This is a re-broadcast. The episode originally ran in February 2019.
Practicing minimalism with your possessions has been a trend for the past decade, and it can be a worthy practice, as long as you use it as a means to greater efficacy outside your personal domain, rather than just an end in itself.
But there's arguably a minimalism practice that's even more effective in achieving that greater efficacy: digital minimalism.
My guest has written the definitive guide to the philosophy and tactics behind digital minimalism. His name is Cal Newport and this is his third visit to the AoM Podcast. We’ve had him on the show previously to discuss his books So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work. Today, we discuss his latest book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.
We begin our conversation discussing why digital tech feels so addicting, why Steve Jobs didn’t originally intend for the iPhone to become something we check all the time, and why the common tips for reducing your smartphone use don't work and you need to implement more nuclear solutions instead. We then discuss the surprising lesson the Amish can teach you about being intentional about technology, how cleaning up your digital life is like decluttering your house, and why he recommends a 30-day tech fast to evaluate what tech you want to let back into your life. Cal then makes an argument for why you should see social media like training wheels for navigating the web, how to take those wheels off, and why you should own your own domain address. We end our conversation exploring what you should do in the free time you open up once your digital distractions are tamed, and the advanced techniques you can use to take the practice of digital minimalism to the next level.
I think you'll find this a tremendously interesting and important show.
Get the show notes at aom.is/digitalminimalism.
When someone is struggling with a seemingly easy problem, someone else might say, "Come on, it's not rocket science!" The inference being that rocket science represents the pinnacle of complexity.
But my guest today argues that the study of rocket science contains some simple, overarching principles that cannot only be universally understood, but universally applied to all kinds of problems and decisions. His name is Ozan Varol, he served on the operations team for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers project, and he's the author of the book Think Like a Rocket Scientist. We begin our conversation discussing why Ozan went from studying astrophysics to going to law school, and how his scientific background has influenced his legal career. We then dig into ways that the same thought processes that enable spacecraft to travel millions of miles can also be applied to moving forward in work and life. Ozan explains how scientists deal with uncertainty and why you have to constantly question the way things are done to get better results. We end our discussion by talking about how to use thought experiments to solve problems, how to test ideas, and how to actually learn from your failures.
Get the show notes at aom.is/rocketscientist.
Many dream of leaving the city and all its tethers and obligations and creating a simpler, more independent life farther from the mainstream population and entirely off the grid. But how do you go from that daydream to making such a move a reality?
My guest walks us through the process today. His name is Gary Collins, he made the leap himself and now lives off the grid in Northeast Washington, and he's the author of several books on off grid living as well as simplifying your life. We begin our conversation today with why Gary decided to leave his conventional, urban, 9-5 existence to find a freer lifestyle, and how he defines being off the grid. We then get into why Gary thinks you should make the move to living off the grid in a series of steps, the first of which is to simplify your existing life in three main ways. Gary then makes the case for why living in a RV should be the next step in your journey, before discussing the process of finding land for your off grid home, and the factors to consider in picking a locale. From there we get into how those who live off the grid take care of water, sewage, power, and internet, how they construct the house itself, and what to know about the start-up costs involved. We end our conversation with a discussion of getting off the grid in a more metaphorical way by quitting social media, and why Gary thinks you should pull the plug on those platforms, even if you're an entrepreneur.
Get the show notes at aom.is/offgrid.
Everyone feels under greater psychic pressure these days, but we adults hope that children, who have always been seen as naturally resilient, have been spared the stress. Unfortunately, kids are increasingly experiencing mental health problems like anxiety at younger and younger ages, and this trend has been going on for years.
My guest today wrote a cover article for The Atlantic on the causes and cures of this phenomenon. Her name is Kate Julian and we begin our conversation today by describing the extent to which problems like depression, anxiety, and even suicide have been on the rise among children, and how these issues correlate with continued problems later in life. We then talk about the possible causes behind the increase in childhood anxiety, and whether technology and social media are to blame. We then delve into the idea of how parents are perpetuating their children's anxiety through their own anxiety and their willingness to make accommodations to keep their kids calm and happy. We get into the idea that getting your children comfortable with being uncomfortable can inoculate them against anxiety, and end our conversation with a discussion of whether more exposure to the news of a tumultuous world might actually make kids more resilient.
Get the show notes at aom.is/childhoodanxiety.
We've all asked "what if" questions about our life: What if I had majored in art instead of business? What if I had let my best friend know I liked her as more than a friend? What if I had taken the job offer in Colorado? Sometimes contemplating the imagined possibilities of these alternative histories fills us with sharp pangs of regret.
My guest today says that's not necessarily a bad thing. His name is Neal Roese and he's a professor of psychology and marketing and the author of If Only: How to Turn Regret Into Opportunity. Neal and I begin our conversation by unpacking how asking "what if" is to engage in something called "counterfactual thinking," and how you can create a downward counterfactual, in which you imagine how a decision could have turned out worse, or an upward counterfactual, where you imagine how a decision could have turned out better. Neal then explains why living without regret isn't actually that healthy, and why even though regret is an unpleasant feeling, it can be an important spur towards greater improvement, action, and agency. We then do get into the circumstances in which regret can become a negative force, before turning to what Neal's research says are the most common regrets people have in life. At the end of our conversation, we pivot to talking about how imagining how your life could have turned out worse, can make you feel happier.
Get the show notes at aom.is/regret.
According to Silicon Valley, self-driving cars are the future of transportation. Instead of owning and driving a car, you can just summon an AI-operated vehicle with your smartphone and have this superpowered computer taxi you to your destination. No more car maintenance, no more traffic, no more accidents.
It may sound great on the face of it, but my guest today argues that shifting from being a driver to being a mere passenger represents an existential risk in and of itself, as well as a symbol for the potential loss of much broader human values. His name is Matthew Crawford and he's a philosopher, mechanic, and hot rodder, as well as the author of Shop Class as Soulcraft. In his latest book, Why We Drive: Towards a Philosophy of the Open Road, Matthew investigates the driver’s seat as one of the few remaining domains of skill, exploration, play, and freedom. Matthew and I begin our conversation discussing how freely moving around in our environment is a big part of what makes us human and then explore how shifting from being the drivers of our own cars to the passengers of self-driving cars could result in a loss of that humanity by eliminating agency, privacy, and proficiency. As our wide-ranging conversational road trip continues, Matthew and I take detours into what things like hot rodding and demolition derbies can tell us about mastery, play, and competition. We end our conversation on what driving ultimately has to do with the overarching idea of self-governance.
Get the show notes at aom.is/whywedrive.
We've all been there: you're sitting at home some evening and you don't have plans, you haven't heard from family or friends for awhile, and you've got things on your mind, but don't feel like there's anyone you can talk to about them. You feel down and adrift, and sense an almost physical ache in your heart. You're experiencing loneliness, and my guest today says we ought to interpret this feeling the way we would hunger or thirst -- as a signal that we have a need that we should take action to fulfill.
His name is Dr. Vivek Murthy, he served as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, and he's the author of the book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. We begin our conversation discussing what loneliness is exactly and how we can feel interpersonally fulfilled in some areas of our lives, and yet lonely in others. Vivek then walks us through the very tangible harm loneliness can do to our mental health, before exploring why loneliness has been increasing in the western world. Vivek and I then discuss how loneliness affects men in particular. We end our conversation with things we can all do to battle the loneliness epidemic and feel more connected to those around us.
Get the show notes at aom.is/loneliness.
Which branch of the military has the toughest training course for its officers and special operators is a matter of animated debate, but there's no question that the Army's Ranger School is a viable candidate for carrying that designation. Over nine weeks, and three grueling phases, soldiers undergo physical, mental, and emotional challenges that test their endurance, resilience, and leadership.
My guest today went through Ranger School twice: first as an infantry officer in 2004, and then just last year as the first journalist to embed with a class all the way through the course. His name is Will Bardenwerper and he wrote an article about his experience for Outside Magazine called "Army Ranger School Is a Laboratory of Human Endurance." Will and I begin our conversation with why he wanted to observe Ranger School from a third-party perspective after participating in it firsthand as a soldier. Will then explains the difference between earning your tab by graduating from Ranger School and being an official Army Ranger who belongs to the Ranger Regiment special operations force. Will then gives us a big picture overview of the three phases of Ranger School: Benning Phase, Mountain Phase, and Swamp Phase. We then dive into what happens in each phase, taking side trips along the way into the controversy of allowing women into the course, whether or not it's gotten easier since Will went through, and the importance of doing well in the combat patrol exercises and peer reviews in which the students participate. We end our conversation discussing the lessons in endurance that civilians can take away from those who graduate from Ranger School and earn the tab.
Get the show notes at aom.is/rangerschool.
One of the most burning questions in life is what it is you're called to do with it. What is your life's purpose? What great work are you meant to do?
Guidance on this question can come from many sources, and my guest today says that one of the best is the Bhagavad Gita, a text of Hindu scripture thousands of years old. He's a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, and author of The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling. Stephen Cope and I begin our conversation with an introduction to the Bhagavad Gita, the significant influence it's had on philosophers and leaders for ages, and what it can teach us about making difficult decisions. We then discuss the insights the Gita offers on the four pillars of right living, beginning with discerning your true calling or sacred duty. We unpack the three areas in your life to examine for clues to your life's purpose, and why that purpose may be small and quiet rather than big and splashy. Stephen then explains the doctrine of unified action, why you have to pursue your calling full out, and why that pursuit should include the habit of deliberate practice. We also discuss why it's central to let go of the outcome of actions to focus on the work itself, and the need to turn your efforts over to something bigger than yourself. All along the way, Stephen offers examples of how these pillars were embodied in the lives of eminent individuals who lived out their purpose.
Get the show notes at aom.is/gita.
When it comes to how you're perceived in your professional life, it's likely you want to be taken seriously. You want your words to carry weight. You want to be influential and listened to, regardless of your position in a company. You want to carry yourself with gravitas.
My guest today is an organizational psychologist and executive coach who explains how to cultivate this quality in her book Authentic Gravitas: Who Stands Out and Why. Her name is Rebecca Newton and we begin our conversation together by delving into the traits that go into embodying gravitas, as well as the myths we have about this quality. We discuss how gravitas doesn't necessarily include confidence and charisma, as well as its false manifestations. Rebecca then walks us through the steps to carrying yourself with gravitas in meetings and presentations, including why you should script the beginning and end of your speeches, and how to put more gravitas into your voice and words. We also discuss what to focus on when you're pulled into an impromptu conversation, how to get real feedback about how you can improve the way you carry yourself, and how to convey gravitas in online communication. We then discuss why practicing self-leadership is so important to developing gravitas, why Rebecca thinks everyone needs to create a "personal thought leadership window," and how you can use your drive to and from work to become more thoughtful and reflective. We end our conversation with the questions you should start asking yourself today to develop more gravitas.
Get the show notes at aom.is/gravitas.
When most of us run into obstacles with how we think and approach the world -- whether in terms of dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety or simply making progress with our relationships and work, we typically try to focus in on solving the perceived problem, or we run away from it. In either case, instead of feeling better, we feel more stuck.
My guest today says we need to free ourselves from these instincts and our default mental programming and learn to just sit with our thoughts, and even turn towards those which hurt the most. His name is Steven Hayes and he's a professor of psychology, the founder of ACT -- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy -- and the author of over 40 books, including his latest A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters. Steven and I spend the first part of our conversation in a very interesting discussion as to why traditional interventions for depression and anxiety -- drugs and talk therapy -- aren't very effective in helping people get their minds right, and how ACT takes a different approach to achieving mental health. We then discuss the six skills of psychological flexibility that undergird ACT and how these skills can be used not only by those dealing with depression and anxiety but by anyone who wants to get out of their own way and show up and move forward in every area of their lives.
Get the show notes at aom.is/liberatedmind.
War is about many things: glory, violence, courage, destruction. But at its heart is death. Each side in a conflict tries to kill as many of the enemy as possible, while avoiding being killed themselves.
The way these deaths have played out over thousands of years of warfare has changed not simply based on the way martial technology has changed, but also on the way that the psychological and cultural pressures that have led societies and individual men to fight have changed.
My guest today, Michael Stephenson, is a military historian who explores these evolutions in his book The Last Full Measure: How Soldiers Die in Battle. Today Michael and I discuss the forces that led soldiers to their fate over the centuries, from advancements in weaponry to the expectations of social class. At the beginning of our conversation Michael discusses why he wanted to write this book, and the balance he had to walk in trying to describe the reality of death on the battlefield, without conveying those details in a sensationalistic or titillating manner. We then trace the history of death in war, beginning with its primitive beginnings and working our way to the modern day. Along the way we discuss how gunpowder changed the nature of warfare, the effect that distance has on how heroic a confrontation seems, why artillery is particularly terrifying, what motivates soldiers to fight, and much more.
This is a surprisingly enlightening and humane look at an oft glossed over aspect of the human experience.
Get the show notes at aom.is/lastfullmeasure.
It's almost summer and you know what that means: grilling season is upon us. To help ensure that you have your best grilling season ever, today I talk to Matt Moore, AoM's resident food writer and the author of Serial Griller: Grillmaster Secrets for Flame-Cooked Perfection. We begin our conversation discussing Matt's trips around the country to glean the best stories and tips from our nation's foremost grillmasters. We first unpack why the Maillard reaction is so important to creating delicious browned food, and how to ensure you get that effect when you grill. From there we dive into more of the secrets of better grilling, including the pros and cons of different types of fuels and grill types and the essential tools to have on hand when making flame-cooked grub. Matt then offers his surprising take on the best way to grill a burger and explains how to grill the perfect steak, cook chicken so it doesn't dry out, and fire up fish without it falling apart. We end our discussion with Matt's grilled, mouth-watering alternative to a traditional peach cobbler.
You'll be ready to fire up the grill after listening to this show.
Get the show notes at aom.is/serialgriller.
Several years ago, Kate and I implemented a practice that has helped strengthen our relationship. It's called a "marriage meeting," and we got the idea from my guest today. Her name is Marcia Naomi Berger, and she's a therapist and the author of Marriage Meetings: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted. Marcia and I begin our discussion with how she developed the idea of marriage meetings and why couples can benefit from implementing this habit. We then unpack the four-part agenda of the marriage meeting, which includes showing appreciation, discussing household chores, planning for good times, and resolving big issues, and Marcia explains why you need to do the steps in that particular order. She then addresses the possible objection to meeting with one's spouse in a more structured way, and explains why the format of the marriage meeting is more effective than trying to discuss these things on the fly. She then provides tips and insights on how to execute each part of the marriage meeting, including the importance of being specific with your appreciation, following up on to-dos, and scheduling good times both as a couple and as individuals. Marcia then shares advice on what to do if you want to start the marriage meeting practice but your spouse doesn't, how your meetings can take as little as 15 minutes, and how best to communicate during the meeting so that each partner will feel good about keeping up this game-changing habit.
Get the show notes at aom.is/marriagemeeting.
In disasters or accidents, why do some people survive and others perish? In exploring this question, my guest has uncovered psychological and philosophical insights into not only dealing with life-threatening crises, but strategically navigating any situation that involves risk and decision-making.
His name is Laurence Gonzales and he's a pilot, a journalist, and the author of several books, including the focus of today's conversation: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. Today on the show, we discuss how the story of his father being shot out of the sky during WWII set Laurence on a journey to explore the mysterious underpinnings of survival. Laurence then explains what happens to us mentally and emotionally in a disaster situation that causes us to make poor decisions, how our mental models can get us in trouble, and why rule breakers are more likely to survive than rule followers. Laurence then walks us through complexity theory and how trying to make things safer can counterintuitively make them more dangerous. We then talk about why the frequency with which you yell at your kids correlates to your chances of surviving a life-threatening emergency, before ending our conversation with a discussion of the paradoxes would-be survivors must grapple with, including being both realistic and hopeful at the same time.
Get the show notes at aom.is/deepsurvival.
A lot of ink has been spilled about how young people today are struggling to transition from adolescence to adulthood. But these think pieces are often heavy on blame and light on solutions. My guest today takes an understanding approach to the difficulties of growing up, as well as offers practical strategies for facilitating the process. His name is Mark McConville, and he's a family clinical psychologist who's spent decades working with young clients and written a book on what he's found does and doesn't work in getting them to become more independent called Failure to Launch: Why Your Twentysomething Hasn't Grown Up . . . and What to Do About It.
We begin our conversation with how Mark defines a failure to launch, when in his career he started to notice this issue in his young clients, and what factors are behind its prevalence. He then explains the idea of "emerging adulthood" and how it's normal for it to take some time for a twenty-something to start feeling like a grown-up. Mark and I then unpack the three tasks a young person must master to transition to adulthood, which includes discussions of what prevents twenty-somethings from taking on grown-up responsibilities, how parents need to shift from a supervisory role to a consultant role, the importance of getting going in the right direction, and why young adults should treat life like a climbing wall. We end our conversation with advice to parents on the best way to motivate their kids to tackle the tasks of growing up.
Plenty of insights for both young adults and their parents in this episode.
Get the show notes at aom.is/launch.
More than 80% of the world's population consumes the same psychostimulant every single day. Yet few of us know very much about our favorite daily drug . . . caffeine.
My guest today will shed some light on humanity's love affair with this pick-me-up substance. His name is Murray Carpenter and he's the author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us. We begin our discussion exploring what caffeine does to our mind and body, before delving into how caffeine consumption developed in different places all around the world and how the way we get our caffeine fix has evolved over the millennia. Murray and I then discuss the popularity of coffee in America and how our grandparents actually drank way more of it than we do today. Murray explains how caffeinated sodas became a stimulating competitor to coffee in the 19th century and how energy drinks became a huge business in the late 20th. Murray and I then discuss how you're probably ingesting more caffeine than you realize, and what the generally recommended maximum amount to consume per day is. We then get into whether caffeine can enhance athletic performance, and how much you need to take for it to make a difference. We then discuss the overlooked benefits of caffeine, as well as its downsides, and end our conversation with the question of whether caffeine is an addictive substance.
This episode will get you thinking about your morning joe differently.
Get the show notes at aom.is/caffeinated.
It's been 30 years since the landmark self-management book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was published. It's been called the most influential business book of the 20th century and the principles it espouses have become embedded in our culture. The 7 Habits has had a big impact on my own life since the first time I read it over 20 years ago as a high schooler. A 30th anniversary edition of the book is out with new insights from the late Stephen Covey's children. Today, it's my pleasure to speak to one of them, Stephen M.R. Covey. Stephen is the oldest of the Covey children, played an instrumental role in the launch of the first edition of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as well as in his father's company, Franklin Covey, and is himself the author of the book The Speed of Trust. Today on the show, Stephen and I discuss why The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has had such staying power and why it's just as relevant today as it was 30 years ago. We then walk through the seven habits, exploring how each is lived individually, as well as work together to create a flourishing life. If you've never read The 7 Habits, this episode is a great introduction. And if you've read it before, this is a succinct refresher on a set of principles worth building your life around.
Get the show notes at aom.is/sevenhabits.
Everyone has experienced the way our feelings fluctuate day by day, and even hour by hour. Sometimes we're feeling up and sometimes we're feeling down.
My guest today says these oscillations are a result of nature's operating system and that you can learn to better manage these emotional peaks and valleys. Her name is Loretta Breuning and she's the author of several books on happiness and the human brain, including her latest, Tame Your Anxiety: Rewiring Your Brain for Happiness. We begin our conversation by discussing the similarities between human brains and the brains of other mammals, and how our brains release happiness-producing chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin to spur us to seek rewards related to our survival needs. We also talk about the unhappy chemical of cortisol which is released in response to perceived threats, and the factors that have increased our stress and anxiety in the modern world. Loretta then explains that the boost we get whenever the brain's happy chemicals are activated doesn't last, and how we need to plan and execute healthy options for proactively stimulating these chemicals, including creating expectations for rewards and finding small, positive ways of increasing our status. We end our conversation with how to manage spikes of cortisol in yourself, as well as help other people manage their emotional troughs.
Get the show notes at aom.is/happychemicals.
The shutdowns that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic have wreaked havoc on the global economy. Millions of people are out of work, businesses are cratering, and the stock market has tanked. Whether you've been hard hit by these effects or are so far weathering the storm yet feel uncertain about your future, what financial moves should you be making right now? To get some insight, I brought back personal finance expert Ramit Sethi, author of the book I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Since the pandemic started, Ramit has been hosting "fireside chats" on his Instagram account where he covers a financial topic pertinent to the pandemic, as well as answers questions from his community of followers.
Today we discuss some of the ideas Ramit's been hitting on during these chats as well as the common financial questions he's been fielding. I begin our conversation by asking Ramit why he tells people they shouldn't panic, but should overreact. We then dig into Ramit's advice for people who fall into different categories as to how the pandemic has affected them, beginning with survival strategies for those who are out of a job altogether. Ramit then shares the money moves people who do still have income coming in should make and why he's changed his tune on how much of an emergency fund you should have. We then discuss why now is a good time to find ways to earn more money and what investing should look like during an economic slump. We end our conversation with Ramit's advice on how to look for a job during a pandemic and what small businesses can do to adapt to the current climate.
Get the show notes at aom.is/pandemicfinances.