My Favorite Podcasts

When I first discovered podcasts, it was a revelation.

Rather than listening to the same songs over and over again on the radio, or to NPR (which I loved but rarely connected to the material), or to the Dan Patrick Show (unfortunately interrupted by seemingly endless commercial breaks), podcasts provided a deliberate source of education, an entertaining means of distraction and nourishment.

Today, podcasts have become an integral part of my life. I listen to them while walking to class, while on a run, when getting ready, or during pre-bed stretching sessions. They provide food for thought, helpful advice, radical ways of reframing the mind, and various perspectives on a wide range of topics. Podcasts have taught me how to think and have made me more open-minded; they have affected how I live, which books I read, and the movies I watch. In short, podcasts have infiltrated every aspect of my life, and I am eternally grateful for their influence.

Below are some of my favorites, but there are so many I have yet to explore…

  • The Tim Ferriss Show–one of my original favorites. Tim interviews experts and top-performers in various fields. Some of my favorite guests include Peter Attia, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, Adam Grant, Safi Bahcall, Kevin Rose…so many good episodes! Tim is also raw and authentic, contributing so much wisdom and insight.
  • Making Sense–Sam Harris is perhaps one of the most intelligent, articulate people I have ever listened to. On his podcasts, he interviews journalists, mediation teachers, psychologists, psychedelic therapy experts, and so many other fascinating people. It can sometime get a bit political, but Sam’s thoughts and insights are worth paying careful attention to.
  • The Joe Rogan Experience–Joe Rogan is a masterful–and hilarious–interviewer. He is curious and friendly, never afraid to admit when he does not know or understand something. I admire his humility and open mind. His guest list is extremely diverse, ranging from comedians to actors to fitness junkies to nutrition experts to journalists to tech people to entrepreneurs…I tend to pick and choose the episodes that seem the most interesting to me, although I have often stumbled upon some unexpected gems I would not have expected to enjoy.
  • The Drive–Peter Attia, a renowned longevity doctor, interviews a host of people with the aim of increasing one’s lifespan and health span. Guests include physicians, nutrition experts, and exercise experts, but also people who have overcome tough mental challenges–such as surviving the 2009 forced landing of a US Airways flight in the Hudson River, for instance–or who have found ways to optimize their emotional wellbeing. Peter Attia is admirably self-aware and curious, curating a goldmine of extremely valuable information for how to live a healthy life.
  • The Kevin Rose Show–Kevin Rose, a friend of Tim Ferriss, has many guests similar to those who appear on The Tim Ferriss Show. I appreciate Rose’s genuine curiosity in addition to his combination of more science-backed interviews with ones that incorporate elements of Eastern forms of medicine. This is a relatively recent discovery, and there are certainly several gems!

Jia Tolentino’s Latest Book Will Change Your Life

The question, What do you want to be when you grow up, often provokes feelings of existential dread as I ponder what, exactly, I am passionate about, and how, exactly, I will eventually make a living. In truth, I would really just like to be an explorer for the rest of my life, utilizing writing as an excuse to learn and travel to my heart’s content. A journalist, after all, can essentially be considered a professional learner, a student of the world, a curious observer. This is what I would like to be when I grow up, and, to be more precise, I would like to be Jia Tolentino.

Jia Tolentino is a 31-year-old staff writer at The New Yorker, a publication to which I seem to have a severe addiction. She lives in Brooklyn, is incredibly kind and personable (I had the privilege of meeting her after an interview she conducted at Books are Magic), and recently came out with her must-read book, Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion.

Trick Mirror is a collection of essays that combine Tolentino’s personal experiences with her well-informed observations of current cultural and political phenomenons (sweetgreen, sexual assault on college campuses, marriage, barre, religion). Each essay is meticulously researched, but rather than making incontrovertible claims, Tolentino explores her thoughts and beliefs with humble curiosity, often questioning her own assumptions, acknowledging that what she perceives may very well be incorrect or more nuanced than she realized. This intellectual humility–the willingness to admit that one is prone to mistakes–renders Trick Mirror all the more believable and influential.

This book is unapologetically a feminist text, and, at times, I found myself disagreeing with the strength of some of the author’s statements. But this, I believe, was merely a result of hearing and reading the claims of people who lack the aptitude for nuance, unfairly categorizing all men as predators and labeling women as the superior sex. Of course, such strong views are held by a comically small percentage of feminists. Unfortunately though, these feminists tend to be louder than the rest, resulting in an incomplete picture of what feminism truly is: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes” (according to google). Hearing these women misrepresent feminism has made me extra sensitive to the movement; I worry that the pendulum will swing too far in the opposite direction, so some of the pushback I experienced while reading Trick Mirror was not the result of Tolentino’s language or ideas but rather of a heightened sensitivity to issues of gender equality. Tolentino herself acknowledges that not all men are monsters and speaks fondly of her sweet, sensitive partner Andrew. She represents what feminism is actually about.

To fully grasp Trick Mirror‘s genius, though, it merits a second, and perhaps a third, read. I have only read it once, and possess the strong sense that I missed a lot. There are so many gems of wisdom and profound insights that to absorb it all, one must read it again. A single read will not provide the time nor attention required to understand the extent of Tolentino’s various deep dives. Indeed, after completing the book, I felt that I had only scratched the surface of the wisdom she so thoughtfully shared.

In truth, Trick Mirror is a treasure trove of profundity and wit and masterful storytelling, if slightly verbose at times. Tolentino’s keen self-awareness, capacity for asking compelling questions, and willingness to look back at the past with painstaking honesty render Trick Mirror refreshingly honest and incredibly powerful. I usually do not reread books because I want to check them off my list and move on to the next one, but in this case, I believe I have discovered the rare book to which I will continuously return, gaining several new and valuable insights every time.

Positive Activewear Brands

For many people, exercise can seem intimidating–an activity that promotes low self-esteem, comparison, and an unhealthy sense of competition. Indeed, for a seemingly small population, this is what exercise is all about. This negative ethos surrounding exercise has permeated throughout several gyms, studios, and the like, but there nevertheless seems to be a movement towards body positivity, inclusivity, and community when it comes to physical activity. In fact, a strong sense of community can be regarded as one of the primary reasons people exercise. Various exercise brands have decided to refreshingly embrace a positive culture, one that lifts others up and seeks to promote self love. Exercise, rather than being regarded as a punishment or a path towards a “perfect” body, is viewed as a form of self care. It is a crucial component of taking care of one’s body, yes, but also one’s mind and spirit. Listed below are a few brands that promote a positive view of exercise and work towards empowering people through movement.

Outdoor Voices

If you head to the OV website, you’ll see models of all shapes and sizes, including ones with disabilities. OV’s inclusivity makes them all the more lovable, not to mention their extremely high quality, comfortable, fun, and fashionable workout clothes.

Sweaty Betty

This British activewear company is rooted in female empowerment. Their mission is to celebrate all women through movement because it is nourishing, not because it is a way to “win” or “look better.” They promote self-love, as well as love of others, encouraging women to lift other women up.

Barre3

Barre3 offers mindful workouts that challenge, strengthen, and tone the body and mind. They, too, stress how exercise is NOT a competition and really take the time to encourage us to focus inward, placing our attention on one’s own body and how it feels in the present moment. Their workouts feel like a breath of fresh air, and their clothing and collaborations with brands such as Beyond Yoga and It Is Well L.A. offer fun outfits to move in.

La Monde Nostalgique

(Above: Roots and Tree Trunks by Vincent Van Gogh)

What is it about weather that evokes such a powerful emotional response when reflecting on the past?

The view out of the window of crispy leaves dancing in a sudden gust of warm, early-autumn wind. The late afternoon sun rays illuminating such a spectacle.

Falling asleep to the soft whisper of raindrops knocking on the roof and walls. Sometimes the rain would shout rather than whisper, but regardless of the tone, a feeling of total serenity ensued.

Playing with the dollhouse in the soft evening light of the Fall, the lamp providing just enough visual clarity so as not to disrupt the cozy and incredibly secure atmosphere of the room.

Waking to the crisp chill of the Winter air. An extra blanket is needed, yes, but the characteristic precursor to a new season is a welcome one–only increasing one’s sense of intimate security.

The soft blue evening light of autumn combined with the cozy glow of the living room lamps.

The gentle breeze tickling one’s face during the final days of summer.

The vast blanket of snow enveloping the surrounding environment.

The lush vegetation and its beautiful cycle of renewal through unique transitory phases.

The sound of birds chirping early in the morning, or of owls calling to each other in the night.

What is it about the natural world that evokes such strong feelings of nostalgia, producing and even stronger and more intimate connection to the memories which we hold so dear?

On Cognitive Dissonance

(Above: Untitled by Jean Michel Basquiat)

Routine is comfortable. Developing a consistent routine allows one to seemingly minimize unexpected events and safeguard against discomfort or problematic situations. This approach seems efficient, economical, and safe. The risks are mitigated as one is able to remain within one’s now well-established comfort zone.

The problem with this seemingly innocuous approach, however, is that is prohibits growth. By taking careful steps to minimize the potential for risk, one is minimizing the potential for the unexpected. The unexpected and risk are synonymous, where the only thing that distinguishes the two is one’s mindset. Risk possesses a negative connotation. It is associated with substantial loss–whether monetary, time-oriented, or otherwise–and is seen as a step backwards from one’s goal. The unexpected, while it can still be perceived as negative, should be regarded as quite the opposite. Unexpected events are spontaneous. Most of these events are nonfatal and can actually provide a wonderful opportunity to grow. It is important to remain open to such events rather than trying to mitigate the probability of them occurring, for this will most likely only lead to stagnation.

Routine can certainly be a positive thing. It becomes dangerous when one is unable to deviate from his or her routine when needed. There is certainly an important distinction to be highlighted here. Person A may develop a rather rigid routine but is able to stay consistent and significantly control the probability of any potentially unforeseen setbacks. This rigidity allows Person A to remain comfortable yet stagnant. Person B also has a consistent routine, but when he feels stagnation creeping in, he readily alters his routine, or briefly abandons it altogether, in order to keep life exciting and to preserve a healthy sense of spontaneity. When an unexpected event occurs, Person B celebrates it as an opportunity to learn and grow, whereas Person A is left feeling flustered and hopeless, as he is unable to deviate from his routine in the slightest. In this instance, as in regard to life as a whole, balance is key.

Perhaps it is rather confusing that I have not yet mentioned cognitive dissonance, but I promise that this is all connected.

I believe that a rigid routine is a breeding ground for the limitations of cognitive dissonance. This mental state of mind occurs when one wants to do something that another part of herself feels is abnormal or not okay. There is an internal battle that results. Usually, such a feeling occurs when an urge or behavior contradicts one’s previous beliefs or actions. This is where routine becomes dangerous. When one possesses a strict routine, any unexpected event or other occurrence that may require a deviation from this routine is a major stressor. One will likely lack the necessary mental strength to deal with such events because of the extreme discomfort felt as a result of novelty.

I have certainly struggled with this concept. Routine need not be work or action-related. One can just as easily develop a mental routine. This is arguably more common. Humans are social creatures. We possess an evolutionary urge to find a tribe and thus tend to compartmentalize ourselves in order to fit in these certain specific tribes. In high school, for instance, there tends to be those enjoy band and theatre, those who enjoy sports, those who enjoy drugs on the weekends, and those who are primarily focused on their studies. This is certainly an over-generalization, and now more than ever before, it is increasingly acceptable to straddle different groups, not having to define oneself according to a single stereotype. Nevertheless, high school provides an easy example of the modern tribalistic mentality.

I always wanted to identify with the group of school-oriented students. Thus, I experienced strong cognitive dissonance whenever I was presented with an opportunity that contradicted this rather rigid self-identity. Any party or kickback or social event was off-limits because I considered these as unexpected events–ones which did not align with my self-designated compartment. I had developed a strict mental routine that prohibited me from growing and learning in ways that did involve grades and assignments. Cognitive dissonance prevented me from exploring the other parts of myself. It was simply too uncomfortable and even guilt-provoking to do something that deviated from the “bookworm mentality.” Such a deviation would threaten my very comfortable routine and force me to step outside of my well-established comfort zone.

Well, after maturing a little and after lots and lots of therapy, it became easier to accept the multiple facets of my personality and to appreciates the diversity in other individuals as well. It is important to remember the phrase: both can be true. One can appreciate Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and J. Cole. One can admire the beauty in the art of Caravaggio and Basquiat. One can smoke the occasional joint while also maintaining impeccable grades. One can be the valedictorian but still allow himself to enjoy South Park whenever he feels like it. You can be a good student and attend parties. Both can be true. 

Things are often not mutually exclusive. It took me quite a while to realize this. While I still certainly experience cognitive dissonance on occasion, it is not nearly as crippling nor prohibitive as it once was. A rigid routine enables cognitive dissonance to prevent learning opportunities. It can certainly be a good thing indeed (both can be true)! But more often than not, this universal fear of challenging the traditional perception of oneself is really what is holding back any potential advancements.

So, while routine can be beneficial, please don’t hesitate to deviate from it every now and then. Please don’t fear novelty or the unfamiliar, for this is where growth occurs. And most importantly, please don’t limit yourself to a single rigid perception. Instead, embrace the multifaceted being that you are. No matter how bizarre your conglomeration of beliefs, interests, and values may seem, I assure you that it is the primary source of your impeccable beauty.

Boredom: the Ultimate Enemy

In Tim Ferriss’s book, The Four Hour Workweekhe states that sadness is not the opposite of happiness. Instead, the opposite of happiness is something that plagues too many people: boredom.

Tim’s argument is truly compelling and indeed true. Sadness is a necessary and helpful human emotion and thus benefits one’s life. Humans need sadness as a form of catharsis, a means of connection, a powerful method of reflection, a way to ground oneself, and as a vessel by which to express other emotions such as love. Happiness cannot occur without sadness. It makes sense, then, when Tim states how happiness and sadness are not opposites.

Boredom, in contrast, is utterly unhelpful. There are no benefits one can reasonably obtain as a result of boredom. Sam Harris defines boredom as a lack of attention. This definition may seem rather simplistic, but it is incredibly profound. Boredom, the ultimate source of discontent, results from one’s inability to pay attention. The human mind craves constant stimulation. Humans need this stimulation to escape the dreaded fear of becoming “unhappy”. In reality, however, we are subconsciously escaping boredom.

This is why society praises being “busy” all of the time. When one is busy, one does not have a reason to be bored. How toxic a trend! The fact that humans are afraid to be still due to the fear of a potential bout of boredom is saddening. I have been there, and still experience such feelings today. I have recently developed the belief, however, that boredom is an unacceptable emotion. When it hits, I know that I am not being present enough nor am I taking advantage of all the opportunities available.

This epiphany, of boredom being unacceptable, occurred after listening to Joe Rogan on his amazing podcast. On one particular episode, he had Sam Harris and Dan Harris on. They talked about several different topics, but one statement that really grabbed my attention was the fact that a recent survey asked various people if they would rather be alone with their thoughts or receive an electric shock. An alarming percentage of the participants chose the latter! I believe that this relates back to the fear of boredom. Sam went on to describe that when one feels bored, if one were to simply observe this emotion and grow curious about it, the boredom is instantly eliminated. Because this dangerous feeling results from a lack of attention, directing all of one’s attention to the feeling itself strips it of its power. Sam explained this so effortlessly, resulting in my drastic change in attitude.

I believe that the practice of meditation has been shown to be so effective because of the above reasoning. Meditation is simply the act of noticing. One can focus their attention on the breath, on the sounds of nature, on the body, or even on discomfort or pain. What the mind focuses on does not matter. What is truly important is the fact that the mind is focusing its attention at all. Thus it is impossible to be bored when practicing mediation because focused attention is imperative to the exercise. Perhaps this is why mediation helps alleviate depression, as it disables the quickest pathway to discontent: inattention (ie: boredom).

In realizing just how powerful boredom is, I have grown more aware of when it begins to creep up. This is certainly still a work in progress, as I sometimes find myself at the mercy of its firm grasp. It helps to look at this phenomenon from an evolutionary perspective. When humans existed as hunters and gatherers, their primary motive for the majority of their actions was the need to survive. Their minds were thus always occupied with thoughts intended to optimize survival. Food availability and reproduction were the most important things one could think about. However, as humans have evolved over time, survival has become incredibly easier. We no longer have to worry about the availability of food, and reproduction has now gone in the opposite direction as there are too many people on Earth. The human mind no longer needs to constantly think about what our ancestors thought about. This created more space, but instead of taking advantage of such space, boredom evolved with us.

The good news is that by simply noticing the fact that we are bored, we take away its power and eliminate it altogether. It is time that humans occupy this relatively new abundance of mental space with things that bring us joy. This will be different for everyone and can include things such as art, music, movies, books, science, math, nature, physical activity, meditation, language, travel, community service, and more. There is so much in this world with which we can occupy the space in our minds. How blessed we are to have such an abundance of options! In simply realizing this fact, we have taken the first step towards defeating boredom, and as a result unhappiness, once and for all.

How do you determine your self-worth?

There seems to be a modern obsession with numbers.

Numbers are often utilized as the currency by which one’s “worth” is determined. The number on a scale, the percentage received on a test, the number of AP classes one signs up for, an SAT/ACT score, the number of calories consumed in a day, clothing size, yearly income, the number of social media followers, the number of likes on a photo, and college acceptance rates are but a few examples of how numbers are used to establish esteemed social standing and acceptance.

The problem is that, in total alignment with the laws of mathematics, numbers constantly fluctuate. This phenomenon is absolutely guaranteed. If numbers are our only source of self and social acceptance, we are destined to be disappointed due to the natural lack of continuity.  This involves depending solely on external forces over which we have no control.

It is quite evident that such a way of living is a recipe for disaster. We cannot control the ever-fluctuating world of numbers, but we can control our inner feelings–our inner sense of worth. This can remain constant. Rather than searching for love through numbers and social acceptance, it is more rational (and fulfilling) to begin searching within oneself. As cliché as this may sound, I have found that all of the qualms of life are far more easier to deal with when one possesses a strong and loving personal foundation. I definitely have lacked such a foundation, but reason has been a life saver in that it has aided me in realizing the destructive nature of some of my personal habits. Rather than finding gratification in external sources (grades, weight, calories, size), one must turn to internal sources.

Please think about your character traits, your interests, your positive habits, your beautiful talents, your curiosity or passion for learning. Recognize the beauty in simply being alive. Your body allows you to move, feel, taste, and love. Your brain is capable of storing memories–both happy and sad–while also allowing you to learn in a world of infinite learning opportunities. Think of how complex your endocrine system is, or how your muscular-skeletal system collaborates to gift you with a dynamic life. Please don’t forget how miraculous you are. Your complexity is truly astounding, but your unique personality and character are far more flabbergasting (in the best way possible of course).

Things such as the above should be our primary source of self-worth. When we pause to really consider the miracle that is human life, we can realize that the numbers everyone cares so much about are actually rather trivial. While numbers themselves are truly beautiful (being the nerd that I am, I LOVE math), they are NOT beautiful when used to develop inconsistent and irrational factors for determining a human’s intrinsic value.

Recognize the beauty in simply being YOU. That is a far more accurate indicator of value–true, meaningful value–than any number society has arbitrarily deemed as “ideal”.

You are a Masterpiece

Hello!

As the first blog post of this site, I thought it would be appropriate to first indicate that this is a safe place–somewhere that welcomes all people. The primary intent of this site is to let all of you know that you are beautiful human beings. Oftentimes people are belittled or made to feel worthless. I want this blog to do exactly the opposite. If you constantly find your triumphs being hastily breezed over, your every setback magnified, I hope this blog will help you find recognition and validation. If you are struggling with a crippling eating disorder and wish to discover a community who understands what you are enduring, I pray that this blog will provide that. If you are intellectually curious but lack a place to discuss and share your ideas, this is the site for you. I mean it when I say that everyone is welcome here. It would be such an honor to have you join me as we explore restaurants and hotels, breathtaking travel destinations, books and movies, art and fashion, recipes, science and math, and everything in between! Here is a place that seeks to celebrate all that makes life worth living–to delve into la beauté d’être, that is, the beauty of living. I want to ignite within you an insatiable curiosity that compels you to learn from each and every experience no matter how seemingly trivial it may be. Learning is the zest of life–it is what adds excitement and adventure. Through this blog, we will learn together, laugh together, cry together, and constantly rediscover our self-worth together. Thank you for being here and please enjoy the journey.