Building Emotional Resilience Through Cat Videos

[This article was originally published on Medium on July 24, 2018.]

Let’s say you woke up today and spent a little extra time — maybe 10 minutes — doing something with your hair, just to mix it up a little. Gel, mousse, wax, hairspray, blow-drying, straightening, curling, whatever. You go through your day and run into that person who you think is pretty cute and want to impress. They take one look at you and screw up their face into a dismayed expression: “Uh, what happened to your hair?”

Depending on your mood and self-esteem, you might respond in one of several ways:

  • A. Laugh it off — “Yeah, haha, guess I went overboard with the gel this morning.”
  • B. Stammer and run away — “Ummmm … SEEYOULATER!”
  • C. Fake it and slink away — “Heh, yeah, guess I … forgot to blow dry … gotta go now … ”
  • D. Ain’t no thang — “Oh, you know, just something I’m trying out. What do you think?”

Each response has psychological consequences that interact with a concept named “emotional resilience.”

When you hear the word “resilience,” you might think of something like ads for memory foam mattresses, where someone pushes their hand into the surface and then lifts it up to reveal a visible depression that is quickly filled in. The idea is to illustrate the material’s physical resilience, or the ability to bounce back to its original shape after being disfigured by an external force.

Source: https://www.sleepadvisor.org/best-memory-foam-mattress/

Emotional resilience is like that, but for feelings. If you imagine your normal state to be pretty calm and unbothered, then having high emotional resilience means it’s easy for you to regain that state even after something emotionally challenging happens.

If you identified more with responses A or D in the example, congratulations — you are probably already pretty emotionally resilient. If you identified more with B or C, that could mean that you have a hard time getting back to your normal state after an emotionally challenging event; if you’d like to get to the point where you can identify with A or D (and/or if you like cat videos), keep reading.

Important Note: Please do not take the advice in this article as a substitute for or to supersede any medical or clinical advice from a doctor, psychiatrist, or other licensed mental health professional.

How to Build Emotional Resilience Through Cat Videos

It is not difficult to build emotional resilience, and it can be really fun! It just takes a little time and effort, although if you’re using this method, you probably won’t notice that you’re doing any “work” at all.

We live in a magical era where you can watch cat videos for days on end without ever seeing the same cat twice, basically for free. It is truly a wonderful time. Here’s how to harness that magic to its full potential for your own emotional resilience training.

Step 1: Whenever you experience negative feelings, watch a video of a cute cat doing cute cat things. If you can’t do it right away, do it at the next available opportunity. Keep watching until you feel better about life, or just for research (hey, I don’t judge).

The intention is not to numb yourself or ignore the issue at hand, just to give you a little breathing room to collect yourself and to remember that you still have the capacity to feel good feelings, even when things might seem objectively terrible.

Here’s an example of a cute cat video I love:

Source: JunsKitchen YouTube channel, an excellent provider of high-quality cat videos.
  • The video does not have to be of a cat — it can be of any adorable animal that appeals to you and gives you warm fuzzy feelings. Examples include sloths, otters, puppies, hedgehogs, tiny horses, etc.
  • Try to stay away from videos that overtly feature humans. Babies are OK, but we’re going for the purest “awwwwww!” feeling possible, and humans can evoke … more complicated feelings. This video is a bit of an exception to this recommendation, because it uses humans purely as a foil for cute cats.
  • It is not ideal to watch advertisements featuring cute animals. We are going for unadulterated, cute-for-cute’s-sake content, and feeling like you’re being marketed to can ruin the vibe.
  • The video does not strictly have to be live-action, although animated or CGI content should focus on the cuteness of the animal and not on the animal talking or doing anything too human-like. Here’s a good exampleof an approved animated video. Here, of course, is another.
  • If it is consistently difficult just to get to the point where you are feeling good about yourself and the world, try the simple techniques described in the video “Why All Our Insecurities Come From This One Thing” featuring Marisa Peer.

Step 2: When you’ve watched a sufficient amount of cute cat video footage, you can just imagine the cute cats whenever a negative feeling comes up to get the same effect instead of having to actually watch a video. If you feel bad, close your eyes, replay a cat video, and let the warm fuzzies relax your heart.

I call this the “The cat was inside you all along!” moment, because it turns out that we humans often have much more agency when it comes to managing our feelings than we think we do. This is a skill that can be trained, but only if you do it consistently and intentionally.

You may find along the way that other content is more reliable at helping you exit the strugglebus to Frowntown. That’s great, too — keep exploring!

Step 3 (for advanced practitioners): If someone pisses you off or does something that results in you feeling sad, imagine that person as a cute cat.

If this little guy scratched you, how would you feel? Source.
  • I call this “transference,” because you are transferring your feelings about cute cats onto a different entity via imagination, which can modify your existing feelings about that entity.
  • The point of this technique is to bring you into a less off-kilter and more grounded state, where you can choose to respond in a calm and compassionate way rather than by lashing out or shutting down.
  • Do not tell the person you are imagining them as a cat.
  • If you need help imagining people as cats, there are some photo-sharing apps like Snapchat that have filters where you can add cat features to people using your phone camera. Do this for practice, not for the real thing.

If you can get to the point where you are able to go from upset to calm very quickly whenever you want, with or without the help of cute animal videos, you will be in excellent shape with respect to emotional resilience. You will probably find that your mood is generally better and your interpersonal interactions proceed more smoothly. Hopefully, you will feel a growing sense of empowerment over your emotional states rather than feeling like you are at the mercy of psychological forces you cannot control.

Why Emotional Resilience is Important

While the modern era has provided a virtually inexhaustible and widely available source of cute cat videos, there is also a darker side to these times. Public discourse has gotten so fragile and fragmented lately that it can feel hard to say anything about a remotely controversial topic without upsetting someone. One way to address this issue is to educate people on the latent sensitivities of others who have a different perspective than they do so that they can use more accommodating or inclusive language; an example of this is using “they/them/their” pronouns to refer to gender non-binary, non-specified, or non-conforming people in the singular. This approach has succeeded in raising awareness about the diversity of perspectives in the world and the importance of understanding them, which is great.

Another, complementary way to address this issue is to give people the tools and encouragement to become more emotionally resilient so that a given comment or action (whether intended as damaging or not) does not completely destroy someone’s emotional well-being. For example, as a woman who works in the video game industry and plays online games, the internet can feel like a potential minefield. I have been called some very nasty and gross things without provocation (see this article for similar instances of such behavior). While part of my work involves educating others about the impact their comments can have on people, it has also been very helpful for me to shore up my own emotional resilience so that I don’t feel as bothered by disparaging or biased language. I am happy to say that this work has resulted in a greater capacity on my part to experience joy, fulfillment, and strong self-worth on a regular basis, plus YouTube’s algorithms now serve me many high-quality cute cat videos on my home feed. It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Thanks for reading! Here’s a sloth video.

Source: AnimalistToo YouTube channel.

WNPR’s The Colin McEnroe Show

Today I was a featured guest on WNPR’s The Colin McEnroe Show out of Connecticut for their esports episode. I talked about the origins of pro esports in South Korea, StarCraft at the Pyeongchang Olympics, diversity and inclusivity in the Super Smash Bros. Melee competitive community, matchfixing in esports, sports investment in the Overwatch League, and more. I spoke alongside T.L. Taylor (MIT & AnyKey) and Michael Brooks (National Association of Collegiate Esports). Check it out!

Why the World Needs Aikido, A Millennial’s Perspective

[This article was originally published in the Aikido Journal in January 2018.]

We are in the middle of a very interesting time in human history. It’s true that violence overall has declined massively from the days of human sacrifice and laws that enshrined dueling to the death as a legitimate way to resolve grievances. However, we still find ourselves in a world where it seems harder and harder to communicate and collaborate with people who don’t share our views, and where people can still become victims through no fault of their own via terrorist attacks or bombs that were not carefully deployed in wars.

The human race desperately needs a philosophy that can teach us empathy for each other and demonstrates that even adversaries can work together for a greater good. In other words, it’s the perfect time for aikido to shine.

Continue reading “Why the World Needs Aikido, A Millennial’s Perspective”

Full circle: The whirlwind journey of Jaedong

[This article was originally published on ESPN.com/esports on January 12, 2017.]

The year is 2008, and the world is suddenly not what it was.

You are in Seoul, South Korea, in a small television studio, giggling teens play hooky on a weekday afternoon. There’s a stage a few feet in front of them with a TV desk framed by two glass-enclosed booths, each large enough to fit a single person sitting down.

The house lights dim, the cameras start rolling, the announcers take their places at the desk, and two quiet-looking young men in racing-style jerseys enter each booth after shaking hands. An enormous screen above the stage comes to life.

The screen shows scenes of an alien landscape, but to those in attendance, it is as familiar as a map of their own neighborhood. It’s StarCraft, a popular computer game that has entertained players for years across the world. But here, those who came to fill the studio’s stands are not playing right now – they’re watching. And the intense faces of the men on stage clearly show that this is not just for fun.

For a first-time observer, the experience would be akin to a casual pickup basketball player watching an NBA game for the first time and being treated to Kobe Bryant or LeBron James’ mastery of the ball and the court. Teens gasp and cheer as the announcers in suits shout unabashedly as if calling the blow-by-blow of a title fight.

They won’t believe you back at home. But that’s OK, because you’ve just seen the future, and it’s going to be the coolest thing ever.

Continue reading “Full circle: The whirlwind journey of Jaedong”

Google’s DeepMind AI takes on StarCraft II

[This article was originally published on ESPN.com/esports on Nov 27, 2016.]

It’s match point at the grand finals of a huge StarCraft II tournament. One player booth contains a professional Zerg player complete with massive headphones and stoic concentration. The other booth is … empty. After Zerg wins in the late game with an unexpected tech switch to infestor/broodlord, the crowd goes wild. The pro player comes out on stage and accepts a huge trophy. They are proud not only of winning, but of dealing a blow to their opponent the likes of which could contribute to technology benefiting millions of people worldwide.

At BlizzCon earlier this month in Anaheim, California, Blizzard announced an ambitious new project in collaboration with DeepMind, a leading artificial intelligence research company acquired by Google in 2014. After creating the AlphaGo AI that bested the world’s top Go player earlier this year, DeepMind’s next groundbreaking challenge will be StarCraft II. If DeepMind is able to build an AI that could learn how to beat top players such as Byun “ByuN” Hyun Woo in the complex real-time strategy, tactics and resource management of this game, it would be a giant step forward in AI research. And with DeepMind’s interest in using its research to solve hard problems in areas such as healthcareand energy efficiency on a massive scale, this Starcraft II project could impact the whole world.

Continue reading “Google’s DeepMind AI takes on StarCraft II”

Why I Root for Smash: Reflections on Genesis 3 and the Smash Community

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Genesis 3: The crowd gets to its feet at the climactic conclusion of one of the Melee top 8 games.

Sitting in the audience at the San Jose Civic Center on the last day of Genesis 3, I could feel the crowd settling down a bit after watching a nail-biting best of five between C9.Mango and Liquid`Hungrybox in the losers bracket finals (or “alternative bracket to success finals”) of melee singles (ICYMI: Hungrybox lost).  A fellow behind me suddenly yelled, “Get f*cked, Hungrybox!”  I wasn’t sure how to react, but before I could decide, the person next to me turned around in his seat to face the guy who yelled.  “That wasn’t very nice,” he commented, firmly but not antagonistically.  “Yeah,” I bandwagoned, turning around slightly myself.  And … that was it.  There was no argument about who was right, no defensiveness or insults, no protests about whether or not Hungrybox deserved it.  The yeller accepted the rebuke and didn’t do it again.

Continue reading “Why I Root for Smash: Reflections on Genesis 3 and the Smash Community”