Podcast update

I'm migrating from Soundcloud to PodBean to host my files because I had upload problems with Soundcloud, too small an upload limit, and no RSS 2.0 support. The PodBean widgets aren't nearly as classy so I'll work on toning them down, but they do work, which is huge. Now I can get my podcast into iTunes, too, so keep your eyes open for that.

This is just a repost of the same story I posted earlier in the week. I've also uploaded the companion episode I promised below.

The next step is to get a nice microphone, maybe one that hooks up to my cell phone so I can play around with doing videos. Ultimately I'd love to have nice sounding 1080p videos on YouTube. I just don't have any of the tech I would need to do that. I don't have the camera, the mic, the software, or the computer. I'll just keep taking it one step at a time.

5 Big Picture Ways to Not Be in Crisis Mode all Semester Long in College

For much of the time I've been in school, I felt like I was constantly reacting to crises and barely staying afloat with school and other commitments. Eventually I found out it didn't have to be that way, but to get to that point I had to pivot 180° in a bunch of ways. Now I'm at the point where I can take harder classes and assume more responsibility than ever. Sometimes I still feel like I'm in crisis mode, but it's no longer the norm. Here are the 5 ways I got the biggest gains in reducing stress while accomplishing more.

Remember Why You're in School

You may not think about it on the reg, but you enrolled in school for a reason. You may have had multiple reasons: your parents wanted you to go to school, you wanted to earn more after college, you were interested in a particular subject, you just love learning, you felt lost and didn't know what else to do, you didn't want to feel left out when all your friends went off to college, the parties or the clubs sounded great, etc. All of those are valid and common reasons, but probably one of those were more important than others.

My reason was that I wanted to redesign the way America feeds itself, but I knew I didn't have the social, political, or scientific skills I needed to do that. All those other reasons I mentioned were in there, but this was the main reason. In the last three years my motives have changed, but I still feel like college is serving my goals.

It's easy to think while you're in college that all your efforts need to be devoted to "getting good grades," but I think people default to those three g's--myself included--when they lose sight of the real reason they're here. If you can remember why you're here and realign your time and energy to that reason, you'll find yourself a lot happier.

Take the classes that are important to you beyond filling major and distribution requirements and get involved with clubs that are related to your purpose here. The closer you are to living the life you want to live, the happier you'll be.

More importantly, when things "go wrong" and you miss a deadline or blow a presentation, you can just remind yourself that you're not here for the grades - you're here to learn. You haven't sabotaged learning, just your GPA.

Write Tasks and Events Down as Soon as You Hear/Think of Them

The more information you keep in your head, the harder your life will be. Carry a small notebook or a fresh sheet of ruled paper with you at all times. The second you think of something you'll want to do in the future, write it down and forget about it.

Then, move everything over to a master events list and a master tasks list once a day. For tasks that you want to complete within the next 24 hours, schedule them at a specific time and place on your calendar.

Make your decisions about how you're going to dispense your time only once a day and just stick to the plan the rest of the time. On top of that, if there's a regular task you'll be doing, like a weekly problem set or readings, book it on your calendar at a specific time and place for the semester. Then build a habit out of it and it will make you less likely to procrastinate.

Keep a Regular Schedule of Work Habits

I've basically been running a "work while it's light, shirk while it's night" routine. From the moment I wake up until about 7pm, I'm go go go. Can I get all my work done between breakfast and dinner, though?

Probably not.

I'll never be done with my work, though. I literally have more to do this semester than I could do in four years. Work expands to fill the time available for its production. If you restrain the time available for working to daylight hours and give yourself time to relax at night, you'll be surprised how easily you can stay on top of your tasks.

Plus, remember two things: willpower is more limited than time (for most of us) and meeting deadlines is not the goal of college (for must of us).

So give yourself a ton of time to work. Work hard in that time. Then shut down for a bit and relax with friends or a book.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Take no more than five classes. Four is better. Three is fine. Study hard and master the subjects. Go all in with one extracurricular.

That's all I'm going to say on that.

Plan Best, Worst, and Most Likely Scenarios Ahead of Time

If you plot your likelihood of finishing a task on the y-axis and time on the x-axis, the graph you get is a bell curve (the normal distribution). That is, it's very unlikely that you'll get it done in an instant, only slightly more likely you'll get it done today, quite a bit more likely you'll get it done next week. And then it's less likely you'll get it done in a month since it'll be way past due by that point. See what I mean?

So when you're planning things out, you can be optimistic and book a task for the next day. Just don't be surprised when a friend comes into your room asking for advice on how to text a cutie and needs advice PRONTO just as you're sitting down to get the job done.

In advance, mark your schedule with "this is when I'll try to do this" at the earliest possible time, "this is when I'll probably end up doing this and that's fine" at the most likely time, and "Jesus, it's really important you get this done NOW" at the latest possible time.

Understand that deadlines in your life are artificially hard, not actually hard. Treat them more as time frames that you can move about in.

The Daniel Seth Lewis Podcast Episode 1 - The Hamster Ball: A Parable

I wrote the script for this up about 6 weeks ago and planned to do a video of me telling the story. I hit a bunch of roadblocks trying to get a good video setup for it, and rather than fail to put anything out, I simplified. I just pulled up Audacity, told the story, and uploaded it to Soundcloud. There, it's out there. I'll still try to get a good video setup going because I want to do videos, too, but this is better than nothing. I hope you enjoy!
The story's kind of weird and opaque, so I did a companion episode with commentary and explanation. I'm having technical difficulties with uploading it to Soundcloud, so I'll put it up in a separate post later. For now, think about the story without any explanation...

Managing Extremes

Humans seem to have a roughly fixed average level of contentedness. That is not to say that we have a fixed level of contentedness, because we don't.

Sometimes we feel so incredible it's like we're a fireworks show - glowing, energetic, tremendous, expansive, colorful. Sometimes we feel so low it's like we're like a clogged drain - gross, broken, slimy, cold, stuck.

Sometimes we stand on a mountain, our hands spread out wide and feet planted, watching the clouds below, and feel like gods. Sometimes we lie on our side in a ditch, clutching our knees to our chest, shivering, and feel like crying or throwing up.

Sometimes the one happens right after the other. It is from the greatest height that we fall the farthest, and from the deepest vale that we climb the tallest peak.

Yet, if you average those peaks and troughs of emotion, they don't change drastically from month to month or year to year. The best years of my life were only marginally better than the years that preceded or followed them. Our emotions may or may not swing wildly, but our overall level of contentedness stays roughly the same.

There is a perennial debate in the different disciplines whether the peaks are worth the troughs or whether, knowing that the higher we climb, the farther we fall, it makes more sense to try to regulate the cycle. Or, put another way: "Is getting drunk worth the hangover?"

I don't think there's any denying that alcohol feels really good the night you drink it and really bad the next day. Take it as given that the good is roughly cancelled out by the bad. So if you just look at averages, it would have the same net benefit as not drinking alcohol at all. That doesn't mean it's as if you didn't have it, though. You did. You felt great all night and terrible all day. That's a totally different experience than feeling okay all night and whatever all day.

The psychological phenomenon of negativity bias suggests that humans weight negatives more heavily than we weight positives. So it takes less bad to make us feel bad than good to make us feel good. I'm not sure that's relevant here, though, because I'm taking it as given that you feel equally good and bad in succession, not receive an equal quantity of good and bad things.

Keynesian economists say we should regulate the economy to "stabilize output over the business cycle". I'm reluctant to give the same advice to individuals, though, because I think that policy is relevant only to the emergent properties of large economics systems.

Personally, I'm not sure I could say goodbye to those peak experiences, even if sacrificing them meant having a better overall life. That being said, I do try to manage the troughs by giving myself time and space to process the pain, nibbling on high quality chocolate, and listening to Side B of Abbey Road.

Is Efficiency a Good Thing?

Even if you're not like me, with an innate love of efficiency for its own sake, you probably recognize that it's generally considered "good." For instance, a factory that can produce 10,000 Barbie dolls in the same time allowance and at the same (marginal) cost as a factory that can produce 5,000 Barbie dolls is more efficient, and therefore "better."

I'm going to argue that idolizing efficiency is not as simple as I made it sound in the Barbie doll example and then I'll go over some problematic thoughts and actions of which I'll encourage you to be aware.

What could possibly be wrong with getting more outputs with the same inputs?!

Any time we make normative distinctions, that is, we say "this is better than that," we do so relative to a certain desired quality. When we say Factory A is more efficient than Factory B, we make that distinction relative to its rate of production. That works fine when everything else is equal, but that's not the case with our factory example, is it? I said that the time allowance and marginal cost are equal, but I didn't say everything else is equal, too. Yet how many people, reading that example, would say that we don't have enough information to decide which is better.

That's natural. If we go into something already decided that we're going to make a normative distinction, then we act on the information available to us. I don't think it's irrational. It can just be dangerous.

To take another example, think about a time when you tried to maximize your resources by packing your day full of activities and tasks. If you sleep 9 hours/night, your day is 15 hours long. That's roughly constant from day to day, so we can assume your time allowance on a given day is 15 hours. One day you might pack your schedule with meetings, lunch and dinner dates, a big project, going to the gym, and so on. You pack it with productive tasks and events from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep. Every second is planned out and you sprint from place to place because walking wastes time and running is better exercise anyways. You brush your teeth while you pee and make calls while you commute. You're a busy person whose trying to accomplish  lot and you don't have a moment to waste.

Now think about a time when you planned nothing in advance. After waking up, you laze around for a bit, flitting between reading a book and watching TV. In the early afternoon you go for a stroll with a friend or your SO, pay some bills that are coming due soon, and parse through your closet trying clothes on to maybe donate a couple pieces. At the end of the day, you can't really think of anything you accomplished. "The day," you think, "was wasted."

But remember: whenever you make a normative distinction, you do it relative to a particular quality! Sure, you can measure the days against each other relative to tasks completed. That's probably the most obvious way to measure efficiency. Under that metric Day 1 was more efficient (and "better") than Day 2.

Use a different metric, though, and you get a different result. If you measure the days against each other relative to willpower efficiency, then Day 2 was more efficient. On Day 1 you had to expend an inordinate quantity of willpower to stay on task constantly, without break. You'll pay the cost of that over the several days that follow. Day 2, on the other hand, will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to hit the ground running the next day.

Maximizing Efficiency is Overrated

I don't really want to go into this, but I do want to emphasize that most of the times you try to maximize efficiency in your life, there are hidden costs to doing so. Any positive quality not selected as a metric for efficiency gets sideswiped. It's more than: "sometimes it's nice just to kick back and enjoy the moment without trying to be efficient." It's that even when you're trying to be efficient, it's easy to overvalue the product and undervalue the costs.

But it's also nice sometimes to just kick back and enjoy the moment with out worrying about efficiency.

Better or Easier?

Whenever you're about to buy a new (durable) good or declare a new habit, ask yourself why you're doing it. You can categorize it as one of two categories.

There are things that will make your life 'better' by making you stronger, healthier, more attractive, more educated, etc. but which will require future effort. A habit of this sort might be Go to the gym every day after work. A purchase might be a blender for making protein shakes. I think anyone who reads this blog agrees that exercising every day and eating protein are things that would make your life 'better.' You'll also agree, I hope, that going to the gym more often and making protein shakes will require more of your time, money, willpower, and effort.

Then there are things that will make your life 'easier' by giving you more time, money, space, willpower, or other resources, but maybe at the expense of other goals you have. A habit of this sort might be Say no to the first offer of a commitment each day. This will make your life easier by freeing up time in your schedule and only costs a bit of willpower. It may not make your life better, since who knows how unproductively you'll spend your time when you're not at your friend's crappy play, but it does conserve your resources and make your life easier. A purchase that makes your life easier is something that will help you do something you're already doing: a backpack to help you carry stuff around at school or an unlimited bus pass so you don't have to keep refilling your Metro Card. You expend a small amount of resources to free up a larger amount of other resources. Automation of any kind usually falls under this category.

One type of habit/good is not better than the other, per se. But if you're trying to get stronger, get more dates, get promoted, cook and clean your place every night, read more books, learn a new language, and write a daily blog all at the same time, you're leaning too heavily on yourself to make your life better. Focus a little more on making it easier: cancel commitments, throw away all the junk you own, buy things that will make it easier to do what you're already trying to do, block out more time for sleep in your schedule, and keep things simple.

What other examples can you think of for ways you make your life 'better' and ways you make it 'easier?'

America's Lethal Void of Communal Rituals

As we suck out the everyday poisons of life - sleep deprivation, sweets, caffeine, this or that liquor, erotic media, frivolous internet use, the pursuit of divers young men or women's sexual gifts, cannabinoids or harder drugs, excessive audiovisual stimuli - it becomes harder to connect with our peers, our close friends, and even our family. Many a relationship develops on the collapsible soil foundation of a particular base instinct. The ways we waste our time are so few and universal, so irresistible and enthralling, that they become the default conversational kernel for a budding relationship.

"Hey, you watch How I Met Your Mother?"

"Let's get sloshed!!"

"Did you guys hook up last night?"

"Know where I could find a bowl around here?"

"Do you want to grab coffee this week?"

And so on and so forth. Our lives are filled with cheap drugs, in part because they're the de facto mass rituals of our society. Paradoxically, in such a relatively new, complex, and secular society (here I mean America), the more we advance socially, economically, and technologically, the more we're pushed to sacrifice our longevity for instant gratification. I'm not talking about advertising. I mean we're pushed by others in our flits through the social fabric to bond therein via drugs.

I blame America's newness because it takes a long time of dedicated effort to build public rituals to tie us together and I think that mass media has offered itself and the drugs it pushes to fill that void. As individuals and smaller communities we have readily accepted that offering. I blame its' complexity because the broader we extend, the more we differentiate, and the more narrowly we narrowcast, the lower our least common denominator becomes. And I blame its secularism for the disintegration of powerful and stringent religious rituals which once might have given us enough commonality to avoid defaulting to watching trashy movies and drinking to excess to connect with others.

Unlike usual, I won't put forth an answer because I've only just thought of the question: How do we as individuals seeking to shuffle off these intoxicating burdens maintain our connections with our friends and families at the same time we mean to escape the draws on which those relationships were founded? The fact that I choose to no longer eat sweets does not decrease my love for the friends I made looking over the dessert table, but it does make it hard to transition to a healthier life.

What has happened, for me, at least, is that I've stalled in my personal progress rather than risk losing my friends. I'd love to hear any suggestions.

Sleeping at College

Update 9/20/13: I forgot to mention napping. Is napping OK? It's better than OK! If you can, start your nap by 2PM, though, so it doesn't screw with your bedtime.

There's a lot of mystery surrounding sleep at college. People ask me a lot, "What is sleep?" or "I've heard about sleep, but where do I find it? I googled it and everything, but I'm still tired."

I'll try to answer some frequently asked questions about getting enough sleep in college.

How much do I need to sleep on average?

This depends on the person. One good way to figure it out is to let your body sleep for as much as it wants for a couple weeks straight. See how much your body wants to sleep. You can probably function just fine on slightly less sleep than that, but you really should just sleep as much as you can. Your body won't try to sleep for longer than it needs.

OK, I figured out I need 9.5 hours/night on average. Can I get 6 hours during the week and backload that sleep on the weekend by getting up at 4pm on Saturday and Sunday?

Well, sort of. I know a handful of people who function just fine like that. I never hear them complain about being tired all the time, they get their work done efficiently, and they even work out regularly. So it's definitely doable. But it's not a good idea. Our bodies are designed to be on a pretty static circadian rhythm. They want to go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, and get enough sleep each night. This regularity will allow you to fall asleep quickly, even if you're not sleep deprived. It will get you more REM. Beyond that, it also helps cement a good eating schedule, which is good for digestion, and a good habit schedule, which is good for productivity.

I read that Franklin wrote, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." He's famous, right? Didn't he discover electricity and help found the most powerful nation ever to exist? Does that make this good advice?

It doesn't make it good advice, but it is generally good advice. The important thing is that you get enough sleep, and get it at the same time each night. If your first class each day is 1:25pm and you like to get your work done late at night after everyone else in the building's asleep, it's fine to sleep from 3am to 12pm. Personally, I like to be up for as much daylight as possible so I sleep 10:30pm to 7:30am.

I've got 9am classes during the week and I like to go to parties on the weekend, which start at 10pm at the earliest. Can I just have a weekday sleep schedule and a weekend sleep schedule?

Dude, I wish. Unfortunately our bodies were not born to party. My advice is to enjoy the parties, but maybe don't go to them three nights a week. If you can, choose one you're really excited about, go have a peak experience, and then let your body rest for the other nights. And don't stray too far from your normal schedule on the nights when you do party. Every minute you stay up will hurt you later.

Speaking of parties, it is part of my fraternity's/sorority's/school's dogma that I should drink heavy quantities of alcohol on a regular basis. Will that hurt my sleep?

You bet it will. Beyond the fact that people tend to drink late at night (read: when they should be sleeping), the more alcohol you drink the worse the sleep you do get will be. Your body will go into REM less often and stay in REM for less time. It's OK to drink occasionally, but try to do it earlier in the night and don't go overboard in quantity. A couple shots of tequila at 9pm will hurt your sleep a couple hours later, but not much. If you're ten deep when you pass out at 2am, you're not going to benefit very much from sleeping.

I'm an early riser, but all my friends are night owls. How do I get enough sleep without missing out on all the fun they're having? I don't want to be "that guy."

This is a more philosophical question about fomoism (fear-of-missing-out-ism), which I believe is the bane of many students' college career. Bombarded incessantly with awesome things to do - hikes to go on, movies to watch, clubs to join, classes to take, parties to attend, people to meet, lectures to hear, books to read - we try to do the absolute maximum we think we're capable of. That sounds fine in theory. In practice, however, that pursuit of stimulation and fun is driven by a more sinister anxiety about missing out. And there's more to do than can ever be done. So at the same time we're worn out, rushed, busy, and stressed about all the things we're trying to do, we're also anxious about all the things we still aren't doing.

Listen up! Your friends aren't doing anything that exciting. Don't stay up to play Smash or Mario Kart with them and don't lose sleep over missing out on it.

That's hard for me to deal with right now, but I understand where you're coming from. Surely, though, there are things happening at school that are worth staying up for!

Absolutely. Most of my best memories from college happened late at night. Staying up until 3am talking about the nature of human existence with people I'd just met; romping around downtown Ithaca with a new friend; cracking bawdy jokes and sipping whisky with my best friend; laying out and watching the stars on the roof on the last day of classes. No large number of them happened sober, either. I'm not saying never do drugs. I'm not saying never stray from your sleep routine. Nor should you never skip any habits ever. But don't do it to watch Step Brothers for the fifth time by yourself or to play old video games or play pong with freshmen you don't give a crap about. Do it when it will be intense, memorable, exciting. The rest of the time, focus on being awake, alert, and productive.

I've got a fancy bed at home with a memory foam mattress, 1000-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, and a nice comforter. Plus I grew up in the quiet suburbs with no light pollution and blackout shades. Now my bed sucks, there's loud music playing down the hall, my curtains are useless, people are screaming all the time outside my window, and it's 86 degrees in here.

Yep, welcome to college. Your parents literally pay a third of a million dollars for the best education the world has ever seen and you live in squalor while doing it. It's part of life. I suggest learning to wear ear plugs and eye shades. If you can install blackout shades, go for it. If the noise is especially bad, try a brown noise generator. If you've got the funds, splurge on nice sheets and a mattress topper. Be creative, experiment, and don't be afraid to spend a lot of money. When you're paying as much as you are for college, anything that detracts from you learning is more costly than you realize.

My roommate goes to sleep at a totally different time than me and wakes me up when s/he's getting ready for bed/class. How do I handle this?

Yep, welcome to college again. Having a roommate can be the best or worst thing that happens to you here. Just talk to him/her about it and see if s/he can be quieter or get ready outside the room where it won't disturb you. Besides that, just get earplugs and hope for the best. Also talk to him/her about trying to sync up your sleep schedules a little more.

Speaking of my roommate, s/he sexiles me a couple times a week and it massively delays my bedtime. What to do?

Ah, the age old sexile question. Tell him/her s/he can do it once a week or once every other week and that's it. They're welcome to go screw in the shower if they can't wait. Just do it in a friendly way, because it will come back to haunt you if you ever offend your roommate.


I'm working on an "Eating at College" piece to continue this series, which started with "Succeeding at College." I'll probably do a "Making Friends and Getting Numbers at College" piece, also.

On Being 21

I've heard from a lot of people that this is the last birthday that will be this exciting. From here on out, there's no more "Finally I have a driver's license!" or "Finally I can vote, buy porn and tobacco, drink in most foreign countries, sign legally binding contracts, purchase a firearm, and go to strip clubs!" or "Finally I can go to bars, nightclubs, and dispensaries (in Washington and Colorado)!" It's like once the government stops granting you the right to endanger yourself and others in a handful of ways, you might as well not even have a birthday.

Well, you know what? Birthdays are only as exciting as you make them. As much fun as it was to sit at a bar and drink beer on tap last night, what really made this birthday special was my--and my friends' and family's--enthusiasm. I got greeting cards and dozens of birthday wishes on Facebook, my phone was buzzing constantly all day with a different relative or friend trying to reach me, and one friend in Florida even sent me a picture of a cake on which she'd photoshopped "Happy Birthday Daniel!"

No offense to the MoD Squad, but getting tipsy doesn't compare to triple digit "Happy Birthdays" from the friends I made in college, my fraternity, my magazine, my gap year program, my high school, middle school, preschool, summer camps, youth group, family in California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Israel. I even got a "Joyeux Anniversaire!" from the family I stayed with in France. It's so easy to forget all the people who (apparently) care about me and I'm so grateful to have such a wonderful extended family.

My friend Jason Haas told me he'd never seen anyone so excited for their 21st. Well, that's because I'm not excited for my 21st (not more than others, anyways). What I'm excited about is my life. I'm excited to have a community that I love and that loves me. No heaping pile of booze, guns, and strippers can match that.

I'm not sure anything can match that.

For those of you bored on their 25th or whatever birthday, stop moping. Contentment is nearly directly correlated with gratitude. Find something to be thankful for.

So thanks all for the birthday wishes! I really do love you all.

One last note: I was super excited to vote. I'd rather be able to vote than have friends. Just kidding. Or am I?