Assessment Culture Is Toxic To Creativity And Mental Health

Assessment Culture Is Toxic To Creativity And Mental Health

Some quick thoughts on assessment culture as I sit in the local coffee shop this lazy Sunday afternoon…

What is Assessment Culture? 

First, a definition. What exactly is assessment culture? In my view, it’s the continuing assessment of performance from school through your adult life. Some examples of assessment culture including grades or performance reviews at work. But it doesn’t stop there, as assessment culture has become rampant in the internet age. Think Yelp and Amazon reviews or even message boards for tv shows like Game of Thrones. In today’s world, everything is constantly assessed and judged continuously and ubiquitously. 

Who Are You? The Mystery of Existence and The Importance of A Rich, Inner Experience

Who Are You? The  Mystery of Existence and The Importance of A Rich, Inner Experience

Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Who Am I?” What comes up when you do ask that question? I imagine that most of us start with labels or descriptions of our life. For example, I could say, “I'm a 5’8” Asian-American therapist that weighs 155 pounds. I was born in Mountain View, California but now live in New York City.” But would that encompass who I am in any meaningful way?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think that description is mostly worthless because it says nothing about what is going on in my subjective everyday consciousness. So maybe we’re our thoughts and feelings? That would better describe our inner, subjective experience. But have you really examined your thoughts before?

What Meditation Isn't: 5 Common Misnomers of the Ancient Practice

What Meditation Isn't: 5 Common Misnomers of the Ancient Practice

So you want to meditate… kudos to you for wanting to improve your mental health and life. When I’ve practiced it consistently, which admittedly wanes depending on the week, meditation has changed my life for the better. While some have tried to quantify meditation with a number, I feel like that might be doing meditations benefits a disservice. With regular practice, you just aren’t the same person you before meditation; suddenly there is space between thoughts and you are more present. You’re kinder, more loving and more patient.

But there is a lot of disinformation on what meditation actually is. I’ve heard wild things about meditation from people trying to reach astral planes or from novices who believe that meditation means clearing one’s mind of all thoughts. So without further ado, I thought I’d try to address 5 common misnomers about meditation.

Consumerism Is Fun. Consumerism Will Destroy You: Finding Meaning in a Meaningless Consumer Society

Consumerism Is Fun. Consumerism Will Destroy You: Finding Meaning in a Meaningless Consumer Society

We worship the consumer because the consumer is us. We consume constantly and obsessively. We buy clothes to the tune of $12 billion dollars a year, far more than is needed for our existence. We consume food and alcohol like no other country, spending thousands of dollars per a person. We consume thousands of hours of television and movies and video games a year. We buy furniture. We buy 75-inch TV’s not out of any sense of utility but because “why not?” We take lavish vacations we definitely cannot afford, maybe because we think we deserve it. (But I get the sneaking suspicion some of that is related to wanting to put those pictures on our Instagram or Snapchat stories.) We are on a neverending treadmill of consumption. Are we actually free any real sense if this is the case? Aren’t we just slaves to wage labor?

I tend to think so. I don’t see most people at peace. At least not the ones I see in therapy, which is admittedly as skewed sample size).  I see anxiety and consuming and more anxiety and more consumption from the general population. And I see how we are more and more slaves to our phones. I don’t know if I realized this fully until recently but social media, while useful for keeping in touch with people, is hijacking our brains. As Sean Parker, a founder of Facebook has said about the platform he started, “It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” 

Coming To Terms With Being An Introvert: A Journey From Shame To Acceptance

Coming To Terms With Being An Introvert: A Journey From Shame To Acceptance

I didn’t realize this until recently but my childhood was more painful than I thought. Not because it was particularly traumatic-- it was not. I had two loving, flawed parents, who loved me the best they could and allowed me to search out my path in the world with lots of support and kindness. No, my childhood was painful because I wasn’t my younger brother.

My brother was an extrovert. But not just your run-of-the-mill extrovert. He was a life-of-the-party, makes-everyone-laugh extrovert. My brother was just magnetic from a young age. People were drawn to him and loved him. He always had a lot of friends. Girls seemed to swarm to him in a way they never did for me. He was always the center of attention.

15 Current Facts And Possible Futures Regarding Climate Change, Which Should Terrify You

15 Current Facts And Possible Futures Regarding Climate Change, Which Should Terrify You

I’m currently reading David Wallace-Wells’s “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming.” To say it’s terrifying is a profound understatement. It’s hard to overstate how much we’ve damaged the planet and how much human suffering and death. (Of course, if you’re paying attention, it’s already started to cause much suffering, destruction and death).

But to turn to specifics: here are 15 current facts and projections for the future from Wallace-Wells’s book that I found particularly terrifying. I share them to illuminate, edifying and provoke those who read it.

Creativity, Capitalism and Alienation

Creativity, Capitalism and Alienation

“Alienation” is not a phrase you will hear in the mental health field often. If you do, it is commonly related to some mental health condition, such as “her depression led her to be alienated from her work and friends.” Alienation is a symptom in mental health, a result of some more serious condition, such as Bipolar or Major Depressive Disorder.

But as I’ve seen more patients over the years and read and absorbed different points of view, I have come to believe that alienation is its own mental health category. It is marked by a lack of feeling or connection to the world and people around them. It is very much a modern, existential condition. In a world where our work life has little meaning, we tend to disconnect and become alienated to those around us. And it is far more common than you think.

The Emerging Research on Psychedelics

The Emerging Research on Psychedelics


Psychedelics, that category of illegal drugs which includes LSD and magic mushrooms, have been illegal in the United States since the mid-60s, largely because of a conservative reaction to the lawlessness and free spirit of the 60s. Think of the so-called hippies who used these drugs recreationally. As the counterculture against the Vietnam War grew, and more and more people used these drugs, the powers at be felt threatened and decided to cut the party short. Of course, making the drugs illegal just added to their allure and helped create a whole cast of counterculture heroes, like Timothy Leary. But as a result of psychedelics being cast as an illegal schedule 1 drug (schedule 1 drugs are deemed to have no medical use), research on psychedelics largely ended by the 70s.

Food, Meditation, Exercise and... Economic Class?

Food, Meditation, Exercise and... Economic Class?

I’ve just finished a slew of books on the environment and neuroscience in the last month. They include:

All of them are worth a read, except maybe “Healthy Brain, Happy Life,” which turns into a “Sex In The City” memoir-type for many of its pages. There is also a very common theme in all of them: eat well and avoid processed foods that are environmentally damaging; meditate to find peace of find; and exercise for emotional well-being.

Pleasure Vs. Happiness

Pleasure Vs. Happiness

Recently I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the brain, happiness and addiction. It’s been eye-opening. Most people’s defintion, I’ve come to realize, relates to pleasure, but do not have a concept of what long-term happiness is.

What’s the difference? Pleasure is short-term. It’s the dopamine kick we get in anticipation and from using something. Examples of pleasure run the gamut from gambling to sex to food to drugs. In all respects our brains from what one point of view is the brain of an addicts. Think of the card player or slot jockey at a casino. Or maybe the heroin addict. Or the cigarette smoker. Or how about the newest addiction, that of our addiction to our phones. Often times we think we have free will and are choosing to do these things. But neurochemically the picture can be interpreted quite differently. It some respects, without realizing, we are just chasing dopamine hit after dopamine hit, slaves when we think we’re free.

Happiness is different. In fact I don’t even like the word happiness because so many people associate it with pleasure. I prefer the Aristotelian word, eudaemonia, which translates roughly to contentment of the human spirit. This sort of contentment of the spirit is not chased by dopamine hits. (For the record, I don’t have anything inherently agains short-term pleasure. I’ve been known to polish off a pint of ice cream and smoke too many cigarettes in my day!) How one reaches eudaemonia is of course different for anyone. I’m almost 40 and I think I’m just fully coming into my own form. But I’ve had to make some changes in my life.