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20 mins

PODCAST: Is That Even a Thing? Part II

We turn to great nonfiction and mythbust sleep and digital devices, gratitude journals, power posing, and email, asking is that even a thing?
by Ben Schuman-Stoler | Dec 16 2016

In this episode of the Blinkist Podcast Ben and Caitlin team up for Is That Even a Thing? Part II. It’s a follow-up to the first Blinkist Podcast episode ever, the original Is That Even a Thing? In Part II, they discuss and mythbust power posing, gratitude journals, whether or not your devices should be forever banished from the bedroom, and email. Plus, learn about Ben’s newest hobby (it involves carbs), and how imagining herself as an animal helps Caitlin get through first dates—and it can help you, too!

That excellent intro and outro music you heard is by Nico Guiang. You can find more of it on Soundcloud [@niceaux] and Facebook.

Ben Schuman-Stoler: Who goes first? You go first – I just talked – I just did that whole intro.

Caitlin Schiller: Ok, so I have two things for you today, Ben that I prepared a little bit, and we’re going to talk about the first thing. Ok, the first thing we’re going to talk about is whether or not your devices actually keep you awake at night. So the thing that we’re contending here is that, people contend that putting your devices in your bedroom is a really bad thing.

BSS: Devices meaning…”CS: Blender, your toaster, the toaster’s especially bad for bedtime accompaniment.

BSS: The Roomba”CS: The Roomba, yes. That sweet white noise. No. When we talk about devices here we’re talking about things like iPads, iPhones, your favorite Android device. So stuff basically with blue screen lighting. That is a huge problem. We all know that light promotes wakefulness, that’s why you have those sunlight alarm clocks, that’s why it’s nice to wake up at a natural time when the sun is out, that’s why Germans never put curtains on their windows.

BSS: Yeah that’s weird.

CS: Fun fact: Germans hate curtains. But other things that emit light and are not good and healthy for us like the sun are these devices that we just talked about. Not the Roomba. And they’re really bad for us because they emit blue light that stimulates the neurons and they have our bodies emit cortisol which is a waking hormone, when what you really want when you’re laying in bed and you’re all snug and you’re ready to go to bed – you want melatonin, you don’t want cortisol, so essentially the contention is that these devices keep us up at night because of light.

But there’s another thing too. That you can find in the Arianna Huffington book, The Sleep Revolution. You talked to Arianna Huffington, I don’t know, like two months ago, I guess”BSS: When was that May? June”CS: Feels like a long time ago. But when you talked to Arianna, she has this really elaborate sleep ritual. One of them is to take her device out of her bedroom –

BSS: Like an hour and a half before she sleeps or something.

CS: An hour and a half before she sleeps! But another thing that she notes in her book is that this other thing that will keep you awake in your device is having social media applications open. They’re more stimulating, they make you feel anxious or interested or stimulated in some way and you don’t want that before you go to bed.

BSS: So the IS that even a thing is…”CS: Your devices keep you up at night and you should get them out of your bedroom.

BSS: Is that even a thing”CS: Is that even a thing”BSS: Is it a thing”CS: I think it’s a thing! I think it’s a thing because I did a little experiment after I heard the Arianna
Huffington podcast – which I’m not just shamelessly plugging here, I think it was really great, you can find that on our iTunes page…

BSS: That’s a shameless plug. You had it for a second and then you shameless plugged.

CS: I’m not really that great at self-promoting, or promoting in general. This is why they have me write. So after I heard the Arianna podcast I decided that I was going to take my phone out of my bedroom. Previously I had it in my bed with me because I’d been using one of those sleep trackers but then I stopped and I just had it in bed because the plug was nearest the wall, whatever. But I noticed that I was getting up at night and I was checking my phone! Just because, you know, it’s there. And that was keeping me really wakeful.

So I went and I found an alarm clock.

BSS: Which one did you get? Like a Braun? One of those boxy, square analogs”CS: I got like a really traditional square analog. It’s a Seiko alarm clock. But what I discovered when I was shopping for these things was that most alarm clocks – unless you want to shell out for the Lamborghini of alarm clocks with like a wooden box and old timey dials – they are ugly, man. Can somebody fix that? Can you guys like get on designing an alarm clock that looks nice”, not super aesthetically pleasing but fine, I got this alarm clock. It has a really annoying ring. But here’s the thing: I don’t really need it anymore.

BSS: You wake up without an alarm now”CS: I usually wake up 5-7 minutes before my alarm now. Because I don’t have broken sleep.

BSS: That’s big! What time is that? What time do you get up”CS: [laughs] Ben is quietly mocking me with his eyes right now for you listeners at home. I get up at about 550 or 555. I’m a morning workout person. So I’m at the gym or doing yoga before work.

BSS: Wooof. So now you get up at 550.

CS: Yes, I used to get up at 6 to the sound of my iPhone alarm and I’m actually wondering if part of why I get up without the alarm is because I find the sound of the alarm clock I have so objectionable. But you know, whatever the case, it seems to be working and I noticed that I do have more restful sleep.

BSS: So I would just say after talking to Arianna Huffington and after talking to Max Kirsten, the sleep expert, after doing a bunch of research on all this stuff, I tried it – taking my devices out – but I found that it didn’t make that big of a difference.

CS: Really”BSS: I guess I’m also lucky, like I happen to fall asleep very easily no matter what.

CS: Do you stay asleep really easily”BSS: Yeah, I’m a pretty solid sleeper and I really like reading in the morning in bed. And usually I will read The New York Times and The Guardian and whatever other Spiegel in bed, right away.

CS: This is on your phone, you don’t get your newspapers dropped on your lap by a stork.

BSS: Right. But what I stopped doing, consciously, is there is no social media, there is no email, there’s some texting maybe a little bit, but not having a conversation with people. I will just use it like if I want to finish an article, I will take that to bed.

But honestly it’s more about the morning. I still use the iPhone alarm, and I’m ok with reaching for the first thing to be an article, but the key to me is when it’s four o’ clock in the morning and if I get up for some reason I don’t reach for the phone right away.

CS: I guess I could see how it would be more of a huge thing for somebody like me who wakes up pretty frequently in the middle of the night just to be awake for no reason.

BSS: For sure. So before you used to grab the phone right away”CS: Yeah, because it was there and I could. But now that’s not a thing for me.

So, is that a thing? I think it is a thing. It will depend person to person – results may vary – but for me it seems to have worked pretty well and I would suggest getting an analog alarm clock. And I would also suggest someone design an alarm clock that is not horrifyingly ugly.

BSS: Ok, cool. So, my turn.

CS: Alright! What do you have for me, Ben? Let’s do this.

BSS: My Is That Even a Thing – papers rustle dramatically – is gratitude journals.

CS: Ok”BSS: Have you heard anything about gratitude journals”CS: I’ve heard a bit about gratitude journals but I would like to hear what you know about gratitude journals.

BSS: Well lucky for you, I’ve prepared this whole thing! Ok so gratitude journals – where can I start? I guess I first heard it also on the Blinkist podcast – shameless plug, what’s up me – when Vishen Lakhiani a couple weeks ago was talking to Niklas Jansen here said he does a gratitude meditation as part of his morning routine every day. And then I remembered in
The Miracle Morning, that Hal Elrod book that everyone loves –

CS: Yeah, I love that book, too.

BSS: He says that, I’m reading here from the blinks: “He was far happier and felt more gratitude for his life because his writing allowed him to focus on the things he had already achieved, as well as on the goals he wanted to reach in the future.

He did this by splitting a page into two columns entitled Lessons Learned and New Commitments.

By writing each day, you can review what you have learned, gain clarity on your problems and achievements, and acknowledge your progress along the way.”

CS: That makes sense, yeah.

BSS: So, ok. So those are just some sources of the gratitude journal and then if you start going deeper into what the gratitude journal comes from, the whole field of positive psychology – which is a new thing – seems to agree that this feeling of gratitude is something that will make people happier.

So positive psychology focuses on how to improve the mental side of life. Not like mental pathology but improvements. How can we be happier? Not necessarily what’s wrong with us.

For example, some of the things that we’ve seen in the past decade or so from positive psychology (you’ll recognize all of these things): studying happiness through social ties, for example, the scientific studies of mindfulness, also how exercise affects happiness – in other words, there are a lot of these aspects of positive psychology.

So gratitude is one of these things. If you show more gratitude you can have a better psychology. I could go more into that but maybe I’ll show this app I got. There’s this app called Get Gratitude. I’m going to literally show you my phone.

CS: Awesome, I’m ready for it.

BSS: Here you can describe what you see.

CS: Alright so Tuesday September 20th. Should I read it”BSS: Sure, I don’t know. Or scroll down to the first ones.

CS: Ok so this is Ben’s gratitude journal. There’s even a picture in it! Wow you can take snapshots! Alright so Friday September 9th, 3:30 pm. Number one: “Beating Erik two days in a row. We have a great level of competitiveness and respect.”

So the image that I’m seeing is of our table tennis table that is outside of the office and I guess that Ben trounced Erik, who is one of our editors.

BSS: Whom I never beat.

CS: Whom you never beat? He’s an amazing Swedish former pop-star, editor, and table tennis player, this guy’s got it all.

BSS: Right but so I beat him and I beat him bad and I was happy that, well, we get intense and I was happy that it didn’t affect us at all. We were just talking about the matches and we were fine.

I have some friends where we have to take an hour away from each other after a competitive moment.

So that was cool to do that, you can read another one. Maybe not the deeply personal ones though.

CS: Oh, I love this. We talked about this just the other day. I think maybe yesterday morning, or Monday morning. Oh yeah: Monday, September 19th, it was probably this morning. “Happy not to have that Sunday night angst that I had time to bake a bread and eat some of it this AM.”

BSS: Yeah.

CS: So you just learned a lot about Ben, that he has Sunday night angst and that he bakes bread. Yeah, it’s nice – we were talking about how it’s great to have a job where we don’t dread coming to work on Monday mornings. And this reflects that too.

BSS: Yeah, yesterday was like – we don’t know when we’re going to put out this podcast, it might come out in the winter, but just so everyone knows it’s September right now. And it’s Tuesday. And on Monday, yesterday, in the morning I was a little down because it was Monday morning and then I was kind of thinking – I think partly thanks to the gratitude journal – I was kind of thinking, “Wait a minute,” I can make my whole day myself. We’re going to eat together in the afternoon. I have stuff to look forward to. I have no major crisis at work. And just taking that second when I got to work made me be like, “Oh, everything’s fine.” And it did make a difference.

Another thing that I think is cool about that is that I don’t think I wrote anything on Sunday, I don’t think I wrote anything on Saturday,because the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley, which I can tell you a little bit more about in a second, has a list of tips for keeping a good gratitude journal. And one thing they say is going for depth over breadth because elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.

So, for example, it’s more meaningful of me to legitimately say on Monday that I could bake a bread and eat it – and I literally did bake a bread and eat it – and to have that time to have time to bake a bread and eat it as opposed to “I’m grateful because I have friends who care about me,” or something.

CS: Yeah, specificity is always really good.

BSS: So that’s the gratitude journal. So I guess I never fully said is that even a thing? But I was definitely skeptical, is that even a thing? For me I would say, yeah, it’s a thing.

CS: That’s great!

BSS: Ok, we’ve done two Is That Even A Thing’s –

CS: Mmhmm. Really cool.

BSS: Really cool. We have two more, right? We have two little ones. Or one little one and one big one.

CS:: Whose do you think is the big one”BSS: I thought yours would be the big one because it’s about being large – and in charge.

CS: That makes total sense. Well, friends, we do have another one I guess we can call it big, I’m actually going to sit up taller in my chair right now as I talk about this because the second Is that Even A Thing that I brought for you today is Powerposing.

This is probably something you’ve seen around the internet, there are TED talks on it, one really notable one is by a woman called Amy Cuddy, she also has a book that’s I think pretty freshly out we don’t have it in blinks yet, I believe we will.

The idea of Powerposing – do you know what Powerposing is, Ben”BSS: Only from when you hinted at it last week.

CS: Alright well I’m kind of doing it right now except I’m sitting down.

BSS: So can I describe what you’re doing”CS: Sure.

BSS: You have hands on hips. You’re sitting very straight. You’re looking me in the eye. Your chin is up. You look like a portrait of George Washington on his horse.

CS: [Laughs] Yeah if a horse was a lovely antique office chair then yeah!

BSS: Ok so tell me what it is for real.

CS: Ok so it’s not just me looking like George Washington. Powerposing is something more. Powerposing is essentially adopting a superwoman or superman stance. So hands on hips, legs planted firmly in the ground so you have a really good root and base on which to stand, chest up and out, shoulders back, and chin doesn’t have to be up I just wanted to give Ben a little bit of sass. Basically you make yourself large and you appear super confident.

Powerposing is supposedly a really good tool because it can help you feel more confident before you go into interviews, before you speak with someone important, before you go do anything that requires some extra reserves of courage or strength or bravery.

The science behind powerposing is that essentially by shifting our external state we can shift our internal state. That seems to be true. But it also works in the opposite direction. When we shift our internal state we just begin acting differently and moving differently, which is extremely important in terms of body language. We have this great book called What Every BODY is Saying, it’s by

BSS: Joe Navarro”: Joe Navarro, thank you.

BSS: Former FBI-guy. I really like this book.

CS: Yeah. He’s an ex-FBI agent. So he talks about how micro-expressions are really really telling. And also there’s this great book called The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane. She also talks about how if you don’t have an authentic feeling of confidence and charisma you’re not really going to be able to project it. So what happens when you do a power pose is that your image of yourself, understanding how you are moving and being in the world, affects your internal image of yourself, which then reflects back and adds greater layers of authenticity to how you are behaving and moving and speaking.

So basically you know mind/body connection, what you’re doing in the physical world has a marked mental response that your body keeps in this internal lovely loop of strength and confidence. That’s what a power pose does for you.

BSS: So have you used it”CS: I have used it. I’ve also used it in slightly different contexts. I remember I researched for an article I think about a year and a half ago, when Blinkist Magazine was still called Page 19, and I came across this other suggestion that’s related to powerposing but it uses a little bit more imagination and work.

The suggestion was to move and think of yourself as a big strong animal. And they suggest a chimpanzee or a gorilla. I didn’t feel great about being a gorilla, already being a pretty tall, parade-float of a woman, I didn’t want to be a gorilla. I wanted to be something powerful in a more elegant way. So my animal is a leopard or a big cat, and I think about that when I need a little bit of extra confidence.

I think, Caitlin, what would a leopard do”BSS: Pose like George Washington on his horse! Classic leopard!

CS: Yeah this is how I make decisions in my life. What would a leopard do? So I’ve used that before, I’ve used that before dates, I’ve used that –

BSS: Like at home, or on the way there? Or when you’re waiting? Or when exactly”CS: Well that one you can absolutely use just at any moment. Nobody has to do that you’re channeling a leopard when you’re sitting across from them with an old fashioned. They don’t have to know that.

BSS: I get it.

CS: The powerpose is a little more problematic. I would suggest going to a bathroom stall for that one. Do the whole Superman pose there. Somewhere in private. You can also do it before you leave the house for whatever you’re going to do. But holding it for a minute or so is the minimum – but you can do it for longer.

BSS: Ok, a minute? That’s a long time.

CS: Yeah man! You have to really channel that Superman and commit to it.

BSS: Man. Ok.

CS: So I’ve used that powerposing thing and I think it is powerful if nothing else especially with the animal visualization it gets me to think about something else, and it’s a little bit absurdist and it appeals to me. And thinking about leopards and not whatever nerve-wracking thing is going on.

But I would also say that this high power pose, which is also recommended in Performing Under Pressure, that he describes it as opening your body, lifting up your arms, because it lowers stress hormones and boosts your testosterone, and that gives you more courage. So that is a little bit less of a powerpose, that’s just about basically shoulders, and you can do that at any time.

You’re learning a lot about Caitlin’s life here but this is something that I’ve been needing to do lately because I’m – as I said – a really tall lady, I have spine issues, and I went to a physical therapist and was told, “We have to re-teach you how to stand.” So basically I had to re-learn how to keep my shoulders back, and that does a lot to your posture. Shoulders back, chest up – essentially I’m forced into a powerpose. Perpetual powerpose for about seven weeks now and I really think that’s changed how I’ve been moving through the world.

BSS: Kind of sounds like you’re being forced into what my really mean Russian piano teacher used to make me sit.

CS: Oh, that sounds grueling.

BSS: Shoulders back, chest up. But it makes a difference!

CS: Yeah. It does. It makes a difference how you feel, you feel more prepared and confident.

So, is that a thing? Anecdotally, I think it is. Unfortunately, there isn’t scientific research to prove this now. Lately, if you’ve been reading anything on the internet at all or listening to podcasts, you’ve heard that there’s been a huge kerfuffle about all these behavior science experiments being irreplicable. Specifically there was this really famous Fritz Strack one from I think 1983 or 1988 – I forget, sorry guys [Ed. note: it was 1988] – but his famous experiment was making the motion of a smile –

BSS: Oh yeah with the pencil in the mouth.

CS: Yeah exactly. So if people were forced into the position of a smile, not even knowing their mouth was making that smile, then it would cause them to react in a different way to different media stimuli. More positively, namely.

BSS: Right.

CS: But they can’t replicate it. Similarly, Amy Cuddy’s research was checked and they couldn’t replicate that either. But I mean, the thing is, with both the sleep thing and powerposing, people are so variable and how you’re going to behave one day to the next makes it difficult to control for this stuff. I think a lot of it simply is placebo effect. And you know, I have no problem with the placebo effect.

BSS: Not even slightly.

CS: Not even a little bit. Our minds are strange labyrinthine creatures and if something seems to work around one little corner I’ll take it.

So, is it a thing? Maybe. Try it yourself. Tell us what you think. I think it’s a thing.

BSS: That’s cool. I like that. Try it and let us know.

CS: I’d actually really love to hear that. We’re going to have people all over the world powerpose.

BSS: Show us your powerpose! That would be cool.

CS: Oh man. Hashtag Blinkist Powerpose. And show us on Instagram. That would be amazing.

Alright so, I’m done now. Ben, what’s your last one”BSS: Ok, I have a short one.

CS: Ok, I’m ready.

BSS: The is it even a thing is: checking emails two times or fewer a day helps overall productivity. Is that even a thing”CS: Ok.

BSS: Resounding yes in my experience.

CS: Tell me more.

BSS: I have two sources I’ll cite. One is, this is pretty easy,
The Charisma Myth by John Freeman. An excellent book. My mom recommended it to me a while ago. It’s been out since like 2008, which is crazy if you think about how much worse, for me at least, email’s gotten since 2008.

CS: Absolutely. Well, we were all probably not important enough to receive that many emails.

BSS: Yeah but still! Anyway, a couple little things from The Tyranny of Email
: there’s a rejection of the idea that we get too many emails from people who say, hold on, before emails there was letters or telegraphs, before telegraphs there were postcards, before postcards there were letters, like, this is just the newest way of communication.

CS: Or people called you on the phone, which is so much worse than anything else.

BSS: Which is the worst thing in the entire world. Never call me.

CS: Me either. Thanks. Bye.

BSS: But for example, he said like the New York Times at one point ran this big op-ed about the postcard epidemic going on.

CS: That is delightful.

BSS: And telegraphs weren’t much better. They peaked around 1945. 240 million telegrams were sent in 1945. But like, real quick: In 2007, the number of emails sent globally hit 35 trillion!

CS: [whistles]

BSS: But, to me, I really feel like it’s gone too far. And we don’t know when this podcast is going to be published but I did talk to Cal Newport a couple weeks ago and just hearing his old deep work idea is just incredibly inspirational for me to hear, like, don’t be tied down to email, actually do the work, do good work. Right? Focus on the work.

Another one that stuck in my head regarding checking your emails two times or fewer was the 4-hour Work Week, actually, by Tim Ferris.

CS: Yeah? Awww, hi Tim!

BSS: Yeah because he has this thing about – I think at one point he says he checks his emails once a week, for like 45 minutes.

CS: Wow.

BSS: Because he has an auto responder. This is intense. This is extreme. He has an auto responder and he only answers the most important emails. And the way he does it is he asks himself, for any task, not just email, he
asks himself: “If this was the only thing I did today, would I be happy with this day”

CS: Oh my god, there are so many things I do that –

BSS: Yeah, be extremely cutthroat with what you’re actually doing. And, again, I think that’s a little bit too intense. So I started with check your emails twice a day: when you get to the office and after lunch. That seems to be a good basis.

What that does to me is, when I get to the office I check the emails, I take them seriously. I take a minute with them. I look at them. I prioritize them. I move them into inboxes. I make a note if something’s really important. Of course if something takes less than two minutes, according to our great lord and savior David Allen –

CS: Praise him!

BSS: We should just handle it. But sometimes that doesn’t work. I’d rather cluster a bunch of two-minute tasks also and knock all those out in seven minutes or something. So, right. Check it once and then close the tab. Don’t even see it. Don’t get any alerts, don’t get any notifications. Only fetch. Never push. Go grab your emails. Go to the email well, grab the emails, go through them – because often times there are a lot of emails you can’t do anything about. Or that will take – or are a task in themselves – or are like a tiny little thing that you probably don’t even have to respond to.

CS: Um, anybody in this office can probably tell you I respond to like 1 out of every 16 emails I get. So I’m already subconsciously doing this because I avoid news.

BSS: And I’m not saying that you have to be rude, I’m just saying that there’s a lot of stuff that can be solved with – there’s a lot of confirmation stuff, there’s a lot of emails with responding and saying thank you, that isn’t really needed. And I guess that wasn’t the point of this experiment.

My experiment was to cluster everything by going to the email well, fetching my emails twice a day, and not going back.

And not worrying when I left the office if I should check one more time to see if there’s something super important. It’s like, no, I know what was important and I did it already. Now I’m leaving. Instead of oh, now I just checked it and now I don’t have time to do it, and now I’m leaving the office, and now this is going to be on my mind all night. You know what I mean”CS: Yep. It’s like freeing yourself of that stress.

BSS: Yeah, and instead it’s just burning through tasks. I cluster stuff together, I take the time to do it, and then I do it all. And of course if I’m working on a – if I’m making an appointment with a podcast guest and time is getting short, I’m going to double check the email to make sure that they confirmed that they’re available at that time. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. But just generally in the flow, checking emails, like even once a day, was amazing for me the past couple weeks.

CS: Awesome!

BSS: So, is that even a thing? I would say, yes. Resounding yes.

CS: So we just had a bunch of things that were things today.

BSS: Yeah we did good. We weren’t that skeptical.

CS: I also just wanted to let everyone know that since I talked about powerposing and sitting up straighter, both Ben and I have been sitting up like 25% straighter.

BSS: [Laughing] I know!

CS: It’s kind of amazing, actually. So maybe just like remind yourself of that. It will be really good for your back.

BSS: Yeah, it’s like good posture.

CS: Yeah. And I feel pretty powerful right now.

BSS: Cool.

CS: Awesome.

BSS: Well that sounds like a good time to be done with this podcast. Now that we feel great. Let’s go to this team meeting we have now.

CS: We do. Alright.

BSS: Alright then.

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