104-year-old World War II vet receives more than 70,000 valentines
This will be William White’s 104th Valentine’s Day, and it’s shaping up to be the best one yet. White is a World War II veteran who lives in an assisted living facility in Stockton, California. A retired major, he received a Purple Heart after being injured at Iwo Jima. One of White’s neighbors wanted to honor his service, and put up a request on social media, asking people to send White valentines. The goal was to hit 100, but with one day to go before Valentine’s Day, White has received more than 70,000 cards. “It’s just too fantastic,” White told Reuters. Cards have come in from all 50 states, as well as abroad. Because there are so many letters, White’s family and several volunteers are taking turns opening the cards and reading the messages to him. White never really celebrated Valentine’s Day before, and said this experience has left him “sort of speechless.” [Reuters]
New York City deli gives customers free food when they solve math problems
Ahmed Alwan of the Lucky Candy deli in New York City is making math sweeter. Alwan is a cashier at his father’s Bronx deli, and two weeks ago, the 20-year-old college student began quizzing customers, telling them if they solved a simple math problem, he would give them five seconds to grab anything they wanted from the store, free of charge. He knows that many of his customers struggle to afford their rent and utilities, and told CNN, “All l I wanted to do was help people, but I wanted to make it fun.” Alwan shares videos of his customers on TikTok and Instagram, and says it’s “a way to entertain and educate people in need while putting a smile on their face, too.” Alwan pays for all of the items he gives away, as well as the fruit, muffins, and coffee he distributes to homeless people in the area. [CNN]
Siba becomes the 1st standard poodle in nearly 30 years to win Best in Show at Westminster Dog Show
Siba, a 3-year-old standard poodle, was the big winner Tuesday night at the 144th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, with the judges naming her Best in Show. A whippet named Bourbon came in second. “She’s just a great dog,” Siba’s co-owner, Connie Unger, told USA Today. “She loves the showing, she’s in her element when she’s being shown. She’s really an all-around great dog.” It was a major night for the breed, as this was just the fifth time a standard poodle has been crowned Best in Show, with the previous wins in 1935, 1958, 1973, and 1991. Siba’s handler, Chrystal Clas, said the poodle would celebrate by eating some chicken. [USA Today]
Rome’s ‘Chef of the Poor’ feeds the homeless across the city
A homeless man approached Dino Impagliazzo at a train station in Rome 15 years ago, asking for money to buy a sandwich. While standing there, Impagliazzo had an epiphany. “I realized that perhaps instead of buying one sandwich, making some sandwiches for him and for the friends who were there would be better, and thus began our adventure,” he told Reuters. Impagliazzo, 90, started a group called RomAmoR, with the goal of feeding as many homeless people as possible. They started by making sandwiches out of his house, and now use a professional kitchen to prepare hot meals. Three days a week, Impagliazzo and 300 volunteers distribute food outside of train stations and in St. Peter’s Square, and on the other four days, they cook. Impagliazzo, known across Italy as the “Chef of the Poor,” said he strives to “involve more and more people so that Rome becomes a city where people can love each other.” [Reuters]
Conservationists discover descendants of tortoise species thought to be extinct
While on an expedition in the Galápagos Islands, conservationists made several incredible discoveries — including finding descendants of a tortoise species believed to be extinct. In 2012, a tortoise named Lonesome George, estimated to be 100 years old, died. He was the last known member of the Chelonoidis abingdonii subspecies, which inhabited Pinta Island. On a recent journey around the Galápagos Islands, researchers from Galapagos Conservancy found a female tortoise at Isabela Island’s Wolf Volcano who is a partial relative of Lonesome George. This is “a story of hope,” Galapagos Conservancy President Johannah Barry told NBC News. Humans have moved tortoises from different islands, and there could be additional hybrid tortoises with Pinta Island lineage in other areas of the Galápagos. The researchers also found 18 additional females and 11 male tortoises from Wolf Volcano that are partially related to another species from Floreana Island thought to be extinct. They are now being evaluated at a breeding center. [NBC News]
The American chestnut may well be the greatest and most useful forest tree to ever grow on this Earth. Its decline is considered by many ecologists to be one of the greatest ecological disasters to strike the US since European contact. But how did it happen? And are we on track to bring back this amazing tree?
The following excerpt is from Trees of Power by Akiva Silver. It has been adapted for the web.
It is hard for us today to understand what was lost because we did not witness it.
Imagine working in your yard and noticing an apple tree with wilted leaves. A few weeks later, the tree dies. You’re sad about this and tell a friend, who tells you that they had the same thing happen. Then you hear it from lots of people. It’s on the news. Apple trees are dying, orchards are wiped out, wild trees disappear. No one knows what to do. Before you know it there are no cider barns, no crisp fruits to sink your teeth into, no apple blossoms in the spring, no fruit in the supermarket. How would you feel? As the years go on, you might try to explain to young people what an apple tasted like, what it felt like to bite into apples; you might describe the trees’ gnarly growth habits or the smell of cider in the barn or the taste of applesauce. They would never understand. The apple tree would be gone and life would go on. Other trees would be there, but none would be the apple. This is basically what happened to the American chestnut. The chestnut was no less loved or used than apples are today. It was a tree with full cultural, economic, and wild significance. We are the people who were born after its loss. All we have are the stories and a handful of pictures to go by.
Castanea dentata dominated the eastern US, making up roughly one-fourth of the trees in its range. This is a huge percentage, considering the diversity found in the eastern deciduous forests. Even maples, oaks, and ash are not that common.
American chestnut trunks were massive, often 10 feet or more in diameter, with canopies reaching 130 feet in the air.
These arrow-straight, towering trunks were made of high-quality, rot-resistant timber. The wood was used for barn beams, house framing, furniture, telegraph poles, fence posts, paper pulp, caskets, and cradles. There is no wood so versatile as American chestnut. It has the durability of black locust, the straight grain and splittability of ash; it’s as stable and easy to work as pine, and very fast growing.
The wood value alone would have made the American chestnut a highly valuable tree. Adding the dependable crops of nuts makes this tree stand alone in its excellence. The wildlife value of American chestnut was unparalleled, as nuts could fill the forest floor more than a foot deep in some years. Along with wildlife, people also ate wild American chestnuts. They grazed their animals under these magnanimous giants during the fall and gathered nuts by hand. Chestnuts were collected in great quantities throughout the Appalachian Mountains, and roasted and sold on the streets of towns like Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Train-car loads were filled with this wild crop. Today many families find financial relief with their end-of-year tax credit. Back then people found their Christmas bonus in the form of selling what chestnuts they could gather in the mountains.
The American chestnut was a keystone species in the ecology of the Appalachians.
It was culturally fixed in the minds of Americans, and used widely. Tanneries cranked out leather that was processed with the tannins of chestnut bark, paper mills pulped the wood, railroad companies laid track with timbers, people built barns and houses, fences, and chairs. They ate the nuts raw and roasted every fall. And then it all crashed.
In 1904 chestnut blight, Cryphonectria parasitica, was discovered in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. From there it spread like a wildfire, consuming trees and turning forests of green into silvery gray ghost woods. Within just 25 years an estimated four billion trees died. An entire ecology, an entire culture, was wiped out. While the trees were dying, the US Forest Service advised people to have all their chestnuts logged. Believing there was no hope, they told folks to get some lumber out of it while they still could. We will never know how many resistant trees were killed in this shortsighted practice. Sadly, this mindset persists today, as foresters commonly advise landowners to log all their ash and hemlock trees before the coming crash.
Cryphonectria parasitica is a fungus whose spores spread by wind. Its origins lie in Asia, where trees there have co-evolved with the fungus. When Japanese chestnut seedlings were brought over to the US for people’s gardens, no one noticed that these seemingly healthy trees carried the blight with them. The American chestnut had never encountered this fungus and so had almost zero resistance. People scrambled to save the chestnut tree in vain, employing all sorts of strange strategies over the next several decades before giving up for the most part.
There were some really wonderful early attempts at saving the American chestnut, notably the work of Arthur Graves. He planted several thousand seeds of anything he could get his hands on, including every species of chestnut from around the world. He crossed every species and then crossed the resulting hybrids. Many of his trees are still alive and maintained to this day at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station by the committed and innovative work of Dr. Sandra Anagnostakis. Graves was never able to find the winning combination of a true timber-type tree and full blight resistance—though he found many trees that came close. The work of Graves and Anagnostakis continues today. Dr. Anagnostakis continues to plant trees, make controlled crosses, and spread hypovirulence. Today the Connecticut Agricultural Station and Sleeping Giant State Park are home to the largest repository of chestnut genetics in the world.
Other attempts at saving the American chestnut included cutting out all the trees in a large swath of land across Pennsylvania to act as a kind of rebreak. The budget for this project was enormous but could not keep up with the winds that carried blight spores. In the 1950s, when nuclear power was at the height of popularity, people irradiated nuts to hopefully invoke a mutation. Of course, this failed miserably.
As the years wore on, and generations passed, interest in the chestnut grew less and less. The American chestnut became a legend, with little practical hope of recovery. That is, until two visionary men in the 1970s, Dr. Charles Burnham and Phil Rutter, came up with a plan. It was simple enough: Cross American trees with resistant Chinese trees. The resultant seedlings would then be backcrossed with American trees again and again until they had a tree that would behave like the American chestnut of ancient forests. The tree they worked to create would have fifteen-sixteenths American genetics. This would take several generations of crosses. Dr. Burnham knew he would never live to see the full breeding program to its completion, but he started it nevertheless as a selfless act. This was the beginning of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF).
TACF would go on to plant thousands and thousands of seeds from multiple lines of genetics. For every tree they leave to grow, hundreds are cut down in this rigorous and highly organized breeding program. Today TACF has trees that are fifteen-sixteenths American and display both timber form and blight resistance. These trees are being planted experimentally in parks, at private homes, at institutions, and in reforestation efforts.
Many folks continue to plant and grow 100 percent pure American trees as well as hybrids. American chestnut seed is available through TACF state chapters. The trees grow quickly. They typically live for 15 years before succumbing to blight. In this time they produce small crops of nuts and excellent pole wood. Since the blight cannot kill the root system, the trees sprout back after the blight knocks them down. They can be kept going indefinitely in a coppice system. Growing American chestnuts from seed also expands the genetics of this magnificent species.
There are other programs in action today. The American Chestnut Cooperators’ Foundation grows only 100 percent pure American chestnuts. They maintain trees that exhibit resistance through grafting and seed collection.
SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, along with the New York chapter of TACF, is genetically engineering blight-resistant chestnuts. They have introduced a wheat gene to resist the fungus. The trees are currently not released for public planting pending government approval. This program is considered by some native-plant enthusiasts to be superior to the traditional breeding program of TACF because the trees are less “contaminated” with Chinese genetics. However, it’s interesting to note that Chinese chestnut and American chestnut share most of each other’s genes; the hybrids that TACF grows are actually over 99 percent genetically American chestnut.
The story of the American chestnut is far from over.
Today we can grow resistant hybrids or pure American trees. We can bring this species back into our parks, homes, and wildlands. There really is no reason not to. Millions and millions of people live in the range of the American chestnut. If just 1 percent of them chose to plant a few trees, we’d have a lot of chestnut trees around.
25 of the Most Surreal Places to Visit in the US in 2019
These are the Must See Places to visit in the USA in 2019:
1. Giant Prismatic Spring – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
This beauty is the largest hot spring you’ll find in the United States, and third largest in the world, behind New Zealand’s Frying Pan Lake and Boiling Lake in Dominica. The colors of the spring come from the pigmented bacteria in the waters. Can you dip a toe in it? No, but you can walk around the edge for a cool photo op.
2. Watkins Glen State Park – Finger Lakes State Park, New York
Located in New York’s Finger Lakes State Parks, Watkins Glen State Park is a hidden gem famous for its 400 foot deep gorge with breathtaking waterfalls and scenic views. Whether you want to visit as a day-visitor or an overnight camper, Watkins Glen offers several activity options for any visitor with its picnic facilities, tent and trailer campsites, an Olympic size pool, and fishing sites where you can participate in the annual spring run of rainbow trout.
3. This seasonal waterfall (flowing during the winter and spring) at Yosemite will make you think of Mordor from Lord of the Rings, but don’t fret. That yellow-red glow is caused from the sun shining upon the falls at certain times.3. Horsetail Fall – Yosemite National Park, California
Drive 2 ½ hours from Reno and you’ll find yourself at Fly Geyser. This was created by some drilling done in the name of finding sources for geothermal energy in 1964. Minerals sprang from the hole to create this wonderfully odd formation. Fly Geyser is on private property, so don’t try to climb the tall fences that surround it. But it’s so huge that you can get a good picture from the road.
The moment you see Mono Lake in person you’ll believe you’re on another planet. Snowcapped mountains surround this salty blue lake that has plenty of Tufa, columns of limestone that have been formed by the salinity of the water.
6. The Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s longest linear park, is a favorite for a relaxed slow-paced scenic drive through Virginia and North Carolina. With a distance of 369 miles, you can find eight campgrounds, 360 miles of hiking trails, 13 picnic areas, biking trails, boating on Price Lake, music festivals, and an opportunity to join a park ranger for walks, hikes , and campfires.6. The Blue Ridge Parkway – Virginia and North Carolina
It took millions of years for winds to erode Navajo sandstone in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness of Arizona to make this trippy formation that’s a great photo opportunity. Permits are required to visit The Wave and are awarded via a lottery system online.
The Wave is located in a very remote area – on the border of Arizona and Utah – and the easiest ways to get there are to fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix and then rent a car for the 4+ hour drive to Antelope Canyon.
Let’s go back to the not-so-enlightened times of the 1900s when the locals would toss all sorts of household garbage over the cliffs and onto the beach below. Fast forward a few decades and the only thing the Pacific Ocean didn’t take was the glass and pottery that’s now been smoothed out from years of erosion.
You’ll never feel as small as you do when standing next to sequoia trees that are as tall as a football field is long. The biggest of the bunch is the General Sherman Tree – it stands 275 feet tall, is said to be around 2,500 years old and is the largest living tree in the world.
If you head to Oregon’s Cape Perpetua an hour before to an hour after high tide, you’ll be able to see one hell of a show at Thor’s Well. This saltwater fountain creates its show from the powerful ocean tides and is very dangerous, so try to enjoy it from a safe distance.
If you ever find yourself in Juneau, Alaska, a trip to these caverns are a must-do. The ice caves in this 12-mile glacier at the heart of the Mendenhall Valley give you the feeling that you’re walking through a tunnel of brilliant blue clouds.
Decorated with fragrant magnolia blossoms and 18th-century cobblestones, Savannah, Georgia is a beautiful city to enjoy the rich cuisine, art, architecture, history, ghost stories, and the good old Southern charm. Ride a carriage or trolley and make your way to Tybee Island to enjoy the sandy beaches and loggerhead sea turtle sighting.
This may look like it should be in a fairy tale, but it’s actually in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. This place is great to walk through on a warm summer day just to see the fern and moss that coat the walls.
Yes, there’s something even cooler beyond the uninhibited fun of Key West. Head 70 miles west of Key West and you’ll find Dry Tortugas National Park. Its home to Fort Jefferson, an unfinished fortress that the U.S. Navy began building in 1847. This place is secluded from the world. So much so that you can only access it by boat or seaplane. A fine way to unplug from the rest of the world.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find someplace flatter on earth. The Bonneville Salt Flats are what’s left of a prehistoric lake that covered the area until about 14,500 years ago. Now it’s the home to Speed Week in mid-August, where racers look to break land speed records. The Flats can get awfully hot in the summer (120 degrees Fahrenheit), so maybe stay away during that time of year. We wholly recommend heading out to the area after a bit of rain, which turns the area into a giant mirror.
The Portland Lighthouses in Maine are a significant part of the cities location. Visit the famous 6 lighthouses: Portland Head Light, Ram Island Ledge Light, Two Lights State Park, Portland Breakwater Lighthouse, Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, and Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse. All within a 20 minute drive from each other, the lighthouses offer a valuable insight to the maritime location as well as its rich history.
There’s a creepy beauty about this beach. You can take a walk or horseback ride along this secluded beach that’s dotted with limbs and roots of tree that have tossed about due to erosion on the north end of the island. It’s a great place for a sunset, and very popular for weddings.
20. The Great Lakes – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ontario
Are you an adventurer seeking an adrenaline rush? If so, you should visit Lake Michigan. Or maybe you are someone who enjoys the great outdoors and natural beauty. If that’s the case, you should check out Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. Are you looking for a place to relax? Lake Huron is the lake for you. History enthusiasts? Lake Ontario is where you will find the fill to your interest or maybe you want a little of everything which you’ll be able to find at Lake Erie. The Great Lakes, the largest group of freshwater lakes, is beautiful landscape filled with indigenous wildlife that has something for every type of traveler.
Niagara Falls State Park is full of attractions and activities for any visitor. From renting bikes to visiting aquariums, there’s something for every type of traveler. Experience the grandness of the falls from every angle and if you dare, stand as close to get front row seats in the splash zone.
Just outside of the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah is a beautiful recreational escape into nature where you can enjoy scenic hiking trails, waterfalls, vineyards, and stunning vistas. Whether you want to enjoy an annual festival or a picnic under the stars, you can find something to do for everyone.
It took millions of years for water to carve out these crevices you can take a walk through today. The colors you actually see on the walls will change depending on the time of year when you visit. There are no private walks to the area as the Navajo Nation only allow guided tours to enter the canyon. But that’s a good way to find out even more about the area.
25. Hamilton Pool Preserve – Dripping Springs, Texas
This natural pool just outside of Austin, Texas, is a popular summertime hangout for tourists and locals alike. So how did it come to be? It actually used to be an underground river before erosion caused the dome to collapse.
Ah, springtime is about here! And we’re excited about shedding our winter layers for the warm weather ahead and traveling for those long-awaited spring getaways. Check out our list of fun spring festivals and events to ring in the new season right. And even if you miss them this year, contact one of our expert travel agents to help you plan one of these unforgettable journeys for next year so you can witness these unique spectacles.
The Las Fallas celebration dates back to the Middle Ages when excess winter supplies were torched similar to annual spring cleaning. Today, this 5-day festival pays homage to Spain’s history and culture with spectacular pyrotechnics. Over time, under the Catholic Church’s influence, the holiday has developed into a celebration to commemorate Saint Joseph, the patron saint of the carpenters. Every year, each neighborhood builds a wooden falla or doll-like character – typically depicting satirical scenes and current events – that are burned at the end of the festival. Only one falla is saved from the grand finale blaze of glory to be preserved in the Museo Fallero.
LAS FALLAS:Plan a trip to Valencia, Spain, to see the beautiful wooden characters come to life during the 5-day festival. It’s hard to imagine that most of handcrafted art becomes kindle at the end of the event.
TANKWA KAROO, SOUTH AFRICA
If you’re a fan of the annual Burning Man Festival in northwest Nevada, you’ll probably want to join hundreds of locals near the end of April as they converge on Tankwa Karoo, South Africa, to create art, burning structures, costumes, mutant vehicles and music. Don’t expect this to be a place where you can haggle locals for their handmade crafts because the only thing sold here is ice. This open-minded, weeklong event is a 4-hour drive northeast of Cape Town – when you need a respite from the uber creative types.
AFRIKABURN:Hundreds of locals and travelers from afar converge on Tankwa Karoo, South Africa, for an festival similar to Nevada’s Burning Man Festival.
Celebrating the spring equinox isn’t complete without a proper flower parade, and it just so happens that the largest flower parade takes place in the Netherlands on the third Saturday in April! The parade winds through eight cities, from Noordwijk to Haarlem (Dutch Flower Region), with over 50 flower floats making their way along the route with a marching band to maintain the happy spirit of this fun springtime event. We’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend a stroll through Keukenhof Flower Fields while you’re here – a 40-minute drive southwest of Amsterdam. Helicopter tours are also available for a bird’s-eye view of the colorful tulip fields.
BLOEMENCORSO BOLLENSTREEK:Nothing says spring like fresh blooming tulips. Visit the Netherlands for the largest flower parade in the world!
CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL
In the United States, most of us are probably familiar with the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC, but travelers looking to experience these wondrous trees on a larger scale must plan a trip to Japan. Cherry Blossom Festivals are held all around the country, but to see the blossoms at their peak, you should visit Tokyo or Kyoto between March and April, depending on the weather. The Japan Weather Association announces cherry blossom forecasts every spring. Festivals include traditional Japanese performances, tea ceremonies under the cherry trees and vendors selling regional food and crafts. For a quieter celebration, we recommend packing a picnic basket – sake included – and enjoying the pretty pink blossoms at a neighborhood park or garden.
CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL:Tourists celebrate cherry blossoms and the beginning of the spring season at a beer garden in Kyoto, Japan.
CIMBURIJADA (FESTIVAL OF SCRAMBLED EGGS)
In Zenica, Bosnia, the first day of spring brings the Festival of Scrambled Eggs. The day begins with a large breakfast of eggs, which symbolize new life. The rest of the day is spent partying, barbecuing and jumping into the river to mark the beginning of the swimming season. In addition to visiting the Zenica’s old quarter and the Vranduk Fortress, we recommend an hour-drive south to explore the city of Sarejevo. We recommend perusing the coppersmiths’ shops, grabbing a local brew at the large beer hall Pivnica HS and taking Instagram-worthy pics of the city from the Yellow Fortress.
CIMBURIJADA:In Zenica, Bosnia, locals start their day off with a big scrambled eggs breakfast before celebrating the start of the spring equinox.
SONGKRAN WATER FESTIVAL
Does getting soaked in a water fight sound like fun to you? If so, head to Thailand to celebrate its traditional New Year’s Day and the beginning of the spring season at the Songkran Water Festival. During the second weekend in April, the festival is observed with a fun water fight among local family and friends, but nobody on the streets is safe from getting soaked. This fun tradition is related to the idea of seasonal renewal – when everyone cleans out their home and cleanses their spirit in preparation for the coming year.
SONGKRAN WATER FESTIVAL: No one is safe on the streets of Thailand during the water-fight festival to mark the start of spring. Elephants join in on the fun, too!
As we approach the new year, the inevitable flurry of self-management tips beckons. It’s a pity that they are so hard to implement, but this actually explains their proliferation. If there is so much demand for suggestions on how to fix one’s bad habits and replace them with brand-new, effective behaviors, it’s precisely because very few suggestions actually work.
Consider that 80% of New Year’s resolutions are broken within two months–and these tend to concern habits or behaviors we are actually determined to change. So much so that they are often recycled year after year. Think, then, how much harder it is to find the will and persistence to change things just in order to please other people, like a boss, spouse, or client.
So, why are significant changes to our habits so hard to attain? Psychology provides some useful answers:
First, there is a big difference between wanting change and wanting to change. Even when people profess a clear desire to change, what that usually means is that they are interested in change as an outcome rather than change as a process. In other words, most people don’t really want to change, they want to have changed.
For instance, when someone says they want to lose weight, what they usually mean is that they want to have lost weight, without the dreadful stoic sacrifices that that would entail. Same for when someone says they would love to learn to speak Japanese or quit smoking.
Another way to look at this is that we probably don’t care as much about changing as we say, or we would not be put off by the prospect of doing what we need to do to achieve that change. This may sound defeating but it’s a more honest depiction of our motivation than we have when we pretend to want something we don’t really want. Acknowledging this fact would minimize guilt while refocusing our energies on the things we actually value more than the triggers of change: e.g., free time, sleeping, pleasure, eating, and smoking.
Second, our personality constrains our ability to change, setting the limits to our likelihood of replacing old habits with new ones. As large-scale scientific studies have shown, our predispositions don’t change much. This is why we are rarely surprised when we meet people we have not seen in 10 or 20 years, like at high school reunions. Their physical appearance may have changed–sometimes dramatically–but their attitudes, style, and values tend to remain pretty fixed.
This is not to say that people can’t change, but they either become exaggerated versions of their earlier selves, or follow a common maturity curve that makes them less open to new experiences, more conservative, and more conscientious (think: becoming more boring versions of ourselves).
For all the hype about grit and growth mindset as catalysts of change, there is little scientific evidence to show that we can actually boost people’s grit or growth mindset beyond their personal default level. Rather, these qualities behave much like other personality traits, so they are found in different degrees in different people. Paradoxically, a growth mindset is more fixed than dynamic.
Last, but not least, we all strive to make our environments as predictable and unthreatening as possible. The mere thought of change is threatening and frightening, which is why we gravitate toward the familiar and are generally happier with the devil we know. This may sound counterintuitive in an age that glorifies disruptive rule breakers with no tolerance for boredom and routine, but it is still the reality for most people. And that’s okay. Life is complex enough to abandon the possibility of controlling and managing some of its elements, and the more predictable most things are, the more freedom we have to pursue innovation and change in others.
However, there is also a cost to this. We become increasingly programmed to behave in more similar ways, and our growing ability to adapt to environments decreases our ability (and willingness) to change. The psychological term for this is niche-picking, and it speaks to a reciprocal relationship between our habits and the challenges and problems that benefit from them.
Sociable people will seek social situations where their ability to interact with others is a natural adaptation. These situations will in turn reward and enhance their sociability. This creates a snowball effect that makes it less and less appealing (and adaptive) for them to spend time on their own. By the same token, people who are naturally more introverted will tend to avoid situations of rich social interaction, preferring instead to spend time on their own (reading, thinking, watching movies). This, in turn, will enhance their ability to adapt to solitary environments while reducing their ability to interact with strangers. Because these mechanisms are in place from a very early age, the longer we wait to try to break these cycles, the harder it is to break them.
Changing and becoming a better version of ourselves is possible. But that change is going to be hardest when we are not truly committed and when it involves going against our nature. A hack that promises to help us can’t when it depends on us having to unlearn our deep-rooted patterns of adapting. That’s why playing to our strengths is much easier, to the point of not requiring much effort at all. It’s a bit like being asked to start next year by being ourselves.