Ted Talk Friday: What Makes Life Meaningful

I saw this talk and found it incredibly accessible, interesting, and thought-provoking. A favorite line: “Purpose is an anchor we throw out into the future.” Meaning-making is a key component to what it means to live a good life; Dr. Steger does a great job exploring this topic and tying in both his research and his own (often hilarious) personal experiences. Steger also provides helpful action steps on how to learn to make more meaning in your life.

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What makes life feel meaningful for you?

What makes a leader?

I heard about a new study on NPR this morning about what differentiates leaders from “followers.” I think these terms are also far too black and white; leaders and followers exist on a continuum. I have always been interested in what makes a leader lead and a follower follow. In high school, I was definitely a follower. I lacked confidence in my abilities across a number of areas. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps because I was simply a teenager. It might also be due to the school I attended; I was surrounded by very intelligent people (and generally people on the aggressive, competitive side). I am not aggressive and I would typically rather follow than fight to be a leader over small issues.

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The summer after my freshman year of college, I was lucky enough to be accepted into a summer program focused on Ethics and Servant Leadership. During the program we had the chance to learn more about want it means to be a servant-leader; this completely changed my perspective on what and who a leader is. A leader can be strong, opinionated, and empathetic without being aggressive. This reframe shifted my mindset, now I want to lead because I value my opinions and know I can express them with confidence while having a conversation around what is best for a group or organization.

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So what about this NPR story? Well the study covered in the story found that leaders are those who are willing to make decisions for a group in the same way that they make their own personal decisions. These people trust their logic, instinct, and are willing to accept responsibility for a group outcome. “Followers” typically struggle with responsibility aversion. Being a leader doesn’t mean you are necessarily authoritarian, leaders often reach consensus with a group and then take responsibility for that choice.

At a time when we have such scary models of what it means to be a leader, it’s important that we think about what makes a leader and how we can train people to learn to lead well. Being a leader does not make you pushy, arrogant, or bossy–it means you are willing to take a risk, often for others, and take responsibility for your (or your group’s) actions.

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What does leadership mean to you? Do you consider yourself to be a leader?

References:

Micah G. Edelson, Rafael Polania, Christian C. Ruff, Ernst Fehr and Todd A. Hare. Computational and neurobiological foundations of leadership decisions. Science: August 2, 2018. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat0036

Ted Talk Friday: How to gain control of your free time

I talk about this ALL the time–to the point where it might be obnoxious if I’m being honest here. We all have the same number of hours each day. While it might not feel that way, we make the decisions of how we spend our time. If you want to do something, something else might have to be cancelled or pushed off. It’s all about priorities and boundaries.

 

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What do you prioritize in your life?

The reverberations of a loss

Whenever we read an obituary of a young twenty-something-year-old with no cause of death listed, it typically leaves one incredibly sad option: suicide.

I found out that a classmate took his life about a week or so ago; you never would’ve known or guessed by talking to him. I can only imagine the pain he must have been in–so intelligent, thoughtful, and bitingly witty, and he hid his sadness so well.

While I certainly was not close with him and hadn’t spoken to him since graduation, moments like this and seeing such loss creates a space for reflection.

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Mental illness and suicide are terrifying things, particularly when we don’t talk about them. Mental illness can take us to scary places.  If you know someone struggling, check in on them. If someone looks sad, give a smile. While these small acts may not make any real changes, you never know what it could mean. While this might sound trite, it’s true. I was crying on the train home about a week ago, and some random stranger gave me his pack of tissues. I’m not exaggerating when I say that lifted my spirits significantly.

I’ve seen so many untimely deaths in the past year and I’ve thought a lot about what it means to live well and what “success” looks like. Unfortunately, I think a lot of us have it all wrong. It’s not about the job. It’s not about the money. It’s not about the great vacation. It’s about the people, the short conversations, the connections, the joy that make the minutes count.

I have been going through a difficult few weeks with the one year anniversary of my ex-boyfriend’s death, and I know some days I’ve struggled to get out of bed and struggled to make it through an hour, let alone a day. These days happen, and when they do, practice self-care by doing whatever you can to feel good. Calling a friend, journaling, screaming into a pillow, getting into therapy. It’s different for everyone, but we have to make this a conversation that everyone can have.

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If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 1-800-273-8255 

TED Talk Friday: Why we laugh

I’ve been going through a rough couple of weeks as I adjust to a new job, reach the one year anniversary of a difficult loss, and see a close friend move away. All of these things have left me in a funk and I have not been laughing as much as I usually do. It already takes a lot to get me to the deep, guttural laugh point–and it often kicks in randomly! One of my favorite childhood memories was laughing hysterically with one of my best friends–I was afraid I would hyperventilate! We were simply so deeply joyous and amused by ourselves. In an attempt to make myself laugh a bit more, I watched this video and it definitely lifted my spirits. Laughter is socially contagious at its core–whether it’s in person or in a video.

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Did you laugh while watching this video? What makes you laugh out loud?

Making Chocolate in Peru: From Bean to Bar

I went to Peru on an amazing trip a few weeks ago–endless mountains, beautiful views, hiking, and freshly made chocolate. Chocolate was considered a “food of the gods” across much of Central and South America–and we still love it today!

My dad is a hardcore chocolate lover so we scheduled a special class at a Chocolate Museum located in Cusco. Cocoa beans are harvested from a variety of locations; and Peru (and the Amazon) is home to a number of plantations. Not all chocolate is the same–the flavor of cocoa beans changes based on what the plants are growing near. Some chocolate has subtle hints of bitter coffee, whereas other have a more fruity undertone. It’s not always easy to tell, but comparing the two flavor profiles makes it very clear.

After the cocoa beans are harvested, they are fermented and then dried in the sun. This process can take anywhere between one to two weeks depending on how dry the environment is. After the beans are dried, they are roasted. We actually got to roast the beans ourselves during our class. The beans need high heat and slow stirring and you can hear a popping similar to popcorn popping as they get closer to being ready. Our teacher/guide got really into it and asked me to sing to the cocoa beans–to show my love for them. If you know me, you know I always refuse to sing in public. It is simply a no-go for me so I politely declined and felt like a complete spoilsport!

Fortunately, cocoa beans are not dependent on singing and were roasted all the same without the affection of my *lovely* voice.

(*= heavy sarcasm)

Here are the freshly roasted beans with cracked skins prepared for winnowing, which is the process of removing the fibrous husk from the cocoa bean.

After winnowing, you’re left with cocoa beans that look like this:

When you break these up, you are left with cocoa nibs! If you like extra dark chocolate (like me), you would love the tiny pieces that come when you break apart the beans.

The next step is more intensive–grinding the cocoa beans by hand with mortar and pestle to create a smooth, creamy mixture without large chunks. This is when you can start to see how cocoa butter and cocoa powder can both come out of the same beans.

This is most of the way through the cocoa bean grinding process; you can see a smooth mixture start to form and it tastes incredibly rich (and bitter).

After grinding up our cocoa beans, we collectively made xocoatl, which translates as “bitter water.” We made ours with hot water, ground cocoa beans, honey, and a dash of cayenne pepper.

The mix was absolutely delicious and rich, but without the milky richness we often think of when we drink hot cocoa. The idea of mixing in milk with chocolate only came along in the 1700s in Europe.

We learned a lot during the class, but there was not much discussion around the importance of buying fair-trade, eco-friendly chocolate. Cocoa production often leads to deforestation as people chop down trees to make room for lucrative cocoa plantations.

“…a 7-ounce bar of milk chocolate produced from a cleared rainforest has the same carbon dioxide emissions as driving 3.2 miles in a car. Furthermore, a dark chocolate bar of the same size has the same emissions as driving 4.9 miles.” –Hello Giggles

While large companies like Hershey’s and Mars are seeing the perks of doing social good they have made numerous commitments to the environment and use of child laborers. Unfortunately a lot of this is just talk and no action.  With the price decline of cocoa during 2016-2017, a lot of efforts towards fair production took a hit. Farmers bear the brunt of the price dip and can easily end up operating at a loss. There are approximately 2.1 million child laborers working on cocoa plantations in West Africa–and this is after companies have committed to making changes.

One way to make sure you are choosing ethical options include looking for fair-trade labels as well as brands that are “bean to bar,” which means the brand or company is fully involved from the growing of the beans through to the final stages of manufacturing.

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Do you prefer dark or milk chocolate? Did you know how your chocolate was made before reading this?

TED Talk Friday: The Unstoppable Power of Letting Go

This is a great talk told in an incredibly personable, relatable way. Her message around the danger of “not yet” is something that rings true for me across numerous areas of my life, but I’ve been working very hard over the past year to lose that outlook. Saying “not yet” helps us cling to certain things, or stay a step away from things, and those choices often come from fear. I hope you enjoy this wonderful talk.

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What do you need to let go of? Which rule is your favorite?

Becoming a #FutureHuman with Orb

I have posted a lot about my difficulties with sleep, usually I fall asleep within 45 minutes, but I struggle with staying asleep. I’ve tried so many different supplements, teas, and pills with little help.

I decided to try Orb Sleep Complex at Costco after the brand reached out to me with their new release to Costco stores (not all stores carry it, but you can find it on Costco’s online store.

I’ve worked in the health & fitness industry so I know about the smoke and mirrors involved with many supplements out there. I’ve tried a lot of products and have done my research, and I think it’s important to know exactly what you’re putting into your body.

So what makes Orb different? It has time-release technology with a blend of supplements that help your body calm down for sleep, plus B12 for energy support. Plus, the pills look pretty cool:

See the beadlets floating in the liquid? The ingredients are separated for ideal absorption; vitamins best absorbed in liquid are in the oil and the the vitamins in the beadlets are better absorbed in dry form.

The Orb Sleep Complex contains:

  • Melatonin
  • Valerian
  • L-theanine
  • GABA
  • 5-HTP
  • Lavender & Ylang ylang oil
  • Vitamin B12

Our body naturally produces a hormone called melatonin; we make it based on our circadian rhythm, which follows the sunset and sunrise. Melatonin production also decreases with age. Melatonin supplements can help with insomnia, jet lag, and general sleep troubles. I’ve taken melatonin for years with mixed results.

Valerian is far less popular, but can be found in Celestial Seasonings’ Sleepytime tea varieties. Valerian is made from a root and helps with insomnia, and many claim it helps with anxiety as well. Research suggests it acts like a very mild sedative.

L-theanine is an amino acid naturally found in tea (and some mushrooms). L-theanine boosts the neurotransmitters that make us feel good and happy–seratonin, dopamine, and GABA. These neurotransmitters work in the brain to regulate mood, emotion, concentration, and sleep, as well as appetite and energy. L-theanine has recently grown in popularity because it doesn’t make you sleepy, but instead makes you feel calm and relaxed.

GABA is crucial to our brain’s health; low GABA activity has been correlated to anxiety, depression, and difficulty focusing.

5-HTP increases the synthesis of serotonin, a neurotransmitter I mentioned earlier. It has been shown to diminish depressive symptoms in high doses (500-1400mg daily for at least two weeks).

Lavender and Ylang Ylang oil both provide natural soothing properties. I actually take lavender oil capsules when I’m having a particularly stressful day and they definitely help me calm down.

Lastly, vitamin B12. Our bodies don’t make B12 so we must get it from food or supplements. Vegetarians are at higher risk for B12 deficiency. This is included because in the Orb supplements because lower than healthy levels of B12 can make you feel groggy or tired.

I’ve started taking Orb regularly and am loving how relaxed it makes me feel. I bought mine at Costco at a bargain price– 120 capsules for $28.99 in-store, $29.99 online (it’s regularly $39.99 for only 60 capsules).

I even brought it with me to Peru to take and share with my family.

They’ve been using it and enjoying it so far! I’ll keep you posted as I get in a rhythm and use it over the next few weeks; some of the ingredients work better over time (5-HTP for example).

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Do you have trouble sleeping? What have you tried that does or doesn’t help?

Disclaimer: I received this product from Orb, but all opinions, thoughts, and photos are my own and represent my own experience.

Ted Talk Friday: What to do when your worldview falls apart

The opening of this talk deeply resonated with me; I remember the moment I started questioning, then completely doubting God. Up until that point, I don’t think I questioned the existence of God–I was raised Catholic, going to Sunday school and church every week. Questioning our world view is terrifying, but it is crucial to building our own identity and learning to think critically.

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Do you question your beliefs? Does questioning them scare you?

Movie Review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I don’t think I’ve ever done a movie review on the blog, but I feel the need to share and reflect on this wonderful documentary.

I have vague memories watching Mr. Rogers growing up; his kind face, his sweaters, his assuring voice. I didn’t know what to expect of the movie, but I was quickly lost in the fascinating world of Mr. Rogers.

His character on TV was not just a persona, it was exactly who he was. I was surprised to learn that he was a minister (and republican!), but none of those details mattered–the only thing he preached of was love. He embodied Carl Rogers’ concept of “unconditional positive regard,” which is the idea that an individual is loved and lovable no matter what they say or do.

To Mr. Rogers, every child has a right to unconditional positive regard. What a powerful, simple concept.

He discussed emotionally painful situations like divorce, assassination, and 9/11 with kids. Often people feel the need to shelter kids from these events, but children sense when something is wrong–and they deserve to know. Mr. Rogers knew that and knew exactly how to tell them.

I was young when 9/11 happened and asked my mom, “There were not any people on the plane, right?” I don’t know how she answered, but I know it was a good answer. My parents mirrored Mr. Rogers approach–they always told us the truth in a way we could understand, no matter how painful.

The movie explores Mr. Rogers deeply as a person; he had so much grit, passion, and kindness in his heart. He seemed to never waver, but partway through the movie we learn that was not the case. Even he was not perfect. He has self-doubt and questions, but he always chose to persevere because he knew children needed help.

He have a commencement speech, and part of it was included in the movie. One line: “Take a full minute and think about someone who has loved you into being. The timer starts now.”

I thought about this phrase and tears slowly started coming. I thought of my high school boyfriend, someone who has come up frequently in the blog over the past year. He died from an overdose about a year ago; it rocked me to my core and continues to rock me. He loved be into being. He loved me into knowing I was enough, lovable, special.

“Thank you, Max, for loving me into being” I thought. It wasn’t sadness about his death that was bringing me tears, but instead tears of gratitude that I experienced that kind of unconditional love and acceptance so young. My parents always gave me that love, but it’s the first time I felt it in someone who was not in my family–and that gives a different feeling.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a must-see; it adds so much depth to the staple childhood show. Mr. Rogers was not simply the character, he was that person. He was kind, loving, and generous–those kinds of people can exist and can make amazing change in the world. The movie also prompts self-reflection that went far beyond what I expected (I know I didn’t expect to cry!).

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Have you watched Mr. Rogers? Did you see the movie?