Minimalism: A Complete Introduction

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Joël

Minimalism, what do you think when you hear these four syllables? Often the word sparks the imagination with images of people living on the street with little to no belongings. Otherwise of guys writing blogs about how they only possess 10 things, nomads that are always traveling, or people below the poverty line. However, is minimalism really about having nothing?

In this blog I cover the following topics:

  1. What got me into minimalism
  2. Where minimalism comes from
  3. What minimalism stands for
  4. How minimalism is a solution to everyday problems
  5. How minimalism can improve your life

Discovering Minimalism

As I traveled through South America I hitchhiked, I camped, I ran into the widest variety of people, and I experienced plenty adventures. It didn’t matter how uneasy the adventures were, in the end there was always a friendly hand that reached out. All the while though, I was carrying a backpack with 17 kilos of my belongings. Even though, I was carrying this tiny amount of my belongings, I still didn’t use parts of it. This made me wonder, why am I carrying this extra baggage around? Do I really need this stuff that only makes me tired when I walk in the burning sun? As a consequence, my interest in minimalism was born.

backpack

Now you might think: “you want to minimize when you are carrying around only 17 kilograms of your belongings, are you crazy?” Before I explain myself better here, let’s start with figuring out where the idea of minimalism comes from.

The Origin of Minimalism

Minimalism started out as a movement nowhere else than the United States. Why do I say “nowhere else than”? Because minimalism is basically the opposite of consumerism, and the US with around 21.000 trillion dollars has the biggest consumer market in the world. China comes in second place with 33% less.

I believe it’s logical therefore, that the counterpart of consumerism was born there as well. Somehow there were people that realized constantly buying stuff isn’t the way to happiness. Prominent people in this movement at the time were, and still are, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, Colin Wright from Exile Lifestyle and the Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. Nowadays, Matt D’avella, a famous YouTuber known for the Netflix documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, generates a lot of interest on the subject as well. He uses attractive documentary style filmed and edited YouTube videos to generate attention for the lifestyle.

These minimalists show that there are huge advantages in owning less. Some of them travel the world, others maintain a healthy bank account because of it, and others inspire newcomers.

The Strength of Minimalism

Now you might think, these people were far from the first to engage in lifestyles aimed at possessing less. This credo is a central part of Buddhism for example, Jesus didn’t have a lot either and there are plenty other prominent people in history that were already aware of the toxicity of owning a lot of stuff.

If there are alternatives to minimalism, the following question is only logical: “Do we need minimalism at all?”. Yes, I believe we do. Western society is about earning more, buying more and owning more. This process puts immense stress on our planet and adds little real value to our lives. Nowadays depression is the leading cause of disability on the planet and there is no way to buy yourself out of it.

Minimalism is an answer to these destructive consumerist tendencies. It’s a comprehensible philosophy: own less feel better. Most importantly though, it has a name. The simple fact that it has a name makes it easier for you to integrate it into your life. Further, it allows you to talk about it to your friends and to find the latest information by googling it. And by giving it a name you can identify with it. You can feel good and say, “I am a minimalist!”.

Stuff drags you down and don’t make you happy. They cost money and fill your life with emptiness. Throw them out and be happy again. That’s a lot easier to understand than the thousands of pages that come from religious scriptures.”

Minimalism and Western Society

A closer look at western society shows that minimalism is way better to help people live a simplified and meaningful life, than for example, religion. Here is why:

  • It’s recent. Religion has a hard time applying it’s thousands of years old scriptures to today’s rapidly changing society. As a consequence certain teachings become unbelievable. Minimalism on the other hand, talks about something that is relevant today and has a clear cut answer.
  • It has a direct answer on one of today’s major issues. Stuff drags you down and don’t make you happy. They cost money and fill your life with emptiness. Throw them out and be happy again. That’s a lot easier to understand than the thousands of pages that come from religious scriptures.
  • It reflects western society. Religion usually comes from one or two hard to understand books. Minimalism however, is on social media, blogs, YouTube and in easy to read books.
  • It is easy to identify with for citizens in Western Societies. Western citizens went to school, enjoy above average opportunities in life, and have to worry less about money than most of the world. This feeds into the philosophy of consumerism. Minimalism however, provides an alternative to this paradigm.
wall-closet

Getting Started

As I am a white male from north western Europe I had and have all the opportunities I could wish for. However, that filled backpack got me thinking anyway. As I mentioned before, I was carrying too much and at the same time I had a hard time finding my stuff. It turns out I am not that organized after all. A variety of people I have lived with over the years have notified me repeatedly of this quality, however, I only realized it recently. It’s hard to blame someone else for your mess when you are traveling by yourself.

Even though, I was already a minimalist by living out of my backpack, minimalism is not about having little things. It is about having the optimal amount of things. The idea is to live a life filled with things that actually add value. For me the trigger to think in this direction was the literal weight of what I was carrying, and the difficulty I had finding my stuff in a 60 liter backpack.

For you though, this could be a simple question: “What things around me do not add value to my life?”. If you realize that that’s most of your stuff, that’s ok. If you feel like it’s too much to get rid of all of it, that’s ok too. I think minimalism is a process that everybody can engage in on it’s own terms. What for the one means living out of a backpack, could mean to you organizing the attic or cleaning the garage.

organized-closet

As you get better at seeing what really adds value to your life, you will notice that most personal belongings don’t add any value.”

The Advantages of Minimalism

To finish this blog, here are the advantages of minimalism:

  • It’s fun. Minimalism is a sport you can get better at. At first it might be hard to reduce your belongings, but over time you see more and more what really adds value to your life and what doesn’t.
  • It saves money. You buy less so you spend less. At the same time you can sell all the stuff you don’t need anymore to earn some extra money.
  • It clears your head. You reduce the mess around you, which reduces the mess inside your head. Once you organize your surroundings with less distractions, you will notice the increase in concentration and peace in your mind.
  • It helps you reduce your environmental impact. You consume less so you create less waste.
  • It helps you generate time for the important things in life. Unconsciously all these things around you demand time. Be it to clean them, to organize them, to use them, to not break them, or worse even: think about them. With all that stuff out of your life you can enjoy time with your family, friends, do sports, travel or whatever makes you happy.
  • It shows you progressively how unimportant things are. As you get better at seeing what really adds value to your life, you will notice that most personal belongings don’t add any value. More and more you can disconnect, and live happily regardless of what you have or don’t have.
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Why You Should Question More

The question was, in between the mountains in the south of Brazil, what the hell happened on 9/11 in New York? Right after the tragedy went down there were various stories making rounds and over the years a fierce battle of truth was (and still is) being waged between so called conspiracy theorists and mainstream scientists. Regardless of why things happened there are certain things that every person can see for himself, however the mainstream story deviates from this. However, not only when it comes to 9/11, also when it comes to diet, your perception of yourself and what you experienced last weekend can be different in many ways. For me this is all the more reason to question. This is why you should as well.

Questionable Truths

How many buildings went down on 9/11? Two? Or three? There were three buildings that went down, nevertheless, little people are aware of this. Why isn’t this known to the general public, because it seems quite relevant right?

In a recent blog I wrote about Your Ultimate Personal Diet Guide because there is so much conflicting information around diet. I tried to lay out the commonalities between all this information. The main message is though, there is no one perfect diet. Even though, there are different sides that question each other – paleo, vegan, no gluten, no lactose and sugar free all have there supporters that claim to thrive on their choice.

On a similar note, when I come back after a holiday and my girlfriend is asked the same question as me, she will answer severely different. Where I will say it was awesome and I had a good time, she however, manages to create a detailed extravaganza of every small thing that happened. A couple of minutes into the story you have a strong visual image that stimulates your taste buds, visual capacity, and sound perception. However extrapolated from my perspective, we were both there. My question is then, who is right?

In Physical Therapy school in my first year I had to study for my living anatomy exams. I needed to know all the origin, endings, and functions of muscles, every bone, every ligament and a bunch of other things. More over, I had to be able to approach and show them physically to my examiner. One day we learned about the muscles of the forearm. A particular muscle there, the palmaris longus, that runs from the elbow to your hand palm is not present in all humans. I was one of the two people in my class that didn’t have it. Which body is right?

In his books People Like Us and A Good Man Sometimes Beats His Wife, Joris Luyendijk writes about his experiences as a news reporter in the Middle East. One thing in particular that I remember well of his books, is the news he reported on. It turned out that he was almost never allowed to have a look first hand. Because of security regulations and bureaucracy he always had to go through news agencies like Reuters. After, there is a whole process of finding out what actually happened and a struggle to put this into a two-minute item at the 8′ o clock news. I can’t help questioning then, what is left of what really happened once it reaches the sleepy post-diner public in the Netherlands?

Different Truths

In philosophical terms truth is explained as how the world actually is. The truth is though, that everything that we think and do we always perceive through our senses. This empirical way of perceiving the world is of the highest importance in our scientific understanding of the world. That is, something is only true once we have empirical evidence for it.

glasses

However, the result of this philosophy is that we build our ideas of what is true on what we belief is true rather than what actually is. Everything we say and write about truth is nothing more than a representation in either spoken language or writing of a supposed truth. 9/11, the stories on the 8 o’clock news, the holiday stories of me and my girlfriend, and the differences in anatomy are all subject to our beliefs. It get’s even more tricky once you talk about these things from memory.

Memory

According to Daniela Schiller, a professor at Mount Sinai School, our memory is all but to be trusted. It seems that memory isn’t static, but something that changes every time it is recalled. This means that every time I ask you how your weekend was, the memory of this experience changes. During my teenage years in high school I experienced this first hand week after week. As one of my friends would come on the bus he would tell me in colorful details how his weekend was. Upon arrival at school he would at least tell that “same” story at least three more times. Since we were in the same class I had the honor of hearing it over and over again. Interestingly every time the story got more colorful and exciting.

photo

I believe there is always a tension between what actually happened and what is experienced by someone. It depends on the state the person was in at the time of experiencing the event things might be memorized totally different.

No Independent Truth

As a consequence I realize that is hard to be sure if there is an independent truth out there. It always depends on the observer or the person experiencing it. This is something you become very aware of once you cross cultural boundaries, start working with new people, or move in with somebody you else.

If this knowledge becomes a common part of your belief system there is all the more reason to question, and subscribe less to one form of truth. This will not only allow you to adapt better in all day every day situations, it also leaves you free to redefine your beliefs any moment.

How To Use Your Daily Irrationality

As children we are often irrational, cruel, unforgiving, crying, screaming, laughing, and very irresponsible. I remember how I tried to rip my brother off on regular basis proposing shaky deals to make his toys mine. I remember screaming and cursing at my parents for no reason (in retrospect), I remember running through the house being frustrated, and I remember drinking so much beer when I was a bit older that I offered the sink in the upstairs bathroom a taste of the insides of my stomach. In the field of economics humans are considered rational beings. When you say A you do A. When you did that one time, you will do it another time as well. Children though, are far from capable of thinking and acting this way. Look at me as a child. However, are adults really that different?

If somebody scratches the screen of your television do you get angry? Have you ever screamed at somebody cutting you off in traffic? Have you ever drank alcohol and driven your car home anyway? All these things we would be able to explain when we are kids, but adults?

pillowfight

As adults we have developed prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is at the front of our skull, and is supposedly what makes us the most awesome animal on earth. However, why do we get in the car when we drank alcohol, even though we know the risks will never outweigh the cost? Why do we get angry when something material breaks down, even though this emotional state gets us far from what we want. And, why do we wage war across the globe, when this consequently, instantly or ultimately backfires?

Predictably Irrational

In his books Predictably Irrational and the Upside of Irrationality, behavioral economist Dan Ariely seeks to answer questions like these. Behavioral economics reasons that, unlike in the field of economics, humans are not rational. Humans are influenced by tons of factors like emotions, social norms, and relativity that make us a lot more irrational than most animals.

The crux lies in the fact that we are usually unable to recognize that we are limited in such profound ways. At the same time we have constructed our society with ourselves on top of  the world, that it is hard not to think that we are gods, compared to all other animals on this planet. This failure to recognize our own limitations makes it only more plausible that we cut ourselves short.

Relativity

The most important thing I learned from reading the books on irrationality is that human behavior is always subject to relativity. I believe this subject is so powerful because it makes a difference every day.

You walk into a store to look at shoes. You see two different pairs of which one is on sale. This is amazing, you are definitely going to buy these because you like them and they are cheaper than the other pair. However, did you need shoes in the first place?

I remember when I was traveling through Uruguay. There is this beautiful place called Cabo Polonio which is a protected area at the coast. Beautiful beaches, sandy roads, and only accessible by walking 10km or a half an hour off-road truck ride. Obviously this place is very expensive. After I continued hitchhiking and ended up at an Eco Camping the day after. Even though it was cheaper than Cabo Polonio, my friend considered me crazy. She had booked her stay at Cabo Polonio earlier and had payed a lot less.

cabo-polonio

You are selling your car, your customer bargains a €100,- discount, however you still earn €5000,-. Then when you walk into the supermarket and you are not buying the strawberries today because they are €1,-, more expensive than normal.

This relativity is being used on us all the time by marketing companies making us buy stuff we don’t need. Therefore to be aware of this, might not only make decisions more satisfying in the long term, it might also save you a couple of bucks.

Next time fight a bit harder to keep the price of the car you are selling up, and buy the strawberries. The next time you walk into a store compare the clothes with what is hanging in your wardrobe at home instead with what’s on offer in the store. And, the next time you start fighting with your spouse over an unorganized living room, zoom out and wonder what would you like your interaction with the other to be like in this very moment, instead of going berserk over an easy to solve issue.

Failure to Consider Human Adaptability

This fascinating concept I had never really considered but is truly remarkable. I for myself realized that I have very little trouble traveling alone, living abroad, learning new languages, and taking on the challenge to integrate in different places. Nevertheless, plenty friends, family and others I know regularly comment “that they could never do that”.

wheelchair-racer

In his books Dan Ariely uses his own example being severely injured after being hit by an exploding magnesium flare. After this he never managed to live without pain. Particularly his right arm has never fully recovered. At the time the doctors proposed amputating the arm and installing a prosthesis. He decided not to, as he could not see himself live without the arm.

Now imagine the last time you lost a loved one or you broke up. This usually is accompanied by grief, confusion, and often also hopelessness. “How can I live without this person?” you wonder. Over time however, the pain gets less, and life continues.

If you would have taken your adaptability into account at the time, what would the situation have looked like?

Or on a more material note – remember when you bought that awesome new Iphone with retina screen, the most beautiful on the market. Two weeks later however, you drop your new phone and there is a giant crack in the screen. First you are angry and frustrated, but 4 months later you are still walking around with that crack in you screen.

Take Home Messages

Once you realize that you are probably more capable of adapting to difficult situations life should already become a bit brighter. Similarly if you manage to zoom out at any moment of comparison – is this what I want to compare or should there be other factors included?

I am a firm believer of the fact that once you know your limitations they are easily dealt with. Only being aware of them already makes a huge difference, at the same time this allows for using them. Ultimately, I know this will create freedom.

November in the Rear Mirror

November, what a beautiful month this was. The first time in half a year that I didn’t post a blog two weeks in a row. I was on holiday and finally visited the North-East of Brazil. This region has been recommended to me non-stop over the previous one and a half years. There, temperatures allow for non-stop flip-flopping, shorts, and no shirt. Coconuts cheaper than water, fruits I had never heard of before, and cashew nuts as fresh as water after being dehydrated for days. This does mean however, that I only published two blogs this month. Underneath you will find the usual monthly recap of both of them.

Where Business, Buddhism, and Belly Come Together

In this blog post I aimed to find common features of three on the surface very distinct topics. I like to view at things from a perspective of cohesion and similarity. Because I believe that deep down all things are the same.

This also goes for Buddhism, business and your belly. All of them thrive on philosophies that the whole cannot function if its’ parts are not in optimal condition. In Buddhism it’s about aligning your thoughts and emotions with what you do, in business it’s about letting every single employee thrive so that the whole company thrives as a consequence. And when it comes to your belly it is about aligning what you do with your mouth to let your body profit as a consequence.

Why Do We Eat?

I did a spontaneous fast for 24 hours. I can’t remember when was the last time I didn’t eat anything for that long. This made me wonder about the role of food in our lives, and if it’s that necessary at all?

I realized that eating for most of us is more a habit, a form of behavior if you will, than it is necessity. There are even people that claim to eat so little they should be starving to death, while at the same time there are people that eat so much they are eating themselves to death. So really, why do we eat?

Harmony is Where Business, Buddhism, and Belly Come Together

Harmony is an interesting thing, I recently noticed how it’s an essential part of very different things. The previous months I have been learning about “The Learning Organization”, how to create a sustainable business that doesn’t revolve around producing, but rather around learning where the production is a natural consequence. This has been an attitude natural throughout my life with all the necessary characteristics I had to develop. Most of all however, fall face down to the ground plenty of times. Interestingly, this is the state of the art in business. This surprised me and made me wonder why this attitude isn’t more prominent around me. What’s curious though, is that the whole idea of creating an organization around learning made me think about Buddhism. And my belly.

Business and the Learning Organization

Let’s start with business. As I used to be naturally resistant to anything that had a monetary ring to it. Be it capitalistic attitudes, investing, and choosing money over health and quality of life, I had also nullified everything with a business-air to it.

business-man

However, The Learning Organization is different. It is a concept coined by, and after the work and research of Peter Senge. He wrote all about it in his book the 5th discipline. A learning organization is all about creating an working environment that improves the ability to learn. This should both benefit the individuals that make up the organization as the collective whole. Consequently, the organization is not about producing, but about learning where the production is a consequence.

The 5 pillars of the learning organization are shared vision, personal mastery, systems thinking, mental models and team learning. Sounds familiar? Probably not. Shared vision is the idea that every single person in an organization has their own vision, generated by themselves, that adds to, and supports, the shared vision.

Personal mastery is self-improvement, reflecting on a regular basis, making mistakes, a lot, and learning from them. Team learning is about: yes you’re right, learning as a team. Think about a sports team becoming more and more fluent over the course of the season in their playing together, and winning the title. Now apply this to your office job.

Mental models are the assumptions we hold about the world, it is our personal lens through which we see things. These are deeply held beliefs, that can save energy in everyday life, but can also limit us from seeing reality clearly. Think of the idea that government officials don’t work hard. Surely, everything you see them do is at least slow. Your little sister is annoying because she always wants attention. After that, everything she does is asking for attention. But is she? Now apply this to your work environment, what are you thinking about others? Is this really true? Or did you just install a thought a couple of years ago that you have been reinforcing until now.

And finally, systems thinking. Seeing that problems occur systemically is something I was trained to do as a physical therapist. My shoulder hurts here! Treating “here” would mean I neglect the entire system (the body) that is made up of so many subsystems (joints, connective tissue, muscular system, neurological system etc.) that all are part of the problem. Instead of responding to losses in sales by lowering product prices, a systemic approach would mean that you question why your sales went down and aim to resolve that. Even though, this might be painfully confronting.

Buddhism

Now on to what Buddha said. Yes, Buddha, and it’s not that long of a shot as it turns out. Stick with me.

monk-hands

Buddha spoke of the noble eight-fold path to “enlightenment”:

  1. Step one is right view, seeing things as they are
  2. Step two right intentions
  3. Step three right speech or speaking truth
  4. Step four right action, the art of living
  5. Step five right livelihood, where love through work is made visible
  6. Step six is right effort
  7. Step seven right mindfulness
  8. Step eight right concentration

Living up to these steps will help you realize anything from 0 to a 100 on the scale on enlightenment. What I find thought-provoking is that step one to three, right view, right intentions and right speech are basically what is part of the mental models described before. Personal mastery is right action, and right livelihood. Right effort is personal mastery again and right mindfulness and right concentration could be part of a shared vision. Between your body and mind in this case.

The idea of Buddhism is to see reality as it is, to leave destructive thoughts, fairy tales, and everything else that clouds you from seeing it, at the door. This is equally important in the learning organization, where you want to act on reality, not what every person in the organization perceives as reality.

Where the idea of the learning organization is aligning you as an individual with the organization and vice versa. In the case of Buddhism it is about finding this alignment between mind, body and spirit.

The Belly

Now the belly. Still with me?

belly

So your belly is full of organs, mainly with your food processor starting with your mouth until, euh, the other side. The intestine with it’s brain-qualities is highly important in determining how you feel and behave. The easiest way to communicate with it, is through what comes in through your mouth. Alignment!

Are you thinking about what you will feel like after that stuff made your tongue jump from excitement?

Your belly will be happy if you accept that happens at point A will have consequences for point X, regardless if you are able to see it’s journey. This is why Buddhists aim to live a non-invasive lifestyle, and this is why it’s essential in the learning organization that you become aware how the individual affects the whole and the other way around

Harmony

The thing all these ideas have in common is harmony. Harmony between colleagues, harmony between mind and body, harmony between thoughts and emotions, and harmony between what your tongue likes and what your stomach has to digest. However, it is impossible to achieve this harmony without learning. Nobody ever managed to do anything substantial overnight. To create a functioning learning organization is a long process, just like progressing along the 8-fold path set out by Buddha, and the way your body responds to different types of food, diet, and environmental stress. There is only one way to figure all this stuff out: try, and fail (more!).

If you find these things hard to connect I would ask you, why? Why are these long shots, why are these different things? Why do you believe that? Where does that idea come from?

I believe we divide the world to understand it better. Think of hierarchies so high you need binoculars to see the one on top, political parties, countries, ideologies, religion, body parts and time frames. All of these are mental models created to make the world easier to digest. I know it’s important to be aware of the fact that these things are nothing more than useful for navigating the physical world.

When it comes to more profound issues a holistic view is required. I recently read in Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (in my next life I want to be a physicist), by the Italian Physicist Carlo Rovelli, that space, time, and matter are all the same. It’s a big moving whole of which it’s individual parts cannot be perceived. What we see is the connections between all of it. Supposedly, humans are too limited in their perceptions that we cannot see this whole. As a consequence we think that we are progressing in time and that things and stuff are divided.

I find it not surprising that the things that work across the board all have this similar harmonious origin. If you want your organization you need to respect it’s individuals’ parts needs, if you want to reach you maximum spiritual potential you have to align every part of the self, and if you want to feel good in your belly, you have to figure out how to align everything from top to bottom. I hope that left you with an interesting image in your mind.

Why Do We Eat?

 Yesterday I had nothing to eat for dinner. I left home after lunch to go to work and only when I was far enough to not be able to return, I realized that I forgot to bring my food. As I wouldn’t be home before 22:30 I decided to skip dinner. When I woke up today I decided to not eat until midday to complete a 24 hour fast. Well, it turned out to be 22 hours, because I had to little concentration working. However, there did arise a fundamental question in me. Why do we eat?

Food Culture

In the Netherlands it’s common to eat bread for breakfast, a warm meal for lunch or dinner, and the other meal bread again. In Spain it’s common to eat a light breakfast accompanied by coffee, or sometimes a small glass of beer, lunch will be extensive, and only around 22:00 a light dinner is served. In Italy breakfast is usually a cup of coffee and a sweet pastry and in Brazil breakfast isn’t much either. Everything revolves around the lunch. In Indonesia it’s not uncommon to eat fried rice for breakfast, and for lunch, and for dinner – honestly though, I don’t remember exactly, that was what I preferred at least.

nasi

My point being, that in none of all these countries I visited anybody was eating their food because otherwise the decision to not eat, would be the last one they ever made. It seems to me that eating is more a behavioral pattern than an outright necessity in most of the cases.

Not only habitual factors play a role, but also social factors. When you would otherwise not have eaten, you are going to eat something because your friend asked you to.

From this perspective it makes a lot of sense what I mentioned in my previous blog about your ultimate personal diet guide, that the best way of eating is the one that you can adhere to. As you know now, diet is a behavioral pattern, where eating only is the final step.

So now that we have established that perhaps we mostly eat because it’s time to eat, what do we actually need?

Not Eating

In an article on the Scientific American about not eating there is substantial evidence for people to be able to survive 40 days of starvation, however this all depends with how much muscles or excess body fat you start losing weight. Mahatma Gandhi went on a hunger strike of 21 days when he was already a skinny man, and above 70 years of age. By the same token, there is a remarkable story of a Scotsman named Angus Barbieri that fasted for 382 days. He started when he was carrying around 209kg (!) of bodyweight though, he finally stopped his fast when he weighed 86kg.

Then in Autobiography of a Yogi, a book written by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1946, aimed to enlighten the west with the science of Yoga. In there he provides anecdotal evidence of a yogi that doesn’t eat at all through applying a certain yoga technique, she proved her ability various times by staying in closed quarters and observation for up to 30 days. Nowadays, equally there are people that claim to be living on little to no food as well.

When food is broken down it gets converted into ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), this is essential for cells and our body to function. However, theoretically there seems to be a way to generate ATP without food.

This might make all your bs-sensors to go on red-alert. As this is entirely understandable, to me it shows that as soon as you stop looking at food as something that is preventing you from dying, there is an opportunity to look for different ways to live.

My Fast

As I went into my spontaneous fast of only 22 hours, I quickly realized that my mind started playing tricks on me. What? You are not going to give yourself food? What if you are hungry when you sleep? What if you can’t do it? My mind did what it is good at, trying to stay comfortable.

I ate at midday, and went to bed without feeling hungry. When I was in bed I felt a little hungry, but totally manageable. After falling asleep, I only managed to get around 6 hours of sleep in. When I woke up however, I was more awake than usual. I felt light, and during my morning routine I noticed how little stiffness I experienced as opposed to other days. Later on, I started working on my computer and felt my concentration being slightly reduced. Overtime this increased, together with slight dizziness. After eating I went for a 4km walk which felt very light to begin with, but was quite hard at the end.

unhappy-plate

These are all normal symptoms, and you should take them into consideration before you start a fast. For more information on fasting do your research well, here is an article about the fasting mimicking diet, which might be more accessible for most people. This diet makes your body believe you are fasting, while you are still eating something.

The Science Behind not Eating

Fasting has been shown to reverse age related declines in stem-cell function, by stimulating it’s regenerative capacity. Then, a fasting-like diet, that means eating so little your body perceives it as fasting, combined with chemo-therapy was 50% more effective than chemo-therapy alone. By the same token, fasting 72 hours before chemotherapy reduced the toxicity of the treatment. In a small observational study they found that three man were able to reverse type 2 diabetes by fasting 24 hours every other day.

I believe it’s important to realize through which lens you are viewing the act of eating. Are you comparing it to deeply wired cultural beliefs, all the bogus being thrown at you by the media and social media, or by what your friends think? Probably all play their role in how you eat. Nevertheless, eating is essential to survive, but how much, to what ends, when, how often, and what can totally differ.

It’s important to realize through which lens you are viewing the act of eating.

The Body as a System of Balance

I see the body as a system of balance where there is a lot more going on than food or calories in, and exercise or calories out. Sleep, water intake, stress, beliefs, the people with whom you eat, and the way you cook all play their role. At the same time, when you eat your body needs to digest and has no (less) time to take care of regenerative processes, like regenerating damage related to aging or cleaning up cancerous cells.

The bottom line is, that we usually eat because it’s time to eat. If we eat because of what we need, a totally different equation evolves.

Underneath a video by Wim “The Iceman” Hof, explaining why he eats only one time a day. If he eats at the same time every day, he fasts for 24 hours, always.

October in the Rear Mirror

The Ultimate Guide to Your Personal Diet

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If there is anything confusing it’s all the information on diet and nutrition out there. Vegan, paleo, low carb, high carb, keto, and is wine ok, and what about gluten and lactose? Even though, there is a lot of conflicting information out there, this is mainly due to the fact that everybody is looking for (or claiming to have) the one best diet. However, this doesn’t exist, there is no one best diet for everybody. There is a best diet for you though, this just takes some guidance and a couple of things that are universally true. After doing personal research for 10 years already, I have come to the conclusion that there is a lot of bad information out there. Nevertheless, there are also some things that are universally true. In this blog post I try to provide you with the necessary background information and basic info to help you create your own personal diet.

How Dialogue Can Save the World

 

dialogue-sunsetAstonished by the effect of the Brazilian elections on my everyday life, I got into thinking how this could be done differently. Fake news, political polarization, and social media wars all seem to be far from a solution to the current situation in Brazil. What could this be then? Well, friggin talk maybe? Nicely said, dialogue, is the art of conversation while leaving all assumptions on the table. This means there is space to explore new perspectives to problems and come up with new solutions. It almost seems to be too basic to be effective. However, read the blog and figure out why it actually is the most effective.

How to Use SMART Goal Setting to Change Your Perception of Time

rawpixel-755616-unsplashWhere in the blog about time I discussed how your perception of time might be self limiting. In this blog post I go into a very basic but powerful solution: goal setting. By setting goals you accept objective time frames and you create a context that allows you to compare and put your current situation into perspective. Goal setting has been shown to improve performance and the ability to overcome mental trauma.

How Your Perception of Time is Limiting You and How To Change It

clockTime, was the first topic I wrote about on this blog. In the first blog I wrote about how my perspective on it changed. In this months’ blog post on time I get into how we perceive time subjectively and how it’s objectively progressing. I believe that a lot of our discomfort comes from the fact that we aren’t aware of the fact that whatever we experience things go as fast as they can. Read more on the blog itself to raise awareness to this interesting phenomenon that’s part of all our lives.

Why in Healthcare and Politics Treating The Root Cause is Not The Solution (Yet)

tree-trunkI take a closer look at the systems upon which healthcare and politics function. When taking a more profound look at both them it quickly becomes clear how there is no reason for it’s players to resolve issues right its’ source. From my perspective there is too much to be gained from short term decisions in terms of money and power. However more importantly, it is that we humans are incredibly bad at dealing with pain and discomfort. This inability is being capitalized upon in a variety of ways. Read this extensive blog on the topic to learn more about my view.

Why You Should Sleep Well Every Night

sleep-on-railroadMatthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep” is pretty straight forward as it is intriguing. If it does anything well is show how interesting human sleep is. At the same the case is simple: you should sleep well every night. In my blog I describe the most important things I learned from the book. Also, you will never have to feel guilty anymore for sleeping during the afternoon. No you are not lazy, you are smart!

The Ultimate Guide to Your Personal Diet

On your quest for your best diet you will encounter low carb, high protein, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto, nutritional balancing, high fat, eggs, no eggs, and alcohol; yes or no? Then, to eat healthy, should you avoid night shade vegetables, dairy, gluten, and red meat? And what about the heavy metals in salmon and tuna; good, or not? If there is one area where there is a lot of contradictory information available, it’s in the field of dieting and nutrition. The everlasting search for the optimal diet seems to take you from left to right and back again. However, let me give you the best tip regarding the ultimate diet right now: the best diet doesn’t exist.

Yes, you heard that right, the optimal diet doesn’t exist. This means that there is no one best diet for everybody. However, there is an optimal diet for you. The question is however, how do you figure this out?

This blog is based on what I have learned from over ten years of personal research. This started for me as a teenager trying to reduce fat and increase muscle mass. This led me down the path of defining everything by its protein contents, at the same time only focusing on muscle and fat. Nowadays, I aim to feel good all throughout the day, perform well both cognitively and physically, and look for sustainable ways to live. Interestingly, barely anything that I believed at the start has made it to my current lifestyle. Nevertheless, over time I have come to understand quite well what works for me. In this light, I hope I can shed some light on the direction you could take in figuring out your optimal personal diet.

The Garbage That Nobody Should Eat

Before I continue providing information on how to figure out your personal diet, there are a couple of things that every single person should avoid. This might be the moment you tell me: “I have a friend that can eat anything he wants, it doesn’t do anything to him.” Well, in reality, he is not. The fact that you don’t see it, and he doesn’t feel it, doesn’t mean there are no detrimental effects.

Processed food of any kind, fried, packaged, ready-to-microwave is not food. These are products. As a rule of thumb, everything you are not buying the way it came out of the ground or of the animal, is not food. It’s best to avoid these foods all together, but depending on your situation there could be a place for pasta, chocolate, or fries. Every now and then.

burger

Then what about sugar? No, fruits do not equal processed sugar. When you eat fruit you eat unprocessed sugar together with fiber, which gets digested the way it should be. However, processed sugar of any kind, in your coffee, in cake, cookies, or ice cream, is all far from being processed by your body in a nice way. What happens exactly is beyond the scope of this blog, but more about that here.

Processed foods and processed sugar often come together. A good rule of thumb on processed foods; anything with more than 4 ingredients, put it back. Anything with ingredients you don’t know, leave it be.

If you have cut the above out of your diet, you have made the biggest health gain already. Now, you are eating a diet based on whole foods. What follows, is just some tweaking to reach the full potential of your diet.

How Do You Decide What is Best for You?

The best diet for you is the diet that you can adhere to. It has been proven time and time again that it is not the diet itself that makes people lose weight. What is more important, is if somebody can adhere to his or her diet choice over a longer period. The only result you get from switching between diets is nothing. This also holds true for the people that are trying to gain weight. Therefore, it is all the more important to choose the form of eating that allows you to eat consequently as healthy as possible.

The next important factor to maintaining your optimal diet is, that of all the information coming your way, you should know its context. Where is the information coming from? Is it scientific research, your friend that read something, or is it your nutritionist giving you advise? In all cases, again, context. Who did the scientific research, how was it done, how many people participated? Where did your friend read about nutrition, is he or she able to tell you the full picture? And your nutritionist, what education did he or she have, and what are his or her personal beliefs and experiences?

The Life Your Food Had

Another thing that I believe to be very important is how your food was treated before it ended up on your plate. This could be the way the animal lived before it was slaughtered, but also from what source your fresh produce comes. The antibiotics that are put into the bodies of animals, the stress they experience living in closed environments, will all end up in that piece of meat on your plate. This also holds true for fruits and vegetables, that more often than not are covered in pesticides and could be imported from across the globe.

I believe it best to eat foods that grew as close to your home as possible and as little processed as possible.

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Disputed Foods

So far I have mentioned the foods you should definitely not eat. However, there are a lot of foods that are heavily disputed. This became beautifully clear in a recent debate between Dr. Joel Kahn, a vegan heat doctor, and Chris Kresser, specialist in functional medicine, on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. Both Doctors are well read scientists but have opposing opinions based on scientific research.

The first one of the three disputed foods I will cover is alcohol. Alcohol, usually spoken about in the form of wine, is it good or not? As I mentioned in an earlier blog on the people that live the longest on earth, there is reason to believe that a glass or two of wine per day will do little damage. However, alcohol does disrupt sleep quality and is potentially very destructive if you are out of balance already.

Second, is meat consumption. Is meat consumption bad, or good? I think in this case it’s important to know, processed meat is carcinogenic, that means it’s just as bad as smoking. So leave the hot dogs, shoarma, and sausages be. If you have access to organic meat though, from as humanely possible raised animals, you should be fine. As long as you eat in moderation.

The third and final food I will get into is dairy. Again, just like meat I think it’s important to consider how did the animal live, where did it live, and to what extent was the dairy processed before it enters your body. It’s also important to consider that a giant percentage of the population is intolerant to dairy. In Eastern Asia 90-100% are intolerant, and in Africa 70-90%. In North Eastern Europe people seem to have less trouble with lactose. There, up to 73.7% of the people have the LCT gene that makes you tolerant to lactose.

milk
Dynamic Diet

I think that it’s important to realize that diet is a dynamic phenomenon. Your dietary requirements change over time as a consequence of aging and other lifestyle factors. The clue above all is therefore, to test things yourself. What works for you? To test foods optimally you should adhere to a change for 30 days to get at least some meaningful feedback from your body.

If you want to make a process like this easier, you could use either food trackers like myfitnesspal or Cronometer. You could also use the scale to see if you are gaining or losing weight, or use a centimeter to measure your waist. If you are not sure how certain foods make you feel, a diary might be a better solution. You could create scales from one to ten for your mood, level of bloating, or sleepiness, and track this for 30 days. After you’ll be able to correlate what you eat with how you feel pretty well.

More Important Than Diet

If it comes to what the most important building blocks are of your health, diet is among the most important. However, there are two things that are definitely more powerful, one of which is a good night sleep. A good 8 hours per sleep per night all by itself can help you lose weight, increase your focus, and make you a smarter human being.

Second thing is fasting. Call it intermittent fasting, time-restricted eating, or just not eating for a prolonged period of time. This simple act has amazing benefits. A daily fast between 12-16 hours will help you stay lean and regulate blood sugar. A prolonged fast a couple of times a year, raging from 24 hours to three days for example, helps your body repair old damage and increases the excretion of stem cells. These cells can form into any other cell and are therefore very valuable in regenerative processes.

Take Home Messages

To close this all down, here are the take home messages:

  1. Eliminate processed foods and processed sugar from your diet
  2. Try different things to figure out what’s best for you. Use diet trackers, diaries, and other measurements to generate objective findings
  3. If your body is out of balance, it could be useful to eliminate possible allergens like gluten, lactose, or night shade vegetables. That could be reintroduced later on.
  4. Generate an eating style that fits both your lifestyle and schedule
  5. Do not eat for 12-16 hours a day
  6. Sleep 8 hours a night
  7. Realizing step 1-6 above you already reached 80-90% of your diets potential
  8. Only after you managed to do the above, you can think about optimizing your diet to reach specific goals

This post was in response to a request of a client of mine. I hope it was useful to help you find a direction in discovering what your optimal diet looks like.

How Dialogue Can Save the World

Ok, here we go. One last time I will take the current political situation in Brasil as an entree for a blog. As the final round of the elections approaches this Sunday, it is all but clear what will happen to Brasil. One of the electoral candidates’ business backers was funneling money to advertising companies that abuse WhatsApp to influence voters. To me it was little surprising that things like these were going on, however it did all but help to unite Brazil. Now, there is even more reason to hate the opposing political party and its’ proponents.

Who Will Save Brazil?

What is astonishing to me, but also understandable given the situation, that nobody seems to realize that not one of the electoral candidates will save Brazil. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, politics is a popularity contest. The fact that there was money going to advertising companies that use whats-app to influence voters unfortunately strengthens my case. It’s like a football game being stuck in the 90th minute at 0-0, on the one side Jair Bolsonaro, on the other side Fernando Haddad. Obviously not one of the supporters is going to give way. Both believe there is just one that deserves to win. Everybody forgets that the supporters themselves (shouting, tweeting, boinking their horn), together, are the people that will eventually have to do the work to change Brazil.

christ

Even though, the next president will have power to give a direction to the country, there is not a single president ever in history, nor a member of a political party that builds houses. Nor do they plant trees, protect wildlife, cook food for the poor, teach in schools or clean the roads. That’s what the people do, that’s what you do. The same people, that instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue, are currently fighting each other for supporting the other candidate.

20th Century Tribal Life

Nevertheless, not only in politics people choose sides. Also, when it comes to dietary choices there are tribes. Be it vegans, paleo-proponents, carnivores, or keto-diet lovers, somehow in every group there are people that think that only they are right.

From diet, to sports, to religious orientation, to field of work, to nationality, to the city you are from, or the skin color you were born with. All of these things have been made part of peoples’ identity, therefore distancing themselves from “the others”.

Let’s take religion as an example. As Rabbi Alan Lurie writes in a Huffington Post blog on “Is Religion The Cause of Most Wars?“, that it is not. However, in another blog Alon Ben-Meir argues that even though 10% of the wars in history were fought in the name of god, far more had a religious component to it. The moment one religion says that their god is the only god, all the other religions are wrong. The same goes for communism and the mix of consumerism and capitalism that reigns in today’s western societies. In this case there is no god, but these ideologies are quite dogmatic anyway. In the case of communism it was worth 100 million deaths spread over various regimes. And in the case of consumerism there are at least 18 million people dying every year. Yes, Heart Disease, Obesity, and Diabetes are all consequences of a lifestyle based in consumerism.

Does this seem like a long shot to you? I believe not, at least, if you allow yourself to look at things in a more profound manner. The Communistic philosophy doesn’t preach to kill people by itself, nevertheless making communism a crucial part of your identity makes it a lot more likely. Along these lines it is similar to consumerism. The idea of working, getting payed, consuming, and working again doesn’t necessarily say anything about killing yourself. Do it with enough dedication though, and it ultimately will.

Identity

In Me, Me, Me, is not Me I already wrote about how we are not what we identify with. How that so, you ask? Well in short; everything we identify with is a human creation and could therefore be anything. “But”, you say, “at least we are our body, right, that’s ours?” Then, why do most people care more about cars, money, and status, than their body?

The whole crux lies in the fact that as soon as you identify with something, be it veganism, paleo, religion, a political party, a sports club or the country you are from, you are part of the group. Once you identify with one part of the identity, you are prone to all other parts of the identity as well.

However, if you manage to think critically of your position you are open to be criticized by people within your identity group. As a consequence this will create distance between you and the fundamentalists, ever more prone to criticism for you not living up to your identity. On the contrary, when you are fundamental about your identity you will be criticized by everybody outside of your group. This is all the more reason for you to not like the others and reinforces your belief in your identity. Do you see the system at work here?

This is exactly what is happening now in Brazil, what happens between the US and “terrorists, what happens during heated soccer games, and what happens when fundamental vegans and paleo people get into discussions. This polarization leads to rigidity which is only reinforced by the other doing the same. This creates evermore distance which reduces the chances on real dialogue.

The Solution is Dialogue

So, here comes the solution. Dialogue, I already mentioned it a couple of times. What, dialogue? Yes, people actually talking to each other, leaving all assumptions about the other on the table. As Peter Senge writes in his book the 5th Discipline, it is essential for people to work and learn together that they are able to speak to each other in a truthful and non-judgmental manner. This is one the essentials for any organization, or country in this case, to flourish. However, more often than not, you respond to what you think somebody else is saying than what they are actually saying. That is, you will have to ask the other what he means if you want to be sure about what the other says, however that is not what you usually do. We assume what the other means, and respond.

The clue with dialogue is that it becomes clear which of you assumptions are true and which are not. Finally you learn to speak the same language.

dialogue-box

The real power of engaging in dialogue, from my perspective, lies in that you cannot engage in it, without accepting that you are in the same boat with the other person. This is fundamentally different when you engage in a debate or discussion, where there are opposing forces.

Consequently, you can start directing your collective energy in the same direction, you can start developing new ideas, and come up with solutions that you never thought of because you were so busy trying to discredit the other.

Use Your Imagination

Imagine, you, your boss, and all of your direct colleagues sitting down, leaving status and hierarchy at the door, and talk about how you all can make the most of the company. Imagine the Brazilian electoral candidates sitting down together, trying to figure out a strategy to, really, improve violence, poverty, and education. Imagine, the western governments sitting down with so called “terrorist” organizations. Imagine two opposing groups of soccer fans uniting to create the most awesome soccer experience ever. Imagine, everybody ditched their identity, and saw that there are more similarities between every single one of us, than there are differences.

In case you think this is impossible – I would consider that a lack of imagination. So, what do you imagine?

old-young

How to Use SMART Goal Setting to Change Your Perception of Time

In the first part of this blog post about how our perception of time is limiting us, we discovered how there is a difference between how we perceive time and how things actually develop over time. This tension is largely subject to how we experience time, that is, how our thoughts and emotions are influencing our perception of objective time. As things go, thoughts and emotions are the only things in our lives that are not bound to space nor time.

Underneath I will discuss how you can relieve yourself of this tension and make your life a little easier. The tool to this, is nothing less elementary than goal setting.

The Power of Creating Focus

The power of goal setting comes from two things. First, the fact that humans excel in focusing. Not only in a abstract manner but also in a physical manner. Try to look at a point in front of you and see how everything around that sight blurs eventually. Any person playing sports, or having experienced anything of heightened importance will have experienced this ability someway or another. This phenomenon was beautifully shown in an experiment where study subjects were asked to count how many times a group of people threw the ball around in a video. Most of them counted right. Nobody saw the gorilla walking by though. Later they redid the experiment, since everybody was focusing on the gorilla now, little people saw the color changes in the background.

Goals are Context

Second, in an abstract manner, setting goals in the future has been shown to improve performance and the capacity to overcome mental trauma. Also, it supposedly closes the gap between ethnic and minority achievement rate.

The combination of using human excellence and the fact that goals allow us to compare everything we experience in relation to it, makes goal setting remarkably useful. As Dan Ariely mentions in his book Predictably Irrational:

Most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context.

Thus, goals not only bring our perception of time and objective times closer towards each other, it also creates context. A set goal is is like something slapping you in the face when you start imagining things other than what is actually going on, a written reality check.

For reference, I added the list of objective times again that I used in the first part of this blog post.

objective-times

SMART Goal Setting

Now to the practical part. A commonly used system for goal setting is the SMART system. They tortured me with this in university time after time. “You need to set SMART goals, otherwise you won’t know if your treatment is having any effect”. And really, it’s true, definitely when working with people, there are so many variables, it’s nice to have something to relate to.

SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Let’s take an example here, you want to improve your fitness. This goal by itself is hard to test but once put into SMART form it will get tangible. First you need to be more specific, you can use the 5 W’s for this. Who, What, When, Why, and Where. In this case this could be you alone (who) goes running (what), after work (when), to improve fitness (why) in the park (where).

run-in-park

To make your fitness increase measurable you decided you want to be able to run 5k, since you can run 2k now this is achievable. It is also realistic depending on your current situation (you run 2k already). This might have been different if you decided to run a marathon. However, this all depends as well on the time you designate to achieve your goal.

The SMART goal would come together like this:

I want to be able to run 5k after work in the park to improve my fitness 8 weeks from now.

This goal is simple to construct because the specific part is easily described. If you take a look at the list of objective times above, there are some things that are inherently harder to describe and to measure. If you want to prevent chronic disease in 20 years, how do you make that goal? Or when you want to change cultural beliefs?

What to Do With Goals that Can’t Be Made Specific or is Difficult to Measure?

The key here is to figure out what the indicators are that lead to these things. In the case of preventing chronic disease these are markers like cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure and fat percentage. However, what are the markers for change in cultural beliefs? Or for that sake what are the markers for political change?

In some cases these markers or predictors might be there, but culture and politics are systems that are the result of our collective beliefs. At the same time changes take years. From my perspective the only sensible way to deal with these things is that first, you have to accept that you can influence these things, and second that it starts with you thinking and acting differently. If you want to put this into SMART terms, I leave up to you.

Hey there! You can also follow on me Twitter now, click here! Thanks and see you around, Joël