Emily Esfahani Smith

Emily Esfahani Smith

Writer, Wife, Author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters
Mental Rehearsal

Dress Rehearsal of the Mind: How to Overcome Anxiety & Build Confidence

I have always been a little skeptical of visualization techniques. The idea of telling someone to visualize winning the lottery, marrying George Clooney or getting that job at Google sounded more like “The Secret” than actionable advice. That said, I have learned that some visualization techniques are worth a second look (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun). Instead of visualizing your greatest dream coming true – like thanking all the little people when you win the Oscar—experts suggest engaging in mental rehearsing. Mental rehearsing is very different from mental winning—it focuses on process not outcome. Sports psychologists recommend detailed mental rehearsals to help athletes build confidence and overcome anxiety. Death defying and record-breaking rock climber Alex Honnold (the guy who climbs without ropes) highlights the value of intense mental preparation:
When I’m planning on doing something challenging, I spend the time sort of visualizing what the experience will feel like and what the individual sections of it will [feel like]. Particularly if it’s a free solo, I’m climbing ropeless, then I’ll think through what it’ll feel like to be in certain positions, because some kinds of movements are insecure and so they’re kind of scarier than other types of moves, and so it’s important to me think through how that’ll feel when I’m up there, so that when I’m doing it I don’t suddenly be like ‘Oh my God, this is really scary!’ I know that it’s supposed to be scary, I know that’s going to be the move, I know what it’ll feel like, and I just do it.
Hunnold does a dress rehearsal in his head, imagining all the possible scenarios and emotions he might experience for when he does the real thing. He has a realistic game plan that considers the physical and mental challenges he might face. There are no surprises or unanticipated events to shake his unshakable focus. While the stakes are a little lower, mental rehearsals have application in every day life. Next time you have to give a presentation at work or go on a job interview, consider doing a rehearsal in your head. Odds are your performance will be better.

25 Ways to Celebrate Kindness

According to Nobel Prize-winning scientist Daniel Kahneman, we experience approximately 20,000 moments each day. In honor of #RandomActsOfKindnessDay choose to make the most of each one by seizing the many opportunities to be kind, make an effort, connect and give back.
  1. Pay a coworker an honest compliment.

  1. Strike up a conversation with someone you see everyday but don’t know very well – a doorman, the postman, a neighbor, the barista.

  1. Buy a coffee for the person in line behind you at the coffee shop.

  1. Send flowers for no reason.

  1. Offer to run an errand for a friend.

  1. Hold the elevator.

  1. Give your cab away.

  1. Leave an extra big tip.

  1. Hold the door.

  1. Leave change in the vending machine.

  1. Text a friend to tell them how and why you admire them.

  1. Tell a stranger that you love what they’re wearing.

  1. Make a playlist on Spotify for a friend who’s going through it.

  1. Pick up some litter.

  2. Write something nice on that person’s updates who posts on Facebook constantly. They’re probably lonely.

  3. Put sticky notes with positive slogans on the mirrors in restrooms.

  4. Bring your partner coffee in bed tomorrow.

  1. Do a chore for someone without them knowing.

  2. Leave happy notes around town.

  3. Let someone go ahead of you in line.

  4. Leave heads up pennies on the sidewalk

  5. Smile at everyone.

  1. Email or write an old teacher who made a difference in your life.

  2. Smile at someone on the street, just because.

  3. Give up your seat to someone (anyone!) on the bus or subway.

  Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does. -William Jam
YOLO, decision making, impulse, future, self

What Would Future You Think?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question we ask children all the time. It asks them to think beyond the here and now and to imagine themselves in the future. However, imagining oneself 20 years from now is not something we as adults routinely do. According to research, perhaps it should be. Catching a glimpse of your future self may be an effective motivation strategy to changing behavior in positive ways. Participants in a study were shown digitally altered images of themselves made to look their grandparents age—about 70 years old – while a control group was shown a current image of themselves. Each group was then presented with questions about finances and retirement. Those who had been presented with the image of their older self—wrinkles, jowls and receding hairlines and all—were willing to put twice as much money into long term savings accounts than those presented with a current image of themselves. In a related study, participants were asked to connect to their future self in a different way: by taking five minutes to write a short letter to the person they will be 20 years from now. Instructions included: “Write about the person you are now, which topics are important and dear to you, and how you see your life.”  A control group was given the same instructions except the recipient would be them only three months down the road. Each group was then presented with various hypothetical scenarios designed to assess ethical decision-making. For example, would you buy a computer that “fell off a truck?” The group that had written letters to their distant future selves were less likely to engage in deceitful or delinquent behavior. These studies have practical implications for the real world. By connecting people to the person they will be at age 70 in a concrete way, it is more likely they will make better decisions in the here and now. Some suggest putting visual renderings of a person’s aged face on credit cards and at cash machines to encourage smart spending. Binge eating, substance abuse and other impulse behaviors could also be affected by considering one’s future self. Even crime researchers recognize it is a tool to encourage first offenders to think about consequences of their actions and to deter crime in general. Behavior today impacts the person you will become in the future. You Only Live Once, or YOLO, may be the current cultural refrain, but long-term thinking is essential for the well-being of individuals and society. Next time you are about to do something impulsive stop and ask, “What would your future self think?” Another option is to download AgingBooth, an app that digitally ages photos of users. The photos are simultaneously hilarious and terrifying. I promise you one thing: seeing the wrinkles that await you will make you reconsider the rare social cigarette.

How to Fall Back in Love

Remember the good old days when you and your partner were madly in love? If those days are a distant memory and you feel like you’ve lost that loving feeling, science proves you can rekindle the romance. A growing body of research reveals a number of strategies to revitalize your love life.

Dial it up

While many think of love as an on/off switch, it is more useful to think about it as a volume setting that can be dialed up, according to a recent scientific paper titled Regulation of Romantic Love Feelings. In the study, people in a long-term relationship who were asked to look at a photograph of their partner and think positive thoughts about them (i.e.“He is so funny” or “We get along so well”) were able to upregulate their feelings of love and attachment as measured by brain scans and subjective reports. Focusing on your partner’s positive qualities for a few minutes each day will reconnect you with the feelings that brought you together in the first place.

Focus on more good versus less bad

Do you strive to avoid conflict or to deepen and strengthen your relationship? Couples who focus on cultivating more positive experiences and intimacy are happier than those who focus their energy on minimizing negativity. A study tracking sexual desire in long-term partners reveals how powerful this effect can be. Participants who said they had sex to prevent their partner from losing interest or to avoid a disagreement reported less passion than those who said they had sex with their partner as an expression of love. Put simply, instead of dwelling on what’s wrong, focus your efforts on what you can do to build a stronger connection.

Aim for the little things

What can you do to reignite your partner’s passion for you? While I’m sure your partner would appreciate an expensive gift or a romantic getaway, research suggests a simple strategy that is certainly less expensive. Just be nice, or as psychologists would say, be responsive. It’s so obvious and yet so easily forgotten when there are kids to feed, bills to pay and laundry to do. Making your partner feel special and consistently showing them that you care is essential for intimacy and fuels desire. Pick up a copy of your partner’s favorite magazine at the store, say thank you when they hold the door, bring them coffee in bed, send a flirty text. When you are together, be sure to pay more attention to your partner than to your phone. The little everyday gestures of love are emotional Viagra. As the old saying goes, if you act like you did at the beginning of the relationship, there won’t be an end.

Realize that not all intimacy is created equal

Having a strong emotional connection does not mean you need to do everything together. Privacy, boundaries and a little bit of mystery go a long way. Leaving the bathroom door open and clipping your toenails in front your partner will not fan the fires of desire. Contrary to what many believe, spending all your time together may not be the best idea. While it is important to share the same values, having different interests and hobbies is healthy for any relationship. Respecting the other person’s interests and encouraging them to pursue whatever it is they enjoy doing is what psychologists refer to as “autonomy support”. In other words, if your significant other loves to go camping but it’s not for you, suggest they go on a camping trip with their buddies. If your partner is training to run the marathon and you prefer Pilates, help them find a running partner. Just be there at the finish line. Attraction grows when you see your partner in a new light and doing something they are passionate about. As Proust said:
Mystery is not about traveling to new places but about looking with new eyes.


What is the Path to Passion?

Everyone loves a shortcut. It’s in our DNA. Why expend precious energy, effort or time if you don’t have to? Get Rich in 10 days, Lose 12 Pounds in a Week, Just Two Weeks to a Better Love Life are but a few examples. Some shortcuts work well. Who doesn’t love a moisturizer that also has sunscreen in it? But some shortcuts—especially the ones that distance us from an experience and other people—can leave us feeling shortchanged. There is no substitute for hard work. Research underscores the virtue of skipping the short cut and opting for the long cut instead. In a study of entrepreneurs, those who said they put in a great deal of effort into their budding business in the past week were more excited about their work:
The previous week’s effort influenced this week’s effort, such that more effort led to more passion.
The harder they worked, the more passionate they became. This runs counter to what many people believe—that passion is a necessary ingredient for hard work. More often than not, it is the other way around. The more effort you put into something, the more committed you become. I notice this with my patients all the time. As one young woman recently remarked:
The moment I started trying at school, I mean really trying not ‘pretend trying,’ my classes became so much more interesting. It makes a difference when I actually do my homework and do the reading. These teachers are actually pretty smart. Who knew?
Passion doesn’t emerge from a vacuum. It takes genuine effort and a great deal of hard work. Steve Jobs said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” I would argue that the only way to love what you do is to do great work.

The Bright Side of Your Bad Mood

In addition to being annoying, being told to be happy all the time actually backfires. As a society, we have become increasingly intolerant of negative feelings. This “feel-goodism” perpetuates the myth that bad feelings are unacceptable, should be treated with a pill or at the very least controlled and silenced: This intolerance toward emotional pain puts us at loggerheads with a basic truth about being human: Sometimes we just feel bad, and there’s nothing wrong with that—which is why struggling too hard to control our anxiety and stress only makes things more difficult. Research shows that a bad mood per se is not the problem. What matters is your attitude toward the bad mood: Bad moods don't have an adverse effect on everyone to the same degree. The crucial difference seems to be how much people see that there can be value, meaning and even satisfaction in bad moods—those who appreciate this tend to suffer fewer ill effects from the supposedly dark sides of the psyche. In other words having positive attitude toward a bad mood makes a difference. Related research highlights the benefits of a good cry. In a study, those who believed welling up with tears is a good way to relieve emotions felt better later on after watching and weeping through a sad movie. If you are in a funk or particularly bad mood ask yourself, “What can I learn from it?” Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and do some detective work to figure out what triggered it. Is there something else going on that you need to address? Most importantly, don't beat yourself up for being in a bad mood. The truth is that occasional bad moods can be part of a good life. It turns out bad moods can have a bright side.

(Not So) Famous Last Words

Do people become more grateful when they are asked to reflect upon their own mortality? Studies show that taking time to thinking about one’s death can actually promote healthy behaviors and help people prioritize what matters most to them. I read a haunting article in Scientific American article that takes this topic one step further. What do people think about in the moments before their death? To explore this unfathomable question, Michael Shermer, author of The Moral Arc, analyzed the final statements of 417 death row inmates. His work is not intended to glorify or denounce the accused, rather, it is intended to explore the mindsets of those facing certain death. According to a text analysis program, “love,” “know,” “family,” “thank” and “sorry” were the words most commonly used. Shermer provides some examples of the final statements:

To my family, to my mom, I love you.

I appreciate everybody for their love and support. You all keep strong, thank you for showing me love and teaching me how to love.

I want to tell my sons I love them; I have always loved them.

I would like to extend my love to my family members and my relatives for all of the love and support you have showed me.

As the ocean always returns to itself, love always returns to itself.

Forgiveness and love were the two main emotions. Shermer found that 44 percent either apologized for their crimes or asked for forgiveness from the families present. Seventy percent of the statements included effusive love language. Connection to others was a recurring theme. Shermer posits that people say what they truly feel and believe in the seconds before their death and then prioritize those emotions and thoughts by what matters most.  

Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution

This elegant and quick read doesn’t claim to be a biography about Marie-Antoinette, but rather focuses brilliantly on the clothing choices she and her handlers made at every juncture in her tenure as Dauphine, and later Queen of France. This is the perfect gift for history buffs and fashionistas alike.


Emily Esfahani Smith

Emily Esfahani Smith

Writer, Wife, Author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters


Mental Rehearsal

Dress Rehearsal of the Mind: How to Overcome Anxiety & Build Confidence

I have always been a little skeptical of visualization techniques. The idea of telling someone to visualize winning the lottery, marrying George Clooney or...

25 Ways to Celebrate Kindness

According to Nobel Prize-winning scientist Daniel Kahneman, we experience approximately 20,000 moments each day. In honor of #RandomActsOfKindnessDay choose to make the most of...
YOLO, decision making, impulse, future, self

What Would Future You Think?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question we ask children all the time. It asks them to think...

How to Fall Back in Love

Remember the good old days when you and your partner were madly in love? If those days are a distant memory and you feel...
buddies, friends, relationships, longevity, reduce risk of death

Bosom Buddies

You need friends. Certainly, eating well, exercising and a healthy lifestyle are known to increase longevity and reduce the risk of death, but research reveals...