012: You Don’t Get Your Just Deserts

The expression “getting your just deserts,” according to Merriam-Webster, means receiving the punishment that you deserve. This episode looks at rewards as well as punishment. The idea is to explore whether we can be said to deserve something or not. I explain that there are three separate meanings for this notion:

  1. Merit — What we earn through talent and effort
  2. Civil Rights — What our culture, society, and laws say we are entitled to
  3. Intrinsic Deserts — What we imagine is inherently ours from the simple fact of being human

See Also

  1. The Tyranny of Merit (2020), by Michael J. Sandel
  2. Dependent Origination, in Buddhist Philosophy
  3. Not What Should Be, by Alan Watts
  4. Changing Attitudes on Same-Sex Marriage (2019), by the Pew Research Center

011: Three Little Words That Can Mess up Your Life (Part 3) — Want

Today’s topic is about the word “want.” Even though we spent the last two episodes talking about how having preferences is a healthy alternative to imposing “shoulds” or “needs” upon ourselves. I present here three reasons why we fall into some thinking traps when we use the word “want.” Those reasons are:

  1. We don’t really know what is best for us.
  2. We tell ourselves that we want one thing, when evidence points to the contrary.
  3. We mainly know what we don’t want, rather than what we do want.

See Also

  1. Stumbling on Happiness (2006), by Dan Gilbert
  2. The Old Man and Death, by Aesop
  3. Buddha’s Brain (2009), by Rick Hanson

Music: Eastern Thought by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/3692-eastern-thought
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

010: Three Little Words That Can Mess up Your Life (Part 2) — Need

In this second part of a miniseries on the words we say to ourselves that create tension and distress, today’s word is “Need.” Today we talk about:

  • The psychological theories of needs, which are in fact theories of human motivation.
  • Byron Katie’s radical approach to needs.
  • Buddhist notions of taṇhā (thirst) and chanda (wholesome desire).
  • The fallacy of speaking in terms of absolute needs.
  • How to use the word “need” in a relative context.


  • Semantic Method — replacing “need” with “It would be nice if…” or “I would prefer it if…” and remembering that the use of the word “need” implies the subordinating conjunction “in order to” (relative contextualization).

See Also

  1. A theory of human motivation (1943), by Abraham Maslow
  2. Self-Determination Theory (2008), by Edward Deci & Richard Ryan
  3. Loving What Is (2001), by Byron Katie

Music: Night on the Docks – Sax by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4129-night-on-the-docks—sax
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

009: Three Little Words That Can Mess up Your Life (Part 1) — Should

Are you “shoulding” all over yourself? The word “Should” happens to be one of the most insidious in the English language. In today’s episode, we talk about how:

  • Psychoanalyst Karen Horney called “The Tyranny of the Should” this tendency to create an idealized self and a rejection of the real self.
  • Albert Ellis spoke about the three kinds of “musts.”
  • Using the word “should” is conveying criticism, like “scolding” oneself (or others).
  • The value statements implied by that word are arbitrary and relative.
  • The laws of Nature do not follow any “should,” but instead are what they are, and we don’t get a vote.


  1. Rephrasing — replacing “should” with “is” or “does” or “I would prefer it if…”
  2. Reattribution — considering the alternative causes of events and behaviors.
  3. Positive Reframing — acknowledging that Should Statements come out of a very good place in you, that they reflect positive attributes and values, and that there is a helpful side to holding those beliefs.

See Also

  1. The Tyranny of the Should, by Karen Horney
  2. The Three Major “Musts”, by Albert Ellis
  3. shall (v.), the Online Etymology Dictionary

008: There Are Only Three Kinds of Business

Byron Katie likes to say that there are only three kinds of business in the world: mine, yours, and God’s. God’s business refers to the forces of Nature or to events that are beyond human control. Your business, is someone else’s life, including what they feel, think, and choose to do. My business is what’s left, that is, what is within my control.

In his popular book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey describes the notion of Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. We add here the Circle of Control, where

Circle of Control = What I choose to do and can directly manipulate.
Circle of Influence = What is not directly within my control, but can be affected by what I do.
Circle of Concern = What I mentally worry about, whether or not I can do anything about it.

See Also

  1. Loving What Is, by Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell 
  2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
  3. The Work of Byron Katie: The Three Kinds of Business, by Ernest Holm Svendsen

007: What Is Enlightenment?

We’re taking a left turn, today, from cognitive theory, and we are going to talk about spirituality and the place it occupies on the path to peace.

My Path

I refer to Sam Harris’s book, Waking Up, and I quote from an episode of his podcast, Making Sense. The book Ashrams, by Arnaud Desjardins, is probably out of print. So is Spiritual Awakening, by Ram Dass.

See Also

  1. A Mind at Home With Itself, by Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell 
  2. Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tsu, translation by Stephen Mitchell
  3. Ego, by Alan Watts
  4. The Perennial Philosophy, by Aldous Huxley
  5. The Brain’s Default Mode Network (2015), by Marcus Raichle. Annual Review of Neuroscience38(1), 433–447.
  6. Why Buddhism Is True, by Robert Wright

Bonus Episode — Social Distancing

If you are in the same situation as me, you are mostly staying home with the members of your household, except for necessary outings like getting food, gas, or just getting a breath of fresh air. Many of you may also be working from home, as I am. As a result, you may be feeling rather isolated. And that’s where I wanted to make my point. Had this virus hit 25 years ago, we wouldn’t have had all the technology to connect with each other like we do now. We only had telephone and maybe email for some. Now, we can see each other on a big screen TV and talk to friends and relatives who live on the other side of the globe. That’s pretty much what I have been doing during the past couple of weeks. My cousins and sisters live in Europe and elsewhere. We created this chat group on WhatsApp, last year, and we had been using it to keep each other up to date. But now that we’re all stuck at home, we have been ramping it up, sharing silly videos of ourselves, singing out of tune and doing crazy dance moves… No. I will not be posting those in the show notes!…

Social isolation is known to affect physical health, mental health, and longevity. Some studies even suggest that isolation has similar impact on your health and mortality as smoking, high blood pressure, or obesity. Research also indicates that loneliness may contribute to poor cognitive performance, faster cognitive decline, more negativity, more depression, and an increasing mistrust of our fellow human beings, leading to a vicious cycle of isolating even more. This is why it is even more critical at this time to overcome any tendency to cut yourself off from others, even if just out of laziness. It may not be as easy for you to reach out, now. Or maybe it is. Some of us have grown accustomed to checking in with each other via electronics, while others are more face-to-face kinds of people. For the latter, it may be a good idea to let go of that preference, for the time being, and embrace electronic means of communication.

But there is a notion of “hanging out” that may need to be developed more in this new context. When I’m home with my family, that’s what we do. We just “hang out.” That means we do our thing, sometimes by ourselves, sometimes together. We read, text, cook, eat, wash, send emails, pet the dog, call a friend, watch TV, water the plants, sweep the floor… Sometimes we talk to each other, sometimes we don’t, sometimes we just talk to ourselves with the awareness that others are within earshot. That’s what hanging out looks like in the physical presence of others.

When we make a phone call, a FaceTime call, a Skype call, a Zoom call, we often make the assumption that we need to have something to say in order to check in, and when we’re done with our back-and-forth exchange, we have to hang up. What if you called your parents, your child, your sibling, your best friend, and tell them to just keep their video session open while you go about your business around the house, and they do the same. It’s like having company without them being physically there. Every now and then, you can go, “Hey, mom, I just remembered, I talked to Bob, last night. He said he’s doing fine…” Why not use this multitude of video platforms that connect us via the internet as an extension of our living room into someone else’s? And then, we could learn that we can be with each other in silence, that communication does not always mean words. Once things return to normality, as they always do, even if it’s the new normal, the practice of being with each other without the expectation that we need to keep a conversation going could also be part of the new normal.

I think that this pandemic has a lot to teach us. We may decide to learn those lessons, or we may not. But if you are listening to me, I know that you are one of those souls who have chosen the path of transformation. I would be delighted to hear from you and to read about the insights that today’s situation has led you to.

006: Thinking Traps (Part 3) — Personalization

The next 4 Thinking Traps are grouped under the category Personalization. We commit these distortions when we cannot step outside of our own egocentric perspective.

Thinking Traps: Personalization

  1. Personalization (Me, Self-Blame)
    • Helplessness
  2. Blame (Them, Other-Blame)
    • Always Being Right
  3. Emotional Reasoning (Naïve Realism, Affective Realism)
  4. Should (Should Statement, “Musturbation”)
    • Perfectionism
    • Comparison
    • Fallacy of Fairness


  1. Reattribution 
  2. Acceptance Paradox
  3. Semantic Method

Garden Music by Kevin MacLeod
Link: filmmusic.io/song/3796-garden-music
License: creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

005: Thinking Traps (Part 2) — Arbitrary Inferences

The next 4 Thinking Traps I am going to talk about are grouped under the category Arbitrary Inferences. They consist of making interpretations without having examined all the data.

Thinking Traps: Arbitrary Inferences

  1. Jumping to Conclusions (also: Inference-Observation Confusion);
  2. Fortune Telling;
  3. Mind Reading;
  4. Labeling (also: Mislabeling)


  1. Examine the Evidence
  2. Consider Alternate Possibilities
  3. Keep a “Don’t-Know” Mind
  4. Survey Technique
  5. Let’s Define Terms

004: Thinking Traps (Part 1) — Thinking in Extremes

We’re looking here at the most common Thinking Traps, especially the ones that cause mental distress. 

Cognitive Distortions vs. Cognitive Biases

The difference between Thinking Traps (Cognitive Distortions) and Thinking Errors (Cognitive Biases) is that Thinking Traps result in difficult emotions, in mental distress, and in psychopathology. Cognitive Biases are more broadly related to an inaccurate perception of reality. Some examples of Cognitive Biases are the Availability Heuristic, the Empathy Gap, Anchoring.

The Cognitive Bias Codex on DesignHacks.co

Thinking Traps: Thinking in Extremes

  1. Black-and-White Thinking (also: Polarized Thinking, All-or-Nothing Thinking, Splitting, Dichotomous Reasoning);
  2. Overgeneralization;
  3. Mental Filter (also: Filtering, Selective Abstraction);
  4. Discounting the Positive (also: Disqualifying the Positive); and,
  5. Magnification (also: Awfulizing, Catastrophizing)


  1. Thinking in Shades of Gray
  2. Examine the Evidence
  3. Externalization of Voices
  4. Double-Standard Technique
  5. Semantic Method