Posts By: Matthew Golden

5 Toxic Behaviors Parents Engage In

There isn’t a clear-cut definition of what it means to engage in “toxic” behaviors — or to be a “toxic” parent — because it’s not a clinical term. When the behaviors or relationship are really toxic, though, it’s usually pretty easy to tell, like when parents are totally unsupportive, or when they manipulate their kids. In those cases, parents can inflict significant emotional and developmental damage, and may ultimately end up estranged from their adult children, a situation that is on the rise and more common than once thought.

Other times, however, they have habits or patterns of behavior that are less obviously toxic but still have the potential to do real harm. With that in mind, here are five relatively common toxic habits parents often have, without even realizing it.

1. Yelling 

Of course every parent yells sometimes (particularly during challenging times like navigating COVID-19), but when parents fall into the pattern of doing it too often, it can take a huge toll on their relationship with their children.

“It’s important for parents to recognize the difference between a misstep and behavior that does damage. In the best of all worlds, none of us would ever yell at a kid, but there isn’t anyone who hasn’t lost it now and again,” said Peg Streep, author of “Daughter Detox: Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life.”

“But there’s a huge difference between a one-off moment (hopefully followed by some repair such as ‘I am sorry I yelled. Let’s talk about it.’) and sustained bombardment, which the parent falsely frames as ‘discipline,’” she added.

Yelling does work in certain situations, like when your child is doing something really dangerous or harmful and you need to get their attention fast. But beyond that, research shows it’s not an effective form of getting kids to change their behavior. Plus, research shows it can lower kids’ self-esteem and ultimately lead them to develop more aggressive behaviors themselves.

It’s hard to know how much yelling is too much, but if you find yourself justifying or rationalizing your behavior fairly often (thinking things like, “Well, she’ll never listen to me if I don’t yell”) that could be a red flag, Streep said.

And when you feel the urge to yell, do literally anything else — even cluck like a chicken, Carla Naumburg, a clinical social worker and author of “How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids,” previously told HuffPost.

“Do whatever it takes to calm down and get the tension out of your body so you can refocus and reengage with your kids. It might take a few minutes, but that’s OK,” she said.

2. Comparing siblings

When you have multiple kiddos at home, it’s easy to spend time pondering how different or alike they are, even from the earliest age. (I personally remember being pregnant with my second and spending a lot of time thinking about his kicks and movements stacked up next to his brother’s.)

But comparing children even in small, seemingly insignificant ways can take a toll.

“If you have more than one child, please make an effort not to compare them out loud, either to motivate or to discipline; this is such common behavior — the fancy name is parental differential treatment — that it even has an acronym (PDT) that’s used in research articles,” Streep said.

One study looking at the academic success of first- and second-born kids in the U.S. analyzed children’s report cards and interviewed their parents to get their sense of how capable the kids were on their own and relative to each other. “Researchers found that the teenagers’ future report card grades were influenced by their parents’ beliefs as to which child was smarter, even though these parental beliefs weren’t based on past grades,” explained Today’s Parent.

3. Labeling

In the same way that comparing children can be a really toxic behavior, labeling kids as anything — good or bad — is potentially harmful as well. Labels can become self-fulfilling and can be really hard to shake. And even seemingly positive labels can be problematic to the point of being toxic, experts warn.

Greater whole grain intake may reduce cardiovascular risk factors

Researchers have demonstrated an association between consuming more whole grains and improved measures of risk factors for CVD.

In the research, which appears in the Journal of Nutrition, the researchers also found an association between eating more refined grains and worse measures of some of these risk factors.

The findings provide further evidence that increased consumption of whole grains has health benefits.

Cardiovascular disease

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), CVDs “are the leading cause of death globally.” In 2019, almost 18 million people died due to CVDs — the vast majority by either stroke or heart attack.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that in the United States, a person dies from CVD every 36 seconds, accounting for 1 death in every 4.

To prevent CVD, the CDC advises that a person avoids smoking, avoids overweight and obesity, and stays physically active. The CDC also suggests a person should eat as healthy a diet as possible.

A 2015 review indicated that eating a healthier diet — including more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, vegetable oil, and poultry — could reduce a person’s risk of CVD by a third.

More specifically, researchers have found significant evidence for the beneficial effects of eating more whole grains. This reduces the risk of CVD and death due to cancer, respiratory disease, infectious disease, and all-cause mortality.

However, there has been less research looking at the relationship between whole grain consumption and the early warning signs of CVD.

These early signs include a person’s waist circumference, blood pressure, levels of fasting plasma high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol, plasma triglyceride, and blood glucose.

4 Ways to Overcome That Gap on Your Resume

The impact of the pandemic on careers and jobs has been massive. According to the International Labour Organization, as many as 114 million jobs were lost in 2020. In addition, the reduction of working hours was found to be equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs. The impact on the labor force has been disproportionate, and in the United States alone, the women’s labor-force participation rate has dropped to just 57%, the lowest since 1988. Thousands, if not millions, are now trying to re-enter the job market after a career gap.

For someone who is attempting to re-enter the workforce now after a career gap  — possibly one that wasn’t by choice  the prospect of explaining the employment gap to a panel of interviewers could be an embarrassing and daunting one. It is also not surprising to find friends and family dishing out advice like, “Whatever you do, secure a job offer before you leave this one, or else you’ll have a hard time explaining a career gap.” Advice as such further reinforces the mindset that having a career gap is like having a demerit point on your record, so the discomfort is understandable.

I have worked with clients who had career gaps of varying length, and I often notice that with the steps illustrated below, it takes them little effort to change their uneasiness into a calm, quiet confidence.

Here are four ways to help you bounce back from a career gap with grace and class.

1. Clarify what you really think about your career gap

From my experience, what you think of the career gap often matters more than what the hiring manager thinks. When my clients themselves are uneasy about the discussion, they project that discomfort to the audience, and it might be described as awkward, tentative or even guilty. Most interviewers can pick up on that energy; as a person who has been on many interview panels, I can attest to that. When we dove deeper into what was behind the emotions in my clients, we realized that the source was a lack of acceptance of their employment gap.

Some clients did experience emotions like resentment (when a choice was not given to them), anger or self-doubt  all of which need to be processed, made peace with and then set aside. For the majority of my clients, once they come to terms with their career gap, they are able to speak about the employment gap easily and with confidence.

2. Practice your response

You can expect interviewers to be curious. They might ask an open-ended question, and you need to practice your response until it “rolls off your tongue.” You might be tempted to divulge too many details, but before you do that, consider what is valuable to the interviewers (and to you). You definitely want to maintain a certain level of honesty, but keep it to the point so you can move on to discuss other subjects  like why you make a great candidate for the role.

3. Focus on the learning you have gained during the gap

Life does happen to people from time to time, and jobseekers can help themselves by accepting responsibility for it  and handling it with maturity during the interview.

The interview panel might not be very keen to hear how life was mundane and dreary, so steer the conversation towards the learning that you’ve gained over the course of the months or years of your gap. 

When Will Your Next Monthly Child Tax Credit Payment Arrive?

Parents from all over the country cheered when they received their first child tax credit payment. Getting up to $300-per-child each month (depending on the age of the child) can be a lifesaver for families who are struggling financially because of the pandemic. But Americans had to wait for months after the program was announced before receiving any money. Now that the first round of payments has been delivered, the waiting begins again for the next round of direct deposits, checks, and debit cards.

The IRS sent payments to approximately 35 million families on July 15. Additional payments will follow each month through the end of the year according to the schedule below. As it stands right now, the payments will not carry over into 2022 (although President Biden wants to extend them beyond this year), so plan accordingly.

Schedule of 2021 Monthly Child Tax Credit Payments

PAYMENTDATE
1st PaymentJuly 15, 2021
2nd PaymentAugust 13, 2021
3rd PaymentSeptember 15, 2021
4th PaymentOctober 15, 2021
5th PaymentNovember 15, 2021
6th PaymentDecember 15, 2021

2 Simple Actions to Help Curb Mental Illness Stigma

Mental health and substance abuse advocacy is a growing movement. Each May, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) declares a week as National Prevention Week. It’s defined as “A week dedicated to bringing an annual health observance dedicated to increasing public awareness of, and action around, mental and/or substance use disorders.” The focus is on preventing suicide, substance abuse, and undue suffering from untreated conditions.

Unfortunately, despite such campaigns and mental health being more “out of the shadows” in recent years, stigma and misunderstanding are alive and well, and contribute to lack of care and, ultimately, undue suffering.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 51.5 million Americans have a diagnosable mental illness (2021), yet fewer than half seek care. Contributing factors include lack of providers and people not understanding that their condition is treatable. However, the stigma of mental illness is quite possibly the most significant contributor. According to trauma psychotherapist Lisa Ferentz (2021), “Our culture still perpetuates the belief that people suffering from mental illnesses are not intelligent, extremely violent, or incapable of making decisions that profoundly impact their lives.”

In 2015, the University of Memphis published four disturbing facts about mental illness perception:

  • 4 in 5 think it’s harder to say they have a mental illness than other illnesses.
  • 1 in 2 are frightened by people with mental illness.
  • “Psycho,” “nuts,” and “crazy” are the most common description of those with mental illness.
  • Mental illness ranked as the most stigmatized type of illness.

Ironically, even some treatment facilities contribute to the problem. Despite the push to destigmatize and encourage people to seek treatment, many facilities adopt names devoid of the words “psychological,” “mental,” or “behavioral.” While the intention is to make sure it is a place people feel comfortable entering without stigma, it is a double-edged sword; modeling associated with mental health care is unfavorable.

In 2019, The Austen Riggs Center, a private psychiatric care facility in Stockbridge, MA, published a newsletter devoted to stigma. The most remarkable statement was as follows:

In both entertainment and news media, individuals with mental illness are often inaccurately and disproportionately depicted as dangerous and unpredictable. This has negative repercussions for both those struggling with mental illness and for the public’s understanding of mental illness. The fact is that people mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence.

Wait, Smiles Do Make You Happy?

When I taught my first undergraduate social psychology course, I was excited to explain one of my favorite findings to the class: smiling makes you happier. In the original study, participants were asked to rate how funny they thought a series of cartoons were while holding a pen in their mouth. The trick was that the way they held the pen varied: in one condition, they held it with their lips, preventing them from activating smile muscles; in another, they held it with their teeth, forcing them to activate their smile muscles. When the smile muscles were active, participants rated the cartoons as funnier! You may not realize it, but smiling changes your feelings! Activating muscles associated with a specific emotion seemed to influence people’s emotional responses in a subtle, unconscious way.

Then, that finding turned out to be wrong. In 2016, a large-scale study that collected data from 17 different labs found that the original study’s results did not replicate. Activating smile muscles did not change how funny people found cartoons. This result felt definitive because this new replication included many more people, from a more representative sample (since it wasn’t just students from one university), and with a more constrained methodology and analysis plan (because they ran everything by experts in facial feedback research who provided feedback on everything). But was it?

Just two years later, new evidence was added to the debate. Tom Noah, Yaacov Schul, and Ruth Mayo keyed in on what they believed was an essential difference between the original and the replication study: the use of a video camera. Based on feedback from one of the experts they consulted, the replication group had decided to video record each session to make sure everything had worked smoothly (including the pen being held in the mouth the right way!). But having a video camera facing you might make you more self-conscious. Different literature in psychology suggested that you’re less willing to rely on “gut feelings” when making decisions when you’re aware you’re being watched. This might have messed up the results of the replication study.

So Noah and colleagues decided to run a new study, where they randomly assigned participants to one of two different versions of the experiment: the original, no camera version, versus the replication, camera-included version. When comparing people in front of a camera, they replicated the replication; there was no effect. When they didn’t include the camera, they replicated the original; there was an effect. It was the video camera that made the difference.

It is easy to interpret this as a fight between science reformers and their opponents among social psychologists. A traditional finding was rejected, and then a counter punch was thrown, rejecting the rejection. (Editorial comments by Noah and colleagues imply that replicators’ claims “decrease cumulative science” don’t help). Yet this is actually a great example of how science is meant to work. Scientists are meant to question each other’s findings, and it’s essential to find out whether results hold up. This includes questioning the results of replications and thinking through why results might be different when a study is replicated. 

One potential outcome of re-examining earlier research always needs to be “we got it wrong, this effect is not something reliable about the world.” This can be because of statistical noise–the way the data came out, it looked like there was a difference between groups, even when there really wasn’t. That’s no fault of the experimenter, but it’s something we can check by doing replications. Finding out that an earlier belief was wrong should always be an acceptable outcome of the research, and that does indeed contribute to a cumulative science.

Why You’re So Anxious About Going Back to the Office

If you’re feeling social anxiety about returning to the office, you’re not alone. Many folks are feeling unsettled. After over a year of remote work — and seeing our coworkers only on screen — the idea of seeing everyone again in person can feel overwhelming. And, since the Covid landscape is still in flux, it’s hard to feel sure about how long the “return to normal” will last.

You might be wondering why getting back to the office is rattling you so much. After all, you coped with office-life before. Here’s why the transition back to our glass towers might feel surprisingly difficult, and how to ease your reentry.

1. Transitions naturally spike our anxiety.

A lot of human psychology has an evolutionary basis. Familiar situations tend to be safer and more predictable for us. They allow us to let our guard down. In unfamiliar situations, we’re wired to be more on edge, and constantly on the lookout for dangers. Because of this, transitions tend to increase our anxiety. We’re always subtly on the lookout for potential threats. This reaction has an adaptive basis, but it can feel quite exhausting.

Think of how you’ve felt in your first six months in a new job. That’s a stressful period for many people as they learn new skills and procedures, and the cultural norms of their new workplace. Although you may be returning to your old job, a lot has changed, and it might be helpful to expect to feel the same type of adjustment stress. Give yourself the same grace and self-compassion you would if you were starting a new job or embarking on transition, like starting college or grad school. See this article if you need specific tips for how to be kinder to yourself.

2. Whenever you’ve avoided something, you’ll feel anxious about returning to it.

Imagine an elite gymnast who has been out for several months with an injury. They weren’t purposely avoiding training or procrastinating. They were benched because of their injury. Yet, when they return, they’re likely to feel a lot of anticipatory anxiety about performing moves they routinely performed before.

That’s how anxiety works, across the board. We feel anxious about anything we’ve “avoided” even if the break was externally imposed. If you’re a parent, you might find yourself feeling anxious about being separated from your child during the day, even if this was routine in your family before. Or, you may feel anxious about making small talk or managing other people’s personalities at work.

What’s the solution? Like the gymnast, when you gradually get back into your previous activities, your built-up anxiety will naturally subside.

3. Social relationships and boundaries have changed.

Pre-pandemic, it’s highly unlikely you knew much about your coworkers’ health decisions. Now, you’d probably quite like to know who in your office is vaccinated and who isn’t. Pre-pandemic, your colleagues may never have seen your home or your children, but now they have, thanks to all the Zoom meetings.

As people return to the office, some coworkers will likely become influencers. They’ll lead office culture and norms in terms of how many Covid precautions are kept up, and how vigilantly. Other people may be ostracized. For example, if they’re someone who chooses not to vaccinate and to keep masking, when everyone else wants to take their masks off for good. This shakedown may make the preexisting pecking order and popularity contest of the office even more obvious. For example, if “cool” coworkers are eschewing their masks, going out to lunch, and acting completely as before, but “picky” coworkers are still masking and eating lunch at their desks.

Likewise, some coworkers may be thrilled to get back to the office and find it helps their productivity, whereas other people may be feeling the reverse. People’s circumstances and natures are different, so your perspective won’t be identical to someone else’s. If a leader or coworker is shouting from the rooftop about how we need to get back to the office to regain productivity and camaraderie, they’re probably overgeneralizing from their own perspective and experience.

The solution to all of this is tolerance, acceptance, and refraining from gossip.

4. Be intentional about retaining the best parts of WFH and office-life.

Working from home was a big natural experiment. You might’ve learned a bunch about what helps and hurts your productivity, and helps you feel happy. Some of these insights will be practical, like you learned you really need the two huge monitors you had at the office. Or, you might’ve found yourself eating a better lunch at home, or taking more walks, and that those behaviors helped you mentally.

Some of your insights into yourself may also have been social. What did you learn about the social rhythms that best support your productivity? Did you develop new strategies for getting deep work done? Did you manage interruptions differently? Did you develop more efficient ways of communicating? What did you miss about seeing your coworkers in-person? What did you miss about not going to conventions or doing business travel?

Our behavior and habits are very influenced by our environment. If there are pandemic habits and pluses you want to keep when you change environments and go back to the office, you’ll need to be very intentional about how you establish those. You’ll need to purposefully form those habits in your new (but old) office environment. Without this, you’ll quickly go back to doing everything the way you did before.

Good habits that felt solid and well-established when you were working from home (like lunchtime walks or healthy lunches) will become very fragile when your environment and routines shift back to the office. You’ll need to establish these habits almost from square one, as if they were completely new habits. This is because habits need consistent cues, and the cues you had at home will likely no longer be present, at least not in the same way.

Feeling anxious about going back to the office doesn’t mean you’re fragile or have poor coping skills. There are good reasons that these types of transitions spike our anxiety. Try the tips mentioned here to navigate the shift as smoothly as possible, and to better understand the perspectives of your colleagues and how they may be navigating the transition back, too.

15 Family-Favorite Summer Traditions to Start This Season

Maybe it’s an activity passed down from generation to generation. Maybe it’s a random trip you took once that ended up being so fun that it’s now a summer staple. We spoke to 15 dads about their favorite summer family tradition. Some spoke of neighborhood get-togethers and backyard olympics, others of cherished getaways and fireworks-buying trips. All of them make clear one truth: Summer is a hell of a time. 

1. Going to the County Fair

“Our county fair happens in the summer, and it’s one of our favorite things to do as a family. Ever since the kids were little, they’ve loved going to see the animals, ride the rides, and eat junk food. It’s actually gotten a lot nicer in recent years, too. They’ve started bringing in bands and musicians. They’ve added a bunch of tents and local vendors, and brand new rides. There’s a pie-eating contest, and a petting zoo. Face painting. The works. County fairs really have something for everyone.” – Kurt, 37, Michigan

2. Seeing Movies at the Drive-In

“I’m not sure how many drive-in movie theaters still exist in America, but we have one of them, and it’s one of our favorite places to go in the summer. We borrow my dad’s big conversion van, load up with snacks, blankets, and lawn chairs. Then we back in facing the screen, prop the doors open, and enjoy the show. My wife and I sit outside, and the kids use the van as their own personal clubhouse. The movies are always shown as double features, too, so we’re all up way past bedtime. We probably go at least two or three times from when the theater opens in the summer to when it closes in the fall. Definitely a favorite family tradition.” – Jon, 40, Ohio

3. Throwing a Tie-Dye Party

“As soon as the kids get out of school, we have their friends over and tie-dye their ‘summer shirts’. These are the shirts they’ll wear all season, when we go to the pool, or hiking, or on other family trips. It’s always a big tie-dye party on our deck, and the kids have gotten super into it over the years. They look up new techniques on YouTube, try to find different color dyes, and usually end up doing more than one shirt. Or a shirt and shorts. Or socks. Socks have actually become pretty popular the past few years. It’s a messy tradition, that’s for sure, but we love it.” – Ed, 36, Indiana 

4. Going on a Fireworks Run

“We used to buy fireworks where we live, but they’re really just glorified sparklers. Our neighbor tipped us off about going to Pennsylvania, because you can buy way, way more stuff there. We’ve never looked back. It’s our tradition every Fourth of July. We always buy more than we need, and my wife groans when we come back with a trunk full of them. But then we always have a great time on the Fourth, and have plenty to last us for a while after. She’s the only one who doesn’t look forward to it. Maybe the neighbors” – Jeremy, 47, New York

5. Hosting a Big Garage Sale

“Every spring, we do a massive spring cleaning and purge whatever we can from inside the house. We box it all up, and store it in the garage until summer, when we have a massive, annual garage sale. We usually coordinate it with the neighbors, too, so it’s this big event on our street. It’s never made us rich, but it’s definitely a nice way to earn a little spending cash we can use for other summer fun. And it’s a good motivator when spring cleaning rolls around. We have teenagers, so it’s always like, ‘Do you really want to keep that? Or would you rather have ten bucks in the summer?’ We weren’t able to do it last year because of COVID, so we’re really excited for this year. The giant summer garage sale will return to all of its glory.” – Tom, 39, New Jersey

6. Watching Fireworks Displays

“My sister’s birthday is on July 4th. Our city always has a great fireworks show at the town park, so all of us – aunts, uncles, cousins – go there to celebrate. It’s always a madhouse, but one of my cousins works at the city pool, which is right inside the park. So he unlocks the pavilion for us, and we get to sit on the big patio, chilled out in lawn chairs, and watch the show. The kids think it’s so cool, like they’re VIPs. My sister is in her 30s now, but I think as long as we can all walk – we usually have to park far away and then walk to the pool because of the crowd – we’ll be observing this tradition for a long time.” – David, 37, Pennsylvania   

How Housing Stability Programs Can Help Protect Your American Dream

As our team here at MMI discussed during a recent webinar, that fallout has been especially harsh for low-to-moderate income, Hispanic, and BIPOC individuals. With multiple relief programs set to expire in the second half of 2021, these households will likely experience a new set of burdens, including payment shock as long deferred bills begin hitting their budgets. For homeowners in particular, the possibility of another major financial crisis is very real. 

Thankfully, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 includes millions of dollars for housing counseling services aimed at those facing housing instability, including potential eviction, default, foreclosure, loss of income, or homelessness. In addition, up to $46.55 billion has been made available to states and local governments to provide financial support to eligible households though emergency rental assistance programs. 

For me, each announcement of a new housing stability program hits close to home because a housing stability program changed the trajectory of my own recovery during the Great Recession. If you’re skeptical on the value of housing counseling, or simply unsure if it’s right for you, hopefully my story will help you understand how life-changing these housing stability programs can be.

FINDING STABILITY IN A CRISIS 

In 2007, I bought a 1930s bungalow at the height of the housing bubble. It was near the outer limits of my budget, given the inflated market at the time, but it was by no means extravagant. I fully financed the purchase and moved in, excited to start my life in a new neighborhood and in a new relationship. 

But as life has a way of doing, a curveball was soon thrown my way. Just a year later, I was laid off from my union job at a global financial services company where I had worked for nearly seven years. In a panic, I cut expenses, added roommates, and downgraded my vehicle from a new SUV to a well-used economy car. But it wasn’t enough. 

After a brief stint of unemployment, I found a new job, ironically as a financial counselor at a nonprofit called Clearpoint, which later became part of Money Management International. I was grateful to have a job with all the layoffs and downsizing across the country, but my new salary was significantly less than when I had purchased my home. I was one of the millions of Americans experiencing underemployment during a recession. 

An Obama-era federal housing stability program was a significant part of my recovery. While I was not behind on my mortgage payments, I was struggling to balance all the financial commitments that come with homeownership. On top of adjusting to the true cost of owning a home, I also had student loans and credit card debt. 

The Home Affordable Modification Program (a now-expired program known as HAMP) reduced my loan interest rate and made the monthly payment much more affordable. In addition, annual incentive payments were applied toward the balance over the course of the modification, helping to reduce the principle. I was so grateful that I volunteered to share my story to promote the program and, as a counselor, encouraged my clients to apply. 

Now, more than a decade later, I have just sold the home I so desperately tried to keep during the Great Recession and am moving on to the next chapter in life. Thanks to a lot of hard work and a timely housing stability intervention, I was able to protect my credit and make my homeownership a success. 

Last fall, I shared my experience once again with Money, in the hopes that it helps others find the encouragement and support they need during the current economic downturn. For those experiencing housing instability, whether due to the pandemic or any other unique situation, you aren’t alone. There are programs available to help you through difficult times. The best way to start is to openly communicate with your lender or landlord and connect with a nonprofit housing counselor right away. Help is just a click or phone call away.

What is Debt Forgiveness and What Does It Cost?

In other words, the idea of having your debts forgiveness by your creditors is an appealing one. And debts are sometimes forgiven, but there are often costs associated with debt forgiveness. This is what you need to know about debt forgiveness, including when you might qualify and why debt forgiveness is rarely ever free. 

WHEN IS A DEBT FORGIVEN?

Debt forgiveness can come in many forms. If you have an account in collections, you may attempt to negotiate with the collector by offering to pay a portion of the debt in exchange for having the remaining debt forgiven. As an example, let’s see you owe $10,000 on a charged off credit card account. You ultimately agree to settle the debt for $5,000, with the remaining $5,000 being forgiven.  

If you foreclose on your home, or are forced into a short sale where the sales price doesn’t cover the remaining mortgage, the lender may forgive all or a portion of the remaining debt. 

On certain federal student loans, if you’ve made the required payments over a set period of time (usually between 10 and 30 years), whatever is left of your remaining balance may be forgiven. 

Essentially, in any scenario where you owe money and don’t eventually make a full repayment, part or all of the remaining balance may be considered forgiven debt. Nearly any debt could potentially be forgiven (or at least partially forgiven), but whether or not that happens is almost entirely up to the lender or whoever owns the debt. Forgiveness needs to be in their interests, as well, so if you’re perfectly capable of repaying a debt in full, there’s little chance of a lender offering to forgive any portion of the debt in question. 

WHAT DOES DEBT FORGIVENESS COST YOU?

Because debt forgiveness is most commonly connected to settlement, there are two major costs to consider: the cost of the settlement itself (that is, the portion of the debt you do pay), and the tax you pay on the forgiven debt. If you’re using a third party to negotiate your settlement, there will be additional costs and fees associated. 

As for the settlement amount itself, it will vary, but typically falls around 35-50% of the original debt amount. And if you’re using a settlement company, they typically charge 15-25% of the total debt (though some charge based on what you saved, and others may use totally different pricing methods).

So, using the $10,000 example again, in order to get out of the debt, you’ll likely need to pay the creditor between $3,500 and $5,000, while paying the settlement company $1,500 to $2,500. Using the low end, we’ll say you started with $10,000 in debt, spent $5,000 (including settlement company fees) and had $6,500 forgiven. Not free by any measure, but at least you’re out of debt and saved $5,000 in the process.   

However, just because you’re square with your creditors doesn’t mean you’re square with the government. Forgiven debt is almost always considered taxable income. 

“How can debt be income?” you may ask. Well, I suppose you have to look at it this way – you were provided with money, goods, or services in the amount of your debt. In the above example, from a tax perspective you got a free $6,500. But of course, nothing is actually free, so now you need to pay taxes on that $6,500. 

Any time a creditor forgives a debt in excess of $600 they are required to send you a 1099 form reflecting the amount of the forgiven debt, which you must then add to the “Other Income” section of your personal tax return for that year. It should be noted that creditors are required to send you this form because they themselves are claiming your forgiven debt as lost income. If you have a forgiven debt that’s less than $600 you still need to claim it on your taxes – creditors just aren’t required to send notification in that instance. 

The impact on your tax return could be major or minor, depending on a lot of factors, such as your income bracket and the amount of the forgiven debt. If you have questions or concerns about how to complete your tax return, be sure to speak with a qualified tax professional. 

EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE

You should generally assume that if your debt is being forgiven, you are going to have to pay taxes on the balance. But there are definitely exceptions to that rule. 

Your forgiven debt might not be taxable if: 

IT’S A RESULT OF A PERSONAL BANKRUPTCY

All debts discharged through bankruptcy are generally not taxable. 

YOU ARE INSOLVENT IN AN AMOUNT GREATER THAN THE FORGIVEN DEBT

Insolvency is when your debts outweigh your assets. If you currently owed $10,000 more in debt than you held in assets, and then had a creditor forgive $3,000 in debt, you would not have to claim that $3,000 as additional income. If they forgave $11,000 in debt, however, you would have to claim $1,000 as income.

YOU COMPLETED THE TERMS OF A CAREER-SPECIFIC STUDENT LOAN REPAYMENT PLAN

If you made all of the required payments on a public service loan forgiveness, teacher loan forgiveness, law school loan repayment assistance, or National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment program your forgiven debt is not considered taxable. Any forgiven debt resulting from any other student loan repayment plans, however, including income-based and income-contingent plans, is taxable. 

There are a few other unique exceptions, including exceptions for student loans that were discharged due to the death or permanent disability of the student, but those relatively rare. Again, if you have specific questions about how debt forgiveness may impact your personal tax return, please contact a tax specialist. It’s what they do. 

In almost every case, the benefit of a forgiven debt far outweighs the tax consequences, but it’s important to be aware of those consequences and plan accordingly. Free money almost always costs you something in the end.

15 Family-Favorite Summer Traditions to Start This Season

“I have a 13-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son,” Anderson says. “The tax credit payments are coming just in time for my husband and I to start making payments on our daughter’s new braces.”

Braces aren’t Anderson’s only financial worry. Like many American parents, she’s fighting a financial war on multiple fronts. “Our health insurance has gotten more expensive over the years and this will help us offset those costs,” she says. “Not to mention everything else that is going up in price. From the cost of gas to grocery expenses, it’s getting more and more difficult to get ahead these days.”

But the braces set Anderson apart from other parents Fatherly spoke with for this story. Offsetting the cost of straightening out a set of teeth was a far more detailed plan than most families had for the money. No one we spoke with was upset about getting monthly payments from the federal government. But few had a concrete plan for exactly how they would spend the funds. 

Other parents approached for comment in this story say they haven’t earmarked the monthly credit payments for anything specific. While they’re happy for the tax credit advances, they planned to spend the same amount of money they would otherwise, but perhaps with more confidence that they wouldn’t incur overdraft fees. 

Connecticut father of one Rob says knowing the credit payment was coming soon influenced his decision to sign his daughter up for an additional week of summer camp. “I probably would have signed her up anyway,” he says. “But a week of camp was a little over $300. The credit takes some of the sting away from writing the check.”

The Child and Dependent Care Credit has been on the books since the late ‘90s, when it was introduced as a $500-per-child nonrefundable credit in the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. It has grown several times since. This year, in response to pandemic-induced economic woes, the federal government supersized the credit. In March, the American Rescue Plan increased the Child Care Credit from $2,000 to $3,600 per child for children under six and $3000 for children ages six to 16 while vastly increasing the number of American families who qualify for the credit.

Between 36 and 39 million American families qualify for the credit. And they won’t have to wait until tax season to get it. Parents can claim half the credit when they file their 2021 taxes; the IRS is paying the half the credit in advance through six monthly payments beginning in July.  Married couples with incomes of $150,000 or less, unmarried couples with incomes of $112,00 or less, and single parents making $75,000 or less will receive $300 per month for each child five or younger and $250 per month for every child between 6 and 17. 

“They’re paying it upfront, which is really new and different,” says Jackson Hewitt Chief Tax Information Officer Mark Steber. “We haven’t seen that related to a program of this size and scale in a long, long time. It’s a totally new way to get people their money.” 

Ohio mother of one Corritta Lewis says she’s grateful for the credit but doubts it will have a substantial impact on her budget. 

Flatten the Mental Health Curve

Picture this: Tenth-grade Laura checks her Instagram after a long school day. And she finds something that is absolutely horrific. Her long-time adversary, Gertrude, has posted a nude photo on her Instagram story. The photo is a bit blurry, but it kind of looks like Laura. And, although it’s actually not Laura in the photo, Gertrude claims that it is and she even tags Laura with some very nasty verbiage. The post goes viral.

Laura’s anxiety level shot through the roof as she stood there alone on her driveway. She had never experienced this level of hurt before and she had no clue whatsoever as to what she was going to do about it. Feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and depression engulf her. 

The Skyrocketing Nature of Mental Health Issues in Modern Times

In a large-scale study of the prevalence of various mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and mood disorders, it was found that steep increases in each and every such condition were found for adolescents and young adults between the years of 2009 and 2017 (see Twenge et al., 2019). We are talking about increases in major depression, for instance, from 8 percent to more than 13 percent among those in the 12- to 25-year age range across these nine years. This same general trend seems to exist for mental health issues in general. Anyone who works on a college campus will tell you that counseling centers are running beyond capacity across the US. 

Mental health issues are on the rise. And this trend is particularly true among our young people (Twenge et al., 2019).

A year ago, when people talked about flattening the curve, they were referring to the COVID pandemic. I think it is time to revise our usage of this phrase. As we work as a global community to put the COVID pandemic behind us, I say that the phrase flattening the curve be rebranded to refer to the steep increase in the prevalence of mental health issues in the modern world—especially among young people. 

Three Potential Causes of the Problem

Twenge et al. (2019) offer a few suggestions to explain the trends found in their data. Generally, they refer to “birth cohort effects,” suggesting that people born after 1982 have access to digital media and other online resources that have had unintended adverse consequences regarding the mental health of adolescents and young adults today. While this explanation is speculative in nature given the non-experimental quality of the data in their study, I think it’s certainly a perspective that warrants further study. With this said, here are three specific potential causes that I think warrant our deepest consideration.

1. Cyberbullying. 

In line with the analysis presented by Twenge et al. (2019), we can consider cyberbullying as a specific trend that has risen hand-in-hand with rises in communication technologies such as the internet and social media. 

According to data compiled by Comparitech, rates of cyberbullying have increased sharply across the globe over the past decade. Below is a slice of the eye-opening data found in their report:

Between 2011 and 2018, rates of cyberbullying among teens have increased markedly in nearly every nation across the globe. For instance, in the US, rates of teens reporting having been victims of cyberbullying increased from 15 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2018. These comparable rates for a few other nations, just to put a global face to the problem, are as follows:

Turkey: 2011, 5 percent; 2018, 20 percent

Mexico: 2011, 8 percent; 2018, 18 percent

UK: 2011, 11 percent; 2018, 18 percent

China: 2011, 11 percent; 2018, 17 percent

2. Increases in industrialization have ironic effects when it comes to mental health.

Generally, we think of technological advancement as a good thing. But I would argue from an evolutionary perspective that any and all technological advancements need to be considered with caution. 

When it comes to large-scale industrialization, people who live in relatively large, industrialized areas are more at-risk for mental health issues than are people who live in relatively small-scale social environments. And this finding seems to be true across the globe (see Srivastava, 2009). As time moves forward, technology and industrialization increase. And adverse mental health outcomes of our young people seem like a fully adverse (if unintended) consequence of this pattern.

The Latest in PTSD Treatment

Today, I’m writing from the cutting-edge of innovation and research in PTSD. PTSD science continues to advance exponentially, and exciting breakthroughs are on the horizon. What I’m presenting in this post are some of the highlights from the last two years of scientific findings. 

While these approaches can’t yet be considered the gold standard for PTSD treatment, what they represent is hope for an ever-expanding array of options that might be available for sufferers one day. 

I’ve divided the treatments into three categories: psychotropic medications, procedures, and non-pharmacological approaches.

Psychotropic Medications

MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy

May 2021 heralded promising results from the first phase 3 clinical trial testing MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD. In MDMA-assisted therapy, the medication MDMA is only administered a few times, and the talk therapy component remains an integral part of this combination treatment.

In an article published in Nature Medicine, researchers from UCSF reported on results of their trial, which sought to test the efficacy and safety of MDMA-assisted therapy for the treatment of 90 patients with severe PTSD over 15 clinical sites. The results were impressive, with patients reporting a large drop in symptoms after receiving MDMA-assisted therapy.

Of particular interest was that the study included patients with common PTSD comorbidities such as dissociation, depression, a history of alcohol and substance use disorders, and childhood trauma. In this way, the study conditions better mimicked real-world clinical scenarios and therefore gave cause to be optimistic that such a treatment may eventually provide tangible benefit to patients treated in clinical practice. 

Another plus for this research is that, for the duration of this study, the researchers reported that MDMA did not induce adverse events such as abuse potential or suicidality. Furthermore, unlike most medications for mental illnesses which are often taken daily for a substantial length of time, MDMA is only taken a few times.

A second phase 3 trial is currently underway and, if results continue to be encouraging, a drug application with the FDA is anticipated in 2022.

Repeated Ketamine Infusions

Ketamine is a non-barbiturate anesthetic and antagonist at the NMDA receptor. It is typically administered intravenously and has been used for years to provide pain relief to patients with severe burns. It was in this use that its dissociative properties became apparent. Ketamine may disrupt the process by which traumatic memories are laid down, as some studies show that those who received ketamine after a traumatic event were less likely to go on to develop PTSD. 

In a 2021 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry (in Advance), researchers from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai suggested that repeated ketamine infusions may lead to rapid symptom improvement in people with PTSD. 

Thirty study participants who received six ketamine infusions over a two-week period experienced greater drops in PTSD symptoms and comorbid depressive symptoms compared with participants who received the sedative midazolam, a psychoactive placebo control administered approximately three times a week for two weeks.

Side effects associated with the ketamine included blurred vision, dizziness, fatigue, and headache. Of more concern is that some participants did report dissociative symptoms that emerged during their ketamine infusions.

It’s important to note the limitations associated with ketamine: Benefits may last only a few weeks and there is a potential for patients getting addicted to this treatment.

Riluzole: A Glutamatergic Modulator

In a 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers designed a randomized controlled trial that investigated the efficacy of Riluzole augmentation for combat-related PTSD symptoms resistant to treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). 

Riluzole is a neuroprotective drug that blocks glutamatergic neurotransmission in the CNS. Glutamate dysregulation has been implicated in the pathophysiology of PTSD, so medications that regulate brain glutamate concentrations may be an effective treatment strategy for PTSD. 

Over a four-year period, veterans and active duty service members with combat-related PTSD who were not responsive to SSRI or SNRI pharmacotherapy were randomized to eight-week augmentation with a starting dose of 100 mg/day of riluzole or placebo.

An analysis of PTSD symptom clusters showed significantly greater improvement on PTSD hyperarousal symptoms in the riluzole group. However, Riluzole augmentation was not superior to placebo on change in depression, anxiety, or disability severity.

Procedures

Stellate Ganglion Block Treatment

In 2008, media reports started to emerge about how a stellate ganglion block (SGB), an invasive manipulation of sympathetic nerve tissue, helped PTSD sufferers. The procedure, which consisted of injecting a local anesthetic into sympathetic nerve tissue in the neck, led to immediate symptom relief in a small group of patients. 

Still, a positive outcome in a few cases is not sufficient to label something a treatment. A treatment should be more effective than a placebo, so it needs to be studied under controlled conditions. It took some time for the first controlled study of the SGB to be done, and the initial results, which were reported in 2016, were disappointing: The block was not superior to sham injection in relieving PTSD. 

In early 2020, results of the first multisite, randomized clinical trial of (SGB) outcomes on PTSD symptoms were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – Psychiatry and revealed reasons to not give up on SGB entirely. In this trial of active-duty service members with PTSD symptoms, the authors reported that two SGB treatments two weeks apart were effective in reducing PTSD scores over a period of eight weeks.

Physical activity may counter negative health effects of poor sleep

While the negative health effects of physical inactivity and poor sleep have been independently researched and documented numerous times, few studies have focused on the synergistic impact of these factors on mortality.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine investigates the joint association of physical activity and sleep with all-cause and cause-specific mortality risks.

Physical activity and healthy sleep

The long-term study followed over 380,000 middle-aged men and women who are part of the UK Biobank.

The participants completed questionnaires, interviews, and physical measurements to determine their baseline health condition along with their physical activity levels and sleep behaviors.

Individuals were excluded from participating in the study if their baseline assessments indicated a history of cardiovascular disease, cancer, sleep apnea, or class 3 obesity.

The researchers assessed and summarized physical activity data using metabolic equivalent task minutes. These minutes are roughly equivalent to the number of calories expended per minute of physical activity.

Individual physical activity was categorized based on the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. Categories included:

  • high (1200 or more minutes per week)
  • medium (600 to less than 1200 minutes per week)
  • low (0 to less than 600 minutes per week)

The researchers defined another category to include no moderate-to-vigorous activity per week so that they could also assess the effects of insufficient physical activity.

The negative health effects of poor sleep encompass more than just sleep quality or duration, and therefore the researchers applied a novel healthy sleep score.

They used five sleep characteristics — chronotype (night owl vs. morning lark tendencies), sleep duration, the presence of insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and snoring — to score participants on a scale from 0 to 5. Sleep score categories included: healthy (4 or higher), intermediate (2–3), and poor (0–1).

Using both these scoring methods along with other information supplied by the participants, the researchers derived a dozen physical activity/sleep combinations.

The participants’ health was then tracked until May 2020 or their death, depending on which came first, to assess their risk of dying from any cause, and specifically from cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, and all types of cancer. These are the common issues independently associated with poor sleep and minimal physical activity.

Fried foods, sugary drinks linked to sudden cardiac death

In a new study, researchers have found a positive association between the Southern diet — which involves more fried food and sugary drinks — and sudden cardiac death. They also linked the Mediterranean diet to a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death.

The research, which appears in the Journal of the American Heart Association, offers further evidence of the importance of diet to cardiovascular health.

Heart health and diet

Death certificates show that sudden cardiac death is a factor in 1 in 7.5 deaths in the United States. A key underlying cause is coronary heart disease.

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP)Trusted Source, a person can improve their heart health by changing their diet. The ODPHP suggests that people eat a variety of fruit and vegetables, low fat dairy, whole grains, a variety of proteins, and unsaturated fats.

Research has shown that the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on legumes, vegetables, fruits, fish, and grains, can be protective against cardiovascular disease.

Researchers have also identified an inverse link between the Mediterranean diet and sudden cardiac death. However, the study had significant limitations, as it included a hugely disproportionate number of white participants and focused primarily on women.

More than 20,000 participants

In the present study, the researchers drew on data from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke Study cohort in the U.S. This cohort consists of 30,239 African American and white adults aged 45 years or older, who all joined the study between 2003 and 2007.

The researchers excluded participants who were missing appropriate recorded information or were unavailable at follow-up. This left them with a sample size of 21,069 for the current analysis. Of these participants, 33% were Black, and 56% were women. 

A total of 56% of the participants lived in the Southeastern United States. This area is known as the Stroke Belt because it has had a higher-than-normal rate of death due to stroke since the 1940s.

The researchers took background health and demographic information from the participants at baseline and asked them to complete a food frequency questionnaire each year to show how many of 110 different food items they had eaten during the previous 12 months.

Looking at this data, the researchers were able to give each participant a Mediterranean diet score, reflecting their adherence to the Mediterranean diet.

The researchers were also able to identify five dietary patterns:

  1. The convenience pattern: This dietary pattern primarily consisted of pasta, pizza, and Mexican and Chinese food.
  2. The plant-based pattern: People following this pattern ate lots of vegetables, fruits, cereals, legumes, yogurt, chicken, and fish.
  3. The sweets pattern: This pattern included high amounts of dessert, candy, chocolate, and sugary cereal.
  4. The Southern pattern: The Southern diet is high in fried foods, sweetened drinks, processed and organ meats, and eggs.
  5. The alcohol and salad pattern: People following this pattern consumed lots of leafy greens, dressings, tomatoes, and alcoholic drinks.

According to lead author Prof. James M. Shikany, who is a professor of medicine and associate director for research in the Division of Preventive Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, “All participants had some level of adherence to each pattern but usually adhered more to some patterns and less to others.”

“For example, it would not be unusual for an individual who adheres highly to the Southern pattern to also adhere to the plant-based pattern but to a much lower degree.”

The researchers attempted to contact the participants approximately every 6 months over a 10-year period, which enabled them to record any cardiovascular events, including sudden cardiac death. During this period, there were 401 recorded instances of sudden cardiac death.

When To Stop Parenting And Just Be A Parent

A huge irony indeed because to practice in most any profession where one provides services to the public, most states require a license or certification that can only be obtained by completing an appropriate amount of schooling and passing a competency test. Even marriage requires a license (unfortunately, however, a competency test is not a prerequisite!). Yet bringing another human being into the world requires nothing more than a pair of functional reproductive systems—no schooling, training, competency or license required! Obviously, legislating and regulating who and under what circumstances one can procreate is grotesquely fascistic and an abhorrent infringement of human rights. Nevertheless, I noted the above irony to merely underscore the fact that the most awesome responsibility a person can ever have is one very few people in our modern world are innately equipped to manage.

Learning the crucial skills of parenting enables parents to be truly effective, increasing the chances that their children will be able to navigate the labyrinth of life successfully. One of the most valuable gifts you can give your children is a working compass (skills and facts) that can help them succeed in school and work, play and fun, love and intimacy.

Unfortunately, most schools do not include specific courses on how to acquire social skills, how to think rationally, how to control unwanted emotions, and how to be a truly effective parent. People must learn on their own how to teach their children to resolve conflict, be assertive, manage stress and regulate their moods. And often, they need to discard the poor parenting techniques they may have learned from their own parents.

Of course, all children are unique individuals and possess their own temperament, needs and personalities, and there is no absolutely correct way to parent. What’s more, experts disagree on just what constitutes good parenting styles. There is some consensus, however, about what the essential ingredients of basic parenting are such as providing children with a sense of safety, protection, love, support, encouragement, kindness and consistency—but also limits, boundaries and appropriate consequences.

Parenting adult children, though, involves it’s own set of challenges. Because being a parent is a lifelong commitment that does not stop simply because a child is of full legal age, or even an independent adult with children of their own. But while being a parent is a lifetime commitment, actively parenting one’s adult children is usually unhelpful. This is because “parent“ is both a noun and a verb. To be a parent, at base, means to give unconditional love and emotional support to one’s child or children; that is being a “mom” or a “dad.” To parent, however, means to actively instruct, direct and control a child because people are not born with a complete repertoire of social and self-care skills and need to be taught how to successfully function in the world.

Hence, as mentioned above, it is vital for parents to provide their children with as much helpful information and useful life skills as possible, as well as set beneficial limits and boundaries and impose appropriate consequences on their behavior. Thereby, as they grow and develop into adulthood, they will be better adjusted and more able to make their way in the world as independent and self reliant individuals. But to actively parent one’s adultchildren is usually unproductive and often fosters anger and resentment. This is because most adults don’t like being told what to do and what not to do. So offering unsolicited advice, giving specific directions, making strong recommendations and offering even constructively intended criticism will often backfire when foisted on one’s adult children.

Therefore, unless one’s adult child is about to make a stupendously poor, potentially reckless or criminal, decision it is better to simply validate them without interjecting any strong opinions to the contrary. So if one’s adult child is making a decision that one does not approve of, rather than raising objections it is better to simply say something like, “I hope that works out for you.“ And if an adult child complains of specific hassles, stress or hardship, instead of immediately offering advice it is usually best to simply say something like, “That sounds tough. Is there anything I can do to help?“ Again, this is because unsolicited advice usually lands on people – especially one’s adult children – unpleasantly. Consider that as a clinical psychologist people seek me out for my advice, pay me for my advice, and still often don’t follow it.

The upshot is simple. Unless one has a child or children with specific needs, disabilities, or other developmental challenges, as soon as one’s children are fully fledged adults, it is time to transition from active parenting to simply being a loving and supportive parent. And for most people full adulthood usually occurs in their mid-20s when the brain has undergone it’s final maturational process called pre-frontal myelination. This is when the brain’s frontal lobes, the seat of so-called executive functioning, become insulated with tissues that enhance neurotransmission. When this happens, peoples’ impulse control, social judgment, and deep emotional capacities like empathy come online.

4 Imperatives for Managing in a Hybrid World

More than a year after the pandemic’s global debut, physical interaction is slowly resuming to workplaces in different parts of the world. However, hybrid work is here to stay, as remote and virtual work will continue for many. Now is a good time for executives to start planning what their hybrid organizations will look like, and how to manage them.

Our research team, which includes a past public company CEO and current chair of several boards, strategy consultants, and a professor at Harvard Business School, wanted to gain insight in how to approach this challenge. We interviewed and surveyed 38 top leaders at five global businesses in multiple Nordic countries, spanning manufacturing to consumer-facing sectors, to find out what are their biggest challenges in managing in the hybrid mode. Participants ranged from vice presidents to CEOs in rank.

Nordic leadership teams provide a particularly interesting benchmark for hybrid management since they operate in complex and challenging settings with multiple nationalities and native languages among top management. Just as test driving a car in more difficult terrain can expose weaknesses faster, interviews in this setting can surface challenges organizations face but may have been able to ignore or mask to date. As organizations model longer-term practices for the hybrid world, leaders should examine their organization for hidden issues that need to be addressed.

Our conversations surfaced surprising organizational tensions. To manage them requires new approaches and skills. We summarize our insights into four key imperatives that leaders need to observe to be effective in a hybrid world.

1. The Virtual World Does Not Treat Roles and Tasks Equally

The executives we interviewed say that hybrid settings bring with them several new types of tensions between different levels of the organization, and even among executives themselves.

The most surprising one is emerging within upper management itself. CEOs often say that they are quite satisfied with how effective their team has been in a virtual format. Yet, second- to third-level executives, such as the VPs and country leads just below the global executive team, are more skeptical.

To some extent, this isn’t surprising; one rarely makes it to the top of a global executive team without showing significant self-direction, soft skills, adeptness with ambiguity, presentation and speaking skills — traits that make team dynamics on Zoom thrive.

These skills, however, are often weaker at lower levels. Some executives and middle managers we interviewed said they were frustrated with their own virtual effectiveness and with the difficulties to express themselves fluently. This is worrisome, as middle managers are also usually the ones who have had to face and manage the new operational complexities first-hand. As the CEO of a European logistics company noted, “We carried out an engagement survey after the summer, and it became obvious that some managers were struggling in the new environment. Some managers were reactive rather than proactive, and in a way had disappeared. The subordinates were lacking in support or had increasingly tense interaction with the managers.”

So, CEOs need to be cautious about inferring that their own virtual experiences are representative of the whole company and learn what they can do to help support others. For the above CEO’s company, that meant “increased managerial training and mentoring” and making “some changes in top and middle management.”

Another tension we uncovered is who gets access to the best technology. The quality of video equipment, screen size, and web connections matter greatly for virtual impressions. During the pandemic, many companies deployed top-notch digital equipment to settings and roles where it delivers obvious returns, like teams dealing with customers or those that engage in complex strategic and innovative work where collaboration is key.

While this equipment can deliver a great ROI, they are not equally available to everyone — not even to executives at the same organizational level. In fact, our team concluded from comparing interviews within the same company that today’s broadband internet and top-notch cameras are “designer business suits.” Leaders need to be cautious that they do not make poor talent judgments and decisions based upon these conditions — just as the best-dressed employee did not always turn out to be the smartest.

Finally, executives that we interviewed predicted business travel will decline on average 40% in the post-Covid world. This can result in big and lasting differences in face time with the boss, even among personnel at the same organizational level. We may have settings where one has purely in-person relationships with some people and purely remote relationships with some others. Leaders need to be careful, again, about taking into account these dynamics for their employee evaluations.

2. Nuances Matter in People Management

Many leaders we interviewed explicitly or implicitly highlighted a “hybrid paradox”: While in-person connection is becoming less frequent, people skills become more important than ever. The best leaders listen and show empathy, allocate more leadership time to team management and coaching, enable versus control, and invest more in building a culture that reaches out of the traditional office and into people’s homes.

This is easier said than done. Executives lamented that it’s challenging to feel the whole team’s collective spirit and resolve. One simply cannot get a group reaction clear in a Teams or Zoom meeting, where each face a is just a thumbnail.

One leader identified places where body language might matter more or less: “Two times a year, [we hold a] review of business sites where we have the whole leadership team [along with] group functions. That [will be] done face-to-face in the future also,” he noted. “In the meeting you can read the person’s body language, colleagues’ expressions, etc. Currently we lack how the full team [is] reacting. But [for the] monthly business review, we can continue to do in Microsoft Teams, as there is no need to read the body language.”

The issue goes beyond regular meetings, too. Executives must increasingly discern what motivates or concerns individuals who they have not casually observed in the lunchroom or corporate retreat. For example, we all mostly smile at the camera once our video is turned on for something like a virtual happy hour, so it will take more commitment and skills for leaders to understand employees beyond what is being deliberately projected. In the hybrid world, this deep observational skill will become an essential leadership skill. One company went so far as to hire a psychologist to observe and help teams.

Ultimately, leaders will likely need to adapt their listening and communication skills. “Once we understood that [remote work] will not go away overnight, we decided that will have to adjust our leadership styles,” the CEO of a global consumer goods company stated. “I feel that the discussions, both in teams and one on one, have been more in-depth and personal as would have been the case face to face. I am much closer to my team on a personal level now.”

As communication has changed, however, many executives noted that slack time is vital for innovation and renewal. They often worry that employees may feel left alone, but employees also feel they are never alone — their calendars are always full of meetings, largely because follow-ups that used to happen informally now must be all formally scheduled. To address this, leaders will need to learn to be much more disciplined about their own calendars and those of their teams, balancing group and one-on-one discussions with time for more focused work or rest. Mastering people management nuances like these will differentiate good and successful leaders from those who are less successful going forward.

3. Strong Central Guidance Is a Must

Happy Fourth of July!

It has been a long 18-months, spent social distancing and staying safe. With that said, we hope you find yourself safely celebrating with those that matter most to you this holiday weekend.

We appreciate your continued support here at the PAF, and hope that all former players and their loved ones have a joyous Independence Day.

How to Find Free Money for Graduate School

That’s much lower compared with undergraduate students. More than 80% of first-time, full-time undergraduates at private, nonprofit four-year institutions received institutional grants, and about 50% of those students at public colleges received institutional grants, according to NCES data from the 2017-2018 academic year. Additionally, 33% to 38% of undergraduates at those schools received federal grants and 25% to 38% received state or local grants.

While scholarships for undergraduates are common, many students are unaware grants and scholarships exist at the graduate level. These forms of financial aid typically don’t cover a graduate student’s entire cost of attendance – a Sallie Mae study conducted in 2017, How America Pays for Graduate School, found that grants, scholarships, fellowships or tuition waivers typically pay for about 15% of grad school costs – but every dollar helps. 

Sallie Mae’s online tool, Graduate School Scholarship Search, allows current and prospective graduate and professional students to hunt for private scholarships and boasts more than 950,000 scholarships worth up to $1 billion.

“There’s a lack of understanding that there’s availability of scholarships for grad school,” says Rick Castellano, a Sallie Mae spokesman. “With grad students, they don’t know where to look. When we talk to them, they’ll just say they Google searched.”

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, Castellano says students should feel more empowered to shop around and drive the conversation this year. “Don’t be afraid to negotiate for more aid,” he wrote in an email.

“The conversation is a two-way street; call your financial aid office, explain your situation (especially if it’s changed in light of COVID-19), and be open about what financial resources it would take for you to attend. You might be surprised by how willing a school is to work with you,” he says.

For prospective graduate and professional students, here are a few approaches to consider when tracking down free money to pay for an advanced degree.

Use Scholarship Search Engines

While Sallie Mae’s Graduate School Scholarship Search lists scholarships and fellowships available at the graduate level, other scholarship search engines list private scholarships for grad students in addition to awards available for undergraduate college students. A few of these scholarship databases include UnigoFastweb and the U.S. News Scholarship Finder.

GoGrad is another online resource that lists niche scholarships for prospective and current grad students. 

While graduate scholarships tend to be more modest compared with those offered to undergraduates, experts say a $1,000 award can still help reduce living costs and student loan borrowing.

Consider Free Graduate Schools

Students interested in attending graduate school may want to consider tuition-free programs.

For instance, New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine made headlines in 2018 when it announced a first-of-its-kind, full-tuition scholarship to all students. The scholarship amounted to $57,476 for the 2020-2021 academic year, and it is awarded to every student regardless of merit or financial need. It does not cover other fees and expenses. 

In 2019, the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine announced it would provide around half of its new students with free tuition, which amounted to $68,480 in 2020–2021. 

Identify Scholarships Available Via Professional Organizations

Students can apply for graduate scholarships by finding and joining professional associations in their chosen field of study. For instance, undergraduate and graduate members of the National Black MBA Association Inc. can apply for an award of up to $5,000. 

As another example, the Dental Trade Alliance Foundation awards graduate scholarships of at least $5,000 to a varying number of dental students annually.

Is food addiction real?

Food addiction is a concept that researchers use to describe compulsive eating habits in humans, which may resemble addiction-like behaviors.

Research indicates that some individuals may be more likely than others to experience addiction to palatable foods — meaning foods that are high in fat and sugar.

Other studies suggest that those who may experience food addiction exhibit “seeking” behaviors, as well as other symptoms and cravings similar to those that people typically experience as part of a substance use disorder.

There is no universally accepted clinical definition of “food addiction,” and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not list it as a condition. However, researchers have identified some behaviors associated with this concept. These include:

  • compulsive overeating, even in the absence of hunger
  • cravings for high fat and sugary foods
  • difficulty in controlling food intake
  • binge eating and disordered eating patterns

What do we know about food addiction?

Publications from 2009, 2011, 2016, 2018, and 2019, among others, have highlighted that palatable foods — or even foods in general — stimulate the same parts of the brain and share the same neuronal activities as illicit substances.

The hippocampus, caudate, and insula are three brain regions that researchers have pinpointed as being implicated in this relationship. 

For instance, foods and illicit substances both result in the release of the hormones, such as dopamine, and endogenous opioids that the body naturally produces.

These hormones are a part of the “reward system” — or the mesolimbic circuit — in the brain, which is responsible for motivation, want, desire, and cravings.

Some studies even suggest that it is the anticipation of food rather than the consumption itself that may trigger food addiction — a “seeking” behavior that people with substance use disorder often display. 

In theory, it is possible to explain this behavior by the phenomenon of incentive sensitization, which posits that it is possible for a person to want something even if they do not like it, as long as it stimulates the pleasure centers in their brain.

For example, people may crave a sugary beverage because it makes them feel good due to the release of dopamine rather than because they genuinely enjoy drinking that beverage.

Even though the DSM-5 does not list food addiction as a condition, researchers have referred to both the DSM-4 and DSM-5, as well as the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), when studying this phenomenon.

In fact, researchers developed the YFAS based on information in the DSM-4 about the symptoms and associated behaviors of substance use disorders. The YFAS contains 25 self-reported questions that may help identify food addiction.

The concept of food addiction has drawn a lot of interest in the scientific community, with some proposing it as a potential underlying contributor to obesity and others seeing it as a symptom of having excess body weight.

Whichever way this association may lie, a 2017 review cites evidence that behaviors linked with food addiction occur at notably higher levels in people seeking bariatric or weight loss surgeries.

Which Debt Repayment Strategy Does the Most for Your Credit Score?

Debt repayment is a marathon, after all. Most of us are always working on at least one debt, and when you’re juggling multiple debts, it’s smart to wonder which debt to target first. If building your credit score is your top money goal, it’s helpful to understand how debt impacts your score, so you can make an informed decision on how to tackle that debt.  

Standard disclaimer to start: there’s never any guarantee that any credit-related action you take will improve your credit score by any amount. We know in a very general sense what most major credit scoring models use as a basis of their calculation, but the actual formulas used are complex and proprietary. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to build a great credit score. 

UNDERSTANDING HOW DEBT IMPACTS YOUR CREDIT

To begin, here’s a quick reminder of the major factors examined in the FICO scoring model, which is one of the more popular, widely-used models: 

  • Payment history (35 percent) 
  • Amount owed to all creditors (30 percent) 
  • Length of credit history (15 percent) 
  • Amount of new credit (10 percent) 
  • Types of credit in use (10 percent) 

As you can see, how much you owe is the second most important factor in your score. Assuming that you’ve been able to make your monthly payments consistently and haven’t opened a ton of new accounts recently, simply paying down your debts is the likely the most impactful thing you can do for your credit score.

REDUCE YOUR CREDIT UTILIZATION RATIO 

Your credit score judges your “amount owed to creditors” level not as a measure of your overall debt, but as ratio of debt to available credit. If you used $5,000 of a $10,000 credit limit you would have the same credit utilization ratio (50 percent) as someone who used $500 of a $1,000 credit limit. 

Generally speaking, the lower your credit utilization ratio is the better it is for your score. Most experts suggest trying to stay below 30 percent utilization, with your score likely to suffer once you go over 50 percent. 

It’s important to note, however, that FICO factors credit utilization in two ways – on an account-by-account basis and as an overall reflection of your debts and limits. This means that if the utilization ratio is low on most of your cards, but one of your accounts is close to maxed out, that will likely have a negative impact on your score. 

So, if you have multiple credit cards and you’re trying to decide where to concentrate your repayment efforts, check the limits on each card. If you’ve got any accounts where you’re using more than 50 percent of the available limit, that may be where you want to start. If the utilization ratio is below 30 percent for all of your cards, then you may want to focus on whichever account has the highest interest rate. 

LINES OF CREDIT VS. CREDIT CARDS

When it comes to lines of credit, it can be tricky to pin down their impact on your score. Different scoring models use different rules and they can vary pretty wildly. 

The confusion is in how you classify the line of credit – as revolving credit or as an installment loan. Only revolving credit accounts are factored into your credit utilization ratio. Installment loans are considered differently. 

A regular line of credit, like a business line of credit, is usually considered to be revolving credit and would be treated exactly the same as a credit card. 

A home equity line of credit (HELOC), however, may be considered revolving credit or an installment loan. In many cases it depends on the size of the available credit. A general rule of thumb is that a HELOC over $50,000 is usually factored as an installment loan, while anything below that is considered a revolving line of credit. 

So which should you pay off first? Again, it’s difficult to know for sure. I would suggest that if your line of credit is on the smaller side, treat it the same as a credit card and use the rules listed above. If it’s a relatively large HELOC, it’s probably in your best interests to pay the credit card debt first. 

And while we didn’t address it here, the same goes for mortgages, car loans, and student loans – if credit building is your focus, work on reducing your credit card debt, while keeping your loans current.

Non-tax filer families can now sign up for the new monthly child tax credit

The IRS debuted on Monday its new non-filer sign-up tool so families can ensure they’ll get the credit and monthly payments starting July 15.

In addition to enrolling for the child tax credit, the tool will help people register for their third $1,400 economic impact payment as well as claim the recovery rebate credit if they did not receive previous stimulus checks they were eligible for, according to the agency.

“We have been working hard to begin delivering the monthly Advance Child Tax Credit to millions of families with children in July,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement. “This new tool will help more people easily gain access to this important credit as well as help people who don’t normally file a tax return obtain an Economic Impact Payment.”

The new portal is only for people who have not filed a 2019 or 2020 tax return and who did not use the IRS non-filers tool in 2020 to register for economic impact payments. With the online tool, people will be able to give the IRS their personal information, including name, address and Social Security number, as well as details about their children ages 17 and under and their direct deposit information.

The portal was developed by Intuit and delivered through the IRS Free File Alliance.

One more IRS portal is coming

Another portal set to launch later in June will help families who have filed a 2019 or 2020 tax return that’s been processed by the agency give more current information about their household. This is important for families who have more eligible children in 2021, have had a change in marital status or a significant drop in income — all of which could mean they’re owed larger monthly checks through the credit.

This portal will also allow families to opt out of receiving the monthly payments, meaning they’ll get the full credit amount when they file 2021 taxes, as the monthly payments are an advance on a 2021 tax credit.

The child tax credit was enhanced by the American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Joe Biden in March. The new credit increases the annual benefit per child age 17 and younger to $3,000 from $2,000 for 2021. It also gives an additional $600 benefit for children under the age of 6.

The full expanded benefit is available to all children 17 and under in families with 2020 or 2019 adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 for single parents and $150,000 for a married couple filing jointly, and ends for individuals earning $95,000 and married couples filing jointly making $170,000, though they’d still be eligible for the regular child tax credit.

For families getting the full credit, payments will be $300 per month for children under the age of 6 and $250 per month for those between the ages of 6 and 17.

Most families — roughly 80% — will get the payments via direct deposit on the 15th of each month, unless the day falls on a weekend or a holiday, according to the IRS. Those without direct deposit information will receive either paper checks or debit cards, the agency said.

The monthly payments will continue through the end of the year. When families file their 2021 tax return next year, they’ll get the second half of the enhanced credit as a refund. If families don’t send the IRS updated information that would have led to a larger monthly payment, they can claim the rest of the credit they’re owed when they file 2021 taxes.

Instead of Waiting for Motivation, Build Habits

“But I just can’t find the motivation” is probably one of the most common complaints I hear in my private clinical psychology practice. I have heard this from clients who come in with a severe depressive disorder (where amotivation is a symptom), but also from clients who are struggling with a general lack of impetus. I have worked with people who want to work harder, study more, exercise more, develop a new hobby or commit to a new business idea, but struggle with building the momentum they need. They might think about doing things, but find themselves procrastinating, or never actually commencing an activity, despite their best intentions. I have certainly been in this space as well—most of us probably have, at various points across various arenas. Motivation is not something I struggle with much anymore, and there is one simple reason for this: I don’t wait for motivation.

When I want to do something, I try and think about whether it is something that has value for me and whether it is something I have the time and resources to commit to at present, and if yes, I plan for it, and make it a habit. I treat anything I want to do much like I treat brushing my teeth. Regardless of the circumstances of life, I brush my teeth twice daily and I try and treat other activities (such as work and exercise) in a similar way. I do these things as scheduled, regularly, typically at the same time each day, and I do them regardless of whether I want to or not. Sometimes energy and inspiration are missing, and I might amend what I do (a gentle stroll vs. a bike ride, editing a blog post vs. writing a book chapter) to account for this, but I adopt the ‘bum on seat’ philosophy (i.e., just get your bum on the seat and see what happens). This philosophy carried me through a 60,000-word doctoral thesis, and it works very well for a slew of other commitments now. I often suggest that my clients try and build habits instead of waiting for motivation to strike, and those who are able to adopt this philosophy generally have much better success with forming and adhering to commitments than those who continue to wait for that elusive motivation.

Habit formation

When forming habits, I follow a range of simple rules, these include:

Decide whether you can commit to forming a new habit. It is helpful to remember the opportunity costs that everything brings. Each hour you spend working, as an example, is an hour taken away from sleep, learning, exercise, friends, and recreation. Everything we commit to has a cost and we all have finite resources. Remember that new habit formation will necessarily come at a cost, and consider whether the benefits of a new habit outweigh the costs. The world is drowning in productivity information and exhortations to do more, but the wisest thing you can do sometimes is to simply decide that you don’t really want to swim.

Keep it simple, start small, and be regular. The best new habits are those that are achievable. We are unlikely to be able to commit to a new exercise routine that takes an hour a day, but will probably find more success if we commit to walking for 15 minutes, three times a week. It may not seem like much, but it is a lot more than nothing. Habits can build over time, and you can always increase the amount of time/energy you commit to something once an initial baseline has been established. It is better to only try and form one new habit at a time, to avoid overwhelming yourself.

Chain habits. It is much easier to commit to a new habit if you link it to something you already do. I have clients who walk their dogs daily and have recently started jogging every second day with their dogs, instead of strolling. This is far easier to commit to than a whole new form of exercise, as they leave the house to walk anyway. Some other examples might include; practicing Duolingo while waiting for your coffee to brew or meditating for five minutes straight after breakfast.

Evaluate. It is OK to start a new habit/routine and realise that it is not actually serving you in the way you hoped. Set aside time to re-evaluate habits and routines regularly (monthly is a good interval) and give yourself permission to change things that are not bringing the results or satisfaction you are seeking. Over time, as we achieve greater success with forming new habits and build interest in life and a sense of self-efficacy, we are likely to notice increased motivation as a by-product of commitment to habit formation.

Even Vaccinated People Are Nervous About Going Back to ‘Normal.’

Claudia Campos, 34, wanted there to be no doubt about why she continues to wear a face mask at the Florida car rental company where she works. She decided to screen-print a mask that telegraphs her thoughts. “I’m vaccinated,” it reads, “but I’m not ready to trust you!”

Campos’ slogan distills the complicated emotions many people are feeling as the summer of vaccination commences. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the roughly 43% of people in the U.S. who are fully vaccinated can mostly ditch masks, travel safely and gather indoors with others. But many of those 43% are finding that they’re not ready to live like it’s the Before Times.

In a March 2021 American Psychological Association poll, about half of respondents said they were “uneasy” about resuming in-person social interactions, regardless of vaccination status. And in a May 25 Axios/Ipsos poll, about half of vaccinated respondents said they still wear a mask at all times outside the house, even after the CDC’s announcement that doing so is no longer necessary.

Lauren, a 38-year-old from New York City who asked to be identified by first name to preserve her privacy, says she and her wife are living essentially as they did in 2020, even though they’re both fully vaccinated. They’ve dined inside once (an experience simultaneously refreshing and stressful, Lauren says), but otherwise have stayed mostly outside and mostly masked. That’s in large part because the couple has a 2-year-old daughter who isn’t eligible for vaccination, and they want to keep her safe. But Lauren admits there’s also “some lingering anxiety from having followed all of these protocols for so long. It’s hard to believe that certain things are actually safe, even though we know they should be.”

Rob Danzman, an Indiana-based licensed clinical mental health counselor, says that’s a normal response to a year marked by confusion. “Humans are terrible when it comes to not knowing the rules of the game,” Danzman says. “We had mixed messages, we had inconsistent science, inconsistent testimony, inconsistent mandates from different states. From my vantage point, if people were not experiencing some fear and trepidation, that would be weird.”

The confusion is also not over. On one hand, the data around COVID-19 vaccination is outstandingly and consistently good. People fully vaccinated with the mRNA-based shots made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are 91% less likely to be infected by the virus than unvaccinated people, according to recent CDC data. (Janssen/Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose shot is around 66% effective at preventing disease.) And even when fully vaccinated people do get infected, according to the CDC’s recent study, they are less likely to spread COVID-19 to others than an infected, unvaccinated person. Both of those findings support a return to normal life after vaccination.

But with thousands of people in the U.S. continuing to test positive for the virus every day, it is understandable that even vaccinated people remain skittish around others, particularly if they live with unvaccinated or immune-compromised people who are still at risk. The emergence of highly transmissible variants is also reason for concern. Throw in the psychological challenge of reentering the outside world after a year of being told other people could be deadly, and it’s little wonder that not everyone is eager to squeeze into a restaurant booth or crowded flight.

How to readjust

It’s natural that people respond differently to re-opening. Some individuals are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 than others, and personality, environment and experience all dictate how someone will rebound from the pandemic. But while it’s one thing to decide to take re-opening slowly, it’s another to feel so anxious about re-entering the world post-vaccination that it affects your mental health.

Conflicting feelings after vaccination are totally normal, Danzman says. “I can acknowledge, ‘I believe the science…and I also feel afraid,’” he says. “Both of those can co-exist.” Adjusting to post-vaccination life isn’t necessarily about suppressing one of those feelings, he says; it’s about learning to balance both.

People should “slow down and observe their thoughts, their feelings and the choices in front of them,” Danzman says. “Most of us smush all those things together.”

Ask yourself questions. Does a plan simply feel unfamiliar, or do you actually think it’s unsafe? Are there adjustments that would make an outing feel more comfortable? Danzman adds that it may feel less overwhelming to think about one decision at a time—like whether to go out to dinner or remove your mask in a certain setting—rather than trying to make big, sweeping statements about whether you’re ready to go “back to normal.”

Campos says she’d feel safer if around 70% of people in Florida were vaccinated. (As it stands, about 42% of people there have had both shots.) Making calculations like that can be useful, says Dr. Ryan Sultan, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Irvine Medical Center/New York State Psychiatric Institute. “Think about it as a long-term issue,” he says. “What’s your endpoint?” Waiting until every American is vaccinated may not be realistic, but you might decide you’ll only feel comfortable attending mask-free gatherings when your whole family is vaccinated, for example. That can help guide your actions in the interim.

A little bit of exposure therapy may help, too. For people who devoutly wore masks throughout the pandemic, shedding them may feel uncomfortable—even in a situation, like walking in a park, where the science strongly supports doing so. To practice, Sultan recommends starting small. You could try taking your mask off for a few minutes, he suggests, or when you’re alone and away from any crowds. Slowly but surely, that will begin to feel normal again.

These Are the 8 Types of Friends You Need in Your Life


Tom Rath and the Gallup organization discovered something interesting: the vast majority of the time, no one pal offers you everything you need from your relationships.

Some of your friends are great listeners… but they’re not always there when you need them. Others are intensely loyal… but just not that great at helping you out of a jam. And so on.

We get different things from different friends. And sometimes even with a sizable group you’re still not getting all the things you want in order to feel truly supported in life. Kinda like how to be healthy you need the four different food groups — you can’t just eat cookies for every meal.

“Friendship” is a pretty vague word. You generally don’t even know everything you want from your relationships to feel whole — you just know something’s missing. There’s a gap.

So Rath and Gallup got to work. They surveyed over a thousand people to find out what the types of “vital friends” were — someone who if they vanished, your life satisfaction would noticeably decrease.

What did these types of friends offer? How do they round out your life? What are those things we all want from a group of friends to feel truly fulfilled?

Rath breaks down the results of their research in Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without.

It turns out there are 8 types of “vital friends.” Many of us don’t have all of them in our squad, and that’s why we often feel disappointed or like we’re not getting everything we need. (You have to collect all the different Pokemon to win at the game called life.)

So let’s break down the 8 and get the basics on what they are, learn where you might meet the ones that are missing, and find out how to strengthen your relationships with the ones you already have. We’ll also look at what you should do to be better at the role which you play in the lives of others.

1) The Builder

Just because you’re not in Little League anymore doesn’t mean you don’t need a coach. Someone who motivates you and encourages you to take it to the next level. That supportive friend who believes in your potential and won’t let you rest on your laurels.

From Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without:

Builders are great motivators, always pushing you toward the finish line. They continually invest in your development and genuinely want you to succeed — even if it means they have to go out on a limb for you. Builders are generous with their time as they help you see your strengths and use them productively. When you want to think about how you can do more of what you already do well, talk to a Builder. Much like the best coaches and managers, these are the friends who lead you to achieve more each day.

Lacking a Builder in your life? We all need that person who nudges you to be all that you can be. Start asking more people for advice, then vet based on who gives solid answers and supports you. Who checks in with you a week later to see how things are progressing? That’s your new Builder.

Want to make the Builder you have better? Tell them your goals and what you’re struggling with. Tell them you appreciate their support… and give them permission to nag you if you slack.

What if you’re a Builder? How can you be more helpful to your friends? Pay attention to what they’re up to and offer help. Check in with them if goals they said were important do a vanishing act. Some people need a supportive voice in order to follow through.

My friend Jodie is a Builder par excellence. I tend to only do things that interest or excite me. So my life can get a little unbalanced. (That is a tsunami-sized understatement, by the way.) When I neglect things that, oh, “keep me breathing” or “make life worth living,” Jodie offers reminders, support… and then nags me relentlessly. So I always do what she says…

Eventually.

Builders motivate you and keep you going. Who sings your praises to others?

2) The Champion

We all need a friend who isn’t afraid to break out the pom-poms and play cheerleader. Somebody who roots for you and describes you to others in a way that makes you blush.

From Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without:

Champions stand up for you and what you believe in. They are the friends who sing your praises. Every day, this makes a difference in your life. Not only do they praise you in your presence, a Champion also “has your back” — and will stand up for you when you’re not around. They accept you for the person you are, even in the face of resistance. Champions are loyal friends with whom you can share things in confidence. They have a low tolerance for dishonesty. You can count on them to accept what you say, without judging, even when others do not. Champions are your best advocates. When you succeed, they are proud of you, and they share it with others. Champions thrive on your accomplishments and happiness.

Need a Champion in your life? Look for the people who are always praising others. They’re usually very humble and kind. So say hi.

Want to help your Champion help you? Regularly keep them abreast of what you’ve been doing and what your goals are. And don’t forget to thank them when their help pays off. Champions live for that.

If you’re a Champion, how can you improve? Ask your friends what they’ve been up to and how you can help. Think about different ways you can promote them. Maybe you’ve spread the word about their great work at the office — but have you ever complimented them in front of their spouse?

Luckily, I have Andy. Andy says things about me to other people that would make me want to meet me if I didn’t already know myself. And he does this for all his friends. I can tell you that they are all very lucky people. But Andy would just tell you how awesome they are.

So maybe you have someone swinging pom-poms for you. But do you have that person to conspire with on that passion project?

Build Your Reputation as a Trustworthy Leader

His defensiveness was intense. He insisted he had kept his commitments, delivered positive results, and hadn’t ever acted deceitfully or unscrupulously. And all of those things were true.

Like many leaders, he was shocked to learn that the standards of trustworthiness have risen significantly as the world’s experience of honesty and trust have descended into a freefall. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that government, NGOs, and media have continued to lose trust while business barely hangs on as the only institution people view as competent and ethical. People’s expectations and definition of trustworthiness are broadening for leaders, and it takes a lot to gain that trust.

The findings of my 15-year longitudinal study of more than 3,200 leaders on organizational honesty for my book, To Be Honest: Lead with the Power of Truth, Justice, and Purpose, also show that to earn and keep trust, leaders must accept that reliability and integrity are merely table stakes. They don’t, on their own, earn you a reputation of being trustworthy. They may get you labeled as dependable or easy to work with, but to be trusted consistently requires more. If you want to be certain that the people you lead see you as trustworthy, here are four practices to master. My research revealed that if you do, you’ll be 16 times more likely to earn and keep the trust of others.

Be who you say you are.

Consciously or not, we all navigate the world guided by a set of values that are revealed by our actions. We may say we value compassion, but if the first question we ask upon hearing someone plowed into our new car in the parking lot is, “How bad is the damage?” instead of “Was anyone hurt?” our commitment to compassion appears pretty thin. Others judge our trustworthiness by the extent to which our actions and words match. Here’s how to make sure they do.

Embody your stated values. The first thing you must do is articulate your values so others know what to expect. Importantly, though, good intentions don’t count. One of the issues in Gabe’s feedback was that he routinely extolled the importance of teamwork and being an “all for one” team. But during meetings, he became impatient with others’ updates and was sarcastic with his feedback. Although he didn’t intend it, his actions intimidated others and prevented them from participating, so he’d lost their trust.

Your values serve as a yardstick that others use to gauge their experience of you. If you haven’t articulated them, people are left to make assumptions that may not align with what you believe. And if you have articulated them, as Gabe did, be especially vigilant about embodying them. Make a list of your most important values and for each, define the ways you intend for them to appear in your day-to-day actions.

Acknowledge any say-do gaps. None of us are consistent all the time. Identify the places where your actions have belied your values, leading to unintended consequences for others, like Gabe’s behavior in meetings. Where necessary, apologize to those who’ve experienced those consequences. Otherwise, as with Gabe, the hypocrisy people attribute to you will erode trust quickly. But demonstrating humility for the impact of those moments can be a trust multiplier as people see that you’re humble enough to take responsibility when your words and actions don’t match.

Treat others and their work with dignity.

In an economy where people’s primary output is often a reflection of themselves — their ideas, insights, and ingenuity — the importance of treating both the contributor and the contribution with dignity is vital. People are more likely to trust colleagues who graciously regard what they do as a distinct part of who they are. Here’s how to do that.

Create opportunities for others to shine. Look for ways to allow others to showcase their talent. For example, invite people who don’t have high visibility to present their critical projects to wider audiences in your organization. Or encourage those who host meetings you attend to hear a pitch from someone you know has a great idea but is struggling to get it heard. Maybe you can connect someone you know with career aspirations to people within your organizational network who might be able to help them advance their dream. Become known as someone who dignifies the contributions of others by making sure they’re seen and celebrated across the organization.

Be a safe place to fail. Fewer moments call for dignity more than when someone’s efforts fall short. People inherently trust others they feel no need to hide from, especially in the shame of failure. When others make mistakes, even substantial ones, make sure that accountability includes keeping their self-respect intact. Balance expressing your disappointment with making sure you remain an ally, doing whatever you can to help them get back on track.

This Simple Thought Experiment Will Reshape How You See Your Marriage

Take a moment to sit with this idea. Take a moment to let it in. Consider the idea that, somehow, you are committed to getting all of the problems and challenges you experience in marriage throughout the day. That’s right, you are committed to, say, a partner’s control issues, sarcastic comments, or lack of affection.

Of course, there are limits to this thought experiment. It works with minor irritations and conflicts and is certainly not a guiding principle when confronted with major traumas or abusive situations.)

Most of us recoil at the very thought of this idea. We feel deep resistance to it. Our minds flood with defensive thoughts: “How can that be?” “Why would I be committed to all this struggle?” or “I’m not the problem here.”

But if you can let these initial waves of resistance move through, if you can open to a radical sense of curiosity, then this simple thought experiment can change your marriage and your life.

Why? It flips our ordinary way of viewing marriage on its head. We’re wired to think that most of our problems originate from outside ourselves. This wiring sounds like, “If only my partner were more loving or more engaged,” or “If only my extended family wasn’t so crazy” or “If only the world weren’t so out of control.” If only these things changed, we think, then I could finally be happy.

The thought experiment posed by the Hendricks’, however, challenges you to set these thoughts aside, if only for a moment, and to instead wonder how you might be creating these problems for yourself. At first, this idea might sound totally depressing. But, in the end, it’s actually radically empowering. Because if you played a role in creating these problems, then you must also have the power to change them.

So how can you make the most of this shift in perspective to what the Hendricks call 100% responsibility? Take these steps.

1. Identify Your Unconscious Commitments.

The first step is to see these commitments more clearly. To do that, it can be helpful to ask yourself, “What are the problematic results I’m getting in marriage?” “Where am I stuck?”

Then, write down your answers.

For example, many people tell me that they feel upset at their partner for not caring enough, doing enough, or loving them enough. If that’s the problematic result you’re getting in marriage, write down, “My partner isn’t caring, engaged, or loving enough.”

2. Ask Yourself, “How Am I Committed to This?”

Now for the mind-blowing question: “How am I committed to getting this result?”

This isn’t one of those questions that you ask, think about for 15 seconds, and then leave behind. No, this is a question on which to meditate. It’s a question to plant in your mind and then sit with for a while.

Once you have reflected on it, write down the one to three ways you are holding this pattern in place.

For example, if your partner doesn’t show you enough love and affection, your question becomes, “How am I committed to having an unaffectionate partner?”

Once you look closely at this question, you might notice that you have a part to play in this dynamic. For instance, it might be that you’re expecting affection but also not giving your partner enough of it. Or it might be that you’re not following through on key projects, chores, or tasks around the house. Or maybe there is fear holding this dynamic in place: your fear of being vulnerable, showing your true emotions, and asking for what you really want.

3. Build One Commitment-breaking Habit

Do you really want to change this commitment?

It’s a question worth asking because most of the time we actually benefit in some way from these dysfunctional commitments. We get to feel in control. We get to be right. Or we get the badge of honor that comes with being a modern day super dad.

But assuming your answer is “yes,” that you want to change this commitment, the final step is to create a new commitment-breaking habit. It’s something you can do every day to interrupt the momentum of the commitment you have identified.

If you’re committed to having an unaffectionate partner, for example, your new habit might be revealing your inner experience to your partner (and — for bonus points — doing it from a place of kindness).

Why You Don’t Believe in Happiness Anymore

You start with big dreams, full of youthful enthusiasm. Over time, challenged by obstacles and hardships, your commitment to those dreams is tested. But you’re still young, so you push on and persevere. 

Then you get hit with big disappointments, letdowns in your career, love life, or friendships. You feel unsupported and alone. “Why is this happening?” you wonder, “I’m a good person. I didn’t do anything to deserve this.” 

Then you face a health crisis, lose a loved one, suffer injuries, or financial hardships. Unforeseen stressors continue to pop up and dash your plans.

You start to lose hope. 

Losing the confidence that you’ll ever be happy

When you’re struggling, it’s natural to want to give up. You may look around and feel that everyone has an easier life than you. You forget that no one is exempt from suffering, and some of the most outstanding individuals in history faced overwhelming personal hardships. 

But no matter. The longer you stay in a place of hopelessness, the harder it is to believe that you’ll ever be happy again. You may justify your unhappiness by proclaiming your powerlessness. You even start to question the concept of happiness.

“Happiness is an illusion sold by the media to make money,” you decide. “Happy relationships? Happy families? Happy friendships? Bah! That’s not real life.”

Five conditions that cause people to abandon happiness

1. Heartbreak 

Deep wounds to the soul come in many forms, but for me, the word “heartbreak” captures the catastrophic pain of unforeseen loss. No matter what form heartbreak takes when your heart is broken, gravity shifts, your body, and mind feel sluggish, color is drained from the world, and every day is a battle with yourself. 

2. Social isolation

You withdraw from the world. Stop seeing friends or family and embrace loneliness. The more you live in isolation, the more your thoughts and feelings become deluded. You distort even the simplest of interactions and grow paranoid and suspicious of others. No one is who they seem to be.

Do You Need Short-Term Disability Insurance?

The answer for some may be short-term disability insurance. Should you fall ill, become diagnosed with a medical condition, or get into an accident that prevents you from working for awhile, short-term disability can replace some of your income until you’re back on your feet.

“Short-term disability is important because it can protect your savings and investment accounts in the chance that you are temporarily unable to work due to a disability,” says Ben Smith, founder and financial planner of Cove Financial Planning. “Without coverage, many people are forced to take on debt, draw on their cash reserves, or worse, their retirement savings, in order to pay bills and living expenses in an instance where they are not earning an income due to a disability.”

Nearly every worker could potentially benefit from having short-term disability insurance, but there are some instances where having that extra protection is even more important.

YOU’RE SELF-EMPLOYED

If you work for yourself or have a small number of employees, you’ll definitely want to consider getting short-term disability insurance. 

“Doctors, veterinarians, CPAs, and similar professionals who have their own practices are often self-employed and may not have the coverage, and also may be earning high incomes that lead to expensive month-to-month lifestyle costs,” says Ian Bloom, a CFP® and Financial Life Planner for Nerds. “In some cases, a disability would exhaust their savings rather quickly.”

You’ll also want to consider short-term disability insurance if you’re a full-time freelancer. Freelancers don’t get sick leave or get coverage through an employer. So if they’re unable to work, and their cash flow takes a halt, it could put them in financial peril.

YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH IN SAVINGS

It might be okay to forego short-term disability coverage if you have six months worth of income in savings, as well as a considerable cushion beyond that, points out Bloom. When figuring out whether you have enough in savings to cover your living expenses when you’re disabled, keep in mind that if a disability occurs, you’ll likely have medical expenses — doctors’ visits, treatments, medication — in addition to your regular monthly expenses.

On the flip side, let’s say you have a large cash reserve. In that case, you might not need short-term disability. “This means that they may be able to ‘self-fund’ a potential temporary loss of income during a disability,” says Smith. And if your spouse or partner has a high-income job, and they can cover household expenses for a short time, you may not necessarily need to be covered with short-term disability.

“Every situation is different, so it’s important to learn about your unique options and needs,” says Smith.

YOUR EMPLOYER DOESN’T OFFER IT

If your employer doesn’t offer short-term disability, it might be worth looking into getting it on your own. And even if your employer does offer short-term disability insurance, it might not be enough for your potential financial needs. 

To gauge this, review the coverage amounts and terms with your employer. You’ll also want to assess what your current living expenses are, and tack on additional expenses for medical treatment. If the current coverage doesn’t match your costs, you may need add additional coverage on your own.

TIPS FOR SHOPPING FOR SHORT-TERM DISABILITY

A few pointers if you’re thinking of hopping on a short-term disability plan:

LOOK FOR COVERAGE THROUGH YOUR EMPLOYER FIRST

You might be able to get coverage through your employer, which is typically less expensive than buying a private plan, explains Smith. What’s more, it’s usually easier to get coverage through a group plan. When it comes time to re-up on your company benefits, be sure to ask about short-term disability coverage if that’s something you’re interested in.

SEE IF THE STATE YOU LIVE IN OFFERS SHORT-TERM DISABILITY

Only five states in the U.S. offer their own short-term disability programs: California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. The coverage amounts and time periods vary. Even if you live in a state that offers it, you might still want to get additional coverage to make sure you have enough to live on should you need it.

CHECK THE ELIMINATION PERIOD

An elimination period is the amount of time you must wait until your insurance coverage kicks in. For example, a 14-day elimination period means you must wait 14 days after you become disabled before receiving any benefit from the plan. Elimination periods for short-term disability are usually are typically 7 or 14 days, while some might be up to 30 days. “In most cases, the longer the elimination period, the lower the cost of insurance will be,” says Smith.

And even if you hop on a short-term disability plan, you could still need some cash reserves to cover your expenses until the elimination period ends.

Meet the Staff: Leslie Isler

Executive Director Andre Collins saw something in Leslie Isler while she was interning in the NFLPA’s Former Player Services Department in 2013, and the PAF is better off today because of it.

“When that internship was over, Andre reached out and said, ‘Hey, I appreciated your time here. You did a good job. There’s potentially an opening in about a year or so if you don’t land on anything that you like. There could be an opportunity to come back.’ So, in 2015, I was able to come aboard fulltime as the PAF coordinator,” Isler said.

With responsibilities that include social media, engagement, and event planning, she also focuses on the PAF’s wellness events and solidifying partnerships and resources for its members, as well.

Isler has worked on Super Bowl events such as Smocks & Jocks and Painting with the Pros. However, this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts are being made on how to transition those events online.

“A lot of our stuff this year was just transitioning to a virtual platform, helping our members navigate the chapter scholarship program that the PAF does in conjunction with the Former Players Department,” Isler said. “As well as managing a few partnerships that we have in education with Penn State World Campus. And we just started a new program with EPIC Risk Management, a gambling prevention initiative.”

What Isler enjoys about her job, and appreciates, is the freedom to create she has been given by Collins and PAF Director, Tyrone Allen.  

“They don’t do a lot of micromanaging,” Isler said. “So, my creativity in my space is limitless. I love that I’m able to just bring them ideas, whether they’re familiar with the idea or not. Sometimes they need a little bit more convincing, but there’s always room for them to see things from my perspective.

“We are from two completely different generations, but I don’t feel like Andre has ever hindered my creativity. He’s super open-minded, and the trust that he has for me in this role has definitely allowed me to tap into some innovative and creative ideas that I think have benefitted our messages.”    

Growing up watching the NFL with her family, Isler is glad that she is now able to assist those former players who helped mold the game to what it is today.

“I always felt like that I was paying homage to the sport. Whatever contributions they made, whether it’s that they signed a practice squad contract or played for 15 years, I’ve always felt like that was pretty much me paying them back for this great sport that we enjoy now,” Isler said.

“Working for the union has completely changed my outlook of the sport. Where it’s not just about who’s winning on Sundays, but it’s more about advancing the sport, making it safer, allowing these players to develop an identity outside of football.

“I love amplifying and promoting what our players are doing in their second act. That’s definitely one of my favorite aspects of my job, to create partnerships with players, as well. To amplify what they’re doing across the membership is also one of those things that is very rewarding.”  

What Does It Mean to Go into Foreclosure?

If you took out a mortgage, you borrowed money to purchase your home and put up the home as collateral. Foreclosure is the legal process that allows the lender to repossess a home when borrowers fall far enough behind on their payments.

Facing eviction and losing the time, equity, and love you’ve put into a home can be a sad and scary prospect. But it’s important to remember that even if you’re months behind on your mortgage payments, there may be ways to remedy the foreclosure and keep your home. Or, if your goal is to move to a more affordable home, there could be alternatives to foreclosure that can save you money, time, and may not hurt your credit as much.

In either case, understanding the process can help homeowners identify where they stand and their options.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING FORECLOSURE?

Foreclosures can be governed by a combination of federal, state, and local laws. The foreclosure process, relevant terms, laws, your rights, and the timeline can, therefore, vary depending on where you live and the agreement you have with a lender. However, the processes tend to follow a similar path:

THE BORROWER MISSES A MORTGAGE PAYMENT

Missing a single payment won’t immediately lead to losing your home, but it’s the first step towards a foreclosure. Once a borrower misses a payment or pays less than the total amount due, the mortgage could become delinquent.

The lender, mortgage service or a collection agency may start reaching out to the borrower to inform them of the missed payments. It may also notify you of different options you have to help avoid foreclosure and keep your home.

THE LENDER SENDS A DEFAULT NOTICE

The timeline can vary, but often around three to six months after you miss a mortgage payment, the lender will send a letter or notice that your loan is in default. The notice may also tell you how much you currently owe, including past-due payments and fees, and how long you have to bring your loan current.

The notice could also be posted on the door of the home and a record of the notice might be filed with the local county office. You may see this letter referred to as a Notice of Default or lis pendens (“suit pending”).

PRE-FORECLOSURE BEGINS

If you don’t bring your loan current by the deadline, the lender can begin the foreclosure process. The pre-foreclosure period may be one to several months long, during which you still have options to avoid the foreclosure by repaying the amount owed, selling your home, modifying your loan, or coming to another agreement with your lender.

THE FORECLOSURE PROCESS OFFICIALLY STARTS

The lender may be able to pursue different types of foreclosures:

JUDICIAL FORECLOSURE

A judicial foreclosure is an option in every state, but isn’t required everywhere. The judicial foreclosure process goes through the courts, and you will be sent a notice of the pending lawsuit. If you don’t respond, the lender will win a default judgment. Generally, if the lender wins the suit, an auction date for the home will be chosen, and the local court or sheriff will then sell the home at the auction.

NONJUDICIAL FORECLOSURE

Some states allow lenders to pursue a prescribed foreclosure process outside of the courts. The process can vary, but often takes at least a month and involves one or more notices informing you of how much you owe, how you can bring the mortgage current, and when the home will be put up for sale.

THE HOME IS OFFERED FOR SALE

Either the lender, a representative of the lender, a local court, or the sheriff may sell the home via an auction. Or, in some cases, the lender simply takes ownership of the home. The lender will also become the owner if the home isn’t sold at the auction.

Depending on the state, you may have the right to repay the entire amount due and reclaim your home as long as the auction hasn’t ended. In some states, you may even have the right to buy the home back after it was sold at auction.

THE BORROWER IS ASKED TO LEAVE OR IS EVICTED

Once a new entity takes ownership of the home, you may receive a notice that you have to leave the house. You could have anywhere from a few days to several weeks to vacate, and sometimes a new owner will offer you money to move out quickly and leave the home in a good condition.

If you don’t leave, the new owner may take steps to forcibly evict you. The eviction process could also take several days to several months. Although you’ll be able to stay in the home longer, having an eviction on your record could make it harder to find a rental in the future.

YOU MAY HAVE OPTIONS IF YOU’RE FACING FORECLOSURE

Foreclosure doesn’t happen overnight, and the lengthy process isn’t a desirable outcome for borrowers or lenders.

Generally, acting sooner is better than waiting. Even if you haven’t missed a payment yet, reaching out to your lender and letting it know you expect to have trouble in the future could be a helpful first step that leads to avoiding foreclosure proceedings altogether.

Your lender may have programs that can temporarily, or sometimes permanently, lower your monthly payments. The U.S. Treasury Department and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also have many programs aimed at helping borrowers avoid foreclosure.

As the process and programs can vary depending on where you live and your mortgage agreement, speaking with a trained professional is often be a good idea. Some attorneys specialize in housing cases, including foreclosure defense, that may be able to help.

7 Ways to Experience Inner Peace

Has modern technology and your ability to access infinite amounts of information and entertainment brought less stress or more stress into your life?

Sure, we can buy everything we want online—clothes, computers, and cars—and yes, it’s convenient. But has it made our lives more peaceful?

Emotional energy

Most of us would agree that emotional energy has become a precious commodity in our lives. When we feel emotionally depleted, then anxiety and stress are the natural by-products. Left unchecked, stress can lead to feelings of being out of control.

As a result, stress can prompt us to seek temporary relief in unhealthy habits that create more stress in the long run. Turning to alcohol, comfort food, or overspending might provide temporary relief and distraction, but these things greatly complicate our lives.

Controlling your stress

Not everything that causes us stress can be eliminated—nor should it. Low-level stress stimulates the brain to boost productivity and concentration. It can also be a big motivator to make changes, solve problems, or accomplish goals.

In addition, many sources of stress are simply beyond our control. It’s become so commonplace for people to feel stressed and overloaded that we tend to forget there is an alternative way to live.

It’s time to slow down and consider ways to bring more peace to your heart and soul. Start with these seven ideas:

1. Beware of peace pickpockets.

You encounter all kinds of people and situations that try to steal your serenity. Know what they are and take measures to fend them off.

2. Take a mental health day, or morning, or moment.

Whatever time you can allow, give yourself the space to refresh your mind and spirit.

3. Rethink your “should do” and “ought to do” lists.

If the voice in your head is guilting you into doing things that don’t bring you joy, regard these as prime candidates to delete.

4. Kick the approval habit.

It’s natural to want to be liked by others—and it’s healthy to accept that it’s not going to happen all the time.

5. Be still.

If your pace is wearing you out, set aside a half-day or a full day to sit on the sofa to think, journal, read, and nap.

6. Let the music move you.

Few things are as cathartic and cleansing as your best-loved music. Use your favorite tunes to calm you down, pump you up, or stir your emotions.

7. Give yourself a quality-of-life checkup.

It’s wise to periodically assess whether you’re satisfied with the quality of your life. If you don’t feel fulfilled, ponder what changes are in order.

Inner peace is a worthwhile goal. In today’s saturated world, having an inner peace plan—and working on it every day—is a good way to ensure you attain that goal.

“Will I Ever Find My Passion?”

 I have a client who’s an engineer and feels he’s just going through the motions, afraid that his career will always be humdrum. He asked, “Is there any chance that, age 35 (I’m changing irrelevant details to protect his anonymity), I’ll find my passion and make a living at it?”

A prerequisite question is “Is finding a passion needed for career contentment?”

As I’ve written previously, because most people hold one of the same few passions: the arts, entertainment, the environment, helping the poor, and sports, the chances of making a living at a commonly held passion are not great. And because of the oversupply of willing workers in such fields, pay is often poor if not volunteer.

More often, career contentment comes not from passion but from work of moderate difficulty, some impact, a decent boss and coworkers, reasonable commute, decent pay, and job security.

But just because passion isn’t the key to career contentment, doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to make a living related to one’s passion. But many people, like the aforementioned client, have trouble identifying a passion. Here are some questions that might help you unearth one:

The question I asked him that unearthed a passion for this client was, “What were you attracted to as a child?” He said, “Hunting for unusual wildflowers.” When I asked if there subsequently have been other things like that, he said that he had loved hunting for used navionics (electrical devices for use on boats and ships.) The common thread was hunting, so we explored a variety of careers that required some form of hunting, especially those that would leverage his engineering experience. One example: becoming a purchasing agent for a boat or ship manufacturer.

If that question doesn’t work or you, might one of these:

What do you most like to read, watch, and talk about?

What do you give a damn about?

What activity most engages you, for example, talking with people, doing research, working with your hands, making art, starting a business, handling details?

What value most drives you: money, fame, a non-profit cause, glamour?

What’s an unusual interest of yours? (The job market may be better when you’re away from the madding crowd.)

To what or whom would you donate or invest a million dollars?

If you had a year to live, didn’t care what anyone thought, and had to be productive, what would you do?

The takeaway

Career passion may be oversold—Do what you love and poverty may well follow. Nevertheless, it’s worth at least a shot at unearthing a passion and then seeing if there’s a career in which you feel the risk of pursuing it is worth it.

Diabetes: Diet and weight loss may reduce need for blood pressure drugs

Diabetes is a common and serious medical condition, affecting approximately 463 million people worldwide in 2019. People with a condition called metabolic syndrome are about five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. 

Metabolic syndromeTrusted Source consists of a constellation of clinical findings defined by the presence of at least three of the following:

  • elevated blood pressure (hypertension)
  • abdominal obesity
  • impaired glucose tolerance
  • insulin resistance,
  • increased triglycerides
  • low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (“good cholesterol”)

People who develop type 2 diabetes have a greater chance of having a heart attack, stroke, chronic kidney disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), and eye disease (retinopathy). 

Approximately 85% of patients with type 2 diabetes will require treatment for high blood pressure. Although antihypertensive medication medications effectively decrease blood pressure, some medications, such as β-blockers and thiazide diuretics, may have side effects or aggravate blood glucose control. 

The American Diabetes Association estimates that 33–49% of people with diabetes fail to achieve blood glycemic, blood pressure, and blood lipid goals. Lifestyle modifications, such as weight loss, can help.

Weight loss can effectively reduce blood pressure by about 1 millimeter of mercury (mmHg) for each kilogram (kg) of weight lost. However, current clinical practice guidelines do not recommend a trial withdrawal of antihypertensive medication during a medically managed weight loss program for people with diabetes who have overweight. 

In the Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial (DiRECT)Trusted Source, researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and Newcastle in the United Kingdom demonstrated that the primary-care-driven intensive weight management program Counterweight-Plus resulted in remission of type 2 diabetes in 46% of participants at 12 months. 

During the initial total diet replacement phase, participants underwent a planned withdrawal of all blood pressure medication to prevent low blood pressure when standing up from sitting or lying down.

Researchers re-examined data from this study to determine the safety of stopping blood pressure medications and the extent of the decrease in blood pressure levels in participants with and without hypertension. The scientists recently published the results from this post-hoc analysis in the journal Diabetologia.

Significant blood pressure decrease

The study used a low energy (825–853 kilocalories per day) formula diet for 12–20 weeks in the intervention part of the study, followed by a step-wise reintroduction of food over 2–8 weeks, as well as a structured weight-loss maintenance program with monthly visits.

Participants receiving the intervention discontinued all diabetes and antihypertensive medications when starting the initial total diet replacement phase unless they needed them for conditions other than diabetes or hypertension. 

Researchers monitored blood pressure and glycemic levels throughout the study and reintroduced medication to those participants whose levels increased.

78 of the 143 participants receiving total diet replacement had hypertension at baseline, with 44% of participants receiving one antihypertensive drug and approximately 56% receiving two or more. Around 36% of participants reported dizziness during the total diet replacement phase.

The study demonstrated significant decreases in average blood pressure levels during total diet replacement therapy at 20 weeks and 1 and 2 years. In those participants with no history of hypertension, the decreases were immediate. In contrast, significant reductions in blood pressure did not occur for those previously treated for hypertension until about week 9.

During the total diet replacement phase, 27.5% of participants (26% on one medication and 74% on two or more medications had to restart taking antihypertensive medications. However, at 2 years, 28% of the participants who stopped antihypertensive drugs did not need to take them again.

According to the study, 53 people saw remission in their type 2 diabetes with an average weight loss of 11.4 kg at 2 years. Of this group, 27 participants had high blood pressure and stopped all blood pressure medication at baseline, with 12 remaining off all antihypertensive medication at 2 years.

What Parents Should Know About Traveling With Unvaccinated Kids

As of now, there are no COVID-19 vaccines approved for children under 12, which means families are left wondering if it’s safe to travel with their little ones and how to do so while minimizing risk.

“The answer to these questions ultimately comes down to parents’ overall risk tolerance and level of comfort; however, there are factors that should be considered when making a decision to take a trip with your children if they are unvaccinated,” said Dr. Vivek Cherian, an internal medicine physician affiliated with the University of Maryland Medical System.

So what exactly should parents know about traveling with their unvaccinated kids? Below, Cherian and other experts share their advice.

Assess Underlying Health Risks

“I think every family will have to weigh the risks and the benefits of traveling with their unvaccinated children,” said Dr. Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. “A family that has a child with underlying health conditions may not feel as comfortable traveling as compared to a family who has children that do not currently have medical conditions.”

While the risk of developing serious illness and complications from COVID-19 is generally lower in children than in adults, it’s still a major concern for those with underlying health conditions.

“Early evidence suggests children with diabetes, obesity, lung diseases or who are immunosuppressed may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19,” said Dr. Diane Kantaros, an internist and chief quality officer at Nuvance Health. “We are also still learning if there are any potential long-term complications from having COVID-19, regardless of severity of illness.”

If your child has an underlying health condition, you may consider taking a more cautious approach to travel for now. Their risk level can affect the type of trip you plan, accommodations, timing and other variables.

“Read the updated CDC guidelines, and talk with your child’s pediatrician to discuss any concerns,” recommended Cheryl Nelson, a travel preparedness expert and founder of Prepare with Cher. “The pediatrician can address any underlying health conditions that your child may have and the risks associated with traveling with certain conditions.”

Research Your Destination’s COVID-19 Situation

“I would ask what exactly is going on with the virus at your destination,” Cherian advised. “You can view various locations on the CDC’s website to get an idea of the risk assessment level for COVID-19 at your destination. This is also an important step to learn any specific requirements or local regulations at your destination regarding quarantine or testing.”

You’ll want to avoid vacation spots with notably high COVID-19 case numbers and variant rates. This is especially true for places with limited health care infrastructure, which may become easily overwhelmed amid big outbreaks. Look with a critical eye.

“The case rates may look like they are declining, but that is because when you take the number of cases and divide by the population (vaccinated and unvaccinated), the numbers look good,” said Robin L. Dillon-Merrill, a professor of information management specializing in decision and risk analysis at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “However, if you take the number of cases and divide by only the unvaccinated population, the rates are as bad as ever. I would advise that the first thing you consider is how much virus is circulating in the community of the travel destination, and if it is still high, don’t travel there.”

Looking at the vaccination rates in your potential destinations can also be a helpful way to compare vacation spots.

“The more people who are vaccinated, the lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission,” Nelson noted.

How to Prepare for the End of a Mortgage Forbearance

For those with federally-backed mortgages, the CARES Act suspended potential foreclosure until May 2021, and created a path to extended mortgage forbearance for those who needed to divert their mortgage payments to other essentials.

According to a study from the New York Federal Reserve, by May 2020 approximately 7% of all mortgage accounts were in forbearance. American homeowners had jumped at the chance to push back their mortgage payments until they had a clearer picture of how COVID-19 was going to impact their finances.

Interestingly, that broad interest didn’t last. The New York Fed found that by June 2020 the trend was already reversing, with more consumers exiting a forbearance than entering one. As of March 2021, the forbearance rate was 4.2% of mortgage accounts. 

The concerning issue, however, is not the overall number of mortgages in forbearance – it’s that the homeowners currently in forbearance don’t seem well positioned to recover once their forbearance ends. Per that New York Fed study, the households taking advantage on the extended forbearance period are more likely to:

  • Be first-time homebuyers
  • Live in lower-income areas
  • Be one or more months past due on their mortgage payments

While overall forbearance numbers are down, the majority of those currently on a mortgage forbearance entered their forbearance on or before June 2020. In other words, there is a worryingly large population of homeowners who were struggling with new mortgages before the pandemic began, who’ve been on a forbearance since they were first available, and who will likely only come out of forbearance when their 18 months is up.

So what should these and other homeowners do to prepare for the end of their forbearance?

REFINE YOUR POST-FORBEARANCE BUDGET

Whether you’re making payments during your forbearance or not, it’s crucial that you understand what life is going to look like financially once your forbearance ends. Review your spending. Consider any other expenses that may be currently paused, but will need to be factored into your budget.

If you’ve got the income necessary to handle your full mortgage payment, then you’re all set. But if you’re coming up short you may need to consider taking additional steps to ensure that you don’t fall (further) behind.

PURSUE A REFINANCE

Depending on the status of your loan and your overall credit profile, you may be able to qualify for a mortgage refinance. Per the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), even if you’re currently in forbearance, you may be eligible for a refinance as long as you’ve made at least three consecutive monthly payments.

Of course, a refinance may extend the length of your repayment period and there are additional costs to consider, but if your goal is to stay in your house and your post-forbearance mortgage payments won’t allow that, then it may be the best path forward.

PREPARE TO SELL YOUR HOME

Home prices are skyrocketing at the moment. That’s bad for prospective homebuyers, but great for home sellers and may provide a potential solution if your post-forbearance outlook isn’t positive. 

What you don’t want is to be forced to sell your home after falling behind on your payments. If downsizing your home or becoming a renter (at least until prices begin to fall) is the best way to stabilize your budget, it’s better to be proactive.

WORK WITH A HOUSING SPECIALIST

If you’re concerned about your mortgage – no matter what your forbearance status might be – you should consider working with a HUD-certified housing counselor. MMI’s housing experts can help you review your options and get you started on the best path for you, your home, and your financial stability. 

If you’re not sure if your problems can be solved with better budgeting, or whether or not it makes sense to refinance or sell your home, a housing counselor can help. 

Paying the Price for Sun Damage

Pick your favorite cliché: Do as I say, not as I do; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; better safe than sorry; forewarned is forearmed.

Mea culpa. All the above relate to my failure to follow the well-established health advice about sun exposure that I’ve offered repeatedly to my readers: Routinely protect your skin from the cancer-causing and aging effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

For decades I’ve failed to practice what I preached (OK to wince) and am now paying for my negligence with unsightly splotches, bumps and bruises and at least one cancerous lesion on my sun-damaged skin. My litany of excuses has included: hats mess up my hair, long sleeves and pants are too hot in summer and exercising while coated with sunscreen is suffocating.

Annually vowing to do better, every summer I dutifully purchase the latest dermatology-recommended sunscreen that, alas, spends the summer unopened on a bathroom shelf. I hereby pledge to do better this yearalbeit late in the game.

A new report from a dermatology team at Kaiser Permanente health care centers in California has prompted me to reform. The team, headed by the epidemiologist Lisa Herrinton in Oakland, followed nearly half a million patients seen at the centers for up to 10 years. Half had already developed one or more actinic keratosis, a precancerous rough, scaly skin lesion caused by years of unprotected sun exposure.

As you might expect, these lesions most often form on the face, ears, back of the hands, forearms, scalp and neck and are — or should be — routinely removed when found by dermatologists to prevent progression to cancer. The lesions are markers of sun damage and can serve as an early warning system for people at risk of developing cancer somewhere on sun-exposed skin.

Pandemic Stress Supercharges Personal Growth

It’s no secret that the pandemic has battered our mental health. Fear of infection, grief for lost loved ones, social isolation, and financial insecurity have created the perfect conditions for a mental health crisis, and, worldwide, 15 to 25% of people have experienced depression, anxiety, insomnia, or even PTSD over the past year.

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, though, researchers have discovered a psychological benefit to these months of tension: the same people who have experienced high stress are also showing signs of significant personal growth.

A new study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders found that among people who reported high levels of COVID-related stress, 77% also experienced “one or more positive changes in their lives as a result of COVID-19.”

We tend to focus on the negative impacts of trauma, but suffering has the power to transform our lives for the better, too. Post-traumatic growth is the act of finding “silver linings” in a terrible experience and has been recorded in survivors of wars, natural disasters, and life-threatening illnesses.

Growth and gratitude

Participants in the study reported that they now have:

  • Higher regard for health care workers
  • Stronger awareness of the value of their own life
  • More affection for friends and family
  • Better appreciation for each day
  • Different priorities about what’s important in life
  • Greater feelings of self-reliance

Most of these changes are rooted in gratitude, and with good reason. When the people around us have lost jobs, loved ones, even their own lives, when we ourselves have suffered deep losses, it reminds us to appreciate what we have while we have it. Study after study has shown that feelings of gratitude like these are closely linked with overall well-being.

The last item on the list—greater feelings of self-reliance—might be more surprising, since so much of the pandemic, from viral transmission to lockdown measures, has been out of our hands as individuals. Still, the social isolation and uncertainty brought on by COVID have taught many of us that we are capable of fending for ourselves in times of adversity, a lesson that can bolster our confidence as we face future challenges.

Is this growth real or an illusion?

The study, though, raises a fundamental question: is this personal growth genuine, or is it all self-deception, an attempt to reassure ourselves that we’re weathering the storm of COVID better than we really are?

An assessment of their overall functioning indicated that 17% of the study’s participants were experiencing only the illusion of growth—they were telling themselves they were resilient when their mental health was actually deteriorating. For the other 60% of participants who reported growth, though, the positive changes they reported were very real, signs of healthy adaptation and adjustment.

10 Side Hustle Skills You Can Master This Summer on a Budget

Staying on top of new innovations and skills will help you become a better entrepreneur and a better person. This Memorial Day, you can set yourself up to learn a variety of new skills over the summer on a budget. The Entrepreneur Store has a wide array of courses covering myriad subjects on sale for unbeatable prices for the holiday weekend. You’ll want to act fast because these deals won’t last long.

1. Amazon FBA and Dropshipping

Want to start a side hustle? Dropshipping through Amazon FBA is one of the best ways to earn passive income. In this bundle, you’ll learn how to set up an online store, source inventory, and scale your store without ever having to put your hands on products.

2. Adobe Creative Cloud

Design is complicated, which is why it’s often expensive to hire freelance designers. Why not learn the skills you need to beautify your website and promotional materials yourself? This massive bundle covers the entire Adobe Creative Cloud, from Photoshop to XD, so you’ll develop a comprehensive design skill-set.

3. Project Management

Efficiency is everything in business, especially in lean times. Learning project management principles can help you keep projects on time and under-budget. In this bundle, you’ll explore several different project management methodologies, learn a variety of useful tools, and understand how to operate your business more efficiently.

4. Mobile App Development

Got a great app idea? Then it’s time to buckle down and build it! This nine-course bundle will guide you from ideation through to getting your app live in the App Store. You’ll learn how to build apps for both Android and iOS using tools like Java, React Native, Git, and more.

5. Full Stack Coding

The future is digital and learning to code will help you stay ahead of any and all innovation. This massive bundle includes 27 courses and more than 270 hours of training from the web’s top instructors. You’ll delve into web development, data science, software development, machine learning, and much more.

Happy Memorial Day from the PAF

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our veterans and remember those who have fallen in action.  Our community of NFL players, old and young, are proud to play a game that is watched all over the world by our veterans and servicemen and women.  Ultimately your service allows us to continue to play the game we all love, and we cannot thank you enough.

Happy Memorial Day!

Fewer Ultimatums, More Boundaries

“Give ‘em some tough love.” It’s an often-repeated saying in relationships, both with kids and adults. Let’s say your kid is acting out. It’s common, as a parent, to use a bit of tough love to teach your child a lesson — for example, warning them that you’ll take away that night’s screen time if they continue throwing peas at the dinner table. But similar strategies of course shouldn’t be used when dealing with other adults — including your spouse. 

This sounds obvious, but it’s important to understand why this doesn’t work in a marriage. For one thing, you’re not in charge of your spouse. (“Unlike with parenthood where there’s a hierarchy, marriage is a meeting of equals,” says marriage coach and relationship expert Lesli Doares.) For another, while the occasional ultimatum might motivate your child to stop an annoying or inappropriate behavior, it’s just not possible to force someone to do something. 

So what happens when shit hits the fan and you need your partner to change for the well-being of your marriage? Skylar Ibarra, a therapist with Lenarra Therapy in California, says “tough love” in a relationship comes down to setting clear and confident boundaries, not ultimatums. While the latter focus on getting someone else to change, the enforcement of healthy boundaries places the power squarely within. With a boundary, you’re essentially communicating how you feel about a behavior, why it won’t work for you, and then describing the natural consequence that will occur if the behavior continues. 

“The point is not to control your spouse, it is to control yourself and make better choices for yourself,” notes Kimberly Perlin, a psychotherapist in Towson, MD. “In changing your behavior you are inviting your partner to choose differently than the same old particular pattern.” 

For example, an ultimatum might sound like, “If you don’t start spending every weekend at home, I’m leaving you.” A boundary-setting statement would be closer to, “When you’re not at home, I feel unloved and uncared for. I need to feel loved and cared for in a relationship. If this is something you feel you can’t do or don’t want to work on, I’m going to prioritize my own needs, which will likely mean leaving.” 

“Instead of an argument, it’s a statement of fact,” says Ibarra. 

For many reasons, such points are difficult to make. But in case you need them, here are some therapist-backed tips for using tough love in a relationship, no ultimatums required. 

1. Set boundaries early on

Ultimatums, per Ibarra, tend to feel increasingly necessary the longer a person goes without setting boundaries. For example, if you notice your spouse drinking too much but don’t say anything, you’ll internalize frustration and blow up later on when it really matters –– like when it starts to affect their health or behavior in more negative ways. At that point, when the stakes are higher, ultimatum will feel like the only option.

To avoid the need to threaten or control your partner later on, be intentional about enforcing healthy boundaries now. Part of doing that is recognizing your own responsibility to self-advocate. 

“Once we understand our own responsibility to express our needs and to give fair feedback, we can also start holding ourselves to a better standard of behaviors we will accept from others,” Ibarra says.

2. Be clear and honest

The first step to boundary setting is describing your experience of your spouse’s behavior –– what you don’t like and how it’s affecting you. It may be tempting to water down your message to avoid hurting your partner, but Seattle-based psychologist Carly Claney, owner of Relational Psych, says it’s important not to adjust your message to be more digestible. Instead, express your needs and expectations clearly and honestly –– doing so will increase the likelihood your spouse will understand and take steps to change.

3. Be respectful

When your spouse is behaving in a disrespectful or hurtful way, it’s totally normal to be upset. But keep in mind starting an argument won’t help either of you. According to psychologist Mark Sharp, owner of Aiki Relationship Institute in Illinois, it’s important to communicate your needs respectfully. Raising your voice, calling names, or belittling your partner will just create more negativity and escalate your partner emotionally, which makes it more difficult for them to take in and process your message.

4. Use “I feel” statements

Everything You Need to Know about the Child Tax Credit Payments

The payments are an advance on the annual child tax credit, which – under normal circumstances – is factored into your annual tax return, and would be distributed as part of your tax return (if applicable). Instead, a portion of the tax credit will be delivered to eligible households throughout the course of the year, with the intention of helping families (and specifically children) who need the money right away. 

WHO’S ELIGIBLE FOR THE CHILD TAX CREDIT ADVANCE?

Similar to the coronavirus stimulus payments, eligibility is based primarily on your most recent reported annual income. You may still be eligible for some amount of the tax credit if your income is over the threshold, but not the full amount.

The income cut-offs are:

  • Individuals – up to $75,000
  • Single parent head of household – up to $112,500
  • Married couples filing jointly – up to $150,000

If you make less than the stated maximum for your filing status and you claimed an eligible child on your tax return, you should expect to receive your first payment on July 15.

It’s important to note that the credit is fully refundable. You don’t need to have earned income (or owe income tax) to qualify.

HOW MUCH WILL YOU GET FROM THE CHILD TAX CREDIT ADVANCE?

In addition to authorizing advanced payments on the credit, the American Rescue Plan of 2021 also increased the maximum tax credit amount per child. The tax credit is now $3,600 for children under 6, and $3,000 for children 6 and up. The credit amount was previously $2,000 per child.

The advance will be 50% of your total credit, spread out over 6 monthly payments. The remaining credit amount will be factored into your 2021 tax return. 

Your child’s age on December 31 is key. Children who turn 18 before the end of 2021 aren’t eligible. Similarly, children who turn 6 before the end of the year won’t be eligible for the higher credit amount.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO TO GET YOUR CHILD TAX CREDIT PAYMENT?

If you haven’t yet filed your 2020 tax return, be sure to do so as soon as possible. The IRS will use your 2020 return to calculate your credit amount. 

If you’ve already filed your taxes, you don’t need to do anything. The IRS will make payments by direct deposit, paper check, and debit card (you will very likely receive payment the same way you received your stimulus payment).

If you don’t want to receive this advance, the IRS will be providing a way to opt out of these payments. Be sure to check IRS.gov as we get closer to July 15.

People with healthy hearts may have better cognitive abilities

Now, a group of researchers claims to be the first to demonstrate with a large group of healthy people that individuals with healthier hearts have better cognitive performance. 

The authors, who are affiliated with the University of São Paulo in Brazil and several U.K. institutions — Queen Mary University of London, the University of Oxford, Imperial College London, and the University of Southampton — recently published their findings in the journal European Heart Journal Cardiovascular Imaging.

“Our findings are highly relevant in an ever-aging global population, with an ever-increasing burden of common chronic diseases, such as ischemic heart disease and dementia,” Dr. Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, an author of the study and British Heart Foundation Clinical Research Training Fellow at Queen Mary University of London, explained to Medical News Today

“Understanding links between these diseases enables us to optimize our assessment of older people and to potentially develop new therapies, which will target common mechanisms of aging.”

A fresh look

The researchers used data from 29,763 participants from the U.K. Biobank, a biomedical database containing in-depth genetic and health information from half a million participants. The average age of the participants was 63 years. Overall, the participants were healthier and wealthier than the national average in the U.K. 

For the study, the researchers assessed heart health by examining cardiac MRI scans of participants, while they assessed cognitive function with fluid intelligence tests. These cognitive tests measure an individual’s capacity to solve problems using logic and reasoning rather than previously learned knowledge. The researchers also tested reaction time.

The researchers found associations between better cognitive performance and measures that likely represent a healthier heart. These measures include larger ventricular cavity volumes, larger left ventricular and right ventricular stroke volumes, higher left ventricular mass, and greater aortic distensibility. 

Reduced cognitive function was associated with smaller ventricular volumes and lower left ventricular mass, together with smaller left ventricular and right ventricular stroke volumes and lower aortic compliance.

Participants with higher distensibility — less stiffness in the artery, which indicates better health — showed less rapid age-related decline in fluid intelligence.

The researchers observed associations between brain and heart health that remained significant even after adjustment for a range of cardiometabolic, lifestyle, and demographic factors.

Dr. Scott Kaiser, a geriatrician and director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, was not involved in the study. He told MNT that he frequently sees patients experiencing both heart disease and dementia.

“We know that there’s a close correlation between heart health and brain health. That is no surprise,” Dr. Kaiser said. “What was really cool about this study is that […] it just gave a little bit more of a robust picture. It was a large sample of biomarkers [that allowed the researchers] to really look at what was going on in terms of the heart health in a robust way, and then matched it with some pretty cool cognitive health markers. So it just kind of filled out the picture a little.”

The Link Between Insomnia and Mental Illness

Insomnia rates have continued to rise throughout the pandemic, contributing to increasing rates of depression and anxiety, as well as worsening symptoms of other severe mental illnesses. Defined as chronic sleep onset and/or sleep continuity problems associated with impaired daytime functioning, insomnia has a bidirectional relationship with mental health issues. 

Mental Illness and Insomnia: How Do They Interact?

The incidence of psychiatric illness in patients with insomnia is estimated to be near 50 percent. The highest comorbidity rates have been noted in mood disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder, as well as anxiety disorders. In patients with diagnosed major depressive disorder, as many as 90 percent struggle with insomnia. 

Insomnia has also been identified as a risk factor for the development of a mental illness. In a meta-analysis of patients with insomnia published in 2011, the authors concluded that persistent insomnia can more than double the risk of major depression. 

Another 2019 meta-analysis of more than 130,000 participants assessed the effects of baseline insomnia on the development of a psychiatric illness over a five-year period. Individuals with insomnia demonstrated a significantly higher risk of alcohol abuse and psychosis. Additionally, insomnia tripled the likelihood of being diagnosed with a depressive or anxiety disorder.

Sleep disturbances can also worsen symptoms of diagnosed mental illness, including substance abuse, mood, and psychotic disorders. Laskemoen and colleagues found that a startling 74 percent of participants with diagnoses of schizophrenia or bipolar spectrum had at least one type of sleep disturbance (insomnia, hypersomnia, or delayed sleep phase)—nearly twice the rates in healthy controls. Importantly, compared to those with mental illness not suffering from sleep disturbances, sleep-disordered participants had more severe negative and depressive symptoms on the positive and negative syndrome scale (PANSS), as well as significantly lower function as measured by global assessment of functioning (GAF).

How Can Insomnia Be Treated?

Although insomnia symptoms can resolve after relief from a particular life stressor, as many as 50 percent of patients with more severe symptoms will have a chronic course. Many of the sedative-hypnotics are designed for short-term use, though are frequently continued beyond the recommended time frame. In a survey reviewing the national use of prescription drugs for insomnia, as many as 20 percent of individuals use a medication to target insomnia in a given month. 

The benefits of cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) have been demonstrated repeatedly, and it is recommended as the first-line treatment for insomnia by the Clinical Guidelines of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Center for Disease Control , and the National Institute of Health . Studies suggest benefits persist long-term, even after completing the therapy sessions have ended.

Rebuild, reskill and renew

With many businesses still recovering from the economic damage caused by the Covid-19 crisis, employers have to find innovative ways to maximise the potential of their staff. In many industries the priorities of entire workforces have totally shifted in the last 12 months, resulting in employees having to adopt new and refined roles.

It is critical that your managers become ‘adaptive change champions’. 

Here, we’ll discuss how businesses can present their employees with a vision for success, encouraging them to embrace and react positively to change.

The success formula

In order for employers to motivate their staff to adopt new roles they must first overcome two psychological factors that cause people to resist reskilling and taking on new roles:

  1. Humans are creatures of habit, so we all feel uneasy whenever asked to act outside our normal comfort zones
  2. We don’t like change because it creates uncertainty, and uncertainty is a demotivator

These two factors combine to act as a ‘psychological brake’ on people’s willingness to take on new roles, so managers need a way of taking off the brakes. Managers should learn, teach and talk about ‘the five-part success formula’, and its evil twin, ‘the failure formula’. As the names suggest, the success formula leads people to succeed, and the failure formula causes people to fail, and each person gets to choose which formula to live by.

The success formula can be summarised in five words: purpose, plan, action, setback, change:

  1. Purposes are the goals we want to achieve
  2. Plans are how we intend to achieve our goals
  3. Actions are the daily implementation of our plans
  4. Setbacks are the inevitable things that go wrong and that mess-up our original plans
  5. Changes are the adaptations, adjustments, modifications and updates that we must make to our original plans and actions in order to achieve our purpose and to prosper

We must understand that setbacks and change are inherent in the system and cannot be ignored.

The failure formula is the exact opposite of the success formula:

  1. No purpose = drifter mentality
  2. No plans = dithering and the repetition of obsolete methods
  3. No action = inaction, apathy, delay
  4. Ignore setbacks = evasion, willful blindness, head in the sand
  5. No change = stubbornness, refusal to adapt, modify, evolve, respond or retrain

Mental Health Awareness Week with Andre

Andre Collins, PAF Executive Director

The following interview was originally posted in Premiere Sports Network. Check it out here.

How have the lockdowns in the US impacted your mental health?

Generally speaking, it has been tough at times. Early in the lockdown, things were fun, a chance to take a real break from the regular routine…but as time wore on I started to question purpose and productivity. I started to notice myself more, and that wasn’t always good. Looking a little fat and tired…

What have you been able to do to support your own mental health?

Exercise has sustained me. Walking. Jogging. Yoga. Weights. Also heavy doses of Netflix to escape reality.

What changes have you had to make to your lifestyle since the onset of COVID, that has taken away from your regular day-to-day?

Exercising at home, but that has been a good change. My wife has gone back to work so staying home with kids and managing the home during the day is new for me.

How have you been able to support the mental health of those associated with the NFLPA?

We’ve really tried to emphasise being aware of mood. We’ve hosted webinars where players can come on and share and chat with each other; sometimes without much of an agenda. We’ve also offered free virtual counselling sessions for all players active and former. The counselling program has been very busy. We also have a 24 hour ‘get help’ hotline for players.

What difference can the NFL make to people’s mental health, whether fans or the players involved?

I think using our players’ celebrity to communicate “that it’s ok to not always feel ok or normal…and to pay attention to your mood changes.” If American footballers can seek help then it’s ok for you to seek help too. We’ve been very active on all of our social media channels.

Is there more that the NFL can do to support mental health?

We can always do more. But I am pleased with our progress. We must continue to engage the social media influencers to help us solidify our messaging with our young audience and future fans

Seven Ways to Improve Your Chances of Buying Your Dream Home

Dreaming about your ideal home is all well and good, but once you find the perfect home, will you be able to get a mortgage for your forever home? If you ever want to make your homeownership dreams a reality there are a few actual, proactive steps you should be taking to make yourself the kind of borrower lenders dream of working with.

USE CREDIT AND USE IT CORRECTLY

First, let’s establish two crucial facts. One, lenders hate risk. And two, mortgages – by the simple nature of their size – are risky.

Lenders are looking for low risk applicants. They’ll almost certainly dive into your financial history and employment status to get an accurate picture of how reliable you may be, but that deep dive usually begins (and sometimes ends) with your credit report and score.

Having a low credit score will often disqualify you immediately from many types of loans (and certainly from most loans with favorable terms). If you’re interested in buying a home someday – even if that day is years in the future – start using credit wisely today. The only way to build a strong credit history is by using credit. You don’t have to carry a balance and you don’t have to go into debt. You simply need to have a few open credit accounts that you use regularly and repay immediately.

KEEP ALL YOUR ACCOUNTS IN GOOD STANDING

Lenders want to feel confident that you can be relied upon to pay them back as promised. There are a lot of factors they’ll consider on that front, but perhaps the most critical bit of evidence is whether or not you’ve been reliable in the past. That extends to all financial obligations. Have you made your required payments, on time and in full?

Minor slip-ups happen, so one mistake doesn’t mean you’ll never get that dream house. But the more thoroughly you can demonstrate that you take your obligations seriously and follow through on your commitments, the more comfortable lenders will feel giving you a mortgage without astronomical fees and sky high interest rates.

REDUCE OR ELIMINATE YOUR OTHER DEBT OBLIGATIONS

Repaying your debts (and not creating new ones in their place) serves two purposes. It usually helps build your credit score, and it will reduce your debt-to-income ratio. We’ve already discussed why having a higher credit score can help you, so here’s what you need to know about your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio:

Debt-to-income ratio captures the percentage of your monthly income that’s eaten up by debt repayment. If you have a lot of debts and they take up a high proportion of your income, that makes you risky to potential lenders. When debts already consume so much of your paycheck, it becomes more and more likely that you’ll eventually falter and struggle to repay all those debts.

Many lenders may even have pre-established cutoffs, where if your DTI goes above a certain percentage (over 40 percent is usually a red flag for most lenders), your application will be automatically denied. That’s why it’s a good idea to focus heavily on debt repayment before getting ready to purchase a new home.

BE FINANCIALLY CONSISTENT

Financial fluctuation is not your friend – at least not when you’re trying to buy a home. Lenders prefer applicants that make a consistent income, with consistent expenses, living a consistent financial lifestyle. That kind of consistency (preferably over a stretch of two or more years) make it easier for lenders to forecast your ability to repay.

If you’re self-employed and find that money tends to come and go, buying a home is not impossible. It just means you need to do your best to strengthen the other six areas discussed in this article.

STAY IN YOUR JOB

As an offshoot of financial consistency, it helps quite a bit to be stable in your employment. The longer you’ve been in your current job, the better (from an underwriting perspective).

Of course, the job market isn’t quite what it once was (Americans now stay in a job for an average of less than five years – and even that is continually shrinking), and it’s relatively rare for anyone to stick with a job from day one to retirement. So don’t fret and worry that you need to stay in a less than ideal job situation for the sake of your dream house. Just keep in mind that if you just started a new job, you may want to wait at least six months (if not the recommended two years) before applying for a mortgage.

BRING CASH – LOADS OF IT

Having cash up front is a great way to reduce a lender’s risk and earn more favorable terms for yourself. How much do you need? Well, as much as you can reasonably afford.

Having a large down payment can help you on two fronts. First, if you have at least 20 percent of the loan’s value to put down up front, you can avoid having to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI). Lenders require PMI (on top of your regular homeowners’ insurance) in instances where the borrower has less than 20 percent equity in their home. As with most things “loan,” this is done to help mitigate the lender’s risk.

Secondly, a borrower with plenty of cash on hand is just generally more appealing for a lender. The more equity you can start with, the less risk there is for the lender. Of course, you don’t want to invest more up front than you can reasonably afford, and you definitely don’t want to sink all of your available savings into your home. You can’t easily access that equity if there’s ever an emergency, so make sure you’ve got an adequate emergency savings built up and close at hand.

STAY MODEST

I know we’re talking about “dream homes” here, but you can do yourself a big favor by keeping your dreams at least somewhat restrained. Ultimately, when a lender is considering whether or not to extend you a mortgage, they’re asking themselves, “Will this person be able to repay the debt on time, in full, and as agreed upon?” The bigger, grander, and more expensive the house, the more likely it becomes that you may one day struggle to make your payments. 

So while it’s okay to dream, try to dream in moderation. If you look at the costs of your dream home, grit your teeth, and say, “I think we can make this work,” it might be in your best interest to keep looking until you find something a little less expensive.

4 Ways to Manage Your Energy More Effectively

Almost anyone can muster enough gumption for a short burst of high-energy effort. Maybe it’s making a shining impression your first few weeks on a job, hitting the gym with fervor at the start of January, or spending a weekend on a remodeling project exhibiting all the peppiness of an HGTV star.

But what about after that initial burst? Do you still feel the same a few months or even a year into your new job, goal, or project? Have you abandoned your ambitions? Do you continue to push on while fighting signs of fatigue or burnout? Or do you wildly vacillate between hyper productivity and getting nothing done?

The key to success at work and in life isn’t really starting strong, it’s staying strong. And one of the keys to having that staying power is the idea of self-regulation. This entails operating within lower and upper boundaries of activity by predetermining the minimum and maximum amount of action you will take toward a specific goal within a certain span of time (such as a day or a week). This keeps you from getting derailed because you dropped off or lost interest, or overdoing it and finding yourself too exhausted to continue.

As a time management coach, I’ve seen that there are four steps to creating this staying power. When you follow these steps, you’ll be surprised to find that you’ll accomplish more of your goals with less effort — and give yourself drive that lasts.

Set upper and lower boundaries 

The idea of goal setting is popular, especially at the start of the year. But not many individuals take the time to write out the steps that they will take to achieve their goals. And in my estimation, many fewer take the time to define their daily upper and lower boundaries for each of their goals.

In Greg McKeown’s book Effortless, he suggests the idea of making concrete boundaries for both how little and how much you will do in a given day on your important priorities — for instance, for hitting sales numbers, you may determine to never make fewer than five sales calls in a day and never more than 10 sales calls in a day.

You can extend this into any project or goal that you want to accomplish. For example, if you want to author a book, you might decide to write no less than 30 minutes per day and no more than three hours per day to avoid burning out. Or for exercise, you may decide to work out no less than three times per week and no more than five times per week, so you get a sufficient workout in  and also have time for your other priorities like spending time with your family or personal tasks.

These boundaries give you some wiggle room but also give you the ability to stay on track over time. When you’re setting your own upper and lower limits, think through what’s the least you could do in a particular area to feel like you are keeping up your momentum. The goal on the low end is to not feel like you “stopped” and need to exert extra effort to break the inertia and restart again. And when you’re defining your upper limits, think about where you need to limit yourself so that your investment in this particular area doesn’t take so much of your time that other areas of your life suffer.

Understand your tendency 

When facing a goal, do you tend to get into a high-drive gear and try to remain there 24/7? Do you operate at a low-drive level most of the time, often having to scurry to the finish line at the last minute? Do you find yourself vacillating between extremes where one day you compulsively work until the wee hours of the night, and the next day you crash and do next to nothing?

Depending on your tendency, you can proceed in one of the following three ways:

  • For those in the first, “high drive” category, you’ll need to give yourself permission to be human, to rest, and to have real downtime. Keep a close eye on whether you’re going over your upper boundary of activity and headed for burnout.
  • For those in the second, “low drive” category, keep a close eye on whether or not you’re staying above your lower bound. You want to ensure that you’re doing at least the minimum before chilling out (as tempting as that may seem).
  • For those in the third, “fluctuating drive” category, you’ll need to keep an eye on both bounds. Avoiding going over your upper bound should prevent you from falling below your lower bound the next day.

As McKeown wisely writes in his book, “Do not do more today than you can completely recover from by tomorrow.”

Build in rest and recovery

As humans, we’re designed for cycles of activity and rest. That’s why we sleep at night, why weekends are an essential part of a productive workweek, and why even elite athletes can’t work out every waking hour.

If you’re a high-drive individual, you’ll need to remain especially conscious about giving yourself planned times of rest and recovery. Since I fall toward this tendency, I make sure that my personal time isn’t as jam packed as my work time. For me, that means viewing my nonwork time not only as time to complete personal tasks, but also as time for rest. For instance, two mornings a week I don’t do my normal 5:15 am wakeup for swimming. Instead, I give myself time to contemplate life, read interesting articles, or simply sleep in. I also consciously take time on the weekends and evenings to connect with people without a time limit — just going with the flow and allowing things to take as long as they take.

If you operate at a low-drive level, make sure you’ve at least hit your lower boundary of activity before taking a break. That means that you can still take ample breaks, but only after you’ve made progress on a goal.

And if your drive fluctuates, you’ll need to remember to have rest and recovery on the days when you feel on top of the world and like you can work 24/7, so that you don’t crash the next day. That could include the basics like taking time to eat, moving from your chair by stretching or walking, and not staying up crazy late — no matter how energized you feel. Force yourself to stop when it’s a reasonable time for you to go to bed, so that you can begin again fresh the next day.

The Importance of Mental Health Awareness Month

Did you know that Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in the month of May since 1949? It was originally designated as such by the national advocacy organization Mental Health America. Annually during the month of May, organizations, groups, and individuals run campaigns that are designed to raise awareness and educate the public about mental health conditions.

Here’s what you should know about the importance of Mental Health Awareness Month and how you can get involved.

Why do we need Mental Health Awareness Month?

People consistently rank health as one of the most important things in life. Sadly, however, optimal mental health is often not included. Mental health is many times the proverbial “elephant in the room”—we know that it is there, but it makes us uncomfortable to address it. 

Stigma, misinformation, and disinformation all create substantial barriers in raising mental health awareness. We believe that stigma associated with mental illness is the most problematic of these. Stigma is defined as a mark of shame or discredit. In our book, Understanding Mental Illness , we discuss the stigma of mental illness and how it impacts those living with mental health conditions. Stigma is a label placed upon people to set them apart, to make them feel ashamed, disgraced, or embarrassed about who they are, often because of factors beyond their control.

What are the consequences of the stigma around mental illness?

Because of this stigma, people are more likely to discuss physical health conditions rather than mental health conditions with others. Similarly, they are also more assertive in seeking care for physical ailments than they are for mental health disorders. Surveys show that the average time between the onset of mental health symptoms and the decision to seek care for mental health conditions can be a year or more. Making a difference in the lives of people suffering from mental illness becomes quite difficult when such a delay exists between symptoms and interventions. As with physical health conditions, early diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions lead to better outcomes. 

How do we as a society move forward? 

Despite the barriers that exist, all hope is not lost. Increasingly, key stakeholders are having impactful conversations on ways to improve the mental health of Americans. Campaigns such as Mental Health Awareness month are playing a great role in important mental health issues such as awareness and access.

Packed on the Pandemic Pounds?

And according to a JAMA study, adults in lockdown gained more than half a pound every 10 days, which is about two pounds a month.

But now, with the light at the end of the tunnel, summer on the way, and pants with actual waistbands making a reappearance, you may be ready to take control of the bad habits that cropped up over quarantine.

While experts have different theories about the best way to lose weight, celebrity nutritionist Haylie Pomroy believes it’s all about keeping your metabolism fired up. Here are her tips.

Give yourself grace

The stress and fear of the past year — worry about the virus, remote learning, job loss, ill loved ones — made it hard to stay fit. “We had hormonal shifts in our bodies that we didn’t have control over,” Pomroy tells PEOPLE. “Stress and fear create a spike in hormones that slow your metabolism.” Add to that disrupted routines, closed gyms, less movement and more takeout, and it’s no wonder people gained weight.

But don’t feel bad about it. “Guilt and shame are fattening,” says Pomroy, adding that our bodies did what they were supposed to do. “Let everything go that was in the past — start fresh from today.”

Eat breakfast

Pomroy’s approach is to eat within 30 minutes of waking up. The author of the bestselling The Fast Metabolism Diet says a good meal includes 10 to 15 grams of protein, a vegetable, a whole fruit and some sort of healthy fat such as organic eggs, coconut, avocado or a tablespoon of olive oil over a sweet potato. “You want to turn on your digestion and support proper blood-sugar based hormones.”

9 Early Warning Signs of Potential Emotional Abuse

The risk of falling into an abusive relationship has increased now that so many relationships are initiated online. It’s always been difficult to discern in dating which habits and attitudes will emerge when living together; developing feelings for someone online, before ever meeting them in person, makes it much harder.

In the early stages of dating, abusers are able to mask the obvious red flags of angry, controlling, possessive, jealous, or violent behavior. Here are some very early warning signs of potential abuse that are harder to hide.

1. A Blamer

Avoid anyone who blames negative feelings and bad luck on someone else. For example, if your potential partner says something like, “You’re so smart, sensitive, and together, you won’t believe the trouble that self-centered, greedy, person I used to date caused me,” you can bet that sooner or later blame will fall on you. Blamers forego the natural motivation of negative emotions to improve. Instead, they opt for temporary feelings of moral superiority to those they blame.

2. Resentment

Resentful people are so locked into their own perspectives that they become insensitive to the rights and perspectives of the people closest to them.

3. Entitlement

After the glow of infatuation wears off, people who believe they deserve special treatment and special consideration will regard their feelings and desires as more important than yours. If you acquiesce, you may get depressed. If you disagree, you may get abused.

4. Superiority

Once they get close, people who act superior to others begin to put down their partners to feel a little better about themselves.

5. Pettiness

A potential partner who makes a big deal out of nothing probably means that in a close relationship you will be criticized for the smallest of things, real or imagined.

6. Sarcasm

Sarcastic people try to sound smart or witty with at least a subtle put-down in their voice. They tend to be oblivious to the effects of their behavior on others or dismissive of the hurt feelings of others as a function of their “poor sense of humor” or “over-sensitivity.” In dating, the sarcasm may be directed at others; in a relationship, it may center on you.

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.

How Parents Should Prepare for Children’s COVID-19 Vaccine

Currently the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for kids age 12 and up is likely to be authorized for kids age 12 and up by mid-May with possible approval for children 2 to 11-years-old by September. But children are in a unique position when it comes to the COVID vaccine. For instance, kids will lean on parents to communicate the reasons for the vaccine in ways that are clear, age-appropriate, and concise. But even more than that, parents are responsible for logistics like scheduling and transportation to vaccination locations. And make no mistakes, those logistics require some forethought. 

Why You Should Make a Children’s Vaccination Plan Now

Unlike adults, children require special consideration when getting vaccines, explains Dr. Kenneth Alexander, chief of infectious diseases at Nemours Children’s Hospital. “The thing that parents have to keep in mind is that the FDA is asking that COVID vaccines be given two weeks before any vaccine and two weeks after,” he says. 

Those guidelines present a potential for serious disruptions in a child’s standard vaccine schedule. So if your child has vaccines coming up in the fall, as required for school for instance,  Dr. Alexander has one piece of advice: “Go while the going is good.”

Where Will Children Get the Vaccination

Most children receive vaccines from their pediatrician. But logistics will likely require kids to be vaccinated outside of doctors offices. 

“The FDA asks that we observe people for 15 minutes after you get vaccinated,” Dr. Alexander says. “If you’re a pediatrician trying to run people through a family office, it’s going to gum up the works. I expect most vaccines for young people will be mass vaccination scenarios.” 

Importantly, the United States has no centralized medical authority to standardize vaccine administration across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can offer guidance regarding the administration of the COVID vaccine and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates vaccine safety, but distribution is solely up to state health departments. That means distribution of a vaccine to children will look different from state to state.

That said, Dr. Alexander assumes the most likely scenario is that many children will receive their vaccine in school — following the examples of the polio vaccine in the 1940s and the measles vaccine in the 1960s. But some states may administer vaccinations at already working sites. Pharmacies, for instance, may vaccinate children as young as four, but it won’t look unlike what parents are used to in the doctor’s office. 

Helping Your Child Understand the Vaccination

Children can be hesitant to get a vaccine in the best of times. But a children’s COVID vaccine is one shot that can help them feel like they’ve made a difference. It just requires some civic pride. 

“It’s the perfect time to have that dialogue with your kids,” says Dr. Alexander. “Their motives are no different from ours. First thing is that you want to protect yourself. You want to be healthy. Then you want to protect the people that make up your world.”

Because while it’s true that most kids don’t get particularly ill from Covid-19, they are capable of transmitting the virus to others. So getting the shot is not only helping themselves get back to normal, it’s protecting their community. 

“This is a way of talking to kids about thinking outside of themselves,” explains Dr. Alexander. “If I got COVID and I gave it to you and you gave it to your mother or grandmother, I’m affecting someone I’ve never met.”

Managing Parental Anxiety About Children’s COVID Vaccinations

Even parents who believe in the efficacy and importance of childhood vaccinations might balk at the prospect of giving their child a vaccine approved for emergency use. But Dr. Alexander assures parents that by the time the vaccines are ready for children’s arms, there have been tens of thousands who have already tested the vaccine for safety. 

Sleep well — and reduce your risk of dementia and death

n a recent blog post I discussed how beneficial sleep is for memory function. But sleep isn’t just good for your memory; it can actually reduce your risk of dementia — and death. Although it has been known for some time that individuals with dementia frequently have poor, fragmented sleep, two new studies suggest that if you don’t get enough sleep, you are at increased risk for dementia.

Sleep six to eight hours each night

In the first study, researchers at Harvard Medical School studied more than 2,800 individuals ages 65 and older participating in the National Health and Aging Trends Study to examine the relationship between their self-report of sleep characteristics in 2013 or 2014, and their development of dementia and/or death five years later. Researchers found that individuals who slept fewer than five hours per night were twice as likely to develop dementia, and twice as likely to die, compared to those who slept six to eight hours per night. This study controlled for demographic characteristics including age, marital status, race, education, health conditions, and body weight.

In the second study, researchers in Europe (including France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Finland) examined data from almost 8,000 participants from a different study and found that consistently sleeping six hours or less at age 50, 60, and 70 was associated with a 30% increase in dementia risk compared to a normal sleep duration of seven hours. The mean age of dementia diagnosis was 77 years. This study controlled for sociodemographic, behavioral, cardiometabolic, and mental health factors, although most participants were white, better educated, and healthier than the general population. In addition, approximately half of the participants had their sleep duration measured objectively using a wearable accelerometer — a device that tracked their sleep using body movements — which confirmed the questionnaire data.

Inadequate sleep in midlife may lead to dementia

What’s new here is that inadequate sleep in midlife raises one’s risk of dementia. There are many reasons for poor sleep in middle age: shift work, insomnia, caretaking responsibilities, anxiety, and pressing deadlines, just to name a few. Although not all of these are controllable, some are. For example, if you’re currently only sleeping four to five hours because you’re up late working every night, you might want to change your habits, otherwise you risk developing dementia by the time you retire!

This relationship between sleep in midlife and dementia in late life is important not only from a clinical perspective, but also from a scientific one. It had always been a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem when trying to interpret the relationship between poor sleep and dementia. Was it really poor sleep that caused dementia, or just early dementia symptoms causing poor sleep? By looking at individuals who were initially studied in midlife — some as young as age 50 — we now have greater certainty that poor sleep can increase one’s risk of developing dementia 25 years or more in the future.

Flush your brain while you sleep

Although it is not totally understood why inadequate sleep increases your dementia risk, one possible reason relates to the deposition of the Alzheimer’s protein, beta amyloid. Beta amyloid is the protein that clusters and clumps together to form Alzheimer’s plaques. No one is completely certain what its normal function is, although there is increasing evidence it is involved in the brain’s defense against invading microorganisms.

During the day, we all make some of this beta amyloid protein in the brain. When we sleep, however, brain cells and their connections actually shrink. This shrinking allows more space between the brain cells, so that beta amyloid and other substances that accumulate during the day can be flushed away.

Will student loan forgiveness ever happen? What we know so far

President Joe Biden has said he supports canceling $10,000 in student loans per borrower.

Facing pressure from other Democrats, progressives and borrowers, Biden has now also asked his Education secretary to prepare a memo on his legal authority to wipe out as much as $50,000 each for all.

“I think the odds of some student loan forgiveness being enacted is as good as it has ever been,” said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.

Still, nothing is certain, and many borrowers have a lot of questions while they wait to learn the fate of their debt, which can impact everything from when and if they’re able to buy a home to the careers they pursue.

Here are some answers, based on what we know at the moment.

When could forgiveness happen?

If Biden chooses to cancel the debt through executive action, in theory borrowers could see their balances reduced or eliminated pretty quickly. But such a move may be met by court challenges, which could lead to delays.

A clearer picture may soon emerge.

“If Biden decides he can do it via executive order, I expect we’ll hear about it by June or July,” said Betsy Mayotte, president of The Institute of Student Loan Advisors.

If the White House opts to leave student loan forgiveness to Congress, Democrats would likely use the budget reconciliation process to get it done.

That’s because that process allows them to pass legislation with a simple majority, which is all they have. Other bills typically must garner 60 votes to advance, thanks to Senate procedural rules. Republicans are largely hostile toward the idea of a student debt jubilee.

The next budget reconciliation process will likely be in the fall.

Can I count on my student loans being forgiven?

Although the odds of student loan borrowers getting their balances reduced or eliminated have never been greater, “until legislation is signed into law, you can’t count on anything,” Kantrowitz said.

Currently, there are pending reports from the U.S. Department of Education and the Justice Department on whether the president has the legal authority to implement loan forgiveness through executive action, Kantrowitz said. It’s still unclear when the findings will be published.

In the meantime, he added, “borrowers should not take any precipitous action in anticipation of loan forgiveness.”

How much could be forgiven?

At the moment, the main point of contention among student loan forgiveness proponents is over how much debt should be scrapped: $10,000 or $50,000.

If all federal student loan borrowers got $10,000 of their debt forgiven, the outstanding education debt in the country would fall to around $1.3 trillion, from $1.7 trillion, according to Kantrowitz. And roughly one-third of federal student loan borrowers, or 15 million people, would see their balances reset to zero.

How (And Why) to Say No

Saying no is a skill that most of us struggle with. It is very common for many people in therapy to trace some of their anxiety, stress, and overwork to difficulties, or an utter inability to say no. People over-commit to a range of things and often feel like they have to say yes to every opportunity that might come their way. However, every new choice comes with an opportunity cost (i.e., the loss of capacity to invest in other options). As an example, when I made the decision to sit down and write this post, I gave up the opportunity to instead complete a yoga session, go for a walk, see a client, read, sleep. Every choice we make comes with a financial, time, and energetic cost and we forget this to our detriment.

People often struggle to say no because of a multitude of reasons, including socialisation (“you can’t say no to people”, “you must not be selfish”), expectations from friends and family, the fear of missing out, and structural commitments (having to keep up with diverse roles, such as work and childcare). Sometimes we need to say no to other people, but sometimes we need to be able to say no to ourselves first.

My clients often express a range of worries when they consider saying no to something. Some common worries include:

  • Not knowing when to say no or what to say no to
  • Being unsure how to politely say no
  • Being worried about how the no will be received (worrying that people will become upset or angry when they receive a no)

With the latter, I encourage people to remember that a good boundary to hold is knowing that we cannot control someone’s reaction to something – the only control we have is in carefully assessing a no, and in offering it respectfully and politely. Allowing other people to experience and process their feelings without making it your responsibility, is a key competency when thinking of saying no to something. It might be helpful to remember that most reasonable people will respond well to an occasional no, and if someone is unreasonable then it is even more reason to erect firmer boundaries and say no more often.

In general, when trying to work out when to say no, I encourage people to ask themselves a number of questions to assess opportunity costs. These questions are:

  • Do I have the time, energy, and money for this at the moment?
  • Do I want to do this?
  • Will this add value to my life?
  • Is this aligned with my values?
  • Am I saying yes, only because I am scared of saying no?

If the answer to any of these questions indicates that a no might be in order, then it is important to know how to say no. The main things to consider when saying no are the context of the relationship (how close is the relationship?), the request being made or opportunity being offered, and what we want to say no to (we might want to say no to part of the request but allow another part). 

Some people find it easier to say no to people close to them because they know what response they might receive and some people might hold the belief that being in a close relationship means being self-sacrificial and always being there to support someone else. In general, the closer the relationship, the more likely it is that we will want to be there for someone, but this does not mean that we never say no. It is probably even more essential to have good boundaries with the people closest to us, so we can maintain healthy and long-lasting relationships. Some simple, but relationship-maintaining ways of saying no are:

Thank you, but that is not for me/Thank you, but no.

Simple, easy to understand, and makes it about you, not the other person. It is also perfectly okay to say no without explaining why.

That’s a lovely offer, but I have over-committed and can’t fit that in at the moment. Can we try that next month?

A good one to use when you want to do something, but don’t have the time, energy, or money for it. 
Another way to say this might be, “I don’t mean to offend, but my bucket is full and I cannot take that on right now.” 

I don’t have the capacity to do X at the moment, but could do Y?

A good one to use when you feel like you can say yes to part of a request or can offer a compromise (“I can’t man the bake stall, but can drop off a cake.”)

Sorry, I have something else on.

It is important to use this one carefully only when it is true, not as an easy social white lie to avoid saying no.

“How Do I Start Therapy?”

Stepping into therapy can be a life-changing experience and the start of a journey that can take us through unexpected discoveries and insights. An unavoidable part of this is building a trusting relationship with a complete stranger: our therapist.

We will be revealing the deepest parts of ourselves, perhaps stories we might never have talked with anyone about before. It’s both exciting and daunting, and we want to make sure we create the best possibilities for an encouraging beginning to this journey of self-discovery. But where do we start?

Preparing for our journey

It is worth putting in a little effort to ensure we get the absolute best from our investment of emotions, time, and money. There are some very simple and practical preparations we can do to create a good foundation for our therapeutic journey.

Preparing will also build our confidence when we finally contact our chosen therapist. Plus, it will make us more comfortable engaging with therapy right from the beginning.

Which type of therapy is best for me and my issues?

Finding the right therapy for us and our issues can seem overwhelming: with so many different types of therapies available, how can we know which is the best for us?

We could say that any therapy is better than none, though to have the best chance of success it is worth considering our own requirements, rather than looking for a specific type of therapy. Here are some questions that might help:

  • Who is looking for therapy: is it us individually, or us and our partner, or us and a family member?

Some therapists specialize in working with individuals, these could be counsellors or psychotherapists. Others might have specialized in working with relationships such as couple’s counsellors or psychosexual and relationship therapists, or a family therapists.

Deciding who is seeking therapy will help us narrow down our search.

  • How do we prefer to work?

Some therapies are based on creating changes through giving homework and consciously changing thoughts and behaviors. Others are based mainly on making changes by talking, thinking, and reflecting on our thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and preoccupations. If we like a bit of both, then there is that option too.

Consider this: If we dislike homework and know that we are unlikely to carry out the required tasks between sessions, it is unlikely we will gain much from this type of therapy.

On the other hand, if we prefer homework, we might get frustrated by a therapy that is focused on talking and contemplating.

If we know what works best for us, we are more likely to find success in therapy. We can talk with the therapist during our initial conversation to clarify if their method suits our preferred way of working.

  • What is the main issue we are looking for help with?

Being able to name the issues we bring to therapy can make us feel a little more confident when we first contact a therapist and during our first session. Something as simple as asking ourselves why we feel in need of therapy can clarify if for example we feel overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or scared.

These are not the only reasons to seek therapy and remember: no issue is too small or too big for therapy. Knowing a little about what we are seeking help with, will make our first conversation with a therapist easier.

Finding a therapist

It is always best to seek a therapist who is qualified, and who is accredited or licensed, and registered with one of many associations especially established for therapists.

We can try searching for ‘therapists associations’ online, which should give us a couple of choices close to where we live. If we are looking for a relationship or family therapist, we can add that description to our search, so we get results for the appropriate associations.

How to Ease Back into Exercise Safely After a Long Break

f you took a long break from exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. 

The stress and uncertainty of the past year, along with the closure of many gyms and need for physical distancing, have thrown off many people’s workout routines. 

Getting sick from COVID-19, a debilitating disease with weeks or sometimes months of symptoms, has also greatly limited the ability to engage in physical activity for many people.

As vaccines continue to roll out throughout the United States and restrictions begin to ease, it’s natural that many people are eager to get active again. 

However, there are some things people should be mindful of while restarting their fitness routines to avoid injury and get the most out of returning to exercise.

Manage your expectations 

People who have taken a long break from exercise are likely to find that they may not be able to do the things they once could. 

Whether this is running a 5K or holding a yoga pose, experts say not being able to perform at the same level is to be expected.

Still, this may be difficult for some to accept. 

Keep Brainstorming—Your Best Ideas Are Still to Come

Most people assume that lightbulb moment will arrive right away, when you’re feeling freshest. But according to new research, we’ve got it wrong. 

Across several studies, Loran Nordgren, a professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, and Kellogg PhD alumnus Brian Lucas, now of Cornell University, discovered a widespread, persistent, and mistaken belief that creativity drops off with time. They dub this the “creative-cliff illusion.” 

What’s more, they found, the illusion is self-defeating. The more people believe in it, the fewer creative ideas they generate. But with experience comes wisdom, Nordgren and Lucas learned: people who do lots of creative work do not fall victim as often to the myth of declining creativity. 

“People think their best ideas are coming fast and early,” Nordgren says. In fact, “you’re either not seeing any drop-off in quality, or your ideas get better.” By giving up too soon, we risk leaving our best ideas on the table. 

Nordgren believes bringing attention to the problem can help people unlock new ways of thinking. “People don’t maximize their creative potential, and part of that is because of these beliefs,” he says. 

Creativity Increases as You Brainstorm

Nordgren and Lucas began by recruiting a group of 165 online participants, all of whom had previously worked at charitable organizations, to complete a five-minute brainstorming task. Before they got started, participants were asked to predict their creativity during each minute of the task.

Next, participants set to work generating ideas for how a charity could increase donations. As motivation to keep the juices flowing, the researchers told participants they would be entered in a lottery to win $50 for each idea they came up with. 

Then, Nordgren and Lucas recruited a new group of online participants to rate the creativity of the ideas the first set of participants had generated.

Participants in the brainstorming task gave faulty predictions about their own creativity, the researchers’ analysis revealed. While people thought they would become less creative as the session went on, the opposite was true: their creativity—as rated by the second group of participants—actually increased. 

Confusing Productivity with Creativity 

Why do people so uniformly believe their creativity will decline the longer they tussle with a problem? 

Nordgren and Lucas suspected people confuse creativity with the ease of generating ideas. For many of us, early ideas come quickly, while later ideas prove more elusive as the brainstorm slows to a brain drizzle. This experience of difficulty could easily be misinterpreted as a decrease in the quality of ideas.

To test the hypothesis, the researchers repeated the same study as before, recruiting 191 new participants. This time, however, participants predicted their creativity after they had already finished generating ideas. 

It didn’t matter. Even after the brainstorming task was complete, participants incorrectly judged their later ideas as less creative—because, the researchers reasoned, those ideas were harder to access. Yet, as in the first study, the opposite was true: ideas that took longer to excavate were more likely to be truly innovative.

What Does It Mean to Be “In Debt?”

Between car loans, mortgages, student loans, credit cards, medical bills, and so on, if you’re participating in society, you’ve probably got debt.

But just because you’re carrying debt, doesn’t necessarily mean that you consider yourself to be “in debt,” right? Which raises the question: exactly when do you go from simply having debt, to being “in debt?”

Honestly, there’s no one correct way to look at it. There are, however, three criteria that can help you decide if you’ve just got debt, or if debt’s starting to get you.

YOUR DEBT’S EATING TOO MUCH OF YOUR BUDGET

A healthy financial ecosystem requires a balance of give and take. In other words, money comes in and money goes out. That’s all perfectly normal. 

And debt can be a perfectly healthy part of that flow. The question, though, is whether or not your debt is consuming too much space in your budget. 

What’s too much? There’s no hard and fast rule, but 36% is a popular rule of thumb. What that means is that you don’t want your non-mortgage debt payments to account for more than 36% of your income. 

Of course, the cost of living varies depending on where you live, and so it may be easier (or harder) to carry more debt depending on what your other costs look like. But generally speaking, if your debt-to-income ratio is nearing (or exceeding) 40%, that’s a warning sign, and you may well and truly be in debt.

Use this calculator to see how much of your income is devoted to debt repayment.

YOUR DEBT’S COSTING YOU WAY MORE THAN IT’S GETTING YOU

Quite a bit of debt is a form of investment. A house is an investment. A college education is an investment. A car is an investment (although one that depreciates alarmingly fast).

Ideally, the money we spend should come back to us in some way, either as more money, as good health, as peace of mind, as increased opportunities, etc. You may not like the amount of student loan debt you’re carrying, but if it helped you land a high paying job, you probably don’t think of it negatively.

On the other hand, if you’ve got a massive student loan bill and the career opportunities are slim pickings and you’re barely scraping by, then you may not think too kindly of that debt.

Generally, when a debt’s just creating more costs and not offering any tangible value, it’s more likely to feel like a burden, while you – by extension – feel deeply in debt.

YOUR DEBT’S CONSUMING TOO MUCH MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL REAL ESTATE

Finally, you don’t necessarily need an equation to determine if you are or aren’t “in debt.” You probably already know, simply based on how your debt makes you feel.

  • Do you think about your debt regularly?
  • Do you worry about your debt (enough to read articles about whether or not you’re technically “in debt”)?
  • Do you fantasize about a life without debt?

A healthy amount of debt shouldn’t give you heartburn and it shouldn’t be something you think about much more than once or a month or so. No matter what the numbers say, if your debt is sticking with you and causing you regular distress, that’s enough to say that your debt is a problem.

Ultimately, being in debt is more about whether or not your debt is preventing you from living the life you want. If your debt is a barrier to better options or a weight that’s keeping you from making progress, it doesn’t really matter what you call it – it just matters that you get rid of it.

Should I Pay Off an Old Debt?

It’s a great question, because there are two totally unrelated issues at stake when it comes to an old debt like this: the impact on your credit and your legal responsibility to the debt in question. 

NOTHING WILL CHANGE HOW LONG AN ITEM STAYS ON YOUR CREDIT REPORT

There’s a fairly common misconception that you can inadvertently “reset the clock” on delinquent items on your credit report. Just when you thought it was going to disappear from your credit report, you make a critical mistake and now your credit report (and credit score) gets dinged for another seven years. Fortunately, that’s not possible.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act was amended in 1996 specifically to prevent unscrupulous collectors from taking actions that kept delinquent items alive on your credit report for years and years and years. 

Now it’s pretty cut and dry. The reporting period runs for seven years and 180 days from the date of the last delinquency or missed payment. It doesn’t matter when the account was charged off, when it was sold or if you ever paid a single penny towards the debt. That means that if you missed a payment due date over seven and half years ago, and never made any payments from that point, the account in question is very likely to have fallen off of your credit report by now. 

(As an aside, it’s important to remember that even if you pay off an account all delinquencies still stay on your credit report until the reporting period is over. The difference is that the account is listed as paid, rather than unpaid, which is definitely better for you.)

THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS CAN RESET WITH CERTAIN ACTIONS

The idea of “restarting the clock” comes from the statute of limitations for collecting on a debt and has nothing to do with how the debt is reported by the credit bureaus. Broadly speaking, once the statute has expired, your legal responsibility to repay the debt goes with it.

The statute of limitations is set by each state, so the timeframe varies. It’s completely separate from your credit report. In fact, if you live in a state where the statute is greater than 7 years, a collector could sue you for a debt that’s already fallen off of your report.

The statute of limitations in your state doesn’t protect you from being sued, necessarily, but if you can prove that the applicable statute has expired, you should be able to get your case dismissed.

Crucially, making a payment, agreeing to a repayment plan, or, in some instances, simply confirming that the debt is yours can revive the debt and restart the clock. So it’s important that you know whether or not the applicable statute has expired before making a decision.

THERE ARE RARELY DRAWBACKS TO PAYING OFF AN OLD DEBT

So what should you do about an old debt? The answer really depends on your unique circumstances. 

Generally, if you have the funds to pay off a debt they’re really aren’t many drawbacks to doing so. It certainly won’t hurt your credit to pay off an old debt, and while it may “revive” the debt that really doesn’t matter once the debt’s paid off (just make sure you keep adequate records of everything). 

Either way, your old delinquency will fall off your report after seven years regardless of what you decide to do (or not do). But in the meantime, anyone looking at your credit report will see that unpaid debt. If you’re considering getting a loan or looking for a new job or even moving into a new home or apartment, it might be worth it just to be certain that you don’t miss out on something good because of a really old debt.

6 Leadership Paradoxes for the Post-Pandemic Era

The pandemic has accelerated a trend that has been unfolding over the last decade. As the world has grown more digital and complex, the range of decisions that leaders need to make has broadened, spanning from big picture strategic thinking to careful execution, to advancing technology roadmaps and upskilling and engaging employees. And decision-making criteria too have expanded, increasingly focusing on ESG considerations in addition to narrowly defined profit expectations. The past year has been particularly intense, pushing leaders to make decisions for which they had no previous experience — and do so quickly.

To succeed in this new era of value creation, leaders need new skills and capabilities. Our in-depth research of more than a dozen companies that have transformed and positioned themselves for success in this new world — including Microsoft, the Cleveland Clinic, and Philips — shows that leaders at these companies sought to be proficient across a wide set of characteristics rather than relying solely on their areas of strengths. They learned how to work together with others who have different backgrounds and different ways of thinking, and they emphasized collaborating together to lead their business despite all their differences. (If you’re interested in participating in a survey about leadership, you can find more details at the end of this article.)

The characteristics that leaders we interviewed considered most important in this new era align well with the six paradoxes of leadership described in Blair Sheppard’s recent book, Ten Years to Midnight.

Strategic Executor

Leaders who want to succeed in this complex and fast paced business environment need to have clarity about what the new world will look like and what their company’s place in that world is going to be. This requires highly strategic leaders, visionaries who can step back from the day to day to see where the world is headed, understand how value can be created in the future in ways that are different from today’s, and stake out a powerful position for the company.

Being a good strategist, however, isn’t enough. Leaders need to be equally skilled at execution. They need to own the transformation of the company needed to reach the future. They need to be able to translate strategy into specific executional steps and see that execution through to the end. They need to be able to make rapid operational decisions that help deliver the path to the future.

In many ways, the digital model of value creation may require even stronger execution skills than in the past, since there is so much to do to push the limits of what’s possible.

Humble Hero

The digital age calls for hero leaders, people who are willing to make bold decisions (like shedding certain business positions or staking out new ones) in times of uncertainty.

At the same time leaders need to have the humility to acknowledge what they don’t know and to bring on board people with potentially very different skills, backgrounds, and capabilities. They need to be willing to learn from others who may have less leadership tenure, but more relevant insights. They need to be highly inclusive and great listeners to understand not only new technologies, but also new ways of doing things that are different from how they did it before.

Tech-Savvy Humanist

While in the past, leaders may have gotten away with delegating the company’s technology challenges to their Chief Information or Chief Digital Officer, that approach will no longer work. With technology being an essential enabler for almost everything a company does — innovation, product management, operations, sales, customer service, finance, or any other area — every leader needs to understand what technology can do for the company and how.

At the same time, they also need to understand and care about people. They need to understand how technology impacts people’s lives and they need to help their people adapt to and adopt the many changes that technology will enforce. This means engaging people with a huge degree of empathy and authenticity — helping them to embrace the changes and co-own the transformation.

Traditioned Innovator

Company purpose and values have probably never been as important as they are today in a world of constant change and multiple disruptions.

In the midst of uncertainty, having clarity of purpose and values helps guide organizations through their path to value creation and relevance. While leaders reimagine their company’s place in the world, they also need to be clear and grounded about who they are as a company. They need to be clear about the organization’s reason for being — its purpose and values — to guide how they will uniquely create value in a way that engages others in their ecosystems and is relevant in the future.

At the same time, leaders need to innovate and try out new things — faster than at any time before. They need to have the courage to fail and allow others to fail as well. All this experimentation and innovation, however, must not be unbound — it must happen within the guardrails consistent with the company’s purpose.

High-Integrity Politician

In an ecosystem world where companies, institutions, and individuals must collaborate to create value, being able to accrue support, negotiate, form coalitions and partnerships, and overcome resistance is an essential leadership capability.

Leaders need to make compromises, be flexible in tweaking their approach and go one step back to be able to move two steps forward. This way of operating, however, can only be successful if leaders establish trust and integrity as the bedrock of all their actions. Effective collaboration within ecosystems can only happen when the parties involved can trust one another. Customers are willing to share privileged insights and participate in ecosystems only when they can trust how their data is used and how they are treated.

And integrity will be key for managing the increasing regulatory scrutiny many companies are going to see. In a data-driven economy, integrity and trust are essential foundational conditions. These are values that cannot come from a computer — they require human leaders to make deliberate choices measured by their actions and words.

Globally-Minded Localist

Technology has erased many boundaries and distances — it’s much easier now to reach customers on the other side of the globe and to collaborate with people from far apart.

Almost by force, companies operating in the digital age need to think globally — even if only to gain access to insights and talent to serve local needs. This requires leaders who can think and engage globally, who will expose themselves to new thinking and work with people from all around.

At the same time, leaders in the digital age also need to be deeply aware of and responsive to the situation and preferences of individual customers and to the local communities and ecosystems in which they operate. Customers, partners, and institutions expect companies to be responsive to their specific needs, and leaders will certainly have to adopt a locally conscious mindset.

9 Couples Therapy Exercises That Should Be In Every Couple’s Repertoire

But just like individual therapy, that hour spent with a trained professional is only half the battle. A lot of the growth happens at home, in the trenches of everyday life, which is why therapists send clients home with a slate of couples therapy exercises. The exercises are tailored specifically to help couples work through conflict and build communication, trust, and intimacy in a relationship. 

Regardless of whether you’re active in therapy or not, the right couples therapy exercises can help reframe arguments, create more emotional intimacy, or simply appreciate one another more. That’s we asked a variety of couples therapists for a few  go-to exercises that everyone can try. They offered those that are easy-to-accomplish and, over time, very effective. Try a few and chances are you’ll learn something new about your partner — and grow your relationship in the process. Here are nine couples therapy exercises they suggested.

Couples Therapy Exercise 1: Write a letter

Markesha Miller, a South Carolina-based psychologist, says she frequently suggests this exercise to couples in conflict. Here’s how it works: Write (not type!) a love letter to your partner, focused on positive, early aspects of your relationship –– what attracted you, your favorite memories, and so on. Then, transition the letter to potential growth areas. Silently read the letter your partner wrote you (and vice versa) before convening to talk about what you wrote and why.

Why it’s helpful: A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, right? That’s the premise here. When you express positivity toward your partner, emphasizing what works in the relationship, they’ll probably be more receptive to the stuff that’s harder to hear –– largely, because they know your intentions are good. Plus, you’ll both realize when things went off track so you can course correct.

Couples Therapy Exercise 2: Hold “state of the union” meetings

State of your relationship meetings are weekly (or daily!) check-ins to see how you’re both feeling in the relationship, says San Diego-based marriage and family therapist Dana McNeil. Think of these brief meet-ups as opportunities to share things you haven’t discussed, issues that need some clarification, or conflicts that need to be resolved. Ideally, each person should have time to share how they’re feeling, uninterrupted.

Why it’s helpful: According to McNeil, it’s common for couples to have missed bids for connection during the week. Big conversations don’t always feel possible in busy schedules, so it’s important to regularly –– and intentionally –– take stock of how you’re feeling so tension doesn’t grow. “Both partners are CEOs in a relationship, and both have needs and expectations that require space to be talked about in an open and positive environment,” McNeil says.

Couples Therapy Exercise 3: Do daily emotion check-ins

Marriage and family therapist Emily Stone, owner and senior clinician at Unstuck Group in Austin, suggests using a feelings wheel as an opportunity to connect. Each partner should choose and share three emotions they experienced in a given day. After, the other partner should reflect back: “It sounds like you were bored, frustrated, and excited today. I would love to hear the story of these emotions.” Remember: The goal is to share and reflect, not correct or defend. 

Why it works: Emotional validation is an important part of making a partner feel heard, loved, and supported. Practicing active listening and mirroring back the other person’s emotions can help build communication skills and intimacy as a couple. Plus, you’ll have a better idea of how to support your partner when you’re in the “know” about what they experience on a daily basis.

Couples Therapy Exercise 4: Perform daily appreciations 

If emotion check-ins feel a bit too vulnerable, Stone suggests building trust and intimacy first through affirming one another’s positive contributions to the relationships. Take time at the end of each day to share three things you appreciated about your partner, even if it’s small –– and do your best to give specific examples. For example, instead of “I appreciate how kind you are,” you could say “I appreciated how you stopped to give me a hug during a busy day.”

Why it works: Providing specific examples about behaviors you like is like positive reinforcement. Affirming your partner also builds respect in a relationship, making it easier to open up and grow together. 

Couples Therapy Exercise 5: Use “The story I’m telling myself is…” in conflict

When you’re in the midst of conflict, it’s easy to project your feelings onto your partner –– but that doesn’t help anyone. Instead of pointing fingers, demonstrate to your partner you’re giving them the benefit of the doubt by using “ my story” statements. For example, instead of “You don’t want to spend time with me,” you could say “My story right now is that you don’t want to be with me because I’m too much.”

Why it works: According to Stone, framing your feelings this way takes ownership of your experience and perception of the scenario without throwing blame at your partner, which ultimately gives them the opportunity to share their side so you can work it out together.

What It Really Means to Take Care of Yourself

Real self-care probably isn’t what you think it is. It isn’t all about escaping and relaxing. Although it pays off for your well-being in the long run, in the present, self-care can be a hard thing to do.

Taking care of yourself might look like making a plan to pay off your debt, sticking to a hard morning routine, or cooking healthy meals. It’s facing your problems and unresolved issues head-on, instead of avoiding them and then trying to distract or soothe yourself later.

Self-care means doing what makes you anxious now, like setting boundaries with tough people, saying no when you don’t want to do something, getting through a tough workout, or telling someone something they don’t want to hear. Taking care of yourself means compassionately accepting yourself for who you are instead of burning yourself out trying to be everything to everyone all the time. It’s living your life in a way that doesn’t leave you needing to check out or take a break just so you can have a bath, read a book, or sip tea.

Currently, consumer-based self-care is a very popular topic; however, a world we need to escape from in the name of self-care is a world that needs a perspective change. Self-care isn’t something we should be doing just because we’re so burnt out that we need time away from our internal and external pressures. 

Real self-care isn’t massages and green juices; it’s choosing to create a life that you don’t feel the need to regularly check out of.  

Self-care means doing things you initially don’t want to do and making the choice to do what’s uncomfortable. It means accepting your personal failures and disappointing relationships, then deciding to re-strategize them. It’s not about giving in to your immediate urges when that means giving up on a long-term goal. It’s about forgiving, letting go, and accepting what you can’t change. It’s about being willing to let people down and even saying goodbye to some of them. Self-care can sometimes be about putting your life aside to care for someone in need, and other times about putting yourself first above those who drain you. Ultimately, it’s about living a life you choose, not one that you sleepwalk through.

Self-care is allowing yourself to be normal and average, instead of always pushing yourself to be perfect or exceptional. It means letting your house stay messy when you’re tired of cleaning up or deciding you don’t need the perfect body after all. It’s knowing yourself and understanding how you operate, so you can decide what changes are the right ones to make in your life. 

If you constantly feel like you need a break, it may be because you’re disconnected from living a life that includes you in it. Real self-care isn’t so much about treating yourself as it is about taking actions for your personal growth and development, aiming to choose what’s better for your wellness in the long run.

Self-care is not about believing that being super busy is a badge of honor and making yourself so exhausted that you self-sabotage in ways that aren’t actually good for you. It’s about taking time to take care of yourself because you truly know that you aren’t broken and don’t need fixing. Once you start doing the real self-care, you start realizing that loving yourself and compassionately being there for you might just solve many of your problems.

When you take care of yourself, you become the author, not the victim, of your life. You create a life you truly enjoy, instead of one you might need recovery, or even therapy, from. It’s not creating a life that looks good on paper, but one that fits well with who you are. It’s letting go of some of your goals so that you can truly live a more balanced life. It’s choosing to no longer make decisions based on what will ease your anxiety, but instead based on what will be good for you tomorrow or the next day. It’s not looking to others to meet your needs; it’s meeting your own needs. 

Self-care is living a life that’s meaningful and being true to yourself. It’s knowing that massages and green juices are great ways to enjoy life, not escape from it. 

Will You Need a Booster Shot of the COVID-19 Vaccine?

When the first COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2020, most people breathed a sigh of relief since both shots were shown to be between 94% and 95% effective in protecting from COVID-19 symptoms. But public health experts warned that nobody really knew how long the protection would last, since the longest clinical trials in people only went to a few months. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, suggested that additional booster doses—and perhaps even yearly shots, similar to the annual flu shot—might be necessary to keep the public safe.

That’s because SARS-CoV-2, like many other viruses we know about—from influenza to HIV—doesn’t sit still. It constantly mutates, and a handful of these mutations are now circulating around the world and keeping public health experts on the alert, since these variant viruses are better at evading immune cells, including those elicited by the vaccines.

So far, experts say that the vaccines continue to provide good protection against all forms of SARS-CoV-2. But the immune response against some of the variants, specifically against one called B.1.351 that was first identified in South Africa, may be slightly lower than immune responses against the original strain that the vaccines were designed to fight. An additional dose, scientists believe, may boost that response back up to where it should be.

The other open question about vaccines is how long the immunity they confer actually lasts. In data released in April, both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna reported that their current two-dose vaccines contribute to strong antibodies that can neutralize the COVID-19 virus for up to six months. Fauci has said that the protection may last even longer than that if other immune protection, involving immune cells such as T cells, are activated by the vaccines. Some early studies suggest that they are.

But only continued studies involving people in the early trials, who are supposed to be followed for up to two years, will answer the question of how long people can expect the vaccine protection to last. That said, both companies seem to believe a booster might be necessary: On April 14, Moderna’s CEO, Stephane Bancel said on CNBC that the company planned to have a booster shot ready by fall. And on April 15, CNBC aired a video segment, taped previously, in which Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said that it might be “likely” that people would need a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine within a year after getting the first two doses, referencing human clinical trials the company began in February to test a third dose.

It’s been a year since the first studies of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines began last March. A small number of the participants of the initial trials of these two-dose vaccines have also volunteered to get a third, booster dose, so scientists can see if the additional dose improves immunity or makes it more durable. In February, Pfizer-BioNTech began studying a third dose of its existing vaccine among people enrolled in the early phase of the vaccine; the company’s scientists are also developing a new version of the vaccine directed specifically against the aforementioned B.1.351 variant.

Monthly Payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credit Will Begin in July

For this year only, the credit amount for many families is increased from $2,000 per child to $3,000 per kid ($3,600 for children under age six), 17-year-olds qualify, and the credit is fully refundable.

One additional major element of the new child tax credit regime requires the IRS to make advance payments of the credit to qualifying families in 2021. The IRS will base eligibility for the credit and advance payments, and calculate the amount of the advance payment, based on previously filed tax returns. It will first look to your 2020 return, and if a 2020 return has not yet been filed, the IRS will look to your 2019 return. The advance payments will account for half of a family’s 2021 child tax credit. The amount a family receives each month will vary based on the number of children in the family, the ages of the kids and the amount of the family’s adjusted gross income. Families who qualify for the full $3,000 or $3,600 credit could see checks of $250 or $300 per child for six months. Families with higher incomes who qualify for the $2,000 credit will get monthly payments of $167 per child for six months. 

The American Rescue Plan also requires the IRS to develop an online portal so that you can update your income, marital status and the number of qualifying children. So, if your circumstances change in 2021 from your last filed federal tax return, and you believe those changes could affect the amount of your child credit for 2021, you would be able to go onto that portal once it is up and running and update it for the correct information. Also, people who want to opt out of the advance payments and instead take the full child credit on their 2021 return could do so through that same online portal.

RS Commissioner Charles Rettig said today in testimony before Congress that the IRS fully expects to launch the portal by July 1 as required under the law, with advance payments going out on a monthly basis to eligible families beginning in July. That means many families who qualify for the child tax credit should receive six payments in 2021, one each month from July through December. This is very good news because just last month Rettig warned that the IRS might not be able to have the portal set up in time and that sending monthly payments out would be difficult. Rettig acknowledged today that the IRS is not historically an agency that is used to sending out periodic payments and that there is a lot of work still to be done in creating this huge undertaking. He estimates that a minimum of 300 to 500 agency employees will be involved in the program. He also said that, though the online portal will be launched by July 1, it is sure to need future enhancements and adjustments as taxpayers begin to enter data into the tool. In other words, don’t be surprised to see snags, at least in the beginning.

19 Ways to Show You Care About Your Friends

Friends deserve a special place in our lives. In the U.S., for example, they are important because they embody American values of equality, choice, self-expression, individualism, freedom, fluidity, and flexibility. They are important because our families have never been smaller than they are now, because fewer people are marrying, and those who do marry are getting to it later in life than they once did. And rates of remarriage are dropping. With fewer brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and all the other relatives who used to gather around during holidays and other days, Americans increasingly look to the people they choose to have in their lives, rather than the people assigned to them through family ties.

But we don’t typically accord our friends the special treatment they deserve. Instead, it is our attitudes toward marital relationships that are reverent and celebratory – matrimaniacal, even. No proposal, no wedding, is ever deemed too much. Married people routinely have their spouses invited to social events. They expect the other people in their lives to ask about their spouse. They get celebrated again if they stay married for a special number of years.

A spouse is considered an important person, an important relationship, in just about every imaginable way. I have no problem with the valuing of a spouse. I just don’t think that spousal relationships should be valued exclusively, as if no other relationship could ever be as significant. One of the ironies of the over-the-top hype that spousal relationships attract is that those relationships are not always all that enduring. For many people, including many married people, some special friendships may have lasted far longer than any of their marriages ever will.

How can we value our friends and everyone else’s, today and every other day?

Honoring Your Own Friends

  1. Be there to help when things go wrong.
  2. Be there to celebrate when things go right. 
  3. Be there just to be there. Keep in touch. Do fun things together. Don’t ever say you are too busy. If you don’t have the time, make it. After all, research shows that we are more likely to feel happy when we are with our friends than when we are with anyone else, including our romantic partners or spouse, or children.
  4. Remember their birthdays. Make a big deal out of the milestones and big accomplishments in their lives, and I’m not just talking about weddings or babies. There are graduations, houses, new jobs, big moves, and all sorts of things that matter to them.
  5. Mark their importance in your life in a big way. Celebrate holidays with them. Or go beyond that. Create a special event, maybe even akin to a wedding, to celebrate the friends in your life. For How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, I interviewed several people, including a lifelong single woman and a lifelong single man, who did something like that.
  6. Plan travel and vacations with friends.
  7. If things are headed south, or if your friend seems to need special help or attention for any reason, consider counseling. You’d probably do that if it were your marriage that was in trouble.
  8. If you are coupled, spend some time alone with your friends. And when your friends invite you to something, don’t just assume that your partner is invited, too.
  9. If your friends are single, don’t just ask them about their romantic prospects. They have lives full of interests, passions, plans, goals, accomplishments, work experiences, people they care about – including friends, and tastes and preferences in sports, music, books, movies, food, the arts, travel destinations, and just about anything else you can think of. Ask about those things.
  10. If your friends are married with children, don’t just ask them about their spouse or their children.

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

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.”

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 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.”

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.”

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. 

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 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!

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.

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:

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 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.

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. 

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.

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.

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%).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

How Happy Marriages Stay Happy

In an interview years ago, Jane Pauley asked family and relationship researcher John DeFrain, Ph.D., what he thought was the major cause of divorce in America. “Marriage” was his response. He wasn’t trying to be flippant (well, maybe a little), but rather, he was acknowledging the many obstacles to happy, long-term unions.

Marriage is “putting two people together under the same roof and dumping all the problems of the world on top of their heads,” says DeFrain, professor emeritus of family studies at the University of Nebraska and the author of more than 20 books, including a study of strength and resilience of more than 30 families around the world that he co-authored with Sylvia Asay, Ph.D. 

“Society is set up to satisfy business interests, not family interests,” DeFrain, now in his 70s, continues. “There are all these forces against couples and families and they don’t have any organization to protect them. They don’t have allies like a union or party; they have to figure it all out themselves.”

So how do happy marriages stay happy? What qualities help a marriage endure? Researchers like DeFrain have spent decades publishing studies dissecting marriages to figure out what works to keep couples happy for the long haul. Here’s what DeFrain and couples therapists say is truly essential for happy, long-term marriages.

1. They are friends — and have friends

Marriage researcher John Gottman developed an infographic of a “sound relationship house” containing the elements of successful relationships, says certified Gottman therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist Dana McNeil. Three things on the lower level — caring, fondness and admiration — are essential for building the friendship important for the house’s foundation, McNeil says.

“Like a real house, if something is going on with the slab or in the crawl space and you try to put the enormous weight of a house on it, you’re asking too much of the foundation and will have problems,” McNeil says. “Those three things go into the basis of friendship, which gives us the foundation to build upon.”

The increased life satisfaction researchers have associated with married people was twice as great when participants felt their spouses were their best friends, according to a study published in 2014. DeFrain has made similar observations in his work.

“Having studied great marriages for eight years, it boils down to simply that best friends don’t do bad things to each other.,” he says. “They wouldn’t think of it.”

It’s important to remember, however, that best friend shouldn’t mean only friend. Couples need to have space from each other, DeFrain says, and notes, “Oak trees won’t grow in each other’s shadow.” 

In addition to alone time, having reliable friends and family help buffer people through storms, adds Justin Lavner, Ph.D., family researcher and associate professor at the University of Georgia.

2. They think like a team

Teamwork really does make the marital dream work. People in successful relationships feel supported and assured that their partner will always be on their side, McNeil says. In a true partnership, you hurt when your partner hurts, and a problem for one of you is a problem for both of you. 

“It’s not codependent but interdependent,” she says. “It’s thinking, ‘My life wouldn’t be the same without you’ and ‘I know what to expect with you even though the entire world is chaotic right now.’”

Consistency and empathy are essential in true partnerships, McNeil says. If your partner asks for a hug after a rough day and half the time you’re happy to do it but sometimes you snap at her that you’re busy, for example, she’ll learn she can’t count on you 100 percent of the time. Attachment injuries, she notes, occur in children when caregivers are inconsistent or sporadic.

“‘Partnership’ is a great word for what two people of any gender would want to have,” says Pellham, New York, social worker and therapist Richard Heller. “Resilience in relationships to a large extent are based on agreement, understanding your network of support, and a basic sense of well-being.”

Couples who don’t feel quite there in their own relationships can learn to model healthy partnerships, Heller says. But what can stand in the way is an antiquated idea that the husband is “the boss” in the relationship, DeFrain says. The boss-employee relationship has little in common with the kind of partnership necessary for happy marriages.

 “You don’t communicate positively with your boss, and you’re not really committed to your boss,” he says. “You just do what you have to do to make them happy.”

3. They accentuate the positive

Natural optimism is an extremely valuable asset in marriages. Married optimists engaged in more positive problem-solving strategies when there was conflict and showed less decline in marital well-being one year into the marriage, the authors of a 2013 study found. Another study concluded that reacting positively to positive news their partners shared was more predictive of relationship satisfaction than men’s responses to bad news, according to research published in 2006. 

If you’re not a born optimist, some research suggests you might grow a little sunnier later in life: In a study of long-term marriages, researchers at Northwestern University and the University of California, Berkeley, found that positive emotions increase and negative emotions decrease with age.  

Practicing gratitude is a good way to learn the ways of the optimist. Gratitude appears to function as a “booster shot” for romantic relationships, according to a study published in Personal Relationships in 2010. When partners felt more gratitude toward their partners, they felt better about their relationships and more connected to their partners, not only on that day but the following day as well, the authors noted. 

Another simple way to think about it is to practice what many people are taught in grade school: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, McNeil says. 

Part of having a positive perspective, per McNeil, is asking, ‘Do I give you the benefit of doubt? Can I be ‘curious instead of furious’ when conflicts arise?’

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