Daniel Kahneman is an American-Israeli psychologist known for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, cognitive biases and fallacies, as well as behavioral economics, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002.
This book encapsulates much of the work Kahneman has done in his lifetime.
I’m an (admittedly amateur) psychology buff and a huge proponent of divulging information about how humans make decisions as well as incongruencies in societal norms.
The main premise of the book is that there are two systems of thinking within us. System 1 (fast) thinking which is intuitive, based on past experiences, most frequently used, and System 2 (slow) which is responsible for deep thinking and solving the problems to which an answer isn’t immediate (my favorite comparative example is- System 2 comes into effect when asked to answer 16×37 as opposed to 2+2).
We always want the most cognitive ease according to Kahneman. This results in System 1 thinking largely ruling over our decision making, planning, etc. He often calls System 2 “lazy.”
Now onto my favorite topics.
Kahneman describes heuristics as the shortcuts our minds use to make quick judgments. The dictionary definition is “enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves.” What’s encompassed here is automatic decision making or intuition.
The affect heuristic comes from emotional drive. One reacts in an emotional, sometimes nonlogical way due to present emotions or mood. Perhaps this would lead one to place an unwise bet on their favorite team or lash out at a friend or partner only to come to regret it moments later. The affect heuristic is also responsible for one’s perception of the world being more in tune with their likes and dislikes than rationality and reasoning.
The substitution heuristic is where we answer a question that is easier than the one posed. An example here is that many political candidates become popular or in some cases even win elections largely because they “look the part.” Instead of going through all the qualifications the candidate may have, our System 1 thinking may simply ask if a person looks like he or she would make a good leader.
The availability heuristic is described as “the ease with which instances come to mind.” It makes us more likely to associate situations that are familiar to us with the likelihood of them happening even if this is not so. The example I think of from my own life experiences is that many people fear flying while almost no one fears driving. Plane crashes, based on overall safety as well as frequency of use to travel, are much less likely to affect an individual than a car crash.
The availability heuristic can easily be seen playing out in the availability cascade. This is where a novel concept gains popularity rapidly within a community/group or in society making it seem more relevant or plausible than it is because it’s increased due to individuals conforming their beliefs to that of others for social acceptance. The media can perpetuate this sort of thing as it does with terrorism and similar phenomena. In reality, terrorism takes relatively few lives, yet we fear it disproportionately because of its news coverage and cultural relevance.
What You See is All There is. We may think that we can look at situations and problems with an open mind but really, when we are thinking, our brains only work with the information they have stored. We do not take into account information that is out there that we may not have access to. “An essential design feature of the associative machine is that it represents only activated ideas. Information that is not retrieved (even unconsciously) from memory might as well not even exist.”
The concept of utility is used to model worth or value, it is a measure of satisfaction.
This was a difficult concept for me to fully wrap my head around at first but with good examples, it was made easier-
In economics: the rational consumer will not spend money on an additional unit of good or service unless its marginal utility is at least equal to or greater than that of a unit of another good or service. Therefore, the price of a good or service is related to its marginal utility and the consumer will rank his or preferences accordingly.
Example from the book: “If you prefer an apple to a banana, then you also prefer a 10% chance to win an apple to a 10% chance to win a banana. The apple and the banana stand for any objects of choice (including gambles), and the 10% chance stands for any probability.” Apples have more utility to you than bananas.
My favorite example: the comparison to winning $500 if you are a poor person with only $500 in the bank at the time or winning $500 if you are a rich person with $1 million in the bank. The $500 will have much more utility to the poor person.
Decision utility is manifested in choices to pursue or consume an outcome (decide). It is referred to in the book as “wantability.”
People are more likely to retain an object they own than acquire that same object when they do not own it and this shows up in selling/buying prices. For example, a wine connoisseur may not wish to sell a coveted bottle of wine that was purchased for $35 even if offered $100 for that bottle.
Experienced utility is much more complex. It encompasses how you feel about your experience based on your memory. This is tricky for two reasons-
The peak-end rule says that we evaluate experiences, positive or negative, by the feeling or experience at the most intense moment (peak) and the end, rather than on average.
Duration neglect says that the intensity and validity of a feeling or experience matters and not the amount of time one has in it.
Experiencing Self vs. Remembering Self
Our “Two Selves” as described in the book both measure our wellbeing respectively and do not have the same interests. The feeling you have during an experience can be much different than the memory of that experience and how it makes you feel.
The Cold-Hand Experiment
This experiment speaks to the last three sub-headings. In summary, subjects are exposed to holding their hands in cold water for an undisclosed period of time. Once is 60 seconds at 14 degrees Celsius and the next is 60 seconds at 14 degrees Celsius followed by 30 seconds at 15 degrees Celsius. When subjects were asked to rank which experience was worse, they rated the first as worse than the second even though it was 30 seconds less in time! This shows the peak-end rule and the remembering self which I’ve just discussed in action.
“Nothing in life is as important as you think while you are thinking about it.” This creates a bias in favor of goods and experiences that are initially exciting, even if they will eventually lose their appeal. The example that jumps to mind here is how one may lust over a new home, car, other material good expecting it to bring more pleasure and happiness overall than it does. I remember reading in the book a statement about how when we get a brand new shiny car we are very excited about it initially but in the long term it just turns into the thing that gets us where we’re going and in reality, we are not thinking too much about the car we are driving in while we are driving as the action itself takes so much of our focus. This example also speaks to affective forecasting (another concept mentioned in the book) which is predicting our emotions in the future by our present state, especially with happiness we are very poor judges of this as we tend to think that happiness will persist more than it does.
Condition your System 1.
In his biography “Total Recall” Arnold Schwarzenegger offers 10 life principles at the end, the 2nd is: “Don’t overthink. The more knowledge you develop the more you can rely on your instincts. Over analyzing cripples you. “The lesson here is to take in as much quality information as you can to best condition your intuition which will inevitably be used so frequently in life.
Less is more.
Make choices and go with them. Adding too much fluff overcomplicates things and usually does not lead to better outcomes. In your fitness routine, for example, have a few exercise techniques or strategies that work for you that help you be consistent and sustain.
We do what’s easiest, so make the right decisions easy.
I do my best to condition my life in a way that allows me to make good choices easily. I buy mostly only healthy food and prepare it ahead of time so that I’m less prone to eat unhealthy food. I leave books right by my bed so that when I’m in bed I’m inclined to read.
The last example I will share was one of the most fascinating to me. I will quote it straight from the book- “An article published in 2003 noted that the rate of organ donation was close to 100% in Austria but only 12% in Germany, 86% in Sweden but only 4% in Denmark. These enormous differences are a framing effect, which is caused by the format of the critical question. The high-donation countries have an opt-out form, where individuals who wish not to donate must check an appropriate box. Unless they take this simple action, they are considered willing donors. The low-contribution countries have an opt-in form: you must check a box to become a donor. That is all. The best single predictor of whether or not people will donate their organs is the designation of the default option that will be adopted without having to check a box.”
In my estimation, there are few people who may be able to give you a good answer to what happiness is or how to attain it. By no means is that person me. There’s a reason this blog poses a question as opposed to making an assertion. Happiness is equivocal.
I wrote this blog because I love to explore and contemplate happiness. It’s such an interesting subject to me because of its mystery and because, paradoxically, it is never talked about and constantly talked about.
What do I mean?
It never ceases to amaze me. In a given day I’m told endless times that something will make me happier. Not by other human beings, but by advertisements, businesses, brands, etc. Take notice next time you’re out and about or simply watching tv to how often you’re told that a product or service will make you happier or how many commercials sell on happiness. It’s truly astounding.
Yet in the same world, we probably have few if any people in our lives that we would feel comfortable assessing our overall happiness with. We can all picture the awkwardness of analyzing our happiness with someone we just don’t have an intimate relationship with.
I can’t tell you exactly how to be happy, as a 23-year-old trying to find his way in this weird world I have a lot to figure out. I can tell you that I’ve taken myself from a place of unhappiness to a place of peaceful content in which I live currently. The key here I’m harping on is the individuality of happiness. It’s so different for each person.
Overcoming personal unhappiness is not easy. The best comparison I’ve heard to being in a cycle of unhappiness is that it’s like being stuck in mud. As bad as you want to get out, it’s difficult. It takes focused effort. You can’t bash away at your unhappiness like a hammer on a nail. You have to approach it strategically.
The first thing I learned is that it’s more about subtraction than addition. If you have negative behaviors and cycles of thought in your life, you can’t just add to it without addressing the things that are pulling away at your happiness. Do a short audit. Figure out what’s causing you stress and unrest. Eliminate it. As Gary Vee puts it “Just stop doing shit you hate!” If there are things you do that make you feel bad then recognize it and stop. The same goes for people you hang around out of obligation, with few exceptions this is totally unnecessary as well as unhealthy.
I’m purposely framing many of my assertions in an intuitive light. Following your intuition is a good way to set about changing your state for the better. Specifically, living in line with your morals and values is important here. We all know what our main values are and what morals are important to us. If you haven’t been completely honest with yourself lately it may be harder and you may have to dig to find them but they are there.
A philosophy of mine that I adopted a while back is that “What’s good is good and what’s bad is bad.” Another place for confusion, especially among people my age who are constantly becoming more self-aware, is ridding yourself of preconceived notions of what is right and what is wrong. For example- domineering sources in your life, whatever form they take (individuals, society, groups, ideals) may tell you that using a certain substance or simply talking a certain way is inappropriate or wrong but in the same breath may judge or talk poorly of other people. I’ve never understood this dichotomy, this black and white view of right and wrong. I go to church almost every Sunday. One of my values is to praise and honor God. That being said, in the same weekend I may also throw back a few beers and swap crude/racy jokes with my friends. Does this make me a hypocrite or a bad person? Quite the contrary, this isn’t me being two different people. I’m human and as a human, I have many different traits, qualities, and characteristics, all which make me uniquely me.
I heard an interesting Bible verse recently that resonated with my thoughts here.
Luke 10:25-37 says- (Key points italicized)
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance, a priestwas going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
The Bible has many interpretations, my simple interpretation of this passage is that- status does not define one’s goodness or worthiness. The priest passed the man in need, the Levite (Hebrew religious servant/assistant) passed the man in need, it was the lone Samaritan who helped him.
In addition to following your intuition, focusing on habits is another way to begin to change your state. Replacing old habits with new ones was vital to my journey. Take time with this and be kind to yourself when it doesn’t always go perfectly. Examples of this are starting to read rather than endlessly browsing social media, beginning each day by meditating or journaling rather than rushing out the door, replacing unhealthy meals with healthier options, etc.
What this habit formation and elimination of unhelpful actions and interactions in your life will eventually do is begin to build up your self-esteem. Self-esteem is an underemphasized part of our make up in today’s society for multiple reasons. One being that it can be confused with a false sense of self-confidence that is largely the result of insecurity and ego. Another being that it is intangible and can’t be directly quantified in a world where everything comes down to metrics, measurements, etc. Building up your self-esteem will make you more confident and empower you to continue to make positive life choices like almost nothing else can and the great thing about it is that it’s all yours. Cultivated and owned by you.
One of my favorite books is “Tribe of Mentors” by Tim Ferriss. In this book, Tim releases dialogue he has with many successful individuals in different fields. Happiness is a recurring theme discussed in the book and these passages stuck out to me.
“Happiness is a choice you make and a skill you develop. The mind is just as malleable as the body.” -Naval (Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss)
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” -Eric Ripert (Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss)
How else is happiness cultivated? For me, a huge part of it is gratitude and living for others. These two things I mention together because they’re aligned in the sense that the more grateful you become the more you desire to give to others. Especially with happiness, the happiest people want to give to others, they want others to feel the way they feel. This is not altruism for the sake of polishing one’s image but for the true belief that it is our duty as humans to give. A memorable book passage from “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki: “God does not need to receive, but humans need to give.”
My happiness is additionally built on curiosity. You may be thinking, okay all this work hard and be deliberate stuff sounds good but where will I find the energy? The commitment? The answer lies in your curiosity. Explore new things- hobbies, activities, and find what you like. I am convinced that like our morals and values, we all have interests and passions that are just waiting to be sought out and if you look hard enough you will discover the things that give you new life. Simply follow your natural curiosity.
If you were paying close attention, 5 words were highlighted throughout this article- subtraction, intuition, habits, gratitude, and curiosity. These 5 things encompass a huge part of allowing yourself to be happy, not forgetting that as I mentioned, happiness is an individual pursuit first and foremost.
Three final thoughts-
1. We all deserve happiness.
We’ve all made mistakes and done things we wish we wouldn’t have but at the end of the day we have to accept that we deserve happiness or all other efforts are a waste.
2. Cheesy shit works
If you follow what I post online you know I’m big into quotes. Yes, most are cheesy but you have to accept that cheesy shit works! Sometimes you just need the reassurance that you’re on the right path and whatever does that for you has validity no matter what it is.
3. Embrace your weird self.
We’re all weird to some extent. I can be the goofiest person around at times but I also have a serious side which enjoys talking about intellectual and philosophical issues. It goes back to the fact that we’re all humans and we’re all infinitely complex. It takes becoming comfortable with every side of yourself to find the morals, values, interests, and passions that make you who you are.
When I decided to make an Instagram post about what daily vitamins I take and why, I got to fish oil and I started to wonder why exactly I take it. I remember acknowledging the benefits of omega 3s when I added it to my repertoire but not much beyond that. In addition, I related this curiosity to the fat macro overall. I’ve now been tracking macros for over a year I’ve enjoyed starting to go beyond just the protein, carbohydrates, and fats in my food and delve deeper into nutritional intricacies. So I got to researching all things fats and wanted to share what I learned.
What is a Fat?
I specifically used “a” fat here so as not to be confused with body fat which is not a direct result of eating fat (you may find this hard to believe, but in about the 1980s- this was common wisdom.) As I’ve said before but never tire of explaining because this knowledge is so powerful- the only way to gain body fat is by eating more calories than you burn. That is, calories in > calories out.
Simply- fat that we eat in our food is a nutrient that our body breaks down into fatty acids. Fats provide energy, helps the body absorb necessary fat-soluble vitamins, and regulate hormones. All these processes come with a host of benefits. Fat is the one macronutrient we absolutely need as eating fat will provide us with essential fatty acids from omega-3s and omega-6s which I will further explain.
Types of Fats
Unsaturated fats are commonly seen as “healthy” because of their ability to lower your LDL or bad cholesterol. This can lower the risk of diseases, like heart disease especially. They, in addition, have the ability to develop and maintain cells. Their label as “healthy” however isn’t cut and dried. Unsaturated fats include-
Polyunsaturated fats are found in such foods as fatty fish (salmon being most common), many oils such as- vegetable oil, nut oil, and seed oil, as well as most seeds and nuts. The two primary polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6. These are the only types of fat that we must obtain from our diet because they are essential to our health and our bodies can’t produce them (which is why they’re called essential fatty acids). That being said, even the worst of diets provide enough omega-3 and omega-6 to prevent deficiency.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found most prominently in fatty fish (marine animals) as well as fish oil supplements (poorer absorption rate compared to eating it in the aforementioned fish), and to a lesser extent- flax, walnuts, chia, pecans, and a few other sources. Omega 3 fats come in the form of long chain fatty acids (EPA and DHA) and short chain fatty acids (ALA). The body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA in the body, but not efficiently, hence the “lesser extent” category of the latter omega-3 sources. The main omega-3 focus should be on long-chain fatty acids for this reason.
Getting omega-3 in your diet is unquestionably good for your health, research has shown, it- decreases inflammation, improves mood, expedites fat loss/muscle growth, increases cognitive performance, and leads to better bone, skin, and hair health. Now, before you go loading up on omega-3 expecting to become superhuman, realize that these benefits are seen along with a healthy diet and lifestyle- there is no magic pill for your health.
Omega-6 is the counterpart to omega-3 and is much more widely and easily consumed in our diets through a range of options. Some of these options are healthier- oils like safflower, sunflower, nut oil, seed oil, nuts, and nut butter, egg yolks and dairy. Some of these options are unhealthier- margarine/shortening, fried foods, processed foods, and baked goods. Omega-6 fats have many of the benefits seen in omega-3 but with the caveat that they can cause pro inflammation effects which leads to health problems. In fact, chronic inflammation is related to many diseases.
A Balancing Act
Where the major issue lies with the omega-6 and omega-3 fats is the balance between them. Not enough omega-3 and too much omega-6 means problems with inflammation. On average, ratios of 16:1 to 20:1 are common. They should be closer to 4:1 to 2:1. When you look at the typical American diet, for example, it’s obvious why some may have such high ratios. Processed and fried foods are extremely prevalent.
New research suggests that the absolute amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is more important than the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3. Going back to the 7th paragraph, what’s clear is that getting more omega-3 in your diet is great for your health.
Now that your head is spinning from the complexity of the polyunsaturated fat…
I’ll briefly discuss the less controversial monounsaturated fat found in such foods as avocados, nuts, olive oil, and peanut butter/oil, as well as other oils. The primary monounsaturated fat is omega-9, a non-essential fat because our bodies can produce them. That being said, we can still benefit from dietary sources.
So far I have mentioned many oils. Oils are mostly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. You’re probably wondering, as I was when I inserted this section of the blog, how exactly “good” and “bad” oils are differentiated.
This is mostly my speculation from the research/blogs I read as well as my intuition and previous knowledge but below I sort the aforementioned oils plus a few extras into the elaborate categories of “yes” “maybe” and “probably not.”
Perhaps most commonly known, saturated fat is generally found in foods like meat and dairy. It’s long been believed that saturated fats increase the risk of heart disease (by increasing the LDL cholesterol (see 4th paragraph)) but that notion is being challenged by recent research. It has to be noted, however, that the meat and dairy industries play a hand where they can in upping consumption and have been known to sponsor studies. Infer from this what you will.
Saturated Fat- Extraneous Cases
Eggs and are usually considered part of the saturated fat category but I have slightly excluded them.
Eggs have about 5 grams of fat, 3 from unsaturated and 2 from saturated. This means that their normal categorization into the saturated fat realm is unwarranted. Additionally- I wanted to state the case for eggs as a healthy food to include in your diet. Eggs have high cholesterol which has made them a target for slander in the past, however, studies have shown that cholesterol in eggs doesn’t affect the cholesterol in the blood. If you need more evidence for eating eggs- they offer tons of nutrients, they are one of the most nutrient-dense foods.
Coconut oil is just over 90% saturated fat. What’s unique about coconut oil is that it can raise HDL cholesterol (again, see 4th paragraph) in addition to raising LDL as saturated fats do. Most research on this is not long-term enough to be overly compelling.
We probably all know that trans fat is harmful. That is- in its artificial form made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil which is made by infusing vegetable oil with hydrogen (an unnatural process). Trans fat also shows up naturally in some meat and dairy in a much less harmful form. In my view- trans fats have been so largely done away with in the artificial form that they are hardly worth worrying about.
Sorting it All Out, My Take
So, what to make of all this.
Well, as I perhaps should’ve prefaced in the beginning before you surely assumed- I’m no expert. I’m not a dietician or doctor or anything of the sort. I do however have a thirst for knowledge and strength for taking in information and sorting it out in an objective manner to form opinions.
To conclude, I’ll tell you what I currently do, and in addition what I aspire to do now that I have a whole host of new knowledge as a result of writing this blog!
What’s first and all important to note is that fat has 9 calories per gram as opposed to 4 in carbs and proteins, this makes it much easier to overconsume calorically. With all this healthy fat talk I have to make that clear. You can’t just go dousing your food in olive oil and gorging on salmon!
Health experts typically say that you should get about 20-30% of your daily calories from fat but from my own experience, I know that it is easy to get caught up in these specific numbers and I find it much more useful to just track overall calories and protein. This means I have the strategy of setting a calorie goal, say 3000, and a protein goal, say 170 grams, and I let the carbs and fats fall as they may (i.e. if I hit my protein goal I have 2320 calories to expend on carbs and fats). Two notes here- I try to emphasize more carbs when possible for their effect on better workouts. I aim to eat mostly whole, nutritious foods instead of simply fulfilling my macronutrient requirements with whatever “fits.”
I usually get my fats from nuts, peanut butter, eggs, meat and dairy, and sometimes olive oil. I realize after reading this article that in addition- I get a decent portion of my fats from “probably not” oils. This is something I now aspire to cut down on!
I mentioned earlier that I take fish oil which is only a very small portion of my fats in total, about 2 grams per day and 20 calories. Another aspiration of mine upon finding out that their absorption rate is lower than eating the real thing is to get some fatty fish to eat next time I’m at the store. Check my Instagram to see how it goes!
You’ll notice I don’t eat avocados- this is for two reasons. One is moral, I’ve heard of evidence that avocado demand drives deforestation (damn millennials). And in addition- those things are just impossible to eat at the right time! They’re always either too ripe or not ripe enough.
Lastly, I wanted to state the anecdotal evidence I use to justify a larger saturated fat consumption than typically accepted as healthy. I have seen enough individuals I know personally and many others in the health and fitness industry whom I do not personally know but observe eat this amount of saturated fats with no known negative effects. In addition, foods like meat and dairy fit my whole, nutrient dense food profile.
I hope this article was informative and I encourage you to reach out with any questions or comments! I enjoyed doing the research and deep thinking this article took. Check out my references below.
‘The Road Not Taken’ is nothing if not ambiguous. Being naturally drawn to artistic expression, I love this poem in all its mystery. I pride myself on exploring other’s points of view while also coming up with my unique spin on things. Here are the Three Interpretations of ‘The Road Not Taken.’
The Typical Interpretation
This poem has long been a rallying cry for individualists and non-conformists. Most of the time the last two lines of the poem are emphasized in this interpretation. “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” In any endeavor or decision in life, it is always challenging and risky to take a more daring path in hopes of finding a more genuine version of success. In times when a decision must be made or affirmed it is always comforting to hear words of encouragement from one who has been in your shoes. This is the viewpoint of those with this interpretation of the poem. One sees the protagonist as someone who has chosen to take a divergent course in life and whom upon reflection is pleased with doing so. While it is true that taking a non-traditional or contrarian path can lead to greater rewards and triumphs, it is interesting to note that Frost portrays two roads that are largely indistinguishable. The “other” road is called “just as fair” and it is said that “the passing there had worn them really about the same.” Let’s look at what some claim is the real Frost interpretation.
The Satirical or The “Real” Interpretation
Among literary authorities, it is commonly held that Frost’s true meaning in this poem was to engage in satire with a friend, Edward Thomas. As the story goes, Thomas was one who often toiled over his decisions, big and small. Frost had often remarked, “Edward, no matter which road you take, you’ll always sigh and wish you’d taken another.” The reason I am not using full conviction is that while many respected figures have made this claim, the poem surfaced in 1916 before documentation of conversational dialogue was as prevalent as it is today. That being said- this interpretation centers around light-hearted jousting rather than a foundation for approaching life’s choices. This is dichotomized against the first and more common interpretation. Lastly, I want to share my personal view with you.
We all have to make hard decisions in life- in relationships, in vocation, in living arrangments, in lifestyle variables. I believe Frost is pointing out that no matter what choices we make there will be others that have come before us and done what we are choosing to do. Yes, there are less people who choose to work creatively and deliberately defend their individuality, but you would be far from the first to choose this path in your life’s course. That being said- the interesting thing about us as humans, on a biological level, is that we are all completely unique and one of a kind. No one can ever be exactly like you but luckily you can emulate and learn from others at the same time. We all make decisions that impact us beyond comprehension and when it comes down to it the validity or merit of those decisions comes down to our perspective of them and how we frame them.
Below is an IGTV video I saw this week from Gary Vee where he discusses the uncertainty in making correct decisions and the importance of reflecting.
Happy Gilmore is one of my all-time favorite movies.
If you’re not familiar with the plot you may be wondering what the hell I’m getting at. Even if you are familiar with the plot, you may still be wondering what the hell I’m getting at.
Happy has a passion for hockey and works at it endlessly. He has an incredible slapshot while the rest of his game leaves much to be desired. Not easily deterred, he still dedicates his life to the sport he loves.
Early on in the movie, Happy finds himself in a pickle when his grandma’s house gets foreclosed and he has to try to find a way to pay to get it back. As it happens, it’s not hockey but another sport that serves as his saving grace.
Happy golfs his way into redemption!
Now, my point here wasn’t to give you a poor plot summary of the movie Happy Gilmore, or ruin a perfectly good movie for you (you have to watch this if you haven’t) but to discuss an idea, or rather a principle I carry into my undertakings.
Work as hard as you can at what you care deeply about and are passionate about but be ready to exercise the skills you’ve developed in a different arena when the opportunity presents itself.
I think t00 often we make one of two mistakes- not going after what we truly care about in the first place, or being hesitant to switch courses when a situation calls for such measures.
A fear we all have is fear of failure manifesting in self-doubt. The only way to defeat this kind of self-deprecation if to be your own affirmation by speaking kindly to yourself and not accepting language like “I can’t” or “that sucks.”
Negativity and pessimism are a paradox because they are so deeply rewarding to partake in, but are so absolutely detrimental to long term success.
Your life is all about the story you tell about yourself, you are responsible for framing your situations.
Another fear of the latter mistake I discussed is the fear of having to start from scratch to learn and acquire new skills for a new endeavor. To this I say- any experience chasing success and mastery of something will not be wasted on a separate entity, for you will be able to utilize whatever experience you have.
Lewis Howes recently posted on his Instagram: “Don’t be afraid to start over. This time you’re not starting from scratch, you’re starting from experience.”
I can’t speak for everyone but I know for me personally I never experienced true fulfillment or intrinsic motivation until I started pursuing the things that my inner voice were telling me to do like create content and enter the health and fitness field.
I’m guessing you have that inner voice too and if you’re not already, let that intuition be your guide because I promise, you will be better off for it, even though it may suck to switch gears.
The life you want is just beyond your comfort zone and just little more in line with that voice in your head. It’s almost like fulfillment is a short putt for Happy, it’s easy right? “Just taaaap it in. Just taaaaap it in. Give it a little tappy. Tap Tap Taparoo.”
This blog post is about one of the people who changed my life whom I have never even met. It seems like that list is getting quite long these days as I recognize the fact that mentors and role models do not have to be solely those that you can meet face to face or are in your physical network.
First of all, Mike helped me realize what it takes to build the lean, muscular body I had always dreamed of but never possessed the knowledge to attain.
But what came as a surprise to me was that this was the most insignificant part of my journey when it comes down to it. With an even mix of capability on my part and necessity of my situation, I was able to change the course of my life largely because of the shift in mindset I experienced. This was catalyzed by shifting my health and fitness but it was far from the end product.
I want to back up and talk about when I first heard about Mike Matthews. I can remember it very vividly, his message came to me at a time when I had suffocating self-defeating habits and was feeling quite lost. Symbolically, his message came to me during engagement in one of my signature self defeating habits at the time which was endless use of my phone and media.
Browsing on social media, pointless web searches, all conjuring up negative thoughts and emotions I was barely aware of. It was during one of these black hole episodes of media distraction that I stumbled across an advertisement of sorts.
It made claims about how I didn’t need hours in the gym to achieve my dream physique, how cardio was not the way to fat loss, supplements were not necessary, clean eating and carb demonizing were largely based on myth.
Yeah right, I thought.
While some part of me said, here we go again, another BS ad with no real value (I thought there was no way these claims were true). Another part of me thought, it’s at least worth checking out.
So I read Mike’s story, I learned, I absorbed, I resonated with a man that talked about how he struggled for years practicing ineffective muscle building techniques and “bro” type fitness regimes which I was familiar with.
Finally I realized, holy shit, this whole fitness thing is way less complicated than I had thought for all these years!
I was finally able to change my body! I deadlifted, macro tracked, and worked smarter not harder to achieve the body I always wanted.
This with constant clarification from Bigger Leaner Stronger and Muscle for Life/Legion Athletics articles.
Through this, I had one of the most important realizations in my life. I realized that if the changes I saw in my body were possible with such simple changes and principles, then changes in the rest of my life could be made too.
I haven’t mentioned yet but at the time when I discovered Mike’s work, I was in my last semester of college, scared shitless about what would come next.
Set to graduate with a degree in Business and Finance, I wasn’t excited about the prospects presented to me.
I knew there was a nagging feeling I had that this course I was on wasn’t right for me but I never knew what to do about it.
With my new outlook and knowledge, however, I took the Mike Matthews approach to my personal life outside from the gym, I started taking action by reading books and increasing my knowledge little by little, all of this remimiscent of the muscle building process Mike had taught me.
Long story slightly less long, it led to me launching my own online brand which I now work on every day in hopes of launching a career and successful business out of it.
What started with a simple Instagram page @JParkerFitLife is now being developed into a full scope online brand with a website and, I’m excited to publicly announce for the first time, my very own book!
Its hard for me to even comprehend the scope of all the positive changes I’ve made in my life as I went from a beer belly sporting gym rat who could never improve on his newbie gains and had never read a book to completion, to a lean muscle sporting book reader now on the course of writing one himself!
I’m so beyond happy with the changes I’ve made and none of them would be possible without Mike. He has had an effect on me so far past the gym, helping my self-confidence grow, encouraging me to take action in my daily life, and showing me the power of small but definitive changes in improving your course.
So thank you, Mike Matthews, for all that you do. Know that a misguided life was changed because of your work. I am forever grateful.
There is no such thing as ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ food. There is just food. Some foods have more key nutrients like protein, fiber, and vitamins & minerals, which make them more beneficial to your goals and harder to overeat. Some foods offer purely ‘empty calories’ in the form of simple carbohydrates and excess fats which make them less beneficial to your goals and easier to overeat. In my opinion, the best and most sustainable way to eat is “flexible dieting” where you eat mainly whole, nutrient dense foods but are able to treat yourself to less nutritious, more calorie dense foods sometimes.
2. Muscle Turns to Fat (And Vice Versa)
Muscle and fat are two separate entities. Both are natural and we all have some of each. Muscle is built from exercise along with increases in strength. Excess fat is the result of a caloric surplus. No one, not even the most ripped model or bodybuilder has no body fat. If you had no body fat you would die! Building up muscle with exercise is a healthy way for your body to increase its caloric requirements. If you were to stop the exercise, it is not possible for the muscle you’ve built to turn to fat. Likewise- if you had excess bodyfat and started working out, this fat could never turn into muscle. What will happen though, is you will burn body fat and build muscle simultaneously.
3. You Must Supplement (To Achieve Your Ideal Physique)
When used correctly, supplements can be helpful. Especially helpful is a supplement like protein powder which takes the place of other whole foods and adds to your daily protein intake. That being said- no supplement is necessary. Some are quite frankly almost useless. For example, BCAAs are completely unnecessary if you are getting enough protein throughout the day, and fat burners are completely null if you are still eating in a calorie surplus while taking them. For most people, supplements are not something worthwhile to delve into, especially with their high cost. If you are interested in some effective supplements- I recommend protein powder, creatine, and a caffeine supplement (caffeine is the main ingredient in pre-workouts and fat burners.)
4. You Can Spot Reduce
There is no such thing as spot reducing. If you have a gut you will not get rid of it by doing endless sit-ups. The only way to get rid of it is by decreasing your bodyweight with a calorie deficit achieved through diet and/or exercise. The same goes for any body part you want to decrease in size, whether it’s love handles, extra flab on the arms, face fat, etc. You must focus on decreasing your overall body fat- plain and simple!
5. Lifting Makes Women Bulky
Lifting will never make anyone bulky unintentionally. ‘Bulky’ women and men have manipulated their calories and training to an extreme extent to stimulate muscle growth and power (in addition to taking steroids, usually). Lifting weights along with a healthy diet will help women achieved the lean, toned figure they desire. Speaking of toning, another myth is-
6. To Get Toned, Do Cardio and High Reps
This may seem logical but this alone will only lead to two things: excess cardio will lead to your body adjusting its baseline calories to be lower and lower. Cardio is not a road to fat loss but a tool! High rep lifting will cause less muscle retention than low reps when aiming to ‘tone up.’ When your goal is toning you’ll want to maximize muscle retention with low reps. High reps (hypertrophy type work) has its place in muscle building (bulking) phases.
7. You Must Frequently Switch Up Workouts to Shock the Muscle
Doing multiple different exercises daily and weekly doesn’t allow you to properly overload the muscle. The best results actually come from sticking to the same lifts week after week and only switching every 3 to 4 months or so. This way- you can see how you are progressing and be sure you’re gaining muscle.
8. Eating Late Causes Fat Gain (Don’t eat carbs after 6:00, etc.)
There is no specific disadvantage to eating late at night. The reason this myth is perpetuated and may have a hint of validity is that often eating this late in done in excess of your planned daily meals and snacks causing you to exceed your daily caloric requirements and balance. That being said, if eating food at this time fits within your diet, then, by all means, eat it without worry.
9. You’ll Enter Starvation Mode if You Don’t Time Your Meals Right
The body is more malleable than we often give it credit for, especially your muscle. This myth centers around the body “eating away at muscle for energy” when you are hungry or when you haven’t eaten for a certain amount of time. In reality, our body works with whatever food we give it at whatever time. This is why I am a proponent of planning and tracking calories, especially on a weekly, as opposed to daily, basis. Research has shown that spacing protein feedings throughout the day (such as 3-5) is slightly more advantageous, but it’s nothing to get too concerned with.
10. Breakfast is The Most Important Meal of The Day
It sure can be if you choose! But- so can lunch, dinner, or a snack! The reason this myth exists is that oftentimes eating a healthy breakfast is a good way to jumpstart a nutritious day and keep one full so that he or she doesn’t gorge on food later in the day. That being said, there is nothing inherently special about breakfast. In fact- I’m a big proponent of fasting for fat loss which means not eating breakfast at all! The most important meal of the day is the one at which you choose to eat lots of nutritious foods. Maybe every meal is the most and equally important!
You’re doing a normal daily activity like eating dinner and all the sudden you look up and wonder where the last five minutes went. Perhaps this even happens inadvertently while you’re driving. It can happen when you’re supposed to be enjoying time with family or even when doing your favorite activity. Its implications are everywhere.
Daydreaming, a wandering mind, whatever you want to call it.
Why does this happen?
You’re not being present.
A Harvard group study done by psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert showed that almost half of our thoughts at any given time are not related to what we are doing.
Simply put, we are often not being present.
So what does it mean to be present?
It means watching the game when you’re watching the game, doing the dishes when you’re doing the dishes, reading a book when you’re reading a book.
It is. Yet simple doesn’t mean easy.
As humans, we evolved and survived by thinking about the dangers that confront us which often meant thinking ahead and thinking about the future. It’s rooted in us biologically.
So, to turn this focus inward on ourselves and to be more invested in every activity takes effort and discipline.
Where else does lack of presence manifest itself?
It extends past simply not being engaged. It extends towards anticipation.
Anticipating what you will do when you get home from work, anticipating your next vacation, anticipating what will happen when you get that promotion.
Interestingly it extends to simple daily activities we don’t even think about like the angst of shuffling your songs and never being able to land on a “good” one simply because of the anticipation that the perfect song will come along, forgetting that every song is in your library for a reason and you enjoy it on some level.
It extends, in large part, to a major reason why we have so much obesity and health problems in America, eating is no longer mindful. We are not present with our meals, eating meals has become an activity often done with either haste and/or glutton.
Our natural tendencies when we are dissatisfied in life lean more and more towards lack of mindfulness and lack of presence which may be our unconscious mind telling us that we are taking the wrong direction in life.
What’s most interesting is that the entirety of the presence dilemma can be traced back to one thing. Desire. A desire for something to be over with or done, desire for a situation to improve, or even desire during good times like the desire for a good feeling or moment to continue on and to last.
Beginning with feeling happy with yourself as you are in your current situation is the best remedy, but as I alluded to, coming into contact with your emotions and desires may lead to the uncomfortable realization that you need a change.
Just remember that though sometimes we tend to think that happiness is just one promotion, one vacation, one fixed relationship, or one little tweak away, this is never the case.
Speaking of desire, when it comes to this topic I am reminded of a piece of the movie Harry Potter.
This is not a result of my own thoughts, for I myself have not seen any of the movies or read any of the books, but I am reminded of a conversation with a friend about the Mirror of Erised.
The mirror is known to show “the most desperate desire of a person’s heart” (Its name, Erised, is Desire spelled backward). Dumbledore tells Harry “The happiest man on Earth would look into the mirror and see only himself, exactly as he is.” Harry becomes obsessed with the mirror as he can palpably see his family in it. Upon finding out, Dumbledore says “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”
Faced with the desire to be with his family, Harry becomes disconnected with his current mission and purpose as we so often do in the paradigm of desire and want.
So, I’ve been a little sporadic so far. You relate to these problems, but are unsure how to approach them.
Let me continue by giving you one simple step to become more present in your daily activities–
Embracing meditation as a daily practice is a great start.
You may think meditation is a goofy or antiquated practice, or something uniquely eastern, but its roots and its purpose are pure, and its benefits tangible.
It teaches us to be present and tame desire, which, as I’ve stated, is the root of unhappiness.
It teaches us to become more comfortable with our emotions by realizing that they do not define us and are simply thoughts we are having.
It is also a great way to reflect on your path and what you really want out of life, as when you quiet the outside influences that are constantly present in our world you will be able to hear your inner voice again.
The cause of our angst is often not just due to internal sources but the complexities of the world.
Specifically, I point to technology, especially, our phones, as another culprit.
Having your phone, a device that can bring you any information instantaneously is not always a good thing.
Just knowing it’s there constantly tugging at your willpower, creates a lack of cognitive alertness to what you’re doing.
How often do you find yourself looking at your phone whenever you can? During a quick bathroom break, while waiting in line at the grocery store, at a red light?
Phones can take away from experiences we genuinely enjoy as well, I know that I myself am often frustrated by being distracted while watching tv or a movie when I realize I’ve missed a large part while being on my phone.
I have researched and found on my own many ways to cope with phone anxiety and I have come up with-
5 Tips to Help Ease Cell Phone Driven Anxiety:
Disable most notifications. Notifications are a huge distraction that offers little return. It is not necessary to know the things they tell us and they distract from living in the real world.
When possible, do not carry your phone on your person. Having your phone in your pocket makes it all the more tempting to overuse it and check it. Put it away from you, and if you can in a separate room.
Don’t be on your phone right before bed or right upon waking. This is a much more anxiety-free way to start and end your day and you will notice the difference in your mood. And, yes, this does mean you’ll probably have to get a real alarm clock. I promise they still exist.
Don’t allow your phone into your bedroom. Have at least one phone free space. Often our bedrooms are our most personal and intimate space so they work well, especially because this will help you align with tip #3.
Set time limits. Set limits on overall usage as well as singular usage. It is hard to come to terms with just how much we overuse our phones but this knowledge is power and will help us overcome our angst and improve.
So there it is, presence, a simple yet increasingly difficult concept to master. It is my hope that these thoughts and tips can help you become mindful, present, and at ease with your inner self.
Hooray! My counselor let me out of my straight jacket to write this post!
I’ll start with what should be obvious but isn’t-
Too many people, myself included until rather recently, think that counseling is for crazy people. People that have something wrong with them.
Isn’t it funny how you would never think twice about a friend going to the doctor after having digestive issues or a pain in their knee, but for some reason you might think differently of that same friend for going and seeing a counselor if they feel emotionally unwell or have issues mentally?
Counseling isn’t for the damaged or the amiss.
Not at all.
Counseling is for people like you and me who want to talk about the issues they face in their day to day life with someone whose profession it is to help others cope and deal with stresses, as well as emotions, both good and bad.
It’s for self-admitted overthinkers like me who are in their own heads too much and just need someone to vent to that isn’t biased and doesn’t have any skin in the game that is my life.
It’s for every person who has ever experienced anxieties, worries, or regrets about their actions or what the future holds, which includes, well, everyone!
I believe at some point we all look at ourselves and ask just what the hell we’re doing with this crazy thing called life.
Before I went and saw a counselor it was something I’d thought about for over a year.
I knew it would benefit me but I always thought- how would I go about it?
I’d have to tell my parents about it and inquire about how it would be handled by our insurance.
I’d have to research the right place to go, make the call, mark the appointment on my calendar!
Step by step I’d be living out the admittance that I was, in fact, crazy! That something was truly wrong with me! That’s the only reason people seek counseling, right?
This brings me to the first lesson I learned in counseling-
The stories that loop in your head are usually based on your own individual thoughts and feelings and not on reality.
It’s so easy to get caught up in our emotions and the stories we tell ourselves that we can forget what they may look or sound like from an outsider’s point of view or just a point of view that’s solely based on facts and reality.
A great tool I learned to combat overthinking and anxiety is to simply address a situation by asking “What are the facts?” It’s a great way to ground yourself and look at a problem in a different light.
Your thoughts and feelings are not reality, only your actions and the things you do whilst living out your life are truly reality.
Give yourself a break. It’s completely natural to frame situations in a certain way. Just make sure to give yourself an outlet to see things for what they truly are.
2. We’re not stuck. We have options.
At the end of the day, we are human. We need food, water, and shelter to survive. Luckily for most of us, we have family and friends that we are close enough with that even if all else fails we will not be without these three necessities for life.
This may seem like an extreme example but it’s just to illustrate that though sometimes the thoughts we experience make it seem like we are in a life or death situation, most of us will thankfully never experience that in our lifetimes until our time to pass comes, after a long, fulfilling life.
I think that too often people feel stuck. It can happen in a relationship, a job, a living situation, anything really.
Remember that you always have options, and like I discussed in the last point, no situation is ever as dire as it may seem.
We can recover from lost relationships and so can the others involved, we can leave our jobs and find new ones, we can move to new places and start new beginnings.
Life is much more malleable than we give it credit for.
3. You are not the only one with these feelings. You are not the only one who struggles with your thoughts.
Even though it may seem like you’re the only one who could think X crazy thought, or has X crazy worry, I promise you, you’re not.
When I first went to counseling I held back because I figured some of the things I was thinking and feeling were just too weird/awkward, but the more I opened up the more fluid and fulfilling the visits got and I eventually realized that any problem or stress I had, my counselor had already seen or heard in some form.
Even though we like to act like we’re all very unique and different, which we are in many ways, we are similar in just as many ways and especially in the way we experience distress and angst in life.
I remember once my counselor said to me that he had had patients admit that they’d considered suicide and that after talking through it, some were shocked to realize that there wasn’t some red panic button my counselor had to hit when the word came up that sent a psych ward in to take them away.
While again this is another extreme example, it just goes to show that whatever emotion or feeling you need to get off your chest is perfectly acceptable in counseling and it more than likely won’t be new territory for your counselor.
4. Trust your instincts, they’re there for a reason.
It’s my personal belief that we all have a voice inside us that’s telling us what direction to take, even if sometimes you want to say back to that voice “Really? This!?”
My counselor and I talk a lot about values. I believe that certain values are innate to each one of us based partly on our upbringing and partly on solely biological dispositions.
For example, I recently became more in tune with the fact that for me, a fulfilling and meaningful life doesn’t mean recognition, success, or monetary rewards. It means doing meaningful work that impacts others and following the things I am truly passionate about becauce I just can’t fake enthusiasm about things I’m not passionate about. It was a great thing to discover about myself and helped explain a lot of the stresses I had experienced up to this point.
I believe we all have some level of cognitive dissonance at times in our lives which is essentially having your thoughts and beliefs contradict your actions.
This can be a very hard thing to deal with and really will only go away from dealing with it in a forward and honest manner.
If you’ve ever thought about going to counseling, maybe you’ve been thinking about it for a while now like I had but put imaginary blocks up as to why you couldn’t go, my best advice is to just try it out. You almost assuredly won’t regret it.
And please, reach out to me with any questions you have, I’d be more than happy to answer!