Category Archives: Health

Guns in America

ground droneIf this ground drone was available, some people would buy them. It might be someone with good intentions and training, or maybe not.

History is an early warning system for our public health that America keeps ignoring. Now we’re paying increasingly higher public health costs due to letting just about anyone buy any type of gun they like.

So the question is when will we update the second amendment to reflect current conditions?

A couple of hundred years ago guns were  cumbersome, time-consuming to reload, and fired only a single shot. The authors of the second amendment wrote on parchment using a feather for a pen. And, you could own another person too if you wanted to.

I’ve shot, owned, and still like guns. But just like driving a car, having and using a gun should be a privilege not a right. People should be able to have guns but they should be required to get training and certification to buy and keep one.

The difference between insanity and genius is measured only by success. The public health impact of guns on Americans is insane. America can fix this situation.

That creepy feeling

spotlight skeletonUnsure of what a person who you don’t know might do next? You might get a creepy feeling.

Being “creeped out” signals that someone or something could be dangerous.

Things we know are dangerous just scare us right away. With a shark, a rattlesnake, or a member of a motorcycle club there’s no creepiness – they’re dangerous. But if we’re unsure about  someone’s motives, that’s when things get creepy.

When it comes to people, there’re some things that trigger the creepy-ness radar. Most people think creeps are more likely to be men. Especially if they work as clowns, taxidermists, sex shop owners, or funeral directors.

Also, uncommon physical characteristics contribute to perceptions of creepiness. Things like peculiar smiles, greasy hair, long fingers and pale skin are likely to be rated as creepy by people in surveys.

So, make sure to wash your hair and get a little sun. While you’re at it, avoid working in occupations involving “threatening stimuli” like death or sex. And don’t forget to make your motives clear, but don’t stand too close to the person you’re talking too.

Self-care

pressureYou’re not slacking off if you put your well being first.

During preflight safety demonstrations, flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first, before trying to help anyone else. You’re not much use to someone else if you’re compromised too.

Most of do it or have done it, skipping meals until a project is done, staying up late then getting up early, saying you’ll do some exercise later.

It’s too bad that lots of people treat their well being as a sort of reward for something else they’re working on. People often don’t realize they’re short changing themselves, taking care of yourself shouldn’t be seen as a reward. It’s part of the process of being well which might help you better do those other things.

 

The eating window

t-boneIt’s possible to measure fasting in hours rather than days. Maybe we should start calling it time spent without eating. Or even turn it around by just focusing on the time when you’re eating, instead of the time you’re not eating.

I’m not sure what’s the best way to reframe fasting. But the way we frame something is important. Most people think of fasting as not eating anything for a long time, probably imagining Jesus in the desert for 40 days, or protesting prisoners not eating until their demands are met.

Who cares? Right now not too many people care. But there’s growing evidence that we should care. Eating less frequently during the day (or possibly fasting every now and then during the month) could have real health benefits. If it turns out that a little  fasting is good for you, but calling it fasting will make it a harder sell.

Think about this, Mark Mattson who’s a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging eats during a six hour window in the evening (not eating for 16 to 18 hours a day is called intermittent fasting). He’s considered a leader in the area of cellular and molecular mechanisms, one of the most highly cited neuroscientist in the world.

“His Laboratory showed that intermittent fasting has profound beneficial effects on the body and brain including: 1) Improved glucose regulation; 2) Loss of abdominal fat with maintenance of muscle mass; 3) Reduced blood pressure and heart rate, and increased heart rate variability (similar to what occurs in trained endurance athletes; 4) Improved learning and memory and motor function; 5) Protection of neurons in the brain against dysfunction and degeneration in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and Huntington’s disease. He further discovered that intermittent fasting is beneficial for health because it imposes a challenge to cells, and those cells respond adaptively by enhancing their ability to cope with stress and resist disease.” according to the NYT.

Intermittent fasting isn’t mainstream (yet). But as the evidence that it’s good for us accumulates and is reframed, it might get some traction.

Connections

stormtroopersWhen companies are optimizing everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.

Teams are now the fundamental unit of organizations. Studies show that groups tend to innovate faster, see mistakes more quickly and find better solutions to problems. 

Google has scrutinized everything.Working to figure out what made a team successful, Google kept coming across research focusing on what are known as ‘‘group norms.’’ Norms are the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules for how we function when we gather. Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. Team norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team.

There were two behaviors all the good teams generally shared.

First, members spoke in roughly the same proportion. On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. 

Second, the good teams were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues. The more successful teams seemed to know when someone was feeling upset or left out. People on the ineffective teams seemed, as a group, had less sensitivity toward their colleagues.

On the better teams people may speak over one another, go on tangents, and socialize instead of remaining focused on the agenda. The team might seem inefficient to a casual observer. But all the team members speak as much as they need to. They’re sensitive to one another’s moods and share personal stories and emotions. While the team may not contain as many individual stars, the sum will be greater than its parts.

Other behaviors seemed important as well — like having clear goals and creating a culture of dependability. But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

Establishing psychological safety is messy and difficult to implement. The kinds of people who work at Google are often the ones who became software engineers because they wanted to avoid talking about feelings in the first place.

No one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office, leaving part of their personality and inner life at home. But to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things without fear of recriminations. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning we want to know that our team mates really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.

At the core of Silicon Valley are certain self-mythologies and dictums: Everything is different now, data reigns supreme, today’s winners deserve to triumph because they are cleareyed enough to discard yesterday’s conventional wisdoms while searching out the disruptive and the new.

The paradox is that Google’s intense data collection and number crunching have led it to the same conclusions that good managers have always known. In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.

When companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.

That’s my condensed version of a NYT article about successful team at Google.

It turns out that the best teams engender a feeling of psychological safety through building “connections” between team members.

This finding struck me because the importance of connections with other people has showed up in two other spots I know of.

One is in the Harvard Medical School study that began monitoring a group of young men starting in 1939 (the ones left are now old).

For 75 years, at least every two years, the participants were evaluated on their mental and physical health, career and retirement  satisfaction, and marital happiness.

The study’s goal identifying the  predictors of healthy aging. What’s the big takeaway from the study? Connections (good relationships) make us healthier and happier, and live longer. It wasn’t money or fame.

And the other spot I know of is from sociologist Dr. Brene Brown who says that the surest thing she took away from 12 years of research is “that connection is why we’re here.”

Keep building those connections for a better life at work and at home.

Everyday system for walking more

NYC early snowThis is the fifth of seven posts about simple everyday systems for managing your time, health, and eating developed by Reinhard Engels. Fifteen or so years ago, Reinhard was an overweight computer programmer who ate poorly, sometimes drank too much, and avoided exercising.

For most things simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and according to Thoreau, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

So Reinhard created habits that were easy to do and could be sustained forever. He didn’t like complicated exercise routines – he wouldn’t like doing them and would likely stop if he made it to a goal.

About ten years ago, I stumbled across Reinhard’s idea for exercising for 14 minutes a day using a sledgehammer to mimic shoveling and other common movements.

Starting there, I checked out his other systems. They were easy to implement and claimed longterm results for himself.

I didn’t really go whole hog on his system because I was already doing, and enjoying, other stuff like lifting weights, but I have used his sledgehammer idea, more as a fun way to rehab from injury.

Anyway, what follows are my shortened versions, from his website and podcast explanations, of his “everyday systems.” I did it for myself to have the ideas in one spot, and for you too, if you’re interested.

“Urban Ranger” is a system for convincing yourself to build the habit of purposeful walking. It’s probably the everyday system I’d choose if I had to pick just one, because it’s at least as good for the mind as for the body.

You’ve probably heard a million things about how great an exercise walking is supposed to be. What you need, then, is something to get you fired up about this humble, uninspiring activity, so you’ll actually do it.

You need to convince yourself that walking is not some last ditch compromise shadow exercise, but that it’s exciting. That’s where urban ranger comes in. It’s like a role that you play, an alter ego. A way of re-imagining yourself so that walking becomes the most important, the most exciting thing that you could possibly be doing. Sound excessive? If you’re like me, that’s what it’s going to take to get you walking at all.

Think about it. We’ve invented one class of machine to spare us physical exertion and another class of machine to inflict it back on us again, but in an infinitely more boring, painful, and useless manner. We berate ourselves that we don’t labor in our leisure time, that we don’t spend our freed hours in that torture chamber, the gym.

You probably don’t exercise as often as you think you should, if at all. Your problem is that you’re squandering willpower on a hopeless task: exercise divorced from purpose. The solution: purposeful exertion; in particular, walking.

You probably can’t kill a caribou for dinner, or plow a field, or do most of the useful work that your ancestors did for thousands of generations. But you can still walk. And believe it or not, walking is enough.

Walking is still useful, interesting, and pleasant. You can think and observe while you walk. You get somewhere. You don’t need any special equipment or outfits. It provides great health returns on very little investment. And you can do it for the rest of your life.

Walk to and from work. If you work too far from home to walk the whole way, practice the noble sport of distance parking and walk part of the way. Walk to run errands. Walk up stairs instead of taking the elevator or escalator. Walk during your lunch hour. Walk when you’ve got cell phone calls to make. Walk to listen to an audiobook. Walk when you’re depressed. Walk when you don’t know what to do next.

The question should be “when shouldn’t I walk?” Walking is the default activity. It’s everything else that needs a justification.

For the sake of your own dignity and the beauty of the world, please don’t put on any silly outfits and pump your arms like a maniac. Just dress and walk normally. That 5% extra health benefit or whatever that you supposedly get from pumping your arms won’t mean a thing when you stop after 3 months because you are tired of looking like a bozo. You’ll unconsciously get faster as you do it a lot. So relax.

You are smarter when you walk. It’s not just the physical movement, it’s the changing scenery around you. I bring a digital voice recorder along to capture my brilliant ideas, to-do lists, and diaryesque inanities. Once a week or so I transcribe it to my computer. I thought of most of the other everyday systems like this, while walking.

How’d Alexander the Great’s army get to India from Greece? How about the Grande Armee of Napoleon, how’d they get all the way from Paris to Moscow? They walked. For thousands of years winning a war was largely a matter of being there before your enemy. So get the aqua sweatpants out of your mind, this is man stuff!

Everyday system for eating less

foodThis is the fourth of seven posts about simple everyday systems for managing your time, health, and eating developed by Reinhard Engels. Fifteen or so years ago, Reinhard was an overweight computer programmer who ate poorly, sometimes drank too much, and avoided exercising.

For most things simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and according to Thoreau, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

So Reinhard created habits that were easy to do and could be sustained forever. He didn’t like complicated exercise routines – he wouldn’t like doing them and would likely stop if he made it to a goal.

About ten years ago, I stumbled across Reinhard’s idea for exercising for 14 minutes a day using a sledgehammer to mimic shoveling and other common movements.

Starting there, I checked out his other systems. They were easy to implement and claimed longterm results for himself.

I didn’t really go whole hog on his system because I was already doing, and enjoying, other stuff like lifting weights, but I have used his sledgehammer idea, more as a fun way to rehab from injury.

Anyway, what follows are my shortened versions, from his website and podcast explanations, of his “everyday systems.” I did it for myself to have the ideas in one spot, and for you too, if you’re interested.

We all can see there’s a big problem these days of being overweight. The solution, the everyday system that solves this problem, is called the “No S Diet” (you can pronounce it the no-es-diet).

The No S Diet is: No snacks, NO sweets, no seconds – except (sometimes) on days that start with S. That’s actually the whole system right there. 14 words. The worlds shortest effective diet plan.

“Don’t eat too much” is shorter, just 4 words, but it isn’t effective. But the No S is effective.  I lost over 40 pounds on No-s and kept it off for almost 5 years now. No yoyoing. Other people on the no s diet bulletin board have lost even more weight than this. If you’re antsy to learn more now, go to nosdiet.com. Or everydaysystems.com.

Everyday system for moderate drinking

NYEBoweryThis is the second of seven posts about simple everyday systems for managing your time, health, and eating developed by Reinhard Engels. Fifteen or so years ago, Reinhard was an overweight computer programmer who ate poorly, sometimes drank too much, and avoided exercising.

For most things simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and according to Thoreau, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

So Reinhard created habits that were easy to do and could be sustained forever. He didn’t like complicated exercise routines – he wouldn’t like doing them and would likely stop if he made it to a goal.

About ten years ago, I stumbled across Reinhard’s idea for exercising for 14 minutes a day using a sledgehammer to mimic shoveling and other common movements.

Starting there, I checked out his other systems. They were easy to implement and claimed longterm results for himself.

I didn’t really go whole hog on his system because I was already doing, and enjoying, other stuff like lifting weights, but I have used his sledgehammer idea, more as a fun way to rehab from injury.

Anyway, what follows are my shortened versions, from his website and podcast explanations, of his “everyday systems.” I did it for myself to have the ideas in one spot, and for you too, if you’re interested.

This might be a good one for the New Year. Just say’n.

“The glass ceiling system” for healthy and pleasurable moderate drinking.

This isn’t intended for people who suspect they may be alcoholics. Please keep looking, but don’t look here.

Ok, so what’s the problem “the glass ceiling is trying to solve? Occasional excessive drinking.

Most of the time you’re fine, drinking like a normal person, but every once in a while you get  smashed, and could find yourself in trouble.

The obvious solution is to just stop drinking. But there’re two problems with the cold turkey strategy. One is that research shows that moderate drinking is ridiculously good for you. Moderate drinking defined as a drink or two a day, depending on how big you are. The other is that moderate drinking is a great pleasure. For moderate alcohol consumption, with its clean bill of health, the claim of pleasure is real and legitimate.

So how do you balance this if you’re given to occasional over drinking, and still want to get the health and pleasure benefits of moderate drinking? A two drink a day absolute maximum. No more than too glasses a day. That’s your glass ceiling. Yes, there’s fudge room. But not so much fudge room that you’re going to wind up with problems.

Two glasses are clearly different from three. On the other hand, there is wiggle room. You could get an enormous Bavarian beer stein and fill it up with Everclear, but you can’t do it without seeming like an astonishing drunkard. You can’t hide your excess in lots of dainty little increments, and excess, when it’s out in the open like that, is shameful.

Shame has a bad rap these days, but shame can be good. Shame has been around for all of recorded history. It isn’t going anywhere. You might as well use it instead of fighting it or pretending it doesn’t exist. It’s powerful. Make shame your ally and shame will keep you reasonably moderate.

OK, other ambiguities and potential loopholes…

No refills. This should go without saying, but common sense sometimes has trouble with the obvious after a couple drinks.

And no saving up. Use it or lose it. If you don’t drink for ten days that doesn’t mean you can drink 20 drinks on day 11.

Allow for the occasional 4 drink event. Yes, 4 drinks is a binge. But as binges go, it’s as small as they get. If you’re the kind of person that needs a system like this, you probably would have had much more otherwise. But if you find yourself doing this a lot, alarms should go off.

A word of advice to those with unsympathetic drinking buddies: don’t tell them what you are doing. If you play it cool, chances are they won’t notice, especially if you alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. A tonic and tonic looks amazingly like a gin and tonic.

Conversely, when you’re starting out at least, I’d avoid mixed drinks that you mix yourself. The mix is camouflage. With a dash of cranberry juice you can bypass the shame of drinking a big glass of vodka. Shame is your friend.

If you are physically small or want to give yourself some extra buffer, lower the ceiling to 1 drink. Or have a variable ceiling of 1 drink on  week days, 2 on weekend days. But be sure you can stick with this. Much better to abide by a liberal law than break a strict one.

You’ll have a much easier time exercising moderation if you genuinely enjoy and respect what you drink. Don’t view it as drunk-juice. You’ll be drinking less, so spend a little more and get the good stuff. Moderation is an opportunity for greater pleasure.

And as an additional benefit is that your tolerance will go way down. I can now get a nice buzz from two drinks.

I haven’t been more than a little tipsy since I started this in early 2002, yet I enjoy alcohol far more than I ever did in my youth. Frankly, I’m amazed. 

That’s it for glass ceiling. It’s probably the simplest system I’ve discussed yet, but it changed my life.

Everyday systems

Saying - alwaysThis is the first of seven posts about simple everyday systems for managing your time, health, and eating developed by Reinhard Engels. Fifteen or so years ago, Reinhard was an overweight computer programmer who ate poorly, sometimes drank too much, and avoided exercising.

For most things simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and according to Thoreau, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

So Reinhard created habits that were easy to do and could be sustained forever. He didn’t like complicated exercise routines – he wouldn’t like doing them and would likely stop if he made it to a goal.

About ten years ago, I stumbled across Reinhard’s idea for exercising for 14 minutes a day using a sledgehammer to mimic shoveling and other common movements.

Starting there, I checked out his other systems. They were easy to implement and claimed longterm results for himself.

I didn’t really go whole hog on his system because I was already doing, and enjoying, other stuff like lifting weights, but I have used his sledgehammer idea, more as a fun way to rehab from injury.

Anyway, what follows are my shortened versions, from his website and podcast explanations, of his “everyday systems.” I did it for myself to have the ideas in one spot, and for you too, if you’re interested.

Moderation. Everybody from Aristotle to your Grandmother agrees that moderation is a good idea. It’s the wisdom of the philosophers and the virtue of the common folk. At least, it used to be. Of course, they had little choice but to be moderate.

Sheer scarcity kept them in line. Powerful traditions formed an additional line of defense. We, on the other hand, live in an age of material superabundance and declining traditions. So how, in the absence of the external pressures of scarcity and tradition, can we give moderation the teeth it needs to be effective? Think in terms of habit, semi-automatic behaviors requiring little willpower to maintain once they’ve been established.

It’s about establishing a consistent, almost automatic pattern of behavior over time. Much of the challenge of successful self-discipline is throttling your enthusiasm so you don’t burn out. Keep the focus on meeting some clearly defined, rigorously un-ambitious daily “good enough.”

Sustainability has to be the first thing you consider when evaluating a habit you want to acquire.

Maintenance is more important than progress. Progress is intrinsically temporary; maintenance is what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life.

Habit Branding. A good system should be “branded” with a striking image, pun, or metaphor. That way you’ll be much less likely to forget or ignore it, even when things get stressful. Some Everyday Systems are little more than a striking brand. Others have significantly more rules or back-story, but even these systems are well served by a brand: the brand gives you a handle, all you have to do is have the brand flash into your mind and you can easily retrieve all the rest.

No keeping track of things. The system shouldn’t require you to keep track of anything beyond the day of the week. You have too many things to keep track of already. Sometimes it’s interesting, but it gets unbearably boring and onerous fast.

Small time footprint. Ideally, the system should free up time, not take more of it. If your exercise routine, for example, competes in any significant way with your social life or even with your favorite television show, sooner or later your exercise routine is going to lose.

Socially Unobtrusive. Consider whether your habits are going to be unbearably irritating to the people around you. It’s not simply a matter of common courtesy: the consciousness of others’ disapproval will quickly wear you down.

Free or cheap. If you need anything at all, it should be nothing you can’t pick up at your local hardware store. 

Simple but specific. Common sense is great, but too vague to be a practical guide. Behaviors  involving complex decisions, might be precise, but can’t be automated into unconscious habit. A good system finds the happy medium: unforgettably simple but unambiguously precise.

Comic pragmatism. Self-help tends to take itself dreadfully seriously. But crazy is a great mnemonic device. If something is a little nuts, you’ll remember it. It’s a joke, but it’s also serious. It’s effective because it’s a joke.

Enjoyable. Successful self-discipline requires plenty of carrot as well as stick. Everyday systems make pleasure integral.

What’s up?

Hunter Thompson shootingWhat’s up with all the mass shootings in America?

At the lowest level, it’s embarrassing that nothing gets done about something that’s really a public health issue. I’ve had non- Americans tell me they’re afraid to visit the US. The likelihood they might be shot is low, but that sounds hollow.

There’re other weird ideas in America concerning guns.

Things change. In 1975 the term “active shooter” wasn’t around because the idea of someone walking into a building and shooting people was an alien idea, but in 1975 people also thought glaciers were permanent.

With less than 5% of the world’s population, America has almost half of the world’s civilian-owned guns. Countries with more guns have more gun homicides, and it turns out that Americans with guns at home are likelier to be killed or to kill themselves with guns.

Nowadays, overall shootings and murders are way down, but nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in the US are suicides.

Connecticut passed a law requiring gun purchasers to first obtain a license and gun homicides fell by 40% and suicides fell by 15%. Missouri repealed a similar law and gun homicides increased by 23% and suicides increased by 16%.

Freeing people from chains they revere is hard. We tend to explain our successes and failures in ways that allow us to live with ourselves afterward. Consider the 2nd amendment guaranteeing our right to own guns, back when it was written it was also legal to own another human being. Things can change.

Some people say, “Everything happens for a reason.”  What they’re really saying is, “I neither recognize nor accept that my actions have consequences I’m ultimately accountable for.” Albert Einstein said, “He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice.”

It’s hard for someone to learn what he thinks he already knows, but if you find yourself digging a hole you don’t need – stop digging.