The Righteous Mind: Why We Are Politically Divided - Season 1, Episode 14 of the Adam Bomb Podcast

Why can't liberals and conservatives get along? Has something changed? Can something be done about it? Jonathan Haidt's book, "The Righteous Mind," provides the best answers I think we'll find. I discuss the book in this podcast.

Listen to The Adam Bomb podcast here:

Also, check this out: 

What Could Stop Our Divisiveness 

It's an interview with Jonathan Haidt on TED.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal GrowthSlotralogyAntivirus For Your Mindand co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English)Follow his podcasts, The Adam Bomb and Talk to Klassy. You can email him here.


Arguing With Family Members? Here's What You Can Do

If family gatherings mean political arguments with a family member and bitter hard feelings that last for months (or if you have upsetting disagreements over any controversial subject with a family member), this article is for you.

You have a point of view or a set of facts you want your family member to accept or agree with — or she (or he) has a position she wants you to accept. If you engage in an argument about it, you risk a riff between you, hard feelings, anger, upset, even a complete severing of your communication and a destruction of your affection for each other. This is not good for your mood.

You may have known this family member for a long time — maybe your whole life. So perhaps you believe you should be able to talk about anything with each other. But you might be mistaken about this.

Here's the problem: The more controversial the topic, the deeper the connection between you must be. The "depth" of your communication is measured in recent hours of talking to each other. In other words, if in the last year, you have averaged about twenty minutes a week talking with a family member — on the phone or face to face — your relationship can handle very little controversy. Most of your communication had better be pleasant or neutral (not controversial).

But if in the last year you have spent, on average, many hours a week talking with your family member, your relationship can handle talking about a much more controversial topic.

Think of it this way: Any given power line can only handle so much electricity at once. If more power tries to surge down the line than the line can handle, the line will melt or circuit breakers will melt. A bigger line could handle the surge. A smaller line will fry. In other words, your communication channel is only as big as your amount of communication has made it.

More non-upsetting communication creates a bigger line, a stronger bond, a more robust relationship. A stronger bond can handle controversy better than a weaker bond.

The researcher, John Gottman, looking at what it takes for a marriage to stay together, discovered a minimum ratio: Five to one. A marriage needs at least five times more enjoyable interactions as unenjoyable interactions to prevent divorce. It is possible a similar ratio is required for any relationship.

It is a good rule of thumb anyway to consider that you need at least five times more hours talking about enjoyable topics as controversial. Just to be on the safe side, try keeping it at ten times more. Having a history with your family member is unfortunately not enough. The "power line" between you shrinks with time and lack of communication. A strong bond requires recent communication.

If you're already engaged in a controversy with a family member and already feel angry or hurt by your conversations about it, realize right now that you have been mistaken about each other. You are not in the wrong and neither is the other person. The problem is: The communication channel between you is too small. The problem is not your family member — it is a puny, atrophied communication channel created by a long period of neglect. That's a better way to think about your disagreements because it leads to clarity about what you can do that will effectively improve your feelings about each other. You're suffering the inevitable consequences of a lack of bandwidth. The more you communicate about non-controversial topics, the bigger your bandwidth grows.

If your family member lives in another town or state and you don't see her or him much (or talk much on the phone), you should probably avoid controversy completely. Maybe some day you'll live closer or spend more time talking on the phone. If that happens and you still want to talk about a controversial topic, your bond will be able to withstand it.

In the meantime, reserve those topics only for people you do talk to regularly.

Install this as your personal policy and you will prevent a lot of bad moods and hard feelings. You will find holidays and election years a lot more enjoyable in the long run. And you will both be happier.

Read more: Family Disintegration: What Causes It?

Read even more: How to Deal With Disagreements

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal GrowthSlotralogyAntivirus For Your Mindand co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English)Follow his podcasts, The Adam Bomb and Talk to Klassy. You can email him here.


How to Have a Good Time With Your Family for the Holidays Even if Some of Them Drive You Crazy

One very good way of dealing with a predictably stressful situation is to prepare beforehand to respond differently than you normally do.

In an article in the New York Times about how to handle holiday family stress, the author gives this example:

Dr. Bulik told the story of a patient whose mother scolded her for not eating her homemade cookies. “You don’t like my cookies?” she asked. As a result, the daughter relented and took a cookie. But when she then reached for a second, her mother scolded her again. “Do you really think you need another one?” she asked her.

It's the kind of stuff that drives you crazy at the holidays, right? But at the end of the article, there is a good example of doing something about it, preparing ahead of time:

Betsy, a high school teacher in Boston, said she had longstanding issues with her mother-in-law, some of which began after she underwent a Caesarean section. After the delivery, her mother-in-law, a slim woman, brought her only light lunches of lettuce salad, even though she was famished after nursing her baby.

Betsy said her cousin also complained of holiday meal tension with her own family, so the two devised a strategy to help each other cope. Each made bingo cards, but instead of numbers, the squares were filled in with some of the negative phrases they expected to hear during the meal, like “That outfit is interesting” or “Your children won’t sit still.” As comments were made at the separate family celebrations, each woman would mark her card.

“Whoever fills up a bingo row first,” Betsy said, “sneaks off to call the other and say, ‘Bingo!’”

 

If you normally find it stressful to hang out with certain members of your family, try something new.

Read more about how to come up with new responses: Solve Problems With Creativity.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal GrowthSlotralogyAntivirus For Your Mindand co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English)Follow his podcasts, The Adam Bomb and Talk to Klassy. You can email him here.



What Happens When You Change the Way You Look at Things?

You know this from experience: When your perspective changes, your mood turns on a dime. You suddenly and quite completely feel a different emotion. Stephen Covey was riding a New York subway one morning. It was a peaceful ride with people reading the newspaper or looking out the window or resting with their eyes closed.

Then a man and his children got on. “The children were so loud and rambunctious,” says Covey, “that instantly the whole climate changed.” As it turns out, the man sat down right next to Covey and closed his eyes while the kids went wild. They were yelling and throwing things. Covey was irritated. How could this man ignore his children and their obnoxious behavior? Why didn’t he do anything about it? Covey says, “It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too.”

Covey did the best he could to restrain his irritation and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man replied, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

As you can guess, this shifted Covey’s perspective entirely and he instantly went from irritated to sympathetic. When your perspective changes, your emotions change.

A good reframe can create a similar emotional shift in many different kinds of circumstances, and you can create reframes deliberately. Here's an example of one kind of reframe, called a "comparison reframe:"

In an experiment, people were asked to do a simple task — to complete the sentence, "I'm glad I'm not a..." They completed the sentence five times.

After doing this simple exercise, they were happier with their lives. Their "life satisfaction" was improved from doing the exercise.

Another group of volunteers were asked to complete a different sentence: "I wish I were a..." After this exercise, they were less satisfied with their lives.

Here's an important principle that can change your life: Your happiness, to a large extent, depends on what you are comparing your life to right now. And you can voluntarily and easily change what you are comparing your life to at any moment you choose. When you do, the new comparison reframes your circumstances.

If you'd like to learn more about this important perspective-changing skill, including the different kinds of reframes and some practical methods for creating good ones, check out our book: How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought, Direct Your Mind, and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Comparison Reframes

In the book, Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea, Steven Callahan recounts his harrowing experience alone on a life raft. He lost 45 pounds during the trip and went through an amazing amount of deprivation and suffering. His description of what it was like to be back on land gives you a new appreciation for something we take for granted.

Why? Why did his deprivation make him appreciate something we all normally take for granted? Because taking something away for awhile allows you to compare your normal circumstances to something worse. And here’s the point: What you compare your life to determines how happy you are at the moment. This is a reframing principle you should make sure you never forget.

When Callahan was found offshore by three fisherman, they took him to their island in the Caribbean. Once ashore, they drove him in a Volkswagen bus to a hospital in another town. On the way there, Callahan was overwhelmed with color and sound and smell. While he was adrift on the ocean, he was surrounded for more than two months by nothing but blue sky and blue sea. He smelled nothing but the ocean and fish. Read his brief account of the car ride:

We pass long stretches of sugar cane fields. Ox carts are piled high with cut cane. I cannot believe how sensitive I am to the smells of the cut vegetation, of the flowers, of the bus. It is as if my nerve endings are plugged into an amplifier. The green fields, the pink and orange roadside flowers, practically vibrate with color. I am awash in stimuli.

The contrast between his previous situation and normal life on land was dramatic. He appreciated colors and smells we all take for granted every day. Why do we take them for granted? Because they’ve always been there. We haven’t compared their presence with their absence.

During his voyage on the life raft, Callahan was often soaked in salt water for long periods of time. So it was especially pleasurable to simply be dry. When he got to the hospital, they cleaned him up and put him to bed. His description is ecstatic. Why? Simply because of the comparison between a small, cold, wet, abrasive, salt-encrusted life raft and a simple, ordinary bed:
I lay back on the sheets, clean sheets, dry sheets. I can’t remember ever feeling like this before, though I imagine that I might have felt this way at birth. I am as helpless as a baby, and each sensation is so strong that it’s like seeing, smelling, and touching for the very first time.
Comparisons. Your mind makes them all the time. And whether you feel contentment or dissatisfaction largely depends on what you are comparing your life to.

The problem is, we live in a culture where advertisers are constantly giving us perfect images to compare ourselves with — people with perfect homes and cars and spouses and children — and they give us the illusion that this perfection is somehow possible.

And it’s not just an advertising problem. The advertisers are taking advantage of the way our minds work naturally. You automatically and naturally compare yourself and your life to others and with your own ideals and aspirations. In other words, you regularly compare your life with something better.

Although the process of comparison happens without your active effort, you can assume control of it. Like your own own breathing, it happens on its own, but you can make it do what you want at any time.

Why would you want to bother? Why change what you compare to what? Because it makes you feel better. And feeling better is good for you. As Robin Lloyd put it after looking at the research:
People who positively evaluate their well-being on average have stronger immune systems, are better citizens at work, earn more income, have better marriages, are more sociable, and cope better with difficulties.
It makes a difference to feel better. And luckily, it can be accomplished without too much trouble. It won’t last for a long time, but neither does sleeping or exercising. The fact that the effect doesn’t last is no reason to dismiss it. If you’re willing to put a little effort out, you can feel a lot happier.

Here’s one very simple and direct way to do it: When you feel discontented, ask yourself, “What could be worse?” And really try to think of something. You can always think of something, and it is usually pretty easy.

This is a reframe. Instead of looking at your life from the point of view of comparing it to what you would rather have, you’re looking through a different frame. You’re choosing a point of view just as legitimate: “What is this better than?” Or, “What would be worse?”

If you feel unhappy because you haven’t advanced in your job as fast as you’d hoped, for example, imagine how you’d feel if you lived in a country or a time when advancement wasn’t possible. Imagine being an “untouchable” in India, sentenced to generation after generation of poverty with no chance of escape for you or your children or your grandchildren. Imagine real situations other human beings have experienced (or are now experiencing) that are much worse than anything you’ve ever had to endure.

Or you could remember when things were worse for you, and this will change your frame. Instead of comparing your circumstances to your high expectations of yourself you haven’t fulfilled, you can compare your circumstances to your memory of how things were when things were worse for you.

Try this technique and you’ll recognize that in many ways you’re lucky to be where you are and who you are. And this is not an illusion. It is a fact, and recognizing and acknowledging this fact gives you a good feeling. It’s relaxing and peaceful. It won’t last very long, but it doesn’t take much time or effort, and you can always do it again. The technique works every time, and you are rewarded every time.

In a way, it is a good thing the feeling doesn’t last because as wonderful as contentment is, motivation is also wonderful. Striving for a goal — physical fitness, self-improvement, financial success, whatever — is practical and worthwhile. But when you want to feel some contentment, take a little time and think about how your situation could be worse, or think about what others have gone through, or think about how your situation used to be worse.

To help you find some real situations you can compare your own life with, read books like Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors. Their difficulties will help you see your own life with new eyes.


REFRAME EXPERIMENT

In one of the most simple and elegant experiments I’ve ever read about, people were asked to complete the sentence, “I’m glad I’m not a...” They completed the sentence five times.

After doing this simple exercise, they were happier with their lives. Their “life satisfaction” was measurably improved after the exercise.

Another group of volunteers were asked to complete a different sentence: “I wish I were a...” After this exercise, they were less satisfied with their own lives on a test of life satisfaction.

You have a lot of control over what you compare your life to, and if you would like to feel contentment, it behooves you to consciously exercise your control.

Another experiment looked at comparisons in a different way. A group of women were shown pictures of difficult living conditions from a hundred years ago. Another group were told to imagine and then write about what it would be like to experience a horrible tragedy like getting disfigured or terribly burned.

Afterwards the women filled out a rating scale to measure their satisfaction with the quality of their own lives.

Both groups were more satisfied with their own lives after the exercise. Why? Because it gave them something worse to think about and they naturally and automatically compared their own lives to it, and felt fortunate.

You can do a comparison experiment at home. Fill one bucket with ice cold water and another bucket with very warm water. Fill a third bucket with room temperature water. Now soak one hand in the hot water and one in the cold water for a couple minutes. Then pull them both out and plunge them into the room temperature water. You’ll get the strange sensation of the same bucket of water feeling both hot and cold at the same time.

Compared to the hot water, the room temperature water feels cold. Compared to the ice cold water, it feels hot. Comparison makes the difference. It influences your direct perception of reality.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, Mandela describes his time in prison, and it was bad. Sometimes he was put in isolation where the only food he got was rice water three times a day. Rice water is the water rice has been boiled in. That’s it. That’s all he was given to “eat.”

When isolation was over and Mandela was back in the normal prison, the tiny amount of horrible food they usually ate seemed like a feast.

I like to read true-life survival or adventure stories, as you can probably tell. One of the reasons I like to read them is that I feel so fortunate when I’m done reading. I get up and go about my day, freshly aware that I am not starving or freezing or dying of thirst, and it makes me feel rich and lucky and happy.

I like it when authors use examples to illustrate a point, and I hope you do too, because I have another one for you: After returning to base camp from an arduous, intense brush with death in another true survival story, K2, The Savage Mountain, the authors wrote about how relaxing and wonderful it was to be back in base camp:
At that moment we craved no delicacies, no entertainment, no luxuries. We felt like swimmers from a capsized boat who had just completed the long swim to shore. Merely being there was unspeakable luxury.
I really like that last sentence. Merely being there was unspeakable luxury. What is luxury? It is something wonderful you’re not used to. What a rich person in New York is used to would seem an “unspeakable luxury” to a poor person in a prison in Mexico.

In studies on happiness, this issue of luxury is thrown into sharp relief. The researchers find that after having enough money to supply yourself with the basic necessities, money doesn’t have much of an impact on your happiness level. People who are very wealthy are only slightly happier than people living modestly.

But there is an exception to this rule: If someone with a low income comes into frequent contact with people with higher incomes, it can make the lower-income person unhappier with his circumstances.

People who are very poor in, say, a remote village in Africa, can be pretty happy when everyone else in their village is also very poor. But a poor person in Beverly Hills (who actually would be rich compared to the person in the poor African village) might be miserable because he is comparing himself to all the people around him who have so much money.

When Sichan Siv escaped Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge bloodbath, his escape was very difficult and took a long time. He eventually made it to the United States and got a job at the Friendly Ice Cream restaurant, washing dishes, mopping floors, and taking out the trash for 16 hours a day — and he was very happy. He felt like the luckiest man in the world. “I’m free!” he thought, “Nobody’s trying to kill me!”

Those of us who grew up in the United States would find his situation — working at such a job 16 hours a day and making so little money — almost intolerable because we are comparing it to our own lives.

But we are not stuck only making comparisons that come naturally. You can deliberately make any kind of comparison you want, and the comparisons you choose really make a difference. 


COMPARISONS FOR NEGATIVITY'S SAKE

An interesting study at Wake Forest University, where they seem to specialize in interesting studies, casts a new light on the whole subject of “positive thinking.” They gave volunteers “motion sickness” tablets. At least, that’s what they told the volunteers. Actually, the pill did nothing.

Then the volunteers had to ride a rotating drum, something that tends to produce nausea in at least some people. Before the ride, the researchers told a third of the volunteers the pill will prevent them from getting nauseated. They told another third the truth: the pill was fake and wouldn’t do anything. And they told another third the pill would actually make them feel extra nauseated.

They got on the ride. What do you think happened? Who do you think was the least nauseated? You may be surprised to learn it was the third group. They were expecting it to be bad, but it wasn’t as bad as they thought. After the ride they were far less nauseated than the other two groups.

This is a comparison reframe again, and it reminds me of something I read about setting up a joke or telling a funny story. Experts on comedy say if you tell someone the joke is really funny before you tell it, that joke better be extraordinarily funny. But if you want people to laugh, you’re better off saying, “here’s a dumb joke.” You set the expectations lower so the joke seems funnier than it is by comparison.

Same thing holds true when you recommend a good movie. If you tell your friend it’s the best movie you’ve ever seen, your friend’s expectations are set really high. Your friend is more likely to enjoy the movie if you keep the expectations low.

The principle is very basic but it has broad applications. The thing to remember is: You can influence the frame — the way something is perceived — by comparing it to something better or worse. And rather than making comparisons haphazardly and without awareness, you would be wise to choose your comparisons carefully so you frame things in a way that helps you rather than impedes you. 


LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE

My wife, Klassy, used to lead workshops for couples. She put couples through communication exercises. One of the most powerful exercises she put them through used this principle of comparison.

Klassy would have each couple sit facing each other, gazing into each others' eyes, and she talked to them while wordless, beautiful, moving music was playing.

“Imagine,” Klassy would say, “that at midnight tonight, your partner will die. Your mate’s life will be over soon. Imagine how that would feel to you. The two of you have been through so much together...”

Of course, this was a very moving experience for almost everybody. Klassy gave them plenty of time to fully imagine this scenario and to feel how sad it would be.

“What would you miss the most about your partner?” Klassy asked, giving them long pauses so they could think about this while the music played in the background. Each pair silently continued looking at each other, pondering these questions, feeling the emotions, feeling what this person means to them.

“What special memories would you cherish?”

“What would you want to say to your partner before midnight?”

When they really couldn’t take any more and the room was about two feet deep in tears, Klassy would say something like this:

“Now imagine it is after midnight and your partner is gone. And realize how much you would wish your partner had not died and how badly you would want to be right here with your partner...to have your future still ahead of you...”

Long pause. “And realize what you wished for is here. The two of you are here, together, alive, your future ahead of you.”

You’ve never seen so many people gaze at each other totally in love before. “Now,” said Klassy, “take some time and talk about your experience with each other.”

The couples were extremely moved by this experience. Here they were — like most couples — to some degree taking each other for granted, comparing yesterday with today, or whatever. Not really appreciating each other.

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Really? What if you imagined what it would be like if it was gone? Then realized it isn’t gone? Guess what? You can know what you’ve got while you’ve got it! You can do it by the way you make comparisons. You can use comparisons deliberately.

This is a way to make positive events more memorable than negative ones. It directly counters the negative bias which makes you compare things in a negative way.

When people say, “count your blessings,” they really mean compare your life to something worse, and feel grateful your life is the way it is. And it works. In one study, people who wrote in a diary about what they were grateful for only five minutes a day were measurably happier.

Five minutes! If you want to feel measurably happier, compare your present circumstances to something worse, or simply think about things you are grateful for. It is a simple reframe, it works, you can do it over and over, and it’ll never wear out.

No reframes will make you permanently happy. But you can reframe in many different ways, and you can do it as often as you like and it will almost always make you feel noticeably better. Of all the mental tools I know about, reframes are the most fun to use. Use them often.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Playing to Your Strengths

Researchers have discovered that people can improve their own psychological health in positive ways (as well as the traditional way of working on problems). And one of these ways is to discover what your signature strengths are, and then exercise them more in your life.

A signature strength is something you're good at that is also something you enjoy doing. A questionnaire has been developed by a team of psychologists to help you discover what your signature strengths are. You can take the questionnaire for free here.

The researchers have defined 24 character strengths. They wanted characteristics that are universally appreciated and aspired to in every culture. They used multiple approaches to discover these. One of the criteria they used, for example, is what virtues do parents in every culture on earth want their children to have? 

Once you know what your signature strengths are, you can add more of it in your life and it will make you psychologically healthier.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal GrowthSlotralogyDirect Your Mind, and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam BombYou can email him here.

Turn Hopelessness Into Realistic Optimism

When the Titanic sank, people scrambled aboard lifeboats and were set adrift in the middle of nowhere in pitch darkness. Only three hours after the liner disappeared from the surface of the water, the first relief ships arrived. But by that time some people in the lifeboats had already scared themselves to death, or had gone mad.

Ninety percent of the survivors of any shipwreck die within three days. But to die of hunger or thirst, it takes much longer than that. It is despair that kills those people. "Helpless in the night," wrote Dr. Alain Bombard, French survival researcher and author of The Voyage of the Heretique, "chilled by sea and wind, terrified by the solitude, by the noise and by the silence, it takes less than three days for him to surrender his life."

When people are in what looks like a hopeless situation and they give up hope, it not only causes a breakdown of the body, but they stop doing the things that could keep them alive.

And this doesn't only apply to life-or-death situations. We all tend to give up hope about some things — our dreams, some special goal we have, something we really want, and we stop doing the things that could make them happen.

The loss of hope is a poisonous potion. Optimism is the antidote. Here are three steps to greater optimism:

1. Be negative about the negative. Question those negative thoughts you automatically think when disaster strikes. Argue against the pessimistic conclusions you've jumped to. This must come first. When you feel negative, the next two steps are very difficult. Being negative about the negative brings you up enough to go further.

2. Appreciate what's good about your situation. There's always something good. Think about how much worse the situation could be and be glad it isn't that bad.

3. Create a future. Make realistic plans for the future and actively work toward those goals. This creates life-giving, strength-building, sanity-bestowing hope.

Your mind has no direction of its own. Without your active participation, it will be blown hither and thither by the winds of circumstance and the tides of emotions. But it is possible to grab the tiller and steer. To get to the sunny shore from the ocean of life, wrote James Allen, "Keep your hand firmly on the helm of thought."

Adam Khan is the author of Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot, Principles For Personal Growth, and Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.