Whatever you say,

does it really matter?


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Is the Life You’re Living Worth the Price You’re Paying to Live It?

What toll does it take, over time, if you get too little sleep; skip breakfast or settle for something unhealthy; struggle with a relentlessly challenging commute; attend meeting after meeting with no breaks in between; pump yourself up through the day with multiple cups of coffee or sugary snacks; deal with hundreds of emails that accumulate in your inbox; remain at your desk for lunch if you eat lunch at all; push through fatigue in the afternoon; head home at night feeling exhausted, but continue to check email through the evening; work on the weekends; and limit your vacations to no more than a week or two, if you vacation at all?

Consider the story of the boiling frog. It may or may not be true, but the point it makes certainly is. Toss a frog into a pot of boiling water and it instinctively jumps out, self-protectively. Next, place the frog into a pot of cool water. Not surprisingly, it swims around, happily. Now heat the water up very gradually and what does the frog do? It acclimates to untenable circumstances — and slowly cooks. The frog doesn’t notice what’s happening to him, until it’s too late.

We’re experiencing the same phenomenon. Facing ever more demand, complexity and uncertainty, our initial response is to push ourselves harder and more relentlessly, without taking account of the costs we’re incurring.

Physiologically, we move into hyperarousal — flooding our bodies with stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. It’s an automatic response to the experience of threat, and it provides an instant source of energy.

“Allostatic load” is a term coined by the neuroscientist Bruce McEwen that refers to the physiological consequences — most especially on the brain — of chronic exposure to relentless demand. When fight-or-flight hormones circulate in our body for too long, keeping our arousal high, they become toxic — not just physically, but also emotionally and mentally.

The most immediate problem with the fight-or-flight state is that our pre-frontal cortex begins to shut down. We become reactive rather than reflective. We lose precisely what we need most in these complex times: the capacity to think analytically and imaginatively; to embrace nuance and paradox rather than choosing up sides; and to take a long-term perspective rather than making the most expedient choice.

It’s not good for us, and it’s not good for companies.

The antidote, well understood by trauma researchers, is to give people practical and specific ways to lower their physiological arousal — to get out of fight or flight. If you’re hyperaroused — and vast numbers of us are, much of the time — you must learn first how to regularly relax your body. Only then is it possible to calm your emotions, quiet your mind and make wiser choices.

In the trauma community, it’s called self-soothing. In the workplace, it’s about using simple strategies to buffer relentless demand by taking more conscious and regular care of our most basic needs.

Our most fundamental physical needs, beyond food, are to move and to rest. Sleep is the foundation of physical energy. All but a tiny percentage of us require at least 7-8 hours a night to feel fully rested and even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant cognitive toll.

We also operate best when we take renewal breaks at least every 90 minutes during the day. Breathing deeply for as little as a minute, for example, can completely clear the body of cortisol.

Movement is a second, more active way to change channels and to build physical capacity. The best way to move is to regularly challenge our current comfort zone — to push our heart rate into the aerobic and anaerobic zones at least four times a week, for at least 20 minutes at a time, and to train with weights at least twice a week.

Even if you don’t do that, it’s immensely valuable to get up and move at least several times during the day — and even better, to get outside. Above all, our goal should be to increase our oscillation over the course of the day — moving between relaxation at one end, and more active forms of energy expenditure at the other.

At the emotional level, our core need is to feel safe, secure and valued. The most reliable way to ensure that happens is to move flexibly between valuing, appreciating and taking care of others — which builds trust and appreciation — and taking care of ourselves. One without the other is insufficient. We need to regularly refuel ourselves with positive emotions just as much as we need to renew ourselves physically.

The more attentive we are to meeting these core needs, the less likely we are to feel overwhelmed and exhausted, and the more sustainably high-performing we’re capable of becoming.

Is the Life You’re Living Worth the Price You’re Paying to Live It? by Tony Schwartz – Harvard Business Review

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The way you slam your body into mine reminds me
I’m alive, but monsters are always hungry, darling,
and they’re only a few steps behind you, finding
the flaw, the poor weld, the place where we weren’t
stitched up quite right, the place they could almost
slip right through if the skin wasn’t trying to
keep them out, to keep them here, on the other side
of the theater where the curtain keeps rising.
I crawled out the window and ran into the woods.
I had to make up all the words myself. The way
they taste, the way they sound in the air. I passed
through the narrow gate, stumbled in, stumbled
around for a while, and stumbled back out. I made
this place for you. A place for you to love me.

Richard Siken


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Can’t Be Tamed

The idea that men will be turned off by ambition or success is just another part of the big lie. It is meant to scare you and keep you from questioning the system. The only men who are turned off by ambition and success are men that are insecure about their own talents and success or lack thereof. You don’t really want to know those guys anyway, because they suck and they will constantly attempt to undermine you, and even if you are secure enough in yourself not to care it’s still really fucking annoying.

Molly Lambert, Can’t Be Tamed: A Manifesto via Digital Bowerbird


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Who Do You Think You Are?

We’re brought up in a culture that tells us, “you are what you do.” When people say, “Tell me about yourself”, we immediately talk about career, as if that is a complete and perfect definition of who and what we are.

-Alan Artkin


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The End of Solitude

Ten years ago we were writing e-mail messages on desktop computers and transmitting them over dial-up connections. Now we are sending text messages on our cellphones, posting pictures on our Facebook pages, and following complete strangers on Twitter. A constant stream of mediated contact, virtual, notional, or simulated, keeps us wired in to the electronic hive — though contact, or at least two-way contact, seems increasingly beside the point. The goal now, it seems, is simply to become known, to turn oneself into a sort of miniature celebrity. How many friends do I have on Facebook? How many people are reading my blog? How many Google hits does my name generate? Visibility secures our self-esteem, becoming a substitute, twice removed, for genuine connection. Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely. Now, it is impossible to be alone.

The End of Solitude