Wednesday 21st April 2021
  • What Octopus Dreams Tell Us About the Evolution of Sleep

    Understanding how other animals dream could help us figure out why it's so important to the human brain, and why it may have been preserved throughout history.

    Fruitflies, octopuses, birds, and humans don't seem to have much in common. Some live on land, others are aquatic. Some fly, while others are earthbound. Some are vertebrates, others lack backbones. These creatures evolved separately and their common ancestors are far, far back in the evolutionary chain. But they may share one fundamental feature: They dream.

    Nearly all creatures sleep, though there's some debate as to whether single-celled organisms like paramecium do. But no one really knows why. For years, researchers have bandied about theories that sleep helps with memory, growth, and learning - and it's clear that humans need sleep to function properly - but there's little else that's well understood. "Sleep is this big black box," says Marcos Frank, a neuroscientist at Washington State University. Frank likens sleep to a mysterious organ: It's clear that it exists and is vital to animals' health, but it's exact function and the mechanisms that control it are still unknown.

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  • 'I thought buying things would make me feel better. It didn't': The rise of emotional spending

    Many of us are living for the buzz of the doorbell - spending billions we can't afford on stuff we don't need. Here is how to recognise the problem and regain control

    When Covid hit, I decided: no more frivolous purchases. Journalism is a precarious industry at the best of times. But the pandemic just wouldn't stop. March dragged into June then into January. My days were flabby and formless. I was bored. So I started buying things online, for the small thrill of hitting "check out" and having them arrive a few days later, a treat to break up the monotony of yet another day.

    I am not alone. The pandemic has prompted a frenzy of online spending. Mintel's January 2021 consumer behaviour tracker shows that 53% of adults are shopping more online now than at the start of the pandemic. Data from Barclaycard, published in July, found that Britons spent £40.6bn online on non-essential items during lockdown - about £770 a person. Takeaway food and drink were the most popular purchases, followed by clothes and plants.

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  • How Fit Can You Get From Just Walking?

    Walking is good for you, obviously. But can it whip you into shape?

    In our group chat, a few friends made a commitment to walking 10,000 steps a day and tracking our food. We aimed for about 2,000 calories. After four months following those guidelines, my friend John Sharkman dropped 43 pounds. Collectively the group chat was down 105. Those are life-changing, infomercial-pitch numbers. Some caveats obviously apply: losing weight is hard, and keeping it off is even harder. Your mileage will almost certainly vary. But the whole experience made me wonder: just how fit can you get from just walking?

    "I think walking is probably the single most underutilized tool in health and wellness," says nutrition coach and personal trainer Jeremy Fernandes. According to Fernandes, the reason we rarely hear about walking as a major fitness tool - in the same conversations as stuff like yoga or expensive spinning bikes - is that people aren't emotionally prepared for fitness to be easy.

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  • Too Much Focusing Is Draining. Here's A Better Strategy

    Getting and staying focused can be a challenge in the best of times. But with everything going on in the world, concentrating can often feel down-right impossible.

    Testament to that challenge is the burgeoning self-help industry bursting with books, blogs, videos and TED Talks on the topic. There's even a site called Caveday where the focus-challenged gather together on Zoom - computer cameras switched on for accountability, all other technology put away - for deep-focus work sessions. Among other things, it requires that participants "monotask," because multitasking distracts our brains and prevents us from entering true focus and flow.

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  • The Secret of Adaptable Organizations Is Trust

    The pandemic has shone a sharp spotlight on the need for companies to be adaptable, but even before the mayhem of 2020, business leaders had to deal with multiple crises. The problem is, despite the energy that leaders put into their work, most attempts to make companies adaptable come to nothing. The author presents a "less is more" approach to adaptability, where management loosens their hold and gives the organization the freedom it needs to work effectively. The idea is that management should stick to defining what they want to achieve and let the organization focus on how to achieve it. Four design principles, inspired by the scientific concept of "emergence," can help leaders write adaptability into their organization's DNA.

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  • How to Design Behavior (The Behavior Change Matrix)

    Once you know your behavior type, you can reference techniques for creating the behavior you're designing.

    Everyone suddenly seems interested in messing with your head. Gamification, Quantified Self, Persuasive Technology, Neuromarketing and a host of other techniques offer ways to influence behavior. At the heart of these techniques is a desire to change peoples' habits so that behavior change becomes permanent.

    Here's the problem: Until now, the explosion of methods for changing behavior has been a hodgepodge of author-centric noise. Reading all of the books, blogs, and blowhards can leave one confused by their seemingly conflicting advice. Pundits push their methods as cure-alls. For example, some argue that earning badges and leveling-up can inspire the clinically obese to become slim again. They can't. Others claim that being good at anything requires strict goal setting and performance objectives. It doesn't. The goal of this article is to help you identify which of the different techniques would be most effective for each type of behavior change.

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  • At what age are people usually happiest? New research offers surprising clues

    If you could be one age for the rest of your life, what would it be?

    Would you choose to be nine years old, absolved of life's most tedious responsibilities, and instead able to spend your days playing with friends and practicing your times tables?

    Or would you choose your early 20s, when time feels endless and the world is your oyster - with friends, travel, pubs and clubs beckoning?

    Western culture idealizes youth, so it may come as a surprise to learn that in a recent poll asking this question, the most popular answer wasn't 9 or 23

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  • How to Turn Off Harmful Stress Like a Switch

    Stress comes from anxiety about future problems and the lack of control over them. This article introduces a few surprising techniques to handle stress.

    Let's play a game of "would you rather."

    Would you rather speak in front of 500 people for an hour or be stuck in an elevator with your ex?

    Would you rather get a cavity drilled or be forced to take a four-hour Zumba class?

    Would you rather lose your car keys before work or lose your internet connection before an online meeting?

    None of these options are good, but they all have something in common: they invoke stress.

    What stresses you out? How do you deal with that dreaded feeling? And did you know there's a bullet-proof method for disarming stress?

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  • Health Check: what are 'coffee naps' and can they help you power through the day?

    Caffeine and napping have something in common. Both make you feel alert and can enhance your performance, whether that's driving, working or studying. But some people are convinced that drinking a coffee before a nap gives you an extra zap of energy when you wake up.

    How could that be? Is there any evidence to back the power of these so-called coffee naps? Or are we better off getting a good night's sleep?

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  • Your Burnout Is Unique. Your Recovery Will Be, Too.

    While it's up to employers to provide a working environment that prevents burnout as much as possible, new research suggests that addressing burnout once you're suffering from it is a little more complicated. There are steps that organizations can (and should) take to support their employees, but the most effective measures to counteract burnout are generally driven by the individual. Specifically, employees should start by identifying the source or sources of their burnout, and should then take action by focusing on self-care, acts of kindness towards others, or some combination of the two. Most importantly, the authors stress that compassion - whether towards yourself or your colleagues - is a muscle that can be trained, and that developing and practicing compassion is the key to combatting burnout.

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