Adam Brault

Hey, I just write here.

I quit caffeine

I quit caffeine a few days ago in an effort to improve my overall mental health.

Caffeine is clinically shown to worsen depression and anxiety. Here’s a quote from one study:

“Chronic excessive caffeine consumption leads to the development of caffeinism, a syndrome which includes increased anxiety, depression, frequency of psychophysiological disorders, and possibly degraded performance.”

Having had bits of all of the above, I’m done.

I love coffee and Diet Coke—but I want to be the absolute best version of myself for the people in my life and I’ve come to believe that mental health is central to that.

I know that when I’m feeling depressed or anxious, I’m worse as a husband, dad, friend, manager, and coworker.

As someone also overcoming an addiction to making new things, I know I also have a tendency to constantly get myself into stressful situations, often feeling trapped by my own ambition. If there’s something I can do to be able to be more at peace as I deal with the real anxieties of life, I’m all in!

Curiously, I find it much easier to do this based on my experience of being diagnosed with Celiac Disease 7 years ago and having to painstakingly avoid exposure to wheat/gluten. After just a couple weeks, cutting out gluten made me feel better than I ever had. (Unfortunately, doing this also made me more sensitive so there are more painful consequences now when I am accidentally exposed.)

What if removing caffeine could have a positive impact as well? The science seems to point that direction. How could I not try it?

What about withdrawals?

Yep, they’re legit.

Right now, I’m about 48 hours into withdrawals after quitting cold turkey. Kristi thinks I’m crazy for not stepping it down lightly, but I would rather just go all in and be serious about it, even if it’s a bit painful.

The withdrawal symptoms in the first 36 hours were pretty intense. I expected the headache—but I didn’t expect it to cause me to, well, discard the entire contents of my stomach. The headache grew more and more intense to the point of waking me up in the middle of the night. It eventually went away in the very early morning. Not sure if it was the ibuprofen finally kicking in or the withdrawals fading.

I’m currently just feeling groggy with a light headache. Compared to yesterday, I’ll take it! My only worry is that the withdrawal dissipated because my body anticipated a morning cup of coffee.

We’ll see how it goes!

Have you ever quit caffeine? How did it go for you? Was the benefit noticeable? I would love to hear about your experience. Write me or ping me on Twitter.

Overwhelmed? Make a list of anxieties as questions, then forget them.

Occasionally I get myself to a point where I feel completely overwhelmed by a large number of things causing me anxiety.

When I’m in the midst of it, the feeling is like being mentally DDoS’d—I can’t even make progress on one of the things I’m anxious about because thoughts and worries about the others keep flooding in.

To deal with this, there’s an approach I have used for years which has really helped me. (The idea is partially inspired by GTD’s “brain dump” exercise.)

First, I have come to realize that a single anxiety can usually be expressed in the form of a question I don’t have the answers to. Usually there is a decision or some action that I should take associated with it.

So I open a blank document and start writing a list of individual questions and stop when I can’t think of anything else for more than a minute or two. By the time I’m done dumping, I may have 30 questions or more. I immediately feel better—it’s cathartic and grounding to simply have them expressed as sentences instead of nagging feelings.

From there, I do nothing with the list. I just say, “If there’s something else that I feel anxious about, I’ll come back and write it down on that list.”

And I go to work on one thing that I feel I can make progress on. I keep the list, but I don’t intentionally go back to the list and use it as a reference at all. I just move forward.

What I find amazing is that typically when I revisit the list, I find a surprising percentage of the questions are completely answered.

I did this two weeks ago, and I have since completely resolved 8 out of 12 things, two I am making progress on, and the other two I have an idea of what I’ll do to work on them. But none of these items cause me anxiety now as I look at the list—they’re just some things I’m working on.

No, this doesn’t miraculously solve everything. But it’s still a pretty empowering process because it becomes a reminder that if I’m feeling this way, pushing through the feeling and making incremental, single-threaded progress is enough.

So, next time you feel overwhelmed by a huge number of thoughts, try this:

  1. Write those anxieties down in the form of a question—as many as you can think of.
  2. Pick one question you can do something to answer now and go to work on it.
  3. Leave the list alone and only more add to it when you feel overwhelmed.
  4. Come back to the list when you are feeling more peace and evaluate how many things you can remove from your list. Delete the things you’ve answered.

Hope this is helpful for you, too! Would love to hear what works for you when you’re feeling mentally DDoS’d.

A good corner

Today, I’m beginning a new adventure in connecting with people and I’m hopeful you’re interested in coming along.

Probably like you, I’ve felt like a misfit most of my life.

Growing up, there were a few pockets where I felt at home: backpacking with friends, high school theatre productions, the school newspaper…

And, of course, the Internet.

I’m absolutely an introvert, but I love people so much. Attending conferences has helped me build deep connections with people who truly feel like kindred spirits, many of whom I first met on the Internet.

When I go to a conference, I tend to find myself mostly in one-on-one conversations.

Small talk makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I will hardly blush at the thought of having a four hour conversation with one person. Sometimes that’s walking around outside the venue, at a small table on the fringe, or in a quiet corner.

Sometimes listening, sometimes talking, always reflecting.

These conversations have shaped me, and in turn, shaped others. I take deep pleasure in connecting people who share the same spirit. In fact, a high percentage of Brio attendees were people Paul and I’d met independently at conferences, and our hope was to bring those people together. Truly, Brio’s most curated element was its attendees.

Last year, I overdosed on conferences.

I attended over a dozen, ran a half-dozen, and gave some emotionally draining talks. All of that left me pretty raw. It’s been almost a year since the culmination (running RealtimeConf) and I still don’t actually feel like I’ve recovered.

This year, I’ve only been to a couple events.

Even if I was able to go to All The Things™, there’s no way I’d be able to maintain my sanity while doing it. I can’t take my family to every event and it’s too hard to be away from them, plus big events have come to take way too big of an emotional toll on me.

But I miss “my people.”

I remember a moment after Brio when Paul and I were having a bit of a casual post-mortem about the event. We started talking about the venue (The Round Room in Dublin). It was beautiful, but there weren’t places that lent themselves well to one-on-one conversations.

Paul said, “You know what the venue really needed?”

“More corners,” I replied.

(I didn’t realize the pun until Paul started laughing.)

That’s always what I’m after: a good corner for a conversation.

Ever since seeing my friend Diana Kimball’s wonderful periodic email a few years ago, I’ve thought about writing a letter to a group of people, but until now I’d not thought of it as a way to maintain connections I am extremely eager to keep.

And why not?

What’s a letter but a good corner for a slow conversation?

So I’m going to start writing a periodic email sharing things I’ve learned, problems I’m working through, and ideas I’m excited about.

As you probably already know, I run a communication software and creative experience company I founded called &yet that focuses on making a positive impact in the world. Based on that, I’ll talk about things like:

  • Leadership and management
  • Team building and culture
  • Starting/running a business
  • Creativity and collaboration
  • Running and organizing conferences
  • Modern communication software and user interface
  • Productivity, time management, and focus
  • Mental health
  • Overcoming self-doubt and other feelings that plague entrepreneurs, creative workers, and, well, literallly everyone.

I’m happy to start this conversation, but my expectation is I’ll hear from you, too, when something strikes you. Just like any good conversation, I’m quite sure a good portion of the content will arise based on what I hear back from you. I’m also going to share my calendar with subscribers and make time to have a couple Talky chats each week.

What do you think?

If this sounds interesting to you, I’d love to have you join.

Subscribe to a good corner.

That New Year's feeling

I woke up Monday morning and needed—needed—to tear apart our entire kitchen and reorganize everything in it.

The contents of five of the most accessible drawers in our kitchen were neatly and tidily filled with organized collections of excess grocery bags, pot holders, appliance manuals, and basically everything except for the kinds of things we might actually want to use when making meals. Those were uncomfortably crammed into a couple drawers.

So we tore things from drawers and ripped stuff from shelves and emptied the cabinets until all was spread across our kitchen table and counter and another table. We spent every remaining hour that day finding exactly the right place for everything, for good.

I am not a clean and neat person, but I am a designer—particularly in the sense of “design is the process of making the world smart so we can be dumb in peace.”

Sometimes, I am struck with intense emotion by how poorly something was designed. (Things I’ve made included!)

The world has so many flaws. So—most definitely—do I. And so do you.

On the worst days, those flaws are loud, impatient, and angry.


But hopelessness is a lie—because there’s always hope. There’s always something we can do. Losing hope is abandoning our power.

I have a friend who’s expressed before an intense distaste for the word “hope”. I’ve been meaning for quite some time to have a chat with him about that, but my hunch is that what he doesn’t like is the idea of being positive and hoping things get better.

I don’t buy that worldview either.

People mercilessly mock the seeming fruitlessness of New Year’s resolutions—the idea that some random date on a calendar has some magic power to invoke transformation is indeed silly, of course.

But I’ll tell you that six years ago I desperately needed that “New Year’s feeling” whether it was corny or not. I needed a chance to start all over again and the opportunity to begin something new.

I gave my company a name fitting of the hope I so desperately needed—something that simply marked a new beginning: “and yet”. I wrote this to express what it meant to me:

The common phrase “and yet” is poetry’s simple–machine lever.

Whether said with stuttering hesitance or inspiring confidence,
it always means a departure from what came before.

“And yet” humbly hints at the precise moment of possibility.

The single most powerful thought that’s ever struck me is: no one can ever stop you from making things better than they are right now.

We all need new beginnings sometimes.

Seize the hope you need in your life.

Here’s to 2014!

Ain't nobody got time for that

A few years ago, when I was still freelancing, I played a role in helping create our area’s first real community around web, software, and design. Being part of doing that is something I’m proud of, but more importantly, I’ve gained so many great friends out of that community.

In the course of time, as the community and my company grew, I found myself one of the more influential people in that community, which has been a very difficult thing for me to wrestle with.

It’s made for a considerable amount of personal agony over the years as I’ve tried to decide how best to use that influence, leading me to step back and hand off responsibility for the various things I started and led in their earliest days, like Doctype Society, our area’s first tech meetup, and TriConf, our community barcamp.

My greatest fear has long been becoming someone whose influence causes more harm than good. As a result, I’ve always worked very hard not to cross the line of simply by default ignoring people who are critical. I don’t have a very thick skin and I don’t find it easy to dismiss others’ hurtful opinions, even if they’re uninformed or I disagree with them. I tend to hold on to them and use them as both a tool to expose where I need to be a better person as well as a knife to flay my own skin.

In the past six months, I began to hear and feel increasing criticism and distance between the company that I love and our local community. I’ve given some of these a great deal of thought and wrestled with each over the course of many months.

Some people have been frustrated and hurt by personal opinions I have shared publicly about startups, startup culture, and my one-time hopes for our community to be an antithesis of that. In reflection, I regret ever standing in anyone’s way and I have extended some direct apologies.

There are plenty of other little things—criticism of our choices of clientele and friends, our involvement in community events, and the fact that we are as tight-knit of a group as we are, which makes outsiders feel left out. All of these are hard to hear and deal with, especially because the vast majority of them don’t ever come via direct conversation.

I’ve been advised by many people it ultimately doesn’t matter what we do, we’ll likely get different verses of the same.

Thinking about this, I recall the Freudian concept, the narcissism of small differences, which suggests people who are actually quite similar need to find ways to mark themselves as different in order to preserve self-image. It’s basically the root of every feud between neighboring tribes: Catholics and Protestants, Sharks and Jets, Coke and Pepsi, Ruby and Python.

No one’s immune. We all do this.

Subcultures especially need something to be the antithesis of, so in order for some folks to establish themselves as leaders, it’s necessary to mark us as “them”.

Rather than try to fight this or go against it, I’ve decided it’s actually for the best. If there are people locally who want to see our community grow and improve, I absolutely want to support them, and I’m willing to do that even if we’re the bad guy.

But I don’t have to submit myself to their judgment.

A week ago, I caught a link to this post, You’ll be waiting forever, and it’s really resonated with me:

They are going to tell you that you don’t know what you want.

They’re going to tell you that you want too much. You’re unreasonable for reserving your time only for those who support your progress and see the parts of you that are divine. They are going to tell you that you want too little. You have low self-esteem for tolerating imperfection and the people who toe out of line and hurt you. They are going to tell you that you work too hard, are too lazy, think too hard and don’t think nearly enough. Everything you do, they are going to tell you to do the opposite.

I’m here to tell you this:

Your tolerance is part of what makes you divine. Sometimes your hard works means you have to take it a little easier on yourself later. Whether your brain works too hard or not enough, thank your Creator that it is still working and strive to be more balanced every day.

I’m also going to tell you that they don’t know shit about shit, and when it comes to their shit, you know what “they” are going to do? Exactly what they want. So go ahead. Wait for them to tell you when it’s okay for you to feel good about you.

I’ve decided for the sake of my own personal freedom and mental health, I’m going to be more picky about whose opinion I actually give a crap about.

It’s very simple: people are precious and time is short.

There never seems to be enough time to love all the people I love, so why waste energy pleasing people I can’t please?

Deciding to let go of that feels like real freedom.

Whether I'm good

I honestly liked freelancing better than running a company, but I think that’s mostly out of my own personal weaknesses.

As a freelancer, I could participate and collaborate as an equal in conversations, and express opinions without them meaning much of anything to anyone. I could try and fail; I could hold and abandon wrong opinions or ways of thinking; all without significant consequence or political fallout. Bonus: freelancers are always the underdog, so people’s natural prejudgments are to root for them.

(I say all this entirely with the benefit of hindsight, and I am not putting down freelancers—it’s just that the grass is deludedly green on the former side of my fence.)

One of the most frightening moments of my life was when I found myself waxing about what leadership was and wasn’t—and suddenly turned around and discovered there were people actually (WTF) following me, including people for whom single decisions I made could have a significant impact on their life.

I have always believed leadership to be about responsibility, not authority, but the weight of that statement means more when your everyday decisions have a legitimate visible impact that goes beyond yourself and your house.

Power is a useful thing for getting things done, but it’s something I never sought to have, something I’m often in denial of having, and certainly something I often wish I never had. I simply want my opinions and ideas to win when they’re right, and I want them to lose when they’re wrong, on the basis of merit alone.

I would a million times rather be a useful nobody than a useless somebody.

Most of my life I’ve been psyching myself up to believe I was powerful enough to make something happen that I wanted to see become reality. So to suddenly find myself in conversations where I realize I’m carrying a not-so-concealed weapon (“leadership”), that is perfectly apparent to everyone else, but not so myself, is personally terrifying.

Add to that an increasing number of eyes, judges, opinions, and the natural course of life’s various disappointments, and the pressure is not slight.

At some point, my fear of whether I was good enough was overtaken by the fear of whether I was good.

(No doubt, every day I acquire more empirical justifications for my self-doubts, but as far as capability is concerned I’ve long learned this peace: My opinion of my capability is irrelevant. If I am responsible, either I am going to carry out my responsibilities to the best of my ability or I am not.)

On the other hand, the nagging question of my goodness is harder.

Having seen and experienced firsthand the impact of a leader who was not good (to me), I pray most days (sometimes all day) not to become like that. But hearing thirdhand rumors of my motives questioned, and sensing apprehension and silence where there was once mutual respect and trust, always makes me spiral into questioning myself.

I know it’s human nature: the entire reason we put people on pedestals is to knock them down. And what a friend we have in schadenfreude—what a friend we have indeed, right?

Ultimately, I settle in a place of some peace about my doubts of my own goodness, too.

Because I can’t personally judge my goodness.

All I can do is search my heart and share my doubts with people who I know are not afraid to take me to task. I have to trust their assessment—both positive and negative.

Here’s the thing though: I’m not a good person by default.

Just like any other person, I am capable of doing wrong and hurting people.

And knowing that, all I can do is pray for wisdom and keep working on my own destructive and biased thinking, improving my decision making, and trying to constantly get perspective for how I can most usefully be a better person.

This is yet another reason to love Dee Hock’s instructions to leaders to spend 50% of their energy managing themselves.

At this point, I am absolutely certain that is my most important job.

Hermit 2.0

Individual, one-to-one connections are what I want out of and what I want to put into a community.

That’s the only real value I can give and it’s the only value I seek.

I’m not a community leader.

I’m an individual person going somewhere. And I’m doing the best I can to learn and grow and be true to myself along the way.

There are a few people who will travel with me.

And for me that is enough.

The Strength of Weakness (LxJS)

The LxJS team was incredibly warm and welcoming. I’m very grateful for all their hard work on a great conference and for giving me the chance to share this talk there.

Slides with notes:

Loss, gratitude, fear

Woke this morning, unable to get back to sleep. Thumbed through my phone, stumbled upon Timehop and opened it to see what I’d posted about online this day in the past.

I read half a sentence and stopped cold. Exactly two years ago, one of the most amazing young men I’ve known in my life was killed in a car wreck.

I received a call from Kristi today. She was frantic and crying.

She said she and the kids were just in a car wreck.

My heart stopped for a full minute as I scrambled for air the eternity it seemed to take before the next works came out of her mouth—that she and the kids were safe.

I don’t know why I have recently had so many frequent reminders of the depth of gratitude I should have.

I only hope I’m not preparing myself to deal with great loss.

But who am I to avoid it?

People First (JSConf EU)

I was honored by the wonderful JSConf EU team to be able to share this talk at this year’s conference.

Slides with notes: