The New Xenophobia

Fear and the Death of Community

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

My wife and I went for a walk to the drug store yesterday.  She hadn’t been out of the house in three weeks and cabin fever had set in.  We didn’t really need anything, but her aunt is turning 100 years old in a few weeks.  Since we won’t be with her on this momentous occasion, we decided we at least should send her a card to let her know we’re thinking of her.

For a few minutes we debated the need to go.  Is it responsible for us to go out at all?  Should just one of us go?  We eventually decided that we both needed to get some fresh air, the store is only a couple of blocks away so a walk would be good for the both of our souls.  If we felt uncomfortable when we got to the store, one of us would stay outside while the other went in, get what we need and leave as quickly as possible, while still practicing physical distancing as much as possible.

As we walked, we met a couple of other individuals and family groups, out for air as well.  Approaching these other people, we adjusted our strides, slowed down, walked in single file and gave a wide berth as we passed on the sidewalk.  We made eye contact, smiled and nodded at each other and said thank you for respectfully keeping a safe distance apart.

When we got to the store, we decided it didn’t look too busy so we both went in.  I stood at the end of the aisle while she went down and picked up what we needed.  We tried our best to stay the requisite 2 meters away from any other humans and didn’t touch anything unnecessarily.  This was especially hard for her as she likes to browse, touch and smell things.  You break it you bought it became you touch it you bought it.

The whole experience was surreal.  I couldn’t put my figure on it at first but as I began to reflect, I started to realize that what I was feeling was an underlying sense of fear coming from everyone.  Contrary to FDR’s inaugural address from 1933, we are now being told that fear and suspicion is an appropriate response.

Xenophobia is the fear of the other.  The term has mostly been used to describe the way in which societies organize around the exclusion of certain people groups.  Closing boarders, limiting access to social services and denying basic human rights based on religion, skin color, or country of origin has been described as xenophobic.  But today xenophobia can be more literally and broadly defined as the fear of neighbors.

COVID19 is not your grandparent’s crisis.   Ninety years ago, the economy cratered due to a cascade of events set off by the collapse of the overvalued stock market.  This led to tightened lending criteria at the banks, reduced consumer spending, and higher cost of exported goods as a result of a tightened money  supply.  FDR became president at a time when people were afraid, not of each other but for each other.  His speeches and famous fireside chats were designed to give people a sense of calm, encourage community service, sharing and cooperation.

Today we are being given a very different message.

“Enough is enough.  Go home and stay home.”  Justin Trudeau, March 23, 2020

Gone are any encouragements to go out and spend money and keep the economy going, like President George W Bush so famously declared in the aftermath of 9/11.  All non-essential businesses have been shuttered or forced to sell only on-line with curbside pick-up.

Gone too are encouragements to get together and work for a better community.  All community involvement has been reduced to, “do your part, stay home.”  But that doesn’t build a sense of community at all, it simply leads to isolation, stress and depression.

Last week, as I stood in line to get into Costco, (that being a head trip in and of itself, retailers have never before restricted access to their stores), one staff member walked up and down the line reminding us all to keep our distance because “everyone is a threat to your safety.”  It didn’t register with me until days later, but this is the perfect example of how we are being taught to live in these times.

Fear Everyone!

The economic, social, and psychological impact of this crisis has yet to be felt in its fullest form.  We are trying, but without real human connection there is a key element missing.  When all human interaction is done at a distance of 2 meters and shrouded in caution, like the Costco employee so starkly reminded us, we lose a piece of what it means to be human.  Our economy will inevitably suffer but the long-term damage to the social fabric and our psychological wellbeing my well far outpace any financial losses we will experience.

When we can’t get together in groups all attempts to maintain connection through other means are but a poor facsimile of the real thing.  This fear will kill community in ways we may never fully understand, it’s already started.    Not to mention the people without access to modern communications technology, the elderly, the poor, the physically and developmentally challenged.

I have no advice to combat this feeling of isolation and depression.  We are in uncharted waters.  Humanity is not made for this and we are completely ill-equipped for a long fight.  We need each other, there’s nothing more to say.


Living on the Edge

Transferable Lessons from Athletic Training for Life During COVID19

Depending on when you choose to start counting, we are now somewhere around 20 days into the brave new world that is COVID19.  As fate would have it, the morning before the province locked down the schools I went to my local public library, (the city locked them down the next day) and picked up a few books that I had been waiting for.  I now have these books for an indeterminate time, so I’ve been taking a slower, more studious approach to reading.

The first book I read was, “Peak: The New Science of Athletic Performance That Is Revolutionizing Sports” by Dr. Marc Bubbs.  I heard about this book on a performance podcast for triathletes and decided to check it out.  Dr. Bubbs was interviewed by a triathlon coach that I follow, and I was intrigued by some of the things he was saying specific to triathlete nutrition, so I decided to get his book.   Don’t tell my wife but, I’ve been considering hiring a nutritionist to help take my training to the next level, she already thinks I’ve lost my mind with all this triathlon stuff, I can’t wait to see her reaction when I start pouring bone broth into my coffee.

Dr. Bubbs is the Performance Nutrition Coach for Canada’s national basketball team and has consulted with professional NBA, NHL and MLB teams all over North America.  What I was expecting to get out of the book was a lot of information about athletic fueling and while there was plenty of that what I really learned was more about training load and recovery strategies.  It turns out you can’t eat in a vacuum all aspects of life affect your results.

Last night after a particularly stressful day managing our lives and businesses in this new world (we are both self employed) my wife and I each had a mini nervous breakdown.  The stress of not knowing what to do or how long this is going to last finally got to us and as we talked it out, I noticed I was using the same language Dr. Bubbs uses to talk about athletic recovery.

Here are the terms I learned from the world of elite athletics that we can all apply to life during the outbreak of COVID19.

Functional Over-Reach

It’s a well-known fact that you build muscle and endurance by continually placing stress on the area you want to increase.  That’s what lifting weights and running wind sprints are all about.  Functional Over-Reach (FOR) is the act of continually pushing training to the razor’s edge of complete exhaustion and then backing off.  By doing this repeatedly you can quickly build up muscle and endurance getting faster and stronger over a short period of time.  Most amateur athletes and weekend warriors never reach the stage of FOR however and don’t get the full growth benefit of their training.  In order to get to FOR you must push past the initial tired stage and find that next gear.  Some people call it the second wind but even if you can find it very few people will push it all the way to total exhaustion.

Critical to the build phase, once you’ve completely exhausted yourself you must take adequate time to recover before going out and doing it all again.   Recovery times vary depending on the athlete and what you are trying to build but the point is, stress and recovery go hand in hand.

Non-Functional Over-Reach

If you fail to give yourself the proper amount of rest between heavy training days, you will inevitably enter a phase of Non-Functional Over-Reach (NFOR).  Simply put, you’ll stop getting any growth benefit from your training.  Your strength, endurance or speed will plateau, and you might even start to get weaker.  NFOR is the alarm bell or blinking red light that your body sets off saying “slow down, we can’t do this anymore!”  A coach or athlete that keeps track of their training metrics will recognize NFOR the minute it starts and go into a prolonged rest phase or ratchet back training to include fewer hard days.  You don’t get a second wind from NFOR, there is no benefit to continuing to push a body that has stopped absorbing training.  The only thing to do is rest.

Over Training Syndrome

Finally, if you miss or ignore the signs of NFOR you will begin to experience Over Training Syndrome (OTS).  OTS is quite simply an injury waiting to happen.  Stress fractures, cartilage damage and repetitive strains all tend to be the result of OTS.  Since you failed to recognize the signs of NFOR and didn’t get adequate rest your body simply breaks down and forces you into an even longer period of rest.  In extreme cases OTS can end your athletic career altogether.


So, what does all this have to do with COVID19?

As I explained to my wife, it’s as if we have all entered a phase of mental NFOR.  The first couple of weeks we could push ourselves to adapt.  It was tiring but we could go to bed and night, get some rest and be ready to go again the next day.  But now, with no end in sight, and no escape it’s not fun anymore.  We aren’t growing, we aren’t getting any better at adaptation and we might soon start to experience prolonged anxiety, depression and mental illness as a result.

We all need to take a break.  Phone a friend, watch a good movie, go for a walk, take up a new hobby.  Anything really that takes your mind off the news and your social separation.  Do it as often as you need to.  For me that means completely shutting down all news sources between the hours of 8:00 am and 6:00 pm, texting a friend at least once a day, getting up from my desk to move around every few hours, and going for a walk every afternoon.  Whatever it is for you find something that gives you a mental break.  We can all get stronger through this, but only if we avoid mental OTS.

Keep your chin up!  Don’t over train, we’re all in this together.


Fire Insurance for Your Life

Preparing for the Next Crisis

I hope this finds you healthy and safe in the midst of this unprecedented time.

I once had a long argument with a close friend about how best to support a mutual friend through a crisis.  I don’t remember the specifics, but I do remember that I was advocating for providing immediate support while he was lecturing them on how they could have avoided the situation in the first place.

I finally lost my cool and declared –

“The fireman doesn’t stand on your lawn lecturing about safety while your house burns down, grab an [expletive] hose!”

Right now, many of you are dealing with a financial house on fire.  The Employment Insurance department of the Canadian government usually processes about 27,000 cases a week, last week they received almost 1 million new applications.  If you haven’t lost your job, it’s a pretty safe bet to assume that your world has been significantly altered in some way.  If you are a business owner who has been forced to close your situation is even more dire and complicated.

So far, the government has done a fairly decent job of providing us all with a firehose.  The emergency aid package is not without complications and many people are still experiencing significant stress but it’s better than nothing and as they work out the bugs in the system, I’m sure it will get better.

Like rebuilding after a fire, in the coming weeks we will all have to deal with the fall out from this crisis and there a few things that I can help you start to do now to help you be better prepared for the next time.  Think about it like fire insurance for your life.

1 – Develop an Emergency Fund

Experts tell us that we should all have between 3 and 6 months of expenses saved for emergencies.  Sudden job loss, uninsured damage to property, uninsured health complications, they all have the potential to burn your financial house down.  I encourage everyone, regardless of your financial situation to at least set aside $1000 in a Tax-Free Savings Account.   As you are able, most people are okay to build that up to 3 months of fixed expenses, 6 months is only necessary if you are self-employed or working on contract.

Canada Life offers a broad range of investment options that are suitable to be held as an emergency fund TFSA.   Once this crisis is over and as soon as you are able, let’s get that done.

2 – Eliminate High Interest Debt

If you are carrying a balance on credit cards or any other forms of high interest debt, you should plan to pay that off as soon as possible.  After you’ve set aside the minimum $1000 in the emergency fund but before you worry about the full 3 months of expenses, get your debt dealt with.

As a result of the financial crunch this crisis is causing, we have already seen a significant decrease in mortgage rates across Canada.  If you own your home now is the perfect time to refinance and consolidate it with as much of your other debt as possible.  Canada Life offers a very competitive mortgage program with posted rates among the lowest in the country, along with a home equity line of credit, that could save you thousands and set you on a track to debt freedom years sooner.

Even without a lot of high interest debt, this may be a good option for you.  If you own your home and would like to see how this kind of refinancing can provide an extra layer of security for the next crisis, I’d be happy to show you how.

3 – Review your Living Benefits

The term Living Benefits is a fancy way of saying disability insurance.  In contrast to life insurance, living benefits are all the kinds of insurance tied to your health and wellbeing that pay out while you are still alive.

One thing this crisis has taught us is that we cannot take our health and wellbeing for granted.  While most employed individuals have some insurance through a company health plan should they become sick and unable to work, most people don’t know what it covers or for how long.  Many people are surprised to learn that their policy has a long wait period or provides only a fraction of what is required to maintain their standard of living.   Canada Life offers a number of living benefits programs that could provide that added level of support at a critical time and be the difference between a smooth and relaxed recovery or a drawn out and stressful one.


As I said at the outset, if your financial house is on fire, now is not be the time to drop everything and buy into any of these programs.  But if you are able, we are open for business and ready to help.  This crisis will pass, and I want to be there for you when it does.  Let’s stay in touch and when you are ready let’s make sure you are prepared for the next crisis before it hits.

Stay healthy and safe everyone.  We’re all in this together.


So… That Just Happened!

Resetting the World Post-COVID-19

Every few generations we have an epoch defining event.  Life was going along one way and then, seemingly overnight, suddenly we live in a very different world.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Pearl Harbour and 9/11.  These incidents have all split history and profoundly changed daily life from that point forward.

The current COVID-19 crisis will be remembered as another such event.

Here in Ontario last Thursday morning most of us got up and went about our business in the usual way.  Sure, we had heard about COVID-19 and how it was disrupting life in other parts of the world.  What had started in China and shut down production there had rattled financial markets around the world.  Italy had shut down everything, but the most essential services and we were starting to see similar action in New York City but very little had touched us here.

That changed on Wednesday, March 11 when the first couple of cases were reported here.  Within 24 hours, the provincial government had closed the elementary schools, secondary schools, and day care centers and ordered all nonessential employees to work from home.

Panic buying set in as people scrambled to purchase cleaning supplies and non-perishables.

“Social Distancing” and “Flattening the Curve” became the new buzz words as everyone was ordered to stay at least 6 feet apart.  Churches cancelled Sunday services, Restaurants, Fitness Clubs, Dentists and most non-essential businesses began to implement first, extreme cleaning protocols, then reduced hours but by early the next week only grocery stores, pharmacies, fast food takeout (no dining rooms) and big box household retailers remained open at all.

What started with a handful of reported case, in just ten days, has grown to over 200 cases and resulted in a near total lock down of all non-essential human activity.  Officials are telling us to get used to it, this could go on for several weeks or even months.

I’m not qualified to go into a discussion of why this is happening except to say that I understand that COVID-19 is a highly contagious illness, one that if left unchecked has the capacity to overwhelm the medical system.  I’ve seen the computer simulations; I know what an unchecked spread could look like and how the various social distancing and lock down protocols should prevent the worst-case scenarios.  I get it, so I am doing my part by working from home and going out as little as possible.

For me at least all of this is starting to beg the question, “what’s next?”.

The only thing I know for certain is that COVID-19 has split history, nothing will be quite the same again.  I have no idea what some of the broader implications of this may be, but I have a few suspicions and a few ideas about how to go about life once things return to “normal”.

In no particular order, here are my thoughts on the state of the world post-COVID-19.

1 – Small Businesses will be hurt the most

My friend owns a coffee shop up the street.  He’s closed.

Rents are still due on April 1 and with no revenue coming in I have no idea how businesses will be able to pay.  To date, the government has offered to help employees that are laid off and offered some tax relief, but I have seen nothing concrete that provides income assistance for the owners of these business.  I hope the government will step in with something that will prevent landlords from evicting businesses and extend the income programs to people who are self-employed.  But at the end of the day, most businesses will never get back the revenue that has been lost.  The big chain stores have deeper pockets and stand a better chance of coming back from this, many of the smaller shops may never reopen.

It’s not just retail business and restaurants that are suffering.  Personal service providers, dentists, physio therapists, contractors of all types, (plumbers, roofers etc.), anyone who works in person with customers is effectively closed.  Even my business, which relies primarily on face to face meetings with clients, many of whom are small business owners, has been significantly curtailed.

The world post-COVID-19 will see fewer small businesses and less service delivered in person.

2 – The Rise of Teleconferencing

Teleconferencing is not new.  The ability to put more than two people on the same telephone call has been around for at least 40 years.  In the past decade the technology has exploded on-line with video conferencing over the internet growing exponentially.  Last week as governments and businesses large and small began ordering people to work from home the stock price for video conferencing start-up Zoom Technologies shot up nearly 75% as tens of thousands, myself included, opened new accounts to stay connected with colleagues.  Google and Microsoft have their own versions which have also seen significant growth in just the last couple of weeks.

As people become more comfortable with this technology post-COVID-19 I suspect we may begin to see more and more companies offering permanent work from home solutions to their staff.  We are all taking a crash course in remote work and some companies may realize that this is a cost-effective alternative to the traditional office environment.  We may also start to see less long-distance corporate travel, why fly halfway around the world for a meeting when you can accomplish just as much from the comfort of your own home via video conference?

3 – Emergency Preparedness

I tend to do my weekly grocery shopping on Fridays.  Last week, when the first school closures where announced my wife tried to get me to go early but I refused, saying that there was no reason to panic.

Boy was I wrong?!

Within hours the grocery stores had been overrun, toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, canned goods, pasta and countless other food staples where suddenly the hottest commodities on the market.  By the time I went out on my regular schedule many of those items were simply sold out.

Experts have been telling us for years to always keep a supply of certain things on hand.  Non-perishable foods, batteries, bottled water and a bit of cash, to start.  Financial advisors like me also encourage people to maintain an emergency fund, anywhere from $1000 for essentials up to a savings account containing enough money to cover 6 months of expenses.

Nobody does it.

What this crisis has taught us is that you never know when, or how an emergency might unfold.  Post-COVID-19, financial advisors like me and other experts should redouble our efforts to get the word out and help people prepare for the next disaster, however and whenever it may come.  Will anybody listen?  I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.

4 – Your Health Matters

When COVID-19 first started its rapid spread around the world health officials were saying that most people wouldn’t get it, and for those that did it would just be a bad flu.  The only people who needed to worry were the elderly and the immunocompromised.  What we know now is that age has less to do with it, the real determining factor is your underlying health.

I’m not qualified to go into a detailed discussion of health, fitness and immunity.  What I do know is that the three are both interrelated and mutually exclusive, it is possible to be both fit and unhealthy for instance.  Nutrition science is the new cutting edge of medical research.  I know you can’t kill a virus by changing your diet, but you can fortify yourself against attack and make your body stronger and better at fighting off all kinds of infections and other illnesses.   Cutting out processed foods, balancing your microbiome (the millions of micro-organisms that live in your gut) and eating the right balance of macro nutrients, (fats, carbs and protein) for your particular lifestyle can go a long way to boosting your immune system and making you better at fighting off illness.

Post-COVID-19 the medical profession needs to do a better job of educating people about healthy foods and supplements and the food production industry needs to stop feeding us poison that damages our overall health and compromises our immune system.  Again, will anybody listen?  Some how I doubt it.



We are standing an apex of history, how we pivot from here will determine the course of the rest of our lives.  The world has changed, adaptation is going to be hard, but we don’t have a choice anymore.  As Mohammed Ali once said:

Don’t quit.  Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.

See you on the other side.

FREE Prayer School E-book

For such a time as this

About two years ago I started to write a book on prayer.  What resulted was a 42-page booklet that I never felt confident enough to release publicly.  The plan was to continue to flesh out the ideas I had started until I had a complete book length project that I could release to the world.  That hasn’t quite happened, (long story).  In the meantime, I decided to put it up on Amazon with my other projects, but I never promoted it and I never included it on my books page.

Until now.

Not to be too opportunistic or to be lumped in with the “thoughts and prayers” crowd but it seems to me the world needs prayer now more than ever.  For seekers and new believers that are looking for answers, this could be a good place to start.

When I went on to Amazon today, I noticed that they are offering access to it for free with a Kindle Unlimited account or $7.84 for the paperback version.  As much as I would appreciate a few sales, for a limited time I’ve decided to make the pdf file available free to all comers.

Just to go and fill out the information form.  I will email you the file within 48 hours.  While you’re at it maybe include a little information about how you are dealing with the current COVID 19 crisis and what your experience has been with prayer during times of trouble.

If you a prefer a hard copy you can purchase it through my books page or directly from Amazon here:

Here’s the back-cover description of the book that I wrote for Amazon, and the video message I just released on my YouTube Channel.

In 2016 I experienced a crisis of faith. In my darkest hour I cried out to God and heard a still small voice saying; “this then is how your should pray..” Thus began a daily ritual of prayer that has led me to a deeper understanding of God, community, peace and power. This little book is the framework of that prayer and forms the basis of a larger work slated for release in 2020.

Vlog – Your Image is Your Brand

Like just about the whole world I am in self-isolation from COVID19. While my ability to meet with clients in person has been limited I have still been doing a lot of reading and thinking about Branding and Perception. I read this article I found from Forbes ( and thought I’d give a little rif on my thoughts. Check it out and read the article too.

Offseason Summary

Tri-Goals for the 2020 Season

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few weeks now.  I started ramping up my training schedule for 2020 back on February 23rd with a goal of being ready to compete by mid-June but with the end of the big RRSP Investment deadline looming here in Canada and my desire to finish my thoughts on a few other business topics I never found the time.

Day jobs do have a way of taking precedence, don’t they?

My original plan for this post was to give a little summary of what I did in the offseason and lay out some goals and plans for this coming season.  Now that health officials all over the world are asking everyone to “self-isolate” and help stop the spread of COVID19 my original plans and goals are probably going to have to evolve.  I received notice this morning that my gym is closed for the foreseeable future.  I was planning on moving most my training, except for swimming and strength work outside around April 1 anyway so the run and bike work shouldn’t be too affected, but I don’t own a wetsuit and the river is still frozen so swimming is definitely out and it’s kind of hard to practice deadlifts without a barbell.

Such is life, I guess.  We must always remember that people are suffering with this illness all over the world.  We all need to do our part to help flatten the curve.

But back to the offseason summary.  I completed my first Olympic Tri (indoors) on January 20th in a time of 3:24:13.  I definitely didn’t break any land speed records but as a first attempt I established a pretty solid baseline for myself moving forward.  I had planned to take just two days off and return to the gym ready to work on some offseason maintenance beginning January 23rd but instead, likely as a result of over taxing myself and living in a cold climate, I got a bad cold and ended up in bed for the better part of three days.  I didn’t return to the gym until January 27th.

From January 27th to February 22nd I worked on a low intensity offseason plan.  Most offseason plans are built to run 8 to 12 weeks. In my case I shortened that to just four so that I could be ready to compete for most of the 2020 season.  If you are coming off a regular season that ends sometime in late fall, 8 to 12 weeks is still the preferred time frame.  As a new triathlete my body hasn’t been as stressed as much as someone who has just completed a full season so for me four weeks was just fine.

The goal of the plan was to keep my body moving while not over stressing the aerobic system and to slowing begin adding in strength workouts designed to promote flexibility and build lean muscle.  Up to this point I had not done much strength work and I recognized that if I want to get faster and lose weight it’s time to drop my aversion to pumping iron and work on overall strength at least twice a week.

On Mondays I swam.  Just an easy pace in the pool for no more than 35 minutes.  I didn’t worry about any specific drills as the goal was simply to keep my body moving and maintain decent form in the water.  The most I completed in that time was 1000m.

Tuesdays and Thursdays were strength days.  I completed a circuit of 8 exercises, 4 upper body, arms, chest and shoulders and 4 lower body, legs, hips and buttocks.  Since the goal is flexibility and lean muscle, not bulk, I stuck to a relatively low weight that I could push for 15 reps in less than 30 seconds.  It took a little trial and error but by the second week I had a pretty good system down for that.

Wednesday was bike day.   Every week was the same, 45 minutes with a goal to average 150 watts and 24 km/h.  My goal on race day is to maintain a better than 30 km/h pace so this was a more reasonable and easy goal.  Weeks three and four I travelled the exact same distance, 18.8 km.

Friday was run day.  Again, every week was the same, 35 minutes with a goal of 10 km/h.  I was never able to run the whole way but with a bit of intervalling down to 6 km/h and back up once my heart rate was under control, I was able to travel as far as 5.41 km on the last day.

I didn’t really have that many goals for my short offseason other than keeping moving, adding in some strength training and not gaining any weight.  I did gain about a pound, but I can chalk that up to variance in clothing and maybe a bit more muscle mass more than anything else.

Presently I am 3 weeks into a 16-week program to be ready for my next Olympic Tri.  The original plan was to be competition ready by Jun 14.  I was then going to repeat the last 4 weeks of the plan 5 more times thus completing 6 Olympic Tri’s by Nov 1.  With COVID19 closing my gym indefinitely and forcing me outside a month early that plan seems to be in serious jeopardy now.  I might be able to make up a week or two but if I’m out of the pool for more than 2 weeks I’m afraid I’ll have to push everything back accordingly.  Hopefully these things can be resolved quickly and life can get back to normal soon but if the price I have to pay for global health is one or two fewer tri’s this year, I’ll gladly pay.

I hope everyone in your circle is safe, healthy and able to continue earning an income.  Keep positive, stay moving and don’t forget to wash your hands.

Holy Moses, What a Week!

Covid19, Oil Price Shocks and a general stock market meltdown. The NBA and NHL are shutting down for the foreseeable future, no air travel from Europe, schools are closing across Ontario for 2 weeks. And the shelves at Costco are eerily devoid of toilet paper.

The world is in facing a crisis like nothing we’ve seen in my lifetime.

Here is my rif on how stay sane and not become too isolated while the world figures out how to deal with a virus no one understands.


The People Behind The Numbers

Keeping Customers Front and Centre in All You Do

It’s happened to all of us.

You call your bank, internet service provider, electric company or any number of companies you do business with.  You have a simple request, maybe something a bit out of the ordinary but nothing that should require executive level approval.  Maybe you have a question about your bill or would like to make a minor change to your account settings.

You are greeted by a pre-recorded message, press one for English, two for French, three of Spanish, four for Pig Latin.  Please enter your account number, if you are calling about X,Y or Z press 1,2 or 3, etc.  This can go on for several minutes.  Eventually you get placed in a queue to speak with a representative.

The Muzak starts.

5-10-15-20 minutes pass.  Finally, when you start to think that if you hear one more saxophone rendition of Van Halen’s “Jump” you will literally vomit, someone picks up the phone.

There ensues a game of 20 questions, most of which you have already entered in the automated system; name, address, account number, dog’s name, what you ate for breakfast last Tuesday.  Then the operative question; “How can I help you today?”

You make your request.  There is a pause.  You think you hear some clicking noises as the representative types away and points their mouse at things.  Another pause.  “I’m sorry Mr. So and So (pronounced wrong, even though you’ve told them your name at least three times) it appears as though I’m not authorized to make that change today.”

Confused you make your request again, “But I just need you to…”  “Yes, I understand but for that I need to transfer you to another department, please hold.”

More Muzak.

That damn saxophone again!  You begin to feel queasy and hang up.

Sound familiar?

At various points throughout my adult life I have been on both sides of that call.  To be fair, call center workers are among the lowest wage, least appreciated and powerless employees at any organization.  This is a shame as they tend also to be the only people who interact directly with customers.  They are the literal face, or voice, of the company and yet they have no power.  If the company could replace all their call center people with automated systems they would, that’s what the “press 1 for X” labyrinth that precedes the call is all about.  It’s there to weed out the simplest requests and save their expensive people for the hard stuff, that they usually aren’t authorized to do anyway, so they take notes and kick your request up the chain to a higher paid representative for a decision.

Good customer service costs money.  First and foremost, it requires training and a level of trust and empowerment at the call center level that few companies are willing to give.  Instead they put in policies and procedures that take decision making power away from people and service the lowest common denominator.  Try to go outside the lines and you get shut down.

But when dealing with the public there is no common denominator.  Every customer is unique, and every situation requires good judgement and finesse. Training staff for these things isn’t easy but it is worth it.

People are not account numbers.  They are a complicated set of needs, emotions, histories, plans and goals.  Treat people as such and you engender good vibes, loyalty and respect that will pay dividends for years.  Shunt them into endless queues and sort them into ever smaller boxes of set parameters and watch them run for the nearest exit.

Next time you get caught in call center hell remember two things.  First, if you get a person at all, they probably can’t help you, just let them take their notes and have them push your request up the chain.  Second, remember that as much as you want to be treated like a real person, so do they, don’t be a dick about it.

Lay off the Dope

Dopamine that is…

Dopamine is a hormone produced in the brain.  It acts as a neurotransmitter which flows through your nervous system carrying messages between cells.  It also plays a big part in how we feel pleasure and helps us to focus and find things interesting.

Psychologically, because it is so closely linked to pleasure, dopamine has been linked to addiction and other destructive behaviors.  That pleasure you feel when you find something you really enjoy, isn’t always the thing itself, it’s the dopamine your brain releases in response.  And that good feeling dopamine is what leads to addictions of all types.  Couple that with the relaxation the comes from a hit of THC or the surge of adrenalin that comes from snorting cocaine and you have a potentially lethal combination.

In recent years, psychologist have also linked dopamine to other pleasurable behaviors.  One study showed a marked increase in dopamine every time young people received a new email, text message or social media notification.  No wonder our phones have become like appendages.

Because dopamine is so closely linked to anti-social smart phone addiction and destructive hedonistic behavior there has been a trend in recent years for some to experiment with a dopamine fast.  By cutting down on anything that brings pleasure, (food, sex, alcohol, social media) it is believed that you can reset your brain to better appreciate the little things.

This isn’t just trendy pseudo-science that millennials have adopted to help cut down on smart phone usage, its roots are a longstanding practice in addiction psychology.  Psychologist have been using dopamine fasting as treatment for drug and alcohol addiction for decades.  The mere anticipation of pleasure releases dopamine and creates a wanting in people, which then leads to compulsive behavior.  By removing the circumstances that trigger this wanting you can gradually bring down the desire and eventually reset the brain to find pleasure in other ways.  That’s why alcoholics stay out of bars, it’s the physical location itself that triggers the wanting and breaks the willpower to stay clean.

Why am I telling you this?

We live in a world where dopamine releasing behaviors are everywhere.  It’s not just drug addicts who are addicted to dopamine.  Smart phone and video game addiction are just as pervasive, if not more so.

In a report published in the American Economic Review, the journal of the American Economic Association, researchers found that deactivating social media accounts four weeks prior to the 2018 midterm elections resulted in subjects increase in socialization with friends and family, decrease in political polarization and an increase in overall subjective well-being.  But it wasn’t without difficulties, subjects reported classic symptoms of withdrawal in the first week, including depression and anxiety.  Even certain sounds, like the random chime of a bell or a vibration, triggered intense desire to go check their phones.

I began to notice some of these symptoms in myself about a year ago.  That’s when I imposed my own version of a dopamine fast.  I call it, taking a smart phone sabbath.  Once a week, for a month, I turned off my phone for 24 hours from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday to mirror the Jewish day of rest.  The results, though far from scientific, were remarkable.  The first few hours were the hardest but after I got over my initial urge to check my phone every few minutes, I found myself able to truly relax and unplug for the first time in years.  After that first month I stopped physically turning the phone off but now I am able to ignore it for several hours with no ill effects.

I am rarely on my phone after about 7:00 pm on weekdays or from Friday night to Monday morning.  When I start to feel the phone is controlling me, instead of the other way around, I turn it off altogether and go about my life.

These devices were originally designed to help us, not control us.  Lay off the dop(amine), and life your life.