The only thing we know for sure about the stories we tell is that they’re not true. Not completely, anyway. Our make-believe can range from getting the details surrounding an emotional event wrong to being unshakably sure of the stories we tell about ourselves that are often turn out to be mind-made.
Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers begins with Roseto, a small town in the foothills of Eastern Pennsylvania, named for the place in Italy where its residents immigrated from. In the late 1950s, when heart disease was ravaging the nation — the #1 cause of death in men over 65 — men in Rosetta showed no sign of heart disease at 55, and were experiencing it at half the rate of the US at 65. A local physician, Stewart Wolf, discovered this, got to work conducting careful research, and brought in friend and colleague John Bruhn, a sociologist. Bruhn recalled, “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were basically dying of old age. That’s it.”
The credit for this one goes to Lucy Kaplan, the badass octogenarian teacher/coach and faculty member at the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute (BECI) who is a dynamic blend of humor, compassion, honesty, and rigor. She artfully packaged one of the (let-me-count-the) ways our brains have of holding us back from doing what really want to do in an easy-to-understand acronym that helps us resist our resistance.
Remarkable, really. And I thought it was just me until client after client who gave it a try reported how much of a difference it made to adopt the simple daily practice of writing down three things that went well, and what made those good things happen. This 5 to 10 minute habit seems to have an outsized effect — sort of like a personal “butterfly effect” — where a very small action can have a profound systemic effect.
Jim and I were catching up as it had been a few years since we worked together. He is the founder and former CEO of Benetech, a Silicon Valley non-profit that has had far-reaching social impact through software for social good. He had been introduced to mindfulness and meditation through his participation in The Wellbeing Project and it stuck. When I asked him about it, he said, “Meditation? Oh, it’s that thing that keeps me from digesting my stomach lining on a daily basis.” Best explanation ever.