Present State Painting Your Future Canvas

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When we look ahead in life, we are inclined to believe that the present state will remain as is.

If life is going well, we presume the trend will continue. The same can be said about the inverse.

Yet let us break past that innate desire to view the world going forward with the perspective that’s built upon your current emotional state.

When on a trajectory upward, reflect on your past. Not everything was filled with rainbows and unicorns and yet we fail to prepare for not IF but WHEN life will get tough again.

Being cognizant of the self serving bias – overly positive about our abilities and future – is the first step in breaking past that barrier. Focus on consequences and what can go wrong. Build a safety net in your decisions so you allow yourself to fall on a mattress as opposed to the concrete floor. Even if that mattress does not seem comfortable, you’ll be grateful you kept that safeguard upon the inception of your stumble.

The German missionary Dr. Albert Schweitzer said “an optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while the pessimist sees only the red stoplight. The truly wise person is colorblind”.

You are your greatest ally and your worst enemy. Keep your emotions in check. Self-deception about the path ahead will only lead you astray.

Reflect back on your life and you will find it difficult to state all was virtuous or unpleasant.

Let’s look towards the future in the same way and prepare. This allows us to see life the way we should while building humility for the upswing and building a cushioned floor for when we fall.

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Hunter S. Thompson’s Letter

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I first came across this letter a few years ago and just recently stumbled upon it again. Hunter Thompson was 22 years old when he was asked by his friend, Hume Logan, for advice on life. His letter and answer to Hume’s question is listed below. The letter dates back to April of 1958. Before you begin your day, take some time and let his words of wisdom inspire you and change your perspective on life.


April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City

Dear Hume,

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called “Being and Nothingness” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called “Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre.” These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors.WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires — including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo — this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

Your friend,
Hunter

Nutritionism

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We were fed to believe that calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, along with a few others should be weighed significantly before consumption. The history of how this came about and why it is ubiquitous today is discussed in depth in Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food”.

The bombardment of nutrient marketing has benefited the conglomerates of the food industry and has created much confusion for consumers. Do you select that granola bar that’s labeled and marketed as low fat, high fiber, low carb, low sugar, or high protein?

How about whether or not you should opt for the pizza dough that now has probiotics?

Does it not strike you as odd that the produce we all know that contain the nutrients that are beneficial to us have no listings on them describing what their high in, low in or good for? Next time you step inside a food store, walk down the middle aisles where all processed foods are located and then proceed to the far end of the grocery store where you will find the produce selection. Be cognizant of how divergent they are in regards to their marketing claims.

Researchers compose studies about nutrients and aim to break them down into single dimensions. Skepticism is needed here for those of us who read and care about what we are ingesting. Height and weight are single dimensions. Those can be measured precisely at a specific point in time. Consider areas where singularity is non-existent. How do you precisely measure the risk of cancer from eating too much meat or whether a glass of wine every day is good for you?

Although we attempt to control all other factors that may play a role in altering the results, how does one account for genetics, exercise, stress, happiness, etc. We also know that certain foods are processed and digested differently when eaten in conjunction with other foods as well as nutrient contents being contingent upon the method we use to cook them.

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Although determined in a different field of science Anderson’s finding in his essay, “More Is Different”  that “The behavior of large and complex aggregates of elementary particles, it turns out, is not to be understood in terms of the simple extrapolation of the properties of a few particles” can be applied to food nutrients.

What is more alarming is that most nutrient studies are based on questionnaires. Do you recall the exact amount of red meat you’ve eaten in the past two months? How about the precise amount of water, exercise, fiber, sugar, or coffee?

We must also take into account how we skew answers. We have the tendency to consciously or unconsciously select choices based on what we speculate may be in our and/or the surveyor’s best interest. Couple this with the inability to determine the precise amount of food we consumed (how many peanuts are in 6 oz?) and your credence of these studies should plunge.

Let’s begin depreciating the importance of nutrients and transition back to single ingredient items. As much as science has completely transformed our lives, researchers should abide by Socrates’ quote that “true knowledge exists in knowing you know nothing”. Humans have an innate desire to understand cause and effect and it often leaves us with misinformation. What is taken as conventional wisdom (the world being flat, Roman’s lining plumbing systems with lead, margarine being healthier than butter)  will soon be shattered by new evidence that we did not account or factor in.

Turn over those bars you’ve been eating lately. Read the ingredients listed. What exactly are you eating? Consumer awareness of such is increasing and companies that fail to adopt will soon become obsolete. What we now need is to not only shrink those middle aisles filled with processed and artificial foods but solidify that fresh produce will be its replacement.

Never forget, correlation does not mean causation. It’s imperative we keep that in our cognitive toolkit when reading studies related to nutrition. There is a correlation between ice cream sales and shark attacks but that does not mean one causes the other. It just so happens that shark attacks are more likely in the summer (more of us enter the ocean in summer months) which is also the season most of us buy ice cream.

Reversing the Healthcare Tide

We procrastinate and are quite well at doing it. We put off errands, work, saving, health, fixing problems, and so on ad infinitum.

Where we get into a predicament is when a potential and/or a current minimal issue gets pushed into the future.

Insignificant troubles commonly ferment into catastrophic problems whereby larger, costlier, and more time-consuming solutions need to be deployed.

Welcome to healthcare.

Currently, our healthcare system de-incentivizes patients to take care of minor ailments and potential maladies. Consumers pay high premiums coupled with high deductibles, copayments and coinsurance amounts. Not only are we averse to inconvenience and great procrastinators but now charge us $40-$80 copayments to go to the doctor; it’s not happening.

This is especially true for those of us who are currently healthy – this “healthy” status is contingent upon who you ask. If there’s no present issue, there is nothing to go get assessed. If there are symptoms that are deemed by us to be trivial, we will push through it.

Herein lies the problem.

We do not get educated on diseases that we may cross paths with. We do not begin altering decisions that may lower the likelihood of being diagnosed with a chronic disease. We do not permanently fix the hole in the boat but instead put a paper towel in it to buy us some time.

The end result: not one we want, the insurance companies want, nor the physicians.

The current tide floats us to relief. We need the tide to shift towards prevention.

Pay us to go to the doctor. You’re a healthy 28-year-old with no physical symptoms of illness? Great! Go to your primary care physician at least annually and he’ll give you $50 at the checkout desk. The physician can submit a claim to the insurance carrier for not only the services rendered but the $50 payment made to the patient.

You’re a patient who is pre-diabetic and can take action to diminish the likelihood of being diabetic? Go to the doctor and find out how!

Why you may ask, would insurance companies do this?

Eighty-six percent of the nation’s $2.7 trillion annual health care expenditures are for people with chronic and mental health conditions.”

Short-term, this may cost insurance companies and diminish their profits (they could increase premium amounts to equal the payments to the patients for preventative services if it substantially reduces their next few quarters profit margin. Psychologically, even if it is the same net amount, I am inclined to believe patients would go to get their money back). Long term, their cost saving if they could minimize the number of people contracting chronic diseases would substantially outweigh their costs.

The same methodology could be used for the compliance dilemma providers have. If patients are complying with the providers’ orders, an amount should be given to reward the patient. Results should be discussed and illustrated to confirm that the patient’s decision and actions that support adherence are indeed beneficial.

A NIH study showed evidence that patient incentive programs might be a mechanism to increase rates of preventative care received. In this study, patients paid to be part of the program and upon doing so, received discounts on goods and travel. I presume the receipt of preventative services would dramatically increase if you rid of the cost to sign up and increase the reward for receiving care.

Let’s shift the paradigm of healthcare from relief to prevention. The small costs we would pay as a society would never come close to the regret, angst, fear, and guilt we would have when the diagnosis is listed in our file. This shift would benefit all parties in the healthcare field as the pendulum swings from quantity to quality (besides the pharmaceutical industry- relief is their business).

Let us be all on the same team.

 

 

Understand the Difference

 

Wholesome Wealth

We use frugality and being cheap interchangeably. Convenience may be a reason. The

 

convenience to either ease the guilt of spending or of labeling someone who does not join you in such.

Frugality is being economical with your resources.

Being cheap is an unwillingness to use your resources on anything.

We can use any asset but for simplicity, we will use what most are accustomed to using: money.

Being cheap is going out with friends and not contributing the full amount monetarily to the value you received. Being that person who subconsciously hopes and aims to have a good time on someone else’s tab, time after time.

Being frugal is determining that you have to pass on this adventure knowing you have x,y,z in the horizon that will chip away at your elusive resource.

Frugal people tend to look at value whereas the cheap tend to look at the price.

We cannot have it all. You must pick and choose where you will spend your money on. Choose the things you love enough to use it and substantially reduce on the things in which you do not.

Be frugal. Save a buck where it does not diminish your value. This allows us all to gain more use of the resource we struggle with allocating properly.

 

Nullius In Verba

My previous post about the impact of stories concluded with nudging us to take a step towards asking deeper questions about others and ourselves. A broader perspective and use of questions are touched upon in today’s post.

Nullius in Verba (Latin). It’s literal translation – on the word of no one – can also be defined as to take no one’s word for it or to better yet, question everything.

This is science and philosophy’s foundation. A claim or belief is made, usually with supporting research and anecdotes, whereby that individual or others try to poke holes in it.

We need to practice such in our everyday lives regardless of occupation. We’ve heard the adage that questions provide more value than answers yet we are reluctant to adjust. This is in large part due to our societies view that lack of certainty and knowledge is a sign of weakness.

We must not fall victim to that perspective. Children have this innate ability to be curious often asking more questions than we have the patience and the answers for. The latter is often times unsettling and uncomfortable. We tend to not know responses to those question words- who, where, when, why, what, which, how.

In the professional world, businesses use a technique called the ““5 Why’s” to understand the root cause of a problem. For every answer to a question, you can break it down further to foster a better understanding, separating a symptom from the actual problem.

I take your time here today to nudge you to apply that curiosity you once had many moons ago to your daily lives. This requires being open and pushing aside the stigma we may have of not knowing. This uncomfortableness will diminish as you gain a better understanding of it all.

Test your convictions and those of others by using interrogative words. We will all have a better sense of what we know and more importantly what we do not know.

Although this may seem intrusive at first, try it with professional and personal relationships. Try it with your clients, vendors, customers, patients, competitors. There is much power in understanding those relationships so well that you can foresee their next move. 

We can not be certain of much in this life but to get as close as possible to it will only be to our benefit.

“Persistent questioning and healthy inquisitiveness are the first requisite for acquiring learning of any kind” – Mahatma Gandhi

Stories

Emotions are what connect us to a moment, a place, a person. It leads some to their demise and gives life to others. It’s what causes people to go through similar experiences yet be substantially divergent on where they end up.

Science and research have just begun to tap into its power and theories suggest that emotional intelligence may be more of a determinant of success and leadership ability than IQ. The five components of intelligence – self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill – allow us to harness our thoughts and our actions.

This leads me to discuss the power of stories.

Stories increase our connection between people. Personal stories resonate with us long after conversations cease. Reflect back on the last time someone pried into your story. Did it not increase your connection to them? What about the last time you dug into understanding who someone is? I’m not discussing surface qualities we can detect with our senses. I’m discussing elements that can only be seen with deep questioning.

Stories allow people to care.

The stories we tell and mindfully listen to have a profound impact on the trajectory of our lives. It deepens our understanding of both ourselves and others.

Stories are the closest thing to a teleportation device we have. It allows us to trespass the barriers of time – past, present, and future.

It has such a profound impact that businesses either implicitly or explicitly now all have a story, most of which allow you to understand their what, why and how.

All this should make us contemplate the stories we tell ourselves and that this narrative may have substantially more weight than we give it. It simultaneously pulls and pushes us back into the past and forward into the future.

Do you know your own story? Unleash it and if needed, reframe it. Your story can be told in many ways.

Short-Termism

The gravitational pull to reap a reward now supersedes grander rewards later. We see it in the businesses we work for as well as our personal lives.

Corporations make decisions that will directly contribute to their quarterly numbers, many times at the expense of future success.

We increase our means of living with that raise received rather than saving or investing for our future selves.

What is it that prohibits us from seeing past the next hour, day, week?

The reluctance to delay gratification is an inherent flaw we must all be cognizant of in order to make a change.

We must begin on better controlling our focus. If someone offered us the option of $100 right now or $175 in a year, we are more prone to taking the cash now. The availability of options in which the money can be used today is more tangible than the larger sum in a year.

This may sound counterintuitive but control your focus on something other than the reward. The skill of willpower has to do with moving on.

If we make the decision on reaping the larger reward and release it from our focal point, we aid ourselves in abstaining from dwelling on our past decision.

How often have we been offered a dessert and our guts are genuinely filled to capacity (I’m being conservative here) so we kindly decline the offer? Now, how many times if the host plops the desert tray in front of us, following a brief period of time do we cave in?

Make the right decision and move on.

Practice the strategic allocation of attention. If done, you will have a better grasp of the meaning nothing worth having comes easy.

The Recipe for Healthy Eating: Simplicity

There should be no convincing needed of how many players there are in the food industry, all playing tug of war and you the consumer barely holding on to one end of the rope.

Businesses are there to make profits which encompass not only the obvious farms, restaurants, and grocery chains but also the marketing, advertising, regulating and distributing entities. This interconnectedness has created such a complex infrastructure that many push aside the effort to obtain the knowledge of how that hot pocket came to existence on your plate which will soon be devoured in seconds.

It’s convenient for businesses to run off of complexity. We do not have the time nor energy to devote to areas where the rewards of understanding seem minuscule. If it were simple, the business would cease to exist.

This is imperative to understanding what to eat that’s conducive to our human anatomies. We are the only animal species that seek advice for what, when and how to eat. Coincidence in our capitalistic society?

Muddying the water was in the best interest of businesses with the consumers fueling their continued success at the expense of their wealth and health. Fortunately, if we just turn around, we’ll notice the river behind us and realize the mud will never dissipate because the water is stained brown.

More produce. Less meat. No processed foods. Small portions.

This runs opposite of what is profitable for businesses but until they genuinely care about people’s well-being, you should not continue to funnel money to give them more power.

Follow this simple recipe and not only will you feel, think and look better but you’ll be monetarily wealthier. We live in a time where produce is relatively cheap. Eat it. This route needs to be taken prior to discussing organic, GMO’s, antibiotic free, gluten free, whole wheat etc. Let’s hop on the time capsule to the past and eat what our ancestors had an abundance of.

Create the habit of following this guideline and the habit will eventually recreate you.

Uncomfortable Adventures

 

Sound appealing? Let me convince you otherwise being your subconscious has already answered.

Comfort gives us all a sense of security, the equivalent of a vehicle’s cruise control.

Placing yourself in a world where comfort is dislocated from your psychological state increases your attentiveness and awareness of not only yourself but of others. With fear, once it is conquered, the dopamine rush is our reward. That dopamine spike is what we obtain when we drink, smoke, drive over the speed limit, make risky decisions. The downside of displacing yourself from your norm into another culture is nowhere near the risk of our daily habits. The upside is for you to decide once you take the leap over.

Travel against the currents. This requires more effort but the reward is substantially greater. If the locals are accustomed to tourists, strap on their shoes and see what they see. They will aim to adapt to your language and norms to put you back into the comfortable lounge chair. The local believes if he makes more of a seamless transition for you, he will profit more and you tend to enjoy the lack of effort required to reverse the tides.

Do not become complacent while traveling, let alone real life. Travel to increase your knowledge of the world. Dogmatism is one of the seven deadly sins of speaking (gossiping, judging, negativity, complaining, excuses, lying being the others). The belief that your opinion is fact will be shattered when you and a local are looking at the same object, landscape, abstract; you name it but are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum on perspective.

This should increase your self-awareness. Question yourself? How do you cope with a different view of the world where back home it was regarded as a law and not as a theory? Reflect on your answers. Being self-aware increases our life’s satisfaction. Let this be a stride for what we all are after.

This leads to the final point. We can all agree that Americans should have a quota on how much an individual can speak per day. Most of what is said does not add any value to our lives. Displacing yourself into a place where the language differs allows us, by creating a barrier, to listen more and speak less. What a wonderful sound to mindfully listen and observe without having the full ammunition to communicate back.