Category Archives: Positive Mind


Posted 3/14/17 by Ben Carlson.  He works with Barry Ritholtz and Josh Brown.  If I were young and ambitious again, I would pound down their doors to work there.    I’m stealing the whole thing, because it’s short.

Some Lessons For Living From Older Generations

The Guardian recently ran a piece written by 94-year-old Harry Smith. Smith waxed poetic on his description of what growing old has meant to him:

People should not look at their approaching golden years with dread or apprehension but as perhaps one of the most significant stages in their development as a human being, even during these turbulent times. For me, old age has been a renaissance despite the tragedies of losing my beloved wife and son. It’s why the greatest error anyone can make is to assume that, because an elderly person is in a wheelchair or speaks with quiet deliberation, they have nothing important to contribute to society. It is equally important to not say to yourself if you are in the bloom of youth: “I’d rather be dead than live like that.” As long as there is sentience and an ability to be loved and show love, there is purpose to existence.

All of you, when young, will make your own history: you will struggle, you will betray some and others will betray you. You will love and lose love. You will feel profound joy and deep sorrow and during all of this you will grow as an individual. That’s why it is your duty when you get old to tell the young about your odyssey across the vast ocean of your life. It is why when death does come for me – even if it mauls me with decrepitude before it takes me – I will not lament either my old age or my faded youth. They were just different times of the day when I stood in the sun and felt the warmth of life.

After reading Smith’s piece I was reminded of the book 30 Lessons For Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans. It’s been a few years since I read it but the ideas have stuck with me. Professor Karl Pillemer interviewed thousands of people over the age of 65 to glean some wisdom on all sorts of life lessons on things from kids to careers to marriage, money and much more. I found my notes on the book and really liked his passage on what this group didn’t say about their experiences:

No one – not a single person out of a thousand – said that to be happy you should try to work as hard as you can to make money to buy the things you want.

No one – not a single person – said it’s important to be at least as wealthy as the people around you, and if you have more than they do it’s real success.

No one – not a single person – said you should choose your work based on your desired future earning power.

Now it may sound absurdly obvious worded this way. But this is in fact how many people operate on a day-to-day basis. The experts did not say these things; indeed almost no one said anything remotely like them. Instead they consistently urged finding a way of earning enough to live on without condemning yourself to a job you dislike.

These ideas do seem obvious but it’s not easy to think this way when others around you put so much value on money or material possessions.

Everyone has regrets about things they wish they would have done differently if given the opportunity to go back and do things over again. Pillemer listed five things he learned from this group about regret reduction that can be applied to young people:

  • Always be honest. Avoid acts of dishonesty, both big and small. Most people suffer from serious regret later in life if they have been less than “fair and square.
  • Say yes to opportunities. When offered a new opportunity or challenge, you are much less likely to regret saying yes and more likely to regret turning it down.
  • Travel more. Travel while you can, sacrificing other things if necessary to do so. Most people look back on their travel adventures (big and small) as highlights of their lives and regret not having traveled more.
  • Choose a mate with extreme care. The key is not to rush the decision, taking all the time needed to get to know the prospective partner and to determine your compatibility over the long-term.
  • Say it now. People wind up saying the sad words “it might have been” by failing to express themselves before it’s too late. Don’t believe the “ghost whisperers” – the only time you can share your deepest feelings is while people are still alive.

One of the best ways to plan ahead for the future, financial or otherwise, is to ask people who are older than you what they wish they would have done at your age to better prepare for what’s to come. Looking back on it now, what do you wish you would have done differently in your 20s, 30s, 40s, etc? I’m still relatively young but my short list includes things like saving for retirement at an earlier age, avoiding negative friendships, taking a few more career risks early on, not wasting my time on the last three seasons of Shameless and not stressing about things that were out of my control.

Some of the other timeless advice I’ve received over the years includes the following: time is more important than money, autonomy at work is highly underrated as is being nice to people, almost everything in life is a tradeoff, you have to have balance and splurge every once and a while, quit worrying so much about the past and the future at all times and try to enjoy the present.

It can be difficult to think this way in the heat of the moment. I know that’s true for me. But these types of lessons and wisdom provide a nice reminder to put things into perspective.

Don’t Dread Old Age (Guardian)
30 Lessons For Living

Further Reading:
The Jeff Bezos Regret Minimization Framework

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Decision Journal

Another great post from Farnam Street Blog.

Whenever you’re making a consequential decision either individually or as part of a group you take a moment and write down:

  1. The situation or context;
  2. The problem statement or frame;
  3. The variables that govern the situation;
  4. The complications or complexity as you see it;
  5. Alternatives that were seriously considered and why they were not chosen; (think: the work required to have an opinion).
  6. A paragraph explaining the range of outcomes
  7. A paragraph explaining what you expect to happen and, importantly, the reasoning and actual probabilities you assign to each. (The degree of confidence matters, a lot.)
  8. Time of day the decision was made and how you feel physically and mentally (if you’re tired, for example, write it down.

Odds are you’re going to discover two things right away. First, you’re right a lot of the time. Second, it’s often for the wrong reasons. This can be somewhat humbling. It’s also how we learn.

Obviously you need to review the journal periodically.  He suggests every 6 months or so.  He also included a template form to use for this, in the original post.

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Happy research

My favorite happiness guru, Eric Barker, has a new post along the same old lines.  But this one has a couple of really fascinating tidbits:

We all want others to support us. And people are more likely to be optimistic about your success when you’re optimistic about it, too.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

People were five times more likely to be optimistic about another person’s goals if they thought the person was optimistic himself or herself. Less significant factors included the person’s personal experiences and the overall likelihood of the outcome. (Werneck De Almeida 1999)


Spending too much time on the information superhighway kills happiness as much as being stuck in traffic on a not-so-super highway.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

Recurring long periods of personal Internet use were associated with 28 percent lower life satisfaction. (Green et al. 2005)

Here’s a somewhat condensed version of the whole thing, which is worth a read:

What do you need to do to be happy? What attitude should you take toward life? How can you reduce stress and be gritty? What makes for a loving relationship?

1) Sappy Means Happy

A lot of the advice on being happier is sappy. But science says that sappy stuff works. It may produce eye-rolling, but it actually does produce smiles as well.

“Take the time to appreciate something beautiful” sounds like the slogan you’d see on a mug you’d quickly shove to the back of the cupboard. But it also produces a 12% boost in life satisfaction.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

Those who said they regularly took notice of something beautiful were 12 percent more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives. (Isaacowitz, Vaillant, and Seligman 2003).

…Watching cat and puppy videos online gets a lot of flack. But animals do make us happier. And people with a pet they love are 22% more satisfied with their lives.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

Interaction with animals supplies us with both immediate joy and long-term positive feelings, and contributes strongly to our happiness. Those with a loved pet are 22 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives. (Barofsky and Rowan 1998)


2) Optimism

If you don’t have a very good reason to focus on the negative, think positive. You’ll be almost 30% more likely to feel happy.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

People with a tendency to see things optimistically were 29 percent more likely to feel a sense of well-being. (Lounsbury et al. 2003)

…We all want others to support us. And people are more likely to be optimistic about your success when you’re optimistic about it, too.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

People were five times more likely to be optimistic about another person’s goals if they thought the person was optimistic himself or herself. Less significant factors included the person’s personal experiences and the overall likelihood of the outcome. (Werneck De Almeida 1999)

3) Control

How does “66% more likely to be happy” sound to you? Okay, then you want a feeling of control over your life.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

People with a sense of control in their lives, in both career and relationship, were 66 percent more likely to report feeling happy and satisfied. (Chou and Chi 2001)

Feeling in control is the antidote to stress. And the good news is, you don’t have to be in control, you just have to feel in control.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

Researchers gave participants a skill test and exposed them to a loud, distracting sound. Those who were told the sound would go away if they succeeded on the test showed significantly fewer ill effects of the stressful situation than those who were told the sound would continue regardless of what they did. Researchers concluded that a sense of control calmed the first group, even though neither group really had any control over the process. (Pennsylvania State University 2002b)

4) Communicate

Sharing your innermost thoughts with a partner is associated with a 62% greater likelihood of a happy marriage.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

In studies of marriages of various lengths, couples with a high degree of intimacy between the spouses— that is, couples who shared their innermost thoughts— were 62 percent more likely to describe their marriage as happy. (Pallen 2001)

Unspoken expectations of your partner leads to screaming matches.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

Research on marriages with high levels of conflict finds that more than half of the couples in these marriages have disputes involving the failure of one or both partners to conform to unspoken expectations. (Philpot 2001)

…And what’s holding you back from earth-shattering joy right now? Oh, that one’s easy…

You’re on the internet. Spending too much time on the information superhighway kills happiness as much as being stuck in traffic on a not-so-super highway.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

Recurring long periods of personal Internet use were associated with 28 percent lower life satisfaction. (Green et al. 2005)

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Pre School

I have always felt that pre-K that consisted of my kids trying to sit still and learn something academic would have been a total waste for them.  My 2 very energetic boys absolutely did not need that.  This mother’s intuition is at least reflected by SOME academics.  From AEI:

Research on school-based pre-K overwhelmingly focuses just on early gains in rudimentary academic skills, like recognizing letters, holding a book right-side-up, and counting small numbers.

Most so-called positive results show that kindergartners who attended pre-K are a couple of months ahead of their peers in these basic skills; in other words, children who went to pre-K know letters in September that they wouldn’t have known until, say, November if they hadn’t. But while these kinds of short-term gains in basic skills are easy to measure and look good in headlines, they aren’t what’s important.

Instead, overwhelming evidence shows that the key to children’s long-term success is a range of cognitive and noncognitive capacities like language and executive function skills, reasoning, critical thinking, problem-solving, persistence and the ability to get along well with others. Pre-K advocates claim that small gains in basic kindergarten skills lead to large gains in these essential capacities which, in turn, lead to graduating from high school and staying out of prison. But we simply have no idea if that’s true. There’s almost no rigorous research on the long-term impact of school-based pre-K. And common sense suggests that changing outcomes for at-risk children — and knowing if they’ve successfully been changed — is going to require more than raising and measuring kindergarten test scores.

So does pre-K work? We don’t know — and it’s the wrong question to be asking in the first place. Instead, the critical question is: what are the most effective early interventions for improving disadvantaged children’s lives?

I would change the question to:  what are the most effective early teaching strategies for improving children’s lives?  These strategies then need to be applied to preschools for all kids.  Disadvantaged kids probably have special needs, as well, and those should be studied, too, but we should start at the beginning:  What and how can we teach toddlers and young children to help them become happy, peaceful, productive adults?

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From Eckhart Tolle

When I Become Very Agitated By Kim Eng
Q: What do I do with the agitated state I experience?
KE: Agitation is interesting. Something is stirring up, wanting to be changed. And the mere asking of a question about it implies that there is some resistance to agitation, some form of non-acceptance. Somehow we’ve learned to not be okay with what arises within. However, life becomes much easier if we can learn to accept whatever arises, instead of denying or resisting it. It’s what’s in your field of consciousness. But it’s not who you are.
The tricky thing is, what we tend to do with agitation, is to identify with it. It’s not who we are, but we think it is and act as if it is. Now, of course, we know that is not who we are. We may even want to push it down, thinking “Oh my god, this is who I am. But, of course, we know deep down that we’re the infinite I, yet we trick ourselves into believing that something impermanent that arises is who we are, that it is an unchanging part of our identity.
My recommendation: Come into stillness and just allow this agitation (or whatever emotion that is arising). Allow it to be here and tell yourself, “Okay, it’s here. Yet I am the field, the space of consciousness” and actually feel it. It may even be signaling something, stirring something, perhaps stirring for a change.
Of course, what may happen, is the impulse to want to just vent it, for example, at the next person who comes along, because we don’t like this feeling inside. But if we can just say, “Okay, here it is. Wow. What does it feel like? What is it stirring? What is stirring inside me? Is there something that needs to be changed?” Or it just a question of accepting what is? And, without trying to think about the answer, just allow it to kind of percolate and allow it to arise. If it doesn’t arise in that moment, maybe it’ll arise tomorrow. What is of primary importance, is that you remain still, alert, present.
And in this stillness, there comes a kind of trust that the wisdom that you need, will come in its own time. This is the spiritual life—living in the unknown yet knowing deep down that whatever manifests, is impermanent, always changing, and is of secondary, or relative importance. But who you are deep down is primary. Nobody and nothing can agitate you unless you let it.

“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.”

– Eckhart Tolle

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Mindfulness at Work

So apparently teaching employees mindfulness is the hot new thing, from HBR:

As a leadership strategy, mindfulness helps people to be more effective by directing focus to the most pertinent task at hand. Deprogramming multitasking tendencies and intentionally focusing with full attention results in higher quality interactions and decisions. Mindful decision makers take the time to consider all of their options, and therefore make more-informed decisions. Managers who model and promote mindful practices with their teams create an environment of engagement.

This is not new.  The most valuable skill I learned in my short time at GM in the late 80’s was how to meditate.  This was taught by a TM instructor brought in from outside, over several weeks, during work hours.  So they were serious about it.  IDK if it did them any good or not, but that plant is still open.  I realize that these are different skills, but they are related, and they require the same kind of long term outlook from the management offering the training.

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How we think

From Dynamic Hedge.  The author has a friend who suffered an injury resulting in short term memory loss.  Each time he went to see him, they repeated the same conversations, with his friend offering the exact same responses every time.

Two brain analogies

Imagine a massive house or building. Each attribute of the building represents something unique that make us who we are. Things like our genetic predispositions, our personality, cognitive biases, our ethical constructs all form this one-of-a-kind building. Reality comes to us like weather. The wind blows, rain falls, or a child bounces a ball off the door. Depending the design of your house the water may pool in some areas, and the child’s ball may rebound wildly depending on the shape of the door. Our interactions with others are simply bounced back off our emotional exterior with the same predictability as a ball bouncing off the side of a house. The house is built the way it’s built, and there’s little choice in how things interact. And mostly nothing we can do to stop the govern the responses except to go through the painstaking process of changing the structure. Call this the fortress paradigm.

Now, imagine a bus driver standing behind a giant steering wheel. The driver is navigating intersections of choice as he travels life’s road. However, it’s not easy to steer because the bus filled with backseat drivers representing our genetic predispositions, our personality, cognitive biases, our ethical constructs, or even a spontaneous emotional state. Sometimes the passengers reach for the wheel and try to steer the bus themselves. Nevertheless the driver can see intersections and decide to turn left or right, and those decisions feel like real choice. In this world, all we have to do is quiet the backseat drivers to adjust our true course. Call this the bus driver paradigm.

In my view, my friends behavior shows that we are probably more fortress than bus driver. Interacting the same way over and over again seems to implicate he was bouncing back reactions more than he was consciously considering them. These reactions were wholly unique to him but such minor variation in his patterns (not just reacting, but initiating jokes, etc.) leads me to the conclusion that he had little conscious authorship in the interaction. It happened again and again. To believe he was more of a bus driver would mean that he might have different reactions, if only once in a while.

What does it mean?

I never imagined myself as an immovable object with outside events bouncing off me, predetermined by physics. For my entire life, I imagined my consciousness and decision-making capability similar to that of the bus driver. However, seeing my friend work through the same interactions with people over and over again made me think that there may be some things burned into the deeper levels of our psyche that we have no control over. Potentially, some facets of what we consider our “self” may be even deeper than even the subconscious and exist in our nervous system or some other aspect of out physiology. Philosophy on this topic is clearly beyond my expertise, but my experience (rather than intuition) makes this possibility hard to ignore.

If our identity and behaviors exist on a more primal level than consciousness, it explains why self-help leaves many disgruntled and why personal development is so difficult. The self-help industry emerged and profited greatly from the boomer generations growing self-consciousness that behavior may be the root of their problems. While this might be true, the reason many people become disillusioned with self-help is because they underestimate the difficulty that meaningful change requires. Altering a fortress is no easy task.

There are a couple very positive conclusions I come to based on my experience. One of them is that if you believe you are more fortress than a bus driver, listening to others is more valuable than ever before. The easiest way to take yourself off your default “story path” is to shut up and listen more.

This reminds me of Kahneman’s system 1 and system 2 thinking.  We must make an effort to use our brains.

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