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The Emotional Logic of Health, The Limits of Direct Experience, and The Basis of Organization

Resource: The Science of Stress and How Our Emotions Affect Our Susceptibility to Burnout and Disease
Description: Maria Popova summarizes how recent research from neurobiology sheds light on the relationship between emotions and health.


Psychological health does seem to correlate with physical health, but this correlation is due to a common cause that exist at the molecular level. That is, the underlying factors that cause us to feel various emotions like fear, anxiety, and sadness are the same factors that cause permutations in our immune system’s ability to ward of sickness and disease.

Circumstances provide an occasion for stress, but they are not the final arbiter. How memories get encoded in the brain gets a large say in determining when we feel stress and how we respond to it.

Advances in cellular and molecular biology are making it increasingly possible to map out the roles played by our hormones and our nervous system in determining our vulnerability to various diseases and disorders.


“The same parts of the brain that control the stress response … play an important role in susceptibility and resistance to inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. And since it is these parts of the brain that also play a role in depression, we can begin to understand why it is that many patients with inflammatory diseases may also experience depression at different times in their lives… Rather than seeing the psyche as the source of such illnesses, we are discovering that while feelings don’t directly cause or cure disease, the biological mechanisms underlying them may cause or contribute to disease. Thus, many of the nerve pathways and molecules underlying both psychological responses and inflammatory disease are the same, making predisposition to one set of illnesses likely to go along with predisposition to the other. The questions need to be rephrased, therefore, to ask which of the many components that work together to create emotions also affect that other constellation of biological events, immune responses, which come together to fight or to cause disease. Rather than asking if depressing thoughts can cause an illness of the body, we need to ask what the molecules and nerve pathways are that cause depressing thoughts. And then we need to ask whether these affect the cells and molecules that cause disease.” -Dr. Esther Sternberg.

“We are even beginning to sort out how emotional memories reach the parts of the brain that control the hormonal stress response, and how such emotions can ultimately affect the workings of the immune system and thus affect illnesses as disparate as arthritis and cancer. We are also beginning to piece together how signals from the immune system can affect the brain and the emotional and physical responses it controls: the molecular basis of feeling sick. In all this, the boundaries between mind and body are beginning to blur.” -Dr. Esther Sternberg.

“Memory, it turns out, is one of the major factors mediating the dialogue between sensation and emotional experience. Our memories of past experience become encoded into triggers that act as switchers on the rail of psychoemotional response, directing the incoming train of present experience in the direction of one emotional destination or another.” -Maria Popova

“Much like memory mediates how we interpret and respond to various experiences, a complex set of biological and psychological factors determine how we respond to stress. Some types of stress can be stimulating and invigorating, mobilizing us into action and creative potency; others can be draining and incapacitating, leaving us frustrated and hopeless. This dichotomy of good vs. bad stress, Sternberg notes, is determined by the biology undergirding our feelings — by the dose and duration of the stress hormones secreted by the body in response to the stressful stimulus.” -Maria Popova

Resource: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen (Book)


Review of first three C.O.R.E elements:


Three keys to effecting capturing —

1) Get it all out of your head — capturing the data that demands your attention must become a part of your lifestyle. Go all the way with this. Don’t hold some things in your head and other things in your capturing system. This will simply negate the power of your capturing tools. You must build a system you trust and trust the system you build.

2) Minimize the number of capturing systems you use — keep it simple and avoid using more apps, tools, files, etc than are necessary. This will just overwhelm you and produce disorder. Use tools that are simple, accessible, and versatile enough to meet your needs.

3) Empty your capturing tools regularly — Failure to empty your capturing tools is like failing to take out the garbage. It makes everything stink and it stops your tool from doing what it’s designed to do. Emptying your capture tools does NOT mean finishing everything you capture. “Emptying” simply means having a periodic review period where you clarify the things you’ve captured and then move them out of your inbox and into their proper files/folders.

Capture it, clarify, and then put it where it belongs.

Your capturing system is the place you “hold” your ideas until you clarify them. Your clarification process is what you to do in order to decide what you’re going to do with what you’ve captured. Your organizing system is where you “hold” stuff after you’ve decided what you’re going to do. When I buy groceries, I capture them by placing them in a bag, putting them in my car, and placing them on the counter when I arrive home. I clarify each item by defining what it is and determining what needs to be done with it. Once I clarify the items, I organize them by placing them in their proper places (ie the fridge, the freezer, the medicine cabinet, the bathroom cabinet, etc.)

Things I need for organization: Project folder (for things that require more than one action), calendar (for items that need to be done or a by a specific date), next actions list (for items that need to be done, but aren’t time specific enough for a calendar), incubation file (for non-actionable items and ideas that I periodically review), trash bin (for non-actionable items that aren’t useful or important to me), and reference (for non-actionable items that I refer to on an as needed basis).


“In order to eliminate “holes in your bucket,” you need to collect and gather placeholders for, or representations of, all the things you consider incomplete in your world—that is, anything personal or professional, big or little, of urgent or minor importance, that you think ought to be different than it currently is and that you have any level of internal commitment to changing. “

“A task left undone remains undone in two places—at the actual location of the task, and inside your head. Incomplete tasks in your head consume the energy of your attention as they gnaw at your conscience.” —Brahma Kumaris

“Unfortunately, merely having an in-tray doesn’t make it functional. Most people do have collection devices of some sort, but usually they’re more or less out of control or seriously underutilized. “

“Keep everything in your head or out of your head. If it’s in between, you won’t trust either one. “

“Funnel all potentially meaningful inputs through minimal channels, directed to you for easily accessed review and assessment about their nature. “

“your best ideas about work will not come to you at work. “

“The final success factor for capturing should be obvious: if you don’t empty and process the stuff you’ve collected, your tools aren’t serving any function other than the storage of amorphous material. Emptying the contents does not mean that you have to finish what’s there; it just means that you have to decide more specifically what it is and what should be done with it, and if it’s still unfinished, organize it into your system. You must get it out of the container. You don’t leave it or put it back into “in”! Not emptying your in-tray is like having garbage cans and mailboxes that no one ever dumps or deals with—you just have to keep buying new ones to hold an eternally accumulating volume. “

“Teaching them the item-by-item thinking required to get their collection containers empty is perhaps the most critical improvement I have made for virtually all the people I’ve worked with. When the head of a major department in a global corporation had finished processing all her open items with me, she sat back in awe and told me that though she had been able to relax about what meetings to go to thanks to her trust in her calendar, she had never felt that same relief about all the many other aspects of her job, which we had just clarified together. The actions and information she needed to be reminded of were now identified and entrusted to a concrete system. “

“Ask yourself, “When do I need to see what, in what form, to get it off my mind?” You build a system for function, not just to have a system. “

“It is better to be wrong than to be vague.” —Freeman Dyson

“What do you need to ask yourself (and answer) about each e-mail, text, voice mail, memo, page of meeting notes, or self-generated idea that comes your way? This is the component of input management that forms the basis for your personal organization.”

“You can’t organize what’s incoming—you can only capture it and process it. Instead, you organize the actions you’ll need to take based on the decisions you’ve made about what needs to be done. “

“What’s the Next Action? This is the critical question for anything you’ve captured; if you answer it appropriately, you’ll have the key substantive thing to organize. The “next action” is the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality of this thing toward completion. “

“Do It, Delegate It, or Defer It Once you’ve decided on the next action, you have three options: 1. Do it. If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it is defined. 2. Delegate it. If the action will take longer than two minutes, ask yourself, Am I the right person to do this? If the answer is no, delegate it to the appropriate entity. 3. Defer it, If the action will take longer than two minutes, and you are the right person to do it, you will have to defer acting on it until later and track it on one or more “Next Actions” lists. “

“Being organized means simply that where something is matches what it means to you. “

“For nonactionable items, the possible categories are trash, incubation, and reference. If no action is needed on something, you toss it, “tickle” it for later reassessment, or file it so you can find the material if you need to refer to it at another time. “

“To manage actionable things, you will need a list of projects, storage or files for project plans and materials, a calendar, a list of reminders of next actions, and a list of reminders of things you’re waiting for. “

Resource: The problem with direct experience


Direct experience is useful and indispensable when it comes to determining how universal laws and general truths bear out in your personal life, but it’s dangerous to appeal to direct experience as a basis for what’s good or true beyond that. In other words, the universal can and should be individualized, but the individualized can’t and shouldn’t be universalized.

Most of the things we know don’t come from direct experience, but from the reports, experiments, tests, and research of others. Living by a philosophy that says “I will only believe or endorse what I have directly experienced” makes for a smaller world and a smaller self.


Almost nothing in our civilization is merely the result of direct experience. We rely on scouts and technologists and journalists to tell us what it’s like over there, to give us a hint about what to expect next, and most of all, to bring the insights and experiences of the larger world to bear on our particular situation.

The peril of roll-your-own science, in which you pick and choose which outcomes of the scientific method to believe is that you’re almost certainly going to endanger yourself and others. Anecdotal evidence about placebos, vaccines and the weather outside is fun to talk about, but it’s not relevant to what’s actually going to pay off in the long run.

78.45% of humans tend to hate statistics because we have no direct experience with the larger picture. It’s easier to make things up based on direct experience instead.

The solar eclipse is going to happen whether or not you believe it will, whether or not you have direct experience with previous eclipses.

When we reserve direct experience for the places where it matters—how we feel about the people in our lives, or the music we’re listening to or the painting we’re seeing, we have the priceless opportunity to become a better version of ourselves.

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