Sleep… On Your Terms 

Sleep… On Your Terms 

Most people neglect the very thing we spend almost half our lives doing.

Last week we learned how George used his assumptions as targets to gain control of his life. However George hadn’t slain the dragon. He had put out the fires that this vicious beast laid upon the land. This menace which plagues us daily is Sleep.

George was a terrible sleeper. Thought for thought, his most productive time of the day had actually been from the moment he laid down until the moment he fell asleep. Those two moments were usually hours apart. “Going to bed” generally meant “staying awake” and thinking. A lot.

It was funny because without realizing it, George had actually developed a completely rock solid sleep routine. It was predictable, reproducible, and effective. The only downside is that it was a good routine for someone living somewhere between Japan and Hawaii.

His Circadian rhythm was all off. Sunrise and sunset had no bearing on his day. 10pm may as well have been 3pm. Naps were coveted like a drug addict in need of a fix. He felt he had actually beaten the monkey because “now I only need 5 hours and I’m good”. Except he never even got 5 hrs.

It’s funny how sleep-deprived people always think good sleep is only an hour more than their curent average.

Let’s talk about fixing sleep. As an insider tip, if there’s anything medical you ever wanted to know, find the practice guidelines for that specialty. They are all online and free. I promise it is infinitely more valuable than any biased website or message board for “People with the same problem I’m learning about.” I’ve shared my bias against bias before. As a mental health provider, I consistently see unintentional exposure to bias as a toxic factor. Go to the source first. Then engage the interpretations.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine practice guidelines are clear- sleep or die. Okay they also see increased mortality with excessive sleep but that is likely confounded by the mortality of people over 60 years old. They optimize the recommendation at 7-8 hours a night for adults. For kids they recommend 9-12 hour for elementary school age and 8-10 hours for teenagers. Sorry “I only need 5 hours and I’m good” guy, science says you don’t realize what you’re missing nor what you’re doing to your body. “My body is trained to go on little sleep.” Yes, and an alcoholic’s body is trained to not be intoxicated after a fifth of vodka. For kids the cry will be “but homework and after-school activities!” If your child had cancer and needed chemotherapy every evening how would you manage it? Think how much we protect an infant’s sleep. Why does that change when school starts? The AASM is saying that a child not getting enough sleep is at risk of mortality, among many other risks. A child’s sleep should be the first priority in setting up their daily schedule.

The guidelines also outline how one should approach sleep management. Here I am only going to focus on Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSWPD). It is effectively jet leg as though you traveled East. Most people who think they have insomnia have DSWPD. The difference is that DSWPD allows a person to fall asleep and sleep well if they are given the time. “If I could just go to bed at X and sleep until Y I would be PERFECT!” Insomnia is legit no sleep. DSWPD is a disorder of your Circadian Rhythm, your body’s natural sleep cycle which is mediated by hormones and the change in light and darkness.

Their recommendation is only to utilize melatonin to help re-regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Despite being a supplement, you still should consult with your physician first. It is interesting though that they do not recommend sleep-wake scheduling or timed physical exercise. This is not due to those interventions being shown ineffective but rather for a lack of research. Like “no new research”. Research costs money and behavioral interventions don’t yield a product that can make anyone money. That may explain why less research is done. A similar dynamic exists around psychotherapy.

So again, the best literature on behavioral interventions tends to be in personal and professional development. Back to Tim Ferriss and Tools of Titans!

Tim doesn’t have a dedicated sleep routine in the book. Instead it is a video here. I’m going to jump on that instead.

1. Decaffeinated Tea + Apple Cider Vinegar + Honey

Lots of people talking about the value of sour foods in athletics and wellness. Seems to promote recovery.  You don’t have to sell this German on the role of vinegar in food. Tim doesn’t write much about placebo-ing or blinding his life hacks. I wonder how it may contribute here. “A cup of warm milk” may have been the apple cider vinegar of yesteryear. Regardless, as we will see repeat over and over here, if you think it will help you sleep DO IT!

2. Hot Soaking Tub

Again not sure how specifically important hot water or immersion are. The hot water should dilate blood vessels, may increase heart rate to cool you down, and should relax muscle tension. That’s the physical part.

Mentally it’s a beautiful thing. You stop. You lay down. Water gives you a unique activation of touch that you don’t have any other time of your day. It’s usually quiet. And guess what- most people are not accessing input devices while taking a bath! It’s a vacation from the real world.

Tim talks about this kind of Minimum Effective Dose concept a lot. We have assumptions about what is meant by a certain value. For example, to Americans vacation means one week. A getaway is a weekend. “Day trip” consolidates something done in a 24 hr period. These are all assumptions. In Europe vacations are a month long. When values are variable based on environment it should key you in that the value is actually defined by perception. That means you can modify the definition if you want. You can find your Minimum Effective Dose and start considering that vacation. What if you found that you could take 52, one-day vacations a year? What if laying down in a bath for X minutes a night would completely achieve the Minimum Effective Dose that minimalist and tiny house people are changing their lives to achieve.  Unless you approach life as an experiment you’ll never know.

Yeah so take a warm bath. I also will point out the metaphor for a womb. Warm. Water. Confined space. Limited sensory input. There’s a reason we attach words like calm, soothing, relaxing to baths and water in general. Even if you don’t like womb references (thanks Freud for ruining that for us), can I sell you that it is another childhood memory you are accessing? As a baby you were bathed. We see over and over again that actions that create opportunity for parent-child bonding are associated with high emotional value. Feeding creates more face-to-face and skin-to-skin interaction than may happen at any other time. Bathing is similar. Advancing epi-gentics has shown that emotional moments in our lives can translate to changes in our genetic code. Those changes can be transmitted down the line to future generations. It makes sense then that re-engaging those behaviors might elicit a health promoting response.

3. Read Fiction

I love this. It goes back to role intentional, planned fun can play in your life. My guess is most people don’t sit down and read Ulysses or How to Make Friends and Influence People to their kids at night. Why not have some fun, use your imagination, and have something to look forward to at the end of the day. Remember we are buying the idea that regular use of imagination and wellness are essential components to wellness.

4. Hot and Cold Exposure

I will again save detail on thermoregulation for later. He doesn’t mention this in the book and the context of the video implies he does his hot cold cycles at night which would be surprising. Most Titans mention it as a morning routine. Hot I can buy. Maybe he’s saying that he cycles hot bath with hot sauna. If you’ve got a sauna good on ya! Let’s consolidate this to: get into some heat and slow down!

In Tools of Titans, Tim also discusses visual overwriting. He references Jane McGonigal’s recommendation to play 10 minutes of Tetris (hmm that childhood thing keeps popping up) or watching a fun TV show. I think this is a must for any evening. Have fun.

Josh Waitzkin and Reid Hoffman’s also talk about the use of the subconscious during sleep. They like to give their subconscious work to do while they sleep. This is such a great idea. Though I prefer Josh’s as he leaves a gap of many hours between the plant and the harvest. His last action of his work day includes pondering an idea he’d like his subconscious to work on solving. Then first thing in the morning, his creative time, he brainstorms on it. The idea being that the free association brainstorming is informed by the work his subconscious has done.

Don’t undersell the role of the subconscious and the ability to consciously manipulate it.

Other Sleep Ideas

Move Leisure to the Morning

I can’t emphasize how important I think this is. We have a natural habit of back-loading our day with fun. While that is a great idea in terms of wellness, it is extremely vulnerable to any increase in need for productivity. Very few people engage their Minimum Effective Dose for evening leisure. What if you had to top-up your willpower reserves in one hour? What would you do?

Even more interesting, if I moved the start time for everyone’s work back two hours without warning what would they do? Would people binge-watch Netflix? Would they order a pizza and chase it with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s? Likely not. For some reason those behaviors are not what people associate with a morning.

If given the time, people may be more likely to engage wellness promoting activities in the morning.

With that in mind, I would argue that the best way to structure a day is to go to bed as early as possible so that you can make your mornings a time of productivity or wellness. Why not address your body and mind’s needs at the height of your day’s effectiveness? You have no idea what you are missing.

Do not use sedative medication or drugs to fall asleep

As the AASP recommended above, it doesn’t work for DSWPD. Only melatonin and even then it’s weak evidence. While they do use medication for insomnia, that is a medical diagnosis and it should be made by someone who can very clearly tell you what the criteria are and the evidence-based practices to treat it. All sedating medications including cannabis can impair achieving restorative delta sleep. They also teach you to rely on an external mechanism to treat an internal problem. It negates the efforts of your Circadian rhythm. It’s not worth it particularly relative to the profound impact a solid sleep behavior plan can have.

Let’s circle back to George.

Headaches. A high-carb and high-sugar diet. Weight gain. High blood pressure. Irritability. Poor focus and memory. All these were the currency George had traded in return for a Lvl 70 rank on Call of Duty, a robust network of fellow political skeptics on Facebook and an intimate knowledge of the best value food options on Postmates. His health could easily be mortgaged to attempt to combat sleep.

Despite a lifestyle that mortgaged sleep at will, getting more sleep was one of his intial requests when we talked about goals. Even more puzzling was that saying “don’t do these things anymore didn’t help”. It was almost like he was addicted to poor sleep. 

After getting the morning routine under contol we set out to own the night. His natural sleep time was 2am. This was a vestige of the natural Circadian rhythm of all teens. He never unlearned the habits it created. Our first step was to clean up his sleep hygiene. No caffeine after 2pm. No food after dinner. No back-lit electronics 1 hr before bed.

The next step was to not try to go to bed before 2am. This was surprisingly (to him, not me) hard for him to achieve. He REALLY noticed fatigue around 1230am. While he wasn’t falling asleep on the couch- HE WANTED TO GO TO SLEEP! At 1am he started his routine.  He listened to his favorite music. He used Calm to meditate for 10 minutes. He read the Hobbit. Sleeping at 2 am was no problem.

After 2 weeks of sticking to his routine he started marching his sleep time back. Initially it was 30 minutes for the first week. We did it small like this to prove to him it was possible. After that we did an hour a week. There were a few times when this was too big a step so we backed off and hung out at that bedtime for a week or two more.

It was not a perfect experience. He had very tired days. Part of his expectation for himself was that he would not compromise his progress on his morning routine. So we had to supplement sleep. He would go to his car at lunch and catch a 15 minute nap. Same right when he got home from work. Short naps like that don’t achieve delta sleep and so they don’t affect your Circadian rhythm. (PS- this means your non-delta, NyQuil-induced night of sleep is effectively a long nap. Not to mention the lower average oxygenation your blood gets due to the effect of sedatives on your airway).

The turn for George came with a bit of history I had failed to discover previously. He had an absolute association of effective sleep. Most every Saturday he would fall asleep around noon watching DVDs of the Simpsons. It was like clockwork and he loved it “if I could just do that at night”. There were a number of factors contributing to this.

One was that he loved the Simpsons. His mind shut off. He was relaxed. What we learned was that this was unique to past episodes. If he watched new episodes he would be follow it more mentally active. The DVD was also key because he could set it to Play All. This is why watching TV didn’t work. If he could change the channel it kept him from totally shutting off. “Maybe something better is on?” He also had to turn the volume down so big changes in the action didn’t wake him up. He knew all this but didn’t realize he was generating a sleep hygiene plan.

We ported this over to his evening. We found he needed a smaller screen to minimize the light generated. A portable DVD player fixed that. The impact was almost immediate. He was falling asleep with 30 minutes of laying down. Often within 5. If he woke up later he would use his mindfulness techniques to do a body scan in 10 seconds and decide if he was too alert to go right back to sleep. If so he’d fire up the Simpsons. If not it was back to sleep. It seemed his overnight, highly-alert bouts were directly tied to the amount of stress in his life at that time.

I took about 8 months but George soon felt that sleep was under his control. He eventually started going to bed around 9pm and getting up at 5am. This bought him 2 hrs of free time to do what he wanted. He enjoyed the experience of using his free time for something he was proud of doing. Even his leisure time became something others might consider productivity time. His concept of leisure became self-care.

George had learned how to sleep on his terms. It was a small piece of a larger initiative to live on his terms as well.

Make Your Good Days Predictable

Make Your Good Days Predictable

Meet George, a man who was struggling through the newest human developmental stage – failure to launch.

When I met him he was overwhelmed by not having found his way. He had many of the markers of success. He lived in San Francisco and finally didn’t have to rely on roommates to make housing affordable. He worked for a tech company that was focused on doing good rather than making money. However when George compared himself to his peers he didn’t see value in any of it.

Rather his focus was on the perceived negatives in his life. His free income seemed to go directly to supporting Amazon’s newest service, “daily unnecessary box delivery”. Nothing brought value. Not his new cutting-edge drone- “great now I can take majestic panoramic videos of me drinking a beer alone at Crissy Field at 11am on a Friday”. Not the TRX straps hanging from his door- “they should add ‘towel rack’ to the brochure of available exercises”. He even had a membership to the hot, new pop-up, outdoor, functional fitness club – “I went once and threw-up during the warm-up”. 

George’s feeling of being stuck was as much a reflection of his environment and culture as it was self-perception. The accomplishments he had achieved felt simple in retrospect. He hadn’t endured hardship to access those achievements. He hadn’t surprised himself. That was where his mind resided, “I wish I could…”.

His disappointment with himself and his state of being accrued compounding interest. As each day piled on top of each other he became more aware of his lack of a postive trajectory. He was losing hope fast. This lack of hope was turning inward to create a ruminative self-loathing that was most apparent at night.

Every time he lay down to sleep he was flooded with the data of the day. Another day of unmet expectations. A movie of regret and he had a front row seat. As time ticked by each night his frustration mounted as the reality set in “I’m not going to get good night sleep”. Eventually exhaustion would take him out of his head and into sleep. The next morning he would pay for it. And the next day. So the cycle continued.

George needed a win. A belief that we was capable of being effective. He needed to prove to himself that he was capable of something. We could have used medication to knock him out, get 8-10 hours of sleep, totally disrupt his circadian rhythm and further starve him of restorative delta sleep. We could have given him an anti-depressant to hope to manage his anxiety or sadness. However he didn’t meet the criteria for severity that is associated with medication efficacy. Furthermore, none of those external mechanisms would have proven to George that HE could do it.

Our focus turned to behavior modification. Informed by the methodology of Cogntive Behavioral Therapy and Exposure Response Prevention we developed a plan to get the deck stacked in his favor.

Our first target- his morning and evening routine.

A great day starts the night before. It is something you can plan for and decide to bring to your life. Most people engage good days as either windfall of chance or because bad things didn’t happen.  Wouldn’t it be great to expect to have good days even 51% of the time?

Tim Ferriss focuses on morning rituals with almost every guest. It proves one of the highest yield resources in Tools of Titans. Almost every Titan has a ritual and many have a lot of similarities. He dedicates a section in the book to “5 Morning Rituals That Help Me Win the Day”.

The plan we put in place for George adapted many of the structures Tim advances in this section and his evening routine which we will get to another time.

First let’s talk a little about the morning. This is one of the two most significant times of the day. The other being right before bed. The place humans should direct their self-improvement attention are the two consecutive hours divided by the prolonged stasis we call sleep. I don’t think it is a coincidence that these also tend to be the most socially isolated hours of our day.

It is very telling that the place we all could use some help is the time we spend alone. In the evening our inability to dictate when we fall asleep may be the biggest contributor to the epidemic of sleep deprivation in the developed world. That effect snowballs into most people starting the day at a deficit both in terms of sleep and morale.

Whatever your prime state upon awakening, you are now at the zenith of your efficacy potential for the day. Kelly McGonigal talks about this as your Willpower Reserve in her book The Willpower Instinct. She speaks of willpower as a finite resource both as a psychological and physical entity. Throughout the day you sap this resource and unless you replenish it you will struggle to be effective. This leaves the morning as one of the most important times to top-up your internal reserves. How unfortunate then that so many people would describe themselves as not being morning people.

This plays out in mental illness as well. Depressive and Anxiety Disorders both list impaired sleep as a consequence. Both can affect your sleep-wake cycle AKA Circadian Rhythm, leaving you deprived of restorative delta sleep. Anxiety tends to keep people awake at night, plagued by their thoughts. Depressed people, while also having trouble falling asleep, may deal with early-morning wakefulness. Another full day of hopelessness ahead of them and the rest of the house sleeping. This can be a high-risk time for suicide.

Wait! So you are saying we can significantly improve depression, anxiety, sleep, quality of life, productivity, and health by addressing just two hours of our day? Yes, and that’s the maximum investment of time. With practice 30-60 minutes TOTAL should suffice.

You’d think our healthcare system would be mobilizing all resources to improve this. Right? Well they aren’t.  Enter Tim Ferriss and the Titans. It seems preventative healthcare is best addressed in a peer-to-peer model. Here are the 5 steps he recommends and how we adapted that to George’s plan.

1. Make Your Bed

This is usually my first step intervention when trying to improve someone’s morning effectiveness. It’s so simple and yet so complex. For most people it hearkens back to some childhood experience. This can be valuable as it activates a paternalistic transference (a patient’s subconscious association of their therapist to a past experience). In some cases that activates action, particularly if the person relies on being told what to do. For others it is evocative of disdain- “how dare you give me chores!” This usually manifests as passive resistance as we usually aren’t actively aggressive to people trying to help us. “Oh I forgot” or thoughts on the way home “I’m paying this guy to tell me to make the bed?!”

As we say in the industry, there are no right or wrong answers. Just grist for the mill.

I also like the task of making your bed because the symbolism behind it is so rich. Doing so represents a guarantee that your first action of the day is productive. A win. Assuming you haven’t already lost a battle with snooze button. It also represents a rejection of temptation as you almost always have to tear yourself out of this EXTREMELY cozy, comfortable place to enter not cozy. Making your bed then is like closing the door. You can’t go back in there. There’s a finality to it.

There was a commercial some years back where a woman is getting out of bed to go running but her bed and its French accent are trying to get her to stay. As she finally tears away, it closes with “but you had a salad last night!” I think it is one of the most beautiful pieces of film for the work I do.

The final aspect of value is that it is dead easy. There are no further instructions than make the bed. You don’t have to tuck or untuck. No expectation to put pillows on top or beneath. Literally just do SOMETHING.

Tim also talks about the value of making your bed as a piece of reliable control. No matter where you are, how you are, who you are, today you will wake up. You can predict that and so you can also predict that you can control the state of your bed. That promise can be extremely powerful even if it’s only subconscious.

2. Meditate

This is a big step, though I don’t always agree with putting it in this sequence. It works well if you have a strong meditative muscle. However someone new to mediation may struggle to pick this up first thing in the morning. I prefer to sandwich it later after you have added some movement. I don’t want to go into the whole of meditation yet. Instead I will  again reference Chade-Meng Tan’s chapter on taking one breath which I discussed before. If you aren’t a strong meditator, use the morning to practice one breath. Make that breath an effort of intentional focus and a movement of your thoughts from where they are to where you want them to be. Even more basic than that, take the opportunity to use a breath to experience concentrated inward observation. Take a breath and note any physical or emotional characteristics that occur. Just one.

3. Do 5 – 10 reps of something.

This is another great one. Tim discusses the role of establishing a “prime state” and getting your autonomic nervous system up and running. This makes a lot of sense. Similar to the power of making your bed, doing reps of the same action will create a reliable comfort zone you can know will be there every day. So many Titans have different versions of this. Rick Rubin stands in the sun. Justin Boreta does kettlebell swings. Tony Robbins will hit a cold water plunge, do a breath walk, or bounce on a trampoline. Jamie Foxx, Naval Ravikant and Matt Mullenweg, Stanley McChrystal have some degree of calisthenics. Peter Diamandes and Wim Hoff utilize breathing. Jocko Willink goes right into strength training. Laird Hamilton uses water (of course). A few others talk about the value of inversion in the morning. note: some of this I’m pulling from the podcast as it is not in the book.

Let’s just leave it at this – you need to have some action you can quickly do every morning.

4. Prepare Titanium Tea

Lots of people drinking caffeine in their morning. I’m going to stretch this for more psychological meaning. It’s easy to just say “stimulant equals focus, energy and elevated mood so do it”. Instead I will point out that between the book and the podcast I don’t think I heard one person say “I drive over to Starbucks and get my coffee”. Okay just found it, BJ Novak does. Still I think there’s something there. You are creating, brewing, waiting, smelling. You are building delay into the morning. Slowing yourself down.

If you want to dive into this a bit more try this: set a goal to not drink any hot beverages with a lid for one month (okay, at least 2 weeks). Take note of how it changes your behavior. You likely aren’t drinking while walking or driving. You may even drink more slowly as a full cup can’t be easily upended and guzzled. All these experiences may help make a morning a calm before storm. A calm you control.

5. Morning Pages or 5-Minute Journal

This is a really high yield activity as well. I’m going to steal a little from Josh Waitzkin and Reid Hoffman here and expand this activity to Engage Creativity. That value of creativity is worth its own post eventually. The Titans mention it frequently. Chase Jarvis via Maya Angelou, James Altucher, Ryan Holiday in the Canavas Strategy, and Robert Rodriguez all talk about the value and strategy they put into creativity.

By creativity is not meant art or any other direction of expectation. Rather the simple act of generating something from your mind. Any medium. Any method.

Tim’s Morning Pages and 5-minute Journal are great ways to direct your creativity. Journaling and writing are natural habits for him. Yours may be different. Playing music, quietly, particularly if you are improvising. Answering verbally, mentally or in writing a number of questions you set forth for yourself. Reading something you use as a launchpad for imagination. Even taking a meditative mind-vacation to a place you want to go or have been.

Think of creativity and imagination as a muscle. We already have you moving your body above. Why shouldn’t we also move our mind?

Other Morning Ritual Ideas

There are a few other key points I recall from the podcast that I can’t find in the book.

One is Tim’s clarification that he does not do all of these every day. If he’s done one he is content. If he does 75% it’s a great day. To Chade-Meng Tan’s point about meditation, if this can become a skill you employ daily in some form it is much easier to employ more of it when life gives you reason.

I also like to recommend cold showers in the morning. Wim Hoff will extol the health benefits to the end of the day. Tony Robbins emphasizes the role of shocking the system and priming. I think it also helps to do something in the morning that you never thought possible and that you might even hesitate to do. Cold water is in your control so much that I find it easier to engage than most other challenges.  Especially if you have a handheld shower head, you can hit a small part of your body with the cold on days you aren’t feeling polar bearish. There is something valuable about being able to know you can tolerate cold. Especially as a departure from the comfort of warmth.

Another big step is to make your morning 100% output until you decide you are ready for input. This is another Josh Waitzkin pearl from the book and even more in the podcast. This time is your sanctuary. You are giving your day a gift of guaranteed time of happiness. First thing. The only thing that will compromise it is sleeping too late.

If you have a habit of waking up and checking email, text messages or the news you likely don’t realize how powerful this step can be. Just picking up an input device exposes you to a risk of stress. You may say “I read funny stories and pictures of cats on Facebook first thing, I skip the stressful stuff.” How is it you can guarantee the negative stuff you scroll past doesn’t invade your consciousness at all? You’ve never had a day where someone texts in the morning and brings stressful news? The risk is there so have a go at eliminating the risk. You may find that your assumptions around needing electronics is WAY overstated.

By making a pact that you will not engage any input devices you guarantee that your state of being is entirely in your control until you choose to release control.

Another part that is missing is fun. I think it’s important for this process to have some part that you define as fun. Whatever it may be. Jane McGonigal, twin-sister of Kelly McGonigal referenced above, is a big supporter of planned fun. Even playing video games or watching a fun show. Remember how kids love morning cartoons? We aren’t uniquely different beings now that we can watch R-rated movies. You may find that the promise of fun opens a door to so many other options by drawing you out of bed a few minutes earlier than usual.

Let’s go back to George.

George was most comfortable with the journaling idea and having a caffeinated beverage. For him English tea had some nostalgia that made the morning a very positive place. It took him back to his childhood living in England when his family would have a long, slow, Sunday breakfast together. The kids were allowed one cup of half-milk, half-tea with sugar. Utilizing this in our work added a fun component to the morning. Where he had been worried that his lack of being a morning person would hold him back, the fun and expectation of a “cuppa” pulled him out from under the covers quickly.

He had journaled in the past while traveling  so it was a natural extension. He started by writing about past travels. Just stories from his memory. That gave way to writing about goals and things he wanted to do. He didn’t generally need prompts as he was getting the rhythm down of being a journaler. Eventually he would bring more structure to his journaling. As he became happier there was less need to have as much consolidated “remember happiness” time. We found that his minimum need was actually to plan that every Wednesday he would pick up his old travel journal and read for 1 minute. This repetitive action held him over the way 5 days of writing about those events for 10 minutes did initially. With that extra time he could engage more problem-solving with his journaling. This led to an exploration of goals and bucket-list ideas he soon started knocking off systematically.

He was not initially motivated by meditation, “I’ve tried it, I get too bored”. We went over the idea that successful meditation is one moment of having your thoughts going from where they are to where you want them to be on purpose. We agreed to build around the cup of tea. Every morning he would sit down in the same chair, hold his cup with two hands (how he did as a child), and before taking his first sip he would take a deep breath, hold it while surveying his inner state, then open his eyes and use the breath to blow on his tea.

It was totally cathartic. He noticed that he felt better after the breath. One day he had a tough meeting coming up at work that he was dreading. He stopped his thoughts from focusing on the meeting for his one breath. In a moment the dread was gone. Then for the entirety of his cup of tea he was caught up in his imagination. He spent his time remembering his youth in England. We discussed how that too was meditative. That gave him a lot of pride and left him to think about those times often throughout his day.

George also liked the idea of adding mindless reps of something physical. Starting small he would do large arm swings. This progressed to jumping jacks. Then push ups. Eventually he was doing inversions against the wall. It certainly didn’t make large contributions to his fitness. It did however have him feeling like a person that paid attention to his health. That was a big step for him.

Having now demonstrated some value to George, I had earned permission to challenge him more. Making his bed was initially too silly an idea. Even my insistence that the silliness was our friend didn’t work. However once he had decided I wasn’t full of it he relented.

Initially making his bed was a quick throw of the covers instead of leaving them agape and beckoning him back. He did notice the days he did that he was more likely to do his whole morning routine. It definitely got the ball rolling. Eventually it was so second nature that we decided to step it up. He began making his bed perfectly the way his mom had insisted when he was a kid.

This was a breakthrough moment. On one level it was a show of progress. He had shown himself he could overcome a challenge he had initially rejected and taken another step past even that accomplishment. It gave him hope that this whole process was a repeatable and predictable pattern. He saw the machine under the hood and knew he could apply it to any task.

The extra layer was one we couldn’t have predicted when setting him to the task of making his bed. It connected him with his mom and provided an indirect resolution to a long-standing conflict. His initial hesitation to my proposal to make his bed activated a subconscious resistance to anything that reminded him of his authoritarian mother. As we eventually learned, his marriage to a slow, ineffective lifestyle had some origin in defying his mom. To do any different would have let her win.

When he came to me it was an attempt to create a surrogate mom for his subconscious. Where our parents are given to us, we choose our therapists. In our process of relationship building I had earned the ability to offer him tasks he would accept. In overcoming them, he had to exorcise whatever conflict he had in his way. Once he did that he loosened his subconscious’ hold on the protective structures designed to guard him from the pain his mom had caused him through conditional love. Previously an unmade bed was a way to disappoint his mom and later to defy her.  Now he no longer carried those omens. An unmade bed was an opportunity to make himself proud.

In this way George would forgive his mother. Over time he would begin to enjoy her idiosyncrasies as “that’s just mom” where previously they were grinding reminders of the past. He brought this momentum to other relationships as he was able to date people with more acceptance for their quirks. His work became more fulfilling as he moved to find ways to direct self-driven development. This brought him more value than any external markers. It did require a change in departments, which his company was happy to oblige as they saw him stepping into a higher level of fulfilled potential.

Through the medium of his morning routine we were able to access knowledge about George we may have never found. Incremental goals and achievement gave him the momentum to step into the lifestyle he knew he was capable of having. He learned the process of making his good days predictable.

Disclaimer: Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Just Breathe One Embarassingly Small Breath

Just Breathe One Embarassingly Small Breath

The best place to start climbing Mt. Everest is on the sidewalk that takes you out of Tribhuvan Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Can I convince you of that? Will you buy that base camp isn’t important? Not even the death zone. Nope. The most important part of climbing Mt. Everest is the flat part that every single human being is capable of doing.

The majority of people who have failed to summit Everest never even made it out their front door.

The concept of starting small is so important I want to lead with it in our discovery. The mantra I will advance is this: if there is something we are not doing and wish we were, we have asked too much of ourselves. When we are tasked with an action that has value to us and we believe we are capable, we do it every time.

Now you may be rejecting that straight away. “There are tons of things I would give anything to be able to do. I know I can do it too. If I could just…”.

And there it is. Doubt. A lack of belief in one’s ability.

Still don’t buy it? Let’s investigate more examples of when humans are innately effective. When attempting to learn about the relevant components of an unmet goal I always like to look away from it. As we discussed before, this minimizes bias and pre-planned Ego defense systems. Try to develop a habit of that process .

For example, in this case we are evaluating the accuracy of my statement that when we truly want something and believe we are capable of achieving it we do so. The tendency may be to dive into large-scale, extreme-valence examples that prove or disprove this idea. Rather let’s assess something happening innately.

How about reading this blog?  You are currently in the act of effectively reading this aren’t you? Let’s break it down. By virtue of reading this you accessed an electronic device. That simple act required a number of preparatory steps. 1. You charged this device. 2. You likely downloaded an app to access this article. 3. You learned how to use this device. 4. What’s more you bought this device or at least access to it. 5. You furnished it with internet access. 6. Within a few of these (electricity, internet access, and the purchase of goods) means you either mobilized a trade in compensation for money or you developed an intimate relationship that rendered an expression of its value (i.e. a gift).

Wow, look at you! Six steps! You likely did that all without significant effort. Well maybe the trade thing. Or the learning thing. Still. Damn! That is some extensive and complex executive functioning. And you think you can’t burn off that holiday cookie weight.

It is the easy, mindless achievements like this where we need to look for our unique pattern of effectiveness. That pattern likely started somewhere small. You also probably found some of those steps fun.  Maybe you really enjoyed the first moment of wanting to get a new phone. Researching which one to get. Pouring over YouTube leaks on the newest features. You probably got one in your hands prior to buying it. Gave it a test drive. A practice run for what your future-self would be like with this phone.

In this way the Apple Store is full of people unknowingly engaging the best practices of goal achievement. For a brief time they get to pretend they are the owners of that device. All day, every day dozens of people stand happily in Apple Stores to play make-believe. This positive feedback loop is likely tied to our childhood engagement of imagination which is why we enjoy it so much. If you buy that humans are engineered, either by an entity or a random-ish process over time (or both), this subconscious fondness for imagination is a very effective program to promote auto-upgrades. Which remember is what we said is our constitution.

This theme of incremental gains toward a goal is repeated over and over again in Tools of Titans. Rick Rubin says to make your task laughably small: “write one word.” Matt Mullenweg recommends getting over that initial hump with something “embarrassingly small”. Meng Tan had hacked mediation this way by distilling this extremely high-yield activity down to “breathing one breath.” Pavel Tsatsouline insists you start strength training with “half the reps you are capable.” Tony Robbins talks about the importance of adding something simple to his daily “I am grateful for…” exercise. Reid Hoffman talks about solving “the simplest, easiest, and most valuable problem.” James Altucher says “no idea is so big that you can’t take the first step” and “if the first step seems to hard, make it simpler.” Jocko Willink finds that pre-planning a day with simple structure promotes further movement on other needs. Shay Carl looks for simple clichés to explore for testable actions. Tim’s chapter on fear-setting utilizes “simple steps” to “get back on track if all hell struck.” While not overtly speaking to our method, you can see a theme of people placing their mental energy on simple and small first. In fact, I recommend using the Kindle version of Tools of Titans and typing in the word “simple” and see what you will gain.

Doing things small and simple is our best way of achieving momentum and later effectiveness. Our cognitive ability has afforded us the luxury of leisure. As a result our motivation muscle has become relatively weak. We don’t need to be good at the action of doing. Our culture moves increasingly toward making things faster and requiring less effort from  humans. This leaves our motivation muscle weak and atrophied.  Unless a persona conditions it, when we ask it to do some heavy lifting it won’t. Like the Central Governor Theory in sports, it tries to tell you “STOP!”. Only here it’s not pain, it’s the snooze button.

We have to build our motivation muscle. Small simple steps is how you build any muscle.

Let’s now turn this into something concrete and work through developing an incremental plan of small steps toward a goal. Since fitness is a big one at this time of year let’s start there. Let’s use the goal of losing 10 pounds. We will get into optimal goal setting another time, but for now we will work with that goal.

Weight is a great ultimate goal. Especially if it carries a significant emotional attachment. However it is a very poor intermediate or short-term goal. We need to make it smaller. Your intuition may have left you saying “okay, smaller goals… 1 pound a month.” That may seem easier. Did it work? Are you on your way?

What we actually need to focus on are the means by which you can lose that one pound. When I wake up and say “okay week one, lose 1/4 pound, let’s do this” it doesn’t help. Even breaking that down to a single day, “let’s lose 1/28 pounds” won’t work. We need to give your brain instructions. We have to eliminate any questions of “how-to” because that is where your status-quo brain will insert doubt. “Well it’s 1/28 today so maybe tomorrow I could do 1/14 and make up for it. Let’s go back to bed!”

A higher yield approach would be to set a clearly defined, objective, non-negotiable action for the day. “Run for 15 minutes.” “Go to the 8am spin class.” Make that as specific as possible. “Go to the gym” is so vague you technically could accomplish it by walking in the front door, turning around and going home (we’ll use that entity another time). Your mind knows that so it tries so talk you out of it. It knows it will be effective at changing your mind.  This is just like parent-child relationship when a parent who can be nagged into staying up for 5 more minutes or getting a new toy. That language may still be hardwired from years of success. It may be exactly where our mind learns the “6am-no-gym-sleep-more” language. We can unlearn that by indirect techniques where we slowly sneak up on our bratty-kid, self and attack it with effective, intentional effort (more on indirect techniques and The Art of War another time).

Back to our goal. You want to set your incremental plan in place and start testing. That requires knowing where is your starting point. What is the first small step? You will know when you are done breaking it down into small steps when you hit that embarrassing/laughable stage.

Here’s a  hypothetical breakdown of a goal and the person’s internal monologue: “To lose 1 pound in need to create a 1000 calorie deficit over the next month (yep, there’s a number, this step feels good), to do that I will go to the gym once a week (that seems too little but everyone says start small and I believe that), to go to the gym I will wake up at 6am, get dressed and go (ugh I hate 6am but this is it, I’m doing it this time).

This person took their plan to a great spot – specific and measured. Our friend here goes ahead with plan. It works for two days. Then it’s done. Willpower was burnt out and sorrow entails.

The approach now needs to be smaller. Where did the error occur? It likely was the AM wake up. Very few people have ever said “I didn’t achieve my goal, I went to the gym every time I said I would and did every workout I said I would and it didn’t work.” Usually it is engaging the plan where the wheels fall off. Let’s assume this person never got out of bed on day 3.

The plan needs to now shift to a goal of overcoming the hump. If two days can happen every week, great. Lock it in and let’s work on three days. If not, if one day killed your momentum let’s pull back. Forget the gym for now. Now your goal is to wake up at 6am. You might have actually started there. How much easier would gym-ing have been if you could have said “I already wake up at 6am every day”?  A New Year’s Resolution to wake up at 6am might have sounded silly, maybe even embarrassing. See…proof you should have stranded it your goal.

Now let’s get you out of bed. We are going to assume that this person gets 8hrs of sleep a night because most morning failures are actually evening failures the night before. But that’s a bigger topics.

First step, break down a 6am wake up and look for your silly-small step. What’s involved? Setting an alarm. The alarm going off. Getting out of bed. No, before that. Throwing the covers off? Opening you eyes.  Now we have it. Getting out of bed may actually be REALLY hard!

Let’s break down getting out of bed. Sound wakes me up. Eyes open. Sound off. Covers off. Swing feet. Stand. Now you are out of bed.

Can you open your eyes every day at 6am? Don’t go to the gym. You’re not allowed yet. We proved it’s too much. No just open your eyes. However once you open your eyes I want you to execute a planned productive action that you don’t already do automatically (i.e. check your phone). Something you can do from your bed. One small breath. A specific stretch or pose. Roll over and do a push up. ANYTHING that will tell your system “hey, newness happening, dust off the old machinery and get it out here.”

Good. Now do that for 7 days. But today, now, plan the next step. Write them down.

Week 1: Open eyes + action.

Week 2: Open eyes + Get out of bed + action

Week 3: Open eyes + Get out of bed + brush teeth + action

Week 4: Open eyes + Get out of bed + brush teeth + take shower + action

If you are willing to add + 30 seconds cold shower I guarantee you will be in the gym that day. More on that another time.

If you are sitting there rejecting this idea because it’s silly or doesn’t seem like it  work, good. That silliness is your proof you think it’s possible. The rejection of efficacy of the idea is your super ego sensing a threat and attacking it. That reaction proves this idea has merit. Note that this silly, ineffective plan isn’t being rejected because you can’t.

That is key!

This algorithm is applicable to any need. Finance (it’s the basic structure of any wealth development), fitness (all endurance sports focus on building a base of easy effort FIRST), education (why do we start with 101 classes and not straight to 400-level?), dating (aren’t most first dates shorter and simpler?). It’s the way we do EVERYTHING.

If it works for a genius music producer , an elite big wave surfer, the founder of WordPress, and a Google pioneer maybe it would be worth you trying too.

But just a small part of it. The most embarrassingly small part.

Tools of Titans: Our Textbook

Tools of Titans: Our Textbook

Why Tools of Titans?  

In my last post, I went into the story of how I came to be so enamored with Tools of Titans, or more appropriately, The Tim Ferriss Show. It was an evolution of discovery as I gathered insights into being intentionally effective. 9 years of medical training hadn’t provided this much consolidated value. The impact was immediate on my personal and professional life.

Within Tools of Titans are more how-to’s than even Tim realizes. There are the literal tips – wake up and make your bed, have a go at intermittent fasting, take cold showers, start your process with extremely small steps. Then there are the tips buried in metaphor and symbolism – begin with a win, intentionally create adversity, shock your system, climb mountains from the flat part. An already affordable book, its value is at least 2 for 1.

The nature of the guests is also an important topic we should explore. People often regard elite performers as having something they do not. “They were born with it.” “They’ve got that something special.” “They are gifted.” It is a defense mechanism we mobilize to cope with the jealousy and self-loathing we experience watching them. This is partially why have highly emotional reactions when we meet celebrities. It is easier to palate the dream of a mythical person who can be an elite surfer, an inventor, and a great husband all at the same time. “Well, I know I’m never going to be like Laird Hamilton. But it’s okay, he only exists as that collection of pixels.” However when we meet them we are flooded with all the suppressed emotions our defenses were holding back. It can be adulation one might associate with meeting God, “my hero is real, it is possible that I could be the same!”. It can be shame, “my hero is real, please don’t talk to me or you may see and I may admit how far from you I am.”

However, as we will see over and over again in Tools of Titans, these people aren’t born with any especially unique genes that predisposed them for success. You don’t meet Jamie Foxx. You meet Eric Bishop, an adopted kid from rural Texas who found his success model in the love of his grandmother. You don’t meet billionaire Chris Sacca. You meet a boy whose parents had resolved to give both their children a personalized and balanced upbringing that naturally conferred the skills necessary to create two top-level performers. It isn’t a story of Casey Neistat who ran his bike into a car and got lucky. It is a story about a man who loves what he does so much that it sounds effortless to work for 18+ hours a day, every single day of his life. Tim doesn’t interview Naval Ravikant, founder of Angelist and successful investor. He interviews a guy who takes as much pleasure in discovering a Teppanyaki grill for his family as he does in discovering Uber and Twitter.

For each person, their success was created. We are all an executed plan away from achieving it ourselves.

As was my initial reaction to Think and Grow Rich and Tony Robbins, some may take issue with Tools of Titans focus on success or elite performance. They should. It is a marketing mechanism. He can’t buy a billboard in Times Square to promote a book called Tools to be Used: Some Things People Do. Still, Tim talks about his discomfort with being part of the self-help genre. He pursued his podcast with a goal of learning for his own interest (“scratching my own itch”) and discovered so much that he wanted to share “the book [he’s] wanted [his] entire life”.

Try to see the ideas in the book as pieces of information. I’m going to steal a lot from Mindfulness here. Tools of Titans is a book that contains a lot of information. The value of that information is for you to determine. You can assess that value by taking the information in, considering it, maybe even testing it out. The experiences of Tim and the guests in the book represent a body of support that testing the ideas may be more likely to produce a result than not. Notice my intentional use of ambiguous language – change, value, result. I don’t want you to assume an expectation of any outcome such as success, better, improve, gain, achieve, etc. By eliminating your assumptions, biases, and ethnocentrism (here comes the anthropology) you can experience Tools of Titans with a minimum level of Ego resistance.

I will dive into the structure of the psyche (i.e. Id, Ego, Superego) another time. The short version is that if there is something in your life you hope to do and are not, there is a part of your mind that has become very efficient at making sure it stays that way. The straight dish is that few human beings have an Ego structure ready to tolerate change. Those people have adopted a growth mindset. A culture of change.

The idea of change is a scary void of space. It is the closest we can get to the future. Status quo isn’t the future, it is the present. To change is to put in motion a hypothetical scenario. At baseline our Ego fears what may happen. It has an arsenal of defense mechanisms dedicated to managing your outcomes based on its perception of your ability to survive. Consider the first time you read or even heard about Tools of Titans. What happened? How did you feel? What thoughts immediately came to mind? Congratulations, you just met your Ego. The pattern of efficacy in your life affected itself upon the book and your experience of it. That pattern is a valuable tool to understand. Doing so dictates your ability to manipulate your Ego and thereby your outcomes.

The final question to consider is this – is your life on the trajectory you want?

My completely biased, marginally expert opinion is that it would be a valuable idea to join me in exploring Tools of Titans to discover what the information may bring to your life. Hopefully we can take your outcomes in the direction you want them to go.

Thank you for your attention and that of your Ego.

 

The Objective: A Culture of Change

The Objective: A Culture of Change

Any good project requires a great objective.

I want to share my objective in writing this blog. Intrinsic to that objective is how Tools of Titans became my textbook. In the next post I will cover why Tools of Titans specifically is so good for this purpose. 

Two years ago a friend introduced me to Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich. This was my first experience with the self-improvement genre. Initially I cast it off. I wasn’t in the business of “growing rich”. A good deal of it was too metaphysical for me. I didn’t see any utility.

That was until I read the backstory of the book. Hill interviewed Carnegie and was challenged by him to set out to interview a number of successful people in the same way. Carnegie’s hypothesis was that there was a pattern that successful people utilize to achieve success predictably. Hill then set out to test it. He spent the next 20 years interviewing the most successful people in turn-of-the-century America. The Laws of Success and later Think and Grow Rich are summaries of those findings. The latter caught success as it was published during the Great Depression. Now I was hooked. 

This wasn’t a book about getting rich. Riches were the hottest button one could press in 1937. Money was the marketing campaign. Instead it was a book about how the most effective humans tend to go about being effective. I saw this book as an opportunity for some high-quality, indirect learning. As a therapist, I am always looking for better ways to help people get from where they are to where they want to be.

This also plays into my background in anthropology. In college I studied anthropology with an emphasis on human evolution. I did research on how the discovery of stone tools may have served as a launching point for our divergence from the common ancestor.  Anthropology turned me on to the idea that one’s present state is the result of a behavior that brought advantage and was carried on over time. 

If you like scaling exercises (aka how do I 10x my results), try this one. How could the knowledge to reliably make a sharp edge change a species when put in motion for millions of years? What discovery could we make today that would set in motion a series of events that, when incubated for millions of years, would yield an entirely new species of humans (and render Homo sapiens inferior and extinct 🙂 )?  I like to imagine a group of early hominids tweeting:

“My boy just banged a big rock on a piece of obsidian and a sharp flake came off! Then he did it again!  On purpose!  We have a bunch of knives now. Mind blown. #innovation #lookoutantelope #letseat #thosethumbstho”.

Clearly prehistoric Twitter hadn’t evolved to a character limit yet.  Imagine the IPO for the new startup, Australos Afar, that is disrupting the food service, fitness, fashion, and travel industries. All from a single innovation. Their world would never be the same.

These were the kind of conversations we had regularly in anthropology. Infinitely exciting. I found something similar in psychiatry. Where cardiologists sat around talking about physics, we sat around and tried to interpret the mind and the subconscious. You guys go research things you can see and measure. We are going to focus on something that is only found in a code buried within human communication.  You then can appreciate my excitement when I found Think and Grow Rich (TGR) and discovered an entire genre focused on studying the hidden patterns that drive the most intentionally effective people in our society.

TGR set me off on an exploration of other resources. I discovered that a number of people were influenced by Hill and Hill was influenced by a number of people. My data set expanded. George Combe, James Allen, Sun Tzu, Thoreau, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, James C Collins and many more.  Eventually I found Tim Ferriss.

My first exposure to Tim is an interesting but long story I won’t go into here. The short version was that I was introduced to a YouTube video featuring him. I hadn’t read his books but “A Day in the Life of Tim Ferriss” proved a big motivator when I was deciding to move to SF. It made everything here look so cool. It may be a Bay Area stereotype, but I had this imagination that everyone here had an  exploratory lifestyle with an emphasis on self-care. Tim was one of the first examples I had of what I thought my future neighbors would be like. I wanted that lifestyle.

However my first exposure to his podcast was when listening to his interview with Tony Robbins. I think I’d seen somewhere that Tony listed Hill’s book as inspiration or at least used some similar phrases. I regarded Tony as an evangelist at that point. Similar to my initial thoughts on TGR, his stuff was not for me (we see a pattern developing). Still he clearly has something figured out.  Even if it’s only the best way to market change, I figured I should try.  

Tim’s was the longest interview with Tony I could find.  Despite being someone who doesn’t like podcasts, I was hooked in one episode. My assumptions about Tony were cast off – he’s a man who is honestly devoted to bringing a message. Not an evangelist. I regard evangelists as unreliable deliverers of messages that are dishonest due to high financial bias, which I don’t think encapsulates him.  Tim’s interview had peeled the layers back. It somehow allowed me to feel that the two men talking were not pushing an agenda.  I could trust it. 

Equally important was the return of the gobsmacked response I’d had with TGR.  Here is a modern version of Hill’s study.  Except this time it wasn’t a book intent on changing my mind. It was the actual study in raw form, left for me to interpret meaning.  Perfection.

The next thing I knew I was burning through one or two podcasts a day on any of my various 1+ hour commutes. My car became this little thought incubator. Interview after interview I started to see patterns. There were themes developing, both explicit and implicit, about what these people were saying.  An equation for predictable efficacy was developing. An equation for a more ego-syntonic quality of life was also forming.

Eventually I took the dive. I started trying these things out myself. Making my bed, flossing my teeth one tooth at a time, cold showers, doing the minimum steps possible in a series of necessary steps toward a goal, meditating, ice baths, saunas, tea, journaling . Whatever. TGR had opened my eyes to the idea that there are people out there who have figured it out. Tim’s podcast was giving me a how-to guide without it knowing it was a how-to guide.

The next step was logical – I brought the ideas in the podcast to the therapy I provided my patients. My background in therapy is very psychodynamically focused.  Lots of “why”. Not a lot of “what” and even less “how to fix it”. That’s more Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I knew how to do CBT, I just wasn’t good at it.  Bringing more meat to my therapy was huge.

However now I was immersed in the highest quality CBT textbook I could find. Except it wasn’t a textbook, it was a podcast. Telling depressed and anxious people to go listen to a two-hour interview with a surfer doesn’t have the highest yield. Still something amazing happened. I started seeing results. Quickly. Big results. The biggest and most consistent I’d ever seen in treatment. I also felt that people were liking their treatment more. Go figure. 

Much of psychodynamic therapy emphasizes the therapist not being a problem solver. “I don’t know how to live a life any better than anyone else. The lessons you teach yourself is far better than any I can give you.”. It’s very passive and organic. Like Sun Tzu’s recommendation in The Art of War, it flanks the problem. I agree with that but flanking tactics don’t help someone when they can’t sleep because their mind is racing. 

Imagine trying to teach someone how to play golf without ever settings foot on a golf course. The psychodynamic version would teach by talking about how you learned to play other sports. CBT would have the person bring in video of them swinging.  I feel the best therapy involves doing both very well.  With Tim’s podcast I now could do the CBT part very well.

The ideas in the Tim Ferriss Show represented the most effective tools for treatment planning I’d ever experienced.
When I heard he was consolidating it into a book I knew something special needed to happen. I now had a reference to use and share. And so I decided to dive into Tools of Titans and share the psychological takeaways I gather from it.  Expose the patterns.

My hope is that this blog will serve to help people trying to find ways to bring a change to their lives. I’m intentionally avoiding language like “improving” “fixing” or “better”. This isn’t about that.  This is about change without bias or expectation of value, quality, or direction.  Change with intent.  It is about how to identify something to change, or not, and make sure that happens.  That is what I define as being effective which I feel is the key to personal satisfaction.  My hope also is that this blog will serve to help mental health providers trying to find ways to help their patients.

A larger scale objective is to help our society move closer to a culture of change. A habit or expectation that change is possible and accessed at an efficient rate. 100 years ago school education was a luxury. Now it is an implicit in our culture. I hope the same thing can happen for change (which I am intentionally not defining yet).

Thank you for your attention.

 

The Psychology of New Year’s Resolutions

The Psychology of New Year’s Resolutions

It’s that time of year again. The time when one of the most beautiful examples of mass psychology and sociology occurs in the world.

New Year’s Resolutions.

In a swoop of tradition, culture, and marketing, more people will be motivated to want to change something than any other time of the year. People will be more comfortable contemplating their shortcomings than they were a month ago. An entire fitness industry will float its annual budget on this phenomenon. However the other side of that coin is that the same fitness industry is counting on you to fail. Their fire code requires it. In two months the throngs of new members will be gone.  They will have forgotten their motivation. They will return to the same saturation of daily routine that allows them to forget that at one point this routine was intolerable.

This isn’t an indictment of the fitness industry. They would love to operate in a space where 90% of their membership utilized their service at least once a week, 12 months a year. Rather their current business model is an intelligent reflection of how limited our culture of change is as humans.

This is quite ironic because one of (the one?) unique aspects that sets humans apart from all other species is our capability for imagination and innovation. George Combe inadvertently touches on this in The Constitution of Man. Humans are hard-wired to change, discover, and innovate. To not do so goes against our “constitution”. It is akin to an ant deciding it doesn’t want to ferry whatever it is that ants ferry in those long lines across my kitchen counter. As Combe put it, to not make use of your constitution leads to death.

If the ants don’t ferry the colony dies. Food is not resourced. Dirt is not moved to create a home. Reproduction halts. Queen dies. Colony soon follows. If you think about what an exterminator does, it is the eradication of constitution.

If humans don’t change we experience a similar path. On an individual level we experience our culture of stagnation in age.  There is also a species-wide stagnation that tends to be the driving force behind natural selection identifying a species for extinction.  All living species today are the net gain of effective changes accumulated over time. Without change, Homo sapiens will go extinct.

Today however I would like to focus on the individual rather than the species. Mainly the relationship between change and the aging process. As children we are utilizing our constitution at a higher rate than we ever will again. We embrace dreams, fantasies, and imagination. Our constitution promotes this behavior as it does in all mammals- we find the experience fun.

With age we perceive a decline in that rate of constitution utilization as we become specialized. “I am an adult who builds houses so I surround myself only with house building knowledge until I know enough to NOT NEED TO LEARN ANYMORE.” We cast off our childish ways. They become derogatory terms like “child’s play” and “head in the clouds” or “lacking commonsense”. Oh the irony. If we had any commonsense we would ask our children to teach us their ways. For with the acquisition of maturity comes the slow decline.

This decline is best exhibited in its most extreme form- retirement. As one accepts the looming end of life there is less motivation to do much more than rest. As our constitution for change goes dormant our mind has less need for short-term memory. We retain long-term memory which our family experiences as all of our “back in my day” stories. We rationalize our decline by attacking newness (“people these days”) and accepting “I can’t”. Our culture promotes this decline with things like social security, retirement communities, and taglines like “The Golden Years”. This culture of stagnation with age and time creates a disincentive to oppose the aging process.  We give up on hope or need to maintain maximal functional capacity.  Aging is what is supposed to happen. It is written in the subconscious and conscious language of our society. 

Not all humans subscribe to the assumption of decline. Some rebuke the notion by choice, electing to maintain a growth mindset their entire life. Others are forced into constitution-maintenance by financial needs, the call to raise grandchildren, or a trade that has less physical demands. We all probably have a story or two about a senior citizen who “worked until the day she died” and “will sleep when he’s dead”. Have you noticed they tend to maintain their cognitive function longer?  Their lifestyle demanded they protect their constitution. High fat diets, alcohol, and genetics aside, they also tend to live longer. Just like Combe said.

As you sit down to consider your resolution this year, I would like to sit down with you. In this blog I will be diving through how to develop a culture of change and a growth mindset. To do this I will work my way through the new Tim Ferriss book, Tools of Titans. We will use it as a sort of textbook. I will explain why in a later post.

So if you have a goal of extending your life, maintaining a high level of functional ability through your later years in life and tapping into that joy we had as kids when we believed anything is possible please join me in this exploration.