Get Exclusive: The Digital Alternative to Social Media

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Remember the annual family newsletter?

From about the time I was seven or eight years old, I was in charge of writing my family’s annual holiday newsletter—a job I would put on my resume today if others took it as seriously as I did. 

In this snail-mailed update, the newsletter usually followed a familiar recipe; 

  • greetings intro blurb
  • family update paragraph
  • dad paragraph
  • mom paragraph
  • older brother paragraph
  • my own paragraph
  • a conclusion 

I aimed to keep it short enough to only use the front of one sheet of paper—a practice that I feel has enhanced my editing skills to this day.  

Just as we enjoyed mailing this letter out to far-flung family and friends, we also thoroughly enjoyed receiving others. From November through December, we’d fish one out of a pile on the center of the dining room table to read over the morning’s bowl of cereal or on a lazy weekend afternoon. 

Sadly, after a while, most families stopped putting out annual newsletters. 

What killed them? It wouldn’t be going out on a limb to blame the emergence of social media.

Gone are the days are, “I wonder what the Hendersons are up to.” 

Family milestones are simply “reacted” to with the click of a heart-shaped button and a reheated, “So cute,” “That’s fantastic,” or “Thoughts and prayers.” 

In-person conversations and email correspondences have been reduced to, 

“Yeah, I saw that you had posted about that,” and “I know, I laughed so hard when I saw that post…”

Is it possible that too much digital socialization can leave us feeling even more detached from physical socialization than physical detachment? 

I believe so. And I think there is a better way.

Enter: the personal newsletter. 

The Personal Email Newsletter

It works like this: 

The Gist

  • Those who desire to keep up with one’s life the same way they do on social media only simply need to subscribe to their email newsletter through a free online email subscription tool (more about that in a second). 
  • The author of the newsletter keeps their curated group of friends (not to be confused with acquaintances) updated with a periodic email newsletter.

No Hard Feelings

  • The author can choose to deny subscription requests from anyone they don’t feel close enough to receive their updates—no hard feelings.
  • On the flip side, if any reader decides they don’t want to receive these email updates anymore, they simply unsubscribe—also, no hard feelings.
  • Vanity metrics, such as any open rates or engagement, should be avoided at all costs. These newsletters are about the quality of the connection, not the quantity of the readership.
  • Authors should feel free to keep access to their newsletters exclusive. The higher the quality of your relationships with your readers, the more honest you can be in your newsletters. Remember “Dunbar’s Number” —the theory that our brains can really only juggle a maximum of around 150 relationships. After that, it’s wishful thinking. Your subscriber count will likely be many times less than that, but each connection will be of a higher quality. 
  • Do not subscribe to acquaintances with whom you don’t intend to make closer friends. A subscription is no place for voyeurism. Ask yourself, “If I saw them in person in a bar and I was alone, would I feel ok about asking them to pull up a seat?” If the answer isn’t “absolutely,” don’t subscribe to their newsletter.

The Less Frequent, the Better

  • Authors are encouraged to be as light or as deep as they want. Newsletters can cover just the basics, remain lighthearted, or go into deep issues close to the author’s heart.
  • Feel free to respond to someone’s newsletter to spark a friendly email correspondence. Better yet, save your questions about the nature of their newsletter for an in-person interaction—perhaps over a coffee or a pint. Though covid-conditions make this problematic for the time being, there will come a time when questions about a thought-provoking newsletter should result in a scheduled time to grab a coffee or a drink for an in-person discussion.  
  • Authors should strive to limit how frequently they send these newsletters to reduce the likelihood of inundating the readers’ inboxes. Instead of posting any thought you have, consider compiling your thoughts on a single note on your phone or computer and curating these thoughts into your monthly, seasonally, and even annual newsletter.  

The Tools

  • Do not email a list through your email service. Not only does this expose email addresses to others, but it removes their ability to unsubscribe from your newsletters. Failing to use a newsletter service may result in getting your address flagged as spam or even damaging your relationships.
  • TinyLetter: Though a free email service that follows all of these guidelines to the above specifications does not yet exist, I’ve found that TinyLetter is the closest email newsletter tool for these purposes. Its stripped-down nature lends itself well to personal email newsletters. Its subscription tools allow friends to easily subscribe and unsubscribe as they so choose.
  • The use of mobile note-taking applications greatly aids newsletter development. Instead of feeling the need to post every idea that com es to mind on a social media platform, collecting thoughts in the moment for later posts will result in a higher quality correspondence experience. I prefer Google Keep. Others may like Evernote, OneNote, or Notion. Sometimes, I’ll even journal on a Google Doc kept in Drive on my phone. Whether you use a note-taking app or a paper notebook, the most crucial part is recalling your notes later for future newsletter updates. 

In Conclusion

Moving to a newsletter-based approach to online socialization is meant to use technology as a tool for fostering high-quality friendships, not digital voyeurism or social skimming. While you may not have nearly the number of personal newsletter readers as friends on Facebook, that’s a good thingmost of those people aren’t your friends anyway.

Cheers to cultivating genuine, high-quality friendships.

6 Thoughts Upon Reactivating My Facebook Profile After 16 Months

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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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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Waking Up: We’re Focusing On the Wrong Metric

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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Even after we’ve grown up, we still believe in superheroes. 

The “work hard, play hard” mentality has convinced a generation of “wantrepreneurs” that hard work, long hours, and a swiss-army-knife-array of lifehacks are the key to success. Those who can endure such grueling schedules are not only seen as more than successful—they’re superhuman

An obsession with the lifestyles of high-achieving entrepreneurs and personalities has led many to fixate on a popular hustle metric: what time you get up in the morning. 

And guess what? According to recent scientific research, they’d have to be superhuman for such lifestyles to be sustainable. 

The Downside of Irresponsible Early Rising

The appeal of getting up early is the goal of adding hours to one’s days. Though you stayed up late, getting up early gives you a headstart on life—providing time to exercise, tend to your wellbeing, or squeeze in an edge on the snoozing competition. However, science says that the wakefulness we steal from our mornings to pay for this edge are debts that will very likely come due. 

According to sleep scientist, Matthew Walker  and author of the acclaimed book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, forgoing the medical community’s recommended quantity of sleep is associated with a shorter, more disease-ridden life. 

“Every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep,” Walker reports. “So, that classic maxim that you may [have] heard that you can sleep when you’re dead—it’s actually mortally unwise advice from a very serious standpoint.”

Sleep & Dementia

Most of us are familiar with the zombie-like walk to the bathroom after a night of bad sleep and the brain fog that looms over our day. This sensation may be a precursor to a more permanent condition. New studies have found a startling association between insufficient sleep and the likelihood of greater cognitive decline

Our waking brain has been found to maintain a build-up of metabolic waste. This beta-amyloid waste has been associated with the impairment of communication between neurons present in Alzheimer’s patients.  Though this sounds scary, there’s a bright side: like running the dishwasher overnight on pots and pans, sufficient sleep releases a flood of cerebrospinal fluid to wash this waste away. 

Failing to achieve sufficient sleep can be compared to leaving your dried peanut-butter-coated china in the dishwasher overnight and hoping a light rinse will leave them adequately ready for important company the next day. 

In Why We Sleep, Walker contributed two examples of famous high-achievers who frequently boasted their lack of a need for sufficient sleep—the U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Both of these officials were known for their almost superhuman ability to function on very little sleep. What else did they have in common? They both later suffered from severe dementia that robbed them of their mental acuity and likely shortened their lives. Though these are just two examples, the before mentioned has established associations between a lack of sleep and advanced cognitive decline.

Sufficient Sleep Recommendations

So, what is considered insufficient sleep? 3 hours a night? 4 hours a night? Think again: anything below 6 hours a night.  

In addition to cognitive decline, Walker’s research has also linked insufficient sleep to a significant increase in the likelihood of developing:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Obesity
  • Disrupted sex hormones and infertility
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • An overall depleted immune system 

In other words, any condition that can kill you is aided by insufficient sleep. To add insult to injury, Walker pointed out in a noted TED Talk that men who only sleep five hours a night have, on average, been found to have smaller testicles. So, in case you needed any other reason to get more sleep, fellas—there you go.  

The Time You Should Be Obsessed With

What is the most important alarm for those who want to get an early start? It’s definitely not their morning alarm, but an evening alarm. Because the evening hours are notorious for slipping by us, setting evening “get ready for bed” and “lights out” alarms are your best bet to getting to bed at a time required to receive sufficient sleep—anywhere from between 7-9 hours of sleep, according to Walker. 

Powering Down in Phases

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting up early. If anything, some of the highest performing athletes also beat the dawn. However, unlike many of their peers in achievement, professional athletes carefully structure their hours of sleep. How do they do this? By regimenting and guarding their evening activities. In addition to a designated “light’s out” time, many sleep guardians are known to practice power-down phases to prepare their bodies and minds for sleep.

Noted triathlete Chris Leiferman has reported an evening schedule that he and his wife are committed to observing: 

“I follow the same bedtime routine and start getting ready for bed around 9 p.m. My wife and I turn off the TV and don’t look at our phones other than setting the alarm to have 30-45 minutes of no ‘blue’ light before we go to sleep. I then read a book to get my eyes tired, then I kiss my wife goodnight, and I’m out cold in a couple of minutes.”

Following a similar routine can ensure you receive sufficient sleep.

Bring the Lights Down

As the sun sets, you should also start to bring down the lighting in your home. Turn off unnecessary lights and soften any that you can. Increased lighting in the home has been found to suppress melatonin—a key sleep hormone.

Reduce Blue Light Sources

While turning off bright overhead lights can help you prepare for bed, your favorite devices can also be suppressing your melatonin and throwing off your circadian rhythms by emitting generous amounts of blue light. Televisions, computer monitors, and phone screens are the worst offenders. About an hour before bed, try to limit your use of such disruptive devices. Instead, opt for that book you’ve been meaning to get to, journal about what’s on your mind, or play a board game with another member of your household.

What to Avoid Before Bed

To ensure quality sleep, there are several behaviors and consumables you will want to avoid. Some of these seem fairly straightforward. Others seem counterintuitive. 

  • Alcohol: Though it can feel like the occasional glass or two of wine can help you nod off easier, its key ingredient can lead to later tossing and turning. Though the alcohol can help you drift off, the body won’t begin to fully metabolize it until later—a process that can leave your body feeling restless. The consumption of alcohol before bed has also been found to inhibit deep R.E.M. sleep.  
  • Caffeine after 5 PM: Though caffeine only spikes your energy levels for about a half-hour to an hour after consumption, its effects can linger for as much as five hours. Yes, that trip to Starbucks after work may be the reason you’re still tossing and turning at night.
  • Exercise: I’ll admit, I used to enjoy using up the last of my energy for the day with a jump rope in my driveway at 9 PM. However, the effort of intense exercise can spike levels of cortisol—your body’s main stress hormone. For this reason, keep your exercise to no more than three hours before lights out.
  • Distractions in the bed: As we’ve mentioned above, the blue light from TV, computer, and mobile devices can inhibit the production of melatonin—disrupting your brain’s circadian rhythms. While all screens should be avoided in bed, your bed should also be treated as a place reserved for two things—1. Sleep 2. Sex. Watching TV, working on a laptop, or even reading books can muddy your brain’s understanding of the purpose of your bed and result in restlessness. 
  • Sleep aids: For many, getting to bed means popping a popular sedative. There’s only one problem with that—sedation and sleep are not synonymous mental states. Natural sleep is an incredibly elaborate restorative process of the mind and body. Sedatives, on the other hand, simply induce unconsciousness without many of the other attributes of sleep. As Matthew Walker put it, “We don’t have any good pharmacological approach right now to replicate such a nuanced and complex set of biological changes.”  

In Bed ≠ Time Asleep

When running the numbers on how to achieve sufficient sleep, remember to leave a window of time to actually fall asleep. For most healthy individuals, falling asleep takes about 10 to 20 minutes on average.  For this reason, it’s important to differentiate “lights out” from “sleeping” time. 

What to Do When You Can’t Sleep

There will always be occasions when, despite your best efforts, you simply can’t sleep. What to do now? Get out of bed. 

Why get out of bed? According to Walker, your brain is an extremely environmentally sensitive machine. If you spend enough time awake, staring at your ceiling in rumination, your brain will associate that activity with your bed. Instead, get out of bed, possibly even going into another room. Use that time to read a book (not on a screen), listen to soothing music, write in a journal, play solitaire with a deck of cards, or meditate until you grow tired enough for sleep. These types of relaxing activities will not only help you to grow sleepier but will also likely distract you from the anxieties that may be keeping you awake. 

In Conclusion

For its importance to absolutely every aspect of our health, the only reason we’re not asked about it more by our physicians is the timeliness of understanding its importance—thanks to the very recent strides in imaging technology. Despite these earth-shattering discoveries, neurologist Matthew Walker believes that we are, as a society, experiencing a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic.” 

So, what is the best way to attempt to maximize your own potential to live the lives of your idolized superheroes? Go to bed on time. 

Because, as Walker put it in his TED Talk,

“Sleep is your superpower.” 


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(Free eBook) Alignment Refinement: A Short Modern English Siddur

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“Why bother with an English Jewish prayer book?”

Due to the global pandemic, more of us unable to pray in the minyanim (groups) that we normally would be able to. This has caused many of us to pray alone—sometimes in a tongue that is not the most familiar. For the sake of those modern English speakers wishing to align with the Creator of the Universe through traditional Jewish prayers, I’ve curated some of the “greatest hits” of Weekday prayer and provided some of my favorite translations. Some are lifted from other prayerbooks. Some are my original reframings of existing prayers. All of them are for you to enjoy for free here in ebook format.

english prayer book siddur From book introduction:
This siddur is for those who are seeking to connect with the Creator of the Universe in a Jewish way, but are either still learning to make Hebrew the language of their heart or simply prefer to seek out Hashem in their English mother tongue. It is not meant as a replacement to traditional Hebrew prayer, but instead as an accompanying resource. Many of the prayers are also heavily abbreviated assist in facilitating regular prayer—to eliminate any daunting element of initiating tefillah. The best siddur is the one that is regularly used. The best prayers are the easiest to initiate. If the praying individual wishes to pray more, there are always Tehillim (Psalms) they can utter, additional tefillah (as found in the back of this book) or hitbodedut (personal prayer.)

Download the .mobi file (for Kindle Devices)
Download the PDF


How to Upload MOBI or PDF Files to Your Kindle On Computer

If you have the Kindle for Mac application installed on your Mac computer, you should only have to open the .mobi file on your computer and use the Kindle for Mac application to open it. This should also upload the book to your Library across your devices.

How to Upload MOBI or PDF Files to Your Kindle Via Email

  • A PDF will work, but you’ll prefer the MOBI file
  • Right-click or hold down the link to download the MOBI or PDF file to your computer or device.
  • Navigate to Amazon, login, and click this Manage Your Content and Devices link
  • Click “Preferences” in the upper middle section between “Devices” and “Privacy Settings”
  • Once on the “Preferences” page, scroll down and click on “Personal Document Settings”
  • Here, you will see “@kindle.com” email addresses for your Kindle-enabled devices. Copy the one corresponding to the device you wish to use.
  • Compose a new email to that address, attaching the downloaded MOBI or PDF files to the email and send.
  • Open your Kindle device or Kindle app to check to see if the files are there. If they aren’t, you may need to wait a bit while they load.

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Modern Shoes Are Pretty Terrible For Our Bodies

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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

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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. 

The Greatest Piece of Financial Advice I’ve Ever Received

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So many of us struggle to live within our means. Part of the reason for this is that our checking account balance is lying to us. No, you actually do have that amount in your account, but many of us forget how or more specifically when it got there. 

I used to wonder why I was so slammed up against the wall as I neared the end of a pay period. I would find myself at the grocery store the day before payday, wondering whether or not I should use my credit card or move money from savings into my checking account. 

 How the heck did this happen? Well, it turns out that I was misreading my checking account balance. This was causing me to spend beyond my means quite comfortably the first week or so after being paid—a false assurance. It wasn’t until I received one tip from a financial advisor through my Native American tribe that helped me look at my checking account differently, to live within my means, and start putting savings away. 

The first thing you should do when you get paid is to move everything that had existed in your checking account before payday into savings and act as though it never existed. That will force you to truly live on your salary and not feel like you have more because of what remained from your last pay cycle. 

She was right—I hadn’t been seeing a realistic picture of my means due to the remnants of my last paycheck artificially inflating my checking account balance.

Her advice sounds ridiculously simple, but it worked. If my paycheck hit my account on top of, say, $300 that was in there before, that $300 got thrown into savings. Now, every time I look at my checking account, the only info looking back at me is only what my most recent paycheck had left and the spending since then. This little behavior has forced me to more diligently stick to my budget but also to truly live within my means. No matter how much is left over, it goes to savings. As far as I’m concerned, that money is stowed behind a rock on the moon.

Anyway, I hope this helps someone as much as it helped me.