PJK's Blog

Philosophy, the Internet, the World, and I

Menu Close

Discovery in a New World

If you look back throughout human history, humans ability to discover new things was slow.  The world didn’t have the internet, nor the ability to easily travel country to country, place to place.  It wasn’t possible to market to the entire world at once, or receive worldwide news instantly.  Explorers would spend lifetimes discovering new land, meeting new people.  News spread slow as messengers spent months carrying information across the land.  Everyone within a tribe knew more or the less the same stuff.

Compare that to today, where news virtually anywhere in the world can be discovered within minutes, Google Maps gives us real time traffic data in virtually any city in the world, Skype allows me to video call my mom in real time from the other side of the planet, and Facebook allows me to befriend 400 people on a daily basis.  It’s incredibly unique.

So how do we find things that interest us in todays world? How do we find things to buy, places to go, places to live, or what to read? The answer…..marketing.

Marketing

Marketing influences what we buy, where we go, and who we go with. Things that interest us are based on our experiences, as well as things we’ve discovered. Marketing has become very good – so good in fact that marketers often know what we’ll be interested in before we even know it exists.  Consumerism has us buying products that 5 minutes before we didn’t know existed.

When we want to travel somewhere, for example, we talk with others, or do research online.  Others we’ve talked to were very likely marketed to, and virtually all of our research online is angled in a way to market or appeal to the consumer.  The internet has near unlimited information, but also near unlimited marketing.  Why? Because information is available for free, and the incentive to provide the information is often driven by the revenue that can be generated from advertising.

Take Google for example.  It’s search engine allows anyone with internet the ability to search the web for almost anything and get the answer within seconds.  It allows to us to discover things, learn things, lookup things. It’s an incredibly powerful piece of technology.  But how is it possible for such a technology to exist? Advertising.  The search engine is free, but the advertising pays for the technology to continually be improved.  Without advertising, Google as we know it wouldn’t exist.

I recently read that Facebook and Google make up 50% of internet traffic – meaning that 50% of all of the people browsing the internet are on Facebook or Google.

Facebook, another incredibly powerful piece of technology, is also free.  No one pays money to use Facebook.  But how are they able to grow, improve their service, make Facebook more useful and better at connecting the world? Advertising, which last quarter they generated $8.8 billion, which is roughly $100 million a day they are making in revenue.  This will enable Facebook to continue to do amazing things – without advertising, Facebook wouldn’t exist.

The point here is that discovery in the modern world is wrapped up entirely in marketing.  The perfect advertisement is an advertisement that you don’t know is an advertisement because it is shown at the right place, at the right time, to the right person.  Facebook and Google are both getting incredibly good at this.  Again, it influences what we buy, when we buy, where we go, and who we go with.  This is drastically a different way of discovery than has ever existed in human history.

A large store like Target, for example, can recognize with great accuracy where someone is at in life simply on their buying behavior and spending habits. In “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg tells a story about how Target was sending coupons to a shopper for baby food, pregnant mother clothes, etc.  The dad of the shopper went to the manager of local Target telling them to stop, only to find out a few weeks later that his daughter was pregnant.  Target recognized that the woman was pregnant before her father knew, simply by recognizing patterns in her buying habits.  This sort of pattern recognition is being used by countless companies to market to you more effectively, and it is changing what you discover.

Capturing Attention and Pricing

The internet is a worldwide market. Businesses compete in a similar manner as they did 30 years ago, but with a big difference.  Your competition, and also your market, is now the entire world.  What this has done is remove the locality benefits that many businesses have – if you’re the only book store in town, everyday has to shop at your store if they want to buy a book.  On the internet, this isn’t the case.  People will buy when they’ve discovered what they want – whether that be through advertising, a friends recommendation, or just browsing the internet and searching for products (which was likely influenced by advertising without even knowing it).  Because we now live in the age of attention, we’re being marketed to far more than we know, and it influences a great deal of our lives.

In Seth Godin’s book “The Purple Cow”, Godin argues that the only way for businesses and products to thrive in todays world of abundance is to create something remarkable, something unique, something that stands out amongst the rest.  He calls this the Purple Cow.  Businesses that succeed can’t blend into the rest or compete with the rest as the same business, they have to be remarkable, because remarkable businesses spread. Things used to be scare, now things are abundant, including businesses.

Imagine a street and at the beginning of the street is a gourmet burger shop selling high quality cheeseburgers – we’ll call this burger shop A.  Down the street a few hundred meters is also a gourmet burger shop selling high quality chesseburgers, call this shop B.  Shop B sells the same burgers for half the price.

However, shop A sells 10 times more burgers than shop B everyday, even though they are double the price.  Why? Because shop A is at the beginning of the street and shop B is not.  Shop A captures more attention, and therefore sells more, even though they are twice as a expensive for the same item!

The example demonstrates effectively all business on the internet.  Countless businesses in every industry compete for attention.  It’s not about being the cheapest, having the best service, or having the best website – it’s about getting people to find you and capture their attention.  Yes, having the best service, website, and prices help in that those get attention, but without capturing attention in the first place and getting people to visit your online business, none of it matters.

In modern day, countless horrible products/services can thrive because they market well and great products/services can fail because they can’t market.  The pendulum swings based off the marketing – how well can you capture attention.  In an economy driven by money, capturing attention is now the incentive for virtually any business online – how can we capture more peoples attention and get them to spend more time on our site, our product, and our service.

It’s not about the cheapest, highest quality product, necessarily.  It’s about capturing attention!


The reason this is all important to think about is that this plays out in everyday life.  The average Americans sees between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day (Source).  The average Facebook user you ask says they never click on ads, yet Facebook generated $8.8 billion in revenue last quarter so there is actually a good chance you have.  In fact, the best ads are ones you don’t even know are advertisements.

Think about an ideal world: advertisements would be perfectly relevant at exactly the right time, meaning what you see would be exactly what you want.  This is the way online advertising is trending.  In the past you’d see advertisements completed unrelated to you, but now, with Facebook leading the way, advertisers have sophisticated ways displaying products and services directly to the audience that is most interested, without wasting money showing them to people who aren’t.  The result? Consumers are happier because they find more things that they want, advertisers are happy because their budgets return a positive ROI, and businesses are happy because they get targeted consumers.  It’s really a win-win situation.  To some it’s scary – “how does Facebook know I want that?”, or “I was just visiting ebay.com looking for a necklace, and now I’m on pets.com see ads about necklaces, what?!”.  Welcome to the new age of advertising, big data, and the internet.  It’s truly changing how we discover, and what we discover.  It’s a new age of discovery.

Guide to a 10 Day Water Fast & My Fast Experience

You can read about my previous 5 day water fast experience here.

Only drinking water with no food at all for 10 days sounds crazy at first thought.  I thought the same.  However, upon further research and experimentation, I found that it is incredibly beneficial both physically and mentally.  Let’s get a few common questions out of the way to start.

What is a water fast?
A water fast is where you don’t eat and only drink water for a set period of time.  Most humans can survive 40+ days without food, and virtually everyone can go two weeks without food with no problems.

Why do a waster fast?
Water fasting has many great health benefits (see ‘Benefits’ below).  In short, it improves the respiration of your cells which makes them function more effectively, it greatly strengthens your immune system, removes toxins from you body (detox), starves potential cancerous cells, shown to increase longevity and helps repair chronic injuries as well as gut issues. There are few downsides other than the discomfort you have at first and the short time spent not enjoying food.  An extended fast can greatly improve the quality of your life and improve how your body functions, as well as change your outlook on food in general.

Will I lose muscle?
A little bit, depending on how you fast.  Most muscle loss happens within the first 3-4 days of the water fast.  Once in ketosis (where your body produces ketones for energy rather than glucose (blood sugar)), your body goes into protein sparing mode and you lose very minimal muscle.

How much weight will I lose?
While I wouldn’t recommend fasting to lose weight, you will lose a fair bit.  During my 5 day fast, I lost 5kg (11 lbs) in 5 days.  During my 10 day fast, I lost nearly 6kg (13.2 lbs), most in the first 5 days.  The vast majority is water weight which will be gained back within 1-4 weeks after the fast, assuming you eat the same diet as you did before the fast.  Fasting is a great way to reset your diet if you plan to make bigger changes in your life, and the weight can stay off.

Why not juice fast instead?
Juice fasting has benefits as well, though I’m not experienced with it.  The goal of water fasting for me is to reach ketosis as quickly as possible and stay there (where you get the benefits mentioned below).  Because juice is more often than not just sugar water (all the fiber from the fruit/veggie is removed), you likely don’t hit ketosis, and if you do, it wouldn’t be as deep.  Juice fasting and water fasting are entirely different.  This post is entirely about water-only fasting.

What is ketosis?
When you normally eat, what you eat is converted into glucose which goes into your blood and provides energy to your body (brain, muscles, etc.).  When you don’t eat, you utilize most of the remaining glucose in your body, and then your body begins to metabolize fatty acids in the liver to produce ketones.  Ketones are an alternative form of energy you use when fasting which the body uses very efficiently – the brain loves them, the cells love them, and the heart loves them – they actual prefer them (fatty acids are the hearts main resource for energy).  When your body is primarily using ketones for energy, you’re in a state of ketosis.

Will I be productive when I fast?
During a 10 day fast, at least the first 5 days you won’t feel like doing much, so it’s best to keep that time to rest/relax.  After day 5 you’ll still feel physically weak and have low blood pressure (can’t stand up too fast), but you’ll likely be quite motivated to work, read, learn, or otherwise do things (when in ketosis, you’ll mentally feel really good and clear-headed).  You’ll have the energy to walk around and socialize.  If you can’t get 5+ days off to rest, start with a 3 day water fast over a weekend, or a 5 day fast starting on a Thursday and ending on a Monday.

Benefits of Water Fasting

There are many benefits.  So far studies and experiments are showing very positive signs, demonstrating that water fasting is an incredibly healthy thing to do.  I’ve listed a few of the benefits below:

  • Greatly strengthens your immune system by regenerating new, healthy white blood cells (Source).
  • Reduces risk for heart disease by reducing triglycerides and increasing HDL levels.
  • Improves cardiovascular health – lowers blood pressure, improves heart function.
  • Cellular repair – when we’re sick, why do we lose appetite? Because our body wants to spend energy repairing itself, not digesting food.  When in ketosis, the respiration of our cells (how they utilize oxygen) improve, allowing them to function properly. (Source)
  • Reduces cancer risk (Source)
  • Increases longevity – caloric restriction likely increases your life expectancy (Source, SourceSource)
  • Reduces inflammation (high inflammation can cause heart disease, cancer, arthritis ) (Source)
  • Increases cognitive clarity – the brain loves ketones and you think clearly while in ketosis. (Source)
  • Helps heal insulin resistance (80+ million Americans have it) – See lecture here.

Tips When Water Fasting

Educate yourself about the benefits and side-effects of fasting beforehand so you know what to expect and are convinced that what you’re doing is a good thing.  The fast will likely be mentally challenging.

  • Drink lots of water, the highest quality you can.  Water with natural minerals in it is a bonus.
  • Pinch a bit of salt into your water to replenish sodium that is rinsed out when fasting.
  • Get an hour of sun exposure each day during your fast.  It speeds up your metabolism and relaxes your mind, getting you out of the house.
  • Eat the ketogenic diet for at least 5 days prior to fasting to help ease the transition to ketosis (the body transition from glucose to ketones for energy can feel like the flu).
  • Have black coffee (no sugar or calories) on day 1 if you want to help curb your appetite, though keep it limited.
  • If you can, do it with a friend – hold each other accountable and chat about your experience.
  • Measure your ketone levels – it gives you motivation to keep going.
  • Expect it to be hard, but know it’s a mental game!

Common Kinds of Fasting:

  • Intermittent fasting – restrict your daily eating window to an 8 hour period (ie. from noon-8pm).
  • 24 hour fast – don’t eat for 24 hours (ie. eat dinner, and don’t eat again until dinner the next day).  You can do this anywhere from once a month to twice a week.
  • Alternate-Day Fast – Don’t eat (or severely restrict your calories) every second day. On eating days, eat as much as you want.
  • 3 day water fast – Don’t eat for 72 hours.
  • 5 day water fast – Challenging both mentally and physically.  Because it takes roughly 72 hours to reach ketosis, you’ll be in ketosis for approximately 48 hours.
  • 7 – 10 day+ water fast – The longer the fast, typically the more benefits.  However, there is a tradeoff as it isn’t a very enjoyable experience.  During my 10 day fast, I reached ketosis during day 1 because I did the ketogenic diet prior.

My Experience

I’ve done intermittent fasting for years now as a way to restrict my feeding window, and it has many benefits itself.  I’ve also done many 24 hour fasts throughout the last several years, which are quite easy for me now (the more you fast, the easier it becomes).

About 1.5 years ago I did a 5 day water fast – you can see my report here which has some useful information on fasting.  During my 10 day water fast, I decided to do a few things differently.  Because of the difficulty in transitioning from glucose to ketones for energy during the previous fast, I decided this time around I would eat the ketogenic diet prior.  The ketogenic diet is basically where you get your energy from mostly fats, with some protein and little or no carbohydrates.  This is because fat doesn’t break down into glucose, it is metabolized in the liver into ketones.  This diet has shown to have lots of useful benefits, but my reason for doing it was to get into or close to ketosis prior to starting my water fast.

For 7 days, I ate almost entirely fat and protein. I started the water fast the following day, already 3.9mmol/L into ketosis, and 36 hours in was already at 8mmol/L, a deep level of ketosis where you’re body is producing a lot of ketones which are in the blood for energy, and is the therapeutic range of ketosis (listen to this podcast episode).  Comparing this to my 5 day water fast, I probably didn’t reach this level of ketosis until day 4, which means I spent roughly 48 hours in this range, while on the 10 day I spent roughly 9 days in it.  In fact, during my 10 day fast I was often at the 10mmol/L range, which is even better (more ketones in the blood).

In short, ketones are incredibly energy efficient, and improve the respiration of the cells.  This means your cells work more effectively in how they use energy.  The longer you’re in ketosis, the longer your body has to improve and detox itself.  If you want to read more on the in depth science of it, please watch this lecture.

The other difference in my 10 day fast was that I took BCAAs (branch-chain amino acids) during the first 24 hours to reduce muscle loss, as well as did some pushups to keep the muscles active (and had 1 coffee with a tablespoon of coconut oil).  Each day during the 10 days I did a small amount of stretching and reaching my hands in the air which fatigued my arms, chest, and back a bit, telling the body that I’m using these muscles.  It seemed to help, though it’s hard to measure with water weight loss.

The last differences where that I got ketone strips to actually measure ketone levels in the blood throughout the fast, and spent roughly 1 hour in the midday sun during 8 of the 10 days of the fast.  Sun exposure helps speed up your metabolism, and when in ketosis, this helps increase the number of ketones in the blood, which was my goal in that it is where the real health benefits happen.

Note: After my last 5 day water fast I didn’t get a cold or any sickness for over a year (I used to get sick every month or two before I fasted).  I suspect the 10 day fast will greatly strengthen my immune system as well.

Sleep: During my 10 day water fast, I had trouble getting to sleep often but once asleep I slept well.  I don’t recall dreaming once.  I also seemed to need less sleep – woke up with energy on 6-7 hours of sleep most nights.  This makes sense as my mind and body are telling me to search for food.

I kept a short diary of my fast, which you can find below.

0-24 hours (Day 1)
Weight start: 77kg (started 7:20pm on Sun, Jan, 29th, 2017).
I started at 7:20pm after my last dinner, which was grilled chicken and grilled pork (ketogenic diet).  I slept around 10pm, and woke around 7:30am as usual (9.5 hours).  This day was easy.  Since I do a 24 hour fast quite often, this was normal.  I did a 20 minute run and lifted some weights, then spent an hour in the sun.  Normal day. Had BCAAs and a bit of coconut oil to help with the transition to ketosis.  Also had coffee in the afternoon.

First night slept fine, as expected, considering that I had my last meal just a few hours before.

24-48 hours (Day 2)
About 20 hours in I was 3.9 mmol/L as measured via the ketone strips. 36 hours in, first thing when I woke up, was 8mmol/L.  I didn’t sleep super well the second night.  I had coffee around 4pm and I’m not sure if that contributed, or maybe it was just due to the fast. I napped this day by the pool and felt a bit better.  I felt a bit weak, but otherwise fine.

Started adding salt to water to help replenish sodium. When fasting, your body stops producing insulin (because your blood sugar stays low) and causes body to release sodium.  Hence why water weight loss is dropped rapidly at the beginning of a fast.  During my 5 day fast I didn’t supplement with salt and I suspect this caused muscle pains and headaches which were uncomfortable (I didn’t experience these at all really during my 10 day fast). Adequate sodium is really important – low sodium causes headaches, dizziness, muscle aches, etc.
Weight: 76kg (-1kg)

48-72 hours (Day 3)

Sat around watching Youtube lectures.  Feeling physically weak, but mentally okay.  Can’t stop thinking about food even though I’m not hungry – a bit annoying as it distracts me from doing all the mental tasks I want to work on – writing, practicing memory, watching lectures, taking notes, etc.
Weight: 74kg (-3kg)

Day 4
Had a hard time sleeping.  Took 1-2 hours to actually get to sleep, then woke up in the middle of the night to pee.  Have to get up slowly as my blood pressure is low. Napped mid day. Felt a bit hungry, and physically quite weak though mentally fine.
73kg (-4kg)

Day 5
Slept in until 11am, slept a good 12 hours.  Took me about 30 minutes to fall asleep but slept well. First time the entire fast I slept more than average (normal is 9 hrs). Yesterday and today have have had slight hunger pains but otherwise feel well. The last 5 days seemed very long and not looking forward to the next 5, though confident I will make it.  Urine is often yellow, drinking 3-4 liters of water per day with a pinch or two of salt into each 1.5L bottle.
Weight: 72kg (-5kg)

Day 6
My girlfriend was home so it was much easier to pass time rather than being alone. We drove around as she wanted to eat at a seafood place. Watching her eat and smelling the food was quite enjoyable. At 10mmol/L ketosis, where I’ve been for 2 days now. Had some hunger pains for a few minutes at a time throughout the day. Mentally fine, but physically weak still – have to walk slow. If I stand up too fast I’ll feel like passing out, otherwise I feel normal, especially if I’m sitting or staying still.
Weight: 72kg (-5kg)

Day 7
Slept bad this night. Took 2+ hrs to fall asleep as all I could think about was good food, especially the perogies from Poland – spinach filled with blue cheese sauce. Literally got up, went out to the couch and looked at food pictures.  Sounds like torture but it was on my mind.  Woke after 8 hours of sleep or so, still around 72kg. 10 days seems like forever. Time passes slow when you’re in it, in part because you’re always reminded of being in it, and counting the days.  I’m almost done with day 7, but I really have 3 full days left since 8, 9, and 10 are left.

Day 8
Slept decently well, took about an hour to get to sleep and slept around 7.5 hrs. Felt basically the same as yesterday, weight roughly the same (hard to say exactly with water consumption and urination), but right around 72kg. Got 1 hr of sun.

Day 9
Again took an hour or 2 to fall asleep, up at 8am. Urine dark. Have lots of motivation and feel generally better.
Weight: 71kg (-6kg)

Day 10
Slept early for the first time – around 9:30pm, and woke early, at 6am, about 1.5 hrs earlier than normal.  Overall felt like while fasting you need less sleep.
Weight: 71kg (-6kg)

I broke the fast at 7:20pm on February 8th with some fresh fruit – papaya, pear, and melon.  Also had 2 glasses of diluted juice.

Post-Fast Summary

Breaking the fast correctly is incredibly important both for your mental and physical health, but also for the process of detoxing.  The days while you begin re-feeding is when your body again begins to produce bacteria in your gut, enzymes in your stomach, regenerates white blood cells, etc.  Because your metabolism will be slowed, it is important to eat specific foods for the first several days to a week.  This should include easy to digest, high nutrient dishes like fresh fruit (watermelon is excellent), steamed/blended vegetables, yoghurt without sugar, avocado, etc.  Avoid processed food and refined sugar, and ensure you eat very healthy – it will pay off in the long run, even if you’re craving a strawberry donut.

Expect diarrhea within the first 12 hours of re-feeding.  I didn’t shit for 11 days while water fasting.  When you began to re-feed, your body is still in the process of cleansing itself.  Whatever you eat (fruit is mostly water), it goes right through your body.  Within 24-36 hours your bowels should return back to normal, meaning you should have a bowel movement at least once a day.

It has been about 3 weeks since I finished the fast as I write this.  I’ve gained back all of the lost weight, have eased my way back into running and lifting weights, and I feel great.  The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve been sleeping 1.5-2 hours less each night, and waking up feeling refreshed.  I’ve slept 8-9+ hours per night average since I’ve graduated from university, and this is the first time in my life I’ve been comfortable with less than 8 hours.  I’m curious to see how long this will last, but it has been a pleasant surprise.  Mentally I’ve felt motivated, physically I feel great, and all food tastes amazing.  You look at food in an entirely different way and have a lot more appreciation for all the amazing food in the world.

A few notes and things learned…

Below are a few notes from various podcasts, lectures, and blogs I’ve read over the last few weeks:

  • The heart and brain prefer beta hydroxybutyrate (ketones) over glucose.
  • Women have a harder time fasting – emotional response? How they metabolize fatty acids? Not sure. They hit ketosis quicker than men when fasting (less muscle to store glucose).
  • Sun exposure helps metabolism, helps raise ketone levels as a result. Yet another benefit to getting in the sun.
  • Even a 1 mmol/L increase in ketones results in 10% increase in energy to the brain.
  • It takes time for the body to get used to using ketones – permeability of ketones to cell membrane. Hence staying in ketosis longer leads to high effectiveness.
  • When we fast, the brain gets clear to help us find food. Evolutionary, this makes sense – preserve energy (feel weak), but mind is clear – enables us to stop and think about best way to find food.
  • Highly recommended to supplement at least 4-5g of sodium a day when fasting, as insulin drop causes body to release sodium. I didn’t do this on previous fasts, doing it now by pinching salt into my water (also makes it taste smoother).
  • Magnesium supplementation during a fast is also recommended. Taking magnesium right before bed is good – calms you down before sleep and leads to better sleep.
  • Nicotine gum helps hide acetone in breath, and also helps focus if writing/working on stuff.
  • If testing ketones, test mid-afternoon for ketones (3/4pm), and test same time everyday for consistency (mornings can be different as body regulates itself).
  • Fascinating to think of this whole other energy system that exists that most people never tap into.
  • Can fasting help improve vision? Helps heal myopia? Something to think about.
  • Mitochondria (powerhouse of the cell) – uses fuel like glucose and fats to use oxygen to convert to cellular energy to ATP.
  • The transition period from glucose to ketones is the hardest part. When you’re transitioning to fasting, it’s normal to feel lethargic or find yourself becoming angry more easily. Fight through it at the beginning, and you’ll find your body has adjusted and your energy levels and emotions will rebound.

That pretty much sums up water fasting as of 2017.  In the coming years I expect a lot more studies and data to backup the benefits of water fasting, and hopefully more people will do it regularly. There are a lot of links throughout the post above that are worth spending time looking into.  A few of the lectures and podcasts are 1-2 hours, but well worth your time.  If you want to learn more, I’ve included a few resources below.

Thanks for reading, and all the best on your fasting endeavors!

Other Useful Links:

The Health Benefits of Water Fasting

Each Organ Has a Unique Metabolic Profile

Dom D’Agostino on Ketosis, Fasting, and the End of Cancer

10 Day Water Fast

Ketogenic Diet Resource

Beginners Guide to Intermittent Fasting

Quantified Body 10 Day Water Fast Results

Your Brain on Ketones

The Fat-Fueled Brain

Ketosis and Your Brain Podcast

Why Fast? Brain Health

Ketosis: Advantage or Misunderstood State?

Ketosis: Metabolic Flexibility in Action

 

Beyond Our Default State

Our default state is the state which we default to subconsciously.  It’s what we do with our instinct, if we aren’t aware of what’s actually going on.  It influences the majority of the actions, decisions, movements, and thoughts in our lives.

Our default state is explained by how we’ve evolved, what we’ve evolved to, and the reasons we evolved to those states.  For example, we’ve evolved to be social creatures, utilizing family and social connections to build relationships, which help us grow and raise a family together.  Studies show that relationships play a key role in how we live our lives, and how satisfied we are with them. As a result, relationships hold a lot of emotions within them (love, lust, trust, etc.).

Default states can often be found by looking at societies or populations of people and seeing how they behave.  As a whole, different actions and decisions will describe default states.  Psychology is such a study.  When we’re making moment to moment decisions and actions, the vast majority happen subconsciously, resorting to our default state to make such decisions.  This is why building good habits and removing bad ones is so important.

The only way to influence our default state is to be aware of it.  For example, if our default state is the path of least resistance, consciously knowing that we will default to that state will enable us to then go beyond the path of least resistance and perhaps take a path that is more difficult, but more beneficial to our lives.  Without being aware of our default state, we don’t change it, and will stay in the default.  This is why it is called the default state.

Beyond Our Default State

Going beyond our default state happens whenever we consciously think about why or how we’re doing something, and then change our behavior.  For example, if we decide to pass up a chocolate bar even when our minds crave it, we’re overriding our instinct with our conscious thoughts, which then changes our actions – instead of eating the chocolate, we don’t eat it or eat something else.

Because our actions always go to the default state unless overridden by our conscious mind, going beyond our default state to understand more about our actions can help us prevent harm and help us produce things in life that make us happier, more satisfied, healthier, more useful people.

Our instinctual default state isn’t meant to make us happy, it simply tells us how we’ve evolved.  But since we’re now in a world which is significantly different than our evolved brain and body, it’s important to question more about our default state, our instinct, and our subconscious – and go beyond our default state.  By doing so, we can become conscious of many of the actions which are potentially not helping us, but otherwise may be hurting us and those around us.

Why is it important to be aware of our default states?

For one, it makes us more aware and mindful of what we’re doing.  Because actions in our lives are made up mostly of things we do without thinking about it , being aware of it makes us more mindful of what we’re doing.  Secondly, the default state isn’t necessarily a good state for us to be in – in fact more often then not it may not be.  For example, our instincts tell us to binge on sugar and watch TV.  As we’ve evolved, sugar was often limited to when we came across a fruit tree, and because of its scarcity whenever we came across a fruit tree, we’d binge.  Our default state is to binge on sugar – it create a craving/reward mechanism in our brain which is by definition addictive.

Fast forward to modern day, and our instincts are still the same, but our environment is completely different – sugar is abundant everywhere.  If we simply follow our default state, we’ll die a young death from over-consuming sugar, which is actually what most of the world is trending towards (obesity rates are increasing across the world mostly due to overconsumption – following our default state).  By questioning whether we should eat too much sugar, we’re going beyond our default state and becoming conscious of what we’re doing, which allows us to become healthier.  Our instincts don’t tell us what’s good for us, our instinct simply tells us our default state. This is why it is so incredibly important to go beyond our default state as often as possible – to better understand ourselves, our actions, and our decisions. Without doing so, we’re at the mercy of our instincts.

Whenever we follow our curiosity, we are going beyond our default state and attempting to understand more about a subject, using the resources available to us to enlighten us on a subject.

Whenever we decide to consciously exercise, we are going beyond our default state to become healthier, recognizing that our default state will lead us to sit on the couch or in an office.

Whenever we read a book, we’re going beyond our default state to learn, be entertained, become more creative.

The default state of humans can be summarized by how we’ve evolved, here are a few examples:
Health – We’ve evolved to be physically active, using our bodies for the purpose of survival – hunting, building, moving, etc. Our diets were restricted to what we could find in nature due to scarcity.  Most people were physically active by default, and therefore were mentally so. Today, with abundance of everything (including food), this is not the case.  We must go beyond on our default state to overcome it.
Happiness – While difficult to measure, modern day is full of “what makes us happy?” questions, and in part this is due to the unique world we’re living in – potentially causing more unhappiness than people had in the past. Asking these questions goes beyond our default state where we may not be satisfied, fulfilled, and happy with our lives.  By studying happiness, we can begin to understand the science of what makes people happy and satisfied with their lives, which we can then use to apply to our own.  After all, we’re all human.
Wealth –  Because money is an object which dictates our freedom and how we can spend our time, people can go beyond the default state to strategize how to best manage time to create wealth.  This, in my mind, is what entrepreneurship is – consciously recognizing that wealth is a barrier in life and figuring out how to best overcome it without sacrificing your life doing so.
Spirituality – The vast majority of people who believe in an organized religion learn it from their family, primarily their parents. Our default state is to believe what our parents say, because that is how we’ve evolved.  By overcoming our default state of belief, we can follow our curiosity and discover the other potential belief systems that influence how we view the world and therefore how we live our lives.

Going beyond the default state is about becoming aware of the actions we take and decisions we make, and correcting them to better fit the life we want to live, not solely relying on instinct to do such.

Inspiration for writing this came from the realization that I’m always trying to question my actions, which is really me questioning my default state.  Being curious about why things happen and how they happen led me to realize that this “default state” is often the wrong the state to be in.  We live in a world that evolution hasn’t caught up, so it’s ever more important to become conscious of our actions such that our instinct don’t lead us down the the wrong path.

The Path of Least Resistance

Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of Rome nearly 2,000 years ago from 161-180, wrote many personal notes about his life and how he saw it in the moment – how to live, what to live for, and why to live.  These notes acted as a reminder to him about how to live in times of stress, weakness, joy, sadness, and hardship, all of which he certainly endured as emperor.  These questions have answers relative to who is answering, and are questions that countless people have pondered before and since his time.  Aurelius was a practitioner of Stoicism, which certainly influenced how he answered such questions:

the Stoics taught that emotions resulted in errors of judgment which were destructive, due to the active relationship between cosmic determinism and human freedom, and the belief that it is virtuous to maintain a will (called prohairesis) that is in accord with nature. Because of this, the Stoics presented their philosophy as a way of life (lex devina), and they thought that the best indication of an individual’s philosophy was not what a person said but how that person behaved. To live a good life, one had to understand the rules of the natural order since they taught that everything was rooted in nature.
Source

In the book “Meditations”, which is a collection of his notes, Aurelius says:

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Impediments to action, or anything, is called resistance.  More resistance is the way, Aurelius wrote, though the natural order is to take the path of least resistance.

In his book “The Obstacle is the Way”, Ryan Holiday argues that facing obstacles and leaning into resistance (obstacles themselves for example) is the “way” in which people improve, persevere, and accomplish meaningful things in life.   Without obstacles, we remain stagnant, lose progress and desire, and have nothing to show. Holiday suggests that often people with the most obstacles are the ones who make the greatest impact.

Holiday argues that obstacles don’t inhibit success, they create success and that readers should see “through the negative, past its underside, and into its corollary: the positive.”

In his book “Deep Work”, Cal Newport argues that deep work, work that requires intense cognitive focus, is what leads to living a meaningful life.  “A deep life is a good life”.  Doing deepwork isn’t easy, it’s resistance. But it’s what allows knowledge work to become valuable, and is required to accomplish meaningful work in the modern age of unlimited distraction.

In “The War of Art”, Steve Pressfield argues that resistance is universal, everyone has it, and it is from within.

When an electron flows through a circuit, it takes the path of least resistance. When we as humans go for walk, we walk in a way to preserve energy, the path of least resistance.  When there is a higher barrier of entry into a market to start a business (high resistance), there is less competition because most business don’t go into high barrier markets.

Everything in life is about making a path in a way from point A to B, and our default instinct is to always take the path of least resistance – preserve our energy, preserve our willpower, stop when it hurts, and avoid facing obstacles.  However, where real progress gets made and where we become better is when we’re pushing against that resistance.  The more consistently we push, the easier it becomes and the next barrier is then faced which requires further pushing.  The harder we push, the more we improve and the easier it gets. Things that once were barriers are looked at as stepping stones that make you who you are.

To demonstrate this clearly, I’ll use a personal example. When I used to actively compete in speedsolving puzzle competitions, one of the events was solving the Rubik’s Cube blindfolded.  It would consist of memorizing a scrambled cube, putting on a blindfold, and solving cube without looking at it.  When first faced with this challenge, it seemed impossible. Even after I knew the process of solving it, I was faced with resistance.  My first solve took me over 30 minutes to memorize after reading about various techniques.

Within a week of attempting several more solves and trying to push my memory limits, I was able to memorize in under 7 minutes – by facing the resistance, I became better, and without facing the challenge I wouldn’t have improved.  From there I pressed on the resistance and could memorize in under 45 seconds relatively easily.  Others have pressed the resistance even further and can go much faster.  When it becomes easy it means we’re not pressing hard enough into the resistance, and resistance is where real change happens.

In modern day where much of our lives are spent staring at computers and sitting in chairs, exercising is talked about by everyone.  It is a way to offset our sedentary lives.  Going to the gym is resistance.  Running when you’re already tired it resistance.  Lifting weights when your arms are fatigued is resistance.  But resistance is good, it means you’re improving.  Improvements don’t come without resistance.  And improvements (or seeing progress in life) is what fulfills people.

Tiny daily improvements lead to enormous progress. “We overestimate what we can do in a day but underestimate what we can do in a year.” Managing time is resistance.  Letting things flow as they come and go is the easy way, but not the way you improve, not the way you make progress, not the way you become fulfilled, not the way you do more with your time.

So, next time faced with a challenge or obstacle, know that resistance is the way.

Victory will never be found in the path of least resistance.
– Winston Churchill

If you’re interested more in this topic, these books are worth reading:

2016 Year in Review

It’s already that time of the year again where we look back on the last year of our lives and look forward to the next.  It is useful because it allows us to review what we did right, and what we can improve on in the future. You can see my previous years here: 20102011201220132014, 2015 . Here’s a look back in what I did in 2016.

  • I rang in the new year on Koh Chang in Thailand with some friends (Kemji, Austin, Kate, Josh, Champoo, Beth), a beer cooler, and an amazing beach sunset.
  • In January/February I spent a month in Indonesia firstly in Bali with Kemji and then 3 weeks in more remote Indonesia with my good friend Andrew.
  • In March I went to Samut Prakan to the Mueng Boran Ancient City with Kemji, and also to Hong Kong with a couple friends (Steve and Josh).
  • In April I went to Nan province for Songkran to spend time with Kemji’s family.
  • In May I went to Koh Samed and paraglided for the first time.  At the end of May went wakeboarding with friends in Bangkok.
  • In June I went to the US to visit family and travel with my girlfriend to San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas. I also bought a quadcopter drone, which has been fantastic for aerial photography.
  • In July, I road-tripped through Yellowstone to Canada with my friend Richard.
  • In August I went to Sweden and Romania to visit with my old friend Constantin.
  • In September/October I went back to Europe to travel with my brother John and his friends for a couple weeks to Oktoberfest in Munich, then to Prague, and Poland.
  • At the end of October I went to Phuket for celebrate Kemji’s birthday.
  • In November I went to Singapore, and also ran into my old friend Ayan from the Phillipines. At the end of November, we went to Koh Samed again with a few of Kemji’s friends.
  • For New Years this year I’m heading to the northern part of Thailand (Chiang Mai, Pai, and Chiang Rai) with Kemji.

What went well this year?

Health: Aside from all the time I was away from home and out of routine, I’d consider this year one of the best for my health in my life.  I was running or lifting weights 5 days a week, drank less than I had in previous years, slept consistently well, and only got sick once or twice.  Over the last 6 months or so I’ve been really working on my flexibility after being convinced that flexibility is one of the most important aspects of being healthy. I’m also on a 50+ daily meditation streak.  I can say I’m healthier now than I was a year ago.

Knowledge: I read nearly 30 books this year, and listened to countless podcasts.  I’m far more enlightened now than ever before, though it’s only a glimpse of what is to come.  I still find it incredible how much one can take away from reading a single good book. I’ve got into the routine of leaving a review of every book I read along with my takeaways – this provides a good record of my thoughts.

Business: I’ve launched several new projects and scaled out older ones.  I’ve learned quite a few big lessons this year and have increased my skills in various ways. This year has been one of the best I’ve ever had, with lots of lessons learned along the way.

What didn’t go so well this year?

Health: While I have improved my health from the last year and am making progress, I still have a long way to go.  Next year I’ll be drinking a maximum of once per month, and continuing to work on my fitness (endurance, flexibility, strength).

Writing: While I’ve written more this year, I still haven’t made writing a daily routine, which was one of my goals for the year.  I find writing not only brings new ideas into my mind, it forces me to coherently put down thoughts that otherwise may be jumbled in my mind.  It also provides a nice record of my thoughts as I grow older.

Knowledge: I’ve noticed when I travel I lose routine, and one of them is consistent studying/reading.  For example, when studying Thai language this year, if I was on the road I’d miss several days of studying in a row, or perhaps not read for a week.  This is something I need to work on – just because I’m on the road doesn’t mean I shouldn’t put aside time for these tasks.

What am I working toward?

I’ve had quite a few shifts in mindset this year that have influenced how I view life.  Part of this is driven by what I’ve read and learned this year, people I’ve talked to, and experiences I’ve had, and part I think is just myself growing up.  Thoughts are just thoughts, so I’ve began to realize that is just what they are. I’ve also shifted my mindset more toward financial freedom.  While my goal has always been to enjoy each day as much as possible without too much sacrifice, now I have some goals in mind in terms of “how can I become financially independent?” I’ve learned a lot about investing and 2016 was my first year where I actually started to build a portfolio of things that I consider long term investments. I plan to continue this practice into 2017 and beyond.

Health wise I plan to keep meditating daily and improving my practice.  I plan to attend a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat in 2017, though unsure where that will be in the world.  I’m also working towards a free-standing hand stand, which has required me to work on my flexibility a lot, which obviously takes time and can’t be rushed.

Work-wise, I’m always trying to get better with managing time, setting goals and deadlines, working on routine, and balancing my work/hobbies.  It will be a life-long process but I’m quite happy with the rate of improvement.

All Together

Once again, this year was the fastest year of my life. Perhaps every year we get older will perceptually feel faster than the previous, though I’m unsure.  Perhaps it depends on circumstance and mindset, and the future is unpredictable. All I can do is live how I see best using the knowledge, relationships, and circumstances I have. I’ll end this year with my top 5 book recommendations of the year, and my top 5 posts of the year:

Books:

  • Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Harari
  • The Life You Can Save – Peter Singer
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
  • World Order – Henry Kissinger
  • Free Will – Sam Harris

Posts:

Thanks for reading. Happy New year, see you in 2017!

Note: You can follow what I’m reading and things I find interesting daily on my G+Twitter and/or Facebook page.

Limiting Your Life For the Better

If you haven’t read the de-value of abundance article, read it first.

Suppose you’re born into a wealthy family for a moment and the concept of money doesn’t really exist because it has no real limits.  Because there aren’t limits, you naturally seek experiences that you want and crave, without limit.  Want a steak or lobster dinner every night? Want a brand new Mercedes for your 16th birthday? Want to live in the nicest 2 bedroom condo in the central park of town? You can, and you naturally will because you’re able to and the lifestyle seems fun. Others might even envy you for the lifestyle that seemingly so many others want.

You become used to living in the nicest places, used to eating the nicest food available, and used to driving in the most comfort.  Because you become used to it, you begin to value things that aren’t quite up to par as less valuable.  For example, if you have to sleep on the floor of your friends house for a week it will be much more difficult because you’re used to sleeping in luxury.  If you have to drive an old used car you’re more likely to complain because you’re used the Mercedes.  Or if you have to eat at a food court you’ll not enjoy it as much because you’re used to the nicest dinners in town.

Because most of the world is full of standard “living” by definition, surely by making yourself comfortable and used to above average “living”, it will inevitably lead to discomfort and lack of happiness when you’re in normal environments.  While you can certainly try to restrict yourself from “normal” environments, it is arguably better to be used to normal environments and restrict comfort and the de-value of “above average environments”.  You have to be able to be comfortable in “normal” conditions, which most of the world is made up of.

The more you have of something the less value it holds.  I wrote about this as the de-value of abundance.  $1 is a lot if all you have is $10. $1 is nothing if you have $1M.

Now, imagine living the luxurious life described aboved, as many do.  It is a life without, in this case, financial limits. Because we as humans by default seek experiences that we think we want and desire, we naturally tend to live lifestyles that accommodate our wealth (humans spend relative to their income). I think this is a flaw that has unintended consequences and is why most wealthier people tend to be less happy than the middle working class.  To represent what I meant in another way, take a look at the chart below:

wealth vs things you can buy

The red dotted line represents the financial wealth of a rich person, while the black dotted line represents the middle class.  The objects on the graph represent things you can buy in relation to your wealth.  An iPhone is affordable for the middle class, as is a steak dinner.  A house is above the black dotted line meaning it would require the middle class to work hard and save up to afford, and a car is below a house using the same logic.

If you’re rich, everything is below the line.  Nothing requires saving for, nothing requires waiting for, nothing requires working hard for in the future – you already have the wealth to get it.  Because this this creates unlimited opportunity to buy whatever you want, everything becomes abundant and each object/experience loses it’s value.

I used the money example above to demonstrate how life without limits (financially) ultimately leads to overall less enjoyable experiences (side note: did you know 70% of people who win the lottery go bankrupt in their lifetime?).  However, I propose that this doesn’t just apply to money, but applies to *everything* in life.  Anything abundant loses value.

There was a good conversation with Dan Bilzerian on the Joe Rogan podcast a couple months ago where they talked about happiness, listen to his response here (start at 2hr, 32min) – the way he describes it is what I’m describing in the chart above:
https://youtu.be/RX5Iw-XsWu4?t=9122

So how do we deal with this? The answer is somewhat counterintuitive…

Imposing Limits

Imposing limits on your life leads to overall more enjoyment, satisfaction, and happiness with your life. Limits help you hold value to most things you care about in life – most things that make you happy.

Like steak dinners? Limit yourself to one per month to keep the value of it high. Like nice cars? Rent a nice one every so often to get the feel and dopamine release, and the long to do it again.  If you buy it, that will inevitably fade. Get used to the “normal” life, not the “high” life.

Without limiting your life, you’ll end up being less happy, less fulfilled, and overall less satisfied with your life, assuming there aren’t other factors already limiting it for you.

Going back to the example of financial abundance (having lots of money), one of the theories is that when you have a lot of money, you have a lot of freedom.  You can take the nicest vacations, go to the most exotic places, eat the nicest food, buy the nicest cars.  Experiences that most people long for are in grasp, so you naturally pursue them.  After you’ve have a lot of these experiences and bought much of these goods, they become abundant themselves and therefore each additional experience is less valued, therefore leading to less things to look forward to, less things that excite you, less unique experiences to be had, etc.  This doesn’t mean a person with financial abundance has done everything there is to be done, it means each new experience no longer holds much value because they’ve had countless others ones – they’ve become abundant.

On the other side of the coin, if you always long for an experience and have to work long and hard for it, it is scarce (not abundant).  This makes the experience hold more value – as well as all future experiences you long for.  This effect keeps you excited, keeps you looking and working for more experiences, and that feat itself is what fulfills people.

In the book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, Yuval Harari gives an excellent historical analysis of who we are, what we do, and why we do it (we being homo-sapiens).  There is an excellent chapter on happiness and meaning in which Harari writes: “Happiness depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations.” While we aren’t really in control of our objective conditions so much, if we change our expectations, our happiness changes. It’s worth thinking about more, and realizing that most feelings in life come down to mindset, which influences what you end up doing with your life, how you live it, and how pleasurable your life is.  Below is the Chapter 24 audiobook which is definitely worth listening to (though I’d recommend reading the entire book):

Life is short, and sure it’s meant to be enjoyed.  Imposing limits isn’t meant to prohibit you from enjoying all the things you want in life, but if our goal is to be happy and maximize well being, limiting yourself is almost guaranteed the better way forward rather than indulging in every desire you have as often as you want.

For most of history, humans lived in scarcity of almost everything. Since the industrial revolution, there is now an oversupply of almost everything.  How do we deal with more goods than we can possibly consume? We market them and convince people why they should buy them, or why they need them.  We’re buying things that 5 minutes before we didn’t know even existed.  Consumerism convinces people that indulgence is good for you, where frugality is self oppression.  Consumerism has succeeded in it’s goal – we now live in a world of more abundance than ever before, being convinced and persuaded by society to indulge.  The affect of this abundance is less happiness, less satisfaction, more complaining, and less gratitude – a common theme amongst western culture today.

The Paradox of Choice, Again

Another major player in this is the paradox of choice.  It is basically that if you have abundant choices, you’re a) less likely to make a choice at all, and b) if you do make a choice, you’re less likely to be happy with it.  In a world of abundance, the selection of choices are much larger, and therefore the paradox is stronger.  Without putting in limits, it will lead to less appreciation of the things you have, and a longing for all the other choices that could be.  Or it leads to you choosing everything (and creating abundance) and therefore devaluing everything, ultimately leading to unhappiness and a lack of fulfillment.

Summary

The takeaway from this post is that, though counter intuitive, limiting your life and experiences likely leads to more appreciation, more enjoyment, more happiness, and more satisfaction of everything.  Confining your life in a way where you value everything in it as much as possible and don’t long for more and more likely leads to living a better life.  While this has been a common theme amongst people throughout the ages (Stoics, monks, etc.), in todays world of abundance it’s worth thinking about more closely and clearly.

So next time you notice yourself doing something in abundance, consider what limits you can place to increase the value of the experience rather than making it more abundant and de-valuing it.  Our instincts alone won’t lead us to happiness.