Posts By: Matthew Golden

We’ve Earned a Break, We Deserve Down Time

I need to cure my ailment…and it’s bad… I’m a procrastinator. But I learned it may be because I need to shut down.

I’ve been reading lots of articles about taking a break…a little down time, time off.

For overall good health, routine breaks come highly recommended.

Andre Collins, PAF Executive Director

I’m not addicted to work, no way, not me! But I do have a strong sense of obligation to my daily responsibilities. As I grow, “work smarter” seems to represent a level of maturity I need to attain. The little voice in my head that keeps saying “work harder, push through” may be detrimental to my overall energy. I may think I’m being productive but eventually I’ll slow down to a snail’s pace racing side by side with fatigue.

I’ve heard someone describe taking a break as disconnecting to reconnect. We need breaks to cool our brains down, literally.

I’m not addicted to work. At least I don’t think so. But I am habituated to metrics or the different ways of measuring success. What are my percentages, my numbers…am I hitting my marks? Everything quantified, everything measured. I get it, we need to know if the job is getting done, but at what cost to the work/life balance or being allowed to enjoy the workday. For most of us, if we don’t enjoy the workday, at the end of the week we lose 5-to-2. We’re supposed to enjoy work. I love my job’s purpose. My job is creative and vigorous…but it is demanding. And even though I have freedom to create, a continual need to be creative has its own kind of pressure.

Did I miss a call?  Did I miss a text?  Who’s on my call back list …everyday.

And so now, I got my eyes on a break.

Experts say strategic breaks can be refreshing and help you see a situation in a new way.

A break isn’t going to kill me. And I won’t suddenly forget how to do my job. In the end it won’t harm me. So, what will I do?

I plan to stay up late, people watch, and exercise some.

I hate board games, puzzles, and card games. So, I won’t do that. I will read. I like to read about religion and history.

A break is a brief pause from work, physical energy, or activity. You’re resting with the full intent of getting back to work within a realistic amount of time.

Let me get scientific for a sec. I’ve learned …when you’re doing goal-oriented work that requires focus, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for keeping you focused on your goals. The prefrontal cortex is also responsible for logical thinking, critical decision-making, and willpower. The prefrontal cortex is asking for a timeout.

Decision fatigue can lead to procrastination. As players we think we are getting laser focused, but studies indicate that sustained attention to a single task hinders performance. Psychology professor Alejandro Lieras says, “deactivate and reactivate your goals. That allows you to stay focused”. Breaks keep your goals on track! Have fun, relax, laugh with friends, be entertained. Rest leads to productivity and brings back motivation.

Here are some helpful suggestions for rest that leads to motivation; walk, exercise, sit alone, nap, breath, meditate and always take the long way home

 An action like taking a break creates opportunity for productivity.

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Andre Collins
Executive Director
Professional Athletes Foundation
NFL Player 1990-1999

Try these stretches before you get out of bed

“Stretching before getting out of bed can help wake up the body and improve the circulation. It can also turn on the parasympathetic system – the ‘rest and digest’ system — which puts us in a more relaxed state right when we get out of bed, helping set the tone for a calm morning and day,” says Dr. Beth Frates, who directs wellness programming for the Stroke Research and Recovery Institute at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

Theoretically, stretching before getting out of bed may also help prevent falls. “By focusing on your legs and arms, you may be more careful and mindful when you put your feet on the ground,” Dr. Frates says.

How should you start?

Normally before you stretch, you should warm up your muscles; that gets blood flowing to them so they’re more pliable. But Dr. Frates says the muscles are already on the warmer side when you’ve been in bed all night. All it takes to prepare for stretches in bed, then, is a few minutes of flexing the joints before you stretch. (Tip: Remove your blanket and sheets before stretching, to give yourself a little more room.)

While you’re still lying down, flex your lower limbs: put your knees and feet in the air; with your knees in the air, raise and lower your feet; roll your ankles and move them back and forth.

Next, sit up in bed. Slowly look left and then right. Roll your shoulders a few times; work your elbows by holding both arms in front of you and doing biceps curls; flex your wrists up and down; open and close your hands several times.

Now you’re ready to start stretching. Try the stretches we’ve laid out for you on these pages (in any order you like). Some require a towel or resistance band, which you can keep next to your bed.

“Hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds if possible,” Dr. Frates advises. “And don’t bounce, which can damage the muscles.”

When you finish stretching, you’ll probably feel better. “Stretching can release the body’s ‘feel good’ chemicals, lubricate the joints, and help you maintain your range of motion,” Dr. Frates says. And that makes the wake-up stretching routine a prescription for a full day of better functioning.

For more stretching, including additional exercises, check out the Harvard Special Health Report Stretching (www.health.harvard.edu/str).

Full-body stretch with resistance band

Lie on your back with both legs extended. Hold the band shoulder-distance apart with both hands by your hips. Lift the strap up toward the ceiling, over your head and down toward the bed behind you.

Single knee pull

Lie on your back with your legs extended. Bend your left knee. Grasp the back of your left thigh and pull your knee toward your chest. Flex your right foot and press the thigh and calf of that leg down toward the bed to feel a stretch in the front of your right hip and top of your right thigh. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.

Side-lying quadriceps stretch

Lie on your right side with your legs stacked and extended. Rest your right arm under your head. Bend your left knee and bring your heel toward your left buttock, reaching back with your left hand to grasp your foot. Feel the stretch in the front of your thigh and hip. Turn onto your left side and repeat the exercise.

Hamstring stretch with resistance band

45 Winter Activities for Kids That the Pandemic Hasn’t Ruined

Winter is here, the pandemic drags on, and yet, kids still need to burn off energy somehow. With limited access to the places we relied on in past years (remember museums?), it’s time to get creative. Combatting winter stir-craziness is a long game, and having a few new go-to winter activities for kids can help those long, dark days inside feel less bleak. This list of COVID-safe activities includes some ways to get kids outside(which helps build strong bones and regulate the circadian rhythm), a few doable crafts that won’t ruin your house or make you lose your mind, and a handful of winter rituals that no childhood is complete without. Just remember that unstructured play is also really good for kids. These winter activities are great, but don’t be afraid to tell them to go play outside or let them get bored. 

  1. Make ice sun catchers. Fill a container with water, decorate it with leaves, berries, or food coloring, add string, leave it outside (or in the freezer) to freeze, and hang on a tree like an ornament, or near a window.  
  2. Put a marshmallow in the microwave and watch it quadruple in size
  3. Make monster prints in the snow. Cut cardboard in the shape of a monster foot, and draw an outline your kid’s shoe on it. Punch two holes near the top and the bottom, thread string through the holes, and tie the feet to your kid’s shoes. Let them stomp around in the snow and leave the impression that Bigfoot’s come for a visit. 
  4. Make a snow volcano. It’s the classic baking soda and vinegar experiment, just inside a volcano shaped heap of snow. 
  5. Put on as many layers of winter clothes as you can and then have a hula hoop contest. The limited mobility makes it extra challenging, and funny. 
  6. Make reindeer food. Combine oatmeal (for taste) and glitter (so the reindeer can see it) and sprinkle it around the yard. 
  7. Make an ice sculpture. Fill different containers with water and a little food coloring, wait for them to freeze, and then arrange them however your artists heart desires. To get them to sick, try pouring a little hot water on their edges to melt them and then watch as they freeze back together
  8. Do cookie-cutter snow painting. Stick a cookie cutter in the snow and paint the snow within with watercolors. 
  9. Play secret snowflake. Each family member gets assigned another family member and spends the day doing nice things for them. That night, everyone tries to guess who their secret snowflake was.
  10. Play tic-tac-toe in the snow. Just use a stick or a finger to draw a board. 
  11. Make maple syrup snow candy. It’s as easy as boiling down some maple syrup and then pouring it onto snow to cool and harden. 
  12. Build an ice rink in your backyard. (It’s easier than you think.)
  13. Make snow ice cream.
  14. Make snow! You just need 6 parts baking soda and 1 part shampoo. 
  15. Get an outdoor thermometer. Teach kids how to read it and have them check it each morning.
  16. Try your hand at building a cooler entirely out of ice, à la this guy.

8 Science-Based Ways to Beat Negativity

Because negativity makes us feel bad, it tends to be bad for our well-being (take this well-being quiz to see how you’re doing).

If you find that you struggle with negativity, you’re not alone. In fact, humans actually have a negativity bias. A negativity bias just means that we notice and feel negative things more intensely than positive things—and negative things have a bigger impact on our mental health. So that means we could experience a bunch of positive things but the one negative thing could ruin our entire day. If our thoughts are plagued by negativity, this can be especially true for us.

How do we stop feeling so negative?

Firstly, go easy on yourself. Remember, we are all negative sometimes and that’s okay. Remember to have self-compassion as you’re are working to shift your negative thoughts. But it’s also helpful to know that our brains like to do things the way they have always done them. If we’ve been negative for a long time, regulating our emotions and shifting to more positive thoughts may be a little harder and take a little longer. Just keep at the strategies below to see improvement over time.

1. Make positive concepts more accessible in your brain

Our brains prefer to just go to whatever is familiar—it’s easier, quicker, and requires less energy. So undoing negativity involves making positive concepts more familiar and accessible in the brain. One way to do this is to just have a “positive word of the day”. Or, memorize a series of positive words each morning and ask yourself to recall them each night. 

Although the research hasn’t shown that there are positive regions of the brain, per se, strengthening the connections between positive concepts and strengthening your ability to generate positive thoughts, words, and emotions can likely make it easier to do this again in the future.

Researchers have measured the emotional content of thousands of words to find the positive and negative ones. If you want to use the most positive of these words to reduce negativity, check out my positive word flashcard book. 

2. Deconstruct your negativity

When we feel negative, it can be easy to see the external causes of our negative emotions but not the internal causes. The truth is our thoughts have just as much (or maybe more) to do with our negativity than the situations we’re in. We really do create our own reality.

To deconstruct how your thoughts lead to your negativity, engage in self-reflection by asking yourself if you do any of the things below:

  1. Do you often expect that everything will turn out horrible?
  2. Do you only see the bad without seeing the good?
  3. Do you ignore or devalue the positive things?

If you do any of these things, you can shift your thoughts in ways that decrease negativity and increase positivity. Use these questions when you’re feeling negative to shift your thinking away from the negative and onto the positive:

  1. How could this situation turn out better than expected?
  2. What are the positive parts of this situation?
  3. Why are the positive things in this situation really important or valuable?

Forcing your mind in a new direction can help shift your emotions too.

3. Check your attribution style

Do you feel like nothing you do matters and the world is responsible for all your woes? Of course, this may be true sometimes, but this “external attribution” means we have given up control of our lives and this can end up making us feel worse. To shift this thinking, try to think of the things you dohave control over. We all have control over some aspects of our lives.

Or, do you feel like you are to blame for all of your woes? This “internal attribution” style where we blame ourselves for the bad things can hurt our self-esteem and mental health. To shift this thinking, recognize that not everything is in your control. We all have done bad things, but we can move past them when we see that we did the best we could given the situations we were in.

Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?

These are inspiring examples, to be sure—but Dashun Wang didn’t think they told the whole story. Why did these individuals ultimately succeed, when so many others never manage to get past their failing phase?

“If we understand that process, could we anticipate whether you will become a winner, even when you are still a loser?” asks Wang, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, who directs the Center for Science of Science and Innovation (CSSI).

In a new paper published in the 150th anniversary issue of Nature, Wang and colleagues developed a mathematical model to pinpoint what separates those who succeed from those who merely try, try again. Along with PhD student Yian Yin and postdoctoral researcher Yang Wang at CSSI, and James A. Evans of the University of Chicago, Wang found that success comes down to learning from one’s prior mistakes—for instance, continuing to improve the parts of an invention that aren’t working rather than scrapping them, or recognizing which sections of a denied application to keep and which to rewrite.

But it’s not simply that those who learn more as they go have better odds of victory. Rather, there’s a critical tipping point. If your ability to build on your earlier attempts is above a certain threshold, you’ll likely succeed in the end. But if it’s even a hair below that threshold, you may be doomed to keep churning out failure after failure forever.

“People on those two sides of the threshold, they could be exactly the same kind of people,” says Wang, “but they will have two very different outcomes.”

Using this insight, the researchers are able to successfully predict an individual’s long-term success with just a small amount of information about that person’s initial attempts.

Measuring Success in Three Different Domains

A growing body of research supports the idea that failure can make you better off in the long run. Indeed, in another recent study, Wang himself found that an early career setback often set up scientists for later success.

However, as the stories of Ford, Edison, and Rowling plainly demonstrate, the road to success typically involves more than a single setback. “You don’t just fail once,” Wang says. “You fail over and over.” And while that litany of failures may make the Edisons of the world better off, it seems to thwart many other people.

To understand why, Wang and his colleagues needed a lot of information about the process of falling, getting back up, and trying again.

They turned to three massive data sets, each containing information about very distinct types of failure and success: 776,721 grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) between 1985 and 2015; the National Venture Capital Association’s database of all 58,111 startups to receive venture-capital funding from 1970 to 2016; and the Global Terrorism Database, which includes 170,350 attacks between 1970 and 2016.

These sources allowed the researchers to track groups and individuals as they made repeated attempts over time to achieve a goal: obtain grant funding, lead their company to get acquired at high values or achieve an IPO, or, in the case of terrorist organizations, execute an attack with at least one fatality—a grim measure of success, to be sure.

The three domains “can’t be more different,” Wang says, “but as different as they seem, what’s interesting is that they all turn out to show very similar, predictable patterns.”

What Makes You Successful: Luck or Learning?

With data in hand, the team began thinking about success and failure at the simplest level. Success, they theorized, must be the result of one of two basic phenomena: luck or learning. People who become successful in a given area are either improving steadily over time, or they are the beneficiaries of chance. So the researchers tested both theories.

If wins are primarily the result of chance, the team figured, all attempts are equally likely to succeed or fail—just like a coin toss, where what happened before doesn’t much influence what happens next. That means the typical person’s hundredth attempt won’t be any more successful than their first, since individuals are not systematically improving.

So the researchers looked at the first attempt and the penultimate attempt (the one right before a win) for each aspiring scientist, entrepreneur, and terrorist in their dataset. To measure improvement (or lack thereof) over time, the researchers looked at changes in how the scientists’ grant applications were rated, the amount of venture funding the startups received, and the number of individuals wounded in terrorists’ attacks.

Analysis revealed that the chance theory doesn’t hold up. In all three datasets, an individual’s second-to-last attempt did tend have a higher probability of success than their very first effort.

Yet people weren’t learning in the way the researchers had expected. The classic idea of the learning curve says that the more you do something, the higher your proficiency gets. So if everyone in the dataset was reliably learning from their prior failures, their odds of success should increase dramatically with each new attempt, leading to short-lived failure streaks before success.

But the data revealed much longer streaks than the researchers anticipated.

“Although your performance improves over time, you still fail more than we would expect you to,” Wang explains. “That suggests that you are stuck somewhere—that you are trying but not making progress.”

In other words, neither of the two theories could account for the dynamics underlying repeated failures. So the researchers decided to build a model that accounted for that.

How to Collect a Missing Stimulus Payment

Setting aside whether or not $600 is an adequate amount, most Americans are grateful to get something after months of financial hardship and uncertainty. The problem, however, is that some recipients aren’t getting their payments because they’re hitting closed or incorrect accounts. If you’re still waiting on your check, here’s what you need to do:

VERIFY THAT YOU HAVE A PAYMENT COMING

For starters, are you eligible for a stimulus payment? If you received money during the first round of economic impact checks back in the spring of 2020, you’re almost certainly eligible for the second payment, which is $600 per U.S. citizen or resident alien, plus $600 per qualifying child. (If you filed taxes jointly with your spouse, you’ll receive $1,200 for the pair of you.)

The amount of your stimulus may be reduced if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is too high. Per the IRS, you’ll get the full amount as long as your AGI does not exceed:

  • $150,000 if married and filing a joint return or if filing as a qualifying widow or widower;
  • $112,500 if filing as head of household; or
  • $75,000 for eligible individuals using any other filing status.

Over the threshold? You may still get a check, but the payment will be reduced by “5% of the amount by which your AGI exceeds the applicable threshold.”

CHECK WHERE YOUR PAYMENT IS HEADED

Payments are going out digitally and by mail, with most direct deposit payments already out the door and in accounts by now. There was no action required on your part, by the way – just like before, payments were sent out automatically based on the info from your 2019 tax return.

To verify the status of your particular payment, use the IRS’ Get My Payment tool. This will tell you the where and when of your stimulus payment. The IRS really doesn’t want you to call (they don’t have the capacity to help over the phone), so this online tool is your best bet for up-to-date info.

YOUR TAX PREP PROVIDER MAY HAVE YOUR FUNDS

Because payments on both stimulus checks are tied to your most recent tax return, if you used a third party tax prep company like H&R Block or Turbo Tax, your money may have ended up there. 

H&R Block has already announced how they plan to handle client payments, while Turbo Tax’s parent company issued a statement noting that they would reject any stimulus payments back to the IRS (note – this doesn’t mean your money is gone, it just means Turbo Tax doesn’t want to be responsible for handling these payments).

Long story short: if you used a tax prep service and it looks like that’s where your payment was sent, be sure to check their website or contact their customer service for more info.

CHECKS WON’T BE REISSUED

If your check is headed to the wrong place or was deposited into a closed account, you can still get your funds, but it may not be as immediate as you’d like.

The IRS has already stated that they won’t be able to reissue any checks. Instead, if you were due a payment and it never made it to you, you’re advised to claim the “Recovery Rebate Credit” on your 2020 tax return. Technically, this stimulus payment is already a tax rebate, but most of us will receive it in the form of an advance. By claiming the credit on your tax return, you’ll either see your refund increase by the amount owed to you, or have your tax bill decrease by the amount owed.

After having waited so long for this assistance, it’s understandably upsetting to have to wait even longer to receive your share, but unfortunately that seems to be the only option. Be sure to prep and file your taxes early this year to get access to any funds owed to you.

2020: A Year in Fitness Like No Other

This year, the novel coronavirus crept into and transformed every aspect of our lives, including our fitness. In countless ways — some surprising, and a few beneficial and potentially lasting — it altered how, why and what we need from exercise.

At the start of the year, few of us expected a virus to upend our world and workouts. In January and February, I was writing about topics that seemed pressing at the time, such as whether low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diets endanger athletes’ skeletal health; if fat-soled, maximalist running shoes might alter our strides; and how completing a marathon — remember those? — remodels first-time racers’ arteries.

The answers, by the way, according to the research, are that avoiding carbs for several weeks may produce early signs of declining bone health in endurance athletes; runners donning super-cushioned, marshmallowy shoes often strike the ground with greater force than if they wear skinnier pairs; and a single marathon renders new runners’ arteries more pliable and biologically youthful.

But concerns about shoe cushioning and racing tended to fade in March, when the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic and we suddenly had new, top-of-the-mind worries, including social distancing, masks, aerosol spread and lockdowns.

The effects on our exercise routines seemed to be both immediate and stuttering. At that time, none of us knew quite how and whether to work out in these new circumstances. Should we still run, ride and stroll outside if our community had instituted stay-at-home restrictions? Did we need to wear a mask during exercise — and could we do so without feeling as if we were suffocating? Were communal drinking fountains safe?

My first column grappling with these and related topics appeared on March 19. The experts I spoke with then were adamant that we should aim to remain physically active during the pandemic — but avoid shared drinking fountains. They also pointed out, though, that many questions about the virus, including how to exercise safely, remained unresolved.

After that, our experience with — and the research about — Covid and exercise snowballed. A much-discussed April study, for instance, showed that brisk walking and running could alter and accelerate the flow of air around us, sending expired respiratory particles farther than if we stayed still. Consequently, the study concluded, runners and walkers should maintain 15 feet or more of social distance between themselves and others, more than double the standard six feet of separation then recommended. (Subsequent research found that outdoor activities were generally safe, though experts still suggest staying as far apart as is practical, and to wear a mask.)

Another cautionary study I wrote about in June tracked 112 Covid infections in South Korea that spring to Zumba classes. A few infected instructors introduced the virus to their students during close-quarter, indoor, exuberant classes. Some students carried it home, infecting dozens of their family members and friends. Most rapidly recovered. But the study’s story was disquieting. “Exercising in a gym will make you vulnerable to infectious disease,” one of its disease-detective authors told me.

Thankfully, other science about exercising in the time of Covid was more encouraging. In two recent experiments involving masked exercisers, researchers found that face coverings barely budged people’s heart rates, respirations or, after some initial getting used to, subjective sense of the workouts’ difficulty. Moving felt the same, whether participants wore masks or not. (I use a cloth mask or neck gaiter on all my hikes and runs now.)

More surprising, the pandemic seems to have nudged some people to start moving more, additional research found. An online survey of runners and other athletes in June reported that most of these already active people said they were training more frequently now.

A separate British study, however, produced more-nuanced results. Using objective data from an activity-tracking phone app, its authors found that many of the older app users were up and walking more regularly after the pandemic began. But a majority of the younger, working-age adults, even if they had been active in the before times, sat almost all day now.

The long-range impacts of Covid on how often and in what ways we move are unsettled, of course, and I suspect will be the subject of considerable research in the years ahead. But, as someone who writes about, enjoys and procrastinates with exercise, the primary lesson of this year in exercise for me has been that fitness, in all its practical and evocative meanings, has never been so important.

In a useful study I wrote about in August, for instance, young, college athletes — all supremely fit — produced more antibodies to a flu vaccine than other healthy but untrained young people, a result that will keep me working out in anticipation of the Covid vaccine.

More poetically, in a mouse study I covered in September, animals that ran became much better able to cope later with unfamiliar trouble and stress than animals that had sat quietly in their cages.

And in perhaps my favorite study of the year, people who undertook “awe walks,” during which they deliberately sought out and focused on the small beauties and unexpected wonders along their way, felt more rejuvenated and happier afterward than walkers who did not cultivate awe.

In other words, we can dependably find solace and emotional — and physical — strength in moving through a world that remains lovely and beckoning. Happy, healthy holidays, everyone.

How to Find Emotional Balance During These Holidays

The December holidays (Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa) provide a capstone for the year. Most years are a mixed bag of experience—some combination of bright and dark—steeped in varying shades of joy and sorrow, of connection and loss, of the beautiful and the brutal. Obviously, 2020 is not most years. 

The stress and anxiety of the coronavirus pandemic have taken a devastating toll on people’s mental, emotional, and spiritual, as well as physical well-being. According to a national poll by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), more than one-third of Americans (36%) reported that coronavirus is having a serious impact on their mental health and over half (59%) reported serious impacts on their day-to-day lives. Most adults were concerned about the negative impacts of Covid-19 on their finances (57%) and almost half were worried about running out of food, medicine, and/or supplies.[1]

These results were released in March, nine excruciating months ago and early in the evolution of the pandemic. Since then, most individuals and families the stress, anxiety, financial hardships, and overall emotional dysregulation have only worsened.

During the pandemic, the number of adults exhibiting symptoms of depression has tripled [2] and alcohol and other drug use, as well as overdose rates have increased measurably. In a study published in JAMA Psychiatry this month, researchers monitoring an emergency medical systems database in 47 states found that medics were responding to more than double the number of overdose-related cardiac arrests in May, at the height of the pandemic lockdowns, than they had in 2018 and 2019.[3]

The adverse effects are also weighing heavily on children, as manifest in this year’s requests to Santa Claus based on a review of letters addressed to the North Pole collected through the USPS’s Operation Santa program. While kids across the US are still asking for toys and video games, in a year steeped in illness and uncertainty, some only want Santa to bring a cure for Covid-19. Others are asking for masks, and others write about the difficulties of going to school online or how their parents can’t afford to buy presents this year because they lost their jobs.[4]

Emotional balance occurs when we can: 

  1. Be consciously aware of and observe our feelings as they emerge
  2. Allow ourselves to present with our emotions (whether they are pleasurable, painful, or neutral) without needing to suppress them or become suffocated by them
  3. Learn to accept the full multi-colored palette of our feelings without judging them—or ourselves for having them, whatever form they may take

The wish, as well as the impulse to avoid emotional pain is natural—who wants to be in pain?! There is a tendency to think (however unconsciously) that if we can just avoid experiencing the discomfort/pain, it won’t affect us. Unfortunately, attempts to keep painful emotions at a distance always fail, even though they may seem to work temporarily. All forms of experiential avoidance ultimately boomerang on us by extending those painful emotions and amplifying the suffering connected to them. 

Alcohol and other drugs are one such well-worn avoidance strategy. Using substances and other addictive behaviors to feel “good” or “better” is a shortcut that inevitably leads to a dead end. Avoidance doesn’t work because pain is an inevitable part of life. It is an essential aspect of being human. It is in how we choose to respond to what we experience that determines whether we get stuck in trying to outrun, numb, or fight against it, or respond skillfully to it with presence and acceptance, which allows it to run its course and in time dissipate. 

It is important to clarify that acceptance does not equal approval. We can learn to accept and co-exist with uncomfortable, distressing, painful emotions, even when we don’t like them, and even when we dislike them intensely.

When we are under their influence, intense emotions can feel like they will last forever. However, whether they are painful or pleasurable, feelings are always temporary. They come and go like guests who come to visit: some are welcome and we’re happy to see them; others, not so much. Some leave sooner than we’d like and others significantly overstay—but eventually they all leave.

The time from Thanksgiving through the New Year typically revolves around themes of gratitude, abundance, and celebration. Yet, 2020 has left so many of us feeling diminished and exhausted. This year, more than perhaps ever, major holidays, especially those that emphasize family and social connection, can precipitate profound experiences of loss related to significant others who have passed or other serious life changes that leave us grieving what is no longer available to us, such as relationships, jobs/careers, homes, and health/physical functioning. 

Gratitude doesn’t erase or even necessarily diminish grief and vice versa. These two powerful emotional states can exist side by side, even if in any particular moment, one is much more prominent than the other. In Island, Aldous Huxley wrote about “the excruciating presence of an absence.” Empty spaces seem to spit into the face of gratitude. It’s okay to not feel grateful. 

It’s important to know that the holidays don’t have to feel like a celebration. You can give yourself permission to simply be where you are emotionally. Practicing self-compassion, kindness, and forgiveness by staying in conscious contact with the limitations of your time, energy, and finances, and carving our time for self-care is even more essential during this time of grieving and increased stress. 

You can find a balance that meets your needs between participating in holiday-focused efforts/events and self-care that includes such basics as reasonably healthy eating (in terms of what and how much you eat), physical movement/exercise—as little as 10 minutes of exercise a day can help improve your mood and reduce feelings of anxiety,[5] and getting decent sleep.

When we can develop the capacity to keep our minds and hearts open to our experience—the brutal, as well as the beautiful—our emotional life becomes more balanced and peaceful. The waves of feelings toss us about less as they lessen (even ever-so-slightly) in size and intensity and are less likely to swamp us. Learning to recognize, be present, and make peace with the parts of our experience that we may struggle with, makes it possible to be more okay with and accepting of whatever arises. 

A Letter to My Children

Dear Marv, Mareon, Murrell and Mya,

I have something to tell you. Something I want to talk about. 

It’s something I’ve mostly kept to myself up to now, and you might not fully understand it right at this moment, but I need for you to hear it.

It’s tough to talk about even all these months later, but after your little brother Marlo passed away in December….

Daddy was ready to call it quits.

Not just football, either. I’m talking just get away from … everything.

Leave the country. Move to Spain. Hunker down. Just us and Mommy. That sort of thing. Never talk to anyone ever again, never have to face anyone or discuss anything, just shield us all from the entire outside world. You know what I mean?

We were all just struggling so much.

Mom and me was one thing, but hearing Mya ask, “When is Marlo coming back down from heaven?” Seeing that teddy bear that you guys called by his name? It was beyond heartbreaking.

We always told you guys it was O.K. to cry and to let your feelings out.

But sometimes that’s not so easy. Even for Dad.

Me and Mommy tried our best to stay strong in front of you guys, and to make sure you understood that we were going to get through this no matter what. We knew you’d be watching us — looking to us for how we were handling such an unimaginable tragedy. So we did our best. But the reality is.…

I was really hurting.

Early on I’d try to act “normal” all day and not show any hurt, and then I’d just lie down in bed at night and it’d all come out at once. So, yeah, those first few days, it all just felt like too much.

But that’s not what I wanted to tell you.

I mention all that stuff because I need you to understand the backdrop for what I do want to talk about. And that is….

What happened next.

A few days after our little angel left us, as sad as we all were … something truly amazing happened. Something inspiring.

And that’s actually what I want to tell you about.

All of sudden, folks just kept showing up at our front door. And, at first, I gotta be honest … I didn’t want to answer. But the doorbell just kept ringing.

Matthew and Kelly Stafford.

Danny Amendola.

Kenny Golladay.

Coach Patricia. Coach Prince. Other members of the organization. 

All showing us love. Giving us support. Letting us know that they were there for us.

I mean, you guys … it was so moving what they did for our family.

I’m getting choked up right now just sitting here writing about it. But back then? In that moment? I’m not lying when I say that their visits, that support….

It changed something inside of me.

I went from wanting to be closed off and isolated from pretty much everyone to realizing beyond a shadow of a doubt that our family needed all the love and support we could get.

So after those first few visits, our door was wide open. You guys remember it. Everyone in the family flew up to Michigan. Your grandparents, aunts and uncles on both sides. Auntie Leslie even flew in from China.

Everyone rallied around us.

And as tough as those first few days were, I always want you guys to remember how our family and friends came together to lift us up and help us all get through the most difficult experience of our lives.

Local businesses and restaurants sent over food and care packages. Police and firefighters stopped by to lend their support. Friends, sports fans, and just regular folks from all around the world sent us their well-wishes and shared their stories of loss with us to make sure we knew we weren’t alone. 

It was powerful. And it goes to show something I want you guys to always remember…. 

It really does take a community sometimes. Sometimes you can’t do things on your own.

People need people.

21 Smartest Money Moves to Make in 2021

Pop the Champagne (in a safe, outdoor setting) because 2021 is finally here. Even in a pandemic, a new year is an opportunity for a fresh start. Vaccines are coming, the economy is slowly returning to normal, and you’re perfectly poised to improve your financial life.

And Money is here to help.

We’ve compiled a list of the 21 smartest money moves you can make in 2021. Fix your budget, maximize your savings, spice up your resume and more with our guide. While these aren’t necessarily easy, we looked for things that could realistically be accomplished with a few hours (or in some cases days) of effort.

See how many you can complete!

Finance Your Future

1. Get Serious About Saving

If Americans ever doubted the importance of saving, the coronavirus pandemic has made it clear just how necessary a financial cushion can be. A study from the Pew Research Center found that 41% of all adults in the U.S. have had trouble paying their bills and making housing payments since the pandemic began, while a study from Clever found that 61% of Americans said they don’t expect to have any emergency savings by the end of 2020. That’s why in 2021, it’s time to get serious about saving — even if you think you’re already in a comfortable financial position.

Financial advisors often encourage people to follow a 50-30-20 rule when dividing up their take-home pay, with 50% of your income going towards living expenses like rent and groceries, 30% for recreation or entertainment, and 20% going into savings. But for people who are just starting to save (or even those who are already on the right track), jumping from zero to 20 can be a daunting task — and sometimes downright impossible. That’s why it helps to set incremental goals, according to Kristen Euretig, a certified financial planner and founder of Brooklyn Plans.

She recommends starting with a number you can actually commit to, even if it’s just a few dollars and gradually adding more as you get comfortable. For example, start by saving 5% of your monthly income in January and then increase that amount by one percentage point each month. By December you’ll have tripled the money going towards an emergency fund each month. “Saving is a long game, and it’s a situation where the tortoise wins every time,” says Euretig.

— Kenadi Silcox

2. Actually Earn Something on Your Cash

One additional obstacle savers face right now: Low interest rates make it hard to earn much, even in CDs and so-called high-yield saving accounts offered online. The good news is there are better options if you are willing to put in a little extra legwork.

One good place to look is high-yield checking accounts (also known as rewards checking accounts), according to Ken Tumin, founder of DepositAccounts.com. Some of these pay as high as 4% (compared to less than 1% for most CDs). Of course these accounts, mostly offered through credit unions and regional banks, do have some caveats, typically requiring a certain number of electronic transactions per month and limiting the amounts on which they will pay out top dollar.

For example, Consumers Credit Union’s Reward Checking account offers up to 4.09% interest on $10,000 or less, although there are some hefty stipulations. To earn the full amount, members need to make at least 12 monthly debit card purchases and deposit $500 each month. To earn the maximum interest, members also need to spend $1,000 each month using a CCU Visa credit card. However, account holders can opt out of the credit card and still get a comfortable 2.09% APY.

— Kenadi Silcox

3. Reconsider Small Caps 

It’s been hard out there for shares of so-called small-cap companies, those with market values below $2 billion or so. While tech giants like Apple and Amazon have seen business actually improve during the pandemic, smaller companies, whose financial prospects tend to be tied closely to the overall health of the U.S. economy, have struggled mightily: While large-cap stocks have returned 14% over the past three years, small cap core stocks have returned just 8.7%.

The silver lining: Historically, once the economy begins to pull out of a recession, investors tend to warm to small caps and their returns can sling-shot ahead of those of bigger, steadier names. Looking at the past 11 recessions small-cap stocks beat larger ones by more than six percentage points on average, in the six months immediately after the recession ended, according to brokerage firm LPL.

While the U.S. economy isn’t out of the woods yet, the prospect of an effective COVID vaccine has many Wall Street analysts hoping small stocks could turn the corner in 2021. “Small caps may have history on their side,” wrote Invesco portfolio managers Matthew Ziehl, Adam Weiner and Jason Farrell in a recent blog post.

— Ian Salisbury

4. Invest Your Conscience with an ESG Fund 

With issues like racial justice and climate change on young investors’ minds, so-called ESG (or environmental, social and governance) funds have been gaining fans. By the end of September, U.S. sustainable funds attracted a record $31 billion in new investment dollars, according to Morningstar. The strategy is also getting the attention of some of the biggest names on Wall Street. In its annual letter to clients, BlackRock said the company was making sustainability integral to the way it manages risk and constructs portfolios.

As an investor, it’s nice to think that you can easily sort “good” companies from “bad” ones. But that’s not always the case. “There are some notable shortcomings that the industry still has to iron out,” says Jennifer Coombs, associate professor at the College for Financial Planning specializing in ESG investing. Among these concerns is that the handful of agencies that grade companies on their adherence to ESG principles tend to vary widely in their approaches.

Click Read More for 17 more tips.

Happy Holidays from the PAF!

While you may not be able to celebrate with family and loved ones this year, we are sending our warmest wishes to you and your families this holiday season.

Here at the PAF, we wish you the best over the next few weeks, especially good health and happiness.

We are committed to continue to find and provide you the information you need to navigate your post-football life in the most successful way possible.

Happy Holidays and may you have a safe and healthy New Year.

-Your family at the Professional Athletes Foundation.

The Next Generation of You: Dwight Hollier

by Jim Gehman

“One of the things that drove me as a player, as a young person, is idea that I may not be good enough, I’ve got to work my tail off,” Hollier said. “So, I was always pushing myself. And at some point, about my fourth or fifth year in the league, guys in the locker room started calling me the old dude, and I was 27, 28. I was like, if they’re calling me the old dude now, I should probably start preparing for whatever is going to be next for me.”

After eight seasons with the Dolphins and one with Indianapolis, Hollier left the game following the 2000 season armed with a master’s degree in counseling he had earned earlier that year from Nova Southeastern University. He felt prepared for the transition. However…

“Two months after officially filing for severance, I was employed as a mental health counselor at a big health care agency in Charlotte, North Carolina,” Hollier said. “I put all these pieces in place. I was a poster child for doing things the right way, I think. And yet, still, I struggled. And I struggled for maybe a few reasons. One, the game was done with me, but I wasn’t done with the game. As least mentally.

“I’d gotten hurt my last year and played injured, and that put me into a real depression, and I had difficulty coming out of that. I was doing counseling with young people and helping them work through issues. And yet hadn’t worked through my own.

“Often times, people would ask me if I played football and I’d get frustrated with the question because I wished I was still playing. And they would say to me, ‘You played a long time in the NFL.’ And I’d say, ‘I only played nine years.’ When I say it out loud now, I sound foolish. But I was so caught up in being mad and frustrated that I didn’t play 10. I struggled with that for long time after finishing playing.”

Having gone through those experiences himself, Hollier is in a position to advise other former players who are going through or may soon go through the same things.

“There are some wonderful resources that are provided through the NFL, through the NFL Players Association, that I think guys should take advantage of. One thing I would absolutely recommend is to have a mentor, someone that has maybe been where you are planning to go,” Hollier said. “When I left football, I felt like I was in a bad wasteland of nothing. No contact. Nothing. And I think the NFL Players Association does a much better job now of connecting with guys, particularly as they’re transitioning.

“Often times for guys in transition, it’s the disconnect. Sometimes we disconnect for a lot of different reasons, including sadness that we have about not playing the game. Or the thought in our minds that we’re somehow disappointing someone because we didn’t make the team.

“And then make sure that you are addressing mental health through counseling, through networks, connecting with mental health professionals. That’s also part of finding a mentor and staying connected because that person can help keep you grounded and may see things in you that you don’t recognize yourself.”

Nearly two years ago, Hollier took a step back in his history and returned to the University of North Carolina, where he’s a senior associate athletic director.

“I work with the aspect of wellness for our student-athletes, connecting and communicating with our sports medicine, our strength-conditioning, nutrition, sports psychology areas,” Hollier said. “Just assuring that we have the right resources in place to help support the student-athlete’s health and well-being.”

And is the job even more special because it’s at his alma mater?

“Absolutely! When I got the job, I was telling people it’s like hitting the lottery for the fourth time,” Hollier said. “I hit the lottery when I got an opportunity to play football at the University of North Carolina. And I hit the lottery when I got drafted by the Dolphins and got the chance to speak with (their legendary coach) Don Shula. And I hit the lottery again when I got hired by the NFL in 2013 to then be the director of transition and clinical services.

“And then to be able to come back to a place that I’ve loved since I was 18 and be able to serve in the capacity where I’m assisting young people with finding fulfillment through athletics and academics, it’s just really special. I feel very blessed to be afforded those opportunities. I’m grateful that I get to get dressed up in my in my Carolina blue gear and my bowtie and drive onto that beautiful campus in Chapel Hill.”

The Next Generation of You: John Wade

by Jim Gehman

“Every kid that plays football thinks that, but in reality, I didn’t believe it until I made the team after my rookie training camp,” Wade said. “I wasn’t a highly-recruited or top-tier prospect in the high school realm or even the college realm. I was on good teams at Marshall, and having Randy Moss on the team also helps you probably get more looks than you would of.”

Sharing the offensive huddle with a future Hall of Fame wide receiver helped Wade get noticed, but after that, he was on his own. And he made more than the best of it by generating a 12-year playing career with the Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the then-Oakland Raiders.

“I didn’t expect to make it one year, much less get credit for 12,” Wade said with a laugh. “Just the fact that I was able to not only make the team, but start for a number of years, it was more than I anticipated.

“And I was around a few guys early in my career that played 10,12 years and never made the playoffs. So, I was fortunate to make the playoffs a couple times in Jacksonville and a couple times in Tampa. I never made it to a Super Bowl, but not everybody does.”

Retiring from the league in 2010, Wade returned to his hometown of Harrisonburg, Virginia, to work for his family’s business – Bob Wade Autoworld.

“My dad started the dealership in 1980, so I’d been around it before I left for college,” Wade said. “He was going to retire, but unfortunately, he passed away in the fall of ’11. So, I became the full-on owner at that point.”  

Successfully operating the business for nine years, Wade uses some of the leadership qualities he picked up from his former coaches, Tom Coughlin and Jon Gruden, to oversee the dealership’s staff of 50 employees.

“Playing team sports, you have to deal with different personalities, people from different backgrounds. So, you have to learn to adapt and adjust from a personality standpoint to come to a common goal to succeed,” Wade said.

“I think football and both of those coaches, a little bit different in style but still very regimented on keeping things task-oriented and driving towards a goal, that’s what retail sales is also. We have a team and a goal every month. Sometimes outside things, whether it be customers, family, could intervene, but you have to figure out how to pull it all together and month to month, make it work.”

What does Wade enjoy most about his work?

“Just interacting with people. I don’t mind talking to people, whether it be good or bad. Hopefully more good than bad,” Wade said. “So, it’s just interaction with people, whether it be employees or customers. Every day’s a new adventure, if you will. Besides the normal paperwork stuff.

“I look at it as when I left the NFL, that was it. That was the end of that chapter. Some customers will come in and we’ll have conversations about it, and I don’t mind talking about it, but it’s not at the forefront for me to be like, ‘Hey, I used to play.’ If the customer or an employee wants to talk about it, then I’m all in. But like I said, it’s not my go-to thing.”

Happy New Year, 2021!

As 2020 winds down, we wanted to take a moment to thank you for your support and dedication over the past year. While this hasn’t been the easiest year for many, we are grateful for the community we have of former players. We are dedicated to continue the support that has come to define us for the past three decades and are determined to continue to evolve our offerings and service in the year, years and decades to come.

We wish you a happy, safe and healthy 2021. See you back here in the New Year.

-Your PAF Family

Feeling Tired in Social Situations?

Feeling tired after a physically or mentally straining day is normal. But if you are feeling more tired than usual after a typical day of interacting with family, friends and colleagues, it could be a sign of hearing loss. 

Hearing loss is incredibly common, affecting over 48 million Americans to some degree. It’s not just something that happens to the elderly—it can happen at any age and any stage in life. You may think you will know right away if you have hearing loss, but it typically occurs gradually over the course of a few years. In fact, it is often family members and friends who catch the early signs. They tend to notice the TV volume getting too loud and the frequent interjections of “Huh?” and “What?” before the person with hearing loss notices. 

So why does hearing loss make us feel so fatigued? 

When you have normal hearing, understanding your friends or loved ones doesn’t require significant thought or effort. It just comes naturally, allowing you to focus your attention on other details of everyday life. When you can’t hear well due to hearing loss, your brain has to work overtime to understand the people around you.  

Right now, we are all learning how it feels to have a conversation over video call. Missed connections, distracting noises, and poor sound quality make conversations more difficult and can leave us feeling exhausted and even frustrated afterwards. Know the feeling? 

Having a conversation with hearing loss is similar. You have to exert more focus and ask more clarifying questions. You may be mistaking words or feel like everyone is mumbling. Meanwhile, your brain is trying to process and interpret these sounds, as well as distinguish between important sounds and background noise. Some people with hearing loss even begin to rely on lip reading without noticing. With all this extra work, it’s no wonder those with hearing loss may feel tired or mentally drained after social interactions.

The good news is that hearing aids can help the majority of hearing loss cases. Even if you have a minor hearing loss, hearing aids can help you regain important sounds and take the fatigue out of everyday conversations. 

While some are resistant to trying hearing aids, patients who try them out find that the positive effects of feeling more connected to your friends and loved ones causes them to quickly forget about their hesitations. Treating hearing loss not only helps you have better conversations, but it will also leave you with more energy for other activities, like taking your children out to dinner or going on a bike ride after work.

As a member of the NFLPA, you have access to an exclusive program offered by EarQ and the PAF. Come in to any participating EarQ office to have a hearing test completed at no cost to you. If you show a significant need for hearing aids, you may be eligible for a Gene Upshaw PAT Grant to assist with the payment.   

If you are ready to get your energy back and take the next step to better hearing, please call us at 888-840-1292 to get set up with an EarQ provider today!

*Access to the Gene Upshaw PAT Grant is at the sole discretion of the Professional Athletes Foundation.  Please contact the Professional Athletes Foundation at 800.372.2000 with any questions about applying for the grant. 

4 ways to stay fit and stress less during the holidays

As the holiday season ramps up, daily schedules can easily fill with the demands of the season, like shopping, cooking, wrapping and planning. To avoid overload, it’s all too easy to shift self-care priorities — like regular exercise — to the bottom of the list. Skipping workouts, however, can actually make it more difficult for our bodies and minds to deal with added holiday stressors. 

Instead of letting exercise slide, taking a less-is-more approach to working out will enable you to avoid schedule overload without sacrificing your health. By training smarter, not longer, you can increase time available for holiday to-dos while still decreasing the impact of seasonal treats on the waistline. This plan will also help reduce stress and safeguard your overall well-being. 

Below, I outline four strategies to help you stay fit during the holiday season.

Use habit stacking to add more daily exercise 

One of the best ways to train smarter, not harder, in this busy time of year is to ensure you’re exercising consistently at least a few minutes every day by making it a habit. And one of the most effective ways to create a daily habit that sticks is to stack it on an existing one.

Consider some of common everyday habits that are so ingrained in your routine, you automatically do them, such as brushing your teeth, showering and making your bed. By adding an exercise right before, during or directly after one of those habits, it’s easier to make it stick in your daily routine. For example, for nearly eight years now, I’ve been doing 50 body-weight squats or two-minute wall sits while I brush my teeth.

It wasn’t until a couple years ago when I read James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits” that I realized what I’d been doing was called “habit stacking.”

In a blog post on Clear’s website, he explains why “synaptic pruning” in our brains supports habit stacking. Connections (synapses) between neurons in our brains, he wrote, decrease when not used and strengthen when used frequently. Consequently, existing habits have stronger synaptic connections that we can leverage through habit stacking to create new habits.

That’s why my squat habit while toothbrushing was so easy to start and maintain. After reading Clear’s blog, I also added 10 push-ups before showering to my daily routine — and I formed that habit easily as well!

What daily habits could you stack with different forms of exercise?

Feel free to use mine or come up with your own. Maybe 30 jumping jacks before morning coffee? Or 20 alternating step-back lunges right after putting on your shoes? Choose what feels right for you to slot into your routine.

Multitask your mobile screen time

Although spending time on your smartphone might seem like a habit, it’s usually more of a time waster that happens sporadically throughout the day rather than a natural part of a daily routine. And leading up to the holidays, many people experience an increase in mobile screen time. Whether people are online shopping, answering texts or scrolling social media to keep up with friends’ holiday plans, many folks inevitably spend a significant chunk of the day looking down at their phones.

What if you could make even a fraction of that time better for your health? And maybe even dissuade yourself from spending so much time looking at your phone? You can — by incorporating posture-improving, core and leg-strengthening wall sits in your smartphone time. 

By design, wall sits are challenging. So, even though they’re good for you, you aren’t going to want to hold them for very long or do very many sets. So if you pair them with your smartphone time, you’ll likely reduce your scrolling minutes just to avoid them — which isn’t a bad thing for your mental health.

4 Clues to Help You Choose an Effective Business Name

It is the central theme and the very foundation on which your business stands. Everything else revolves around it. 

When people hear your brand name, it should immediately give them an idea of what your business is. Whether this is true depends on the effectiveness and relevance of your business name to your business. Imagine a brand called “Oblivious Designs.” What first comes to mind? Fashion? Architecture? Now imagine that this brand tells you they are into food production and distribution, or that they are a security company.

Be conscious of the fact that whenever people hear your business name, they start forming mental pictures of what your business is about. Therefore, you must take due care and give proper thought to your choice of a business name.

Your business name confers identity on your business. Many businesses have failed simply because they chose the wrong business name. Choosing an effective name is vital to how your brand is perceived, which affects how it will be received in the market. Below are four clues that will help you choose an effective business name.

1. Your choice keywords are in high demand

The key element of an effective business name is that it can attract traffic on its own. Your ideal business should be solving a problem that people have. If it is, then people should already be searching for the solutions you provide.

With tools from Google such as Google Trends and the search function, you can find details of how people are searching for your business solution. With Google Trends, you can keep track of past trends in line with your business offering. You can also see current trends and determine how it affects your business and choice of a business name.

If you are looking to choose an effective business name, you must already have suggestions in mind. The point here is to plug those keywords into tools. These tools would show you the demand for those keywords. If your chosen keywords are in high demand, you are unto something.

2. Your business name options are original

There is hardly anything new under the sun. But choosing a business name that is already in use is a bad idea. Rather than impress people, this will turn them off. Worse still, you may never hit the ground running as the existing name will overshadow yours until it becomes non-existent.

Imagine that another brand springs up today with the name ‘Mark Donalds’. Not only can they get sued, but they would also earn the dislike of the larger populace. People want to see that you put in the necessary effort in your quest to serve them.

Business naming could be a tough process, no doubt, but the end is rewarding. A good brand is known for originality, ingenuity, and authenticity. With these qualities, everything that represents the brand and everything the brand stands for becomes valuable to her target audience.

Take advantage of different business naming services and their plethora of naming methods. One such service asks you to input the keywords that represent your business. With these keywords, it will generate some combinations and name options that could work for your brand. An example is NameOyster which generates names using artificial intelligence.

Another good example is Brand New Name. They offer a crowdsourced approach to business naming. The way it works is that they will give you access to a platform to run a contest and engage hundreds of talented creatives who will generate inspiring and innovative name ideas for your product and business. And to ensure that you get the best result, a prize is awarded to the best idea, driving the creatives to offer powerful options in hopes of winning.

3. Make sure your keywords are legally available

As many experienced business owners can attest, it is possible to come up with an amazing business name, start working on the brand identity creation (including logo and other branding items), only to find out that the business name is not legally available for use.

To avoid wasting effort and resources, consider the legal availability of your options. The regulatory bodies usually have a business availability checker on their portals. You can also file for a business name availability check physically.

The Pros and Cons of Paying Off Your Debt Early

Not so fast. In some cases, paying a debt off early doesn’t save you all that much money. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of paying down debt before you have to.

Pro: You’ll save thousands of dollars in interest

You can’t take out a loan without paying interest. You also can’t carry a credit card balance without paying interest. And the longer you owe money, the more interest you’ll pay. Let’s say you buy a car for the price of $25,000, and you borrow $20,000 at an interest rate of 3 percent on a 60-month loan. That could mean more than $1,500 in interest payments over the course of five years. What a waste, right?

So whether it’s a car loan or credit card debt, the sooner you wipe it out, the more money you’ll save in interest payments, and depending on the balance, this could mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Con: You may have paid off most of the loan interest already

Most loans have something called an “amortization schedule” that maps out how much you’ll pay in interest and how much you’ll pay in principal each month. With many loans — especially mortgages — you pay most of the interest in the early years and pay mostly principal later on.

For example, let’s say you have a 30-year loan of $300,000 with a 5 percent interest rate. Using this handy amortization calculator, this means you’ll pay $1,610 per month. (For simplicity purposes, I am not including taxes and insurance in this calculation.) A typical amortization schedule shows that you will pay $1,250 per month in interest payments at first. But toward the end of the lending period, your interest payments are much lower. By the time you have three years left on the loan, you’ll pay a little over $200 in interest per month and it will continue to decline from there.

If you are fairly late in the loan term, there’s not a major financial advantage to paying your loan off early. You’re practically borrowing money interest-free at this point, so you might as well hold onto your cash or use it for something else.

Pro: You free up cash for other things

Your mortgage is $1,500 a month. Your car payment is $200 per month. Your student loan payment is $180. The minimum payment on your credit card balance is $250. If you’re locked into these payments each month, you may not have a lot of money left over for other needs or wants. Debt prevents you from having true financial flexibility. Pay those debts off early, and breathe easier knowing you’ve freed up a significant amount of cash.

Con: You could deplete your emergency fund

Your drive to pay off debt early may be strong, but where is that money coming from? It’s not easy for most people to pay off the $20,000 left on a mortgage in one fell swoop, for example. If you do have that much cash available, you need to make sure it’s not coming out of your emergency fund. It may feel good to pay off a debt, but when you have no money left to cover a medical emergency or job loss, you’re playing a dangerous game. It’s best to keep at least three months worth of living expenses on hand in cash, and avoid the temptation to raid it just to pay off a debt early.

Pro: You’ll sleep better

For many people, carrying debt from month to month is physically and mentally exhausting. It weighs on you. And that’s totally understandable. Everyone has their own comfort level with debt, and if you simply can’t stand the thought of even a small debt burden, pay those loans off in full if you can. In many cases, paying off a debt early offers a mental and financial freedom.

Con: You might stop building credit

Believe it or not, paying off debt early may actually hurt your credit. If you insist on always clearing debts in full long before they are due, you may cease to have enough credit history to get a favorable rating from credit agencies. As long as your debt burden is not too high, making consistent, regular payments on debts and paying bills on time is the best way to build strong credit.

The Next Generation of You: Ovie Mughelli

by Jim Gehman

 “My parents were Nigerian immigrants, and when they came to this country, they had to, like most immigrants, go bust their ass to get things done. They came here with next to nothing and both have double-digit number of siblings and had to send money back. So, they had a crazy work ethic and a certain level of accountability that was through the roof. They instilled that into all their children,” Mughelli said.

“They were big on goals. So, when it came to football, I just was so detail-orientated on what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there. Not just being big, fast, and strong, but having that mental game and having that understanding of how to be successful and focus on details is what set me apart from other fullbacks.”

In 2008, Mughelli’s second year with the Falcons, he started the Ovie Mughelli Foundation.

“I always wanted to give back. I was raised that way,” Mughelli said. “We always, through our church ministry, donated our time, our treasures, to help those less advantaged. I wanted to do more with my foundation than just ‘shop with a jock’ or have a bike drive, which are both very important. I don’t to minimize those, but I wanted to find something where I can really make a difference. And things kind of just came together.”

The foundation’s focal point is based on Mughelli’s role as an environmental advocate. Its goal is to educate and inspire the next generation of environmental leaders.

“My first two kids were born premature,” said Mughelli, a husband and father of three. “And just the fact that I almost brought my kids out into a world that could have killed them because of the air pollution in Atlanta at the time, made me want to do what I could to make sure that the planet that I’m leaving to my kids is one that I could be proud of, and one that’s safe. Not many NFL players are really pushing sustainability or environment justice or talking about anything green. No one, actually. So, I’m the first NFL player to have a fully environmental foundation.”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Mughelli would often speak around the country before large conferences of business and community leaders. He opened many eyes with his speeches.

“It’s fun because we really focus on people of color, children of color, because the environmental movement is a very, very white movement. All the conferences I go to, I say, ‘Look around. Does this room look like America, or even the world?’ It’s always no. It’s always 95 percent or even 98 percent people of non-color. And I’m like, ‘We can’t be successful in this movement if we don’t get everyone involved,’” Mughelli said.

“It’s going to take some uncomfortable conversations and breaking down some walls of unconscious racism. And some conscious as well, where even though with the green jobs coming around, there’s a lot of options for green jobs that are not being made available or pushed in communities of color the same way that they are being pushed in other communities. 

“That’s where I feel like I have a real strong opportunity to do something great because I use sports to promote sustainability. Because if an athlete who needs clean air and clean water to play his sport is not pushing for environmental equity or not for pushing to make sure our planet is safe to play sports, then who will? So, I use my platform to join with other people, other organizations, and even now, other athletes. I was calling myself an eco-athlete in 2008, and now there are several eco-athletes in baseball and soccer and tennis, Olympic sports. It’s really fun and I’m excited about where this is going to go.”

Want Your New Year’s Resolutions to Stick?

A few years ago, researchers from UCLA and UPenn’s Wharton School published a paper (Dai, Milkman, & Riis, 2014) that explored why something they call the “fresh start effect” motivates people to make aspirational behavior changes via New Year’s resolutions.

The gist of their “fresh start effect” theory is that temporal landmarks like New Year’s Day, birthdays, back-to-school season—which serve as delineating signposts for the passage of time on a calendar—seem to facilitate “new mental accounting periods each year, which relegate past imperfections to a previous period, induce people to take a big-picture view of their lives, and thus motivate aspirational behaviors.”

Despite the centuries-old tradition of making New Year’s resolutions in the month of December, surprisingly few modern-day, large-scale studies have investigated this “temporal landmark” goal-setting phenomenon until recently.

This week, researchers from Stockholm University and Linköping University in Sweden published a study they describe as “probably the largest and most comprehensive study on New Year’s resolutions conducted thus far.” These findings (Oscarsson, Carlbring, Andersson, & Rozental, 2020) were published on December 9 in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.

This year-long study involved over a thousand people (N = 1066) who said they’d made New Year’s resolutions and were recruited via multiple channels in the last week of December 2016. Participants agreed to follow-up interviews once a month from New Year’s Eve through December 2017.

In addition to investigating if online support could increase people’s odds of sticking with their New Year’s resolutions over the course of 12 months, the researchers examined how “approach” vs. “avoidance” goal-setting affected the likelihood of long-term success.

What’s the difference between “approach goals” and “avoidance goals”? An approach-oriented goal focuses on actively doing something (e.g., “I will start going for daily walks”), whereas avoidance-oriented goals center around not doing something (e.g., “I will stop sitting too much.”) In general, avoidance goals are about stopping, quitting, and forbidding behaviors. On the flip side, approach goals are about seeking a fresh start, new beginnings, and proactively getting out of a rut.

New Year’s Resolutions: Approach-Oriented Goals vs. Avoidance-Oriented Goals

As this “Keeping Resolutions” graph by corresponding author Per Carlbring of Stockholm University illustrates, study participants who made approach-oriented New Year’s resolutions had a higher success rate (59%) than those who made avoidance-oriented resolutions (47%).

This research suggests that flipping the script from an avoidance-oriented resolution that uses language such as “I will stop _______” to an approach-oriented script that states “I will start _______,” may increase one’s odds of sticking to a New Year’s resolution.

“In many cases, rephrasing your resolution could definitely work. For example, if your goal is to stop eating sweets in order to lose weight, you will most likely be more successful if you say ‘I will eat fruit several times a day’ instead,” Carlbring said in a news release. “You then replace sweets with something healthier, which probably means you will lose weight and also keep your resolution. You cannot erase a behavior, but you can replace it with something else.”

To the researchers’ surprise, providing study participants with extensive online support in the form of “emails with information and exercises regarding motivation, thought patterns, and negative spirals in relation to New Year’s resolutions” didn’t significantly boost someone’s odds of success.

After randomly dividing study participants into three groups that received no support, some support, or extended support, a one-year follow-up showed that providing people with “some support” seemed to be a sweet spot.

“Participants receiving some support reported greater success than those receiving extended support, and those receiving no support,” the authors explain. “This suggests that information, instructions, and exercises regarding effective goal setting, administered via the Internet, could affect the likelihood of success—another question to study further.”

“[We] found that the support given to the participants did not make much of a difference when it came down to how well participants kept their resolutions throughout the year. What surprised us were the results on how to phrase your resolution,” Carlbring concluded.

Are you making any New Year’s resolutions for 2021? If so, try to think of ways to frame your personal goals and resolutions for the upcoming year using approach-oriented language.

Fixing the Fix

This month’s Editor’s Note comes from a valued guest contributor, current NFL veteran Josh Shaw.

My name is Josh Shaw, I am a 5-year NFL Veteran. I have a beautiful wife who is my high school sweetheart. We have been married for four years, and we have three beautiful children together and one on the way.

In November 2019, I was suspended from the NFL. My suspension was due to me being irresponsible and making a bad choice. I wagered on professional sports. Once the news came out that I was suspended from the league for my actions I was devastated. The job I loved had been taken from me. Although I was disappointed in myself for my actions, my suspension was a blessing in disguise. I am thankful for my suspension because it helped me realize I had a gambling addiction. Before my suspension I had no idea, I had a problem with gambling. Although my gambling stems from table games, my one mistake opened my eyes to see the bigger picture of my addiction. My suspension allowed me the time to self-evaluate and realize how big my addiction to gambling was.

I am thankful for my suspension because it helped me realize I had a gambling addiction…I had no idea.

I accepted that I had a gambling addiction, the first step I took was informing my wife. My wife and I agreed that it would be best to seek professional help from a counselor. I took the time to reach out to the NFL and they directed me to my current counselor, who has helped me tremendously in my recovery process. Counseling has really helped me get to the root of my gambling issues, realizing what I often experienced while gambling is a pleasure chemical known as dopamine. I would have never thought I would be seeking help from a counselor. In fact, as a high-level athlete we are always told to be tough, suck it up, never show a sign of weakness etc. Counseling is typically frowned upon by men. A large part of that is our pride. We tend to think we can handle issues on our own. This stereotype surrounding counseling needs to change!

I would have never thought I would be seeking help from a counselor…[athletes] tend to think we can handle issues on our own.

In addition to counseling another effective tool for me has been attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings. Here I was able to be around so many people from different walks of life. Whether past or present, at some point everyone taking part of the GA sessions has been negatively affected by gambling. It has been helpful to be around a group of people talking about their experiences with gambling. The common denominator with everyone that has overcome their struggles was to accept that there was a problem. When this happens then the healing can begin.

Gambling was always something I looked forward to. It was the most fun hobby I had. Through counseling I realized I needed to do other things I was passionate about to keep busy. In March of 2020 I began training kids, teenagers, and young adults. God has continued to open door after door for me. I recently began training two future 2021 NFL draft prospects that opted out of their senior seasons. I love the fact that I can help educate them on what steps to take to ensure they have the tools to remain successful as they become a part of the National Football League.

The Professional Athlete’s Foundation has partnered with EPIC Risk Management to bring program content and education on problem gambling, which will be tailored to meet the mental health needs of NFLPA members.  The PAF and EPIC Risk Management are committed to educating our athletes and families on warning signs of problem gambling which can be difficult to spot as problem gambling is often referred to as the hidden addiction.  Those with gambling disorders and addictive tendencies will receive our unyielding support.   

Try Out Some Active Engaged Eating

My Dear Old Friends,

Charcuterie is a French word that means the collection of cold cooked meats. Adding an assortment of cheeses to the mix creates something I decided to call “Active Engaged Eating”.

I don’t love cold meat as much as I love cheese. That’s why I have my own version of this eating experience that includes potato chips, cashews, apples, grapes and my favorite red wine infused cheese. Some may say potato chips and expensive cheese is two worlds clashing. But for me and my life even knowing the word charcuterie is two worlds clashing!

Andre Collins, PAF Executive Director

The joy of putting different combinations of chips and fruits… and nuts together with every bite is exhilarating. The various groupings for the perfect mix of sweet and savory are endless.

But isn’t “Active Engaged Eating” a little bit like life. Through experiences we must learn what we like and what we don’t like. We must try new things and hear new words… and hear different points of view to become our best. When I put together the right combinations from my plate to create a taste that explodes, isn’t that like strategically assembling the right sequences of decisions that creates success and joy!

In the mindset of ‘trying to do your best’ just reaching for the chips and cheese is even fun… do I choose a grape to go with this bite or the cashew? Do I wipe my hands on my jeans or keep it neat with a napkin?

Wiping your hands on your jeans symbolizes risk. But in real life we don’t always think we need a napkin. Like reaching for food … life should be fun picking the right people to engage. Seek to learn more in understanding fair business, honest work, a beneficial relationship or a path to good health. What are the risks, the rewards, the pitfalls? An active engaged life is necessary to own success.

…So, take action! Cheese and chips together are delicious. A napkin is better than your jeans and creating the right mix helps you understand real opportunity.

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Andre Collins
Executive Director
Professional Athletes Foundation
NFL Player 1990-1999

This month’s letter from Andre is a revisit to one of our favorite from the archives. We hope you enjoy reflecting back on it as much as we do.

A few good friends can go a long way

My Dear Old Friends,

I’m feeling a little guilty lately, beating myself up a bit as I question what kind of friend I’ve been over the years. I can’t help but think how good some people have been to me and wonder where they are now as I’ve lost contact. My wife’s friends seem to be my only friends, and I hang out with my kid’s friend’s parents on the weekend…mmmm…no shade. My coworkers do fill in nicely when I need to talk, and joke. But what about all the relationships that helped to shape me.  Where are those people? It’s too many to name that were there through my ridiculousness and, at the time, deep arguments, and debates. Where are those influences that made me who I am?

Andre Collins, PAF Executive Director

Friendships are good for your health and overall well-being. Friends are easy to come by, but it’s hard to build the kind of bond that lasts a lifetime. I remember lots of laughs with my old friends.  There were so many good times, and during tough times no words needed to be said because we all felt the same. My friends were good to me and celebrated me genuinely.

Friends give good advice even when you don’t want to hear it. And you almost never follow the good advice from those that know you best. Leaving the door open for a true friend to say “I told you so,” …I’ve had too many of those moments.

Friends don’t let you be lonely. My friends always knew when to call, those faithful compadres. They let the ‘real me’ belong; a little goofy, talked too much at the wrong time and curious about the oddest stuff. My friends and I rallied around our situation and circumstances. We were happy and gave each other confidence. We built each other up…we’d say, “Keep trying, you’re with us!”

Friends return home for one another when someone from the tribe is sick or worse has to say goodbye forever.

As an adult I’ve met people I’m fond of and warm to. I call them friends but it’s hard to develop those same fearless type of friendships I developed when I was younger and felt like I had nothing to lose.

When you get older, developing friendships take a back seat to duties as a husband and father. Supporting your wife and finding the right words to nurture your kids is ever-present. And those dear old friendships grow apart as life gets in the way. That distance removes us from the past.

Maintaining a good friendship takes a big effort, good listening skills and being open. Make yourself available and it will be worth the joy and comfort a good friendship can provide. A few good friends can go a long way.

My challenge over the next few months to you is to reconnect with old friends. They know you and even though you may have changed over the years, the common ground that was built many years ago lies somewhere beneath the surface.

I read something recently that said just reach out to old friends. So, I will! And over the next few months I’ll share the stories of those reunions. It’s never too late to reconnect. There are lots of good years left to laugh…wish me luck.

As an exercise in wellness I challenge you to go back and reconnect. There may be a bond that still exists that will lift you up!

Action Creates an Opportunity for real joy and real friendships.

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Andre Collins
Executive Director
Professional Athletes Foundation
NFL Player 1990-1999

Be deliberate about recreation and self-care

Dear Former Players and Families,

Wow 2020 is really trying to go out with a literal bang! These are exciting times as well as stressful times. Which leads me to say this, I wholeheartedly and sincerely support any American’s right to vote how they see fit. This is what makes us American and makes our nation great. People worldwide do not enjoy civil liberty in the same way us Americans do. 

I don’t take those freedoms for granted, but I also don’t spend much time thinking about civil rights being taken away. I trust our democracy when it comes to basic entitlements. But today I’m exhausted and wiped out. So, this message is a call to take care. A call to take care of self. 

Be mindful of the pandemic, politics, social justice, an up and down economy, unemployment, work from home and school from home. Our emotional resources and internal strengths are being drained, strained, and stretched beyond our understanding. I want to offer this advice and I’ll be sure to apply it to my own life. Find your happy. Find your sweet spot and be deliberate about recreation and self-care.

Let’s revisit our PAF Peptalk series from April on ‘Stress Management’. Click on the links below to hear the conversation and download the stress management toolkit.

PAF PepTalk on Stress management


PAF Stress Management Toolkit

(Or cut and paste the following link into your search for Toolkit)  bit.ly/38intHk

And remember, action creates opportunity,

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Andre Collins
Executive Director
Professional Athletes Foundation
NFL Player 1990-1999

What Lesson is 2020 Trying to Teach?

Today I’m sitting on my front stoop, not in the back. I wanted to see who’s out here enjoying the late afternoon sun. It feels like September, the sun sitting low in the sky, casting long shadows… I love how this feels. Life shouldn’t be a constant critique of what I did the hour before. Sometimes I do get to breathe and just be.

But something’s tugging on me.

Life’s not acting perfect right now. The coronavirus has life on the ropes for a standing 8 count. COVID-19 is a raw deal. But what lesson is this virus trying to teach? 

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Andre Collins, Executive Director

We already know disease in general can be cruel and unforgiving. We already know life is fragile and not to take life’s fragility for granted. We know what it means to take care of each other …we don’t always do it.  But we know how to be responsible and loving.

COVID-19’s lesson may be hiding in plain sight, pleading with you to search and find. Asking you to realize the opportunity to grow as you stay at home.

I’ve had more than a few good teachers and mentors in my life. A treasure chest of words to live by. But a most valuable lesson is ‘living in the moment’, a foundation for stability and emotional well-being. Living in the moment has untapped potential; a power underutilized and not exercised.

To your detriment, human nature betrays you into looking too far ahead in life and at times too far behind. You can’t predict the future and the past can’t make you perform better today….

  • Don’t overthink your next move. Just move.
  • Avoid writing a doomed ending to your story without going on the journey.
  • Live moment to moment and be thrilled with what’s literally in sight.
  • Notice new things. Look up and look out! Don’t keep your head down.
  • Learn to understand what you’re feeling

Open your eyes. What do you see?  Be here right now. Be still.

Open your eyes. Life is exhilarating if you let it!

… sun casting long shadows… I love how this feels!

2020 is not cancelled.

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Andre Collins
Executive Director
Professional Athletes Foundation
NFL Player 1990-1999

Visit www.PAFwellnessretreat.com
Action Creates Opportunity.

Happy Labor Day

We’d like to take a moment to wish all of our fellow former players a happy Labor Day, and hopefully a long-weekend spent with your family and friends.  

Your past experiences as part of the NFLPA have created a bond with labor unions across the country, and even the world.  We thank you and all of the hard working men and women in America for your dedication, day-in and day-out.

From all of us at the Professional Athletes Foundation, we wish you and your family, good health, much happiness and all the best heading into the fall!

Get a new “set of downs”

Dear Fellow Former Players & Families,

How is the PAF different from other programs for former NFL players?

Many years ago, we recognized that former players needed help through difficult financial situations. So, the NFLPA took a brave step in creating the Professional Athletes Foundation (PAF) to help former NFL players, a group of men the world perceived as ‘having it all’. 

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Andre Collins, Executive Director

The PAF has come a long way since its inception in 1990. This year, in 2020, we are celebrating our 30th anniversary. In that first year, we delivered just one grant for $1,000. Today we help more than 500 former players every year. 

‘Good work’ doesn’t come without risk, but the reward for helping to rebuild players’ lives is evident in the generosity these players pour back into their communities. 

Our 30th year gives us an opportunity to reflect on our work. We know life is hard and realize there are lots of ‘fourth and one” situations. We will help you get a new “set of downs”. 

The PAF will never forget how important it is to care for those we serve. You have wives, families, children, and careers. You are men of influence. You are great! 

Action Creates Opportunity. The PAF is here as a resource. Stay connected. Let our experience of working through difficult situations guide you through this unprecedented time.  

Andre Collins

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Executive Director
Professional Athletes Foundation
NFL Player 1990-1999

How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy During the Coronavirus Pandemic

After several weeks, you might find that all that extra togetherness is overwhelming. How do you maintain harmony and not drive each other crazy? 

Chris Kraft, Ph.D., a psychologist and expert in relationships and sexuality, shares some tips and encouragement for couples waiting out the pandemic together.

Couples and Cabin Fever

Spending day after day in the same place can make even devoted couples a little stir-crazy. 

Kraft says, “Even committed couples can start to become lethargic and lose sense of time, asking themselves, What day is it? A sense of monotony can cause a numbness to feelings, which is part of coping with so much uncertainty in the world right now.” 

Though relationships can offer solace, it’s important for each person to take responsibility for individual health and well-being.

Maintain self-care and a routine

“Self-care is essential. With everyone’s schedule changed, it’s important to establish and maintain some kind of a routine,” Kraft says. He recommends sticking to regular sleep hours, waking up on time, making the bed and getting dressed each day. Eating nutritious foods is important, too.

Scheduling breaks, such as a midday yoga video or mediation session, can break up the day and help partners stay grounded.

Keep the workday limited

“For couples who are working at home, it helps to set boundaries between work hours and time spent together,” Kraft says. “The anxiety caused by the pandemic may tempt some people to lose themselves in work, particularly people who invest a lot of their personal identity in their professions. They might miss the routine, the meetings, the structure that go with that.”

Beware substance use and abuse

Increased stress can aggravate habits such as smoking or substance abuse, including drinking more alcohol. “Keep an eye on the cocktails,” he advises. “Too much alcohol can set the stage for unhealthy interactions.” 

He adds that people in recovery from substance use disorders may need to be especially vigilant, because being stuck at home without in-person support meetings can raise the risk of relapse.

Go outside together

Exercising outdoors together can be a powerful way to reduce stress and strengthen positive connections, Kraft says. 

“For couples that are used to spending time in the gym, it might require some changes to keep up with fitness and exercise when you can’t work out on machines or take live classes.” He recommends partners go for a run or a bike ride, dig in the garden, or even just take a walk together. 

“Couples who are more sedentary can start a healthy habit, such as a regular walks outdoors together during this time,” Kraft says.

Work together to keep kids occupied

Kids sequestered at home during the pandemic create another whole dimension of family togetherness, along with overwhelming stress, especially when one or both parents are trying to work from home. It can be all but impossible to do work, attend video meetings, help kids with home school lessons, and deal lovingly with their emotions and behaviors. 

Couples should plan kids’ days in advance when possible, and ensure that each partner is taking an equitable amount of time to keep children occupied and content.

Don’t count on amazing sex

Staying at home to help contain a dangerous, viral pandemic is not exactly a romantic vacation. Kraft says couples should modify their expectations around sexual intimacy. “People are distracted, and there’s a blur between work and home life,” he says.

“The stress is very real, particularly if one or both people are dealing with children at home, financial concerns, job loss, or illness affecting a friend or family member. These concerns, along with a generalized uncertainty about what’s going to happen next, can interfere with sexual desire.”

Broaden your support system

Your partner is just one person, no matter how amazing, and Kraft advises against leaning on any single individual for all your emotional needs just because you’re under the same roof. 

“It’s important for both people in the relationship to stay connected with family and friends who can be available for them, especially as time wears on with continuing physical distancing measures. 

“Talk with other people on the phone and use technology to keep your support network intact,” he says.

Plan something fun

Though couples’ pre-pandemic plans may be cancelled or postponed right now, Kraft suggests making new, different ones. “You can take a drive together, plan a special meal, or, if you have the resources, even make a small purchase that you can both enjoy. 

“Apps can help couples virtually get together with friends for dinners, game nights or movies. The important thing is to create things to look forward to, even if they’re small.”

High blood pressure before and after exercise linked to health issues in later life

Blood pressure and disease

Cardiovascular illnesses relate to issues with a person’s heart or blood vessels. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), these can include heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, arrhythmia, and heart valve problems.

A key issue driving cardiovascular diseases is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the United States.

High blood pressure occurs when a person’s blood vessels become stiff and narrow. This may be due to lifestyle factors, such as too little physical activity or consuming too much salt, or health issues, such as diabetes or obesity. Sometimes, hypertension may be a combination of lifestyle factors and disease.

The relationship between blood pressure and cardiovascular disease is well known, and the relationship between blood pressure and exercise has been explored before.

However, fewer studies have explored the relationship between blood pressure following exercise in middle age and cardiovascular disease in later life.

The authors of the present study set out to fill this gap in the literature.

Increased risk of illness and death

After adjusting for other risk factors of cardiovascular disease, the authors found that both systolic and diastolic measures of exercise blood pressure were risk factors for developing hypertension 12 years later. 

They also found that better levels of blood pressure recovery were protective against hypertension.

In contrast, the authors found that neither systolic nor diastolic blood pressure during exercise predicted cardiovascular disease at 12 years, after adjusting for other risk factors for cardiovascular disease and excluding participants not receiving treatment for hypertension. 

However, they found that good recovery of systolic blood pressure after exercise was protective, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease by 17%.

According to Dr. Vanessa Xanthakis, the corresponding author of the article and an investigator for the Framingham Heart Study: 

“The way our blood pressure changes during and after exercise provides important information on whether we will develop disease in the future; this may help investigators evaluate whether this information can be used to better identify people who are at higher risk of developing hypertension and CVD [cardiovascular diseases], or dying later in life.”

— Dr. Vanessa Xanthakis

As well as helping clinicians develop new prognostic tools for cardiovascular illnesses, Dr. Xanthakis says the study’s findings suggest that a person should keep track of their blood pressure numbers during and after exercise, reporting any changes to their doctor.

Top Tips for Virtual Networking

The introduction of the smartphone means people are walking around with a very powerful computer in tow. These devices are instrumental in creating the global society in which we live. As a result, social virtual networking has ballooned and along with it the number of people in our networks that we will never meet face-to-face. The question is how can we best build professional relationships in the face of virtual networking?

To start, it’s important to remember that networking is not a one-size fits all endeavor. This applies to virtual networking too. You need to network in ways that are productive for you. Networking is important despite your age or stage in your career. Opening up your network allows you to tap into opportunities that you wouldn’t know about otherwise. 

Top tips on how to best develop and utilize a virtual network:

Clean-up Your Digital Presence 

Before you start to increase your virtual networking activity, be sure your profiles are clean, error-free and present you and your accomplishments professionally. Remember the “Grandma rule”, if you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see it, then don’t post it.

Be Proactive 

Follow 5-10 professional contacts you don’t know well, yet. Take note of what platforms that use most often. Look for appropriate opportunities to share their tweets with your followers or answer a question they posted to Linkedin. Take it easy with this process, once every few weeks is great. A stronger network tie won’t happen overnight.

Provide Value 

Take the time out to locate valuable information and share it with a loose connection. Share a pertinent news article or video clip from the local news, something to resonate with their business or service…it could be something they would never see if not for you.

Build a Personal Brand and Draw People To You

Start by sharing an article and commenting on it. Don’t be afraid to utilize technology to write and post an article to LinkedIn. When you are seen as a leader, you will see an increase in the number of people that reach out to you.

Use virtual networking as an addition to, not a replacement for personal interaction 

Yes, it is difficult to have a cup of coffee with your contact in the UK, but you can schedule a call or a video conference to discuss industry news. 

Think about planning your travel to include time for a meeting with a colleague you’ve never met. Give them advance notice and see if you can get on their schedule for coffee. If you are headed to an industry conference, the organizers might supply an attendee list, cross check it with your contacts and make arrangements ahead of time.

6 Ways to Stay Safe as Lockdown Eases

Risk is inevitable in everything that we do. It is an inherent part of our lives, intertwined with every decision we make and action we take. Ordinary acts such as walking across the road or driving a vehicle involve risk. Yet, our usual safeguards make adverse consequences rare that we seldom think about the risks involved in everyday activities. We have become accustomed to managing everyday risk, often instinctively.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are having to contend with everyday risks we cannot easily evaluate. A previously straightforward decision of whether to leave the house or use public transport is now fraught with unknown peril. More than ever before, we are having to calculate simple everyday decisions to try and determine what is safe and what should be avoided. The threat of the virus looms over every choice we make.

Studies on the psychology of risk have shown that we intuitively respond with higher levels of anxiety in the face of unknown risks than familiar risks. This heighted anxiety is likely explained by the fact that we have an innate need to live in a predictable, orderly world that is in our control. Not adequately understanding a new risk – such as COVID-19 – makes it difficult for us to take precautionary measures to reduce risk thereby resulting in a perceived lack of control over our lives.  

There is a lot about COVID-19 that we still don’t understand. Researchers continue to seek answers to questions such as: ‘Is a person immune after being infected?’ ‘Do facemasks prevent the spread of infection?’ ‘Why do some young and healthy people die from COVID-19 while the majority have only mild symptoms or none at all?’

In the face of all this uncertainty, we are having to weigh some risks on our own. When countries had strict stay-at-home rules in place, daily decisions about the risk of contracting the virus were simple. Now, as governments relax restrictions and countries reopen parts of their economies, decisions are more complex. The government may allow schools to reopen but should we allow our children to go? Is it safe to get a haircut or go to the gym?

There is always going to be some risk of contracting the virus as we go about our day-to-day lives. Personal protective measures including social distancing, avoiding touching our faces, and hand hygiene can reduce the risk of contracting the virus but don’t eliminate risk completely.

Here are a few important points to consider when managing risk outside the home.

1. Self-assessment: Start by conducting a self-assessment to determine if you are at higher risk for severe COVID-19. Based on currently available information and clinical expertise, older adults and people of any age who have pre-existing medical conditions are at higher risk. Other risk factors associated with COVID-19 death may include being male, uncontrolled diabetes, severe asthma, and being of Asian and Black ethic origin.

2. Risk level: Consider the level of risk associated with different activities – some activities are riskier than others. For example, gatherings of large groups of people in an indoor environment is considered high risk whereas exercising outdoors alone is relatively low risk. Key risk factors that make some activities more dangerous than others include distance to other people, type of activity, indoor/outdoor environment, and time spent in close proximity to others.

14% of Americans with retirement savings have already tapped into those funds

(Excerpt, click Read More below for full article)

Yet while lawmakers made it easier to take a withdrawal from your retirement savings, many experts say that it should not be the first step you take if you’re struggling financially. First make sure that you have explored and exhausted the other options available to you, says Kevin Mahoney, a CFP and founder of Washington D.C.-based advisory firm Illumint.

Depending on whether you’re employed or not, refinancing existing debt may help. Or you might be able to tap home equity. And don’t overlook family and friends who may be able to help with temporary assistance. “No matter the specific circumstances, a retirement withdrawal should stay down as far as possible on the list of potential options,” Mahoney says. 

“Withdrawing money from a retirement account is a reasonable move in a worst-case financial scenario,” Mahoney says. But make sure you’re only taking the money if you really need it.

If you tap into your 401(k) or other retirement accounts, make sure you’re using the money to pay off outstanding debts or cover an income gap during this difficult time, says Michael Kelley, an Ohio-based CFP and founder of Kelley Financial Planning. Don’t take it out to have an extra financial cushion or to make a big purchase, like a car.

And if you did take money from your retirement savings, give yourself a break, DuQuesnay says. “No one predicted that a global pandemic would cause 30 million Americans to lose their jobs in just six weeks,” she says. “Do what you need to do to get through the current crisis, then evaluate a path forward.”

The Next Generation of You: Gary Hogeboom

by Jim Gehman

Partnering with his daughter, Kasi, and son, Jake, another daughter, Jami, handles P.R. and marketing, the Hogeboom’s own and operate Boomers Bootcamp. A fitness facility, it has locations in Fenton and Traverse City, Michigan.

“We’ve been going now for three years,” Hogeboom said. “We run 30-minute bootcamp classes with high intensity training. It’s for busy people that have kids and jobs and don’t have a whole lot of time to work out. And it’s a phenomenal workout.

“We’re really enjoying it. I love watching people make good choices about their bodies, get healthy and finding out that they have more energy and feel better about themselves. They work harder.”

Boomers Bootcamp’s programs are led by certified trainers and are done in group settings. They feel that makes it more enjoyable and more affordable than private one-on-one sessions.

“People want to be there, and so the atmosphere is phenomenal,” Hogeboom said. “We have anywhere between 20 and 50 people per class. The first class starts at 5 a.m., and then we go in 45-minute intervals until 10 a.m. And then our trainers are coaching and we go until 7:00 that night. That’s Monday through Friday. Saturdays, we just have three morning classes.”

Hogeboom, who played from 1980-90 for the Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts, then-Phoenix Cardinals and Washington Redskins, has been a volunteer football and girl’s basketball coach at Grand Haven High School, as well as residential real estate salesman. And now, besides the Bootcamp, he’s also involved with real estate development.

“I develop properties, put in roads, and then sell lots to builders,” Hogeboom said. “And I like to do rehabs on houses. Just stuff on the side to keep me busy.”

Something else that kept Hogeboom busy since his playing days occurred in 2005 when he became the first former NFL player to be a contestant on the CBS reality television series, Survivor. Lasting 30 days in Guatemala before be voted out by his tribe, Hogeboom made history on the show by being the first one to find and use a hidden immunity idol.

What’s something he’ll never forget about the Survivor experience?

“How you feel when you’re starving and have limited water. I would say that would be the biggest thing,” Hogeboom said. “You can’t train for starvation. I lost 30 pounds in 30 days. Every time you stand up, you’re dizzy. We didn’t have a lot of food. We were in Guatemala and we couldn’t kill animals because we were on national property. So, I ate acorns every day.

“I had a great experience. It’s amazing how close you get to people when you’re in a jungle after just four or five days. It’s a unique experience that you could never put yourself through. That’s why it was so neat.”

Up to 80% of COVID-19 Infections Are Asymptomatic

n one cruise-ship coronavirus outbreak, more than 80% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 did not show any symptoms of the disease, according to a new paper published in the journal Thorax.

The research shows just how prevalent asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 may be—a reality that both suggests official case counts are drastic underestimates, and emphasizes the importance of practicing social distancing even if you feel healthy.

Researchers have known for months that asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 is possible and common, but without population-wide testing, it’s been difficult to estimate how many people get infected without showing symptoms. The new paper provides an example of how widespread asymptomatic transmission can be, at least in a contained environment.

The (unnamed) cruise ship in the new paper left Argentina in mid-March, with plans to travel around the Antarctic Peninsula and over to South Georgia Island in the south Atlantic ocean. All passengers were checked for coronavirus symptoms before departure, and people who had traveled through COVID-19 hotspots were not allowed on board.

Even still, a passenger developed a fever eight days into the trip, triggering a ship-wide lockdown. Crew members and additional passengers began to develop coronavirus symptoms over the next few days.

The ship was not allowed to re-dock in Argentina after the country closed its borders, so it continued on to Uruguay, where eight people were evacuated to a hospital. Uruguayan officials eventually arranged for everyone remaining on board to get tested before the boat docked.

Out of 217 people on board, 128 tested positive for COVID-19—but only 24 of those people showed symptoms prior to testing. The remaining 104 people—81% of those who tested positive—had not experienced any symptoms, the researchers report.

How Crisis Can Produce Meaningful Change

Tens of millions of American workers have lost jobs, experienced temporary furloughs, or have seen a significant reduction in business. The current situation has understandably led to feelings of fear and anxiety for many people. However, in times of crisis, there’s often more to the story. 

Major life disruptions are often a catalyst for a meaningful change, particularly in careers and business opportunities. Many in the workforce will develop new skills, connections, and opportunities that were unimaginable before the current crisis. 

At MMI, we know this firsthand because some of our valuable teammates came to us during incredibly challenging times. We interviewed several of our colleagues to help illustrate this reality.  

CAREER TRANSITION IN CHALLENGING TIMES

“I came to MMI in 2009 during the Great Recession. I was working as an insurance agent and paid on commission. Due to the economic downturn, I was not able to make sales because clients did not have the money and were even tapping their retirement funds to help pay bills. Since my income was low, I needed to find a position with a steady income that I could count on. A temp agency helped secure my interview with MMI, and the rest is history!” —Michael Franciscus, MMI Sr. Counselor 

“My first career transition occurred because of an injury where I became unable to walk for a time. I became a successful Realtor in a niche market, helping people with low income, bad credit, and mental or felony restrictions find rental housing. Ultimately, the goal was to help people restore their credit and become homeowners. However, when the housing market ballooned, this business was no longer sustainable, and I was left seeking stability. A family friend told me about MMI, where I’ve worked for more than 12 years.” —Damon Page, MMI Housing Counselor 

“In the early ‘90s, my husband was a partner at a music and entertainment retail chain. We both derived our incomes from this endeavor, but when Napster decimated the music landscape in the early 2000s, the economics quickly changed beneath our feet. By 2010, we were both unemployed.

“While my husband leveraged his network to start a new endeavor, I went to work for Consumer Credit Counseling Services, later MMI. Within a few months, I went from contractor to full-time team member. I felt fortunate, as the job change occurred in my early 50s at the height of the Great Recession. 

“Although I never dreamed that I would work in this capacity, I quickly realized how much I enjoyed the regulatory and legal aspects of my job. I’ve since attained a paralegal certificate, which has further increased my capability and excitement about the work I do each day. The moral of this story is to stay positive, don’t look back—only forward—and if you’re middle-aged, you’re still a valuable asset to many employers with your broad knowledge and life experience.” —Jill S. Smith, MMI Sr. Compliance Specialist 

These are just a few incredible stories of professional transition that can originate from periods of disruption. We found it to be a theme among our teammates at MMI, with more than a dozen employees expressing similar stories—some dating back to the 1980s!

HOW TO MAKE THE JUMP 

While change is hard, it’s also hopeful, and there are some things you can do to help ensure that you emerge from disruption with a triumphant story of your own. 

#1 Anticipate an earnings decrease. A career transition can mean lower earnings, especially in the short term. Don’t be surprised or discouraged. Instead, plan ahead by reviewing (or creating) your budget, minimizing expenses, and identifying opportunities to improve your financial picture. 

#2 Commit to constant improvement. New careers often require new skills, and your perspective on growth and development is critical. Training keeps your skills sharp and relevant, increasing the opportunities available to you. With that in mind, commit to taking steps to grow and advance during the downtime. 

#3 Use your resources. Unemployment, underemployment, and other transitional disruptions often come with access to services and resources that were previously unavailable. Identify available support and ensure that you are receiving the appropriate benefits. If you need help finding them, visit benefits.gov and call 2-1-1 for information and referrals to meet your needs. 

#4 Don’t walk alone. Disruption can be a gateway to new opportunities, but that doesn’t mean that the journey won’t be perilous. Whether you need help evaluating your budget, identifying available resources, or just a trained support system, reach out to get the help you need. 

How Does Racism Affect Health?

Race is at the forefront of our national consciousness this week as many mourn the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, and protests and riots have erupted across the country.

While violence against racial minorities is a serious problem, the evidence shows that systemic racism in American society has broader effects as well.

When the mind senses a potentially harmful situation, it prepares the body by increasing heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. This response helped earlier humans outrun or fight predators and enemies. Today’s stressful situations, such as a challenging interaction at work or a misbehaving child, can result in the same physical reactions even though we are less likely to experience physical danger. The problem is, when this stress response is repeated frequently over time, evidence shows it can contribute to health problems, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, heart disease, skin rashes and gastrointestinal problems—just to name a few.

Now a growing body of evidence demonstrates that racial discrimination can trigger this stress response. Racial minorities may experience more health problems as a result. One review of 121 studies published in 2013 found that youth between the ages of 12 and 18 who reported experiencing discrimination were significantly more likely to experience mental health problems such as depression and anxiety compared to those who did not. Another review of 66 studies found that Black adults who perceived they were subjected to racism were more likely to experience mental health problems and more likely to report a lower quality of life. A third review breaks down types of racism in our society and explains the health implications of each.

A lead researcher in the field is Anthony Ong, a professor of human development in Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology. Ong explains that experiencing discrimination or mistreatment regularly can affect health through eroding a person’s self-worth and by foreclosing opportunities for purposeful living.

“Although increasing evidence suggests that chronic exposure to unfair treatment or day-to-day discrimination increases the risk for poor health, the overall dearth of data on biological mechanisms indicates it’s important to continue studying this topic,” Ong said.

He published a study in 2016 of more than 200 Black adults followed over the period of a decade. Participants completed surveys about everyday mistreatment such as being called names, insulted, threatened, or harassed. They also answered questions about acute occurrences of unfair treatment, such as being discouraged from continuing their education, not receiving a loan, or being hassled by the police.

Participants also underwent blood tests to identify 22 biomarkers of diseases including heart disease, diabetes, nerve problems and inflammation.

Ultimately, participants who reported experiencing more discrimination were in poorer health. Ong argues that’s because experiencing discrimination on a regular basis, even small instances of daily mistreatment, can lead to “wear-and-tear” on the body over time.

“Our findings suggest that coping with chronic experiences of day-to-day mistreatment and discrimination can elicit a cascade of responses that over time ‘weather’ or damage the physiological systems that regulate the body’s stress response,” he said.

5 Renovations That Don’t Increase Your Resale Value

The first major home renovation my husband and I ever undertook was insulating the walls of a 1921 Craftsman bungalow we shared in Columbus, Ohio. This project made the house a great deal more comfortable in the winter and the summer, since the existing insulation was the least expensive option available in the 1920s — making it completely inadequate for maintaining heat in the winter or coolness in the summer.

Unfortunately, despite the undeniable improvement to our comfort, we found that our new insulation did nothing for our resale value. Even though we had put nearly $5,000 worth of work and materials into this renovation, we didn’t see that money and effort reflected in our sale price when we had to move several years later.

Not all renovations are going to increase your resale value. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should forgo working on your home if you won’t see the value when it’s time to sell. For instance, I would definitely insulate that house again, even knowing that the money is only going to improve my comfort. 

But there are some home renovation projects that you just can’t expect to recoup your investment on. Knowing that, you should consider how long you intend to live in your house and whether you’re renovating just to increase your home’s value before jumping into any of these home improvement projects.

1. Invisible improvements

Insulating our bungalow was the kind of invisible improvement that had to be done, but didn’t appear to change the house. Unlike “sexier” improvements like updating a kitchen or bath, or even putting on a new roof, invisible improvements don’t change the look of the house. These are things like re-grading the yard to keep water from getting into the basement, updating the HVAC system, tuck-pointing bricks and chimneys, and replacing gutters.

While these improvements often have to be done to protect your house, the downside is that you may not recoup the cost of these improvements when it comes time to sell. It can be helpful to think of these renovation expenses as a way of protecting your home’s current value, rather than as a way to increase your future resale value.

2. Swimming pool

While homeowners in Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, and Southern California may find that having a swimming pool is a big selling point for their homes, this isn’t going to be the case nationwide. According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost to install a pool is over $27,000. That doesn’t include the annual maintenance costs, ranging between $500 and $4,000. It’s these maintenance costs, plus the work that homeowners will have to either do themselves or contract out in order to keep their pool sparkling clean that will turn off many potential buyers. Add in the additional insurance requirements that homeowners with pools will need to purchase, and it should be clear why many prospective buyers would rather not invest in a home that comes with a pool.

This is why you should only commit to the cost of installing a pool if you truly want to use it yourself and expect to stay in your home for at least five years. Otherwise, it might make more sense to invest in a membership to your local pool. 

3. Bathroom and kitchen upgrades

Remodeling your bathroom and/or kitchen is an excellent way to increase your home’s value, right? Yes and no. While replacing dingy tiling and updating old appliances will definitely help your home shine for potential buyers, there’s such a thing as going overboard with your bathroom or kitchen upgrades.

Specifically, if you add granite countertops, custom-made cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and ceramic tiles to your kitchen and bathroom, but the rest of the home is still an ordinary suburban home, potential buyers will see the house as a work-in-progress, rather than a home that feels move-in ready. Over-improving the bath and kitchen could make buyers think that it’s not worth the effort to try to get the rest of the house to match.

4. Built-in high-end electronics

We may all dream of living in a George Jetson house — where every possible electronic need you have is already built in — but committing to this kind of renovation may hurt your resale value. 

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, while your personal movie theater (with remote-controlled state-of-the-art projector) may be exactly what you want from your home, a potential buyer may just see a room that will need to be torn out and remodeled as soon as they move in. Plus, technology advances at a breakneck speed, so your cutting-edge electronics will soon look as dated as shag carpeting and harvest gold refrigerators.

If you need or want built-in high-end electronics in your home, make sure you’re installing them for your own pleasure and comfort, because it’s unlikely a buyer will appreciate them too.

The Next Generation of You: Dale Hellestrae

by Jim Gehman

“Just about everybody had a radio show when we were good,” Hellestrae said. “I did a show with another offensive lineman, Mark Tuinei, called The Snapper and Pineapple Show. Me being a long snapper and Mark being from Hawaii. Just had a blast doing it. It was a good time to be a Dallas Cowboy. We both had fun with it and didn’t take it too seriously.”

One other benefit that came from “when we were good,” was that the television network’s A-Team became regulars because Cowboys games that were being shown to most of the country.

“Pat Summerall and John Madden were doing 10, 11, 12 games a year, and you get to develop a relationship with them,” Hellestrae said. “Usually the announcer maybe said the holder and the kicker, but Summerall started saying my name for just snapping. So rather than having a bad snap and being mentioned, it was just for actually what you did pretty well.”

Hellestrae was able to use that relationship with Summerall to get advice from the legendary play-by-play announcer. And after retiring in 2002 after 17 seasons with Buffalo, Dallas, the then-Los Angeles Raiders and Baltimore, he worked as an NFL Europe game analyst for Fox. He also began doing radio and television work in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona.  

And 18 years later, he’s still in the business. Last September, Hellestrae became the morning drive co-host on Phoenix’s KQFN 1580 The Fanatic’s show – Bruce Jacobs and Helly.

“In Phoenix back in 2000, 2001, sports talk was not real big out here. But I got my foot in the door and it was just something that kind of took off from there,” Hellestrae said. “My favorite sport growing up was basketball. I imagined myself getting a chance to play in the NBA.

“I made an all-state team and we played in this national tournament against teams like the L.A. Watts Magicians and New York Riverside Church, and I realized I was I was pretty good for Phoenix. Which meant I was below average.

“And so, I enjoy football, basketball and baseball. I enjoy all the sports. I have some opinions. I can be lighthearted and have fun. It’s just an avenue to express all that.”

Does Hellestrae find it more special to express all that in his hometown?

“I don’t know if it’s more special. The Phoenix Suns were the only team in town for a lot of years and I became a big fan of theirs,” he said. “And you probably get more emotional about it because the Suns have sucked for the last 10 years.

“When you become a fan of somebody, it just doesn’t make it nearly as fun when they continuously lose. But now we’re a major sports town, we’ve got four major league sports. It’s always fun to talk about, which makes the job a little bit easier.”

Also a radio game analyst for the Compass Media Network, Hellestrae calls SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 college football games across the country.

Paying it forward, much like how he sought advice from Summerall, what would Hellestrae recommend to other players who may want to follow in his footsteps and get into broadcasting?

“While you’re playing, make friends with the press. Make sure that you develop some relationships with the media,” he said. “You can see it from your position, and then hopefully when you get into the media, you can see it from the other side. So much of it’s about contacts. It’s one of those things to where you need one guy to like you, one program director to like you, to get a job. And so, I would just say continue to build on your contact list.”

How to use mindfulness to stand in solidarity with the Black Community

As many of us continue to wake up to the horror of racism, we can draw upon our meditation practice to help fight for a kinder and more just world.

Here are eleven ways that your meditation practice can help you combat racism. We hope it inspires you to see that you already have a lot of amazing tools to support you on this journey. 

1 | Sit with discomfort

Waking up to injustice can be uncomfortable, especially when we realize that some of our words, actions, and beliefs may actually be part of the problem. In the same way that we choose not to squirm during our meditation practice, how might we take a moment to notice our reaction when someone points out our privilege or lets us know that what we said was racist? Do we become defensive, shutdown, or dismissive? Those are a few examples of how we twist and turn our way out of the discomfort of feeling shame. 

Our fear of being racist prevents us from bravely exploring our own racism so that we can start the work of undoing it. If this concept feels hard to swallow, we recommend reading Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to be an Antiracist. He says to let go of ‘racist’ being a bad word and instead see it as a helpful way to identify a thought or behavior that needs to be unpacked. 

As we engage with this uncomfortable introspection, it’s important to foster self-compassion. Gently create space to meet whatever feelings are coming up, including heartache, anger, grief, shame, and confusion. It is only from this grounded place within that we can be truly open to the perspective of another. This is where learning and unlearning begins.     

2 | Meet your mistakes with equanimity

Making mistakes is human. It’s impossible not to make mistakes and the painful reality is that when we try really hard to be perfect and in control, we tend to make more mistakes. Making mistakes is an integral part of learning.

The next time you say or do something that causes harm, take a minute to remember you’re human and offer yourself compassion. Then, take action. Apologize, and if needed, learn more about why your language or behavior was hurtful (google it, there are so many great articles and resources out there). Commit to doing better now that you know better.  

3 | Honor similarity and difference

It’s not uncommon to feel a deep sense of connection with all beings during meditation. People often describe this as a feeling of oneness. While there is no denying our interconnectedness, it is important to remember that while at some level we may indeed all be one, our lived experiences are very different, informed and influenced by intersecting privileges and oppressions. To truly see another we must recognize both how we are similar and how we are different. 

The denial of difference is the crux of the issues when people say all lives matter in response to black lives matter. Rachel Cargle explains that “stating ‘black lives matter’ doesn’t insinuate that other lives don’t.” Of course, all lives matter and it’s also important to recognize that black lives face discrimination and dehumanization at disproportionate levels. 

4 | Expand your awareness 

How To Ask What Kids Are Feeling During Stressful Times

No school. No playdates. No camps. No pool outings. The world as kids know it has been thoroughly upended and they are justifiably anxious, whether they show it or not. It’s up to the adults in the room to get them to open up about those feelings so that they can be addressed. Doing so takes finesse, curiosity, and a very light touch. 

“Our job as parents isn’t to provide certainty in a time of uncertainty. Our job is to help kids tolerate the uncertainty,” explains Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. 

Kids aren’t stupid. Nor are they obtuse. They hear you discussing the increasingly dire COVID-19 news, they see headlines on your social media feed, and they understand that to a large extent, the stuff they once enjoyed doing is no longer in play. Playing epidemiologist isn’t going to work. Kids don’t need specific answers, they need broader certitude that they are loved and will be taken care of — certitude that makes the ambiguity of the moment manageable.

“We want to teach them how to tolerate not knowing. You should let them explain how they’re feeling and why, and you can help them validate those feeling by saying things like, ‘I have similar worries. Let’s brainstorm ideas on how we can make things better.’ Instead of just giving answers, you want to have a conversation and compare notes,” says Bubrick.

Getting kids, regardless of age, involved in problem-solving makes them feel empowered and like they’re part of the solution. But as Bubrick points out, if you ask vague questions, you’ll get vague answers, including the dreaded “I’m fine” (the quintessential conversational dead end). Bubrick’s advice is to lead with curiosity and ask open-ended yet specific questions:

  • What did you learn about today? 
  • What is something interesting or funny you heard about today? 
  • What was the most fun thing you did today?
  • What are you most looking forward to tomorrow?
  • What was the toughest part of your day today?
  • What was something you didn’t like about your day?
  • What got in the way today of you having a fun day?
  • What can we do together to make it better?
  • I read something interesting today and wanted to know if you had a reaction to it? 

As with most things in life, timing is everything.

“Bedtime is not the right time. Kids are starting to wind down for the day. Anxious kids have more worries at night. Don’t lead them down the path of more worry. And don’t talk to them about this when they first wake up. Find a time, a neutral time, when there hasn’t been a big argument. Look for a calm moment,” says Bubrick.

He suggests having laid-back discussions either during dinner, or while taking a family walk. And he relies on a simple yet clever approach that gets people to open up.

“With my kids, I suggest a game: Like a rose. It’s an icebreaker and it’s our thing. You start and model the game. There are three components to the rose. The petal: ‘Tell me something you liked about today.’ The thorn: ‘Tell me something you didn’t like.’ The bud: ‘Tell me something you’re looking forward to in the future.’ You have to model it to get a response.”

How to Prepare for the End of an Eviction Moratorium

At the local level, governments have provided these moratoriums as a way to keep people in their homes during this difficult time. However, an eviction moratorium doesn’t prevent your rent or mortgage from falling further and further behind and once a moratorium ends you’ll need to bring yourself current or face a potential eviction. 

Of course, if your financial outlook hasn’t improved (or hasn’t improved dramatically), staying in your home will be a challenge. Here’s how you can prepare yourself for the end of an eviction moratorium:

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

Eviction moratoriums vary depending on where you live. So you’ll want to do some research on COVID-19 eviction moratoriums in your city, state, and county. Here are a few things you’ll want to look into: 

  • How long an eviction moratorium is in place for. Some locales have extended moratoriums so be sure to understand the protections in your specific county or city.
  • Whether you’ll be on the hook for any nonpayment fees or penalties. You most likely won’t need to pay for fees or penalties for not making your rent during a moratorium. However, this could change once it’s been lifted, or after the grace period to pay outstanding rent ends. 
  • How to be offered protection under an eviction moratorium. You might only be eligible if you’ve suffered an economic setback, are on unemployment, or if your business has been hit hard financially. 
  • How much time you have to pay back in rent or mortgage payments you owe. This varies depending on the locale. In some places, it’s 3 months after an eviction moratorium is lifted. In other areas, it’s 6 months or 12 months. During this time, you cannot get kicked out for deferred rent. 

NEGOTIATE FOR LOWER RENT 

If you can afford to, pay something now. Not only does it show your landlord that you’re a responsible tenant, but it also means you’ll owe back less money down the line. 

Try to work out an agreement with your landlord. While it might seem intimidating, start by approaching your landlord as a teammate. And your situation is a problem to work out together, suggests Tilden Moschetti, a real estate attorney of the Moschetti Law Group. “Everything is negotiable,” says Moschetti. “Most landlords want to work out arrangements to get caught up.” So come up with a plan to get caught up on your payments — which we’ll get to in just a bit.

A pro tip: It’s often easier to negotiate when there are no intermediaries between the tenant and owner, explains Alexander Lerner, a realtor with Figure 8 Realty in Los Angeles. In other words, the landlord is an individual or is a family-run operation versus a property management company. 

Be upfront about your situation. “Tenants should be honest and forthcoming with as many details as they feel comfortable sharing,” says Lerner. “The more you can show that you have been impacted financially and need assistance, the greater the likelihood you will find the person on the other side being amenable to negotiation.”

Put yourself in your landlord’s shoes. As Lerner, who works with landlords and is one himself, points out, landlords don’t want to be in a situation where you’re defaulting on your lease or aren’t unable to pay at all. In turn, they’d probably rather know that you’re going to pay a reduced amount. 

If you aren’t able to cover any rent, it puts the landlord in a position of having to find a new tenant when the rental market might not be as strong as when you rented out the place. Or needing to pour resources into getting you evicted or collecting on any money owed. 

Let’s say your rent is $2,000 a month. And it takes the owner a month to find a new tenant. In that case, they’d be missing out on one month’s rent. But if your rent got bumped down to $1,800 for four months, they’d only be losing $800. So it’s worth their while to keep you around but bump down your rent. 

“Plus, there’s no guarantee — given a lot of the current economic uncertainty — that a landlord will be able to find someone to rent right away, which could mean that the unit will stay vacant longer,” says Lerner.

COME UP WITH A PAYMENT PLAN 

Your payment plan depends, of course, on your financial situation. If you’ve been laid off and are receiving unemployment benefits, you might be able to afford to pay half of your rent now. Once you are gainfully employed again, you can drum up a plan to make up whatever remains.

If you’re out of work and have zero income coming in, you might have to skip rent payments for now, and get on a more aggressive repayment plan, where you’re paying, say, your rent plus 20% for a year or what have you.

Whatever your case might be, it’s essential to plan ahead. Your plan should be feasible and in step with your current financial situation. 

Should things change, keep your landlord looped in and make sure they’re on board. Try to think of any payment plan as a win-win. If you need more time to pay off whatever rent is owed, communicate this to your landlord as soon as you can. This especially rings true if you were a tenant in good standing that stayed on top of your payments before the pandemic. If you’ve got a positive payment history before everything went sideways, your landlord might be flexible and give you a few options so you won’t need to uproot. 

WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET EVICTED

Evictions are a loss for both parties involved, points out Anderson Franco, Esq., a San Francisco-based tenant attorney. “Tenants don’t want to lose their homes, and landlords don’t want the expense of a vacancy or eviction,” he says. “As such, it behooves both tenants and landlords to negotiate mutually beneficial terms that could allow the tenant to remain in their home and avoid the landlord-eviction expenses.” 

If you look just at the numbers, reducing your rent might generate less money for the landlord. But let’s say you end up defaulting on your rent, and the landlord ends up needing to evict you. That’s extra money and time they need to dole out on evicting you. Plus, they’ll need to find a new renter, which takes time, and potentially lost rent money during the vacancy. 

In the worst-case scenario and you are in danger of getting evicted, know your rights. The process of eviction, including the timeframe and your responsibilities, will depend on the laws in your state of residence. No matter where you live, be sure to keep track of all communications from your landlord or lender. You can seek more information and help from a non-profit agency that can provide free legal guidance to tenants. Some might even offer free mediation. 

Finally, it may come to pass that there’s no path forward other than leaving the property. Once that decision has been made, you’ll want to refocus your financial and mental resources towards finding temporary or long-term shelter.

Why Don’t American Workers Want To Go Back To Their Offices?

Citing fear for their health due to COVID-19, and the newly-discovered flexibility working from home can bring, the study conducted by The Wellbeing Lab and George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Wellbeing of 1,000 workers representative of the US workforce right now, suggests that re-engaging workers in offices could be challenging.

With 85% of workers reporting that they feel worried or anxious about catching COVD-19, and 75.6% saying they feel unclear what actions they should be taking to manage this risk, workplaces need to be opening up conversations with their workers about what actions can be taken at an organizational, team, and individual level until a vaccine is available.  For example, Google and Facebook have responded by allowing their workers to continue working from home until the end of the year.

While this seems logical, if the option is available to workplaces, the data gathered also found that workers who had been back to their workplaces often over the past few months were significantly more likely to feel positive about returning to work (59.2%).  This suggests that where safe, opportunities can be created for workers to return periodically.  It is worth workplaces encouraging a mix of working from home and from their work premises. 

Of course, some workplaces have no option but to get workers back to their premises.  Given that the study found that 59.3% of workers, who trusted managers to make sensible decisions about issues that affected their future, felt positive about returning to work, it is essential that managers think about what they can do to improve workers’ confidence that they are committed to caring for their wellbeing.

Given 36.7% of workers reported that they are struggling with their mental health, in addition to providing PPE, checking people’s temperatures, and maintaining physical distance measures, workplaces also need to prioritize the following:

  • Gauging Workers’ Mental Temperature – Understand how workers are feeling about returning to the workplace.  Are they relieved at the idea of getting out of their house, or are they worried about caring for their health and finding new ways of safely working together?  Make it safe for workers to speak openly and honestly about their concerns and their hopes for creating new norms around working safely and productively together.  Think about and discuss “graded” returns to work, where possible.
  • Offering Free Wellbeing Testing – Encourage your workers to measure their wellbeing, so they understand what’s working, where they’re struggling, and what they want to prioritize when it comes to caring for their mental, social, and physical wellbeing.  Free tools like the PERMAH Wellbeing Survey (www.permahsurvey.com) provide confidential testing in just five minutes.
  • Recognizing The Symptoms Of Struggle – Educate your workers, so they know that feelings of stress and struggle are not signs that their wellbeing is breaking, but rather a reflection of internal and external challenges.  Some struggles are within a person’s control; others are not.  Make it safe to talk about the struggles that people are experiencing.  For struggles that can be controlled, help workers identify actions they can take to address concerns.  Consider whether adjustments can be made in the workplace to support people well.  And for struggles that cannot be controlled, encourage workers to practice self-compassion, and compassion towards each other, as they adjust to the ongoing uncertainty and changes required of them.
  • Encouraging Personal Wellbeing Practices – Give your workers access to short, simple, wellbeing training sessions, and small-group coaching check-ins that put simple, evidence-based, daily practices to care for their wellbeing at their fingertips. Help workers to support and celebrate each other’s efforts as they prioritize caring for their mental and physical wellbeing.
  • Recommending A Daily Dose of Leader Care – Teach leaders the skills to genuinely connect and coach their people through this challenging time.  Encourage leaders to deliver daily doses of care, compassion, and appreciation for their team members.  Help your leaders understand that it is more important to care for workers’ wellbeing than to manage performance during this time.
  • Planning Regular Staff Check-Ups – Invite your people to provide feedback and feed-forward in their teams and across your workplace, to continue co-creating a new working reality as circumstances continue to unfold.

Sedentary? Feel happier with sleep or light activity instead

There is plenty of evidence that a sedentary lifestyle is less conducive to good health than a physically active one. 

Meanwhile, SARS-CoV-2 and lockdowns have made it more difficult for many people to stay active or take up exercise. 

Some of the current situation has to do with many of us working at home. Some of it, however, is optional, such as the hours we willingly allocate to TV binge-watching. 

A new study suggests better and perhaps surprising ways to spend our spare time — that might benefit our health, as well.

The research appears now in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Moving from the couch to the bed, and to sleep, is more refreshing than spending hours sitting in front of a screen — and the same is true of doing light housework, the study suggests.

The findings arrive at a useful time for those struggling to feel good during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. 

Lead author Jacob Meyer of Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus, Ohio, says, “With everything happening right now, this is one thing we can control or manage, and it has the potential to help our mental health.”

Escaping the couch

According to the study’s authors, previous research has shown that adults in the United States typically spend 75% of their waking hours being sedentary, including 90% of their leisure time. 

Even active adults have seen their activity levels drop by 32% in lockdown, according to preliminary data the researchers released in May.

During quarantine, and after a day’s work, we may find ourselves in search of restorative activity within our four walls, and immersion in online entertainment may seem a reasonable form of escape.

The new OSU study proposes, however, that there are better options that people can easily work into their quarantine schedules. 

“It may be easier for people to change their behavior if they feel it’s doable and doesn’t require a major change,” according to Meyer.

The first of the study’s conclusions is that people might do themselves a favor to turn off the TV and simply go to bed for the night.

The researchers correlated getting more sleep with feeling less stressed, being in a better mood, and even having a lower body mass index (BMI).

They also associate a lasting reduction in BMI, as well as improved mood, with some light activity performed around the home.

While previous studies — and this one — document the value of moderate-to-high levels of activity, Meyer and his colleagues see real benefits even from less demanding activities, such as walking around as people talk on their phones, or standing as they prepare dinner.

“People may not even think about some of these activities as physical activity,” Meyer says. 

However, they do more for you than merely being sedentary, the researcher maintains. 

“Light activity is much lower intensity than going to the gym or walking to work,” he argues, “but taking these steps to break up long periods of sitting may have an impact.”

Happy Father’s Day Weekend

Because you are a special dad, the Professional Athletes Foundation wishes you the best on a Father’s Day hopefully filled with all the things that give you joy.

Here is to the little things that make fatherhood special. And a reminder to all, that fatherhood and relationships with our children are built moment by moment. Cherish the big as well as the small.

Happy Father’s Day from the PAF!

The absolute best free online classes for learning something new

Do you miss homework? SAME. 

Perhaps you’re someone who craves constant learning and upskilling, a regular Hermione Granger who’d happily use a Time-Turner to attend three classes at once. Perhaps you’re someone who feels she could benefit from understanding things a little better, even if it’s just learning how the hell HTML works. Or maybe you’re genuinely looking at a change in career. 

Whatever you’re after, what more productive way is there to use the precious time that pops up between work, family, friends, binge-watching Drag Race, and self-care, than the noble pursuit of knowledge? Luckily, nerds, there are a whole bunch of reputable online learning platforms dedicated to helping you learn a few new things. 

Here’s a big list of places you can learn stuff for free, with some available for certification if that’s what your looking for. But most of these are just for fun, tbh. And remember, you don’t actually have to do anything with your downtime right now, these free courses are just here if you need a little brain spark.

So prepare your brain because here’s a big list of the best free online learning resources:

If you want to do free courses on the big academic platforms

Here’s what’s up with some of those major education platforms and how to enjoy classes for free (TL;DR basically you can do most courses for the fun of it but you don’t get a certificate — a verified certificate shows that you have passed an official course, plus you can add it to your CV or LinkedIn profile, which handy if you’re looking to find a new job. There’s also a difference between accredited and unaccredited courses, which you can usually check in the About page of the website.

edX

Everyone knows edX, the big name on virtual campus. If you’re looking for seriously legit online courses from the top universities in the world, this is your answer. Founded by MIT and Harvard, edX is a nonprofit platform aiming to change up education and allow people to learn without the usual financial or geographical restraints. And there’s a hardcore Star Trekcourse on there to presumably help you live long and prosper. (More on that below.)

If you have the coin, there’s a whole host of different types of courses on the site, and while yes, you could pay up and do a MicroMasters program (upwards of $1,200), MicroBachelors program ($166 per credit) or verified certificate (varies), you can also just study for fun for free. You can actually access plenty of the courses for free if you’re just doing this for the good of your own brain. 

Courses to check out:

FutureLearn

If you’re looking to learn a thing or two from cultural heavyweights like the British Film Institute, step this way. Privately owned by UK public research body The Open University and job-seeking giants The Seek Group, FutureLearn has teamed up with top UK educational and cultural institutions for some niche courses that you can truly sink your teeth into. They’ve even built a section of “boredom busting” courses for people spending a lot of time at home these days — one of which is a virtual tour of Ancient Rome, while another teaches you how to build your own mobile game. 

There are short courses and online degrees, depending on what you’re after, and you can access course content for free for 14-day periods, pay for an upgrade for a certificate, or an unlimited membership (meaning you can get certificates and take as much time as you like to finish the courses), which is $250 for a year. But if you want to just spend two weeks playing student on one course, it’s free online learning!

Courses to check out:

Coursera

Founded in 2012 by Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, Coursera works not only with the top universities in the world — Stanford, Duke, Penn, University of Michigan, Imperial College London, Johns Hopkins — but also tech companies like Google and IBM to offer courses in computer science, data science, language, business and other areas. 

Coursera Plus is the platform’s paid annual subscription, which lets you access the majority of the courses and get those sweet certificates. It’s about $399 per year. That being said, most courses are available for free without the accreditation but with all the delicious knowledge. Hot tip: they’re offering free certificates for 85 of their courses.

Courses to check out:

General Assembly

If you’re looking to upskill with some of the preferred talents many employers are looking for in this digital age, General Assembly is a strong place to learn them. Started in 2011 as a humble co-working space, GA is now a global learning business attempting to close the “global skills gap.” GA runs a whole bunch of online courses in coding, design, data, marketing, business, and career development, so it’s all useful stuff in terms of stacking your CV, although notably, GA isn’t accredited by the US Department of Education.

GA’s full-time and part-time courses are pretty expensive (some up to a huge $15,960 for a full-on immersive course), but other shorter courses are free, like their handy coding course.

Free courses to check out:

Udemy

Launched in 2010 by founder Eren Bali, Udemy was set up as a means for teachers and instructors to create and run their own online courses. Now, it’s pretty massive, with 57,000 instructors around the globe, and 150,000 courses that you can open up on multiple devices — it’s even on Apple TV.

Most courses sit around the $15 mark on Udemy, but can go all the way up to $300. Luckily, there are free deals popping up all the time — Mashable’s shopping team publishes them often. Plus, Udemy seems to be aware of the importance of online courses in this new weird world. In April 2020, the team released the Udemy Free Resource Center, a collection of 150 free online courses to help people upskill. Plus, their courses are taught in over 65 languages. 

Free courses to check out:

Depression and anxiety spiked among black Americans after George Floyd’s death

Americans were already struggling with historic levels of mental health problems amid the coronavirus pandemic. Then came the video of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.

Within a week, anxiety and depression among African Americans shot to higher rates than experienced by any other racial or ethnic group, with 41 percent screening positive for at least one of those symptoms, data from the Census Bureau shows.Video of George Floyd’s killing began to spread on the last day of week 4.

The findings — from a survey launched by the federal government originally intended to study the effects of the novel coronavirus — indicate that the recent unrest, demonstrations and debate have exacted a disproportionate emotional and mental toll on black and Asian Americans, even as rates of anxiety and depression remain relatively flat among white Americans and decreased among Latin Americans.

The rate of black Americans showing clinically significant signs of anxiety or depressive disorders jumped from 36 percent to 41 percent in the week after the video of Floyd’s death became public. That represents roughly 1.4 million more people.

Among Asian Americans, those symptoms increased from 28 percent to 34 percent, a change that represents an increase of about 800,000 people.

The new data comes from an emergency weekly survey of U.S. households launched by the Census Bureau at the end of April to measure the pandemic’s effects on finances, housing, education and health. In the most recent data release, more than 1 million households were contacted through email and text, and more than 100,000 responded, creating a robust sample size for the findings. Analysis of the data was conducted by multiple federal agencies including the Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Tips for Wearing a Mask to the Gym

There’s a massive amount of information available from sources like the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization about whether wearing a mask is right for you, so we’re going to leave that advice to the pros. Today, we’re assuming that you have chosen to wear a mask to the gym. Many gyms are requiring that their members wear some sort of face covering, so here are some helpful tips to know before you mask up!

What Is The Best Kind Of Mask?

There has been an incredible amount of creativity when it comes to homemade masks. Some people are using bandanas, folded T-shirts, and even custom-sewn masks. The finer the fabric—that is, the smaller the gaps in the threading—the better the mask will be for capturing any moisture from your breath. You can also get this effect by folding fabric over itself multiple times. Masks made by folding fabric may also be useful for gym-goers because if you get too sweaty, you can quickly remove your mask, refold it, wash your hands, and get back to your workout feeling fresh.

For now, it seems that homemade masks are the best bet considering that true surgical masks are at a premium for those who need them most: frontline medical workers. Since doctors and nurses require these masks to provide care safely for people who are actively sick, do your part and leave the medical-grade masks for the professionals and home caretakers.

Reasons For Wearing A Mask

Based on our initial understanding of COVID-19, wearing a mask may potentially reduce the spread of any moisture exhaled from your mouth via breathing. If you are sneezing or coughing, it’s probably not the time to be going to the gym anyway. Since your breath is projected outward with less force thanks to the mask, there’s a decreased likelihood of spreading any pathogens outside of your small bubble. This is potentially a way to help protect those around you, should you be sick without knowing it. Everyone at the gym is going to be working hard and breathing heavy, so keeping all that breath from moving around may be helpful.

Reasons Against Wearing A Mask

We’re still learning more about COVID-19 every day. The unique nature of this virus means that plans will change, policies will evolve, and we’ll have to be flexible. One thing we have learned is that wearing a mask may not be an end-all solution. First, the moisture from your breath can move in particle sizes smaller than the weave of many fabrics. So you could still get sick and cause others to get sick while wearing a mask. Keeping a safe distance from others and being smart about social interaction are still important things to remember.

Second, human behavior is a funny thing. Experts studying people wearing masks found that they seemed to feel almost too safe. When wearing a mask, users would resume touching their face more often, neglect washing their hands as often, and more. Having a strong but false sense of security could be dangerous. It’s important that wearing a mask is only your first step in staying safe.

Finally—and this is for all you high-intensity exercisers out there—wearing a mask may decrease your ability to work out at your peak. Your muscles’ ability to function is directly tied to how much oxygen they can get to make energy. If you’re wearing a face covering, you’re decreasing the amount of air you can pull in with each breath and increasing the amount of work it takes to get each breath due to resistance. Without even knowing it, you may be simulating high-altitude training (but that’s a conversation for another day).

For now, life is going to be a bit different. Going to the gym with your face covered will feel odd, but don’t feel ashamed. We’re all in this together, and if by wearing a mask you have the chance to help others, we say it’s worth it. Just make sure to continue keeping your distance from others, clean your bench when you’re done lifting, and wash your hands regularly.

The 6 Absolute Worst Ways to Cash In Your Travel Points

Travel credit cards make it easy to earn all kinds of rewards ranging from airline miles to hotel points and flexible travel credit. While the value of the points you earn will vary depending on how you redeem them, it’s not unheard of to receive 2 cents per mile or point in value from airline miles or hotel points for certain, high-value redemptions. 

On the flipside, you can also redeem your rewards for some pretty awful items, and even ones that let you get half a cent in value or less. That doesn’t make these redemptions “wrong” per se, but it does mean you’re effectively leaving money on the table when compared to other options.

If you have a travel credit card, a hotel rewards card, or a flexible travel credit card that lets you redeem points for airfare, hotels, and more, here are the redemption options you should avoid.

1. Merchandise

Many rewards currencies let you cash in your points for merchandise. With some rewards portals, for example, you can redeem points for purchases made through Amazon.com or at Apple stores.

While this isn’t the worst option in the world, redeeming points for electronics, small household appliances, and other types of merchandise will typically get you one cent per point in value, and often a lot less. 

Delta SkyMiles offers some of the worst merchandise redemptions you can find. For example, they want 141,880 miles for a 10.5-inch iPad Air with Wi-Fi. This same model currently costs only $649 at Apple.com, so you’d be getting significantly less than half a cent per point.

While it may seem tempting to use points for merchandise (free is free, right?), if you can bank enough points for something of higher value, it’ll be worth the wait. 

2. Low value transfers to airlines

Most travel rewards enthusiasts know that transferring points to airlines can help you get more bang for your buck, but you have to remember this isn’t always the case. High value airline transfers can be a good deal, but not all programs are created equal.

For example, it’s common to transfer your points to the card issuer’s airline partners and receive at least 2 cents per point in value when you go to redeem. That’s because your points will typically transfer 1:1, with the exception of certain airlines.

But some programs offer paltry transfer ratios. For example, the IHG Rewards program lets you transfer points to airline programs like Air France/Flying Blue and Alaska Airlines, but you’ll only get 2,000 airline miles for every 10,000 hotel points you transfer. 

Takeaway: not all points transfers are equal. Sometimes it makes sense to lose points in the transfer just to be able to use the points, but when you’re sacrificing thousands of points just for the privilege of transferring, you’re better off finding a different travel partner to use the points for.

3. Trading airline miles for hotel stays

If you have a bunch of airline miles you can’t seem to use, it might be tempting to cash them in for hotel stays through the airline’s portal. This isn’t the end of the world, and redeeming miles for hotels is better than letting them expire. Still, you won’t get very much value in return if you choose this option. 

Take the American AAdvantage program, for example. You can use miles to book free hotel stays, but redemption values are not great. For random dates I chose this year, they wanted 188,500 miles for a free stay at the Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour in Miami at the same time a paid stay would set you back $1,185 per night. That means you would get a lot less than 1 cent per point in value, which is a significantly lower value than you’d receive if you cashed in your miles for flights. 

Don’t be in so much of a hurry to book your entire trip on points when saving them for your next trip will give you much more value.

4. Gift cards

Almost every rewards program lets you cash in your points or miles for gift cards, and this can be a decent value if you don’t have the option to redeem for travel. However, you may receive less than one cent per mile in value if you cash in airline miles from an airline loyalty program for gift cards, and even flexible programs might only give you 1 cent in value per point with this option.

Cashing in travel rewards for gift cards should really only be your last resort if you find you absolutely cannot travel or your miles are about to expire. 

5. Magazine subscriptions

Please don’t ever cash in your miles for magazine subscriptions, even though several programs including Delta SkyMiles advertise this option. With Delta’s “MagsforMiles” program, for example, you can get six to 228 issues of various magazines like People and The Wall Street Journal in exchange for your miles. 

How the COVID-19 Pandemic Could Be Messing With Your Sleep

COVID-19 and its associated quarantine have messed with pretty much every aspect of our lives. Work time, meal time, family time, play time; our moods, our stress level, our tolerance; our ability to spend so much as one more minutestaring at the same four walls of the same den or living room or home office in which we spend most of our days.

And if you’re like plenty of people, the quarantine has also completely bollixed up your sleep cycle, wrecking what might have been the most predictable and peaceful eight hours of your day. Unless, that is, you’re like plenty of other people—and the quarantine has led to some of the best and most consistently restful sleep you’ve ever had. If the pandemic itself has been an unalloyed bad, its impact on sleep has been much more ambiguous.

“There are both upsides and downsides,” says Dr. Cathy Goldstein, associate professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center. “We have more time in general so we’re devoting more of it to sleeping. When people run out of discretionary time, the first thing they do is condense their sleep. Now we can get that full eight hours—but we can also get too much.” At the same time, she points out, the pandemic might be causing other people to get too little sleep, or at times none at all.

Broadly, Goldstein explains, sleep is governed by two systems: the homeostatic and the circadian. The homeostatic system is more internal and is simply a function of how much sleep you’ve had and when you need more. The circadian system is pegged more to the external—the 24-hour clock and the daylight-nighttime cycle. “The two systems are independent but interlocking,” Goldstein says.

Left to ourselves, with no external clock but the rising and setting of the sun—humans in the state of nature in other words—we would all fall naturally into an approximate midnight to 8:00 AM sleep cycle, with 4:00 AM the peak and midpoint of rest. Those times are not fixed, of course, with the entire eight-hour cycle shifting earlier during the summer, when the sun might rise before 6:00 AM. Ten to midnight seems like a relatively late bedtime, but in that same state of nature there were also evening matters to tend to: getting children fed and put to sleep, tending the fires, watching out for predators. Indeed, Goldstein says, it’s normal for all of us to have a burst of evening alertness from 7:00 to 9:00 PM, which is more or less when our long-ago ancestors would have been performing these chores.

During quarantine, it appears that a lot of people are finding their way back to that primordial sleep state. In two papers currently in pre-publication for the journal Current Biology—one a study of 435 European respondents, and the other of 139 students at the University of Colorado, Boulder—researchers had only good news to report.

“They found the subjects were sleeping slightly longer and at more consistent times across the course of the week,” Goldstein says. “They found a reduction in ‘social jet lag,’ which is the deviation from the midnight to 8:00 AM natural cycle. The discrepancy is much reduced—with subjects sleeping more consistently across seven days.”

But things are also more complicated—and less rosy—than that. People with jobs that allow them to work from home may be less physically active than they normally would be, which can disrupt the homeostatic system; they may have less exposure to outdoor light and dark, which can disrupt the circadian system. They may be eating more or at irregular times, which can put the digestive and sleep cycles in opposition to each other.

Worry Is A Waste: Take Control In 5 Minutes or Less

When we fail to cope properly, naturally, we worry. Why do we worry so much? Well for starters, it gives us a false sense of something called control. You know, that highly addictive substance we all love to consume? Worry allows us to “brace” ourselves.

Just as we would physically brace upon impact, we do the same psychologically. We believe that if we worry, we’ll somehow be better “prepared” to handle the situation. In reality, nothing could be more fruitless or further from the truth. As J.K. Rowling once said, “Worrying means you suffer twice.” Ask yourself this simple question, what has worrying done for me lately? When has worry every benefitted me? More importantly, when has it ever changed the outcome that I’m fearing would/could happen? I’m willing to bet, it hasn’t…ever. And it never will. Once you’re ready to accept that inalienable truth, get out a pen and paper. Together we’ll complete Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) thought record to gain back control and emotional freedom.

1. Identify the trigger or situation

What’s the thought that caused the emotional and physical reaction? Here’s a hint. One of the most common culprits of worry thought are the notorious “What ifs?” What if school doesn’t start in September? What If I get sick? What if someone in my family gets sick? What if I lose my job? What if I have a panic attack? What if I fail?

2. Rate the intensity of your worry 

Now that you’ve successfully identified the thought that sent your central nervous system into a frenzy, rate the intensity of the emotion from 1-100. For example, “Anxiety, 85/100.”

3. Write down unhelpful thoughts and images associated with the worry 

Often times, I find those of us who struggle with anxiety and worry have exceptionally active imaginations. We immediately see in our mind’s eye the worst-case scenario playing out right before our eyes and our fight-or-flight system is instantly activated. Take a minute to write down what you imagine will happen. This could include your reaction, other people’s reactions, what they’ll say, what you’ll do, etc. 

4. Examine the evidence that supports the worry thought 

Yes, you read that correctly. I want you to find factual support that validates the worry thought. Bear with me, I know that seems counter-productive, but this will give you the opportunity to step back and take inventory of just how true and realistic this worry is.

5. Examine the evidence against the worry thought

Here’s where we start acting like detectives. Get out your mental magnifying glass and start inspecting. Just as a detective would look for facts and not opinions, we need to do the same. What facts show you that this worry thought is not true? Ask yourself, has this fear ever actualized before? How many times? You may just discover that it’s only happened once in the entirety of your life or not at all. It’s often helpful to provide yourself with examples of when you’ve been successful in accomplishing the thing you’re worried about in the past. It’s also beneficial to rate the likelihood of this happening from 0-100 to help dispute the negative automatic worry thought.

6. Insert more realistic, balanced thinking 

Instead of entertaining the worst-case scenario that’s taking place in your mind, let’s think about what we would tell a loved one or friend who is worrying about the same thing. This is where we use compassion to combat the catastrophe. How likely is it that something positive will occur instead? Have I had positive experiences with this situation, person, or event in the past? One question I personally love is, “In the spectrum of my life, how important is this situation?” Is the amount of energy I’m putting into worrying about this situation proportionate to the importance?” No? Then recalibrate accordingly.  

7. Re-rate intensity of anxiety and worry 

By this point, most will experience a significant reduction in anxiety and the evidence of that will be quantified. This alone can give us incentive to start challenging the negative automatic thoughts instead of mindlessly believing them. Remember if this exercise didn’t work for you, don’t judge yourself, it will only intensify the anxiety. Sometimes we’re so entrenched in worry, it’s hard to think of an alternative possibility. Grab a loved one or friend and go through the thought record together. It may help to get another’s perspective, especially if you respect their opinion.

The Best Virtual Summer Camps For 2020

While much of the country is reopening, coronavirus has put summer at a standstill. Vacations are canceled. Plans are sidelined. The majority of sleep-away camps are either closed or severely restricted; other camps are operating in a socially distanced capacity. Even if there is opportunity to send their kids to summer camp, many parents aren’t comfortable with doing so in the midst of Covid-19. There’s no way around it: This is tough for many families, especially for those with full-time working parents. But there are ways for kids to stay engaged, busy, and socially distanced this summer: virtual summer camps.

This summer, many traditional camps (and other kid-focused organizations) are moving online, bringing children together via video chat to connect with one another, learn new things, and get some of that playtime they’re missing. Virtual camps give kids a chance to talk to new and old friends, learn from experienced educators, and engage in new, structured activities, whether it’s a dance class, an interactive storytime, or a game of imagination. Some even recreate the “bunk” life that defines so many sleep away experiences. No, virtual camps can’t replace time spent outdoors or the good clean fun that comes from spending hours with friends in person. But, when thoughtfully chosen, the right virtual camp can add structure to those long summer days and provide kids with some much-needed socialization,

What to Look For in a Virtual Summer Camp

As they’re a substitute, the best virtual summer camps should provide, as much as possible, the comradery, connection, and socialization that traditional summer camps foster. Parents should opt for virtual camps that feature live, personal instruction, rather than one-way pre-recorded sessions (which have their place as classes, not camps).

“It is a chance for kids to make that social and emotional connection with one another during the time when they may not be able to engage in a playdate,” says Tony Deis, founder of Trackers Earth, a day camp based in Portland, Oregon which is offering a series of virtual camps this summer.

As such, parents should make sure that kids will be placed in a group with other campers that they can get to know over the duration of the session.  Small group sessions and low camper-to-counselor ratios are key to creating opportunities for kids to really interact with each other. Think a little smaller than the size of an elementary school class, around 20 or fewer kids.

Virtual camps are available for pretty much all ages, interests, and attention-levels. Sessions range from half-hour to full-day, so parents should obviously consider their child’s interests and how long they can stay focused, says Elisa Pupko, founder and CEO of Treasure Trunk Theater in Brooklyn. It’s also important to ask about general housekeeping items such as the platform on which the camp is hosted, what supplies are needed, and what level of paternal involvement is expected.

One thing that will likely concern a number of parents is the amount of screen time on which virtual summer camps rely. Deis urges parents to prioritize camps with activities that involve outdoor time, movement, or hands-on activities. At Trackers Earth, for instance, that might look like cooking or learning how to tie different knots. “The screen is where they share this, but they do the skill in the real world,” Deis says.

“Not all screen time is created equally,” adds Jesse Engle, director of Camp Good Work House, a virtual camp that focuses on storytelling and being a force for good.“Scrolling on Instagram often times leaves kids feeling worse than when they went into it, especially if they’re already feeling lonely or isolated. Through Zoom, you’re connecting live.”

Finally, when selecting a virtual summer camp, safety is crucial. Parents should take the same steps they’d take when choosing a physical camp. This means making sure that the teachers are background checked and trained directly by the organization.

10 Great Virtual Summer Camps For Kids

With many organizations shifting the way they do business in the midst of coronavirus, there’s no shortage of virtual summer camp programs to choose from. It’s important to research the best programs out there for you and your child’s needs. There are happy mediums. In any case, here are 10 virtual summer camps for kids that reflect the core values of traditional summer camp, have low counselor-to-kid ratios, have flexible schedules, and feature a wide variety of activities and classes to keep campers engaged and active all summer long.

Click Read More for a list of camps.

Let Yourself Be Unproductive. At Least for a Little While.

Recently, my father died of lymphoma he could no longer fight.

“There are few people in this world who leave an indelible mark,” a friend wrote to me, “such that when you reflect upon their essence you can actually see their smile, hear their voice, and feel their presence as though they are there with you in the moment. Your father is among those few.” Every single encounter with him always left you feeling better about yourself.

The world has changed; it’s a lesser place without him.

I find myself a little lost. I’m scattered. Unfocused. Struggling to be productive. To move forward on anything in a meaningful way.

I’m experiencing a very personal loss and sadness right now. But I’m hearing other people describe similar struggles as we all experience this pandemic, this economic collapse, this awakening to the depth of racial injustice. That’s personal too.

I really don’t like feeling all this. It makes me anxious.

My instinctive drive to push past it kicks in. To plan and to-do list and schedule my way to productivity and achievement and forward progress. That, I know how to do. It’s my comfort during uncertainty.

But I also have an opposing impulse, a quieter voice, one that feels deeper, more profound, and even scarier: Stay unproductive.

At least for a little while. Feel the sadness, the loss, the change. Sink into the discomfort of not moving forward, not getting things done. In a strange way, not progressing may be its own form of productivity. Something fruitful is happening, we’re just not controlling it.

In this moment, being unproductive seems important. I think it’s what I must feel — maybe what we must feel — to allow for growth. To allow ourselves to pause in the liminal space, to linger with a question that this moment begs us to ask:

How can I allow myself to be changed?

Not, how should I change. Or how must I change to keep up with a changing world. And certainly not, how can I not change and preserve the way things have always been.

Those questions come from a habit of relentless productivity and achievement. But they miss what can be magical and transformational about this moment — our real opportunity.

Can you allow this change in your world — deeply personal and vastly global — to wash over you, shift your worldview, change you? Not with your discipline or drive, not from a self-directed, strategic, goal-oriented place, but from a place of openness and vulnerability. Not from willfulness but from willingness.

And in that pause and openness and vulnerability, can you listen — without defense — to the voices you hear and the nudges you feel? Can you find the emotional courage to follow your inklings, step by step, toward what, even just maybe, feels right?

For me, I long to be willing, to be molded by the loss I feel from my father’s death and the grace with which he lived his life. I feel sadness that I will never see his smile again or feel his strong, tender hands on my back. And I also feel excited that when I miss him, I feel him even more, and I can begin — in small ways — to feel my own smile, my own hands, showing up in new ways, more generously, more tenderly, more strongly.

We all need emotional courage because being willing to be changed means we must accept and admit that we are not in control and we don’t know. Two things many of us spend our lives scrambling and acquiring and competing and succeeding and workaholic-ing to avoid admitting. It’s disorienting to let go. To realize — to admit — that our control is really only a sense of control.

Which is why to slow down rather than speed up, to pause and feel, to approach this moment, with an openness and willingness to be changed, is really, really hard.

So what can we do to support ourselves through this moment?

That’s actually the wrong question. I have read — and followed — lots of advice about things we can do to slow down and leave space for change: meditation, poetry, walks, journaling, dream-work, and more. But these things can also get in the way because they reflect more doing. It’s trying to solve the problem with the same thinking that created it.

Here’s an alternative that has been working for me: Not doing. Or at least, less-doing. There are a few ways I’ve been entering not-doing space that you may want to try. Consider relaxing pressure on:

Your time

Walk away from your calendar. Leave that space for, literally, nothing. Not a thing. It’s not your writing time or even focused work time. Don’t fill those moments with the busy work of email and to-do lists. Allow yourself time out of time. Allow yourself to dawdle. I went food shopping with one of my daughters and she asked to take a certain road home. “But it will take twice as long!” I protested. “Who cares?” She answered, “It’s a beautiful drive.” And, in every way, it was.

Your thinking

Let your mind wander. When you go for a run, don’t listen to a podcast or even music, just run. When you fold the laundry, just fold the laundry. I’m not suggesting “mindfulness,” focusing on each fold as you fold. The opposite, actually. Don’t be mindful — that’s just more control, more pressure, more demand. Instead, let your mind go wherever it goes and, maybe, notice where it goes.

Your relationships

If you need a break from seeing people, allow for that. I have lovely, caring friends who have offered runs and conversations and I tell them the truth: I love them but, right now, I want to go running by myself. They understand. And if you do want to be with people, try doing it with curiosity and vulnerability, without wasting effort performing. If you’re listening, don’t judge or solve or offer advice. Just trust that your presence is enough. And if you’re speaking, ask only for an ear. “I don’t want advice,” you can tell them, “I just want to share what’s going on for me.” You’ll be doing them a favor too because you’re releasing them from having to know anything or perform.

When you relax the demand on your time, your thinking, and your relationships, you’re slowing down, reducing the load, and leaving space for feelings to come up. Maybe tears, maybe laughter, maybe boredom or annoyance. Maybe you’ll feel the stress of not getting things done, or the fear of missing out as people around you produce and network and market. Maybe you’ll feel joy and that might be scary too.

Depression, anxiety spur pandemic alcohol consumption

Numerous studies have found that alcohol consumption has increased during the pandemic, and dramatically so for people with depression.

A new study takes a fresh look at drinking during the pandemic and finds, for the first time, that age affects the likelihood of a person consuming more alcohol as a response to the pandemic.

Lead author Ariadna Capasso, of NYU School of Global Public Health in New York City, says:

“This increase in drinking, particularly among people with anxiety and depression, is consistent with concerns that the pandemic may be triggering an epidemic of problematic alcohol use.”

The study features in the journal Preventive Medicine.

The study’s general findings

The researchers surveyed 5,850 adults from all 50 states through Facebook and its associated platforms during the months of March and April 2020. They asked the participants to describe themselves demographically and report how their alcohol use had changed since the start of the pandemic. 

The survey also included questions that allowed the researchers to identify and measure the participants’ symptoms of depression and anxiety. Each person also reported the degree to which they felt at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Of all the participants identifying themselves as drinkers, 29% reported that their alcohol consumption had increased during the pandemic.

Of the drinkers, 51.2% said that the pandemic had not affected the amount of alcohol that they consumed, while another 19.8% reported drinking less.

Of all the people surveyed, 47% and 30% reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, respectively.

Individuals reporting symptoms of depression were 64% more likely to be consuming greater amounts of alcohol, while anxiety was associated with a 41% higher likelihood of increased drinking.

The study also found that demographic factors affected alcohol consumption during the pandemic:

  • Women were more likely (33% as opposed to 24%) to have increased their drinking than men.
  • Highly educated people were more likely to have started drinking more (32%) than those without a bachelor’s degree (25%).
  • Fewer retirees (20%) reported drinking more than employed and currently unemployed participants, 31% of whom were consuming more alcohol.
  • People living in rural areas were less likely to have upped their alcohol intake (25%) compared with those living in suburban and urban areas (31%).

9 Fitness Trends to Look for in 2021

As former Congressman and Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel once said, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

Health and exercise professionals have applied this mindset and responded to mandated facility closures by finding new ways to deliver workout solutions via video streaming services as well as making use of outdoor spaces that allow for proper social distancing. The question becomes: Are these adaptations merely a stopgap solution for dealing with the pandemic or will they become a part of the fitness landscape for the foreseeable future? And importantly: How will these changes affect the ability of health and exercise professionals to earn a living in the coming year?

While it is not possible to predict the future with any certainty, this attempt to see how we’ll be doing fitness in the coming year is based on conversations with colleagues who work for equipment manufacturers, have positions in health club operations or own fitness studios, both in the United States and all over the world. To help you plan for your business in the coming year, each prediction is also accompanied by what it means for health and exercise professionals and how it might affect your ability to conduct your business in the coming year.

  1. Streaming services that deliver workouts to any screen connected to the internet have become extremely popular and will remain so for the foreseeable future. The variety of workouts combined with the chat features that allow participants to engage with the instructors and each other really does create the studio experience from the comfort of home. According to Jessica Pohl Sinnarajah, a cycling instructor in Buffalo, N.Y., “The social online presence created by the streaming platforms help create a feeling of community, even while you’re working out alone. There is a sense of accomplishment when posting about workout achieving that also helps to build accountability to others who work out on the platform.” In 2021, class size restrictions will lead many facilities to offer hybrid services of streaming workouts directly from their studios. Thanks to technology, many facilities will create their own streaming services that will allow some members to participate live in the studio while others will be sweating from home. Fitness facilities that have not already done so will need to identify virtual solutions to deliver group workouts, which can help ensure retention of existing members while providing new opportunities to engage with coaches from the facility.
  1. Group fitness classes are going green. Governments have attempted to limit the spread of the virus through shelter-in-place orders and by restricting business operations; in many locations, fitness facilities are allowed to operate but only by offering outdoor workouts. Health clubs and studios in warm-weather locations such as Southern California, Arizona and Florida have responded by moving equipment and classes outdoors. Partly in response to the business closures that restrict popular leisure activities such as going to the movies or watching professional sports, many people are rediscovering the benefits of accessible activities such as walking and are making use of outdoor recreation spaces such as parks and hiking trails. In addition, activities such as cycling, roller skating and inline skating are seeing a resurgence in popularity. “Outdoor classes that include the whole family have become a popular option in for our members, says Christy Giroux, a personal trainer in Gaithersburg, Md., and co-owner of Prime Fitness. “In addition, we have seen many of our neighbors at our local parks because you can be active while remaining socially distant.” People seeking new ways to be active outdoors creates new opportunities for health and exercise professionals to help clients get in shape so they can enjoy those activities to the fullest extent possible.
  1. In response to business closures and restrictions on large groups, many consumers have been buying up all available fitness equipment to stock up their garage gyms. It’s one thing to buy exercise equipment for the home, it’s another to learn how to use it correctly. The explosive popularity of garage gyms should create a number of new opportunities for health and exercise professionals who specialize in in-home workouts to deliver their services to a whole new clientele.
  1. As mentioned above, due to a variety of reasons, including evidence suggesting a link between obesity and COVID-19 complications, it appears as if many individuals have become more physically active and have started to exercise for the purpose of improving health. According to the results of a United Kingdom-based study, the pandemic may be initiating a new interest in physical activity and exercise among older adults who are at greater risk of complications from the virus. As this recent CERTIFIED article on exercise and the immune system points out, it’s well established that regular exercise combined with other healthy lifestyle habits can strengthen the immune system. As new fitness consumers enter the market, it will create new opportunities for health and exercise professionals to design exercise programs to reduce risk factors and improve overall health.
  1. On that note, in 2021 social media will continue to be the primary way that many individuals search for and consume fitness information. As more consumers enter the fitness market, many turn to popular social media platforms to look for guidance on how to start an exercise program. Health and exercise professionals that have a strong social media presence and know how to leverage platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or TikTok to engage potential clients will have a distinct advantage for attracting this new business. If you’re a health and exercise professional who wants to develop a business that can deliver online workouts, now is the time to master the power of social media.

12 Money Mistakes You’re Teaching Your Kids

“Children observe and soak up everything, including how you use and talk about money,” said money and budgeting expert Andrea Woroch. “In fact, family attitudes toward spending and saving and mom and dad’s financial habits directly shape how children will value their own money in the future. It’s critical that parents understand how their own habits will influence their children and that they need to model the behavior they want their children to adopt.”

While kids can absorb many beneficial financial lessons from their parents, they also tend to take in less helpful ones as well. HuffPost asked Woroch and other financial experts to break down the kinds of harmful money messages kids learn from their caregivers ― and to share the types of approaches parents should try instead. Read on for their insights.

1. Money is a taboo topic.

“There’s a taboo out there that talking about money is bad, especially if you’re in debt, and that it’s shameful,” said Woroch. “When you don’t talk about money in your own household because you don’t want your kids to worry or because you don’t think it’s important that they are involved, you’re teaching your kids not to talk about money, and you restrict the opportunity for learning valuable money lessons early on.”

Tim Sheehan, co-founder and CEO of the family-focused financial literacy app Greenlight, echoed this sentiment. He believes that not discussing money at all with children leaves them in the dark when it comes to understanding what money means, how to get it and the right ways to manage it.

“Parents can start by helping their kids learn the ropes of decision-making,” Sheehan said. “Start small by explaining why you choose to spend money on groceries instead of takeout.”

Because so much of money management today happens on cellphone apps, children don’t observe things like bill-paying the way they did in the past. So parents need to “perform” money a bit to make sure their kids see them engage with finances and feel empowered to develop opinions about it, rather than simply getting lectured on the topic.

“I ask my children questions about money, which establishes that money is a thing we talk about,” said financial therapist Amanda Clayman. “These talks also demonstrate that people have questions without easy answers when it comes to money, that this is something you don’t have to be ashamed of, and that I’m a trusted source you can come to for help making decisions.”

2. Money is always around, no matter what. 

The experts who spoke to HuffPost emphasized the importance of helping kids understand that people earn money from work and that it doesn’t simply “grow on trees.”

“It can start with something as simple as a chore,” Sheehan said. “This helps kids make the connection that, ‘If I do this work, then I’ll earn money.’ Then, kids can set a saving goal and work towards it. It teaches them about making real-world trade-off decisions instead of giving in to instant gratification.”

In addition to teaching kids about earning money, Sheehan believes that chores like hosing down the car or taking out the trash can help kids become generally more responsible and prepared for adulthood. As for families that don’t pay for household chores, they can look to neighborhood jobs or other ways to demonstrate that money is earned, not given.

3. Financial literacy is just a grown-up thing.

In addition to not talking about money, many parents don’t let their children gain experience managing money. But there are countless age-appropriate ways for kids to learn financial literacy and practice these skills.

“Start a small business,” suggested financial expert Kim Kiyosaki. “It’s key to learn the language of money. Kids can learn things such as income and expenses, profit and loss, cash flow, inventory, marketing, and the value of their time. This is hands-on, and it’s fun. And the learning is tremendous.”

She recommended businesses like mowing neighbors’ lawns, selling a product online, opening a lemonade stand, shining shoes, or even finding lost golf balls on local courses, cleaning them and selling them to golfers.

Kiyosaki shared other ways to teach kids about money, like buying a few shares of a company familiar to your children (like Disney) and letting them watch the price fluctuations and learn about the stock. Another approach is buying a 1-ounce silver coin. Or, you can leave it up to your kids.

“If your child wants a new toy or gadget, ask them, ‘How could you earn the money to buy it?’” she said. “Let them get creative.”

“You can’t teach your child the difference between needs and wants, or even the value of saving, if you are continually swiping a credit card for everything.”- KUMIKO LOVE, FINANCIAL COUNSELOR AND CREATOR OF THE BUDGET MOM

4. Money talk only evokes negative emotions. 

“Children are wired to be attuned to the emotions of their caregivers, so they start to notice associations,” Clayman explained. “They might notice if conversations about money seem to be tense or if their parents get upset and start talking about money when they ask for something. These form an emotional context that kids tend to grow with and bring into their financial lives as adults.”

5 Ways to Improve Diversity Training, According to a New Study

Is that money actually creating meaningful change? In recent years, some social scientists have argued that it isn’t. And studies show little conclusive evidence that diversity trainings shift attitudes and behaviors in a lasting way.

But in a new paper, Ivuoma Onyeador, an assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, argues that we shouldn’t give up so quickly. She and her coauthors—Evelyn R. Carter of Paradigm Strategy Inc. and Neil A. Lewis Jr. of Cornell University—reviewed the existing research on diversity trainings and used that data to make evidence-based recommendations on how to improve them.

“Diversity trainings aren’t going anywhere. I think that they will continue to be part of the toolkit that organizations use to manage their climate,” Onyeador says. She and her coauthors “wanted to offer some guidance about how those trainings can be as effective as possible, so that people who are implementing them have a realistic sense of what they can do.”

Here, Onyeador offers five recommendations for building a better diversity training program.

Be Realistic about What Training Can Change—and What It Can’t

Too often, organizations roll out diversity training with aims like “improve our culture and our company” or “shift our culture”—aspirations so lofty they can’t possibly be addressed through training alone.

Truly changing an organization’s culture to make it more diverse and inclusive takes years, not hours, and it requires tools beyond training sessions. “There needs to be a multipronged approach to improving diversity and inclusion,” Onyeador says.

Training, she and her coauthors found, is much more likely to be successful when it’s paired with other offerings, such as systems that hold workers and leaders accountable for reducing bias, a well-functioning bias-response process, and networking opportunities for employees from underrepresented groups.

And it’s important to understand that there are worthwhile goals that trainings can’t achieve.

For example, “if the goal is to increase diversity at the managerial level, there may need to be a different intervention,” Onyeador says. She points to a 2006 study of 700 organizations that found that trainings failed to increase the ranks of Black and Latino managers—and sometimes even caused managerial diversity to decline. A combination of mentorship programs and diversity oversight structures, by contrast, increased managerial diversity by 40 percent.

Set Better Goals, and Give Employees the Tools to Reach Them

So what is a realistic goal for a diversity training program?

Onyeador, Carter, and Lewis found that most effective diversity training programs help participants identify and reduce bias. “That’s what we argue is the proper outcome of a training,” Onyeador says.

It’s important that participants walk away with not just an awareness of bias, but also with specific tools to help them behave differently in the future. “Some people do want to change their behavior, but they don’t know how,” Onyeador says. It’s best, she and her coauthors propose, for facilitators to leave participants with two to three concrete strategies.

However, even the relatively modest aim of helping employees acknowledge and reduce bias may require larger investments of time and effort than many organizations are used to. Unlearning patterns learned over the course of a lifetime is a gradual process. For that reason, Onyeador suggests a series of workshops instead of a one-off training session.

Looking back on her own experiences as an undergraduate, “there was some diversity content at the beginning of the year, and then we never addressed any of it again,” Onyeador recalls. “A different approach might have been to have a series of all-campus conversations throughout the year. Obviously, it’s hard to coordinate, but it sends a signal that this is really important.”

Follow-up and reinforcement is essential. One study the authors reviewed found that accountability structures, such as affirmative-action plans, diversity taskforces, and departments devoted to diversity, produced significantly better outcomes than trainings alone. Another study suggested that, without reinforcement, bias can return to its pre-training levels in just 24 hours.

Get Comfortable with Discomfort

Often, companies are wary of diversity trainings because they’re afraid of making employees uncomfortable. It’s an understandable instinct: people from both racial majority and minority groups feel anxious when they talk about race and prefer to avoid the topic. Discussions of racism can also bring about defensive reactions among members of racial majority groups.

These kinds of anxieties have led many organizations to embrace trainings centered around the idea of implicit bias—the idea that unconscious attitudes and stereotypes shape our behavior. “One of the reasons people use the implicit-bias framing is that it makes participants, white participants in particular, less defensive,” Onyeador explains.

“It’s really important that the training not assume that everyone in the audience is a potential perpetrator of prejudice, but acknowledge that some people are targets.”

— Ivouma N. Onyeador

The approach has merits and downsides. “Some of my work shows that when we frame discrimination in terms of implicit bias, people are less willing to hold discriminators accountable for their behavior,” Onyeador says. “That’s an unexpected consequence and not a good one.”

Instead of trying to avoid defensiveness and frustration, it’s important for facilitators to plan for them. That means not ignoring negative reactions, but actually calling attention to them. “Facilitators can help participants investigate, in a compassionate manner, why they’re having that defensive response,” Onyeador says.

Facilitators can also face resistance from minority-group participants who may resent content geared only toward the majority group—so it’s essential to make sure the curriculum speaks to all participants. “It’s really important that the training not assume that everyone in the audience is a potential perpetrator of prejudice, but acknowledge that some people are targets,” Onyeador says.

Taking time to acknowledge what it’s like to be on the receiving end of prejudice—and calling attention to resources for reporting mistreatment—may actually benefit majority group members, she points out: hearing what it’s like to be a victim “can increase empathy, and help with perspective-taking.”

The 6 Cardinal Rules of Internet Safety All Parents Should Follow

One example: Resisting the siren call of your kid’s Halloween stash after you lecture them about the perils of sugar before bed. Another, more important one: Living with strong, clearly-defined internet safety habits.

Internet safety starts at home with parents not just because you’re leading by example, but because you are the gatekeeper of all your kid’s most sensitive information — from Social Security numbers to that treasure trove of family images. Improving your internet safety is essential for theirs, and your kids should know it. Walk them through how internet safety works. Turn your safety into a lesson and make it fun. How? Start diving deeper into these topics with Google’s Be Internet Awesome program by playing Interland together, then follow these rules. 

1. Strengthen and Manage Your Passwords

More than half the population uses the same password across multiple sites, an understandable shortcut to make life easier when the average person has 120 different online accounts. But while it might make life slightly easier, it’s just not worth the risk. This is why a password manager like the one built into your Google Account is a must. It can help securely sync passwords across devices so they’re there if (when) you forget them.

The Fun Lesson: What’s a password? Something that only you and people you trust know. That’s why it’s always good for kids and parents to have a password that they can give to anyone picking them up. They must learn that a password is something you don’t give to anyone else, something you change often, and a secret code that no one can guess. For example, when someone picks up your child, your child needs to ask, “What’s my favorite color?” The answer? “722.” Now there’s a solid security question.

2. Keep Your Software Up to Date

Lots of software updates are for cool new features or a redesigned user experience, but while they’re not quite as exciting, updates that contain security fixes are even more important. Make sure you are checking for updates regularly to all of your software because even the latest version of Candy Crush might fix a security hole or two. You should also enable automatic updating for software that has it, including Chrome, iOS, and Android.

The Fun Lesson: Put your kid in charge of software updates. It’s one of those menial tasks you will likely forget, but they will be more than happy to do daily.

3. Use Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication is a powerful tool against internet bad guys. When a website requires two forms of proof that you’re the account owner, it significantly decreases the chance that someone will get unauthorized access. You should make sure it’s set up on all of your accounts that offer it.

The Fun Lesson: Seeing two-factor authentication in practice is probably a bit befuddling to kids (Why is your phone buzzing, dad?). Instead, show them how to shore up a “candy jar.” To do so, buy two lockable storage cabinets that fit one inside the other (childproof pill cases works nicely) and fill the inside box with candy. Parents get the code to the inside, but kids get to the code to the outside. Want candy? That’s going to require two-factor authentication, kiddo.

4. Set Up a Recovery Phone Number

If your account does end up compromised in the future, you’ll thank your lucky stars that you set this up. When something looks fishy, your recovery phone number is a way websites can get in touch with you. And if you do end up locked out, it’s sort of like an emergency entrance, a way to regain access more quickly.

COVID-19 May Lead to a Heart-Disease Surge

Take a nation that already eats too much, drinks too much, exercises too little and fails too often to show up for regular checkups, put them in lockdown for a year or more, and those behaviors–all of which are drivers of cardiovascular disease–will only get worse.

In a recent survey in the journal Circulation, the American Heart Association (AHA) predicted a surge of cardiovascular death and disease in the months and years to come as a lagging indicator of the lifestyle changes forced upon the world by the pandemic. “We don’t have a lot of well-vetted data up to the minute on the cardiovascular impact of COVID because we are living through the pandemic now,” says Dr. Mitch Elkind, president of the AHA and a professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University. “That new data will come in the next year or two, but we are anticipating that the pandemic will have a significant impact.”

SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, does on occasion infect and damage heart tissue directly. One study published over the summer in JAMA Cardiology, for example, found that of a sample group of 100 people who had recovered from COVID-19, 78 had some inflammation of myocardial tissue or other damage such as scarring. In another JAMA Cardiology study, researchers reported finding SARS-CoV-2 in the heart tissue of 61.5% of 39 patients who had died due to COVID-19. The sample groups in both studies were small, and in the overwhelming number of cases of coronavirus death, heart failure is not the proximate cause. But there’s a related truth: the pandemic seems to be leading people into developing the very lifestyle factors that cause heart disease over the long term.

Consider a September 2020 study in JAMA that showed that alcohol consumption had increased 14% in a sample group of 1,540 adults during the pandemic. Or the study (from the same month) in Psychiatry of 3,052 adults showing a decrease in physical activity in 32.3% of adults who were previously physically active. Or the survey conducted by the COVID Symptom Study (again, from September 2020) showing that 31% of adults had reported snacking more during lockdowns.

It’s not just eating, drinking and sitting still that can be killers. Elkind and the AHA also cite emotional stress caused by economic hardship, and depression as the isolation of quarantining drags on. When hospitals and doctors’ offices are seen as viral hot zones, people are less likely to show up for routine monitoring of hypertension, cholesterol levels and other chronic conditions that can have a cardiovascular impact. Acute cardiac events too are being ignored. “We know people have delayed getting care for heart attacks and strokes, which can lead to poorer outcomes,” said Dr. Salim Virani, who chaired the committee that wrote up the AHA’s statistical update, in a statement.

In the U.S., about 655,000 people die of heart disease each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a figure that outpaces the 360,000 reported to have died of COVID-19 in 2020. But those statistics don’t tell the whole story. Elkind estimates as many as 500,000 additional U.S. deaths in the past year due to people not getting prompt medical help for severe or emergency medical conditions, many of which were cardiovascular in nature.

10 (Healthier) Steps to Talk About Race and Racism

More than ever, people on both sides seem to use epithets like “brainwashed” and “anti-American” to mark those whose beliefs oppose their own. In addition, it can feel particularly dumbfounding to discover that someone in our families or friend group is a “them”—whatever characteristics we ascribe to “them”-ness.

One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King is “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” For our loved ones who may be a “them,” how do we have these difficult conversations with light and love? As a member of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community, I started this journey of equity work more than a decade ago, and I still often struggle with the intensity and discomfort of race-based conversations with people, even loved ones, who share different identities or political views. Distilled from years of difficult conversations, below are a few of the guidelines I had found to be most helpful in navigating the journey.

1. Be prepared to experience strong thoughts and emotions. One of my best friends, John, went to a liberal arts college, volunteers at homeless shelters, and regularly listens to NPR. John confided in me one day that he was “tired of feeling guilty for being a White man.” Some immediate unhelpful thoughts that crossed my mind were, “How privileged it must be to not have to deal with race!” and “The daily suffering of minorities is more important than the inconvenience of your guilt!” My immediate thoughts were stemming from the visceral reactions of interpreting his statements as dismissive to the challenges of BIPOCs or invalidating to our lived experiences.   

2. Acknowledge that the other side is probably having strong thoughts and emotions, too. Throughout my clinical and academic work, I have heard numerous instances of people feeling enraged and even fearful to be perceived as “racist.” I could imagine that John may regularly hear that “White people destroyed this… White people ruined that.” As a member of that race, he may want to separate himself as someone who did not own slaves or commit any atrocities—one of the good guys. 

3. Recognize that those immediate visceral thoughts might not be helpful. When we are offended or hurt, it is very easy to leap to an equally hurtful conclusion, such as, “If you cared about me, you wouldn’t say or think that.” To further clarify, my immediate thoughts were unhelpful because they wouldn’t necessarily progress our conversations on race. It’s less about being right vs. wrong, and more about whether our approaches are constructive vs. destructive.  

4. Get curious about the other side’s perspective. In high emotional contexts, it is tempting for us to listen to respond rather than to listen to hear. In John’s case, it took a long time for me to hear that John was genuinely afraid that if he speaks up, he would be perceived as racist, which is a characteristic antithetical to how he views himself.

5. Encourage the other person to express their curiosity, too. As John became more comfortable to talk about race, he asked me one day why the discourse of equity still centers around race. “Doesn’t [being colorblind] mean that we’re treating people exactly the same? Isn’t that a good thing?” he asked. I have occasionally heard this same question posed in a potentially unhelpful way: “I thought you people wanted to be treated the same as everyone else.”

I Tried 4 To-Do List Methods. Here’s What Worked.

You know that slimy, green ghost from Ghostbusters? The one that floats around eating everything in sight?

That’s kind of what my to-do list reminds me of. Every day it just grows bigger and bigger as I desperately try to get it under control. (Anyone have an extra proton pack lying around?)

Things weren’t always this way. My brain changed during my first year of college. Suddenly, it felt impossible to remember things as well as I used to. There was so much to keep track of: homework, internships, extracurriculars, where I put my car keys. It was around this time that I started experimenting with different planners and to-do lists.

Sadly, I’ve never quite mastered the whole “productivity” thing, at least not in a cohesive way. There are a lot of methods out there for staying organized, and over the years, I’ve tried most of them: keeping my to-do list in notebooks, bullet journals, paper planners, phone apps, and hundreds of color-coded Post-its plastered to my desk.

Nothing has stuck… yet.

This year, I decided enough is enough. I scoured HBR’s archives for research on the best to-do list methods out there and pledged to give my four favorites a try.

For four days, I tried four different strategies. Every morning, I set out to complete 12 tasks that required a similar amount of effort, time, and focus, and eight of which were important for me to complete by 5 PM. The number of meetings I had between Monday and Thursday did vary slightly (I’ve noted where this may have been a factor). At the end of each day, I measured my overall productivity and stress-levels.

Monday: No list, just a calendar.

As someone who often feels haunted by their to-do list, the idea of tearing it to shreds sounded amazing — so when I came across an article advising me to do just that, I was thrilled. “Stop making to-do lists,” author Daniel Markovitz writes. “They’re simply setting you up for failure and frustration.”

His idea is straightforward. Rather than relying on Post-its or productivity apps, use your digital calendar to organize your time. For every task you have to get done, estimate how long it will take, and block that period off in advance. Markovitz argues that this method helps you better prioritize your work, gives you built-in deadlines, and keeps you from prioritizing super easy tasks.

I gave it a try. Last thing on Friday, I took one final look at my list and scheduled all of the tasks I wanted to get done on Monday. I left some spots open for lunch, reviewing emails, and any last-minute assignments that might pop up.

Filling out my calendar ahead of time gave me a real sense of control over my time. But as the weekend progressed, I started to panic. As an anxious person, the “Sunday Scaries” hit me on Saturday around 2 pm. I found myself constantly opening Outlook to see what I had coming up. Each task seemed to be staring at me through the screen, whispering “soon.”

Once Monday morning came around, I managed to get it together. When that first *ding* chimed, notifying me it was for my task, I was ready to go. I didn’t have to use any brain power to figure out what assignment to tackle (a huge relief, especially on a Monday morning), and I finished it with 10 minutes to spare. The blocked time on my calendar also alleviated any pressure I would normally feel to respond to emails or multitask. That said, I did have to move some things around due to last-minute schedule changes.

My least favorite part of this method: Not getting to check off my completed task. Checking off tasks literally releases dopamine in our brains, a neurotransmitter that make us feel light and happy — and WOW did I miss that feeling.

Tasks assigned: 12
Tasks completed: 8

Pros:

  • Limits indecision
  • Good for scheduling work-life balance
  • Keeps you on-task

Cons:

  • Scary to look at
  • Tasks may get rearranged with schedule changes
  • No checking off completed tasks (or dopamine)

This method is good for… people who like structure, who aren’t afraid of a crowded calendar, or who love planning ahead.

Would I do it again? As much as I love the idea of straight up shredding my to-do list, if I were to try this method again, I would approach it a bit differently. I would keep a written to-do list and schedule items from it on my calendar each morning. That way, I get both the structure of time-boxing tasks and the satisfaction of crossing them off.

Tuesday: Keep a running list but do just “one thing” on it.

Our brains start to get overwhelmed as soon as we have more than seven things to choose from. For me, this is a reoccurring issue. Sometimes my to-do list is so long that I completely shut down. Instead of deciding on a task to tackle, I stare off into the distance and think non-work thoughts. (If aliens exist, why haven’t they contacted us yet?)

The tactic I tried Tuesday, which I call the “do one thing” method, would supposedly help me overcome this problem. It’s a strategy highlighted in Peter Bergman’s article, “Your To-Do List Is, in Fact, Too Long.” The core concept is: Keep your to-do list, but use it only as a reference — not something to work off of. Every time you want to tackle a task, write it down on a Post-It and stick it where you can see it. Then, hide your full list and focus. Once you finish your chosen task, cross it off your list, and start again.

The idea here is that by selecting one task at a time, you’re more likely to follow through on it, as opposed to hopping half-heartedly from task to task (or just staring off into space).

22 brain exercises to improve memory, cognition, and creativity

Although the brain gets plenty of exercise every day, certain activities may help boost brain function and connectivity. This in turn may help protect the brain from age-related degeneration.

The brain is always active, even during sleep. However, certain activities can engage the brain in new ways, potentially leading to improvements in memory, cognitive function, or creativity.

This article outlines 22 brain exercises that may help boost memory, cognition, and creativity.

1. Meditation

Meditation generally involves focusing attention in a calm, controlled way. Meditating may have multiple benefits for both the brain and the body.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, research suggests that meditation may benefit the brain by slowing brain aging and increasing the brain’s ability to process information.

2. Visualizing more

Visualization involves forming a mental image to represent information. The mental image may be in the form of pictures or animated scenes.

A 2018 review notes that visualization helps people organize information and make appropriate decisions.

People can practice visualization in their day-to-day lives. For example, before going shopping, people can visualize how they will get to and from the grocery store, and imagine what they will buy when they get there. The key is to imagine the scenes vividly and in as much detail as possible.

3. Playing games

Playing card games or board games can be a fun way to socialize or pass the time. These activities may also be beneficial for the brain. A 2017 study found a link between playing games and a decreased risk of cognitive impairment in older adults.

4. Playing memory card games

Memory card games test a person’s short-term memory and ability to remember patterns. They are a simple and fun way to engage the brain and activate areas related to pattern recognition and recall.

5. Practicing crossword puzzles

Crossword puzzles are a popular activity that may stimulate the brain. An older study from 2011 notes that crossword puzzles may delay the onset of memory decline in people with preclinical dementia.

6. Completing jigsaw puzzles

Completing a jigsaw puzzle can be a good way to pass the time and may also benefit the brain. A 2018 study found that puzzles activate many cognitive functions, including:

  • perception
  • mental rotation
  • working memory
  • reasoning

The study concluded that doing jigsaw puzzles regularly and throughout life may protect against the effects of brain aging.

7. Playing sudoku

Number puzzles, such as sudoku, can be a fun way to challenge the brain. They may also improve cognitive function in some people.

A 2019 study of adults aged between 50 and 93 years found that those who practiced number puzzles more frequently tended to have better cognitive function.

8. Playing chess

A 2016 meta-analysis notes that chess and other cognitive leisure activities may lead to improvements in:

  • memory
  • executive functioning, which is the ability to monitor and adapt behavior in order to meet set goals
  • information processing speed

9. Playing checkers

A 2015 study found that there is a connection between regular participation in checkers or other cognitively stimulating games and larger brain volume and improved markers of cognitive health in people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

10. Playing video games

A 2015 review notes that some types of video games — such as action, puzzle, and strategy games — may lead to improvements in the following:

  • attention
  • problem solving
  • cognitive flexibility

11. Socializing

Enjoying company of friends may be a mentally engaging leisure activity and may help preserve cognitive function. A 2019 study found that people with more frequent social contact were less likely to experience cognitive decline and dementia.

Some social activities that may help stimulate the brain include:

  • having discussions
  • playing games
  • participating in social sports

12. Learning new skills

Learning new skills engages the brain in different ways and may help improve brain function.

A 2014 study of older adults found that learning a new and cognitively demanding skill, such as quilting or photography, enhanced memory function.

What Causes a Credit Card to Stop Working?

Credit card technology has taken a leap forward in the past decade-plus, with new features that make transactions faster and safer. But that doesn’t mean your cards won’t fail you at the most inconvenient time.

So why do credit and debit cards stop working? There are two big picture reasons: there’s something wrong with the card, or there’s something potentially wrong with your account.

REASONS YOUR CREDIT CARD MAY MALFUNCTION

Most credit cards these days come equipped with at least two mechanisms to complete your transaction: the classic magnetic strips and the more recent computer chips. On top of that, many cards now offer contactless payment through an antenna connected to that computer chip.

Which means that if one option isn’t working, you may be able to try a different method with the same card. 

Still, if you’d rather not risk it either way, here are some of the most common reasons why a card may malfunction.

EXPOSURE TO STRONG MAGNETS

The magnetic strip on your credit card doesn’t play well with other magnets, although it takes a fairly strong magnet to actually cause your card to stop working. Bringing your card into a room where an MRI machine is operating could do it, for instance.

To be safe, limit your cards exposure to magnets and magnetic devices.

THE MAGNETIC STRIP IS SCRATCHED

This is likely the most common physical reason for a credit card to stop working. If the magnetic strip gets roughed up enough it may eventually become unreadable.

Be gentle with your plastic and try to keep your cards together in a wallet or money clip.

THE CARD IS DIRTY

If enough dirt or debris gets between your card’s strip or chip, the card reader may not be able to process the transaction. Luckily, this is the easiest one to remedy – you can wipe the card down with a clean cloth, or even use adhesive tape to pull off offending particles. While soap and water probably won’t ruin the card, it’s better to keep your card dry and soap-free.

THE CARD IS DAMAGED

It takes a lot to make the chip in your credit card stop working, but bending, cutting, crushing, or otherwise mangling your card will do the job. Most modern credit cards can survive years of normal wear and tear, but we all have our limits. Extended exposure to water (particularly salt water) can cause your card to stop working, too.

THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE READER

Sometimes it’s not your card’s fault! There may be an issue with the card reader at the store. There may be an issue with the system tasked with authorizing and process the payment. Or you may be inserting your card incorrectly. More times than not, a card failure can be resolved by just trying again, or swiping instead of dipping.

REASONS YOUR ACCOUNT MAY NOT BE WORKING

Sometimes the card itself is fine – it’s the account at the other end that’s got an issue. Here are the most common reasons your card isn’t working (that aren’t the card’s fault):

YOUR CREDITOR SUSPECTS FRAUD

A creditor may temporary freeze your account if there’s been enough “suspicious” activity to warrant a closer look. This usually means transactions in strange places, at strange frequencies, or for strange amounts. Basically, if the card issuer has reason to suspect that you’re not the one using the card, they may put it on lockdown until they make contact with you to confirm whether or not the transactions are legit.

YOUR CARD NEEDS TO BE REPLACED

Creditors will send a new card when the old one expires, or if the old one was lost or compromised. If you’re trying to use a card that’s expired or one that’s been replaced, it likely won’t work.

Conversely, your new card won’t work until you activate it, which is another reason your card may not be working.

THE BILLING INFORMATION DOESN’T MATCH

Many transactions, particularly online ones, require more info than just your card number. If the information on file with your credit card doesn’t match the info you provided, the transaction won’t go through. If you’ve moved recently, make sure to update your address on all of your financial accounts. The wrong ZIP code is a pretty common reason why transactions sometimes don’t go through.

YOUR ACCOUNT IS MAXED OUT

Many credit and debit accounts provide a little wiggle room for going above and beyond your credit limit/available balance (at a premium to you), but if there’s not enough money or available credit to cover the transaction, it likely won’t go through.

The Essential Role of Sleep in Immunity

Want to ensure your vaccination offers the greatest protection against COVID-19? Sleep—and sleep well—before and after your vaccine appointment, because natural sleep boosts the immune system significantly.

The authors of a January 2021 article in Sleep Diagnosis and Therapy are even more specific. They suggest at least two nights of full sleep before receiving the COVID vaccine, followed by several more nights of sufficient sleep to minimize, or avoid, any side effects of the vaccination. Their comments follow the publication of a study in a 2020 issue of theInternational Journal of Behavioral Medicine, in which scientists report an association between sleep duration and the effectiveness of influenza vaccine.  Sleep, the study authors say, seems to increase the body’s “immunological memory,” meaning the immune system is more likely to recognize—“remember”—invading viruses and other pathogens and develop a quicker and more potent antibody response against them once a vaccine is injected.

Sleep and “Immunological Memory”

The link between sleep and the immune system is central to a study appearing in a 2019 edition of the Journal of Experimental Medicine. In the article, researchers describe a “potential mechanism” by which sleep advances the response of the body’s T-cells, lymphocytes that can differentiate between “good” and “bad” cells and kill those that are cancerous or infected with viruses like COVID. Other studies have shown that the quantity of T-cells in the bloodstream decreases in people who are sleep-deprived—getting less than five or six hours of sleep a night—and that insufficient sleep cripples T-cells’ ability to recognize and fight incoming pathogens.

Such findings should not be surprising. In fact, nearly 20 years ago, scientists from the University of Chicago and Ohio State University, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, were already warning that “response to influenza vaccination may be impaired in individuals with chronic partial sleep restriction.” They advised that their study results “support the concept that adequate amounts of sleep are needed for optimal resistance to infectious challenge.”

But COVID Vaccines Are 95 Percent Effective, Right?

News sources are reporting that the various COVID vaccines currently in circulation are as much as 90 percent or 95 percent effective. But these numbers are based on controlled clinical trials. The precise extent of the vaccines’ infection-fighting capabilities over time among the general public is not yet fully known. Many variables—one of them being sleep—modulate the effects of a vaccine in any given individual.   

Ohio State University scientists undertook a review of nearly 50 vaccine studies, some published as far back as 30 years. They found evidence that unhealthy lifestyle habits, lack of exercise, anxiety, stress, mental health disorders like depression, and, yes, sleep deprivation could significantly decrease the benefits of vaccination. Negative health factors prevented sufficient antibody production, reduced the time period of immunity protection, or enhanced or prolonged the vaccine’s unwanted side effects, they concluded. Their report is published in the January 2021 Perspectives on Psychological Science.

The Hedonic Treadmill: A Look at Our Relationship With ‘Happiness’ and ‘Stuff’

When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in 2005, I was driving an early 90’s model Chevy Lumina. It had a single spinner on the rear passenger wheel, because I was ballin’. I had purchased this car for $900 from a college friend. It was an old car, but it ran perfectly and never failed to get me to and from work and school (which honestly was about all I needed it to do).

Once I graduated and got my first big kid job, what did I do with my awesome Chevy Lumina? Traded it in for a bigger better truck of course! Let me explain.

Upon graduation I was quickly promoted to management by the casual dining restaurant chain I served tables for through school. When I saw that job offer, my jaw dropped… $40k, 2 weeks paid vacation, and benefits. This was it, I was big time now, a 22-year-old hotshot ready to take on the world. And what does every 22-year entry level manager need? You guessed it, a $35,000 truck. I rushed to the nearest Nissan dealership, traded in my paid off Lumina for a brand-new Nissan Frontier (or as I affectionally now call it, a boat load of vehicle debt summing up to half of my monthly income).

The buying didn’t stop there. Within 4 months of graduating, I also traded in my $400 per month rental room from my sister for a $1400 per month interest only mortgage on a new condo, another must have for the penniless new professional. If you have a brand-new condo, you have to fill it with stuff, so next I hit the Lay-Z-Boy store and Best Buy like they were going out of style.

Do you see the trend I’m describing? If not, here it is… the acquisition of ‘stuff’ ruled my initial post-collegiate years. Within one year of graduating college, I had somehow accrued nearly $250,000 in debt for stuff (including my truck, condo, and a variety of other stuff I bought that I had lived without for years before). This continued for me for a couple more years. Then one day, I decided to sell every last thing I owned and move to Europe (Azores, Portugal to be specific). Interestingly, I lived in the Azores for one year devoid of ‘stuff’ and have some of the best memories of my life. But within a few years of returning home, I once again have acquired an unruly amount of stuff.

Why?

Why on Earth would one be so driven by the acquisition of more stuff? Does it make life better or result in an increase in net happiness?

The answer lies in the hedonic treadmill (otherwise known as hedonic adaptation). Simply explained, this expression describes the natural tendency of a human being to return to a baseline level of happiness after a very positive (or negative) change. For instance, I would go buy a new gadget and it gave an initial rush of happiness, but after a period of time, that rush wore off leaving me with little net change in my overall happiness. Seeking further temporary boosts in happiness, I would go buy something else and so the hedonic treadmill perpetuated.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to live a comfortable life, and to do so there are basic human needs that must be met. But I would argue that many of our relationships with acquiring stuff have far superseded the basic needs for survival and therefore do not result in a net gain in happiness. If you have unlimited resources and buying power, then perhaps this is no problem for you. But I don’t fall into that category of buying power and therefore feel compelled to dive deeper into my own hedonic tendencies and how to transition them into more sustainable mechanisms to increase my net happiness over time. Let’s dive into a few of my learned lessons on hedonic adaptation.

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but not stressing about how to pay the mortgage helps

I’ve seen both sides of the economic spectrum. I’ve been a struggling entry level manager trying to feed a family of 3 on peanuts and I’ve been a successful entrepreneur with no concern about paying my bills. And presently, I sit somewhere in the middle. Both ends of the economic spectrum come with tradeoffs. However, one thing I’ve learned to be true is that there is a baseline standard of living needed in order to maintain an equilibrium in net happiness. It’s pretty hard to be happy when you don’t know for sure if you’re going to pay the mortgage next month. These self-help gurus that spew catch phrases like ‘money doesn’t buy happiness’ clearly have never gotten to Friday night and not had $20 to buy a pizza for their wife and kid. While I can admit that the 5-star dinner really is just for show and doesn’t contribute to a net gain in happiness, being able to afford to treat my family once in a while and know the bills will still be paid is a must for me to maintain a baseline.

The latest and greatest gadget is a waste of money

Part of the hedonic treadmill is the rhetoric that we need the newest, latest and greatest stuff. For instance, I used to be that guy who bought the new iPhone every single year. Truth be told, this did not contribute to a net gain in overall happiness. Rather the new tech, gadget, or thing quickly just became a normalized part of my life. The way that new phones or gadgets are marketed makes it sound like your life will improve 10-fold by sheer virtue of owning them. But the reality is at the end of the day you’re still holding a newer version of a device that connects you to your loved ones and the rest of the world. The micro-second of speed or few extra pixels in the camera really don’t contribute to net happiness in the long run.

Is the Division of Labor Fair in Your Marriage? Here’s How to Figure It Out

One area that’s especially important to look at is household labor. An unfair division of labor needs to be kept in check.

Figuring out who does what is a challenge, especially in dual-income households, and particularly during quarantine. But it’s crucial to understand. While men in heterosexual relationships tend to do more household work than previous generations, women still shoulder an unequal burden. And, if trends continue, it will take quite a long time for couples to reach any semblance of parity. 

The imbalance of shared housework is a common source of contention in marriage, and it often boils down to couples not setting expectations about it. Whether they realize it or not, men and women bring with them preconceived notions about how a household should function, ideas that have been formed from what they witnessed in their own homes growing up. The idea of emotional labor — more properly called the  mental load — otherwise known as the invisible work that needs to be done to keep a household in order, is also at play.

Experts agree — and studies prove — that having conversations about how, exactly, you plan on splitting work and child care early and often is crucial for achieving happiness. This doesn’t mean that every couple needs to have a true 50-50 split (this is, frankly, impossible to achieve). It does mean, however, that couples need to come to an agreement about what will work for them and have a regular dialogue to keep that agreement in check. If you don’t have these conversations, resentment and frustration is often the reward. 

So what do these conversations about splitting household and child care work look like? Here are the steps couples need to take.

1. Figure Out What You Already Do

When we aren’t conscious of who’s doing what, we can overestimate our contribution to domestic order. Studies show that men in heterosexual relationships are guilty of this. Regardless, San Francisco-based therapist says Andrea Dindinger couples need to start the household labor dialogue by tabulating who’s performing what tasks. “Make a list of what they feel they do to contribute to the family,” she says. “For example, one parent may book summer camps, plan birthday parties and family vacations, take and pick-up the kids from school, while the other person may do the dishes, laundry, walk the dog, and earn 75 percent of the family’s income.” It may not be an easy assignment, but doing this will lay it all out on the table and show where any discrepancies lie.

2. Begin the Conversation 

Problems arise when couples don’t talk about housework but still have expectations about how the house should work. Leaving those assumptions unsaid leads to problems. Houston psychotherapist Nicholas Hardy says couples should aim to start talking before problems occur. “This conversation is best had when it occurs proactively instead of reactively,” Hardy says. “Addressing household chores on the front end, allows couples to have healthy dialogue on likes/dislikes, without feeling attacked or feeling as though they have to defend themselves.”

Sarah Rattray, couples psychologist, and founder of the Couples Communication Institute  say spouses should ease into negotiations. “Start the conversation by gently requesting a conversation about domestic tasks,” Rattray says. “Let your partner know you want to find a good time to talk when you can give the conversation your full attention.”

3. Lay Out Expectations

Toronto family mediator and owner of Aligned Choices Mediation Richard Brydson says couples should start by listening and working to understand how each person sees the current household tasks situation and how they want it to change. “Discuss not only what needs to be done in the house, but also each person’s values and beliefs about the tasks and the division of tasks.” 

Brydson recommends that each spouse make two lists before they talk. “On one side of the dividing line they list the tasks they find easy and want to contribute to freely,” he says. “On the other side they list the tasks that they find themselves being forgetful about.”

Long-term, heavy coffee consumption and CVD risk

In a world first genetic study, researchers from the Australian Centre for Precision Health at the University of South Australia found that that long-term, heavy coffee consumption — six or more cups a day — can increase the amount of lipids (fats) in your blood to significantly heighten your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Importantly, this correlation is both positive and dose-dependent, meaning that the more coffee you drink, the greater the risk of CVD.

It’s a bitter pill, especially for lovers of coffee, but according to UniSA researcher, Professor Elina Hyppönen, it’s one we must swallow if we want keep our hearts healthy.

“There’s certainly a lot of scientific debate about the pros and cons of coffee, but while it may seem like we’re going over old ground, it’s essential to fully understand how one of the world’s most widely consumed drinks can impact our health,” Prof Hyppönen says.

“In this study we looked at genetic and phenotypic associations between coffee intake and plasma lipid profiles — the cholesterols and fats in your blood — finding causal evidence that habitual coffee consumption contributes to an adverse lipid profile which can increase your risk of heart disease.

“High levels of blood lipids are a known risk factor for heart disease, and interestingly, as coffee beans contain a very potent cholesterol-elevating compound (cafestol), it was valuable to examine them together.

“Cafestol is mainly present in unfiltered brews, such as French press, Turkish and Greek coffees, but it’s also in espressos, which is the base for most barista-made coffees, including lattes and cappuccinos.

“There is no, or very little cafestol in filtered and instant coffee, so with respect to effects on lipids, those are good coffee choices.

“The implications of this study are potentially broad-reaching. In my opinion it is especially important for people with high cholesterol or who are worried about getting heart disease to carefully choose what type of coffee they drink.

“Importantly, the coffee-lipid association is dose-dependent — the more you drink unfiltered coffee the more it raises your blood lipids, putting you at greater risk of heart disease.”

6 Easy Ways to Simplify Your Financial Life

If you’re looking for some easy ways to simplify your finances, consider these straightforward ways to master money management:

1. Create a financial calendar: Many of us start the year with great intentions, but we fall off track along the way. I always recommend creating a budget as an essential piece of money advice, and I’m going to make a slightly different suggestion for those of you who already have a budget — make a financial calendar. Store your calendar on your phone or tablet, so you can set reminders and create a list of major financial tasks you intend on completing, along with their due date. For example, you might remind yourself to complete your taxes by early April, compile all of your tax documents by March 1, and increase your 401k contributions for the year by January 15. You can also use it to set financial goals, such as the date by which you hope to save $2,000 for a vacation, or to track goal milestones toward paying off debt.

2. Ditch the Paper: Paper bills, credit card statements and other financial documents can become easily disorganized. Take a moment to request all of your financial documents be switched to e-delivery, and if you have old files of paper document you still need, start scanning them into an e-format. They’ll be easier to retrieve and use, less likely to be misplaced, and may allow you to make better financial choices when you can see everything at once.

3. Clean Out Your Wallet: If you’re savings-conscious like me, your wallet is probably overflowing with retailer loyalty cards and coupons. These are powerful tools for reducing costs with perks like free shipping, early access to sales, and other special promotions and discounts. However, having too much plastic in your wallet can also leave you feeling disorganized, scattered, and less likely to use these many programs regularly. Consider downloading apps for your favorite loyalty and coupon programs, or better yet, an app to consolidate all of your accounts in one place.

4. Streamline Credit Cards: While you’re cleaning out your wallet, consider the myriad rewards credit cards you may have. You’re less likely to use multiple rewards cards as intended, and more likely to run up needless fees. I recommend using a single rewards card, such as Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card, that allows you to switch your cash-back category on a monthly basis. That means a single card can earn you top-notch cash back for online shopping, travel or many other common shopping categories. You’re more likely to get all the cash back you deserve and can save on fees associated with juggling multiple cards.

Plant-based diets reduce risk of heart disease, dementia, study finds

The study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA), studied more than 100,000 post-menopausal women for nearly 20 years.

The women in the study who ate more protein from plant-based sources had an associated lower risk of deaths related to heart disease and dementia and a lower risk of all-cause mortality, or death from all causes, in comparison to women who ate more red meat, dairy and eggs.

Why a plant-based diet could impact health factors like dementia and heart disease is the subject of two working theories in medical and nutritional science literature, according to Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News chief medical correspondent and a board-certified OB-GYN.

“One of them has to do with inflammatory metabolites, so these are by-products of animal protein that can then affect the heart and the brain and our blood vessels,” said Ashton, who also has a master’s degree in human nutrition. “Another [theory] has to do with the gut microbiome, that good bacteria, and obviously what we eat is related to that.

Ashton said on “Good Morning America” Thursday that she has followed a plant-based diet for the past three weeks and has seen her bad cholesterol level, or LDL, and her body fat decrease.

My weight stayed the same and I lost one point off that dangerous internal visceral fat, so even someone doing this just one or two days a week could potentially have some health benefits,” she said. “My advice is dip your toe in the water.”

“It doesn’t have to be all or none,” she said. “You could start with just one day of plant-based eating then maybe that will lead to two but, listen, if I can do it, anyone can do it.”

What is a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet is a way of eating that consists mostly or entirely of foods derived from plants, including vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits.

A CEO’s Guide to Planning a Return to the Office

Because of such hopeful signs, CEOs at companies that remain all-remote are starting to think seriously about how and how much to bring their employees back to the office, and how to best answer questions about policies and timelines their boards will soon ask. They realize that given all that has happened over the last year, more employees than ever before will work remotely, and for tasks that can be done more efficiently that way, investments in technology are necessary.

Less clear are answers to other types of questions that only the CEO can address because they’re more strategic and fundamental to the nature of the organization, such as: How to handle tasks and decisions which are best done face-to-face even if many employees today say they prefer to work remotely? What will be the longer-term impact on the culture of dividing the work force? When do I have to make these choices? Whom should I listen to, and when?

While specific answers to such questions depend on the unique situation each leader faces, the guidelines below may help.

First, wise leaders will resist pressure to define a policy or make final decisions until it’s necessary to do so. We are getting nearer to the end of the pandemic each day, but we are not there yet. With uncertainty about what lies ahead, it is important to avoid steps that will either create unrealistic expectations or limit options. For such big, consequential decisions, one key success factor is to buy time to gather more information and leave options open as long as possible.

Second, in discussing return-to-work options and scenarios, leaders should keep their personal preferences close to the vest. In government, top-level leaders are taught to never reveal their policy preference to military or intelligence advisors too early to avoid influencing the kinds and quality of analysis. Likewise, at this stage, CEOs should ask questions and refrain from making declarative statements for as long as possible.

Third, don’t put too much stock in data gleaned from employee surveys. Many companies have asked workers how many days (if any) they want to spend in the office post-pandemic. Some HR departments treat these surveys as gospel. Much of the current public commentary on this question assumes that after it’s safe to return to the office, many employees will prefer to remain working at home for much of the workweek. However, wise CEOs recognize such opinions often change. What people say after a year of sheltering in place may not be meaningful this fall, particularly if by then they’ve had several months of living with fewer restrictions. In the same way that political leaders should not base decisions solely on public opinion polls, leaders must look at employee surveys as one data point.

Personal Boundaries: Privacy and Personal Space in Pandemic

As a lengthy, unpredictable and uncontrollable stressor, the pandemic steals our feelings of personal control where it hurts—our jobs, relationships, finances, education, health, recreation and travel. And that’s not the only theft of our personal control that makes things feel out of control. The pandemic also steals three of the most basic forms of personal boundary control: 

  • Control over the space around our body (personal space) ·      
  • Control over who we have contact with and when (privacy) 
  • Control over the physical spaces that serve a central function in our daily lives (territoriality). 

To feel in control of our lives, we need to control these basic boundaries. 

Personal space is the invisible boundary we claim around our bodies. We space ourselves from others so that we feel safe from physical threat and to reduce sensory overload (the closer people are, the more sensory input they provide). Even in “normal” times, personal space invasions are uncomfortable. Depending on the person and the situation, they can be downright anxiety-provoking and stressful. But these are abnormal times. Controlling how close someone comes is key to increasing our feelings of control over an unpredictable virus. It’s no wonder we’re more likely to experience anger and anxiety in response to invasions and to respond verbally, or that many of us are staying in as much as possible. Meanwhile, the pandemic increases the number of perceived personal space invasions because the stakes are higher, and distances that were previously comfortable are now experienced as invasions. 

Personal space distancing is also about relationships. Generally, we maintain smaller distances (under four feet, close enough to touch) between ourselves and the people we care about. But we have also lost control over this aspect of our personal space. We have to interact with close friends and family we don’t live with at distances normally reserved for strangers. It’s an upsetting loss of control for sure.

Privacy is another basic aspect of feeling like we have control over our lives. It’s also about controlling the boundaries between ourselves and others. Reflecting on the nature of privacy, psychologist Irwin Altman said that our desire to be alone and to be with others is dialectical. That is, the forces to be with others and away from others are both present with each stronger at different times. We need to be together when we want to be for love, laughter, friendship, support, and recreation. We need to be able to be alone when we want to be so that we can contemplate, process, and plan, manage our bodies, share intimate moments and information with trusted others, get a break from social contact, work and create, and consume embarrassing or forbidden foods, substances, or media. 

 I think you’ll agree that the pandemic has challenged our normal ways of maintaining a desired balance between being alone and being together. Solitude may be more difficult to achieve and loneliness harder to alleviate. We can’t easily spend time alone with friends or lovers (intimacy privacy) or be alone among the masses (anonymity privacy) by going to a gym or shopping. *

10 Odd and Fun Activities That Keep Your Brain Healthy

In my previous blog, I summarized the extensive research behind 12 lifestyle choices that can protect your brain.  In brief, these “Terrific Twelve” are: 1. Reduce alcohol consumption. 2. Avoid head injury. 3. Breathe clean air; stay in on polluted-air days. 4. Provide access to early-childhood education. 5. Correct mid-life hearing loss. 6. Monitor and reduce high blood pressure. 7. Maintain a healthy weight.  8. Quit smoking; avoid inhaling second-hand smoke. 9. Find help for depression and anxiety. 10. Prevent social isolation by connecting with others. 11. Exercise and stay active. 12. Manage and/or reverse diabetes. These twelve lifestyle factors account for a whopping 40% of dementias.

This blog will focus on an additional 10 surprising and pleasurable actions anyone can take to reduce the risk of dementia. But first—a few definitions and an overview.

“Dementia” is a collection of signs and symptoms that includes memory loss; difficulty reasoning, solving problems, and learning new things; inappropriate behavior; and difficulty performing many activities of daily living. It is not a disease itself but is caused by an underlying disease such as Alzheimer’s. (Other major causes of dementia include vascular problems, neurodegenerative disorders, and Lewy body dementia.) “Mild cognitive impairment” (MCI) is a condition involving less severe problems with thinking and remembering. Good news: MCI does not necessarily progress to dementia.

While age is a major risk factor for dementia, dementia is not a normal part of aging, according to the Mayo Clinic. That’s why it is so helpful to realize that we can all make good lifestyle choices right now that can help our mental functioning as we age.

10 More Odd and Pleasurable Activities That Your Brain Will Love

In addition to the 12 key prevention measures above, researchers have documented various unusual and fun activities that can keep our brains healthy.  Here are 10 activities that seem to help, according to recent studies. (Note of caution: Most of the studies cited below show a correlation between the activity and cognitive health but do not prove causality.)

1. Sing out. Past research has shown that playing a musical instrument has positive effects on cognitive functioning, especially cognitive flexibility, the ability to switch the mind’s focus from one thought process to another. Now, new research from the University of Helsinki reveals a chorus of benefits from singing. According to the researchers, elderly singers have better cognitive flexibility than non-singers and also experience a mood lift from singing together. In addition, participants in choral groups develop a strong feeling of togetherness as they sing, which can protect them from the mind-sapping effects of loneliness that many people experience as they age.

2. Try sauna bathing. Strangely enough, recent research indicates a strong relationship between Finnish sauna bathing and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. (PT blogger Arash Emamzadeh describes the research in his blog.) Why might sauna bathing lower dementia risk? The mechanisms could include the activation of protective proteins by the heat, better cardiovascular functioning, reduced inflammation, better sleep, reduced stress, and increased relaxation. (Warning: The extreme heat would not be healthy for every person. Consult with your doctor.)  

3. Practice tai chi. Tai chi is a Chinese slow-motion exercise for self-defense and meditation. Is tai chi more beneficial than other forms of exercise when it comes to preserving mental function? According to the Harvard Health Letter, it is: “In a meta-analysis of 20 studies on tai chi and cognition, tai chi appears to improve executive function—the ability to multitask, manage time, and make decisions—in people without any cognitive decline. In those with mild cognitive impairment, tai chi slowed the progression to dementia more than other types of exercise and improved their cognitive function in a comparable fashion to other types of exercise or cognitive training.”

I recently took an introductory tai chi class via Zoom. I discovered that while tai chi is gentle physical exercise, it does give your brain a tough workout.  

4.  Cultivate a positive attitude toward aging.  Negative attitudes about aging have a striking effect on memory and on health in general. In studies by Yale researcher Becca Levy, “older people exposed to … positive messages about aging showed better recall and more confidence in their abilities than those exposed to negative ones.” Other research showed that those with positive views of aging had better balance, did better on memory tests, walked faster, recovered from disabilities more quickly, and lived, on average, seven and a half years longer. Fighting one’s own internalized ageism is a constant battle but one well worth the effort. And why not savor all the good things about aging?

5. Get a flu and/or pneumonia vaccination.  Research in 2020 indicates that getting a flu or pneumonia vaccination, in addition to the obvious benefits, may provide protection against Alzheimer’s disease. Too good to be true? Apparently not.

After investigating a large data set of 9,066 individuals, researchers found that those who received flu vaccinations had a decreased risk of cognitive decline.  To summarize: “…people that consistently got their annual flu shot had a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. This translated to an almost 6% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease for patients between the ages of 75-84 for 16 years.”

In another study of 5146 people aged 65 and above who had been vaccinated against pneumonia, “The researchers found that pneumococcal vaccination between ages 65-75 reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 25-30% after adjusting for sex, race, birth cohort, education, smoking, and number of G alleles.” (“G alleles” are known risk genes for Alzheimer’s.)

How to Deal with a Shockingly Big Utility Bill

If your lights stayed on during the cold front, however, you may be facing a different kind of crisis. Many Texans buy their electricity wholesale, which can be a great deal most of the year. Unfortunately, the market price of electricity spiked drastically during the deep freeze. Electricity that might normally cost 12 cents per kilowatt hour, jumped up to $9 per kilowatt hour (an increase of more than 7,000%). 

As a result, families across the state are suddenly dealing with enormous electricity bills, with many on the hook for thousands of dollars in charges. 

While unexpected spikes are always a possibility with any variable rate utility, it’s hard to imagine that anyone was prepared for these kinds of prices.

If you find yourself stuck with an enormous utility bill as a result of a natural disaster, severe weather event, or smaller scale misfortune, here are some of the initial steps you should take to protect your finances.

BE PATIENT

A big bill takes your breath away. We’ve probably all had those moments when we first lay eyes on an unexpected medical bill or car repair quote and the number nearly puts you on the floor. 

It’s easy to panic, but it’s important that you stay calm and patient when faced with an almost inexplicably huge bill. The last thing you want to do is make a hasty decision that comes back to bite you.

As in the case of the Texas electric bills, there may be relief coming, but that can take time. Until you know what aid is available, avoid taking any actions that may make it difficult to get relief later (charging the bill to your credit card or emptying your savings, for example).

DISABLE AUTOPAY

If you have automated payments in place, you may want to cancel those as a precaution, particularly if your autopay is set to take whatever’s due straight from your account without any additional approval. You can reinstate your preferred payment method once things are sorted with you and the utility company.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

In the immediate aftermath of the severe winter event in Texas, the state’s utility commission enacted a temporary moratorium on electricity shut-offs for nonpayment, protecting families faced with unmanageable bills. 

Check to see what protections are in place where you live. If you stop making payments while you wait for aid, will you still have access to your utilities?

CONTACT YOUR PROVIDER

Start the conversation with your utility provider as soon as possible. Ask what they can do for you. At the very least, they should be able to help you create a payment plan. Ultimately, what you really want is relief or forgiveness, but that may require government intervention.

In the meantime, figure out what you need to do to keep your utilities running until more information is available.

EVEN OUT YOUR SPENDING

If no help is coming you may have to work that new, unexpected cost into your monthly budget until the charges are paid off. If that’s the case, consider working with a trained, nonprofit financial counselor to reorganize your spending. 

What Am I Doing to My Kid When I Yell?

The messiness and monotony of parenting require extreme patience, and yelling at kids is far easier and more instinctive than pausing to react calmly. Yelling at your kids might feel like a release, or serve as a form of discipline. It can seem like yelling and screaming is the only way to get a kid’s attention. But it’s important to understand the psychological effects of yelling at a child, and why experts render it a less-than-optimal strategy.

As provocative as some behaviors may seem, little kids simply don’t have the emotional sophistication to fully understand adult frustration. Yelling at them won’t suddenly trigger their understanding, but it might in fact have some adverse psychological effect. Some, long-term, with the potential to change the way their brains develop and process information. As hard as it can be to resist the temptation to scream, ultimately, yelling at kids is deeply unhelpful.

According to Dr. Laura Markham, founder of Aha! Parenting and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, yelling is a parenting “technique” we can do without. Thankfully, she has some anti-yelling rules to remember, and some tips for helping us learn how to stop yelling at our kids, no matter how frustrated we may feel in the moment.

Yelling at Kids Is Never Communicating

Nobody (except for a small percentage of sadists) enjoys being yelled at. So why would kids? “When parents start yelling at kids, they acquiesce on the outside, but the child isn’t more open to your influence, they’re less so,” says Dr. Markham. Younger kids and toddlers may bawl; older kids will get a glazed-over look — but both are shutting down instead of listening. That’s not communication. Yelling at kids might get them to stop what they’re doing, but you’re not likely to get through to them when your voice is raised. In short, yelling at kids doesn’t work.

The Psychological Effects of Yelling at Kids: Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response

The psychological effects of yelling at children, especially younger ones, are real. Dr. Markham says that while parents who yell at their kids aren’t ruining their kids’ brains, per se, they are changing them. “Let’s say during a soothing experience [the brain’s] neurotransmitters respond by sending out soothing biochemicals that we’re safe. That’s when a child is building neural pathways to calm down.” When parents yell at their toddler, who has an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex and little executive function, the opposite happens. Their body interprets their resulting fear as danger and reacts as such. “The kid releases biochemicals that say fight, flight, or freeze. They may hit you. They may run away. Or they freeze and look like a deer in headlights. None of those are good for brain formation,” she says. If that action happens repeatedly, the behavior becomes ingrained and informs how they treat others. If you’re yelling at your toddler every day, you’re not exactly priming them for healthy communication skills.

Grown-Ups Are Scary When They Yell at Kids

The power dynamic between kids and parents means that extra care has to go into how you communicate with your child when communicating. Because the the power parents hold over young kids is absolute, it’s important to avoid turning your anger into full-on despotic control. To kids, parents are humans twice their size who provide everything they need to live: food, shelter, love, Paw Patrol. When the person they trust most frightens them, it rocks their sense of security. “They’ve done studies where people were filmed yelling. When it was played back to the subjects, they couldn’t believe how twisted their faces got,” says Dr. Markham. Being screamed at by their parents can be seriously stressful for kids. A 3-year-old may appear to push buttons and give off an attitude like an adult, but they still don’t have the emotional maturity to be treated like one.

Replace Yelling and Screaming with Humor

Ironically, humor can be a much more effective and not as hardline alternative to yelling. “If the parent responds with a sense of humor, you still maintain your authority and keep them connected to you,” says Dr. Markham. Laughter seems like a more welcomed outcome than cowering.

Not Yelling at Kids Isn’t About “Letting Them Off Easy”

Parents may feel like they’re putting their foot down and delivering adequate discipline when they yell at their kids. What they’re really doing is exacerbating the problem. When parents yell at toddlers they create fear, which prevents kids from learning from the situation or recognizing that their parents are trying to protect them. Scaring a kid at the moment may get them to knock off what they’re doing, but it’s also eroding trust in the relationship.  Learning how to slow your reaction and stop yelling at your kids isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

How much will fried foods harm your heart?

Not many, suggests a large analysis published online Jan. 18, 2021, by the journal Heart. Scientists pooled the findings of 17 studies on fried foods and problems like heart attacks, clogged coronary arteries, heart failure, and stroke. The studies included more than half a million people. Researchers also looked at the data from another six studies assessing the association of eating fried food and dying prematurely. Those studies involved more than 750,000 people. People who ate the most fried foods each week were 28% more likely to have heart problems, compared with people who ate the least. Each additional 114-gram (4-ounce) serving of fried foods per week bumped up overall risk by 3%. But the analysis failed to show that people who ate lots of fried foods were more likely to die prematurely. Besides provoking inflammation, fried foods are often also high in sodium as well as harmful saturated fats. If you choose to indulge in them, do it sparingly. And avoid foods fried in animal fats; instead, choose foods fried in vegetable oils.

9 Amazing Benefits Of Personal Branding

In the competitive work environment today where we seek to have impact, use our talents and support our life purpose, it’s a no brainer that personal branding is an important career development initiative. Yet many professionals feel they just don’t have the time or energy to build their brand. One question I’m often asked after my personal branding keynotes is what are the real benefits of investing in building a strong brand? Here are the nine most powerful results of uncovering, exuding and nurturing the brand called YOU:

1. You become famous—selectively famous, actually. 

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” This is the most widely quoted statement Andy Warhol ever made. And I do agree with him that everyone will be famous, but I disagree with him about the “world” part and the duration. The personal branding angle on fame is this: You’ll be famous among the people who need to know you, but you’ll live in total obscurity in the rest of the world. Your aim should be to build a fan club of people who support you and who share your goals and values. The strongest brands turn those fans into promoters who tout their value to others.

Read the full article on Forbes, click below.

How Interruptions Can Make Meetings More Inclusive

I’m sitting in the back of the meeting, watching the minutes tick by, unsure how to interrupt the continuous flow of voices competing for airtime that make it harder and harder to get a word in edgewise.

I’m an extrovert/introvert mix by nature, but when the stakes are high and opinionated personalities crowd into a room, my default pattern is to shrink away from competing to get my opinion heard. I’ll often leave a meeting kicking myself for having contributed little or nothing at all to the conversation.

Many leaders today find themselves struggling to perform in high-pressure (and these days, usually virtual) meetings, either because their performance anxiety causes a heightened level of fear and paralysis, or because they end up having to compete with bosses and coworkers who overtalk and take up more than their fair share of space in the room. Still others work valiantly to insert themselves but are passed over or rendered invisible or silent because of implicit bias or exclusive group norms.

Whatever the cause, for both leaders who struggle to be heard and bystanders who want to hear more from quiet colleagues, the skill of interrupting can be helpful to practice to disrupt group norms and bring out reserved voices.

For example, my client, Max (not his real name), is an HR leader at a Fortune 500 company. He spends most of his days answering hard questions with polish and candor. But recent feedback from his colleagues revealed that he’s perceived as avoiding hard, messy conversations around diversity and inclusion, and he admits that when he doesn’t know the right words, he can freeze or clam up in meetings.

For two months now, Max has been trying out a new practice when this happens: interrupting. Whenever the conversation moves toward a tense or complicated topic, Max inserts himself by saying, “I get that this is messy, and I want to try to share my perspective,” which allows him to participate powerfully and paves the way for him to share imperfectly. This simple practice has helped him stay present and vocal in these hard subject areas. It also invites others to participate in these challenging conversations.

Interrupting is controversial. When we’re interrupted while speaking, we can feel disrespected, and men tend to view women who interrupt as rude. Conversational style can also play a part in how a person views an interruption, as can cultural context.

However, as we work toward more inclusive workplaces, leaders can learn how to interrupt with respect to make space for the voices that are often silent or marginalized. The following tips can help you skillfully interrupt and bring yourself and others forward.

Start by noticing.

Observe the conversational dynamics and patterns in the room. Who’s talking a lot and who isn’t? Tune into self-awareness to notice your own contributions. Are you holding back? Are you oversharing? Evaluate how much psychological safety exists in the meeting and consider the topics that aren’t being voiced aloud. You can also review a video recording of the meeting to notice the patterns that aren’t visible in the moment.

Practice speaking up early.

If your tendency is to hold back, try speaking up in the first 30% of the meeting. When we take a risk and use our voice early — even in a simple act of noticing and naming — we can interrupt our brain’s proven fear-based amygdala response, making it easier to speak up later in the meeting. Answer a question early on or make small talk with a colleague before the meeting starts to habituate yourself to speaking up and make it easier to contribute when the stakes are higher.

Pause the action skillfully.

In the book Subtle Acts of Exclusion, authors Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran stress the importance of interrupting microaggressions in real time with a simple phrase to pause the action while putting the other person at ease. Witnesses can interrupt by stating a helpful intention: “Can we pause to discuss something that was just said? I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by it, but…” This is a moment to reinforce the relationship by communicating that you want to help, calling the other person in instead of calling them out.

Be willing to get it wrong.

In coaching, the skill of blurting helps give permission to be clumsy, messy, and human in our attempt to speak our truth. Blurting asks that we be willing to not know the right words or have the perfect way to name what we need to say. Blurt by using “I” statements to ground your observations in your own experience. For example, “I noticed that Karim was going to say something back there, can we go back?” or, “I noticed that I was holding back just there about something hard,” or, “I noticed that there’s something I want to say that’s messy, can I take a moment to try to put words to it?”

Design practices for interruption as a team.

Interrupting successfully as a team requires building a group norm of doing it with skill and respect and to not take it personally. Do your work’s cultural norms welcome interruption or punish it? Which topics and people can currently tolerate interruption? For whom is it not safe or accessible? Start a discussion to make your team aware of these dynamics.

In the practice of interrupting, clumsiness and awkwardness are a sign that it’s working. Over time, you’ll find it easier to insert yourself in spaces and make it safe for others to do the same. You’ll become more adept at finding the right moment to interrupt with fluidity and humility, and the systems and spaces you’re a part of may even come to welcome the interruption.

I’m Vaccinated Against COVID-19 But My Kids Aren’t. What’s Safe for Us?

Those lucky enough to have received both vaccine doses (or one dose of Janssen/Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine) can now hang out in a private home, blissfully mask-free, with other fully vaccinated folks, according to the guidelines.

But what about families with kids?

As of now, kids younger than 16 are not authorized to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., so there’s no way they can be fully protected. Does that mean parents and their children are staring down another year of isolation? Here’s what to know.

Kids get seriously ill far less often than adults

First, the good news: It’s pretty rare for kids to get a severe case of COVID-19. According to CDC estimates, COVID-19 hospitalization rates are 80 times higher among adults older than 85 than they are among children of ages five to 17. Death rates for adults older than 85 are a staggering 7,900 times higher than they are for children.

There are always unfortunate exceptions, of course. Kids certainly have been hospitalized and died from the virus, and some have developed an inflammatory condition known as MIS-C. Some evidence also suggests kids, like adults, can develop long-term symptoms after an infection. But, in general, a child who gets sick with COVID-19 is likely to have a fairly mild case and make a full recovery.

So, what’s safe for my family?

Even though children are at lower risk, families with unvaccinated kids shouldn’t rush straight back into pre-pandemic life, even if both parents are fully immunized, says Dr. David Kimberlin, co-director of the pediatric division of infectious diseases at Children’s of Alabama. “We are beginning to loosen up and emerge from this darkness,” Kimberlin says, but “it’s not full sunlight” yet.

Your family can, however, take small steps. Under CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated people can visit with one household of unvaccinated people, provided none of the unvaccinated individuals has an underlying condition that puts them at risk of complications. That means, for example, that your children’s vaccinated grandparents could come to your house for an indoor, unmasked visit, even if the kids aren’t yet protected.

Such a visit isn’t entirely risk-free, says Dr. Richard Malley, a senior physician in Boston Children’s Hospital’s division of infectious diseases. Malley says he is confident that a fully vaccinated person is less likely to spread the virus than an unvaccinated person, but exactly how much less likely they are remains unclear. Without that information—and with new variants complicating our knowledge of the virus and how it spreads—it’s impossible to say exactly how risky it would be for an unvaccinated child to spend time unmasked around other people, even if those other people have had their shots.

Can the kids have a playdate?

Until your kids are vaccinated, Kimberlin says he wouldn’t invite anyone unvaccinated into the house without a mask—even another child. The kids could potentially infect each other, and then pass on the virus to someone else, he says.

This situation will improve with time, Malley says. As more adults get vaccinated, case counts, test positivity rates and hospitalizations should continue to fall. As they do, you may feel more confident about expanding your social bubble, since it will be increasingly unlikely that anyone in your circle was exposed to the virus. “That risk declines as the intensity of the virus in that community drops,” Malley says.

But for now, it’s still safest to arrange playdates for the kids outside, or inside wearing masks, Kimberlin suggests. And if your child has a health condition that puts them at higher risk of severe disease, you may want to continue taking precautions until he or she can get vaccinated.

The ADHD Owner’s Manual for Grown-ups

This does not mean that they are more normal (whatever that is) or better than we are; however, it does mean that their ways of thinking are not only accepted, but expected, and endorsed.

From the outside looking in, neurotypicals just seem to inherently know how to be grown-ups. They can make it to appointments, balance checkbooks, pay bills on time, remember to get the car inspected each year, etc. They can even sit at a desk all day without completely losing their minds. And, they make it all look so easy.

This is largely because for neurotypicals, being interested in a task, finding this new and exciting, or even challenging might be helpful, but it is not essential. It is a bonus and not a prerequisite. In fact, they have a three-step check list for their action plan which involves the concepts of importance, secondary importance, and rewards. First, the neurotypical grown-up will evaluate whether or not they should get said task done. Next, they are motivated by authority pressure, meaning that someone they respect (spouse, professor, or boss) deems the task important and would like it completed.  Lastly, they are moved to the completion of said task by rewards such as a grade, promotion, approval, or punitive consequences for not completing said task (Dodson, 2020).

For adult ADHDers, we get what’s important, too, and we like rewards and understand punishment. It’s just that we don’t find dangling these in front of us all that motivating. What motivates the rest of the world we find annoying, or at best, insignificant.

We are motivated from the inside-out because we are driven by our very curious, interest-based nervous systems. ADHDers chase shiny objects because they are new and exciting. Then, once they cease to be shiny, we cease to be interested and move on. This seeming inability to use the concepts of importance and rewards to motivate us has had a huge impact on us trying to navigate and adult in a neurotypical world (Dodson, 2020).

Because of this we are often perceived (and labeled) as immature, irresponsible, and reckless. Neurotypicals wonder if we will ever grow up. Hopefully not, but thank you for asking.

Neurotypicals can find this frustrating, because they are trying to motivate us according to their rules, the Neurotypical Owner’s Manual. They keep trying and it keeps not working. This is because when we were born, we were given the neurotypical owner’s manual also, only this didn’t make any sense to us so we threw it out. Hence, the disconnect.

We ADHDers, or better yet, members of The Fast Mind Club, need to write our own rules. We need to create an owner’s manual which is better suited to our wiring, one which is clear and paves the way to success.

Here it is:

1.       The Fast-Mind disclaimer. The ADHDer’s Owner’s Manual is for those with unwavering curiosity and a natural ability for creativity, problem-solving, and innovation. It is your birthright to embrace this.

2.       Positive self-talk. You are fun and spontaneous, not immature and irresponsible.

3.       Embrace your child-like spirit. Being playful is ok and healthy, even as a grown-up. Set a good example for neurotypicals. They’ll live longer.

4.       Don’t focus on where you fall short; focus on where you shine. Evaluate what excites you versus what drains you. The Strengthscope assessment can help with this. Then, move towards jobs and tasks that you naturally find interesting and exciting. This cannot be forced as we don’t operate that way. We’re about passion.

5.       Feel the charge. Once you get in the ADHD zone, stay there, and feel the charge of operating at this remarkable level. Feel the electricity, theflow. This will make it more familiar and easier to enter into the zone next time.

6.       If you need a competitive environment, find one.

7.       Most importantly, surround yourself with really good people. We are not talking about mere tolerance, or even acceptance. We need people to value and embrace our wild and wonderful minds. Think of this as making the cut for a sports team. The judgers can have a seat on the bench. We’ll let them know when they get a chance to play.

8.       We don’t want to be neurotypicals. No offense. We just like ourselves exactly the way we are so stop trying to make us be like you. Thank you.

Most of all, the world at large needs to realize that ADHD is not disorder, but rather a difference in cognition. Once we become aware of which triggers we need to pull to align our unique, interest-based nervous systems with what excites us, we are off and running. This is when we write that novel, movie script, start a business, invent something amazing, and find the solutions to problems everyone else missed.

Why Practicing Self-Love Isn’t Optional But Necessary

I had the honor of interviewing the band On the Outside. They are inspirationally challenging youth and others to cultivate body positivity and self-love with their #HowBeautifulChallenge. Their song “How Beautiful” advocates for self-love. This is an incredible message for youth by their peers, especially given all the external influences such as social media that significantly impact self-perception.

In my practice, I often find myself feeling wishful that others could see the beauty that I see in them. I recognize there are factors that inhibit our ability to truly see our wholeness and that we are enough just as we are.  

Factors That Inhibit From Internalizing Self-Love

We tend to be judgmental, unkind, and our own harshest critic. To protect us from failure, discomfort, or anything it perceives as threatening, our mind resorts to strategies that could sometimes thwart us. It can become overprotective, hypervigilant, and avoidant, which can keep us remote from acting on behalf of our values, being our best selves, and fully accepting all that we are.  

We never quite learn how to cultivate self-love because we are socialized to tamp down thoughts, feelings, and actions in which we appear “full of ourselves,” “self-absorbed,” “cocky,” or “arrogant.” We get confused about how to be appropriately confident, proud, and grateful for who we are.

We may get fearful if we’re self-accepting and practice self-love that we’ll let ourselves off the hook and settle for mediocrity. Quite the opposite, we acquire self-belief, and move toward striving, being more productive, and live life more meaningfully.   

We naturally seek external validation because we are taught to. Developmentally our brain is hardwired to seek the love, assurance, and acceptance from our parents and caretakers. Some are fortunate to receive that unconditionally, while others are not. A child often interprets, “If my own parents, who are supposed to love me and treat me better than anyone else in the world, can’t love me, I must not be loveable, and others may not love me either.” It is also challenging to practice self-love if it is a rarity, and something we haven’t routinely seen, felt, or experienced.  

In our childhood, we also hear about how others perceive us and are proud of us but are rarely directed toward assessing how we feel about ourselves and what it means to us. We hear “the coach and team are proud of you,” rather than “how did you feel about that hit and what you accomplished?”

Our mind also leads us in that direction as it uses comparisons to others as a way of holding us accountable and living up to a certain standard. Unfortunately, it most often selects unrealistic and lofty comparisons. In an attempt to motivate us to live up to these standards, it tends to discourage and deplete us.

We are not taught to hear, accept, and internalize complimentary sentiments directed at us. Think about how it feels when someone approaches us with a warm or kind sentiment. It can often feel awkward and uncomfortable. We may question if it is factually true, whether they are sincere, and struggle with how to respond that does not appear or sound “narcissistic.”  

Our mind makes it its mission to defend against anyone seeing our flaws and imperfections or judging us based on them, despite it being part of our humanness. We also can’t forget about our past experiences and possible mistakes. When we have these to contend with, which we all invariably do, our mind incessantly reminds us of them to avoid being in the position of repeating them. These factors all naturally impact our ability to accept and appreciate all of us.

Benefits of Cultivating Self-Love

When discussing self-love, the objective is not to maintain feeling enduring positivity toward the self. That is not realistic or sustainable. It is understandable and expected that our thoughts and feelings ebb and flow and depending on our circumstances and how we’re behaving, we can expect an array of comfortable and uncomfortable feelings to surface.

What is more attainable is to carry simultaneously the more uncomfortable thoughts and feelings while non-judgmentally and unconditionally holding onto self-compassion and self-love. This will afford us with considering and being open and accepting of our thoughts and feelings, personal insight and perspective to consider our needs, and making mindful and intentional decisions that will move us in the direction of our values and being our best self.

Inhabiting self-love, we are more likely to be less self-critical and more compassionate toward ourselves and expect to be treated thoughtfully and respectfully in our relationships with others. Our worthiness and value will increase exponentially. It becomes the foundation by which we assert our needs, set boundaries, and lead our life in the direction that we are personally proud of.

Methods to Practice Self-Love

1. Acknowledge and celebrate when you lean into your values, goals, and accomplishments. Do this no matter how insignificant your mind may tell you that it is and take note of the process and steps along the way.

2. Fully take in when someone is complimentary. Besides expressing appreciation, share what it means to you that they shared that sentiment.

3. Act with mindfulness and intentionality. The more you behave on behalf of who you truly want to be, the easier it is to be accepting of self-compassion and self-love.

4. Be aware of comparing yourself to others. You can only enhance when you are being a better version of yourself, rather than focusing on being better than others or an unrealistic ideal.

5. Practice being mindful and being in the present moment. It helps to give you space between the thinking, feeling, and doing. It allows you to be more focused, intentional, and mindful in your actions.

6. Remember that your thoughts and feelings do not define who you fundamentally are. You cannot control your thoughts and feelings, only the actions you take on behalf of them. You can have “mean” or “unkind” thoughts and feelings and that does not equate to you being a mean or unkind person. You can still elect to practice being thoughtful and kind in your actions. You are not your thoughts and feelings.

7. Accept your imperfections as part of your humanness and allow yourself to make mistakes. Your imperfections may be underdeveloped parts of yourself that you can still grow. Evaluating, studying, being curious, and open to them can facilitate life lessons and immense personal growth and enhancement.  

8. Internalize that you have many parts to you that make up who you are and how you function. Your value and worth do not lie central to one part of you. Sometimes we define ourselves solely by how we appear, how intelligent we are, etc.

Help! I’m Afraid to Retire, Even Though I Can Afford to

I am seeing an interesting pattern in discussions with my clients about retirement — and it’s certainly not one I was expecting. Instead of worrying about whether they’ll have enough saved to enjoy retirement, they’re worrying about whether they’ll enjoy retirement at all.

It seems like discussions about retirement start almost as soon as we get our first job. Whether it’s saving as much as possible in your 401(k) plan or making an annual IRA contribution, the focus is always on having enough money to retire and enjoy all the things they’ve been dreaming of doing. For some, the big plans include traveling to far-flung destinations; for others, it’s spending time with family, finally moving to that place you love to visit on vacation, or volunteering.

As financial planners, we talk about these dreams as goals and put dollar amounts on them with anticipated timeframes around when you could expect to achieve them.

Nearing Retirement, Client Has Second Thoughts

As we diligently make progress on achieving those retirement dreams, we don’t spend as much time as we should thinking about what life may actually look like in retirement. Just last week, I spoke to a client who says she would like to retire at the end of this year. We have been working toward her economic freedom for years, and she has enough assets to be able to make all the dreams she has expressed come to fruition. We got to the end of the financial plan discussion and I was all set to celebrate starting the countdown to the long-awaited retirement date.

But there was a pause, and then she said, “I don’t know if I can actually start to withdraw the money and feel good about it. I have been so focused on saving, investing and planning for years that I don’t know how I will feel about starting to take money out, even if it’s for things I think I want.”

She went on to say that she always thought she wanted to move to another state to be close to her extended family, but she now realizes that they are going to be busy with their own lives, and it won’t just be fun all the time like when she visits now. And if her family won’t be able to see her multiple times a week, then maybe she doesn’t actually want to live in that state and make a major lifestyle adjustment to weather she doesn’t enjoy year-round and not being able to walk on the beach every day.

She shared that she worries that the photography and golf hobbies that she feels like she never has time to enjoy now won’t be enough to fill her days. She has traveled extensively already, and the list of places she still wants to visit is getting shorter. In other words, her biggest worry about retiring is what she is going to do with her time when she retires — even though she says frequently, even now, that she can’t wait to stop working.

I have had similar conversations with physician clients who start our discussions by telling me that they are very stressed, and the only thing they want to do is close their practice as soon as financially possible. And yet, when we work through their wealth management plan and show that they have more than enough assets to walk out the door tomorrow, they can’t do it. For some people, retiring from being an expert in their field or having a prestigious job feels like giving up part of the identity they have worked very hard to earn.

Coping Tips If You’ve Got Cold Feet for Retirement

So, what do you do when the hardest part about retirement is actually retiring? The most successful transitions to retirement I have helped clients implement start years before the planned retirement date or have elements that help ease them into decisions. Here are some ideas to make retirement the next step in a journey, not a final destination:

  1. Consider slowing down at work instead of stopping completely. Working part-time allows you to have the best of both worlds: Continued income and a day-to-day sense of purpose, as well as the time to pursue hobbies, travel and leisure. The physician who wanted to walk away from his practice is now only working three days a week, happy to still be caring for patients while being able to participate in his teenager’s school and sports activities.
  2. Try before you buy. If relocation is in your retirement plans, you can similarly take a new location for a test drive before committing to living there full-time. In the case of the client who might want to live by her family but really likes her current home, I recommended that she rent a house for a year in the new state to see if she can deal with the weather, and if her extended family’s lifestyle suits her before she sells her current home. She can rent out her current home for some income, or she can just come back home for a break during the very hot or cold months in the new state.

Major Debt Collection Changes Coming in 2021

For a quick refresher, the new rules are basically updates to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which sets guidelines for how debt collectors can behave when attempting to collect a debt from consumers. The FDCPA is over four decades old at this point, so an update was arguably overdue.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has actually been working on this update for over five years now. The rule changes are an attempt to modernize the FDCPA and better account for how consumers and creditors communicate in the 2020s.

Here’s how these changes will impact you and the process of debt collection.

STRICTER LIMITS ON COLLECTION CALLS

The core rules of the FDCPA remain in place. That means debt collectors still can’t:

  • Call before 8am or after 9pm (local time)
  • Threaten or harass you
  • Tell your friends or family about your debt
  • Contact you at work (after you’ve asked them not to)

One issue the text of the original FDCPA didn’t cover was how often a creditor could call you. This new rule sets hard limit of one call per day. However, if the collector actually talks to you, they can’t call again for at least seven days.

On top of that, you’ll no longer have to send a letter to request that collectors stop calling you. You can make that request on the phone and collectors will now be obligated to stop trying to contact you that way.

COLLECTORS WILL BE ALLOWED TO TEXT, EMAIL, AND DM YOU

The only two communication methods mentioned in the original FDCPA are phone calls and letters, and it’s fair to say that both methods have fallen out of favor with many (if not most) consumers in recent years. 

The new rules provide guidelines for collectors contacting you through text message, email, and social media. There are two basic requirements for collectors using these communication methods:

  • Like with phone calls, they need to keep their outreach to reasonable hours (8am to 9pm); and 
  • Every text, email, and DM needs to include instructions on how to opt out of receiving future communications through that method.

It’s important to note that “social media” is limited to private communications. They aren’t allowed to Tweet at you or post about you on Facebook. Only direct, non-public messages are permitted.

VALIDATING DEBTS IS GOING TO BE A LOT SIMPLER

Perhaps the most consumer-friendly change is the new requirement that collectors need to provide validation of the debt in question either at the point of first contact, or within five days after the first contact. 

Prior to this rule change, if you wanted clear details on where the debt came from and an itemized breakdown of the charges, you’d have to request this validation yourself and collectors would have 30 days to comply. Now the onus will be on collectors to provide this information upfront and in an easy-to-understand format. 

COLLECTORS CAN’T REPORT ON A DEBT BEFORE CONTACTING THE CONSUMER

There’s good news on the credit report front. Collectors will now be prohibited from reporting on a collection debt to the credit bureaus until they’ve:

  • Spoken to the consumer in person or over the phone about the debt; or 
  • Sent the consumer a message about the debt through mail or email.

If the collector is reaching out via letter or email, they have to wait a reasonable amount of time (14 days seems to be the guideline) to ensure that the message was delivered. 

This gives consumers a fair chance to deal with a collection debt before it hits their credit report.

COLLECTORS CAN’T SUE FOR EXPIRED DEBTS

Debts don’t really “expire,” but each state does maintain statutes of limitations that spell out how long a creditor has to take legal action to collect an unpaid debt. Once that statute of limitations has passed (which can be anywhere from three to ten years, depending on where you live), the creditor or collector may still try to sue you, but if you can prove that the statute of limitations have passed, you’ll almost certainly win the case.

Of course, many consumers don’t know this, which some collectors may use to their advantage by using threats of a lawsuit to coerce the consumer into making a payment.

The new rules of the FDCPA explicitly prohibit collectors from threatening to sue on debts where the statute of limitations has passed (these are referred to as “time-barred” debts). 

TWO MAJOR DRAWBACKS TO THESE NEW RULES

While these changes are largely consumer-friendly and should improve many elements of the debt collection process, there are two big drawbacks.

First, while it’s nice to be able to pick and choose your preferred method of communication (particularly if you’re interested in working with the collection company), things could get hectic and frustrating fast with collectors on the phone, in your DMs, in your inbox, in your texts, and on and on. 

Conspicuously absent in these new rules is a limit to how often collectors can text, email, and DM you. Unlike phone calls, there is no one-a-day cap on messages sent through these other methods. Your only protection is to opt out, but there’s no universal opt out. You’ll need to opt out of each source individually.

Second, the increase in digital communication is almost certainly going to come with an increase in scams. You’ll need to be on alert to separate the real collectors from the fakes, which will likely just add to the already overwhelming amount of noise.

30 Small, Nice Ways to Stay Connected to Your Partner

It means that you’re comfortable with one another; that you understand one another; that you know you’re for each other. Couples who feel connected are happier and more satisfied in general. They’re less stressed. They’re kinder.

But connection needs maintenance. It requires effort and shouldn’t be taken for granted. And maintaining that connection with your spouse isn’t all that difficult. It means asking questions, listening, paying attention to the small things, and generally taking an active role in being present. To that end, here are 30 small ways to connect.

Kiss hello and goodbye. Yes, even when you’re both working from home and goodbye is when you head into your home office. Try to make goodbye or hello last for at least 30 seconds, which what some say is the ideal amount of time for the greatest affect.

Be Open. Chances are high that your partner is asking you things because they genuinely want to know. Responding to a “how was your day?” or “how was the store?” or “how was your run?” with more than a shrug and a fine, how was yours? is important. Share your excitement and worries, your wins and losses, what made you laugh, what pissed you off, and everything in between.

And Be Interested. Because showing an interest in your partner — what battles they won and lost at work or with the kids, why they like the podcast they’re listening to, who they bumped into when they took the dog for a walk — lets them know that you want to know about their life, both internal and external.

Don’t forget their responses. Work hard to remember. Remembering is everything.

Just be curious. Always wanting to know more about your partner’s past, their present, their future desires is a huge part of building emotional capital and connection.

Be honest about your emotions. When you’re truthful about how you’re feeling and why, will your partner better understand you and what you need — and help you understand what energy you’re bringing home to them.

Take joint work breaks. If you can. Even if it’s just 10 minutes. Check in. Not working together? Give them a call. Say hi. Why? Just because.

Express appreciation. Yes, this means saying ‘thank you.’ But it’s more than that. True appreciation is specific and lets the recipient know that you noticed something they said or did. Say,“Thanks for handling the kids so well tonight during bedtime” or “Man, you handled that tantrum like a pro. Thank you,” means more. It means you noticed.

Look them in the eye. There’s a reason eye contact feels so intimate: it is. Looking your partner in the eye is an easy way of forming a deep emotional connection and getting a nice jolt of feel-good oxytocin in the process. Do it when you’re listening to them. And speaking of which…

Listen. Really listen to them. That is, put your phone down. Don’t interrupt. Don’t offer unsolicited advice. Don’t try to fix stuff. Just listen to them. You’ll learn a lot.

Tell Them They’re Heard. You might be sensing a pattern here. Explicitly telling your partner that you’ve heard them can make a difference. You might still be trying to understand their perspective — you may even disagree — but knowing they have been heard, regardless, is powerful.

Be receptive of feedback. Without getting defensive or cranky or defusing it with humor. This is hard, we know. But listening to and understanding someone’s criticisms is how we grow. And growing together equals greater connection.

Try new things. In bed. In the kitchen. At a restaurant. Adventurousness builds connection.

Hug. Yup, just do it. For at least ten seconds, which has proven to be the ideal amount of time to get a nice rush of stress-reducing, connection-enhancing hormones.

How to Not Let Anger Get the Best of You

Anger is no wallflower. When it’s in the room, it can overshadow everything else, which has led to theories trying to explain its influence. One of them is the Anger Iceberg, and it looks like it sounds. The emotion is the on tip above the water, covering up and maybe pushing aside a slew of harder-to-show feelings like fear, resentment, and sadness, which rumble around beneath the surface. Anger, it illustrates, is only part of the story.  

The Anger Iceberg is a plausible diagram, because anger is big, loud, and easy to call dominating. But, as Mitch Abrams, a clinical psychologist and author of Anger Management in Sport, says “it oversimplifies a complex emotion.”

In a way, the iceberg makes anger its own category, when, as Abrams points out, it’s neither good or bad. Anger is an emotion like all the others. Yes, anger can be aggressive and scary and some people get uncomfortable dealing with it. But the same can be said of facing someone who is sad or depressed. 

But anger also comes with an overlooked upside. It gets you to act, and can make you more focused, stronger, and faster, and, as the Inverted-U Theory suggests, the right amount can improve your performance, notes Jesse Cougle, associate professor of psychology at Florida State University. 

Too much anger, however, can hinder what you’re trying to do. It comes down to tempering, not eliminating, it and not feeling bad that you got angry in the first place.

“No one gets in trouble for getting angry,” Abrams says. The trouble, he notes, is in your reaction. Anger can take the lead. You could punch the guy, but you could also use a calm, strong voice and end up being seen as a calm, strong guy. While it might not feel like you’re in control, anger is a decision, and understanding what it’s doing can help rein it in and allow those other thoughts and feelings to enter the picture. 

How Anger Gets It Start

People get angry for all sorts of reasons. But underlying it is a threat, compounded by daily things like hunger and fatigue. But it’s also learned and socialized from childhood, so for some it’s the “safer” response, under the belief, Abrams says, that it’s better to be bad than to look stupid.

Whether there’s a model or not, anger often sets off as part of the fight-or-flight response. A threat is in place, and it’s usually around injustice or unfairness, says Jeffrey Nevid, professor of psychology at St. John’s University and practicing psychologist in New York City. 

That sense could be for a group of people being mistreated or just about you. Either way, someone’s getting screwed and you are not going to take it. That empowerment feels good, but the trick is turning the reaction of, “I’ll show you,” to an intent of, “Here’s how I’m going to show you.” 

This takes thought, which requires … wait for it … some kind of pause, which in turn allows you to get out of the sympathetic nervous system and into the parasympathetic, Abrams says. It means assessing yourself and the situation, because it’s easy to take every slight personally, when you may not, in fact, be getting screwed. 

Or you might be, but it still might not be personal, or it could be. Anger bumps up against an inconvenient truth: Life isn’t fair. 

“People have a hard time with bad things happening,” Cougle says. But steaming and getting white hot doesn’t make anything necessarily better. What’s needed is some regulation. 

How to Cool Down

So, you’re angry. First you validate, because, “Getting angry is as normal as getting happy,” Abrams says. Giving yourself that go-ahead eliminates the belief and undue stress that you should be reacting in a different way. After that, check in with the actual situation. Danger might feel real, but Abrams likens it to seeing a shark and asking yourself, Am I on the boat or in the water?Both might be scary, but only one is the true threat.  

Jeremy Frank, a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, recommends asking: What are you thinking? What are you feeling emotionally? And what are you feeling physically? Follow that with deep breathing for 10-30 or however long you need, and re-ask the questions. Chances are your awareness has expanded and empathy can creep in, allowing you to say, “Someone was having a bad day,” or it might be nothing more than, “Guy’s a jerk but he’s probably that way all the time.”

If you’re visual, imagining a stop sign can help slow you down, Nevid says, but with the ability to consider how you’re actually feeling, you can consider a different action. As Frank says, rather than yell or give the finger, it could be to wave or shrug and possibly end up making a connection, if only for a second. 

Key Insights From 2021’s World Happiness Report

Here are three of the more compelling takeaways from this year’s report.

Takeaway #1: Finland retains its spot as the world’s happiest country

Finland is the happiest country in the world for the fourth year in a row, tallying a 7.889 on the “average life evaluations” measure, shown here:

“Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”

Other top performers were Iceland (7.575), Denmark (7.515), Switzerland (7.508), the Netherlands (7.504), Sweden (7.314), Germany (7.312), Norway (7.290), New Zealand (7.257), and Austria (7.213).

And, of the 95 countries surveyed in 2020, the top 10 unhappiest countries were Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Jordan, India, Cambodia, Benin, Myanmar, Namibia, Egypt, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

Takeaway #2: Croatia makes gains, the United Kingdom dips

Zambia, Croatia, Nigeria, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan were the countries that showed the most improvement when comparing 2020 happiness ratings to earlier years. Impressively, Croatia jumped from 61st to 23rd position. This may have something to do with policies that kept Croatian citizens working during the pandemic while citizens of other countries were forced into employment hiatuses. The researchers also point out that the pandemic’s effect on employment disparities between high-skilled and low-skilled workers in Croatia wasn’t nearly as pronounced as in other countries such as Ireland and Portugal.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Philippines, El Salvador, Benin, Malta, and Ecuador showed the steepest declines in happiness in 2020. Other notable dips were found in the United Kingdom (13th to 18th position), Canada (10th to 15th position), and the UAE (19th to 27th position).

The United States improved its standing slightly, to 14th place (previously 16th). And, despite its troubles with COVID-19, Italy improved from 28th to 25th place.

Takeaway #3: The world shows resilience in the face of COVID-19

In comparing average overall life evaluations in 2020 to 2017-2019, the researchers found evidence of a (statistically non-significant) uptick. Gains were most apparent in East Asia and South Asia while Latin America and the Caribbean showed the steepest regional declines.

Creative Strategies from Single Parents on Juggling Work and Family

The daily challenge of feeding, caring for, and educating children is tough. Add the stress of earning enough money to sustain the family’s well-being and feeling fulfilled in your own career, and it becomes daunting. And solutions that work for each unique family can be hard to come by.

For solo parents — those who are single, divorced, widowed, or have partners away from home due to deployment, incarceration, disability, or work — the challenge is that much harder. Whether it’s staying up late with a feverish child, needing to stay longer at work, coping with a sudden emergency, enforcing house rules, or tackling the myriad of mundane decisions throughout the day, a solo parent does it alone. But knowing it’s all up to you can also be a profound, and often empowering, responsibility.

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention. After my divorce, I became more self-reliant, creative, and flexible in my parenting because I had to step up and make it work. As the founder of ESME.com (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere), I’ve learned that this ingenuity isn’t unusual — that solo parents often develop unique, problem-solving skills in response to their unique situations.

Here are just a few that I’ve observed through my own experience and in talking to a variety of single parents that all working parents can learn from as they navigate work and family.

Capitalizing on Stolen Moments

Time is a solo parents’ enemy — there aren’t enough hours in a day. Because of this, solo parents must identify where they can save time and prioritize what’s most important. They know they are not able to do it all and that something has to give, whether it’s a messy house, an extra hour of screen time for the kids, a shortened dog walk, or take-out for dinner (none of which impact their family’s well-being). Aware that time is a precious commodity, solo parents take advantage of small moments to connect with their children, fulfill their work responsibilities, and make the most out of their time by squeezing work and personal tasks into commutes, sports practices, waiting rooms, and odd hours. Solo mom and writer Joni Cole notes, “You can achieve good work in half-hour increments, and they add up.”

Figuring out ways to remain productive without busy work and long hours, solo parents challenge long-held assumptions about workplace efficiency and dedication. Moms who have to squeeze in a school pickup or dads who need to work from home when a child is sick are equally dedicated as workers with partners — perhaps even more so. Parenting alone inspires a healthy reframing of one’s relationship to work which is both liberating, rewarding, and instructive to those of us who need a reminder of what’s important.

Setting Up Unique Housing Arrangements

A solo mom in Los Angeles posted recently to our single moms’ group: “I am a single mom of two teenage daughters, and one is going off to college. I am interested in finding another single mom that would be interested in renting together… Maybe we have opposite parenting schedules?”

The traditional nuclear family arrangement doesn’t always support solo parent families well — financially or logistically. To lower housing costs and get help with childcare, many solo parents share homes and rentals or move in with extended family. Atlanta mom Kaleena Weaver explains, “I bought a house with a basement unit so my mom could move in. I cover all the bills, and she helps with the kiddo and household work.” Janelle Hardy single mom from Canada, opted to rent a large house so she could take in a roommate or two who enjoy being part of a family environment. Hardy also took part in exchange student programs to offset costs and have an extra set of hands while raising her children. Another mother, Lisa Benson, uses part of her home to rent out as an Airbnb for extra income.

Black people in rural areas continue to experience health disparities

Numerous healthcare-related inequities persist among different racial groups. For example, research has shown that Black people experience lower life expectancy, have higher rates of high blood pressure, and receive fewer flu vaccinations than white people.

Structural inequities in healthcare may have a more significant effect on Black people living in rural locations than those living in urban areas, where healthcare may be more accessible.

Health inequities affect all of us differently. Visit our dedicated hub for an in-depth look at social disparities in health and what we can do to correct them.

To investigate rural and urban trends in health disparities and determine whether the gaps between racial groups are closing, researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Specifically, they used the CDC WONDER databases to compare annual mortality rates between Black adults and white adults.

Their research letter appears in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Mortality rates show ongoing inequities

The investigators looked at age-adjusted mortality rates between 1999 and 2018 in rural and urban areas for both Black and white people aged 25 years and older. They examined the death rates associated with four health conditions: heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke.

Over the 20-year timeframe, the researchers found:

  • Black adults had consistently higher death rates from all four conditions in both rural and urban areas than white adults.
  • The highest mortality rates from each health condition occurred in Black adults residing in rural areas.
  • Mortality rates from diabetes and high blood pressure complications were nearly two and three times higher, respectively, in Black adults than in white adults.
  • For diabetes and high blood pressure, the mortality rate gap between white adults and Black adults narrowed over the past 2 decades in urban areas. This also occurred in rural locations but to a lesser extent.
  • For heart disease, the mortality rate gap between the two racial groups narrowed at a similar rate in rural and urban areas, whereas for deaths due to stroke, the gap narrowed more rapidly in rural areas. 

“The persistent racial disparities for diabetes and high blood pressure-related mortality in rural areas may reflect structural inequities that impede access to primary, preventive, and specialist care for rural Black adults.”

– Rahul Aggarwal, M.D., a clinical fellow in the Department of Medicine at BIDMC

Aggarwal also says that the heart disease and stroke mortality gap between Black and white adults may have narrowed in rural areas because of several factors.

These include improvements in emergency services, expansion of referral networks, and the creation of more healthcare facilities specific to stroke and heart care in rural locations.

The reduced length in time from diagnosis to treatment is another factor that the researcher mentions.

THE FITNESS NOT TO DO LIST

Health can feel like an overwhelming checklist of foods to eat, exercises to perform, and habits to follow. And, that’s before you have to deal with flip-flopping opinions that tell you to do something one day and avoid it the next.

But, there’s a much shorter checklist that might be more helpful and cause a lot fewer headaches.

Instead of worrying about what you need to add to your life, it might be easier to think about addition by subtraction.

Avoiding the bad means you’re more likely to be doing something good — and isn’t that the point?

Many years ago, Tim Ferriss created a “not-to-list” that applied to getting through life with less stress and frustration. It’s such a brilliant idea that I thought it should be applied to fitness.

In many ways, a not-to-do list is much more powerful than any version of “The 11 Best Foods You Should Eat,” the “20 Best Diets” or the “15 Most Effective Exercises.” What do all of these articles have in common?

They make it very clear that many things work with fitness and nutrition. So, picking the right plan is less about finding “the one approach that works” and more about finding “the right approach for you.” It’s a lot easier to accomplish if you avoid all of the garbage information that will lead you farther from your goals.

As with Tim’s original post, I highly recommend not trying to avoid all of these at once. Start with 1-3, master them (or, more accurately, just limit), and then add other items from the list as they apply to your health and lifestyle.

1. Don’t eat while working or watching TV.

You might believe that hunger alone is what drives you towards food. But, what you might not realize is that attention and memory also play a big role in how much you eat and whether you feel full.

Distracted eating — or having a meal (or snacks) while watching TV or working — is a sure-fire way to ensure that you don’t pay as much attention or remember what you ate. And that means you’ll be eating more during your meal or eat more later. The less you are distracted, the less you eat, according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

2. Avoid workouts that
require time you don’t have.

If you’re going to be healthy, you need to make time for exercise. However, prioritizing movement does not mean you need to spend hours lifting weights or on the treadmill or bike. When you select plans, a primary consideration needs to be the total number of hours required and the amount of time you can realistically commit.

Don’t get it twisted: you might need to adjust your schedule to create time to prioritize your health. But, however much time you create should be something you can realistically accomplish.

If you pick a plan that demands too much of your schedule, you’re more likely to fall off the plan and become sedentary. That’s the opposite of what you want. (Research goes as far as providing data that a 60-minute workout doesn’t necessarily lead to more results than a 30-minute workout.)

Where to start? As a good rule of thumb, aim for, at least, 20-30 minutes of movement per day. This can be as simple as a walk at a brisk pace.

And, 2-3 times per week, try to include 10-20 minutes of intense exercise. In fact, if you have the right program, research suggests that just 1-minute of high-intensity exercise (along with a 10-minute warmup of moderate intensity) might improve your heart health and metabolic factors.

3. Do not buy over-the-counter fat burners.

American’s spend anywhere from 2 to 5 billion on fat-loss pills every year. That’s a mind-numbing amount of wasted money. While some supplements — such as caffeine — work to help your body’s thermogenic process (it increases heat production), the actual impact on the scale is minimal at best.

Simply put: fat burners might have a tiny boost on your exercise and diet plan, but it’s not likely anything you’ll notice. And, for the amount of money you pay, you might as well just drink coffee or black tea.

Better yet, stop depending on over-the-counter weight loss supplements altogether. They are fool’s gold.

4. Do not argue with people
about which diet is best.

Many diets work. If someone is married to an idea, you’re unlikely to convince them otherwise. There are many ways to reduce calories, and infinite ways to get the nutrients your body needs. Some diets are more likely to work for many people, but the “best diet” is the one that works for you.

5. Do not ignore off days.

Your body needs rest. Your muscles need to recover. Your mind enjoys breaks. If you want better results, more effective workouts, and a body that won’t break down, then make sure — at a minimum — you have 1-2 off days per week.

6. Do not downplay sleep.

It might seem similar to prioritizing off days, but sleep and rest two sides of the same coin. Sleep abuse is an equal problem for people who exercise and those who don’t. But, it very well might be the healthiest habit you can master every day.

The Science of Changing Someone’s Mind

A few years ago, I made the mistake of having an argument with the most stubborn person I know. R., whose initial I’m using to protect his privacy, is a longtime friend, and when his family came to visit, he mentioned that his children had never been vaccinated — and never would be.

I’m no proponent of blindly giving every vaccination to every newborn, but I was concerned for his children’s safety, so I started debunking some common vaccine myths. After days of debate, I was exhausted and exasperated. Determined to preserve our friendship, I vowed never to talk with him about vaccines again.

Then came 2020. Fear of the vaccine may be the greatest barrier to stopping Covid-19. It stretches far beyond the so-called anti-vaxxer community: About half of Americans harbor questions about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines; 39 percent say they definitely or probably won’t get one.

I decided to see if I could open R.’s mind to the possibility. What I didn’t realize was that my mind would be opened as well.

As an organizational psychologist, I’ve spent the past few years studying how to motivate people to think again. I’ve run experiments that led proponents of gun rights and gun safety to abandon some of their mutual animosity, and I even got Yankees fans to let go of their grudges against Red Sox supporters. But I don’t always practice what I teach.

When someone seems closed-minded, my instinct is to argue the polar opposite of their position. But when I go on the attack, my opponents either shut down or fight back harder. On more than one occasion, I’ve been called a “logic bully.”

When we try to change a person’s mind, our first impulse is to preach about why we’re right and prosecute them for being wrong. Yet experiments show that preaching and prosecuting typically backfire — and what doesn’t sway people may strengthen their beliefs. Much as a vaccine inoculates the physical immune system against a virus, the act of resistance fortifies the psychological immune system. Refuting a point of view produces antibodies against future attempts at influence, making people more certain of their own opinions and more ready to rebut alternatives.

That’s what happened with my friend. If I wanted him to rethink his blanket resistance to vaccines, I had to rethink my approach.

1 in 4 Americans have no retirement savings

“Those that are [saving], on average, what they have saved will afford them like $1,000 a month of actual cash while they’re in retirement,” Geis said.

The report found that the median retirement account balance for 55-to-64-year-olds is $120,000. When divided over 15 years, that would generate a modest distribution of less than $1,000 per month and even less for those who outlive their life expectancies.

The lack of retirement preparedness is leading to a path of a looming “crisis,” Geis said, as Social Security is projected to be depleted by 2034 and “there’s a huge demographic that aren’t likely to meet their savings goal.”

Among those 60 years old or older, 13% have no retirement savings. That number increases to 17% among 45 to 59-year-olds, 26% among 30 to 44-year-olds, and 42% for those between the ages of 18 to 29.

There are not cost-efficient and affordable plans available’

There are several factors that have contributed to this bleak outlook awaiting for many Americans. 

According to PwC research, a major one are the expenses for employer-sponsored retirement plans provided by small business owners. 

“There are not cost-efficient and affordable plans available for small businesses, which is still a very large segment of the U.S. economy,” Geis said.

The proposed solution? Geis suggested having more available multi-employer defined contribution plans in the marketplace for employees of several small businesses to be able to pool their resources similar to the plans available to employees of medium and large-sized corporations. 

“If there was greater adoption of these multi-employer plans and greater participation, you’d get the saving rate up just by that alone,” she said.

The Power of Gratitude

My email interview on this topic with Parveen Panwar went live on Authority Magazine. Here are some excerpts from that interview.

How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?

Gratitude means giving thanks for what you have and what you are given. It means seeing your blessings and knowing how big they are. Gratitude helps us turn away from resentment and feeling like a victim. It is about acknowledging all those who are dealing with bigger problems with fewer resources instead of focusing on people who seem to have more or sail through life without problems. Gratitude is about recognizing that everyone has problems, instead of comparing the outside of someone else’s life to how yours feels inside.

Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?

I believe gratitude is a completely learnable skill. But, most of us aren’t taught to be grateful. Our whole society tends to be about getting more — more money, more love, more recognition. We are addicted to “more”. We think happiness depends on getting and keeping more. We are poisoned by comparisons. And, we learn about blame, shame, and not being enough far more than we know about appreciation, being in the moment, being content. We often think happiness is loud and glittery instead of quiet, self-contained, peaceful. I know that I am far more grateful than I used to be, and that is because I have worked long and hard and consciously on making that shift.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?

Increased gratitude helps us better love ourselves and the wonderful imperfect people in our lives. Gratitude leads to more cheerfulness, which makes others want to be around us at home and at work. It frees up more mental and emotional resources to solve problems, take action, be creative. I think gratitude can also help us be more willing to listen, because we’re less likely to rehearse grievances, and gratitude can help us communicate calmly in conflicts because we have more trust that we can work it out.

What are Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude?

  1. Set an intention — Be willing and persistent. I began by recognizing the healing power of gratitude and being willing and determined to retune my thinking in that direction.
  2. Make a gratitude list and say it out loud — start looking for things to be grateful for, thank people. I learned a long time ago that what we focus on gets bigger. The more I and my clients look for the good, the bigger it grows.
  3. Be like Pollyanna. Focusing on the positive, on our blessings, the disasters we’ve avoided, points us in the right direction.
  4. When you think of difficulties in the past, be grateful for resolution.
  5. Act as If — One final effective way to start leveraging gratitude is to act as if you’re grateful, even if that’s not how you’re really feeling.

10 Reasons Why Men and Women Avoid Emotional Intimacy

Later in hindsight, it was reflected that the spouse seemed to have avoided deep emotional intimacy in the marriage or relationship.   

In this article, we will explore a few of the observed reasons why men and women prefer avoiding emotional intimacy in marriage.

1. Dysfunctional family

Let’s face it, and we are a product of our environment. If you come from an unloving home, there are some psychological blocks to intimacy.

Men and women both can be victims of dysfunctional families.  They never saw models of healthy expressions of love.  Therefore, they may possess a fear of emotional intimacy, and in turn, avoid emotional closeness on levels they are not comfortable with. 

But, avoiding intimacy is not the solution to this problem. Also, you must not try to do it alone. 

If there are years of abuse to uncover, don’t be afraid of seeking professional help.

2. Fugitive

Believe it, or not many people were found to be married when a policeman showed up on the door, looking for the missing spouses of twenty years.  

These fugitive men or women do not want to get close to anyone because they never know when they will have to catch the next flight out of town! 

They could also be bigamists – married to more than one person at the same time.

3. Low-down

These types of men and women perhaps have done something that their guilty conscience does not allow them to relate well to others emotionally. They avoid emotional intimacy because they fear trusting people and spurt out the hidden secrets.

The apprehension of divulging the hidden secrets makes these people keep a certain amount of distance with their spouses. Such a husband or wife avoids emotional intimacy because their current spouse may be their next victim or meal ticket.  

Sometimes, women or men who avoid intimacy might not be even criminals but could be only keeping a low-down because they feel that their past could hurt their spouse.

These people do not hide anything intentionally but fear that they might lose their partner if they get to know about their dark past.

4. Mental problems

Certain mental health issues are leading to a wife or husband, avoiding intimacy with their spouse.

There are certain developmental issues that can begin in childhood and continue right until adulthood. Such problems can arise because of some developmental flaws or even traumatic experiences, such as a car accident. 

So, if you observe any abnormal fear of intimacy in men or women, seek professional help immediately.

5. Inadequate social skills

At times you see men who avoid women or even the women who atypically avoid men. They tend to behave awkwardly, which is different from the normal.

These men and women are just not good at expressing themselves. They are the typical introverts who prefer to stay in their shell and avoid socializing with people.

Some people belonging to this kind might even feel that since they came from a particular social class, they did not learn the skills needed to relate well with others. To hide these inadequacies, they avoid deep emotional intimacies.

5 pandemic-driven financial habits worth keeping

As the pandemic shut down the world around her, Ashli Smith , an Atlanta resident and mom to a newborn, says she set up autopay for her recurring bills to help her stay organized and avoid late payments. “With everything going on, plus being a mom, I don’t want to forget to pay something or someone,” she says.

While the pandemic caused incredible financial stress and uncertainty, it also led many consumers like Smith to form new financial habits worth keeping, including saving more and spending less. A NerdWallet survey found that most people who formed new financial habits plan to continue them into 2021.

Here are five habits to consider sticking with even as life starts to return to normal:

1. SPEND LESS, SAVE MORE

For many Americans, spending less amid the pandemic came naturally because of income loss or fewer spending options after restaurants and travel largely shut down. NerdWallet’s survey found that among those who said they picked up new financial habits during the pandemic that they plan to carry into 2021, 58% said they were cutting back spending on “wants” and 36% said they were cutting back spending on “needs.”

“If your job was eliminated or your pay was reduced, then you’ve probably decreased spending and gotten used to a lower monthly budget,” says Eric Simonson, certified financial planner and owner of Minneapolis firm Abundo Wealth . “As soon as that income returns, it would be an amazing opportunity to keep expenses the same but save all of that new income.”

Natalie Slagle, founding partner at Fyooz Financial Planning and a CFP based in Rochester, Minnesota says, “For those who were furloughed or laid off, the No. 1 priority is replenishing savings.” For those who got used to spending less, she says, “we encourage them to sustain that habit so their cash flow can go toward building up their emergency fund at a higher rate than what was possible before the pandemic.” That way, it’s easier to handle the next crisis, whether it’s income loss or an unexpected expense, without taking on more debt.

2. STICK WITH A BUDGET

In the NerdWallet survey, 39% of those who adopted new habits that they plan to carry into 2021 said that one of those habits was sticking to a budget.

“So many people have looked at their budgeting and spending during (the pandemic), often for the first time,” Simonson says. “It’s important to stick with this post-pandemic, since keeping a budget is part of a healthy financial plan.”

Many people turned to budgeting to help regain a sense of control that the pandemic took from them, he adds. “The financial habits you’ve been forced to learn and adopt have the power to create huge, positive, lasting change if you stick with them,” Simonson adds. Continuing to budget makes it easier to generate long-term savings and avoid debt, for example.

3. MINIMIZE TRAVEL EXPENSES

Among survey respondents, 40% said one of the new habits they plan to continue in 2021 was cutting back on travel spending.

“One reason we saw our clients enjoy lower expenses (during the pandemic) is because they didn’t go on their planned vacations,” Slagle says. “Not only did that cut expenses, but they also have flight vouchers and unused travel miles to spend.”

As travel begins to start again, Slagle says she’s helping clients plan on using some of those savings and credits on their next trip to avoid overspending.

4. EARN EXTRA INCOME

Based on the study, among those who developed new financial habits, just over a quarter said they picked up a side hustle or extra work to make money. Kevin Mahoney — a CFP and founder of Illumint , a financial planning firm for millennials based in Washington, D.C. — says earning a side income can help provide financial stability during uncertain times, which is why he encourages his clients to consider it.

“Supplemental income mimics an emergency savings fund. People who can consistently generate self-income are better prepared to withstand financial volatility,” he says.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Walk

Several years ago, I was watching a Today Show segment about helping your children and teens create healthy habits. The subject of the piece was a notable nutritionist, whose kids were reluctant to eat their greens and work up a sweat. The most memorable quote came from one of her pre-teens who said, “Walking makes me sad.”

I must admit that, if I think about choosing between catching up on watching The Crown or walking, walking would make me sad, too. In fact, if I had to choose between walking and any of my not-so-guilty pleasures — like baking triple-chocolate brownies or shopping for Japanese pancake molds online (they’ll arrive in two days) — I would choose the latter.

But, when I think about the simplest and most strategic thing I am able to do for myself that’s Covid-safe, it’s walking. When I weigh what activity I can do almost every day, with little preparation, minimal effort, no special equipment, and that can contract or expand to fit the exact amount of time I have available, it’s walking. When I consider what I can do for myself even when my back pain is flaring up, it’s walking. When I want to do something that’s good for my mind, body, and soul, it’s walking. When I want someone’s company (physically distanced, of course) — or just want to be alone, walking works.

I walk three miles per day, most days of the week, and I’m not alone in reaping the physiological, mental, and emotional rewards of walking. In his New Yorker article, “Why Walking Helps Us Think,” journalist Ferris Jabr writes that when we go for a walk, we perform better on tests of memory and attention; our brain cells build new connections, staving off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age; we can actively change the pace of our thoughts by deliberately walking more briskly or by slowing down; and our attention is left to meander and observe, helping us generate new ideas and to have strokes of insight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a single bout of moderate-to vigorous activity (including walking) can improve our sleep, thinking, and learning, while reducing symptoms of anxiety.

And doing it outdoors can compound the dividends. According to Dr. Jo Barton, Senior Lecturer of the School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences at the University of Essex, you can improve your self-esteem and your mood with just five minutes of exposure to nature. Why does it work so quickly? As Barton shares, exposure to nature helps us switch from voluntary attention, which draws on our reserves of focus and energy, to involuntary attention, which requires less focus and energy. This allows us to recover from mental fatigue.

Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, William Wordsworth, and Aristotle were all obsessive walkers, using the rhythm of walking to help them generate ideas. And while any form of exercise has been shown to activate the brain, walking is a proven creativity booster as well.

Let me also say this: as simple as walking seems, I know it’s not simple for everyone. Some people have mobility challenges that make walking an ordeal, or even impossible. Others may live in neighborhoods that are unsafe for walking, while others may have experienced trauma that make walking alone or outside feel threatening. Some of us have responsibilities at home that limit our independence, and others may have weather conditions that make exposure uncomfortable or risky. If you fall into one or more of those categories — or a category I have missed — I hope you find something that you use to quiet your anxiety, keep your brain sharp, and maintain physical well-being.

For those of us who can walk, we know that we can walk for exercise and for transportation. And here are five additional ways to walk with purpose:

1. Walk for perspective. These are trying times. The global pandemic has robbed so many of us of so much, and yet, most of us can still find perspective in the struggle. On days when I need some perspective, I’ll stroll while looking at the sun, the trees, or the water. Those views remind me to reflect on the expanse of the universe, to appreciate the beauty of nature, and prompt me to consider how much world there still is for me to explore (when it’s safe to do so).

2. Walk for connection. While you can walk alone, you don’t have to. And these days, walking is one of the safer activities available to us. Before I moved from New York to North Carolina, I had a standing Sunday walk with my neighbor Leslie. And now, despite being almost 600 miles apart, we still have our Sunday morning walks — just over the phone. Invite a friend or family member to join you — in person when it’s doable, safe, and responsible — and over the phone when it isn’t.

3. Walk for learning. As much as I like to clear my mind, I also like to fill it with new and useful information. I might walk while listening to a podcast or an audio book, or even the recording of a webinar I signed up for but wasn’t able to attend. Or I might take some photos with my phone of a tree or an animal I can’t identify (which, as a native Manhattanite, are most trees and animals), and look it up when I get home.

Six Ways We Can Work on Our Mental Well-Being

We are now a year into social distancing, mask-wearing, staying home, and holding all of our meetings via Zoom. Despite our best efforts and best intentions, most of us are struggling with pandemic fatigue. We’re bored and have come to find ourselves doing the same things over and over without much joy. This wears on our sense of happiness and well-being. It may be time to step back and reassess how we spend our days.

Let’s start with examining the usual sources of well-being in our lives. Happiness and well-being tend to be connected to our natural human needs in several areas of our lives:

  • Activities that provide some challenge or learning
  • Physical activities and exercise
  • Social support and relationships
  • Activities that are fun and pleasurable
  • Activities that provide personal expression and creativity
  • Activities that give our lives meaning or purpose

If one or two of these things drop out, we can get by, but if many of these are reduced or eliminated, we become bored, despondent, and even depressed. Take a little time to evaluate your week and identify which areas are satisfied and which areas are missing.

Challenging or learning activities:

There are many possible activities that fall into this category. Have you read something challenging? Tried a new and complex recipe? Learned to play an instrument? Built something? Tried a new hobby? 

What have you done in the past week that challenged you or led you to learn something new? The more the activity really absorbed your mind, the more helpful it is likely to be. What can you do next week to meet the need for mental challenge and learning?

Physical activities and exercise: 

Stay-at-home recommendations and social distancing can make this more challenging, but it is still essential. If you live somewhere with more temperate weather, get outside, go for walks, jog, or ride a bike. Finding something to get you moving will help with your mental well-being. There are still activities you can do if your weather is cold, rainy, or snowy. You can join an online exercise class, go sledding, build a snowman, or even invest in a used treadmill or exercise bike.

Analyze what you’ve done in the past week to meet your need for physical activity. What can you do this coming week?

We also can’t forget about our basic self-care. Has your diet been healthy? Are you getting regular sleep? If not, take the time to reevaluate how you can better incorporate self-care and physical activity into your weekly routine.

Social support and relationships:

Social interaction is extremely influential to our mental health. Since the pandemic took away our holiday traditions, parties, and even coffee breaks at work, finding ways to maintain social support and relationships should be prioritized. Who have you talked with or spent time with in the past week? Has “Zoom fatigue” led you to spend less time engaging with others? Who have you talked with on the phone or had good text conversations with?

Think about how this need was met in the past week and what more you could do next week. Who could you call? Who could you invite on an outdoor walk with masks?

Find time for fun:

With many of us still working from home, it can be difficult to shut off when the day is done. However, boundaries are important, and making time for the activities that we find enjoyable will help our overall mental well-being.

What did you do this past week that was fun and enjoyable? Did you play any games? Watch a funny movie? What made you laugh? What could you do next week to meet this need? 

Activities that provide personal expression and creativity:

This can encompass a wide array of activities, such as art, music, writing, woodworking, tying flies, needlework, sewing, baking, or even rearranging furniture. Find things to do that will exercise the creative side of your brain. What have you done in the past week that involved creativity? What can you do next week that involves creative expression?

Biden Signs Stimulus Bill

The push for a third stimulus check started in December before the second round of $600 payments were even authorized. So, we’ve had to wait a couple of months to see how this would all play out. But, on Thursday, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act, which authorizes another round of stimulus checks. So, finally, we now know that a third round of stimulus payments is coming…we just don’t know exactly when they will arrive.

According to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, some people could start receiving electronic payments as soon as the March 13-14 weekend. This would just be the first wave of payments. More stimulus check payments would then be sent over the following weeks.

When second-round stimulus checks were authorized in December, the IRS started issuing electronic payments in less than one week. So, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise if the tax agency is able to repeat that feat and start sending payments within days this time around, too. Psaki recently noted that the IRS is “building on lessons learned from previous rounds to increase the number of households that will get electronic payments, which are substantially faster than checks.”

We don’t know yet how long it will take to distribute all payments. Hopefully, it will be a matter of weeks, not months, before the vast majority of third stimulus checks are delivered. We shall see.

Nevertheless, whether it’s in a few days or a couple of weeks, at least we know the payments will be sent soon. And since the IRS has bank account information for more Americans than it did when first-round stimulus checks were being processed, they will be able to deposit payments directly into bank accounts for most people. This will speed up the payment process considerably. That’s good news for Americans who have lost income because of the pandemic and desperately need the extra cash.

Tracking Your Third Stimulus Check

We expect the IRS to fire up the popular “Get My Payment” portal again so that you can track the status of your third stimulus check. The online tool lets you:

  • Check the status of your stimulus payment;
  • Confirm your payment type (paper check or direct deposit); and
  • Get a projected direct deposit or paper check delivery date (or find out if a payment hasn’t been scheduled).

For first-round stimulus checks, you could also enter or change your bank account information to have your payment directly deposited into your account. But that feature wasn’t included in the tool for second-round payments. So, we’re not sure if you’ll be able to provide or update bank account information for the upcoming round of stimulus payments.

However, for first-round stimulus checks, you couldn’t use the “Get My Payment” portal to track the status of your payment if you didn’t file a tax return. Instead, there was another online tool that non-filers could use to give the IRS with the information it needed to process a payment. The non-filers tool wasn’t used for second stimulus checks, though. We don’t know if the tool will be used for third stimulus checks.

Calculating Your Third Stimulus Check Amount

Under the American Rescue Plan, every eligible person will receive a $1,400 third stimulus check “base amount.” For married couples that file a joint tax return, the base amount is $2,800. Then, for each dependent in your family, an additional $1,400 will be tacked on.

But not all people will receive the full amount. As with the first two stimulus payments, third-round stimulus checks will be reduced – potentially to zero – for people reporting an adjusted gross income (AGI) above a certain amount on their latest tax return. If you filed your most recent tax return as a single filer, your third stimulus check will be phased-out if your AGI is $75,000 or more. That threshold jumps to $112,500 for head-of-household filers, and to $150,000 for married couples filing a joint return. Third-round stimulus checks will be completely phased out for single filers with an AGI above $80,000, head-of-household filers with an AGI over $120,000, and joint filers with an AGI exceeding $160,000.

Emotional Contagion Could Explain Why You “Catch” Your Spouse’s Mood

Your wife’s facing a deadline for a major work project. She’s worried and the whole house is on edge, even though it shouldn’t be, logically. First, she’s killing it with the project and she’s fretting over nothing. Secondly, the stress should stop with her. You’re not on deadline. Neither are your kids. Nonetheless, the tension permeates the entire family. Why? Credit a little phenomenon known as emotional contagion.

Under the theory of emotional contagion, moods and emotions spread from person to person in the same manner as germs. Expressions of happiness, anger, sadness and other emotional states trigger an automatic mechanism in our brains, causing us to feel the expressed emotion. While degrees of emotional contagion vary from person to person, social science data shows that the effect strengthens over time.

So, “Happy spouse, happy house” isn’t just a trite piece of marital advice. It can also be a literal truth, with emotional contagion growing into emotional convergence. 

“We only found it to be a good thing, predicting a stronger bond and longer-lasting relationship,” Berkeley Haas School of Business professor Cameron Anderson says. “Being on the ‘same page’ means feeling validated, affirmed, acting more in concert with each other, and understanding each other better.”

Pioneering social psychologist Elaine Hatfield proposed that moods are transmitted virally in her 1993 book Emotional Contagion. Noting how people unconsciously mimic their conversation partners’ vocal patterns and body language, Hatfield theorized a three-step of emotional contagion: mimicry, feedback, and synchronized emotions. 

You know how baby’s smile when you smile at them? That response doesn’t disappear as we age. Smiles and frowns make our cheek muscles twitch. That’s why someone yawns in a crowded room, it’s like a domino toppling over a succession of exhausted faces. 

This initial mimicry stage occurs instantly and precisely, with the person infected by the mood responding in real time to small changes in expression, like blushing or increased rate of blinking. 

The next stage is feedback, where the brain responds to the involuntary muscle movement by firing off a corresponding emotional sensation. In other words, if you start smiling, your brain revs up production of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Once you’re feeling what the other person is feeling, the table’s set for the third and final stage of shared experiences and synchronized emotions.

Just as how some people seem to catch colds all the time while others easily fend off the sniffles, vulnerability to infection from emotions vary from person to person. In a brain scan study, people with higher rates of empathy displayed neural activity distinct from less empathic ones. The results indicate that empathy is an ability that allows people to easily read and mimic other’s mental state. 

 

In relationships, one person may have more susceptibility to catching emotions than the other. 

“Relationships often have an asymmetry in power, in that one partner has more influence than the other,” Anderson says. “It is the more powerful partner that drives the emotional convergence process — meaning they change less over time in their emotional responses.”

In relationships with this empathy power dynamic, the less powerful partner winds up doing more of what Anderson calls ‘emotional work’ for convergence to occur. “They change their own emotions to match the more powerful partner’s emotions over time,” he says.

 Since Hatfield introduced the concept in the ‘90s, psychological, neurological and other fields of research have supported her theory and explored its implications. It seems that emotional contagion doesn’t happen the same way with every person or every emotion. Anger, for example, can make us initially angry but ultimately afraid. While studies as far back as the 1970s show that depressive moods can spread in as quickly as 20 minutes via phone calls, a controversial 2014 Facebook study where researchers flooded social media users’ news feed with upsetting content indicated that moods can be caught via social media as well. 

Nine Tools for Better, Longer Sleep

For many of us, a restful night of sleep is hard to come by under the best of circumstances. But against the backdrop of a long, cold winter and the ongoing pandemic, it can feel almost impossible. While there will always be newfangled gadgets that claim to solve your sleep problems with advanced technology — yes, there are such things as sleep robots and sleep-tracking rings — newer doesn’t always mean better. Wirecutter, the New York Times Company that reviews and recommends products, has tested countless items to find real, proven solutions, from blackout curtains and sleep masks to better pillows and white-noise machines.

In addition to the products they test for work, Wirecutter writers and editors have found their own sleep solutions for these overworked, overstressed times. These aren’t necessarily products we’ve rigorously tested (unless we’re talking about meditation apps), but they are the things Wirecutter staffers are finding useful at home for falling, and staying, asleep.

  • Soulage Body Wrap

It’s very hard to fall asleep when you’re cold. Heated blankets are nice, but I often wake up sweating later in the evening. The Soulage Body Wrap heating pads (about $52) are the perfect solution. After a few minutes in the microwave, they retain heat for around 30 minutes, gradually and safely cooling down as you nod off. They’re well-made and smell yummy — filled with natural ingredients such as rice, cloves and orange peel. The filling gives the pads some heft, so you get that comforting weighted-blanket feel. Great for warming sheets, soothing muscle aches and even easing menstrual cramps, these wraps are made to last.

I just replaced my old wrap with a new one because it finally started getting too worn — after 18 years of use. Laying the pad across my belly or on my back feels like a cozy hug — and all but guarantees I’ll start to drift off in no time. — Lauren Dragan, senior staff writer

  • Google Nest Hub

Some people are bothered by light interrupting their sleep, but at night I am sensitive to sound. The sudden creaking of the wood frame as the house cools or a squirrel running across the roof can snap me out of a deep slumber. Although any white-noise machine can do the trick, I have found that a smart display, like the Google Nest Hub (about $90), combines several useful bedside gadgets in one box: an alarm clock, a digital picture frame and — above all, for me — a white-noise machine. The constant background sound will put me right to sleep and keep me asleep, with no interruptions. The Nest Hub also can play relaxing sounds, like a babbling brook or steady rain, as well as a voluminous playlist of YouTube videos or Spotify songs. Plus, it’s the only smart display without a camera, preserving that aspect of my privacy. — Joel Santo Domingo, senior staff writer

  • 69 Herbs Coat My Nerves Herbal Drops

I’m convinced this lovely herbal blend — which includes valerian, passionflower and other calming botanicals — helps relax me before sleep. It could just be the ritual aspect: Taking it with a bath or before some yin yoga, I’m far more likely to ease into bed than to continue doom-scrolling well into the night. The tincture is packaged in a frosted bottle with a pastel, vaporwave-y label, and the blend is also sweetened to be more palatable (unlike some more medicinal drops I’ve tried). Coat My Nerves ($22 for an ounce) tastes like an earthy honey, and it immediately dissolves on the tongue without leaving a bitter aftertaste. The company, New York-based 69 Herbs, offers sliding-scale payments for customers who need it. (As with any herbal formula, check with your doctor before taking this blend if you have any medical issues or concerns). — Anna Perling, staff writer

Finding Meaning in Loss, Grief, and Saying Goodbye

They are particularly open to learning from this perspective, aware more than they ever imagined of the fragility of human life as they are surrounded by the harsh reality of death in the global pandemic. As their teacher, I want to bring in elders who can share their wisdom of how to live in the face of death.

Isabel Stenzel Byrnes is a young elder who was supposed to die many times because she has cystic fibrosis, a fatal lung disease. But she hasn’t died and has survived to the age of 49 with the help of a double lung transplant. She was left behind by her twin sister Ana who also survived cystic fibrosis and two double lung transplants before succumbing to colon cancer in September 2013. A few months earlier Ana and Isa had given a Tedx talk together, and after Ana’s passing, Isa gave another talk, this time alone. Those of us who knew the twins as “the power of two,” marveled at her ability to share her story, but she explained:

“I have the strength to stand before you and talk about loss because I spent my entire life practicing the art of saying goodbye.”

Isa is a master of loss. She has lost countless friends to cystic fibrosis and credits them with teaching her to be the best person she could be through loving and being loved. But Isa also reminded us that losing someone we love is the hardest experience any of us will have to go through, because it goes against our basic instinct; we are wired for attachment in a world where everyone is temporary.

Isa offered the lessons she has learned through her own struggles, kidding those who might be in denial, “if you are not planning on losing any loved ones, these lessons don’t apply to you.”

Her first lesson is that we are more than our emotions and are capable of being mindful of our feelings, observing them likes the ocean’s waves and not being paralyzed or overwhelmed by them; to go with the flow. “Trust that we can be stronger than our sorrows.”

The second lesson is that we can find purpose in all of this losing. Fully experiencing her own pain enables her to be more compassionate of others’ pain. Isa personally finds purpose by working as a hospice social worker where wisdom she has gained from her life experiences provides peace of mind to those in terminal stages of dying. She also leads therapeutic writing groups for those grieving a loss.

Isa warns us that although we may wish it was clear and orderly, there is no right or wrong way to say goodbye, because dying is chaotic and illogic. She says that grief is an art, not a science and we make sense of what happened and find purpose in our own individual ways. She notes that her own Japanese and German cultures influence her to be stoic, reflective, and persevering, putting one foot in front of the other.

The Case Against Paying Rent with a Credit Card

Generally speaking, however, charging rent payments to a credit card is a bad idea. While it certainly adds convenience and can help keep you afloat if you’re short one month, the cons largely outweigh the pros – especially if you’re charging rent on a regular basis.

If you’re thinking of using a credit card to cover your next rent payment, consider the following reasons why you shouldn’t.

COSTLY FEES

Most sizeable apartment complexes and rental management companies offer some form of online payment portal, where you can make payments through a bank account or credit card. Even if you rent from an individual landlord who’s not set up for online payments, there are a ton of services that still allow you to make rent payments via credit card. Plastiq and RentTrack both process credit card payments and send them on to your landlord on your behalf (usually in the form of a paper check).

Another feature all of these services have in common is hefty fees. Most charge a service/processing fee on credit card payments of just below 3% of the rental payment. If your rent is $1,000, for example, you may be charged an additional $25-30. Taken as a one-time fee that might seem acceptable, but if you’re making every payment this way, you’ll end up spending an extra ~$300 in fees on the year.

While there are plenty of credit cards out there with great rewards programs, it’s unlikely that any points or cash back reward is going to be worth more than the cost of the service fee.

INTEREST CHARGES

Beyond the immediate processing fees, charging your rent also opens you up to potential interest fees if you haven’t repaid the bill before the end of the associated billing cycle. The amount of these interest fees will depend on the terms of your credit card and how long it takes you to repay the borrowed rent. If it takes you multiple months to complete your payoff, you’ll likely be accruing additional interest charges every month along the way.

No matter how long it takes to pay off your credit card, you’re better off not spending money on interest charges if you can help it.

REDUCED AVAILABLE CREDIT

Most of us have a finite amount of credit available. Even if you have a fairly large credit limit, charging your monthly rent means two things:

  1. There’s less credit available for other needs or emergencies. The credit tied up in your rental payments won’t be available again until you repay that debt. In the meantime, you may be financially shorthanded, particularly if you need to make another large purchase, or if you run into an emergency and need to access a large portion of your credit limit.
  2. Your credit may take a temporary hit. Nearly all credit scoring models base some percentage of your credit score on the amount of available credit that’s currently in use. The closer you are to your credit limit, the more negatively your score will be impacted. In other words, the lower your credit utilization ratio, the better that is for your credit score. 

WHAT ABOUT EMERGENCIES?

Of course, the reason credit card charges for rent were on the rise in 2020 is because many families had limited income and couldn’t afford to pay their rent any other way. It’s perfectly okay to use credit to help survive a crisis situation – that’s one of the primary reasons why you work so hard to have a strong credit history in the first place.

There are some instances, however, where you should make sure that using credit isn’t doing more harm than good.

Are you always one payment behind? If your rent is due before your next paycheck, it’s natural to turn to credit to tide you over. But if your rent is always due before your next paycheck, you may need to make some changes to your budget so that you’re not spending paychecks before they hit your bank account. 

Are you always just a little short? If you’re using credit to cover a persistent shortfall in your budget, you may be walking a dangerous line, especially if your debt keeps going up and up. It’s possible you don’t have enough income to cover your expenses. Fortunately, there may be simple tweaks you can make to even out your spending and stop relying on credit.

There’s no shame in using credit cards to manage an emergency. But if you’re continually relying on credit to help cover major expenses like rent that may be a sign of growing financial problem.

Take 5: How to Build Trust in the Workplace

So how do you build trust in the workplace? Kellogg faculty offer advice for what individuals and companies can do to establish their trustworthiness.

How Leaders Can Build Trust

As Harry Kraemer sees it, trustworthiness is a required trait for leaders. So Kraemer, the former CEO of Baxter International and now a clinical professor of leadership at Kellogg, has thought a lot about what leaders can do to be seen as trustworthy.

In the video below, which is part of The Trust Project at Northwestern, he lays out four ways leaders can establish trust.

One tip: make sure you take the time to understand all sides of a story or issue.

Leaders, he says, “establish trust because they demonstrate they really care about what each person has to say.”

Align Company Values with Actions

Another important step in building trust in the workplace is ensuring that your company aligns its statements with its actions, according to Karen Cates, an adjunct professor of executive education.

For example, if a company says it welcomes new ideas, then its leaders need to be genuinely open to listening to them, Cates says. Even seemingly minor details are important. For instance, imagine a company that claims its greatest asset is its people yet fails to mention employees anywhere on its website. 

“Alignment is critical because it lays the foundation for trust,” Cates says, “and trust leads to greater commitment. If you don’t have alignment, it doesn’t matter how great your benefits are. You still won’t have commitment from your employees.”

And, as research by Kellogg School professor Paola Sapienza finds, there are economic benefits as well: when companies are perceived by their own employees to have cultures of integrity, they show higher profits.

When Picking the Wrong Person for the Job Builds Trust

Sometimes organizations build trust in a counterintuitive way: by picking the wrong person for a job.That’s the conclusion of research from Daniel Barron and Michael Powell, both associate professors of strategy. The idea being that if you have promised to reward excellent work, you need to follow through, even if the person you’re promoting is not the best one for that new job.

But doing this can often be tricky. For example, the costs of assigning the wrong person to a job can be too high. And there are rarely enough rewards to go around. So how do companies navigate this without demotivating employees who feel that the company isn’t following through on its promises?

The researchers’ game theory model suggests that rewarding past excellence is most beneficial when an employee has truly excelled previously, while competing parties have not, and when the costs of favoring the party that has previously excelled are relatively low.

So while it may not be feasible all the time, the research shows that there are some situations where the benefits of rewarding past performance are so strong that they can overcome the benefits of actually giving the job to the right person. “That is where you promote the wrong guy,” Barron says.

One Way to Make It More Difficult to Cheat

Of course, another way to build trust at work is to eliminate opportunities for people to cheat.

There are plenty of ways to do this, of course, but here’s a simple way to get started: understand when people are most likely to engage in dishonest behavior, and arrange assignments accordingly.

According to research from the late J. Keith Murnighan, a professor of management and organizations, people are more likely to cheat when they are near the end of a job or a task. Under these circumstances, the dishonest behavior is motivated by something called “anticipatory regret”—an urge to avoid future feelings of regret at passing up a last opportunity for personal gain.

Murnighan and coauthors demonstrated this in a series of experiments. For example, hundreds of online participants were asked to flip a coin and self-report which side it landed on—with the possibility of winning a small cash reward for landing on one side versus the other.

How the immune system watches over the brain

Generations of students have learned that the central nervous system has “immune privilege.” This means that — to an extent — the immune system tolerates the presence of foreign proteins, or antigens, and tissue in the brain and spinal cord.

The immune system cannot respond in the usual way to infections, injuries, or tumors in the brain and spinal cord, because the blood-brain barrier prevents immune cells from entering or leaving.

Despite this, scientists know that inflammation plays a pivotal role in many neurological and psychiatric conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, MS, autism, and schizophrenia.

So the question remains, if there is no exchange of information, how does the immune system respond to and influence the brain in such a broad range of conditions?

A team of scientists led by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, have discovered that immune cells are stationed in the dura mater, which is the tough outer membrane of the brain.

From this vantage point, they monitor the cerebrospinal fluid draining from the brain. If they detect the molecular calling cards of infection, cancer, or injury, they can mount an immune response.

The research appears in the journal Cell.

Immunity and the brain

“Every organ in the body is being surveilled by the immune system,” says senior author Dr. Jonathan Kipnis, Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Immunology.

He explains:

“If there is a tumor, an injury, an infection anywhere in the body, the immune system has to know about it. But people say the exception is the brain; if you have a problem in the brain, the immune system just lets it happen. That never made sense to me. What we have found is that there is indeed immune surveillance of the brain — it is just happening outside the brain.”


In 2015, a study in mice revealed a network of vessels in the dura mater that drains cerebrospinal fluid from the brain into lymph nodes in the neck. Also in 2015, a study led by Dr. Kipnis recorded similar findings in both mice and humans.

Lymph nodes are part of an extensive network of fluid-filled vessels known as the lymphatic system. An accumulation of pathogens in lymph nodes can lead to the initiation of an immune response.

This suggested a more intimate connection between the brain and immune system than previously suspected. However, it remained unclear exactly where and how immune cells surveil the contents of the cerebrospinal fluid as it drains from the brain.

Dr. Kipnis and his colleagues knew that the lymph vessels that carry fluid from the brain run alongside blood-filled cavities, or sinuses, in the dura mater.

Crucially, the walls of these sinuses are more permeable than the blood vessels of the blood-brain barrier.

Following up this clue, the scientists showed in their experiments that small molecules from the brain and immune cells accumulate in the sinuses.

Some of the cells, known as antigen presenting cells, which include dendritic cells, pick up suspicious molecules and present them to other immune cells, called T cells, which patrol the body in the bloodstream.

When they bind to these suspect molecules, the T cells can initiate an immune response.

The connection between post-traumatic stress disorder and nutrition

A new analysis of data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) finds statistical associations between various health factors and PTSD.

According to the authors of the new study, which appears in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, the research does not establish that these factors actually cause PTSD, and the reverse may be true. However, their identification may nonetheless inform further research.

In some cases, the authors posit that underlying physiological mechanisms may be at play.

Nutritional health and PTSD

The CLSA is a large, long-term study of the Canadian population that has been ongoing for more than 20 years. The researchers behind the new study examined the data for 27,211 individuals aged 45–85 years. Of these people, 1,323 had PTSD.

The study found that people who eat two or three sources of fiber per day are less likely to experience episodes of PTSD than those eating less fiber.

Lead author Karen Davison, director of the Nutrition Informatics Research Group and health science program faculty member at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, British Columbia, suggests a reason for this finding: “It is possible that optimal levels of dietary fiber have some type of mental health-related protective effect.”

Davison says that this may have to do with short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which originate in the gut. “SCFA molecules can communicate with cells and may affect brain function,” she explains.

The researchers also linked the consumption of other foods to a higher incidence of PTSD. These foods included chocolate, pastries, nuts, and pulses.

Co-author Christina Hyland, a doctoral student at the University of Toronto (U of T), calls the finding unexpected.

She cautions, however, that the inclusion of nuts on the list may reflect the inclusion of peanut butter, but not more healthful nut options, among the food choices in the CLSA.

Poverty and PTSD

When they looked at nondietary factors, the researchers found a strong association between poverty and PTSD. Of the individuals with an annual household income below $20,000 Canadian, 1 in 7 experienced the disorder.

Senior author Prof. Esme Fuller-Thomson, director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging and professor at the U of T, says that this is one of those links in which the cause and effect are unclear.

“Unfortunately, we do not know whether PTSD symptoms undermined an individual’s ability to work, which resulted in poverty, or whether the stress associated with poverty exacerbated PTSD symptoms in respondents,” Prof. Fuller-Thomson notes.

PTSD, women, and age

The results showed that 6.9% of women and 3.9% of men had PTSD, meaning that it affected women nearly twice as often as men.

Among the women, 8.8% of those who were divorced or widowed had PTSD compared with 4.4% of currently married women or women with a common-law partner.

The study’s analysis supports previous research showing that men and women are more likely to experience PTSD at certain times in their life.

Men are most likely to have PTSD in their early 40s, while women most often experience it in their early 50s.

Chronic health conditions and PTSD

The analysis revealed links between PTSD and both chronic pain and smoking. Meghan West, a master of social work student at the U of T, notes, “This is consistent with results from other studies, which found increased risks of cardiovascular, metabolic, and musculoskeletal conditions among individuals with PTSD.” 

“These links may be due to alterations in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), sympathetic nervous system inflammation, or health behaviors that increase the risk of poor physical health,” she adds.

Big-Time College Athletes Don’t Get Paid

In 2018, they took in an estimated $14 billion. That amount has been steadily growing, driven primarily by TV revenue. Yet, unlike professional athletes, college players aren’t the beneficiaries of this windfall.

In professional sports leagues such as the NFL and NBA, about 50 percent of revenue goes to players. For college sports, however, players’ compensation is limited to covering the cost of attending the school and a modest living stipend.

So where does the majority of college-sports revenue go?

That’s the question Craig Garthwaite, a Kellogg School professor of strategy, tackled along with Nicole Ozminkowski, a graduate student in economics at Northwestern University, Matthew Notowidigdo, previously at Kellogg and now at the University of Chicago, and Jordan Keener at the University of Michigan.

They were intrigued by a combination of factors: the steep rise in revenue for college sports, the low percentage of revenue used to compensate players—only 7 percent, by their estimation—and the prevailing argument by universities that it isn’t feasible to pay players.

“They say compensation for players would destroy the nature of amateur athletics because people want to believe players are just like other students,” says Garthwaite, who calls himself a “pretty big college football fan.” He points out that no one makes the same argument for coaches, who are paid massive amounts by the highest-profile programs, even when their teams struggle. He cites the example of the 10-year, $75 million contract for Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher, one of the largest in history.

But still, even generous coaching salaries can’t account for all that revenue. So, if it’s not going to the players, where is it going?

The researchers studied the flow of money from the high-revenue-generating sports of football and men’s basketball to answer that question. They found a large amount of the revenue generated by these sports was used to fund investments in other sports at the same schools. Importantly, there are stark differences between the players generating this money and those who are the beneficiaries of it.

“We find that the prevailing model rests on taking the money generated by athletes who are more likely to be Black and come from low-income neighborhoods and transferring it to sports played by athletes who are more likely to be white and from higher-income neighborhoods,” the researchers write in a recent Brookings Institution article.

This dynamic raises questions of equity.

“We’ve got kids who are playing sports that are known as more dangerous in general and still playing in the time of COVID—when we don’t know how the disease is going to progress—and they can only be compensated for the cost of attendance,” Garthwaite says. “But the money made from their sports goes to support other, non-revenue sports typically played by kids from wealthier backgrounds.”

A Tale of Two Clusters

Because they wanted to examine high-revenue-generating teams, the study initially focused on schools in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). The FBS comprises multiple conferences, including the “Power 5 conferences” such as the Big 10, SEC, and Pac-12, which house the best-known, highest-performing college football and basketball teams: University of Michigan, University of Alabama, University of Oregon, and others featured regularly on network and cable TV and other media.

They studied athletic-department finances based on data from two main sources: Equity in Athletics Data Analysis, to which schools must report sports-specific data in order to receive government funding, and the Knight Commission, an independent group that maintains a database of more granular university athletic-department revenue and costs.

They examined the data carefully to understand how money flowed within and between sports. Early analysis revealed two very different clusters of schools.

“Schools in the Power 5 conferences clearly operate under a different economic model than the rest of the schools in Division I sports,” Garthwaite says.

Schools outside of those conferences tend to have relatively low sports revenues, and much of the support for athletics comes from the university itself. Power 5 schools, on the other hand, have much higher athletics revenues and minimal institutional support.

Moreover, the study showed that while the average Power 5 school features about 20 different men’s and women’s sports, 58 percent of total athletic-department revenue comes from just two of them: men’s football and basketball. So the researchers focused the next part of their analysis on Power 5 schools. Their goal was to understand how the large amount of revenue from their football and men’s basketball programs was ultimately distributed.

They secured comprehensive revenue and expenses data from 2006 to 2019 for all 65 schools in the Power 5, then measured how money generated by the football and men’s basketball programs flowed to other men’s sports and women’s sports. To understand how athletes’ race and socioeconomic backgrounds figured into the picture, they traced all athletes from 2018 back to their high schools. They then collected data on those high schools to see if they tended to have, for example, a large number of Black or low-income students.

Where Does the Money Go?

Some of the money made by football and men’s basketball, the researchers found, is reinvested back into those programs, mostly to pay coaches’ sky-high salaries, but also via spending on facilities.

“People argue that spending on facilities is a way to recruit players, as a sort of fringe benefit,” Garthwaite says. “But we can question whether that’s the most efficient way of rewarding kids for the sacrifice they make for their sport.”

Other sizable portions of the revenue go to supporting less-lucrative college sports, such as soccer, golf, and baseball, in the form of scholarships, coaches’ salaries, and improvements to those sports’ facilities. Indeed, while football and men’s basketball brought in six times the revenue of all the other sports combined, on average, they represented only 1.3 times the spending of those other sports.

This is where it’s important to look at the economic dynamics through the lenses of race and class, the researchers say.

Click Read More for the rest of the article.

Emotional Intelligence Is Key to Strong Leadership

The issue: he had terrible back pain and walking helped. But he didn’t want to admit to what he saw as a weakness, and because he was unable to read the room, he didn’t realize the impression he was making.

Booth, also a clinical professor of leadership at the Kellogg School, has had many clients who have had trouble understanding their own emotions or the emotions of others: the HR executive who cried when she got defensive, say, or the VP who was at a loss for how to talk to her team while the company was in turmoil.

“None of these people were showing up in a way they wanted to in their leadership roles,” Booth says.

What they needed to do was improve their emotional intelligence, or EQ. Emotional intelligence is an understanding of your own emotions and the emotions of those around you—as well as how to act on that information.

Booth shared four components that make up EQ—self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relational management—as well as strategies to develop each of these during a recent The Insightful Leader Live webinar from Kellogg Insight.

She began by explaining that study after study has demonstrated the importance of EQ for leaders, much more so than technical skills. “You can be the smartest person in the room, but it’s not going to have as strong a correlation to your success as EQ does,” she says.

Self-awareness is “that self check-in,” Booth says, where you take a moment to gauge where your own emotions are in a given moment. This is important because when we are feeling defensive or depleted or otherwise stressed, “our natural tendencies come out,” and sometimes those natural tendencies (becoming argumentative, say, or shutting down) are not our best selves.

Tips for nurturing self-awareness include everything from simply taking a few deep breaths to ground yourself to journaling in order to understand what your triggers are.

Self-management means taking that awareness and then choosing what to do about it. Maybe, if you’re feeling agitated, that means waiting an hour before replying to an important email. Or, if you’re feeling exhausted, go for a walk or do some yoga or call a friend.

And, it’s important to remember that self-management applies to good moods, too. “When you’re feeling upbeat, spread your joy,” Booth says. Send a thank you note to an employee or do a small act of kindness for a stranger. For many people, sharing your own good mood can be rejuvenating. “These are times of extreme stress, so being emotionally recharged is important,” she says.

Social awareness and relationship management follow the same pattern as self-awareness and self-management: first, read the room to understand how people are feeling, then decide how to act based on that information.

Watch the webinar by clicking “Read More”

How to Get Out of a Bad Co-signing Situation

While it may be easy to say, “Too bad – work on improving your credit score,” that work takes time. And when it comes to things like housing or transportation (in the case of a car loan), there’s usually no time to spare.

So, despite all the warnings, you offer up your primo credit history and co-sign on the loan. Most co-signers are family members. It’s easy to see why a parent or sibling would want to help a loved one get what they need, even with the risks attached.

But then…you notice that your credit score has taken a dive. Looking further, you find that payments are being made late or not at all. They may be family, but their inability to follow through is costing you. You may even have collectors calling you (your name is on the loan, after all).

So how do get your name off a co-signed loan?

SEE IF REFINANCING IS AN OPTION

Co-signing for a loan or credit account makes you just as responsible for that account as your family member or friend. Your credit will be impacted if payments are missed and collectors have every right to come after you for what’s owed.

If things aren’t quite so dire yet, you can see if the co-signer is able to refinance what’s owed onto a new loan or account that’s only in their name. This gets you off the hook, although any damage you took before the original loan was paid off will still be on your credit report. 

Unfortunately, this is…pretty unlikely. If the borrower couldn’t get a loan without help to begin with and now you’re trying to get out of the loan because things are going poorly, there’s very little chance they’ll be able to get approved on their own now. This is the ideal path out from under a bad co-signer situation, but it’ll be very difficult to pull off. 

REPAY THE LOAN DIRECTLY

The best option is the one you’re going to be the least excited about. If you’ve co-signed on a loan and the other co-signer isn’t holding up their end, the path of least harm to yourself is to assume full responsibility for the loan and start paying it directly. 

Of course that’s not “fair” and probably not at all within the spirit of the initial agreement you made with the borrower. But here’s the thing: your agreement with the borrower doesn’t matter. Perhaps, if you put something in writing and took the steps to create a formal contract, you may be able to eventually seek compensation directly from the borrower. But in the meantime, you already have a contract with the lender. In co-signing the loan, you were essentially saying, “If they can’t pay, I will.”

So if you’re concerned about the potential damage to your credit and the chance of a creditor taking you to court for an unpaid loan (which is a very real possibility), then it’s in your best interest to start proactively paying the loan yourself.

You can work with the borrower (if they’re responsive) to create a repayment plan, but in the meantime, your priority should be to protect your own finances and get the loan in continued good standing.

WORK WITH THE LENDER

If assuming the payments for a co-signed loan is beyond your financial capacity, it may be worth your time to contact the lender to discuss any available options. There’s a good chance they may not be able to do anything for you, but you may be able to work out a revised payment plan that keeps the account in good standing. Again, a lender isn’t required to do this, but it’s still worth a phone call.

SOME IMPORTANT THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND ABOUT CO-SIGNING

Because co-signing is often pitched as “helping out” a friend or loved one, it’s important to remember that lenders, creditors, and leasing agents really don’t care all that much about any agreements or “understandings” you may have with the borrower/applicant.

  • You can’t remove yourself from a loan contract just because the other borrower isn’t holding up their end. Your responsibility doesn’t end until the contract is fulfilled and the loan is repaid.
  • Ownership and liability are two separate things. If you co-signed on an auto loan for someone’s car, but aren’t on the title, you’re responsible for the loan that paid for the car, but have no claim to the car itself. You may think that if you paid for it, you must also own it, but that’s not always necessarily true.

Unfortunately, the co-signing horror stories are very real. A bad co-signing situation can be extremely costly, terribly damaging to your credit, and almost impossible to escape. 

If you’re considering co-signing to help a friend or family member, be cautious and keep this information in mind. There are situations where co-signing can be mutually beneficial and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to help a loved one, but it’s important to remember that if things go south, it may be long, hard road to recovery.

What Does It Mean If Your Credit Card is Charged Off?

WHAT’S A CHARGE OFF?

Charge off is an accounting term. It basically means that the account in question is a loss for the lender. 

When a lender or servicer charges off an account, they’re essentially claiming the lost profits for the purposes of lowering their tax liability. It’s a standard course of action for accounts that have gone unpaid for an extended period of time (most credit cards will charge off once they reach 181 days past due, though installment loans and other debts may reach charge off at different times). Your account will be closed as a result (if it hasn’t been closed already).

It’s incredibly important to remember, however, that a lender charging off an account doesn’t mean that the associated debt goes away. Legally speaking, your obligation to repay the debt does not change, even after the account is charged off. This is basically just a bookkeeping move from the lender to save a little money on their end.

WHEN IS AN ACCOUNT CHARGED OFF?

Different lenders will have different policies when it comes to charging off delinquent accounts. As a rule of thumb, lenders won’t charge off an account unless it’s seriously delinquent – again, most credit cards need to be 181 days (or six billing cycles) past due. The account will likely be well into the debt collections process by that point, and may even be serviced by a third party debt collection agency.

Don’t expect to be notified of a charge off. Instead, you’ll likely be receiving communications from the lender’s collection department or a third party debt collector. Those collection activities can continue long after the debt’s been charged off.

DO YOU STILL OWE MONEY ON A CHARGED OFF ACCOUNT?

You are absolutely still responsible for the repayment of debts even after they’ve been charged off. 

A lender choosing to charge off an account does not change any of the agreed upon terms and conditions of the original agreement. Interest can still accrue. Fees and penalties can still be added. 

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that a charge off absolves you of your obligations to the debt. It doesn’t.

CAN YOU NEGOTIATE ON A CHARGED OFF ACCOUNT?

The one potential bright side of having your account charged off is that you may be able to negotiate a settlement for the outstanding balance. This is essentially how debt settlement programs work – you allow an account to go unpaid and become severely delinquent; once it’s charged off you may be able to settle with the account owner for a fraction of the full balance.

Of course, there are drawbacks to this scenario. Missing payments on your debts (intentionally or otherwise) will almost definitely cause your credit score to drop. No matter what happens after, those negative marks will stick around for seven years, so the damage may take a few years to shake. It’s also important to keep in mind that forgiven debt (the amount of the debt you don’t pay) will likely need to be claimed as income on your taxes, which could result in a bigger tax bill.

All that said, if your account has changed off because you simply couldn’t afford the payments, settlement can be a useful solution for both parties – the lender recovers some amount of what’s owed to them and you get to put the debt behind you, usually for a much more affordable amount.

CAN A CHARGE OFF BE UNDONE?

You can make arrangements with the lender or collection agency to repay the debt, either in full or partially as part of a settlement, but you won’t be able to “undo” the charge off. Your account can’t be reopened and you can’t remove the negative marks from your credit report.

What do we really know about antioxidants?

According to an article in biomolecules, the word antioxidant is one of the most confusing scientific terms that scientific literature does not clearly define.

This article takes an in-depth look at antioxidants, explaining what they are and how they affect health.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are compounds that reduce or inhibit cellular damage through their ability to neutralize molecules called free radicals.

Free radicals are molecules that have one or more unpaired electrons in their outer orbit, making them unstable and highly reactive. The body creates them through normal endogenous metabolic processes, including energy production. 

The body also produces them in response to environmental and lifestyle factors, such as sun exposure, smoking, alcohol consumption, and more. 

Antioxidants inhibit a process called oxidation, which generates free radicals that leads to cellular damage. Antioxidants safely interact with free radicals, neutralizing them before they can cause damage to proteins, lipids, and DNA. 

Oxidative stress occurs when there are too many free radicals in the body. This imbalance can occur due to increased production of free radicals or decreased antioxidant defenses. 

Free radicals play an important role in the normal physiological functioning of the body and contribute to a person’s health. However, when the body produces an excess of free radicals, it can increase a person’s disease risk.

For example, many chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer, have links to progressive damage from free radicals.

Antioxidant defense systems

Cells have antioxidant defense systems that help keep free radical production in check.

For example, cells contain antioxidant enzymes that help reduce free radical levels. The primary antioxidant enzymes in the cells include superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), and glutathione reductase (GRx).

These antioxidant enzymes are known as first-line defense antioxidants. They help regulate free radical levels by neutralizing both free radicals and other molecules that have the potential to become free radicals.

The body also produces metabolic antioxidants through metabolism. These include lipoic acid, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, melatonin, uric acid, L-arginine, metal-chelating proteins, bilirubin, and transferrin.

However, there are some antioxidants that the body cannot produce, which means a person must consume them through food or by taking dietary supplements. These nutrient antioxidants include carotenoids, antioxidant vitamins, including vitamins C and E, selenium, manganese, zinc, flavonoids, and omega-3 and omega-6 fats. 

Dietary and supplemental antioxidants tend to receive the most attention within the nutrition world because consuming a diet rich in antioxidants can help boost the body’s antioxidant defenses.

Antioxidants in food vs. supplements

Unraveling the intricacies of dietary antioxidants can be challenging and confusing. Many antioxidants occur naturally in food, and countless other compounds that claim to boost the body’s antioxidant defenses are available as dietary supplements. 

Foods such as fruits, vegetables, spices, and nuts contain thousands of different compounds that act as antioxidants. 

For example, grapes, apples, pears, cherries, and berries contain a group of plant chemicals called polyphenol antioxidants. There are over 8,000 different polyphenol antioxidants in nature.

Brightly colored fruits and vegetables also contain high concentrations of carotenoids, another class of antioxidants. 

However, these natural food-derived antioxidants are very different from those found in dietary supplements.

For example, there are many forms of vitamin E, including synthetic vitamin E and natural vitamin E, such as alpha-tocopherol esters. All these forms of vitamin E may have different effects on the body. 

This may be why studies investigating the potential health benefits of vitamin E supplements have produced conflicting results. 

Additionally, supplements typically contain concentrated doses of isolated antioxidant compounds that can impact health differently than antioxidant-rich foods.

Although antioxidant-rich foods are extremely nutritious and important for health, taking a very high-dose antioxidant supplement may not suit everyone and may even be harmful to some people.

How Spending Time Alone Helped Me Overcome My Loneliness

I have spent most of my life surrounded by people, which is probably why I never realized I was lonely. For the majority of my adult life, the only quiet times I had to myself were the very start and very end of the day. Otherwise, my mind was inundated with chatter, notifications, and distractions.

This constant noise let me mask the depths of my loneliness. I was bombarded with texts and distractions at all times, but I lacked deeper connections. As the years passed and I grew busier and busier, I found that I actually took steps to reduce my alone time. I’d watch TV until I fell asleep; I’d check my work emails first thing in the morning.

Looking back, the situation was obvious—I was terrified of being alone with my own thoughts—but at the time, I just thought I was being productive, or simply didn’t like being bored.

I didn’t realize my problem until my laptop suddenly broke. One chilly afternoon, when I was curled up on the sofa, ready for some New Girl, it unexpectedly powered off, and I was faced with my own reflection in the black screen. My phone was out of charge.

Without distractions, work, or social media filling up my mind, I came to the abrupt realization that, despite all my activities and invites, I was deeply lonely. And that was making me profoundly miserable without even realizing it.

That afternoon, I found out I was terrified of being alone. I looked at my relationship with myself and found it lacking.

The prospect of being stuck in my own company was so scary to me that it jarred me into action. I’d gotten so good at filling my mind with chatter, I didn’t know who I was when I was alone. I was definitely one of the many Americans who spend more than five hours a day on their phones, according to a 2017 State of Mobile report—never really alone, after all. But I didn’t know how to start being less lonely.

I didn’t want to only rely on others, so I made a plan to build my relationship with myself.

I decided then to be mindful about my intentional alone time. First, I figured out when I had space to be with myself. Then, I identified the times I found it hardest to be alone. Finally, I picked out the obstacles.

That left me with a solid three-point strategy: I had roughly three chunks of time during the day when I could have mindful alone time. My mornings and evenings were roughest for me. And my phone was the primary driver in stopping me from my goals.

My plan was to have three sections of alone time: active alone time, time meditating, and time doing something that didn’t involve a screen. But before I did any of that, I had to remove the biggest obstacle: my phone.

Even though it kept me connected to the world, it was holding me back from developing a deeper relationship with myself. I spotted that I used it most in the morning and the evening, so I invested in an old-fashioned alarm clock and decided on a strict no-screens-after-9:00pm rule.

Normally, my morning started with me staring at my phone’s notifications. Instead, I got up and went for a fifteen-minute walk in my neighborhood. At first, it was boring—I was desperate for distraction. But the more I did it, the more I found myself capable of noticing birdsong, thinking about my plans for the day, unraveling the tangled feelings of the day prior, and looking forward to my first cup of coffee.

I also worked in a five-minute meditation. At the time, meditation was new for me, so I figured that five minutes would be short enough for me to start getting into the habit. I quickly realized I needed to invest in an app to do guided meditation, which really helped me stay consistent and get actual benefits from it.

Finally, I filled my evenings with reading and painting. Both of these activities are manual, which meant that I couldn’t check my phone while I was doing them. I was able to rediscover my love of books, and while I’m not very good at painting, the process of producing tangible art helped patch the gap in the evenings when I normally would reach for my phone.

Research proves that loneliness is harmful for your physical and emotional well-being, but you don’t necessarily have to look outside yourself to cure your loneliness.

All my habit changes pointed to one final conclusion: You can’t depend on others to feel better about yourself. Learning to be okay with being alone was crucial to my journey with myself. You can’t begin to work on real relationships with others until you have a solid relationship with yourself.

For me, it took one crucial moment to bring home the reality of the situation. From there, I needed to actively carve out alone time—not just time without other people physically present, but time without distractions, notifications, phone calls, or emails.

Time that belonged just to me.

Finally, it did take tweaking. I tried to do it with my phone, but realized it was impossible, so I removed it. I originally tried to do a half-hour walk, but the time away from any devices stressed me out. When I began meditation, I thought I could do it without an app, but found I spiraled into negative thought patterns or fell asleep.

My point is…

14 Natural Ways to Improve Your Memory

Genetics plays a role in memory loss, especially in serious neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. However, research has shown that diet and lifestyle have a major impact on memory too.

Here are 14 evidence-based ways to improve your memory naturally.

1. Eat Less Added Sugar

Eating too much added sugar has been linked to many health issues and chronic diseases, including cognitive decline.

Research has shown that a sugar-laden diet can lead to poor memory and reduced brain volume, particularly in the area of the brain that stores short-term memory.

For example, one study of more than 4,000 people found that those with a higher intake of sugary beverages like soda had lower total brain volumes and poorer memories on average compared to people who consumed less sugar.

Cutting back on sugar not only helps your memory but also improves your overall health.

2. Try a Fish Oil Supplement

Fish oil is rich in the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

These fats are important for overall health and have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, reduce inflammation, relieve stress and anxiety, and slow mental decline.

Many studies have shown that consuming fish and fish oil supplements may improve memory, especially in older people. 

One study of 36 older adults with mild cognitive impairment found that short-term and working memory scores improved significantly after they took concentrated fish oil supplements for 12 months.

Another recent review of 28 studies showed that when adults with mild symptoms of memory loss took supplements rich in DHA and EPA, like fish oil, they experienced improved episodic memory.

Both DHA and EPA are vital to the health and functioning of the brain and also help reduce inflammation in the body, which has been linked to cognitive decline.

3. Make Time for Meditation

The practice of meditation may positively affect your health in many ways. 

It is relaxing and soothing, and has been found to reduce stress and pain, lower blood pressure and even improve memory.

In fact, meditation has been shown to increase gray matter in the brain. Gray matter contains neuron cell bodies. 

As you age, gray matter declines, which negatively impacts memory and cognition.

Meditation and relaxation techniques have been shown to improve short-term memory in people of all ages, from people in their 20s to the elderly.

For example, one study demonstrated that Taiwanese college students who engaged in meditation practices like mindfulness had significantly better spatial working memory than students who did not practice meditation.

Spatial working memory is the ability to hold and process information in your mind about the positions of objects in space.

4. Maintain a Healthy Weight 

Maintaining a healthy body weight is essential for well-being and is one of the best ways to keep your body and mind in top condition.

Several studies have established obesity as a risk factor for cognitive decline.

Interestingly, being obese can actually cause changes to memory-associated genes in the brain, negatively affecting memory.

Obesity can also lead to insulin resistance and inflammation, both of which can negatively impact the brain.

A study of 50 people between the ages of 18 and 35 found that a higher body mass index was associated with significantly worse performance on memory tests .

Obesity is also associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive disease that destroys memory and cognitive function .

5. Get Enough Sleep

Lack of proper sleep has been associated with poor memory for quite some time.

Sleep plays an important role in memory consolidation, a process in which short-term memories are strengthened and transformed into long-lasting memories.

Research shows that if you are sleep deprived, you could be negatively impacting your memory.

For example, one study looked at the effects of sleep in 40 children between the ages of 10 and 14.

One group of children was trained for memory tests in the evening, then tested the following morning after a night’s sleep. The other group was trained and tested on the same day, with no sleep between training and testing.

The group that slept between training and testing performed 20% better on the memory tests .

Another study found that nurses working the night shift made more mathematical errors and that 68% of them scored lower on memory tests compared to nurses working the day shift.

Health experts recommend adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimal health.

3 simple steps to jump-start your heart health this year

In the United States last year, at least twice as many people died from cardiovascular causes as those who died from complications from SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus.

While the challenges from the virus are new, experts have been studying heart disease for decades — and everyone can benefit from that knowledge. “The lifestyle habits that keep your heart healthy may also leave you less vulnerable to serious complications from infections such as COVID-19 and influenza,” says cardiologist Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and editor in chief of the Harvard Heart Letter.

So what exactly are those heart-healthy habits? The American Heart Association refers to them as “Life’s Simple 7.” Put simply, they are:

1) Stop smoking

2) Eat better

3) Be active

4) Lose weight

5) Manage your blood pressure

6) Control your cholesterol

7) Reduce your blood sugar

Choosing three steps to jump-start heart health this year

But seven steps may seem like too much to manage, or may even seem overwhelming. So, let’s make it even simpler by focusing on just a few. Of course, not everyone needs to lose weight or lower their blood sugar. And in reality, most Americans don’t smoke, so step one doesn’t apply to very many people.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for steps two and three. Most people don’t eat enough plant-based foods like vegetables, whole grains, beans, and fruit. And few Americans get the recommended amounts of exercise. That’s at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking) each week, plus muscle-strengthening activity (like lifting weights) at least two days each week.

Of course, improving both your diet and your exercise game will help you lose weight (step four). But did you know that eating better and moving more can also help with steps five, six, and seven?

Start with one small change, then add on

In 2021, do your heart a favor by doing these three things.

Make one small change to your diet. Some suggestions: Swap meat with beans in one of your favorite dinner recipes. Eat a slice of whole-grain bread instead of white bread. Try a vegetable you’ve never had before.

Do a heart rate-elevating exercise for 10 minutes. Some suggestions: Take a brisk walk around your neighborhood. Hop on a treadmill or other exercise machine. No machines handy? Do some simple calisthenics, like a combination of jumping jacks, squats, leg raises, and arm circles.

Know your numbers. It’s easy to track these four key values. Step on a scale, then use your weight and height to calculate your body mass index. Measure your blood pressure (many pharmacies have machines). Check your medical records for your latest blood test results, which should include cholesterol and fasting blood sugar values.

Here are the standard targets:

  • body mass index between 18.5 and 25
  • blood pressure below 120/80 mm/Hg
  • total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL
  • fasting blood sugar (glucose) below 100 mg/dL.

It’s important to note that your individual targets may differ, depending on your age and medical and family history. Talk with your doctor about this, then work together to achieve or maintain these four values in the optimal range for you. This might include taking medications. And in the meantime, start making small tweaks to your diet and exercise routine. Gradually adding more healthful foods and spending more time exercising can really make a difference to your heart and overall health.

Remembering MLK Jr.

Dr. King was the voice of a movement at a time when equality for all was not yet a reality.  Today, we continue to strive for equality, looking to community leaders to lend their voices, time and action to help those who struggle with adversity, poverty, oppression and any type of unfair treatment.

With so many great former NFL players doing charitable work in their communities, we encourage all former players to meet up with their local NFLPA Chapters, get involved with or start an effort in their community, and to let us know so we can continue to champion your great work in our “Paying it Forward” series in 2018.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Walk Off Your Anxiety

I woke up feeling stressed today. I hadn’t gotten enough sleep, so that was probably the main cause, but I’ve also been unusually busy with work. As I got up and started to move around, I could feel the telltale flutter of anxiety in my chest. It wasn’t tied to anything specific that’s going on, it was just there.

Unless I did something about it, it was going to bother me all day. I had enough to do already. I didn’t need or want that yucky anxious feeling following me around.

As I’ve written about before, low blood sugar can cause anxiety symptoms. I’d already had some food with a good dose of protein and fat, so that wasn’t the cause today. I’d also done my morning mindfulness practice, but still felt off. What else could I do, to change how I was feeling? I decided to go for a power walk.

There hasn’t been a lot of rigorous, well-designed research about the impact of walking on clinical anxiety. However, a 2018 review article that looked at 15 randomized controlled trials found that aerobic exercise was indeed effective, especially if done at a higher intensity level.

I often share the story of a trauma expert whose lecture I attended at a conference. She told the whole audience that she suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and that her mandatory morning exercise routine was the one thing that kept her anxiety at bay. If she exercised first thing, it was as if her anxiety wasn’t even a thing.

I recommend exercise to all my mental health patients, and instruct them to pay attention to how they feel after. Over and over, I hear what a powerful impact it has on their moods and their ability to cope with stress.

I made sure that today’s walk was truly a “power” walk. When I’m stressed, upset, angry or anxious, a good brisk stompy walk (easily done with big boots on a snowy path, as I did today) is enormously helpful. I also chose a route with uphill climbs, and walked as quickly as I could.

Though I walked for about forty minutes, it took a while for the stress and anxiety to dissipate. On the return leg of the walk, I could feel it starting to lift.

It wasn’t until I was back home, though, and chatting with my husband about some (mildly stressful) home repair issues, that I was realized that I was suddenly in a great mood. Whereas the home repair topic might have normally made me feel a little stressed or burdened, I felt positively sunny about it all. It was really striking.

It’s now a couple of hours later, and the anxious tension in my chest has been solidly replaced by that sunny optimism. It’s hard to imagine that I ever felt anxious, I feel so different now. I also feel much more awake, and no longer feel that uncomfortable tension that comes from a lack of sleep.

If you’re an anxious type, I really recommend that you make exercise a part of your daily life. The brisker, the better. Pay attention to how good it makes you feel, and you’ll become an exercise enthusiast for life.

9 Trends That Will Shape Work in 2021 and Beyond

It’s fair to say that 2020 rocked many organizations and business models, upending priorities and plans as business leaders scrambled to navigate a rapidly changing environment. For many organizations this included responding to the social justice movements, shifting to a full-time remote staff, determining how best to support employees’ wellbeing, managing a hybrid workforce, and now addressing legal concerns around the Covid-19 vaccine.

It would be nice to believe that 2021 will be about stability and getting back to normal; however, this year is likely to be another full of major transitions. While there has been a lot of focus on the increase in the number of employees working remotely at least part of the time going forward, there are nine additional forces that I think will shape business in 2021:

1. Employers will shift from managing the employee experience to managing the life experience of their employees. The pandemic has given business leaders increased visibility into the personal lives of their employees, who have faced unprecedented personal and professional struggles over the last year.

It’s become clear that supporting employees in their personal lives more effectively enables employees to not only have better lives, but also to perform at a higher level. According to Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey, employers that support employees with their life experience see a 23% increase in the number of employees reporting better mental health and a 17% increase in the number of employees reporting better physical health. There is also a real benefit to employers, who see a 21% increase in the number of high performers compared to organizations that don’t provide the same degree of support to their employees.

That’s why 2021 will be the year where employer support for mental health, financial health, and even things that were previously seen as out of bounds, like sleep, will become the table stakes benefits offered to employees.

2. More companies will adopt stances on current societal and political debates. Employees’ desire to work for organizations whose values align with their own has been growing for some time. In 2020, this desire accelerated: Gartner research shows that 74% of employees expect their employer to become more actively involved in the cultural debates of the day. I believe CEOs will have to respond in order to retain and attract the best talent.

However, making statements about the issues of the day is no longer enough: Employees expect more. And CEOs who have spent real resources on these issues have been rewarded with more highly engaged employees. A Gartner survey found that the number of employees who were considered highly engaged increased from 40% to 60% when their organization acted on today’s social issues.

3. The gender-wage gap will continue to increase as employees return to the office. Many organizations have already adopted a hybrid workforce — or are planning to this year — that enables employees to work from the corporate office, their home, or an alternate third space (coffee shop, co-working space, etc.). In this hybrid scenario, we are hearing from CHROs that the surveys of their own employees are showing that men are more likely to decide to return to their workplace, while women are more likely to continue to work from home.

According to a recent Gartner survey, 64% of managers believe that office workers are higher performers than remote workers, and in turn are likely to give in-office workers a higher raise than those who work from home. However, data that we have collected from both 2019 (pre-pandemic) and 2020 (during the pandemic) shows the opposite: Full-time remote workers are 5% more likely to be high performers than those who work full-time from the office.

So if men are more likely to work from the office, and managers retain a bias towards in-office workers, we should expect to see managers over-rewarding male employees at the expense of female employees, worsening the gender-wage gap at a time when the pandemic has already had a disproportionate impact on women.

4. New regulations will limit employee monitoring. During the pandemic, more than 1 out of 4 companies has purchased new technology, for the first time, to passively track and monitor their employees. However, many of these same companies haven’t determined how to balance employee privacy with the technology, and employees are frustrated. Gartner research found that less than 50% of employees trust their organization with their data, and 44% don’t receive any information regarding the data collected about them. In 2021, we expect a variety of new regulations at the state and local level that will start to put limits on what employers can track about their employees. Given the variability that this will create, companies are likely to adopt the most restrictive standards across their workforce.

5. Flexibility will shift from location to time. While enabling employees to work remotely became commonplace across 2020 (and will continue this year and beyond), the next wave of flexibility will be around when employees are expected to work.

Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey revealed that only 36% of employees were high performers at organizations with a standard 40-hour work week. Organizations that offer employees flexibility over when, where and how much they work, see 55% of their work force as high performers. In 2021, I expect to see a rise of new jobs where employees will be measured by their output, as opposed to an agreed-upon set of hours.

6. Leading companies will make bulk purchases of the Covid vaccine for employees — and will be sued over Covid vaccine requirements. Employers that provide the Covid vaccine to their workforce will leverage this action as a key differentiator to attract and retain talent. In tandem with employers providing the vaccine, several companies will be sued for requiring their employees to have proof of vaccination before allowing them to return to the workplace. The corresponding litigation will slow return-to-workplace efforts even as vaccine usage increases.

Tips for Achieving Your Financial New Year’s Resolutions in 2021

Given the way 2020 unfolded, if you’re making a financial resolution for the new year, a lot of new considerations may be coming into play – whether that’s changes in your financial situation and outlook or new spending habits and priorities. As an unprecedented year comes to an end, here are a few tips that may be helpful if you’re sitting down to map out 2021.

  • 1. Set Short- and Long-term Goals. Instead of making the sweeping promise that you will generally “be better with money” moving forward, break down what you hope to achieve in a set of specific goals, spanning from short-term to long-term. Maybe it’s to pay off student loans in the next three years, buy a home within ten years and make sure you have enough saved for retirement in the long-term. Especially when you don’t know what the future might hold, this could help you maintain a sense of control. Also, you can more easily chart your progress, reassess and course correct as needed.
  • 2. Keep Up with Good Habits. Many Americans were fortunate enough to be able to improve their finances in 2020 — putting more aside toward savings or taking advantage of opportunities like mortgage refinancing. Of course, not everyone is in a position to save more, but if you can, continue to keep your foot on the gas, whether that’s shoring up savings or staying on the lookout for opportunities, like refinancing, that may be unique to the current times.
  • 3. Clean Out Your Wallet. Do you have credit cards floating around in your wallet or desk drawer that haven’t been used for years? Do you have a travel-centric credit card but rarely take trips? It might be a good time to reassess what you’re carrying, whether it fits with your spending habits and how you can simplify. One option if you don’t want to juggle multiple cards is the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card, which allows you to earn 3% cash back on purchases in a category of your choice — including online shopping, gas, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings — and you have the ability to change that category each month. If you expect your spending to change next year (perhaps you are doing a lot of online shopping now but would like to start dining out and traveling more when you can), this card can adapt with you as your priorities change.

The Secret to a Quarantine Staycation that’s Actually Fun

If your vacation plans have been waylaid, how can you enjoy a vacation without straying too far from your stomping grounds? 

While many places in the U.S. are starting to allow businesses to reopen, and stay-at-home mandates have been relaxed to safer-at-home orders, if you’re playing it safe and trying to minimize the risk for yourself and others, you probably won’t be traveling anytime soon. 

To help fill that summertime void, we’ve drummed up some ideas for a fun quarantine staycation: 

BREAK OUT OF YOUR ROUTINE

While maintaining healthy habits and routines can be a good thing, there are also benefits to mixing things up. Studies reveal that routines can set us in autopilot. It could mean losing touch with your emotions and senses. 

During your staycation, find small ways to break out of your daily doldrums. Take a different route on your neighborhood walk, and hone in on one of your senses. For example, take deep breaths while you take a stroll around the neighborhood. Smell different flowers and plants on your walk. Or order dishes from local restaurants that you’ve never tried before. Has it been years since you’ve hopped on your bike? Dust it off and take it for a spin. 

Breaking out of your routine could be as simple as switching rooms you sleep in during your staycation. It might sound a bit silly, but waking up from a sleeping bag in your living room floor, or letting the kids sleep in the master bedroom, could be enough to enliven your senses. 

GO ON A MISSION-BASED STAYCATION 

Give your staycation a twist by centering your trip around a mission. See if you can find the best sandwich in town by ordering takeout at a few of the best cafes and sandwich shops on Yelp. Or if you have a sweet tooth, see if you can go on a hunt for the best chocolate caramel cupcake in your area. 

I’ve gone on little themed-based missions where I live in search of the best donut or pastor taco. It’ll help you discover new eats in your neighborhood and give you an excuse to check out the menu of a restaurant you might’ve previously overlooked. 

HOST A WEEK OF MOVIE NIGHTS 

If you live in a household of cinephiles,have you and each member of your family choose a movie you can watch together. If you live alone, you can organize a group viewing party on Netflix Party or Disney Plus Party. Toss together a charcuterie board featuring a spread of your favorite meats and cheeses. And have plenty of treats on hand for the kids. 

If you and your family are a bunch of art lovers, enjoy virtual tours of museums. 

PUT ON YOUR CULINARY CAP 

If you love to cook, think of recipes you’ve wanted to try. See if you can recreate dishes in the region or country you were planning to travel to this summer. With the extra time on your hands, ferment some napa cabbage and make some homemade kimchi. Or dice up some ginger, and add sugar and water and make your own ginger bug to create homemade ginger ale. 

CAMP IN YOUR BACKYARD 

Pitch a tent in your backyard and cook up some hot dogs or roast smores over your grill. When it gets dark, you can gather around and tell spooky stories. During the day, you can romp about outside and form designated areas for play, art and crafts, and rest and relaxation. 

GET OFF YOUR COMPUTER 

If you’re burnt out from all those Zoom calls during the quarantine, limit time spent on electronic devices. Go on a social media break, and don’t answer work emails if possible. And treat your staycation just like you were taking a proper holiday. Put up an “I’m on vacation” auto-responder on your work email, and try not to think about work. 

EXPLORE LOCAL NATURE

Whether it’s a hiking trail or urban park, spend some time outdoors. You can pack up a picnic lunch and inhale some fresh air and learn about flora and fauna in your area. 

Before you venture out, check online to see if your chosen outdoor spot is indeed open and if there have been any adjustments in the hours. And of course, be sure to practice social distance, wear a mask when outdoors, wash your hands frequently, and carry hand sanitizer with you. 

COME UP WITH A PLAN FOR THE MONEY SAVED 

If you’ve had to cancel summer travel plans, see if you can get a refund for that airfare or train ticket. And because you’re saving money by not traveling, those funds can go toward another goal. Which of your money goals is most pressing? For instance, you could squirrel it away into an e-fund, or put it toward debt repayment. If you can afford to, consider tucking it away for next year’s vacation fund. 

Whatever you decide to do for your quarantine staycation, focus on what it is about travel that you enjoy. Maybe it’s seeing new sights, exploring new terrain, trying fresh cuisines, spending time with your family, or taking a break from work. While you might not be able to travel, creating a staycation that’s rooted in what’s most important to you will make for time off at home that provides what you need.

The Next Generation of You: Jay Riemersma

by Jim Gehman

“I can remember sitting around the dining room table just kind of listening to my folks talk about the issues of the day,” Riemersma said. “First and foremost, we’re a very Christian family, and so we believe that it’s our duty as Christians to be involved in the political process. So, after I retired from the NFL, my mom had actually worked at Family Research Council and the president of the organization had kind of followed the tail end of my career and said, ‘What is Jay going to do when he’s done?’

“Of course, everybody thinks they’re going to play forever. And then when I ended up tearing my Achilles (in 2004), it just seemed natural for me to go into something that was a passion of ours growing up.”

Founded in 1983, FRC is a nonprofit research and educational organization. Its mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview.

“I manage the sales team,” Riemersma said. “Anytime you’re working for a nonprofit, you have a group of individuals that are out in the field, in different parts of the country, raising money on behalf of the organization. And because of that, I’m traveling quite a bit doing a lot of that stuff myself.

“I love the work that we do. I love the fact that it’s a Christian organization that’s trying to advance a Christian worldview in the public policy arena. It’s been quite a bit different with the pandemic that we’ve been going through, but typically I’m in a week and out a week.”

A tight end chosen by Buffalo in the seventh round of the 1996 NFL Draft out of Michigan, Riemersma, “unknown, untested, and unproven,” beat the odds and spent nine seasons in the league with the Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers.

He had the opportunity to play for two Hall of Fame coaches, Marv Levy and Bill Cowher, and is using experiences he had with them to help now in his role as a manager.

“Playing for Marv and Coach Cowher, the leadership traits and characteristics and certainly the way they were able to push the right buttons for each individual player,” Riemersma says, “it’s completely different depending on who you’re trying to motivate.

“The great thing about sports, and football especially, you’re taking a group of men from all different backgrounds, with all different life experiences, and you’re trying to assemble the pieces of the puzzle that ultimately give you the best chance to win in a short window on a Sunday afternoon.

“So, those principles of leadership and character and integrity are things that I’ve taken into my career trying to lead people. The basics, the fundamentals, in leadership qualities that you learn from those guys translates in anything you do.”    

Living in his hometown with his wife, Cara, and their children: Sophie, Trip, and Nick; what’s the best thing about being Jay Riemersma today?

“What I most enjoy is being Dad,” Riemersma said. “And I think I’m most proud of the fact that people in and around west Michigan that kind of know me, and in the cities that I played, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, those folks and fans, they know me as just Jay. He’s not Jay with an ego. I’m just a dad and a husband that’s trying to go and impact the world for Christ.”

How to Complete an End-of-Year Debt Assessment

If you’ve been too busy to sit down and take a closer look at your debt, the end of year is the perfect time. Here are some simple tips for assessing your debt and setting a plan for the next year: 

MAKE SURE YOUR DEBT LOAD IS MANAGEABLE 

Debt isn’t inherently bad and it’s entirely possible to have a completely manageable amount of debt. But for a debt load to be manageable, two things need to be true: you need to be able to comfortably afford the costs of your debt, and any growth in your debt needs to be in proportion to your income and financial capacity. In other words, you need the income to handle your debts, and income was a challenge for a lot of consumers in 2020. 

“When income is limited, people prioritize their daily expenses over debt,” says Brandy Baxter, an accredited financial counselor and founder of Live Abundantly. And when you’re out of a job, you might need to resort to digging deeper into debt to make up for reduced income. “On the surface, this strategy seems to make sense,” says Baxter. “However, without a cash infusion or an income increase, your debt will only continue to grow and create a bigger challenge in the future.” 

Do you have the income to support your debt? Was your income reduced or cut off for a period during the previous year? If there’s a gap there, you may want to prioritize debt repayment next year, either through increased earning, decreased spending, or a structured repayment plan.

GRADE YOUR PROGRESS 

Just like how a teacher calculates grades at the end of a semester, you can take a good look at your debt to see where it stands, explains Baxter. First, look at your credit card statements. Has your credit usage increased during the year? Have you had to take on a personal loan, or incurred medical debt? It’s also a good time to sit down and calculate how much interest you paid throughout the year. 

If a debt has defaulted, and you’re not sure where your debt is exactly, contact the creditor to see if it’s been moved to a collections agency. You’ll also want to review your debt to make sure you’re aware of the total balance, interest rate, and your monthly payment. 

Where are you versus where you started the year? And, more importantly, where are you versus where you want to be? Do you feel like things are moving in a positive direction? If not, it may be time to reach out for a little additional support.

Baxter suggests taking a look at the section of your credit card statement that shows you how long it’ll take to pay off your debt if you made only the bare minimum payment. It could be eye-opening how long it could take — and how much you would pay in interest fees alone.

REACH OUT TO YOUR CREDITORS

Your creditors want you to succeed. And by succeed, we mean that they want you to pay back your debts and then borrow more in the future. Defaulting for missed payments is bad for both of you. 

During these difficult economic times, creditors and lenders are often willing to talk to you about your situation and explore options to make your debt more manageable. Some credit card companies have some information on forms of relief on their website. That can be a good place to start if your debt has been trending in the wrong direction this year. 

“If you’re a client that has been in good standing and has never missed a payment, reach out to them to see what they might be able to lower the interest rate before you find yourself missing payments,” says Baxter. “Remember: The answer is always no, if the question is not asked.” 

If you’re not feeling positively about where things are headed, connect with your creditors to ask about waiving late fees, temporarily pausing payments, or lowering the monthly payment amount. 

LOOK INTO REPAYMENT OPTIONS 

If it’s time to take a more focused approach to debt repayment, there are ways you can potentially lower your monthly payments, interest fees, or both. For instance, debt consolidation lumps all of your unsecured credit card debt into a single payment. That may make it easier for you to manage your debt, particularly if the consolidated payment is lower and the interest rate is an improvement on what you were previously paying. However, debt consolidation loans usually require a strong credit score to qualify, and if you’ve been struggling your score may have been dinged already. 

Another standard option is a balance transfer, where you move your credit card debts to a new card, often with a low introductory interest rate. While a balance transfer could potentially save you money during the intro period, there’s usually a balance transfer fee, which is anywhere from 3% to 6% of the outstanding balance. And of course that low interest rate often only lasts 6-12 months. 

Besides debt consolidation and refinancing, you can also look into a debt management plan (DMP), which is similar to a debt consolidation loan: you make one payment and there’s usually pretty substantial savings on interest charges. A DMP isn’t a loan, however, making it a great option for consumers with a low credit score.

At the end of a particularly challenging year, it’s important to take stock and set an appropriate course for the year ahead. There will always be plenty of factors in life that you simply can’t control, so focus on what you can do, make a plan that suits your goals, and never hesitate to ask for help when you need it.

When Do We Really Need Face-to-Face Interactions?

The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the adoption of new virtual ways of developing leaders and managing teams. But what will happen as we emerge from the crisis?

While we will likely never go back to our pre-crisis status quo, we imagine the future will be a blended one that leverages the best of what both virtual and face-to-face experiences can offer. While the face-to-face part won’t start happening with any regularity until it is safe and possible to do so, we can be encouraged that this future is on the horizon as newly approved vaccines start to deploy around the world.

Based on our years of research and experience thus far, there are four broad dimensions of impact in management development — collaboration, innovation, acculturation, and dedication — that may prove difficult to achieve and sustain without some face-to-face interactions in the future.

Let’s quickly review these four dimensions:

Collaboration is about building shared understandings, relationships, and trust.

Innovation is about getting creative ideas out of people’s brains, exploring the ways they fit together, and collectively engaging in learning processes to refine and realize them. These require both trust and time together in non-stressed environments.

Acculturation is about creating a robust, shared company culture. This is an essential element of long-term organizational effectiveness as it builds mutual understanding and a sense of shared identity.

Dedication is about having a shared sense of purpose and feeling part of a community.

What fosters collaboration, innovation, acculturation, and dedication beyond placing people in the same place at the same time? We believe the answer is to design an immersive experience that incorporate five “design drivers.”

Purposeful focus. Face-to-face experiences inherently have the potential to generate and sustain focus. When we are physically together, it is more difficult to give in to all kinds of distractions. Group dynamics operate much more effectively to reinforce focus in face-to-face interaction: It is easier for our colleagues to keep us focused and we all keep each other on task.

Let’s imagine your organization is designing a development program to accelerate the integration of an acquisition. To achieve purposeful focus, the organization would bring the key players from the acquiring and acquired companies together in an offsite environment removed from the office (and especially from the corporate headquarters) where they can focus without distraction and without the feeling of being on someone else’s “turf.”

Interpersonal bonding. This is particularly important in creating safe environments for collaboration and innovation. Bonding refers to the creation of emotional connections that lead to trust, support, and openness among participants.

In the acquisition example, the organization could encourage the key players to exchange personal histories and life experiences, in small groups potentially supported by coaches, and to more informally get to know each other.

Deep learning. Conceptual learning means gaining an understanding of ideas, such as empowerment or return on equity. Deep learning means wrestling with those concepts, debating when and how they are useful, and understanding how subtle differences in context influence their application.

Deep learning happens when participants have the time, space, and support to explore the meaning of these concepts for their particular situations and challenges. By “exploration” we mean both the opportunity to honestly share where they are in any specific area and the opportunity to get both feedback — and be challenged — from colleagues in their group. Deep learning then truly makes the concepts come alive in both relevant and context-specific ways.

In the acquisition example, the organization could explore and deepen the understanding of the key benefits the acquisition is supposed to bring in the context of the combined companies.

Unencumbered experimentation. Experimentation in business is often impeded by concerns over turf, resources, advancement, credit, and so on. Immersive face-to-face experiences are necessary to foster the development of personal trust and bonds that allow for experimentation unencumbered by these concerns. The experimentation is done through design thinking and prototyping minimally viable products under strong time pressure and with rounds of quick feedback.

Back to our acquisition example, once a common understanding has been reached, possible scenarios can be created and prototypes of integration plans created.

Structured serendipity. Serendipity, our fifth and final design driver, refers to the effect of stumbling onto something truly wonderful while looking for something entirely unrelated. A well-designed immersive experience consists of a balance of formal and informal elements that create fertile ground for such a moment. This structuring can include elements such as the selection of a diverse set of participants, the pedagogical variety of the program, the opportunities to connect with different colleagues, the choice of locations that foster formal and informal connections, and the spaces that are conducive to reflection and sharing.

The organization trying to speed up an acquisition might try to build in unstructured time, be it dinners, walks, or shared recreational activities. You do this to encourage informal exchanges as they often lead to important creative insights, while at the same time deepening interpersonal connections.

As your organization starts to decide when and how to leverage face-to-face experiences, these concepts may be helpful in determining whether you are in need of the right mix of collaboration, innovation, acculturation, and dedication. Once you are clear on the mix, you can start designing the face-to-face elements that will be of highest value to your team.

Excellent blended management development experiences are essential foundations for both short- and long-term business success. The challenge going forward is to understand the enduring value of focused, face-to-face experiences and then leverage virtual ones to augment and extend them. While that blended future is still quite distant, companies will need to start considering what warrants face-to-face interaction and how to make the most of those precious opportunities.

3 easy ways to eat a healthier diet

But this motivation is often focused on a diet that’s too ambitious, or too restrictive. Without a solid plan, you may fail quickly. So consider a compromise: start with these three easy ways to eat a healthier diet.

Aim for real food only

Look at your plate and note what’s processed and what isn’t. Maybe it’s the whole thing (like a frozen dinner), or maybe it’s just part of your meal (like the bottled dressing on your salad). Think of where you can swap processed foods for healthier versions. Ideas include

  • eating whole-grain pasta instead of enriched white-flour spaghetti
  • having quinoa instead of white rice
  • making your own snacks like baked chickpeas, instead of opening a bag of potato chips.

Processed foods are linked with chronic inflammation and other health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. One of the healthiest diets you can eat is a Mediterranean-style eating plan rich in vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, small amounts of cheese).

Schedule your meals and snacks

Set timers on your phone for three different meals and two snacks (if you need them), and don’t eat in between these scheduled times. This might curb your cravings, reduce stress about when you’ll eat next, and cut down on the extra calories of unnecessary snacking — a real challenge if you’re close to a refrigerator all day while at home or work.

Avoid scheduling late-night meals or snacks, when your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) senses that you’re supposed to be sleeping. “During the circadian sleep period our metabolism slows, our digestive system turns down, and brain temperature drops, part of the process of clearing toxins during sleep. Eating at different times than our typical circadian awake phase leads to weight gain,” says Dr. Lawrence Epstein, associate physician with the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Reduce your portion sizes

If you’re like most Americans, you’re eating too much food. An easy way to implement portion control: load your plate as you normally would, then put back a third or half of the food. Other ideas:

  • Use a salad plate instead of a dinner plate, to fool yourself into taking less food.
  • Keep serving bowls off the table, so you won’t be tempted to eat extra helpings.
  • Don’t linger at the table and keep eating when you’re already full.

It will also help to know how many calories you should consume in a day. For example, if you’re supposed to eat 2,000 calories per day but you’re scarfing down 3,000, it’s probably time to cut all of your usual portions by a third. How can you figure out your calorie needs? For healthy people who exercise 30 minutes per day, multiply your weight (in pounds) by 15 for an estimate.

A final thought: Take just one step a week

You don’t need to incorporate all of these steps at one time; try one step per week. Write down what you’re eating and any thoughts or questions you have about the process. After a week, assess what worked and what didn’t. Before long, you’ll have the confidence to attempt new steps.

9 Ways to Cultivate Emotional Wellness

Feeling bad in the context of stress is normal. So cultivating emotional wellness is not about getting rid of negative emotions. It’s more about working with our emotions so that we use the negative ones and capitalize on the positive ones. Here are some strategies to help you cultivate more emotional wellness.

1. Explore your current level of emotional wellness

To first get a better idea of your current level of emotional wellness, take this well-being quiz. You can discover the aspects of your wellbeing that you might benefit from working on.

2. Get to know yourself better

Engaging in self-reflection is a fantastic way to cultivate emotional wellness. Think about what areas of your life could use some attention. Try to notice the things that bother you most or seem to cause you the most trouble. By becoming aware of yourself, you can more easily make the changes that can help increase your emotional wellness.

3. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness involves awareness of ourselves, others, and our emotions. It also involves acceptance (or non-judgment) of these things. When we accept our emotions, we can prevent ourselves from feeling embarrassed or guilty about having these emotions. So that cuts off a whole layer of negative emotions. Instead, we just let our emotions be as they are. We only focus on changing the things that we actually can change.

4. Strengthen the positive connections in your brain

Any time we activate particular regions of our brains they get stronger. In fact, research shows that training that teaches people to focus on neutral content instead of threatening content can reduce anxiety. So activating the connections in the brain for positive information can potentially make these regions stronger. This may be a good tool for emotional wellness, to decrease the brain’s reliance on negativity and focus more on positivity. One way to do this may be to memorize positive words. Here’s a positive word workbook to help with this practice. 

5. Develop a self-care routine

Developing a self-care routine that includes science-based relaxation techniques can be beneficial for emotional wellness. By helping the body better manage stress and decrease HPA-axis activation, we can feel better, calmer, and more “well”.

​6. Start a gratitude practice

Gratitude is a fantastic tool for cultivating emotional wellness. Gratitude can improve our social relationships and make us feel happier. Some ways to increase gratitude include making a gratitude list, writing a gratitude letter to someone, or starting a gratitude journal. All of these techniques can help us cultivate our gratitude and emotional wellness. 

5 Ways Gig Economy Workers Can Save for Retirement

We are in the midst of a major economic shift. While workers in the past could expect to keep a stable job with a traditional employer for decades, workers of today have found they must either cobble together a career from a variety of gigs, or supplement a lackluster salary from a traditional job by doing freelance work in their spare time.

Though you can make a living (and possibly even a good one) in the gig economy, this kind of work does leave gig workers vulnerable in one very important way: retirement planning.

Without the backing of an employer-sponsored retirement account, many gig workers are not saving enough for their golden years. According to a recent report by Betterment, seven out of 10 full-time gig workers say they are unprepared to maintain their current lifestyle during retirement, while three out of 10 say they don’t regularly set aside any money for retirement.

So what’s a gig worker to do if they don’t want to be driving for Uber and taking TaskRabbit jobs into their 70s and 80s? Here are five things you can do to save for retirement as a member of the gig economy.

1. Take stock of what you have

Many people don’t have a clear idea of how much money they have. And it’s impossible to plan your retirement if you don’t know where you are today. So any retirement savings should start with a look at what you already have in the accounts in your name.

Add up how much is in your checking and savings accounts, any neglected retirement accounts you may have picked up from previous traditional jobs, cash on hand if your gig work relies on cash tips, or any other financial accounts. The sum total could add up to more than you realize if you haven’t recently taken stock of where you are.

Even if you truly have nothing more than pocket lint and a couple quarters to your name, it’s better to know where you are than proceed without a clear picture of your financial reality.

2. Open an IRA

If you don’t already have a retirement account that you can contribute to, then you need to set one up ASAP. You can’t save for retirement if you don’t have an account to put money in.

IRAs are specifically created for individual investors and you can easily get started with one online. If you have money from a 401(k) to roll over, you have more options available to you, as some IRAs have a minimum investment amount (typically $1,000). If you have less than that to open your account, you may want to choose a Roth IRA, since those often have no minimums.

The difference between the traditional IRA and the Roth IRA is how taxes are levied. With a traditional IRA, you can fund the account with pre-tax income. In other words, every dollar you put in an IRA is a dollar you do not have to claim as income. However, you will have to pay ordinary income tax on your IRA distributions once you reach retirement. Roth IRAs are funded with money that has already been taxed, so you can take distributions tax-free in retirement.

Many gig workers choose a Roth IRA because their current tax burden is low. If you anticipate earning more over the course of your career, using a Roth IRA for retirement investments can protect you from the taxman in retirement.

Whether you choose a Roth or a traditional IRA, the contribution limit per year, as of 2018, is $5,500 for workers under 50, and $6,500 for anyone who is 50+.

3. Avoid the bite of investment fees

While no investor wants to lose portfolio growth to fees, it’s especially important for gig workers to choose asset allocations that will minimize investment fees. That’s because gig workers are likely to have less money to invest, so every dollar needs to be working hard for them.

The best exercises for better sleep (that aren’t yoga)

So if yoga isn’t your jam or you just want some variety in your bedtime routine, give these other types of exercise a go for better sleep.

Does exercise really help you sleep? 

It sure does. Exercise helps you sleep in a few ways. First, it reduces stress levels, which can quiet your mind before bed so you don’t hit the pillow with thoughts racing 100 miles per hour. Second, exercise requires you to burn more energy during the day, so you’ll naturally feel more tired at night.

Physiologically, exercise works wonders inside your body, and many of these benefits may translate to improved sleep. Scientists haven’t pinpointed the exact mechanisms behind the effect of exercise on sleep, but they do know the relationship exists. Some potential connections include the endorphin rush from exercise and, when done consistently, exercise can help your body settle into a healthy circadian rhythm. 

It’s true that exercise also instigates reactions in your body that would, in theory, ruin sleep. Exercise temporarily increases cortisol levels and raises your core body temperature, two things that tell your body not to hit the hay. However, the majority of observational studies suggest that exercise — no matter what time of day you do it — promotes restful sleep.

Walking

Who it’s for: The person who needs to destress.

A nice walk outside might be the antidote to your sleep struggle. Walking at any pace is a relaxing way to wind down from the day. The combined benefits of exercise and nature exposure work together to promote restfulness. 

Try it out: Sometime in the evening, head out for a 30-minute walk (or however long you have time for). Choose your pace based on what feels good that day. Listening to calm music may enhance the effects of your walk on your sleep.

Strength training

Who it’s for: The person who needs to burn off extra energy.

Some people argue that doing intense workouts, such as weightlifting, at night disrupts sleep, but studies say otherwise. Remember, you don’t have to go all out during a nighttime strength training workout. Stick to a shorter or less-intense strength training session before bed if you’re worried you might have trouble sleeping.

Try it out: A kettlebell or a pair of dumbbells will provide a more intense burn, while bodyweight strength training makes for a lighter pre-bed workout. Pick two to three exercises and do three sets of 10 of each. Or, try a circuit. 

Jumping rope

Who it’s for: The person who needs a productive distraction. 

Jumping rope might’ve never crossed your mind as a pro-sleep workout. Due to its rhythmic nature, jumping rope can soothe anxious, racing minds before bed. The key is to count your reps. You can go as fast or as slow as you want, but either way, counting your jumps gives your mind something to focus on — something other than all of the day’s stressors. It’s kind of like counting sheep, except you reap all the benefits of exercise at the same time. 

Try it out: Do four sets of 50 jumps, resting 1 minute in between sets. 

Flexibility training

Who it’s for: The person who tosses and turns from achiness.

Aches and pains really ruin a good night’s sleep. If you struggle to get good sleep because your body hurts, try incorporating flexibility training into your bedtime routine. Stretching at night will mobilize any tight joints and loosen up stiff muscles. Using a foam roller can help, too. 

Try it out: Choose two deep stretches for each body part that hurts. Accumulate 2 minutes in each stretch, breaking the time up as needed. 

4 Soft and Soothing Breathing Techniques

In fact, Yoga—together with other ancient disciplines—has always seen the breath as a source of mystical connection between physicality and spirit, and the most tangible representation of the vital energy—pranaPrana, known as Chi in Taoist tradition, is believed to be the life force that animates the entire universe.

The Benefits of Conscious Breathing

When you are under stress, you often hold your breath or breathe very fast. When you are relaxed, your exhalations are usually longer, deeper, and bring a sense of relief. However, you rarely notice the nuances of your breathing; in reality, there are only two ways of breathing: conscious and unconscious. Human breathing is controlled by your autonomous nervous system, which means that most of the time you breathe unconsciously, and do not regulate the quality or speed of your breaths. 

In the past few decades, western scientists have been exploring how the nervous system can be affected with controlled, conscious breathing. For example, by regulating the quality of breaths—length, rhythm, intensity—you can switch from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system, and vice versa.

You do not even have to believe in Chi or Prana to feel the benefits of conscious breathing. While it usually takes some time to see the progress when healing the body with medical herbs or meditation, conscious breathing can give you immediate results that can be easily measured by heart rate, blood pressure, etc.

Numerous scientists, including Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD, coauthor of The Healing Power of the Breath, and Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), have been exploring the impact of conscious breathing on the nervous system, hormones, homeostasis, resilience, and mental health. If, in the past, breathwork was mostly connected to the obscure mystical practices of the East, today it is a regular therapeutic tool used in positive psychotherapy, positive psychology, stress management, MBSR, dance/movement therapy, and many other fields.

Breathe Softly

But is it enough just to breathe consciously? What is the key to real healing breathing? The answer is simple: it is its softness. To breathe softly means to breathe consciously but with an intensity that is just right for you. Softness is guided by intuition, and intuition knows better. 

Today, many people talk about the importance of breathing deep, but in most cases, it is its lightness, sweetness, and stillness that makes breathing feel so good. In a world full of stress and anxiety, you may tend to breathe aggressively—too fast or too much. So, switching to softness and sweetness can help you relax and heal.

Breathe Less

On my pilgrimage in the Himalayas, my Yoga and Buddhist teachers always encouraged me to breathe less. Most of them were mountain people who actually breathe quite differently than people who live in lower altitudes. For the mountain people, breathing less happens quite naturally due to the different oxygen density and even some oxygen deprivation, which actually can be stimulating in small doses. Soft and soothing breathwork usually involves practices that switch the body into the parasympathetic mode, activate restorative processes, and promote deep relaxation.

Breathe less, think less, talk less, worry less—that is what I learned in the Himalayas. It seems that happiness of those mountain people is rooted in softness, calmness, and the ability to relax, even when things go wrong. Let the softness of your breath be your first step toward happiness.

The following are examples of soft and soothing breathwork that you can try at home.

1. Anapanasati (Basics)

It is believed that the Anapanasati technique was created by the Buddha himself. The initial practice is simple, and its purpose is for you to feel the sensations caused by the movements of your breath in your body.

Try it: 

  • Sit or lie down in stillness with your eyes closed. Observe the natural flow of your breath.
  • To keep your mind focused, count your inhales and exhales from one to ten. Make sure that your breathing is neutral, soft, and sweet.
  • Practice as long as it is pleasant.

2. Equal Breathing

The main principle of this exercise is to create an equal pattern of inhaling, suspending, exhaling, and suspending. For example, you can try a count of 2-2-2-2 or 3-3-3-3. Note: Do not hold your breath for longer than five-six counts.

Try it:

  • Get comfortable, close your eyes, and find your natural breath.
  • Allow your body to relax and feel safe.
  • When you are ready, inhale through the nose to a count of two, then suspend your breath on two, exhale on two, and then suspend your breath again on the same count before your next inhale.
  • Repeat for 8-10 rounds.

3. Dirgha Pranayama

This breathing exercise involves slowly filling your lungs as much as possible. In fact, dirgha means “long” in Sanskrit, and is often referred to as “the complete breath”, “the yogic breath”, or “the three-part breath.”

Try it:

  • Lie down on your back, get comfortable, and put one hand on your belly and the other on your upper chest.
  • Close your eyes and start observing your breathing. Make your breathing even and smooth.
  • Now, inhale slowly into the lower abdomen and pelvic area, and feel your hand rise.
  • Then, continue inhaling into the mid-section of the torso, expanding the diaphragm and the ribs.
  • Finally, bring your breath into the upper chest and shoulders. Feel how your second hand rises up.
  • Start exhaling slowly in the reverse order, releasing the upper chest first, then the diaphragm and ribs, and finally the lower abdomen.
  • Expelling all the air, allow yourself to feel relief.
  • Pause if you need to and then repeat a few more cycles at a slow pace.

4. Parasympathetic Breathing and the Vagus Nerve

One of the most fundamentally important elements in the restorative parasympathetic nervous system is the vagus nerve. This nerve works as a connector between many vital organs, linking the brain to the tongue, vocal cords, heart, lungs, digestive tract, and various hormone glands. It influences the internal processes of the body (e.g., inflammation, blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, and absorption of nutrients) and supports homeostasis and immunity. Working on the softness of the breath, especially with parasympathetic breathing exercises, helps to tone the vagus nerve and activate self-healing powers of the body.

Try It:

  • Get in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and start observing your breathing.
  • When you are ready, inhale for a count of two, hold your breath in for a count of two, and then exhale gently, counting out to four.
  • After you exhale fully, hold the breath again from two to four counts.
  • Keep your breathing round and smooth. The main principle of parasympathetic breathing is elongating exhalations that become at least twice as long as your inhalations. You can experiment by creating different patterns, for example, try a “2-2-4-2, 4-2-8-2” or any other pattern that works for you.
  • Repeat 8 to 10 times. Never exaggerate or push too hard. Remember, it is all about doing less, but feeling more.

Breathwork can be a powerful therapeutic practice. Try these four breathing techniques and let the softness of your breath be your first step toward healing and relaxation.

Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?

These are inspiring examples, to be sure—but Dashun Wang didn’t think they told the whole story. Why did these individuals ultimately succeed, when so many others never manage to get past their failing phase?

“If we understand that process, could we anticipate whether you will become a winner, even when you are still a loser?” asks Wang, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, who directs the Center for Science of Science and Innovation (CSSI).

In a new paper published in the 150th anniversary issue of Nature, Wang and colleagues developed a mathematical model to pinpoint what separates those who succeed from those who merely try, try again. Along with PhD student Yian Yin and postdoctoral researcher Yang Wang at CSSI, and James A. Evans of the University of Chicago, Wang found that success comes down to learning from one’s prior mistakes—for instance, continuing to improve the parts of an invention that aren’t working rather than scrapping them, or recognizing which sections of a denied application to keep and which to rewrite.

But it’s not simply that those who learn more as they go have better odds of victory. Rather, there’s a critical tipping point. If your ability to build on your earlier attempts is above a certain threshold, you’ll likely succeed in the end. But if it’s even a hair below that threshold, you may be doomed to keep churning out failure after failure forever.

“People on those two sides of the threshold, they could be exactly the same kind of people,” says Wang, “but they will have two very different outcomes.”

Using this insight, the researchers are able to successfully predict an individual’s long-term success with just a small amount of information about that person’s initial attempts.

Measuring Success in Three Different Domains

A growing body of research supports the idea that failure can make you better off in the long run. Indeed, in another recent study, Wang himself found that an early career setback often set up scientists for later success.

However, as the stories of Ford, Edison, and Rowling plainly demonstrate, the road to success typically involves more than a single setback. “You don’t just fail once,” Wang says. “You fail over and over.” And while that litany of failures may make the Edisons of the world better off, it seems to thwart many other people.

To understand why, Wang and his colleagues needed a lot of information about the process of falling, getting back up, and trying again.

They turned to three massive data sets, each containing information about very distinct types of failure and success: 776,721 grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) between 1985 and 2015; the National Venture Capital Association’s database of all 58,111 startups to receive venture-capital funding from 1970 to 2016; and the Global Terrorism Database, which includes 170,350 attacks between 1970 and 2016.

These sources allowed the researchers to track groups and individuals as they made repeated attempts over time to achieve a goal: obtain grant funding, lead their company to get acquired at high values or achieve an IPO, or, in the case of terrorist organizations, execute an attack with at least one fatality—a grim measure of success, to be sure.

The three domains “can’t be more different,” Wang says, “but as different as they seem, what’s interesting is that they all turn out to show very similar, predictable patterns.”

What Makes You Successful: Luck or Learning?

With data in hand, the team began thinking about success and failure at the simplest level. Success, they theorized, must be the result of one of two basic phenomena: luck or learning. People who become successful in a given area are either improving steadily over time, or they are the beneficiaries of chance. So the researchers tested both theories.

If wins are primarily the result of chance, the team figured, all attempts are equally likely to succeed or fail—just like a coin toss, where what happened before doesn’t much influence what happens next. That means the typical person’s hundredth attempt won’t be any more successful than their first, since individuals are not systematically improving.

So the researchers looked at the first attempt and the penultimate attempt (the one right before a win) for each aspiring scientist, entrepreneur, and terrorist in their dataset. To measure improvement (or lack thereof) over time, the researchers looked at changes in how the scientists’ grant applications were rated, the amount of venture funding the startups received, and the number of individuals wounded in terrorists’ attacks.

Analysis revealed that the chance theory doesn’t hold up. In all three datasets, an individual’s second-to-last attempt did tend have a higher probability of success than their very first effort.

Yet people weren’t learning in the way the researchers had expected. The classic idea of the learning curve says that the more you do something, the higher your proficiency gets. So if everyone in the dataset was reliably learning from their prior failures, their odds of success should increase dramatically with each new attempt, leading to short-lived failure streaks before success.

But the data revealed much longer streaks than the researchers anticipated.

“Although your performance improves over time, you still fail more than we would expect you to,” Wang explains. “That suggests that you are stuck somewhere—that you are trying but not making progress.”

In other words, neither of the two theories could account for the dynamics underlying repeated failures. So the researchers decided to build a model that accounted for that.

A Surefire Predictor of Success

This model assumes that every attempt has several components—like the introduction and budget sections of a grant proposal, for instance, or the location and tactics used in a terrorist attack. Importantly, even if an attempt fails overall, some of its components may still have been good. When mounting a new attempt, an individual has to choose, for each component, whether to go back to the drawing board or to improve upon a version from a prior (failed) attempt.

7 Ways to Thank People in Your Network

And getting from an intellectual agreement about the merits of gratitude to daily practice is no easy feat.

Andy Mills, former chairman on Thomson Financial, and a mentor of mine, keeps a “gift notebook” in which he writes down little observations or things he hears from the people closest to him. When his wife’s birthday or son’s graduation is coming up and he needs a gift, he turns to the book. When you make keen observations, note them somewhere.

When first meeting someone, a common conversational entree is to ask about their background. “I’m so thankful that Joanne introduced us — but I don’t actually know how you two know each other,” I said to a potential business partner. “Oh we go way back,” he said. “As freshman we were in an improvisation group together.” Done. As a thank you, I did a little research on improv. Are there theaters where he lives? Could I send him tickets to a show? What about a book or an article? I find a book called Improv, the bible of improv it turns out, used in tech companies as mandatory reading for how to relate to other people. So my thank you is a hand written note paper-clipped to the cover of the small paperback edition of the book. Total cost is about $25 with shipping.

Once you pickup on something that person cares about, showing gratitude can be pretty easy — and fun.

Consider these seven practices:

Send a specific thank-you note. An old-fashioned, hand-written thank you note on nice paper still goes a long way.  Be specific, say why you are thanking them, and show them how your conversation made an impact on you.

Too often we fire off notes like this:

Dear Sandra: Thank you for taking time to meet with Jason and me about our company.  You are an amazing investor and we really hope we might work together.  Is there anything else you need?  Sincerely, Evan

This note is nonspecific and uses over-the-top adjectives that aren’t credible. It feels cold and generic.

With a little observation, you could instead write this:

Dear Sandra: Thank you for your time and advice about our paper company. Jason and I spoke for hours about how we might diversify our products, increase prices, and improve design — thank you for those excellent suggestions. We are eager to look up Johnson’s Paper — we appreciate that referral. Thank you for sharing your stories and counsel with us.  

Sincerely, Evan

PS: I also so appreciated the story about your first company — I can’t believe you sold mangos from a bicycle! 

This note provides sincere appreciation for something specific. It shows that we remembered their advice, and paid attention.

Send something fun. Busy people get a lot of inbound communication; if you want to stand out, make your communication stand out. People get fewer handwritten notes than emails, so notes always win.  But people get even fewer FedEx packages. So consider a package — or at least something beyond a note. I had some of my favorite quotations printed on nice card stock that I occasionally include in my thank you notes. On future visits to their offices, I’ve seen a few of these quote cards taped to monitors.

My coauthor of Get Backed, Evan Loomis, wanted to send someone who had helped with our book a nice thank-you gift.  Bottle of whiskey? Fancy pen? No, thanks. He listened and learned that this person had a 9-year-old son with whom he got into Nerf gun fights. What did we send? The fanciest Nerf gun we could find with a note about never losing another Nerf war. We hope that will be a gift never forgotten.

Make an introduction. Bringing two people together can be a serendipitous and generous act — that can spawn companies, friendships, and even marriages. One friend recently sat down with an adviser who shared that her son had been diagnosed with a rare medical condition. My friend did some research and followed up with this:

Thanks for sharing a bit about your son.  I reached out to my friend whose son has the same condition; she did an extensive search and ended up with Dr. Jacobs in midtown – you can reach him here: 555-555-5555  

Offer to help — and deliver. At the end of a meeting, my business cofounder Will Davis will often ask: “So – -you have helped me so much here. Is there anything I could possibly help you with?” Following his example, I have received quite a few answers that I could easily help with. For example, one investment firm was looking for a new analyst. I was able to find the job post, circulate it to my networks, and pass along a few interested candidates.

Circle back at a later date. Most people walk out of a meeting and do nothing. More organized people send an email. And the even more organized a hand-written note. But for nearly everyone, meetings are forgotten within a few weeks. Consider staying engaged by setting yourself a reminder to do something at a later date. I met a fascinating founder who was impressively committed to reading a book a week. His habits did challenge me — and I wanted to reconnect around that idea.

Dear Jason: Can you believe it was six months ago we met? I still remember your audacious goal of reading a book a week. I couldn’t keep up – but managed to finish a book a month. By far my favorite was The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. How did you do? 

Send a video note. This is possibly the most outrageous of these suggestions—and certainly one that might cause Emily Post to roll over in her grave. Eric Koester, COO of Main Street Genome, records a video message on his iPhone and then sends it by SMS as a form of a thank you, follow up, or even an introduction. Sending a video – or even an audio note – lets you convey emotion, enthusiasm, and context in a quick note. At my company Able, my cofounder and I sent a thank you video to our customers — whom we literally have to thank for our jobs and a chance to build a company.

COVID-19 Vaccines Are Coming

Public-health officials and governments now have the dual challenge of convincing the public that the vaccines are both safe and scientifically sound, as well as figuring out how to distribute billions of doses. Here’s what we know so far about how that’s going.

When can I get vaccinated?

That depends.

Manufacturers have already begun producing vaccines, betting that they will be effective, so they can be ready to ship if the FDA authorizes them, possibly as soon as December. Still, doses will be limited this year and will be reserved for those at highest risk of infection, such as health care workers as well as those with essential jobs, like first responders and law-enforcement personnel. As vaccine manufacturers fire up production, more people, including those with chronic health conditions, and the elderly, will be able to get immunized. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says it may not be until spring that most Americans can start to get vaccinated.

Who approves the vaccines?

The Food and Drug Administration must approve any vaccine. But most COVID-19 vaccine makers won’t initially apply for normal approval, which typically requires six or more months of follow-up study. Instead, they will likely ask for emergency-use authorization (EUA), which makes it possible to release new drugs and vaccines during a health emergency. For an EUA, the FDA has said companies should monitor trial participants for two months to make sure the vaccines are safe and don’t lead to serious side effects. All of the testing and other requirements for evaluating safety and effectiveness remain the same for an EUA as for full approval. Many vaccine makers plan to apply for full approval of their shots once they accumulate the appropriate amount of follow-up data.

Were shortcuts taken to develop these vaccines?

According to leading public-health experts and the vaccine makers, the same rigorous scientific process that goes into developing any vaccine was used to create the COVID-19 shots. But in some cases, new technology like the mRNA-based technique used by Moderna and Pfizer—the first two companies to finish human testing—have sped up the development process. The mRNA method doesn’t require researchers to grow or manipulate SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19; all they need is its genetic sequence, which Chinese scientists released in January. The technology is both fast and flexible, and allowed vaccine makers to develop and start testing their vaccines in a matter of months.

If I get vaccinated, does that mean that I can’t get infected?

Not necessarily.

But it means you are less likely to get sick. When Pfizer announced that its vaccine was more than 95% effective and Moderna said its shot was 94.5% effective, that was how well they kept people from getting sick. In the studies, people were randomly assigned to get the vaccine or a placebo. If anyone in either group felt symptoms of COVID-19 (including fever, cough, headache and difficulty breathing), they reported it to the researchers, who then decided whether to test for COVID-19. So the studies did not test everyone to see how many people in the vaccinated group got infected compared with the placebo group. Instead, the scientists took those participants who tested positive for COVID-19 and compared how many in the vaccinated group went on to develop disease and how many in the placebo group did. The companies will continue to test people in the studies for antibodies to the COVID-19 virus, which would include people who did not show any symptoms of their infection, so they can get a better sense of whether or not the vaccines protect against not only getting sick but also against infection.

Connecting Employees Through Holiday Parties, 2020-Style

For many business owners, employees are often more like members of their own extended families. They celebrate important milestones together — both business and personal — and support each other during difficult times. For many, 2020 has exemplified “difficult times,” which makes it that much more important for work families to find a way to celebrate this holiday season together.

It seems obvious that the traditional festive get-togethers and social activities, including the annual office holiday party, will either be canceled or modified in some way this year. In a virtual world, replicating the mingling and breakaway conversations that happen in the physical world is a bit more challenging. Because employees who are more connected to each other tend to be happier and more productive, it’s business-critical that companies find creative ways to facilitate those interactions as part of a holiday celebration.

In the absence of the usual parties, there are virtual ways to celebrate that can feel both natural and festive, all while using the same tools we use for work. With a little creativity, it’s possible to take those same tools we use to work and turn them into a memorable event for a year that many would rather forget. Consider one of these ideas or your own variation of them.

Tip 1: Take the opportunity to be inclusive

The classic office holiday party can create a lot of pressure. This year, there’s an opportunity to remove some of those pressures. Rather than having just a single event, try hosting smaller video chats and other activities with particular themes. Consider a virtual holiday cookie-baking class and, as an added bonus, send the ingredients and some fun cooking accessories to employees’ homes. Take advantage of “bowl season” and host viewing parties for sporting events. Consider a holiday movie night with a dress-up theme, and send some fun gifts from the company. And don’t forget to include the family — perhaps host a virtual happy hour with employees and their significant others, or fo something that includes the kids, such as a virtual storytelling or puppet show event. The trick with these types of activities is to keep them on the smaller side so that it’s easy to socialize and focus on all types of interests.

Tip 2: Remember what we’ve learned about remote work

High-quality video and voice is essential. If the quality of your meeting is poor, it will be difficult to have fun.  We know how frustrating it is to keep saying “can you hear me now?” For holiday celebrations, encourage some fun and novelty events so it doesn’t just feel like another conference call or team check-in. Lean into the visual aspect by hosting an ugly sweater contest, asking employees to provide a video tour of their home holiday decorations or share family recipes and traditions. Try branching out beyond video to share holiday family photos on a messaging channel separate from usual workstreams. Integrate multiple channels like video and messaging to host larger events, such as company-wide trivia contests that still let you break out into smaller groups (or teams, if you’re playing a game) to allow a more natural conversation. Finally, to keep participants engaged, remember to keep structured events short and interactive.

Tip 3: Recognize that it’s still 2020

We’ve all gone through a lot this year, and it would be remiss of organizers not to recognize the challenges teams have overcome while also providing a fun experience. Dedicate some time or a specific event to calling out the great work each employee has done. Reflect on the challenges of the past few months and how the organization plans to move forward to meet the opportunities of the new year. Create separate spaces, whether messaging channels, calls or other types of events, where team members can have informal conversations. Although we use our team messaging feature extensively for business at RingCentral, we also host several channels that are meant for employees to connect on a personal level, including one focused on recipes and another where employees share cute dog photos.  Those little moments of connection are helping us keep our personal relationships strong even as we’re working apart.

Some employees might not be interested or able to take part in virtual celebrations altogether, and that’s OK. Give each person the flexibility to join in activities that genuinely interest them. Use the budget usually reserved for catering or in-person parties to give employees a stipend for food, drinks or other items they might need for an activity. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way to help people feel connected to each other.

The holidays are an opportunity to reflect on the journey we’ve traveled, give back to employees and bring our work family closer together. This year is no different. Use technology as a tool for inclusivity and draw from your own experiences of virtual events that have worked well in the past. Most of all, give employees options to celebrate in ways that speak to them and allow team members to learn a little bit more about each other. Doing so can leave a positive, lasting impact on your company’s culture moving into the new year.

You Can Actually Build Brain Resilience: Strategies

In the face of adversity and hardship, most cope as best they can. What if you could change the structure and function of your brain to become even more stress-resilient?

Resilience has been defined as the ability to deal with adversity, be it small daily stressors or unexpected traumatic events. More specifically, resilience is seen as having the capacity to return to successful adaptation and functioning even after a period of disorganization and disruption.

Most often, resilience has been considered a function of our ability to call upon enduring personal attributes as physical strength, intelligence, interpersonal strengths, independence, sense of humor, creativity and spirituality.

While these are no doubt valuable assets for coping and stress reduction, recent research offers good news–You can expand on these. You can actually build resilience.

Building Brain Resilience–Findings

According to scientists, Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney, resilience is actually tied to brain function and we have the power to change the structure and function of our brains to become more stress-resilient.

When we face traumatic events we go into fight/flight responses because our brain activates the neural pathways of fear. Daily worry and stress do a similar thing. Ruminating about negative events, faulting yourself for mistakes, believing you cannot risk change, can activate the same neural pathways of fear that a pandemic or imminent hurricane invites. Essentially the more we activate the stress response and the neural fear pathways, the more this becomes our default setting.

One of the things these scientists report is that new techniques like functional magnetic resonance imagining reveal that resilient brains shut off the stress response and return to baseline quickly. 

For example, scientist Martin Paulus found that imagining of the brains of Navy Seals shows that they don’t get glued to the traumatic or emotional experience. They “ let go” and move on to the next mission. Essentially they focus less on the negatives and respond with alternative neural pathways.

Can We Do That?

What these scientists are proposing is that we can train our brains to build and strengthen different connections that don’t keep activating the fear circuit. We can train ourselves to “ Let Go” of the negative and the frightening, so that we can move forward despite adversity.

Neurologically “ Let Go”

This is not the first time any of us have heard the suggestion to “ Let Go.” We have heard and often been inspired by it for decades:

You can only lose what you cling to. (Buddha)

There’s an important difference between giving up and letting go. (Jessica Hatchigan)

“Letting Go” of The Negative is Difficult

Our focus on negative experiences persists because such experiences actually involve more brain activity than positive ones. This is called the Negative Bias.  

Another reason that letting go of the negative is difficult is that many of us have the mistaken belief that if we continue think about the disaster or the possibility of losing our job, we will be able to prevent it from happening again or be prepared for it. 

The reality is that it doesn’t prepare us–it frightens us. Ruminating about the mistake, the failed mission or what should have happened keeps us in a dysregulated state.

New Perspective

It is worth considering that letting go of the frightening is not just “letting go” – It is making possible the activation of alternative neural paths and that equates to having a place to go other than fear in the rough times. It equates to resilience.

Strategies to Build Resilience

Drawing upon Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney’s book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, here are three strategies that stimulate brain change and resiliency building.

Use Realistic Optimism

Optimism is considered to be a fuel that ignites resilience and empowers other resilience factors. That said, there is a very big difference between blind optimism and realistic optimism. 

Blind or unrealistic optimism underestimates risk, overestimates ability and results in inadequate preparation. For example:

 A group of young adults believe that if they only go out to the bars with each other, they won’t contract Covid-19.

Realistic optimism, as opposed to blind optimism, is active not passive. The person using realistic optimism does not miss the negatives but disengages from problems that appear unsolvable and attends to problems they can solve. For example:

How to Turn Your Retirement Savings into Retirement Income

I have been working a long time on retirement planning that creates more and safer income for retirees. So long, in fact, that I sometimes forget the subject is new to most investors. They get much of their financial information from their advisers — who often simply treat these investors as “de-accumulators.” Another way to describe their message is, “Invest like you did when you were 55, only more conservatively.” In my opinion, that is not helpful guidance.

Please consider this article as a reference tool on a new way to plan and manage your retirement that you can come back to periodically to refresh your understanding. By the end of the article, I hope to answer your basic questions about the new Income Allocation planning and how it can benefit you with a more secure retirement.

Income Is the Foundation of Your Retirement Plan

Most eras in history are unsettled, but it sure seems we’ve got a lot going on now, and much of it makes us uncertain about how to plan for the future.

Interest rates are low and are expected to stay low for an extended period. The markets are volatile, making “stay the course” a particularly gut-wrenching choice. Add a pandemic to the mix. As you prepare for — or enter — retirement, you want to be able to celebrate. That means satisfying your desire for a self-sufficient lifestyle (while anticipating expenses such as unreimbursed medical or caregiver costs, or the premiums to cover these costs) even as you spoil the grandkids.

And that means income. A good retirement income plan is one that allows you to enjoy your retirement and provide the necessary cash flow that will create peace of mind.

Build Income Certainty into Your Retirement Plan

For the past several years I have been working to educate consumers about the pitfalls of typical Asset Allocation planning for retirement. That is the name for an approach to investing and retirement spending that leaves you with the risk of running out of money. Asset Allocation by its name allocates your savings among a range of investment categories — stocks, bonds and cash — then tests to see if that “plan” can deliver a desired level of income to your age at passing. There is rarely a distinction between dividends, interest, capital gains and withdrawals of capital — and the tax effects thereon. And, of course, what happens if you outlive your plan?

I advocate starting with a focus on income, and specifically allocating your sources of income among dividends, interest, withdrawals from your IRA and annuity payments. The annuity payments (replacing the pension that doesn’t exist for most new investors) are guaranteed for your life, are backed by highly rated insurance companies and complement your Social Security payments.

Why Annuity Payments? Why Now?

Income Allocation is not simply the act of adding annuity payments to your retirement mix. Instead, it integrates annuity payments with your other income sources to provide the most income with the lowest taxes and fees — and the lowest risk — to allow you to enjoy the rest of your life.

Some advisers say annuity contracts are too complex. They often confuse income annuities, intentionally or not, with index or variable annuities. (In fact, I introduced a “living benefits guarantee” to the variable annuity business leading in large part to its growth as a $1 trillion industry, and so I know the difference.) Advisers may want to talk about an annuity’s high fees and confusing crediting rate formulas; once again these are not features of annuity payment contracts. These contracts are really quite simple: Guaranteed payments are deposited monthly into your savings or checking account while you are alive, and optionally while your spouse is alive, or to a beneficiary if you pass before the investment is paid out. A good annuity agent shops the market of highly rated companies to get the highest income for your investment.

Sleep apnea and autoimmune diseases: How are they connected?

It is impossible to overstate the importance of a good night’s sleep. Getting the right amount of sleep can lower the risk of weight gain, reduce inflammation, improve productivity, and much more.

Many people struggle to get enough rest each night. For some, this is due to sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea. 

OSA was the focus of a new study, which appears in the journal Clinical Immunology. Researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens looked at the connection between untreated OSA and autoimmune diseases. 

Sleep apnea

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), sleep apnea occurs “when the upper airway becomes blocked repeatedly during sleep, reducing or completely stopping airflow.” 

A person with sleep apnea may momentarily stop breathing multiple times per hour while sleeping. 

Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include: 

  • snoring
  • daytime sleepiness
  • gasping for breath while asleep
  • sexual dysfunction

Various factors can contribute to a person developing OSA. These include obesity, enlarged tonsils, and heart or kidney failure.

Doctors often treat sleep apnea with airway therapy, using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. CPAP machines keep the upper airway from becoming blocked during sleep. Some people with OSA use mouthguards to help keep their airways open. 

OSA can increase the risk of serious medical problems. The American Sleep Apnea Association believe that at least 38,000 people die each year from heart issues associated with sleep apnea.

Three Kinds of Holiday Financing You Should Avoid

No matter how well intentioned we are and no matter how much we may plan for it, holiday expenses have a way of getting out of hand.

Taking on debt for Christmas shopping is nothing new, and if you’re properly prepared and have a plan to repay that debt, it’s not inherently bad (though it’s better to avoid it). That said, because holiday spending is emotionally charged, it’s easy to get pulled into financial offers that seem helpful, but end up hurting you in the end. 

If you’re stretching yourself financially this season, keep an eye out for these three particularly worrisome financing options.

CHRISTMAS LOANS

A Christmas loan (or holiday loan, or vacation loan, etc.) is really just a regular old unsecured personal loan with a festive bow on top. Because there’s no collateral in an unsecured loan, they’re riskier than a secured loan (like a mortgage) and will usually have a substantially higher interest rate. And because it’s a loan, there’s a good chance that you’ll have a variety of fees to pay.

Even more concerning are no/bad credit loans, which are essentially payday loans. They usually feature small windows for repayment and extremely unfavorable interest rates.

While it’s completely understandable that the pressures of the season may drive you to spend beyond your means, it’s just not a good idea to take out a loan to handle non-essential seasonal expenses.

SKIP-A-PAYMENT

Some lenders are happy to offer you the opportunity to occasionally skip an upcoming loan payment (usually for car loans or mortgages). You may even see this offer advertised during the holiday season as a way to find the cash needed for all those extra seasonal expenses.

The problem is that skipping a loan payment is a bit more costly than it seems. There’s usually an application or processing fee, which can range from $20-$35. That may seem reasonable if you’re subtracting it out of the balance of the payment you didn’t make, but it’s not the only cost. 

When you skip a payment, the length of your loan is extended by one month. Meanwhile, interest continues to accrue, even during the “skipped” month. For lenders, it’s a pretty good deal – at no cost to them, they add the application fee plus an extra month’s worth of interest charges. For borrowers, though, it’s not a very good at all. And if you’re skipping a loan payment to buy presents it’s a really bad deal.

POINT OF SALE FINANCING

Store credit is nothing new, but it’s only become more prevalent as online retailers have made point of sale financing even more central to the buying experience. That point of sale offer may come in the form of a special credit card (if you’ve ever shopped on Amazon, you’ve almost certainly seen this in action) or a payment plan.

Store credit cards don’t usually have the best possible terms, but most importantly they only really serve to drive you back to that one particular store over and over again. Payment plans, on the other hand, increase the overall cost of the purchase by adding fees and other charges. 

There will be times when you’ll need to purchase something that you simply can’t afford to pay up front, and that’s okay. But the added costs associated with financing Christmas presents and holiday supplies is almost always a bad investment.

12 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Attending In-Person Thanksgiving

If you’re still not sold on staying home this Thanksgiving, consider the facts of your situation and the world around you. Here are 12 questions to ask yourself before attending an in-person Thanksgiving gathering.

Are you at high risk of getting severely sick from COVID-19?

People who are at increased risk of severe illness from the coronavirus include older adults and those with underlying medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, chronic kidney disease and more.

Are any other attendees at high risk of severe illness?

“Prior to visiting loved ones, it’s a good idea to have everyone check with a
physician on their risk status for severe disease if they contract COVID-19,” Dr. Linda Anegawa, a physician with virtual health platform PlushCare, told HuffPost. “Individuals who are high risk for complications are safest avoiding family gatherings altogether.”

Will you have to travel to attend the celebration?

Public health experts advise against unnecessary travel during the pandemic — particularly now, as case counts continue to skyrocket.

“Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19,” the CDC website notes. “Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”

What means of transit will you use?

If you have to travel for Thanksgiving, are you going by plane, train or bus, all of which make social distancing nearly impossible?

“Traveling by car is probably safer than an airplane, given the exposure to far fewer people,” said Anegawa. “When traveling by car, be sure to have hand sanitizer, paper towels, and sanitizing wipes available (in case you need to make any bathroom pit stops along the way). Supplying your own snacks and drinks can also help to minimize stops in unfamiliar locations.”

If you travel by plane, try to go at off-peak times and days, practice social distancing at the airport and when boarding, wipe down your seat area and always wear your mask. Anegawa suggested a face shield in addition to a mask for extra protection as well. 

How many COVID-19 cases are there in your current location?

Consider the coronavirus situation in your community. Are cases high or increasing? You can look up the specifics at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which includes a U.S. map tracking COVID-19 cases by county. The CDC also has a COVID-19 data tracker. 

What’s the case rate at your destination?

Do the same research for the location of your Thanksgiving destination to see how many cases have been reported and if that number is rising. If cases are high or increasing, that’s all the more reason to avoid going there.

Look up the hospital situation in your current location and potential Thanksgiving destination as well. Many communities are nearing full hospital bed capacity. Consult local public health websites for more information. 

Are there restrictions for travelers at your destination?

Most places have implemented restrictions and requirements for incoming travelers amid the pandemic. The CDC’s travel planner tool has information about state and local regulations about quarantines, test requirements and other restrictions. You can also go to the state or county’s public health website and check local news sources.

Travel restrictions also generally apply upon your return from out of state, so it’s best to look up the rules in your own community, as well.

Celebrating Thanksgiving

The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household. If you do plan to spend Thanksgiving with people outside your household, take steps to make your celebration safer.

Everyone Can Make Thanksgiving Safer

Wear a mask

  • Wear a mask with two or more layers to stop the spread of COVID-19.
  • Wear the mask over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin.
  • Make sure the mask fits snugly against the sides of your face.

Stay at least 6 feet away from others who do not live with you

  • Remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread COVID-19 or flu.
  • Keeping 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from others is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.

Wash your hands

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Keep hand sanitizer with you and use it when you are unable to wash your hands.
  • Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Attending a Gathering

Make your celebration safer. In addition to following the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer, take these additional steps while attending a Thanksgiving gathering.

  • Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils.
  • Wear a mask, and safely store your mask while eating and drinking.
  • Avoid going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen.
  • Use single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable items like food containers, plates, and utensils.

Hosting a Thanksgiving Gathering

If having guests to your home, be sure that people follow the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer. Other steps you can take include:

  • Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.
  • Limit the number of guests.
  • Have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use.
  • If celebrating indoors, make sure to open windows.
  • Limit the number of people in food preparation areas.
  • Have guests bring their own food and drink.
  • If sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils.

Thanksgiving Travel

Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.

If you do travel

  • Check travel restrictions before you go.
  • Get your flu shot before you travel.
  • Always wear a mask in public settings and on public transportation.
  • Stay at least 6 feet apart from anyone who is not in your household.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your mask, eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Bring extra supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer.

Consider Other Thanksgiving Activities

Host a virtual Thanksgiving meal with friends and family who don’t live with you

  • Schedule a time to share a meal together virtually.
  • Have people share recipes and show their turkey, dressing, or other dishes they prepared.

Watch television and play games with people in your household

  • Watch Thanksgiving Day parades, sports, and movies at home.
  • Find a fun game to play.

Shopping

  • Shop online sales the day after Thanksgiving and days leading up to the winter holidays.
  • Use contactless services for purchased items, like curbside pick-up.
  • Shop in open air markets staying 6 feet away from others.

We’re Grateful for You!

Also, Thanksgiving is the a day to let your loved ones know how much they mean to you.  As a former player, your family and community have likely been a part of your journey.  Let them know how grateful you are to have them in you life.

We wish you all a happy and safe Thanksgiving and want to thank each and every one of you for coming to yourPAF.com and making it a premiere online destination for former players..

How to Cook the Ultimate Healthy Thanksgiving Dinner

Planning a healthy Thanksgiving menu doesn’t mean the food has to be bland and boring. In fact, think of Thanksgiving as the perfect excuse to pile your plate high with your favorite nutritious vegetables—Brussels sprouts, green beans, sweet potatoes, and more.

To keep your waistline in check over the holidays, we’ve created a stunning Thanksgiving feast that’s perfect for both large crowds and smaller groups. These easy and healthy recipes are inspired by all of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes—like stuffing, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie—but they’re lighter, more nutritious, and (much) more delicious.  

How to Eat Healthy on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving tends to evoke the “feast” mentality, and it’s far too easy to overload on your favorite comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin pie. While we urge you to avoid holiday food guilt, try to balance your plate as much as possible without depriving yourself. So help yourself to that creamy macaroni and cheese—but don’t forget about the green bean salad.

In fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends filling up your plate with salad and vegetables before heartier dishes to help you consume less calories during the meal. The organization also notes a common Thanksgiving mistake that even the healthiest eaters make: assuming that nutrient-rich foods are fair game for massive portion sizes. Even though a Thanksgiving meal is inevitably going to be higher in fat, calories, and sodium, you can minimize the damage by mixing in some healthier items.

Click Read More for all of the recipes!

Addiction: 5 Early Warning Signs

The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis. This medical principle applies to addiction, and the importance of recognizing early warning signs cannot be overstated. Addiction is a progressive disorder that, if left to run its course, gets worse, not better. When someone has lost their personality along with family, friends, and a job, they have lost many of life’s most important incentives for getting better.

The best-known symptoms of addiction are late-stage physical symptoms—the red face of an alcoholic, the emaciation of someone who is addicted to crack, the facial sores of meth users. The earliest warning signs, however, are changes in behavior that family members, friends, and colleagues can identify.

Rationalization and Projection

“I always had a convincing reason to drink,” remembers a 45-year-old patient in long-term recovery from an uncontrollable craving for alcohol. “First I drank to be social, then to relax after work. Next I drank to sleep, and then to forget. None of these explanations seemed like rationalizations. I had real needs and believed only alcohol could meet them.”

As craving deepens, addicted individuals begin organizing their lives, often in rigid ways, around the need for uninterrupted access to alcohol and other drugs. They may become increasingly irritated by schedule changes and blame their odd behavior on parents, partners, their children, or an unfair employer. Family members are especially vulnerable targets and will often change their own behavior to placate addicted loved ones.

Mood Swings and Personality Changes

While addicted individuals can be highly critical of other people, their own behavior may be unpredictable and can quickly change from jubilant euphoria to angry suspicion. When an addicted individual is “on the wagon” or trying to cut back, mood swings become more pronounced.

At the extreme end is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome. For reasons not yet known, some people experience a personality change when they are drinking or using other drugs. At its worst, this transformation resembles the presence of two different personalities in one body. A loved one disappears, and an out-of-control stranger takes her place.

One of my patients was a highly moral person who, when drinking, watched pornographic movies in front of his children. Another was a kind father and husband until he drank heavily. He spent one European vacation roaming the streets in his underwear, knocking on doors and challenging people to fight. His children and wife barricaded themselves behind a door, terrified that he would make good on his promise to kill them.

When they returned home, his wife asked me to help with an intervention. It was successful in part because her husband was shocked to hear about his behavior, of which he had no memory. He willingly went to a treatment program, but it took many years before he was able to restore a relationship of trust with his family members.

Deteriorating Relationships

When I could control my drinking, I could still charm a crowd and make new friends. But when I partied, I often became a raging lunatic. One night, I taunted some fraternity guys who were in mourning for a frat brother killed in a car wreck. They jumped me in an alley, breaking my nose and leaving me with a deep gash above my eye. Except for a stranger’s intervention, they might have stomped me to death.

—James B., co-author with Dr. Spickard of The Craving Brain

Many people, like my co-author James B., begin their journey into addiction as the life of the party. As their craving deepens and their behavior deteriorates, their social circle narrows to other users or addicted individuals, feeding the delusion that heavy drinking and drug use is normal behavior. In the end, even these friends may disappear, leaving them isolated and alone.

“As an addicted person, I was a consumer of relationships and people,” says James. “When I wasn’t drinking, I was lots of fun and could easily land a good job, win people over, and make new friends. Then I would get loaded, and all my anger came pouring out. People walked away from me, or I from them.”

“For years, I went from one circle to the next, not connecting my broken relationships to my behavior and drug use. It was always everyone else’s fault—their loss, not mine.”

The family life of addicted individuals is often marred by sudden or unexplained changes, including separation and divorce. Children may run away, go to live with relatives, or otherwise prematurely separate themselves from home.

Poor Work Performance

Most addicted individuals take great pains to keep their jobs, in part to pay for their drugs. Sooner or later, however, their work performance deteriorates. They find it harder to concentrate and make simple mistakes. They may become moody or aggressive toward fellow workers and show up late for work, or not at all—especially on Mondays or after holidays.

For most addicted individuals, job-related problems are the beginning of the end. They experience a snowballing decline in physical, emotional, and intellectual function that plunges them into ever deepening levels of chaos. For many, the endgame will be a long period of suffering and disability, and a premature, addiction-related death.

Crisis of the Spirit

The dramatic alterations in brain function caused by uncontrollable craving create profound changes in the psychological and spiritual lives of addicted persons. Many find themselves living in the deep shadows of life, strangers not just to their families, friends, and colleagues but to themselves.

“By my mid-twenties I was totally living in the dark side of my personality,” says James. “A part of me still wanted to quit using, but it no longer seemed like the real me. When an inner voice told me to get my life back on track, I wondered, Who is this stranger talking?

The emergence of a shadow self can begin even before heavy users cross the line into addiction. Mood-altering drugs alter the frontal lobe of the brain, affecting judgment, impulse control, and inhibition. The breakdown of this ‘behavior safety system’ leaves heavy drinkers and users more vulnerable to the weaknesses that plague us all—anger, self-pity, greed, hatred, violence, inertia, and sexual betrayals, to name only a few.

When heavy users cross the line into craving, they may abandon their spiritual life, giving up practices like prayer and meditation and severing their connection with a faith community. James, by nature, was an unusually conscientious and spiritually reflective young man. At the precocious age of 11, without influence from his parents, he went searching for a church to attend. He even became an acolyte.

By his early twenties, James’s moral life was in a steep decline. He habitually told lies, verbally abused friends and strangers, and borrowed money that he knew he couldn’t pay back. The disinhibiting qualities of alcohol made it easier for him to use cocaine, which he had vowed never to do. Before long, he was gambling heavily and selling drugs.

Many addicted individuals—to their own shame and horror—find themselves in a similar downward spiral. They start hiding bottles or drugs, and lie or steal to keep their drug pipeline open. They show up for work under the influence, even when they hold the health and safety of other people in their hands. Some emotionally or physically abuse their spouses and children.

Despite appearing calm or confident, addicted individuals who violate their personal values almost always experience a deep sense of failure and humiliation. “It’s impossible to describe the emotional pain experienced by an addict,” my friend and colleague, Dr. Jordan, told me. “No matter how arrogant or self-confident he may seem, his primary emotions are shame and self-hatred.”

These feelings trap an addicted individual in a self-perpetuating cycle of drug use and self-loathing. Some, like my colleagues Andrew and Sara, take their own lives. In one study, two-thirds of all suicides by people under the age of 30 were connected to substance abuse or addiction. Others, like James, experience a living death, falling into ever deeper levels of despair.

5 Tips to Become a More Effective Manager

That’s the advice from Carter Cast, a clinical professor of entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School. “We talk about inspirational leadership and brave leadership, and I’m all for it,” he says. “But the power and strength of good management doesn’t always get enough attention.” 

After all, strong managers coax high productivity out of their teams; they also free the executive team from much of the day-to-day operations so they can focus on more tactical issues.

“Within a company, leaders create a vision, and managers create goals and lead their group toward common objectives related to that vision,” Cast says. “You can make a strong case that the real pulse of a company is its management layer.” 

So what does it take to become a strong manager? Cast offers five tips.

Communicate Clearly

As the lynchpin and catalyst between the company’s senior leadership and its frontline workers, the manager must be able to communicate directions, expectations, and the company leadership’s position. Managers need to be clear about what they are asking people to do and why.

First and foremost, managers need to help their team members envision what success looks like for their group. Cast says, “If I were to ask a manager’s various team members to name 1) their department’s top two objectives for the quarter and 2) the metrics by which they are measuring those objectives’ success, would they all say the same thing to me? If the answers I’d get back are different, then that manager isn’t communicating their priorities clearly.

“You need to know that your team members are all aligned on what’s critical to accomplish for the good of the team,” Cast says. 

As for communicating with individual team members, Cast sees this as an essential part of coaching and development and suggests organizing each one-on-one meeting into three parts: performance indicators, progress on initiatives, and people. 

So, in an hour-long meeting, the first 20 minutes might include a review of the performance dashboard agreed upon at the beginning of the quarter or year. The second 20 minutes would be a conversation about progress on key initiatives, focusing on resource needs and any barriers the manager may need to help lower in order to complete the initiative on time. The final 20 minutes would then be dedicated to personnel moves, opportunities, and issues, including the team member’s own career development.

Cast suggests that managers ask direct reports to come prepared to each meeting with a one-page summary of updates from these discussion topics. “I always write all over that piece of paper in the meetings as we talk,” he says. “Then, I later I pull those sheets out when I am working on performance reviews. They are a good way to remind myself of what was accomplished over the course of the year. I’m able to see things that they did really well, as well as things they weren’t able to accomplish.”

Take Ownership of the Process 

As the people responsible for goal setting within the organization, managers should always be thinking about how they will measure success—and how they will hold their teams accountable for those metrics and timelines. This requires collaboration between the manager and the team members on identifying the best route to those goals. 

“Average managers think their job is to stay in their lane and facilitate the execution of initiatives. Great managers do that, but they also scratch their heads and say, ‘Is there a better way to do this? I’m going to look into that,’” Cast says. 

For a manager, simply stating that sales goal isn’t going to help you or your team reach it. Holding people accountable starts with outlining all the steps you will take to get there, including clearly defining both the critical “leading” and “lagging” measures of that goal. Cast notes that while both types of measures are important, leading measures tend to be more actionable. 

“If a team’s goal is $50 million in sales, a lagging measure of that goal might be the number of new customers you acquired that quarter,” Cast says. “A leading measure would be anything that impacts that customer acquisition, for instance, the number of software demos that each sales person executes. Then the whole team can be accountable by, say, working to run five demos per salesperson per week.”

Get Involved and Add Value

Of course, strong managers are not simply process facilitators. Most have technical expertise within the area their team is operating. So to get the most out of their teams, they have to know when to get directly involved. This might mean stepping in at a time when the team is struggling, or taking the lead on an important initiative related to their personal area of expertise. 

“Great managers roll up their sleeves and work alongside the team when necessary,” Cast says. “The more you understand your team’s work, the better you’ll be at analyzing and improving it. And the best way to understand it is by diving in and doing it.”

When he was the president of a division of Walmart, Cast arrived early to a national meeting of store managers. Employees were busy setting up displays in a full-scale store that was being assembled inside the Kansas City convention center. When he walked through the simulated Walmart store, he noticed that the merchandising team had fallen behind in assembling a set of display racks for new products.

“The more you understand your team’s work, the better you’ll be at analyzing and improving it. And the best way to understand it is by diving in and doing it.”

— Carter Cast

Best Online Fundraising Platforms

For the unacquainted, crowdfunding is when one raises money for a project, cause, or business endeavor through donations of small amounts. This money is pooled for a common goal. 

As they say, you can go a long way with a little help from your friends. Luckily, there are a ton of easy-to-use online platforms dedicated to helping you collect cash. But which platforms are best for which scenarios?

To help you decide, let’s take a look at some of the best crowdfunding options around: 

KICKSTARTER 

Founded in 2009, Kickstarter is one of the early crowdfunding platforms. To date, Kickstarter has helped raise over $5.4 billion, and over 191,000 projects have been successfully funded. 

Kickstarter is designed for innovators, makers, and entrepreneurs who have a business idea, creation, or endeavor they need help funding. To offer an incentive for donations, there are usually rewards for different tiers.

Note that unlike other crowdfunding platforms, Kickstarter is all-or-nothing funding. In other words, if you don’t reach your goal, you don’t get any money you raised. Another feature about Kickstarter is that campaigns undergo a review process and need to get approval.

Cost: Kickstarter charges a 5% fee on the amount you raised (often referred to as a platform fee), plus there are processing fees between 3% to 5%. So you’re looking at anywhere from 8% to 10% in total fees. If you don’t hit your reward, you don’t need to pay any fees. 

Best For

  • Launching a new product
  • Growing a small business

If you have an idea for a business or artistic project you’d like to launch, or need help developing a product, or scaling or growing your company, Kickstarter may be the right choice for you. It can also be a good platform if you want to use Kickstarter to market your product or business endeavor. If that’s the case, you could use it to raise part of your funds. 

GOFUNDME 

GoFundMe has traditionally been known to be a crowdfunding platform for those who have experienced an unexpected emergency. Memorial funds, disaster recovery, and exorbitant medical bills are common fundraising themes. They can also be used to fund celebrations, such as graduations and honeymoons, and raise capital to start a business. 

According to its website, GoFundMe has helped raise over $9 billion dollars and over 120 million donations have been made through its platform. Unlike Kickstarter, rewards aren’t offered for different tiers. And you don’t have to go through a screening process to launch your campaign. In other words, anyone can go start crowdfunding on the platform basically immediately. 

Cost: GoFundMe charges a 2.9% processing fee (plus a flat $0.30) on every donation. There is no platform fee. 

Best For

  • Health and disaster-related requests

While the platform can be used for almost any kind of fundraising, the simplified structure makes it better suited for charitable requests. Since you don’t need to get the green light before launching your campaign, GoFundMe might be best if time is of the essence, and you need to secure some funds sooner than later. 

FUNDLY 

Instead of raising money for a business idea or to launch a product or service, Fundly is dedicated solely to fundraising for charity or a cause. Nonprofits and individuals can both raise money. As you might expect, the most common campaigns are related to medical and health expenses, kids and family, and education and schools.

One benefit Fundly pushes is easy integration with Facebook. If you’re active on Facebook (and your target donors are there as well), this integration can simplify the marketing process and get your request out to the right people. 

Cost: There’s a platform fee of 4.9%, and a payment processing fee of 2.9% (plus another flat $0.30 per donation). 

Best For

  • Personal/charitable requests
  • Users who need help getting the word out

Fundly seems to work best for those who need money to take care of urgent costs related to childcare, education, kids, or medical or health care expenses. 

PATREON 

Patreon is primarily for creators who have an audience and would like to ask for financial support in return for sharing their works. This includes artists, writers, YouTubers, gamers, performers, and everything in between. 

Patreon offers creators a platform where they can distribute a wide variety of content, including tutorials, webinars, artwork, podcasts, coaching sessions, and more. There’s a support tier system, and each tier comes with different benefits. Unlike other fundraising platforms, however, donations are usually subscription fees, which roll over every month. The expectation is that you’ll be producing work on a regular basis (although, technically that’s not a requirement).

Cost: There are three membership tiers for creators: Lite, Pro, and Premium. Patreon Lite charges 5% of the money you bring in, Patreon Pro takes 8%, while the Premium level takes 12%. The more expensive membership tiers come with additional features and tools. 

Best For

  • Dedicated content creators

If you’re a creator and you have the drive and time to create content on an ongoing basis, then Patreon might be for you. However, the support of your fans hinges on your commitment to creating more content, or being available for coaching or mentoring sessions.

KO-FI 

A newer kid on the crowdfunding block, Ko-Fi is part freelancing platform, part crowdfunding platform. It allows users to set up shop and offer their services or products, with payments coming through one-time donations, rolling monthly subscriptions, and direct purchases. 

If you’re not ready to commit to something long-term or ongoing, such as regular offerings to your audience, then Ko-Fi is a good place to start. It works well as a “casual” fundraising platform and may be a good in-between option for hobbyists looking to generate extra income on the side. 

Cost: While Ko-Fi itself doesn’t take a fee, there is a standard payment processing fee (which varies depending on the amount and location of the donation. It’s free to set up shop. However, Ko-Fi offers a Gold tier, which is $6 a month. Instead of just the $3 tip, the Gold tier allows you to choose how much your “tip” is and how you get paid. Plus, you can glean insights through analytics and post exclusive rewards. 

Best For

  • Entrepreneurs looking to get their feet wet
  • Creators who don’t want to commit to a monthly reward schedule

Ko-Fi is a great first stop for anyone who’s interested in offering products, services, or content, and isn’t quite ready to create content on an ongoing basis. 

SHOULD YOU USE A FUNDRAISING PLATFORM?

If you’re intrigued by the idea of raising money through a crowdfunding platform, it’s best to know the pros and cons. All in all, crowdfunding platforms are nice because they don’t require much time or resources to get started. Plus, you don’t have to worry about paying anyone back. 

On the flip side, successful crowdfunding campaigns typically require a lot of time and energy to launch and execute. You might find yourself emailing every single person you know to hit your goals. And of course, you’ll want to be mindful of the fees, terms, and also the limitations of each platform.

Ultimately, the success of your campaign comes down to some things you can control (your messaging and how well you promote yourself) and some things you can’t control (the financial capacity of the people you’re asking). In most instances, there’s not much harm in at least trying, but success is far from guaranteed: GoFundMe campaigns have about a 90% failure rate.

All you need to know about flu

Influenza A and influenza B cause seasonal epidemics in the United States and elsewhere every winter. Type C usually causes mild respiratory illness.

Some strains of influenza A, such as the H5N1 “bird flu” virus, occasionally infect humans, causing serious illness. Experts track these strains carefully, as they try to predict how they will change, and how they might affect people.

In this article, we explain the symptoms of flu, the treatment options, how it differs from a cold, and how to prevent the flu.

Symptoms

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person with flu may experience:

  • a high temperature that lasts 3–4 days
  • a stuffy or runny nose
  • cold sweats and shivers
  • aches that may be severe
  • a headache
  • fatigue

Not everyone with flu will have all of these symptoms. For instance, it is possible to have flu without a fever.

The symptoms of influenza typically come on suddenly. Initially, a person with flu may experience:

  • a high temperature
  • a stuffy or runny nose
  • a dry cough
  • cold sweats and shivers
  • aches that may be severe
  • a headache
  • fatigue, and a feeling of being unwell
  • a low appetite

Flu symptoms in adults

Adults with the following symptoms should seek medical help urgently:

  • breathing difficulties
  • pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • dizziness, confusion, or loss of alertness
  • seizures
  • not urinating, which may indicate dehydration
  • severe pain, weakness, and unsteadiness
  • a fever or cough that goes away and then comes back
  • a worsening of other existing health conditions

Flu symptoms in children

Children often have similar symptoms to adults but can also have gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

If a child has the following symptoms, they need emergency medical care:

  • breathing difficulties
  • rapid breathing
  • bluish face or lips
  • chest pain or ribs pulling inward as they breathe
  • severe aches
  • dehydration, for example, not urinating for 8 hours and crying dry tears
  • lack of alertness or interaction with others
  • a fever above 104°F or any fever in a child under 12 weeks of age
  • a fever or cough that goes away but then comes back
  • a worsening of any other medical conditions

Flu symptoms in babies

Flu can be dangerous for babies. If symptoms appear, a parent or caregiver should seek medical help.

A baby with flu may:

  • be very tired
  • have a cough and sore throat
  • have a stuffy or runny nose
  • have a fever of 100°F or more
  • have vomiting or diarrhea

The baby needs emergency medical attention if they:

  • do not want anyone to hold them
  • have a blue or gray skin color
  • are breathing fast or have difficulty breathing
  • have a fever with a rash
  • have symptoms that go away but come back again
  • show signs of dehydration, for example, not urinating
  • do not wake up or interact
  • have severe and persistent vomiting

Flu type A symptoms

If a person has the following symptoms, they may have influenza type A:

  • fever and chills
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • a stuffy or runny nose
  • a sore throat and cough

Learn more here about influenza A.

Flu type B symptoms

Influenza B symptoms are similar to those of influenza A.

Learn more here about influenza B.

For more information and resources to help keep you and your loved ones healt

Why Having No Credit is the Same as Having Bad Credit

I learned the hard way that avoiding credit may seem like a smart way to save yourself from future hardships like debt and overspending, but it’s much more likely to cause a different sort of hardship when you discover that having no credit history is the same as having a very bad credit history. And while it’s completely reasonable (and advisable!) to be extremely cautious with credit, avoiding it altogether can be a recipe for disaster.

So here’s what happened, what I learned, and why developing a healthy relationship with credit is a much better goal than never using credit at all.

THE RATIONALE FOR AVOIDING CREDIT

I was a saver growing up. I liked having money, but not nearly as much as I was afraid of not having money. Even from a young age, I was predisposed to reducing risk and avoiding regret. 

When I got older, that urge to avoid risk influenced how I managed my money. The financial education I received basically boiled down to “credit cards lead to credit card debt, which leads to shame, social rejection, and maybe even bankruptcy.” There didn’t appear to be a healthy middle ground, so I stuck to cash and debit cards for a decade-plus. It just seemed safer and it kept me out of debt, which had to be a good thing, right? 

GOOD CREDIT MEANS PROVING YOURSELF

While not being in debt was certainly nice, that continued avoidance of any and all credit and loan products wasn’t actually a good thing. 

Since we tend to think of credit scoring as demerit-based (because it seems like the only things on there are notations of the few times you messed up) there can sometimes be an assumption that by not using credit – and therefore not having any mistakes – our credit should be “good” (if not perfect). That was my thinking, anyway. As I desperately avoided credit card offers at all turns, I thought I was actually preserving a spotless credit history. Of course, that wasn’t the case. 

That’s because a credit score is a product, created by credit reporting agencies, and sold to potential lenders. The purpose of this particular product is to help lenders understand how risky it will be to extend credit to certain individuals (or companies). Credit reporting agencies, therefore, need that product (the score) to be as accurate as possible, or else lenders won’t use it. 

What that ultimately means is that if you don’t have enough of a credit history, then credit bureaus don’t have enough information to assign you a score that they feel would be an accurate representation of your riskiness as a borrower. How can they know how risky it is to lend you money when you’ve never borrowed money before? 

HAVING NO CREDIT IS EXPENSIVE

My great credit awakening came when my car broke down for the last time and I found myself in a position all too familiar to many Americans: I didn’t have enough saved. I wasn’t prepared for such a singularly large expense. In fact, I barely had enough for a down payment on the cheapest used car on the lot. 

The moment of enlightenment happened in the financing office, where an increasingly exasperated loan officer did his best to get me the funds needed to buy a truly underwhelming car. In the end, I got the loan and the car, along with an interest rate so embarrassingly high, I can’t bring myself to share it here.

That’s when the loan officer explained the issue at hand: “You don’t have any credit history. Like, none. At all.” 

Lending money is risky, you see. In order to mitigate that risk, lenders set standards and protocols for who they will and will not lend to. With no credit history and no credit score, I simply didn’t meet the standards for a lot of creditors, who rejected me one after the other. (Seriously, I got at least a dozen different “Here’s why we rejected your application for credit” letters afterward.) 

The lender that did agree to finance my car was required – by their protocols – to charge me an exorbitant interest rate in order to mitigate the risk. 

That’s how the cheapest car on the lot ended up costing me about as much as a new car.

MAKE CREDIT AN ALLY, NOT AN ENEMY

Ultimately, my extremely expensive cheap car was a valuable lesson in why I couldn’t ignore credit any longer. On top of maintaining timely auto loan payments, I opened a secured credit card, which I used regularly (and paid off immediately, thanks to the power of online banking). After the secured card graduated to a regular, unsecured card, I refinanced the car loan and opened a second card with a higher limit and better terms. 

To this day I make my payments on time and avoid carrying a balance. And that’s basically it, but it’s been enough to build a strong credit history and a high credit score. That credit score helped me buy a house and a new car (for my wife – the expensive cheap car, long since paid off, continues to be an inexplicably good investment).  

There are a lot of good reasons why you might want to avoid using credit. And if you’ve been burned by credit before, you may be especially inclined to live a plastic-free life from now on. But in the long run using credit responsibly will serve you much better. Take my word for it.

Friends Are More Important Than We Realized

In the Atlantic, Rhaina Cohen asked a question that I hope will become prophetic: “What if friendship, not marriage, was at the center of life?”

The friends Cohen described in her story included those who “live in houses they purchased together, raise each other’s children, use joint credit cards, and hold medical and legal powers of attorney for each other. These friendships have many of the trappings of romantic relationships, minus the sex.” She argued that “these friendships can be models for how we as a society might expand our conceptions of intimacy and care.”

Evidence for the significance of the friends in our lives has been growing – and those friends do not need to be as enmeshed as the ones Cohen profiled. In fact, because of our changing demographics and our evolving needs, friends almost have to play a more important role in our lives than they have before.

The good news is that friends are finally starting to get the recognition they deserve – in our cultural conversations, in popular culture, and in scholarly writings.

Our Changing Demographics

In the U.S. and around the world, fewer people are marrying, and more are staying single. The rise in cohabitation does not explain away that trend. Even people who do eventually marry are taking longer to do so, resulting in longer stretches of their adult life without a spouse at the center of it.

In an even more striking finding, a survey conducted just before the pandemic showed that half of all solo single people in the U.S. were not interested in a romantic relationship or even a date.

Children are not as central to our lives as they once were, either. In the U.S., the birth rate has been declining for decades. The people who do have kids are having fewer of them. Families are getting smaller.

A spouse or a grown child can’t be at the center of your life when you don’t have either. But we can all value our friends if we want to, regardless of our marital, relationship, or parental status.

Our Changing Needs

Crisis in availability of caregivers

As Ai-jen Poo pointed out in The Age of Dignity, the number of older people who need sustained help with the tasks of everyday life is growing rapidly, but the availability of people who can care for them is lagging far behind. Traditionally, family members have been expected to step up and provide that care (and people who are single do so disproportionately). Now, however, in part because of the changing demographics, many older people have no living spouse, no grown children, and no other relatives. Those who do have such people in their lives sometimes find that they are unable or unwilling to help. But they may have friends. Any friends willing to step in should be accorded all the special benefits, protections and accommodations typically accorded to a spouse.

Pandemic

Many people, particularly some of the single people who are living alone, have missed seeing their friends during the pandemic. Policymakers who designed new rules to control the spread of the virus did not always acknowledge that until challenged to do better. For example, when Australia was under quarantine in April, people who wanted to see their friends were told that it wasn’t a good idea and given a list of apps instead.  Asked about romantic partners, though, the Chief Health Officer offered this response: “We have no desire to penalise individuals who are staying with or meeting their partners if they don’t usually reside together. We’ll be making an exemption.” The good news is that single people lobbied for changes and succeeded. They forced an acknowledgment of the significance of friends.

Our Changing Values

The relationship hierarchy, the relationship escalator, and amatonormativity

It is not just their declining numbers that are knocking spouses and romantic partners off their pedestals. Values are changing, too. The relationship hierarchy that put those partners ahead of everyone else is getting challenged. More people are asking why a romantic partner or even a spouse should automatically come first. And more people who do get involved in romantic relationships are resisting the expectation that they should ride the relationship escalator up and up to increasingly higher levels of commitment and exclusivity.

In a rare breakthrough of scholarly jargon into public awareness and even acclaim, “amatonormativity” is having its day. As described by the philosopher Elizabeth Brake in her book, Minimizing Marriage, amatonormativity is

“the assumption that a central, exclusive, amorous relationship is normal for humans, in that it is a universally shared goal, and that such a relationship is normative, in the sense that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship types.”

Professor Brake did not define amatonormativity to praise it, but to challenge it. Valuing friendship is a big part of that challenge.

Some suggestive evidence for the growing valuing of friendship around the world

In a study of the rise of individualism in 78 nations over the course of a half-century, Henri Santos and his colleagues measured individualistic values, including the valuing of friends more than the valuing of family. The researchers combined that measure with two others (valuing political self-expression and teaching kids to be independent), so the results cannot provide definitive evidence for the growing tendency to value friends relatively more than family. The findings are just suggestive, but what they suggest is that for 74 percent of the nations with relevant data, people are valuing friends more and more over time, relative to how much they value family.

Minding your memory

Everyone experiences the occasional “senior moment” as they age. You may misplace everyday items, fail to recall the name of someone you just met, or forget to do something. While these memory slips can be embarrassing and stressful, they usually don’t mean that you are on a path to dementia.

“Some degree of memory lapses is a normal part of aging,” says Lydia Cho, a neuropsychologist with Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. “You can’t expect to hold on to all information you’ve gathered throughout your life, whether it was long ago or recent. It’s not realistic or adaptive.”

Factors at play

There are times when frequent forgetfulness should be checked out by your doctor, as it could be a symptom of an underlying treatable health problem. For example, insomnia, anxiety, and depression can affect brain functions, including memory.

If your lapses become more frequent or severe, or if they affect your daily life (like forgetting to pay bills or take medicine), your doctor may recommend a neuropsychological evaluation. In that exam, a specialist assesses your memory and other cognitive skills, such as attention, executive function, language, and visuospatial abilities.

Brain assistance

Even though most memory lapses are not cause for concern, you can take measures to manage and improve your existing brain skills. Adopting various lifestyle behaviors is one way (see “Manage your memory with DANCERS”). For specific types of everyday memory issues, adopting certain strategies can help you retain and recall information or navigate memory hiccups when they arise.

Manage your memory with DANCERS. There are steps you can take to enhance your memory and help to delay or even prevent dementia. Lydia Cho, a neuropsychologist with Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, suggests focusing on DANCERS, a set of lifestyle criteria created by Dr. James Ellison, former director of the geriatric psychiatry program at McLean.
D: Disease management. Maintain a healthy weight, don’t smoke, and keep blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels in line to help preserve cognitive function.
A: Activity. Any cardio exercise, like walking, swimming, and playing sports, is good for brain health. “Cardio can increase energy in the brain by improving oxygen and blood flow,” says Cho.
N: Nutrition. Poor nutrition leads to poor brain health. The DASH, MIND, and Mediterranean diets emphasize whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fatty fish, and healthy fats.
C: Cognitive stimulation. “Challenge your brain regularly,” says Cho. “The more you engage your brain, the more likely you can retain memory.”
E: Engagement. Research continues to show a reliable link between isolation and lower cognitive function. Any kind of social engagement is helpful.
R: Relaxation. Your brain needs adequate downtime. Do activities that you find relaxing, whether it’s exercise, yoga, meditation, reading, or bathing.
S: Sleep. Sleep is when your brain cleans out toxins. To get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night, practice good sleep hygiene. Examples: Set a sleep schedule and stick to it. Avoid any electronic devices for at least an hour before bedtime. Don’t eat after dinner time.

The following is a look at the memory obstacles you are most likely to encounter and ways to deal with them.

Absent-mindedness. This happens when you multitask and don’t concentrate on less critical tasks. (Think of the stereotypical absent-minded professor who can recall complex formulas but keeps misplacing his glasses.) Sometimes, the seemingly small details can have significant consequences, like forgetting to take medicine or leaving the house without your phone.

What you can do: When faced with multiple tasks, put them in order of importance and then focus on only one task at a time before moving on to the next. Setting up routines and reminders also can help prevent absent-mindedness.

For example, create a memory table by your front door or in the bedroom where you place all your vital objects, like your phone, medicines, and glasses. To make sure you take your medicines on schedule, use a pillbox labelled with dates and times, or set alarms on your smart phone to remind you.

Blocking. This is referred to as the “tip of the tongue” phenomenon, when you can’t recall a name or specific detail. “You know the information, but you can’t immediately place a label on it,” says Cho. “This happens to everyone at times, no matter a person’s age, and isn’t cause for concern unless it becomes a more frequent occurrence.”

What you can do: Recalling names of people is the most common type of blocking. Cho suggests trying to associate a person with something that may help trigger name recall, like his or her hobby, work, background, or spouse. “Many times you know more detail about a person beyond his or her name,” she says. Another option is to associate the person with someone who has the same name or a similar one, like a relative, celebrity, or movie character. “You can also connect the name with a rhyming word or song,” says Cho. For large functions where you know the attendees, like family gatherings or meetings, rehearse people’s names beforehand.

Transience. Transience is the loss of certain memories — typically facts or events — over time. “The brain decides what information becomes less crucial or integral,” says Cho. For instance, you can memorize a phone number to use immediately, but then you don’t retain it because it’s no longer needed.

What you can do: If you want to retain certain memories, try to keep that information emotionally charged. “If you believe it’s important, your brain will likely hang on to it longer,” she says. You can do this by revisiting the memory through sharing it in conversation, recording it for future reference, and reviewing photographs.

Misattribution. Here, you recall accurate information from an event but can’t attribute it to the correct source, or you recognize a familiar face but place the person wrongly. Another type of is misattribution is false recognition, which scammers often exploit. “People try to convince you that you owe money, and you don’t trust your memory and second-guess yourself,” says Cho.

What you can do: If you have trouble connecting information with a source, write down the details of an event when they occur. You can also record the information (most smartphones have voice memo capabilities), or take pictures or videos. “But keep in mind that many times what you know is more important than where it came from, so focus on that,” says Cho.

To protect yourself from scams, never share financial information like account or credit card numbers on the phone or over the Internet. If you have doubts about an inquiry, and don’t trust your memory, run it by a friend or family member to ensure its legitimacy.

4 Tips for Navigating the Newly Crowded Gig Economy

In the wake of the coronavirus, unemployment in the U.S. has surged and gig workers haven’t been spared. According to a recent survey, some 89 percent1 of gig workers and self-employed are now looking for a new source of income. For many, demand for their service diminished. For others, the competition heated up because there have been so many more people looking for work.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of people searching for remote and flexible jobs during the COVID-19 crisis,” says Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of Boulder, Colo.-based FlexJobs2, a premium job search service that helps professionals find flexible work, such as part-time and full-time remote work and freelance options.

But there is good news: In recent weeks, Sutton has seen a “steady increase” in month-over-month remote job listings posted to FlexJobs. “If history is any indicator, there’s a good possibility that remote freelance jobs will continue to increase just like we saw in the last recession,” she says. “The current economic conditions are uncertain, and companies often turn to freelancers when it’s not possible for them to take on a full-time or part-time employee due to that uncertainty.”

Sutton says the fields that are particularly strong right now in hiring for freelance work include computer and IT, software development, education and training, bilingual, accounting and finance, writing, medical and health, customer service, and project management.”

Opportunity is out there—if you know how to stand out from the swelling competition. Read on for smart tips about successfully navigating the newly crowded gig economy and having a sustainable future as a full-time freelancer or solopreneur—especially with services like VSP Individual Vision Plans on your side.

1. Highlight your previous remote work and education.

When you’re applying for a remote job—whether it be a freelance project, an ongoing gig, etc.—you’ll want to make sure to mention your previous remote work or learning experience throughout your resume and on your LinkedIn profile to help “make you stand out from a big crowd of people who are seeking remote work without that experience right now,” Sutton says.

The same goes for solopreneurs with their own brands, except you’ll want to make sure this information is detailed on your website and social media pages like Facebook and Google business listing.

This information can include partial and fully remote work, earning any certificates or degrees online, and time you’ve spent collaborating and communicating with people across time zones using email, phone, web conferencing, and other remote tools, Sutton says.

2. Detail your communication abilities when talking with potential clients. 

A lot of companies and clients are new to remote work and hiring. As such, many appreciate people who are outstanding communicators both in writing and verbally, Sutton says. “Mention your communication skills and the tools you use to stay in touch in your applications, portfolios, online profiles, and in discussions with potential employers.”

Part of this is reaching out in the first place. With the competition for work as high as it is, you can’t afford to be hesitant about contacting old contacts. “Reach out to previous clients to let them know you’re available and, if applicable, bring them up to speed on some of the projects you’ve worked on so they know what you’re currently capable of,” Sutton says. Take it a step further and start making new contacts as well—online and even in-person when possible, given social distancing measures. The more people who know you’re for hire, the better.

3. Research and vet the sites you use to find freelance and remote jobs.

There are a huge variety of sources for freelance jobs so it’s important to research those sources and evaluate them for your own needs. “Are there several websites, clients, recruiting agencies, and other sources that you’ve used reliably, or that fellow freelancers highly recommend,” Sutton says. “Concentrate your efforts on those sources to maximize your chances for success.” 

Yeah, Toxic Positivity Is Very Real. Here’s How to Recognize It.

Just be grateful it isn’t worse. Look on the bright side. Everything happens for a reason. When you’re brave enough to share your struggles with friends, or family, these well-meaning, trite proverbs can feel more like jabs. And your frustration is totally valid: If you’re regularly spoon fed a forced silver lining perspective — a behavior known as “toxic positivity” — you’ll likely experience strain on both your mental health and your relationships.

Life isn’t exactly easy for anyone at the moment but being a parent during a pandemic comes with unique struggles. Maybe you’re doing your best to balance your remote work with your kids’ remote learning, or you’re feeling the strain of managing your own mental health while navigating your kids’ behavioral issues. Maybe you’re rightfully discouraged by the current state of the world.

Either way, empathy from other people isn’t always a given. In a culture that glorifies hard work and the appearance of “having it all together,” it can be easy for people to divert to toxic positivity.

“The basic notion is that you can somehow avoid your current distress by adding perspective,” says Kansas-based therapist James Cochran. “The list of combinations is long, but in all cases, someone is responding to your very real and very present pain with an insistence that you remain positive.”

It may seem obvious to you that validation is more comforting than a cliché that belongs on a decorative wood sign found in a Target, but for some people, airing struggle is a sign of weakness. Oregon-based marriage and family therapist Jason Wilkinson says people often default to a “just be grateful” attitude because it’s awkward to acknowledge another person’s pain or stress. There’s no script for acknowledging someone’s struggle, and it’s easier to try to eliminate the pain altogether with well-meaning but trite comments.

So, chances are, your overly optimistic loved ones have good intentions. But that doesn’t make their refusal to recognize your experience any less damaging. When you’re going through a tough time, toxic positivity is a lot like gas lighting — Wilkinson says it can cause you to question your emotional experience, which only triggers more stress. For example, if your parents respond to your frustrations about distance learning with a trite “This too shall pass,” you might end up feeling like you’re too critical or negative.

Over time, another person’s toxic positivity can take a toll on your mental health by causing you to avoid your own feelings.

“Judging yourself for feeling overwhelmed by parenting leads to what are referred to as secondary emotions such as shame that are much more intense and maladaptive,” says  therapist Carolyn Karroll, who practices in Maryland. “They distract us from the problem at hand and in the case of toxic positivity don’t give space for self-compassion, which is so vital to our mental health.”

Naturally, toxic positivity can also be damaging to relationships, and not just because it’s annoying — a refusal to validate your experience is also a refusal to truly connect. Cochran says when someone refuses to acknowledge another person’s difficulty, they’re also refusing to understand and support them — two things that are essential for healthy relationships.

Toxic positivity can also be a sign of, well, toxic people who just don’t want to deal with anything negative, including your difficult experiences.

“If you’re venting to a friend that caring for three kids under five is really taking it out of you, and they tell you to look for things to be grateful for, they’ve escaped responsibility for sitting with you in the midst of your pain,” Cochran says.

If you’re regularly on the receiving end of positive platitudes that diminish your experience, it might be time for a tough conversation about your needs. This part won’t be easy because the other person may clap back by making you feel negative. Stick with it, though: The benefits of feeling heard far outweigh the awkwardness of addressing the toxic elephant in the room.

As a general practice — especially when you don’t have supportive people around you — Karroll recommends validating your own experience. Remind yourself that whatever you’re feeling, your experience is part of the human experience, especially during a time of broader uncertainty and disconnection. She typically encourages her patients to practice gratitude while also acknowledging very present difficulties, losses, or grief.

And if you find yourself feeling awkward when someone else shares their emotions with you, practice simply listening instead of glossing over the problem. It’ll not only help the other person feel understood but also strengthen your relationship.

“Authentic presence is often the greatest gift a person can give,” Wilkinson says. “So do the hard work of expanding your capacity to sit with pain and discomfort.”

Self-Care and Gratitude: How They Go Hand in Hand

For many, the glass seems half empty.  With loved ones tragically passing or loneliness seeping into our daily moods or responsibilities of kids overtaking many parents’ schedules, there is reason to consider gratitude in our daily regimen of self-care.

Turning to gratitude can, in part, help us see the glass as half full. 

Here are three ways gratitude promotes self-care:

1. Gratitude promotes self-care via healthier living.

A brief yet regular gratitude practice promises more benefits than may be expected.  For example, college students who write about what they’re grateful for weekly for 10 weeks also exercise more than those who engage in other types of writing.  A gratitude practice promotes exercise, better nutrition, better sleep, and not smoking, among other things.

2. Gratitude promotes self-care via selflessness and humility.

Self-care via gratitude holds benefits for social well-being as well.  Among three hundred college students, those picked to write gratitude letters showed greater stimulation in the reward region of their brains when observing money given to charity.  A regular gratitude practice, in turn, motivates us to seek kindness and generosity to reward our minds as well as to improve circumstances for others; the latter, improving the lives of others, makes us more selfless and humbler. 

3. Gratitude promotes self-care via meaningful connection to others.

Another benefit for social well-being was seen among adults and college students in the U.S. and Korea asked to perform two gratitude activities: remembering a grateful experience or writing a gratitude letter.  Other participants engaged in activities such as hiking or shopping.  In contrast to the two groups, participants exercising gratitude felt more connected to others.  (Loneliness, which is rampant due to COVID lockdowns, for example, might be tackled via gratitude practices.)  Feeling socially connected in the time of COVID could go a long way to promoting self-care as well as societal care. 

Countries are each addressing COVID health consequences, but what about the self-care and societal care that’s needed as well?  Using a gratitude practice can address the needs of members feeling unfairly affected by the pandemic.  Not only does gratitude help at this critical time, but gratitude is also useful to individuals and societies outside of times of public health crisis.  Hopefully, we apply such a practice daily or weekly to reap its countless benefits. 

What are some ways you can practice gratitude?

  • Use your social media platforms, or alternatively a journal, to list what you are grateful for weekly.  Try to keep this up for over six weeks.
  • Say thank you in-person to someone you care about.
  • Say thank you to yourself before you go to bed, recounting three things you appreciate about yourself.
  • If possible, appreciate the love shown to you by others by showing it back in ways shown in 1 and 2 above.

Study hints that early morning exercise may reduce cancer risk

New research has suggested that people who exercise in the early morning may have a reduced risk of developing cancer than those who exercise later in the day.

The research, appearing in the International Journal of Cancer, may help inform future research into the timing of exercise as a potential way of reducing cancer risk.

Cancer, sleep, and exercise

Research has shown that doing recreational exercise can reduce a person’s risk of developing many different cancers.

This information is important because of the high numbers of people who develop cancer and the significant number who die of the disease. For example, in the United States, scientists estimate that by the end of 2020, 1,806,590 people will receive a diagnosis of cancer, while 606,520 people will die from the disease.

Given the large numbers of people who develop cancer, even a change as small as changing the time a person exercises could make a significant contribution to reducing the impact of cancer across a whole population. 

As of 2018, 46.7% of adults in the U.S. did not meet the minimum aerobic physical activity guidelines. Increasing physical activity and optimizing when it is most effective might be a possible way of reducing the prevalence of cancer in society.

There is also evidence that a person’s circadian rhythm may have links to their chance of developing cancer. The phrase circadian rhythm refers to the biological processes that affect a person’s sleep-wake cycle.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer have classified the level of evidence linking night shift work that disrupts a person’s circadian rhythm as “probably” carcinogenic to humans.

In particular, researchers have linked night shift work to an increased risk of breast cancer. The evidence for prostate cancer remains unclear.

Scientists have shown that exercise also has a relationship with a person’s circadian rhythm. According to 2019 research, exercising during the day may help improve a person’s circadian rhythm and lessen the adverse effects of disrupted sleep patterns.

Given that exercise can potentially reduce the risks of cancer and improve circadian rhythms and disrupted circadian rhythms can increase cancer risk, the authors of the new research hypothesized that the timing of physical activity might affect cancer risk.

You Need a Personal Highlight Reel

But positive events can lead to post-traumatic growth, too: landing a new job, having a new baby, or falling in love. And, according to research, the jolts we feel from these positive disruptive events can energize us, boost our self-esteem, deepen our relationship with others, and enhance the meaning of our lives.

Over the years, through my academic research and consulting, I’ve developed a process for achieving personal growth through positive trauma called the Positive Method. Building on a well-established technique called Reflected Best-Self Exercise, my process is akin to listening to your friends, co-workers, and family eulogize you. No, this doesn’t involve faking your own death. But the process will probably make you feel vulnerable, squeamish, and uncomfortable. The task involves reaching out to people who mean the most to you of times, sharing anecdotes of when they made an impact, and asking them to share memories of you being the best version of yourself. You end up with a personal highlight reel: a set of memories of you at your very best.

If this makes you nervous, you’re not alone. In my structured interviews of people who completed the Positive Method, more than half of the people I spoke with, from Seoul and Sydney to New Jersey, spontaneously mentioned the cultural resistance to focusing on people’s unique strengths. Why? Over the years, I’ve become convinced that our allergic reaction is because we’re afraid that if we focus on people’s positive contributions, we’ll make them arrogant. I can tell you, this fear is misplaced when it comes to the Positive Method. In fact, the opposite is true. People feel inspired and energized to use their strengths even more, and give more to others, after reading their highlights.

Ironically, what makes the Positive Method so effective is how uncomfortable it is. Because it questions our basic assumptions, it can shift your controls from autopilot to manual. Often, we don’t notice how our negative assumptions and negative self-talk become our default setting. This can make life seem like a daily struggle. We spiral downward and find ourselves in ruts that hold us back from our potential. But by building a personal highlight reel, it’s possible to jolt yourself into a more positive cycle and create real personal change. Once you can see how others perceive you when you make your best impact, you’ll be more likely to maximize and build upon the unique strengths that make you exceptional.

The process, which I detail in my book Exceptional, is also adaptable to your needs. You can make this your own personal project or a team activity, or, if you’re a boss, you can choose to send notes of appreciation to your direct reports. Here’s the full process:

Give before you receive. Before you ask for feedback, send your notes of appreciation and gratitude to people in your life: parents, colleagues, bosses, kids, friends, siblings. This will begin a virtuous cycle of gratitude. Block off 15 minutes to brainstorm about each person’s unique strengths. Pretend you are going to speak at his or her eulogy, and jot down what makes this person so special to you. Dredge your memories for a few specific times that this person was using his or her character traits to make a great impact.

As you craft your notes, remember that human brains are built for stories — not facts and over-generalizations. So, rather than simply offering praise (“You’re so smart” or “You’re great with kids”), write a story about specific event that was impactful to you. Adding personal touches will help others relive those memories.

When I started at this job, as a recent college grad with little experience, I really appreciated everything you did for me. You were right by my side, giving me great projects, calming my nerves before my presentation to Melinda, putting up with my pesky questions about Excel, and introducing me to the homemade potato chips from Jules’s. 

From there, I would detail how the person affected you, and how their strengths — in the above case, the person’s kindness and mentorship — was meaningful to you.

Next, when you’re ready to send your notes stories out, write something like this:

Based on an article I read, I’ve been thinking about ways I can improve my relationships. I don’t know if you know this, but you are an important person in my life. I want to share some memories with you about when I’ve seen you at your best. Then, if you are willing, I’d love to learn about a few times when you saw me making my best impact. 

I can remember a time when… [add your story]

Don’t send out all the notes at once. You’ll feel more positive emotions if you spread your writing out across two weeks. Once you get started you may find you want to write more than one story for some people.

Don’t undervalue the impact of showing gratitude. The evidence suggests that people will love hearing your memories, and will want to give back. That’s how the emotion of gratitude creates upward spirals, and it’s why you’ll become closer to the people you reached out to after this exercise.

Embrace Your Emotions — Then Get to Work. As people send you their memories, save them up and read them all in one sitting to maximize their impact. Reliving those memories, especially if they span decades, can be a truly emotional experience.

Jolts of positive trauma emerged in many of my interviews with people who had constructed their personal highlight reels. Take 48-year-old Louise, a high-powered partner in a global consulting firm in Chicago. It is not easy to earn partnership as a woman in a masculine business environment, and Louise is not often prone to sentimentality. However, after reading her highlight reel, Louise told me:

I think I was more emotional than happy. Happy is not the right word. Touched. Yes, really touched. Moved. I think, rationally, I kind of knew everything they wrote. But the fact that they tell you with their own words, what they’ve seen, and how great you are, is very touching.

Throughout the interviews I conducted, what I heard again and again, across diverse age groups and national cultures, was a sense of positive trauma. People regularly use words like “intensity,” “surprised,” “amazed,” “stunned,” “touched,” and “wonder.”

Will COVID Change Our Habits Permanently?

Such an impactful event also brings up questions of how people are coping and which new habits will stick when we no longer have to worry about the coronavirus. We talked to some experts to find out how COVID has changed us and what changes may be still to come.

FIGHT, FLIGHT, OR FREEZE

Looking back at how people initially responded to the coronavirus outbreak offers some insight into how a crisis can impact us. 

“First and foremost, COVID is affecting our mental health by creating an initial stress response: fight, flight, and freeze,” says Dr. Alex Melkumian, founder of the Financial Psychology Center in Los Angeles. 

Perhaps you’ve seen or experienced some of these responses. People “fighting” by updating their LinkedIn profile and jumping into a job hunt. Flight and freeze might look like avoiding the situation and putting off everything until the last minute. Although, a similar lack of response can come from optimism bias—the belief that everything will work out okay. 

Of course, there’s more at play than an initial response, and people react differently depending on the situation. For example, after a layoff some people may avoid filing for unemployment due to shame or pride rather than a flight or freeze response. 

Crisis responses have also played out in different ways on a large scale. If you think back to the early days of the pandemic (a lifetime ago), you’ll remember how panic-buying led to toilet paper shortages. 

SOME FINANCIAL HABITS ARE ALREADY CHANGING 

Over half-a-year in, people have had time to adjust, develop new routines, and implement changes. Some of these might not be habits, per se, but they can still have a long-term impact. 

“A lot of what holds people back is that they think there’s all the time in the world to get it done,” says financial therapist Lindsay Bryan-Podvin. “When the reality hits… the fire burns to get things going.” Many of her clients are finally crossing things off their financial to-do list, such as getting life insurance or writing up a will. 

A McKinsey & Co. survey from October 7, 2020, offers more insight into what types of financial habits may be changing: 

  • Most people are cutting back on discretionary spending.
  • About 23% to 25% of people recently started using food or grocery delivery services for the first time, or are using them more often. Of those, over half plan to continue using these services after the coronavirus subsides. 
  • A small group (12% to 13%) is trying curbside store and restaurant pickup for the first time, and about half of that group plans to continue using curbside pickup. 
  • More than two-thirds of people are trying new shopping methods, brands, or stores. Many are “trading down” to find cheaper brands and retailers. 
  • Since the pandemic, people are increasingly aware of how companies care for their employees’ safety (23%) and a company’s purpose or values (17%).
  • The increased use of social media, wellness apps, online streaming, and online fitness programs may continue post-pandemic. Topping the list of changes that may continue is an offline activity—regularly cooking.

Katherine Milkman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, also recently shared some insights on what habits can be “sticky” in an interview on the Slate Gist podcast and article by Joe Pinsker in The Atlantic

For example, it’s not hard to imagine someone developing a preference for a lower-cost brand or more convenient services. But washing your hands for 20 seconds might not stick when there’s no fear of a virus. 

TRAUMAS MAY STAY WITH US 

Specific habits aside, there could be a lasting impact on people’s relationship with their work and finances. 

Even before the pandemic, the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey from 2019 found that most people listed work and money as one of their most significant sources of stress. The pandemic and resulting layoffs has only exacerbated those stressors. 

“This is our Great Depression,” says Melkumian. “The level of anxiety and concern and worry could be exponential to where we were before. From a mental health standpoint, we’ll see an increase in financial trauma.” 

There’s no single answer to how this plays out. The pandemic is affecting households in drastically different ways, and even those who are impacted in similar ways may have different responses. 

“How much we’re going to be ruled by fear, caution, worry, anticipation, and doomsday scenarios is going to be part of our overall psychology and how we approach finance,” says Melkumian. “There may not be answers until we get there, but we need to beware of our psychology.” 

He also draws the connection between financial stressors and the resulting impacts on how you may interact with your spouse or kids, and your overall wellbeing. “In turn, how does that affect your physical health? What happens to your family and identity as a provider and contributor?” Melkumian asks. 

BUT THIS IS ALSO AN OPPORTUNITY FOR CHANGE 

While the pandemic can cast a foreboding shadow over everything, if you can get out of crisis mode, it can also be a significant opportunity to rethink your life and the habits you want to change. 

As Bryan-Podvin shared, some of her clients have done this by checking off some of their financial to-dos. She’s also observed a growing interest in making more drastic lifestyle changes. “They’re starting to consider what life would be like if they downsized housing and could retire earlier, or spend more money elsewhere,” she says. What might have been a daydream before has become a more realistic option. 

“Obviously there’s a lot of uncertainty. We’re in a limbo pattern of not knowing when we can resume normal life,” says Melkumian. “But I’d love COVID to be the call to action to improve and increase our financial consciousness, awareness, and literacy.”

Experts Predict What This ‘Lost Year’ Will Really Do To Our Kids

Because I am the type of person and, particularly, the type of parent with a tendency to fret, I often fixate on a string of related thoughts as I watch my elder kiddo struggle through his remote learning classes.

What is this going to do to him? What impact will this bizarre academic year have on my child? And what about his classmates, or the millions of children around the country starting their school years behind computers and tablets — or who aren’t logged on at all?

Of course, no one really knows, because this academic year is truly unprecedented. Yet education and mental health experts are beginning to reckon with the long-term fallout of this school year that wasn’t. HuffPost Parents spoke to several who offered some predictions about what this “lost year” could portend for America’s children.

There will be significant learning loss. 

Experts agree that most kids will have fallen behind where they otherwise would have been, had schools not abruptly shuttered in March. The question now is: by how much?

One recent estimate suggests that children who are learning remotely and who receive pretty typical instruction will lose up to four months of learning by the time they resume in-person classes in January 2021 — if that, in fact, happens. And children who are getting lower-quality remote instruction could lose up to 11 months of learning. Children who aren’t engaged in remote education at all could lose up to 14 months of learning. 

“In many cases, children will be more than a year behind,” warned Brian Perkins, an associate professor of practice in education leadership and director of the Summer Principals Academy at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “Others will be a few months. But I think we will see, universally, loss.”

He stressed that this is not a criticism of children, parents or teachers who are doing their best to work through an impossible situation. “It’s more of a ‘let’s face the reality,’” Perkins said. 

Inequality will be a bigger problem than ever before. 

Experts who work in health and education tend to believe that most of the equity problems facing children, families and educators during the COVID-19 pandemic have always been there. Now, they are magnified. 

“The gaps that have always existed are just going to be wider,” said Nermeen Dashoush, an early childhood education professor at Boston University and chief curriculum officer at MarcoPolo Learning.

Students in the highest-poverty districts in the country are much more likely to have begun this academic year remotely, but children in lower-income households are much more likely to lack the tools they need, like reliable high-speed internet. Experts are predicting a surge in high school dropouts. 

Meanwhile, children whose parents can afford it may have opted to send them to private schools, to create learning pods or to supplement whatever school their children are getting with tutors and extracurriculars. 

“We are going to see a wider gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots,’” Perkins said. 

We’ll have an urgent need to figure out where exactly kids are.

All of the experts who spoke to HuffPost Parents for this story emphasized how critical it will be to have ways of assessing how much individual children have been affected by the pandemic in order to even think about getting them the help and support they need.

How the Pandemic Is Changing Our Exercise Habits

Are you exercising more or less since the coronavirus pandemic began?

According to a new study that focused on physical activity in the United Kingdom, most of us — not surprisingly — have been less physically active since the pandemic and its waves of lockdowns and quarantines began. Some people, however, seem to be exercising as much or more than before, and surprisingly, a hefty percentage of those extra-active people are older than 65. The findings have not yet been peer reviewed, but they add to a mounting body of evidence from around the globe that the coronavirus is remaking how we move, although not necessarily in the ways we may have anticipated.

The pandemic lockdowns and other containment measures during the past six months and counting have altered almost every aspect of our lives, affecting our work, family, education, moods, expectations, social interactions and health.

None of us should be surprised, then, to learn that the pandemic seems also to be transforming whether, when and how we exercise. The nature of those changes, though, remains rather muddled and mutable, according to a number of recent studies. In one, researchers report that during the first few weeks after pandemic-related lockdowns began in the United States and other nations, Google searches related to the word “exercise” spiked and remained elevated for months.

And many people seem to have been using the information they gleaned from those searches by actually exercising more. An online survey conducted in 139 countries by RunRepeat, a company that reviews running shoes, found that a majority of people who had been exercising before the health crisis began reported exercising more often in the early weeks after. A separate survey of almost 1,500 older Japanese adults found that most said they had been quite inactive in the early weeks of lockdowns, but by June, they were walking and exercising as much as ever.

A gloomier June study, however, using anonymized data from more than 450,000 users of a smartphone step-counting app, concluded that, around the world, steps declined substantially after lockdowns began. Average daily steps declined by about 5.5 percent during the first 10 days of a nation’s pandemic lockdowns and by about 27 percent by the end of the first month.

But most of these studies and surveys relied on people recalling their exercise habits, which can be unreliable, or looked at aggregate results, without digging into differences by age, socioeconomic group, gender and other factors, which might turn up telling variations in how people’s exercise habits might have changed during the pandemic.

How to Move Your Business Online Quickly

Truthfully, even if your physical location is thriving, there’s no reason to shy away from starting an online revenue stream. It’s nowhere near as intimidating, difficult or time-consuming as you may think. Plus, there’s no better way to exponentially increase your income and impact than by offering online services. 

In fact, these days, a strong online presence is imperative. Did you know that online sales increased by nearly 50 percent earlier this year? That means even people who haven’t been accustomed to shopping online are now getting very comfortable with it. And with the fate of millions of small businesses in question, why not take matters into your own hands? 

Here are a few of the fastest and easiest ways to start making money online — today.

1. Offer live workshops

Free, live workshops are the bread and butter of digital marketing. If you’ve never done one before, they can seem intimidating. But think of the opportunity here — you can reach thousands of people with one single presentation. 

These workshops are often referred to as master classes. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need any sort of fancy tech to make them happen. My last master class hosted over 52,000 women and used only Facebook Live to pull it off. The bottom line: If you have a Facebook account, you can start marketing your business online.

The key here is to show off your knowledge and expertise without giving everything away. When your clients see how much you have to offer for free, they can’t help but wonder what else you have up your sleeve. 

At the end of the master class, have a killer pitch prepared. Direct your attendees to your signature course, program or membership.

2. Create a membership

Imagine a place where you gather your clients in one place, but it’s completely online. You provide resources, access to a few other experts and educational content — and clients pay you each month to be a part of this group. These kinds of groups aren’t difficult to create, either. You can have your membership site up and running with a few clicks of a mouse.

This is where online marketing starts to build up predictable, scalable revenue. Which is what we all want, right? Memberships are amazing, because you’re always working on a one-to-many framework. Gone are the days of seeing clients one-on-one and repeating yourself over and over. You can help so many more people at once, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see the people in your membership thrive and create relationships within the community. 

How to De-escalate Conflict

And while conflict isn’t bad per se–talking through the issues that will inevitably arise is probably a good idea–there are ways we can do it better, so each of us isn’t left sulking in the corner until we find a vaccine. 

When things get tense, here are five ways to deescalate conflict and salvage your relationships: 

Accept Influence: Couple’s therapist John Gottman’s conducted groundbreaking studies that predict which couples will get divorced. His findings? Couples were more likely to stay together when, during times of conflict, husbands accepted their wife’s influence. Accepting influence looks like the opposite of defensiveness; when the other person has a complaint, instead of telling them why they’re wrong, tell them why they’re right. Share “you have a good point” and look for things to agree with them about. When you accept influence, you’re not out to win the conflict. You’re out to find a solution that works for both of you. 

Take a Break: To understand why taking a break helps, let’s visit psychiatry professor Dan Siegel’s concept of the window of tolerance. According to Siegel, we all have a “zone of optimal arousal” at which we are functioning at our best; we’re able to think rationally and consider others’ perspectives. However, when we’re stressed–like when our toddler upchucks on our new shirt, or when our dog starts humping our leg during our zoom work meeting–we exceed this optimal zone. We may be hyper-aroused (feeling on edge; ready to fight or run) or hypo-aroused (shut down; feeling numb). Siegel argues that when we’re outside our zone of optimal arousal, our goal is not to keep arguing, because that will be futile or even damaging. It is to calm ourselves down. One great way to do this is to take a break. Returning to the conflict when we feel calm will lead us to blame one another less and listen to one another more.

Affirm One Another: Another gem from the couple’s researcher John Gottman is the concept of “the magic ratio.” Gottman found that couples that last have a 5;1 ratio of positive to negative comments. More generally, Gottman’s couples therapy technique addresses not only working through negative experiences between couples but also building up positive ones. When we find ways to affirm others around us, we’ll be better prepared when disagreements inevitably arise. We start preparing to have healthy conflict before the disagreement happens by weaving a safety net of love and respect for one another. Expressing fondness and appreciation, sharing compliments, and showing admiration are all ways to do this. 

Name the Underlying Emotions: Research finds that the simple act of naming emotions deactivates our amygdala, the part of the brain activated when we’re angry or stressed. We can use this to our advantage in conflict by trying to name the emotion the other person might be feeling during the conflict. Instead of responding to the content of their message, we can state the feelings behind it. So for example, if your roommate says “I can’t think because you’re so loud during your zoom meetings,” instead of defending yourself, you might reflect, “So you’re saying you’re feeling stressed out and unable to focus?” 

How to Eat Right When Resources are Tight

hese wellness tips might be met with an eye roll if you work 40-plus hours a week. Being squeezed on time, money, and space is the unholy trifecta that can have you spiraling into making poor lifestyle choices.

If you don’t have access to a full kitchen, or if you work a ton and don’t have the luxury of cooking every night, it might be easier to nuke a frozen dinner in the microwave or order your favorite greasy combo meal from the McDonald’s drive-thru. Eating well when you’re tight on resources is entirely possible. Let’s take a look at how it can be done: 

BUY INEXPENSIVE, NUTRITIOUS INGREDIENTS 

Look for low-cost, nutrition-packed ingredients that have a long shelf life. This includes grains, beans, and rice. If you have a freezer, frozen foods are as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. As an added bonus, the nutrients in certain frozen veggies are sometimes “frozen in,” making them more nutritious than fresh veggies. 

You can also save by eating less meat. Since there’s a meat shortage, you can save money and hassle by eating plant-based more frequently. 

There are some great, free resources to help you eat well on a budget. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) researched over 1,200 foods to assess their nutritional value, price, and environmental impact. While the guide is from 2012, the research remains sound. You can do a search for the top foods and make those items staples going forward. 

INVEST IN A CROCKPOT 

There are many inherent joys of having a crockpot. The convenience factor is a big one. Namely, you just toss in a bunch of ingredients, set the timer and put a lid on it, and let it do its thing for a few hours. You don’t need a kitchen or tons of space to have a slow cooker, either. All you need is an electrical outlet.

Some easy, nutritious meals you can make with a crockpot are veggie chili, which requires some veggies, beans, water, and spices. You can also concoct a quinoa mixture with grains, cilantro, and some veggies. You might be able to find a quality slow cooker at a home goods or discount retailer for cheap. You can also scour online marketplaces like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace to find a used one. 

Other kitchen tools that might help you save on time but are a little bit of an investment upfront include an air fryer, or Instapot. Air fryers are a popular choice to make healthy veggie snacks. 

KEEP LOW-COST STAPLES ON HAND 

To make sure you get your nutrients in and eat a balanced diet, make sure you keep a rotating selection of food staples on hand. For instance, tinned fish — think sardines, tuna, or cod liver — are packed in protein and vitamin D, but are quite affordable. They go well with a side of crackers or cucumbers. You can even mix them with some mustard or hummus. 

Other food items that are relatively cheap include beans, rice, and grains. You can easily buy these in bulk. To switch things up, experiment with different combinations of spices. Most spices are typically low-cost, and you’ll be surprised at how much you can change the flavor of a dish by playing around with different sauces and condiments. 

CARRY SNACKS WITH YOU 

If you’re always on the go, cut back on highly processed foods and fast food meals. Not only are prepackaged salty snacks and candy low in nutrition, but they tend to be more expensive. 

Instead, go for simple, minimally processed snacks when you’re out and about — nuts, trail mix, apples with some peanut butter, roasted chickpeas, or popcorn with a bit of nutritional yeast sprinkled on top are reliable options. 

These snacks can also help you fill up more quickly, so you end up eating less. And swap out the prepackaged stuff for bulk items, and pack your own. You’ll get more bang for your buck, and you can mix things up as you please. 

SHOP IN YOUR PANTRY 

Before you head to the market, take inventory, and see what’s already in your fridge and pantry. Try using up existing food items before embarking on another shopping trip. If you want to bring things up a notch in terms of commitment, try a 30-day no-spend challenge, where you try to only use what’s in your home. You can only buy items that are a necessity, or to replace something that’s run out. It’ll urge you to be more creative! 

Eating well when resources are tight isn’t as challenging as it seems. It requires a bit of know-how. But really, it’s all about making some minor adjustments, being efficient as to how much time you spend preparing food, and doing a bit of research to see which foods offer the most nutrition for the lowest cost.

Ten Money Topics You Should Always Discuss with Your Partner Before Committing

As a culture, we struggle to talk openly about a lot of topics, but money is perhaps the one that causes the most discomfort. There’s so much pride and fear and sometimes shame wrapped up in the size of our paychecks, the depths of our debts, and those little three digit numbers that make up our credit scores.

So it’s no surprise that new couples aren’t always comfortable having some pretty crucial conversations about money and our relationship with personal finance. But whether or not you’re headed toward marriage, it’s really important that all couples take the time to understand one another and get on the same page. That doesn’t mean they have to agree or share all the same values. It just means that by having these conversations and understanding one another, they’ll be better able to make compromises that satisfy both parties.

With that in mind, here are ten topics you should always try to explore with your partner. You don’t have to dive into every topic all at once, but the more you know, the more comfortable you’ll both feel.

FAMILY INFLUENCE

How did your family handle money when growing up? You may not immediately recognize the influence of your parents or caregivers in the way you approach money, but it’s there. Your relationship with money – for better or for worse – is shaped largely by how your family dealt with money during your younger year.

So ask each other:

  • What did you like/not like about the way your family handled money?
  • What about the way you manage money feels like a reaction to how your parents managed money?

SPENDING VERSUS SAVING

How much do you prioritize saving money? Some of us are more naturally inclined to focus on saving money for rainy days or big picture goals, while others focus more on the here and now. Understanding how you and your prioritize your available funds (and why) can help mitigate hard feelings down the line.

Try asking each other:

  • How much savings is “enough” savings?
  • What would you do if received an unexpected $1,000?

HAVING VERSUS EXPERIENCING

Do you prefer spending your money on things you can keep or memorable experiences? When it comes time to make some big decisions with your collective money, this can be a major dividing line. Understanding what your partner values and what makes them happiest can help you find a middle ground that satisfies both parties.

Ask each other:

  • What’s the best gift you ever received?
  • Would you rather save up for a special gift (new TV, new car, etc.) or a dream vacation?

MONEY STRESS

Different people have different thresholds for financial stress. For some people, getting calls from creditors is a minor irritation. For others, there mere thought of carrying a credit card balance is enough to cause a minor panic attack. It’s important to know what your partner considers a “problem,” especially if your radar is tuned quite differently.

Try asking each other:

  • What makes you worry about money?
  • How would you feel if you got a collection call?

DEBT SITUATION

Debt doesn’t need to be a mark of shame or a relationship deal-breaker. But if you can’t openly discuss your general debt situation that can become a major issue down the line. Remind yourself that it’s perfectly okay to carry debt. The issue is always how you’re able to balance that debt against your other expenses and goals. A good partner should be an ally, but they can’t help you if you’re not able to be honest.

Begin by asking each other:

  • How do you feel about your debt?
  • Do you have any debts that you think we should focus on?

CREDIT SITUATION

While your partner’s previous credit challenges won’t show up on your report, his or her bad credit could cause problems when applying for joint credit, particularly for big picture items, like a new car or a mortgage. 

The important thing to remember about credit is that you can absolutely improve a poor score over time. If you’re able to be open about your current credit situation, you can work together to make the necessary improvements that will have you prepared for when your ready for some of those big picture purchase.

Start the conversation by asking each other:

  • How do you feel about your credit?
  • Is there anything about your credit history you’d like to work on improving?

JOINT ACCOUNTS

Different couples handle money differently. Having separate accounts can be a practical way to share financial responsibilities while maintaining individual freedoms. However, many couples who agree on spending habits find that a joint account works well for them. The key to either choice will always be open and consistent communication.

Try asking each other:

  • Would it make it easier if we created a joint account for joint expenses?
  • Do you feel comfortable having an account that we both control?

JOINT DECISIONS 

It may be helpful to define what each of you considers a “big” financial decision. One potential key to a happy financial life is to vow to make all big financial decisions together. For that to work, though, you’ll need to be on the same page when it comes to your definition of “big.” After all, one of you might consider a television a huge purchase, while the other might be thinking more along the lines of a car.

Ask each other:

  • What kind of purchases would you want to be consulted on?
  • What dollar amount feels like too much to spend without telling you first?

DAY-TO-DAY MONEY MANAGEMENT

Sometimes one member of a relationship loves managing the money and the other one just doesn’t. It’s perfectly okay for one half to do most of the financial driving, but only if that’s the agreement you’ve reached mutually. No assumptions, no unexpressed expectations. Once your finances become interwoven, make it clear how you want to share the work. Ideally, neither side should feel cut out of the process or asked to do things they aren’t comfortable doing.

Begin by asking:

  • How comfortable do you feel managing bills and other household financial responsibilities?
  • How much do you want to know about where our money goes and how much we’ve saved?

FINANCIAL GOALS

Everyone, whether they’re in a relationship or single, should take the time to set financial goals. Those goals will help guide your decision-making and provide some helpful structure to your spending plan. You just want to make sure that your goals are aligned and that you’re flexible should things shift in the years to come.

Ask each other:

  • What are your top three goals?
  • How quickly do you want to achieve those goals?

These conversations aren’t always easy to start, but once you have one or two, they’ll become easier and easier. The worst thing you can do is hide your feelings and your financial challenges from one another.