Equinox

Below is a short scientific guide to the most equal night of the season.

1) Why do we have equinoxes?

The fall and spring equinoxes, the seasons, and the changing length of daylight hours throughout the year are all due to one fact: Earth spins on a tilted axis.

The tilt — possibly caused by a massive object hitting Earth billions of years ago — means that for half the year, the North Pole is pointed toward the sun (as in the picture below). For the other half of the year, the South Pole gets more light. It’s why we have seasons.

NASA

Here’s a time-lapse demonstration of the phenomenon shot over the course of a whole year from space. In the video, you can see how the line separating day from night swings back and forth from the poles during the year.

NASA/Meteosat/Robert Simmon

And here’s yet another cool way to visualize the seasons. In 2013, a resident of Alberta, Canada, took this pinhole camera photograph of the sun’s path throughout the year and shared it with the astronomy website EarthSky. You can see the dramatic change in the arc of the sun from December to June.

(You can easily make a similar image at home. All you need is a can, photo paper, some tape, and a pin. Instructions here.)

2) How many hours of daylight will I get Saturday?

Equinox literally means “equal night.” And during the equinox, most places on Earth will see approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night.

But not every place will experience the exact same amount of daylight. For instance, on Saturday, Fairbanks, Alaska, will see 12 hours and 16 minutes of daylight. Key West, Florida,will see 12 hours and seven minutes. The differences are due to how the sunlight gets refracted (bent) as it enters Earth’s atmosphere at different latitudes.

You might also notice that both of these locations have daylight times longer than 12 hours. Aren’t day and night supposed to be equal? Daylight time is slightly longer than nighttime on the equinox because of how we measure the length of a day: from the first hint of the sun peeking over the horizon in the morning to the very last glimpse of it before it falls below the horizon in the evening. Because the sun takes some time to rise and set, it adds some extra daylight minutes.

Check out TimeAndDate.com to see how many hours of sunlight you’ll get during the equinox.

3) Can I really only balance an egg on its tip during on the equinox?


This man is very good at balancing eggs. 

AFP/Getty Images

Perhaps you were told as a child that on the equinox, it’s easier to balance an egg vertically on a flat surface than on other days of the year.

The practice originated in China as a tradition on the first day of spring in the Chinese lunar calendar in early February. According to the South China Morning Post, “The theory goes that at this time of year the moon and earth are in exactly the right alignment, the celestial bodies generating the perfect balance of forces needed to make it possible.”

This is a myth. The amount of sunlight we get during the day has no power over the gravitational pull of the Earth or our abilities to balance things on it. You can balance an egg on its end any day of the year (if you’re good at balancing things).

4) When do the leaves start changing colors?

Fall foliage in the mountains.Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

When days begin to grow shorter, deciduous (green leafy) trees start signaling to their leaves to stop producing chlorophyll, the green pigment responsible for the leaves’ color and photosynthesis.

Because the color change is more dependent on light than temperature, it takes place at basically the same time year after year, according to the US National Arboretum.

Temperature and weather conditions, though, can impact the intensity of fall colors and how long they linger. They can also subtly affect the timing of when the leaves start to change. And drought can change the rate at which the leaves turn. For instance, drought in Maine has meant the state’s trees have turned amber a bit early.

Because of all the variables at play, it can be tough to predict precisely when fall colors will peak, and how long they’ll last, in a particular area. But here’s an admirable effort: The website SmokyMountains.com (a site promoting Smoky Mountains tourism) created this interactive map (click the link to play with it) to determine peak fall colors across the United States by county.

5) What is actually in “pumpkin spice”?

Pumpkin spice” is not a single spice but a blend of them. And it contains no pumpkin.

This recipe from Epicurious includes cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves. It’s autumn — go ahead and sprinkle it on whatever you like.

6) Is there an ancient monument that does something cool during the equinox?

During the winter and summer solstices, crowds flock to Stonehenge in the United Kingdom. During the solstices, the sun either rises or sets in line with the layout of the 5,000-year-old-monument. And while some flock to Stonehenge for the autumnal equinox too, the real place to be is in Mexico.

That’s because on the equinox, the pyramid at Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula puts on a wondrous show. Built by the Mayans around 1,000 years ago, the pyramid is designed to cast a shadow on the equinox outlining the body of Kukulkan, a feathered snake god. A serpent-headed statue is located at the bottom of the pyramid, and as the sun sets on the day of the equinox, the sunlight and shadow show the body of the serpent joining with the head.

This is easier to see in a video. Check it out below.

7) Are there equinoxes on other planets?

Yes! All the planets in our solar system rotate on a tilted axis and therefore have seasons. Some of these tilts are minor (like Mercury, which is tilted at 2.11 degrees). But others are more like the Earth (23.5 degrees) or are even more extreme (Uranus is tilted 98 degrees!).

Below, see a beautiful composite image of Saturn on its equinox captured by the Cassini spacecraft (RIP) in 2009. The gas giant is tilted 27 degrees relative to the sun, and equinoxes on the planet are less frequent than on Earth. Saturn only sees an equinox about once every 15 years (because it takes Saturn 29 years to complete one orbit around the sun).

Cassini Imaging Team/NASA

During Saturn’s equinox, its rings become unusually dark. That’s because these rings are only around 30 feet thick, and when light hits them head on, there’s not much surface area to reflect.

8) I clicked on this article accidentally and really just want a mind-blowing picture of the sun


The sun blew out a coronal mass ejection along with part of a solar filament over a three-hour period on February 24, 2015. Some of the strands fell back into the sun. 

Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA

The image above was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, a spacecraft launched in 2010 to better understand the sun.

This past summer, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft that will come within 4 million miles of the surface of the sun (much closer than any spacecraft has been before). The goal is to study the sun’s atmosphere, weather, and magnetism and figure out the mystery of why the sun’s corona (its atmosphere) is much hotter than its surface. Still, even several million miles away, the probe will have to withstand temperatures of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s essential to understand the sun: It’s nothing to mess with. Brad Plumer wrote for Vox about what happens when the sun erupts and sends space weather our way to wreak havoc on Earth.

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The Soul of Wit

What’s the origin of the phrase ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’?

From Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 1602:

LORD POLONIUS
This business is well ended.
My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.

By Ephrat LivniAugust 1, 2018

Humor me please, and consider the pun. Though some may quibble over the claim, the oft-maligned wordplay is clever and creative, writer James Geary tells Quartz. His upcoming book Wit’s End robustly defends puns and tells the distinguished history of these disrespected witticisms.

“Despite its bad reputation, punning is, in fact, among the highest displays of wit. Indeed, puns point to the essence of all true wit—the ability to hold in the mind two different ideas about the same thing at the same time,” Geary writes. “And the pun’s primacy is demonstrated by its strategic use in the oldest sacred stories, texts, and myths.”

The bible, the Indian epic the Ramayana, and the classic Chinese philosophical text the Tao Te Ching all avail themselves of puns, he notes, though we may not recognize these ancient jokes. The Tao Te Ching begins with a pun, for example. The first line of the text states, “The way (tao) that can be spoken of is not the constant way (Tao).”

Geary explains, “The tao is a physical path, or way, but the Tao is also a spiritual path; the pun brings not only the two sounds and words together but the two ideas, prompting consideration of how to align your physical path (career, life, etc.) with your spiritual path.” It’s thus both a play on ideas and words.

Geary also points out that William Shakespeare, the greatest English language playwright of all time and an acknowledged master of rhetorical jousting, loved puns. The Bard couldn’t resist a quibble—the word for puns in his day. So much so that Shakespeare annoyed contemporaries with his affection for wordplay. “A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from his career or stomp from his elevation,” writer Samuel Johnson complained.

Geary counts 200 puns in Love’s Labour’s Lost, 150 in each of the Henry IV plays, more than 100 in Much Ado About Nothing and All’s Well That Ends Well, and an overall average of 78 puns per drama by The Bard. “In stooping to employ the lowly quibble, Shakespeare elevates buried or forgotten senses of words, showing how the names for things intertwine with the things themselves…he makes surprising correlations and uncanny couplings that keep the reader toggling back and forth between meanings,” Geary writes.

Indeed, many a great mind has been inclined to pun. The 18th-century English poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge thought it was practically a prerequisite to intelligence, declaring, “All men who possess at once active dance, imagination, and philosophical spirit, are prone to punning.”

US president Abraham Lincoln, despite his somber countenance and grave duties, was famously punny. Once, he received a letter from a Catholic priest asking him to suspend the sentence of a man to be hanged the next day. Lincoln quipped, “If I don’t suspend it tonight, the man will surely be suspended tomorrow.”

By using the same word—suspend—in two ways, Lincoln illuminates the relationship between the literal and metaphorical, legal and physical senses of a single term. It’s a link that in conventional thinking remains invisible, Geary explains.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the groundbreaking psychiatrist and writer Sigmund Freud appreciated puns precisely for this reason. They reveal the accidental connections that our minds make, just as the Freudian slip reveals insights into a person’s unconscious thinking.

Rhyming ideas

Geary admits that he often makes pun in his head—but he mostly keeps them to himself. He can’t explain why the wordplay’s not appreciated. “In poetry, words rhyme; in puns, ideas rhyme,” he writes. “This is the ultimate test of wittiness, keeping your balance even when you’re of two minds.”

To Geary, puns represent wisdom. He admits some wordplay is just funny, not deep, and even that excessive punning can be tiresome. But he believes the ability to play with and relate disparate ideas, as demonstrated by the pun, underpins all human creativity—in the arts and sciences and beyond. “When you make a pun, you bring together two distinct ideas—a coincidence of sound, significance, or meaning—and a realization results,” Geary says. “Puns are a way of introducing knowledge.”

Although we can quip to ourselves, as Geary sometimes does, a successful pun is best pulled off with an accomplice. The witty utterance matters little if there’s no clever listener to connect the dots with us. The utterer and listener are partners and both must be capable of creativity for the pun to work. Speaker and recipient take one path to connect distinct notions.

“Puns are all about exchange and they create an intimacy,” Geary insists. “You’re in it together, sharing a secret. You both figure it out and that play is the archetypal creative aspect of the mind and being in a relationship.”     

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Longest Blood Moon Of The Century

The longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century takes place this Friday, July 27. The total phase of the “blood moon” eclipse of July 27 will last 1 hour and 43 minutes, during which Earth’s natural satellite will turn a spectacular red or ruddy-brown color.

NASA says there is no evidence that supports the idea that lunar eclipses have a physical effect on people. But it does admit that eclipses can produce “profound psychological effects” that can lead to physical effects because of the beliefs people have and the actions they take because of those beliefs. Lunar eclipses occur when the full moon passes into the shadow of the side of the Earth facing away from the sun. Eclipses temporarily dim the light of the full moon.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

A lunar eclipse’s blood-red color comes from sunlight bent through the Earth’s atmosphere and reaching the moon before being reflected to Earth. Visual results may vary depending on the clarity of the sky and the amount of light around the observation point.

Moon Shadows

The moon first enters the outer partial shadow called the penumbra. The moon’s brightness gradually fades and appears to have a dimmer portion, which moves from left to right across the moon face as it travels deeper into the penumbra. When the moon moves into the umbra – the darkest portion of the Earth’s shadow – it begins to appear as though a bite has been taken out of the moon. This bite grows until the moon is completely within the total eclipse phase. It becomes fully visible as a copper orange-red color once it’s all the way inside the umbra shadow.

Eclipse Duration and Tidal Effects

The process reverses as the moon leaves the shadow. A lunar eclipse lasts a total of about three hours from start to finish. The period of totality – when the moon is in the umbra – usually lasts about an hour, with some variation for each eclipse. The pull of the sun and moon add to the tidal effects anytime they’re in line with the Earth. This pull subtracts from the tidal pull when the sun and moon are at right angles to each other from Earth. Because a lunar eclipse only takes place during a full moon, tides are higher during this time.

Wildlife and Eclipses

Centuries-old lore claims that wildlife behaves differently during a lunar eclipse. A study of the owl monkey conducted in 2010 by the University of Pennsylvania Department of Anthropology showed a pronounced change in monkey activity during a lunar eclipse. The study suggests this is due to the changing light levels as the eclipse proceeds.

People and Eclipses

While science finds no physical links to lunar eclipses, the beliefs about eclipses – and their causes –have led to some profound changes to humans throughout history. Eclipses, often viewed as signs or evil omens have led ancient tribes to sacrifice animals and other humans to sway what is seen as the angry mood of the gods.

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How to be Happy

Article Image

Plato, left, and Aristotle, right, as depicted by Raphael.

While most of us ask “What should I do?” when we think about ethics, many philosophers have approached it by asking, “What kind of person should I be?” These thinkers often turn to virtue ethics for answers. Aristotle, one of the most influential philosophers of all time, developed a comprehensive system of virtue ethics that we can learn from even today.

Why be virtuous?

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle proposed that humans are social, rational animals that seek to “live well.” To that end, he proposed a system of ethics designed to help us reach eudaimonia, a word that means living well or flourishing.

Eudaimonia is reached by living virtuously and building up your character traits until you don’t even have to think about your choices before making the right one.

Such a person will be happy, but not in the same way as a hedonistic person. They will strive for self-improvement and will live their lives to the fullest. They will be the kind of person that others want to be like. Above all else, they will flourish.

What are virtues?

Aristotle sees virtues as character traits and tendencies to act in a particular way. We gain them through practice and by copying ‘moral exemplars’ until we manage to internalize the virtue. We become temperate by practicing temperance, courageous by practicing courage, and so on. Eventually, the virtue becomes a habit.

He further explains that each virtue is the “golden mean” between a vice of excess and deficiency. Taking the example of temperance, if we have the vice of deficiency we will be intemperate but if we the vice of excess we will never drink at all. Aristotle sees both traits as vicious. The virtuous person will know how much they can drink without having too much or teetotaling.

What are Aristotle’s virtues?

The virtues he lists in his Nicomachean Ethics are:

Courage: The midpoint between cowardice and recklessness. The courageous person is aware of the danger but goes in any way.

Temperance: The virtue between overindulgence and insensitivity. Aristotle would view the person who never drinks just as harshly as the one who drinks too much.

Liberality: The virtue of charity, this is the golden mean between miserliness and giving more than you can afford.

Magnificence: The virtue of living extravagantly. It rests between stinginess and vulgarity. Aristotle sees no reason to be ascetic but also warns against being flashy.

Magnanimity: The virtue relating to pride, it is the midpoint between not giving yourself enough credit and having delusions of grandeur. It is a given that you also have to act on this sense of self-worth and strive for greatness.

Patience: This is the virtue that controls your temper. The patient person must neither get too angry nor fail to get angry when they should.

Truthfulness: The virtue of honesty. Aristotle places it between the vices of habitual lying and being tactless or boastful.

Wittiness: At the midpoint between buffoonery and boorishness, this is the virtue of a good sense of humor.

Friendliness: While being friendly might not seem like a moral virtue, Aristotle claims friendship is a vital part of a life well lived.  This virtue lies between not being friendly at all and being too friendly towards too many people.

Shame: The midpoint between being too shy and being shameless. The person who has the right amount of shame will understand when they have committed a social or moral error but won’t be too fearful not to risk them.

Justice: The virtue of dealing fairly with others. It lies between selfishness and selflessness. This virtue can also be applied in different situations and has a whole chapter dedicated to the various forms it can take.

Tricolor Aristotle
Each virtue is the midpoint between a vice of deficiency (red) and excess (blue). The virtuous person will tend to the center.

Aristotle sees ethics as more of an art than a science, and his explanations purposely lack specifics. We have to learn what the right approach to a situation is as part of our moral development.

He also doesn’t mean to say that we can’t break the rules. Just because a person is honest, for example, doesn’t mean they can’t lie when they need to. This makes virtue ethics more flexible than deontological systems of ethics but also harder to use since we have to determine when we can lie, get angry, or be prideful on our own.

This list seems a little strange

Keep in mind that this list was designed for upper class, Greek men who had a decent education and a fair amount of luck. The virtue of magnificence, for example, would be impossible for a person of limited means to practice.

Most of the virtues on the list always have relevance to us though. As philosopher Martha Nusbaum explains, “What [Aristotle] does, in each case, is to isolate a sphere of human experience that figures in more or less any human life, and in which more or less any human being will have to make some choices rather than others.”

We must all face danger at some point, so we must ask how to be courageous. We must all deal with other people, so we must ask how to be friendly. We all get angry, so we must ask how to be patient. The virtues Aristotle lists remain relevant even if the world they were created for has long vanished.

While the exact nature of what the good life is and how to reach it is subject to never-ending debate, the ideas of great minds are always relevant. While some of Aristotle’s views may not be as relevant now as they were 2,000 years ago, they can still inform our efforts to live better lives. While not every person that tries to live up to the virtues will succeed in every case, wouldn’t we be better for trying?

 

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Why We Want Things We Don’t Need

The Diderot Effect: Why We Want Things We Don’t Need — And What to Do About It

The famous French philosopher Denis Diderot lived nearly his entire life in poverty, but that all changed in 1765.

Diderot was 52 years old and his daughter was about to be married, but he could not afford to provide a dowry. Despite his lack of wealth, Diderot’s name was well-known because he was the co-founder and writer of Encyclopédie, one of the most comprehensive encyclopedias of the time.

When Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, heard of Diderot’s financial troubles she offered to buy his library from him for £1000 GBP, which is approximately $50,000 USD in 2015 dollars. Suddenly, Diderot had money to spare. 

Shortly after this lucky sale, Diderot acquired a new scarlet robe. That’s when everything went wrong. 

The Diderot Effect

Diderot’s scarlet robe was beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that he immediately noticed how out of place it seemed when surrounded by the rest of his common possessions. In his words, there was “no more coordination, no more unity, no more beauty” between his robe and the rest of his items. The philosopher soon felt the urge to buy some new things to match the beauty of his robe. 

He replaced his old rug with a new one from Damascus. He decorated his home with beautiful sculptures and a better kitchen table. He bought a new mirror to place above the mantle and his “straw chair was relegated to the antechamber by a leather chair.”

These reactive purchases have become known as the Diderot Effect.

The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption which leads you to acquire more new things. As a result, we end up buying things that our previous selves never needed to feel happy or fulfilled.

Denis Diderot, discoverer of the Diderot Effect
Denis Diderot as depicted by Louis-Michel van Loo in 1767. In this painting Diderot is wearing a robe similar to the one that prompted his famous essay on the Diderot Effect.

Why We Want Things We Don’t Need

Like many others, I have fallen victim to the Diderot Effect. I recently bought a new car and I ended up purchasing all sorts of additional things to go inside it. I bought a tire pressure gauge, a car charger for my cell phone, an extra umbrella, a first aid kit, a pocket knife, a flashlight, emergency blankets, and even a seatbelt cutting tool.

Allow me to point out that I owned my previous car for nearly 10 years and at no point did I feel that any of the previously mentioned items were worth purchasing. And yet, after getting my shiny new car, I found myself falling into the same consumption spiral as Diderot. 

You can spot similar behaviors in many other areas of life:

  • You buy a new dress and now you have to get shoes and earrings to match.
  • You buy a CrossFit membership and soon you’re paying for foam rollers, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and paleo meal plans.
  • You buy your kid an American Girl doll and find yourself purchasing more accessories than you ever knew existed for dolls.
  • You buy a new couch and suddenly you’re questioning the layout of your entire living room. Those chairs? That coffee table? That rug? They all gotta go.

Life has a natural tendency to become filled with more. We are rarely looking to downgrade, to simplify, to eliminate, to reduce. Our natural inclination is always to accumulate, to add, to upgrade, and to build upon.

In the words of sociology professor Juliet Schor, “the pressure to upgrade our stock of stuff is relentlessly unidirectional, always ascending.” 

Mastering the Diderot Effect

The Diderot Effect tells us that your life is only going to have more things fighting to get in it, so you need to to understand how to curate, eliminate, and focus on the things that matter.

Reduce exposure. Nearly every habit is initiated by a trigger or cue. One of the quickest ways to reduce the power of the Diderot Effect is to avoid the habit triggers that cause it in the first place. Unsubscribe from commercial emails. Call the magazines that send you catalogs and opt out of their mailings. Meet friends at the park rather than the mall. Block your favorite shopping websites using tools like Freedom.

Buy items that fit your current system. You don’t have to start from scratch each time you buy something new. When you purchase new clothes, look for items that work well with your current wardrobe. When you upgrade to new electronics, get things that play nicely with your current pieces so you can avoid buying new chargers, adapters, or cables.

Set self-imposed limits. Live a carefully constrained life by creating limitations for you to operate within. Juliet Schor provides a great example with this quote…

“Imagine the following. A community group in your town organizes parents to sign a pledge agreeing to spend no more than $50 on athletic shoes for their children. The staff at your child’s day-care center requests a $75 limit on spending for birthday parties. The local school board rallies community support behind a switch to school uniforms. The PTA gets 8o percent of parents to agree to limit their children’s television watching to no more than one hour per day.

Do you wish someone in your community or at your children’s school would take the lead in these or similar efforts? I think millions of American parents do. Television, shoes, clothes, birthday parties, athletic uniforms-these are areas where many parents feel pressured into allowing their children to consume at a level beyond what they think is best, want to spend, or can comfortably afford.”

—Juliet Schor, The Overspent American

Buy One, Give One. Each time you make a new purchase, give something away. Get a new TV? Give your old one away rather than moving it to another room. The idea is to prevent your number of items from growing. Always be curating your life to include only the things that bring you joy and happiness.

Go one month without buying something new. Don’t allow yourself to buy any new items for one month. Instead of buying a new lawn mower, rent one from a neighbor. Get your new shirt from the thrift store rather than the department store. The more we restrict ourselves, the more resourceful we become.

Let go of wanting things. There will never be a level where you will be done wanting things. There is always something to upgrade to. Get a new Honda? You can upgrade to a Mercedes. Get a new Mercedes? You can upgrade to a Bentley. Get a new Bentley? You can upgrade to a Ferrari. Get a new Ferrari? Have you thought about buying a private plane? Realize that wanting is just an option your mind provides, not an order you have to follow.

How to Overcome the Consumption Tendency

Our natural tendency is to consume more, not less. Given this tendency, I believe that taking active steps to reduce the flow of unquestioned consumption makes our lives better.

Personally, my goal is not to reduce life to the fewest amount of things, but to fill it with the optimal amount of things. I hope this article will help you consider how to do the same.

In Diderot’s words, “Let my example teach you a lesson. Poverty has its freedoms; opulence has its obstacles.” 

FOOTNOTES
  1. In addition to her payment for the library, Catherine the Great asked Diderot to keep the books until she needed them and offered to pay him a yearly salary to act as her librarian. (Source)
  2. Diderot’s scarlet robe is frequently described as a gift from a friend. However, I could find no original source claiming it was a gift nor any mention of the friend who supplied the robe. If you happen to know any historians specializing in robe acquisitions, feel free to point them my way so we can clarify the mystery of the source of Diderot’s famous scarlet robe.
  3. The quotes from Denis Diderot in this article come from his essay, “Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown.”
  4. Some readers have pointed out that my purchases were smart, not unnecessary. This might be true, but it is still an example of the Diderot Effect. Just to clarify: The Diderot Effect simply means that when we obtain a new item when tend to acquire additional ones. It’s not a value judgment that only applies to unnecessary purchases. So, even if my purchases were smart, I still feel victim to buying more things once I made an initial purchase. Of course, the Diderot Effect often results in unnecessary purchases, which is why I focused on that angle in this article.
  5. The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need” by Juliet Schor. Chapter 6.
  6. Thanks to my friend Joshua Becker for originally sparking my interest in the Diderot Effect by writing his own article on the topic.
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Feeling Lucky?

Actor, Writer, Woodworker

http://bigthink.com/videos/luck-has-two-sides-one-you-can-control-and-one-you-can-also-control

To explain what good luck is and how to create your own, Nick Offerman leans on the wisdom of Tom Waits, Socrates, Tom Jefferson and Nick Offerman. Luck is one part preparation and one part opportunity. And contrary to popular notions of luck as fate, both preparation and opportunity are things you can actively create. To achieve either, however, it’s important to trust yourself and your abilities, and to take risks that may take you out of your comfort zone. Nick Offerman’s new film is Hearts Beat Loud, in cinemas June 8. Watch the trailer here and visit heartsbeatloudmovie.com for all the details.

TRANSCRIPT

Nick Offerman: What are my feelings about serendipity versus gumption, luck versus elbow grease. When do you give up on your dream? When do you throw in the towel, et cetera?

There’s an old quote that I attribute to Tom Waits but I believe it might go back to Socrates. “Luck is when opportunity meets with preparation.” And I’ve always found that deeply moving because Megan and I talk a lot, my wife and I talk a lot about how lucky we are.

We’re both blessed with whatever it is: She’s beautiful and an incredible actor and smart as a whip and a really talented singer. I can carry a great deal of luggage and I can experience extreme temperatures for a long time without any sustenance. We have our gifts, and somehow our paths have taken us to places where people said “We were looking for someone who can carry luggage. We’re doing a play about a donkey. You’re the guy.”

And so I mean, so much serendipity plays into it. I lived, I chose to live like an asshole for some years and it’s a tough choice. It borders on irresponsibility. I would be just this side of broke. So sometimes I’d run out of money and I’d have to borrow a month’s rent from my friend. But I would then find carpentry work and pay my friend back. So I was just this side of being a deadbeat. I was flirting with deadbeatism.

And it’s a big question in Hollywood, and a lot of people make a lot of money off of people’s dreams. You can pay a great deal of money for headshots and for acting classes and coaching and life coaching and personal training and all that stuff. And they’ll all tell you – and there are really gross people who claim to have the secret. “Come to my acting workshop and I’ll have three casting directors there from, you know, one of them was an assistant on 50 Shades of Gray Matter.”

And whatever the case may be, it’s a question people wrestle with all the time. Will I ever make it? Is it ever going to happen for me? When should I throw in the towel and move back to Cleveland and see my family and my children and my congregation, because I’m a priest with kids in Cleveland?

And so all I can say is it’s a very personal thing; to each their own. You’ve got to keep working hard. We’ve talked about having a discipline. If acting is your bag, you know, I always tell people if they say “How can I get my kid to where you are?”

I say take up woodworking but also find whatever stage, find the biggest stage you can that you can get onto and perform in front of an audience, whether you’re doing standup or theater or musicals or sketch comedy. Or start shooting stuff. Now we live in an age where you can literally start your own TV channel right now using your gadgets. And just let the world tell you. Shoot videos. Show them to people. And they’ll tell you if you should keep doing it.

And if you’re good, if something’s meant to happen when people see you on stage or they see your videos they’ll say “Holy, you know what? I’m going to somehow help you. That was amazing. You can tap dance, you can play the tuba. That face you make.” Whatever it is. “I’ve never seen anyone drink that much beer in 90 seconds. I’m going to call my friend. He has a show called Jackass. We’re going to get you on your way.” And so I mean I started in the theater. I was terrible at acting. I wanted to be an actor. I thought I had something that I could entertain people, so I got into theater school in Illinois and I was terrible! I couldn’t get cast—with good reason.

The reason was I didn’t trust myself. I thought I was boring because I was from the country. And so I tried way too hard to be someone cooler than myself, which, of course, just was what they call bad acting.

But I was able to build scenery. I was very athletic, so I choreographed fights. And the theater paid me. I found there’s so many jobs you can do in the theater. You can work in the box office. You can sell concessions. You can sweep.

There are many places—almost anywhere you would want to work in a creative position you can start there sweeping. And curate your sweeping. Don’t look down on if somebody’s like, “Well, you could start as a janitor.” If you want to work at Nike and you can get in there as a janitor, show people how creative your sweeping is! “Nobody ever moved that cabinet.” Move that damn cabinet and sweep under it and let someone—be like, “Oh yeah, I assumed that everyone has the quality of work that I do.” Let people see how committed you are to exceptional work.

Because when you don’t do a good job sweeping I notice that too. And I say I’m not going to trust that person on their own. They always need to be told to move the cabinet and sweep under it. So I mean if you maintain that sensibility, first of all it makes sweeping a lot more fun. Sweeping can be drudgery or it’s an opportunity to like have fun. Whistle a song in your head. You can dance with a broom. They’re really fun.

In fact maybe that’s a video line I should think about putting out. All different genres of music, all different brooms. “Sweeping for pleasure.” But once you do that, once you’re locked into that mindset then you’re open to—when opportunity comes along you’ve done the work. If somebody wants to cast me as a superhero—this is sort of a truism in my life—I’ve often said I’m athletic but I have often carried 30 or 40 extra pounds. And I think, “Man, I’d love to play a superhero and if someone would cast me then I’ll go to the gym and get super buff.”

Well, if I would just go to the gym and maintain a discipline there, then when someone said “Oh, he’s funny and he’s the right type for the superhero, and check out those crazy lats,” then the work is done.

So serendipity involves— serendipity is greatly helped by elbow grease.

And that reminds me of another quote from Thomas Jefferson, I think, that I won’t remember. Good luck – something in the vein of “Good luck is hard to come by, but when I work hard I find I’m much more susceptible to experience luck.” He didn’t say that, I said it. Nick Offerman said that quote. Put that on a coin.

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The Myth of Multi-Tasking

The Scientific Argument for Mastering One Thing at a Time

Many people, myself included, have multiple areas of life they would like to improve. For example, I would like to reach more people with my writing, to lift heavier weights at the gym, and to start practicing mindfulness more consistently. Those are just a few of the goals I find desirable and you probably have a long list yourself.

The problem is, even if we are committed to working hard on our goals, our natural tendency is to revert back to our old habits at some point. Making a permanent lifestyle change is really difficult.

Recently, I’ve come across a few research studies that (just maybe) will make these difficult lifestyle changes a little bit easier. As you’ll see, however, the approach to mastering many areas of life is somewhat counterintuitive.

Before we talk about how to get started, I wanted to let you know I researched and compiled science-backed ways to stick to good habits and stop procrastinating. Want to check out my insights? Download my free PDF guide “Transform Your Habits” here.

Too Many Good Intentions

If you want to master multiple habits and stick to them for good, then you need to figure out how to be consistent. How can you do that?

Well, here is one of the most robust findings from psychology research on how to actually follow through on your goals:

Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

Researchers found that people who filled out this sentence were 2x to 3x more likely to actually exercise compared to a control group who did not make plans for their future behavior. Psychologists call these specific plans “implementation intentions” because they state when, where, and how you intend to implement a particular behavior.

This finding is well proven and has been repeated in hundreds studies across a broad range of areas. For example, implementation intentions have been found to increase the odds that people will start exercising, begin recycling, stick with studying, and even stop smoking.

However (and this is crucial to understand) follow-up research has discovered implementation intentions only work when you focus on one goal at a time. In fact, researchers found that people who tried to accomplish multiple goals were less committed and less likely to succeed than those who focused on a single goal. 

This is important, so let me repeat: developing a specific plan for when, where, and how you will stick to a new habit will dramatically increase the odds that you will actually follow through, but only if you focus on a single goal.

One goal

What Happens When You Focus on One Thing

Here is another science-based reason to focus on one habit at a time:

When you begin practicing a new habit it requires a lot of conscious effort to remember to do it. After awhile, however, the pattern of behavior becomes easier. Eventually, your new habit becomes a normal routine and the process is more or less mindless and automatic.

Researchers have a fancy term for this process called “automaticity.” Automaticity is the ability to perform a behavior without thinking about each step, which allows the pattern to become automatic and habitual.

But here’s the thing: automaticity only occurs as the result of lots of repetition and practice. The more reps you put in, the more automatic a behavior becomes.

For example, this chart shows how long it takes for people to make a habit out of taking a 10-minute walk after breakfast. In the beginning, the degree of automaticity is very low. After 30 days, the habit is becoming fairly routine. After 60 days, the process is about as automatic as it can become. 

Habit automaticity for walking

The most important thing to note is that there is some “tipping point” at which new habits become more or less automatic. The time it takes to build a habit depends on many factors including how difficult the habit is, what your environment is like, your genetics, and more.

That said, the study cited above found the average habit takes about 66 days to become automatic. (Don’t put too much stock in that number. The range in the study was very wide and the only reasonable conclusion you should make is that it will take months for new habits to become sticky.)

Change Your Life Without Changing Your Entire Life

Alright, let’s review what I have suggested to you so far and figure out some practical takeaways.

  1. You are 2x to 3x more likely to follow through with a habit if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you are going to implement it. This is known as an implementation intention.
  2. You should focus entirely on one habit. Research has found that implementation intentions do not work if you try to improve multiple habits at the same time.
  3. Research has shown that any given habit becomes more automatic with more practice. On average, it takes at least two months for new habits to become automatic behaviors.

This brings us to the punchline of this article…

The counterintuitive insight from all of this research is that the best way to change your entire life is by not changing your entire life. Instead, it is best to focus on one specific habit, work on it until you master it, and make it an automatic part of your daily life. Then, repeat the process for the next habit. 

The way to master more things in the long-run is to simply focus on one thing right now.

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How to Make Decisions in an Imperfect World

All Models Are Wrong, Some Are Useful

Even the best models of the world are imperfect. This insight is important to remember if we want to learn how to make decisions and take action on a daily basis.

For example, consider the work of Albert Einstein.

During the ten year period from 1905 to 1915, Einstein developed the general theory of relativity, which is one of the most important ideas in modern physics. Einstein’s theory has held up remarkably well over time. For example, general relativity predicted the existence of gravitational waves, which scientists finally confirmed in 2015—a full 100 years after Einstein originally wrote it down.

However, even Einstein’s best ideas were imperfect. While general relativity explains how the universe works in many situations, it breaks down in certain extreme cases (like inside black holes).

All Models Are Wrong, Some are Useful

In 1976, a British statistician named George Box wrote the famous line, “All models are wrong, some are useful.” 

His point was that we should focus more on whether something can be applied to everyday life in a useful manner rather than debating endlessly if an answer is correct in all cases. As historian Yuval Noah Harari puts it, “Scientists generally agree that no theory is 100 percent correct. Thus, the real test of knowledge is not truth, but utility. Science gives us power. The more useful that power, the better the science.”

Even Einstein’s work was not perfect in all cases, but it has been incredibly useful—not just for increasing our understanding of the world, but also for practical purposes. For example, the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) used in your phone and in your car must take the effects of relativity into account to deliver accurate directions. Without general relativity, our navigation systems wouldn’t be accurate.

Before we talk about how to get started, I wanted to let you know I researched and compiled science-backed ways to stick to good habits and stop procrastinating. Want to check out my insights? Download my free PDF guide “Transform Your Habits” here.

How to Make Decisions in an Imperfect World

What steps can we take to make better decisions, given that no single way of looking at the world is accurate in all situations?

One approach is to develop a broad collection of frameworks for thinking about the world. Some experts refer to each framework as a “mental model.” Each mental model is a way of thinking about the world. The more mental models you have, the more tools you have in your thinking toolbox.

For example, here are three ways of thinking about productivity:

  1. The 2-Minute Rule: If something takes less than two minutes, do it now. The goal of this rule is to help you stop procrastinating and take action.
  2. The Ivy Lee Method: Create a to-do list by writing down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow, prioritizing those items, and working on them in order. The goal of this method is to help you work on the most important things first.
  3. The Seinfeld Strategy: Pick a new habit and draw an X on the calendar for each day you stick with the behavior. The goal of this method is to help you maintain consistency and keep your streak of good behavior alive.

Are any of these models perfect? Of course not. But if you combine them, then you have a strategy that can help you take action right now (The 2-Minute Rule), a strategy that can help you plan your day more effectively (The Ivy Lee Method), and a strategy that can help you maintain consistency in the long-run (The Seinfeld Strategy).

You need a collection of mental models because no single framework can work in every situation.

Doing the Best We Can With What We Have

Accepting that all models are wrong in certain instances is not a license to ignore the facts. As a society, we should search for better answers, look for evidence, and strive to increase the accuracy of our knowledge.

At the same time, there is a common peril on the other end of the spectrum. Too many people waste time debating if something is perfectly correct, when they should be focusing on if it is practically useful.

We live in a world filled with uncertainty, but we still need to get things done. It is our responsibility to develop a way of thinking about the world that generally fits the facts we have, but to not get so gummed up thinking about things that we never actually do anything. As Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert puts it, “The world doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for complete answers before it takes action.”

Impartial answers are the best we have. Focus on what is practical and take action. All models are wrong under some circumstances, but the important thing is if they are generally useful.

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Anxiety

How To Train Your Brain To Stop Worrying About The Things You Can’t Control

Pixabay

A lot of us don’t realize, but anxiety is something everyone experiences. Obviously, some experience it more severely than others, but it’s quite common. According to WebMD, about 40 million Americans live with an anxiety disorder, which is more than the occasional worry or fear.

To be more specific, an anxiety disorder can range from a generalized anxiety disorder to a panic disorder, according to the site. If you have one of these and have tried medication and seeing professionals, but nothing seems to work, don’t worry. It takes a lot of conscious effort to get to a healthy state of mind. You’ll get there!

Believe it or not, there are certain exercises that you can do to train your brain to stop worrying about things that you simply can’t control. There are various strategies that can help you to not only manage but potentially reduce as a whole.

Understanding anxiety. There are a lot of professional and medical opinions on whether or not anxiety is the result of a chemical imbalance. Though that may be part of the problem, your surroundings also play a major role in how you feel. According to Calm Clinic, when you feel anxious about things, it could be logical, it could be emotional or it could be just the way your brain responds to its natural chemical processes.

Observe what your body and mind react to. Calm Clinic recommends that you get in tune with yourself and your mind, and figure out why your body is reacting to threats the way it does. This can help you develop a way to stop anxiety from escalating because you’ll become more mindful of yourself and your surroundings. It could work for some more than others!

Calm Clinic recommends that if you assume that a chemical imbalance is what causes your anxiety, regardless of what treatment you get, you still need to learn coping tools that can help overcome your anxiety. If you learn how to control the extent that anxiety affects you, you’d make a positive change to your chemical imbalance.

Challenge difficult thoughts. The Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health & Addiction lists the second step that you can do to train your brain to stop worrying about things that you simply can’t control. That is, challenging the thoughts that you’re worried about. The site notes that sometimes it helps to ask a friend or a family member’s opinion about the situation. So for example, if you have anxiety about someone talking negatively about you, ask the person about it first before you start panicking about it.

The reality is is that there’s no point in panicking about something that might not even exist in the first place. Then, if the situation does in fact exist, the next thing that might help is to see how others would react to it if they were in your shoes. The site notes that even imagining how most people would react to a worrying thought will help you come up with a more fair and realistic way of thinking!

Train your brain. Verywell Mind says that when you find yourself in a stressful situation, you have to train your brain into doing calm thinking. There’s no way that it’ll happen on its own. Just like giving advice to your friends when they are worrying about things, you have to tell yourself how to look at the situation in a positive way. Essentially, if excessive worrying occurs, talk back to it.

Of course, this is easier said than done. I mean, if there have been so many times that your mind has been distorted, it’s hard to see the truth. I get it. But you can’t feed into the worrying thoughts. That’ll just make it worse. For example, if you ask yourself “what if I keep getting worse?” or “What if she tells this person everything I just told her”, then you are feeding into the anxiety. Try to keep away from that and instead feed your brain with more realistic thoughts.

I get that all this stuff may be easier said than done, and no one truly understands the anxiety that you go through unless they are in your shoes. But the reality is is that you can take all the medication in the world to help your anxiety, which of course works, but trying some of these coping skills can help you in the long run.

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What We Don’t Know

By James Clear    |    Life LessonsSelf-Improvement

Shoshin: The Beginner’s Mind

There is a concept in Zen Buddhism known as shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” Shoshin refers to the idea of letting go of your preconceptions and having an attitude of openness when studying a subject.

When you are a true beginner, your mind is empty and open. You’re willing to learn and consider all pieces of information, like a child discovering something for the first time. As you develop knowledge and expertise, however, your mind naturally becomes more closed. You tend to think, “I already know how to do this” and you become less open to new information.

There is a danger that comes with expertise. We tend to block the information that disagrees with what we learned previously and yield to the information that confirms our current approach. We think we are learning, but in reality we are steamrolling through information and conversations, waiting until we hear something that matches up with our current philosophy or previous experience, and cherry-picking information to justify our current behaviors and beliefs. Most people don’t want new information, they want validating information.

The problem is that when you are an expert you actually need to pay moreattention, not less. Why? Because when you are already familiar with 98 percent of the information on a topic, you need to listen very carefully to pick up on the remaining 2 percent. 

As adults our prior knowledge blocks us from seeing things anew. To quote zen master Shunryo Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

How to Rediscover Your Beginner’s Mind

Here are a few practical ways to rediscover your beginner’s mind and embrace the concept of shoshin.

Let go of the need to add value. Many people, especially high achievers, have an overwhelming need to provide value to the people around them. On the surface, this sounds like a great thing. But in practice, it can handicap your success because you never have a conversation where you just shut up and listen. If you’re constantly adding value (“You should try this…” or “Let me share something that worked well for me…”) then you kill the ownership that other people feel about their ideas. At the same time, it’s impossible for you to listen to someone else when you’re talking. So, step one is to let go of the need to always contribute. Step back every now and then and just observe and listen. For more on this, read Marshall Goldsmith’s excellent book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (audiobook).

Let go of the need to win every argument. A few years ago, I read a smart post by Ben Casnocha about becoming less competitive as time goes on. In Ben’s words, “Others don’t need to lose for me to win.” This is a philosophy that fits well with the idea of shoshin. If you’re having a conversation and someone makes a statement that you disagree with, try releasing the urge to correct them. They don’t need to lose the argument for you to win. Letting go of the need to prove a point opens up the possibility for you to learn something new. Approach it from a place of curiosity: Isn’t that interesting. They look at this in a totally different way. Even if you are right and they are wrong, it doesn’t matter. You can walk away satisfied even if you don’t have the last word in every conversation.

Tell me more about that. I have a tendency to talk a lot (see “Providing Too Much Value” above). Every now and then, I’ll challenge myself to stay quiet and pour all of my energy into listening to someone else. My favorite strategy is to ask someone to, “Tell me more about that.” It doesn’t matter what the topic is, I’m simply trying to figure out how things work and open my mind to hearing about the world from someone else’s perspective.

Assume that you are an idiot. In his fantastic book, Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Taleb writes, “I try to remind my group each week that we are all idiots and know nothing, but we have the good fortune of knowing it.” The flaws discussed in this article are simply a product of being human. We all have to learn information from someone and somewhere, so we all have a mentor or a system that guides our thoughts. The key is to realize this influence.

We are all idiots, but if you have the privilege of knowing that, then you can start to let go of your preconceptions and approach life with the openness of a beginner.

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