Let Cindy Otis Teach You to Avoid Being Overwhelmed and Stay Focused

This OTYCD post originally appeared in July 2018.

Let Cindy Otis, a former CIA analyst and author, teach you how to avoid being overwhelmed and stay focused in a world where everything seems to be on fire.

Otis published an amazing thread on Twitter on June 28, 2018. Read it, save it, memorize it. We’ve reproduced it here, with the emojis removed. Scroll down for more info on Otis.

Today seems like the right time to do a thread I’ve been thinking about for a while on how to handle the seemingly never-ending deluge of depressing and disturbing news. My tips are based on my time as a CIA military analyst in which I dealt daily with disturbing content.

There are several risks to being overloaded with disturbing/negative content.  [We are replacing her emoji checks with numbers.] 1. Complacency – becoming so used to the deluge that it all starts to seem normal. 2. Paralysis – that is, being so overwhelmed, you can’t figure out what to do/how to move forward.

  1. Crisis perspective – you get trapped in the Breaking News cycle where everything seems like a potentially world-ending crisis to you. 4. Depression/PTSD – you don’t have to be on the frontline of a war have either/both. Disturbing content is absolutely a trigger.

There are also serious physical consequences to living a negative content overloaded life. I had a colleague who didn’t know he had stage 4 brain cancer because the symptoms were the same as our very stressful careers–exhaustion, random fevers, stress, and dizziness.

So, what do you do? First, I strongly urge you not to ignore the news/current events. Ignorance is one reason we have this society. It won’t make the problems go away & contributes nothing to their solving. Now that that’s established, here’s how to make it easier to handle:

[Numbers from here forward are from Otis.] 1. TAKE ACTION. Volunteer for a food pantry, canvass for a political candidate, donate to a NGO, visit a sick friend. Seriously. Service of some kind in your community lets you be part of SOLUTIONS. You will see RESULTS when otherwise you’d feel helpless.

  1. Conversely, for those who may take tip #1 to the extreme–know that you alone can’t save the world. Accept your limits. You aren’t a 7/11. You can’t always be open. At the end of every day when I reached my limit, I silently told myself, “I’ve done what I can today.”

(Note: Repeating that to myself did not stop me from feeling like I could have done more most days. But it was important to tell myself anyway because I am human. We are human. It’s good we feel things.)

  1. RESEARCH BEFORE PANICKING. Easier said than done, but everything will seem like crisis/earth-ending if you don’t know what has/hasn’t happened before. If it has happened before, it’s can be hugely comforting to know how it was resolved and/or what might happen next.
  1. GET UP & MOVE. Put the phone away, turn off the TV, log out of Twitter. Go for a walk, sit outside, get some coffee, call a friend. CIA is full of ppl walking the building with a colleague/friend. There’s a reason. Our brains & bodies need breaks from stressful content.
  1. SET RULES. Because of my work at CIA, I had a rule–I only read fiction at home. I had enough reality at work. In the civilian world, I set blocks of time each day where I turn everything off–no news or social media. Let yourself recharge so you can keep fighting later.
  1. AVOID DARK HOLES. (I’m sure there’s a joke to be made about that.) It’s easy to get sucked into the swirl of bad news. You watch a gruesome YouTube video and the next one is all queued up to play right after it. Focus on one issue at a time. Deal w/ it before moving on.
  1. YOU NEED FUN. When there is suffering, war, despair, etc. around you, it’s easy to feel guilty when you have fun, feel happy, have a good meal with friends. You NEED these things. You will be better able to do good in the world if you let yourself have these things.
  1. TALK TO SOMEONE. Often, we curl inward socially when overwhelmed w/ negative content. It’s a means of protection. One of the great things at CIA was that everyone else knew what you were going through. Whether it’s therapy or talking to your person, talking helps.

None of this is easy. I got burned out a lot in my career & many days recently, I’ve felt overloaded by the barrage. I’m sure you have too. But you and I can’t check out. We can’t give up & we need to stay engaged, but we can’t do that if we get overloaded. Keep going.

Shout out to @Celeste_pewter who forces me to get out of the house when I start sounding especially doom and gloom!

Otis posted a follow-up thread on June 29, 2018:

Wow. I woke up this morning to find my thread went viral & my inbox was full of messages from ppl. My biggest takeaway from it is that we’re all struggling right now. So, I’ve got a few quick things you can do RIGHT NOW to help survive whatever news dump we’ll get today:

  1. Read this article by @leeferran that includes tips from me on how to read the news like an intelligence analyst. It gets at my tip from earlier on doing research before panicking and talks about how to actually do that research. Knowledge = POWER.

(Here is the link she referenced:) http://www.realclearlife.com/media/6-rules-thinking-like-cia-analyst-beat-fake-news/

  1. Schedule the time you’re planning to unplug today. Write it down so it is more likely to happen. Will you take a walk? Call a friend to talk about anything but the news? Take a power nap? Bake some cookies? Watch your fave trash TV show? Whatever it is, DO IT.
  1. Look at who you follow on social media. Do you only follow people who perpetuate the crisis mentality? If so, add in some practical folks who provide actionable ways forward and context you need to know. @Celeste_pewter is a must for Americans worried about politics.
  1. Tell yourself as many times as you need to hear it today — YOU ARE NOT ALONE. YOU CAN DO THIS. WE NEED YOU WITH US. Take care, all.

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Visit Otis’s website:

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Believe It, You Matter, Part XIII: The GOP Really Is That Bad

This post originally appeared on OTYCD in July 2019.

Believe It, You Matter: the GOP really is that bad.

Sarah Jane here. I write all the Believe It, You Matter pieces for OTYCD.

Some time in 2018, I came across tweets from David Roberts (@drvox) that referenced the results of focus groups convened at various times between 2000 and 2014 with voters. They laid out information that showed what the GOP intended to do, if elected.

I’ve had trouble finding direct reference to the George W. Bush-era focus groups, but I was able to find them for the Romney-Ryan campaign in the 2012 cycle.

It describes groups convened by a Democratic Super PAC that attempted to alert voters to the extreme nature of the Romney-Ryan platform–promises to cut taxes for the wealthy and essentially destroy Medicare.

They hit a truly startling finding.

Apparently, a large number of the focus group recruits simply refused to believe that what the Super PAC described was, in fact, the Romney-Ryan platform.

They couldn’t wrap their heads around the notion that real politicians would advocate such unpopular and ruinous policies. Did not make sense. Did not compute. So they rejected the notion that the platform was the platform. It couldn’t be. It was cartoonishly evil. Real American politicians aren’t cartoonishly evil, because democracy, and civility, and American values, and rules and norms, and blah blah blah.

I’m going to drop the cites here before pivoting. Here’s a passage taken from a 2012 piece by David Roberts for Grist:

“If it’s hard for many folks to see the centrism already on offer from Obama, it’s also hard for the general public to see — to really understand — the radicalism on offer from the GOP. In the middle of Robert Draper’s recent New York Times Magazinepiece on Priorities USA Action, a Democratic super PAC, comes this astonishing detail:

Burton and his colleagues spent the early months of 2012 trying out the pitch that Romney was the most far-right presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater. It fell flat. The public did not view Romney as an extremist. For example, when Priorities informed a focus group that Romney supported the Ryan budget plan — and thus championed “ending Medicare as we know it” — while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.[my emphasis]

That is, of course, an entirely accurate description of the Ryan budget plan. It’s precisely what Romney and the congressional GOP have said they will enact. And yet when voters hear it, it sounds over-the-top, like fear-mongering.

My guess is that most voters wouldn’t believe that the GOP has embarked on a nationwide effort to disenfranchise low-income and minority voters, but that’s just what they’ve done. (Here’s the latest.) Most voters wouldn’t believe that Romney and the GOP want to end the Environmental Protection Agency as we know it, but that is precisely what they have said they will do; Romney has expressed only eagerness to work with the most anti-environmental House of Representatives in the history of the institution.”

Here is the July 5, 2012 New York Times piece in which Roberts found the information about the focus group. (Scroll down to the subhead with the words “Last December” in bold:

And here is a MaddowBlog piece that references the post-9/11 focus groups. Not an ideal cite, but unfortunately, I can’t find other sources talking about it (I invite others to send them if they find them):


I realized I should pass on this information about the focus group results, but for months, I couldn’t figure out how. One of the fundamental tenets of OTYCD is to offer bad news with substantial side dishes of, you know, THINGS YOU CAN DO to fight back against what the news represents.

The focus group results are important, but they don’t offer anything inherent to act on.

Well, I’ve finally figured it out.

You can use this information when you talk to friends and family about the importance of voting.

It seems gross and Pollyanna-ish to find a silver lining in the torrent of bullshit that Trump has rained upon us since November 2016, but there is this:

The disbelief that people expressed earlier in the century about the GOP should have evaporated by now.

People should be far more likely to believe that the GOP and its goals are cartoonishly evil.

Only people who are cartoonishly evil would stick with Trump, despite the mountains upon mountains of evidence that he’s incompetent, incapable, venal, self-serving, and thoroughly corrupt.

Only people who are cartoonishly evil would support placing babies in cages.

Only people who are cartoonishly evil would go mute in the face of Trump’s outrageous capers with Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, Mohammad bin Salman, and other autocrats.

Only people who are cartoonishly evil would plow ahead with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh after the president, who was, by then, credibly accused of a felony by Michael Cohen, placed 93 percent of Kavanaugh’s work product under the veil of executive privilege, and off-limits to their evaluation.

Only people who are cartoonishly evil would stand by while Trump refuses to safeguard elections and announces he’d be open to accepting information about opponents from foreign governments, which is a crime.

Only people who are cartoonishly evil… I could write so many more of these. You get the point.

When you talk to friends and family about the importance of voting, you can say “I don’t know what happened, but the GOP has completely gone around the bend. [Reel off a bunch of things they’ve done under Trump, describing each with neutral, factual, uncharged language. That means don’t use the phrase “cartoonishly evil,” btw.] Even if you don’t normally vote for Democrats, it’s important you do so now, to help the country find its way back to something that looks like sanity.”

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Sign Up for a Health Insurance Plan at Healthcare.gov During a Special Enrollment Period That Closes TOMORROW

Sign up for a health insurance plan at Healthcare.gov during a special enrollment period that ends tomorrow.

We originally published this OTYCD story in mid-February, after Biden announced it. We’re rerunning the story one more time before the special enrollment period ends on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

Read the story here:


Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the blue button on the upper right or checking the About & Subscribe page. And tell your friends about the blog!


Sign Up for a Health Insurance Plan at Healthcare.gov During a Special Enrollment Period

Sign up for a health insurance plan at Healthcare.gov during a special enrollment period announced by President Biden.

We originally published this OTYCD story in mid-February, after Biden announced it. We will re-run the story at least once a month until the special enrollment period ends on May 15, 2021.

Read the story here:


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One Thing You Can Do Hits “Pause”

Hello all, Sarah Jane here. I’m the lead writer and editor at One Thing You Can Do.

As such, I do virtually all of the work. (This is not a complaint.)

I’ve just had some changes in my life–good ones, don’t worry–that are eating the time I allocate to preparing posts for OTYCD.

I’m not stopping my activism, and neither should you. But I am being forced to change how I pursue it, however. At least for now, that means pausing work on OTYCD.

That pause might be permanent. I hope it won’t be, and I don’t intend it to be. But I literally can no longer budget the hours needed to fill the OTYCD queue, and I need time to figure out if and when and in what form I can resume that work.

Again, I’m continuing with my activism, I’m just having to take a different approach, is all. Things have changed for the better under President Biden, but we need to remain vigilant. We can’t afford to allow the civic muscles we built under Trump to atrophy.

Regardless of what happens, I want to thank you all for reading and sharing OTYCD. I am grateful for every single one of you.

Stay strong. You matter. You’ve got to stay here and carry on the fight as best you can.


Sarah Jane Smith


Save This Tool, Created by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Which Tracks Trump’s Conflicts of Interest

Save this tool, created by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which tracks Trump’s conflicts of interest.

Trump is no longer president, and you helped make that happen. Thank you!

Unfortunately, until his pre-existing conditions and assorted bad habits team up to ease him into his eternal rest, he will mutter and squawk and threaten to run again in 2024.

Will he actually do it? Is this all just a grift? We at OTYCD say that it doesn’t matter, and the only safe approach is to take Trump’s musings about 2024 with deadly seriousness. The American public generally treated Trump like a joke in 2015 and 2016, and look what happened. Not funny.

To that end, we’re recommending you save a tool built by CREW to track Trump’s many and varied conflicts of interest during his presidency.

All material gathered by the tool was valid as of February 15, 2021.

It counted 3,740 conflicts of interest, roughly two for each day of his administration.

Those conflicts included 100 political events held at properties owned by Trump; 69 foreign trademarks granted to Trump businesses; and 547 visits by President Trump to properties he owned, 328 of which were visits to his golf courses.

See Trump’s conflicts of interest tracker:


See the main CREW website:


See its Our Team page:


See its News page:


See CREW’s reports and investigations page:


Donate to support CREW’s work:


Like CREW on Facebook:

Follow CREW on Twitter:


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See the One Thing You Can Do Landing Page for Stories on Tony the Democrat and Postcards to Voters

See the One Thing You Can Do landing page for our stories on Tony the Democrat and the Postcards to Voters movement.

One of the earliest topics that OTYCD devoted multiple stories to is Tony the Democrat and the Postcards to Voters movement.

Launched in March 2017, it opened a new avenue for activism–helping elect Democrats at all levels through hand-written postcards sent to Democratic voters to nudge them to cast a ballot in state, local, and special elections.

A lot has happened since March 2017, both on OTYCD and in the world. We rarely write about individual Postcards to Voters campaigns these days, particularly now that Tony the Democrat has a fully fledged Postcards to Voters website.

But we thought we’d create a landing page for past OTYCD stories on Tony the Democrat and Postcards to Voters that are still valid.

Please keep in mind: Postcard stamps now cost 36 cents apiece. We amended the old stories to reflect this but wanted to mention it here as well, just in case.

Sponsor those who write GOTV postcards for Tony the Democrat:


Recruit writers in person for Tony the Democrat’s Postcards to Voters campaign:


For old times’ sake, here’s the first-ever OTYCD story on a Postcards to Voters campaign:


See the Postcards to Voters homepage:


See its Volunteer page to learn how to join the postcard-writing army:


See its Results page to learn how its candidates have performed:


Purchase postcards from Postcards to Voters:


Order 36-cent stamps from the United States Postal Service (USPS):


Follow Postcards to Voters on Twitter:


Like Postcards to Voters on Facebook:


Donate to Postcards to Voters:


See the merch in the Postcards to Voters shop:


Subscribe to One Thing You Can Do by clicking the blue button on the upper right or checking the About & Subscribe page. And tell your friends about the blog!


Let Jane Elliott Open Your Eyes About Racism in America

Let Jane Elliott open your eyes about racism in America.

OTYCD originally published this story in January 2019. We’re remaking the page with fresh URLs because the links on the original page are broken or have vanished.

Elliott became an activist after Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated in 1968. Shocked by the racist reactions she heard about King’s death, the elementary-school teacher designed an exercise for her young, white students in small-town Iowa that would show them what racism felt like.

She dubbed it the “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise.” On day one, she showed blatant favoritism to the blue-eyed kids, giving them extra helpings at lunchtime and five extra minutes of recess. She treated the brown-eyed kids as African-Americans were treated then, forcing them to sit at the back of the class and barring them from using the same water fountain that the blue-eyed kids did. She spouted ridiculous arguments about blue-eyed superiority, and antagonized brown-eyed kids who complained about their treatment. Some blue-eyed kids became bossy and nasty to their brown-eyed peers.

The experiment seemed to affect how well the two groups did on tests and schoolwork. The “superior” kids did better and felt confident enough to attempt harder work. The “inferior” kids withdrew and did less well in class.

The next day, the two groups changed places. Then Elliott asked the kids to write about how the experiment made them feel.

Word got out about the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes experiment. It led to an appearance on The Tonight Show, two books, and a 1970 ABC documentary, The Eye of the Storm, which spread the word further. Demand for lectures and diversity training workshops became so strong that Elliott left her public school career in the mid-1980s.

It should be said that academic analyses of the effects of Elliott’s experiment are mixed. It seems to show moderate success in reducing bigotry long-term, but it might not be enough to justify the trauma the experiment could inflict on its participants. (Elliott caught flak for doing the experiment with eight-year-olds rather than trying it on teenagers or adults.)

Regardless of whether the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes experiment succeeds in making white people less racist, Elliott’s lectures can help you understand white privilege and push back against it.

See Jane Elliott’s homepage:


See her recommended bibliography, which is a good place to get started with learning about white privilege and its effects. The list also includes titles that cover sexism, homophobia, ageism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry in general:


Have a look at her current learning materials:


Like Jane Elliott on Facebook:


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Believe It: You Matter.

This OTYCD entry originally posted in April 2017. It’s among the earliest stories we’ve published, and it might be the best. That’s why it will always appear on the page headlined “The Most Important Thing You Can Do”.

Read Believe It: You Matter:


P.S. Trump went through his entire four years in office without criticizing Vladimir Putin even once.

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Support Jana Lynne Sanchez’s Run for a House of Representatives Special Election for Texas’s 6th District

Support Jana Lynne Sanchez’s run for a House of Representatives special election for an open seat in Texas’s 6th District.

We at OTYCD wrote about Sanchez in 2018, when she ran for this very seat. She won the Democratic primary but was defeated in the general by Republican Ronald Wright. She got 45.4 percent of the vote to his tally of 53.1.

Wright won re-election in 2020 but died of COVID-19 on February 7, 2021. He’s the first sitting member of Congress to succumb to the disease; Luke Letlow, a GOP Congressman-elect from Louisiana, died of COVID-19 before he could be sworn in.

Cites: https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/08/politics/ron-wright-congressman-dies/index.html

Wright’s death prompted a special election to fill his seat, and Sanchez has stepped forward to run. She is one of ten Democrats and 11 Republicans vying for the post alongside a Libertarian and an Independent.

Ballotpedia does not reflect a date for a primary for this special election, but the special election itself takes place on May 1, 2021.

Cites: https://ballotpedia.org/Texas%27_6th_Congressional_District_special_election,_2021

The name recognition Sanchez built during the 2018 campaign should serve her well here. In February, she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that she had already raised $100,000.

See Jana Lynne Sanchez’s campaign website:


See her “About” page:


Volunteer for her special election campaign:


Donate to her campaign via ActBlue:


Like the Sanchez campaign on Facebook:

Follow Jana Lynne Sanchez on Twitter:


See her Ballotpedia page:


Read a brief February 16, 2021 Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on Sanchez:


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