How to find fulfillment: Lessons from ‘dark horse’ success
Can you be happy and successful? Dark horses show us how it's possible.
TODD ROSE: So, when people think of a dark horse, I think most people think of people who were successful that nobody saw coming. And that's technically true, but in our research, we actually found that dark horses are people who prioritize personal fulfillment over conventional notions of success, and that priority is what actually puts them on a very individual path, but it's also ultimately what allows them to be both successful and happy. And I think those lessons end up being valuable to anybody who wants to live a more fulfilling life.
The origins of Dark Horse are a little bit personal, right. I'm a Harvard professor today, but I also was a high school dropout with a 0.9 GPA; ended up getting married right out of high school, had two kids by the time I was 21, and ended up working a string of minimum wage jobs and was actually on welfare for a little while. So my future was sort of bleak and I felt a bit lost.
It was actually my dad who gave me this piece of advice that changed everything. So he said if I wanted something better, I need to figure out what truly motivated me and stay really close to that the rest of my life. He felt like that was going to be important for me being able to achieve what I could.
And that piece of advice put me on a completely different path that led me to get a GED, then eventually to college, and then ultimately to Harvard where I've spent the last decade getting to study what makes people tick. And so for me, 'Dark Horse' is kind of like the culmination of a lot of things that I care about. Because when I think about how we can use these insights from the science that I'm a part of and other things, I think helping people live more fulfilling lives is probably right at the top of the list.
I think most folks feel like they should know what motivates them, but actually, I think we're actually constantly surprised; we make choices and then we're like, 'I don't really like what I'm doing', but you know, you thought you would—so obviously you don't know what motivates you.
I think there's kind of, for me, there's almost like this laddering of how we get to this, like how do you end up pursuing a fulfilling life? And I think knowing what motivates you is core to that. It's not everything, but if you don't truly know what matters most to you and what really drives you, there's really no chance of having a consistently fulfilling life. You might be successful at some stuff, but you're probably not going to be successful and happy.
And so the interesting thing about it—there are two things that I think are really fascinating that dark horses taught us that are different than the way most of us think about things. So, first is even how we define who we are. Because I think self-knowledge is this vital thing, and most of us when we talk about who we are we tend to think about things like what we're good at or what job we do. Dark horses, right off the bat, they'll talk about the things that motivate them, the things that matter most to them and they build their identity off of that.
So to the question of if knowing what motivates you is so important, why do we struggle to figure that out, and like how could we get better at that? I think that the biggest challenge with the motivation aspect is that when we tend to think about what motivates us, we tend to look at what society tells us we all should be motivated by. If you just look outward, you realize there are some big things, some universal things like competition, money, collaboration, stuff that we all feel affects us in some way. But what we found is—look, the truth is human beings are just more complicated than that, so all of us are motivated by a wide range of things, some of them are those big universals, but what we found is there's also a whole bunch of very specific things that tend to be particular to you as an individual.
So for example, in the Dark Horse Project we actually talked to people who were genuinely motivated by specific things like organizing people's closets—like genuinely motivated! I can't understand that for the life of me. It has zero motivational push. Or aligning physical objects with your hands—like truly motivating. These are so specific they probably don't matter to very many people, but they matter deeply to these individuals. And what dark horses taught us is that when it comes to living a fulfilling life, those specific motives are every bit as important as the big general ones.
So the question of, okay well, how do I figure out those specific ones? There's a pretty straightforward way to get started and it seems simple but it's worth trying. If you just think about some of the things you enjoy doing and ask yourself why—again, this seems simple if you say, "I enjoy football," but it's easy to confuse the thing you enjoy with what motivates you. I'm not motivated by football, I just enjoy that activity. I enjoy watching it, but then I ask: Is it the competition? Is it that it's a team sport and it requires collaboration and coordination? Is it that there's a strategy element to it? Is it playing outdoors? And the more you can sort of dissect that and answer those questions, you start to get a sense for what really motivates you. And if you ask yourself that question often enough it will pretty quickly reveal the sort of breadth of your motives, and that can put you on a path to a fulfilling life.
Why this is important is, most people would stop at, "I can tell you the things I like to do" or "I can tell you that I like my job right now, but I can't actually tell you why," and so you get locked into "I'm a football guy." Now if I can't play football anymore, which I definitely can't, what do I do? I suddenly have this crisis of, "I don't know who I am."
But if you understood that the reason you enjoyed football were these four or five things, those travel well. You can actually look for other things to do that check those boxes that will turn out to be every bit as fulfilling to you. And dark horses are really good at that, this like knowing deeply this breadth of motives they have and then being able to make decisions off of them.
- The Dark Horse Project is a long-term study run out of Harvard's Graduate School of Education. It examines how people achieve success by harnessing their individuality.
- What dark horses have in common is that they use fulfillment as a path to success—not the other way around.
- How do they do this? By investigating and understanding their motivations—that is, knowing fully what they want and why they enjoy the things they do.
- Todd Rose, author of Dark Horse, explains how to pinpoint your own individual motivation and the huge impact it can have on goal setting, happiness, and success.
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Scientists are using bioelectronic medicine to treat inflammatory diseases, an approach that capitalizes on the ancient "hardwiring" of the nervous system.
- Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging field that focuses on manipulating the nervous system to treat diseases.
- Clinical studies show that using electronic devices to stimulate the vagus nerve is effective at treating inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Although it's not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, vagus nerve stimulation may also prove effective at treating other diseases like cancer, diabetes and depression.
The nervous system’s ancient reflexes<p>You accidentally place your hand on a hot stove. Almost instantaneously, your hand withdraws.</p><p>What triggered your hand to move? The answer is <em>not</em> that you consciously decided the stove was hot and you should move your hand. Rather, it was a reflex: Skin receptors on your hand sent nerve impulses to the spinal cord, which ultimately sent back motor neurons that caused your hand to move away. This all occurred before your "conscious brain" realized what happened.</p><p>Similarly, the nervous system has reflexes that protect individual cells in the body.</p><p>"The nervous system evolved because we need to respond to stimuli in the environment," said Dr. Tracey. "Neural signals don't come from the brain down first. Instead, when something happens in the environment, our peripheral nervous system senses it and sends a signal to the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. And then the nervous system responds to correct the problem."</p><p>So, what if scientists could "hack" into the nervous system, manipulating the electrical activity in the nervous system to control molecular processes and produce desirable outcomes? That's the chief goal of bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There are billions of neurons in the body that interact with almost every cell in the body, and at each of those nerve endings, molecular signals control molecular mechanisms that can be defined and mapped, and potentially put under control," Dr. Tracey said in a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJH9KsMKi5M" target="_blank">TED Talk</a>.</p><p>"Many of these mechanisms are also involved in important diseases, like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension and shock. It's very plausible that finding neural signals to control those mechanisms will hold promises for devices replacing some of today's medication for those diseases."</p><p>How can scientists hack the nervous system? For years, researchers in the field of bioelectronic medicine have zeroed in on the longest cranial nerve in the body: the vagus nerve.</p>
The vagus nerve<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYyOTM5OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTIwNzk0NX0.UCy-3UNpomb3DQZMhyOw_SQG4ThwACXW_rMnc9mLAe8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="09add" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f38dbfbbfe470ad85a3b023dd5083557" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Electrical signals, seen here in a synapse, travel along the vagus nerve to trigger an inflammatory response.
Credit: Adobe Stock via solvod<p>The vagus nerve ("vagus" meaning "wandering" in Latin) comprises two nerve branches that stretch from the brainstem down to the chest and abdomen, where nerve fibers connect to organs. Electrical signals constantly travel up and down the vagus nerve, facilitating communication between the brain and other parts of the body.</p><p>One aspect of this back-and-forth communication is inflammation. When the immune system detects injury or attack, it automatically triggers an inflammatory response, which helps heal injuries and fend off invaders. But when not deployed properly, inflammation can become excessive, exacerbating the original problem and potentially contributing to diseases.</p><p>In 2002, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues discovered that the nervous system plays a key role in monitoring and modifying inflammation. This occurs through a process called the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature01321" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammatory reflex</a>. In simple terms, it works like this: When the nervous system detects inflammatory stimuli, it reflexively (and subconsciously) deploys electrical signals through the vagus nerve that trigger anti-inflammatory molecular processes.</p><p>In rodent experiments, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues observed that electrical signals traveling through the vagus nerve control TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. These electrical signals travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, triggering a molecular process that ultimately makes TNF, which exacerbates conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.</p><p>The incredible chain reaction of the inflammatory reflex was observed by Dr. Tracey and his colleagues in greater detail through rodent experiments. When inflammatory stimuli are detected, the nervous system sends electrical signals that travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, the electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, which trigger the spleen to create a white blood cell called a T cell, which then creates a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The acetylcholine interacts with macrophages, which are a specific type of white blood cell that creates TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. At that point, the acetylcholine triggers the macrophages to stop overproducing TNF – or inflammation.</p><p>Experiments showed that when a specific part of the body is inflamed, specific fibers within the vagus nerve start firing. Dr. Tracey and his colleagues were able to map these relationships. More importantly, they were able to stimulate specific parts of the vagus nerve to "shut off" inflammation.</p><p>What's more, clinical trials show that vagus nerve stimulation not only "shuts off" inflammation, but also triggers the production of cells that promote healing.</p><p>"In animal experiments, we understand how this works," Dr. Tracey said. "And now we have clinical trials showing that the human response is what's predicted by the lab experiments. Many scientific thresholds have been crossed in the clinic and the lab. We're literally at the point of regulatory steps and stages, and then marketing and distribution before this idea takes off."<br></p>
The future of bioelectronic medicine<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYxMDYxMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjQwOTExNH0.uBY1TnEs_kv9Dal7zmA_i9L7T0wnIuf9gGtdRXcNNxo/img.jpg?width=980" id="8b5b2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c005e615e5f23c2817483862354d2cc4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2000" data-height="1125" />
Vagus nerve stimulation can already treat Crohn's disease and other inflammatory diseases. In the future, it may also be used to treat cancer, diabetes, and depression.
Credit: Adobe Stock via Maridav<p>Vagus nerve stimulation is currently awaiting approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, but so far, it's proven safe and effective in clinical trials on humans. Dr. Tracey said vagus nerve stimulation could become a common treatment for a wide range of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension, shock, depression and diabetes.</p><p>"To the extent that inflammation is the problem in the disease, then stopping inflammation or suppressing the inflammation with vagus nerve stimulation or bioelectronic approaches will be beneficial and therapeutic," he said.</p><p>Receiving vagus nerve stimulation would require having an electronic device, about the size of lima bean, surgically implanted in your neck during a 30-minute procedure. A couple of weeks later, you'd visit, say, your rheumatologist, who would activate the device and determine the right dosage. The stimulation would take a few minutes each day, and it'd likely be unnoticeable.</p><p>But the most revolutionary aspect of bioelectronic medicine, according to Dr. Tracey, is that approaches like vagus nerve stimulation wouldn't come with harmful and potentially deadly side effects, as many pharmaceutical drugs currently do.</p><p>"A device on a nerve is not going to have systemic side effects on the body like taking a steroid does," Dr. Tracey said. "It's a powerful concept that, frankly, scientists are quite accepting of—it's actually quite amazing. But the idea of adopting this into practice is going to take another 10 or 20 years, because it's hard for physicians, who've spent their lives writing prescriptions for pills or injections, that a computer chip can replace the drug."</p><p>But patients could also play a role in advancing bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There's a huge demand in this patient cohort for something better than they're taking now," Dr. Tracey said. "Patients don't want to take a drug with a black-box warning, costs $100,000 a year and works half the time."</p><p>Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, elaborated:</p><p>"Why would patients pursue a drug regimen when they could opt for a few electronic pulses? Is it possible that treatments like this, pulses through electronic devices, could replace some drugs in the coming years as preferred treatments? Tracey believes it is, and that is perhaps why the pharmaceutical industry closely follows his work."</p><p>Over the long term, bioelectronic approaches are unlikely to completely replace pharmaceutical drugs, but they could replace many, or at least be used as supplemental treatments.</p><p>Dr. Tracey is optimistic about the future of the field.</p><p>"It's going to spawn a huge new industry that will rival the pharmaceutical industry in the next 50 years," he said. "This is no longer just a startup industry. [...] It's going to be very interesting to see the explosive growth that's going to occur."</p>
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Trained dogs can detect cancer and other diseases by smell. Could a device do the same?
Numerous studies have shown that trained dogs can detect many kinds of disease — including lung, breast, ovarian, bladder, and prostate cancers, and possibly Covid-19 — simply through smell. In some cases, involving prostate cancer for example, the dogs had a 99 percent success rate in detecting the disease by sniffing patients' urine samples.
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
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PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
Their goal is a digital model of the Earth that depicts climate change in all of its complexity.
- The European Union envisions an ambitious digital twin of the Earth to simulate climate change.
- The project is a unique collaboration between Earth science and computer experts.
- The digital twin will allow policymakers to audition expansive geoengineering projects meant to address climate change.
Who are the planet-builders?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY5MDMzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTA0NzY2MH0.yG8KyIXYBtiAQB0_9KJLPFhvOj2ZvpBy04YPffMIEJM/img.jpg?width=980" id="4548e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="61d5c1e9765e8d98ef2dab9cb2bf01a6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="833" />
Watching time go by on the digital Earth<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY5MDMzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTIyNzQ5MX0.NrXxzMuA8NcrcSIaCivN3zRlsc-KgVpYiecDlLKN4Mw/img.jpg?width=980" id="b1bcf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aff8d7380cd18b8ee15a8f772d83a7a8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="988" />
Credit: Logan Armstrong/Unsplash<p>The basic idea of the digital twin is that it will allow scientists to observe climate change in motion as it progresses. "If you are planning a two-meter high dike in The Netherlands, for example," says Bauer in an ETH press release, "I can run through the data in my digital twin and check whether the dike will in all likelihood still protect against expected extreme events in 2050."</p><p>Most important will be trying out geoengineering ideas and seeing how they track over time. The press release specifically notes the value the twin will bring to "strategic planning of fresh water and food supplies or wind farms and solar plants." </p>
Aging models and AI<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY5MDM0Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NjM3Njc3Mn0.7Dm8rcv_bcHSvKlxIvaQ3wu3pC3wjKbWeScQ_nQyLlA/img.jpg?width=980" id="be2db" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8dacb34d559e79cded0443dbd88c84d3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="720" />
Credit: ECMWF<p>Capturing the subtleties and intricacies of our planet faithfully in order to model plauisble outcomes is going to require an equally complex computer model. Construction of the digital Earth begins with the refinement of current weather models, with a goal of eventually being able to simulate conditions in as small an area as a kilometer. Current models are not nearly as fine-grained, a shortcoming that hampers their ability to make accurate predictions given that the large weather systems are really aggregates of many smaller meteorological systems influencing each other.</p><p>The authors of the paper assert that today's meteorological models fall far short of what's possible, their development having basically become stuck in place about a decade ago. They say that current models take advantage of only about 5 percent of today's available processing power. The solution is the tight collaboration between Earth scientists and computer scientists at the heart of Destination Earth to develop cutting-edge models.</p><p>The twin will also be able to take advantage of rapidly advancing developments in artificial intelligence. Obviously, AI is very good at detecting patterns in large amounts of data. The study anticipates multiple roles for AI here, including the promotion of operational efficiency with new ways of accurately representing physical processes, as well as the development of novel data-compression strategies.</p>