Resistance: That War Within

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I stumbled upon a perfect metaphor for life last night: Do the dishes now, they never get any easier. If you have a dishwasher, you blessed soul, maybe this is not as obvious. However if you are like me, you have spent considerable time working with a kitchen that does not offer the 5-star amenity of a dish washing machine. The lesson is that washing the dishes never gets any easier. In fact, the job gets increasingly worse (through multiple dimensions) every second you decide not to wash them. First and foremost, the unwashed dish takes up physical space in the sink! This might not sound like a huge deal, but let me assure you, the resistance to cleaning the dishes exponentially increases as the available sink space decreases. You quickly lose that ability to rotate and turn the big pot because the stack of plates at the bottom of the sink does not leave you enough room between the plates and the faucet! And because you left the pot sitting for 3 days, that once savory tomato meat sauce seems to have become one with the metallic outer coating of the pot. You need to maneuver the pot at the perfect angle just to have the required arm leverage to scrape off the gunk. But those plates and cups at the bottom of the sink shut that down. Now you have to move the big pot aside, and start cleaning the small stuff first. You need that space (and all your will) to separate those day old demons from that pot.

The extensions of this situation are endless. You have to deal with your problems, or they continue to grow. Ignoring the issue only grants it time to mutate and become more formidable. It never goes away, the dish fairy isn’t coming, it’s just there, looming. What takes up physical space today (in the sink), will take up mental space tomorrow (the knowing that you still have to wash the damn dishes). And literally every second you wait, you compound the problem. The dishes are physically harder to clean, and you allow the problem to occupy mental real estate for a longer period of time. The real kicker is the negative feedback loop. The harder the job is to complete, the less likely we are to attempt the job. So we put it off, the mental and physical energy required to complete the task grows, and the likelihood of our doing the task decreases in response. It is at some point you will cross the point of no return. That point at which you aren’t going to clean the dishes, it’s just too far gone. Now you require an anomaly event to shake you free from your cementing state. Someone is coming over to your house, maybe a hot date. This external stimulus of energy is the only way you are able to break the mold that has solidified in the sink and in your head.

To abstract a bit further, this is the simply the way resistance works. In order to do something, anything, you have to say no to everything else. And that’s no easy task. Essentially you have endless possible options, and you have the job of eliminating all but one. So resistance is a vital and useful tool. Imagine you are at the center of a sphere, and you have to move towards some point on the surface of the sphere. Pretend that each location on the surface represents a different mode of action. So you select that particular point (your goal) and start moving, like an arrow to its target. You have to resist all the forces vying to push and pull you towards their own preferred location. Without this resistance, you would have no defined direction. However the thing about life is that you actually never get to the surface of the sphere, you just keep getting closer. For example, think of an arrow traveling to a target. We can say that along the path of the arrow, there is some amount of time for the distance between the arrow and the target to be halved. As the arrow gets closer to the target, the time it takes for it to cover half of the remaining distance becomes infinitely shorter. If we can continually adjust the time scale (infinitesimal time) the arrow will never reach the target. We just keep getting closer, the distance to the target decreases, the halfway point is closer to the starting point (and the target), and the time it takes to get to the halfway point is less. If you grant me this mental exercise, you see that the arrow never hits the target, it just gets infinitesimally close. So moving back to our sphere, we never get to the surface. If we keep traveling in the same direction, honoring the same resistance, we might get something like the shape below (ignore the labels. The 3D representation is the important part, and shoutout to whoever created this. I couldn’t access the actual website for some reason).

And now allow me to really extend the metaphor. Clearly the above deformed sphere does not look like a balanced, versatile, or well-rounded, if you will, object. It has some prominent features, but is also seems disjointed. Does this not happen to us when we get locked on to one specific target? It continues to get easier to move in the direction we are going, while also becoming more difficult to go against the grain. Our resistances become entrenched, and we grow one-sided. This is Newton’s First Law, this is inertia. So if resistance are those forces that keep us on the straight and narrow, they are also the key to expanding our horizon. In order to become something you aren’t, you have to do things you haven’t done. This will inevitably feel uncomfortable as we have a natural tendency to do what we are good at and what we are used to, for good reason. But if we want to grow, develop, become balanced and dynamic, we are forced to return to that resistance with new intentions.

That resistance becomes your compass. It is a screaming red flag warning, “LOOK OVER HERE.” It is the signal beacon of an opportunity to fight the dragon and to steal the fire. It is the portal to becoming something you are not.

It’s not easy or obvious. As we have already stated, that resistance serves an essential purpose and you first must simply be able to recognize and acknowledge the feeling itself. Maybe today that resistance is a little too much to bear, and the dishes are going to stay dirty, for now. But if you can just identify that feeling, that repulsion, you are on the right track. Once you can see it, you have the ability to use it as a tool. You don’t have to start with the big pot. Start with the small plates and cups at the bottom of the sink. Make the next step just a little easier for yourself.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/26/2020

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Health and Compound Interest: A Mental Model for Building a Lifestyle

Compound interest is the addition of interest to a principal sum. It is interest on interest. It is a principle that allows something to increase at faster and faster rates over time. For those visually inclined it is something like this…

https://www.fool.com/knowledge-center/compound-interest.aspx

Economics lesson over. We will apply the idea of compound interest to our approach to health.

This can take many forms. It can be purely psychological, as in a single good decision today makes me more likely to make a good decision tomorrow, and maybe even two good decisions the following day. Another way to describe this is something like the feeling of momentum. *Before we go any further, we will clarify this vaguery, ‘good decision,’ as anything objectively benefiting your health, ie. eating a serving of broccoli, walking outside for 10 minutes, doing a push-up, etc. This would be specific to you and these are general examples.* The compounding principle can also operate in a purely physiologic realm. If I do a set of push ups today, maybe I am able to build some small amount of muscle. If I build muscle, my body’s ability to dispose glucose is improved. If I can dispose of more glucose, my blood sugar goes down. That muscle it not likely to disappear any time soon, therefore I am better at disposing glucose everyday in the future. My average blood sugar over time (HA1c) goes down.

But here is where it gets fun. That same muscle (built from my push-up) that helps me regulate blood sugar helps me move more functionally, increasing my ability to meet the physical demands of life. It increases my resting metabolic rate, allowing my body to “burn” more calories throughout the day. It will help regulate certain hormones circulating in my body. Hell, doing the push-ups might just make me feel better afterwards. The single ‘good’ decision of doing push-ups generates health benefits in multiple dimensions. And the principle of compounding applies in every dimension! The general idea of health compounding is that no matter how insignificant a single ‘good’ decision today may seem, the majority of its benefit exists in your future. So cherish each and every positive decision you make, you just sacrificed a small amount today for a potential windfall tomorrow.

My favorite example of health investment and compound interest is sleep. I have learned to love sleep. We can view investment in our health through the lens of time. How many hours of the day am I doing something productive for my health versus how many hours I am doing something neutral or even negative? I will be the first to admit how difficult it is to make health conscious decisions in today’s environment. We have endless entertainment streaming right to our favorite device, delicious foods that someone would happily deliver to our very own door, not to mention all the gyms are closed! Needless to say, decisions in the best interest of our health are difficult to make. This is what makes sleep the king (or queen) of health decisions. If you prioritize giving yourself 8 hours in bed each night, you just banked 8 hours of good health decisions! You just optimized one-third of your day. Thankfully our unconscious state during sleep makes it rather difficult to be tempted by those beautiful desserts or “Click to play the next episode.” So from the abstracted point of view of wanting to make more ‘good’ decisions than ‘bad’ decisions throughout our 24 hour period, prioritization of sleep is paramount. In a more concrete view, sleep provides numerous physiologic benefits. Chronic short sleep can promote weight gain, hinder weight loss, dysregulate blood sugar levels, cause hormone imbalances (including those that regulate appetite), to only mention a few manifestations. If you are interested in the science of sleep and its physiologic outcomes, stay tuned.

I don’t want to dive too deep into the science right now as this post is more about the conceptual framework we need to adopt towards our health. Every single decision we make is a node in a network. The output from that decision node affects many other aspects of our life, it compounds. My sleep affects my energy, my energy affects my workout, my workout affects my sleep. My food affects my hormones, my hormones affect my appetite, my appetite affects my food choices. My movement affects my hormones, my hormones affect my energy levels, my energy levels affect my desire to move! Our body is a symphony. Every individual piece playing some minor role in the overall function. Don’t downplay a ‘good’ decision, regardless of how insignificant it may seem. Celebrate eating a serving of vegetables, acknowledge the victory of going for a walk, and throw a party for yourself tomorrow if you give yourself 8 hours in bed.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/30/2020

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Health Unrefined Part Three: Gambling on Health

Preface: This is a continuation of previous two posts regarding the ubiquity of chronic disease, and the necessity of a new approach to health. This post will hopefully stand alone, but reading the first two pieces will provide more context.

We largely proceed through our days with little to no surprise. That is to say, what we expect to happen, largely does happen. In a way, this is what our nervous system has developed to do. It reduces the infinitely complex world around us to groupings of patterns, allowing us to process our surroundings and act. However, even with this predictive modeling capability that is hardwired into us, we also know that the unexpected will eventually happen. At some point, at some place, our models and predictions are completely shattered, and chaos dominates our perspective. 

Imagine we each have a 365 sided dice, and every morning we have to roll the dice one time. If the dice lands on 2-365 (any number besides 1), our day is to proceed completely as expected. However, if the dice lands on 1, life is going to demand much more from us on that day. Maybe that is the beginning of a common cold, a bout of depression, an especially stressful event, the onset of neurodegeneration (that won’t be be detectable for another 20 years), back pain, a blood clot, a broken hip, stroke, heart attack, etc. Each outcome would certainly be unique to every individual, but the idea holds true for all. We all have to roll the dice every day, and chaos is lurking right around the corner.

I am proposing that we have the ability to change the size the dice we throw. We have the tools to create a robust organism that is capable of withstanding the chaos that life throws our way. I believe we have the capability to throw a 10,000,000 sided dice. That we can dramatically decrease the odds of a disease being able to capitalize on our health. The actual numbers are completely irrelevant. The idea is that we can continuously add to our dice, become more resilient, more vigorous, and more adaptable. But the 1 will always be present – even that illusory person of optimum health can be outmatched by the forces of mother nature. We should all look to increase our odds because the pursuit of health is a game we are forced to play everyday, and it only gets harder.

It should be emphasized that we can certainly decrease the numbers on our dice. In fact, the world we live in today is conducive to many behaviors that would reduce our chances of avoiding disease. Society often promotes (sometimes below the level of our conscious awareness) actions that diminish our resiliency and increase the probability that some disease will take hold. If we do not act with intention and awareness, the gravitational pull of our environment will slowly deteriorate the dice we have to throw. The ecosystem we find ourselves in today cultivates those machines of chronic disease. And it almost certainly becomes a matter of when instead of if.

The things I will talk about are nothing new. It is not cutting edge science coming to save the day. It is about finding a way to do the hardest thing in life, change the way we live. Will power sucks, it comes and goes with the wind. Diets don’t work. And the answer is not sleeping less so we can do more. We all have access to incredible levers that completely influence our state of health or lack thereof. Through food, movement, sleep, and management of stress you can create the ecosystem that pushes against chronic disease.

This concludes the table setting of our health situation in the 21st century. Going forward we will be more focussed on the strategies available to push back against chronic disease. There are issues on all levels from the healthcare institutions and laws to the individual choices we all make. We will discuss many of them, but the focus will be on the individual and the choices we can each make on a daily basis to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/27/2020

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Health Unrefined Part Two: The Manifestation of Chronic Disease

Preface: This is a continuation of yesterday’s post regarding the ubiquity of chronic disease, and the necessity of a new approach to health. This post will hopefully stand alone, but reading yesterday’s piece will provide more context.

Chronic conditions affect the entire human organism. They are not limited to a single organ or tissue, but manifest complications throughout the body and mind. It seems that something so ubiquitous can only arise from that which is just as commonplace. These are lifestyle diseases.

Our lifestyle is an ecosystem in which the components of our body are forced to function. It is no different than the way other aspects of life organize all around us. The plants and animals that flourish in the tropical rainforests are vastly different than those that inhabit the northern hardwood forest, which look nothing like the creatures of the desert. Life suits itself to its surroundings.

Ecosystems are a collection of energy transforming machines. The outputs of one machine are the inputs of the next, and this cycle allows for different pieces to function and grow together. Each ecosystem contains unique sets of raw materials, or primary inputs. These would include things like amount of sunlight, rainfall, soil conditions, temperature, and diversity of organisms. These parameters are essentially the gatekeepers of what type of life will develop in that particular environment. Life is dynamic, diverse, and infinitely creative. These primary inputs drive the creative output of life. Only the organisms (energy converting machines) that are best suited to their particular environment will survive the endless competition for resources. 

Chronic disease is a form of life that emerges from the primary inputs of our body. It is the group of machines best suited to the inputs of the way we live our life. It is type of life selected for through the environment we live in! Therefore, if the inputs are not changed, the disease state will continue to thrive, and we will be forced to live a life confined by chronic disease. 

Disease is a confluence of genetic predisposition and environment, more heavily influenced by the latter. Our genes are no more than a starting point. A beginning state from which we can move largely in any direction. There are certainly those diseases in which the individual’s fate is sealed from the beginning, but these are few and far between, and much less interesting for no other reason than they are entirely out of our control. The vast majority of disease can be viewed as an opportunistic drive, capitalizing on particular set of environmental factors at a particular time.

We should start with a definition of our environment. It will function as an all encompassing term, denoting any phenomena, internal or external, that exerts any level of influence on the human organism. This includes, but is not limited to, the food (or food like products) we consume, physical movement (or lack thereof), our thoughts, social and family interaction, light exposure, sleep, emotional state, etc. These environmental factors represent the tools we have at our disposal to create a state which minimizes probability of disease gaining a foothold. These are our primary inputs

These are the levers with which we can influence our health outcomes. You will notice I did not list medications, surgical procedures, or any other “medical interventions.” The goal is to construct a suitable environment so that we do not develop the conditions requiring complex medical intervention. Disease is constantly probing for a chink in our armor. This has been clearly displayed in the recent COVID-19 pandemic. It affects individuals in vastly different ways, posing a more significant risk to those already dealing with underlying health conditions (diabetes, obesity, etc.). We cannot control when our bodily ecosystems are going to be challenged by some external threat, but we can certainly try to maintain our defenses. We can push back against those lifestyle diseases that increase our risk. We can stack the deck in our favor.

To be continued…

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/26/2020

Words From People Smarter Than Me: Benjamin Franklin

Some useful, some humorous, and some obvious words from a great polymath Ben Franklin.

“So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.”

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

“Convinced of the folly of being on ill terms with those one is to live with continually.”

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

“I grew convinc’d that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life.”

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

“And like him who, having a garden to weed, does not attempt to eradicate all the bad herbs at once, which would exceed his reach and strength, but works on one of the beds at a time.”

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

“In the conduct of my newspaper, I carefully excluded all libelling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country.”

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

If he could only see us now…

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/22/2020

Words From People Smarter Than Me

This will be a recurring theme. I will select a group of quotes, and keep my words to a minimum.

You must go to the scene of action, first, because men put more faith in their eyes than in their ears, and second, because the way is long if one follows precepts, but short and helpful, if one follows patterns.” – Seneca

Philosophy teaches us to act, not to speak; it exacts of every man that he should live according to his own standards, that his life should not be out of harmony with his words, and that, further, his inner life should be of one hue and not out of harmony with all his activities.” – Seneca

Be impeccable with your word.” Agreement One, Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” – Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

If you’re honest and straightforward and mean well, it should show in your eyes. It should be unmistakeable.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Speak and act with integrity. Be wary of discordance between your truth and your actions.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/15/2020

thank you for listening

Definitely not sure this qualifies as a poem, but I don’t know what else to call it. Maybe it’s a meditation. Anyways, here is to broadening the creative horizon.

thank you for listening

It is listening 
How beautiful it is
It’s respect, understanding, it’s empathy
 
Every acoustic front 
Harmony at the margin 
The point of perfection, no other way

The moving center
Place of union
Only as it can be

It’s acknowledgment of the other
The perennial teacher
The growth of Self

I’m lucky I never liked talking
thank you for listening 


-Ryan; 4/13/2020

Following Failure

Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human – however imperfectly – and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

The thing that jumps off the pages of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is the unmistakable feeling that he is writing to himself. This reads as a journal. When that is taken into account, along with the fact that he was arguably the most powerful person in the world, the aphorisms somehow gain credence in my subjective interpretation. It is easy to dwell on the multitude of problems we have in our lives. And it is just as easy to look around and fantasize about how life would be so much easier in another person’s shoes. Maybe it’s their house, their family, their money, or their status, but they all have something that makes their life easier than the beatdown existence you are forced to contend with every day. When you read Meditations, it is a chance to view the world through the thoughts of that person who lives in the biggest house, who wields the power, who has the money, access, and privilege. What you find is that we all contend with the same demons. There are much deeper forces at work, and the problems we label as money, status, or love are no more than the surface layer of a tidal wave. Aurelius is not speaking to you as the Roman Emperor. These conversations remain true, even when we are stripped all the way down to only that substance we all share. 

There are a number of skills and qualities we praise and strive to build in ourselves. We have all heard about the power of positive thinking, or practicing gratitude, developing empathy, or turning the other cheek. I am not discrediting any of these ideas (how fantastic they are!), but what if there was a single idea you could believe in that would eventually show you the above mentioned behaviors? I emphasize show because I think we can all agree there is a difference between experiencing something and knowing it versus simply holding the ideas in your mind as beliefs. I think failure is the great showman of being human. It shows us where we messed up, where our assumptions were false, and where we have to improve. Well, it can do that. It is not necessarily automatic, nor easy to grow through failure. It takes courage, humility, and quite possibility the ability to step outside your self in order to do it properly. So I contend that learning how to respond to failure, how to get up off the mat, is the behavior that can show us what we need to grow as humans.

Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human – however imperfectly – and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Sorry for the re-print, but I wanted to close with the words once again fresh. We will all fail, even the Marcus Aurelius’s of our 21st century (I feel like Aurelius’s is not correct grammar, but you get the point). Failing is one of those ties that is shared among all humans. So let’s not judge ourselves, punish ourselves, or pity ourselves, and instead “celebrate behaving like a human.” We will each stumble into a variety of types and styles of failure in our life, but if we can cultivate the mindset to embrace these failures, we will grow. We will be something entirely different on the other side. 

To be discussed: There will definitely be more from Meditations, it’s one of my favorite books and there are so many more lessons to expand on. I will also be writing about a personal failure I have been dealing with. Thanks for reading!

Best explorations

-Ryan

4; 4/5/2020