What one skill = an awesome life? | Dr. Shimi Kang | TEDxKelowna

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Translator: Queenie Lee
Reviewer: Riaki Poništ Good afternoon. We humans are in trouble. I’ve been a medical doctor for 17 years, and I’ve researched
the science of human motivation. I’ve worked with thousands of people
from all walks of life, and I believe that we humans
are in trouble. Now, why would I say such a thing? When I look at the lifestyle
of my patients, of myself, or even your lifestyles, we are in a state of bizarre paradox, a place of negative evolution. We have made sleep deprivation
a symbol of ambition, and rested a symbol of laziness. We have made being too busy
a symbol of importance. And never before in human history have we had such conveniences
and such knowledge, yet never before have our lives
been so stressed and unhealthy. So, yes, I do believe
that we humans are in trouble. But at the same time, I have seen a group of humans
who are better than ever, individuals who have passion and purpose and meaning and joy in their lives. And I’ve wondered: what is the difference
between these two groups? What does one group have
that the other doesn’t? So what do you think? Is it passion? Passion is a good one, but we all know passionate artists
and entrepreneurs who are stuck in a rut,
unable to move forward. Could it be, if we add hard work,
and now we have grit, is that it? Well, grit is great but we all know, all of us know hard-working gritty people
who have no joy or meaning in their lives. And when I became
a psychiatrist, I thought it must be how you grow up. But increasingly, I’m seeing
people from good childhood with serious anxiety,
depression, and addiction. So what is it? What is this one thing? It wasn’t until I was in my most
challenging role, when I became a mother
of three beautiful kids, who are out there somewhere, that I went and found out. You see, when I became a parent,
this is what happened to me. (Laughter) I became overwhelmed – overwhelmed with everything
I had to teach my kids and do or was told I should do. And I couldn’t understand
how I, a Harvard-trained expert, a medical director of child and youth
mental health for a whole city, was having such a hard time
raising my three kids, when my mother who grew up in a village and never had a chance
to go to school, not even grade one, successfully raised five. And I turned out OK. So what was it? What is that one thing? I searched, and I knew there was something
more natural and simpler and more powerful than what I was doing. And I searched through the neuroscience,
the biology, the psychology, and the reality of success. And when I say “success”,
I don’t mean money or status. I mean success
in all aspects of that word: health, passion, purpose,
security, meaning, and joy. That’s what I wanted
for my kids and myself. And I found it. I found the one thing,
time and time again, that has been proven
to lead to an awesome life. And my discovery was earth-shattering
but so obvious at the same time. The one thing that has been shown
to lead to an awesome life is: adaptability. Adaptability. Adaptability. That was it! I was so glad it wasn’t the piano. (Laughter) Adaptability, it made perfect sense. Survival of the fittest
isn’t the fastest or the strongest; survival of the fittest is the one that is the best fit
with their environment. And wherever you look, if you look at bacteria,
or plants, or animals, and humans; and small businesses and large businesses; in corporations,
in governments or empires; it is adaptability that made the difference
between flourishing and extinction. Right now, humans
are being beat by bacteria because they are adapting
to our most powerful antibiotics. So adaptability is it,
and we see it everywhere. The company Netflix we all know, that company used to mail
videos to people’s homes, and they adapted to online streaming. And another company –
some of us have heard – is Blockbuster. And Blockbuster, despite its advantages
as an industry giant, didn’t adapt; they refused to adapt, and they are fighting extinction
while Netflix is flourishing. Some of you may remember
the “Kodak moment,” but that really was just a moment in time
because Kodak didn’t adapt. And this is true for humans. The longest study
of human development to date, the Grant Study, which spanned 70 years, they looked at everything:
looks, IQ, wealth, they found and I quote: “The key ingredient for well-being is the ability to make
lemonade out of lemons.” So think of your life. Think about times you were successful
and times that you failed. How did you adapt? How did you adapt to a new school
or a new relationship, to a new boss, or a new computer system
in your workplace? How did you adapt to the changing nature
of your life, your relationships or even our own aging? So it was adaptability. But then I had to figure out how. How do we adapt? Why do we adapt?
When do we adapt? So, my journey wasn’t over. And thankfully, it was my research
in motivation that gave me the answer. If you hang in here,
I’m going to walk you through some very eye-opening
neuroscience of how our brain works. So, when we humans do something
that will help us adapt, like sleep, because we can’t think let alone adapt,
if we’re sleep deprived, we are rewarded; our brain’s motivation centers are lit up with the powerful release
of neurochemicals. And that is our reward; we experience a feeling
of well-being and joy. And that is our signal
to go do that again, do that activity again. And if we oversleep,
we feel lethargic and guilty, or we under-sleep,
we feel tired and irritable, and those are signals not to do that again and to go get our reward. Now, some of you may be saying,
“Well, I like to shop, and I like to win.” So is that what I need to do? Yes, we are rewarded to shop
and gather, win and compete, but we are over-gathering
and over-competing. How much stuff do we need? And perfectionism
in keeping up is ruining us. That at the expense of other
very powerful adaptation tools. In fact, I believe that we humans
are so off-balance that we have forgotten
what it means to be human. In my practice, I created a metaphor to help remind myself and my patients
of what it means to be human. I used to hear – I’m sure
you’ve all said it – that you’re too busy to eat or sleep. And I felt we really need to look
outside ourselves to see ourselves. And I picked an animal that is a mammal
that lives its life fully underwater: the dolphin. You see, the dolphin has or seems to have
what every human seems to want. They are highly
intelligent with a high IQ, and they do no tutoring. They, dolphins, have svelte, fit bodies, and they wear no spanx, and no fad diets. (Laughter) Dolphins have great social lives,
and they drink no alcohol. And they show compassion,
and they don’t even do yoga. So how do these animals,
these creatures, do all this in their very competitive environment where they have to hunt for food
and worry about sharks? Well, they never compromise
the basics of life. My kids told me a great fact. They told me that dolphins sleep by alternating their brain areas
and keeping one eye open, so they don’t drown
or be eaten by a shark. Now, dolphins don’t compromise the basics
because basics is how we adapt and thrive. So right now in this world,
and what I’ve seen, there are three things
that humans are not doing that has thrown us off-balance. And these can be remembered in the word that is the centerpiece
of the dolphin culture. That word is “POD.” So let me walk you through it. The “P.” The P stands for “play.” Dolphins play every day, but humans have forgotten
that play is a basic of life. And when I say “play,”
I mean the “play” of my childhood, not the “play” I was seeing happening
with my kids and around me. Lego is a great example of that. Lego of my times, I was the fifth child,
and I used to inherit broken Lego. It was simple, and it was unstructured. There were no rules,
and it was imaginative, and it was limitless
in what I could create. That’s “play.” The Lego of today
is like today’s childhood. It is constructed and complicated
and full of rules and directions. And we know the final product,
and it makes kids fragile, and it is fragile. And we get rigid and stuck and anxious
when we don’t play freely. We are in trouble if we don’t play. But if we do play, we are rewarded. Play – free play activates
that frontal part of our brain, the very human part, and it stimulates all kinds
of pathways for abstract thinking, emotional regulation
for problem-solving, for strategy. Play makes us comfortable
with uncertainty; it makes us take risks
and learn from trial and error. Play is how we adapt. So what about the “O”? The O is “others.” And others is why we adapt. Dolphins are exquisitely connected to their families, their groups,
and their communities. But humans have forgotten that social connection
is the basic of life. When we are socially isolated,
it corrodes our bodies. We get sick. Being lonely is as much
of a risk factor for death as smoking. Tumors in cancer patients
who are lonely spread faster. And if you don’t believe me, think of the worst form
of human punishment, a torture that has been well-documented to lead to a complete breakdown
and self-mutilation. That’s solitary confinement. When we don’t honor the basics,
we are in trouble. But when we do, we are rewarded. Social connection, contribution,
meaningful relationships, not socializing superficially
or social status but meaningful social bonding
brights up our brains; it feels great. And we are rewarded,
and that is why we adapt. If you’ve ever wanted to give up,
and you were tired and exhausted, your connection to something
beyond yourself is why you changed, why you adapted. So when, when do we adapt? That’s the “D”, that’s the “downtime.” So, dolphins relax once in a while. And humans have forgotten that rest and relaxation
is a basic of life. In fact, we are so on the go that stress has become the number one
health epidemic of the 21st century. We are stressed, and our bodies are releasing
stress hormones, it’s wreaking havoc
on our brains and our minds. When we don’t honor the basics, we are in trouble, and we do things
like texting, and driving, and yelling at your kids to calm down. Sorry kids, I know I have done that. (Laughter) When we honor our biology,
and when we rest, and we give ourselves downtime,
we are rewarded. The research on mindfulness slowing down,
paying attention is outstanding. It improves our focus,
our memory, our concentration, our relationships, our life satisfaction. Downtime. The most progressive
companies in the world are bringing in yoga classes,
meditation rooms, and beds because they know that breaks
are the moment of breakthroughs, that looking inward gives us
innovation and inspiration. So there it was – it was POD. And POD is how we adapt,
and adapt is how we thrive. And once this all settled in, I was struck by the simplicity
and the beauty of it all. I was struck by how kind
and generous nature is to us. And I was struck by how I had forgotten
what it means to be a human. I had made being busy
a symbol of importance and I had been over-gathering
and over-competing. And I had thrown my life
and my kids’ life off balance. And then I changed, and I adapted. It wasn’t easy, but I brought POD
back into my life. And something magical happened. When I played, I found new passion. And when I connected,
I found a new purpose. And when I rested, I found my balance. And amazing things started to occur, things I didn’t think
I had the time or energy for. I began to write blogs and articles,
and people read them. And I wrote a book on POD and adaptation, and I called it: “The Dolphin Way.” So my mom, she can’t read very well,
and she hasn’t read my book. But she asked me: why I was putting
so much science and research into a book that she saw
as being common sense. She was actually worried
that no one was going to read it. And the book became
a number one bestseller, and it’s been translated
into multiple languages and released around in the world. My mom hadn’t realized that we humans
are in the place of paradox, that we do need science
as permission for common sense. But we humans don’t need to be in trouble. We can choose balance. In my office, I give prescriptions for medications,
antidepressants, and blood work. And now, I give every single one
of my patients a prescription for a daily dose of a POD. I have been witness to the power
of play, others, and downtime. Give yourselves that prescription. This is your prescription. Give it to yourself. Give it to your friends and neighbors. Bring balance back into your lives. Bring play, connection,
and downtime back into your lives. Give it to your students
and give it to your colleagues and most of all, give it to your children. You see, we humans, we are perfect
instruments of adaptation. We humans are built and meant to thrive. And we humans, every single one of you
can have an awesome life. Thank you. (Applause)


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