Martin talks to TA McCann about how to live to 200

My friend TA McCann just started a new podcast, How to Live to 200.  I was one of his first guests.  We talk about how I got sucked into the Biohacking world, some of the quantified ways I have gotten younger over the last year, and a few peeks into the crystal ball on upgrades coming down the pipe for the rest of us.

Do This: be a philosopher and discover real life solutions

solve life’s practical problems

 

In college, studying philosophy was an excruciating exercise in memorization and focus on minutia between different schools of philosophy.  It seemed very dry and very dead.  The idea that all of these different schools were trying to get at the same thing; how to live life well and what that means was totally lost on me.  That is often a failing of the industrial-academic approach to teaching something.  I have found it easier to learn something when I have a practical problem in search of a solution.  So it has been lately for me with philosophy and I am glad for that perspective.  Here are a few practical real life problems for which I have found solutions in no small part from philosophy and especially Stoic philosophy:

  • How to be in a crowd and in the spotlight as a natural introvert. (post coming soon)
  • How to beat the flinch.
  • How to have an argument with someone you love.
  • How to accept reality and live in the present.

Do This: Do Not stay on top of everything 

Last week I was reminded of this by the daily stoic passage 


In the end you are what is in your head. So what if you cut down on media consumption and worry about external events?  Would there be more room in your head for other things?   Say yourself?  Or things in your control?  Yes.  

This is the same message of mark Manson’s new book and the 40 years of zen program and the core idea of stoic thought.   Be very conscious of what you give a fuck about.  Fucks are expensive cognitively. Free up headspace spent on external events, the past and the future and you have more resources for what is right in front of you.  Your life. 

DO THIS: Be tolerant of others and strict with yourself. 

Stoicism came of age in a time of political turmoil as well.  Remember that Stoicism isn’t about judging other people. It’s not a moral philosophy you’re supposed to project and enforce onto the world. No, it’s a personal philosophy that’s designed to direct your behavior.
This is what Marcus Aurelius meant when he said: “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”
Be open to the idea that people are going to be fools or jerks or unreliable or anything else. Let them be. That’s their business. That’s not inside your control.
But you have to be disciplined with yourself, and your reactions. If someone acts ridiculous, let them. If you’re acting ridiculous, catch the problem, stop it and work on preventing it from happening in the future. What you do is in your control. That is your business. Be strict about it.
This is especially important to remember at a time when many people seem to be consumed with every tweet or quip from certain politicians.  Leave other people to themselves. You have enough to worry about. 

This does not mean “sit down and shut up” like some will infer.  If other people are doing something that does intersect with something in your control than you can and must act.  But don’t keep reposting “outrage”.  Don’t let other people into your head.  Don’t let the monkey in your head run wild worrying about other people. Focus the monkey on what is in your own control.  

DO This: Morning Pages 

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Morning Pages is a tool promoted by Julie Cameron in her Artist Way book as a daily practice for anyone interested in creativity, not just writers.  This guy also describes the practice very well.  Basically first thing in the morning, right after waking up, before you get going with the day, while you are still in that in-between mind state, write for 15 minutes in stream of consciousness style.  Just whatever comes out.  Cameron recommends using pen and paper in a journal.  I did the hand journal for about a month and a half, then moved the practice over at 750words.com since I can do it on my smart phone in bed and get some interesting analytics (data nerd alert).  I am going back to pen and paper to slow it down again and get away from the distractions inherent in working on a screen.

I have been doing Morning Pages for about three months now.   Concrete results from doing morning pages:

1. I produce 3x the writing as before. Basically I believe doing the 15 minutes of work right in the morning in the alpha brain wave stage sets up a creative foundation for the day. I find later when I sit down to write a blog post or something else it comes easier and more clear. Even if the topics are completely different.

2. Greater understanding of the dream world in relation to the real world. Since mp are done in that waking up phase while your dreams are still somewhat present, I have noticed that more of my dreams are making it onto the pages. That brings their content into the conscious. Without mp the dreams were forgotten. There was no mechanism to connect the two worlds. There is a lot of understanding going on in the dream world. Good to get it up to the surface.

3. I have built confidence overall. Basically it is about 15 minute job each day. I can find 15 minutes. If I can find 15 minutes for mp i can find 15 minutes for something else.

4.  More creativity in general. Even if you are not a writer, or trying to write, mp is a creative exercise.  Often times, solutions to issues reveal themselves in morning pages spontaneously.  A motorcycle maintenance solution popped in the other day.  As did a stream of good names for a new web site.  And a landscaping solution.  Creative solutions in diverse areas of my life, nothing to do with writing.

5. More clarity to the day:  Doing a brain dump first thing in the morning is kind of like a clean sweep.  You can get all the monkey mind thoughts and inner critic out on the page and start new.

Other Observations:

Long Hand VS on a device:  I did both.  Started out long hand, three pages in a note book.  It was hard to use my hands that way after such a long time on the keyboard.  It felt very slow and I had the desire to want to use some of the writing later, or do analytics on it.  So after awhile I moved the practice to 750Words.com.  Very good interface, good device support, challenges to keep you on task, merit badges, and some interesting analytics.  While I gained the ability to write on more devices, to share the work, and the analytics my nerd desired, I lost some of the soul of the exercise.  Writing long hand is slower and that is good.  You have to actually slow down your brain to your hand speed. You also don’t have a web browser or other apps there to quickly engage with in diversions that come up during the writing. When I write long hand with the phone and computer off, I begin and end the exercise without distractions 99% of the time within 20 minutes.  750words has a handy analytic of start, stop times and words written over time.  Using 750words I have completed the words in less than 20 minutes less than 40 percent of the time.    Due to the ease of indulging distractions on a device, my productivity goes way down.

What to write about.  Some people structure their writing.  Two pages on this, one on that, etc.  I have done it with and without structure. What I find is that without structure many times the stream can get stuck and I end up filling up space with mumbo jumbo words.  That is especially true on 750words where the word count at the bottom of the screen is menacing you the whole time.  If you are sitting there staring at the page, just start writing about staring at the page.  And why the exercise is so hard.  Then write your to-do list.  If you run out of inner critic stuff, or lingering to-do items, start writing about what you are going to do today,.  Meetings, people, events, etc.  If I get stalled (rarely), I just ask “Today would be so awesome if….” and start again.  Never fails.

There are many twists on how to do Morning Pages.  Here is exactly how I do it.

I get up (without an alarm so it is a natural time to awake), take a cold shower, dress, make a cup of coffee, then sit down at a desk to write morning pages.  Leave your phone in another room.  Do NOT sit in the same room as a computer or any electronic device connected to the internet.  I write morning pages at a desk because writing by hand in my lap gets uncomfortable after 10 minutes.  I write before meditating as I have found the clearing out of MP helps deepen the meditation.  I write the pages longhand (not on computer anymore see above) in a notebook that I put aside and never open again.  I try to make my only distraction picking up the coffee cup or stretching my fingers.

  • Pro tip for the to-do list addicted among us:  Put a small sticky note on the desk next to your journal.  When something comes up that you want to add to your to-do list, write it down there.  DO NOT allow your device with the to-do list app to be there, that rathole enabler will distract you.  At the end of the session, transcribe the valuable things from the post it notes to your regular to do system, or simply get them done.  This one upgrade has alleviated the major objection my monkey mind had to not having a device within hands reach – all those amazing inspirational to-do items that came up during morning pages.  There will be a lot.  But this post-it note system ensures they don’t become a rathole of wasted time.

FREQUENCY:

Do every day for 30 days.  Contemplate the effect on your life.  Continue if positive.  Overall, Morning Pages has earned a place in my morning routine due to the clear benefits I have noticed in my life.  It is the second best ROI on 20 minutes I have during the day (#1 being meditation).

SCIENCE:

Normally on Try This exercises, I reference any science I can find behind the exercise.  I can’t find any scientific studies on MP.  But there are hundreds of positive reviews and testimonials on-line.  While I have a proclivity for evidence based solutions, when the evidence is my own experience, I honor that.

DO this: Trade your expectations for appreciation.

Want a formula for instant wealth?

Trade your expectations for appreciation.

Your entire life will change in that instant.  In my experience, lack of appreciation is the only thing that will make you truly poor.  I personally define “wealth” as “having enough.”  When you have enough of anything, you are wealthy in that thing.  Only you can decide when you have “enough.”  Unfortunately many of us let others (society, family, friends, work) decide what “enough” is.

I know what you are thinking.  Webster defines “wealth” as “a large amount of money and possessions.”  Yes, but further on it says “abundant supply”.  Now that leaves room for judgement of what “abundant” is as well as supply of what?  When your life has an abundant supply of expectations, goals, precursors to fulfillment, it is VERY hard to feel wealthy.  You never admit to yourself that you have “enough.”

Appreciation on the other hand works exactly the opposite way.  When you have an “abundant supply” of appreciation, it is VERY hard to NOT feel wealthy.  You see the value in everything you have and do not pine after more.  You have “enough.”

So try it for a day.  Whenever you find yourself feeling the pull of expectations, stop and replace it with appreciation.  For example, you see a guy in a Ferrari and the expectation that you want one too grabs your brain.  Stop, look around your own car.  Is it better than the car you had 10 years ago?  Appreciate it.  Thank the car you have for being there for you.  Bam!  You are wealthy.

You cannot change the world, but you can change how you react to it.

Further Future PTSD

2016-04-30 12.04.11

Ever since returning from the Further Future gathering out in the desert I have been experiencing symptoms that a psychiatrist pointed out most closely resemble PTSD.    Night sweats, fear of being alone, nightmares of floods, constant base thumping in my brain, etc.  Sure, the unexpected rain, lack of AC, poor bathroom facilities and constant threat of lightning strikes added drama to the weekend, but were they really war like trauma?

Sebastian Junger in his new book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging has an interesting new theory about the true causes of PTSD.  Junger notes that while less than 10% of US troops deployed to Iraq of Afghanistan faced actual combat, over 60% of them are approved for PTSD claims.   Since the vast majority of diagnosed PTSD sufferers did not actually experience any direct war based trauma, there must be something else going on.  Junger posits that the primary trauma which causes the disorder may not be from any physical trauma, but rather from the psychological trauma of leaving a supportive tribal environment and being placed back into America’s go it alone independent competitive culture.  The trauma may be more a loss of community and confidence that comes from being in the military tribe, facing adversity but knowing there are people who have your back.  The small group tribal community living has been the natural state of man for millions of years until very recently.   When the natural state is experienced, even under duress like in war or at Further Future, then you are pulled out of that natural state and put back into individualistic capitalist America in a minivan by yourself sitting in the Starbucks drive through, the trauma can be significant.

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I am feeling some of that loss after Further Future.  The event was my first big gathering like that, I am not a regular at Burning Man, Cochella, yoga retreats or any other group events.  I did attend as part of a tribe i have been loosely associated with for about 20 years who have a regular Burning Man camp and do a number of other events together each year.  My girlfriend Jen (below) also was a first time tribal participant.

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There was really something different about the culture in that place for that weekend that is glaringly polar opposite of “normal” life.  It makes one wonder, why is “normal life” so great then?  A couple of experiences stand out as striking.

  • Talking to strangers was 10x easier.  How many times do you strike up a conversation in the coffee line?  It happened every time at FF.  Many times the conversation started over a crazy outfit like this one:

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  • Adversity brought everyone together, created memories.  On Saturday as the clouds gathered and they evacuated the aluminum structures for lightning strike fears, Jen and I were laying in a couch pod waiting for our IVs with two other people we didn’t know.  Guys from the Mid East in robes talking about missing their Ferrari and needing a cigarette.  Rather than evacuating back to the Airstream, we decided to ride out the storm with our new friends.  Suddenly a blue tarp appeared and covered our little pod.  Then as the rain started in earnest the IV guy joined us on our little couch arc.  As the wind whipped up, we all held down a piece of the tarp to keep out the rain and started telling each other stories of our childhood to pass the time.  Looking out the water was running by inches deep.  It felt like our couch would float away.  As the rain subsided, the IV guy stepped out into the mud, whipped off the IV bags and got us hooked up.  We chatted all along with our new-found friends.  While avoiding the adversity would have been easy, it would not have created a bonding experience with out fellow travelers, nor provided an improved feeling of community, common cause.  It would have been an opportunity missed.  Shared adversity gotten through with help from the tribe produces significant positive affect in life.  Individual adversity endured alone (the default “normal” life experience) does exactly the opposite.
  • Sound can unite us.  While there was 24/7 sound walls all around at FF, a couple of experiences really stood out for me in their ability to create massive shared positive affect for everyone there.  Friday night, Jen and I were wandering around and stumbled (literally) into the Envelop satellite sound stage.  Standing in the middle, the waves of sound hit just the right frequency to cause waves of happiness and love to flow through our bodies.  We stood there hugging and slow dancing for over an hour, completely lost in time and space. On Saturday night, the Pharcyde set was truly transcendent.  There is really something to sound that can align (for better or worse) the body’s energy and unlock levels of consciousness and experience that are unavailable in “normal life”.

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As I make my way through “normal life” back in Seattle, it is clear that there is some feeling of cultural loss when separated from the tribal community.  I certainly know plenty of people who spend more time cultivating their tribe and tribal experiences than I do, and now I know why.

In Tribe, Junger also noted how in early colonial America many settlers were leaving the Puritanical western culture to go live with the Indians. Even prisoners who had been captured by the Indians and lived with them for some, when “saved” and returned to Puritan New England, tended to want to go back to the Indians.  The Indian tribe was a communal meritocracy where every member had the ability to contribute in their unique way and the rest of the tribe had their back.  While the Puritans believed their form of society was the “ultimate society” at the time (we now know very different), the pull to return to the tribe was undeniable and strong enough to make it a leading issue of public debate at the time.   There is virtually no history of mental health problems in traditional tribal cultures. Everyone has a place and a value, or they move to a tribe where they fit.  Further Future, Burning Man, there are opportunities to return to the tribe today.  And loss of tribe is causing much of today’s mental health crisis.   The way forward is going to be interesting.

Review: Life on Purpose, Victor Strecher

Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes EverythingLife on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything by Victor J. Strecher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Been reading alot of positive psychology books lately. As well as thinking quite a bit about what i want to do when I grow up. Am very interested in the science behind purpose and how having a purpose changes your life and even more importantly how to get focus on a purpose that makes sense and doesn’t overwhelm you. Victor does a good job in the first part of my questions, a very bad job on the second. This book has alot of his own science and research on the value of purpose in life, work, etc. He also spends quite a bit of time talking about the wonderful companies he has started to commercialize his work (two of which are now owned by Johnson and Johnson), all of which are focused on employee performance (the enterprise – where the money is). If you mostly care about purpose to drive your work career forward, you will find lots of justification for hiring his companies to do that for you in this book. In many ways, this book seems like a sales job for his enterprise software company, Jool Health.

If, on the other hand you are looking for some practical ways to develop purpose in your personal life, this book fails to deliver. While he proposes a framework of positive habits that support development of purpose : Sleep, Presence, Activity, Creativity, and Eating (SPACE), there are no detailed interventions only high level platitudes like “meditation is good” and “more sleep is good”. The analysis and direction of how to develop purpose is missing. I actually thought that would be part of the book, but it is sorely lacking.

If you want to understand Strecher’s framework for Purpose, read this book. If you are looking for how to develop or define purpose in your own life, go find another book.

View all my reviews

DO This:  My favorite quotes on living well

“Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive”. Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values.

“A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time”, Mark Twain.

“The thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.”  Soren Kierkegaard.

“Work is about the search, too, for daily meanings well as daily bread, for recognition as well as for cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”  Studs Terkel, Working.

“One swallow does not a summer make, nor one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.”  Aristotle

“When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”  Seneca.

“It is no exaggeration to say that every human being is hypnotized to some extent either by ideas he has uncritically accepted from others or ideas he has repeated to himself or convinced himself are true. These negative ideas have exactly the same effect upon our behavior as the negative ideas implanted into the mind of a hypnotized subject by a professional hypnotist.”
Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life

“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”
Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

“Always pass on what you have learned.”  Yoda

“Do. Or do not.  There is no try.”  Yoda

“You will find only what you bring in.”  Yoda

“Just keep swimming.”, Dori, Finding Nemo

“The happy man is not he who seems thus to others, but who seems thus to himself.”  Publilius Syrus.

“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.”  John Pierpont “J.P.” Morgan

“The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder.”  Thomas Carlyle

Steve Jobs vision of innovation and the world on You Tube.

“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent, but if we can come to terms with this indifference, then our existence as a species can have genuine meaning.  However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”   Stanley Kubrick.

“A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.”
Byron Katie, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life

“Don’t believe every thing you think.”
Byron Katie

“Placing the blame or judgment on someone else leaves you powerless to change your experience; taking responsibility for your beliefs and judgments gives you the power to change them”
Byron Katie

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop and look fear in the face.  You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”  Eleanor Roosevelt.

“Be decisive.  Right or wrong, make a decision.  The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.”  Martin Tobias

“We have two lives.  The first life and the second life after you realize you only have one life.”  unattributed.

“There are only two tragedies in life:  One is not getting what one wants; and the other is getting it.”  Oscar Wilde.

“Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful”  Warren Buffet.

“Objective judgement, now at this very moment.
Unselfish action, now at this very moment.
Willing acceptance – now at this very moment – of all external events.
That’s all you need.”
Marcus Aurelius

“Our actions may be impeded … but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions.  Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle of our acting.

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

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” -Thoreau

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” -Richard Feynman

Epictetus asked the question: “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?”

“You shouldn’t give circumstances the power to rouse anger, for they don’t care at all.”  – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.38

“You are not your body and hair style, but your capacity for choosing well.  If your choices are beautiful, so too will you be.”  Epictetus discourses 3.1.39b-40a

“When I can buy anything I want and decide to buy nothing, that is something.”  Martin Tobias

Alan Watts: “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim, you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do, you will sink and drown. Instead, you relax and float.”

“If you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”  Henry Ford.

“For such a small price, I buy tranquillity,” Epictetus’s line about ignoring small slights.

Philosophy,” Juvenal wrote, “by degrees, peels off most of our follies and vices, first shows us what’s right.”

“The grass isn’t greener on the other side. The grass is greener where you water it.”  Martin Tobias

“Have a budget for all the fucks you give.”  Martin Tobias

“It is not that life is short, it is that we waste alot of it.”  Seneca

“Certainty is created within YOU not by your environment.”  Tony Robbins

“Beating the competition is relatively easy.  Beating yourself is a never ending commitment.”  No finish line.  Nike ad

“Teh duty of a man is to be useful to his fellow men; if possible to be useful to many of them; failing this, to be useful to a few; failing this, to be useful to his neighbors, and failing them, to himself; for when he helps others, he advances the general interests of mankind.”  Seneca