practice curiosity and inclusion. There’s a wealth of research around ostracism and how it hurts as badly as physical pain. Much of the time, we don’t mean to purposefully exclude. But, it can be as simple as making eye contact with everyone around the table when giving a presentation. I’ve been asked: “My time is precious. Why should I spend it on someone I don’t want in my life?” This is a valid question. I would say to just practice empathy and spend enough time understanding that person’s point of view, even if you don’t agree. Making them feel heard — even if you don’t become friends — maintains respect for both parties.
As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Jasmine Chen. Take it from a former investor: you are your best investment. Jasmine is the creator of Capsule, a self-development journey to bring out your best in work and life. After Princeton, Harvard Business School, and six years of finance, Jasmine was disappointed to find herself and many high-achieving peers still dealing ineffectively with personal or professional problems, thus wasting a lot of productive mindspace. So, she left a hedge fund to write the course she hopes can change the way entire companies and campuses communicate and develop future leaders. Her mission is structural change for common emotional literacy: because both mental health and great managers start with self-management.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?
When I was young, I rarely spoke. I was so terrified of people that I wouldn’t even face the play dates my poor mother set up!
Throughout high school I already knew I was fascinated by psychology, creating an art therapy program for troubled youth and working overnight shifts assisting the mentally challenged. Still, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with that. Lab research was quite a solitary role: funny to think, now that we are writing a piece on loneliness. I wanted to push my instincts and do something that was in touch with people on a broader scale. At the time, that meant business.
I found myself after Princeton, Investment Banking, Private Equity, and Harvard Business School, circling right back to that solitary role. As an investor at a hedge fund, I was in many ways working in an environment similar to a lab. I was doing a vast amount of detailed research, attempting to synthesize important findings to solve a puzzle and write a concise recommendation. I’d finally come to terms with how safe I felt in one space: my head.
During that time, two things coincided that made me leave the hedge fund and create Capsule. One, even post-business school, I saw myself and many of my high-achieving peers still dealing poorly with anxieties, relationships, or lack of fulfillment. Two, it seemed that every other day, I heard of another school shooting or suicide in the news. These, I imagined, were kids who likely dealt with loneliness in a less-than-healthy way.
For myself and fellow professionals, I felt frustrated that we hadn’t learned core life lessons over two degrees: how to manage our doubts and insecurities, how to ask for help, or how to be comfortable alone. For students, I felt that if I could do something to prevent more tragedies and didn’t act, I would be partially responsible.
So, I set out to write the curriculum I wish I’d had. With it, could we become better partners, parents? If I could reach schools, could we make a student’s mind — where most introverts like me spend most of their time — a safer space?
Throughout all my research, I could not find a comprehensive well-being curriculum that addressed what I wanted to know, with the speed and scientific backing to serve my Type-A mind. So, I wrote one in Capsule.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I think the most interesting was also what “broke the camel’s back” in terms of turning my passion into action. I was doing some customer research, when I asked a school what they were doing about mental health. They said they were tearing their hair out, but it was taking them a whole year to come up with four keywords to describe mental health. I felt a fire light up. How many people were going to suffer over the course of another year? There was not just a place, but a duty for tech to move at the pace needed to prevent such tragedies. That’s when I really started to feel the shift from an interest to a burden to act.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
It’s pretty funny when you look at early sketches of Capsule. I’m not a designer by trade, so when I first created mock-ups, I was thoroughly embarrassed by how they looked: everything from hand-drawn comics to clip art. I went out to local universities, waving down students to ask for their feedback. Luckily I look young enough to pass as one of them! I laugh thinking about how low-budget the whole affair was, with loose-leaf papers blowing in the wind.
We still run very lean, and our designs, and all other aspects of Capsule, are continuously being improved upon. I’m sure by the time this article gets published we’ll have an entirely different look and feel. I have a newfound appreciation for how early tech adopters have an eye for imagination, much like investors or those in real estate find opportunities that goes beyond “judging a book by its cover.” Still, I’ve never had a more proud moment than when I got on the phone with a University’s Director of Counseling & Psychological Services, and his first comment was, “I love your design! Very retro!” I guess 2007 is making a comeback 😉
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Capsule is a comprehensive self-development crash-course. Built for the impatient, Type-A introvert, we capture everyone — from those short on time (which these days, is everybody) to those more interested in professional development than mental health (because both great managers and mental health really do start with self-management). Science-backed, we encompass 139+ academic studies on the issues that take up your precious mindspace. For example: self-awareness, mental/emotional management, values and goal-setting, regrets and time-management, decision-making, relationship-building, conflict resolution, and leadership. This is delivered first through a private, mobile course/journal. If desired, users can also opt into a social community.
While Capsule has already touched individual lives, with people across age demographics saying we’ve helped with marriages, anger, anxiety, and teamwork, our biggest value comes from being used in schools and companies. Why? Our mission is common literacy.
If only one partner knows how to express needs, those bids might fall on deaf ears. If only one team member knows how to properly give and receive feedback, attempts at resolving conflict might just stir up resentment.
Finally, both schools and companies struggle to know where to put their development dollars. That’s where our data and custom content comes in. We preserve individual privacy while giving aggregate insight on moods and top-of-mind Q&A. Then, we go write custom content to push out to the entire organization. Do a lot of your teammates want to know about office politics? Great, now you know something needs fixing. But, instead of sending everyone to a $15,000 conference or workshop, let us write a custom capsule on handling office politics. We’ll push that out to the whole organization, so no one is “called out” for asking, but all develop the same understanding at a fraction of the time and cost.
Capsule is unique not only because of its curriculum, which users say is the most cohesive management course they’ve seen, but also because of its delivery style. For users short on time, the entire course is quick to get through, no more than one hour per day for one week. Immediate reflection and ongoing retrieval helps lessons stick “better than any personality test / if answers were just handed to you.” Private and 24/7, we are ideal for those who don’t take to therapy or coaching.
In schools, we are already being used in college classrooms, with students saying we help manage everything from stress to group projects. Touching everything from CAPs to campus housing to career services, we aim to roll out to full campuses in 2020.
Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?
Loneliness, ostracism, and dealing with yourself and other people is core to what we teach in Capsule. As well, my user research spanning teens to parents shows that over generations, loneliness is a real problem, a contributor to disease and depression, and something I think Capsule can help solve. It’s getting worse in the younger generation as well, as tech becomes central to how we communicate. The potential ostracism one can feel when left out of in-your-face events, can be lasting.
On the one hand, being alone in the modern world feels more terrifying than ever. One school administrator told me, “Students don’t know how to be alone anymore.” Imagine losing your phone. The horror!
On the other hand, when together IRL, students are painfully awkward. Over the summer, we had 12 summer interns at Capsule. One, an orientation leader, put it better than I could: “Freshmen don’t even make eye contact with each other.”
While Capsule’s course is meant to be convenient and scalable privately, we also offer an in-person component. My goal is to move people down a path: first, we start with self-introspection and being comfortable with your own thoughts, in your own head. Then, perhaps we test the waters with a bit of social sharing. Finally, once people are ready, they can opt in to in-person group discussions. These group workshops help teams practice authentic leadership and bond, building deeper connections.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?
See above. The research speaks for itself. Isolation is linked to higher risks for things like depression, heart disease, even death.
On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
The societal problem I aim to fix at Capsule is the unfair onus we place on parents to teach their children core self-and-other management skills, whether it’s handling loneliness, expressing your emotions, or working on a team. The cycle we live in is such that children growing up now without proper social-emotional learning will develop into parents who are then somehow expected to raise emotionally healthy children. The hope is that Capsule can provide broad-based common literacy, most easily passed down structurally through companies and schools to change the entire cycle.
What would this do for our economy? Depression & anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity each year. Disengaged employees cost U.S. companies $550 billion per year. Companies should care about spending time with their people, as it impacts their productivity and bottom line, not to mention their health insurance claims, legal liabilities, and NPS. 89% of workers at companies that support well-being initiatives are more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work. 93% say they would stay longer at a firm that invests in their development. Supporting the whole health of employees not only helps address loneliness, but is good business sense.
The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.
First, I think the more opportunities there are for “small talk” via technology, the more awkward it may feel to have “real talk” or get deep. It’s a quality vs. quantity issue. Even when we do open it, it’s easier said over technology. That means practicing face-to-face communication requires that much more bravery.
Second, I think the more we look outside for affirmation, the farther we get from self-awareness. How well can we know our values and judgments if we’re constantly looking to others for validation?
Finally, I’d love to give an example using an excerpt from the Capsule curriculum. Technology isn’t all good or bad. It depends a lot on how we use it. One example is with social media.
As it turns out in research, the more time spent on social media, the lower your self-esteem. Spending 1–3 hours on social media can drop your self-esteem by a whole third. 3–5 hours, and you’re down more than half, below the threshold for “low” esteem.
Why is this? 86% of people on social media make upward comparisons. Some research shows people who limited their social media use have lower depressive and loneliness scores.
If we feel worse after using social media, why do we keep using it instead of meeting new people? A few other cognitive biases are at play. First, we tend to underestimate how much emotion plays into our choices and behaviors. Second, we overestimate how intensely and for how long a future event will impact us. Positive or negative, it’s rarely as influential as you think. When we turn to social media while feeling sad or bored, we 1) aren’t aware of how much those negative emotions are pushing us to act, and 2) overestimate how much better social media will make us feel.
In one study, participants guessed whether spending 20 minutes on Facebook would make them feel better or worse. Most guessed that using Facebook would improve their mood. Meanwhile, different participants actually used Facebook for 20 minutes. They reported worse moods than those who just browsed the internet or did nothing.
What’s fascinating is, how social media was used mattered. While passive browsing felt like wasted time, talking to friends and making plans slightly boosted emotional well-being. Next time you’re on social media, think: How am I using this — watching stories passively or messaging an old friend? The latter is a more meaningful, less solitary, and more uplifting use of your time.
Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.
First, get comfortable with being alone. While that sounds counter-intuitive, we all inevitably get lonely sometimes, and whether we deal with that in a healthy vs. unhealthy way can make all the difference. Capsule starts off with a feeling wheel because managing our own emotions is core to how we handle any situation in which we find ourselves.
Second, use cognitive behavioral therapy and a growth mindset to get yourself out of your shell. One of the toughest things about being alone with our thoughts is that often times, they aren’t pretty. Socially-anxious thoughts such as, “I’ll be alone forever,” or, “everyone dislikes me” are examples of cognitive distortions and can be retrained through some simple steps: looking objectively at the facts, thinking of other, less-severe reasons for said facts, and reflecting on how you might act if the reverse of your thinking were true. For example, perhaps the fact is that a colleague passed you in the hallway without saying hello. A retrained thought might be, “They may not have been ignoring me, they may just have had a bad day or have been focusing on an important task.” As a result, instead of withdrawing from said colleague, the plan of action might be: “I’ll check in tomorrow to see how they’re feeling.”
Third, try something new. We discuss attachment theory in Mission 7, and part of becoming a more secure individual is getting out of your comfort zone to do things that feel vulnerable or awkward but in the long run, contribute to relationship satisfaction. For example, say you have an avoidant attachment style, and naturally gravitate toward keeping others at arm’s length. Intimacy exercises with a partner, such as answering personal questions or doing yoga together, can develop a more secure bond. Surprisingly, some research shows that even though avoidant partners rated these experiences negatively (“Partner yoga? That sounds awful! No way am I doing that!”), they still rated their relationship as higher-quality afterward. What’s more, they continued to self-disclose more than usual over the next 10 days, and continued to have lower levels of avoidance a month after the exercise.
Fourth, practice curiosity and inclusion.. There’s a wealth of research around ostracism and how it hurts as badly as physical pain. Much of the time, we don’t mean to purposefully exclude. But, it can be as simple as making eye contact with everyone around the table when giving a presentation. I’ve been asked: “My time is precious. Why should I spend it on someone I don’t want in my life?” This is a valid question. I would say to just practice empathy and spend enough time understanding that person’s point of view, even if you don’t agree. Making them feel heard — even if you don’t become friends — maintains respect for both parties.
Curiosity I think is important for everything from starting a business to diversity and inclusion. We all come in with biases (what my business should look like, the types of people I’ve encountered). The key is to become an information junkie. Reach out to people you may not know well, and try to understand and empathize with them. Consider it research, if you must! Based on the broaden and build scientific theory, positive new experiences encourage even more expansive exploration.
Fifth, create structural change. If you’re a CEO or university president, a manager or a professor, you are a person of great influence. Your people operate in an environment that takes its tone from the top, and as such, as leader you are in a position to create exponential change. Developing your entire team through 1×1 meetings is great, but it doesn’t last after you leave. Structural change, on the other hand, through processes, programs, culture, last far longer than our individual lifespans. This could mean carving out a role and budget for wellness or diversity, equity, and inclusion, or offering firm-wide trainings that become embedded into the culture and DNA as you scale.
In Capsule, part of what we provide (if desired) is a small-group social experience for conversations with structure. It can be awkward to bring deeper topics up unprompted and free-form.
That’s Capsule’s end mission: to develop common literacy and change the structure of self-development. It’s structural change that we think can make practices, and your legacy, lasting.
You’ll notice, my five recommendations also follow the flow of Capsule’s curriculum: first manage yourself, then manage others, and finally, lead.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Capsule’s mission is to change the structure of self-development: common global emotional literacy across generations and geographies. Eventually, this feedback loop, from the Q&A our users generate, to making research digestible for the masses, can inform the future of psychology research, academic institutions, and workplace policy.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I hesitate to put any names down. There are so many inspiring founders, I’d love to meet every single one and hear their journey. I’m always grateful for the stars that reply to my cold outbounds and are willing to give their time for a relative nobody. On the other hand, I’ve also come across those who say they support a cause — whether education, female founders, or social entrepreneurship — and haven’t been so supportive. In either case, it’s a twofold reminder for myself. First, that I’m often also guilty of putting others on the back-burner. I’m working on becoming a better source for support. And second, not to get offended. Feeling disillusioned implies I’m somehow entitled to a reply, or, because of someone’s stated cause, they owe a reply to everyone else with a similar purpose. The reality is everyone has limitations on time and different ways to attack a problem for good. In the early days, I think it’s important to find those that jump on board with your vision, and practice empathy but not get too bogged down with the rest.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Link to website: www.createcapsule.com