personal record is just at the lower tier of how this mental exercise can be utilized. What if I had asked myself, “How is this the best thing that’s ever happened to me?” when I received my cancer diagnosis? Then, maybe I could have avoided a year or two of anxiety and hopped into fitness even sooner. I have no idea. 

I feel that this mental exercise can change or even save someone’s life.

Instead of spiraling into deep depression or anxiety, someone can ask this question and begin to see a way out of despair. 

Instead of seeing adversity as a speed bump, they can ask this question and use such an instance as, instead, a launch ramp. 

Instead of letting a setback ruin your day, you can ask this question, reframe your vision of a problem, and pivot toward personal success. 

Instead of seeing an event as the last shoe to drop, you can see it as the starting gun to wake you from procrastinating your own betterment. 

How is what is going wrong in your life actually the greatest thing that’s ever happened to you? How can you make it so?

kenny sandals tulsa 5k maple ridge memorial day run

Becoming Besties With Death

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We all have differing relationships with Death. Some have come face to face with it on battlefields, city streets, or ICUs. Some scroll right past it like an advertisement on a social media timeline. Most of us are aware of Death but are afraid to look it in the eye.

It feels odd to say, but Death has become a close friend. I invite Death along with me throughout my happiest moments—in the mornings over coffee, when my son gives me a big hug, seeing my wife’s warm smile, or when I go out for runs. I have gotten to the point where I actually want Death there with me. Don’t worry—it’s not as dark as it sounds.

And it wasn’t always this way. 

I’m pretty sure I was introduced to Death when my grandfather died a week or so before the first day of sixth grade. Despite being raised with the afterlife-believing theology that comes with a religious upbringing, the mystery of Death was suddenly terrifying. No one could tell me precisely what happens the moment after I would take my last breath. The lack of answers kept my breathing shallow and my eyes deeply acquainted with the contours of my bedroom ceiling. Despite this, like most of my fears, I leaned into it—even, for a time, considering becoming a mortician. Eh, too much school. 

After receiving news that my first marriage was going to end, I realized that worst-case scenarios were, in fact, possible. I buried my emotions about the divorce in order to cope. This resulted in me becoming a hypochondriac. I believe that this made my death anxiety resurface. I was certain that every odd physical sensation was a malady that would flip over my mortal hourglass—like such a scene from the Wizard of Oz. I knew that it was only a matter of time before an odd symptom would lead to a doctor’s visit that would then result in bad news.

Then one did. 

A few years into my blissful second marriage, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Despite an early detection that allowed for a virtual cure thanks to one out-patient surgery, I would still have to undergo regular scans to ensure that the cancer had not spread. Every year, I’d get the “all clear,” and go about my life for another 11 months. One month out, when the next scan was scheduled, my emotional burners would ignite beneath my guts. Just as my anxiety would begin to boil, another “all clear” would swiftly cut the burner off once again. 

Then, one Sunday afternoon, I befriended Death. At a playground.  

With the place to ourselves, I chased my three-year-old son up ladders and down slides. Through wood chips and sand. Jumping, running, swinging, and laughing. As he continued to expend his virtually endless energy stores on climbing and sliding, I sauntered over to some nearby swings to take a load off. As I let a tailwind rock me back and forth, I savored the tired sensation of chasing a toddler up and down the grounds. With a joyful sigh, I felt the presence of someone approach and take a seat in the swing next to mine. I didn’t have to look over to see that it was none other than Death. 

Death wasn’t there to take me. No, he was simply there to show me what mattered. 

The silver clouds reflected a handful of straw-like rays to the east. The ecstatic cluck of my son’s laughter echoed off the nearby treeline. The air in my nostrils carried notes of a recent spring rain as it filled my chest and then flowed out again over the top of my graying mustache. For a few moments, the entire world was free of buzzing notifications, jealous gossip, the frantic compulsion to keep up appearances, and gripping one’s own biases like a bull rider behind the gate. As Death rested its bones on the swing beside mine, he wiped away these diversions like blemishes from a lens—if for just a moment.

I know that, somewhere, my mortal hourglass is hissing with the trickle of sand from one chamber to the other. There’s no way to invert such a device, tighten its waist, or thicken the material within. To make matters worse, our petty squabbles, unfounded anxieties, and insincere motivations only work to scoop handfuls of sand out of the top halves of our mortal hourglasses. 

Most of us look to the upper chamber of our hourglass—filled with worry and expectation about what is hiding in the sand. If we’re not gazing at the top of the funnel, we’re frantically sifting through the particulate that has already fallen through to the bottom. We’re desperate to hold good times up to the light or bury the painful particles we unearth. 

Where should we be looking? The only place that matters—where the dust falls.  

As the air kisses the falling grains, this is where our attention should be—hovering between chambers. Only here, with the tremor of the device, can we change its travel through time and space. And while the top of the hourglass contains an unknown matter(s) and the bottom holds inaccessible sand, what falls between the chambers is the golden powder of life. The only time we can observe this golden powder fully illuminated by the setting sun is in free-fall in the waist of the hourglass—after it has left the above chamber of the Future and before it lands in the chamber of the Past in the belly of the vessel. 

You’re not going to die. No, you are currently dying. Like mine, your hourglass is hissing with the falling sands of time. The sand below represents every day given to Death. The sands above contain materials you cannot access. Instead of filling you with dread, this realization should infuse the present with vitality. It should compel you to stop squandering your time on pursuits of hollow vanity, insincere gestures, or needless self-inflicted anxieties. 

Your relationship with Death while alive should not be one of paralysis but instead a motivational friendship. Death doesn’t come around to frighten, but to inspire. Death is not something to run away from, but to run with every mile of your life. In the parlance of the youth of the early 21st century, to invigorate your daily life with clarity, purpose, and richness, Death should be your “bestie.” 

“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”

-Seneca

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”

-Marcus Aurelius

6 Reasons to Make Analog Journaling a Part of Your Life (Read or Listen)

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analog journaling

I’ve always been a journaler.

As a kid, I feverishly filled spiral notebooks with everything from weird sci-fi to Shel Silverstein-esque poetry to undelivered letters to crushes—and usually when I was supposed to be doing something else. As I got older and computers became a larger part of life, I’ve usually kept some form of a digital journal—either using mobile journaling applications or word processors. 

And while the experience of journaling digitally has been deeply therapeutic, the tech has come with ample downsides. A moment of insight could be derailed by judgemental spellcheck. Backspace makes it too easy to second guess an idea and leave it unexplored. 

I began to feel a draw to the various other distractions that resided within the same device I was simultaneously trying to escape with a good journaling session. This is usually a losing battle.

 Around the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, I picked up a dot-style Moleskine notebook and some pens just to see what would happen. 

The result? Just one month and 98 pages later, I’m kicking myself for not trying this sooner. 

Why? I could give you 98 reasons. Instead, I’ll give you six.

Before I do that, let me clarify what I mean by “analog journaling.”

I consider analog journaling the simple practice of regularly documenting various content on a paper, non-electronic page, such as:

  • Capturing ideas
  • Taking down necessary notes
  • Dumping out your head 
  • Documenting life’s stories
  • Tracking personal habits
  • Creating systems
  • Virtually any function where it could be deemed a helpful idea to open the release valve on your thoughts or feelings

I don’t subscribe to any particular journaling style—such as bullet journaling (though morning pages seem to be pretty much the same thing)—but I will occasionally borrow heavily from them as they seem helpful. 

Ok, ok—enough with the introduction and onto the reasons why I’d recommend keeping an analog journal. 

Reason 1. Analog journaling gives you an escape from screens (and novelty). 

Whether we’re scrolling down the infinity pool of content on our hand-held screens, accessing work-related content on our desktop screens, or shuffling through the endless program choices on our wall-mounted screens, we are inundated with screens. 

And now for something that seems off topic but it will make sense. 

This may come as a shock to some of you, but I used to smoke cigarettes. 

Though I eventually switched to vaping, I was still hopelessly addicted to nicotine—despite hating how it made me feel.  My pulse would become erratic, digestion a bit off, but the worst aspect was simply the craving sensation that reminded me that I was addicted. Any time away from my vaping device or between refills, I would crave nicotine to the point of even bumming drags or cigarettes from friends. 

After a while, I decided to quit for good. That was several years ago and my cravings for the device vanished, thank God…until craving a device returned.

No, not a vaping device—for a scrolling device. A screen. 

Was I looking for any specific information? No, just novelty—something entertaining or interesting that didn’t require much mental bandwidth. I was essentially yanking the handle on the slot machine of Gmail, YouTube, or Google News in hopes of shiny, easily consumable content. 

 The answer? Well, not through empty electronic calories. Instead, I’ve sought fulfillment from internal sources rather than external electronic novelty—everything from physical fitness to creative endeavors such as creating music and writing. This is where analog journaling really shines—no screen pun intended

Instead of the slot-machine-like-dopamine-triggering effects of glowing screens, analog journaling strips away the novelty of external stimuli and forces us to look within for meaningful entertainment. 

But that sounds pretty boring.”

Yes, analog journaling takes some getting used to—even in comparison to digital journaling. But I challenge you to sit down in a quiet space with nothing but a blank page, a pen, and your mind, and experience how thoroughly and satisfyingly entertaining it can be. 

Reason 2. Analog journaling requires you to go within. 

Journaling in general is a deeply introspective experience—requiring you to drill down into the aquifer of your psyche and pump out the ideas that spill onto the page—a concept I’m borrowing from Van Neistat’s video about running

Analog journaling, however, creates additional friction on the pathway to distraction—especially if you turn off all nearby screens and leave your “hand screen” in another room. Digital journaling comes with an army of distracting novelty gremlins calling out to you from the same device in your hand that you would use to usually consume them. 

Because of this higher barrier to digital distraction, analog journaling makes it easier to drill deeper into our minds to access thoughts, emotions, ideas, and solutions that normally wouldn’t stand a chance against exterior distractions. 

Reason 3. Analog journaling requires you to slow down. 

It seems that every service, every device, and feature are designed with convenience at their core. The words “value” and “convenience” have become synonyms. 

While infinite convenience at every turn seems mighty swell, I’ve personally found that such abundant ease reduces the meaning in my daily tasks. Like an underworked muscle, if everything is convenient, easy, and quick, my day just seems to wash right past me in a quick blur where no single endeavor stands out.

We’ve all become obsessed with saving time without much thought to how we end up spending it.

Analog journaling, on the other hand, is immensely valuable while not being very convenient at all—and that’s a good thing.

This deliberate inconvenience, albeit slight, carries over to other activities. Since picking up an analog journaling practice, I’ve found myself leaving my phone at home when I go out running, leaving my phone in the other room while reading, or simply enjoying the physics, slowness, and textures involved in brewing my morning coffee in a french press sans phone.

In an instant-download, “Prime delivery,” K-cup culture, intentional slowness seems to enrich common activities with meaning and renewed enjoyment.

Reason 4. Analog journaling provides a much-needed (missing) tactile experience. 

Outside of journaling, I rarely write by hand anymore. I’m a “writer” by trade, but I’m actually more accurately a “typer.” Bank cards, Venmo, and PayPal have replaced the need to write or sign checks. Even most of the legal documents I’ve had to interact with leading up to the purchase of a house (easily the largest transaction of my life) have been completely digital and were signed by clicking an agreement button. 

The physical act of writing or crafting something by hand is becoming a bygone activity. And that should be terrifying.

Analog journaling allows us to rebuild our lost tactile world—the mind-body connections that typing, tapping, and swiping can’t replace. 

  • The feeling of the pen across the texture of the page. 
  • The care required in writing each letter so I can read what the hell I just wrote. 
  • Consciously remembering to steer clear of freshly written words until the ink has dried. 
  • The consequence of not properly internally articulating a concept before putting it in ink so I don’t have to scribble it out—though my journal remains about 15% scratched-out words

All of the experiences culminate in a gratifying tactile experience—almost a return to analog craftsmanship that we’ve nearly lost. 

Reason 5. Analog journaling allows for unlimited formatting potential for the avid journaler. 

One of my biggest beefs with word processors is the ease of formatting—or rather the lack thereof. While any graphic designer or web developer could likely format a digital space beyond my imagination, I simply want this functionality on the fly. 

  • Sometimes, I want to write simple sentences in straight lines. 
  • Sometimes, I want to create a table to track how many miles I’ve run that week. 
  • Sometimes, I want to write why I like dub reggae music and what it makes me feel while I listen to it, but using the words to fill in the outline of the beard of a fictitious character I doodled.

Analog journaling allows for the quick composition of mind maps, Venn diagrams, customized headings, and cyborg dinosaurs wherever you want them. For example:

analog journal doodle

Reason 6. Analog journaling is a superb method of chronicling and archiving eras and experiences. 

Though most of us will never have biographies written about us, there is a high likelihood of instances in which knowledge of our lives or mental states will be sought after—either by future generations, but most likely by ourselves. This being said, writing for a future audience of one or even zero is not time wasted. 

“But isn’t digital information protected better against aging than paper?” 

Technically speaking, probably.

With that being said, my mother still has a box full of my elementary school and middle school spirals in her basement—accessible anytime I want them. Unlike the availability of this information, years of my junior high blog posts on Xanga and digital writing pre-Google-Drive are gone forever—lost to the perceived disposable nature of hardware and content distribution platforms. 

And while those spiral notebooks won’t last tens of thousands of years, they have the potential to last a few hundred years or longer—more than long enough for anyone with the faintest memory of my existence to dive deeper into my internal dialogue during any stage of life in which I was keeping a journal. 

For example, my grandmother is well into her 90’s and her mental facilities aren’t quite what they once were. Despite this, because she kept an analog journal for decades, future generations will have a firsthand perspective of her life as well as what life was like for someone throughout the 20th and early 21st century. All we’ll have to do is open one of the dozens of journals she’ll leave behind and turn to any one of the thousands of dated entries. 

Her daughter, my mother, was even telling me about a letter she had uncovered that she had written to her mother. She had written this letter when I was in elementary school. It outlined everything she was experiencing during a particular week. As she told me about the contents of the letter, the details allowed me to time travel to that week. I even helped her fill in details with my third-grade perspective. 

So, do I think anyone will want to read my analog journal entries hundreds of years from now? Eh, probably not. But at least I’ll be able to randomly crack open one of my journals, read its contents, and think, “Remember when we used to pray for what we now take for granted?

Thinking about keeping an analog journal? Here are a few tips to help enrich your experience.

Tip 1. The right journal can make or break your journaling experience. 

When shopping for a journal, choose a page layout that is conducive to how you intend to journal. 

  • For those who only plan to write words, a lined journal likely makes the most sense. 
  • For visually artistic folks, you may opt for completely blank pages. 
  • For people like who are me in the middle between writer and doodler—a dotted page layout is a great choice. Dotted pages are somewhat like graphing paper, but with only the dotted intersections and not the lines on the page.  These pages allow for the use of the illusion of lines when needed or line-free expanses when they’re not.

Ideal Cover & Size

I’d recommend a hardback journal to a soft-backed journal for easier lap writing. 

Also, keep the size comfortably medium—not so big that it is unwieldy, but not so small that writing inside it is cramped and difficult. 

Use Page Numbers and a Table of Contents

Keep page numbers and a table of contents in your journal. There are several journals that come with page numbers as well as a blank table of contents. If your journal of choice doesn’t include them, they’re easy enough to write in yourself. But it’s up to you to maintain them.

I personally recommend doing so for the sake of quick referencing later. Include the date and a summary title of what you wrote about. 

Tip 2. Not sure what to write about that? Write about that.

Possibly over half of your journaling experiences will begin with you having no clue what to write about. That’s fine—simply start by writing about that. It’ll soon go somewhere after you blow out some mental cobwebs.

Remember that this is nothing more than a conversation with yourself. It doesn’t have to make sense. You don’t have to pull any punches. You can leap from topic to topic at a moment’s notice. Let go of all expectations and enjoy the process of putting ink on the page.

Tip 3. Spend time every day with your journal—which is really just time with yourself.

The idea of making an appointment with your journal can feel like homework. In actuality, it’s more like therapy. It is time to check in with yourself, what you’re celebrating, how you’re stuck, or just maintaining your self-preservation systems so loose ends don’t dominate your thoughts.

Batch Journaling With Stuff You Already Do

Regular journaling may seem like a tall order. The momentum to get started can seem overwhelming. However, it’s easier to get into the rhythm of spending time with the page if you batch the activity with something you already do.

Perhaps immediately after you hit the “brew” button on your coffee in the morning or start your dishwasher after dinner, settle into your journal for a few minutes. 

Consider Journaling a Break From Your Phone

Before you start journaling, turn off all other screens and leave your phone in the next room. If you’re afraid you’ll be too distracted by not having your phone for that long, you definitely need to leave it in the next room. While uncomfortable at first, the experience will become a relief. 

I look forward to you looking forward to those quiet, constructive, purposefully inconvenient journaling sessions with nothing but your journal, a pen, and your thoughts.

And yes, this entire piece was first composed in my analog journal.


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Two Ancient Notions That Helped Pull Me From the Depths

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The summer of 2020 was rough for a lot of people…

…for a lot of different reasons. It was rough for me because I was experiencing levels of health anxiety only matched by the week before I received a positive cancer diagnosis in 2017. 

This was different, though.

Was I displaying any physical symptoms? Eh, probably not. Then what was the source of the anxiety? For those who have experienced bouts of anxiety, you know that you don’t need a reason. In fact, most of us pray for a source of our torment so that we can know what the hell to fix. The worst anxiety often makes the least sense. 

But I did find something that turned it all around—two ancient notions that have been helping people like me for thousands of years. But these require additional context.

Anxiety is a lying snake.

Impending doom continued to swirl around my perception of how I was doing inside. These feelings were briefly alleviated by trips to my doctor. He would immediately tell me that nothing was wrong. In fact, that I was in better health than I had been since my teenage years. I would ride this high of relief for a few weeks only for the feelings of anxiety and dread to slither back into my life. 

My health anxiety would crack fever pitches just before surveillance appointments—routine follow-up scans with my urologist following my cancer treatment in 2017. This bubbling dread leading up to scans is what is known as “scanxiety” in the cancer community. 

He’d usually just walk into the examination room, tell me how the scans showed nothing abnormal, and remind me that I hadn’t displayed any signs of cancer in several years. 

A few months later, the dread would reappear—like Ol’ Pap Finn back in town, looking for his Huckleberry to knock around. Rinse and repeat.

But that was all about to change.

One morning in early spring 2021, the dread slithered up my spine and sat atop my shoulder as I examined my appearance in the bathroom mirror. With it’s split tongue tickling every consonant, it whispered—

“You’re going to die soon.” 

Taking a deep breath and realizing it was [only] the anxiety talking—something meditation had made me hip to—I let a deep exhale flap my lips in cheeky facetious exasperation as I let out my reply.

Well, if that’s the case, I better make this summer count,” chuckling to myself, scoffing off the serpent’s lies as I dried my hands and walked out of the bathroom. 

I didn’t know it at the time but something shifted inside. That serpent, who thrived on my fear and dread, was defanged. 

Did I truly believe that I was going to die soon? No—it was just another lie my mind was trying to get me to believe. 

But I started living as though it were true

  • I made an extra effort to spend time with people I cared about —sometimes seeking out old friends who had slipped through life’s cracks.
  • I became more conscious of what foods, habits, and activities made me feel my best and made a point to fill my life with them.
  • I sought out moments of peace. 
  • I made conscious efforts to be more present in everything I did—especially while spending time with loved ones. 
  • And yes, this was around the time I quit social media—an activity I’ve mostly replaced with more pleasure-reading than I had done in my entire life. Thanks, John Grisham.

With these activities and the mental residue that accompanied them, my dread was rendered powerless. The whispered lies grew increasingly faint and manageable. Ease and contentment snuck their way back into my life reminiscent of childhood.

There’s no doubt that these activities aided in managing my mood and anxiety levels. Still, I attribute much of this relief to the combination of two philosophical pillars of Stoicism I had learned about years prior but had begun inadvertently practicing—amor fati and memento mori. 

Amor Fati

We have little control over what happens to us in life. And how boring would life be if we could? Without a little uncertainty, you may not have ever met your spouse or discovered your passion. 

Amori fati literally means a love of one’s fate—whatever that happens to be. Even if it sucks. Because ultimately it will teach you something or play a role in helping you become the person you were meant to be just as it had up to this point. Fighting fate is a losing battle, so you might as well fall in love with it. 

Memento Mori

Speaking of fate, you’re going to die. 

“Yeah, but not for a while.” 

Says who? You could die in a few months. Next week. Tomorrow. 

Instead of letting this idea burden your thoughts, use it to bring clarity to your life. When tomorrow is not promised, this notion should make your next meal delicious, every sunset spectacular, and moments with those close to you an extravagant privilege. The governor just gave you a stay of execution—what are you going to do with it before he changes his mind?

Memento mori means “remembrance of death” — which is actually a remembrance of life. 

Death is inevitable and thus a silly fear. The true fear is never having truly lived.

Still, it is important to remember that yes, you’re going to die. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Simply make sure you’re squeezing the juice out of life and not leaving any meat on the bone. 

These notions may not click for you or change your life right now or even in the near future. That’s ok. But they’re planted. If you’re like me, your subconscious may need to chew on them for a few years before they “turn on.” My prayer is that one day, your mind finds use for them when you most need them.

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5 Reasons Why I Left Social Media (and 4 Things to Consider)

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My jar ain’t big enough. 

There’s a classic story told by Stephen Covey in his book First Things First entitled “The Big Rocks of Life.” In this story, a person speaking to a class of business students uses a gallon-sized jar to symbolize their schedule. He also uses various items to represent time on their calendar.

  • He first placed several fist-sized rocks in the jar till they reached the lip. He asked the class if the jar was full, to which they said yes. 
  • He then dumped in as much gravel as he could into the jar, shaking the jar, causing the gravel to fill the space between the rocks. He asked them again if it was full, to which they replied yes. 
  • He then poured in as much sand as he could into the jar — again, shaking it until it settled around the rocks. He asked the class if it was full. They said yes. 
  • He then poured as much water as he could into the jar. He didn’t even have to shake the jar to get it to settle. This time he agreed that it was, in fact, full. 

He asked if anyone understood the point of this illustration. 

“…no matter how full your schedule is,” one student shouted from the back, “if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!” 

“‘No,’ the speaker replied, ‘that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”’

As a husband, family man, employee, and just a human being in need of routine maintenance, I’ve come to realize that my jar is only so big. The more I’ve tried to cram into it, the more my big rocks have remained teetering above the lip—if not rolling out and landing on my foot with a thud. 

It’s for this reason that I was forced to take careful note of how I spent my time and compare that to how I wanted to spend it — as well as optimizing my own mental and emotional bandwidth.

Upon analyzing how I not only spent my time but also my mental energy, the total impact of social media seemed to clog up inordinate amounts of my attention and energy. Discovering this was akin to finding a minimized web browser loaded to the hilt with active tabs. 

So, what did I do? Over the past 2 years, I closed those mental tabs. I started by shutting down my personal Facebook account, then Instagram, and just a few weeks back — Twitter.

The following are a number of reasons why I quit using 98% of the social media platforms I had previously utilized, how I feel now, and four items to consider for those contemplating making the leap from the social media train.

Reason #1. I’m no match for the machine.

“Why do you make such a big deal out of social media? Why can’t you just treat it like a nice little escape and stash it the rest of the time?” 

Man, I wish I were one of those social media users who could just take a peek every Sunday afternoon for 10 minutes and then stow it away — not just physically but also mentally. But I’m not. 

I’m not sure why but whenever I use social media, my mind gives it permission to run in the background like a memory-hungry computer application. I find myself thinking about it and checking it as though I’d invested my life savings on a single tumultuous stock.

“I wonder if anyone has interacted with my post.”

“I wonder what so-and-so said about xyz.”

“I’m bored but I know where to get a dopamine bump…”

“Why did I automatically type in ‘twitter.com’ once I opened that web browser?” 

And was I ever fulfilled in my checking? Hmm…not really. 

Anytime I took the plunge down any feed, it felt like opening my own refrigerator in hopes that someone else had stocked it with ice-cold Hefeweizen and disembodied thumbs up. Ok, that last part sounded a little weird

I’m a simple dude. I’m no match for Silicon Valley’s algorithm-driven “advertainment” spoon perched atop the cigarette lighter of my own insecurities. As long as I’m logged on, they got me.

Reason #2. Acquaintances don’t matter. Like, at all. 

Some relationships are worthy of your attention and they should be preserved at all cost. Others should be allowed to wither, die, and decompose in order to nurture new and existing relationships.

If you asked me 15 years ago to describe my present self, such a reckless shot in the dark would have been investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. While many aspects of my personality and interests have remained consistent over the years, much about me has also changed. And with these changes comes a shift in those who matter most to me. 

While I have preserved many important relationships and even fostered new ones, I likely could not tell you which members of my graduating class from high school are still capable of fogging a mirror. 

And if that sounds harsh, it’s really not. Why? Well, the reality is that those people don’t matter. To me — I mean. They don’t matter to me. My daily life. And they don’t have to. Why? Because I probably don’t matter to them. And that’s fine. 

According to acclaimed anthropologist Robin Dunbar, the cognitive limit of the human brain to adequately maintain social relationships is about up to 150 people. Called “Dunbar’s Number,” 150 relationships is where we, as a species, max out — or as he put it, “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”

I’m not precisely sure why, but learning about Dunbar’s Number brought me immense comfort — as though someone relieved a pressure valve so as to say, “no, you’re not crazy. You’re just not built for this.”

In addition to not being able to maintain healthy relationships with so many people, I always feel my own sense of self begin to erode when held up to the scrutiny of the masses rather than how I perceive myself. I found myself attempting to impress people far outside my 150 relationships. Even worse, I was failing to impress the only person worthy of impressing — me. 

Over the years, I found that social media kept me beholden to a particular group of people — most of whom were acquaintances, lapsed friendships, or distant relatives. Though I initially tried to fashion the online version of myself to be consistent with reality, the continued preservation of that antiquated version of me started to hold me back from progressing into my perpetually changing, authentic self. Even worse, this avatar I constructed had deviated so much from whom I wanted to be now that I grew to question my own identity. 

Does my Instagram or Twitter self symbolize who I am or vice versa? Do I even know who I am anymore? 

The more I would strive to construct a social media manifestation of myself, the less I felt I knew about who I was. I feel that this was partially because I was aiming to impress or at least preserve a consistent image for those who matter very little to me now. Social media kept me believing that, like a company, I was a brand. But I am not a brand. I am a living organism — terms and conditions subject to change, some restrictions apply. See me for details.

Reason #3. Half-baked thoughts don’t need a venue

When I left Twitter, I saved all of my tweets. Looking back at them is, well, embarrassing. While I stand by much of the things I said, there are several examples of instances where posting a half-baked thought was likely not warranted. 

Why do we feel ok about saying things on our social media feeds that we would never utter in public? Social media accounts are virtual jumbotrons, yet little responsibility or consideration is made for quality assurance. We belch randomness into a box that then clogs the minds of anyone unfortunate to have it illuminate their face. 

Don’t get me wrong — I’m going to continue belching my nonsense into blog articles, essays, and even books for the rest of my life — but I’ll at least give you, the audience, the decency of mulling the contents over before hitting the “publish” button. 

Reason #4. Having my impulses continually prodded was exhausting. 

Now that I’ve covered how the social media version of myself was likely a confused, exaggerated, and vain attempt at presenting an interesting fellow to the world, the following statement is likely not very controversial — most information acquired via social media is…well, off

To keep people scrolling, the competition for eyeballs is fierce. The more outrageous the content, the more irresistible it is to consume. To maximize engagement, content creators frequently tap into our base impulses — fear, anxiety, outrage, sex, excitement, inclusion, insecurity — generally speaking, FOMO —  the fear of missing out

Reason #5. I discovered that I really don’t want to be famous. 

I don’t know if I’m just getting older but the idea of becoming famous sounds 10,000% more terrible than it used to than when I was younger. 

I used to imagine that being well known for something would make me feel more whole — that the idea of being recognized for a talent or accomplishment would be a delightful sensation. As a writer and a musician, attaining notoriety just seemed like something I should seek…right?

Then, something happened: I received acclaim from people I did not know…and I did not know how to handle it. 

In that moment, I discovered that I’m really not good at receiving praise or compliments. When I receive a glowing review, I experience sensations of what some call “imposter syndrome” — doubting that I am deserving of whatever praise is being showered upon me. I clam up and feel like saying, “Listen, you’ve got the wrong guy.” 

Imagine that you’ve been told you’ve definitely just won a Nobel Prize, but that your entire acceptance speech was just you murmuring, “I’m almost certain this is intended for someone with my same name. Have you confirmed our birth dates, social security numbers, fingerprints, and dental records?” 

A big reason why I was so active on social media before was the vain pursuit of some form of notoriety for a creative thought or idea. The moment I received a bit of it, my pupils dilated like a fugitive caught in a searchlight, and I dove into the safe embrace of obscurity. 

So, why do I still make art? Why do I write, record, or publish? Why do I make stuff? Well, mostly because I enjoy every step of the craft — of the process of sculpting an idea into a consumable piece for someone to enjoy. But when it comes to impressing anyone, the only person I work to impress these days is myself. 

And though I still scurry from the limelight, I am still filled with immense warmth whenever I discover that anything I’ve done or created has genuinely helped another person. The difference between this sensation and fame-seeking is that the created thing did the heavy lifting, not so much me as a person. In fact, the piece of my writing of which I am proudest — one that was published in a highly syndicated publication and that I’ve heard has touched many people deeply — was published anonymously. And I love that — it’s my little secret with anyone who has ever read it. And you’re just going to have to hope you come across it one day.

A Few Things to Consider Upon Leaving Social Media 

If you, like I was, are feeling overwhelmed by the size, speed, and recklessness of social media and feel like leaping off of this runaway train, there are a few new concepts to consider. 

A. You need to have replacement activity ready to go. 

For most social media users, scrolling timelines and newsfeeds is not something one blocks off an afternoon to accomplish. This activity is typically the sand and water in your metaphorical jar of time — slipping between the spaces in other activities. 

Because of this, if you disconnect yourself from social media access, you may feel a twitch — sometimes an actual physical sensation — to reach for your phone’s social media applications or to navigate to a particular website to bridge activities. Standing in line at the store, sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, or waiting for leftovers to heat up — these are all twitch-inducers. For this reason, it’s important to look at how you will replace social media even before you ever do. 

My favorite social media replacements include: 

  • Reading books — digital or physical. My favorite device these days is my Kindle Paperwhite. It is a blissful escape from my phone or computer. It’s waterproof, contains my entire digital library, can receive articles I’ve previously sent to it, and has a battery that lasts for weeks on end. When I’m out and about, I can pick up reading a book or article right where I left off with the Kindle app. Also, did you know you can connect your Kindle account to your public library account and check out books digitally? And of course, there are always, you know, physical books as well. 
  • Journaling. Think of journaling like updating your social media feeds without ever hitting the “publish” button. It’s actually even better because you can also say everything you’d never say to your “friends” and followers. And with a digital journal, this feels damn-near like social media. Personally, I prefer an app-based service called Daybook that I can write to from my phone or computer, but any password-protected note-taking app will more than suffice.
  • Educational apps. Right now, I’m trying to learning Spanish with Duolingo so I can better communicate with my Hispanic neighbors. Mi objetivo es cambiar cervezas por lecciones de español … y amistad.
  • Arranging physical hangouts with friends. Increased vaccinations mean we no longer have any excuse not to hang out. If you have time to scroll a timeline or update a profile, you have time to arrange an in-person hangout — no phones allowed…unless you’re showing each other pictures of babies, dogs, or cats.
  • My favorite — consciously doing nothing. When was the last time you had a few minutes to kill and you didn’t fill them with anything? The next time you feel the twitch of boredom approaching, just place your hands in your lap and do nothing. Maybe close your eyes and feel your breath enter and exit your nostrils. Think about the wonderful people in your life. Daydream about an upcoming event you’re looking forward to. Listen to the birds or watch the way sunlight reflects off leaves. Simply observe the present moment. It’s just about the most underrated activity. 

B. You’re going to be seen as a weirdo. 

Are you going to miss out on some stuff by leaving social media? Eh, that depends. While you may miss out on a joke here and there or some breaking news as it unfolds, if there’s something you were meant to see or know, you will eventually. I personally found, though I did miss out on all kinds of information about aquaintances, news that mattered about people that matter to me eventually trickled into my orbit. I’ve yet to miss a substantial event or bit of news due to my absence from social media platforms. 

“Oh, I forgot — you’re not on social media” is something I hear on a regular basis whenever news of friends is discussed, but guess what? It’s discussed in person eventually — only I get to hear it in person for the first time rather than chew on a regurgitated version of it like everyone else who is living through the reruns. This leads to the next item…

C. You’ll find that in-person conversation is night-and-day better. 

One of the areas of my life that has improved immensely since leaving social media is one you wouldn’t imagine — socializing. Why? Because as briefly mentioned before — regurgitating timelines in person is about as agonizing as discussing the weather. 

“Hey, I saw that picture of your kid that you posted. He’s getting big.” 

“He sure is. Hey, I’m glad to see that your mom is doing better.” 

“Thanks, she’s just had — ”

“ — hip surgery. Yeah, I saw that. You know, I’m going in for —”

“ — knee surgery, yeah, I saw that you posted about that. Let me know if you’ll be well enough to go to that —”

“—weekend street fair? Yeah, I saw that you discussed wanting to get a group of friends together to go to that. I know that Rick can’t go because he’s —”

“—moving to Canada. You saw that post, too? Sheesh, I mean, it’s cool that he scored that new—”

“—job with the solar panel technology firm. You saw post that, too?” 

If you’ve had a conversation with a friend who is also in your social media sphere, you know that this conversation isn’t that exaggerated, but is as equally soul-crushing.  

D. You’re going to feel great no longer being a product. 

Social media would have us all believe that we’re their target demographic. We’re not — or else they’d call us “members.” What do they call us? Users. Social media is not designed to connect long-lost friends, help maintain relationships or people explore new interests. It is a funnel used by advertisers to bypass our gag reflex. It uses psychological manipulation at every turn to get you to scroll, to react, to doubt yourself, and to believe that you need to buy more stuff. It’s not an accident that your timeline is referred to as your “feed.”

Believe it or not, there are ways to be just as informed and connected as those on social media — become a member instead of a user. Seek out products and services not funded by advertisers. While this means that you may have to start paying for certain things, you’ll find that paid memberships lack much of the addictiveness and psychological manipulation of ad-driven content. Because of this, you’ll also find that once you become a member and begin paying for services you once received for free, you’ll likely spend less because your experiences are much less controlled by advertisers. 

My challenge to you is not to terminate all of your social media accounts, but simply to gauge your dependence on them and how they actually make you feel. Maybe it’s time for a break…before you break.


Choosing Your Shovel: A Field Manual to Leveraging Fear & Managing Anxiety

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Quick disclaimer: There is a significant difference between sporadic spells of anxiety and a chronic anxiety disorder. This piece is meant more to aid with periodic anxious spells rather than treating any condition, which should be addressed by a mental health professional.

Two emotions. Endless misinterpretations.

Fear and anxiety are two of the most perplexing emotions one can have. Both can overtake you and result in a miserable daily life. Conquering fear and anxiety is the work of life and not a life hack that can be acquired by reading a short online essay or listening to a podcast episode. This being said, I’ve personally found the following mindset shifts to be immensely helpful when attempting to control or even leverage fear and anxiety. When these mindset shifts are combined, they may even be able to help the average person pull themself from the occasional bout of anxiety. 

Mindset Shift 1: Fear can be useful when correctly identified.

Fear — ”an unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger.”
– Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

Though fear can be debilitating, it is an instrumental emotion. Without fear, we might find ourselves attempting to cross busy highways on foot, coming too close to the edges of steep heights, or petting dangerous creatures. Fear is a mechanism to protect us from many of the dangers of life.

While this is true, fear is only helpful when it can be leveraged or applied — when it results in a discernable behavioral shift. When it cannot be, it ceases to be fear. It is, instead, anxiety. 

Mindset Shift 2: We frequently confuse fear with anxiety and vice versa.

One of the biggest reasons we cling to debilitating anxiety is because we confuse it with helpful fear. As we’ve discussed before, fear is instrumental. Anxiety, however, is not. 

  • The shovel of fear can dig us free from a situation.
  • The shovel of anxiety only deepens our rut. 

For this reason, it’s crucial to correctly identify the shovel of fear and the shovel of anxiety. So, the first step out is knowing when you’re clutching the wrong shovel. 

Mindset Shift 3: Becoming mindful of anxious thoughts can help you manage them. 

You are not your thoughts. If this were the case, you would be incapable of thinking about your thoughts. Humans are unique from other creatures on this planet in that we are capable of offering the Director’s Commentary of our own thought process. 

Most of us, however, can rarely distinguish our thinking from thinking about thinking. This thinking about our thoughts can be referred to as “metacognition” but is most commonly referred to as “mindfulness.” 

The term “mindfulness” is meant to be used to contrast our default mode — mindlessness. When our thoughts are allowed to ricochet in our heads without control, the result is a dangerous rumination and can culminate in severe anxiety and depression.

Mindset Shift 3: Mind control is an obtainable superpower if it’s your own mind you’re controlling.

Like stopping a ricocheting bullet, catching a mindless thought before it tears through our emotions can feel like a superpower. Mindfulness, however, is not the act of catching speeding bullets but rather slowing them down to the point of plucking them out of thin air. When a thought or reactionary emotion can be slowed down, its details can be more objectively analyzed, its intent considered, and the most appropriate response deployed. 

Examining Fear vs. Anxiety in Practice

The next time you experience the frantic gloom of fear or anxiety, as soon as you can identify the sensation, do your best to cease what you’re doing and take hold of the moment for yourself.

  • Focus on the raw sensation of your breath entering and exiting your nostrils. This present action will help pull the emergency brake on your thought processes.
  • Once grounded in the present, aim to perceive this negative emotion as though belonging to someone else. Aim to observe it as objectively as placing a glass slide under the lens of a microscope for examination. 
  • Carefully inspecting this thought or feeling, ask yourself, “What action is this sensation prompting me to do?” 

Leveraging Useful Fear

If this sensation has practical next steps that can prevent ailment or injury, whether of your body, relationships, career, or overall wellbeing, this is valuable fear. Consider how these steps can be positively applied to the betterment of your daily life. Break each action into its tiniest achievable steps — with no effort too small as long as you’re moving forward. Construct a plan for following these steps with scheduled times and deadlines. 

The following are a few examples of how to possibly leverage useful fear to help resolve a fearful state.

  • If a bodily symptom is fearfully weighing on your mind, an executable action is to present your concern to a doctor. If this action feels daunting, break the activity into smaller parts. Perhaps, start by sending a message to the doctor through email or your health care provider’s online portal. Maybe even start as small as scheduling a time to make an appointment with a deadline for the completion of this action. If even this feels like too much, perhaps your first step is looking at yourself in the mirror and saying out loud, “tomorrow, I’m going to call my doctor’s office.” Again, no step is too small if it means moving forward from your present fearful state.
  • If you’re fearfully concerned about the future of your job, whether due to your performance or the support of your employer, an executable action would be to make a list of actionable items you can take in case your fears are founded. If the fear is performance-based, identify your weaknesses as an employee and develop ways to strengthen them — even little by little. Asking colleagues, even superiors, for constructive criticism can help in this matter and express your dedication to your duties and role. If your fear is with your employer’s support, you can either bring these fears to your employer to quell or confirm them. If you don’t feel comfortable with the potential confrontation, consider taking tactful steps toward securing employment elsewhere.
  • Suppose you’re fearful about the deterioration of a relationship. In that case, an executable action may be to identify why you feel this way and what actions you can take to nurture or remedy said relationship. If, upon closer analysis, the relationship does not seem salvageable, begin devising steps to end the relationship on agreeable terms. 

Quelling Pernicious Anxiety

The sinking feeling in your gut and increased heart rate are helpful biological responses to approaching the edge of a dizzyingly high cliff. Such sensations are your mind’s signal to your body to be fearfully conscious of impending danger. However, the same sensations while simply lying in bed can be immensely hazardous to your mental and physical health. These are not leverageable sensations but rather potentially debilitating ruminations. 

As previously discussed, properly identifying fear versus anxiety is a practical means of quelling either. When fear is appropriately identified, actionable steps can be executed to leverage and squelch such sensations.  

But once anxiety is identified, then what?

Once anxiety is correctly identified as such—as a senseless nuisance—we can begin to leverage the lack of teeth in these ruminations — aka no discernable executables — to shift our minds to efforts worthy of our attention. We do this by pivoting our thought process from anxiety to the raw perception of the present moment. 

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”

― Lao Tzu, author of Tao Te Ching

Mindset Shift 4: Simply sensing the present is your oasis from pernicious anxiety. 

Upon realizing that a particular mental and emotional sensation is harmful anxiety rather than helpful fear, there is a place we can go to manage such disturbing thoughts—the present moment. 

In the present, there is no fear or worry—there is only the moment itself. At this moment, all that need exist for us is the space we occupy and our body’s involuntary biological function. 

  • Our heart beats in our chest, sending blood throughout our body. 
  • Our skin forwards data about the temperature of the airflow of the space. 
  • Our eyes perceive the shapes of objects and the flow of light around us.
  • Our nostrils detect the coolness of inhaled air and the warmth of exhaled air.

None of these sensations of the present moment require thoughts of the past or future. In fact, they can only be perceived clearly once we’ve shelved non-present thinking. 

We can access the escape hatch from anxiety through any of our sense perceptions of the present moment. Tapping into the present perception of our bodies and surroundings rather than our mindless ruminations is immensely useful whenever anxious ruminations seek to creep into our thought process. A constructive way to do this is with a method that I’ll call the Monitor Technique for the sake of this piece.

The Monitor Technique

Unlike a full camera or audio recorder, a monitor—whether a camera’s viewfinder screen monitor, a musician’s stage monitor speaker, or even a medical heart monitor—has the singular job of sharing what exists in real-time. It cannot store sights or sounds. It cannot recall past moments. It cannot process data. Even though it is called a “monitor,” it is usually a secondary computer system or a user that is actually doing the monitoring. In this sense, it should be called an “allows-you-to-monitor.” But for the most part, monitors are nothing more than vehicles for capturing present data.

When you have become more acquainted with the mental and physical sensation of anxiety, instead of attempting to process your way out of such an episode, become a monitor of your present surroundings. Do not attempt to consider how any of these make you feel. Rather, simply observe them as objectively as possible. This is quite literally what many mean when they use the expression, “stop and smell the roses.” 

Here are a few monitoring techniques that have worked for me: 

  • Observe the shapes, slopes, angles, and colors of objects in your vicinity. The arm of a chair or couch. The rise of a window sill. The angles in the edges of the leaves on trees. The sunlight against the backside of a curtain.
  • Close your eyes and allow your ears to absorb the mosaic soundscape around you. There is always sound — from birds chirping to air vents, the whirl of distant lawnmowers, airplanes, cars on a nearby highway, a humming refrigerator, a computer fan, and beyond. You can either let all of the sounds swirl together as one at the front of your attention or isolate one sound to savor. 
  • Sit with your eyes closed and focus on the raw sensations of your breath. Feel the cool and warm air passing through your nose, the rise and fall of your chest, or the space between breaths.
  • Sit with your eyes closed and simply experience the sensation of the surrounding air on your skin. If the air is moving, notice its direction, intensity, and texture. Even with eyes closed, attempt to feel the shape of the space. 

While practicing the Monitor Technique, your anxieties will likely attempt to breach the doors of your focus. Your first impulse will be to fight them, but this too is a mindless reaction. When this happens, simply observe the anxiety itself as its own entity, mindfully note its existence, and then return to practicing the observation of the present moment via the Monitor Technique. 

Choosing Your Shovel

A fearful mindset tends to result in reaching for one of two shovels. 

The first shovel of pernicious anxiety resulting in aimless rumination is sharp and only capable of digging downward—creating ruts and holes in which to hide. Though seeming like a helpful refuge, the occupant of these ruts or holes will soon find themselves unable to climb out. 

The second shovel of useful fear is broad, better able to dig oneself out from psychological and even physical harm. Though it is a heavier shovel to wield, the more efficiently it is utilized, the sooner it can be stowed until needed again. 

Distinguishing fear from anxiety is not a life hack — it is a skill that requires perpetual sharpening. Honing of the perception of our mental state is aided by regularly “checking in” with ourselves in ways that pull the emergency brake on rumination and align our awareness with the present.  As we sharpen this tool of discernment, we must also remain mindful of which shovel we choose to sharpen — that of useful fear or useless anxiety.


Reminders:

Don’t Abandon the Tools You Forged in 2020

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Take a look before you close the book. 

Though we’d all love to shelf 2020 (or run it through the shredder), there’s no denying that we all learned a lot about ourselves throughout this year. It would be a shame to call 2020 an absolute waste—especially since it had so many lessons to impart. Yes, most of these lessons are how not to do certain things, but also how to lean into the storm of life to keep it from completely knocking us down. 

For some, the lessons they learned and skills developed were how to cope with physical obstacles—lost jobs, lost homes, lost connections, lost bodily health, and even sadly, the loss of loved ones. For others, the obstacles were more mental and emotional—anxiety, depression, isolation, a lack of motivation. The list is endless.

Despite these obstacles, when carefully studied, we can recall the strategies, remedies, and mindsets we used to endure. 

If the tools and emotional armor we developed worked as well as they did when we squared off directly with the travails of 2020, how much more effective could these approaches prove for positive growth and maintenance during times less fraught with adversity? 

Let’s say you were forced to become more frugal with your finances because a member of your family lost their job. Maybe you can take these newfound budgeting skills beyond when money is coming in to save toward your goals. 

Maybe, to better cope with the anxiety and depression of being away from friends and loved ones, you were forced to seek and cultivate new practices to maintain your mental health. These methods could have included meditation, exercise, therapy, spirituality, or new interests. Though developed under immense pressure, these beneficial coping methods should be treated like precious gems you can continue to keep with you.

Before you close the book on 2020 and abandon it entirely—writing it off as a painful memory— remember the tools you forged to help you make it through the storm. These tools can prove to be invaluable companions that will serve you for the rest of your life.

6 Thoughts Upon Reactivating My Facebook Profile After 16 Months

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New eyes. Similar issues.

About 16 months ago, I deactivated my personal Facebook profile for reasons I covered in a previous article. This week, in preparation for a move, I reactivated it to offload stuff on Facebook Marketplace. In the meantime, I decided to give the platform a second look. The following are my thoughts.

1. It was nice to catch up.

For as much trash as I have been talking on Facebook for over the last year, it was refreshing to revisit the profiles of many people I hadn’t heard from since my departure from the platform. Seeing how much their kids had grown, what they were up to, and interacting with them in the comments section was what my quarantine-tarnished spirit needed.

2. It’s definitely not a replacement for socialization.

There are many that use Facebook as a replacement for natural socialization. During these times of pandemic and lockdowns, there’s some logic to this. Still, I believe that this type of socialization may even be worse than no socialization at all.

Let me explain:

In a natural social encounter, any conversation is typically confined to the number of people who can occupy one restaurant booth — I’ll even include those big corner ones that require a butt-scoot to get into and an awkward request to get out of when you have to pee. The conversation darts from person to person — either just two people or seven — like a game of hot potato. And it’s one of the most enjoyable experiences one can have — one that has even been shown to lengthen our lifespan. This is not what happens on Facebook.

On Facebook, I essentially take control of my own jumbotron and blurt something in the form of a post. Others then “react” (their lingo, not mine) with sub-posts of their own. What results is not a conversation, but a subliminal performance for a large audience. And performances, realized or subconscious…are exhausting. That’s frequently why after a scroll session, I don’t feel invigorated, but downright drained — and worse, anxious, which leads to the next thing I noticed.

3. I can’t truly turn it off.

Because it had been over a year since my last posting, I felt it would at least be nice to catch my “friends” up on the gist of what had transpired since we last exchanged the proverbial ones and zeroes. I typed up a 500-ish-word update on the state of my immediate family and posted it along with a few pictures taken since then. The “reactions” immediately poured in — Likes, Hearts, and occasional comments.

“Hmm, how nice,” I thought and then went to have dinner with my family.

All throughout dinner, wondering how others were interacting with that post ran in my mind — not in the front, but in the back, like a program running on a computer. While interacting with my family over a delicious meal, the post’s “performance” metrics ran in the background.

After helping get our son ready for bed, tidying the living room, and pouring myself a glass of wine, I returned to my laptop to see how the post was “performing.” Because I refuse to look at social media on my phone, there I was — checking the stats on the equivalent of a family newsletter to my 654 “friends” in the dark.

And for what? Metrics that suddenly felt emptier than ever.

4. I’d trade a million “likes” for one meaningful comment.

Back when I was an avid Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter user, “likes” “loves” and “favorites” were my key performance indicators (“KPIs” for those in the biz). I don’t know what has changed in the past 16 months, but the present significance of these one-click interactions don’t correspond to their intended emotional correlation of “I like this” or “I love this” Rather, they feel to me more like, “I’ve observed this and find it palatable” or even just, “I want you to know that I’ve witnessed your post.”

And while I’d trade a million “likes” for a comment, I’ve noticed that many people’s comments aren’t much more supportive than their single-click versions. Comments that once wielded new perspectives or a truly sympathetic timbre now feel boilerplate, microwaved, and lacking genuine connection — like small talk about the weather or the banal “how was your weekend?” “Not too bad. And you?” chitchat.

beautiful social media comments

5. Let’s face it — most of it is a performance.

I’m far from innocent of the practice of portraying my family life as sterling. While I do feel like my immediate family unit is pretty incredible, there are items I choose to conceal.

  • Like the time when my son tripped on a pillow this week and busted his lip open on the coffee table, leaving some of the skin of his upper lip stuck between his tiny teeth —leaving one of my favorite shirts with toddler bloodstains.
  • Like how I’ve had to call the police multiple times at 3 AM due to the mentally-imbalanced, blood-curdling-yet-involuntary shrieks of an extremely close neighbor whom I believe has been abandoned to live by herself by…who knows.
  • Like how my home office desk is about eight feet from my cat’s litter box.
  • Like how I suffered from severe hypochondria-induced anxiety around the beginning of the summer leading up to my routine CT-scan because I’m in remission from testicular cancer.

Fortunately, my son’s lip healed up in about a day, my anxiety dissipated (or I got over it — not precisely sure which happened), and we’re moving soon away from that poor screaming lady to a home with more room for a home office.

To onlookers who viewed my update, I received comments such as “Glad to see you’re doing well!” — a comment that is totally appropriate based on the filters I subconsciously massaged into the post. But I’m far from the only one. These are the performances and curated lives I see up and down my timeline. While most would say there’s nothing wrong with these, it tends to make one ask two questions:

1. “Is their life actually as amazing as they make it appear?”

And more dangerously:

2. Why can’t my life be that perfect?”

social media disclaimer
Photo by Christopher Ott

As a dear friend Brian Hughes said in a recent email exchange with him on this subject:

“We are all the stars of our Facebook page…love me, acknowledge me, encourage me, agree with me, ‘you go girl’, etc… It’s like blowing air into a balloon but not tying it off. It leaks out quickly and needs more ‘air’ constantly.”

An apt analogy, Hughesy.

6. It’s been ok for me to let go of most of these “friends.”

It’s true that we don’t include our true selves in our posts out of fear of not providing a positive Facebook viewing experience for others. I didn’t post the details about my anxiety or my son’s busted lip because it didn’t seem like the place. I also feared being judged by many “friends” — most of whom are acquaintances at best.

The Game Changer: Dunbar’s Number

Engaging in these social performances for acquaintances can be mentally exhausting. It wasn’t until I learned about “Dunbar’s Number” that I learned why.

According to acclaimed anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, there is a cognitive limit to how many relationships we can effectively juggle — roughly 150. As he put it, 150 is “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.” Just think about your own Facebook “friends” — how many of them, if spotted in a pub or coffee shop, would you feel ok about inviting to pull up a chair or bar stool to shoot the breeze?

How many Facebook “friends” have you actually hidden from in public? C’mon — you know you’ve done it.

If we’re honest with ourselves, given the option, most of these people would not bother to maintain an email correspondence with us, much less a meaningful in-person friendship. How do I know this? Because I tried it. After days of both displaying Instagram and Facebook posts announcing my leaving of the platforms and my desire to carry on email correspondence, only one person who didn’t before have my email address reached out. Thanks, Roger.

Everyone else was already close enough friends to already have my phone number and my email address or, I’m assuming, didn’t care to continue a digital friendship with me on another platform.

And you know what? That’s fine. Nobody needs 654 “friends.”

In Conclusion

While the sounds of crickets in my inbox after announcing my departure from most social media platforms would have made me feel down in June of 2019 when I originally left Facebook, these days, that’s not the case. The fact that so few have reciprocated my requests to continue friendships offline leads me to two possible conclusions:

1. I’m a jerk.
2. We don’t need to fake being friends.

  • Genuine friends would want to hear about your highs and your lows.
  • True pals will return your calls.
  • Legitimate buddies will actually check up on you.
  • Real amigos will put their phones away when you sit down for a drink.

When they ask you how you’re doing, they’re not just making small talk — they genuinely want to know.

I feel immensely blessed to have wonderful people in my life. I wish the present times allowed for more in-person interaction, but for now, I cherish the one-on-one interaction of a phone call or even an email or text correspondence.

So, I’m deactivating again — not because I’m better than Facebook, but because I’m too easily fooled and distracted. A multi-billion-dollar industry wants my attention. And it wants to convince me that these 654 people are my “friends.” 95% of them aren’t, and I’m ok with that. If anything, that frees me up to focus on the 5% who are. If I can enjoy a pint with the 32.7 of them that remain and ask, “how are you really doing?” through good times and bad, that means more to me than a billion “likes.”


If you enjoyed this piece, consider subscribing. Thanks. – Ken

Helping Relieve Anxiety & Depression With God’s First Question

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Disclaimer: This piece is not meant to treat those experiencing clinical depression and anxiety—which should be addressed by a medical professional. However, for those with the occasional episodes of anxiety and depression, to quote one of my favorite writers, Patrick Rhone, this could help. 

A great deal of anxiety and depression stem from our own broken emotional time machines. 

These time machines can trigger a spiral of depression when we replay moments of anguish or regret—whether these are accurate depictions or warped perceptions of said events. In other instances, these malfunctioning flux capacitors can spark bouts of anxiety by painting worst-case projections of the future. Whether we’re reeling over a past disappointment or spinning rotisserie-style in our beds over what the future may bring, there’s a question we need to ask ourselves—the same question God asked of “us” in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 3, Verse 9. 

איכה

Ay’yehkah?” — “Where are you?”

This is the question God articulated as the first two humans scurried into the bushes to hide their newly-realized nakedness.

This one-word question seems odd. Surely, if we can determine our friends’ precise coordinates using a device we keep in our slacks, the Creator of the universe can locate two fig-leaf-bikini-sporting folks in a garden. The simple explanation is that God knew precisely where they were, but that the man and woman, themselves, did not. Their emotional compasses were shattered. They were blinded by the realization of their wrongdoing and trembling over the imagined consequences as they heard God’s footsteps in the garden tiptoeing closer and closer. 

The question God put forth was not was in order to obtain an answer but to inspire them to ask the question of themselves. And us. 

One of the devastating impacts of depression and anxiety is that they sap the pleasure from the present moment. In most instances, we’re too wrapped up in the past or the future to look at where we are. We’re emotionally time traveling in our backfiring machines, gasping on its exhaust, incapable of simply taking a breath to shelf any time that isn’t right now.

How do we shelf the past and future? Well, with three steps. 

Step 1: Realize that you’re not your thoughts and emotions…with practice. 

One of the biggest lies that we tend to believe is that we are our thoughts and emotions. 

When we’re feeling depressed, we remove the word “feeling” and believe, “I am depressed.” Likewise, when we’re feeling anxious, we remove the word “feeling” and believe, “I am anxious.” 

(As a dorky dad would say, “Nice to meet you, anxious—I’m dad.”) 

Ugh, what terrible identity, right? But it’s not who you are. You’re not depressed—you’re Anthony, and you’re feeling depressed. You’re not anxious—you’re Jessica, and you’re feeling anxious. This understanding is necessary when appraising your thoughts and emotions. 

How can we do this? With practice.

  • Sit with your thoughts. 
  • Watch as they approach like a meteorologist watches clouds in the sky. 
  • Become mindful of when the storm clouds of negative thoughts and emotions arrive.
  • Monitor and appraise these thoughts and emotions—not like someone in the path of the storm, but as a meteorologist tracking it from another place. 
  • Practice this and grow accustomed to the sensation of these thoughts and emotions. 

Step 2: Ask yourself, “Ay’yehkah?” — “Where are you?”

Indulging a negative thought or emotion can make you feel downright stuck. Much like trying to floor the gas pedal to free a vehicle from a muddy ditch, attempting to not think about a thought causing anxiety or depression can wear an even deeper rut. How can you rock yourself free from this emotional thicket? By taking a shotgun to our time machine. 

When you realize that you’re experiencing a moment of anxiety or depression, audibly ask yourself: “Ay’yehkah?” — “Where are you?” (You don’t have to say the Hebrew, but I find it keeps people from wondering if I’m talking to them and instead makes them think I’m just clearing my throat. 😉 ) 

What’s the point of asking ourselves this question? It forces us to put our feet on the ground and wake up to the present moment. Why the present moment? Well, because it’s probably not that bad. In fact, it’s probably pretty great

Just think about where you are when you’re experiencing anxiety or depression. If you’re “trapped” in your home, you’re home—likely your favorite place. If you’re near a window, you can see the sky, may be able to hear birds singing, or have the ability to open it and feel a breeze. You may be close to your family—the people you cherish and who cherish you. Even if you’re anxiously tossing and turning as you try to sleep, you’re snuggled up in your warm, safe bed. What could be better? 

Asking “ay’yehkah—where are you?” can help you realize that you’re not in the present and motivate you to return. If you were to regain consciousness in that precise moment and look immediately at what lay before you, it would likely be pretty awesome. 

“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca

Step 3: Attempt to live 60 seconds at a time. 

After nuking your broken emotional time machine by recentering your focus with  a full-throated or even whispered “ay’yehkah,” strive to live in 60-second increments. The past is already over. The future is anyone’s guess. What is certain? Only that which lays before you in this 60-second increment. Not 24/7 political news. Not sinking in the contrived infinity pool of social media. All that exists are these 60 seconds. Live within that time like a dolphin in the aquarium inhabits its tank. 

My prayer is that you come to realize that you aren’t thoughts, that you sledgehammer your dysfunctional emotional time machine with a robust “ay’yehkah,” and cannon-ball into the pool that is the right now

The water feels fine. 

3 Ways of Quelling Hypochondria-Induced Anxiety

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Disclaimer: I’m by no means a medical professional. I’m just a guy who has lost many nights of sleep due to nervous anxiety. The following are a few ways I manage my thoughts.

Hi, I’m Ken, and I’m a hypochondriac. About once a year for a span running either a few weeks to as much as over a month, I’m convinced that I have some malady that will take me down—either kill me or forever change my life. 

If he knows he’s a hypochondriac, shouldn’t that be enough to remind him that he’s acting irrationally? 

Well, not exactly. You see, I’m also a cancer survivor. In 2017, I was diagnosed with stage 1 testicular cancer. Though primarily treated with one surgery where my right testicle was removed, I’ve been in remission and under surveillance ever since. Still worse, I experienced one of the most significant setbacks for a hypochondriac—I was right

Fast forward to 2019. I began feeling a recurring dull pain in my grown. 

Oh great. Not this again.

While a second pass of testicular cancer in remaining testicle was possible (it’s happened to others before), it was highly unlikely. I consulted my urologist. The verdict? The testicle was completely normal. I had also just started a strenuous jump rope workout routine from having never really exercised regularly in my life. He deemed that the likely culprit for the inner groin pain and told me to contact him again if it persisted. It didn’t. After a few weeks, I didn’t experience any groin pain or further associated anxiety. 

Fast forward to 2020. Not one, not two, but three of my friends have been battling lymphoma—successfully, but not easily. Needless to say, it’s on my mind. 

Later, during the covid pandemic, I read Beastie Boys Book. If you’re unfamiliar, one of the founding members of Beastie Boys, Adam “MCA” Yauch, died from cancer of the salivary gland. Between my friends battling lymphoma to reading about Adam, I started to swear that I felt something happening in my own throat. Swallowing began to feel strange. I began checking my own lymph nodes multiple times a day (by the way, this is a great way to agitate your lymph nodes—just sayin’). 

Weeks went by. Lymph node checks on the couch while watching TV or reading books became a common twitch. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, wondering if something was going on. Still, one situation continued that most every hypochondriac can attest to: I felt like something should be wrong, but there wasn’t enough wrong to justify a doctor’s visit. 

At this time, I also discovered one fascinating thing about the throat: it’s incredibly responsive to…wait for it…anxiety. There’s even a name for it—globus pharygenus. It’s the harmless nervous lump you’ve likely felt in your throat during an intense or traumatic event—ranging from a job interview to a funeral. It doesn’t help that the more anxious you become about it, the worse it can become. It’s almost like your body is trolling your emotions. 

1. The Perspective-Correcting Question

Most days, any perceived “symptoms” would only flare up when I would think about them. Noticing this stimulus was key to a question I would later use to largely quell my anxiety. 

“If you had woken up today with your complete memory of the last six months erased, anxieties and all, would the symptoms you’re feeling at this moment justify a doctor’s visit?”

Once I asked myself, I knew the answer: no. I probably wouldn’t even register them as “symptoms.” Suddenly, I felt a great weight lifted from my shoulders. But why? 

For most of us with irrational anxieties about our health, the severity of these delusions are intensified by the weight we give them. We’re not anxious about the supposed “symptom” we’re presently feeling this moment, but we’re instead recalling all of the anxieties we’ve logged away in regard this feeling before. Every time our minds shift to the worst-case scenarios in regard to this feeling, we’re essentially picking the scab on an emotional wound that our minds are trying to heal every day.

So, what is the answer? When assessing how you feel, keep your assessment to that specific moment—not the anxieties of the past. Ask yourself, if this moment was the first time I felt this perceived “symptom,” would it justify a doctor’s visit? Almost every time, the answer will be “no.” Every day that this is the case, the more the wound of your own anxiety can heal until you can successfully leave it behind. 

So, what if it does justify a doctor’s visit?

For many of us hypochondriacs, we fear making that doctor’s appointment because of what it may reveal. When this is the case, simply make an appointment for a routine checkup. Though you’d feel silly about making an appointment about what may just be an anxious sensation, making an appointment for the exam will feel less ominous. During the appointment, you should probably tell your doctor about the symptom that is worrying you, but also definitely acknowledge the anxiety you’re feeling regarding such sensations. Either way, the doctor will be able to assist you to relieve your anxiety—whether via treatment of your body, your mind, or just a friendly pep talk. 

2. Journal Daily

In addition to asking yourself the magic mind-erasing question and seeing your doctor when necessary, my next recommendation is among the easiest—journaling. Every day, write down how you’re feeling, physically and mentally. In most instances, the simple act of putting your thoughts and emotions into words will help you process them. Don’t hold back. Feel free to write down your worst fears, your highest hopes, and everything in between. Your mind will thank you. 

3. This Too Shall Pass

And my last bit of advice: when you’re wracked with anxiety, whether from hypochondria or other stress, utter and embody these four words: “this too shall pass.” Anxiety has a way of suffocating our perceptions of the future. We feel like we’re going to feel this way forever. Guess what? You’re not. This too shall pass. 

You’ve got this.