You aren’t that person… and you don’t want to be

Ever feel like you want to be someone else?

Sometimes I wish I was extraverted. Our world is an energetic and social one, and those with the most social energy often have advantages. They tend to have more charisma, tend to get noticed more, and can seem more likable.

But I’ll be honest: when I think about it… I really like who I am.

Being more introverted and cognizant, I catch stuff a lot of people don’t. I’ll pick up more deeply on patterns or the emotions of others. I’ll see details that often go missed. My love for silence and solitude can offer advantages as well: a knack for self-reflection and emotional maturity; a deep inner world that can be fertile for thorough thought and clarity.

I’ve realized these are a few of my favourite things about myself, and they are things I likely wouldn’t have if I was this other outgoing type. So while “the grass can seem greener” sometimes, I don’t actually want to be like those other people. I want to be me.

Now this is not to say that “introverts are deep, extroverts are shallow” – far from it. It’s just to say that in our uniquenesses we have advantages and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses that we should own instead of beat ourselves up for. This is also not to say that I should never be working on my “other parts”. The outgoing types may need to work a bit harder to ensure they practice solitude; the silent types will need to ensure they’re challenging themselves socially. This is an important part of maturity.

We are who we are

We are who we are for a reason. Take that in for a second.

Being created means being designed with purpose. First, practically: the world wouldn’t be what it needs to be or have what it needs to have if all of us were one type of person.

Who would the strong, silent observers be? If we were all warrior-kings, who would the priestly-advisers be? Who would be our reflective types, writers, and poets? Think about how much beauty and insight would be lost to our world!

We all at times wish parts of ourselves were different. We wish we were smarter, bigger, faster, stronger, more attractive… the list could go on. But what if you, the very way that you are, even the seemingly not so great parts, had a role to play in something bigger? What if there are parts of you that you just need to own, and even learn to like? What if they are designed for God-given purpose, even if they seem pointless or detrimental?

Who’s to say the beauty that could come of them?


Why Entitlement Sucks

“whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

Everyone knows how sucky it feels to be humbled. It almost always begins with entitlement: You think you deserve something, but then it slips from your grasp, or someone else takes it from you. Then, what some would call an ancient “ticker” in your mind goes off. You just dropped in some kind of status, and resultingly, so did your serotonin.

Bitter defeat. Ripped off. Then someone rubs it in: “Sucks to suckkkkkk!!!”

The ideas of status and dominance or competence hierarchies have been floating around in my head for a little while, thanks in no small part to Jordan B. Peterson’s constantly referring to them. While I don’t necessarily like the idea that my happiness is tied to a subconscious status tracker hard-wired into my system, it sure seems like it’s just a part of us.

But if it’s a part of us, there must be something inherently good (or redeemable) about it.

Consider the fact that “status” and this tracker seems to have a lot to do with self-perception and not mere circumstance. That’s why the same social situations can devastate some but not even scathe others (though this could depend on your current serotonin level, too). It’s also why an insult from someone you don’t know or care about usually matters less than one from a close friend or respected mentor.

If our perception matters, then we can have some control over this subconscious and hard-wired system in our brains. And that’s huge.

It means I can affect my own health and happiness as I shift my cognitive paradigms. I can reframe and see myself or my life circumstances differently. Thus, indirectly, I can influence my own serotonin and experience of happiness.

Obviously, there are limitations. Some changes might require so much of an overhaul that you’d be lying to yourself if you embraced them. But perhaps, at the very least, it might make circumstances more manageable and more easily overcome.

Worldview matters

I actually think this is one of the great powers of the Christian message. Even a murderer can be forgiven by God when God himself is taking care of the legal debts we owe Him. Instead of suppressing the memory of a committed evil, instead of justifying it by lies, instead of being crippled by the weight of such guilt, we can own our guilt, grieve our innocence, and accept that God loves and forgives even the murderous. What could be a devastating status loss can be buffered, and a meaningful, redemptive way forward can be found. 

So what does this have to do with humbling ourselves? Let’s see that quote again:

“…whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” 

In a way, Jesus is speaking about entitlement. What happens when you’re entitled? If you get what you expect from entitlement, it might feel good, but it won’t feel as good as it could because you just think you deserve it. The “victory” is just normal. And when you “lose”, it feels all the worse. And if we take the rest of what Jesus says seriously, do we really ever deserve the good things we enjoy in this life?

But what happens when you have the reverse mindset? When you know you’ll be fine win or lose? What if we “expect” that we don’t deserve positions of status or various privileges, given that we’re broken and even evil? What happens when we are blessed with what we see as undeserved gifts?

Perhaps our true security and “status” that ensures decent serotonin or the like is more to do with how we understand ourselves and our place in this world. When we understand that life is a beautiful gift, undeserved and even ill-deserved, we’ll be happy for every bit we can get. When we are reminded that God is our creator who loves us and will see us through suffering, we are kept from devaluing ourselves as if we’re nobodies. It’s only in this balance that we find true and life-giving humility. This is the psychological power of the Christian Gospel. We are exalted when we find our humility. Happiness is a matter of reframing. Lose your entitlement, know your true place, and all of life is a joy giving gift.

Should we even date?

Promise not to judge me?

I used to have pretty strict views on dating.

But give me a break: I was in leadership of a Christian student ministry and felt like I had to play the big bro. I wanted to protect the girls and make sure the guys were acting honourably. Good things, right?

Add to that one case of a dude wheeling a few girls who eventually got hurt, and you can understand why I took a skeptical and conservative approach to the whole dating thing.

Suffice it to say, those views changed after I got hurt by them.

Basically, I used to think that you had to be super serious before you made any kind of move. You better know your intentions and be clear about them. And in the Christian subculture where romance is inevitably tied to impending nuptials, this can lead to either hasty confusion or paralysis. Things happen too quickly or not at all.

This uptightness doesn’t work, however. Relationships are messy, after all. Am I really going to know what I want early on?

Combine that with the fact that the non-Christian world takes dating so flippantly. Casual sex, Netflix & chill… these are par for the course, and really not options for the Christian who is in search of a monogamous long term partnership. Hearts are not to be played with, nor should dating be treated with frivolity.

So… Should we?

So I understood when a friend asked me recently, amidst my dating blog posts: Should people (perhaps Christians in particular) even date at all? Is it the best way of doing things?

Perhaps we can’t know if it’s the best way or not. But I think we can assess whether the concept is helpful or unhelpful.

Christian psychologists and psychotherapists Henry Cloud and John Townsend point out in their book “Boundaries in Dating” that it is not the general concept of dating that is flawed, but rather our poor use of the concept. Being human, we take what could be a helpful process of discernment and screw it up royally.

Here are some things they like about dating: 

Dating lets someone learn what he or she likes in the opposite sex.
For me, this is perhaps the biggest benefit. In looking for a spouse, I’m not just looking for a good person who shares my deepest values (though those are top of the list). I’m looking for a friend who I just plain enjoy.

But it actually took a healthy (or at least improving) dating process for me to even realize how important that kind of friendship was to me. Without having gone through a thoughtful process here, I think I’d be missing out on some important information regarding mate selection.   

Dating gives people a context to meet and spend time with a wide variety of people. They can find out what they like, what they need, and what is good for them.
This is one of the tougher parts for some Christians (like the old me) to accept. “Dating multiple people??? Gross!!” some will say. But hold up – when we say “dating” we need to define our terms since the word can be used in different ways.

Here, we mean a casual “getting to know people” kind of dating. Taking someone out for a coffee, no strings attached. Going for a walk. You’re not yet in a more committed or intentional phase that you would label “in a relationship”. Here, commitment is low and discernment is high, and you can learn about yourself and what you want in a partner.

This variety of experience has a few benefits. For one, it helps you keep from committing all at once to one person. I’ve found it can keep me from becoming infatuated too much with one person when I am intentionally taking it slow and exploring my options.

Second, as Cloud & Townsend say, it helps you find out what you like, need, and what is good for you. Some people get lucky with the first person they are in a relationship with. But it can often happen that that first person is not a great fit at all, so it is best to move on.

Dating gives a context to learn sexual self-control and other delays of gratification.
You might find this one interesting. Some Christians argue against dating because they think it will lead to premature sexual intimacy. But two mature people who share the value of chastity (or other physical boundaries) can still get to know one another without succumbing to temptation. In fact, Cloud & Townsend argue, this context provides the opportunity for growth in self-control.

Does the risk mean we take away the method? Only if there’s a better way, since risk is inherent to any method, and no method means we never accomplish our goal. In this case: no dating may mean no marriage.

Sometimes in the church people are told to stay far away from temptation, and that is a good, biblical thing. Yet, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, some people make rules that miss the point and do more harm than good.

We could throw the baby out with the bathwater and say “don’t date at all”. Don’t ask someone out to coffee, because you could lead them on and hurt them. Don’t spend any time 1 on 1 because that could lead to early physical intimacy.

But these rules assume two people can’t take responsibility for themselves or their actions, or that they can’t practice any self-control. It also assumes that they can’t employ precautions, like spending 1 on 1 time in public places. Sure, it’s wise at times to put up healthy boundaries, even in some cases extreme ones. But building the walls too close means you’re going to get paralyzed.

Instead, perhaps two mature people can practice delaying gratification as they go through the hard work of getting to know each other and discerning. With the help of family and friends and mentors, they can go through a healthy process that gives context to practicing self-control and helps inform them thoroughly regarding one of the most important decisions they’ll ever make.

Keep calm and date on

So what about the original case that had led me to my old views? Once more, I think it is how we date that is the issue. Take it seriously. Learn to know when a relationship has run its course. If you aren’t feeling it, end it. Don’t let things run on. Hold back on promises and commitments until you know you want to move forward – and then do so deliberately.

So I say go ahead and date, wherever you’re coming from. But be intentional and keep a close watch on yourself. Hearts are not to be played with. And while you’re at it, have some friends and others who can be giving you some input in the process. Sometimes it’s your own heart that can play with you.



3 Hard but Helpful Questions to Ask About Your Relationship

So you’re dating. Great. All those feels, am I right?

Seriously though. Those feels. They make you crazy. Like actually: neurochemistry goes wack for a while when you’re with a new person. For over a year sometimes.

There are probably a million questions you should ask (if you’re a perfectionist) to really get to know someone and figure out if they’re for you. If you’re wise, at least some of those should be hard questions about the quality of the relationship.

Here are 3 to ask yourself. They might sound simple at first, but try and let them sink in, and be very honest with the answers.

1) Do you like your significant other?

I’m sure you feel like you love them, but do you like them? I mean, do you genuinely enjoy them like a friend and like someone you just plain like to have around? Do they make everything in life better, or would you kinda rather they stay home sometimes?

Someone shared recently that they were dating someone who was great on paper, but after a little while they realized that they never wanted to be around this person alone. In fact, they dreaded it.

Is that you? Are you eager for a date to finish? Are you sometimes wishing you could have some other company with you so that things would be more “fun”?

Consider that a lot of marriage will be just the two of you. How much would marriage suck if you didn’t really enjoy the plain old company of your partner?

2) Do you find yourself embarrassed by them?

Are you proud to show them off to your friends (I’m not talking physically)? Do you genuinely like the idea of being seen by their side? Or do you cringe when they open their mouths when you’re with company?

This is going to be a lot of your life. People will see you with this person. It will be awkward for you, not to mention mentally and emotionally stressful, if you generally don’t feel happy that people think of them when they think of you.

Furthermore, consider that “birds of a similar feather fly together”. If your friends don’t get along with them or seem out of place, or vice-versa with their friends, that may be a clue that the two of you will want to hang out with different people. That’s no fun. You may end up with entirely different friend groups and will find yourselves apart during times when best friends should be together. Food for thought.

3) Do you make the 5:1 ratio?

Researcher John Gottman has shown that a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions is a minimum requirement for a successful marriage. If you’re lower than that, you’re in trouble.

Some of this ratio is likely within your control, but you might also think back to question #1. If you don’t like and respect your partner, it’s going to be a lot harder for the two of you to have the positive interactions you’ll need for emotional and relational health.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for such marriages – I’m a firm believer there is (see the Gottman Institute article for some help). But if you’re dating, it may be unwise to knowingly jump (or slip!) into a marriage with a bad outlook. Even if your current partner is the one for you, it would be better to start off on the right foot.

Gary Thomas writes that “…people marry people they don’t like all the time” (The Sacred Search, emphasis mine). Why might this be? Perhaps some are insecure about breaking up. Others might not want to make a scene. This is especially true the more attached you are or the further along you are in the relationship.

Don’t let that be you, friends. Take heart, get help, and act; you’ll be fine. In fact, you (and they) will be better off going through a tough break up now than a divorce (or contemptuous marriage) down the line.

I’ve been there. It took me way too long to end a relationship that should have finished much earlier. I’m thankful I made the call I did, for both my sake and hers. And I’ll end there: consider that your partner may even have the harder time being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t like or respect them for who they are. Ending things may be as much a favour to them as it is the right choice for yourself.

Keep thinking friends. Even if you’re completely crazy for someone!

2 Marriage Truths That Don’t Apply to Dating

Marriage. Some love it, some hate it. I’m convinced it’s incredibly underrated, and I think statistics would agree with me.

But all the best things can go awfully wrong. Shawn Smith understands this, and I’ve reviewed his book which tries to help men date well to marry well.

Some well-intended folks have tried to do the same. However, some things are helpful to know for marriage that don’t exactly apply in the dating phase.

I’m assuming that others have faced similar confusion, perhaps without knowing it. It might be our own fault for applying these truths to dating when they were meant for marriage. Give these two truths thought, but remember not to apply them directly to your dating situation:

1) Marriage is about commitment.

Amen! But the point of dating is to figure out *if* you’re going to commit to someone. I know there’s a phase before engagement where you have a certain degree of exclusivity. But this commitment is not the same as marital commitment.

So if you’re dating and things aren’t going so well, take heart. You’re not committed yet, and you are totally free to feel like this relationship isn’t for you. In fact, if you feel that way, I wouldn’t hesitate. Pray, think, get wisdom, and act. You may save yourself and your boyfriend/girlfriend considerable heartbreak.

2) Marriage is for your holiness, not your happiness.

If you’re not a Christian, you could replace “holiness” with some kind of personal growth and maturity, though admittedly that’s underplaying how significant holiness is to the Christian. But nonetheless, it’s a beautiful fact that marriage matures and enhances us as human beings.

However, to the dating individual, this phrase can be misleading. A good marriage should lead to happiness if there is quality intimacy and commitment. But, sure, when two people are married and the going gets tough, they need to hear that relationships are hard and that it’s not all about them and how they feel. Every marriage will prove difficult, and the difficult times should bring you closer.

But when you’re dating and things are constantly hard, the dating person should stop and think: “why is this so hard? Should it be? What might this be suggesting?” It’s possible that the difficulty you are facing is totally normal or at least nothing unusual. But it’s also possible that such a difficulty might mean you need to rethink the relationship. Again, this is the time to have your eyes wide open and ask the hard questions about a relationship that could lead to marriage… but perhaps shouldn’t.


I say these things because of the very unique stage that dating is. You’re usually infatuated, at least for the first 12-18 months, which means your neurochemistry is completely whack and you’re blind to flaws of your significant other and your relationship with them. That’s why the above truths that are so helpful to marriage aren’t always helpful when you’re trying to figure out if the two of you are marriage material.

So time to rethink. Yes, marriage is about commitment. Yes, my marriage will not always be a happy one. But what do these hard times mean? Is there something I’m missing? Who can help me keep things clear?

Keep thinking. Scary though it might be!

Believe the Birthday Cards You Get

Mom and Dad birthday cardThey’re easy to pass over. Even the ones we buy for others – do we really put all that much thought into them?

Perhaps we should. Either way, I think it’s safe to assume that the people who buy you your birthday cards actually believe the encouraging words found within them, cheesy as they may be. They probably believe them – and mean them – even if they don’t (or can’t) say them to your face directly.

It’s an unfortunate reality in our culture that we have trouble expressing our deepest appreciations of people, but that doesn’t mean we should think that underlying realities aren’t true. And with all the mental health issues and sadness going around, why not take what we can get?

And if you don’t get sweet birthday cards or other words of affection… my heart is with you. Maybe you don’t have people – and you need to find them. Maybe you have the wrong people, and you need to change your support system.

Or maybe you aren’t so deserving of any such words and need to change and grow. We all have ugly, and some of us don’t own it. Be real with yourself, own your failures, and work on your character.

Actually, I would recommend this approach for all of us. Spiritually, this is the humble approach: to assume that I am at least part of the problem. Being a Christian, this has to be my first instinct. Psychologically, we know that humble people who contribute to society are happier and achieve higher status because of their meaningful contributions. So if you want to receive, you first need to give.

This doesn’t mean we find our ultimate value in earning the affections of others. That’s a dangerous trap.

You are loved and valuable, quite simply, because you are created. God doesn’t make mistakes, either in making you or in how he’s made you. And he has uniquely gifted you with power to contribute and bless the lives of others. You are valuable – and uniquely so – in and of yourself.

That’s my view, at least, and I don’t think you should be ashamed at reminding yourself of this. And don’t just tell yourself these things. Go out and live like it’s true. Contribute, like you matter. Because you do.

So next time you get some cheesy birthday cards, don’t think of them as cheesy. Read them, dwell on them, and appreciate them for the beautiful words they are. Then live like they’re true.

You are loved.


Mom and Dad birthday card 2

4 Weapons in the Fight for Mental Health

overcoming-2127669_1920I’ve always been a much more melancholy person. Introspective, introverted, deep thinking – even overthinking. However, for most of my life I was also a very positive person. I always remember having the attitude that things would work out in the end.

This changed in the last few years. A darkness I had never known appeared, and wouldn’t go away. I had long seasons of sadness, but also bleak tiredness. The things I normally loved gave me no joy or satisfaction. It was like a thirst that was unquenchable, and nothing would satisfy. Sure enough, I was diagnosed with “moderately severe” depression.

For a time I had no idea what was going on. How could I? People in our world are only just learning about what depression is and why some struggle with crippling anxiety.

Like I do whenever I am faced with something I don’t understand or troubles me, I researched. I began devouring information and wisdom from those more experienced than me when it came to mental and emotional health. Books, counselors, psychologists, older friends, whatever or whoever it took. I was dead set on figuring this stuff out and conquering it.


Psychologist Henry Cloud’s book “Changes That Heal” had many life-changing insights for me, including the fact that often our depression or anxiety is tied to loneliness, and that feelings like loneliness are meant to move us to connect with others.

It was a huge insight: I was disconnected. It made perfect sense – I had made two significant moves far away from family, friends, and familiarity in as many years. As a selectively sociable introvert who struggles to develop and connect with others, moving away from my safe people took a big toll on me, and it was going to require some work to get healthy.

Combine that with some not-so-good relational choices, like trying to connect romantically to someone before I was part of a solid social support network, and that was bad news for my psyche. Actually, trying to get close to someone romantically heightened my anxiety and depressive symptoms. I found out later that it was because the relationship highlighted my loneliness instead of fixing it. One person is not meant to fill the void of a network of people.

Meaningful Challenge

Besides connection, there was a need for meaningful challenge in my life. I needed relational challenge – going through the friction of new connections for the sake of social fulfillment. But I also needed to take baby steps in ensuring I was putting my hands to work and doing meaningful things at work and in life.

For example, while my anxiety and loneliness made me want to stay inside on days when I had some challenging work days ahead, that would have hurt me more than helped me. This doesn’t mean a day off was always a bad idea, but when you’re so isolated and sluggish, propagating that isolation and sluggishness is probably a bad idea. Sometimes the scary or hard things are just what you need to overcome your fear or whatever is holding you down. I think this is the case for a lot of people with crippling anxiety or depression. You need to get out there, socialize, and do meaningful and challenging things.

Yes, it was hard – but that’s part of the point. Stress is not a bad thing, not when it is in moderate levels. In fact, the same research that says too much stress is bad for you shows us that not enough stress has similar effects. Just like muscles that atrophy when not used, our ability to withstand even mundane pressures in our lives decreases when we are not experiencing regular healthy stress to keep us strong. That was an important part of my recovery and an important part of staying healthy and mentally strong.

Paradigm Shifts

Finally, I actively worked on my thought patterns. I had grown into a pattern of worry that spiraled out into despair. I was regularly worrying about how life might end up and that it really wasn’t going the way I wanted it to. I had to learn to fight that negativity and hopelessness and start to get excited about how life “could be”.

Our thoughts can naturally build on each other. Anxiety easily escalates. I needed to learn how to manage my thinking or even stop it before I could deal with deeper issues and causes. Positivity can work the same way, fortunately. I learned to build new, positive thought patterns to keep out of needless and fruitless valleys of depressive thinking.

For me, part of the “get excited” thinking had to be about building meaningful relationships. So I thought about how fun they could be, and meaningful, and how even tough conflict could yield beautiful trust and connection. I took baby steps that would apply stress on my life as I stepped out to be vulnerable with people. It was scary – and beautiful, and healing, all in one.

There was a season that medication was incredibly helpful. I had gotten to such a low point that it was just unrealistic that my body and mind would heal on their own, especially since I was barely sleeping. I needed some stability, something to get me at normal levels so that I could function enough to 1) survive and 2) deal with the underlying things that were leading to being depressed and anxious.

So while I’m always a fan of keeping on the natural side of things when makes sense, I would say there are definitely seasons where medication is a very helpful option when dealing with near-crippling mental health issues. I am also very open to the fact that some of us may just have simple brain chemistry issues (or others) that could lead to us always requiring medication. I would say do your best to avoid it, but don’t be afraid to use it if you think it wise and necessary after talking with wise people including your doctor.

Thus, connection to others, challenging myself in important areas of life, and taking good care of my mind and body (with brief aid of medication) helped me out of my mental health issues.

A Lense and an Anchor

Some of you from Christian backgrounds might now be asking: what role did your faith play? Why is it not on this important list?

Well, my faith did play a significant role in my recovery. But it was a more indirect or passive one.

Simply, my faith was both an anchor in my times of despair and a lense through which to see hope in my suffering. It was incredibly helpful to know that my suffering had purpose, and that all was never lost, even when it felt like it.

It was also so meaningful to know that even Christ suffered purposefully, and that the Bible has always promised difficulty and suffering in this world. Thus there was purpose, and I knew that God, who had suffered as the man Jesus Christ, knew something of my pain and empathized with me. I still had to hold on tight and be honest even in my bitterness towards God.

I suppose my faith has also given a helpful retrospect to my suffering and prepared me for more in the future. I know now that there is a way through, and that hope always awaits me on the other side, along with increasing closeness with God. And, reminded that he is with me and giving meaning to every step, I move forward, ready to face the challenges my Maker has for me. I will embrace the scars and the difficulty, knowing I will only become stronger and more powerful even as I am humbled in all of it.

I pray the same will be for you.

Book Review: Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson


It’s probably my life’s greatest irony that I’m generally not good at sleeping (see my last name). I’m a light sleeper, sensitive to light and sound more than most people. I’m not unhappy that that’s the case (I’ll be the first to wake up in a fire or other threat), but it does suck when you’re trying to get a full night’s rest.

There’s also the question of sleep quality (not just quantity). Ever feel like even with 8+ hours you just can’t be refreshed?

Intro Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. Sleep quantity and quality are essential for a healthy body and mind. In fact, as he points out, lack those things and tiredness will be the least of your worries.

Shawn himself is walking evidence. His health was so bad in college that doctors were left confused at his chronic poor health and yet convinced that he would live the rest of his life in pain and overall bad health. Genetics, or something, they thought.

Fast forward a few years later, with improved diet and sleep, and everyone’s just as confused. This time, though, it was at the insane 180 that his body took. Everything was not just better, but fixed. Herniated disks even healed – definitely not a normal occurrence.

He proceeds to explain why poor sleep contributes to poor joint and bone health, chronic tiredness, poor academic and other performance, and even inability to handle stress. Healthy sleep, on the other hand, allows the body to heal and maintain itself properly.

If nothing else, Sleep Smarter will enlighten you to the power of sleep in your life and help you understand sleep itself. That is incredibly valuable. You spend about 1/3 of your life sleeping, after all.

Sleep Smarter’s chapters are concise and to the point. They’re also practical, with “Power Tip” sections at the end of each. The 14-Day sleep smarter plan and online bonus guide are helpful and practical resources for those who really want to do a sleep makeover. I recommend following the journal yourself, or maybe slowing things down further and walking through a chapter or two a week while you employ the strategies he gives. By slowly building the habits and Power Tips into your life, you can make healthy sleep choices a growing norm that sticks.

I haven’t employed every last tip from Shawn, but I have made significant steps and improved my sleep quality noticeably. In particular, Shawn “woke me up” to the importance of getting your body going in the morning and getting sunlight during the day. These things help your body know that daytime is awake time – and night time is not. This means the right hormones will be released at the right times and you’ll be kept on rhythm, optimized for healthy sleep when you need it each night.

My only critique is that a couple chapters feel short and somewhat lacking, particularly the one on mattresses and sleeping positions. It’s still satisfying and helpful for an introduction, but something so essential could have used some more robust treatment.

Finally, I will say that some of Stevenson’s claims and cited research is a little more “indy”. It’s newer and hasn’t yet stood the test of time. This doesn’t invalidate the research by any means, but it’s worth noting.

He also bases his general approach on what would have been historically natural for humans, but it might not be guaranteed that such things are actually what’s best for us or our sleep. That said, most of the book argues very soundly and has at least preliminary research backing it. Stevenson is also slow to put you on supplements and is often going for low-risk, quite natural solutions that are reasonable in logic as well as cost.

So, whether you agree with every conclusion or assumption made by Sleep Smarter, you will indeed be a smarter sleeper walking away from it. If you take your health seriously, make the read. You won’t be disappointed.

Four Ways to Get Good Stress

The principle of getting good stress is true, I think, in all the different arenas of life. If you understand these key areas you can at least get started in pursuing healthy degrees of challenge in your life to keep you sharp and strong.

Physical Exercise

This is something right at your fingertips. Even if it’s just doing daily push-ups when you wake up or in the evening. Ideally, it’s more than that. Some regular, sweat-inducing cardio, a fun sports game a couple times a week, a challenging resistance training routine. I’m hoping to learn some kind of fighting soon, which might take out an evening or weekend afternoon every week.

The number one excuse for not exercising is time. But again, even something small like a 20-minute run can give huge physical benefits! Kinesiology was my field of study in University, and a major take-away from several classes looking at physical activity research was that exercise is essentially a miracle drug. It fights depression, stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, and has innumerable other benefits.

So do yourself a favour and commit to getting some exercise.

Mental Exercise

Whether it’s reading a book, watching educational videos, writing, or even browsing Wikipedia articles that you find interesting, you need to find ways to sharpen your mind. Learning – and being challenged in what you think you already know – should be a norm for everyone, since the brain is much like any muscle and will atrophy if it is not challenged with healthy, regular use.

I encourage you to interact with content that you disagree with. Try and understand it, pick it apart, and explain to yourself verbally or in written form why you disagree. I find listening to both sides of any argument quite invigorating – even purpose-giving. It keeps you on your toes and you’re less likely to get stuck in your own ways and ideas, if you’re doing it right.

I’ll never forget when I once wrestled with the theology of the Protestant Reformers (Martin Luther and John Calvin, among others). Some of it I hated so much that I found myself questioning whether I even wanted to continue being a Christian! But after 8 months thinking and hearing different perspectives I embraced the doctrines I was once so scared of. That journey changed how I see the world, and I’m immensely thankful for it. Such intellectual journeys are not only fun but life-enriching, and we all owe it to ourselves to keep learning and seeking truth.

Relational Exercise

The internet age has given us artificial relationships while making us think we have real ones. We think we’re more connected than ever, but we’re not. Any wonder so many of us feel isolated and deal with resulting anxiety or depression? It’s time to put our skin in the game, take some risks, and build authentic relationships.

If you’re in a stage of anxiety or other mental illness right now, this kind of exercise will be especially hard. But like any “good stress”, the risk is necessary for the reward. And for some, the reward is finally coming to a place of security and mental health.

Start with friends or co-workers you have around. Think of a few questions you could ask them; make some conversation. Try to develop a curious mind, and questions will eventually just start to come (Dale Carnegie insists that a genuine interest is one of the chief ways of making real friends!).

Like any good stress, expect difficulties and even setbacks. Disagreements or conflicts in general are normal in any real relationships, so learn how to deal with them honestly and humbly. Try and see them as an opportunity for growth and greater connection rather than something negative.

Emotional Exercise

Most people in our western culture grow up not learning how to process emotions properly. As a result, when we get older, we just don’t know how to deal with them. We suppress, avoid, or just get frustrated because we don’t know what to do with our feelings.

I say this as a man who grew up in a home where you didn’t talk about emotions, and in a culture that doesn’t allow men that freedom. In an unfortunate twist of irony, my emotions often end up getting the best of me and leading to a deep seeded anger.

It’s a real challenge (a good stress), but we need to build emotional connections with people, learn to express and process our emotions appropriately, and accept them as they ebb and flow. As we do, we actually come to a point of greater emotional stability – that is, our emotions become helpful rather than controlling or crippling.

Bonus Round: Practicing Thankfulness

In our privileged culture, the #firstworldproblems thing is no joke. We are so entitled that we are incredibly ungrateful even when we have amazing lives.

Time to fight this indwelling evil. Fight it with the only true antidote: thankfulness. Think of things you have every reason to be thankful for. And be honest – if you’re not satisfied completely with something, ask yourself why? Consider that perhaps the problem is not the thing itself but you and your perspective. I find that when I really think about it, usually my biggest complaints in life aren’t that warranted. And when I stop with the complaining attitude, the relationship or work-related thing often improves as my attitude changes.

We’ll explore these areas some more soon. For now, be challenged and (appropriately) stressed!


The Good Stress of Purpose

runner-555074_1920I’ve talked before about the importance of struggle and healthy stress in our lives. It grows our character, strengthens our minds and bodies, and humbles us.

But something was lacking: what sort of things give us healthy stress in our lives? Here, I want to briefly explore why purpose is one good example of a healthy stress-inducer.

Pressure and Purpose

You might not first think of it this way, but purpose naturally puts pressure on us. It directs and guides us. It moves or draws us towards its ends, requires results, and motivates us with rewards (among other things). It keeps us from things that are undesired, destructive, or just a waste of time. It is a healthy stress if it is a good and correct purpose and one that drives us forward in important areas of life: overall health, good relationships, moral goodness, societal contribution, etc.

Think of school work. Perhaps your purpose is to learn and get good grades (though you may have a different one). That purpose motivates you to actually do your homework and work relatively hard at it. It stops you from wasting time on too much video games (hopefully) and is probably going to keep you from abusing drugs or alcohol which would get in the way of success.

I think of the people who did not adopt such a healthy stress in high school. They wasted time out in the forest smoking and playing hooky. Many of them didn’t really go anywhere. I know there are complicated reasons that someone might choose that lifestyle, and I’m not trying to be inconsiderate. I also think that any life can be turned around! That said, when people shirk healthy purpose, they leave behind overall health and success with it. The good stress of purpose will stop you from going down such roads.

Perspectives and Purpose

Coming from a Christian perspective has helped me in many ways. One of those has been by giving me an all-informing and all-encompassing sense of purpose. I know that my life is to be lived for the good of others and the glory of God. I live to tell others about the purpose that Jesus taught and the understanding that he gave. He takes care of my failures so that they don’t weigh me down or guilt me like most religion does. He promised a hope for a new earth in a future life, but also one that continues from this one. Thus, “what we do in this life echoes into eternity” as Maximus says in Gladiator. This completely changes how one lives.

I know not all of you reading this will come from or even be interested in a Christian perspective. That’s fine, although I do think that theists have an advantage here since I can’t see a good reason for having purpose that you just make up or that comes from something from this world only.

That said, I do think anyone can (and must) take advantage of the idea of purpose and the healthy stress that it puts on you. Consider thinking of purposes or “mission statements” for the different areas of your life. For example, you may have this mission statement for your family responsibilities: “I will prioritize my family relationships above all others, doing my best to help each member flourish, putting their needs above my own.” When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, this kind of statement will be a stressful one to carry out! But it’s a great one, and if you really believe it it will push you towards healthy living, and in one of the most important social institutions at that.

So wherever you’re coming from, and whatever place of “health” you’re at in your life, consider the benefits of purpose and the stress that comes from it. Remember that even though stress might seem particularly hard at first, you’ll need to build up strength to do it – but you’ll be better off for it.

Finally, be challenged: do you have purpose in your life? Are you giving yourself to meaningless or secondary things? Perhaps you need to do some soul-searching.

I hope you find strength in it all,


P.S. A Book That Talks About Purpose:

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey