Ikigai is Good For You

The first time I took the "signature strengths" questionnaire at authentichappiness.org, I received an update on Martin Seligman's work, as I mentioned awhile ago. Here's another passage from that update, also an excerpt from Seligman's new book, Flourish:

There is one trait similar to optimism that seems to protect against cardiovascular disease: ikigai. This Japanese concept means having something worth living for, and ikigai is intimately related to the meaning element of flourishing (M in PERMA) as well as to optimism.

There are three prospective Japanese studies of ikigai, and all point to high levels of ikigai reducing the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, even when controlling for traditional risk factors and perceived stress. In one study, the mortality rate among men and women without ikigai was 160 percent higher than for increased CVD mortality as compared to men and women with ikigai.

In a second study, men with ikigai had only 86 percent of the risk of mortality from CVD compared to men without ikigai; this was also true of women, but less robustly so.

And in a third study, men with high ikigai had only 28 percent of the risk for death from stroke relative to their low-ikigai counterparts, but there was no association with heart disease.

It is healthy to add more meaning and purpose to your life, and it will improve your mood. To explore this, start here:

Why Goals Are Good

How to Find a Purpose in Life

Immediate Practical Benefits to Having a Purpose

Visualizing Goals

"When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary projects, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations; your consciousness expands in every direction; and you find yourself in a great new and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be."

- Patanjali

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.

The Master Tool

The method I am about to share with you will help you clarify your thinking, get rid of upsets, solve problems, organize your activities, and make you more productive. It's a simple tool, and you already know about it. But just as Dorothy had the way back to Kansas all along without realizing it, merely having the tool doesn't do the trick. The key is knowing you have the tool, and knowing what you can do with it.

The master tool is making lists. Listmaking can be applied to a great many areas of your life. I don't know if there is a natural limit to the usefulness of this tool, but I will give you a few examples of how I use it.

One of the things that tends to stress me out is the accumulation of too much to do. I collect things I want to do much faster than I can do them. So I need to manage my time better.

The best audio program I've ever heard on time management is from Earl Nightingale's Lead The Field program. He tells the true story of an efficiency expert named Ivy Lee who visited the president of a steel company to convince that president Lee's firm could help him manage his company better. The president said he wasn't managing his company as well as he knew how, and that what was needed wasn't more knowing, but more doing. He said everyone at the company knew what they should be doing, and if Lee could tell him how to get more of it done, he'd pay him anything within reason he asked.

Lee got out a blank sheet of paper, and asked the president to write down the six most important things he needed to do the next day. It took the president about three minutes to do it.

Then Lee asked him to number them in the order of their importance to the success of the company. The president took another five minutes to do that.

Then Lee said something like this: "Now tomorrow, pull that piece of paper out of your pocket and go to work on number one. Don't worry about the others until the first one is done. Then go to number two. And so on. Once you've convinced yourself of the value of this method, teach it to your people, and then send me a check for whatever you think it's worth."

A few weeks later, Ivy Lee received a check for twenty-five thousand dollars. And the president wrote that what Lee taught him was the most profitable lesson he'd ever learned. Within five years, the company became one of the leaders in its field, and its success was largely attributed to that simple method.

I've used that method too many times to count, and it always clarifies my mind and helps me get more done. I always immediately feel less stressed as soon as I've written the list, so I sleep better. It takes time to make the list and put it in order but the increased efficiency more than makes up that time. Don't take my word for it. Try it, and then send me a check for whatever you think it's worth (wink).

Here's another example of how I've used the master tool: When I'm worried about something, I use listmaking to help me think. When I feel agitated, I ask, "What's bothering me?" And I'll make a list. The list is always finite. That realization, all by itself, is relaxing. When the worries are in my head, it seems like there's a lot of them, but when they're written down, I can see there aren't that many. Once I've got my worries written down and I look at them, many of them seem pretty stupid.

But usually there is at least one important problem on that list, so I take out another piece of paper and ask this question: "What can I do about that?" Usually I write the question at the top of a page, and number one through ten on the page and then force myself to fill in all ten with something I can do that might help. Often the most original ideas are the ones I come up with last, as if I need to get the obvious ones out of my head before I have room to think something original. I've solved many a problem with this kind of list-making-thinking.

The examples are endless. I've made a list of possible courses of action to deal with a difficult person at work. I've written a long letter of the ten most important reasons I love my wife and gave it to her. I've made a list of my top seven values (I made a list of twenty and then by the process of elimination, got it down to the seven most important).

"We make lists so we will not forget what is important," says George Roche, president of Hillsdale College, "…if we chronically forget items like milk and bread unless we make a grocery list…isn't it also likely that we will forget items like virtue and compassion unless we make a character list…?"

The principle has wide application. How about the ten most important things you want to teach your kids before they turn eighteen? How about putting that one in order and working on your top three?

The principle is: Make a list. (Or make a list and put it in order.) There are many ways to use this principle to enhance your life. Why don't you try it right now? Get a piece of paper, write on it, "How can I use this principle to improve my life?" Write numbers one through ten and force yourself to fill in all ten with an answer. Pick the best one and try it.

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.

Direct Your Mind: Does This Help My Goal?

In the movie, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, John (the kid) finds out the bad Terminator is probably going to kill his mom. John wants to find her and warn her. The good Terminator says, “Negative. It is not a mission priority.”

The kid starts yelling. The good terminator (Arnold) says, “This does not help our mission.”

Throughout the movie, Arnold plays a machine that has only one goal and never lets go of it, never gets distracted from it, never comes up with a new goal, and never gets discouraged by setbacks. During the whole movie, he evaluates every possible action with only one criteria: Does it help his goal or doesn’t it? If it doesn’t, he has no time for it. He doesn’t waste any time fuming about someone else’s behavior. He doesn’t waste any time thinking about what he “should have” done. He just stays on his purpose.

Of course, the Terminator is a machine. But imagine how much you could accomplish with that kind of clear focus. This question, asked all the time, every day, would help you do that (without becoming a cold machine yourself, because you have several goals, including maintaining good relationships and being happy).

One of the values of “motivational material” like success books and seminars is that they get you thinking about your goals. The simple focus on your goal is motivating.

That means if this question was on your mind a lot, you’d feel motivated more often.

In a course my wife, Klassy Evans, used to teach, she demonstrated the motivational power of keeping your eye on the goal with a little help from the audience. She asked for two volunteers to come up to the front of the room and let her make them feel bad. Let’s go into the courseroom now and listen to Klassy do the demonstration. The following was transcribed from one of the courses:

“I need two people. The only requirement is that you are wearing comfortable shoes. You? Good. Thank you. Come on up. And you? Excellent. Now [speaking to the two volunteers] I’d like you to look at the audience and find someone who would be a good match for you in a tug of war — and who is also wearing comfortable shoes.

“Okay [to the audience] these two people [referring to the first two volunteers] are going to represent you in your life. You’re going to see what your life looks like. You two volunteers stand here and here and face that wall across the room [the wall to the right of the stage from the audiences’ perspective; the volunteers are to the left of center-stage].

“That wall will represent a goal of yours,” says Klassy. “You’re going to try to reach it while the person behind you tries to stop you. They are the barriers to your goal.

“Not just yet, but in a little while I’m going to ask you two barriers to come up behind them and put your arms around their waist, and be a drag on them while they try to reach their goal.

[She turns to the audience]: “We all have things that hold us back. If we didn’t, we’d just go get what we wanted. So if you don’t have what you want, it’s because something is acting as a barrier to hold you back.

[Speaking to the two people (the barriers) that the first two volunteers have chosen]: “You two barriers, we’re going to do the demonstration twice and I want you to stay consistent. Hold them back equally the first and second time because I want the difference to be a result in them, not because of something you are doing differently, okay? [They nod].

[Speaking to the goal-seekers — the first two volunteers]: “With your permission, I’m now going to bring you down. Then when I say, ‘Go for what you want,’ I want you to start moving toward your goal, represented by this wall [the wall to the right of center stage].

“But first, I’d like you to think of some bad news you’ve heard lately...[Klassy gives them time to think of some. When it looks like they’ve both found something, she continues]:

“Think of a mistake you’ve made...

“Now think of something good in your life...

“and realize it’s not going to last...

“Think of something bad in your life...

“and realize it’s probably permanent...

“and you’re going to have to deal with it for the rest of your life...

“Think about a weakness you have, a fault you have, something that holds you back...

“Think of something that stands in your way and prevents you from getting what you want...

“and realize it is more than you can handle...

“Add up all the barriers you can think of that stand in your way...

“and all your personal weaknesses...

“and come to grips with the fact that your goal is completely hopeless...

“You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache if you just give up now...

“Now I’d like the barriers to come up behind you and put their arms around your waist and interlace their fingers. And I’d like you to look down at their hands and keep looking at their hands, feeling the strength in their arms. Keep your attention on the barriers, and think about all the things that the arms represent: the barriers, your weaknesses, the hopelessness of the task. In your thoughts, I want you to hear what you tell yourself about all your failures and shortcomings and everything that’s wrong with you. When you feel down, what do you say to yourself about yourself?

“Remember vividly all the times you have failed...”

“Keep looking down at the hands and be aware of the strength of the barrier holding you back. With all your attention on the power of the barrier, I want you now to come and get your goal.

[At first there is no movement. Then they slowly inch forward, eyes down, looking serious, even sad. She lets them struggle that way for a couple of minutes while the audience looks on. They don’t even get halfway to the goal.]

“Okay that’s enough. Thank you. Now I’d like you to go back to where you were again. We’re going to turn it around. Think of something good in your life...

“it’s probably going to last...

“Think of something bad in your life...

“and realize it’s temporary, you’ll get through it...

“Think of some success you’ve had...a time when you did something and you won or it came out right and you felt really pleased with yourself, proud of yourself...

“When you think about a new challenge, you can remember, ‘Well, if I could do that, I can do this.’

“Think of all the strengths you have, talents that many other people don’t have...

“There are quite a few once you start thinking about it...

“I’ve got a little gold star in my hand [it’s a ceramic star glazed in a glossy golden color, about four inches tall]. I want you to focus your attention on it. Ignore the hands around your waist, and keep your eyes on this star. Let the star represent what you could have. This star is your goal. Imagine the future, when you have achieved this goal...

“would you dress any different?

“Would you go places you now don’t go?

“When you achieve this goal, what great things will you be saying to yourself?

“Think about the good things other people will say when you have this goal...

“What will it feel like to know you have attained this goal?

“What will it feel like to know you have what it took to achieve it?

“Barriers, please put your arms around them again.

“Now, you two: Keep your eyes on the goal. Do not take your eyes off this goal. Remember a time when you did very well at something...

“and I want you to know if you did very well once, you can do very well again...

“I want you to know a lot of people are behind you and want to help you...

“You will reach your goal!

“You have the strength. You have the talent. You have the determination.

“Keep your thoughts on this goal now. Stay aware of your feelings about this goal, and how you’ll feel when you reach it. Now come get it! [Without hesitation, they both suddenly pull forward, smiling and laughing. The barriers are no match. The barriers unsuccessfully try to hold them back, but their effort is futile. In about three seconds, everyone is at the goal. One of the people reaches up and touches the gold star with a big smile on his face. Everyone laughs.]

“Thank you. I’d like to ask the barriers a question: Did you notice anything different between the first time and the second time? [They both nod yes.] Okay, what was the difference? [One of them says, “He had more energy the second time.” Klassy goes to the chalkboard and writes “energy”.]

“Anything else you noticed? [One of them says, “She did it easier.”] Klassy writes “easier” underneath “energy” on the board.]

“Anything else? [One says, “They were faster the second time.” Klassy adds “faster” to the list.] I don’t know if you in the audience could see their faces, but there were more smiles the second time. We’ll assume smiles have to do with fun. [She adds “fun” to the list.] Okay, thanks to both of you. You two barriers can sit down.

[Klassy turns to the audience.] Now I’d like to ask you: What did you notice was different between the first time and the second time? [Somebody calls out, “More confidence the second time.” Klassy adds “confidence” to the list. People say more things, and she adds them to the list: determination, strength, focus.]

[She turns to the two main participants in the demonstration — the goal seekers]: “Now I’d like to ask you, ‘What was the difference for you?’ [One of them says, “It reminded me of learning how to drive. When I first started, I focused my eyes on the front edge of the car, and I wasn’t very effective. My Dad said over and over to look out ahead, and when I did, my driving got a lot better and I could relax.” The other one says, “I felt stronger and more determined.”]

“Thank you. That’s a good one. Anything else you want to add? Okay, thank you for helping. You can sit down now.”

What this demonstration shows very clearly, among other things, is that you are stronger, more determined, more powerful, and better able to get what you want when you stop focusing your attention on your obstacles and put your attention on your goal. 

That’s the purpose of the question: Does this help my goal? 

If you want to be a photographer and get your business going, for example, it would help to continually ask this question. So when you have a little extra money and you’re about it spend it on a weekend trip but it would really help your business to get a new lens, ask the question: Does this trip really help my goal? Does getting a lens really help my goal?

When someone tries to talk you into a job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, dangling riches before your eyes, this question will clarify the issue tremendously.

If there is one secret to success, this is it: Focus. You can’t do it all. There just isn’t enough time. You have to constantly choose one thing over another. How will you choose? By your feelings at the moment? By what you think others want? Or by how much it will help the most important goal you have?

“Obstacles,” said Henry Ford, “are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.”

So ask yourself this question all the time, about everything. It will keep you focused on your goal, and this focus will give you power, speed, determination, strength, and fun.

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.



The Answer to Procrastination is Not Willpower: A New Podcast Episode

This is the Talk to Klassy podcast, Episode 3: There is a way to think about your future self so your actions in the present are a lot less tainted with procrastination. We explore some research on this topic in this episode. Listen here:

Generate Friendliness

The Buddhist tradition teaches a meditation technique called metta, which is translated as loving-kindness. It's the culmination and end result of the practice of Buddhism, yet it's a simple meditation that brings surprisingly good results right away.

It only takes a few minutes, but it can imbue you with warmth and relaxation and improves the quality of your relationships without making you any less effective. In fact, in relationships that are difficult for you, it will make you more effective.

Here's how to do it:

1. In a quiet place, close your eyes and relax for a moment.

2. Think of anything that gives you a warm, loving feeling. It could be a memory of something someone did for you that touched you, or some story you've read, a scene from a movie, an image of one of your parents or children or siblings, or any thought that generates inside you a friendly feeling.

3. Notice where and what that feeling is. It could be a smiley feeling in your jaw; warmth in your eyes; a relaxed feeling in your abdomen; whatever.

4. Imagine the feeling spreading slowly throughout your body, gradually filling the cells of your body with warm, loving feelings.

5. Slowly open your eyes, and throughout the day, pay attention to that loving-kindness feeling whenever it arises during your day, no matter how slight. You'll notice it talking to someone or shaking hands or thinking about someone. Simply notice the feeling. Pay attention to it and enjoy it.

Love and friendliness are relaxing and enjoyable feelings. It is healthy to feel that way, and the metta meditation brings more of those feelings into your life. It is not only good for you, but any increase in feelings of goodwill, whether in you or in the people you contact, helps make this world a better place.

Read more about Metta Meditation in the book, Lovingkindness Meditation

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.

Soft Commitments Could Change Your Life: A New Podcast Episode

On the Talk to Klassy podcast, Episode 2 is about how to make improvements to your routines. If if there's a change you want to make in your life, and it requires regular action, daily or weekly, the idea of soft commitments might make your wish turn into reality. Listen here:

The Secret of Rudy's Persistence

I love the movie, Rudy. It's a true story about a boy who wants to play football for Notre Dame even though he’s small, not very strong, not very quick, doesn’t have the money for college (and neither do his parents), and gets lousy grades in high school.

But because of his formidable persistence and consistently great attitude, because of his willingness to keep moving toward his goal no matter what obstacles barred his way, he actually achieved his goal. It is truly inspiring to watch.

The real Rudy Ruettiger was a consultant for the movie, and made sure the movie was an accurate depiction of his life. But it leaves out some interesting facts. You can’t put a whole life into one movie without omitting something.

One of the things the movie left out is what I consider to be a vital part of the story: How he became so incredibly persistent. Luckily, he wrote about his experience in more detail, so we know the answer. A particular event changed his life.

In the movie, only one person supported Rudy's dream to play football for Notre Dame — his best friend, Pete. When Pete died in a tragic accident, something happened to Rudy, and he realized if he was going to make his dream happen, he’d better get on with it because life is short.

A few days later he was in a bookstore and found a paperback copy of Psycho-Cybernetics. “I took the book home and read it cover to cover,” says Rudy, “and then I started again at the beginning.”

The book made a profound impression on Rudy, and he immediately started acting on his newfound understanding of how to accomplish goals.

“Although I was already 23, I immediately headed for Notre Dame with the attitude, ‘I'm going to do this, period, end of sentence,’ and new opportunities were created just by me showing up.”

I’ve had similar experiences where my commitment to a goal — all by itself — seemed to make things happen, almost like magic. You probably have too.

“Maltz said if you take action, the plan will unfold in front of you,” wrote Rudy. “You can develop your game plan as you move toward your goal. Sometimes it’s better not to have everything all laid out; focusing too much on how you think it should go can cause you to miss opportunities.”

According to Rudy, the book changed his life.

If you have important goals (and I’ll bet you do) find yourself a copy of Psycho-Cybernetics and read it. It’s one of the best self-help books ever written.

Two things make the book exceptional: First, it’s easy to read. Second, it is complete. It talks about the value of setting goals and how to set goals, and how to visualize your goals to make them real. But it also talks about one of the most important barriers to achievement: Your self-image.

If you have a goal but believe you’re a loser, no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to accomplish your goal. Something will always cause you to fail before you reach it.

If this has been happening to you, dig into the self-image psychology in Maltz’s book and follow the practical suggestions for eliminating the internal barriers to your success. Rudy said, “I learned from Psycho-Cybernetics that it’s all in what you think.”

But that doesn’t mean “just think positive thoughts and everything will turn out well.” There is more to it. Maltz goes into detail about exactly how to use your mind effectively to overcome the psychological obstacles to achievement. Read a summary of Psycho-Cybernetics.

Rudy wrote, “Every one of us uses our mind to create our life. My story can be your story — if you are willing to swim against the stream, fight against the odds, and believe you can be whatever you want to be.

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Where to Tap

Ever hear the story of the giant ship engine that failed? The ship’s owners tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure out how to fix the engine. 

Then they brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was a youngster. He carried a large bag of tools with him, and when he arrived, he immediately went to work. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom. 

Two of the ship’s owners were there, watching this man, hoping he would know what to do. After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched into life. He carefully put his hammer away. The engine was fixed!

A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars.

“What?!” the owners exclaimed. “He hardly did anything!” So they wrote the old man a note saying, “Please send us an itemized bill.”

The man sent a bill that read,

Tapping with a hammer............$2
Knowing where to tap...............$9998

Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort in your life makes all the difference. And here’s something I’ve learned from experience and study: If you want to improve your life overall, the best place to tap is exercise.

I injured a tendon not too long ago and didn’t exercise for about a month. I’ve started again, and I’ve become a born-again exerciser! I’d forgotten how good it is for my sense of well-being. I have more energy, a better attitude, a gentler disposition. It’s easier to be the kind of person I want to be.

Our bodies need daily exercise, and when we don’t exercise, it makes us feel bad. I think it’s our natural state to be energetic and feeling good. But the lack of exercise prevents that. A consensus is building among doctors, psychologists and those trying to help others become saner, happier and healthier: Exercise is the place to start. If you were in a position to give advice, and someone unhappy or unhealthy came to you for guidance but you were allowed to give only one word of advice, the best thing you could recommend is: Exercise!

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.

The Ocelot Blues

What happens when you let your mind wander? Studies have shown when a human mind has nothing specific to think about, it becomes chaotic, flitting from one thought to another in a random way. But if any mind — your mind, my mind — keeps wandering, before long, our thoughts will land on something that grabs our attention: some fear or frustration or unfinished business. 

You know what this is like: Your mind sticks there, like a tire spinning in the mud, dwelling on the worrisome or upsetting thought, and it ruins your mood. This is what happens to a mind without a purpose.

Having a purpose on your mind keeps your thoughts from devolving into chaos and bad moods. You can’t stop your mind from thinking, but when you have a goal to think about, your mental resources are less likely to drift randomly into upsetting thoughts. They have someplace to go.

That’s why studies show that people are more often in a good mood while working than they are in their free time. It seems unbelievable at first, but it is easily explained by the need for purpose. Most people are more likely to have clear purposes at work than at home.

It is common knowledge that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” but the important factor, the factor that gets you out of the devil’s workshop, is something you need to do that compels your attention.

Remember that: Something you need to do that compels your attention. That’s the key — think of it as vitamin P.

The human mind needs a purpose. It’s like the ocelot scratching off his fur at the Seattle Zoo. The zookeepers didn’t know what to do about it. They gave him a female, but he kept skinning himself. They changed his diet. They changed his cage. But he kept clawing at himself.

Finally, someone realized that in the wild, ocelots eat birds. So instead of giving the ocelot meat to eat, they threw an unplucked chicken into the cage. Sure enough, the ocelot — using the same clawing movements he was using on himself — plucked the feathers out of that chicken and stopped skinning himself. Your mind is like that. It needs a bone to chew or it’ll chew the furniture. It needs a purpose. And not just any purpose, but something that challenges you, engages you, something you intend to accomplish, something you want, something real and concrete. Your mind aligns around that goal instead of being pulled into negativity, and you’re happier.

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.

How to Stop Arguing in a Relationship

During a conversation with your spouse, when your heart rate rises over 100 beats per minute, you are no longer reasonable. After decades of experiments with couples, this is one of the conclusions of John Gottman, a researcher at the University of Washington.

I'm sure you've already discovered that the more upset you are, the less reasonable you are. That is, you hold onto your position more firmly and more rigidly, and you are less open to information or other points of view. Your position becomes more and more absolute and one-sided the more upset you get.

But 100 beats per minute is not very high. I invite you to check your heart rate during the next argument with your spouse. I have done this and was surprised to discover that when I felt only a little upset my heart rate was 120 beats per minute!

Now of course if you continue trying to "discuss matters" with your spouse while being unreasonable, it is very difficult to resolve anything. An escalation of the anger is a more likely result, leading to hurt feelings, a drop in affection, and so on.

That's where meditation (a very easy process to learn) can really make a difference. Experiments have shown that people who meditate regularly don't get as upset during arguments and get over it more quickly. Specifically, their heart rate doesn't rise as high and returns to normal more quickly. That means they don't spend as much time in the "unreasonable zone."

That means during disagreements with their spouses, they would spend less time saying things they'll regret later and there will be less hard feelings between them. And that is good for their marriage and good for their mood.

You don't have to meditate very long to see a change. If you're interested in trying the experiment yourself, here's how to meditate: The Physical and Psychological Benefits of Mantra Meditation.

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

The Cold Indifference of Memetic Evolution

When Richard Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene in 1976, the book presented a new perspective on genes. Up until that time, genes were looked at from the organism's point of view. In other words, the point of genes was to make a successful organism. If the weather was getting colder, genetic adaptations created a thicker coat. This served the organism.

The problem with this way of looking at genes was that over time, scientists have found many genes that do not serve the organism, that may even harm the organism, and yet still get passed on to generation after generation.

Dawkins proposed that we look at genetic evolution from the gene's point of view. Instead of the genes serving the organism, it made more sense to think the organism served the genes.

In the book, Dawkins makes an interesting point: Evolution will happen whenever you have something that can make copies of itself. As soon as something makes copies of itself (like genes, for example), if there is any variation in those copies at all, then some variations will eventually copy themselves better than other copies. They'll copy themselves faster, or with more fidelity (making more exact copies of themselves), or in some way increase their proportion of the population.

That's evolution. Some things copy better than others.

In the last chapter of the book, Dawkins says something startling. He said genes aren't the only thing that makes copies of themselves. We know of one other thing that makes copies of itself.

The English language had no name for it, so Dawkins made up a name: meme.

Anything that can be copied from one mind to another is a meme. The custom of shaking hands is a meme. At one time in your life, it was not in your mind. Then someone else showed you or told you about greeting someone by shaking hands, and that meme made a copy of itself in your mind.

A tune is a meme. And idea is a meme. The word "meme" is a meme, and if you've never heard it before now, that meme has just copied itself successfully into your mind.

Because memes make copies of themselves, they evolve. Remember, anything that makes copies of itself will evolve. Some memes copy better than others. They copy faster or with better fidelity or whatever. Somehow they get more copies of themselves into other minds.

One way memes have gotten better at copying is by joining with other memes in what is known as a "memeplex." A religion is a memeplex, for example. It is a collection of memes that more or less work together to get copies of themselves into other minds.

From a memetics standpoint, a religion is a collection of memes. One of the memes might be, "This is a holy book." And the holy book itself is, of course, a collection of memes. And in this case, because it's a book, the memes have found a way to copy themselves with extraordinary fidelity: The printer pumps out thousands or millions of identical copies of the memeplex.

Let's look at this for a minute, and then I'll get to my point. Let's say you had a religion going already (a memeplex). You already have a book and millions of people already have a copy of the memeplex in their minds. And then there is a slight variation.

Up until now, the memeplex had a kind of "live and let live" attitude. But then someone comes up with the idea that if you can persuade a non-believer to become a believer, you earn some sort of merit.

Okay, now you have two variations on the same memeplex: One says live and let live. The other motivates people to sell the memeplex to others.

Then let's say a thousand years go by. What do you think would happen? After a thousand years, which of the two variations will have more copies in the minds of people? I'm betting on the persuading version.

Now here's my point: A successful gene doesn't necessarily benefit the organism. It is "successful" in the sense that it has made lots of copies of itself and is found in many organisms. But it may actually be harmful for the organism. For example, if there is a gene for alcoholism, and if that gene causes the organism with that gene to have even slightly more offspring that those without the gene, then over thousands of years, the alcoholism gene will be more successful than the non-alcoholism gene even though it is bad for the organism.

In the same way, the success of a meme doesn't necessarily mean it is good for the person holding that meme. If you have a meme that says you should spend all your spare time trying to talk other people into adopting your memeplex, it may be good for the memeplex but bad for you. It could make you miserable. It could waste your life. You might be so involved in it you neglect your health, so it could be bad for your health. You might want to maximize the amount of time and money you can spend on selling others on the memeplex, so you decide not to have children. That means the very successful memeplex is actually interfering with the success of your genes.

But in all that struggle to get converts, your efforts have made more copies of themselves than a meme that says, "I just want to enjoy my life." So over time, it is possible to have more and more people believing in stupid, counterproductive, and even destructive memes, and perhaps even becoming more and more fanatical about their memeplexes.

There is only one thing that can save the world from this horrible possibility: The memeplex of memetics, of course! I'm only being partially facetious. I think an understanding of memes and memetic evolution and how it works immunizes the brain, at least to some degree, from the tyranny and blindness of harmful memeplexes.

So spread the word. Share your understanding (you will earn memetic merit if you do).

If you'd like to increase your understanding of memetics, there are a few good books. I've read every book on memetics that has so far been published, and I think the best one is The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore. It is readable and interesting and clearly articulates the meme of memes. If you've already read that one, Thought Contagion: When Ideas Act Like Viruses is also good. It's not as easy to read, but it has really good examples.

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.

Solitude is More Than a Desire: It is a Need

We have a healthy craving for quiet solitude. I know there are a few people who are afraid of being alone, but the rest of us find it soothing and rejuvenating and it doesn't happen nearly as much as we'd like.

Solitude is therapeutic. Spending time in solitude doing what you want at a pace that is natural to you, without any interruptions, without having to take others into consideration, without any external pressures or the need to hurry, is deeply satisfying and personally I classify it as a psychological need.

It is unnatural for human beings to have no time to think. It serves an important function, I think, much in the same way dreaming does. Dreaming may seem to be a waste of time, but when people are prevented from dreaming — allowed to sleep as much as they want but awakened when they start to dream — after a short while, they begin to hallucinate while they're awake. Dreaming is necessary for mental health.

Solitude and time to think is necessary too, I believe. If you prevent yourself from having time to do nothing, by yourself, allowing free time to think naturally, it makes you less calm, less rational, less happy, less sane, than you otherwise would be. Although I have no experiments I can point to that would validate that assertion, I believe it's true, based on what I know.

In solitude, in the absence of interruptions and distractions, the mind naturally drifts to solving problems, trying out solutions, imagining conversations.

In "primitive" societies, where people don't have the pressures and multi-tasking and so many different forms of diversion, mental illness is almost nonexistent.

Of course, too much time alone isn't healthy either. It's like anything else, you need balance. Not enough exercise is unhealthy, but too much exercise can put you in the hospital. But I think most of us are deficient in solitude and need more of it. Finding it and doing it will require some ingenuity on your part. But you can do it.

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.

Inner Peace

On vacation many years ago, I was reading the Bhagavad Gita, one of Hinduism's holy books. It is basically a conversation between Arjuna, a charioteer, and a spirit. The spirit is urging Arjuna to let go of his attachment to the outcome of the upcoming battle. And all throughout the book, there is a continuous urge to let go of your desires, to give up desiring.

Crazy idea, I know. But I was on vacation, and I thought of something I'd like to try, so I tried it. I did a kind of meditation that lasted for several HOURS. I normally fidget a lot and have a hard time sitting still for long periods, but without any goal to sit still for so long, I was quite content to stay sitting there for hours. And all I did the whole time was to notice when I had a desire, and then decide to let that desire go.

I realized that desires are something I don't really have control over. They come up on their own. Just sitting there, one desire after another would pop up. I wanted to move my position. I wanted the pain in my leg to go away. I wanted to get up and have something to eat. I wanted to get rich. I wanted people to like me. I wanted things to go well at work. I wanted I wanted I wanted. One after another these desires came forth and presented themselves. That part I had no control over.

But I did have some control after that point. I can decide on a desire or not. I may have the desire to have a beer, but then I can decide, "nah, I don't really want one, now that I think about it."

In other words, I don't really control whether or not a desire comes up. But I do control whether I hang onto that desire or let it go.

So that's all I did for several hours. I payed attention to when a desire came up, which was several per minute, and then decided to let the desire go. I simply decided No, I don't really want that now.

That was one of the most deeply peaceful experiences I have ever had in my life. I achieved a kind of bliss I didn't think was possible without heavy medication. I was totally peaceful. I was completely at ease. I had found bliss and tranquillity.

Now of course, most of my life is oriented toward goals, and that's the way it is. I don't want to simply sit and live in peace without doing anything worthwhile. But I know that any time I want to descend into the well of deep peace and quench my thirst, I have a way.

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.

Talk to Klassy — A New Podcast

I've started a new podcast. It is my commentary on conversations I have with my wife and business partner, Klassy Evans. We often have creative, insightful conversations because she's brilliant and rich with wisdom. 

I've often had the thought while we were in the midst of one of these conversations, "I wish we had recorded this," but she came up with the next best thing: After one of these conversations, I could make a podcast about it while it's still fresh in my mind.

So that's what I'm going to be doing. I hope you enjoy it and get value from it. The podcast right now is only available on the following three platforms, but we'll get it on more platforms soon:

On YouTube

It should be fun. Stay tuned...

Direct Your Mind: What Does Life Expect From Me?

This is another in the series, Direct Your Mind. The most powerful tool you have available to you for using your mind to work for you rather than against you is asking a good question. Learn more about that here.

I borrowed this unusual question from Viktor Frankl. He had learned in his experience in Hitler’s concentration camps that many of his fellow prisoners needed to change their attitude. Frankl wrote,

We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
This is an interesting perspective, isn’t it? Very different from our normal way of thinking. It is a productive question to ask yourself, “What task has life set for me?”

For example, Tom has seen his boss doing something unscrupulous, but he really wants his promotion, and he’s the breadwinner of a growing family. He feels torn. It would give him a helpful perspective to ask, “What task is life setting for me here?”

Men in the concentration camp with Frankl sometimes tried to kill themselves. Because Frankl was a psychiatrist, life asked him to do something about it. He was called upon by his fellow prisoners to talk to the despairing men and find a way to renew their will to live.

Frankl learned the importance of finding meaning in life firsthand. When a person had some meaning — some reason to live — they were much less likely to kill themselves.

Frankl found that one man had a niece. The man was her only surviving family member. She needed him. So he had a reason to stay alive. There was a meaning to his suffering — a reason to endure. He needed to survive so he could look after that girl.

Another man had written several volumes of an important book series and it needed to be completed. He was the only person who could complete it. That was enough to keep him from committing suicide or just giving up and dying.

Frankl helped these men find something important life was asking them to do, and that was enough of a reason to live.

Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist in Germany when Hitler took power and Frankl spent many years struggling to stay alive in concentration camps. During that time, he lost his wife, his brother, and both his parents — they either died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. He lost every possession he ever owned. Because he already knew a lot about psychology before he experienced these extreme circumstances, his observations have an extraordinary depth that makes his slim book, Man’s Search for Meaning, very rich in insight. His perspective on finding meaning in life is different from any other I have encountered. He wrote, for example:

The meaning of life differs from person to person, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion, “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent. The same holds true for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment.

I love that line: “…to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment.” For example, Frankl tried to keep his fellow prisoners from committing suicide. The Nazis had made it strictly forbidden to stop a fellow prisoner from killing himself. If you cut down a prisoner in the process of hanging himself, you (and probably everyone in your bunkhouse) would be severely punished. So Frankl had to catch people before they actually attempted suicide. This, he felt, was a concrete assignment which demanded fulfillment. He was a psychiatrist. He was the most qualified prisoner in his camp to fulfill this assignment.

The men would often confide in Frankl, since he was a psychiatrist. The two men I mentioned above had told Frankl they had decided to commit suicide. Both of them had basically the same reason: They had nothing more to expect from life. All they could expect was endless suffering, starvation, torture, heartbreak, and in the end, probably the gas chamber.

“In both cases,” wrote Frankl, “it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them...” That's when Frankl discovered one was a scientist with an incomplete book project and the other had a niece in another country.

These are concrete answers to the question, “What does life expect from me?” The first man needed to finish his work. The other needed to find his niece and take care of her. Frankl had done nothing more than help them see they had a concrete assignment they had not yet fulfilled.

Even for people in less desperate situations than a concentration camp, a sense of purposelessness can produce fatigue, depression, alcoholism, and suicide. A lack of purpose creates all kinds of mental and emotional ill-health. And even if the ill-health wasn’t created by purposelessness, finding a purpose can often cure the health problem.

It doesn’t matter what other factors are doing well — money, family, kids, work, health — without a sense of purpose, those things won’t make you happy, and psychological problems will tend to plague you.

And you can’t “make something up” just to have a purpose. Any random goal is not good enough. It’s got to be real for you. It has to have meaning for you. This is not a quick and easy fix. This is a profound and fundamental question: What concrete assignment do you really feel is demanding fulfillment?

Each person’s life is unique. The concrete assignment a person needs to fulfill is different for every person, and different for each person at different times under different circumstances. Frankl discovered that a prisoner would not commit suicide once he realized his unique obligation to life.

Frankl’s observations have been borne out by recent research. Investigators at New York State Psychiatric Institute studied eighty-four people suffering major depression trying to determine why thirty-nine of them had never attempted to kill themselves. Instead of asking what makes depressed people want to die, they asked what makes them want to live.

The study revealed that age, sex, religious persuasion or education level did not predict who would attempt suicide. But strong reasons to live did predict it rather well. The depressed patients who responded on the questionnaire with more reasons for living showed less hopelessness and were less likely to try to kill themselves.

Other studies have shown that students who feel they have some purpose in life are far less likely to get involved with drugs.

Purpose in life. Meaning in life. These are not superfluous issues reserved for philosophy classes. Frankl’s question brings us to the heart of a vital matter. The question makes us look at our situation from an unusual point of view.

Thinking about “what you want out of life” is a common thing to do; it is looking at your situation in a common way. But what about asking what life wants out of you? Not that you should ignore what you want out of life. I don’t think these two points of view are entirely opposing, and in fact, I would add to Frankl’s view that the ideal purpose fulfills both. For both of the prisoners who had decided to commit suicide, Frankl’s point of view helped them find their purpose, but for both of them, the purpose was not merely a duty. It was also something they wanted very strongly and had simply forgotten about or given up on. For each man, their purpose was something they desired and also something they felt was a concrete assignment that demanded fulfillment.

Frankl’s question is worth asking — especially if your aim doesn’t seem very clear to you. By looking at your life from another angle, you can sometimes see what you’ve disregarded or overlooked. What needs to be done and what you strongly want to do is often staring you in the face without you seeing it.

For Michael W. Fox, his concrete assignment was unmistakable. Fox is now a veterinarian and author of several books. When he was nine years old, he was walking home from school when he looked through a fence and saw a ghastly sight: A large trash bin overflowing with dead dogs and cats. He was looking into the backyard of a veterinary clinic. “I never knew the reason for this mass extermination,” Fox said, “but I was, from that time on, committed to doing all I could to help animals, deciding at age nine that I had to be a veterinarian.”

Here was a concrete assignment life had presented to Fox. He saw something that needed to be done, and he strongly wanted to do something about it. He became a veterinarian and has been reducing the suffering of animals ever since. He has worked to educate people and pass legislation that reflects more respect for all animals.

A clear aim can convert a feeling of horror into a resolve to do something about it. A clear aim can transform a feeling of despair into grim determination. If there is anything in your life you feel you’ve given up on, or if you feel despair or hopelessness about something, this is your wake up call. A clear aim can change a self-defeating, counterproductive emotion into a constructive feeling that leads to constructive action. For example, during the Korean War, the Chinese government tried to brainwash captured U.S. soldiers. The Chinese used every technique they could think of to make the POWs give up their belief in personal freedom and take up a belief in the greatness of communism.

The captives were tortured, starved, and psychologically assaulted — unless they converted. In one of the prison camps, three-fourths of the POWs had died, and things looked pretty bleak to those still alive. They were feeling demoralized and hopeless. Not only did their chances for survival look slim, but they would have to endure terrible suffering until the end. The POWs were beginning to give up on life.

Then one man said, “We’ve got to stay alive, we’ve got to let others know about the horrors of Communism. We’ve got to live to bring back the armies and fight these evil people. Communism must not win!”

This was a turning point for every American in that prison because their meaningless suffering was transformed into a mission. Their despair was turned into resolve. Their feeling of hopelessness was converted into firm determination. And from that point, prisoners stopped dying. They made it back to the U.S. They lived to tell the world what happened.

A single definite, worthwhile, heartfelt purpose can transform a horrible experience into a sacred calling, crusade, a holy aspiration, a true mission. I’ve read about and I’ve had personal experience with the same transformation many times.

Viktor Frankl wrote, “Any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal...Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost.”

The psychologist, Abraham Maslow, studied exceptional people to find out what unusually healthy people were like. Until Maslow came along, psychologists mostly studied mentally ill people to find out why they were ill and how they became that way. Maslow felt we could also learn something from the study of fulfilled, happy, successful people. That became his life’s work. And one of the things he found out about these “self-actualized” people was that “every one of them, without exception, were devoted to a cause outside their own skin.”

They were devoted to a cause. They had a clear aim. And for these exceptional people, it was a clear aim beyond satisfying their personal needs. They were working on a concrete assignment that demanded fulfillment.

If you want to join the ranks of the self-actualized, get yourself a purpose that fires you up. Find something that you think is needed, that you feel is important, that you want very strongly to see accomplished. If you don’t have one, I have one for you. I’ve thought long and hard about what is needed in this world, and here it is: We must win the war against pessimism, cynicism, and defeatism, and you can help. You can take up this banner and put your powers to the test.

Maybe you already have a clear aim. Or maybe your clear aim is not so global in scope. If not, don’t sweat it. But don’t try to accomplish a clear aim if your heart isn’t in it. Pick something important to you. Choose something that fits your situation. Remember the man who had a niece to take care of.

But don’t choose a goal beneath you, either. Defeatism reveals itself in the setting of low goals — goals too small or petty — goals below your capabilities. Setting a low or petty goal is a kind of preemptive defeat. You’ve given up on bigger goals before you’ve even tried. For someone with no purpose at all or in a very restricted situation (like a concentration camp), a small goal is all you may be able to realistically consider. But as your level of psychological fitness increases (and/or as your material conditions improve), there comes a time when an all-in crusade is called for as a context for your life.

There isn’t one right purpose which you must find and follow. Delete that kind of magical thinking from your thoughts forever! Any constructive purpose is better than no purpose and some are better than others. Some are good for now, but no good if pursued too long. The important thing is that you like your purpose and feel it is important.

We don’t know if life really does expect anything from us. But asking that question calls forth deep personal answers of meaning and purpose. Try pondering the question for a few days and you’ll see what I mean.

The above was excerpted from the book, Direct Your Mind: How to Steer Your Mind to Work For You Rather Than Against You.

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

Oil Isn't Sold in a Free Market

Petroleum does not exist in a free market. Some oil production operations produce oil for much cheaper than others, so they could sell theirs on the market at a price lower than anyone else, and thus gain a larger market share.

But they don't. They all sell barrels of oil for the same exorbitant price. Why?

Because they can sell everything they have at top dollar.

Why? Because OPEC keeps oil artificially scarce. They keep it scarce enough that all the oil that becomes available on the world market is snatched up. There is no competition. It's an unprecedented seller's market.

OPEC's price-fixing, economy-devastating scheme (and its destructive effects) can be bypassed with the simple introduction of fuel competition. Cars would become a platform upon which different fuels would compete against petroleum in a free market.

And then what would happen? Prices for fuel would drop, and the economy — no longer dragged down by crushing, encumbering, onerous fuel prices — would boom.

Direct Your Mind: How Can I Prevent This From Ever Happening Again?

Here is a useful approach to the inevitable misfortunes that will come your way. It is a way to resolve your negative feelings and use the misfortune in a practical way.

When something unfortunate happens, you will naturally have it on your mind for some time. You’ll think about it. Often you will merely remember it and feel bad. If you caused it, you might feel guilty. If you didn’t cause it, you might ruminate on how you wish it hadn’t happened, or how upset you are at what the consequences will be.

As long as your mind is on it, you might as well take advantage of it and see if something useful can be gained by pondering it. The most direct way to do that is to ponder the question, “What could I do to prevent that from happening to me again?”

This is a way to direct your mind. You’re already thinking about it, but the way most people naturally think about misfortunes does not help. This question goes along with the impetus of your mind, but aims that impetus in a more productive direction.

After thinking about it you may conclude nothing you can do will prevent it from happening again, in which case, you can ponder what would be the best way to respond to it next time, or what you will do now to minimize the consequences.

Pondering these questions will satisfy your mind’s desire to think about it, will minimize how bad it makes you feel, and will help you learn something useful for the future.

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.

How Flex Fuel Cars Were Invented

Roberta J. Nichols was an extraordinary and distinguished engineer, specializing in internal combustion engines. Born in 1931, by the 1970s she was the leading researcher at Ford for "alternative fuel vehicles."

The timing couldn't possibly have been better. With the oil embargo in 1973 and the Iranian revolution, American leaders were perfectly clear that we needed an alternative fuel — ideally something we had more control over than oil. And at the time, air pollution was a hot topic too, so people were looking at methanol as an alternative fuel. It burns cleaner with fewer emissions than gasoline.

Nichols had grown up in Los Angeles and knew some of the right people, so she was able to convince California to launch a program to test the practicality of methanol as a fuel. Then she convinced Ford to invest in it.

In 1980, Ford bequeathed to the Californian government twelve Pintos that had been altered to run on methanol. Within three years, California had a fleet of over six hundred methanol cars.

The cars were a great success in many ways. The drivers loved them. Methanol is 105 octane, which significantly increased the effective horsepower of the state cars. After driving these methanol cars a total of about 35 million miles, they had lots of data. The emissions were low, the fuel-efficiency was good, everything seemed wonderful.  But there was a problem. California didn't have enough fueling stations for these cars. Because they were retrofitted regular cars, the gas tank wasn't big enough (methanol has a lower energy density, so needs more liquid per mile). They had a 230 mile range, but with so few methanol stations, that was sometimes not good enough.

In all of California, there were only 22 methanol fueling stations. And because there were only about 600 of these cars on the road, gas stations didn't really have much incentive to add a methanol pump. So the drivers had to really fret about running out of fuel.

And because of this, nobody else really wanted to buy one of these methanol cars. So California was in the same Catch-22 we are in today. The fueling stations want to wait until there are enough cars on the road that can burn an alternative fuel before they add a pump for it, and car buyers aren't interested in buying a car that can burn a fuel that hardly anybody sells.

At the time, Nichols and her team were not overly bothered by this. They wanted to test the cars with that fuel, and all the tests came out great, so their experiment was a success.

The car was a failure, however, but only because of the lack of infrastructure to support it.

But Nichols didn't give up on the idea. She realized that if her methanol car was ever going to be widely accepted, the car itself would have to solve the Catch-22 instead of relying on preexisting infrastructure (fuel stations) to bridge the gap. And to do that, the car would have to burn gasoline and methanol, so when drivers couldn't find a methanol station, they could get by with gasoline.

Creating a methanol-only car was not that difficult from an engineering standpoint. But a mixed-fuel car was something else. It would be easy if the car always had the same mixture, but to create an engine that could effectively deal with a mixture of changing proportions was a challenge. But they realized that's what they needed to do if a methanol car was ever going to enter the mainstream.

The car would somehow have to be designed to respond to whatever arbitrary mixture of fuels it was burning at the moment, and to change in response to changing mixtures. At the time, this was unheard of, and they didn't know how to go about it.

Their solution was to adapt an invention by G.A. Schwippert — a sensor that could determine the alcohol content of a liquid (using light refraction), and then connecting that changing information to the fuel injector. Then the fuel-to-air ratio could be changed on the spot, depending on the fuel mixture of the moment. It was brilliant and simple. And it worked. Nichols and her team invented the first modern flex fuel vehicle. Read the story in her own words here.

Ford made quite a few of these cars, and the other automakers experimented a little with them too, but it didn't catch on as quickly as Nichols had hoped.

The farm lobby, which was looking for a market for ethanol, helped keep the idea alive. They helped promote flex fuel cars, and that's why today most FFVs are designed to burn gasoline and ethanol, but not methanol.

Roberta J. Nichols died in 2005. But she left behind a legacy that could change the world.

Fuel competition cannot happen until a single car can allow the competition. Right now we have CNG cars (compressed natural gas) and electric cars, and gas-only cars. So it could be said we have competition. But drivers cannot choose between these different fuels every time we fill up. And since most of us cannot afford to have three different kinds of cars, and to drive the one with the cheapest fuel that day, there is no real competition.

What happens, then, is that people will buy the car that is least expensive and/or has the most available fuel. And that's what we have now. No competition.

But Nichols' invention will finally allow different fuels to compete in the marketplace, head-to-head every day.

Adam Khan is the co-author with Klassy Evans of Fill Your Tank With Freedom and the author of Slotralogy and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.