Four Ways to Get Over the U.S. Post-Election Blues

bobby-blue-bland

I voted for Hillary Clinton. And long before Donald Trump won the U.S. Presidential Election last November, I expressed concern he would emerge as the victor.

Like many of you, my emotions ran predictably high on Election Eve. And then very early the following morning, I posted on Facebook to congratulate Mr. Trump and express my support. My thinking at the time was that ‘it’ was over and therefore WE needed to move on and provide at least initial support for our incoming leader.

And yet now, several weeks later, I am still very blue. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s not the prospect of Mr. Trump leading our nation that bothers me so much. It’s the continual displays of highly divisive behavior I see online, in our news outlets (silly me for reading the news), and in the physical world.

I guess I had naïvely assumed liberals were the standard-bearers of open-mindedness and acceptance. I thought more people would give this extremely unchartered world of ours a chance, perhaps even joining in with me on the classic John Lennon ditty, “All we are saying…Give Trump a chance!” (Oh come on now, lighten up).

Oops! Nope. Facebook is still a shit den of trolling, unnecessary and unprovoked spats, and incredibly immature ‘got to get the last word in’ replies onto the feed. And I don’t see it changing anytime soon. Unless we recognize how much potential power we all actually have….

We can start by acknowledging there is only one Donald Trump yet hundreds of millions of us. Therefore, how can we collectively raise ourselves to a higher standard? How can we exhibit more positive and courageous personal characteristics? How can we lead by example? How can we go high when they go low in our actions and not just our words over a sustainable period of time?

No, I’m not suggesting passiveness, a.k.a. bending over and simply taking it. My proposal is that a combined and unified positive energy will always prevail. But how? Here are four ways.

PRACTICE MORE EMPATHY – I wonder how many die-hard Clinton supporters have sat and spoken with die-hard Trump supporters in a non-emotional and non-confrontational way to simply ask and gain an understanding of why they supported Trump. My suggestion: Channel your inner Charlie Rose. Be curious. Be open minded! Accept that your opinion is only that, and nothing more. You are no more ‘right’ than they are ‘wrong.’ Look, I can be one easily triggered and emotionally sensitive mother fucker. But somehow I’ve found it within me to have peaceful conversations with middle managers, small business owners, non-caucasian females, my brother-in-law who is a former lifelong Democrat and leads a mid-sized law firm in New England, and many of my other relatives – all of whom supported Trump. I have learned a bit more about what it takes to run a small business and provide for hundreds of employees and their families through bad times, about the inner workings of the Affordable Character Act, and about how alleged deplorables are incredibly kind and loving people who stand behind their families and support their local communities. Empathy also means acknowledging that while you may be blue, many people are wildly elated right about now.

ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY AND LEARN FROM DEFEAT – Here is some free advice: If you run for President and lose after spending nearly 10 times more than your opponent, please don’t blame the Russians, the FBI, the NRA, your campaign manager, Lester Holt, Ted Nugent, et cetera. Take full responsibility and look within. Where did YOU fall down? What could YOU have done better? And what can you do better the next time out, if there is a next time out. I mean….whether you love or loathe the Electoral College, that is our current system, and under it Clinton lost badly.

TAKE POSITIVE ACTION – Sure, you can join a protest – I get it. But what else can you do that creates impact and change? Sorry to give you the tough love, but repetitively posting HuffPost articles critical of Trump to your like-minded Facebook friends who habitate your echo chamber accomplishes nothing, although it has pretty much gotten me off of Facebook – and I genuinely thank you for that. And I find few things more tragic than seemingly intelligent people who pine their entire adult lives away expressing melancholy for the entire four year period during which the person they didn’t support is leading the country – not just once, but continually over many decades. What a waste.

So, what can you do? Let’s say you believe Trump winning the election after decisively losing the popular vote is despicable. Well, can you use your social media prowess to organize among throngs of people several massive online email blasts and/or phone campaigns focused on your congressional representatives that propose eliminating the U.S. Electoral College system? Can you reach out to friends in other states to do the same thing targeted toward their representatives? What else can you do to support causes you believe in that is actionable, impactful, and intended toward a specific and plausible outcome?

THINK UNITY ALWAYS – Yes, of course you can be angry and scared. But can you STILL rise above these emotions and reach out? Can you STILL try and be the bigger person and not refer to those who disagree with you as ‘stupid?’ Most importantly, can you try to identify and embrace what is common in all of us – our hopes and aspirations as well as our anxieties? In short, can you make this phrase, “Let’s find common ground – ANY common ground –  and build upon it,” your mantra?

Here is some free advice: If after many decades of working hard and excelling as an actress, you attend a globally televised award show for your fellow actors and actresses in order to accept a lifetime achievement award, please allocate at least a small portion of your remarks toward expressing a conciliatory sense of unity, hope and optimism for the future that is directed to ALL the people who have paid to see your movies, and not just those who share your political views and cultural elitism. To quote comedian Trevor Noah responding to the unnecessary football diss alone, “You don’t have to make your point by shitting on someone else’s thing…”

In closing, we can do a hell of a lot better than simply ‘getting through’ this next four years. I KNOW we can thrive through it with more understanding, learning, constructive action, and a more embracing and unified approach.

It’s not up to him. It’s up to us. Can we step up together?

PHOTO: The legendary and timeless “Bobby Blue Bland.”

I Am A Victim. And Therefore I Rant.

 

trump-and-diamond

We are all witnessing and perhaps exhibiting in our own behaviors an increasingly widespread victim narrative. It’s the sentiment of white privileged billionaires who happen to be running for President as well as people of multiple nationalities, faiths, genders and income levels who live in this insanely abundant nation.

As just one example, you do know that it’s virtually unaffordable to get a college education these days, right? Therefore, masses of our youth get left behind, unable to participate in our economy. “The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. The system is rigged. There is nothing I can do except express my anger and frustration.” End of story.

And yet, even without the once promised largesse of Bernie Sanders backed by the checkbook of the Federal Government to provide a free public higher education for everyone, practically anyone can go to their local public library right now, get on a provided laptop, strap on a pair of provided headphones and earn the equivalent of a college degree for free. Yes, I’m glossing over some details. And no, getting that virtual piece of degree paper is not ‘easy.’ It is very VERY hard. This is because doing so takes a lot of work over a sustained period of time. It requires behaving very differently from anyone else in one’s family or circle of friends. But the process itself is simple. And it is eminently achievable. (Oh, and if you don’t care about an actual degree, then how about the equivalent of a freakin’ MIT degree? Fine print: This one will cost a few thousand bucks.)

Instead, our growing credo appears to be, “I AM A VICTIM!” Yes, of course there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of true blue victims in our society – victims of horrific crimes, of unimaginable racism, of agonizing physical and verbal abuse, and of so much more.

But invariably, the folks who gain more inner peace, who become better versions of themselves, who treat others with more kindness and respect, and who rise above over time don’t remain in the land of victim mentality. They typically don’t ruminate about the past for anything other than inspiration for themselves and others. They don’t look for enemies or conspirators. They don’t continually make excuses. And they don’t give up.

The government?

Where they were born?

Who they were born to and how they were raised?

What has happened to them in their adult life?

That shitty boss? The fact they’ve had so many bosses?

That shitty company that treats their employees like shit?

Racism? Sexism? Any other “ism?”

Nope.

My questions:

When do we stop blaming and protesting? And when do we start thinking, behaving and acting differently in the world?

When do we increasingly focus on those elements we can control and stop whining about factors that are out of our control? Hint: most news stories that outrage you are likely focused on stuff you can’t do anything about.

When do we start living more in the world of cause and less in the world of effect, even if doing so is simply a figment of our imagination?

Because, please tell me the downside of having a vividly positive imagination…

I mean seriously, if a fucking BILLIONAIRE is whining about his alleged powerlessness versus a rigged ‘system,’ do the rest of us have any hope?

My response:

We do.

But hey, that’s so easy for me to say. After all, I’m a white man of privilege living smack in the middle of an enclave of multi-million dollar homes in Silicon Valley.

But then come to think of it, let me root back to my past:

Was I verbally abused by my Dad for many years as a kid? CHECK!

Was I endlessly teased in grade school and never felt like I fit in? CHECK!

Have I experienced immobilizing depressions? CHECK!

Did I live in a filthy, noisy, decrepit and cockroach infested shit hole for nearly a decade after college and drive in a rust box so hideous that women would literally run down the street like I was Godzilla? CHECK!

Did I suffer from chronic back pain for years so agonizing that all I could do after work was lie on the floor? CHECK!

All this while in the decade or so following graduation my college classmates were making two-to-three X more than me and getting married, having kids, yadda yadda yadda. CHECK!

Oh and speaking of getting married, my wife almost died last Summer. CHECK! (We’ll save the details for another article).

But please don’t play misty for me because I am grateful for all of it. After all, I am where I am because over time I recognized the victim routine wasn’t working for me. I needed to change my thinking patterns and become a hero for myself and those around me.

In fact, let me share how I choose to reframe my alleged past misfortunes. Given my life experience I now:

  • Recognize the profound power of my thoughts.
  • Behave with more empathy toward others.
  • Am able to apply more concentrated focus when and where I need to.
  • Have an increasingly improved self-concept.
  • Am a better and more mindful parent.
  • Am more resilient.
  • Have more financial abundance.

Therefore the narrative I choose to embrace (again with that word “choose”…hmmm….) is that I am one of the luckiest guys in the world. And if you want to know the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind this, then please delve into my previous articles where I talk about the power of our mindsets, our thoughts, our beliefs, our habits and our actions in the current moment. This work is not easy. It is VERY hard. But the process itself is simple. And it is eminently achievable.

I don’t have to tell you that giving your money and more importantly your time to help other people and causes is vital. But my belief is that every day and in so many little ways, acting as a more positive and empowered force for good is the best ‘thing’ you can do for you and for us and for the USA (if that’s where you happen to live). Got it, Donald?

End of rant.

More and Less

More unity and less division.

More acceptance and less criticism.

More empathy and less judgement.

More listening and less talking.

More curiosity and less indifference.

More understanding and less scorn.

More asking and less telling.

More peace and less violence.

More love and less fear.

Condolences to everyone impacted by Orlando yesterday.

#LoveTrumpsFear

 

Is U.S. Character Deficit > U.S. Budget Deficit?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

We measure our current budget deficit and debt in concrete terms. But the word “character” is inevitably as abstract and subjective as “fair,” “happy,” “smart,” “stupid,” etc. These expressions, to the extent we use them, only have the meaning we give them.

Now perhaps I’m naive. After the close of the state primaries last night I expected Bernie Sanders to display his strongest and most positive character traits. And then I made the mistake of reading the news. In particular I looked at this New York Times article. And sure, it is a “news analysis.” But the fact is at a critical inflection point – the conclusion of the state primaries – Bernie Sanders didn’t graciously concede defeat. He did not state that now is the time for the Democratic party to unite. He did not congratulate Hillary Clinton. He did not ask his supporters to throw their weight behind Ms. Clinton. Nope. Instead, because of his seeming unwillingness to accept quantitative data clearly showing Hillary Clinton has won the popular and delegate contest, Mr. Sanders delivered a “speech of striking stubborness” at 10 p.m. Pacific time last night.

And then we have record of Mr. Sanders’ 3,000 supporters booing when he mentions Hillary Clinton’s name during this speech. 100 years ago women didn’t have the right to vote. 95 years later we have ourselves the very first female candidate for the U.S. presidency. This is amazing and awesome and overdue. And yet they boo. Sure, they might be tired, frustrated, angry, and they may very well loathe everything they think Ms. Clinton stands for. But at a critical inflection point, they boo.

And our kids get to see this? This is the quality we want them to emulate? Really?

I can’t put a dollar figure on what our character deficit must be costing us, But I imagine it is a huge sum. And lest you think by not picking on the other guy I somehow favor him, that is not the case. However, the news media already extensively cover every microbe of the stinky, sexist, racist and downright toxic farts emanating from Mr. Trump’s carbon life form ass. It doesn’t make any part of his conduct acceptable – and certainly not for anyone running for President. It’s just not surprising.

But enough with the pontificating. Let’s now discuss positive character traits. I don’t have the perfect dictionary definition, nor does anyone. Yet each of us has the opportunity to sit down with a piece of paper and write down what we think “character” means and how we can walk the talk more consistently. Why is it important to do this and strive for an intention to exemplify them? It’s because we are role models to our children, our nephews and nieces and grandchildren, our students and mentees, our work colleagues, our friends and our friends’ families, and everyone else on the planet as well.

Must we score a 10 out of 10 in each of our defined areas all the time? Hell no and not even close. We will screw up royally all the time, but hopefully less so over time. In addition we may have a few perennial and chronic weak spots. But do we know what those are? And are we working to improve in those areas? If not, then maybe today is a good day to start.

Here are 12 positive character traits I just scribbled down.

1) AWARE – Self-awareness is always the first step. Without this it’s pretty much impossible to keep oneself in check. Surrounding yourself with a spouse or very close friend to help out by giving you an occasional ear flick is always a good idea.

2) EMPATHETIC – This is all about considering and proactively responding to others’ thoughts and feelings by imagining life from their perspective.

3) GOOD LISTENER – Talk less. Listen more. Read people’s body language. Look at their facial expressions. Don’t think about your next ‘point’ while the person you’re engaged in conversation with is still making her/his.

4) KIND – Treat others as you wish to be treated. Be more giving. How am I internalizing this one? I have decided to lower my protective shield of unnecessary cynicism and abrasiveness, and spend a lot more time pondering the meaning and positive implications of living by the Maya Angelou quote at the top of this article.

5) DIRECT – Lest you think being direct is mutually exclusive from kindness, it is possible to be kind in your directness. Many of us have appreciated working with senior executives who were able to dole out tough medicine without using a blow torch.

6) FOCUSED – I admire people who are goal-oriented and resolute. I appreciate knowing what they are about, what they stand for, what they want.

7) OPEN-MINDED – Considering alternative perspectives, being open to thinking and doing things differently, spending time or at least having a conversation or three with very very different people…how are these bad things?

8) RESILIENT – “Grit” is rapidly making its way into our academic and business lexicon, and for good reason. Being determined and resolute despite setbacks increases our likelihood we will learn from mistakes and achieve our aims.

9) GRACIOUS – Sometimes we win and other times we lose. How can we be more gracious and hero-like in each of these situations?

10) GRATEFUL- This goes beyond what you mutter once per week at the mosque, temple, church, et cetera. How do you express and share gratitude consistently? Oops, I almost forgot this next one.

11) CONSISTENT – Here is a hint for my compadres interviewing for jobs. If someone describes the CEO at the company you are about to join as “mercurial,” run for the hills. Yes, I know. “Steve Jobs,” you will say. My response? Sigh.

12) PEACEFUL – No, I’m not professing we don our clove cigarettes and patchouli oil to live in an eternal world of marijuana bliss. This isn’t Chico after all. But can our default state be one where we go with the flow more frequently than against it? Are we more calming than shit-disturbing in our daily interactions? Can we reduce the instances when we make a statement, express an opinion, and have to be right?

Yes, I know I missed a few critical areas. For example Ms. Clinton – lest you think I’m cutting you any slack, the term “honest” comes to mind. But for now, this is my list. What’s yours?

Our presidential candidates will hopefully discuss their vision to address the most pressing global opportunities and challenges we face. But at the same time, among those of us including but not limited to the 538, it’s not just about the big things but the seemingly littlest of things. This includes offering someone a hearty congratulations when it’s the absolute last thing you may want to do. And that’s something you can take to the bank.

Live More Fully By Paying Attention To This Dead Guy

nathaniel branden

Pay attention to this dead guy who had a bizarre love affair with the controversial Ayn Rand while married to his first of many wives.

Oh, that’s not enough?

Pay attention to this dead guy who built a lifetime practice focused on self-esteem, a concept that seems more than a bit out of favor these days. But perhaps this is because many people have an incorrect perception of self esteem.

Self-esteem isn’t about getting a trophy, a star and a congratulatory hug for simply showing up at life’s occasions. Not everybody ‘wins.’ However, it is about being worthy of happiness, a quality we generate within ourselves through our own thoughts, behaviors and actions.

Self-esteem isn’t about wallowing lazily in a lovely world where everything automagically goes your way. Instead, it is defined by an ability to face and manage life’s frequent and inevitable challenges.

Self-esteem isn’t about self-love, which is often construed by skeptics to be consistent with narcissism. Instead, it’s about self-acceptance (see below for more on this concept).

Self-esteem isn’t something you ‘give’ to others. Rather, it requires your own work and development for yourself. Yes, you can create an environment that encourages children to cultivate their own self-esteem, but the seedlings must grow into healthy plants on their own.

To say that Dr. Nathaniel Branden, aka the forementioned ‘dead guy,’ led a complicated personal life is an extreme understatement. But we owe a huge debt to him for his contributions to the field of self-esteem. That said, I don’t understand how his findings have been so misinterpreted. But let’s not even argue the point. Because if one looks at Dr. Branden’s book, “The Six Pillars of Self Esteem,” she/he can optionally throw away the self-esteem label and instead use these principles as a guide for living a more fulfilled, meaningful, productive, ethical and positively inspired life. Don’t believe me? Read on.

Six Practices for Building Self-Esteem, or Whatever the F You Want to Call It Instead

Here is a brief description of the six pillars in Dr. Branden’s own words.

1. The practice of living consciously: respect for facts; being present to what we are doing while we are doing it; seeking and being eagerly open to any information, knowledge, or feedback that bears on our interests, values, goals, and projects; seeking to understand not only the world external to self but also our inner world, so that we do not [sic] out of self-blindness.

My comment: It’s up to us as individuals to improve in this area. That’s because societially we are arguably facing a ‘lack of consciousness crisis’ due in part to the usual culprits: tech gadgets, social media and the news media. And no, I’m not a Luddite who churns my own butter, but wouldn’t that be tasty?

2. The practice of self-acceptance: the willingness to own, experience, and take responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, and actions, without evasion, denial, or disowning – and also without self-repudiation; giving oneself permission to think one’s thoughts, experience one’s emotions, and look at one’s actions without necessarily liking, endorsing, or condoning them; the virtue of realism applied to the self.

My comment: This is an important distinction from how self-esteem skeptics might define ‘self-love.’ Self-acceptance implies owning up to our own failings. It means we accept rather than reject any part of ourselves, with our flaws and all. We may not ‘like’ this part of ourselves and may strive to ‘do’ better in the future, but we accept our imperfections, again, without necessarily being resigned to them. In other words, there need be no, “This is just the way I am,” types of cop outs here.

3. The practice of self-responsibility: realizing that we are the author of our choices and actions; that each one [of] us is responsible for life and well-being and for the attainment of our goals; that if we need the cooperation of other people to achieve our goals, we must offer values in exchange; and that [the] question is not “Who’s to blame?” but always “What needs to be done?”

My comment: This is the hallmark of any personal development program. It sounds easy in principle and is difficult in practice, due to societal conditioning. Please note an important distinction: an adverse circumstance in your life may very well not be your fault. However it is arguably your responsibility to address and attempt correcting it.

4. The practice of self-assertiveness: being authentic in our dealings with others; treating our values and persons with decent respect in social contexts; refusing to fake the reality of who we are or what we esteem in order to avoid disapproval; the willingness to stand up for ourselves and our ideas in appropriate ways in appropriate contexts.

My comment: To be blunt, this is mutually exclusive from feeling like one needs to ‘break glass’ and/or behave like a douchebag in order to get her or his way. Notice Dr. Branden’s term, “in appropriate ways in appropriate contexts.” I am putting all office douchebags, including myself in a former life, on notice here. Case in point: if someone calls you a ‘strong cup of coffee,’ that is not a compliment.

5. The practice of living purposefully: identifying our short-term and long-term goals or purposes and the actions needed to attain them (formulating an action-plan); organizing behavior in the service of those goals; monitoring action to be sure we stay on track; and paying attention to outcome so as to recognize if and when we need to go back to the drawing-board.

My comment: Arguably this is among the more straightforward of Dr. Branden’s principles. And yet, how many of us set goals, build plans, measure results and course-correct for all the major areas of our lives, and not just our career.

6. The practice of personal integrity: living with congruence between what we know, what we profess, and what we do; telling the truth, honoring our commitments, exemplifying in action the values we profess to admire.

My comment: I would quadruple underline the word ‘congruence.’ This is about better aligning our thoughts and beliefs with what comes out of our mouths and, most importantly, how we act.

At this point, if you are still not with me, let’s play a devil’s advocate mind game.Think about the consequences of playing the infamous George Costanza ‘do the opposite’ skit in each of these areas. George behaved against what his instincts indicated he should do and landed a new girlfriend, a killer job with The New York Yankees and a sweet apartment in Manhattan. But moving beyond the world of nostalgic TV sitcoms, how do we and those we influence – including our children – gain from our thinking less consciously, rejecting ourselves, blaming others more, behaving less assertively, living purposelessly, and operating with no integrity?

Again, ditch the fecking label if you want to. But I can’t be convinced these pillars aren’t vital elements in living more fully.

Great. So What Do I Do Now?

First, I’d strongly consider adding Dr. Branden’s seminal book to your reading list. It goes into exhaustively more detail on these six pillars. It is lengthy, It is dry. It is humorless. It is not an easy read. And it is absolutely worth it.

Second, and the book provides specific instructions on this in the six chapters highlighting each of the pillars as well as in the Appendix, consider practicing Dr. Branden’s sentence completion exercises for a period of time. A few years ago I  completed a few 30 day stints with a morning and night practice of sentence completion exercises. While it’s not easy, and no, I have not attempted the entirety of what I’m about to describe, it will definitely increase your in-the-moment awareness by highlighting areas of your thinking and behaviors that merit further exploration. Just go here and read through the instructions and sentence stems for the first of two 30 week exercises. Lest the potential of spending more than a year on a personal development journey seems insane, Mr. Branden suggests taking no more than 20 minutes per day for this practice.

And notice how many of these practice sentence stems are focused on one’s interactions with other people versus engaging exclusively in self-introspection. Improving in these areas is perhaps an ideal way to become a more peaceful and pleasant human being who operates as a positive role model for others.

Better grades and more athletic trophies for the kids? Loftier job titles and mo’ money for you? Sure, that all sounds awesome. At the same time, I’ll take behaving in the world as a more peaceful, pleasant and positive role model any day.

As is so often the case I have some work to do. Namaste.

 

 

A Humble Suggestion As We Navigate the Road to Self-Driving Cars

[NOTE: This week I’m taking a break from writing about mindset to pontificate a little bit about technology. Besides, the only other mindset topic I can think about was how earlier this week some friends of ours who live a few blocks away were asked by an anonymous neighborhood college student, in the form of a multiple page handwritten letter left on their doorstep, to take down the Trump signs in their front windows. Said letter also included a mention of how their house is the ugliest one on the street. While I’m definitely not a Trump fan, I unequivocally endorse thoughts, behaviors and actions directed toward open-mindedness, non-judgmentalism and unequivocal freedom of speech. Got it? Get it? Good!]

Lost-In_Space_Chariot

The growing froth and excitement around self-driving cars is understandable. They promise reduced auto fatalities, far more flexibility, and the ability to hoist one’s legs onto the dashboard and smoke endo while commuting to work. But let’s start by taking things way down from the very beginnings of this new promised land, as is now showcased in Tesla’s ‘auto-pilot’ feature.

What can we do now to further propel the evolution of practical AND cool technology inside of more modestly priced cars that make them easier to operate, more fun, and safer to operate?

Well, let’s start with a question. Do you own a $180 Amazon Echo or have you spent some time with one a friend owns? Because once you do, that lovely and amorphous ‘Lady in the Cloud’ we call Alexa may cause you to re-think many of the technology devices that surround you. Yes, that includes your formerly beloved iPhone. Sorry Siri.

Despite its relatively crappy sound, the Amazon Echo is all about the music. With simple voice commands bellowed from across the room, I access not just Amazon Prime Music stations and playlists, but also Pandora and Spotify as well as a myriad of bona fide Internet radio stations and podcasts thanks to TuneIn radio integration. To test Alexa’s mettle, have I spoken as rapidly as I can to request 20 second bursts of completely random songs? Oh yes I have.

Beyond music, getting the weather forecast, a sports score, checking on the shipping status of your Amazon order, asking for a joke…so many possibilities.

And yet, early this morning I got into my brand new souped up $30,000 Toyota Prius feeling just a bit of melancholy. Sure, the Prius has Siri Hands-Free voice integration for making phone calls and firing up Apple music stations, artists and playlists. But I can’t voice-hail Pandora, Spotify, or TuneIn, et cetera. Yes, the Prius also comes with its own voice recognition capabilities for making phone calls and operating the navigation system, as do fancier Lexus automobiles. But it’s primitive and often doesn’t work properly or at all.

Therefore I wonder…if the Echo features home automation capabilities that can switch one’s Philips Hue lights on and off and turn the temperature setting lower on a NEST thermostat – thanks to APIs and integration between these different branded devices – why can’t automotive manufacturers start working with Amazon…like TODAY…to add much better voice recogntion and AI technology into their automobiles?

While I thank the Ford Motor company for announcing an early step to integrate its cars with Alexa’s ability to turn on the kitchen lights before arriving home at the end of a long day, what I’m talking about is voice-controlled automation within my C-MAX.

As you can probably tell by now, I’m just a suburban caveman and certainly not an engineer. But it seems to me the automobile is the perfect closed-loop system. Combine this with the ability to access the Internets via a hotspot device embedded within the OBD II port underneath the steering column and voila…we have ourselves some magic. Just what the hell am I talkin’ bout, Willis? Here goes…

A) I’d like to make the most minute seat adjustments and not have to mess with a bunch of buttons.

B) We’ve already covered car audio system possibilities. But what about volume control? And yes, I’d love to be able to scream, “Turn up the bass,” while stopped at a traffic light as well. While we’re at it, most sound systems need more treble.

C) Here’s an admittedly first world scenario. I’m all ready for that exciting day trip with the family. But first let me spend five frustrating minutes in my driveway dickering with the new nav system and its arcane interface.  Yes, I know I can use my Google Maps on my smartphone but I just bought a new car…DUDE!

D) What about controlling the ventilation system – warmer, cooler, higher or lower fan speeds, front and rear defrosters?

E) Slower or faster windshield wiper settings and a quick spritz to clean off bird poo, anyone?

F) How about setting the cruise control for the precise speed I want, rather than the typically awkward gas pedal-striving for that perfect MPH and then rapidly flinging the lever rapidly downward?

G) Sure, newer cars have headlights that turn on automatically but what about the ability to voice-control them manually, or simply to turn on whatever the hell those things are called – parking lights?

Here is where I’m going with this. When I drive, I don’t want to be distracted at all. Yet distracted driving isn’t just about burying one’s face in her/his smartphone. Therefore I submit that Alexa-powered smarter cars with bona fide voice recognition and AI technology will contribute to more intentional driving.

Goddammit! You see, the thing that sucks about the Amazon Echo is that it makes one realize how limited so many of our other shiny new object tech devices are. But stated more opportunistically and optimistically and to reiterate the classic cliché, Alexa changes everything.

Better yet, given that Google and Apple are now poising to introduce Amazon Echo challengers, this doesn’t have to exclusively be a Jeff Bezos party.

Yes, I know this may be difficult to achieve. But at the end of the day, all I’m initially talking about is thinking more expansively and combining seemingly disconnected technology universes that yield more practical, interactive, enjoyable and safe experiences.

Oops. I guess this was an article about mindset after all.

A Seemingly Contrarian Take On Staying Fit

Livvy After WalkWow, I just kicked some serious ass and want to tell you about it. It took me 24 minutes and 31 seconds to walk 1.53 miles around the hood with my dog. During this brutal journey I maintained a 16 minute per mile pace, an average heart rate of 110 beats per minute, and burned 118 calories. And yes, I’m being facetious, but only partially so. Admittedly my old-school self wouldn’t have regarded this as any form of workout. I mean, how many of you go on Facebook and read frequent accountings of grueling CrossFit and OrangeTheory Fitness workouts? Yet almost nobody shares their tale of the walk they took.

But my new-school self considers a simple walk THE cornerstone for great physical fitness. Take a look at some of the most healthy, vibrant and long-lived people on the planet. They don’t go to SoulCycle or kick boxing classes. Nope. Now you may think their antiquated way of life is contrarian but it is actually anything but. In fact it’s THE way ‘we’ operated for most of our human existence on this planet. These Blue Zone communities around the world comprise people who simply ‘move’ for many hours each day. Of course I recognize you probably put in a 60 hour workweek, have children, and even more onerously, a freakin’ spouse to love and nurture. And so let me suggest to you the three underpinnings of a core, minimalist fitness program that will take you less than 60 minutes each day, will not drain you, and won’t require weight machines or free weights. And then I’ll tell you who I plagiarized this from.

BASIC MOVEMENT AT LEAST FOUR TIMES PER WEEK
Consider briskly walking for a minimum of 150 minutes per week. How about starting your work week with a brisk 30 minute walk and doing the same on Wednesday and Friday. On Saturday or Sunday, take a brisk 60 minute walk. During your treks you can listen to podcasts, crank up some Sturgill…whatever! Notice I keep repeating the word BRISK. You’ll want to walk as rapidly as you can without breaking into a jog and with no hard landings on your heels. No, you don’t have to engage in speedwalking or some ‘silly walk‘ variant.

What kind of pace am I talking about? Simply do what I do. Play an internal soundtrack in your brain of “The Caissons Go Rolling Along.” Keep your posture upright, those shoulders confidently flung back and your abs nice and tight. You can certainly walk more if you’d like to. Case in point: Before taking my kennel-coughing dog out for her constitutional, I started the day with a brisk three mile walk. Although my wife won’t agree, waking up at 4 a.m. has its benefits.

In addition, you get extra credit for even more walking and for biking instead of driving to complete food market runs and other short-haul errands during your week. And mowing your own lawn. And weeding your own garden. And I think you get the point so let me stop sermonizing.

BASIC STRENGTHENING TWICE PER WEEK
Fire your trainer. Why? Because you can get and stay plenty fit by selecting a few simple body weight exercises that strengthen and sculpt your physique. Have those old Beach Body infomercials convinced you of the need for “muscle confusion” gained through an ever more complex sequence of weight exercises? Homey don’t play that. Do you think our ancestors worried about muscle confusion? No! They simply lifted, pulled and pushed stuff. Yeah I’m sure there was plenty of bare-handed killing of wild beasts in there as well, but I digress.

My weekly regimen includes pull ups, push ups, squats with no weights and sit ups. For one of my two strengthening days I simply rotate between these exercises, i.e., 5 pull ups, 12 push ups, 20 sit ups, 12 squats — rinsing and repeating for 30 minutes. You should be moving through this sequence at a fast enough velocity to get your heart rate up. Think more about a fairly but not fully intense High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout. Huffing and puffing versus gasping for air indicates you’re at the right level. I typically finish up with 30 weight assisted dips and 30 Australian push ups, both of which take no more than six minutes.

On the second strengthening day I simply complete as many pull ups, squats and push ups as I can for 10 minutes each with a bit of a break in between. I then finish up with a five minute ab workout. During the weekend I’ll quickly work in some side planks.

ANAEROBIC ACTIVITY ONCE PER WEEK
Once per week I concentrate on really getting it up. Oh come on! I’m talking about my heart rate. The 20 second ‘all on’ and 10 second ‘off’ nature of a four minute Tabata interval, in which you repeat this cycle eight times, is virtually unmatched for kicking one’s ass. Lately I’ve been using battle ropes for my Tabata. When my hip is more compliant I like doing burpees because afterward when I don’t have a heart attack and die I feel pretty f’ing victorious. Other Tabata variants include sprinting on a field, jumping rope, busting out on an elliptical machine…anything that involves most of your body and enables you to enter an oxygen deprived mode at a full exertion level. During a typical Tabata workout I’ll complete two intervals with some ab work in between.

This regimen adds up to 250 minutes per week. Add in some daily stretching and the full tally will be about 3.5% of a week – approximately six hours. I know you may not think you have time for this, but if the net result is exuding more energy and vitality, becoming more productive, and living a longer and higher quality life, I think it’s worth giving up some screen time and useless news ingesting.

Lest you think I came up with this novel fitness approach on my own, let’s give credit where it is due. The philosophy comes from Mark Sisson, one of the giants in the Paleo movement. Although I no longer follow a purist Paleo diet, there are many logical principles for everyone to consider from this “primal” lifestyle, including Mark’s excellent primer on exercise. Dig a little deeper on the Daily Apple site to learn about the potential pitfalls of what he calls “chronic cardio.”

Who’d have thought you can become a serious bad ass simply by walking, briskly of course?

PHOTO: The dog gives it her all during our walks. The aftermath is often not pretty.