Eat [and Drink] Less Plastic

Drink water from your tap. Drinking water is one of the biggest contributors to microplastic ingestion, but bottled water has about double the microplastic level of tap water, according to Mason, making it a poor choice for those who want to consume less plastic. Some bottled waters have also been found to have high levels of PFAS chemicals. Mason says that unless you know your tap water is unsafe, you should opt for that over anything in a plastic bottle.”

-Kevin Lorea, “How to Eat Less Plastic.” Consumer Reports. August 13, 2019.
  • Drink water from your tap.
  • Don’t heat food in plastic.
  • Avoid plastic food containers.
  • Eat more fresh food.
  • Minimize household dust.
  • Reducing plastic pollution is going to require government intervention.

Open question: Does microplastic pollution and its effects on hormones and reducing fertility an existentional threat to the human species?

Charisma

“The truth is that charisma is a learned behavior, a skill to be developed in much the same way that we learned to walk or practice vocabulary when studying a new language.”

-Bryan Clark, “What Makes People Charismatic, and How You Can Be, TooThe New York Times. August 15, 2019.

Argues that charisma is presence, power and warmth. When we focus on other people, they tend to notice our attention and the fact that we find them worth noticing. People like to be noticed, and they tend to like people that notice them.

Power seems to be used in the sense of confidence. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. But, most people don’t have too much confidence. They have too little. As a result, the end up doing a lot of complaining: about their lack of agency, about the unsatisfactory things in their lives, etc. No one wants to hear about other people’s problems. Everyone has plenty of their own.

Warmth. In a cold, cruel world, be someone else’s sunshine. Be everyone’s sunshine, if you can. Some people seem like they are born that way. Even if you weren’t, who doesn’t appreciate the effort?

Suggestions for improving your charisma? Learn to tell stories. Our stories make us relatable and telling them to others requires focus, confidence and the vulnerability of sharing ourselves with others, which if it isn’t warmth, it’s in the neighborhood.

Bad Exercise Advice, Exhibit B

“Despite the apparent complexity of modern exercise programs, you really have only two options if you want to get fitter: you can train harder than you’re currently training, or you can train more. Those two variables, intensity and volume, are the basic levers that all training plans fiddle with in various ways. But let’s be honest: two variables is still too many. We all secretly want to know which one is really the master switch that controls our fitness.”

-Alex Hutchinson, “Is It More Important to Run Faster or Run Longer?Outside. August 14, 2019.

As covered in the discussion on adaptation response, there is no “master switch that controls our fitness.” If you want to be good at doing push-ups, do push-ups. If you want to swim the English Channel, then practice swimming miles at a time in cold water currents. If you want to be able to hold your breath for an extended time, then practice holding your breath. If you want to have six-pack abs, then you need to reduce your eating and increase your activity to the point that you can get your body fat below 10%. Everybody has six pack abs, it’s just that, for most of us, they are hidden behind a thick layer of fat.

Of course, goals tend to be more complex. If you want to run your first marathon, then you need to run more. You should work up to running 50 miles a week and be able to run for 20 miles straight a month before your race.

If you want to run faster than your last marathon, then you can increase your mileage up to 120 miles a week of elite runners and you can work in as much speed work as your body can handle at that volume, which will not be much unless you have been running that kind of volume for years and your body has adapted to it.

It is possible to run shorter distances fast and move up to the marathon. So, after years of adapting to a high volume of speed and middle distance running, you can start training for longer distances and increase mileage.

However, if your new to running, your goal is to run a marathon and you don’t have a decade time horizon to do it, then it’s probably easier to start with running more rather than a running program focused on running faster. Conversely, if your goal is to run a sub-20 minute 5k race, then running more than 50 miles a week will likely make you slower, not faster. Better to do intervals of 5k, a mile, a half-mile and a quarter mile with lower total mileage.

Your training has to reflect the activity you are training for. Sprinting is not the same as long distance running. Cycling isn’t the same leg exercise as doing squats and deadlifts. Our body (and mind) adapts to the training (or lack thereof) we give it.

Why Meditate?

Note: The following is a summary and paraphrasing of Ayya Khema’s Being Nobody, Going Nowhere. Boston, Mass.: Wisdom Publications, 1987. It’s the best book on Buddhism I know of.

Meditation is not something extra. It is not a hobby to be done in our spare time. It is essential to our well-being. We are all sick and meditation is the medicine. Medicine is of no use if we don’t take it. Don’t just read the label, swallow the pill!

Everything is mind-made. Most lives are lived in dreams of the past and the future, good and evil, likes and dislikes, yes or no, mine and yours.

But, the mind can only do one thing at a time. If you are meditating, you cannot do anything else. The dream ends. Thinking stops. Awareness and calm sets in.

Calm is the means. Insight is the end. The means are essential and necessary but they must never be confused with the end. Without calm, we cannot have clarity and insight.

When there’s no one thinking, there’s no ego confirmation. Non cogito ergo non sum. I do not think, therefore I do not exist. If there is no one, how can there be any suffering?

Thinking is suffering no matter what we think. Learn to think what you want to think (or to not think at all) and when one learns that one need never be unhappy again.

Meditation is practicing non-reaction. In meditation, we experience a feeling. We learn to not react to that feeling and then to let go of it. The more skillful we become at not reacting, the quick and easier will be the results. But full attention must be on the use of the tool – not the result.

What is felt in the meditative experience, one knows. What one knows from experience, nobody can dispute. Intellectually, we can know that thoughts and feelings are phantasms. But, if we still react to them as if they are real, do we really know?

There is no substitute for experience. When we see that we don’t need to pay any attention to our thoughts, it becomes easier to drop them. When we see that we don’t have to react to feelings, it is much easier to stop reacting.

Going back to the breath again and again will lead us toward the attainment of calm. Thought is not an intruder trying to bother us. It’s a teacher trying to teach us. As thoughts arise, we can acknowledge them, label them and let them go. Just as we can see a bird, or a robin, recognize it and go back into a larger awareness experiencing being outside.

In the last analysis we are all our own teachers and our own pupils and that is how it should be. But we need to know what to look at in order to be taught by it.

In meditation we have the opportunity to get to know the mind – the thinking that’s going on – and learn not to get involved with it. Most thoughts the mind produces are much better experienced, acknowledged, and dropped.

Adaptation Response

“Stress + Rest = Growth. It’s as simple and as hard as that.”

-Brad Stulberg, “The Equation That Will Make You Better at Everything.” Outside Magazine. July 26, 2019.

There’s a lot of advice on the internet. From the vague, live your best life, to the strangely specific, drink more water, everyone has a suggestion about changes we can make that is going to make our lives better. Most of it is harmless, even if it is baloney.

But, this idea about stress is good, if poorly articulated. The problem is that ‘Stress’ should be ‘Training.’

Stress is not necessarily good. Hate your job and find yourself wolfing down a whole Meat Lover’s Pizza from Domino’s Pizza every Friday night? That’s a maladaptive response to stress.

Training, on the other hand, implies a purpose. It also implies progression.

I read an article in Men’s Journal several years ago, called “Everything You Know About Fitness Is a Lie.” It covers a lot of territory, such as bad gyms, but the main idea is that if we want to be fit, we need to train to be strong. If you want to get strong, you should probably listen to Mark Rippetoe:

It is May 15, and you decide that this year you are going to get a suntan – a glorious, beautiful, tropical suntan. So you decide to go out in the back yard (to spare the neighbors and innocent passers-by) to lay out at lunchtime and catch a ray or two. You lie on your back for 15 minutes and flip over to lie on your belly for 15 minutes. Then you get up, come in and eat lunch, and go back to work. That night, your skin is a little pink, so the next day you just eat lunch, but the following day you’re back outside for your 15-minutes-per-side sunbath. You are faithful to your schedule, spending 30 minutes outside every day that week, because that’s the kind of disciplined, determined person you are. At the end of the week, you have turned a more pleasant shade of brown, and, heartened by your results, resolve to maintain your 30-minutes-per-day schedule for the rest of the month. So, here is the critical question: what color is your skin at the end of the month?”

-Mark Rippetoe, “The Biggest Training Fallacy of All.” StartingStrength.com. May 6, 2013.

The vast majority of people get this question wrong because they think a month long change of behavior is stress. The reality is that we have adapted to the new stress within a week. As Mark puts it:

“[A]daptation occurs in response to the stress, and specifically to that stress, because the stress is what causes the adaptation. This is why calluses form on the part of your hand where the bar rubs, and not on the other parts of the hand, or on your face, or all over your body. It can obviously be no other way.

Furthermore, the stress must be capable of being recovered from. Like the 2 hours of sun the first day or the 55 bench reps once a month, the stress must be appropriate for the trainee receiving it. So, if the stress is so overwhelming that it cannot be recovered from in time to apply more of it in a time frame which permits accumulated adaptation, it is useless as a beneficial tool that drives progress. And if this excessive stress is applied so infrequently that any adaptation to it has dispersed before you get around to it again 3 months later, no adaptation can accumulate.

An awareness of this central organizing principle of physiology as it applies to physical activity is essential to program design. Exercise and training are two different thingsExercise is physical activity for its own sake, a workout done for the effect it produces today, during the workout or right after you’re through. Training is physical activity done with a longer-term goal in mind, the constituent workouts of which are specifically designed to produce that goal. If a program of physical activity is not designed to get you stronger or faster or better conditioned by producing a specific stress to which a specific desirable adaptation can occur, you don’t get to call it training. It is just exercise…

-ibid.

You could replace stress for exercise in the preceding paragraph, and it would still be right. The adaptive response is a fact of life, whether we are talking about our careers, skills or relationships. But, how many of us are deliberately training ourselves toward goals by seeking out new challenges? The problem with advice like: “Stress + Rest = Growth” is that it’s like sitting out in the sun for 15 minutes a day and thinking it’s going to result in a tan. Having a goal is useless if the road you are walking on won’t take you there. In order to grow, we need to plan and progress toward it. Stress, by itself, isn’t going to do it.

Authentic Happiness

“The purpose of this website is to provide free resources where people can learn about Positive Psychology through readings, videos, research, opportunities, conferences, questionnaires with feedback and more. There is no charge for the use of this site. If you would like to take the questionnaires, you first need to register.

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. This field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of work, love and play.”

https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/

6 Reasons We Choose Badly in Love – The Book of Life

“The fastest, easiest and most inadvertent technique for messing up one’s life remains that of getting into a serious relationship with the wrong person: with very little effort, and without any innate taste for catastrophe, one can end up – by middle age or earlier – contemplating wholesale financial ruin, loss of parental rights, social opprobrium, homelessness, nervous exhaustion and shattered esteem, to begin a lengthy list of harrowing side-effects.”

—”6 Reasons We Choose Badly in Love.” TheSchoolofLife.com.

True, but at the same time, I’m wondering what the Book of Life suggests we do. It’s one thing to know common mistakes. It’s another to go from where you are now to somewhere better. Going to go a little deeper here and see if there’s anything useful.

20 Years of Blogging: What I’ve Learned

“…always write with the idea that what you’re sharing will live for months and years and decades.

I also do still strongly believe that someone who really has a strong point of view, and substantive insights into their area of interest, can have huge impact just by consistently blogging about that topic. It’s not currently the fashionable way to participate in social media, but the opportunity is still wide open.”

—Anil Dash, “20 Years of Blogging: What I’ve Learned.” AnilDash.com. July 22, 2019.

The post is a little heavy on “I told you so,” but there’s interesting nuggets if you want to dig for them. I particularly liked this from his fifteenth year anniversary post:

Meta-writing about a blog is generally super boring.”

The Crane Wife

“‘The Crane Wife’ is a story from Japanese folklore. I found a copy in the reserve’s gift shop among the baseball caps and bumper stickers that said GIVE A WHOOP. In the story, there is a crane who tricks a man into thinking she is a woman so she can marry him. She loves him, but knows that he will not love her if she is a crane so she spends every night plucking out all of her feathers with her beak. She hopes that he will not see what she really is: a bird who must be cared for, a bird capable of flight, a creature, with creature needs. Every morning, the crane-wife is exhausted, but she is a woman again. To keep becoming a woman is so much self-erasing work. She never sleeps. She plucks out all her feathers, one by one.”

—CJ Hauser, “The Crane Wife.” The Paris Review. July 16, 2019.