How to make kindness a habit

Have you ever wondered how to be kinder? As I was reading Radical Kindness by Angela C. Santomero, she discusses the impact of kindness on others and gives practical tips on how to cultivate a habit of being kinder to everyone around you.

Main impacts

These are the key points that stood out to me:

  1. Kindness includes self-love
  2. Give others the freedom to be themselves
  3. What’s most important right now?

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Photo by Jonas Vincent on Unsplash

Kindness includes self-love

Angela talks about how being kind to others starts with being kind to yourself. You need to be able to love yourself to fully love others.

A big part of loving yourself is to ensure that you are both fully accepting of yourself and ensuring that your needs are met.

If you don’t accept who you are, you’ll always be unnecessarily critical and harsh on yourself. But once you completely embrace who you are, then you can truly love and take care of yourself.

Additionally, you need to make sure your needs are being met, such as getting enough rest, alone time, and any other self care which is needed to restore your energy. Even though sometimes it feels selfish to take that time for yourself.

She talks about how after she had her first child she went back to work, but then refused to do anything else because she felt like she was taking too much time away from her child. But you need that time, such as going on dates with your partner or having time with your friends/yourself, so that you can rejuvenate yourself.

Just like you have different physical needs (eat, sleep, move, bathe, etc.), you also have different emotional, mental, and social needs. You need to make sure you’re taking care of all your needs, so that you can be wholly yourself and can give your best to those around you.

Neglecting yourself can negatively affect you and everyone around you. You’re most productive when you take breaks. You‘re healthiest when you get enough sleep and eat balanced meals. You’re happiest and kindest when you take care of all your needs.

Give others the freedom to be themselves

In the book, she discusses this habit of “heart seeing”, which means to view people through your heart rather than your mind. Heart seeing means to meet people where they are and to see them in their entirety.

Viewing others with your heart allows you to circumvent all the stereotypes and biases you’ve learned over your life.

We learn to make snap decisions for various reasons, like making sure we see/sense danger or through establishing routines. We make so many decisions each day that our brains help us by automatically making some decisions for us based on our past experiences. Most of the time these snap decisions are useful and help us, but they can also lead to developing unconscious biases about people.

However with heart seeing, we consciously avoid making quick judgements about people and allow them the freedom to be exactly who they are.

When we remove all expectations or pre-judgements from our perception of others, then we are able to see them for who they truly are. If we make assumptions (conscious or not) about people before we know them, all of our interactions will be tainted by the assumptions and we may miss what they are showing us.

Angela is the creator of Blue’s Clues, and she discusses how they almost missed hiring Steve because of their biases. When he came for the audition, he looked like a typical skateboarded and like someone who wouldn’t meet their expectations. But as soon as he did the screen test, he looked into the camera with so much kindness that they knew they had found the perfect fit.

People can surprise you, you just need to give them the opportunity to freely express themselves.

What’s most important right now?

A big part of the book was discussing how you can make kindness a habit. Most of us react to situations instinctively, and those instincts may not always be the kindest option. However, if you try to be more conscious of your reactions, you can choose the kinder option.

The best way to build a habit of being intentionally kind is to ask the question “What’s most important right now?”. It can help you shift your priorities to allow for a kinder option.

For instance, if you’re in a rush on the way to the grocery store and your mother calls and really needs to talk to you. You may not be able to actively listen to your mother if you’re so focused on grocery shopping. But if you take a moment to pause, avoid the autopilot of going grocery shopping, you might see what’s really important at the moment is taking the time to have a focused conversation with your mother.

Another way you can use this question is when you are faced with anger from others. If something happens and the other person is angry, should you meet the anger with more anger or is there a way to react with kindness.

The more intentional you can be with kindness, to yourself and others, the more you’ll build the habit and make kindness your first reaction to situations.

My thoughts

I thought this was a nice little book. I personally loved the discussions around Mr. Rogers. She talked about how much she felt seen by Mr. Rogers and how big topics around kindness were covered on the show. I also found it interesting how influential children’s shows can be, as so many in my generation still love Mr. Rogers.

But as I was reading this book, I couldn’t stop thinking about the mismatch of who will read this book and who would benefit the most from this book. People who are likely to read this book may be those interested in being kinder, learning about others, and being considerate of others. I know I’m generalizing, but I can imagine that most of the people interested in this book are already fairly kind and considerate of others.

I believe everyone can be kinder and more generous, there’s always room to grow. But as I was listening to the book, it just felt like preaching to the choir.

I know I’m not perfect. Though I would consider myself a good listener, considerate of others, and more likely to respond with kindness than anger.

I guess, I just don’t feel like part of the audience that would benefit the most from this book and I doubt the individuals who would benefit most from this information would want to read the book.

Adding nuance to the discussion

I also felt like there wasn’t an acknowledgement or discussion of the fact that sometimes you don’t need to react with kindness. There are times when you don’t need to put the other person first. Sure, the world would be better if kindness was the default reaction, but I don’t think kindness is always the answer.

I think I struggle with this because certain people have always had to be mindful of others and to treat others with kindness. As a woman, I feel like society always expects us to be kind, compassionate, and understanding of others, without providing us with the same treatment. As I’ve gotten older I’ve been questioning why the expectation disproportionately affects some and not all. Why aren’t we all expected to be considerate and understanding of others?

Since I’m white, I can’t speak from the experience of someone of the global majority. But I’ve often heard people joke about knowing white people better than they know themselves (because they have to, so they can avoid making someone feel uncomfortable or “unsafe”). So people of the global majority may also feel disproportionately affected by this expectation.

I’m not saying that we need to be mean or cruel to others to balance out the expectations. I just think there should be more nuance in the discussion of who bears the greatest burden of kindness and compassion for others, and it was missing from this book.

Would I recommend it?

If you’re looking for a short book that discusses how to be kinder, with suggested actions you can take, and highlights the benefits of being kinder to others, then this would be a great book. She gives suggestions throughout the book on how to make kindness a habit in your life, with a range of options to find what works for you.

If you want to learn more about the creator of Blue’s Clues and hear a little bit about the power of children’s tv shows, then you might also enjoy this book.

However, if you’re already confident in your ability to be kind and considerate to everyone, you may not find this book that insightful. You may still enjoy it, but I would understand if you don’t make it a priority.


How prioritization can lead to better time management

Have you heard of the phrase “eat that frog”? It’s from a quote by Mark Twain that encourages you to do the hardest thing first. As I was reading the book Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy, he discusses the importance of time management and gives you 21 lessons for how to better manage your time through prioritizing your most important tasks.

Photo by Geoffrey Baumbach on Unsplash

Main impacts

These are the key points that stood out to me:

  1. Always prioritize your most important tasks
  2. You can always improve
  3. Remember why you want better time management

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Always work on your most important tasks

First and foremost, you need to learn how to plan and prioritize. Planning provides clarity so that you save time by deciding what to do beforehand. Prioritizing your tasks helps you do the most important work and use your time most effectively.

Eat that frog

The phrase “eat that frog” comes from this quote by Mark Twain:

Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.

Mark Twain

This means you should always do the hardest thing first, then everything else will be easier. This all comes down to prioritizing what’s important, so you can eat that frog.

This attitude of doing the most important work first can apply to any area of your life. No matter if you’re at work, at home, in personal relationships, etc. You should always focus on the most important activities and do them first.

Prioritize the top 20%

The Pareto principle, or the 80/20 rule, basically says that 20% (of anything) is the most important, and the remaining 80% is usually superfluous. This goes for emails, tasks (80% = busy work), and most things that fill your time. The key is to determine which tasks fall into each category so that you can focus on the most important — the 20%.

If needed, discuss with your manager on how to remove the unnecessary work – through delegation, deletion, etc. Often times there are three tasks that define your role in a company. These tasks are the ones where you provide the most benefit to your organization and are the ones you should prioritize (your 20%).

Focusing on the most important tasks will ensure you are contributing the most and improving the fastest. It will also make you stand out. So many people get caught up in busy work (emails, meetings, paperwork, etc.), but if you’re always focusing on the most important tasks, you’ll be so much more productive and beneficial to those around you. In any role you need to make sure you focus on how much you are contributing (not just how busy you are), which usually comes from those key tasks.

Finishing important tasks also gives you a huge sense of accomplishment,. The more you accomplish, the more you want to do. It can be addictive, but in a good way, as it encourages you to keep working on the most important tasks.

You can always improve

You can always improve your skills. That’s exactly what business or work skills are, skills, things you can learn or improve on. Don’t worry about having natural talent, any skill will develop through consistent practice.

To improve your skills, make time for learning. Set aside time each day or week to learn something that will help you improve your skills or to learn about your area of business.

You can learn through reading (or audiobooks), podcasts, youtube videos, documentaries, blogs, etc. Find the experts in the field you’re interested in and learn from them. They will likely tell you what’s important and how to do your job better. Feel free to take their guidance with a grain of salt, you are unique and times change quickly, but chances are you’ll learn the best information from experts in your field.

Focus on two areas, skills that you already excel at (your strengths) and those that are most beneficial for what you want to achieve. You want to continue to hone your skills to become the best at what you do, by making your best even better. Then you also want to make sure that you have the skills necessary to succeed.

Additionally, you can always improve your time management skills, which this book is hoping to help you with. The goal is to take the lessons from the book and make them habits. The more that you internalize the lessons, the more easily you’ll apply them in everything you do.

Remember why you want better time management

I thought this was one of the most refreshing parts of this book. A lot of this book read like most time management advice, to prioritize and plan your time.

But I appreciate that this book made sure to mention that you can’t do everything and that’s not the point of time management. The goal of better time management is to spend time with those you love and doing things that bring you joy. You want to better manage your time so that you have time for things outside of work.

The purpose of better time management is to do better quality work at work to have a greater quantity of time at home. The whole goal is to have a higher quality of life, not to do everything.

The best way to improve your quality of life is to focus on balancing work and home life. Ideally you should be only doing work at work, focusing on producing quality results, and then coming home free of distractions. Just remember, the time wasted at work can often cut into your free time when it turns into working late or bringing work home.

I think this is a reminder that should come with ANY self-help or productivity book. The goal is not to do everything. The reality is that you can’t do everything. There’s always more work to do and your to do list is never ending, but that’s why you need to prioritize and focus on the most important parts. The goal is to use your time better so that you are free to do what’s most important to you.

Final thoughts

I thought this was a short, useful book, with lots of advice for better time management. I think if you’ve spent much time in the productivity self-help area, then most of it won’t be that new to you. A lot of the lessons were ideas that I’ve heard in multiple areas. But to be fair the book is from 2007 and pre-dates all the youtube videos I’ve watched.

I found it a nice summary of time management best practices. Each short chapter focuses on one lesson, with activities or tips to help implement the lesson. The book touches on a lot of different time management tips with a brief overview of each. I could see it being a useful book either as an introduction to time management or as a summary of the key ideas.

I was grateful that the book highlighted that time management is there to improve your quality of life, not to try and do everything. Doing the most important tasks ensures that you are accomplishing activities that will provide the most benefits. There’s always more work to do, but with some focus and prioritization the necessary items will get done and you will have time for yourself and your loved ones.


Why change is important for us and others

Have you ever resisted change? As I was reading People Change by Vivek Shraya, she discusses how change is vital to us all, how it’s viewed by others, and discusses changes throughout her life. She takes us on a thought provoking contemplation on what it means to change and how all change is relational.

Main impacts

These are the key points that stood out to me:

  1. Make a comeback
  2. Autonomy vs. authentic
  3. Reinvention is a sign of hope

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Photo by USGS on Unsplash

Make a comeback

The idea of a comeback is a great example of how people change. It both accepts the past but allows you to return with a new approach or identity. The idea of returning afresh while embracing the past, shows that change doesn’t always come with a blank slate. No one gets to ignore the past completely, but you can always make a comeback.

Key to this is that you can change at any age. There’s no limit to change or reinvention, not by who you are or how old you are. There’s always room to reinvent and change yourself, there’s room for self improvement — whatever that looks like for you.

Key to embracing the past is that no bad decision is too big to keep you in the past. You can always learn from your mistakes and change your actions. The goal is to focus on what you’re doing now, not what you’ve done in the past. If you don’t like the past, do something different now. Your choices now reflect who you are and what you think are important.

Remember, you can always change.

For example, Vivek’s dad wasn’t always around when he was younger as he had to work in another town to support their family. He has apologized repeatedly for not being around when Vivek was growing up. As difficult as it was for Vivek growing up, what really matters to her is that her dad is supportive and making an effort right now. His current actions mean much more than just an apology for the past.

Not all change is equal

I liked how Vivek made sure to highlight that not all change is viewed equally and that we need to acknowledge how change is perceived.

Typically, those more masculine are rewarded for changing as they tend to be seen as unmovable, so it’s a feat when they adjust (think homophobic fathers who finally accept their queer children in media). Whereas feminine presenting individuals tend to be expected to change and be flexible, so their changes are not rewarded or barely acknowledged (compare the father to the mother in accepting their child – a change expected not rewarded).

This difference in the external validation of change is seen in celebrities or pop stars. Women either have to be forever young or forever changing. Madonna was the queen of reinvention, with each new album came a new identity. Lady Gaga was later compared to Madonna, but her reinventions happened so much faster, a continual reinvention to keep others interested. As with most women in the spotlight, you either keep changing or become irrelevant. Whereas aging in men is celebrated without requiring constant change.

Autonomy vs. authentic

Vivek talks about both internal and external change, and how both can serve a purpose in your personal transformation, but may not both be required. You may change yourself externally (outfits, hair, makeup), but it’s not required for reinvention.

An interesting part of this discussion focused around how others view external changes. Sometimes others find these changes to be deceitful or a way of covering up the “authentic self.” This feeling of deceit is often weaponized against transpeople.

Often external changes, such as makeup, clothing, and surgical procedures, are viewed as suspicious, with people being overly concerned with individuals “being authentic.” But everyday we make a million little decisions about how we present ourselves to the world. We carefully (or choose to not so carefully) craft our appearance through what we wear, how we wear our hair, and how we act.

How are those other choices like makeup or surgery that different? And why are we so concerned about “authenticity” instead of autonomy?

If you consider the idea that changing yourself is deceitful, it seems to imply that you can only be one thing. But we’re constantly changing, we’re never the same as before. Your whole life is a series of choices that make you who you are, through curating your appearance, how you act, and what you choose to do. Everything you do (or choose not to do) informs how others perceive you.

Just another choice

Another way this deceit is perceived is through the “no filter” trend on social media, as if that makes it both more authentic and somehow a better photo. (Personally, I understand that this is partially to combat unrealistic photoshopped beauty standards, and that certain filters are morally questionable as they tend to emphasize “white beauty standards” through skin lightening and certain types of facial features.)

But I appreciated Vivek’s point that you’ve already positioned and constructed the entire photo, what’s a little filter going to do to make it more “authentic”. Every choice you make into lighting, positioning, framing, colours, etc. are part of creating that image. A filter is only one more choice you make when deciding how to present the image to the world.

Understandably this all needs to be viewed through the lens of capitalism and the patriarchy. Some changes are desired because of the messaging or societal pressure that we’ve been exposed to, telling us we need to look a certain way. But if we focus on autonomy (personal choices) rather than authenticity (some kind of “true self”), we can help people make the changes they want to become whoever they choose.

Reinvention is a sign of hope

Reinvention is the possibility of something new, a new identity or new way of being. The ability to reinvent or change shows that you are not contained or limited, that there’s always a new possibility. The ability to transcend your current self makes you boundless and limitless. There’s always more of you.

The prefix of “re” implies that it’s continual, which means that it can keep happening. It’s not a one time opportunity and we aren’t limited to one chance or one comeback.

We can continually reinvent ourselves and change as we desire. Which also indicates that it doesn’t have to be forever — we aren’t forced to be this new self for the rest of our lives, we always have to chance to reinvent ourselves. It’s a reoccurring process.

Taking forever out of success

Long lasting is often seen as success without considering what happened. This is most typically seen in relationships, the idea that they need to last forever to be successful.

Not every relationship is meant to last forever, some are only a good fit for so long. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t have a successful relationship together or that you can’t reimagine what your relationship will look like. Even relationships can be reinvented. You can still grow with people while changing what your relationship looks like.

Lasting forever is not the only type of success. We shouldn’t focus only on how long it lasts, but what it accomplished and who it allowed you to be.

Change is constant, bringing the possibility of new opportunities. Don’t limit yourself.

Final thoughts

I liked this meditation on change and what it means for everyone. I found it both thought provoking and encouraging. Also, I like how it causes me to question how I view the world, and how I view others changing, as nothing we do is isolated. While also pushing me towards accepting and encouraging my self development into whoever I want to be.

It’s a short book, but a nice refreshing way to start the year. I think it helps you avoid focusing on the “ideal self” that productivity books like to speak about, but rather about who you want to be now, with room for that to change later on. There is no singular self you need to strive towards, but rather give yourself grace and room to grow in any direction you choose.

If you’ve read this book, I’d love to hear your thoughts below!


How to use regret to make better decisions

Have you ever wanted to live a life of no regrets? As I was reading The Power of Regret by Daniel H. Pink, he discusses how regret is universal and that we can harness its power to make better decisions. His research projects on regret identified the types of regret discussed and how we can use our regret to benefit our lives.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

Main impacts

These are the key points that stood out to me:

  1. Inaction regret is stronger than action regret
  2. Regret can make us better
  3. Use anticipated regret to your advantage

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Inaction regret is stronger than action regret

Inaction regret is when you regret not doing something, compared to action regret is when you regret doing something. For example, inaction regret would be not asking someone out on a date compared to an action regret of going on a date with someone.

Inaction regret tends to be longer lasting and produce stronger feelings. It leaves you with an unknown, forever pondering “what if?”. Inaction regret leaves you wishing that you had done something, and leaves you wondering what could’ve happened and what your life would be like now. These kinds of regrets might prompt questions like, what if I pursued a different degree or career, what if I’d gone on that trip, or what if I’d done this sooner? The unknown is what makes the regret so much stronger.

I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.

Lucille Ball

Personally, that just sounds like strong encouragement to take risks and do the things you fear, rather than living with the unknown of “what if?”. Seems like people can more easily accept regrets from what you’ve done rather than what you haven’t. So lean towards action rather than inaction, embrace the risk, and take that leap of faith. Most of the time you can always go back, but you may not have this opportunity again.

Four types of regret

In the book, Daniel talks about how it’s easy to see regret in different areas of people’s lives and that was initially how they started categorizing the regrets (such as career, education, family, relationships, etc.). But the more regrets he read about, he started to see overarching thematic themes, rather than where it occurs. The four themes were foundational, boldness, morality, and connections.

These are the four types of regret used throughout the book:

  • Foundation: these regrets refer to putting in the work and building a solid foundation to build on. This could be relating to finance (saving earlier), education (doing the work), career (putting the effort in), etc. It’s about looking back and realizing you could be so much farther ahead if you did the work at the beginning.
  • Boldness: these regrets refer to taking a risk and being bold in any area of life. This could be things like being more confident and talking/meeting people, taking the leap of faith and making a change in your career/education/living situation, or just doing things outside your comfort zone.
  • Moral: these regrets surround some kind of moral decision, either not doing the “right thing” (inaction) or doing the “wrong thing” (action), for whatever you perceive to be morally right or wrong. Common regrets in this category involve cheating (relationship-related or otherwise), and harming others (emotionally/physically/mentally/etc., such as bullying).
  • Connection: these regrets all involve some kind of relationship or human connection, it could be a breaking of a relationship or one that never fully formed. The ones that break tend to happen either as a drift (slowly falling/drifting away from each other) or a rift (some large event creates a rift).

When each of these are an inaction regret, it looks like:

  • Foundation: if I’d only done the work.
  • Boldness: if I’d only taken the risk.
  • Moral: if I’d only done the right thing.
  • Connection: if I’d only reached out.

Regret can make us better

We can use regret to inform our future choices and make better decisions. Regrets can improve our future actions by learning from our regret and truly understanding why we regret it. One of the best ways to use regret is to make a different decision when the opportunity arises again, such as taking the risk, reaching out, making the right decisions, etc.

When used properly, we can use regrets to improve ourselves, not to self sabotage. If we take time to reflect on what we regret, then we can make sure we don’t keep making the same mistakes. Reflecting also helps you to move on and move past your regrets. But make sure you’re not just dwelling on your regret, dwelling without change is not useful. If we ignore our regrets and pretend like they don’t exist then we will likely keep making similar decisions.

You may always have that regret as it’s unlikely you can go back in time and change what you did. But you can grow from that experience and minimize future regrets by making better decisions in the future. Regrets can help guide our growth by showing us who we want to be, what’s important to us, and what kind of decisions we want to be making.

Use anticipated regret to your advantage

You can use anticipated regret to help avoid bad decisions. Anticipated regret is when you take time to consider if you’ll have any big regrets before making a decision, by considering regrets from both making the decision or not taking any action (remember those inaction regrets).

This anticipation of regret can be useful, but it can also be exaggerated to just become a form of procrastinating. You have to be careful that you’re not using the idea of “avoiding regret” to avoid all risk. Some risk may be inevitable, you won’t always be able to know what you’ll regret, but that shouldn’t prevent you from taking risks and making decisions.

The goal of anticipated regrets is not to weigh every little decision, but to be mindful of the big decisions you make.

Generally, if you think the regret is not going to land within one of the four main categories of regret (foundation, boldness, moral, connection – see above for more details), then make a decision quickly and move on. However, if it might be within one of the four big categories, then take some time to consider future you and how you will feel in each of the potential outcomes, weighing the anticipated regret from each option. This reflective exercise can hopefully allow you to avoid the largest regrets.

Final thoughts

I found this book thought-provoking. It reminded me of the list of the top regrets of people dying (the essay by Bonnie Ware), especially how there were such strong themes across all demographics.

I liked how the book is based off of ongoing research (you can still take part in the survey now!) that covers a huge range of ages, geographic locations, gender/religion/sexual identities etc. Having such a large sample size with all kinds of people, shows how universal regret is. We all experience some kind of regret, and that’s normal. It further reinforces the idea that all humans share the same wants and desires, no matter who we are.

Nowadays, it feels like most people want to live a “no regrets”/YOLO kind of life, which isn’t really realistic. I liked how this book highlighted the ability to both accept and embrace your past decisions, while still learning from the experience and choosing to move on. When you make the most of your regrets, you’re able to move on and make better decisions in the future. It doesn’t mean you no longer regret the decision, but it seems to provide a way that reduces negative impacts of dwelling on regret.

I don’t feel like this book was revolutionary or mind-blowing. It essentially boils down to “learn from your regrets”. The book was pretty much what I expected it would be. However, I still enjoyed listening to the audiobook. It was still interesting to hear about the universality of regret and ways we can use it to make better decisions.

If you’re interested in regret or the shared human experience of life, you may find this book interesting.


Understanding how much nature you need to improve your wellbeing

Have you ever wondered how much nature can impact your wellbeing? As I was reading The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, she discusses how nature impacts you and how much time you need to spend in nature to see benefits. She traveled all over the world to learn about scientific studies focusing on measuring the benefits of nature, and she shares all the details with you!

Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel | Accessed on

Main impacts

These are the key points that stood out to me:

  1. Every little bit helps (but aim for more)
  2. Aim for 5 hours a month
  3. Benefits are seen on a curve

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Every little bit helps (but aim for more)

At the core of this book, I felt like the message was that every bit of nature you can experience can help you, but always aim for more. Not everyone has the same access to nature, and for many people nature is largely inaccessible, but every glimpse of nature helps.

You may just get little bursts of nature, like trees throughout the city, and this can help, but you ideally want to aim for more nature and for longer periods. Getting out into nature in any sense, a bit of a park, or even driving down a street with more trees can help you feel better and improve your well-being. Generally, the most pleasing nature to us are scenes of trees and water, they seem to have the greatest impact on our mind.

When out in nature, you want to embrace all five senses (see, hear, smell, touch, and taste (something like herbal tea)). The more senses you can use when out in nature, the more immersive the experience is and the more you may benefit from it.

If you have limited access to nature, virtual experience can also help (but will not fully replace the real thing). Images of nature or landscapes can produce a calming effect, listening to bird sounds can stimulate your brain almost like you’re in nature – it’s has both patterns and diversity in the sounds which has a similar effect as listening to music. Even the smell of essential oils can help replicate some of the nature experience. Basically think of how to use all five senses.

Aim for 5 hours a month

The suggested goal is to aim for at least 5 hours in nature a month. This can be as simple as going to a park for an hour on the weekend, or going out for a walk a few times a week if you have some nature nearby.

In addition to the 5 hours a month, you also want to try and get longer periods of time in nature throughout the year. Generally, if you can get half a day or most of a day every few months, and then a few days consecutively in nature once a year that will help supplement the small bursts of nature.

To summarize, ideally you would get:

  • at least 5 hours a month in nature
  • with a full/half day in nature every few months
  • and a few consecutive days (immersive experience) every year.

Any amount of time in nature can help, and the five hours a month kind of sustains you throughout normal life. Then the longer periods of time give you more of a reset or a greater sense of restoration/healing. Longer periods in nature have a different impact on you because you are able to stay in the relaxed/calm state for longer, so the impacts tend to be longer lasting.

But don’t fret if you can’t spend this much time in nature at the moment. It’s not always easy to get out in nature, especially if you’re living in a city. The idea is really to be intentional about spending time and noticing nature around you. Do what you can and every little bit will help.

Benefits are seen on a curve

Like most things, the benefits from spending time in nature are seen on a curve (aka are not linear – see image below). Meaning when you don’t spend any time in nature and start to go out into nature you’ll see big benefits because you’re starting from zero. But the more nature you’re used to being around, then the more nature you need to see changes or additional benefits from nature (because you’re probably already getting benefits from being around nature so much already).

One hour in a park for someone who lives in a mega-metropolis and barely sees nature in their city will have a much greater impact on the city person compared to someone who lives in a rural area surrounded by nature.

Example of benefits seen on a curve. Think of the increasing cost as time in nature and you see how the effectiveness decreases (Source).

Places planning ahead

With the increasing trend of urbanization (moving to cities) it’s predicted that by 2050, ~67% of the world’s population will be living in an urban setting (source). This means less and less people will likely have easy access to nature unless we start to include nature in our city planning. There are a few places that are planning ahead and incorporating access to nature.

In Japan, they have a practice called “forest bathing” which simply means spending time in nature and letting nature in to yourself through the five senses. The Japanese government has spent millions in researching and promoting forest bathing, so that people can get the most from the experience. Now there are many centres and parks throughout Japan that are easily accessible to most people and provide both nature to bathe in and guides/tours to support you in the practice.

Singapore is another great example of intentionally including nature in urban planning. They have a plan to make sure very home is able to get to nature (i.e. a park) within a 10 min walk. Nature is intricately woven throughout the city planning, both by having designated nature parks, but also by having nature co-exist with the city through green buildings (buildings with plants on the exteriors), water reservoirs throughout the city, a plan to plant a million trees, and many more actions. Singapore is called “a city in a garden” (source). But none of this would be possible if it wasn’t a conscious and intentional priority for the city.

It’s possible to make nature more accessible to everyone, even those in large urban areas, we just have to make it a priority.

Final thoughts

Personally I didn’t find the concept of this book to be mind-blowing, I feel like I’ve always understood that nature can make me feel better. But I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook.

I found it fascinating to hear all the studies that are being done (and even how they try to study the impacts with so many things they can’t control), along with the concrete scientific evidence that nature improves your wellbeing on so many levels.

It was also really interesting to hear specific suggestions on how much nature we should all have (and so many of us don’t get). I found it really made me take notice of the nature and, more often than not, the lack of nature around me.

I live in Bangkok at the moment and without a vehicle it’s difficult to get out to nature. There are parks in the city, however most are small and the bigger ones are not that easy to get to if you live outside the subway/metro/sky train line. There are little pockets of nature throughout the city, but it’s difficult to find somewhere to actually immerse yourself in nature.

Living in Bangkok is such a strong contrast to where I used to live in Canada. I lived in a fairly rural area of Canada where I’d have to drive 5-10 min to get to a city, so you’re literally surrounded by nature all of the time. Nature is one of the things I miss the most while living in the city, it takes so much time to even get a taste of nature. But I have to admit, I do love seeing the glimpses of nature throughout Bangkok. I love seeing banana and papaya trees casually growing in the neighbourhoods, and the beautiful flowers that bloom throughout the year. There’s not nearly as much nature here, but at least I get to see greenery all year.

If you’re interested in learning more details about how nature can improve your wellbeing, then I would definitely recommend this book.


Understanding how to become a better writer

Have you ever wanted to become a writer or improve your writing? As I was reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, she discusses how writing is a skill you can develop and that anyone can become a better writer. She talks about common pitfalls and how to overcome them, along with many practical tips on how to continue practicing writing.

Photo by Pixabay | Accessed on

Main impacts

These are the key points that stood out to me:

  1. Writing is a skill you can develop.
  2. Don’t be afraid of failure, just keep practicing.
  3. Edit by re-envisioning.

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Writing is a skill you can develop

I think the biggest message in this book was that writing is a skill. It requires time and practice to improve. Sure, some people are talented and writing well comes naturally to them, but anyone can improve their writing through practice. You don’t need amazing natural talent to write well.

Don’t worry about your talent or capability: that will grow as you practice.

Natalie Goldberg

I love when writing books have the message of writing as a skill, as it dispels the myth or idea that writing is pretentious or only done by “elite intellectuals.” Most of the greats got to their level of greatness by the effort they put in, not just having talent.

It’s pretty nice to be talented. If you are, enjoy, but it won’t take you that far. Work takes you a lot further.

Natalie Goldberg

Reframing writing as a skill that can be learned and developed opens the door to everyone. It also changes the expectation from receiving divine inspiration into putting in the time and effort to improve your writing. Just like any other skill, you can learn the basics from others, but the real growth comes from practicing.

Tips to improve

Natalie has worked with so many writers in her time that she understands the common struggles writers face. Throughout the book she discusses ways to practice your writing, through different prompts or ways to spark inspiration, along with different practices or tips you can use when writing.

She discusses common pitfalls, such as getting stuck or writing simply to put words on the paper without expressing something. She says that sometimes you need to take a break or you need to switch things up to find what works for you, but don’t expect it to be easy. Sometimes you have to write a lot of subpar things to get to the good stuff.

Don’t be afraid of failure, just keep practicing

In line with the first point is that you need to keep practicing (it is a skill, remember). But a key part of that practice is that you can’t be afraid of failing. If you play it safe or hide parts of yourself, you limit what you can achieve.

You will succeed if you are fearless of failure.

Natalie Goldberg

Natalie herself puts a goal to fill one notebook of writing every month. She doesn’t aim for good writing, no high expectations of quality, but simply to continuously practice her writing. I love this idea. It seems like such a great way to get ideas flowing and to ensure you’re always showing up to write. You never know when you’re going to write something great.

We learn writing by doing it. That simple.

Natalie Goldberg

It’s not always easy to get started writing, so you need to figure out what works for you. Some people need to have some words on the paper so it doesn’t look so blank. One of her friends would spend a few minutes writing about how bad of a writer she is, to ease the pressure on herself and get her ready to write. Natalie uses different tricks, such as setting a time limit on when she needs to stop or start writing, using cookies as positive reinforcement, or scheduling time with a writing friend to have that social accountability.

Writing can feel so overwhelming at times, but the key to steadily improving and making progress is to be fearless of failure and starting small. You shouldn’t immediately set out to write “the next great American novel”, those stakes are too high. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself. The pressure can be paralyzing and then there’s no room for failure. Start small, write poems or short stories or essays. Give yourself room to fail, so that you’re okay to keep writing even when it’s not great. Sometimes you have to get the bad writing out of your system to get to the good stuff.

If every time you sat down, you expected something great, writing would always be a great disappointment.

Natalie Goldberg

Whatever you need to do, make sure you keep practicing. But she does warn of the “goody two-shoes nature” where you dutiful show up just to put in the time. Such as someone who writes an hour everyday but doesn’t improve, because they are only being dutiful and following the rules without putting in any heart. You need to be writing to express something, and be constantly practicing. The practicing method may vary and change, that’s okay, just keep showing up with your whole heart.

Edit by re-envisioning

Natalie suggests, instead of reworking and rewriting something you’ve already written, just sit down and do a similar writing prompt a few more times. Then you can take the best parts of each and put it together. She calls it “envisioning again.” I thought this trick was genius!

See revision as “envisioning again.” If there are areas in your work where there is a blur or vagueness, you can simply see the picture again and add the details that will bring your work closer to your mind’s picture. You can sit down and time yourself and add to the original work that second, third, or fourth time you wrote on something. For instance, you are writing about pastrami. Your first timed writing is good, but you know you have a lot more to say about the subject. Over a day, two days, a week’s time, do several more timed writings on pastrami. Don’t worry that you might repeat yourself. Reread them all and take the good parts of each one and combine them. It is like a cut-and-paste job, where you cut out the strong writings of each timed writing and paste them together.

Natalie Goldberg

We all know that you rarely get a complete draft in the first go, so you need to do some editing. Editing can be incredibly valuable but you run the risk of re-working parts and making them worse. Instead of the typical editing process, you can re-envision that section, chapter, or idea. I love this idea! This way you get fresh material with those first thoughts to add to what you already have. Sure there may be some re-working once you’re putting it all together, but what a great way to work on a piece.

Also, she said that it’s best to take time before reviewing what you’ve written. You don’t want to jump right into assessing your writing. Sometimes it’s best to set it aside for a month or so and then come back with fresh eyes and a different perspective. If you’re writing in journals every month like Natalie, you might stumble upon something fantastic when you go back and review it that you might’ve missed otherwise.

Final thoughts

I found this book to be very practical (lots of writing tips, prompts, and suggestions), inspiring/encouraging, and hopeful (anyone can become a better writer). For anyone who is working to become a better writer or who is interested in writing, I would recommend this book. You can tell that Natalie has years of experience both as a writer and as someone who teaches and guides other writers.

Writing, like any other skill, is not easy. It takes time and lots of effort to improve. But, like any other skill, there is always room for improvement and anyone can improve their skill level. Natural talent may help, but it isn’t everything. I love the sense of encouragement and hope that this book provides, if you want to become a better writer, you can.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book. I don’t really think of myself as a writer, but I guess now as a blogger, I kind of am one. I’ve always kept some kind of journal growing up, and love expressing my thoughts through writing. Reading books about writing makes me want to do more writing and more creative ways of expressing myself, if anything it might make these blogs more enjoyable to read.

Have you read this book or anything else by Natalie Goldberg? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below


Understanding Ubuntu: How to live better through our interconnectedness

Have you ever heard of the concept of Ubuntu? As I was reading Everyday Ubuntu, by Mungi Ngomane, which focuses on lessons from the Rainbow Nation (South Africa) on how to apply the concept of Ubuntu to your everyday life. Ubuntu is a belief and philosophy focused on how we are all connected (the universal human bond).

Photo by Anderson Rian | Accessed on

Main impacts

These are the main points that stood out to me:

  1. We’re all connected
  2. You don’t have to do it alone
  3. Empathy is the goal

Continue reading for more details on each.

We’re all connected

I found that the biggest message from this book was the concept of connectedness to each other. This comes from the belief of a universal human bond.

We are all connected, and our interconnectedness is both our strength and weakness. If we ignore it, we will all be negatively impacted by others. However we can build each other up and work on improving things together, using our connectedness as a strength and as a way to benefit each other.

What affects one person, affects us all. Whether or not we choose to see the cause and effect. Our connections are not a choice, but simply how our societies function, and with globalization our connections more easily cross borders, oceans, and continents.

In the end, there’s strength in unity and we can use that strength to affect the world in a positive or negative way. We simply need to see each other as fully human and equal, using empathy to improve the world.

You don’t have to do it alone

Building on the connectedness of the first point above, you don’t need to go through any struggle by yourself. You are not alone.

It’s almost guaranteed that others have been in a similar situation before. It may not be exactly the same, but likely there is someone with a similar experience. Nothing is new or completely unique, meaning others have experienced something similar to what you are going through.

Our shared similarities mean you can benefit from their experience. You can learn from each other. There’s no need for you to learn it the hard way when someone has already learned that lesson. We can help each other overcome difficult experiences while minimizing their struggle and pain. I think the internet has been a massive tool for helping people connect and learn from each other.

All you need to do is ask for help. A friendly reminder, it’s okay to ask for help! I know many people struggle to ask for help and feel they should be able to do it on their own. But people who care about you are probably happy to help you. Think about how you feel when someone asks you for help. Then there are people who don’t even know you who are willing to help, look at how the internet has connected individuals who help each other even when they’ve never met.

You don’t have to be alone. There are always others either going through something similar or have already gone through it, who can help you navigate the situations. I find that so hopeful, as some experiences can make you feel so completely isolated, but you’re not alone.

There’s strength in unity, and it’s easier to go through difficult situations together. A community or supporters can provide you with advice, guidance, or just someone to listen and understand. You can find that through people you know or look online for people that understand your experience.

If you need it, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Empathy is the goal

I found that many aspects of ubuntu that were discussed were related to having empathy for others. Which meant that building up empathy for those around you (and everyone else) is the goal.

A key part of having empathy is being able to listen and really hearing what is being said (not just listening to then be able to talk about yourself). The act of actually being heard and understood is what people crave and how people feel connected to others. Empathy is shown by understanding and really listening to others.

Throughout the book, Mungi gives examples from her own country of South Africa (the Rainbow Nation), especially during and after apartheid.

After apartheid, there was a very extensive truth and reconciliation process to help the country heal. The process carried out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was not focused on punishing others, but simply making sure everyone understood what had happened during apartheid. It was about making sure everyone was able to tell their stories and be heard by the country. Only by being heard and making sure people could tell their stories truthfully, without retaliation, could everyone acknowledge the extent of what had happened and be able to move forward together.

I found the discussion of the truth and reconciliation process very powerful, especially since most stories being told were horrendous acts of hatred and there was not going to be any punishment given. I understand that it needed to be discussed openly so that everyone understood what the country had been through, but it sounds incredibly difficult.

It also made me wonder what my country, Canada, could’ve done better in our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the residential schools forced on the Indigenous Peoples.

Final thoughts

I learned a lot about South Africa in this book. It was fascinating to hear about the way the country started to heal after apartheid and how these Ubuntu lessons translated to practical action in the face of extreme hatred.

Many lessons of Ubuntu seemed straight forward and sometimes simple, but the ramifications for actually living that way is when the concept becomes more radical. The examples of how the lessons play out in a post-apartheid South Africa was incredibly powerful.

Even if you’re already a very empathic and understanding person, I would encourage you to read this book just to learn more about South Africa.


What is the meaning of life?

Have you ever wondered why people continue to fight to survive in the harshest conditions? As I was reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, he discusses how having a personal meaning for life motivates people to stay alive even in the harshest conditions like concentration camps.

As a psychologist and concentration camp survivor, Viktor is able to reflect on his time in the camps to understand what motivated people to survive against all odds.

Photo by Andrew Neel | Accessed on

Main impacts

These are the main topics that stood out to me:

  1. Humans are resilient
  2. You need meaning to survive
  3. Meaning is completely personal and unique

Keep reading for more details on each.

Humans are resilient

Humans can endure far more than you can imagine. Unfortunately, concentration camps showed how much people can survive and what people are willing to do to each other.

There’s this fascinating line from the book that talks about how all the doctors and medical professionals found out that the textbooks lied to them. It turned out that they really could stay awake longer or could do more work with less food and water than they ever thought was possible.

It’s a terrible thing to have experienced. People don’t want to live through hardship or see how much suffering they can endure. None of us want a life that forces us to be resilient or show strength.

But I also think we are all far more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. When push comes to shove, we will find a way to survive.

Finding their motivation

Concentration camps show the extreme of what humans have gone through, which is why it was an interesting place to see why people continued to fight to stay alive. It provided an opportunity to see what truly motivated people to survive.

Sometimes people discuss how the pursuit of pleasure is the meaning or focus of life. But in a concentration camp, there’s no longer any pleasure. So pleasure can no longer be a viable reason for why people live and survive.

As Viktor is a psychologist and concentration camp survivor, he was able to take an intimate look and reflect on what helped people survive and why some were able to persist through it all.

You need meaning to survive

As mentioned above, Viktor is a psychologist and after surviving the concentration camps he came up with his own theory about life called logotherapy. Logotherapy is a theory that says everyone needs meaning in their life to survive.

Life doesn’t revolve around the pursuit of pleasure or a grand ideal, but rather that everyone needs some kind of meaning in their life.

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Your personal meaning can be anything — a person/relationship, a belief, your work/art/contributions, a higher ideal/religion, etc. There’s no one meaning to life, but everyone has their own. It can be whatever you think is meaningful or brings purpose to your life.

Everyone needs meaning and without it, people often lose the will to live. In the concentration camps, once people lost their focus or meaning, they often lost the will to live. For instance when they lost all hope or all of their family, or if the war didn’t end on the date they expected (maybe because of a dream or some sign), they often became so discouraged they stopped fighting to live.

Viktor talks about how difficult it was to watch people lose hope and their meaning for life. It was obvious when people gave up their will to live.

But there were many who had a reason to keep fighting. Each person’s reason or meaning was unique but everyone had something.

Meaning is completely personal and unique

As mentioned above, your meaning can be anything — a person, a belief, your work/art/contributions, a higher ideal/religion, etc. It’s anything that provides meaning or purpose to your life.

Everyone’s meaning is unique and personal. There is no universal meaning, just a universal need for meaning. Your religion or personal values maybe your personal meaning for life, but that doesn’t apply to everyone.

It think it’s powerful to understand that your meaning for life isn’t the same as everyone else’s. Even if your belief in making the world a better place (or any other value driven purpose) is what gives you meaning and may be the most important part of your life, you likely don’t share that with others. Some people may share a similar meaning to you, but everyone’s meaning is unique and manifests in their own way.

I feel like many disagreements stem from mismatched priorities or the level of importance placed on the topic. You may feel like it’s the most important thing (especially if it directly affects you), whereas others may not place the same value on it or simply value something else more. The difference in value can lead to feeling like others don’t care, but maybe it’s a matter of them caring about other topics more.

Finding your meaning

You need to discover your own meaning, whatever provides you with a purpose. There is no right or wrong meaning to life, nor any singular correct meaning; anything that works for you can be your meaning for life.

If you are unsure of your meaning for life, I would encourage you to take time reflecting on what’s most important to you and why you’re living this life. I personally love journaling, it helps me sort through my thoughts. You can read about the power of journaling and writing in my previous post HERE.

Meanings can also evolve or change throughout your life. It may not stay constant. As you change, grow, and develop, your values and meaning may also change. It’s important to revisit and re-evaluate what gives your life meaning.

The only true danger is when you have no meaning for your life. That’s when people are at the highest risk for giving up completely. If you feel like life is meaningless, please speak to a medical or mental healthcare professional.

Final thoughts

I found this book really interesting. It took the very difficult topic of concentration camps and looked at it through a psychological lens. This was much more a philosophical or psychological book about the importance of having meaning in your life rather than a book purely about concentration camps.

If you’re looking for something purely about the concentration camp experience or World War II, this may not be the right book for you. But if you’re looking for a discussion on the meaning of life and why people fight to stay alive, then this is the right book for you. If you’re interested in why people are able to endure extreme situations and what keeps them motivated, then I would recommend this book.

I think if you approach the book with the right mindset, you can gain so much from it. Personally, I found it sparked a lot of thoughts and reflections on my own life and how others live.

I really appreciated how it emphasized that everyone’s meaning for life is unique rather than trying to justify a universal meaning for life. We’re not all the same and it makes sense that we’d each have our own motivation for life.


How to make the world more empathetic

Have you ever wondered about how much of empathy is innate or learned? As I was reading The War for Kindness by Jamil Zaki, he discusses how empathy can be learned and developed like any other skill and that we as a society can help make the world a kinder place.

Photo by Andrea Tummons | Accessed on

Main impacts

These are the main points that stood out to me from the book:

  1. Empathy can be learned
  2. Genuine connections can cause breakthroughs
  3. Empathy can create systemic change

Continue reading to learn more about each one.

Empathy can be learned

One of the biggest lessons in this book is that empathy can be learned and developed. It’s not an innate talent that only some people have. Everyone can learn to be more empathetic.

There are lots of ways to cultivate empathy, from the ways things are taught to how we setup social situations or decisions. Empathy can be encouraged through both nudges (short term changes) and longer term impacts.

Nudges can encourage more kindness based on the way we set up certain social situations, or by making small changes that guide the individuals to choose the kinder option. Nudges are basically small changes that make it more likely for someone to act more empathetically. They can be as simple as rephrasing a question or making it easier to choose the kinder option (such as having to opt out of a donation instead of opting in). We tend to choose the easiest option, so if we make the easiest option the kindest one, they’re more likely to pick it.

However, developing long-term impacts are more difficult. Individuals can create personal long-term impacts by actively developing or cultivating empathy as a skill through intentional decisions and action. There are also ways to teach and encourage empathy throughout society. Such as including empathy-related content in school curriculums or other public education campaigns, along with increasing diversity and encouraging diverse representatives in media, governance bodies, and other parts of society.

Generally helping others is mutually beneficial because it also helps yourself. If more people understood the potential benefits and that it can be learned, then they may be more willing to develop their empathy skills.

Exposure leading to more empathy

People have been shown to develop empathy like a skill, especially by learning and understanding how others live.

Exposure is one of the common ways people suggest increasing empathy. This generally means having people be exposed to different types of people and increasing diversity. The idea is that once people spend time with other cultures, ethnicities, and religions then they will start to see similarities and view them as individuals rather than just “the other.”

Increased exposure can be very effective, but the type of exposure is very important. If it results in negative exposure, such as people having bad experiences with new types of people, exposure can actually reduce the amount of empathy they have for that group of people.

But when being exposed to different types of people with opportunities for genuine connection and building relationships, it can be highly effective at building empathy. To increase effectiveness, it’s ideal to facilitate exposure with education on cultural and social differences. So that exposure to others is met with understanding not negativity.

Genuine connections can cause breakthroughs

This book talked a lot about people from former hate groups and how some have changed to be more empathetic. You can learn a lot from people at the extremes of society. This reminds my of my post on the book Dopamine Nation (you can read it here), which looked at dopamine effects through the lens of addiction. By looking at extremes you can apply similar lessons to your own life.

Most former hate group members that made an empathetic breakthrough (away from hate) were because of a genuine connection with someone. Usually it was when they felt truly seen and heard by the other person.

Most hate group members are ready to “reason” or argue their way through typical arguments. They are used to being questioned or attacked, and are often given speaking points from their group to justify their view. You can’t “prove them wrong” because they know how to argue back and most of the time it just puts them on the defensive, without having a real conversation.

Rather than arguing or trying to prove them wrong, the real way to connect is to treat them with empathy. Commonly, the times when they were seen as fully human and treated with kindness was when people were able to break through the hate.

Sometimes it’s even through a connection with someone they didn’t realize was part of the group they hated. For example, one former nazi/white supremacist had befriended someone without knowing they were Jewish; then when that person still treated them as human instead of just “the enemy” it changed everything. Being seen and seeing others as truly human was the best way to break through the hate and make room for empathy to grow.

A lot of people have hate for the world and when they’re met with more hatred, it just compounds. The real goal is to break the cycle of hate with empathy.

Empathy can create systemic change

Empathy can create systemic or widespread change. It can cause shifts in perspectives or provide a different focus.

Often times issues with our systems come from unconscious or cultural biases. People have either been taught to believe certain biases, like men are better leaders because the patriarchy tells us so. Or people have frequently encountered an issue so they assume there’s a biological reason for it rather than social. An example may be a correlation between Indigenous Peoples and addictions, people may blame the individuals for a tendency towards addiction without realizing the numerous social aspects that may be causing or exacerbating the problem. Our biases can be misconstrued as facts or may even be unconscious, but they affect our decisions and society.

A key part of building empathy for others is taking the time to understand why things happen the way they do, and what may be impacting the situation. Context is key, which is why it’s so important to understand history and how the past is still impacting the present.

Putting empathy into systems

Once you know more about different types of people, you’re able to provide better service or protection to others. Understanding others and clarifying the difference between biases and facts can help everyone.

Apparently even now, there are issues with medical staff thinking black skin is thicker than white skin (not true, it’s just a difference in melatonin), and that black people don’t feel as much pain as white people. These biases can have huge medical implications and greatly affect the service people receive.

Systemic biases are often perpetuated by unconscious biases or misconceptions of others, either at an individual level or through training. We can combat these biases through both increased exposure and a better understanding of others. Improving the system by reducing biases can make the world a better place for everyone.

Final thoughts

I found this book very hopeful. Jamil shows that even though we are so divided, there are ways forward and society can become more empathetic. It is possible to improve how others are treated and that we can all become kinder, if we choose to.

With all the division we see around the world, I think a lot of people don’t believe everyone can get along, let alone that society can become kinder. Often times we feel like people just don’t care about others because there’s so much disagreement, misunderstanding, and hatred. But this book was wonderfully optimistic that it doesn’t have to stay that way.

We can all become more empathetic. The best way to build empathy is to make genuine connections, by treating others with respect and listening to them.


Understanding the dopamine and addiction connection

Have you ever wondered what makes something addictive?

As I was reading Dopamine Nation by Dr. Anna Lembke, she talks about how dopamine (the feel good chemical) is the cause of addictions and that we are all living in a world designed to optimize and increase our dopamine production (such as instant gratification, easy access to food/shopping/etc.).

Throughout the book, she uses addictions as a way for all of us to learn lessons on managing our dopamine exposure and improving our lives.

Photo by Catalin Pop | Accessed on

Main impacts

Here are the main topics or themes that stood out to me:

  1. Anything can be addictive
  2. Pain and pleasure are connected
  3. Tell the truth

Continue reading to find out more about each.

Anything can be addictive

In this book, Dr. Anna Lembke discusses how our world revolves around dopamine and how it affects us. Specifically, she discusses addictions, as they are just an extreme version of what we all go through with dopamine, and provide us lessons on how to handle our own dependence on dopamine.

You can get addicted to anything.

Basically, anything can cause you to release dopamine. Or more specifically it’s often the anticipation of something that releases dopamine. Dopamine is what you get addicted to, and anything can start to trigger dopamine if it gets you excited. Somethings are more pleasurable (think sex, drugs, alcohol) and are more common addictions, but you also hear of people getting addicted to odd things (think of the tv show My Strange Addiction).

With far greater connectivity and the fast paced life we live now, there are so many more opportunities for us to get addicted to things or to become dependent on dopamine. Addiction can be to anything from drugs, sex-related activities, positive feedback through social media, working out, or even reading romance novels. Anything that provides you pleasure, excitement, or dopamine can become a source of addiction.

Addition can be encouraged or enabled by many things. Some people are more prone to addiction (for a variety of reasons), but anyone can get addicted. Addiction is not dependent on having specific genes or being in a certain situations, it can affect anyone.

This book talks about how we can learn from addicts to better understand how we deal with the large amounts of dopamine and instant gratification in our everyday life. This universality of addiction and dopamine dependence is why we can all relate to some extent what addicts go through.

Taking a step away

The first step in dealing with addiction is to abstain from whatever you’re addicted to. That’s the only way to fully understand the impact it’s creating on your life and if a problem you’re experiencing is from that addiction or something else.

Usually an addiction grows gradually, with you needing more and more to satisfy your craving, so it’s only by abstaining that you are able to see how much it’s really affecting you. I believe she usually suggests abstaining for at least a month, if not longer, to get past the withdrawal stage and see how you really feel.

If you are struggling with addiction, please seek professional help. If you find you’re starting to become reliant or dependent on something (maybe social media), it might be worthwhile to take a break or find ways to distance yourself from it.

Pain and pleasure are connected

Pain and pleasure are connected, but too much of either is a bad thing. Avoiding pain can cause pain, and pain can sometimes cause pleasure but too much can also be addicting.

What a strange thing that which men call pleasure seems to be, and how astonishing the relation it has with what is thought to be its opposite, namely pain! A man cannot have both at the same time. Yet if he pursues and catches the one, he is almost always bound to catch the other also, like two creatures with one head.


There are benefits to experiencing a bit of pain. Pain can provide some pleasure, and even make you more in tuned with pleasure by noticing it more clearly. You even get indirect dopamine from pain, which is longer lasting than the dopamine you get from pleasure. Also, you can become less vulnerable to pain if you’re exposed to small amounts, making you more resilient. Finally, once you feel less pain (based on exposure to it) you can actually gain prolonged relaxation and joy.

But you don’t want too much pain, as you can get addicted to pain and start to see less positive results.

One strong example of the impact of pain on pleasure and progress is exercise. There are so many studies showing the profound impact that exercise can have on our lives, that a bit of pain or discomfort from physical exertion can provide so many benefits (well being, mood, health, etc.). Even just a 30 min walk each day can provide great benefits. Exercise doesn’t have to be extreme, you just need a bit of movement to see results. But too much exercise, especially when it’s too painful, is bad for you and you’ll stop seeing progress or benefits because you’re not giving your body time to heal.

Interestingly, it used to be quite common to treat pain with more pain, such as cupping, blisters, scraping, bleeding, etc. Some are still practiced today in traditional medicines. It’s also commonly understood that one pain can be reduced by introducing another source of pain, as it distracts from the initial pain.

Pain can serve a purpose, but as with anything, you don’t want too much pain.

Tell the truth

Part of what helped people with addictions heal was the power of radical honesty.

When they were completely honest with friends, family and partners around them, it built back the trust they had lost. Radical honesty was especially important because people who struggle with addiction tend to lie a lot to hide their addiction or to fuel their addiction, some even become addicted to lying.

Once you start being honest about what you’re doing and why, then people can start trusting you again. Even if you slip up or if something comes to light from a previous addiction, once you tell the truth it lets the other person know that you’re willing to be honest and it gives them less reason to doubt you.

Radical honest can also cultivate intimacy, which can provide its own source of dopamine. Being honest helps develop relationships and can bring you closer to each other. However, if honesty is faked or used to exploit others, it can backfire and create even more distance.

You can’t fake the honesty and hope to see the same results. These benefits only come from being honest with those you are rebuilding relationships.

Final thoughts

This was really insightful on how to deal with addiction and the struggles that everyone goes through. I never fully realized that anything can become an addiction, and that really opened my eyes to how we all experience the world.

It also highlighted how our current world is ripe for addiction. We live in a world that moves so fast, with access to more content and things than ever before. Even normal parts of everyday life like social media and email are so instantaneous and have so much potential for emotional impacts.

I found the book relevant not just for those that are struggling with addiction or who know someone struggling, but relevant to everyone. I think it helps build empathy for others and provides tools to notice when you’re getting on a slippery slope towards addiction. It also highlights how everyday life stimulates dopamine (instant access to stimulating food or people’s attention) and how they may impact you.