How to chop down a tree in 5 minutes: meditation, journaling, and mindful breathing…
A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.”
-C. R. Jaccard
Happy February my dear friends and family! This is a special edition of my little newsletter, for a couple of reasons. First, when I decided to do these newsletters, I made a promise to myself that even if no one read it, I would keep it up for at least 6 editions. This is number 6. So, what’s next? I’ve been asking myself this very question. Should I transition to blog posts (long and short form), continue with the newsletters, or focus my attention elsewhere? I would love to hear what you think.
The second reason this is a special edition is because instead of giving you a little sampler of my latest explorations, I’m going a little deeper into just one theme: sharpening the axe of your mind. Here’s a rundown of what I do everyday to keep my axe sharp.
Meditation: I first dabbled in meditation in my early 20s, had a regular practice in my mid-20s, and by 30 had forgotten all about it. However, in December of 2013, on my 33rd birthday, I gave myself a great gift: I started meditating again. (I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, I do birthday reflections and intentions). Since then, my meditation practice has grown (slowly) into a self-sustaining habit that is just as dear to me as my morning cup of coffee. I practice a form of passage meditation that I learned from Eknath Easwaran’s book Meditation. Basically, I have a few meaningful passages memorized, and when I meditate, I sit comfortably, and slowly recite a passage in my head, word by word, for 30 minutes. That’s it. Often my mind wanders off in between words, but I just keep coming back to the passage. If I lose my place, I start over. This gentle process of bringing my attention under conscious control makes the rest of my day go much smoother. I feel more present during the moments that comprise my day, and I enjoy them more. This is my antidote to that common feeling that life is moving too fast. In fact, along these lines I highly recommend another book of Easwaran’s called Take Your Time.
Journaling: I have always wanted to be the kind of person that kept a journal, but have always had trouble maintaining the practice. That is, until I discovered the 5-Minute Journal. Some people can sit down in front of a blank page and do productive journaling. I would like to get there someday, but the truth is, for day-to-day journaling, I find the lack of structure in free-form journaling to be paralyzing. However, the 5-Minute Journal has helped me journal everyday for over 6 months now. Each day you have a one-page template to fill out, with prompts and questions to be done first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. The beauty is that the whole practice takes about 5 minutes per day.
One Mindful Breath: This is really simple. I heard about this from Chade-Meng Tan’s chapter in Tools of Titans, but you can read about it in a HuffPo piece written by Tan. The idea is that you commit to taking just one mindful breath a day. I try to take one early in the day because I find it builds momentum and I tend to check in with my breathing more throughout the day. It is a simple technique that takes a few seconds and pays dividends the rest of the day. Which brings me back to the quote at the top of this page, and to the point of all this.
These 3 practices, meditating, journaling, and taking one mindful breath, are how I sharpen my axe at the beginning of the day, so that everything I do the rest of the day goes better. My thoughts are clearer, I’m more focused, more energized, more present, and happier. The best part is that while these 3 practices certainly reinforce each other, they can be practiced separately. If you aren’t ready to jump into meditation, surely you can find 5 minutes to journal, and everyone, no matter how busy, can take one mindful breath a day. It is within everyone’s reach, at all times. In fact, you can try it now.
(Stop reading and take a deep breath in and a deep breath out)
Feels nice, doesn’t it?
I want to thank you all for reading these newsletters and for all the feedback and encouragement you have given me. I’m not sure if I will continue to send newsletters monthly, or send them at all. I may focus on developing my blog, or I may scale back my online profile altogether as I strive to limit screen time and maximize green time (i.e., being outdoors). It’s hard to get over the feeling that talking so much about myself is self-indulgent and egotistical, which are characteristics that I have always guarded against. But, at the end of the day, I was convinced that to have helpful and beneficial information but not share it with others was even more selfish. In any case, I have enjoyed sharing a little bit more of my life with you, and I sincerely hope it has been useful.
Tools of Titans, Fasting, Unicorn Poo, and Longevity…
Hey Folks! Happy New Year!!! I’m posting the January newsletter a little late as I was overseas in December-January. But I’m back and excited to share what I’ve been up to recently.
What I’m reading:Tools of Titans, by Tim Ferriss. If you like The Tim Ferriss Show, you will love this book! Tim went through all the transcripts of the interviews from his show and distilled down the wisdom of world class performers in various fields. Each chapter features a different guest, with lots of bonus goodies, including gymnastic mobility training, fasting and ketosis advice, breathing exercises, cold therapy, therapeutic uses of psychedelics, and so, so, so much more.
What I’m eating: Nothing! I’ve been experimenting with longer fasts this past month with great results. I usually practice intermittent fasting a few days each week, which means I only eat during a 6-hour window (roughly 2-8pm) each day, effectively fasting for 18 hours (from 8pm until the next day at 2pm). In the past month, I have extended my fasting to 24, 48, and 72 hours on different occasions. The extended fasts all resulted in improved mental clarity and focus, more sustained energy levels, fewer food cravings, and a greater feeling of control over my health. If you are new to fasting, don’t be alarmed. Fasting has been practiced by almost every culture going back thousands of years. I suggest you check out Dr. Jason Fung’s website if you really want to dig into this topic. He has a whole subsection on fasting which currently has 27 posts. Just go to his site and enter the search term “fasting.”
Sometimes I don’t have anything but water (and maybe a cup of black coffee) while fasting, but more often than not I practice Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting, which calls for Bulletproof Coffee in the morning–that is, coffee with added butter and MCT oil (a coconut oil extract that readily converts to ketones, which are an amazing source of energy for the brain). The key is that the Bulletproof Coffee contains fat but not protein or carbohydrates. This is important because fat does not elevate your blood sugar and therefore does not cause your body to release insulin. This means no insulin crash (i.e., food coma) that normally follows any significant release of insulin into your system. This insulin crash is what makes you hungry and causes food cravings. While the fat in the coffee does not elevate insulin, it does provide a potent source of energy. Don’t worry if you don’t like coffee or butter, you can use tea and/or coconut oil. Just keep it natural. You can also just keep it super simple and have water only, but if your body is not fat adapted (that is, not good at burning stored fat) you may get pretty groggy at some point during the morning/early afternoon.
Some of the other benefits of fasting include: weight loss, lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, increased metabolism, reversal of type II Diabetes, treatment of epilepsy, protection against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, clearer skin, improved immune function, less cancer, and longer life.
There is also a profound feeling of relaxation and peace that many people report when fasting.
I would start with one day of intermittent fasting and see how it goes. If you feel good, gradually increase to a few days a week. However, it is generally recommended that you have some medical clearance or supervision before attempting longer periods of fasting.
What I’m sitting (squatting) on:Squatty Potty (for the BEST poop of your life). We evolved to poop while squatting (I have no proof of this whatsoever, it just makes sense on some level). I personally own the Tao Bamboo and the Porta Squatty. But, you don’t really have to buy one of these. Any step stool or small box will work. Still need convincing? Or just want to see the best ad for anything ever? Enter Unicorn Poo.
What I’m watching: So excited to share this video series with Peter Attia and the “savant of movement,” Jesse Schwartzman. You may recognize Peter’s name from previous newsletters, as he is somewhat of a personal hero of mine and I refer to him often. He currently runs a longevity/anti-aging medical practice and in his most recent blog post he explains the importance of lifespan vs. healthspan, as well as the crucial role of movement patterns in improving longevity. In the linked video series above, Peter and Jesse teach you techniques to prepare and activate your most important tissue and muscle groups for improved posture, stability, balance, and movement.
Quote of the month: “Don’t believe everything you think.” BJ MIller. Dr. Miller is a triple amputee and a palliative care physician featured in Tools of Titans and in this episode of the Tim Ferriss Show.
Hope you enjoy these updates and get a great start to 2017.
It’s hard to overstate the brilliance of Joseph Campbell and the insights I’ve gleaned from him. Through a 287 page interview , Campbell illustrates the power of mythology to illuminate human life. Speaking to spiritual tradition, the role of presidents, Star Wars, and even Cabbage Patch dolls, Campbell reveals how “myth helps you to put your mind in touch with this experience of being alive.”
Fast forward to minute 10:15 to hear former financial analyst Robyn O’Brien’s practical advice for anyone who wants to make the commitment to better health through food. In her work analyzing the food industry, she saw how food companies consistently replaced real ingredients with artificial ones to the determinant of public health. As a mother of four, she decided to take a stand for “a better, smarter food system.”
My music choice: The album Eco by Jorge Drexler
Drexler is a Uruguayan singer-songwriter, guitarist, and oh yeah, otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor). He’s like a South American Paul Simon, and he’s also the first Uruguayan to win an Academy Award. Find him on Spotify or YouTube
Life hack: The upside down fire!
Allow me to share with you my favorite life hack for the colder months: the upside down fire. In this short blog post, Tim Ferriss turns conventional fire-building wisdom (namely, the teepee method) literally upside down. I’ve been using this method for several years with great results. Stay warm!
Quote of the month: “To be responsible, keep your promises to others. To be successful, keep your promises to yourself.” -Marie Forleo
I hope you enjoy some of these suggestions. Have a great December and keep in touch!
Tracking nutrition and exercise, hacking sleep, no complaints, and the winner of the No Sugar Challenge…
Happy November everyone! In the last newsletter, I outlined the importance of optimizing 5 areas of your life: food, water, exercise, sleep, and relaxation. This month, I’m providing some more advice and concrete steps so you can improve your health and well-being.
Making healthy changes. When it comes to making healthy changes, we all know we need to eat better, get more sleep, and exercise regularly. However, the challenge is knowing where to start, how to measure progress, and holding yourself accountable.
Where to start? I have personally found it helpful to have a framework or philosophy to start with, such as a well-defined diet or eating philosophy. I think the diet you choose is a matter of personal choice and a topic for a longer post. For now, my recommendation is that you go with something that resonates with you, that is realistic (meaning you have a good chance of actually sticking to it), and that has been shown to have proven results. If you are starting from zero, put down the refined sugar and processed foods and include more whole foods, i.e., foods that don’t have a long list of ingredients and that your grandparents might have had in their kitchens when they were your age. I love a short book by Michael Pollan called Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (you can find a pdf here). He sums up his main idea on page 10: Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Not too much. Seven words to remember.
I also like the simple yet comprehensive framework of the Bulletproof Diet. You will no doubt have heard of many others. There are a plethora of good diets out there. Please comment below if you have any recommendations of your own!
How do you measure progress from day one? Once you have chosen a system, you then have to execute it. To quote Dale Carnegie, “knowledge is not power until it is applied.” Applying health knowledge can be fun, especially in nutrition and exercise, because the rewards are immediate: you will feel better. However, making changes in nutrition and exercise can feel overwhelming and scattered if you don’t keep track of what you are doing. How much sugar did I really eat today? Did I really drink 2 liters of water? How many times did I actually exercise this week? Whatever your personal goals may be, keeping track of the small steps you are taking everyday can keep you honest and demonstrate that you are moving in the right direction, however incrementally. Remember, it’s about progress, not perfection.
Click the "Nutrition" button in the "Diary" section.
Click on the goal percentage to change (e.g., Carbs 10%).
Click on the goal of 76.8 g to change it.
Adjust your percentages.
Thankfully, there is a free app that can help you measure your progress and hold you accountable to your goals. It’s called MyFitnessPal. I use it to keep track of food and water intake, as well as to track my exercise. The great thing about this app is that once you enter your food, you can click the “Nutrition” button and get a breakdown of your macronutrients. You can also adjust your target percentages. This is great if you want to ensure you are eating the right amount of carbs, fat, or protein for you.
The app is very handy for tracking your macronutrient profile and it gives you a ballpark estimate of calories burned from exercise. However, I want to make it very clear that I don’t condone obsessing over every little calorie. Losing or gaining weight, getting in shape, and being healthy, is not as simple as calories-in and calories-out. Your macronutrient profile, exercise and activity level, basic metabolic rate, sleep, stress level, and many other factors, are all important variables. Personally, I find that when I track my food and my exercise, I can see the big picture more clearly, and how the small steps I’m taking in the moment are building up to a larger goal. In this way, it motivates me to eat better and exercise more. It has made tracking my progress both simple and fun.
At first, it’s helpful to use it every day for at least a week. From then on, you may find it effective to check in once and awhile and use the data to adjust course if need be.
“If you can’t track it, you can’t hack it.” -Anonymous Biohacker
What kind of exercise should you be doing?: If I had all the time in the world, I’d probably exercise for an hour every day. At least, that’s what I tell myself. But, like most people, I don’t have all the time in the world. My solution has been a form of high-intensity interval training called Tabata training, often shortened to Tabatas.
I heard about Tabatas from Erin Oprea on this episode of Bulletproof Radio:
Erin Oprea is a former Marine of nine years, including two tours in Iraq. She lead the first all-female platoon attached to the infantry in a war zone and now is a trainer…She is the author of The 4×4 Diet, which helps people focus their eating in four key areas and create workouts based on Tabata timing for great results. On today’s episode of Bulletproof Radio, Dave and Erin talk about endurance training, high-intensity training, toxic foods, her work with celebrities, her experiences in Iraq, writing a recipe book and more. Enjoy the show! -Excerpt from Bulletproof Radio
After my first Tabata session, which I did in my living room in less than 20 minutes, I was hooked. The Tabata routine found here is what I use. The key is the timing. For any given exercise, you do 20 seconds of maximum effort repetitions and then rest for 10 seconds. You continue this pattern of 20 seconds on-10 seconds off until you’ve completed 8 sets, at which point you rest for 1 minute before moving on to the next exercise. I initially used the stopwatch feature on my phone to keep track of the timing, but then I found the Timeglass app, which has a reusable, multi-step timer that allows you to automate the whole thing.
Nutrition and exercise lend themselves to optimization, because they are inherently active. But what about sleep? How do you actively change something that by its very nature is passive?
The key here is sleep hygiene, which is defined as “the habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis.” I thought my sleep hygiene was pretty good, but I recently learned that some of my habits may have been interfering with my circadian rhythms. Specifically, most of the light bulbs in my house are compact fluorescent lights, which save on energy but contain a larger amount of short wavelength blue light than is found in natural light. I was also using my tablet or smartphone before bed, sometimes while I was laying in bed. These devices emit light that is enriched with short wavelength blue light. The problem is that light in general, and blue light in particular, disrupts our body’s circadian rhythms. This Q&A with two neuroscientists specializing in sleep goes into more detail. But the take-away is that blue light at night is bad for sleep. There are plenty of tips out there on getting good sleep, such as this list from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard University Medical School. However, I have a few additional sleep hacks that I have found helpful.
There is a native app on newer iPhones called Night Shift that automatically reduces the blue light emitted from your phone from sundown to sunrise.
You can also find a low-blue night light there. I keep mine in the bathroom so I don’t have to blast myself with bright light during those middle-of-the-night bathroom trips. It’s awesome.
But what about the lights in your house? One thing I have done is put incandescent bulbs in the little lamps on my night stands. These emit natural light instead of blue-enriched light.
And finally, if you want a catch-all solution that will protect you from both screen light and the lights in your house, you can always do what I did and get a pair of Swannies. I love mine. There are cheaper blue-blockers out there, but I think Swannies are the most stylish. I get compliments on mine everyday.
Relaxation: Under the umbrella of relaxation and stress reduction, I’m introducing a new challenge that has dramatically improved my mental well-being, especially at work. I challenge you to go one full week without complaining. That’s right. Seven days. No complaints. This is something I have been experimenting with myself for several months and the effect on my thought process and general mood has been astounding. I got the idea from this post by Tim Ferriss. If you want to try the challenge, read his post, then go to the No Complaints Challenge page and leave a comment when you begin. Please also update me about your experience as you go! As always, there will be a special prize for the winner.
Update on the No Sugar Challenge: we have a winner! Actually, we have many winners, because everyone whom I heard back from about the challenge had a positive experience to share, even if was just the startling realization that they could not go a entire day without sugar. However, those that were able to make it more than a couple of days had similar experiences. They noticed sugar cravings go away after a few days, sweets are no longer as tempting, they gained a feeling of liberation or greater control (internal locus of control), and they felt steady energy throughout the day with no crashes.
However, there is one person in particular that I want to recognize as the clear-cut winner of the No Sugar Challenge: my friend and colleague, Lindsay Wood. She really took the challenge to heart and fastidiously eliminated all added sugar from her diet. She went an impressive 21 days without sugar and had this to say about it:
This sugar challenge totally kickstarted me into a lifestyle of healthier eating in general. I love knowing what I’m eating/putting into my body. And I feel good too. Thanks so much for having this challenge! -Lindsay Wood
Lindsay earned a new pair of Swannie’s for winning the No Sugar Challenge. Congrats Lindsay!
That’s all for now. Hope you all have a wonderful month and please continue to share your opinions about the content here or about your own personal health journey. It really does mean a lot to me to hear back from you. Until next month!
This is an archive of my first ever newsletter, originally sent out to only a small group of friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. It was in response to frequent questions I was getting about some of my personal health and lifestyle experiments.
Hello friends, family, colleagues, and miscellaneous loved ones!
If you’ve known me long enough, then you know I’m passionate about continual self-improvement and lifelong learning. You will also know that it genuinely makes me happy to share what I learn with others. I spend a lot of my free time researching and aggregating resources for nutrition, exercise, health, and general personal fulfillment. I have benefitted enormously from these efforts and I’ve decided to send out this monthly newsletter with the hope that you will benefit as well. I’ll be highlighting some of the interesting experiments I’m trying out, mainly in the areas of biohacking and lifestyle design. Continue reading “Rob’s Newsletter #1 September 2016”