Happy New Year!

It’s January.

For many parts of the U.S., this means freezing cold temperatures, cranking the thermostat up to absurdly high levels in a misguided effort to heat the house more quickly, and New Year’s Resolutions.

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I’m somewhat conflicted.

You see, I used to always believe that it’s best to make SMART goals when it comes to resolutions, especially those related to fitness and wellness.

SMART stands for Specific, Measureable, Action-Based, Realistic, and Time-Based.

For instance, a goal of “losing 20 pounds by the end of 2023, by walking for 30 minutes, 5 days a week at a moderate intensity, starting tomorrow” is a SMART goal. In some ways, I can’t possibly find fault with SMART goals. It makes sense to structure goals in such a way as opposed to the broad, general goals, such as “getting healthy”, that most people set each year.

However, after a recent Instagram fit-fluencer binge, I found myself, for the first time in a long time, wanting to push back against this methodology. Literally EVERY, SINGLE fit-fluencer was parroting this advice: to use SMART goals and to set short-term goals that feed into long-term goals. And if a bunch of PED-obsessed people who constantly lie about being PED-obsessed offer something, I have a tough time accepting their advice at face value.

But again, I can’t completely abandon the SMART goal method. This goal-setting strategy absolutely works, there’s no doubt about it.

I just no longer think that we ONLY need to set SMART goals. I think it’s also important to set lofty, unreachable resolutions. The caveat being that we need to understand that we will never reach these goals.

Recently, Magnus Carlsen, considered by some to be the best chess player of all time, and objectively the best chess player currently competing, was interviewed about his career and his future plans.

He stated that one of his goals was to reach level 3000 ELO. Without getting into the complexities of the absurd chess rating system, suffice it to say that a level 3000 is likely a level that only a computer will ever reach. And Magnus knows this. He later added that he is almost positive that he will never achieve this goal, but it will give him to something to keep striving for the rest of his playing days.

We all need this type of goal: something to keep reaching for forever, knowing that we’ll never quite get there.

We all also need small, reasonable goals that we can check off from our list over time.

So, if you have a New Year’s goal that seems too lofty this year, I recommend you keep it. Just also be sure to add in a few SMART goals as well.

Intentions or Outcomes?

Over the past week or so, I’ve had some excellent discussions with friends, family, colleagues, and small, wild animals as they stumbled into my orbit. One of the main topics that these people/animals have been kind enough to discuss with me is the issue of “how we judge the morality of an action”.

Or, perhaps we can phrase it as “how can we say if an action is/was good or bad?” I always get a little confused* by big words like morality and cockswain.

*Side note: I also invariably spell certain words wrong such as friend and taser. See, even right now, I’m not certain if taser is spelled with a z or an s. I consistently rely on spell check for this reason. Thank god for spell check, and thank god for the hatchery (bonus points if you get that reference).

Because this concept is a little bit abstract, I think it’s helpful to use some real life examples.

  1. A surgeon is attempting to save someone’s life after said person arrives in the emergency room with a gunshot wound injury. Even though the surgeon tries as hard as she can to save the person, one of her actions during the emergency surgery directly causes the patient’s condition to worsen, and the patient dies.
  2. A person gives money to a houseless woman, hoping that she will buy food with it for her and her young daughter who is staying with her on the street. Instead, the houseless woman buys alcohol with the money. (You could potentially make an argument that the alcohol isn’t necessarily bad or that food isn’t necessarily good. But, let’s just assume that, for this example, food=good and alcohol=bad).
  3. A man is in a blank room with two identical buttons in front of him. He’s told that pressing one button will end the world, one button will save the world. He presses one of the buttons.

In reading those scenarios, did you have an immediate, gut reaction? Or, did it take you some time to think about how you felt? With regard to intentions or outcomes being the most important factor, did your answer change with each scenario, or remain consistent across all three?

For each situation, one could say that intentions are more important in deciding whether the action was good or bad.

If one did, one would then be saying that it truly doesn’t matter what the outcome of any action is, as long as the person performing the action had a goal of creating a positive situation in the end. Specifically:

  1. The surgeon has nothing to worry about any time she kills a patient, as long as she’s acting in good faith.
  2. The person giving money to the houseless woman is right to do so, regardless of what the houseless woman spends the money on.
  3. As long as the man has the intention of pressing the button that will save the world, his action was good, no matter which button he ends up pressing.

Alternatively, if one said that outcomes are most important, one would be instead saying that intentions don’t really matter, as long as the end result is good.

To apply this principle in the same way:

  1. If the patient dies, the surgeon’s actions were bad, regardless of what her intentions were, and vice versa.
  2. If the houseless woman buys food, the person who gave her the money committed a good act. If she buys alcohol, the person who gave her the money committed a bad act.
  3. If the man presses the “save” button, his action was good. If he presses the “end the world” button, his action was bad.

There are many roads you can go down while discussing these situations and this big question.

These are great dinner table topics. You can ask your racist uncle these questions and see what he says. Or, you can ask your newborn baby as he stares at you blankly. Most importantly, you can ask yourself.

Positivity Day 5: An Engagment!

Oftentimes, happiness occurs on a small-scale, local level. This was especially true today when two dear friends got engaged. Even when you know it’s coming, it’s always special to see how happy people are when they commit to a marriage. It gives one hope for the future.

I’ve known William for (literally) my entire life. There is an infamous story of our mom’s walking with us while we were in strollers. Since then, we’ve built functioning computers out of clay and copper wire (lie), made millions for our wall street bosses (lie), and made tons of fun memories (true).

Martha is a much more recent addition to my life, but he couldn’t pick a better partner. In the few years I’ve known her, she’s demonstrated that she’s every bit as funny, thoughtful, and overall fantastic as he is. She can make friends with anyone, anywhere (as evidenced by her striking up a friendship with my grandma at our wedding).

Here’s to a lifetime of happiness to you both!

Positivity Day 4: Giving Machines

When I think of the typical vending machine, I think of a machine where I can make a frivolous purchase of unhealthy food. They are usually filled with candy bars or sodas and located in places where a person might reasonably want to stop and use them for such a purchase.

But in 2017, giving machines redefined what a vending machine can be.

This program, which has expanded each year since it began, enables people to make a donation for someone in need through a vending machine. Essentially, the person selects an item from the vending machine list, such as a meal for a family or a basketball; and receives confirmation that their donation went through.

Giving machines aren’t complicated, it’s essentially something that could be done through the computer. But they do provide a new fun way to reinforce the need for giving to those less fortunate.

If you’ve got some extra money lying around this holiday season, track down a giving machine in your city. Or, alternatively, just consider helping someone in need from one of the many established charities out there.

Positivity Day 3: More Environmental Ingenuity

Johnny Appleseed has returned to our time!

A fashion designer recently developed a shoe that can grow into an apple tree once the wearer has worn it out.

In a completely unexpected development, these shoes contain an apple seed encased in fertilizer, hidden within the sole. Once the shoes have run their course, instead of throwing them out, all one needs to do is plant them in the ground. Most of the material will biodegrade as the seed takes root and grows into an apple tree.

This is the type of design that is so ingenious it’s almost hard to imagine. It’s very unlike an invention where you smack your head and wonder “how didn’t I think of that?” Rather, this is an invention that very few people could ever imagine, let alone bring to life.

If you’re interested, check out the Kickstarter page and secure your pair!

Positivity Day 2: New Ocean Cleaning Efforts

We’ve all seen the depressing images of garbage island and marine life trapped by plastics and other waste. Ocean pollution is a serious problem and one that can sometimes seem insurmountable.

Luckily, there are people who never give up on these problems.

Recently, a group from Indonesia presented findings on their project to clean up the oceans through the use of sound waves. Through testing, the group determined that their prototypical method was able to filter out microplastic particles from both seawater and freshwater at nearly 60% efficiency. With further tweaking as well as the backing of larger groups and governments, this technology can improve in efficiency and may lead to a realistic means of cleaning the plastic out of our oceans.

Reading anything about climate change or pollution can make it seem like we have no hope and no chance to overcome the challenges facing us. To be fair, giving up is certainly an option. We could just ride this out for the rest of our lives and “come what may”.

Fortunately, there are many people who will never stop trying to improve the world. There are researchers who have dedicated their lives to fixing problems such as ocean pollution. Furthermore, there are many people at a local level who encourage recycling and reuse efforts. In Pennsylvania, Hard to Recycle Drives are frequent occurrences that keep pollutants out of landfills and oceans. No matter where you live, a quick google search will lead you to a similar event in your area.

We can fix the man-made problems of the environment. All it will take is some creative problem solving and some slightly extra effort on each of our parts.

Positivity Day 1: The Early Pandemic Days

One of the greatest things I saw early during the pandemic came from the most unlikely source: Twitter.

That’s right. The website where we slowly gained insight into the questionable political views of celebrities. Where we saw reposted videos of cats getting stuck inside turkey carcasses. Where we watched many of the older members of our society post a steady stream of caps locked messages or random punctuation marks as they tried to respond to a tweet by Hugh Jackman.

But Twitter provided people with an outlet during the pandemic, especially early on. It was a way to stay connected with friends, family, and even strangers.

One of the greatest things I saw on Twitter during this time, was this thread: https://twitter.com/neilhimself/status/1242631908598611968

If you refuse to click links you’re uncertain about because you think I may be rick-rolling you again, like I used to do back in the day, I understand. I’ll summarize below.

LeVar Burton, of Reading Rainbow fame, tweeted about his desire to read over live-stream for children and families who needed a distraction from COVID-19 woes.

He mentioned that he is having trouble navigating the legal issues surrounding using many stories, and therefore needed to resort to using only those stories in the public domain.

But then, renowned and extremely prolific author Neil Gaiman responded to Burton’s tweet by giving permission for LeVar to use any and all of his stories for the reading project in question.

There was no talk of money, credit, or anything that usually follows from an event like this. It was just two people, with huge platforms and unique abilities, who came together to try to help others feel better in a small way during a difficult time.

It’s one example of how just asking a question with pure intentions can lead to a happy outcome for everyone involved.

Until tomorrow,

Seacrest Out!

30 Days of Positivity: I Need Help With Topics!

Greetings, my millions and millions of loyal readers. I’m sorry I’ve been away so long.

Recently, I have noticed that I’ve become more pessimistic about many things in the world. In all honesty, I think this point of view is warranted, and necessary in some ways. However, it does not always lead to happy conversations (or pieces of writing).

Therefore, throughout December, I’m going to write a piece a day about something positive.

That’s where you come into play, my faithful, literally billion readers. I need help with positive news stories, personal stories….or whatever else is making people feel good.

So if you come across something that makes you smile, if you have something in life that has made you happy or restored your faith in humanity (and you feel comfortable sharing with me, who will post it to the 6 billion people who frequent this blog. We’re going to get that last billion soon, I know it!); please send it my way.

Until then, entire world. Buh-bye!

There are Such Things as Right and Wrong

When it comes to a dilemma, decision, or question of any kind, there are right answers and there are wrong answers. The easiest way to look at this concept is through math. 2+2=4. 2+2 doesn’t equal 5. Nor does 2+2=a delicious elderberry pie. 2+2=4 and we can prove it through examples, logic, mathematics, and probably other ways that I can’t even imagine.

However, it’s possible that someday, we will learn that 2+2 does not equal 4. Maybe a more advanced alien race will come down to earth and show us where we made an error in our math rules. We might learn that 2+2 actually equals “molten lava”.

Once we get our proof that 2+2=molten lava and not 4, we will now realize that 2+2=4 was wrong. It looked right. It seemed to add up. But we now have much stronger evidence that 2+2=molten lava.

This now rock-solid proof of 2+2=molten lava would show us that, even though we were pretty certain that 2+2=4 before, we now see that the slight room for error was justified. We can also see that things we did based off of the belief that 2+2=4 were wrong. We were operating off of a faulty elemental belief.

That example is a little bit insane. It does, however, provide a solid foundation for slightly more abstract points in the discussion of right and wrong, which is where we will go next.

“Racism is always wrong”. I think (I hope) that most people would agree with this statement. But when it comes to more sociological or abstract items, some strange things happen in the brains of many people.

I think almost everyone you meet will agree that racism is wrong, but many of those people probably participated in racist acts at some point in their lives. For example, a white person may have dressed in blackface for a sketch or costume 20 years ago. At the time, this person may not have had any intention of acting in a racist manner. But either way, he did. He acted wrongly. Even though this person was wrong, he will many times try to find a way out of admitting fault: “it was common back then” or “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings” or “it was meant to be funny, not racist” or other common defenses often come up in these situations.

As hard as it is to accept, there is right and there is wrong. We may not know what the right answer or action is, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a right answer or action. Our lack of knowledge does not absolve us of our mistake. Even if there was no possible way we could have ever known that we did the wrong thing, we still did the wrong thing. Unfortunately, instead of taking responsibility for our mistakes, many of us try to push back, redefine terms, or lie.

Luckily, there seems to be a movement where the average person is acknowledging the existence of right and wrong. Where apologizing earnestly and without qualifiers is a common practice. Even those who acted with the best of intentions, but made a mistake, are starting to realize the weight of their words and actions.

It’s good to see, but we still have a long way to go.