The Nelda Podcast
The Nelda PodcastAug 27, 2021
Benjamin Bikman, Why We Get Sick
Imagine if just one spark could drastically improve our chances to avoid serious illness. We have far more control over our health than we may think, because a lot of it comes down to what we eat, according to Dr. Benjamin Bikman. He is a leading expert on insulin resistance, a condition that arises from eating too much sugar and the resulting constant high level of insulin in the body. Dr. Bikman has compiled an incredible breadth of research on this condition and how it relates to other serious illnesses, all of which he boiled down into his book, Why We Get Sick: The Hidden Epidemic at the Root of Most Chronic Disease and How to Fight It.
Dr. Bikman’s research focus is on metabolic disorders, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dementia. He received a Ph.D. in Bioenergetics and a postdoctoral fellowship with the Duke-National University of Singapore in metabolic disorders.
His research and academic training have led him to a simple conclusion: that insulin resistance wreaks havoc on our health. Dr. Bikman explains that 9 out of 10 of us have some degree of insulin resistance, which can cause diabetes, heart disease, and even Alzheimer’s. It can also fuel and worsen cancer. But there’s great news: insulin resistance is almost entirely and rapidly reversible through diet, fasting, and stress reduction.
Dr. Bikman lays out the steps you can take to improve your diet and lifestyle to avoid insulin resistance. Cutting out sugar and carbohydrates, eating proteins and fats, fasting, and better sleep can all make a big difference in your health and repair or even reverse damage from years of a bad diet. He tackles bad dietary practices such as eating a carbohydrate-heavy breakfast or snacking every couple of hours. As he acknowledges, his message is easy to say and harder to do, but it offers hope that you can fight back against chronic illness. Dr. Bikman’s project is to get his message out to as many people as he can so they can take charge of their health, eat better, and prevent serious disease.
Bob Moesta, Struggling is the Seed of Innovation
Moesta readily admits, “I was that annoying child who asked a thousand questions because that’s how I learned.” It’s a methodology he still uses today. According to Moesta, “Questions are the cornerstone of innovation. Without questions, you don’t actually understand how anything works. Questions also create spaces in the brain for solutions to fall into.” Finding solutions to problems is his stock in trade. Through The Re-Wired Group, an innovation consultancy and incubator, Moesta has created innovative solutions to problems with the ultimate goal of improving lives. He contends, “People don’t buy products or services. They hire them to make progress in their lives.” Getting to the bottom of what consumers really want is behind his process of rigorous interrogation. He starts by looking through the lens of what he calls “the beginners mind ”, not knowing the answer, but being curious to discover and learn.
Adds Moesta, the key is “building the right frames, in the right box, with the right boundaries, and being creative inside the box.” His framing starts with identifying root problems and goals—where do people struggle and where do they want to make progress? From there, Moesta integrates established core concepts in search of better ways to reach a desired goal. The process is not predictable and demands discovery, learning, creativity, and nimble adaptability. However, the end result is well worth it. “Innovation is really about actually helping people make progress and helping society.”
With thousands of success stories, Moesta’s process of innovating has been applied to everything from products and services to brands and business models. He co-authored the books Demand-Side Sales 101: Stop Selling and Help Your Customers Make Progress, and The Jobs-to-be-Done Handbook: Practical techniques for improving your application of Jobs-to-be-Done, as well as Choosing College: How to Make Better Learning Decisions Throughout Your Life .
As a lifelong learner with multiple degrees, Moesta believes that education is long overdue for disruptive, but progressive innovation. He sees enormous room for improvement not only to address different learning styles, but outcomes as well. With the soaring costs of higher education, the stakes are high. College may not be the best choice for every learner and choosing the right college is critical to achieving a desired goal. He believes his approach can help.
Moesta recommends starting with a “360 degree view and elimination of directions. Look for what really energizes you because when people are doing what they love, they don’t even see it as work anymore.”
Sounds like a great place to land.
Lisa Mosconi Ph.D., Brain Health—Genes aren’t Destiny
Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D is focused on research and strategies to preserve brain health, for women in particular, especially those at risk for Alzheimers. Her interest comes from her own strong family history of Alzheimers and the lack of information on how to approach brain health for women. Says Dr. Mosconi, “There’s so much confusion around women’s health and brain health. The last thing we need is another internet website telling us to buy more supplements. I wanted science to be the focus of my research and my book.” Based on nearly twenty years of research data, Mosconi authored The XX Brain: The Groundbreaking Science Empowering Women to Maximize Cognitive Health and Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. It was an instant New York Times bestseller and her findings were encouraging.
A neuro-nutritionist as well as a world-renowned clinical neuroscientist, Dr. Mosconi asserts there is a lot you can do to maintain a healthy brain, as well as reduce the risk or delay the onset of diseases such as dementia and Alzheimers. Her pillars of brain health include diet, exercise, sleep, mental stimulation, stress reduction, and overall good health maintenance.
Her book, Brain Food: the Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power, lays out the nutritional essentials for brain health. One of the most important essentials is water. The brain is 80% water, so even the slightest dehydration can impair function. Says Mosconi, “Keeping hydrated can have an immediate impact on mental power.” Mosconi also recommends a diet dense in nutrients that impact brain function. Important nutrients include Omega 3s (salmon, caviar, flaxseed oil), estrogens (dark chocolate), phytonutrients (red wine), and antioxidants (espresso) to name a few.
Another key element for brain health is sleep. Dr. Mosconi explains, “Sleep essentially power washes the brain—removing all waste products, impurities, and toxins, including Alzheimers plaques.”
Mosconi states that taking care of your brain requires discipline, but the benefits will last a lifetime, “Genetics, environment, and lifestyle literally shape the brain — the female brain in particular. There are all these things that are in our power to do, to promote brain health at any age and for the long-term. We need to take care of our brains because they’re literally our most important asset and the sooner you start, the better.”
Matthew Walker, Ph.D., The Superpower of Sleep
Sleep is the foundation upon which other pillars of health stand. That’s according to Dr. Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the international bestseller Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Walker’s growing body of data suggests that 7 to 9 hours of good sleep every night is important for effective immune function, regulating metabolism, controlling glucose and the mechanisms for appetite and weight gain. Lack of sleep is also a risk factor for illness from minor colds to serious diseases such as cancer and Alzheimers. Says Walker, “the biggest misconception is that our bodies are dormant during sleep and this couldn’t be further from the truth.”
During sleep, our body undergoes a remarkable overhaul of all of its physiological systems—cardiovascular, immune, metabolic, hormonal, and in the brain. Walker’s research shows that deep sleep is when our bodies sewage cleansing system kicks into high gear. Our brain literally washes away all of the metabolic byproducts that build up when we’re awake. This is a particularly important function as it relates to dementia and Alzheimers Disease. Our heart rates slow down with more benefits than any blood pressure medication could ever offer. Sleep also stimulates many immune factors that help fight off infections. In addition, deep sleep is when our brain processes information and commits it to long term memory. It can also contribute to good mental health and creativity. Thus, all night cramming for a test or brainstrorming for a presentation won’t serve you as well as a good night’s sleep.
All of this begs the question—how do we get a good night’s sleep in our non-stop demanding lives? Aside from more complex sleep disorders, Dr. Walker says there are several simple steps for ensuring sleep. These include a regular sleep schedule, a dark and cool room without our devices, stopping caffeine intake after midday, and staying away from alcohol. Alcohol induces sedation but causes fragmented sleep. Furthermore, if you’re having trouble falling asleep, Dr. Walker suggests getting up for a short while and then returning to bed.
With so much at stake, why aren’t we prioritizing sleep more? Says Walker, “Sleep is the neglected stepsister in the health conversation of today but getting sleep tonight is literally an investment in tomorrow. Sleep is probably mother nature’s best effort yet at immortality.”
Laurie Santos, Ph.D., The Science of Happiness
Chasing happiness is universal. Achieving it is not. The good news is that every one of us can do things to feel happier. The problem is many of us do the exact opposite of what will truly make our lives better. Yale University Professor of Psychology Dr. Laurie Santos teaches The Good Life, a course that focuses on positive psychology and increasing happiness. It’s a course she developed in response to the level of stress, anxiety, and depression she was seeing among students that had every reason to feel positive about their lives. “To witness such unhappiness, I decided to do something about it and put together a class on everything that the field of psychology knows about how to improve your happiness.” Her collected data revealed that the perceived pathway to happiness is filled with misconceptions.
Human beings are wired to feel unsettled and to want things. But, research shows that wanting and getting will not lead to higher happiness. Says Santos, “Whether it’s more Instagram followers, more money, more material possessions, a better car, a better house, as soon as we get something we want, we get used to it and then feel like we need more to get any happiness.” The pathway to actually feeling happier is somewhat counterintuitive. Despite our modern self-absorbed culture, research shows that happy people are more focused on other people’s needs rather than their own, not because they’re forced to—they choose to. Happy people are socially connected and consistently count their blessings. Happy people are present in the moment and have a life that is satisfying.
So, how do the rest of us mortals get there? According to Santos, it’s possible. Her course offers tips and exercises to build happiness in your life. Good health is a priority. Exercise, nutrition, meditation, and adequate sleep all contribute to happiness. Social engagement is a key component as well and she encourages nurturing old and new connections. Time is also important. According to Santos, “We’re literally starving for time and the research shows that time famine seems to affect our bodies almost like real hunger famine.” Lastly, gratitude needs to be a focus rather than venting. Santos adds, “Griping and complaining when nothing ever changes doesn’t really work. You’re training your attention to focus on negative stuff. Think in a more positive way, in a problem-solving way so you’re thinking through the issues that are bothering you.”
The response to the class has been overwhelming. Over a thousand students showed up for the first meeting and it has since become the most sought after class in the university’s 300-year history. The content is now offered online as The Science of Well-Being with over 3 million participants from hundreds of different countries as far off the beaten path as Antarctica. Dr. Santos also hosts the popular podcast The Happiness Lab.
Says Santos, “It really shows that people all over the planet want these tips for how they can feel happier. The evidence suggests if you engage with these things, you will become happier, but just like all good things in life, it’s going to take effort.”
Nicholas Carr, How Technology is Affecting Our Brains
Neuroplasticity is the ability of brains to physically change in response to stimuli. Human brains are changing as a result of our interaction with technology. For Pulitzer Prize finalist Nicholas Carr, his interest in this phenomenon started with himself. “I seemed to be losing my ability to concentrate, to focus my mind. I began to suspect that it was all the time I was spending online in front of a computer screen.” Carr launched into researching how our brains are affected by technology and the history of technology. His intuition proved to be correct, and his worry turned into a real concern.
When the internet was emerging, Carr was excited by the possibilities. “Human beings are by nature information gatherers and our minds tend to be attracted to whatever’s most salient or important in our environment.” Carr understood that this could be a wonderful and powerful tool, but anticipated risks. “Technology is either going to solve all the problems with the world, or it’s going to create all the problems in the world.” His research showed that technology was evolving to do both.
According to Carr, access to unlimited information is a double-edged sword. While these tools have been beneficial especially for people who have felt isolated, endless amounts of unfiltered information moving past in a constant blur actually undermine deep thinking and reinforce biases. It promotes shallow thinking and encourages people into tribes of beliefs rather than broadening their perspective. The smartphone and social media took this to warp speed.
The constant presence of these devices also has resulted in unrelenting extraction of human attention. We simply can’t help ourselves from checking our phones, our social media, or being on the internet. If your phone is even nearby, it will draw your attention. One scientist described cell phones as a “divisive device of supernormal salience” because it contains so much—our photographs, our social lives, news, entertainment, everything that’s salient or important to us in any given moment.
Carr certainly doesn’t advocate for the elimination of technology but rather the informed use of technology and a balance with real human interaction and deep thinking. “It’s attentive thinking that unlocks the full potential of the human mind. There’s a whole lot of activities that are actually more enjoyable and fulfilling if you do them with your full attention without being constantly distracted by technology.”
It’s a compelling argument for closing your laptop, turning off notifications, and putting that smartphone down—in another room far, far away.
Rip Esselstyn, Fighting Disease with a Plant-Strong Diet
Americans are the sickest and most overweight people in the world according to Rip Esselstyn. It’s a crisis that he is working to influence. As a former firefighter and elite professional athlete, Esselstyn has always invested in his health with a vegan diet. His metamorphosis into a health activist and food author all began with a bet at his Austin, Texas fire station. He challenged his Engine 2 Firehouse to follow what he has coined as a “plant-strong” diet for 28 days. The results were so impressive that he documented them in his best-selling book The Engine 2 Diet. Esselstyn’s experiment fueled his desire to show the connection between a plant-based diet and good health.
Since that firehouse challenge, Esselstyn has published three more books, Plant-Strong (2014), The Engine 2 Seven-Day Rescue Diet (2017), and The Engine 2 Cookbook (2018). He executive produced a documentary film on the topic and founded the organization Engine 2, which develops and implements programs to educate and nurture plant-strong living. He also hosts the popular Plant-Strong Podcast.
Says Esselstyn, medical professionals don’t get enough nutritional training and consumers don’t get enough information. “The five-headed chronic Western disease dragon is heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and obesity—a whole-food plant-based diet is singularly the silver bullet that can truly help.” Esselstyn adds, “It’s literally all because of what we’re putting into our mouths, the processed refined foods, the animal products, the animal byproducts—these are weak, problematic, and insidiously destructive foods.”
He describes his plant-strong diet as “a vegan diet with cajones.” It omits meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and processed foods. It includes “plants as close to fully grown as possible that are minimally processed.”
The benefits go beyond immediate health. According to Esselstyn, research is indicating a positive impact on human longevity and aging. “A whole-food plant-based diet is the only way of eating that has been shown to actually lengthen telomeres that are responsible for our lifespan.” There is also a growing body of evidence that the health of the planet is also at stake. “Animal agriculture is the number one contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.”
After more than twenty years into his mission to promote plant-based nutrition, Esselstyn isn’t surprised that it is taking time for people to embrace this way of eating. “How many studies had to come out before the American public (realized) smoking isn’t good for them? It took over 7,000 studies and almost 30 years before the medical community got behind that. It’s the same thing with eating this way.”
Daniel Pink, Timing is Everything
While he has authored six books, including four New York Times bestsellers, the actual task of writing has always been “freaking hard” for Daniel Pink. That struggle and the subsequent search for guidance revealed a treasure trove of social science data on timing and human performance. Pink’s quest revealed that our brainpower changes in significant and important ways over the course of a day. We have a daily high point (peak), a low point (trough), and a transition period (recovery). Says Pink, “If you apply this cycle to a type of task, you can figure out a better, smarter, more strategic way to configure your own day.”
When this daily time cycle begins and ends depends on your individual “chronotype” or natural inclination. Are you an early bird—naturally waking up early and going to sleep early? Are you a night owl—waking up late and going to sleep late? Or, are you somewhere in between? The key is to match your chronotype to the requirements of the task and then align that with the time of day. Pink’s research also suggests that if you’re planning to make a big change in your life, you’re better off using what he calls “a fresh start date” such as a Monday or the first of the month. Beyond the home office, Pink claims these timing structures can improve performance in businesses, schools, and other organizations.
Pink has also applied social science data to other aspects of human behaviors such as motivation, mood, and persuasion. Some of the findings are surprising. Choral singing is almost as good for us as exercise. Synchronized group activities and being outside boosts our mood and even our immune system. Human beings love rewards and are easily motivated by what Pink calls “If/Then” rewards for short term tasks. “If you do this, then you get that.” To successfully persuade someone, help them see things afresh by changing the context and allowing them to come to the desired conclusion on their own.
There are so many useful ways to apply social science data to daily life and decision-making. “For example” says Pink, “don’t schedule surgery in the afternoon if the doctor is a morning person or a court date in the morning if the judge is a night owl.”
Otherwise, you may have to take them outside and reward them with a sing-a-long.
Ron Clark, Igniting the Classroom
Growing up in rural North Carolina, all Ron Clark wanted was adventure and travel. He had no intention of staying in one place or being a teacher. When his first overseas tour was cut short by illness, Clark found himself back home and filling in as a substitute teacher. A permanent teaching position followed in a school known for students with behavior problems and learning disabilities. That challenge launched the adventure of a lifetime. With energy and creativity, Clark turned his classroom around as his students succeeded academically and became the best behaved in the school. He soon found himself in New York City teaching in a problematic Harlem school. He influenced such a positive dramatic shift within his students that the experience was turned into a television movie , The Ron Clark Story. Trips to the White House and The Oprah Winfrey Show came soon after as well as the Disney American Teacher of the Year Award.
Inspired by his grandmother’s codes of conduct and encouraged by Oprah Winfrey, Clark published The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator’s Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child. Other books followed, The Excellent 11: Qualities Teachers and Parents Use to Motivate, Inspire, and Educate and Move Your Bus which applies his successful leadership principles to the business world. Clark’s rising fame has answered his journeyman spirit. He has traveled the world sharing his methodologies. However, his real passion still lies in the classroom. In 2004, Clark opened the doors to The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta.
The highly-acclaimed, nonprofit middle school has received both national and international recognition for its success in creating a supportive, dynamic learning environment that promotes academic excellence and fosters leadership. The Academy is also a demonstration school where visiting educators can observe and learn to incorporate Clark’s methodologies into their own classrooms. “We have 85 thousand educators who have been trained here so far and now those 85 thousand teachers are around the world in classrooms making it harder, making it more fun, building better relationships with kids, and we’ve shown them how to handle (tough) situations.” When Covid-19 shuttered schools, the RCA pivoted quickly to online teaching and shared their new methods with other educators. Over 200,000 teachers logged into the online training.
The impact of Clark’s methods is clearly visible with his Atlanta students and his pride is evident— “100% of our students for the last 13 years have graduated high school and 90% of our students are either in college or they’ve already graduated. They’re at some of the best colleges in the nation—Morehouse, Yale, Princeton, Spellman, Howard, Duke, Georgia Tech. We’ve had a great deal of success. We’ve shown our method works and we share it with other people.”
Adds Clark, “What we do is magical. We can change a life if we don’t give up and we don’t stop.”
Meredith Walker, Living an Unscripted Life
Meredith Walker has deep roots in Texas, but her career and life passions have taken her all over the world. It’s an unscripted pathway that she wants to encourage other young women to consider. “If you think you’re allowed to try a lot of things, then you’ll try a lot of things. But if you feel like this is what’s acceptable, you’ll kind of stay there.”
Walker got her feet wet working with acclaimed journalist Linda Ellerbee and Nick News. Rising from intern to producer at warp speed, she traveled the U.S. interviewing children for the Peabody and Emmy award-winning series. When an opportunity to join Saturday Night Live presented itself, she jumped on it. Head of Talent for SNL was an exhilarating experience and also where she met actress, best friend, and long time collaborator Amy Poehler. Through their shared experiences, the pair recognized a gap in content for young girls.
What started as an online “clubhouse” primarily for girls has evolved to become an inclusive, positive online community for anyone who identifies with its mission of positive self-identification and advocacy. Walker travels to promote that mission for Smart Girls and beyond. She served as the journalism envoy for the U.S. State Department Bureau of Culture and Education’s mission to the Al Za’atari and Emirates Refugee Camps and visited remote primary-care clinics on delegations to Haiti and Malawi.
Her new interview series, Life Unscripted with Meredith Walker on Nelda TV builds upon the same premise of filling a gap in important content by telling the stories of interesting and dynamic women. Says Walker, “They’ve reached a place where they’re not letting society define who they are or what success means for them.”
Living “unscripted” is a maxim she has embraced herself. “It’s been an interesting and winding journey. I had a sense of the kind of person I wanted to be in the world. I had no idea how I would get there. I’m just so glad I made it.”
Her advice—“The way that you ‘unscript’ your life is, first of all, understanding the difference between what other’s expectations are and what you really want.”
Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., Anyone Can Master Any Subject
Once upon a time, Dr. Barbara Oakley was a self-described math and science hater—and failing. She gave up on education and joined the army after high school. But while serving in the military, she realized that her lack of math and science skills were going to hold her back and she revisited higher education. Her subsequent success was a revelation. Oakley ultimately went on to earn two undergraduate degrees, a Masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering, a Doctorate in Systems Engineering, and even became fluent in Russian. Oakley’s journey from failing student to bilingual PhD inspired her to dive into the science and methodologies of learning. Building on insights from neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and student outcomes, Oakley has authored and collaborated on numerous best-selling books that provide techniques to master even the most intimidating subjects.
Oakley brings a fresh perspective on learning by applying knowledge and data from many different disciplines, as well as from “real world” experiences. She offers straightforward tools for students and educators alike to improve the ability to learn. Explains Oakley, “Learning, at its core, is figuring out tricks to get information into long term memory, and to practice with it enough, that it seems natural, easy, and comfortable.” Her latest book Uncommon Sense Teaching: Practical Insights in Brain Science to Help Students Learn takes another step in bridging the gap between research and the classroom, providing strategies for keeping students motivated and engaged (especially with online learning), tips for long-term content retention, and guidelines for how to teach in a classroom where students have a wide range of abilities.
With her own experience as evidence, Oakley claims that almost anyone can grasp any subject at any age. “Some (learners) are like race cars—they can get to the finish line really fast. Others are like hikers—they can get to the finish line, but slower. For the race car driver, everything goes by in a blur. The hiker sees the leaves on the trees, smells the pine in the air, hears the birds. It’s a completely different experience for the hiker and in some ways far richer and deeper. The world needs both kinds of learners.”
Jaco Booyens, Uplifting Life through Faith
Optimism radiates from Jaco Booyens. With infectious enthusiasm, he is spreading his message of living faithfully, the value of good old-fashioned morals, and the importance of giving back. A former professional rugby and football player, Booyens has experienced his fair share of personal challenges. Debilitating injuries sidelined his athletic career. With intense rehabilitation and discipline, Booyens recovered. At the core of his perseverance and life journey—faith. At the core of his mission—to effect lasting positive change.
With the podcast The Bottom Line, film company After Eden Pictures, and his ministries, Booyens is finding creative ways to inspire a culture shift from self-focused to community-focused. Says Booyens, “You are here to contribute, your purpose is to be the best you can be so that you can help more people.” He adds, “If that’s the focus, you’re going to build a culture that’s saying ‘it’s not about me. I need to do! I’ve got these skills and I’ve got to learn how to use them, to do better, to help more people.’”
A prolific public speaker, especially on college campuses, Booyens extols the virtues of competition, taking responsibility, experiencing consequences, working towards goals, and devoting time to serving the community.
As a native South African and proud American citizen, Booyens acknowledges that life requires self-motivation, focus, and hard work. Maintaining liberty and freedom requires even more. However, Booyens vigorously endorses what he calls “the servant’s life” of giving back. “It touches you. People are looking for purpose. They may have a job, but the minute you get someone to help another or to actually impact a situation—they walk away changed, they can’t help it and that is a very addictive drug.”
Kayla Dornfeld, 21st Century Teaching
When North Dakota elementary school teacher Kayla Dornfeld sat down at her local coffee shop to do some work, she couldn’t help but notice how many people were drawn to working there as well. It was a welcoming focus-friendly vibe she wanted to recreate in her own classroom. That “Starbucks” revelation and the physical redesign of her classroom translated into significant improvements in learning. Her students were given the freedom to choose where they worked and what kind of position they preferred. The result—students happy to be at school, better focus, and the near disappearance of behavioral issues. It is a classroom design that is being modeled globally.
Redesigning her classroom with flexible seating was just the beginning of Dornfeld’s fresh approach to teaching. Her insights and intuition have inspired many innovations that this forward-thinking educator has implemented to prepare her students for real-time and future success. Says Dornfeld, “My classroom is all about choices for kids from where they sit to how they learn, to even how they show me that they’ve mastered a standard.” Teachers come from all over the state to observe her classroom.
Named one of the tech-savviest teachers in the United States by the New York Times, Dornfeld has been lauded internationally for her approach to teaching digital citizenship to her students. She believes that educators should embrace technology and teach young people how to use it responsibly. Dornfeld developed her own digital certification curriculum, teaching online etiquette, social media responsibility, and how to recognize cyberbullying. When her students are “certified,” she gives them access to her social media and the classroom Twitter account.
Dornfeld has been recognized as the 2020 Top Educator of the Year (International Association of Top Professionals), North Dakota’s 2019 Teacher of Year, and honored twice (2017, 2018) by Global One HundrED as one of the top 100 innovative educators in the world. While these accolades are wonderful, Dornfeld says her real reward comes from her students. “My kids love coming to school and that’s my number one goal. I want my classroom to be a place where kids really want to be and not a place they have to be.”
Dornfeld’s ideas are changing the shape of education, but her north star remains steady. “If it’s right for kids, it’s right.”
Dori Berinstein, The Prom Premiere
With a message of unconditional love and acceptance wrapped in an uplifting musical bow, The Prom is just the ticket in a challenging year of Covid-19 and dark theatres. According to Dori Berinstein, a producer for both the Broadway musical and the film, Murphy’s adaptation is not only true to the original musical but also a “love letter to Broadway.” With lavish sets and costumes, huge orchestrations, and toe-tapping theatrical production numbers, it’s sure to be a holiday crowd-pleaser. More importantly says Berinstein, is getting this story out to a broader audience.
The story follows Indiana teenager Emma (played by newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman) who wants to take her girlfriend Alyssa (played by stage veteran Ariana DeBose) to the school prom. The PTA president Mrs. Green (Kerry Washington) leads an effort that cancels the prom rather than allow same-sex couples. Adding humor and chaos are Broadway divas Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Cordon). When their new show Eleanor—The Eleanor Roosevelt Musical closes on opening night with career withering reviews, they seek out a small nearby injustice in which they might intervene and grab some good PR. Finding Emma’s story on social media, they hop on a bus and burst into the small town to “help.” Tagging along are actor/waiter Trent Oliver (played by Tony winner Andrew Rannells) and can’t-get-out-of-the-chorus dancer Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman). In the end, it’s the outsiders who are schooled and the community that eventually comes together to hold an inclusive statewide prom.
Says Berinstein, “It’s just exciting to think about all the people around the world that are going to see this story given the world we’re living in right now. I’m just ecstatic that it’s going to be a shot of joy for everyone during such a challenging time.”
Avi Flombaum, Tech Education Maverick
Change is the only constancy in life. It’s a maxim that innovative tech educator Avi Flombaum says particularly applies to technology. However, he argues that higher education isn’t keeping pace with the tech skills demanded by the current job market. He asks, “Why do 90% of college grads need a boot camp in order to get a career that they love? If college and universities were doing their job, (boot camps) shouldn’t exist.” In response, Flombaum co-founded the Flatiron School, which provides intensive accelerated boot camp style learning. With an up-to-date curriculum focused on coding, data science, and cybersecurity, Flatiron students graduate within a matter of months and typically walk right into a job. According to Flombaum, “it’s a roadmap to a new life.”
Flombaum’s vision for tech education comes from his own journey as a college dropout entering the field. He experienced the vacuum of alternatives to traditional computer science degrees and recognized the unanswered need to keep pace with real-time demands in the job market. The Flatiron School has filled those gaps with great success. Approximately Ninety-five percent of its graduates land a tech-related job within six months.
Technology is too critical in modern life to let technical fluency in the workforce fall behind. Says Flombaum, “Companies can’t wait for higher education to catch up” and workers “don’t need to be afraid to learn something new.” He adds, “If we allow ourselves to run away from every single concept that makes us insecure, we’re not going to grow. Be okay not knowing things—it’s the first step in knowing the thing. Give it a name. Identify it. And then let’s start breaking it down and playing with it. We really drill it into students, that they’re not stupid. This is the nature of learning.”
Leland Melvin, Achieving the Right Stuff
For astronaut Leland Melvin, no goal can’t be achieved without hard work, perseverance, and good old-fashioned grit. His life is certainly a testament to that. With an undergraduate degree in Chemistry, a Master’s degree in Materials Science Engineering, a professional football career, a published memoir, leadership roles within NASA, and formidable skills in music and photography, Melvin is a true Renaissance man. However, his pathway to space was his biggest challenge. When a space training exercise damaged his hearing—he never gave up. That “can-do” spirit led to the greatest experience of his life—being an astronaut and living on the International Space Station. Seeing the earth from space provided a potent perspective on our place in the universe and the fragility of the planet. Working side-by-side with astronauts from across the globe, he realized that we are all citizens of one world.
While Melvin hung up his spacesuit years ago, he has continued to share his experiences to inspire younger generations and promote S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education and careers. He has served as head of NASA Education and co-chair of the White House’s Federal Coordination in S.T.E.M. Education Task Force. He was also the United States representative and chair of the International Space Education Board (I.S.E.B.), a global collaboration on learning about space.
According to Melvin, space travel is about more than just science and technology. His most profound takeaway from international space missions is and will remain his broadened global perspective—“we come together to do these incredible things that are much bigger than our individual selves. It’s not American, it’s not Russian, it’s people, it’s humans in space.”
Kelly & Juliet Starrett, Longevity, Aging, and Mobility
Human beings are designed to move and use their bodies. It’s a guiding principle that drives Kelly and Juliet Starrett. Both lifelong athletes and former world-class competitors in white water sports, the Starrett’s are on the cutting edge of revolutionizing methodologies for human movement and athletic performance. From training elite athletes to developing mobility exercises for the general population, Kelly and Juliet hope to inspire and provide programs for people to “live ready”—ready for the next race, the next workout, or simply ready to run around with their grandkids.
Kelly and Juliet are co-founders of Crossfit San Francisco and StandUpKids.org. They also developed The Ready State Virtual Mobility Coach, an online program that provides guided mobility videos designed and tailored to an individual’s body and lifestyle. Kelly also has authored two New York Times bestselling books Becoming A Supple Leopard and Ready to Run. For over a decade, these fitness advocates have been promoting the notion of lifelong mobility. According to the Starretts, “sitting is the new smoking.” Our modern sedentary lives diminish not only mobility but health in general. They have expanded their messaging to include other critical pillars of good health such as nutrition, sleep, and hydration.
Aging is inevitable, but aging poorly isn’t. It takes commitment to stay physically active and hold onto what your body can do. Adds Kelly and Juliet, “You do not bounce back like you did when you were 17, you cannot do those things, but maintaining your range of motion and being a skilled mover ultimately doesn’t have to change. The goal is to live pain-free and feel pretty good, and then fall off a cliff at age 97.”
That’s a goal we all can live with.
Kevin Kelly, Advice From A Futurist
On his recent 68th birthday, acclaimed futurist, best-selling author, and global tech authority Kevin Kelly took a moment to reflect back on his nearly seven decades of life. The result—sixty-eights bits of unsolicited advice. In this episode, Nelda sits down to discuss these "bytes" of wisdom.
Acclaimed futurist Kevin Kelly has always had his finger on the pulse of what he calls the Technium or ecosystem of technologies. He authored the best-selling New Rules for the New Economy and the classic book on decentralized emergent systems, Out of Control. As co-founder of Wired, the preeminent source for how technology affects culture, economy, and politics, and former editor of Whole Earth Review which covers unorthodox technical news, Kelly is an advocate for taking the long view—the really long view. From his celebrated books and publications to his online footprint, Kelly is investing time and energy into processes and research that will benefit humankind for tens of thousands of years.
Kelly’s efforts include The Long Now Foundation, a cultural institution whose mission is to promote long-term thinking and reframe the notion of time. Projects include a self-sustaining clock embedded in a west Texas mountain built to run for ten thousand years. As a symbol of time, the clock is an iconic reminder to invest in things for the distant future. Says Kelly, “The point is to explore whatever may be helpful for thinking, understanding, and acting responsibly for tens of thousands of years.”
Kelly’s philosophy is that just knowing that things like the clock are possible can suggest even greater ideas. Ideas are Kelly’s stock-in-trade. With his daily blog Cool Tools and weekly newsletter Recomendo, he shares thoughts and recommendations on anything that could be considered a “tool”—defined broadly as anything useful. Recently, Kelly even offered up 68 bits of unsolicited advice to mark his 68th birthday.
With another season passing, Kelly reflects, “the only real gift that we have on our short life here is our time and how we use that time is really far more important than what we say or what we intend or what we actually preach.”
There is no question, this future thinker is using his time wisely.
Lenore Skenazy, America's Worst Mom
Lenore Skenazy’s son had been riding the Manhattan subways his entire life and wanted to make a solo trip. With subway fare, map in hand, and quarters should he need to call for help, he successfully navigated his way home from Bloomingdale’s Department store. He was elated, but the firestorm attacking this parenting decision was a surprise. Skenazy was thrust into the national spotlight with appearances on the Today Show, MSN, NBC, Fox News, and NPR. Says Skenazy, “I was disheartened, to say the least, and shocked by all the things that were being said about me.” In response to the public outcry, Skenazy started a blog called Free-Range Kids supporting the concept that children are smarter and safer than our society gives them credit for. The popular blog morphed into the nonprofit Let Grow, which counters the culture of overprotection.
Let Grow’s mission is to “future-proof” children by producing media content that relates to the positive effects of giving kids more independence and responsibility. The organization also provides curriculum to bring diverse child development viewpoints into schools. They hope to show principals, teachers, and school counselors that treating children as if they’re emotionally fragile can have negative impacts. Let Grow is also sponsoring research into the short- and long-term effects of overprotection as well as the positive effects of free play, free time, and “beneficial risk.” The goal is to scientifically determine how much physical and emotional protection is truly necessary and how much is counterproductive. Another important initiative is safeguarding parents who choose to nurture independence in their children without fear of repercussions. They are advocating and pushing states to decriminalize free unsupervised time with “Free-Range Parenting” laws.
Skenazy’s efforts have gained momentum and will soon be chronicled in a feature-length documentary film Chasing Childhood.
Says Skenazy, “Without any kind of independence, self-regulation doesn’t get a chance to kick in, curiosity doesn’t get a chance to kick in, or the development of resilience. We can’t take important building blocks of character and resilience out of their lives. We are dedicated to giving independence back to kids and making it normal again.”
Keith J. Cunningham, Making Money and Keeping It
The Road Less Stupid: Advice from the Chairman of the Board is Keith J. Cunningham’s newest book on achieving financial success. With a career that has scored high returns as well as substantial losses, this self-made millionaire has experience on both sides of the coin. His guidelines for making good financial decisions include resisting the emotional tug of overly optimistic ventures and leaning into a more intellectual assessment. Wise investments optimize financial outcomes and minimize risks. Whether growing a business or keeping your personal finances on track, his practical advice is all about balance and boundaries.
Cunningham is regarded as one of the world’s foremost authorities on business and financial prowess. He has taught critical skills to executives and entrepreneurs around the world and he is the only speaker who appears alongside Tony Robbins at Robbins’ Wealth Mastery and Business Mastery events. Cunningham’s rise to global recognition however came after a series of great financial and personal losses. Says Cunningham, “The journey I have been on is a learning journey. I have had a lot of success and I have made some incredibly stupid mistakes.”
At a low point, Cunningham took time off from his fast-paced life to reassess and reset. It was a course correction that changed his professional and personal life forever and propelled him toward an even greater path of success. While his financial guideposts have remained steady, his measure of success has evolved. “Success is getting what I want and fulfillment is giving what I’ve got.”
Tabitha Brown, How I Went Vegan
ctress and social media darling Tabitha Brown has been spreading joy—one vegan recipe at a time. It all started with a suggestion from her daughter Choyce, who encouraged her mother to try eating vegan. Tabitha’s family history of chronic illness worried her and she had some persistent health issues that she was desperate to alleviate. With deep roots in North Carolina and a love of southern cuisine, it was a challenging consideration for Tabitha, but she tried it for one month. The results were dramatic.
That 30-day challenge was so transformative that cooking and eating vegan became a permanent lifestyle. With her newfound enthusiasm for vegan cooking and a background in performing, Tabitha started videoing her recipes and thoughts on social media. One Facebook post of a Whole Foods vegan wrap while on her lunch break as an Uber driver went viral. TikTok fame followed in 2020 and she hasn’t looked back since.
Her warmth, southern charm, and easy humor while assembling vegan food has come at just the right moment. Her 60-second recipes offer vegan comfort food and soul support as the Covid-19 pandemic grips the nation. Tabitha Brown has over three million followers on social media and her prospects have caught the attention of some of the biggest agents in Hollywood—Creative Artists Agency.
Tabitha Brown’s star is rising and she is feeling good while enjoying the ride. Exudes Tabitha, “I have energy. I have mental clarity. Honey, I feel amazing. I’ve been doing it now for three years and it literally saved and changed my entire life. This is going to be my life, honey” adding her signature catchphrase “cause that’s my business.”
James Pennebaker, Writing to Heal
The residual effects of a trauma or an emotional upheaval often manifest themselves in physical and emotional ways. The symptoms can range from poor sleep, inability to focus, or lack of appetite to more serious symptoms such as depression and negative impacts on general health and existing medical conditions. When researcher, author, and professor Dr. James Pennebaker first started gathering data from college students, he made an interesting discovery—those that disclosed a traumatic experience, also typically had health problems. However, not all of them. Some of the trauma victims had no health issues traced to the event. His research found the key difference—whether or not they had shared that upsetting ordeal with anyone.
To explore the benefits of trauma disclosure, Pennebaker developed a simple research methodology—expressive writing. His study participants were people who had experienced an ordeal but had never shared it with anyone. For three or four consecutive days, they would write freely for 15 minutes about their secret. The results were very encouraging. His data showed a positive association between expressive writing and better health among study subjects. Since then, over a thousand similar studies have reached the same conclusion. Simply writing down your thoughts and feelings about trauma can translate into a reduction of stress and anxiety, improve sleep, strengthen immunity, and positively impact the treatment of chronic illness. Says Pennebaker, it’s a cascade of positive effects which he documents in his two books on the topic, Opening Up by Writing it Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain (2016) and Expressive Writing: Words That Heal (2014).
So if you find yourself dwelling on or obsessing over a stressful or traumatic event, Pennebaker asserts, “It’s probably affecting everything around your life. This is where writing is really helpful, for you to start to see its enormity on you, your life, your friends, and everything else.” He recommends waiting until the emotional rawness has faded and then taking to the page to thoroughly explore the thoughts and emotions associated with it.
Says Pennebaker, “Expressive writing is self-reflection. You are looking inward. You are trying to understand. By doing this, you start to understand it better, you don’t need to obsess about it anymore. The burden is almost lifted.”
And when you’re finished, he adds, “Throw it away or put it where no one will find it.
I don’t recommend sharing it. It’s for you and you alone.”
Bob Walter, Blissful Living
Bob Walter is on a mission—to preserve, protect, and perpetuate the work of Joseph Campbell. As an author, lecturer, and leading figure in philosophies surrounding mythology, Campbell is best known for his seminal book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Released in 1949, the premise blends insights of modern psychology with Campbell’s revolutionary understanding of comparative mythology. Campbell outlines the Hero’s Journey, a universal concept of adventure and its transformative power that is present in virtually all of the world’s mythic traditions. He also explores the Cosmogonic Cycle as well as the mythic pattern of world creation and destruction. But what his philosophy ultimately points to is fulfilling life’s bliss.
Following your bliss, as Campbell saw it, isn’t merely doing whatever you like, or simply doing as you are told. It is identifying that pursuit which you are truly passionate about and attempting to give yourself absolutely to it. In so doing, you will find your fullest potential and serve your community to the greatest possible extent. It’s a philosophy that regained the spotlight after Campbell was interviewed by popular PBS host Bill Moyers. Although Campbell never lived to see the broadcast, the result was a resurgence of interest in his work and the publication of the best-seller The Power of Myth based on those interviews. Numerous films, books, and other media based upon his work have been created since that broadcast.
Walter has been an effective steward in keeping Campbell’s mythic vision alive. To date, the foundation has published sixteen hardcover books, multiple digital works, over seventy audio lectures, and more than seventeen hours of video.
Walter had his own hero’s journey toward leading the foundation and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “When people ask me, ‘what taught you the most?’ I say, when I lost everything, that’s when I really learned so much about myself. It is sort of an interesting thing in our lives that we can hopefully choose the Hero’s Journey and the path with that.” He adds, “If I hadn’t suffered through the dissolution, of having to let go of all of these projects I’d nurtured for years and fold a company into which I’d invested everything, we never would’ve had the Joseph Campbell Foundation. None of that would’ve happened.”
Take the hero’s journey. Find your bliss. Bob Walter did.
Benjamin Bergen, What the F*
Benjamin Bergen swears, a lot (in his work, that is). As the author of the new book What the F; What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, Bergen has been researching the use of offensive language and its human cognitive lifecycle. Not surprisingly, cursing is universal. Across the globe, his findings have identified four prevalent categories of taboo expletives; religious, sexual, bodily functions, and slurs. Bergen’s investigation also found that not all swear words are created equal and some categories are far more offensive than others. For example, slurs (words that target specific groups of people) are considered the most offensive. There are also cultural differences. A word or phrase that is insulting in Italy may be benign in America.
According to Dr. Bergen, most swear words begin as harmless and functional. Their transformation into profanity comes through creative social slang. Eventually, the slang meaning takes over as the prevailing definition. After all, “cock” used to just mean rooster, and a thousand years ago, f*ck meant to hit, strike, or stab. Bergen adds that censorship of language is ineffective because like “whack-a-mole,” as soon as you strike one down, another pops up. It’s also true that once incendiary terms can devolve into the unprovocative.
Beyond their use as weaponized language, there is some good news regarding swear words. (Phew, since we all use them.) Bergen’s data reveals that profanity is often used to communicate excitement, love, or simply emphasis and that there are health benefits. Cursing can relieve stress, motivate, and elicit the “fight or flight” effect with the release of adrenaline.
So go ahead, swear. In his professional opinion, these words and phrases aren’t inherently bad. What’s important is understanding their history and current power to identify the situations in which they may be appropriate or possibly incendiary and abusive.
London Kaye, Becoming an ARTrepreneur
London Kaye learned to crochet at age nine. By thirteen, she was selling scarves. By twenty, she had sold enough of them to buy a car. Fast forward to today, London Kaye has designed and produced commissioned crochet artwork for companies from Miller Beer and Disney to The House of Valentino and The Gap. Her sojourn from scarves to creative crochet art took root on the streets of Manhattan with yarn bombing, wrapping knitted or crocheted art around objects in public spaces. She installed on walls and fences everything from crocheted hearts and snowflakes to fully fanned peacocks and mermaids. However, it was the dragon spewing fire for forty feet along a chain-link fence on 6th Avenue that grabbed the attention of the media.
Some 800 yarn bomb creations and numerous commissions later, Kaye now lives in Los Angeles. She has published a new book Crochet with London Kaye and continues to be offered innovative projects including immersive art installations. Exclaims Kaye, “It’s surprised me how many ways you can use yarn. I didn’t know you could wrap a school bus in yarn, but I did. I didn’t expect to crochet head to toe costumes for a Deliver.com commercial, but I did. You can use yarn to do all these amazing things.”
Another surprise has been the emergence of knitting and crocheting with younger enthusiasts. She notes, “typically this is something older people do, but I feel like I’m getting this new life with the DIY generation. It’s getting so much more popular with them.”
Perhaps her crochet art has had an impact on this youthful invigoration. “That,” she says “really makes me happy.”
Austin Kleon, Staying Creatively Alive
hen Austin Kleon first started writing poetry, it was excruciatingly labored. He felt like an author without words. That writer’s block led to a revelation to loosen his grip on originality. He allowed himself to be inspired by the creativity surrounding him and the flood gates opened wide. He devised a new way of penning original poetry published in his collection Newspaper Blackout, and wrote the 2012 New York Times bestseller Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. After writing and publishing for ten years, Kleon was looking for ways to keep the ideas flowing. When his search turned up nothing, he wrote the book he wanted to read, Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad.
Kleon explains that for a creative artist, every day feels much like Groundhog Day, the 1993 hit film starring Bill Murray as a weatherman that experiences the same day over and over. He says, “I literally come into my studio, look at a blank page, and I think to myself, didn’t I just do this yesterday?” It’s a question that hovers over everyone, in any career, and at any stage. His new book outlines some of the ways he is staying artistically afloat rather than being set adrift. From the Joy of Missing Out (JOMO) to leaning into disruption, this artist has found a way to stay motivated, prioritize family, and continue to create despite all the distractions.
One of Kleon’s mantras—“Certainty in art and in life is not only completely overrated it’s actually a roadblock to discovery.”
Zach Bush MD, Gut Check for Yourself and the Planet
Primum non nocere or “first, do no harm” is an important part of the Hippocratic oath that all physicians must pledge to uphold. It’s a promise that Zach Bush MD came to appreciate deeply the longer he practiced medicine and realized how much harm was being done to the health of patients from external daily sources. He expanded his care of patients beyond treatment of illness to researching root causes and developing solutions.
With triple board certification in internal medicine, endocrinology, and hospice care, Dr. Zach has a uniquely broad perspective. After years of practicing medicine, he realized that good health is so much more than the benchmarks associated with typical medical care. He explains, “There’s a huge difference between making blood sugar, blood pressure, or a cholesterol panel look good, and the outcome for the patient.” His interest and resulting research led to new insights on the intersection of the microbiome (the gut), human health and disease, and our food production systems. Dr. Zach adds, “I realized that food was failing us. The nutrition that had been working in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s suddenly wasn’t working anymore.” His data points to sectors of big farming, big pharma, and Western Medicine at large as contributing to the downward trend of human health—a trend he is working to reverse.
As an internationally recognized educator, author, researcher, and physician, his work is creating ways for all stakeholders to collaborate and address these root causes. His mission is straightforward if not simple—reset the future of health for all people and the planet.
According to Dr. Zach, it’s critical that we hit the reset button on the way we farm, the way food is processed, and how medical care is administered.
He says, “I want you to know that I am optimistic that there is a solution, that there is a path forward. However, it is important to realize that on our current trajectory, we can see not only our own extinction but the mass extinction of the planet.”
Dr. Steven Gundry, Nutrition, Aging and Longevity
Although he’s authored over 300 articles and book chapters on cardiac surgery and created innovative cardiac surgical devices, Dr. Steven Gundry now directs all of his energies at the edge of a different kind of table—the dining table. He went from being a top cardiac surgeon to being a researcher and best-selling author focusing on cutting-edge human nutrition. His research has reaped major nutritional breakthroughs impacting high cholesterol, heart disease, and high blood pressure. His career shift came after seeing the dramatic effects of dietary changes among his own surgical patients. It was an epiphany.
As Director and Founder of the International Heart & Lung Institute and the Center for Restorative Medicine in California, Gundry helps patients learn how to take control of their weight, health, and energy by following his simple nutritional program. His years of research have revealed what nutrients are deficient in the American diet and which “staple foods” are harming human health. His discoveries also have uncovered the complex relationship between gut health and overall health. Gundry explains, “Within our gut, there are a hundred trillion bacteria, probably 500 trillion viruses, and a bunch of fungi. This gut biome is a complex ecosystem, more complex than any tropical rainforest and it has a symbiotic relationship with us, its hosts.”
Dr. Gundry’s nutritional philosophy has gained a national audience with the publication of his best-selling books, The Longevity Paradox, The Plant Paradox, The Plant Paradox Cookbook, The Plant Paradox Quick and Easy, and Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution.
The results of his programs have been impressive. According to his research data analysis, participants have not only had improvements to cardiac health and weight, but also dramatic health benefits such as eliminating chronic autoimmune disease or migraines. They have even been shown to grow biologically younger.
It’s a fountain of youth you’ll want to hear about in my interview with nutritional trailblazer and gut biome expert Dr. Steven Gundry.
The Carpetbagger, Travels to the Strange and Unlikely
It started as an outlet from a stressful job in child protective services. As a fan of folklore and with a camera in hand, he trekked to strange places such as deserted amusement parks, forsaken mansions, and weird sites. No place was too obscure or out of the way. A southern transplant, Jacob was initially drawn to bits of southern nostalgia and roadside oddities. His low-key enthusiasm and homespun commentary captured quite an audience on YouTube. While it was not an easy or quick journey to create a successful online series, he persevered and is now producing full time and starring in his show The Carpetbagger.
As his audience has grown, so has his travel itinerary. The Carpetbagger covers the entire country now, reporting on fascinating attractions as well as hunting for places you never heard of and sites you drive past. His destinations all have one thing in common, an interesting story behind them, imagined or real. Hear how this travel enthusiast turned his passion for the forgotten and outlandish into a YouTube sensation.
He adds, “Sometimes it’s off the wall, like a civil war bullet that shot through a soldier and impregnated a woman, but it’s really interesting to hear these strange stories and get local legends. I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world. I love doing it.”
Cory Doctorow, Disney’s Haunted Mansion
He was six years old in 1977 when he first experienced Disney’s Haunted Mansion in Florida. From the foreboding butler in the stretch gallery and the cold moving stares of the portraits to the spectacular waltzing ghosts in the cobwebbed ballroom—it’s etched in his memory. The revelation of the attraction sparked a lifelong love of Disney Theme Parks and the Haunted Mansion in particular. Science fiction author and technology journalist Cory Doctorow is intimately knowledgable about every eerie inch of the Haunted Mansion and the history behind it. From his early days working at the themed entertainment giant to his successful and prolific career as a writer, Disney has imprinted itself on it all. Even his first novel and literary success is centered at Disney World. Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom realizes the boyhood dream of its protagonist to live in the theme park. It’s a secret allure that captured this author early.
To Doctorow, the level of detail at Disney and the mansion is infectious. He contends that “People start craving that level of detail in the parks and the stores. As Disney fans, we’re almost unsatisfiable.” It’s a standard of experience that came about through well-known creative clashes between Walt Disney and the designers of the mansion. The attraction was crafted by two warring creative designers who also had to spar with Walt over the level of authentic creepiness. Walt promoted a cleaner and brighter tone while the designers envisoned something darker, more haunting. The result is a dual experience of humorously themed afterworld characters surrounding the mansion paired with darker dioramas inside the structure. The original Haunted Mansion in California premiered after Walt’s death, and as a result says Doctorow, the creatives won the battle of design. Thank spookiness they did! The attraction has been among the most popular and central experiences at all of the Disney Parks.
As an austere mansion butler states when you first enter, “Master Gracey requests more bodies,” and apparently he gets them. Doctorow has been stalking the depths of the mansion ever since. Take a tour with Cory Doctorow as he reveals to me the secrets and stories behind Disney’s Haunted Mansion.
Steve Roach, A Sonic Journey
The pulse of life in all its beauty has a cadence, a beat, a rhythm. Grammy nominated composer and musician Steve Roach sensed this music of life and channelled it into his own genre of inspirational musical soundscapes. Growing up in southern California, his “Ambient” or “New Age” music is deeply rooted in a connection to the starkly beautiful landscapes and open spaces of the southwestern desert.
The sounds and rhythms he creates come from his visceral response to nature. Roach drew inspiration from the expansive atmosphere of his surroundings to uncover and discover a palpable soundcurrent. He essentially uses his senses as a tuning instrument to mix a palate of electronic and organic sounds to compose music that takes you on a journey towards deeper self awareness and higher perception. Since releasing his first album in 1982, Roach now stands among the giants of modern ambient music and is one of the most respected electronic musicians in the world. His discography is enormous with well over 100 releases.
The sounds and rhythms he creates come from his visceral response to nature. Roach drew inspiration from the expansive atmosphere of his surroundings to uncover and discover a palpable soundcurrent. He essentially uses his senses as a tuning instrument to mix a palate of electronic and organic sounds to compose music that takes you on a journey towards deeper self awareness and higher perception. Since releasing his first album in 1982, Roach now stands among the giants of modern ambient music and is one of the most respected electronic musicians in the world. His discography is enormous with well over 100 releases.
Roach started creating his music during the late 70’s golden age of analog synthesizers, a time when digital was in its infancy. His albums continue that hands-on tradition using modular and stand alone synthesizers as well as acoustic instruments and have garnered two back to back Grammy nominations in the Best New Age Album category for Spiral Revelations (2017) and Molecules of Motion (2018). Always reaching towards what’s next on the horizon, Roach refuses to be tied down in any one stylistic direction. His worldwide audience continues to grow, and his innovations continue to inspire new and long-time listeners. Listening to a Steve Roach album, you’re hearing the momentum of a lifetime dedicated to the soundcurrent, an artist operating at the pinnacle of his art form, with dedication, passion and an unbroken focus on creating a personal vision of electronic music. Take a journey with the music of Steve Roach.
Greg McKeown, The Essential Life
"Perhaps Shakespeares’ Hamlet said it best—‘To thine own self be true,'” exclaims Greg McKeown, founder and CEO of McKeown, Inc., a leadership and strategy design agency based in California. The best-selling author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less explains, “Every time you say yes to anything, you're saying no to many other things.” Living the essential life means honestly recognizing what really matters and embracing the trade-offs. That’s the filter through which this self-described essentialist deliberates decisions both big and small. Says McKeown, “It’s removing this clouded set of distractions that make us believe everything is equally important and suddenly to see clearly that only a few things really matter.” Do less, but better. Cut out non-essential tasks, obligations, commitments to hone in and excel on the remainder.
Essentialism rejects the idea that you can do it all or that you should accomplish everything. Instead, it promotes choosing only some fields or directions in which to shine. It’s more important to “make great strides in a few things that matter, rather than an inch of progress in a million directions,” says McKeown. He encourages clients to continuously ask questions, update plans, and refresh the decisions regarding what's worth doing. Reinvest in productive areas.
The guidelines for living the essential life are simple. Do the important thing now. The next moment, the same. Clear away the clutter. Clear away the distractions. Turn the TV way down. Turn the social media off. Get still. Get quiet.
What's important now? Do it.
David Lynch, The Art Life
Every time a human being transcends, they’re visiting the big treasury within. And within that treasury is unbounded intelligence, creativity, happiness, love, energy, power, and peace, professes Hollywood director David Lynch. With a roster of acclaimed films such as Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and the cult classic Eraserhead, Lynch attributes much of his creative success to transcendental mediation. He started meditating in 1973 and hasn’t missed a day since—twice a day, every day. It ignites the artist within him.
Beyond its creative influences, Lynch believes in the power of TM to improve lives in a profound and positive way. He has observed firsthand how TM has helped at-risk youth, victims of violence, and veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He dives into how this form of meditation differs from others, why it is so vital, what he experiences when he transcends, and how it has completely changed his life. Wanting others to experience the same benefits, The David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace was born in 2005. The Foundation has a mission to ensure that every child anywhere in the world who wants to learn to meditate can do so.
David's advice—“If you don’t already meditate, start. It will be the best decision you ever make.”
James Nestor, Breathless
It’s hard to believe that something as natural and automatic as breathing could be done incorrectly. But according to prolific science journalist James Nestor, human breathing has regressed. With evolution in play, our modern lifestyle has devolved the physiology of our mouths and nasal cavities in such a way that our breathing has shifted from nose to mouth. However, it’s a problem that can be simply solved and the rewards can be enormous. The secret to better sleep, more energy, lower blood pressure, lower anxiety, and the elimination of snoring, sleep apnea, ADHD, and so much more is better breathing.
Researchers have long noted that the development of softer foods has impacted human facial structure. Without the kind of hard chewing our predecessors practiced, jaws recede, faces grow less forward and mouths are smaller. Essentially, our breathing pathways are diminished, resulting in more mouth breathing. But according to scientific data in Nestors’ book, nasal breathing is the gold standard. It filters toxins, moistens the air, and oxygenates our bodies more effectively. The good news is, despite the negative effects of smaller airways, we can learn to breathe deliberately through our noses, absorb more oxygen, and realize all of its benefits.
You can gain incredible health benefits by adjusting the way you breathe. Adds Nestor, “There is something here that can benefit you, doesn't take a lot of time, doesn't take a lot of effort, we know it works, and here it is. Why not explore it?”
Jen Hatmaker, Set Yourself Free
Who are you already? Who were you always meant to be? What is your core personality? What is your wiring? How do you flourish on this earth? What beautiful ideas are in your brain? How are you created to thrive? These are the questions that Jen Hatmaker asked herself. The answers propelled her toward New York Times best selling author, national speaker, blogger, host of the award-winning For the Love podcast, creation of the popular Jen Hatmaker Book Club, and star of the HGTV series My Big Family Renovation.
Hatmaker admits her journey of uncovering her true self was a struggle, “much like pushing on a bruise.” However, the process also nurtured what she describes as “self-recovery.” She explains, “It’s like taking an ice pick and excavating into those places of hurt where you feel isolated and lonely.” Hatmaker goes on to add that the results of this self discovery have been startlingly powerful. Naming the things that hold you back, ultimately gives you the ability to recognize them clearly and respond. It's empowering. Says Hatmaker “sometimes it gets a little worse before it gets better", but the feedback from women is just "universally beautiful.” Women are saying “thank you for naming this, thank you for offering tools and resources to live in a way that feels more true and real.”
The tools she offers aim to help women navigate workplace inequality, social media comparison traps, set healthy boundaries, speak their minds, celebrate each other instead of competing, and live genuine full lives. She believes that “women can reclaim the self-confidence and sense of worth, often eroded by society.” Hatmaker acknowledges the hardwood required but says women are up to the tasks entitling her new book, “be fierce, free, and full of fire” to get on that path to being “gloriously you.”
Linda Kohanov, Exploring the Potential of Horse-human Relationships
While humans experience deep bonds with many animals, horses actively mirror the nuances of our behavior. It’s a distinction that founder of Eponaquest, Linda Kohanov recognized, saw potential in, and developed into a process of immersive learning through experiences with horses. An award winning author, international lecturer, and trainer, Linda has brought her innovative equine facilitated learning program to a global audience.
Whether you’re interested in horses or human development—or both—Linda Kohanov’s Eponaquest approach allows people to engage with horses or observe them and learn how to thrive in life through these experiences. Linda shares with us how her equine facilitated learning program offers tools that open creativity, insight, and empowerment. She explains that these experiences can further expand personal vision, help you reconnect to nature, to the herd and to your own community.
Linda observed early on, how horses respond to people in their presence, highlighting their hidden gifts, wounds, vulnerabilities, or unhealthy social habits. And yet, the horses manage to be discerning without a hint of judgment, communicating instead that you are beautiful, powerful, wise, and capable of endless renewal. Linda tells us how she harnessed this unique relationship between humans and horses to help people embrace a fresh perspective and new approach to everyday life or even manage trauma.
Her program employs horses in teaching people leadership, personal empowerment, intuition, and emotional fitness skills. Through exercises in non verbal communication, Linda’s human/horse engagements help people develop assertiveness and leadership presence, learn to enhance their relationships, create strong teams, and build paths to better conflict resolution.