Having the Time

I was reading a true story about a Norwegian soldier who had been put out of action by frostbite and was confined to a small sled in the middle of the Arctic wilderness. Some friends were hiding him from the German soldiers who were occupying Norway. He was alone for twenty-seven days except for a short visit by someone about every three or four days. He had a book with him, but he didn’t read much of it during those twenty-seven days. He “never seemed to have the time.”

When I read that last line, it jolted me awake and has been bugging me ever since. Do you understand why? Here was a man who couldn’t walk, who was confined to a sleeping bag in the middle of a silent, snow-covered, completely uninhabited area in the Arctic, and he was too busy to read. What’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong is the same thing that’s wrong with you and me. We’re too busy. You are, aren’t you? Yeah, so am I. Short of time. More things to do than you have time to do. Always trying to catch up.

But what has been dawning on me with a certain degree of irony and ridiculousness is that my lack of time is completely created by me.

There is no shortage of time. There is only the greedy effort to get more from our days than we can, while at the same time greedily wanting to also spend some of that time in leisure.

It’s silly. And it’s tragic. It costs us the experience of living. Time seems to fly by. Wow, where did those last ten years go? Were we so busy getting things done we forgot to enjoy our own lives?

Let’s just relax, shall we? Let’s quit trying to do so much. We don’t have to get all that stuff done. We don’t have to be perfect parents — kids have been raised by imperfect parents for a long time and still turned out okay. We don’t have to be perfect at anything. We don’t have to do it all. And we don’t have to be happier. But when we realize we don’t have to cram so much into our days, we will be.

Excerpted from the book, Principles For Personal Growth.

Necessary Conflict (Between Parents and Their Children)

Children try to train their parents as much as parents try to train their children. Children want their parents to wait on them hand and foot, to buy them whatever they want, to grant them freedom and privilege, and to think everything they do is wonderful.

If you have children, you know this is true. They want a lot from you. And they use whatever tools they can to attain it: throwing a fit, being cute, whining, wearing down resistance with persistence, lying, trying to use your own rules against you, pitting Mom against Dad, pretending to go along with you in order to gain favor, being “good,” trying to make you feel guilty, etc. You’re familiar with the techniques. Every kid invents them anew and uses whichever techniques he can get away with.

I’ve seen parents counter their children’s strategies with “That makes Mommy unhappy,” as if Mom’s happiness is on the child’s top-priority list. I’d hate to break the news to a mom who says this, but her happiness is way down there, below cookies and cotton candy. The motivation a child has to please a parent is weak compared to the motivation to gain resources and privilege.

Therefore, if you have a child, you must arrange it so there is a strong motivation to do what you want — something more powerful than “It makes me happy.” It’s not that your child doesn’t care about you. It’s that the self-discipline it takes to be fair and sacrifice one’s own wishes for the good of someone else and for the long term is learned. It’s not inborn. So while your child does want to please you, he also wants cookies and if he can get them by being nice, he will. If he can get them by screaming, he will.

Now that you’re an adult, you know it’s important to delay gratification. You know vegetables are better for you than cookies. And you have enough appreciation for long-term consequences that you’re willing to sacrifice pleasure in the moment. But your child isn’t. So the two of you are going to conflict.

In any conflict, failure to be aware of the goals of the other person puts you at a disadvantage in gaining your own goals. You want to buy them a book. They want more junk (toys). You want them to eat vegetables and protein. They want cookies and ice cream. You want to teach them manners and morals. They want you to go pester someone else. By and large, they are not the slightest bit interested in what you really want to give them.

Your goals are in conflict. That is the way it is. You cannot make your goals align without compromising your integrity, so you must be the one who sets the standards and you must deal out consequences when the standards are violated. Reasoning won’t work with someone who hasn’t had enough experience to appreciate long-term consequences. So you have to create immediate consequences. And the consequences have to be more of a deterrent than the pleasure your child gets from violating the standard. Knowing you’re disappointed usually won’t do it. “A good talking to” won’t either. You need something sufficiently difficult, inconvenient, or painful to make a child choose wisely: a week without dessert, no TV for three days, extra chores. And it only works when you make sure you follow through and enforce the consequences.

This is an important conflict. The way it turns out makes a difference. It’s your adult standards against your child’s whims. It’s conscience against genetically driven impulse. It’s experience against ignorance. Who will win? For your sake and for your child’s sake, I hope it’s you.

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.

Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Women and Men

Earnest people throughout history have expressed the goal of attaining peace on earth. Many methods have been proposed and tried, but not many of those ideas have been practical. But in an interview with Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, I heard her say something that made me think of one possible way to make some actual headway toward the goal of "peace on earth."

She said if more people knew about sociopaths, there would be less war in the world.

She was dead serious, and I think she may be right. We could bring about a more peaceful world by making an understanding of sociopaths widespread. Consider these facts:

1. According to the famous Milgram experiments, 65 percent of people follow the orders of an authority.

2. Sociopaths want to win. They seek control. They are excellent manipulators. They don't care who gets hurt. They don't care who lives or dies.

3. They sometimes make it to positions of power, sometimes even becoming the leader of a country. And they do what sociopaths do: They take advantage, they get away with whatever they can, and when they are in a position of strength, they sometimes invade or threaten other countries, causing war.

If more people knew the characteristics of a sociopath, more people would identify them for what they are before they gain too much authority and power. Fewer sociopaths would make it to positions of authority.

Result: Fewer wars.

There would be less horror and misery in the world.

The truth is, even though it is a common belief that "man is a violent species," we are not. But when sociopaths gain positions of supreme authority and start wars, 65 percent will obey authority, and most of the rest will be fooled and manipulated into supporting the cause (or locked up or executed).

The result is war. Most people who actually fight in wars feel terrible about what they experience. They don't want to kill or hurt other human beings. They feel they have to (to save their country, to save the people they love, to stop a dictator from taking over the world, to save their fellow soldiers in the battle, etc.).

But the point is, the only reason sociopaths are able to get away with as much as they do is because most people are so ignorant about sociopaths. Not very many people know about the existence of such a thing as "common, everyday sociopaths." And even if they do, they don't know the easily-identifiable characteristics of a sociopath. They don't know how to spot them.

If you do, you can share your knowledge with others. If you don't, you can learn about it here. Then you can share what you've learned far and wide and in every way you can. And urge everyone you know to help you spread the knowledge.

Ask people, "Did you know there are sociopaths among us?" Ask people of they know what a sociopath is. Ask people, "Did you know one in fifty people is a sociopath?" Ask these questions with people you know and talk about it. Most people don't know, and at the very least, it makes for interesting conversation. Ask people, "Did you know there is no known therapy for sociopaths? And in fact, therapy usually makes them worse because it helps them get better at manipulating people?" Ask people if they know how to spot a sociopath.

Learn about sociopaths and teach the others in your life about it. This will give you a long-range sense of purpose, which will raise your mood. But this simple thing could also change the course of history. You could help bring the cherished dream of humanity closer to reality.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth
SlotralogyAntivirus For Your Mindand co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Subscribe to his blog here. You can email him here.

How to Create Clarity and Calm

This article is about something so obvious and so simple, I ought to be embarrassed to tell you about it. But I'm not. I'm embarrassed to tell you that as obvious and simple as it is, I don't use this method nearly as much as I could. But when I do, I am always amazed at the calm it produces.

The method is simply to take time to think (T4). You can T4 while walking, which is my favorite way to do it. Go for a walk where you won't be disturbed too much and bring along a little writing pad and a pen (you'll get ideas sometimes you'll want to remember, and instead of using your mind to try to remember, you can write it down and free your mind for more thinking). Walk at an easy, comfortable pace.

Another way to T4 is sitting and thinking, again with paper and pen handy (for jotting brief notes).

Do you want peace of mind? Clarity? A feeling of being grounded and centered? A feeling of certainty about what you're doing? A clear sense of direction? All you have to do is take time to think.

The reason I tend to avoid T4 is that it basically involves doing nothing — not watching TV, not reading, not working. Nothing. Just sit there. Don't even try to think. After awhile, your mind will begin to think about things. Let it think.

the contentment of childhood

Time with nothing to do is natural and necessary for good mental health. Do you have a lot of great childhood memories? Does it seem like you had a lot of fun back then? Have you ever wondered what you had then that you don't have now?

Think about it. What do you think you had then that you don't have now that would contribute to having more fun?

You know what I think it is? You had time with nothing to do. And you know what? You didn't want it or like it, even though it contributed to your happiness.

Just as we have more carbohydrates available to us than is natural, constantly tempting us with foods we aren't supposed to eat, our visual and auditory world constantly tempts us with more stimulation than we have evolved to handle. Quiet time with nothing happening is the remedy. Whenever I have spent an hour or more doing this, I have always ended feeling profoundly calm and relaxed. My mind feels uncluttered and at peace.

It takes a little while. At least it does for me. For fifteen minutes, sometimes twenty, my mind is restless. I feel bored. I want to do something. But then my mind starts to relax and sort things out, all by itself.

If you find that after a half hour you are simply obsessing about a worry and getting nowhere, you can switch to a writing exercise: problem solving or arguing with yourself or making a list, etc. (see list below).

I've sometimes felt as if I've found what everyone is searching for — a path to peace of mind. In the aftermath of my newfound clarity and peace, I want to tell everyone about this great invention of mine. But of course, it isn't my invention. It is probably the oldest self-help method there is.

Take time to think. There's nothing to it. Your mind will naturally do it. The only hard part is making yourself take the time. And you do have to make yourself. There is always some work to do, or something you feel you ought to be doing, or some show you want to watch, or any of a hundred other interesting, appealing, diversionary things you want to do besides just sitting there. Just as we are naturally drawn to eating sweets, we are naturally drawn to filling our attention with stimulation. But it is calming to spend some time when your thoughts aren't being continuously interrupted.


You know how difficult it is to get anywhere in a conversation when you are constantly interrupted. Can you imagine having a serious conversation about an important topic with someone bursting into the room every two minutes to give you important news? It would be very difficult to enjoy it or get anywhere in your conversation.

The same is true for dialog with yourself. There are some things you need to think through, but your thoughts are so continuously interrupted, you're accumulating a backlog of unresolved issues in the back of your mind. I think this leads to extra stress hormones. That's probably why you will always feel so much calmer after taking time to think.

I once believed that the feeling of being grounded and unfrantic must come from a religious experience. But T4 produces it.

Gandhi, Lincoln, Emerson — and many other (maybe all) great leaders spent an unusual amount of time doing nothing but thinking.

Decide ahead of time how long you will think, and stick to it. I suggest an hour. Do nothing. Don't knit or whittle or floss your teeth. Make brief notes, and nothing more.

When should you T4? Whenever you feel unmotivated about your goal. When you don't know what to do next. When you feel confused, anxious, depressed, frustrated, or unclear.

variations on the theme

As I have described it, T4 is a very natural process. Sit still and do nothing, and your mind will sort things out on its own. The basic method is to simply take the time to think. However, you can think in particular ways for specific purposes. It still involves taking time to think, but it is more directed. Here are nine specific ways to use T4:


When you feel upset or bothered by something, taking time to think about it can make all the difference. Especially when you specifically aim to root out the negative thoughts you think automatically, and argue with them. For more on this, see the article, Undemoralize Yourself.


Although it can be done while actively involved in a task, self-coaching is especially effective when you take the time to do it and concentrate on it. 


Use T4 to intensify your desire for a goal. Ponder these questions: In what way will my life change when I achieve my goal? Think of all the wonderful consequences. What would happen if I failed? Think of all the terrible consequences. Clearly imagine what it will be like when your goal is achieved. Daydream about it.


When you decide on a change you want to make, think about the change and the insights that led up to it and distill your self-generated wisdom into a very short phrase. Keep playing with the wording until it is just right. Read more about that: Slotralogy 101.


Which would be better? To run around frantically getting as much done as you can without ever really thinking about what you're doing, or doing lots of thinking and less doing, but making sure the things you do are the best things to do, and doing them with peace and calm and doing them well because you have thought it through? Which is better? Hmmm...gee...let me think...

Strike a balance between flexibility (easily changing plans) and holding to the plans you have already created. Being rigid will impair your ability, but coming up with too many ideas will bog you down and prevent achievement. Creating new ideas is fun, so it is something that needs to be curbed or contained. Make to-do lists. Ask a question and generate a list of answers. Look into the consequences of each answer and try to think of how to avoid the bad consequences of good ideas. This is all part of planning.


Here's how to generate ideas to solve a problem or accomplish a purpose: Make a list on paper. Set a goal ahead of time for how many ideas you'll come up with, and don't stop until you hit that target. This will prevent you from stopping with the first good idea. Always try to think of something better. Try alternatives in your head to see how they'd work. A hard-thinking session that didn't produce a single good idea was still worthwhile. It planted the question deep in your mind. Coming up with ideas primarily consists of asking a question over and over no matter how many good answers you've already gotten.

This is a lot like meditation: Your mind drifts away and you keep coming back to the question. One of the most practical, universally applicable principles I've ever used is accumulate quantity and then sort.


If you ever feel stumped when you're thinking, or you feel that your thinking has become stagnant, look at the following list of questions and find one you'd like to ponder, or come up with one of your own. Asking one of the questions below is a fruitful exercise. Spend an hour pondering the question, returning to it as you do to a mantra when meditating. When you ask a question and keep coming back to it, your mind has no problem producing answers. I recommend an hour because it will get you past the superficial thinking, the get-it-over-with-as-fast-as-I-can kind of thinking, and allows you to "go deep." Here are the questions:

a. What is the most important thing for me to do this week?

b. Take any list of principles — Think and Grow Rich, Character Strengths and Virtues, Self-Help Stuff That Works, How to Win Friends and Influence People — and go through the list and ask, "What principle should I be applying that I am not applying?" Write the most glaring on a card and concentrate on applying it over the next week or so.

c. What am I grateful for? Make a list.

d. Is my integrity compromised in any way? What would I need to do to set things right?

e. What have I done right in the last week? Make as long a list as you can.


First, clarify a problem. Take time on this first step. Try to define a problem clearly and be very specific and as accurate as you can. Then generate a list of possible solutions. Strain your brain on this one. Don't settle for the few obvious answers that come to mind easily. Dig. Then pick the best solution. Keep in mind that creativity and selection are two different functions and need to be separated.


Being unhurried and unstressed is a function of the simplification of purposes. T4 needs to be done often to clarify goals and refine plans. T4 is for thinking up ideas, and it is also for sifting purposes. You need to keep paring purposes down to what really counts, what will really be effective, what you really want, what you really feel is right, good, honorable.

It is worth taking the time to reboot: Think again about what you want — especially if you're not feeling motivated. Chances are, when you try to determine what you really want, it'll be the goals you've already set, but by creating them freshly, you stop merely going through the motions doing what you "have to." You will know you want to.

T4 is a tool with which integrity can be attained and maintained.

T4 is really a core activity, the key, the secret.

Purposefulness is clarified by thinking. Optimism is attained in thought. And the retraining of your mind occurs in T4. You can have what you want in life (peace of mind, successful accomplishment, great relationships) if you take time to think often enough.

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 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.


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. 


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. 


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.

How Dogs Changed History - Season 2, Episode 1

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The Fundamental Component of a Relationship

When two people interact, what is the interaction made of? Strip the conversation of its content, and what are the fundamental elements? What are the building blocks of connection?

John Gottman, one of the most influential researchers into marital relationships uses what he calls “the love lab” to study couples. The lab is an apartment fixed with two-way mirrors and cameras, where married couples come and spend the weekend while being filmed and observed, and then these films are analyzed carefully. After 25 years of this kind of painstaking analysis of hundreds of thousands of personal interactions, Gottman discovered an elemental core of connection. It’s something he calls “the bid.”

In an interaction, one person “makes a bid for connection.” The other person responds to that bid in one of three ways: Turning toward, turning against, or turning away.

These are the fundamental components of connection — between anyone. This is what connection is made of: The bid, and the response to the bid.

This understanding removes the complication and confusion from relationships. Each subject and interaction may be different, but underneath it all are these basic components.

People are bidding and responding to bids all the time. But without seeing what is happening, the responses to bids can shut down any further bidding. And the bids people make to others can be made in a way that doesn’t encourage good responses to the bids. Fully understanding the concept of “the bid” can greatly improve your capacity to connect with people.

So what is a “bid?” It can be anything:

  • “Can you tell me what time it is?”
  • “Hey, Joe, how’s it going?”
  • “You look great in that color!”
  • “Are you hungry? Do you want to get a pizza?”
  • “What are you doing tomorrow?”
  • “I just saw a great movie called Date Night. Have you seen it?”

And the response to a bid can be turning away, turning against, or turning toward. The responses of turning away and turning against tend to discourage further bidding. For example, you say, “You look great in that color!” The other person could turn away by completely ignoring your statement as if she didn’t hear it, or responding with something like, “Do you know what time it is?”

Or the person could turn against it by saying, “I hate this color,” or “What do you know about color matching?”

Or the person could turn toward your bid by saying, “Thank you!” or “Oh I’m so glad you said that; I don’t usually wear this color but I really liked the dress.”

Every interaction we have with someone else is a bid and one of those three responses to bids. That’s all there is. These simple building blocks are the foundation of all relationships.

You want to know how to connect with someone. Here’s how: Respond to other’s bids by turning toward those bids. And learn to be good at making bids for connection.

Okay, what makes a good bid? The most important element in making bids is to understand that the point of all the bidding and responding is to give and receive emotional information. This is so important, let me say it another way just to be crystal clear: To connect with people, the important thing is to transmit and receive emotional information. So a bid would invite the other person to give you some emotional information. Volunteering some emotional information about yourself is also a good way to bid.

Not all bids or responses might seem like emotional information. If I ask you what time it is and you respond “12:30,” it may not seem to deliver any emotional information. However, the way I ask and the way you respond can indeed give each of us emotional information about each other. I can ask you what time it is in a commanding way, in a friendly way, and many others. You can respond to me in many ways too, while technically giving the same information.

The important principle is that you begin to see your interactions with others as bids and responses to bids. This will give you a whole new way to view what’s happening and it will make it easier for you to connect with someone.

Notice the way you bid, and notice the responses you get, and you will naturally get better at connecting.

Don’t focus on what’s complicated about it. You are a human being, a social animal, and your brain is exquisitely engineered to learn social information, and will learn all by itself. All you need to focus on is making good bids, and responding to others’ bids by turning toward them. This is how to connect with people.

Read more at the Gottman Institute:

Testosterone is Like Cocaine

Women and men both have testosterone. Men have 10 to 20 times more of it though. And testosterone has strong effects on muscle growth, feelings of confidence, and mood (among other things). When people are given extra testosterone, they feel more energetic, more confident, and more aggressive. 

One of the things about men that exasperate women is that he is "overconfident," which, in a technical sense, he is. He feels more certain about what he's doing and the decisions he makes than she does, generally speaking. He's more likely to feel he's right and he's more likely to be wrong than she is (click here to read more about these differences and why they exist). 

This overconfidence seems like a flaw, but it is also an advantage, and that's why evolution selected for it. To see how it's an advantage, check out an article by two women in The Atlantic: The Confidence Gap. Basically, if someone has more confidence, he's more likely to speak up, to put his ideas forward, to act on his ideas, etc. It adds up to greater success, even though he's more likely to make mistakes, more likely to be wrong, and more likely to pitch dumb ideas.

There is a benefit to you if you understand this. If you're a man, it can help you make better decisions to realize your feeling of confidence isn't necessarily correlated to how right you are. And if you're a woman, it's in your best interest to understand that the man you're talking to is under the influence of a very powerful cocaine-like substance.

Adam Khan is the author of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About ItPrinciples For Personal GrowthDirect Your Mindand co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English)Follow his podcast, The Adam BombYou can email him here.