We are not wired for modern life

Despite what some would say, most people, in the West at least, but increasingly everywhere in the world, are living a better quality of life than Aristocracy did less than a hundred years ago. For all the talk of the 1%, most people born today are in the top 1% of everybody who has ever lived in human history.

I’ve always been fascinated how we can have so many material comforts, and so many deadly problems our ancestors faced have been eradicated, yet we still have the capacity to be miserable. There is a strong negative correlation between mental health issues and increases in comfort, especially rates of suicide in men and self harm in women. As life objectively gets better, paradoxically many of us become less happy. In fact many believe we are currently in the midst of a mental health crisis. There is a reason why this bit from Louis CK went viral, because it’s true:

One of the reasons is relativity, we compare ourselves to others, rather than appreciate how much worse things could be. However, the bigger problem as I see it (or my pet fascination at least) is that we are built for adversity and for living in groups, but we are experiencing much less of both. Our ancestors who survived long enough to reproduce were the ones who had it in them the ability to thrive when times got tough. We have evolved from the industrious, the aggressive, the survivors and the community focussed. When times are relatively easy, that part of our DNA does not just switch off. It takes thousands and thousands of years for us to evolve to changing circumstances, and we currently live in a time when everything is changing more rapidly than ever before.Continue Reading

The generation that can’t compete

50239799ifhfcI stumbled upon an interesting article this week, the cliff notes of which were a group of interns at a company did not like wearing formal clothes at work, so they (all but one of them) started a petition to change the company dress code. They were called into a meeting, which they assumed was to discuss the changes, and all of them were fired.

Below is a sample of it, but I implore you to read the whole article, because there are some excellent rebuttals both from the author of the post and the readers in the comments, explaining that a workplace is not a democracy. I wanted to touch on a few reasons why the new generation of workers are seemingly so out of touch.

“I spoke with my manager about being allowed some leeway under the dress code and was told this was not possible, despite the other person being allowed to do it. I soon found out that many of the other interns felt the same way, and the ones who asked their managers about it were told the same thing as me. We decided to write a proposal stating why we should be allowed someone leeway under the dress code. We accompanied the proposal with a petition, signed by all of the interns (except for one who declined to sign it) and gave it to our managers to consider. Our proposal requested that we also be allowed to wear running shoes and non leather flats, as well as sandals (not flip-flops though) and other non-dress shoes that would fit under a more business casual dress code. It was mostly about the footwear, but we also incorporated a request that we not have to wear suits and/or blazers in favor of a more casual, but still professional dress code.

The next day, all of us who signed the petition were called into a meeting where we thought our proposal would be discussed. Instead, we were informed that due to our “unprofessional” behavior, we were being let go from our internships. We were told to hand in our ID badges and to gather our things and leave the property ASAP.”Continue Reading

The narcissism of small grievances

130416_CBOX_LouisCKHBOSpecial.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlargeI was talking recently with some people about the Brussels attacks and how I personally have found everything post-Charlie Hebdo to be incredibly frightening, even though I remember 9/11 and 7/7 vividly, it has felt so much more upsetting. Someone reminded me that terrorist attacks are currently at a very low point in Europe, but because of the advent of Social Media we are just exposed to more stories, and more people’s anxiety around them. We actually live in very safe times, but simply we feel less safe.

One thing I am hyper sensitive towards spotting is how dramatically some people can react to very small inconveniences. In the words of the great Louis CK, “everything is amazing, and nobody is happy”. Watching people getting genuinely angry because of a delayed train or because they cannot connect to Wifi is something which, unfortunately, seems on the up. These are all trivial problems when you consider how amazing the upside of these recent technological innovations are.

If you have read this blog before, forgive me for once again pointing out that our biggest problem in 2016 is that we have too much comfort, rather than not enough. As psychologist Todd Kashdan points out in his excellent book The Power of Negative Emotion, overall stress levels in people have increased over time in direct correlation with the increase in our standard of living. There is also ample evidence to show that depression and suicide have had a similar increase. We get stressed out more at things the previous generation would have brushed off with ease because we have an expectation of comfort, we are addicted to it. The more comfort we come to expect, the less mentally prepared we are to deal with the smallest of obstacles in our way. Continue Reading

Why we ignore our weaknesses

kryptonite_attack_by_superman8193-d58457fWe are hardwired to ignore our weaknesses.

Self Help is largely ineffective because the people who read it are unwilling to acknowledge their own weaknesses, which is the only way real growth can happen. The people who are able to invest in themselves successfully are the ones who are willing to be uncomfortable and tackle their problems at the root cause. We are so addicted to comfort that most of us are unwilling to do this, even when we actively try to improve our lives. When we consume Self Help, we often are not tackling the problem, we are instead learning something new. For example, if we overeat, often we are prescribed either an exercise regime or a healthier (or Fad) diet we are unlikely to stick to. The real cause of the problem is likely a mental one, whether it’s a deeply learned habit or comfort eating, we eat too much for a psychological reason rather than for sustenance. Joining a gym to overcome overeating is like trying to get better at maths by learning French.

This is essentially the topic of the third book Jared Tendler and I are working on; how to overcome weakness. Continue Reading

The importance of Viewpoint Diversity

conformity1317702047262Possibly the single most influential chapter in a book I’ve ever read is the Problems of Comfort chapter in Todd Kashdan’s The Power of Negative Emotion. I’m going to be writing more on that in the future, but the cliff notes is basically that most of our problems in western society come from the fact that life is too easy compared to what we have evolved to deal with. That we crave comfort so much, it stands in the way of some of our greater hopes and dreams.

I’m also going to be writing a lot about the importance of viewpoint diversity, and one very pertinent Problem of Comfort we have in 2016 is the fact that we all live in echo chambers, and we can easily avoid different viewpoints most of the time.

This is particularly troubling in Higher Education, where students are literally protected from challenging opinions. They are given ‘trigger warnings‘ if they are about to hear challenging ideas, and are given ‘safe spaces’ from dissenting voices. I’ve already written at length as to why this is a horrifying prospect for the next generation.

But to suggest this is just a problem in Academia is a major oversight. Continue Reading