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Are the rich to blame?

Politics – a topic that seems to have a love-hate relationship with everyone.  It targets core belief systems, it creates powerful emotional reactions, and it matters.  Politics shape whether a country prospers or fails, it is the system by which societies manage each other, commerce, and relations.  My interest in politics has less to do with the daily media (which I avoid), but more to do with how politics is a big psychology experiment – where it changes how people behave, what people believe, what matters to people, and sways how people think.  It is behavior psychology at it’s finest, and it is fascinating.

There is a lot of negative sentiment towards the rich, especially towards the elite – the millionaires and the billionaires running the worlds biggest companies.  It is an interesting discussion for a number of reasons, but I think it represents some misunderstandings about the world, economics, capitalism, and the greater good.

I read Walton’s “Made in America” book a few months ago, which was him essentially advocating for free market enterprise – allowing companies to operate businesses and consumers to make their own choices about what to purchase, when to purchase, and for how much.  Bezos, currently the worlds richest human, gives the book to every executive he works with to get a grasp for how to build world changing companies.  Bezos, like Walton, very likely sees doing good in the world as creating more capital for the world.  And that is not to say just for himself.

Walton goes into detail about not only how and why he created Walmart, but how much wealth Walmart created for the world.  It not only made the Waltons fabulously wealthy, it made a lot of people wealthier – including all the associates who setup Walmarts, all the people who bought Walmart stock, all of the managers who have worked for Walmart, all of the employees who decided to make a career out of working at Walmart, and all the consumers who shop at Walmart that otherwise would be paying higher prices elsewhere.   You can make the exact case for Bezos – even though he has amassed a fortune of over $100 billion, Amazon currently has a market cap of almost $1 trillion, which means he’s created over $900 billion for other people, not counting all the wealth created that isn’t factored into the stock price (such as people who make money selling on Amazon, shipping companies, labeling companies, consumer savings, etc.).  Some of that wealth has taken market share from other companies (such as a mom and pop shop that used to sell the same product at twice the price), but it also includes a huge amount of new wealth that otherwise didn’t exist, including all the people that work for Amazon now that otherwise would be working elsewhere.  It is important to look at all these downstream effects when looking at company profits, taxes, wages, etc.  The reason Bezos, Gates, or Jobs became so rich is because they innovated, and built something that society valued.  But the takeaway isn’t that they became incredibly rich, it is that the result of those businesses, it made a lot of people wealthier, and created a massive amount of wealth for the world.

The point here is that while doing good in the world can be donating money, time, energy, or other resources to those in need, it can also be done by creating technology, business, or creating wealth for the world in which people work, create, and use the business to create further wealth.  Walton suggested in his book that the good that the Walmart business has done for the world is far superior than any of the billions of dollars that the Walton’s have given away in their lifetime as philanthropy.  As a society, we often look at the philanthropy that the rich do, but we miss the “good” that these people have done by simply creating business and commerce in the world.

This view of reality is interesting, and worth thinking about more.  In Tyler Cowen’s “Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals”, he makes a moral case for economic growth:

Growth is good. Through history, economic growth, in particular, has alleviated human misery, improved human happiness and opportunity, and lengthened human lives. Wealthier societies are more stable, offer better living standards, produce better medicines, and ensure greater autonomy, greater fulfillment, and more sources of fun. If we want to continue on our trends of growth, and the overwhelmingly positive outcomes for societies that come with it, every individual must become more concerned with the welfare of those around us and in the world at large and most of all our descendants in the future. So, how do we proceed?

So with this said and noticing how Walton and Bezos likely see doing good for humanity, are these characters as evil as they’re thought to be?  Should we hate these people, and praise them for their service?

One of the common arguments about these big companies is how much more the executives make to the employees.  While it is worth discussing, wages are determined by the market (or the government), not necessarily by the company.  If Amazon pays their average employee $15, they do it because people are willing to work for that wage.  The only caveat to this is if no other options or jobs exist, but that is rarely the case if we generalize society as a whole.  Why are wages for computer scientists higher in the US than in Thailand? Why does a Youtube engineer make more than a grocery cashier? The market.

There are more jobs available today in the world than anytime in history, and the US has record low unemployment rates.  Amazon did, however, set a $15 minimum wage themselves, doubling the average minimum wage in 2018.  An important note is that wages, more often than not, are created out of a market.  If there aren’t people willing to do the job for $15, wages will go up.  If there are a lot of people willing to do the work for $15, wages may drop or remain the same.  While not true in every case (such as a monopoly or lack of competition), it is generally true for the world at large.

It’s important to understand these dynamics, as well as the downstream effects of them.  A recommended read on the topic of minimum wage, taxes, and markets is “Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics“.  It’s short and discusses a lot of these topics in basic terms.  I tend to believe that much of the disagreement between conservatives and liberals, in America in particular, is caused by varying understanding in downstream economics, as well as what role governments play in society and how large they should be.

Hoarding Money

One of the things we often hear is the rich are hoarding money.  Part of this could be true, but lets step back and look at it a bit more.  Once you have money, it’s easier to make more – you can take more risks, have access to more opportunities, and have more time/resources to spend finding the best ways to invest it, not counting more time to simply learn and think.  As a result, the rich often get richer even if they aren’t “hoarding money”.  That doesn’t therefore mean the rich just want to get richer, it is simply the mechanics of how economics work, and perhaps a flaw with modern capitalism.  For example, an American can save up money, travel for 2 weeks on that money, while still saving for retirement.  Most of the world cannot do this (and one big argument for capitalism is to make more countries become developed so more people have the luxury to do this). I think many of the richest people in the world are all trying to figure out how to do good with their money, not simply trying to “hoard it”.  And trying to determine how to do the most good isn’t an easy answer, and one that should be diligently thought out.

If you were Jeff Bezos, what would you do? Or in other words, what do you suggest Jeff Bezos do? Or Bill Gates?  Stop and think about that.  Your intuition may be misguided. One may say they should give it all away.  If Bezos gave away $100B, he’d still have $14B, is he still a “hoarding” then? Bill Gates is giving away $10B each year, but is still making more than that, making him wealthier, is he still “hoarding”?  Instead of giving away the money, what if the money was used to create bigger businesses and drive more economic growth in the world? Is that better than giving it away? There is also the time horizon factor – giving away $100B now may alleviate a lot of suffering in the present moment, but would it simply kick the issues downstream to a later time rather than solve them fundamentally? These are all tough questions, and ones that everyone should think about, not just the richest.  But the point of these questions is to genuinely consider them.  If you were worth $10M, $100M, or $1B, what would you do? These questions are tricky and don’t necessarily have right answer, but the best answer probably isn’t to give it all away if we want to maximize the amount of good we’re doing in the world.

While capitalism has it’s flaws, what is a better system? We can criticize the broken systems in place, but we have to be careful as if we don’t have a better alternative, it’s hard to convince people to do otherwise.  We should be working to build the best society we possibly can, and that means understanding how the society came to be, why it is the way it is, and how the mechanics of society actually work, rather than simply assuming things.  We all need to better educate ourselves by reading, discussing with people from the other political spectrum, being more aware and open-minded, and thinking about the greater good rather than just about ourselves.  The world is complicated, but avoiding people from the other party only makes the problem worse, not better.

Because of the complexity in peoples desires, drives, motivation, knowledge, etc., we need a system for freedom of choice, enabling people to freely make choices based on their own desires and values.  Again, there isn’t a purely perfect system, but capitalism is perhaps the best system for this so far.  And it’s worked.  I’d highly recommend reading Steve Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now” book.  It is a much needed read for most of the people dreading modern society – people are stuck in mental prisons driven by the media, which plays on our negative emotions.

Conservative vs. Liberal

If you ask most people in the world what they wish for society to be, it is a society where everyone is happy, healthy, and wealthy, free to make their own choices and fulfill their own desires.  The vast majority of disagreements arise from how that is best done.  Is it best done by increasing taxes and making governments larger? Is it best done creating a more free market with more open trade? Is it best done by investing mostly into our education system where people can think for themselves?  These are all questions that don’t have clear answers, all we can do is openly discuss the pros and cons to each and try to better understand the downstream effects of all of these things.

While I tend to lean liberal on most issues, I believe that governments are incredibly inefficient with money, in large part due to no competition or accountability for spending or performance.  Politicians are rarely scored on their direct effects on society, but more on how they make people feel.   As a result, I think governments shouldn’t be larger, they should be smaller.

The fact that wealth is taxed in proportion to growth, by definition, means governments will grow in proportion to the economy growing.  This doesn’t make sense as governments don’t necessarily need to be larger as an economy gets larger, it may be better that people keep or spend more of their own money rather than it going to the government, which is known to be wasteful.  With this said, many governments perform well with high tax rates and have built in systems into their government which maintain accountability.  Though this is true, we don’t know how well the society would function if taxes were lowered compared to higher as we don’t have those controlled.  It is plausible that Norway may be wealthier, happier, and healthier with lower taxes than they are currently, but we don’t know the answer.  Therefore, it is a fallacy to think that simply because higher taxes have worked in one place that they will work in another.  The other major factor in “higher taxes” is that it isn’t just a function of higher taxes, it is how the tax revenue is spent.  The Scandinavian countries with higher tax rates tend to have far more efficient spending programs than the US, for example, where the US spends $800B/year on military while the Scandinavian countries spend little on military.  It is complicated, but high taxes aren’t necessarily good.

Income Inequality

One of the reasons many hate the rich, on top of what has been discussed, is income inequality.  People value fairness, but since the wealthy often have access to things that most people do not, it creates an unfair society.  It doesn’t necessarily mean all rich people got rich playing unfairly, most of the wealthy people in the world earned it either by luck, hard work, or a combination of the two.  Some people have no desire to become rich, so we can’t ensure an equal society, we can only ensure fair rules.  Freedom and equality aren’t compatible – we all excel at different rates.  A purely free society will end up un-even, and a purely equal society means taking away freedom from people.  All we can hope for is a system where people have the ability to pursue their own desires, or what people call equal opportunity.

Paul Graham wrote a great piece on income inequality here, which is worth reading:

The most common mistake people make about economic inequality is to treat it as a single phenomenon. The most naive version of which is the one based on the pie fallacy: that the rich get rich by taking money from the poor.

Usually this is an assumption people start from rather than a conclusion they arrive at by examining the evidence. Sometimes the pie fallacy is stated explicitly:

…those at the top are grabbing an increasing fraction of the nation’s income — so much of a larger share that what’s left over for the rest is diminished…. [1]

Other times it’s more unconscious. But the unconscious form is very widespread. I think because we grow up in a world where the pie fallacy is actually true. To kids, wealth is a fixed pie that’s shared out, and if one person gets more, it’s at the expense of another. It takes a conscious effort to remind oneself that the real world doesn’t work that way.

In the real world you can create wealth as well as taking it from others. A woodworker creates wealth. He makes a chair, and you willingly give him money in return for it. A high-frequency trader does not. He makes a dollar only when someone on the other end of a trade loses a dollar.

If the rich people in a society got that way by taking wealth from the poor, then you have the degenerate case of economic inequality, where the cause of poverty is the same as the cause of wealth. But instances of inequality don’t have to be instances of the degenerate case. If one woodworker makes 5 chairs and another makes none, the second woodworker will have less money, but not because anyone took anything from him.

Even people sophisticated enough to know about the pie fallacy are led toward it by the custom of describing economic inequality as a ratio of one quantile’s income or wealth to another’s. It’s so easy to slip from talking about income shifting from one quantile to another, as a figure of speech, into believing that is literally what’s happening.

Except in the degenerate case, economic inequality can’t be described by a ratio or even a curve. In the general case it consists of multiple ways people become poor, and multiple ways people become rich. Which means to understand economic inequality in a country, you have to go find individual people who are poor or rich and figure out why. [2]

While there is a lot of talk in the US about income inequality, an important note and one worth thinking about is that the vast majority of Americans are the wealthiest people in the world.  With that said, what are the things that the average American does with their resources to help the poorest people in the world? By analogy, it is somewhat similar to the wealthier people in America to a working class American.  Americans earn 10x more than most others in the world, after adjusting for living costs (PPP).  Even the poorest Americans live a standard of life better than most of the world.

It is worth thinking about when discussing income inequality.  If we look at it on a national level, or a global level, there are issues to be solved, and we should all inform ourselves about these issues and do our part.  I tend to look at most things at a global level sine we’re all on this planet together, and I think nation states should focus more on global decisions rather than just trying to make their own country “great”.  If America declines and people in America are making less money, that doesn’t mean the world is in decline.  Perhaps a lot of that wealth is being moved into poorer countries, making the rest of the world wealthier, it’s not easy to say if that is bad or good for the world.  We don’t want people to decline in wealth or well being, but considering how much wealthier America is to the rest of the world, it would make some sense to see the world become more even over the longer run as poorer countries become wealthier and growth is quicker compared to western countries.

The average American vastly underestimates how rich they are compared to the average human in the world.

“According to the Global Rich List, a $32,400 annual income will easily place American school teachers, registered nurses, and other modestly-salaried individuals, among the global 1% of earners.” (?)

How we fix income inequality, make everyone more free and wealthier,  more open minded and aware, how we improve education, and how we better work together are all difficult questions to answer.  All we can do is openly talk about them, put our perspectives out to be corrected and discussed, and in the process, keep our emotions in check and not become overly biased or emotionally attached to politics as we know.  All of these issues are solvable, and we will solve them.  But we have to criticize the bad ideas, not the people who perhaps have the same goal as us, but just see a different way of getting there.  It’s impossible for us all to understand everything in the complicated world we live in, all we can do is learn as much as we can about as much as we can, and stay open minded, knowing that what we believe and know may not be the entire picture.

After all, life is too important to be taken seriously.  Look at politics for fun, to learn, and engage with people, but don’t let it polarize your family, friends, and society.  We all share this planet together, lets work together to make it a better place, and that starts, with you.

2019 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:
20102011201220132014201520162017,2018

Here’s a look back in what I did in 2019.

SUMMARY

  • New Years started in Chiang Rai, celebrating with Kemji and some friends up there.  After Chiang Rai, we went to Pai and met another friend there.  We flew a small airplane back to Chiang Mai, which was a fun first time experience.
  • After spending a couple weeks back in Bangkok, Kemji and I drove to Khao Yai National Park for a few nights, staying at a resort outside of the park and later a night inside the park at a lodge.  We also visited the Mahanakorn Glass Skywalk in Bangkok atop Thailand’s tallest building.
  • In February we moved to a new apartment in Bangkok and lived with 2 other friends for 6 months.
  • In March we attended our friend George’s wedding in Bangkok.
  • In April I did a 30 day Vlog challenge, as well as another 5 day water fast.  We also celebrated Songkran (Thai New Year) in Bangkok.
  • In May I took Kemji’s dad and niece to Koh Samed for his first time to an island.  We also went south to Koh Tao with friends for scuba diving.
  • In June, Kemji and I visited the US and road tripped from Las Vegas to Colorado, visiting the Grand Canyon, Paige, and a trip down to Phoenix to visit a friend and his family.  I also camped at my uncles campout (and it snowed), and saw John Fogerty play at Red Rocks.
  • We celebrated July 4th in Lakewood, and shortly after headed back to Bangkok for 3 weeks.
  • In August we flew to Prague for my friend Chris and Martina’s wedding, and started a 45 day trip around Europe, visiting Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy.  We then road tripped to Austria with our friends David and Charlotte, and then drove to Germany to visit the worlds largest sauna at Therme Erding.
  • From there, in September, we flew to Helsinki and met two other friends, Chris and Sam, and did a 2 weeks trip around Finland and Norway, exploring the sauna culture of Finland, and the fjords of Norway along with the northern lights in Tromso, ending our trip in Amsterdam before heading back to Bangkok mid-September.
  • In October, Kemji and I went to Koh Samui followed by Koh Tao for more diving.  Towards the end of October, I flew to the US for 3 weeks to visit family, flying to Minnesota with my family, and eventually went on the Flogging Molly Cruise to the Bahamas with my brother and friends in early November, departing out of Ft. Lauderdale.
  • I returned to Bangkok in mid-November and 3 days later my cousin and her husband came to visit Thailand for 10 days – it was a fun, busy trip exploring Bangkok and the surroundings.  They left in early December.  We attended Wonderfruit Music Festival north of Pattaya in mid-December, and currently we’re in Phuket for New Years.

WHAT WENT WELL THIS YEAR?

Health: This year was average on the health front – I stayed quite active, ate well, but with all the traveling it was hard to keep a routine so it felt like my health was cycled.  A lot of parties mixed in made the year seem like I made little progress with my health.

Knowledge: I was able to read a fair bit this year and reflect a lot more on life in general.  I suppose being 30 years old brings that as well, but I felt like this year was enlightening for a number of reasons.

Relationships: I was able to spend time with family and friends quite a bit this year, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I’m always grateful for the amazing people that I’ve been able to hangout with and call friends, as well as family.

Business: It was an interesting year for my business as well, and I’ve learned a lot this year and grown.  2019 was the best year of my career so far, so it was a successful business year.

WHAT DIDN’T GO SO WELL THIS YEAR?

Health could use more consistency.  I see health as a long term game, that can’t be cyclic.  It’s not about being healthy for a month and then unhealthy for a month.  I need to work on being more consistent in taking care of my sleep, what I eat, and what I drink.  While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the year, I need to put more emphasis on taking care of my health, and I think it starts with less late nights out partying.  Aside from that, I didn’t do a Vipassana course this year – primarily due to being away on the road as much.  I will make a stronger effort in 2020 to attend one of the courses.

In 2019 I also planned to perfect the handstand, which didn’t happen.  Though I’ve made good progress, I haven’t yet reached my goal.

I also wrote much less in 2019 than average.  Again in part due to my lack of self-discipline in this area, but also being on the road, distracted, affected it.  I have many half written posts that I want to finish and make 2020 a year of more writing, reading, learning, and growing.

WHAT AM I WORKING TOWARD?

I’m working towards more of the same stuff I was working toward in 2018.  More mobility work, and just staying as active as I can.

I plan to certainly make more adventures, but nothing in the books yet.  Visiting the pyramids in Egypt is a possibility, but otherwise really focusing on my body and mind further.

ALL TOGETHER

2019 was a fun year, perhaps one of the best. I felt like I grew a lot this year, and have a slightly different perspective on life that makes me a slight bit wiser, which is all I can hope for.

I also realize in 2019 how pessimistic people have become in the western world.  It’s strange amongst the circle of people you hang with and how much it shapes your perspective of the world.  I’ve tended to hang out with optimistic people who strive to be better each day, take responsibility for the outcome of their lives, benefit the greater good, and learn everyday.  The result is a bubble of people who all think the world is a fascinating place that is improving each day.

I think the media, especially in the west, has tainted the view of life on this planet.  While there are many issues ahead of us, I’m optimistic we will solve them.  While the West may be in decline or on the verge of it, the world as a whole is getting better by almost every metric we can measure.  I will copy from my 2018 post:

wrote a post on Optimism earlier this year.  There are many reasons to be optimistic, and that post may help.  I’d also recommend Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now, which Bill Gates said was one of his all time favorites.  Well worth the time.

This article came out recently, among many others, and is worth reading and thinking about – we just had the best decade in human history:
https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/12/weve-just-had-the-best-decade-in-human-history-seriously

I didn’t write too much this year, but this post is perhaps one of my favorites of all time, if not, for 2019:

The Stories We Tell

With that, I will end with a few things from James Clear, who I’d highly recommend checking out (as well as his book Atomic Habits);

Life is too short to not be pursuing the best opportunity you know of.

And from a post he made on Twitter:

Habits that have a high rate of return in life:

– sleeping 8+ hours each day
– lifting weights 3x week
– going for a walk each day
– saving at least 10 percent of your income
– reading every day
– drinking more water and less of everything else
– leaving your phone in another room while you work

You can see all of my posts from 2019 herehttp://www.patjk.com/posts/2019

I wish you all a happy new year, let’s make 2020 the best year of our lives.

Thanks for reading.

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

Updates – July, 2019

I just returned from about 35 days on the road in the US, and in 2 weeks will be in Czech Republic for a wedding followed by 45 days on the road in Europe.

I haven’t made a public post on this blog in a couple months, primarily due to a) doing a 30 Day Vlog Challenge which you can watch below, and b) been traveling a fair bit and have spent much less time online.

The 30 Day Challenge playlist can be found below – each day is around 5-10 minutes where I share an idea, a philosophy, or teach something I know.  It is my attempt to simply share, and I hope you enjoy it.  I’d love to see others make their own vlogs, it is a fun little challenge.

It’s always strange to stop at some point, or many points, during the year and think “holy shit July is almost over?”.  But here I am again in 2019 thinking the exact thing.  Where time goes and how we perceive it is a strange thing, but recognizing this is yet again a reassurance in our lives to stay motivated to do the things in life that we genuinely want to do, as we don’t have unlimited time and soon the wrinkles in our face get clearer.

This has been a wild year, but a lot of fun.  Currently it’s 10pm and I’m sitting in Bangkok about to sleep after a solidly productive day of work, trip planning, intense exercise, and enjoying dinner and a movie with Kemji.  I’m excited for the upcoming European trip, but will also be excited to be back home in Bangkok as it feels like we just got back.

Earlier in the year I was doing quite a lot of weight lifting for the first time in my life really.  It was fun pushing the limits and seeing progress, but I didn’t think eating 4,000 calories a day to continually pump more iron was the best way to maximize my longevity.   It was fascinating to realize how adaptable the muscles are – if I stopped lifting for a week I’d lose nearly 10% of my strength, and now I’d struggle to squat 20kg less than I did easily just a few months ago.  If you don’t use it, you lose it, that’s for certain.

Since slowing on the lifting (mostly due to travel and being away from a routine and a gym), I’ve since switched more to movement, mobility, and calisthenics.  I’ve long wanted to be able to do a free handstand and now I think I’m motivated to put in the daily steps.  It is something you can do anywhere, anytime, and it is a great exercise for strength, mobility, and a daily challenge to get better.  It is something I hope to continue throughout my life.

Upon returning in mid-September, I’ll have roughly 1 month home before heading back to the US again in October/November for a few fun trips and to visit more family, something I always thoroughly enjoy doing.

I’ve learned a lot this year, and I’m stoked for what the coming months bring.  Expect more blog posts soon – got a few things to publish.

Sleep

Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory, makes you more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?

I recently read Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep” which details the science of sleep and its wide ranging benefits to life (and side effects from the lack of sleep).  It is fascinating that every living organism has evolved to sleep in some way, shape, or form, and that even though we spend a third of our lives sleeping, we know quite little about it.  A seemingly simple question such as “why did we evolve to sleep?” is actually a difficult question to answer. This book is one of the more in depth books on the science of sleep through the lens of a sleep neuroscientist (originally heard on this podcast).   It is an excellent book and enlightening.  In short, quality sleep time should be a much larger priority in life than it has become in the modern world.

Some of the side-effects from a lack of sleep:

  • Increased risk for cancer, dementia (Alzheimer’s), and heart disease
  • Lower energy (having energy is one of the highest factors in improving well being)
  • More likely to become depressed
  • Weakened immune system (more likely to get sick)
  • Shorter life span
  • Causes weight gain & increased hunger
  • Lowers testosterone and sex drive
  • Lowers cognitive performances – increased risk for injuring yourself and others

Not only does sleep allow us to live longer, it allows us to live better.  It is foundational to being healthy, and having the energy and motivation to do things in life.  The better we sleep, the longer we tend to live and the happier we tend to be.

The average American sleeps roughly 2 hours less each night than they did in 1900.  This is caused in part by the abundant stimulation of the modern world, the expected busyness of our daily lives, the lack of priority of sleep, the rise of electronic devices that slow melatonin release, the likely increased stress of day to day life, and the consumption of caffeine.  The affect of this is huge on our mental and physical health.  Not only does it cause us to be less productive at work, it makes us feel fatigued, makes us less aware, and is detrimental is to the long term affects on our lives.   Matthew Walker considers the lack of sleep the average person gets a public health crisis.  Because it is the foundation to good health, many other biological processes in our body don’t work properly without it.  A couple examples:

  • Exercise – if you run or do resistance training but don’t sleep, your body can’t recover and the strength you would otherwise gain won’t happen.
  • Diet – eat healthy but if you don’t sleep your metabolic processes become unbalanced and nutrients are not properly utilized.
  • Reading – learn and stay active but if you don’t sleep your time spent studying is lost and your memories can’t be as easily created – sleep is vital for learning and memory.
  • Social life – you’re less energetic and friendly without proper sleep, and you enjoy social encounters less than if you’re well rested.

Often people will say they feel great after 5 hours of sleep.  The issue is that subjectively it is very hard to notice if you’re sleep deprived.  In controlled cognitive studies on the sleep deprived, people who sleep less and “get used to it” consistently perform worse on basic cognitive tests even though they report and feel “well rested”.  Essentially people who consistently get used to a lack of sleep reframe their whole world of emotions and feelings to being sleep deprived (as subjectively people don’t tend to notice).

By getting quality sleep and not being sleep deprived, virtually all parts of their lives would improve including cognitive performance, improved emotions and control, reduced irratibility, and increased happiness, amongst countless other biological benefits.

Common culprits of bad sleep:

  • Caffeine – even if you drink it in the morning only, it can affect your sleep.  Do a 30 day challenge of no coffee and see if it makes a difference.
  • Staring at our screens – looking at our electronics within a couple hours of sleeping tricks our brain into thinking it’s sunny our, slowing the release of meltonin and causes us to not fall asleep as easily.
  • Staying physically active – we’re born to move around.  Staying active is key to getting good rest.
  • Staying hydrated – drinking 1-2 liters of water a day minimum is necessary.  Avoid drinking right before sleeping to avoid waking up to use the toilet.  Also avoid eating too close to bedtime.
  • Keep temperature cool – our core body temperature drops when we sleep and hence it’s easier to sleep when it’s cooler rather than warmer.  Ensure your room is comfortable.
  • Avoid alcohol before sleeping – though it may help you fall asleep, all it is really doing it sedating you.  You don’t get proper deep or REM cycles when drinking alcohol and therefore not really sleeping or resting.  This is why you can sleep for 12 hours after drinking and still wake up tired – it ruins sleep.
  • Give yourself time to sleep – if you want to sleep for 8 hours, you need to be in bed for 9 hours (keep all electronics out of your bed).  Make sleep a priority as it is perhaps the most important thing one can do for their well being.
  • Lack of sunlight – sunlight is a vital part of our lives and our brain’s wake and sleep rhythm is tied to it.  Getting sunlight, especially into our eyes, sets our circadian rhythm and tell us when to be awake and when to sleep (sleep during the night when it’s dark and wake when it’s light out).
  • Staying up late – having a consistent sleep time and wake up time allows the bodies circadian rhythm to function properly.  Make an effort to wake up the same time each day, including weekends.

I’ve been experimenting with sleep for several years and the above tips will definitely help if you’re either not getting good sleep or simply not prioritizing it.  10 years ago I believed I could sleep when I was dead, but I was clearly ignorant to the vital importance of sleep.  Over the last 5+ years, I’ve averaged close to 9 hours of sleep a night and regularly track my sleep cycles.  I follow the basic tips outlined in the post, and generally feel optimistic, motivated, and energetic.

I’m always experimenting of varying strategies to improve the quality of life, and sleep is definitely a core component.  I look forward to learning more about sleep and continue to work on improving the quality of my sleep.

So with that said, take some time this week to sleep 8-10 hours a night, and notice how much better you feel.  Make sleep a priority.

Body & Mind Changes

Our body is constantly generating new cells as cells are constantly dying off and being created.  When we build muscle, it is new cells being created in a way that benefits the parts of our body we need.  When our tendons shrink or elongate, our cells are being created in a way to adapt to the changes.  When we are not flexible, it is because we’ve told our body we don’t need to be.  If we’re flexible, it’s because we kept mobility and told our body to continue to grow in a way to preserve it’s flexibility.

Another way to look at cell generation is that most of the cells that made your body when you were a kid are now replaced.  That is to say that virtually all of your body is made up of cells that didn’t exist when you were a child – most cells are replaced every 7-10 years, some much more often.  It’s like a wave that comes and goes – like thoughts, our bodies are impermanent and constantly changing, literally.  Think about that, most cells in your body today didn’t exist just 7 years ago – in some ways you’re an entirely different person.

It’s quite clear the body acts this way – stretch everyday and you can slowly stretch further and become more flexible.  Lift weights everyday and eventually it becomes easy and you add more weight to get stronger.  What isn’t as clear is that the mind is exactly the same.  The brain in many ways is like a muscle – the more you use it for a given task, the easier the task becomes.  For example, habits are simply brain reps.  At first creating a new habit is difficult just as lifting a heavy weight is difficult at first.  But over time it’s easy to lift the weight, and over time the habit becomes so easy it is subconscious, meaning you do it without consciously thinking.

Learning is like resistance training for the mind – the more you actively learn, the easier it becomes to learn.  This is in part because your brain gets used to the strains of learning, but also that as you learn more, the easier it is to learn more because bits and pieces of what you already know combine together.

Reading is a task that is incredibly valuable, but at first it is quite hard.  In the age of infinite distractions, the only way one will read is if they schedule it into their day or have the motivation to read by realizing it’s utility.  After making it a daily task, it becomes easier, and because it’s easier, you often do it more.  It compounds.  Habits compound.

We are purely a product of our habits.  We can change, modify, create, and destroy habits as we become aware of them.  Habits are also always changing based on where you live, what lifestyle you live, who you’re with, your motivation, your work, your goals, etc.  It’s all part of the evolution of life – the changes we make and how we adapt to them.

By explaining life in a wave like it is, it makes it more clear the impermanence of everything in life.  As I’ve written about this before, the stoics, Buddha, and many others who truly paid attention to the nature of reality, being is just a constant state of the present, a state of impermanence.  By paying attention to the changes and adaptions of our mind and body, we can adjust for the things we want to adapt to and modify our behavior accordingly.

This post was inspired by a clear moment of realization of how well we as humans adapt.  After all, all life is in how we live it, perceive it, and adapt to it.  Adapting in the way you see fit is in large part what makes life satisfying.

The Stories We Tell

Everyone tells themselves stories, which form their identity, which shape their lives and how they live them.  A Christian missionary may tell themselves that their highest life priority is to spread the word of god to promote Christianity. A professional weight lifter may tell himself that weight lifting is fun and amazing and turning a career out of it is the best job in the world, and consider himself the luckiest man alive.  An American, with standard American values, may imagine working hard for most of his life to eventually retire to comfort with a nice house and family.

These are all stories, beliefs we have about how we see our role in the story we understand.  Most often the story is handed down from generation to generation, embedded in a culture we live in or that we’re raised in, and our role in the story is often a common role that others in our society play.

Our experience either reinforces our story and the role we play, or alters it, sometimes radically.  The realization many people have of discovering a story they believed wasn’t true can be moving.  Traveling to a different culture with people that have stories that differ from ours, sometimes drastically, can be enlightening.  Meeting a person that tells their story and why they do what they do can be convincing.  Nevertheless, everyone has a story – a picture they see of the world and how it operates, and the role they play within it.

Observing your story and your role can be useful.  Some stories cause more suffering than others, some stories are more fun than others.  Being open to new stories is challenging but can be rewarding.

The first step is identifying your story, realizing it actually is a story, and then deciding what kind of story you want to tell, and live by.  Though stories evolve, stories are seeded into us the moment we’re born and are clarified, or made complicated, through our experience as we grow older.  After recognizing that life really is just a story we each tell ourselves and each other, we can then choose to write the story as we wish.

“All stories are incomplete. Yet in order to construct a viable identity for myself and give meaning to my life, I don’t really need a complete story devoid of blind spots and internal contradictions. To give meaning to my life, a story needs to satisfy just two conditions: first, it must give me some role to play. A New Guinean tribesman is unlikely to believe in Zionism or in Serbian nationalism, because these stories don’t care at all about New Guinea and its people. Like movie stars, humans like only those scripts that reserve an important role for them. Second, whereas a good story need not extend to infinity, it must extend beyond my horizons.”
– 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

The key is recognizing that how we live and what we belief is all part of the story we tell ourselves.  While through meditation you can more easily recognize thoughts as just thoughts and nothing more, through paying close attention to how we form our beliefs we can recognize how what we do is just part of the story we tell ourselves, and nothing more.  Then again, the story we tell ourselves is perhaps the most important part of our lives.

“Your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to”

Make your story a good one.

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