Almost always, “save the world” initiatives are aimed somewhere far from the developed world. Whatever you want to call it: the third world, or some developing nation; we regard it as THE area that needs saving: warring factions in Syria, censorship in China, extortion in Mexico, hunger in Ghana, rape in India, and corruption in Russia. These are real and serious problems in the world and we’re right to seek ways to improve the greater good of people there.
But the developed world is full of many of its own problems, often orthogonal to those of the less developed world:
Diabetes and cancer are the diseases of developed world, and throw us into an inefficient healthcare system that’s incentivised to be expensive and bankrupt patients.
Our food system isn’t helping – the most convenient and least expensive food tends to very processed. Moreover, information on healthful eating is muddled by vested interests.
Many people find themselves in unnatural settings for daily work, where they spend most of their waking hours: long and stressful commutes, uninspiring work, hierarchical and restrictive work structures that cause the same angst and disorders as hierarchical regimes, and a lack of sunlight, fresh air, and movement. This “life” causes many physical and mental ailments including obesity and a widespread reduction in well being.
A consumerist mindset occupies our minds, ceaselessly telling us we need more to be happy, adding clutter to our lives and waste in our landfills.
We find ourselves endlessly busy and distant (physically and mentally) from things that bring true happiness: sleep, family, friends, love, community, and general relaxing and reflection.
The crux of this is that people in the developed world might not be very happy in their day to day lives. By some measures we might be less happy than those living in the developing world
These problems are nothing compared to warfare and hunger, but it’s critical that we make strides to address these issues. For one, most of world is becoming more developed. They crave to be more modern. They want to be more technologically advanced and be a part of the greater world economy. They want success and prosperity and growth. And they rightfully should. But as the developing world inherits our advancement, they inherit our problems. And these would be new problems for them – the next five billion – and big problems for the planet as a whole. So if we’re to “save the world”, let’s go after the problems in front of us, and not just the ones half a world away.
Human social and societal behavior
A strong personal and professional research interest
I’ve worked with faculty at Stony Brook University in developing a theory of evolution of religion, which reached into in-group / out-group behavior and a theory of culture. While this work is yet to be published, it is referenced in the book “Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe: Human Evolution, Behavior, History, and Your Future”.
I was a teaching assistant for the undergraduate and graduate (classroom and online) course on Social Coercion Theory
I’m a former practitioner of Kyokushin karate and served as an instructor for 5 years
I presently practice capoeira, an afro-brazilian martial art and have done so for the past 7 years
I’m an avid roller blader, as a daily commuter and as a safety marshall (5 years) for the inline skating community
I enjoy many outdoor activities including hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, and skiing
I’ve volunteered at St. Francis and Bellevue Hospitals
I was trained and certified as a NYS EMT and briefly volunteered with the Glen Oaks Volunteer Ambulance Corps
I was a pre-med student in a college and applied to medical schools, but decided against the career
A strong personal interest and I do a lot of reading, research, and personal experimenting
It’s that time of year again. No, not just the holidays, but the time where it seems that everyone is becoming sick. Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones that’s not [yet] been afflicted. So you’re avoiding making contact with people with symptoms – telling that coughing coworker to stay at home to spare the rest of your team. And you’re not touching those infested subway poles. And you wash your hands all the time, just to be safe. I call this mindset the contagion model, where a person becomes sick if they’re exposed to agents that contain infectious bacteria or viruses – people and objects included. While there’s a lot of truth to this way of thinking, I feel we rely too much on it. The contagion model is rendered moot by the resilience model, where one can avoid illness altogether by strengthening and conditioning their bodies in various means. This seemingly impossible feat results from developing a strong immune system and a stress buffer. Thus, even if a resilient individual is exposed to infectious pathogens, her body is able to resist and ward off the potential illness.
Although I’m not a doctor, I’ve mixed together a slew of information, from microbiology to stress research, with self-experimentation and introspection to develop this model. Here’s the kicker – as of this writing, I haven’t been sick since December 2005. That’s 6 years! At worst, I’d feel like I have something coming down which slightly bothers me for a day, and then it’s gone. Now, because I only have a single data point – myself – it’s not entirely clear what factors are more prominent to building resilience. Still, I have a bunch of ideas that I consider to be significant factors.
The body is more likely to succumb to illness when it is placed under stress. So it’s important to keep oneself in tip-top shape by eating well, being very physically active, and getting plenty of sleep. I should note two important things I had done in 2005, when my illness-free streak began: I stopped drinking soda and I began serious martial arts training. My body has felt amazingly better since. Likewise, pursuing meaningful or enjoyable activities (in both work and play) and being social go a long way keep us unstressed and consequently stave off illness. If this perspective sounds familiar, it’s because this is core and time-tested health advice, not to mention a central point of this blog. I believe the way we live on a day-to-day basis most profoundly prevents sickness.
Shocks to the body are bad – like going from the toasty indoors to the freezing winter outside – so it’s helpful to acclimate oneself to the new season. Every Fall the past few years, I’ve gradually exposed myself to the colder outside temperatures. I tend to keep the indoor temperature on the low side, like in the 60s. And participating in outdoor physical activities, like roller blading, means putting up with moderately unpleasant cold temperatures as the season carries on. By the time the days get nastily cold, my body has a new set point and tolerance – I never have to feel the intense blast of cold in the dead of winter because my body is already used to the moderate cold. Reducing the cold imbalances in the season means reducing the chance of a cold in your system.
We should embrace germs instead of fearing them. I’m vehemently against the common use of antibacterial soap and hand sanitizers. Here’s why: not all bacteria are bad and we humans have evolved to coexist with many bacteria in mutually beneficial ways. There’s a trillion bacteria on our skin surface and most of them are either beneficial or don’t cause harm. The actual benefit is very interesting, because these typical skin bacteria often prevent the pathogenic bacteria from taking hold on the skin surface. Let this sink in – the bacteria that normally reside on our skin surface essentially give us a force field that protects us from infectious pathogens. Now what happens when we use antibacterial soap or hand sanitizers that kill off everything? The skin becomes a clean slate and an open invitation to all bacteria – good and bad. Think about this the next time you go for the antibacterial product.
The immune system is like a muscle. It requires a consistent workout to maintain its strength. Like an atrophied bicep that can barely lift a thing, a coddled immune system offers little protection when it’s called to action. Our bodies are designed to be exposed to the elements. A minor infection here or there gives the immune system practice and information. It helps us develop immunity and preps our bodies for the big game when flu season comes around. Hence, we shouldn’t be afraid to get a little dirty sometimes.
As I mentioned, these are a few ideas that have come from a lot of experimenting and consideration of the way the human body works. I understand that it may be a bit unconventional, or perhaps blasphemous. But at the very least, I know that something is working. It’d be nice to have some more data points. Have a healthy and resilient winter!
Note: I understand that as a young adult with no major family responsibilities, I have quite a bit more time than others, so this post is geared more towards my peers. Still, for those looking to make the most of their hours and also juggle family responsibilities, check out 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
I like to think that I live an interesting life. My days are spent doing challenging work at my full time job. My nights are filled with physical activities that include roller blading, martial arts, and indoor rock climbing. Plus there’s the non-fiction books I finish every couple of weeks, the blog posts I write, and other less frequent adventures such as mountain biking. All without cutting back on necessities like sleep and seeing friends. When I tell new friends or coworkers about the life I lead, they often ask me how I have the time to do all this. The answer is: I make time. I fill every minute with stuff that matters and cut out the things that don’t.
Let’s start with a few things going for me:
I’m young and free of major family responsibilities – this is also the case for many of my peers
My job has a very flexible work schedule, and I eat 2 meals a day there
I live in the same house as my parents and have a mom that loves to cook
One major thing I don’t have going for me:
I have a very long commute – it would be close to 90 minutes to 2 hours by conventional means, but after 9 months of experimenting, I’ve got it down to about 75 minutes each way, which is still a lot.
Because I’m fortunate enough to have some very flexible work hours I typically wake up at around 8:30 or 9:00am. Now this “sleeping-in” might not sound like the most efficient start, but it’s necessary because I usually get home around midnight. I make sure to have breakfast – and then begins the commute.
In part one of my commute, I drive halfway across Queens, which is about 15-20 minutes each way (because I leave late enough, I don’t hit traffic and I can find parking without much trouble). Still I don’t let this time go to waste – I listen to audiobooks while driving. I’m presently listening to one on Portuguese survival phrases – I’m visiting Brazil soon. But previously, I was listening to a book about the balance between rules and wisdom in our institutions. I already have some podcasts lined up for future drives.
The second part of the commute is the subway ride, which is about 40 minutes each way. Here, I often read non-fiction books (the topics range from social science to business to self improvement). But I also keep my app phone synced with TED Talks and long articles or essays.
I arrive at work at around 11:00am but stick around until nearly 8:00pm to get stuff done (sometimes I don’t get as much done as I’d like and I’ll let it overflow to a weekend with spare time – it all evens out eventually).
Next comes the fun evening activity. Depending on the night of the week, it’s either roller blading (10-30 miles around the city), capoeira, indoor rock climbing, or karate. I get home somewhere between 11pm and 1am, which allows me just enough time to have something to eat and get a decent amount of sleep.
Weekends are for all the things I’m usually unable to cover during the week. This means seeing family and friends, doing cleanup and laundry, replying to personal emails (which includes looking through articles and videos sent by friends). Weekends also serve for more special activities, from going out on mountain biking trips to writing these blog posts (I typically draft several of these articles at a time when my mind is feeling the zen of writing). Oh, and there’s an awesome capoeira class every Saturday night. Weekends also serve as sort of an overflow buffer. Since I’m running on the margins during the weekdays, I’ll sometimes have a little bit of sleep to catch up on or maybe a project at work that I obsessed with finishing since it’s ready in my head.
It’s important to note that I’ve cut out some less than fully satisfying activities from my life. I don’t watch TV or play video games. For many years of my life, I was obsessed with both of these (in the case of the latter, it was practically my life). It’s not that I actively stopped either of these things. Rather, they just got pushed off the table as I became engaged in more and more interesting and fulfilling activities. Fortunately, it was a rather painless process. There are many timesinks in our media-centric culture – it’s essential to understand their pervasive opportunity cost.
Putting in the time to take care of oneself pays off in spades to avoid disasters and the resulting anguish and time loss. For example, I make sure to get plenty of sleep. The kinds of challenges I have at work are pretty mentally demanding so the day is a wash if my brain isn’t up to the task. Likewise, my body needs to recover to be ready to handle the next day’s physical activities – not getting enough sleep puts me at risk for injury. Likewise, by eating well, being physically active, and keeping social, I stave off illness (at the time of this writing, it’s been about 6 years since the last time I got properly sick).
It’s not my intention to gloat or show off with what I’ve said here (ok, maybe a little bit of the latter). I just want to point out that our daily or weekly lives can be full of all sorts of fun, productivity, healthfulness, and meaning. I grow disappointed when I hear someone say that they don’t have the time to read this book or try that new activity, or even worse, not take care of themselves. The true disappointment, however, is on the individual, because he or she will miss out on living an extraordinary life that spans into the everyday. Make the time, be awesome!
Yes, I sleep on a plywood board – as part of an apparently successful experiment I began four years ago. At the time, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. But I expected that it would be good experience to help build character and hardiness. So here’s what I’ve learned after four years:
I find it fairly comfortable – more so than a mattress
The pressure from my body weight is very soothing
The pressure also provides relief for sore muscles – which is a typical state for me given the amount of physical activity I do
It’s left me more adaptable – when I travel, a sleeping bag and slab of floor will do; no need for a mattress
It’s more pleasant in the summer because it doesn’t trap body heat like a mattress – it does require more blankets in the winter, however
A few notes:
I’m not sleeping directly on the plywood itself – at minimum there are sheets and perhaps a blanket between me and plywood
At first, I slept only on my back – this was an adjustment because I never did this before – but I’ve since come to sleep on every side
It’s not particularly comfortable to sleep directly on any bony parts
As mentioned, this is an experiment, albeit a long one. I don’t intend to sleep on plywood forever. Still, I believe a good bed is one that’s very firm. There’s a new experiment planned – sleeping overnight in a hammock. Let’s see how that works…
Are you looking for the fountain of youth? Do you wish to remain young through the years or perhaps turn back the clock on your body? The fountain of youth does indeed exist and I’ve met quite a few folks that have found it. Their secret is in fact not a secret at all. It’s the same advice that’s been around for ages – be very physically active, enjoy every part of life while having the spirit of a child, and have an open mind along with a sense of curiosity.
Consider a couple of the masters from my karate school, both around age 60. One of them enjoys sparring. But he’ll only have it one way – traditional full-contact stand-up. He’s started up a weekly fighting class recently. It’s outrageous that he’s always on the giving end, nearly knocking out advanced students two decades younger than him. The other master is the head of the school. It’s incredible to watch him demonstrate technique – the speed is boggling. Once, the parent of one of my karate students said “he looks pretty good. How old is he now, 40?” Needless to say, this parent was floored when I revealed a more accurate number. While these examples are of individuals practicing for decades, I once came across a 70 year old karate student in training. He had a very youthful nature about him as he enjoys riding his bike and push scooter around the city. More striking was what he told me: that though he seemed closer to his age during the day, he felt like a 20 year old at night when doing his physical activities.
It’s an interesting phenomenon – one I call the “Yoda effect,” named after Yoda’s fight sequence in Star Wars Ep. II (he walked in slowly with a cane, then in the battle he flipped and flew all over the place with grace and agility, only to walk slowly with the cane afterwards). And it’s one I’ve experienced myself – sometimes my entire body will be sore from some crazy training, and yet I can get it un-sore temporarily – by doing more physical activity. Still, the effect is starting to see in others because it seems to visibly remove years off their lives. I often cannot guess the age, even to the nearest decade, of many folks I meet in capoeira (a Brazilian martial art with much playfulness to it), especially female practitioners. They all seem so much younger than their chronological age. The disparity becomes obvious when I see these friends in another context, like when out socializing, where the additional years are no longer masked.
Just as we’re blessed with this fountain of youth, we’re cursed when we ignore its rules. Many people shun their innate child-like nature, thinking that this will make them more mature or responsible (oh how wrong they are). Likewise, these “adults” are too busy to engage in hours of physical activity. The consequence is scary – I know many people close to my age that seem so much older. They complain about their jobs and how tired they always are, and how they’re getting old. The body follows the mind in either case, and in this case, they’re putting their bodies on fast-forward. It’s a situation that deeply upsets me – young people who seem to have their spirits broken.
Still, I keep finding individuals, typically older than me (sometimes by a lot) that are full of life and energy. One good friend joined me and my superhuman friend, Ryan, on a dream week – hiking 50 miles of the major trails in Yosemite, followed by 100 miles of street skating in NYC. To put some perspective, this friend decided to go to law school in his 50s, and is already certified in two states. For the most part, he enjoys spending time with us young-ins, as he finds more common ground with us than with people closer to his age.
The list goes on: one friend, always with a smile on her face, that was doing an extended post-doc in biology after completing a PhD – she’s rock climbing in Spain. Another friend, hiked up Mount Whitney (tallest peak in the continental US) last year. She exhumes the personality and energy of a 4-year old as she yells “WOO HOO” before dropping into a double black-diamond ski trail. Yet she listens intently when others share their pearls of wisdom from life. And then there’s a regular on the weekly 20 mile skating event that started canoeing in the Hudson River last year. Note that she’s married and has kids that are close to my age. But she’s also full of childlike wonder and joy. And how about another skater friend that’s taking trapeze lessons despite a fear of heights…
Some takeaways to live young throughout life:Enjoy every part of life. Always smile at what you’re doing. Do physical activities – lots of different ones. Be open to trying and learning new things. Live as if you’re young – like a child. Your body will believe it. As for your aging friends, they’ll be the ones in disbelief.
I’d like to tell you about my friend and skating brother, Ryan, an individual with seemingly superhuman powers. I first met Ryan in summer 2007 on Tuesday Night Skate, a group inline skating event where we fly through 20 miles of city streets each week. Needless to say, I was in the back of the pack that night, due to my limited experience with such distances and my low performance skates. But Ryan held the front with ease, despite wearing hockey skates with tiny wheels (these offer great maneuverability at the cost of top speed and momentum). He clearly had an incredible athletic ability; the extent of it is simply unreal.
For example, a few years ago, Ryan spontaneously entered a skating race. He wore his hockey skates as always and his attire consisted of a t-shirt of board shorts. Most everyone around him, speed skaters with racing level skates, was wearing spandex. Come the end of the race, Ryan placed fourth, beating out many folks that spend countless hours to be in tip-top racing form. This goes beyond skating. In the past year or two, Ryan participated in a bunch of running marathons and triathlons, seemingly just for kicks and to stay in better shape. He doesn’t train for these things. Despite this, he regularly beats out most of the competition, and sometimes wins outright.
How is it possible that he’s able to do this? Perhaps cause he’s young (a couple of years younger than I am), but even then, he’s quite unique among his peers. I’ve met many incredible individuals of all ages and while some have truly amazing athletic ability, none seem to be in the class Ryan sits in. Many folks claim that Ryan is simply innately talented – that he was born with superhuman abilities. I find this answer demeaning, to both Ryan and the claimer, and I’ll explain why below. If we step back and look at the big picture of Ryan’s life, we see the source of his talents.
Ryan is driven for self-improvement and to better the world, learning at every opportunity. He sits front row center in his college classes, showing great interest in what his professors have to say (likewise, he connects with his professors to learn beyond the course material). His skating technique has changed over the years – it’s clear he always works to improve that. By the same token, Ryan shows great consideration outside of himself. One, he’s very friendly – it’s difficult for me to imagine a [sane] person that wouldn’t like this guy. There’s a strong aura about him. Two, he truly wants to better our world and does every bit to push for this, no matter how small. For example, he doesn’t waste a morsel of food and picks up litter in state parks. Three, he’s idealistic yet also down to earth. Like when he discusses ways to improve the grim condition of our planet, something he’s very passionate about, he speaks with such positivity while being completely aware of the true picture.
All or Nothing
Ryan is often pretty relaxed and easygoing – except when he’s not. When he does any physical activity, it’s full blast. When riding around campus, whether on skates or a bike, he always goes top speed. Although these trips are short, it does mean that Ryan’s muscles only understand one way react – 100%. Likewise, Ryan cranks it beyond our skating trips – he insists on doing a thorough job on any assignment whether for school or for work.
Connected to Nature
Ryan is quite in tune with nature. He has spent time in the Amazon, the villages of Peru, and the Andes. Likewise he’s worked summers in the Everglades and in Yosemite. He presently manages a nature preserve. Perhaps you’d think that Ryan is just a Tarzan type figure, but then there’s the fact that Ryan grew up in New York City and that this life surrounded by nature has been the case for only the past five years.
Disconnected from Distraction
Ryan stays away from many things that inject into our modern lives, particularly certain technologies. He spends little time using electronics (though does show curiosity in my gadgets, probably for the sake of learning). He does use email, but only as he needs it. He doesn’t use Facebook. And while Ryan does have a cell phone, you’d be lucky to get a hold of him on it. Likewise, Ryan doesn’t fixate on possessions or our modern standard of comfort. It is all about the experience for him – which means he doesn’t mind beat up gear. He makes it work, and it’s clear that he’s mindful about using technology.
I consider this the most important factor. If there was someone that perfectly fit the ideals I put forth to live well, it’s Ryan. His eating habits are fantastic. His diet is mostly vegetarian, but by no means strict. It’s just that he loves fruits and vegetables, and often consumes them in a raw state. He’ll eat an apple, core and all, leaving just the stem. On his way to class, he’ll grab a zucchini or chunk of bread (whole grain, of course) and that’ll be his meal. Ryan doesn’t “exercise” but he’s more physically active than pretty much anyone you’d meet. Moving around is a core part of his life and not merely addendum to it. It helps immensely that he arranges his life around this: from biking around everywhere to digging up holes and such when at work at the nature preserve. Contrast this to most other folks, using cars or public transportation and sitting in offices all day (stuck inside and away from sunlight and fresh air). Moreover, Ryan has little unnecessary stress in his life. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t experience great stress, especially given his driven lifestyle. Still, this stress is self imposed and on his terms, so it likely bears few negative effects.
Perhaps the perspective is relative, but I don’t think Ryan is really superhuman. More precisely, I feel the rest of us are just subhuman. Put simply – Ryan is maxing out human potential in its most natural and evolved way. In light of everything I discussed, there’s no surprise that Ryan is such an incredible human with seemingly unreal athletic ability. Ryan’s entire life is arranged to make this so and it’s not unintentional. I give him much credit for living in this manner – it’s a very difficult thing to do in our modern society. But knowing what makes for a person like Ryan is inspiring, because it means we have a realistic opportunity to be so much more than we are right now. We can use his methods, many the same as those I discuss on this blog, to live up to the human potential. Until then, no matter how hard we train for those athletic events, be ready to be outclassed by Ryan. We don’t stand a chance.
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs), shoes that emulate being barefoot. They’re actually selling so well that they’re hard to find. Even celebrities are wearing them, garnering more attention. Yes, I wear them too. Actually, I’ve been wearing them for over two years. Before the popularity and trendiness. I jumped on these weird pieces of footwear because I sensed that there was something humanly important about being barefoot. For example, in martial arts training, we were always barefoot (and in the very rare instances we weren’t, things were just very off). Still, I didn’t understand what the real significance of this was.
That is, until I read this article about 16 months ago. It discussed how increasingly “advanced” running shoes were doing nothing to help runners prevent injuries; that humans have evolved incredible foot mechanics and are better off barefoot. The author’s book on the subject, Born to Run, (released soon after and which later became a best seller) shared inspiring real-life stories of amazing runners, many of them running in a barefoot manner, as well as the research and history behind running barefoot (and not running barefoot). I share a few very important points mentioned along with my own experiences:
First, that our feet have undergone a great deal of improvement through over four million years of evolution. They contain a large number of muscles and ligaments (I believe the number is somewhere around thirty, if not more). Our feet also contain a large number of nerve endings – as many as our hands – so they provide a great deal of sensory feedback to deal with balance and mobility. Wearing padded shoes, like most sneakers, undoes much of the evolutionary benefits. Shoes are too cushioned to give feet the beating they like and hence the muscles and ligaments in the feet atrophy. Likewise, the thick sole of a sneaker deprives us of all the nerve feedback that tell us so much about what we’re walking on.
Second, shoes actually negate the most important of the evolutionary features – the arch of the foot. Any person with a hint of engineering knowledge knows that an arch is fantastic at bearing load. So it makes a great deal of sense for humans to evolve a load bearing mechanism on their feet to support all the force from walking, running, jumping, and whatnot. The scary part is that many shoes “support” the arch; an arch does not need support and giving it “support” causes it to cease function. This means that since it’s no longer dissipating the load, some other body parts must step up. Force from the foot hitting the ground, no longer absorbed by the arch, travels up to the knee and the lower back. Enter injuries to these regions.
So what if you have flat feet? Does all this still apply? Yes, because flat feet are often caused my atrophied muscles. I myself have flat feet from decades of wearing sneakers on a daily basis. However, I’ve made noticeable improvement to my arches by regularly wearing non-padded footwear, including VFFs and flip flops, to slowly build up the muscles in my feet. Another interesting argument lies at the crux of the sneaker industry: shouldn’t the padding provided by shoes be adequate? It seems not – more padding means more sensory deprivation which means the foot must strike the ground harder to know what’s going on. Any benefit is cancelled out, if not making things worse.
Third, there seems to be discrepancy about form and it often centers around heel-striking – that is, landing on the heel of the foot when running. Sneaker companies have a huge hand in this mess. Forty years ago, they came up with the idea to pad the heel of the shoe. They claimed that this would improve runner performance by allowing longer strides from heel striking, made possible by the padding. One consequence was an unnatural running form, which exacerbated the problem of shock traveling to the knees and back. With heel striking, there’s no possibility of the arch absorbing shock. This makes it a very dangerous practice. It’s pretty frightening since this is the way most people walk and run, as afforded by their shoes. It seems the proper way to land is to do so on the mid-foot, maybe even landing on outside and rotating it in as so to compress the arch. I’ve found this to work best from my own experiences. I’ve also noticed that this is the natural way people run barefoot, by secretly observing my karate students, kids and adults alike, run. Note that for walking, you pretty much have to land on your heel, but you can do so gently and then let the mid-foot take over (and hence make use of the arch).
The problem of heel striking may come as a surprise to many people; it certainly did for me. In fact, when I first had my VFFs, I was heel striking on them when merely walking, simply because I had a habit from wearing sneakers my whole life. Needless to say it was a very painful experience to walk on pavement with VFFs and I avoided doing so for nearly a year. It was after I’d read Born to Run that I understood that the problem was in technique. After correcting for this (as in, I stopped heel striking when walking) the VFF barefoot experience became very enjoyable, even on concrete sidewalks. I should note that I had to “break in” my feet and have them get used to walking “barefoot”. The muscles in my feet needed to be rebuilt and the process took at least several months.
It’s interesting that running has gotten such a bad rap – how it’s hard on the knees. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that when you undo four million years of evolution, there’ll be problems. We have an incredible amount of technology built into our very bodies. Be mindful of it. Watch the way you walk and run and jump. Note what you’re putting around your feet. Feel all the sensations from beneath your feet and what it means to be connected to the world.
Is fluorescent lighting messing up your sleep cycle? The bright white glow, not unlike daylight may cause our bodies to interpret that night has not fallen. Think about it: for nearly all of human history, access to light at night has been limited. For the most part it’s been moonlight and fire. The former isn’t particularly bright and latter produces a gentle hue of colors (often called a warm color temperature). Both contrast starkly with bright, harsh fluorescent lighting. Even lighting directly prior to fluorescents, including incandescent bulbs, was generally warm in color.
Our evolutionary history clearly suggests that our bodies are adapted to gentle, warm colored light at night. So does exposure to fluorescent lights at night cause our internal clocks to become screwy as our circadian rhythms are unable to tell day and light apart? I’m very inclined to say it does and I received some news recently that further supports this: a friend of mine had informed me that upon running into sleep problems, his sleep doctor suggested that he wear glasses, at nighttime, that filter out blue colors (a.k.a cool color temperature light). Clearly the purpose of this was to keep the body exposed to more natural nighttime lighting.
As the ongoing green trend progresses, people are pretty much forced to switch to fluorescent bulbs. This has me concerned and I’m not the only one. Many people simply don’t like the light “quality” from fluorescent bulbs (it’s quite probable that the unnatural effect plays a role in this). Others are sensitive to the flickering nature of fluorescents. Most people simply don’t know why they don’t like them, they just don’t (I was in this category for a long time). In the U.K., there’s actually a thriving black market for incandescent bulbs since they were banned.
So are we at a total loss? I wouldn’t say so. I’ve noticed that many of the newer fluorescent bulbs are not white in color, but rather have a warmer color temperature. It seems manufacturers are aware that many people prefer warmer tones for home lighting. I’m sure the technology will mature over time as well. Color spectrums will improve. And eventually fluorescents will be phased out by something else. There’s already one candidate: LED lighting. While LEDs are very pricey, the cost will drop as companies invest more in the technology. I’ve already made my own investment by purchasing a powerful LED flashlight with a special coating that gives warm colored light output. Combined with a light diffuser, it makes for a great reading light (on low mode, nonetheless).
But until technology catches up, just be aware of the tradeoffs in switching to fluorescent lights. I’m all for being more environmentally friendly, but damage to sleep cycles can be more costly overall.
What do you do? What do you believe in? Do you do what you believe in? Are you doing something you care for? Is it something that matters? We spend most of our waking hours working – work is part of who we are. Is this who you wish to be? These questions are neglected by many folks. They feel that a job is just a job. In some cases, their argument is valid, like if they don’t have other options and they need to support their families. But the many other people that do have a choice refuse to acknowledge it. They want to stay “safe” and have a job instead of pursuing a calling. Work is just work, yet work is life.
This shouldn’t just matter to individuals, but also to organizations (especially companies). Is your organization all about what it does or what it believes? Do its employees put in work in exchange for a paycheck? Or do they put in sweat and blood to support a cause you jointly believe it? Is your organization persuading potential consumers with what its product does? Or is it building a following around a genuine philosophy?
In a recent TED talk (embedded above), Simon Sinek discusses what inspires people (to work, to buy, and to support). He proposes a golden circle which consists of three concentric rings with a term within each: what, how, and why, from the outside to the inside respectively. He explains how so many companies, such as Gateway, start from the outside and go in, while others, like Apple, start from the inside instead, with why. So while Gateway, and most other computer companies, talk about what their products to, Apple makes products that exemplify why the company does what it does. (Sinek also tells similarly admirable stories behind The Wright Brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr. so check out the whole talk.)
Sinek offers scientific support for the golden circle in the form of biology; he shows how our brains are structured in the same manner. The most recently evolved part, which is more rational, controls the what while a more ancient part, involved with decision making but not tied to communication, is more about the why. As much as you can try to persuade someone on strict rational grounds, the more emotional feeling part of the brain will have a strong say in decisions.
So look at yourself and your organization. Does your work matter? Does your product just do something or does it prove that you and your company believe in something your consumers believe in?
Vegetables rank very low when it comes to caloric density. But they rank up on top when it comes to health benefits. Surely you have all those fancy vitamins and antioxidants. But vegetables also help keep your digestive system (and the rest of your body) running smoothly with their high fiber content. So meals should be loaded with vegetables. And you can eat a lot without the extra burden of calories. Unfortunately, a lot of our meals (especially what you get when eating out) offer meager vegetable content at best. What can we do to change this reality? For one thing, we can order the food that does come with vegetables. Perhaps we can even request that veggie filled items be added to the menu. If enough people do this, then it’s surely in the interest of an establishment to do so. And if you’re cooking yourself, then toss some more veggies in there and add some life to the meal!