I just finished reading Flourish a book about positive psychology by Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology. I’ve read multiple books on the subject, and I think this one serves as a great starting off point for someone that is just starting to learn about the subject. It provides a framework that you can use to navigate the subject and name drops a bunch of the prominent figures in the field and their work, a great road map for figuring out what to dive into deeper.
Here are a few of the big topics discussed:
- The goal of positive psychology is to measure and build human flourishing. He also argues that once countries have achieved a threshold of economic prosperity and stability, that their governments should turn their attention to improving the well-being of their citizens.
- The well-being theory for flourishing based on 5 elements:
- Positive emotion
- Relationships (positive ones)
- That although our predetermined happiness baseline is genetic, as are a lot of our personality traits, there is still a lot that we can do to get to the top of our well-being range, like meditation and the What-Went-Well exercise
- The Losada Ratio, # of positive things per negative things, as a predictor of well-being in relationships (min 5:1 ratio for strong relationships)
- That traumatic events are usually the catalyst for major personal growth so long as the conditions are right (post-traumatic growth)
After this book, I’d suggest moving on to The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, which dives into more detail on a lot of the theories and research summarized in Flourish. And The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky goes into a lot more detail on the notion of our “predetermined happiness baseline” and what we can do to move ourselves to the top of our range for happiness.
It’s been three months since I found out that I have herpes, and in that timeframe I’ve learned that herpes is remarkably unremarkable. I don’t know if I got it as a child or as an adult, but I suspect it was shortly before the diagnosis. I’ve had no blatantly noticeable symptons, so at this point, I don’t know if it’s genital or oral. I don’t know if I’ll ever get an outbreak. But none of that really matters, because the worst part about having herpes isn’t herpes itself, but rather the heavy stigma that comes with it, at least in the United States.
It’s an extremely common infection worldwide, per the World Health Organization, but the majority of people that have it don’t know they have it. That’s because most people with herpes never have any noticeable symptons, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocates against including it in standard STD testing without symptons since the negatives of knowing you have it tend to outweigh the positives.
The people that do know they have it tend to avoid talking about it because the stigma can be so crushing.
Since the overwhelming majority of people either don’t know they have herpes or are unable to talk about it, it’s easy to go most of your life without ever learning anything about the infection except for a few common misconceptions. And that lack of information can make it extremely difficult to cope after learning that you have herpes.
Here are the biggest challenges I’ve faced in the last 3 months since my diagnosis.
Overcoming the stigma
When you find out that you have herpes, it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts and emotions. The sooner that you can internalize that it doesn’t change who you are, it isn’t the end of your romantic life, and it is remarkably unremarkable, the better.
I found that the best way to do this was learning as much as I could about it, reading other people’s accounts of living with herpes, and finding people that you feel comfortable talking to about it.
One major warning though: if you look up photos of herpes outbreaks on the internet, you will find the absolute worst case scenarios. It’s impossible to know what it will be like until it happens, so save yourself that anxiety.
Here are some things I’d recommend starting with. These are just a few of the online resources that I found most helpful, but there are a lot of others that you can find.
- CDC and WHO resources
- Westover Heights Clinic Herpes Handbook
- Ella Dawson’s TEDx talk on herpes
- Emily Depasse’s various articles and blog posts on living with herpes - some good informed information here. Emily is actually studying about this stuff
- Ella Dawson’s various articles and blog posts on living with herpes - Ella inadvertently became the “face” of the movement to destigmatize herpes a few years ago and has since stepped away from that role a bit, but all of her writings are still available. This was easily the most helpful thing for me during the hardest weekend post diagnosis. I sheepishly sent her a thank you message on Twitter when I was done.
thanks, Orlando!— ella dawson (@brosandprose) October 23, 2017
Telling other people
Ultimately, you have to decide who you are going to tell and when. There’s a lot of debate about disclosure from what I’ve read online, with some people advocating for and some people advocating against. I decided pretty early on that I wanted to be open about my status in every aspect of my life, but only after I’d had a chance to tell everyone in my family about it.
I quickly found that telling other people that you have herpes is hard, but it gets much, much easier every time that you do it. The first time that I heard the words come out of my mouth, vocalizing something that I’d been grappling with, left me a bit numb but also provided an immense amount of relief. And per the stats about how common it is, most of the folks I’ve told have either told me that they have herpes or mentioned that they know someone that has it. I’ve only just started to learn that that some of my closest friends are also in this super secret club.
One of the hardest times for me was when I told my parents. The conversation itself was actually easy, and they were wonderful about it, but all of the time I put into thinking about whether or not to tell them (overwhelming consensus was that I shouldn’t), the best way to bring it up, and what to say before hand was brutal. I’d like to say that I was super confident as I went through my semi-rehearsed lines, but there were a few times that I felt my voice wavering. But like all of the other times, it was an important part of helping me get past the stigma.
The first time you get rejected because of herpes
I was actually starting to see someone that I was extremely excited about when I got my diagnosis. We were taking our time, just starting to get to know each other over the course of a few dates, and everything was going swimmingly. As soon as I found out my status, I sent her a message letting her know and assuring her that I completely understood if she didn’t want to move forward at that point. I never heard back from her, and although I was expecting it, I’m not going to lie…that was a painful experience.
You are probably going to run into the same thing, and if you do, it helps to remember that people are rejecting the risk of getting herpes, not you. The same way that you may have some criteria that you use to decide when you are going to swipe left on someone, for a lot of people, herpes will fall into that bucket. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But there are also a lot of people that won’t care. They’ll decide that you are worth it.
So it’s basically still dating. You are putting yourself out there. Sometimes you’ll get rejected because of X, Y, or Z, and other times, you’ll find someone special. Never know until you try.
A few parting words
If you stumbled onto this blog because you are trying to make sense of a recent herpes diagnosis, I promise you that no matter what you are feeling, you will bounce back, and it will get better. Humans are incredibly good at returning to their predetermined happiness level after positive and negative events. And if you want to look for actions you can take to help cope with it, meditation, therapy, and talking to others are all great things to try.
I recently started reading Flourish by Martin Seligman, the psychologist who established positive psychology, a domain of psychology that focuses on positive human functioning and flourishing, in 1998 when he was president of the American Psychological Association.
In the book Martin describes a daily 10-minute exercise that has been shown to improve well-being and combat depression via random-assignment, placebo-controlled studies (aka science). The exercise is simple and has a lasting positive impact, so I decided to give it a try starting a few days ago.
He calls it the What-Went-Well exercise, and it goes like this. Every night write down 3 things that went well that day and next to each one write about one of the following:
- Why did it happen?
- What does this mean to you?
- How can you have more of this good thing in the future?
The 3 things don’t have to be earth shattering; it can be as simple as “my boyfriend picked up my favorite ice cream on the way home from work because he is really thoughtful sometimes.” But you do have to write it down, and you do have to do it every day.
The reason this works is it helps “train” your unconscious mind, the elephant in the elephant and rider metaphor in Jonathan Haidt’s amazing book, The Happiness Hypothesis, to become better at focusing on good things.
Unfortunately (or fortunately since we’re still alive), our brains have evolved to be much better at focusing on negative events because from an evolutionary standpoint the max potential impact of missing one, death, was much worse than the impact of missing a positive event. So we need to practice and develop the skill of thinking about good things to counter our brain’s ingrained negative bent.
If you are looking for a quick exercise to raise your spirits in 2018, it might be worthwhile to take 10 minutes a night to try the What-Went-Well exercise for yourself.
You will get some of the best insights about your customers and market by performing primary research. That’s because you can tailor the research specifically to your needs and circumstances. But performing primary research takes a lot more time and effort than relying on something off the shelf, and it’s not uncommon to go through the entire process of preparing, fielding, and analyzing a research study only to arrive at a set of “fun facts.” These are interesting tidbits that are fun to tell others but ultimately have no business impact.
The best way that I’ve found to avoid this trap is to work backwards, starting with the objective, or better yet, the actual statement that you want to be able to make at the end of the research.
For example, at my last company, we wanted to understand the apparel buying behavior for people that work in office environments with different dress codes: casual, business casual, etc. If we had gone into the research with only that sentiment, we might or we might not have come away with some useful information. Instead, we spent more time defining our research objectives and broke it down into more granular statements.
The initial sentiment was refined to “We want to determine how much employees in these different office environments spend each year on clothes so we can prioritize who we target for customer acquisition.” That led to a series of individual statements / questions to be resolved through research:
- How do we accurately define the different office dress codes? Can we say that people that wore this set of items to work over some period of time were more likely to be in one dress code than another? I described how we did this in this post on cluster analysis.
- Approximately how much did people in these different office environments spend on work clothes over the last year? Can we say that employees in these environments spent $X on average versus employees in these other environments, and we know that is an actual difference (not just noise in our data)? What does this look like for people that have been in their job for over a year versus people that just started their role in the last year (assumption being that a new job/role is a catalyst to buy new work clothes).
- Where do people go to shop for different types of clothes in these office environments? This helps you understand price sensitivity, competitors, etc.
- What industries / job types are the most common for each office dress code?
- So on and so forth
The next step was to prioritize and rank the list of questions, select the ones we thought were absolutely necessary, and then build out the best interview and survey questions to answer that set of questions.
By getting as specific as possible with the questions that we hoped to answer through our research, we were able to design it so that it would be almost impossible not to come away with answers to those questions. It also ensured that we remained focused on what we were trying to learn.
I first learned about the idea of working backwards from the desired output from marketing research professors at Kellogg, and it was an approach that we used at BCG often (and sometimes took to the next level by creating the actual output with placeholder data before starting the research). I’ve since become a true believer that you should almost always clearly define your desired outcomes before starting any research to get the best results.
I’ve experienced sporadic energy levels for more years than I care to remember. It’s given me a vivid sense of how different it feels to go through a day rested and alert versus tired and dazed. And it’s generally been the catalyst for burn out, since I would compensate for getting less done from being tired by working more hours and sleeping less, sparking a negative reinforcing cycle until I was forced to take some time to recover. In the past I coped by working longer and maintaining a carefully crafted caffeine daily dosing schedule, but I’ve decided to look at how I can optimize my sleep in order to get more energy, more consistently. My hope is that by raising my energy levels in a healthy way, I can get more work done without having to stretch my work schedule.
I’m still in the early stages of my research, but from what I’ve read, there seems to be a general consensus on the major steps to take for establishing a better sleep routine.
Establish a routine
The first step is make sleeping into a consistent, repeatable routine. That means going to sleep and waking at the same time everyday, even on weekends. Apple recently added a feature in the iOS clock app that can help with this called Bedtime. Beyond going to sleep and waking at the same time, you also want to establish a pre-sleep ritual that helps transition you from the worries of the day into a state that is more conducive to resting. The most common things I’ve seen here include taking a warm shower or reading for some period of time before you go to sleep (but not on a backlit device, like a tablet or phone, that can stimulate your body into being more awake).
Design your sleep environment
Once you’ve settled on a routine, the next step is to design your sleep environment. From what I can tell, this generally means that you want to make the room you sleep in as dark and as quiet as possible and keep the temperature within a certain range (goes with my final point of avoiding stimulation). Of course you are going to need lights in the room to move around and manage at night, but there are special lights that you can buy that are designed to avoid disrupting your body’s sleep rhythm, like the Good Night LED or the Philips Hue lights.
Finally, you should avoid anything that throws your body out of balance or causes you to become alert or awake too close to bedtime. This includes avoiding coffee and other caffeinated drinks after a certain time of the day (it varies for everyone, but I’m going with 2p), and not looking at any bright light sources that can trick your body into thinking it’s day time (computers, phones, TV, etc). Another aspect of this that I hadn’t thought about either was making sure that you aren’t eating too much or too little before going to sleep or drinking a lot of liquids. Both of these things can cause you to either wake up at night or not stay in a deep, restful sleep state.
I’ve started to put some of this into practice in the last week. I MacGyver’ed up a way to black out the window in our bedroom (a blackout curtain is a faster way to do it) and moved all electronic devices out to the living room, where they now charge overnight vs. on our night stands. I’ve setup a 2-hour pre-sleep window around my scheduled sleep time when I stop using devices and start to wind down, opting for a shower and some reading on my Kindle Paperwhite. Finally, as much as I love coffee and tea, I’ve imposed a 2pm deadline for drinking either during the day, instead opting for water or decaf tea at night. I want to address the lighting situation in our bedroom next, but I’ll probably hold off on that until we sort a potential move in the near future.
It’s too early to tell if the changes are having any sort of effect, especially since I’m sick as a dog right now, but I’m hopeful that it will help me out and that I’ll be able to keep it up when I’m working again. Fingers crossed.
p.s. Here is an article with some tips for getting better sleep by the Mayo Clinic.