A Great Little Life

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The other day, after my mother had watched our son while my wife and I ran some errands, she offered to help me pick up my beloved beater car, which had been in the shop for repairs. As I backed her car out of my driveway, she let out a positive sigh from the passenger seat as her eyes fell on our “new” house — a 2 bedroom red brick house built in the ‘60s — our “weigh station” on our road to homeownership.

“What a great little house,” she tacked to the end of her sigh. 

“I know. I like it.” 

“And a great little family.” 

“I like them, too.” 

After a few beats, she turned to look at me as I drove her car down my street. 

“You seem to just have a great little life.” 

“I like to think so.” 

Most people want to live a great big life — whatever that means. 

Not me. 

Don’t get me wrong — I like that great part. But making it “big”? Big already comes with living.
It’s hard to define the what and why of “big.” 

What does it mean to live a big life? 

Does that mean to accomplish monumental feats—whatever the hell “monumental” means? To make lots of money and earn prestige or status? To be famous? 

Why would someone want to live a big life?

Does this mean that the status and the money earned can grant you the freedom to do what you want? To live lavishly wherever you’d like? 

I’ll take a little life over a big life. 

What does it mean to live a little life? 

Living little means a simpler existence.
Fewer plates to spin.
Fewer people to impress.
Less to lose.
Shorter heights from which to fall.
Less time worrying about things that, in the end, don’t really matter. 

Why would someone want to live a little life?

The motivations of others aren’t as regularly called into question.
Your belongings are few and simple but aren’t intended to impress strangers and acquaintances.
 You have fewer, but higher quality friends. 

Where does greatness come into play? 

I don’t want only a little life, but rather a great little life.
Accomplishing what I want to accomplish — never only what is expected of me.
Perpetually sharpening myself — as a husband, father, friend, mensch, and artist.
Enjoying a higher quality of time with the people that matter the most to me. 

It is my prayer that when the wrinkled fingers of my exceedingly aged hand turn the pages of personal photo albums — drawing out memories from the deepest recesses of my hopefully-still-accessible memory — that upon closing the book, I can happily sigh — just as my mom did in the car that day — and say to myself, 

“I sure have lived a great little life.”


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The Broken Autopilot

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You’ve been actively doing something — work, a chore, making dinner — and now you’re done. For a moment, the drive of your mind peters out like a small plane engine that has just stalled. The momentum of that task, much like a spinning propeller in front of your face, suddenly flutters and stops with a clunk. What once was the sound of a some-odd-stroke engine buzzing through the skies has been replaced with whistling wind as you begin to feel the loss of altitude in your guts. 

Left with nothing that needs to be immediately done, the need to be mentally stimulated begins to bounce around inside your head like ballpoint pens and paper coffee cups in a now-dropping cockpit. Rather than clutching the headliner of the cockpit in anticipation of impact, you’ve remembered that you have a default safety mechanism for aimless thought — a shining screen.

As soon as you’ve booted up that screen — whether it’s a phone screen, tablet, or television — you can feel your pulse begin to normalize and your palms begin to dry. The engine of your attention turns back over, the propeller sputters to life, and you begin to regain lost altitude. Whoa, that was close. 

After a time, though you’re relieved that you’re not likely to plummet to the earth, you wake up from behind the controls. The auto-pilot had taken over and you’re now headed in the opposite direction. You’ve been down the rabbit hole of social media vanity metrics, social comparison, paparazzi voyeurism, and sensationalist news for a while and are now even further from your destination. Due to your original panic, you left control of your attention to the auto-pilot. Once control was happily handed off, it took you further away from your destination of contentment than had you made an emergency landing once you lost engine power. 

Here’s the interesting thing about where the airplane analogy differs from your attention: there’s not actually any ground below. You could kill the engine, prop your feet up on the instrument panel, and lean back with your fingers gently interlocked behind your closed eyes, and never actually hit anything. The Cessna of your attention span will simply continue to fall toward…nothing — like a flight simulator whose developers forgot to write the code for mountains, oceans, trees, or even firm land.

The plane of our focus will stall out every day, likely hundreds of times a day. And that’s ok. Why? Because there’s no ground beneath that plane.

But if there’s no ground, what’s down there? 

The present moment — that’s all. And it’s really quite nice. And it’s especially nicer than an auto-pilot that is specifically designed to take us away from actually living.


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How to Make Self-Improvement Suck Dramatically Less

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They don’t know you, but you know you.

One of the reasons why most lifestyle enhancement plans and products fail is that they were not designed with you in mind. These influencers and plan developers don’t know you. They have no clue about what lifestyle changes would be sustainable for you. They don’t know what activities you hate doing and which you enjoy. But do you know who does know? You do, that’s who! 

What do you enjoy doing?

To design a growth-oriented lifestyle tailored to your specifications, the process itself must be enjoyable—or at the least, potentially enjoyable.

Step 1. Jot Down What You Like to Do

Bring to mind all of the things you currently enjoy doing as well as the activities you once enjoyed—regardless of their positive or negative implications. Physically jotting these down on a piece of paper or typing them into a document may prove to be helpful.

Step 2. Strikethrough the Destructive Habits

Recall or look through these activities and strikethrough all of the activities that are bad for you. These can range from unhealthy habits like smoking or excessive drinking to compulsive social media checking, maintaining toxic relationships, and the like. 

Step 3. Highlight the Activities That Are Good For You

Regardless of how unhealthy your favorite activities are, there are likely a few that aren’t bad for you. Heck, some may even be good for you. There are probably even some that are extremely good for you that you haven’t thought about in decades. Even still, there are likely some activities you enjoy that share an unlikely component with something that is good for you. 

Let’s use some examples to get the wheels turning. 

Activities You Currently Enjoy That Are Good For You

Ok, maybe you’re not a total loaf of soggy bread. Maybe you genuinely enjoy the occasional walk around town. Perhaps you enjoy learning from historical documentaries. Consider the things you do every day that aren’t actively hastening your demise.

Activities You Once Enjoyed But Hadn’t Thought About Since

Did you play sports in high school? Middle school? Elementary school? Did you enjoy writing stories as a kid? How about painting? Have you stopped playing a musical instrument because life got too busy? 

Activities Your Enjoy That Could Correspond to Something Good For You

Do you enjoy sitting still? Look at you—you potential meditator, you. 

Do you tend to doodle during inconsequential meetings? Is that a budding illustrator I see?

What are your personal goals? 

We all have positive goals in life. Maybe you want to achieve and maintain a certain level of fitness. Perhaps you’d like to get more sleep. Maybe you want to become an avid reader. Bring these specific goals to mind and jot them down—the more specific, the better. 

And finally—use your favorite activities as tools in your growth.

Whether you physically wrote down your goals and favorite activities or just have them at the forefront of your mind, begin to draw lines between the two. 

  • Which of your favorite activities can you leverage toward your goals?
  • Which of your past favorite activities could you revisit to aid your progress? 
  • Which of your favorite activities are negatively inhibiting your goals?
  • How can you replace these harmful-yet-enjoyable activities with positive activities you enjoy? 

Stuff You Enjoy + Stuff That’s Good For You = Stuff You Should Do

venn diagram of stuff you enjoy and stuff that is good for you

When you leverage your favorite activities that also happen to align with your goals, you can begin to craft a growth-oriented lifestyle you enjoy. This Venn diagram should summarize the point of this article as well as anything. 

I jump rope because it’s fun. Fitness is a side effect. 

When I was in elementary school in the early-to-mid ‘90s, Jump Rope For Heart was on a crusade to get kids jumping rope. I remember enjoying the experience thoroughly. However, once I moved into middle school, where gym class was optional, I didn’t touch a jump rope again until I was into my 30’s. 

Why did I pick up jump rope again? Was it because I was at my heaviest weight of 235 pounds? Was it because I was researching various forms of exercise and found jump rope to be one of the most underrated forms of cardio? 

Nope. It just looked fun. And it was. 

Beginning again as an easily-winded sack of flab means it wasn’t necessarily easy, but even as an utterly sedentary desk jockey, I enjoyed the challenge. 

Every week, my stamina increased, and my body began to change. I had no specific weight-loss goal in mind, aside from possibly dipping below 200 pounds for the first time in about five years. That happened rather uneventfully because, though the process was challenging, it didn’t suck. I enjoyed pushing myself to my limits and leaving puddles of sweat in my driveway. I would look forward to my next jump rope session with anticipation rather than dread.  

At the time I write this, I jump rope six days a week, regardless of the weather, for 15-30 minutes, striving to keep an average heart rate of above 145 bpm. 

Is it hard some mornings? Yes. 

Is it challenging to push through when I feel like giving up? Definitely. 

Does it suck? Absolutely not. 

Leverage what you consider fun. Lean into what you consider challenging. 

Whether you’re looking to run a faster mile, lose and keep off a certain amount of weight, or develop a useful meditation habit, utilizing the activities you already enjoy will help you not only tolerate the growth process but crave it. When you use enjoyable activities to push your journey towards achievement, you pour rocket fuel on your progress.

The Importance of Determining How Much is Enough & Why

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How are you determining what is enough for you?

Most of us are probably familiar with the “rock bottom” scene from 1979’s comedy classic, “The Jerk.” If you’re not, Steve Martin’s character, Navin Johnson, has lost all of his wealth and his relationship with love interest Maria (played by Bernadette Peters) is on the rocks. In an attempt to prove that he hasn’t quite hit rock bottom, he walks out of his mansion, only taking “all I need.” As he scoots out of the house in his bathrobe, pants around his ankles, he grabs random items as he passes them. Cradling them in his arms, he bellows out that these few items are all he needs.

“The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine, and the chair.”

What started out as an act of defiance against the universe’s attempt to crush his spirit turns into a hilarious joke about just how dependant on petty materialism he really is. 

The joke is on us.

We laugh at this scene—partially because of its absurdity, but also because of its relevance to our own lives. Not only do we not know how much is enough, but we also don’t know how we should decide how much is enough for our lives. However, determining how much is enough and why is absolutely crucial—not only for the sake of our own contentment but also so we can understand our role as conduits for giving in the world. 

“How much is enough?” vs. “How much can I afford?”

Most of us have never taken the time to really consider what kind of stuff and how much of it is necessary for us to be content. For most of us, the question is answered by “how much can I afford?” Cheaper goods and open lines of credit have made this method of thinking immensely problematic. Suddenly, even once we no longer have enough money to keep our bills paid, we’re still allowed to feel like we don’t have enough stuff to feel satisfied. 

Really, though—how much is enough to make you “happy”?

We’ve been conditioned to always seek out more without really taking the time to assess if accumulating more material goods is really worth the sacrifices we make to attain them. We’re simply never expected to ask ourselves certain contentment-determining “how much is enough” questions. 

“How much (insert item here) is enough?” 

  • How much house is enough?
  • How much car is enough?
  • How much consumer technology is enough?
  • How much wardrobe is enough?
  • etc.

Getting to the Root with “But Why?” 

For anyone who has been in the presence of an inquisitive child, the question of “but why?” may seem annoying, if not maddening. However, asking ourselves “why?” we want anything is an effective practice in cutting away motivations that do not result in a contented spirit. 

  • Why do I need this much house? 
  • Why do I need this much car? 
  • Why do I need this much consumer technology?
  • Why do I need this much of a wardrobe?

Asking “Why?” About Your Whys

To truly chip away at weak motivations, repeatedly and honestly asking “why?” about our answers to “why?” can expose flimsy reasons for wanting certain things.

“XYZ is enough car because I want a modern SUV from a luxury brand.” 

Why?

“Well, because I want my car to reflect my success.” 

Why?

“Appearing successful, even to strangers, is important to me.”

Why?

“Because I need outward affirmation to convince myself that I am successful.” 

Not all “why” roots will be negative truths that require deeply psychological remedies. Some will be legitimate reasons, even if they seem a bit superfluous initially. Eventually, your answer to “why?” may start to become repetitive once it has begun to hit its root and may feel like a semi-compelling argument. While this is possible, it’s important to not attempt to rationalize every superfluous material desire. 

You are a conduit for others. 

Most of us have more than enough. We convince ourselves of the need to upgrade perfectly adequate items. We buy several versions of the same thing that differ slightly in ways only we could ever perceive. We purchase more of something than we could ever consume—from channels to data plans and beyond. Is this really the best use of our excess? 

There are people, believe it or not, who do not have enough. Through unfortunate events or even as a result of systemic oppression, there those who lack even the most basic of essentials. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for determining our levels of “enoughness” is so we can be activated as a conduit for blessing in their lives. By determining what is enough for you, you will be in a more comfortable position to give. Instead of buying yet another version of that thing that still works for you, perhaps consider donating to a food bank, picking up someone’s groceries, or paying the rent for someone who has lost their job.

Once you realize what is enough for you, this is an opportunity to be a blessing for others without enough.

Contentment is a choice.

Happiness is an “inside job.” If we build our joy with the approval of others as its foundation, the moment their attention shifts or wanes, this structure will collapse. That’s why it is imperative that we choose to perpetually cultivate self-sustaining happiness and do our best to avoid conditional “hits” of happiness.

Happiness through material possession is unquenchable.

Happiness through social approval is fickle. 

Happiness through accomplishment is untenable.

Happiness generated via chosen contentment within the present moment is abiding. 

The only truthful answer to “I’ll be happy when…” is “…when I decide to allow myself to be happy.”

Putting Enough Into Practice

Answer the following question about all material possessions you have or feel you need. 

  • What do you feel is enough (house, vehicle, technology, wardrobe, etc.) for you? 

 

  • Why do you feel that this is so?

 

  • Could the resources you’ve invested in this item or service be better utilized for others while leaving you feeling like you have enough? How? 

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.”


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Modern Shoes Are Pretty Terrible For Our Bodies

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There are few things more liberating than kicking off your kicks in the backyard and letting the piggies roam the grass. However, if you look at an old person’s shoes in the developed world, they’re more akin to a medical device. This is odd because when you look to cultures that have maintained connections to their past, they can walk in the most minimalist of sandals, if not barefoot, for miles and miles. What gives? A possible cause: we’ve been babying our feet our entire lives with modern, thick-soled shoes. 

WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436. - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29849183
Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014”.

Have you ever seen an x-ray or diagram of the human foot? It’s crazy looking. It just looks like an array of bones no bigger than a knuckle, all crammed into close quarters. According to Arthritis.org, the foot contains 26 bones (a quarter of our body’s bones), 30 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. All of these allow the foot to move and flex in every direction. Crazier still, that fairly compact apparatus is intended to carry hundreds of pounds around, and even allowing it to leap into the air…? This seems like a body part we should be striving to strengthen above all else. Instead, what do we do? 

  • We prop up the arches so they don’t have to hold up themselves.
  • We cram the toes together so they can’t feel the ground beneath.
  • We raise up the heel so the Achilles tendon is disengaged, so then we have to support the ankle to keep the whole thing steady.

What? Why? 

Shoe Heels Have a Purpose, But It’s Super Dumb

Now in the defense of the shoes of the last several hundred years, heels on the shoe a purpose — to KEEP BOOTS IN STIRRUPS. Oh, and to make derrieres appear pronounced. Those are really the only two functions of a heel on the shoe. The rest of their functions are purely aesthetic. However, having this heel has completely changed the way modern humans walk and run. Instead of walking with the ball of the foot doing its job of absorbing the initial impact of walking or running, the pronounced heel has taken that job — a role it was never meant to have. Growing accustomed to making initial contact with each step heel-first, the ball of the foot is bypassed and the additional shock rattles it’s way up in chain reaction through the ankle, knee, hip, and back — all because of this device meant to keep people on horseback. Look at our genius. 

Fortunately, many have begun to question our need for a heel and atrophy-inducing cushioning in our shoes. A whole industry of “barefoot” style shoes has taken off—dozens of companies all vying for who can make the best minimalist shoes that let the foot move and feel as its designed. The results? I’m going to level with you—most look like rubber socks. But you know what? Maybe that’s what we need. At the very least, we all need to spend as much time barefoot as possible.

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For Your Future Self: 4 Attributes of a Sustainable Existence

Reading Time: 5 minutes


“How long can I keep doing this?”

143

In addition to being an accomplished television personality, minister, and musician, “Mister” Fred Rogers was also an immensely disciplined fellow. He was a vegetarian who never drank or smoked. He went to bed every night at 9:30 PM. He rose every morning at 5 AM, and began every day with prayer, answering fan mail, and swimming laps. After swimming, he’d weigh himself. Every time, the scale was the same: 143 pounds—the “I love you” number as he’d call it due to the number of letters in those words. 

Was this routine flashy? Hardly. Was it sustainable? Undoubtedly. 

Inspired by Rogers and my desire to be a friend to the older versions of myself, I’ve grown fixated on cultivating the most sustainable lifestyle possible. This research continues, but this piece contains what I’m presently referring to as “The Four Attributes of a Sustainable Existence.”

Life Sustained

Four touchstones must be present when determining which lifestyle activities, habits, or routines are sustainable—a sustainability test, if you will.  

  1. Positive: The activity has to be something that you won’t need to give up eventually. 
  2. Honest: The activity has to be something you honestly want to pursue with motivations authentic to your character. 
  3. Simple Reasoning: the reason for pursuing this activity needs to be simple.
  4. Enjoyment: you need to enjoy the activity separate from the benefit it brings. 

Throughout this piece, I’ll be using the routine of jumping rope for 25 minutes, six days a week as an example of a sustainable lifestyle habit of mine and why it met all these criteria for me (and maybe you, too, but hey, that’s you...)

1. The activity needs to be good for you…or at least not bad for you.

Starting with the most obvious, any lifestyle activity you hope to pursue into old age shouldn’t be anything that will, at some point, result in negative consequences. Some examples of not-good activities include nightly cigar smoking, a keto diet, or afternoon ice cream. While any of these may begin as harmless niceties or even helpful tools, if you’ll have to give it up eventually, there’s no use in starting it now.

Example: One of the reasons I chose jump rope as my favorite form of exercise as opposed to, say, motocross racing, is due to its sustainable nature. With the proper conditioning, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do jump rope cross-overs and boxer-skips into my 90’s. Ok, maybe not double-unders, but I can take or leave those.

Secondary thought: is it good (or at least not bad) for the world?

This activity should also not be harmful to others. (This is perhaps the most common understanding of modern use of the word sustainable—which many use in an environmental context.)  For instance, if you decide to pursue an activity that requires a product whose manufacturing or disposal is overly destructive to the environment, this activity may not be sustainable. Likewise, if this activity damages a valuable relationship, it’s also likely not sustainable.

2. Do you really want this? Why? 

Despite our ambitions, there is a certain amount of virtue in properly giving up on a goal. To determine which ambitions to pursue or discard, we can simply look at the honesty of our motivations. 

  • Do you want to read all 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud to glean its information, or are you doing so for the bragging rights? 
  • Do you want those six-pack abs to combat dangerous subcutaneous and visceral fat or to flaunt it on your Instagram feed?
  • Do you want to wake up 5:30 AM to get a jump on the day or because you simply want to share that aspect of your daily routine with your favorite influencer? 

Honest Motivation = Stored Willpower

Any activity we pursue will occasionally depend upon stored motivation and willpower to commence or pursue. If our motivations are frivolous or shallow, that fuel source will be spoiled when we need it most. When our motivations for pursuing a specific goal are constructed on vain or fragile foundations, they are doomed from the start.

To test this, ask yourself: 

“Do I want the result because I want it? Or do I want the result because I’m supposed to want it?”

Example: 

My motivation for jumping rope is pretty straightforward: to maintain my fitness and because it’s fun. Yes, I’m supposed to want to maintain my fitness and pursue fun things, but I also genuinely want to pursue these endeavors for my own sake—thus, this goal has a sustainable motivation.  

Besides, if I was going for cool points, I could have done a lot better than a jump rope

3. Is your motivation simple enough to endure?

If our motivations for pursuing a task are unclear or overly complicated, determining success may be difficult—and thus, the reward illusive. To test your motivations’ simplicity, see if you can express them in a single concise sentence. 

Here are a few examples of my own reasons for pursuing my routines/habits:

  • Why do I practice intermittent fasting? To aid my digestion and boost metabolism. 
  • Why do I jump rope six days a week? To maintain my fitness and because it’s fun.
  • Why do I journal? To process my thoughts and emotions. 
  • Why do I meditate? To train my attention span.
  • Why do I allot eight hours in bed every night? To maintain my health and focus.   

Now, enjoy some examples of my past routines/habits I’ve abandoned due to complicated or misguided motivations: 

  • Why do I practice strength training? Because I’d like to, at least once in my life, see what my abs look like under that gut fat. I mean, wouldn’t it be pretty cool? I guess, though it’s not a huge deal, it seems like something I should want. (Yep, and I ditched it.)
  • Why do I engage in the Daf Yomi (daily reading of Talmud every day, resulting in completion in seven-years-time)? I imagine that studying Talmud and navigating all of the arguments of the sages would give me immense insights into Jewish life. Besides, being able to say “I’ve completed Shas(Daf Yomi)” is something not everyone can say. (And thus, I closed the book.)
  • Why do I get up at 5:30 AM? Some of the most accomplished minds get up at 5:30 AM, if not even earlier. Getting up an hour or more early will give me time to do more throughout my day…right? (I didn’t quite believe this and was tired of cutting sleep short, so I have since abandoned the notion.)

If you have to sell yourself on your motivations, pursuing the associated goal is likely not sustainable.

4. How much fun are you having?

Another sustainability sniff test for a lifestyle activity is how much pleasure you derive from the process…independent of the goal. 

“Because I Want To” Passes the Test…As Long As You Do

To piggyback on clearly defining motivations, one of those motivations may simply be, “because I enjoy doing it.” That was my initial motivation for jumping rope. Though it has transitioned into, “I jump rope to maintain a certain level of fitness,” as well, the process began solely as, “Hey, that looks fun.” Because fun was my original motivation for starting it, I still enjoy the process to this day. Any project or activity we begin must remain pleasurable to remain sustainable. 

Pleasurable Doesn’t Always Mean Non-Stop-Fun

Only pursuing projects I find pleasurable does not mean that I am perpetually laughing like an idiot through every step of a process. During a writing project, I may end up banging my head against the wall regarding what word to use or how to structure a piece. During exercise, I may end up frustratedly tripping over my jump rope. Despite these challenges and disappointments, exasperations eventually give way to breakthroughs, making them an enjoyable part of the process. However, when the highs no longer justify the lows, it may be time to abandon an unsustainable initiative.

In Conclusion: I’m Actually Lazy

While the idea of cultivating sustainable lifestyle activities and projects seems ambitious, it’s actually a process I’ve lovingly dubbed utilitarian laziness. It’s nothing more than buffing out the friction of false-starts, thin motivations, and superfluous fluff from life to get us closer to the good stuff—fewer items on our docket, but each one packing a resonant punch that helps us live a life that truly sticks to our ribs.

In Defense of Suspenders: And, Oh Yeah, Belts Suck

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The Reflective Nature of Quarantine

This time of lockdown/quarantine has been one of the most unique times in the lives of my generation. Many of us had been unknowingly living according to schedules and routines set by others. While having your docket cleansed of the plans seems liberating, we were then simultaneously limited in the activities we could place on it due to social distancing guidelines. For many, this paradoxical free-to-do-everything yet not-allowed-to-do-anything forced some to step up to the plate of their own aspirations. For others, it has resulted in a free-fall into the abyss of mindless social media black holes, time sacrifices at the altar of Netflix, and maddening isolation. 

For me, this isolation forced me to carefully inspect my life. My blessings. My curses. My goals. My fears. My habits. It made me take a deep look at the man I want to be for those for whom I care most. 

This time of self-rediscovery has revealed another truth to me: suspenders are way better than belts. In fact, belts suck. That’s right—I said it.

My son in his classic two-tone suspenders.

How the Hell Did I Come to This Conclusion

I know it sounds very random to have such a hot take on trouser accessories. Well, over the course of the last year, I’ve lost roughly 40 pounds. While this has been a life-changing journey into health and fitness, the change left me with a closet full of ill-fitting pants. While I could buy new trousers, I happen to like my pants. They’re otherwise perfect. However, for the past eight or so months, I’ve been cinching up my waistband with a belt as though I’ve been tying off a garbage bag. The result had been flaps of loose fabric and constant adjustments. After a little research, I decided to try out suspenders this week. 

The results? Wow, why did we ever give these up for something as terrible as a belt? 

Why I Prefer Suspenders Over Belts

1. Suspenders make sense from a physics perspective.

Your biggest obstacle to keeping your pants up is gravity. To consistently oppose gravity, your best bet is to restrict any downward movement of the pants. Suspenders do this in the most sensical way possible—by distributing the opposing downward force across your shoulders, which are more than capable of supporting the weight of pants and anything in your pockets. Belts, on the other hand, will always fail eventually. 

Either they (a) will require that you cinch them tight enough for the friction of the waistband to support the weight of the pants or they will (b) sit too loose to be of any reliable good. The result is a losing battle. 

2. Suspenders make sense from a biological perspective. 

The human body is a marvelous machine—perfectly calibrated to transform water, air, and organic matter into fuel…as well as poop and pee. The use of belts over the years literally changes our bodies. They frequently disrupt the more even distribution of fat throughout the torso, resulting in the “dunlop” belly for those carrying more weight on their frame.

The extended wearing of tight belts also isn’t great for your digestive system. One medical study carried out by Professor Kenneth McColl of the University of Glasgow discovered links between wearing tight belts and some forms of throat cancer due to increased instances of acid reflux. The same study found associations between tight belts and an increased risk of hernia. 

So, yeah, belts are tourniquets for your guts. Suspenders, on the other hand, like…aren’t. 

3. Utilitarian suspenders are immensely unfashionable…and are therefore sustainably fashionable.

Once upon a time, if you wanted help keeping your trousers up, suspenders were your go-to method. Belts were primarily used to keep robes closed or to hold tools and weapons handy. It wasn’t until pants were designed with lower waistbands that suspenders started to take a backseat to belts—and even then, it was purely a choice of fashion, not function.

These days, skinny, sleek, or rustically weathered leather suspenders are a popular look among hipster mixologists and baristas. However, when it comes to utilitarian “fashion,” suspenders have been mostly been relegated to improv comedy performers, seventh-grade geography teachers, retirees, skinheads (both racist and non-racist), and the Amish. 

That being said, there’s something sustainably fashionable about something as classically sensical as suspenders. My personal fashion must endure decades of functional style. That’s the reason why my glasses, hats, pants, and shoes likely could have been fashionable in most decades while at the same time not turning heads in any decade. Whenever my fashion choices can be simultaneously functional and timeless, that’s usually the route I will take.

All of this being said, I only wear shorts when exercising or swimming. For those who choose to wear suspenders with shorts…I guess I’ll see you at Oktoberfest?

4. Suspenders are functionally superior to belts. 

  • Suspenders don’t ever cut you through the middle after a large meal or sitting for an extended period of time.
  • Suspenders allow you to have your pants completely unbuttoned and unzipped without having to simultaneously hold them up—which is especially not fun if you have heavier objects in your pockets.
  • Sayonara, plumber’s crack.

But Mostly, Belts Suck

I could have very well titled this piece “Belts Suck: What Other Options Exist?” However, I chose to take the high road and support my favorite means of support: suspenders. Feel free to give them a shot. I don’t know what you have to lose, but its definitely not your pants.

In my own suspenders.

Helping Relieve Anxiety & Depression With God’s First Question

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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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

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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.