How to stay sane

These are reading notes from “How to stay sane”, a small handy book full of advice. It has good signal-to-noise ratio, which is rare enough in the self-help genre.

How to Stay Sane


==> keep diaries! No need to be fancy. Just quick notes and a quick star rating for each day can go a long way.

Relating to others

Concept of “mentalization”: ability to understand our inner mental processes and explain them

Exercises for couples: the daily/weekly temperature reading. Reserve 30mins to 1hr and treat this as a meeting. Topics to tackle:


To maintain healthy brains we need to keep learning. To keep learning we need to stay at the edge (but not too far out!) of our comfort zone.

Exercise: draw the comfort/uncomfort zone. At the center, things that feels completely comfortable. Then around it things that that feel occasionally okay, then draw another circle around that containing things that don’t feel comfortable, etc.

Personal narrative

What we feel all depends on the story we tell ourselves. It’s useful to step back and become aware of our own biases.



Focus on breathing for 60s straight (quick meditation)


Focus on running thoughts with a pen/paper next to you. Then label each thought before jumping to the next. At the end, group thoughts together so you have an idea, in aggregate, of what your brain thinks most about. Do this weekly and you’ll have an idea of how your mental health evolves.

1-2-3-4 breathing

Focus on breathing, and mentally call each of the phases:

  1. Inhale
  2. Top of in-breath
  3. Exhale
  4. Bottom of out-breath


Try to map your entire family with a tree. Each node is a person. Label it with:

Symbols needed:

Questions to ask once you have the map in front of you: