Pour Some Sugar on Me

It’s mid-afternoon. You’re not hungry, but you find yourself tempted to have those brownies someone brought into your office. “Nah,” you say to yourself, “I’m not even hungry. I just had lunch two hours ago.”

But they keep calling you, and calling you, and calling you…and you have a few, maybe more than a few.

You feel bad afterward. Sluggish, and mad at yourself. “Why did I do it again?” “What’s wrong with me?” you ask yourself in a condemning tone. You’re a disciplined person. You get to work on time. You get the oil changed in your car. You pay your bills on time. You have your life mostly under control. But brownies, cake, cookies—you just can’t stop yourself sometimes!

“That’s it, no sugar!” you boldly declare. There, you’ve sworn off sugar, again. And it sticks—for a few days. Then you’re back it it, kind of like a junkie. You just can’t stop. Yeah, you really do feel like a junkie.

You see a report on the news that sugar is as addictive as heroin. “Aha!” you proclaim. You knew it all along and now you have proof.

Well, this is the part of the article where I either burst your bubble or give you really good news, depending on your perspective: You’re not a sugar addict and sugar isn’t even addictive (and I can prove both of these facts to you). My proof: soldiers and rats.

Let’s start with soldiers. During the Vietnam War, United States soldiers become addicted to heroin in droves. When these soldiers left the war and returned home, very few of them continued to use heroin at all, let alone addictively (1,2). If heroin was addictive and they were heroin addicts, there’d be no way they could just stop. But they did, without intensive drug rehabilitation. All they did to stop was leave the war and come home. (1,2)

War is as stressful as life gets. You think your to-do list is daunting; imagine one like this:

  1. Make your bed.
  2. Clean your rifle.
  3. Kill Vietnamese people.
  4. Hold your friend while he dies in your arms.
  5. Breath in napalm.

Right?

We experience stress whenever we fail to meet our needs. Being at war is about as far as a person can get from meeting their needs. War is inhuman. It could be the definition of inhuman. Very few human needs are being met for anyone at war.

Something very important happens when we meet our needs. The levels of reward chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, etc.) in our brains, in our bodies, in us, go up. This feels good.

When we don’t meet our needs, of course, our levels of these reward chemicals drop. For those soldiers in the Vietnam War, their levels of reward chemicals were crazy low. This feels bad. Really bad.

These reward chemicals are very powerful. They’ve driven human behavior for millennia and helped ensure our individual survival as well as the survival of our species. In other words, it’s part of our nature to do that which boosts our levels of these reward chemicals.

What do you thinking taking heroin does? It rapidly and powerfully boosts a person’s levels of reward chemicals.

Here’s what happened with these soldiers:

  1. They were living in an extremely high-stress environment that failed to meet their needs as people.
  2. Their levels of reward chemicals dropped precipitously. They felt bad.
  3. They were offered a substance which, when ingested, dramatically boosts one’s levels of reward chemicals.
  4. They tried the substance and it boosted their levels of reward chemicals. They felt better.
  5. War continued to be stressful and failed to meet their needs. Their levels of reward chemicals dropped repeatedly. They felt bad.
  6. They took the substance again and the cycle repeated. (They were addicted to the substance.)
  7. They left the war and returned home. This new environment was relatively low stress and mostly met their needs. Their levels of reward chemicals were consistently relatively high.
  8. Their cravings for heroin went away.
  9. They stopped taking heroin.

Were these soldiers addicts? Perhaps they were situational addicts. They certainly weren’t always addicts or they wouldn’t have been able to stop taking heroin so easily when they returned home.

Is heroin addictive? Perhaps it’s situationally addictive. It’s certainly not always addictive or the soldiers wouldn’t have been able to stop taking it so easily when they returned home.

Perhaps there are addictive situations? Addictive environments?

Now let’s talk about rats, lab rats. For years, researchers conducted various studies in which they’d bring lab rats heroin and observe what happens. The rats would, in fact, become addicted. Once rats were given heroin, they’d keep taking it. If it was taken away, they would exhibit signs of withdrawal. Numerous scientific studies showed similar results. The researchers had all the evidence they needed: Heroin is very addictive.

In comes pioneering researcher Bruce Alexander. He made an observation: All the rats in these heroin studies were living, as lab rats tend to do, in cages. They were living in large columns and rows of cages. This meant their daily lives included no contact with other rats. They only people they saw were the people who brought the food, water, and, um, heroin, a few times a day for a few minutes of total time. Alexander hypothesized that this might have an impact on the results of heroin studies. (3,4)

Rats are used in scientific studies because their behavioral, biological, and genetic characteristics are similar to those of people. Rats are social creatures, just like us. We all know what happens when a person goes into solitary confinement; they basically lose their shit and go crazy. Like war, solitary confinement is one of the most stressful environments there is. And these rats were effectively living in solitary confinement for their entire lives. Again, Alexander thought this was important. (3,4)

So he made Rat Park. In his laboratory, he designed and created an area for rats to live. They had lots of space to move around. They had other rats to socialize with. They had plenty of food and plenty of water. They had toys rats love to play with. (3,4) Their needs were met.

Then he gave them heroin. (3,4) What happened?

  1. Almost all of the rats tried the heroin. (3,4)
  2. Most of the rats never took heroin again. (3,4)

Just like the soldiers from the Vietnam war, when they were in an environment that met their needs, heroin wasn’t appealing. They were quite content. Sure taking heroin felt good. But not any better than making out with other rats and playing with colorful toys.

Again, we can observe not addictive “people” (rats in this case) or an addictive substance, but an addictive situation, an addictive environment. These examples show us that war and solitary confinement, stressful situations, foster addiction. They also show us that situations that meet our needs lead to freedom from addiction.

The results of the Rat Park studies, which were conducted in the 1970s, were validated in a 2010 study of a similar nature (5). Here’s what the researchers from that study reported in their study article:

“Adult Wistar rats housed in short-term isolation (21 days) consumed significantly more morphine solution (0.5 mg/ml [milligrams per milliliter]) than rats living in pairs, both in one-bottle and in two-bottle tests. No differences were found in their water consumption. This effect was observed in both males and females and the results were also replicated after reversal of housing conditions.”

“We also found that as little as 60-min [minutes] of daily social-physical interaction with another rat was sufficient to completely abolish the increase in morphine consumption in socially restricted animals.”

Back to you and the brownies: Could this same phenomenon help you? I hope I have you at least considering the possibility of your long-sought freedom. If a rat hanging out with his/her rat friend for one hour can eliminate morphine cravings, certainly there are ways you can get free from your sugar cravings.

I witness it every week with my clients. I witness my clients getting free from “emotional” eating rapidly and powerfully. How do they do this? By meeting their needs.

Photo 149--Free Woman

“Meet your needs”, I know, sounds like the tagline for an all-women’s pampering retreat in the Berkshires. It sounds fluffy and intangible, I get it. But meeting your needs changes you “physically”. It changes the chemistry within your body. It gives you abundant levels of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and other reward chemicals. Just like it did for the soldiers when they left the war and came home and just like it did for the rats when they were released from solitary confinement and put up in luxurious Rat Park.

The most common unmet needs that lead to “emotional” eating are sleep, rest, time in nature, and connection. Contemporary Western culture is a petri dish of these unmet needs, so if this speaks to you, know you’re not alone. Imagine a person who got six hours of sleep, commuted for an hour by themselves on the beautiful (sarcasm alert) highways outside a major city, then put their earbuds in and got to work coding and occasionally instant messaging with their “team” in Pakistan. Shit, if that was me, I’d have a cupcake in the afternoon too. Sugar cravings and binges, however, can be nicely attenuated by simply making some changes to the environment in the petri dish you swim in. Creating a life with consistent good sleep and rest is huge. Add a regular dose of nature, even simply getting outside for 10-minute breaks during the day will help a lot too. And connection, that’s where the magic happens. Connection boosts levels of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, and other reward chemicals like nothing else.

I’m in the business of reading, writing, and talking about scientific studies, not designing and implementing them, but If I were going to run one, here’s what I’d do. I’d recruit 1,000 subjects who really struggle with “emotional” eating and put them in two groups, an experimental group and a control group. The subjects in the experimental group would get eight hours of sleep per night. They’d also get two hours of rest per day on workdays and six hours of rest per day on weekends. They’d eat one meal per day together in a group of five. They’d exercise four days per week doing the type of exercise of their choice. They’d have the option of exercising with others if they wanted to. The men subjects would participate in a men’s group that met once per week. The women subjects would participate in a women’s group that met once per week. All subjects would take a course in tantric sexuality and be encouraged to practice with their lovers. The subjects in the control group would continue living their lives as they were. Measures of “emotional”-eating levels would be taken from the subjects at baseline, three months, and six months (post-study). Measures of dopamine level, serotonin level, oxytocin level, endorphin levels, and levels of other reward chemicals would be taken from the subjects daily.

My hypothesis is that the subjects in the experimental group would have much lower levels “emotional” eating and much higher levels of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and other reward chemicals. (They probably wouldn’t want to go home either.)

This study is unlikely to ever be conducted because it wouldn’t get through an ethical review board because it might impose excessive enjoyment of life (my sarcasm is flowing today; please excuse me) on the experimental subjects.

In any case, you could try this experiment in your own life. Perhaps you can’t live in my study paradise with me, but you could replicate it as best as you could (i.e., get more sleep and rest, spend more time in nature, and cultivate great connection).

The beautiful thing about this approach is that not only does it not have any side effects (that’s the trying-to-be-benign term pharmaceutical companies use for side problems), but it has side benefits. That is, enjoying more sleep and rest, enjoying more time in nature, and rocking your relationships won’t only curb your “emotional” eating, it’ll make literally everything in your life better. That’s thriving. As far as I can tell, that’s the real “go big or go home” we’re here for.

Author’s Note: The phenomenon of situational addiction relates to behavior addictions like being addicted to gambling or exercising, not only to substance addictions like heroin or sugar. These behaviors, like these substances, boost one’s levels of reward chemicals. in a person who’s not meeting their global needs, these behaviors can become situationally addictive and these people can become situational addicts.

Author’s Note: I put “emotional” in quotes when using the term “emotional” eating throughout this article (and with the word “physically”) because there’s no separation between our “physical”, “emotional”, and “mental” existence and our “physical”, “mental”, and “emotional” processes. This is made abundantly clear by the effect experiences like those described in this article have on chemicals (undeniably “physical” in nature even by those who hold on to the notion of division of a person into parts) that are us.

Author’s Note: Throughout this article I’ve referred to sugar instead of processed sugar because it made for less-clunky and sexier (to me anyway) writing. However, processed sugar is what we’re technically talking about here. No one I know is complaining of cravings for or binging on bananas, kiwis, and raspberries which are loaded with sugar. Sugar is a nutrient that naturally occurs in many real foods that are very nourishing.

(1) Narcotic Use in Southeast Asia and Afterward. An Interview Study of 898 Vietnam Returnees. Archives of General Psychiatry, 1975, 32(8), 955-961.
(2) How Permanent Was Vietnam Drug Addiction? American Journal of Public Health, 1974, 64(12S), 38-43.
(3) The Effect of Housing and Gender on Preference for Morphine-Sucrose Solutions in Rats. Psychopharmacology, 1979, 66(1), 87-91.
(4) The Effect of Housing and Gender on Morphine Self-Administration in Rats. Psychopharmacology, 1978, 58(2), 175-179.
(5) Social Isolation Increases Morphine Intake: Behavioral and Psychopharmacological Aspects. Behavioural Psychology, 2010, 21(1), 39-46.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

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Nourishment from Around the World

As I go about my life’s work of wellness and thriving, I’ve been studying how people from various places on Earth nourish themselves. I’ve found some very unique forms of nourishment we don’t have very much of in the United States that are helping some of our brothers and sisters from around the world. I present to you a three-course meal in worldly nourishment.

To start, I offer you a glorious dish called hygge, which is part of the fabric of Danish culture. It’s a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment. It’s an incredible mix of three flavors: relaxation, indulgence, and gratitude. Sounds pretty good, right?

After the hygge warms you up from the inside, I’m sure you’ll be hungry for some bistrai jane, a delightful Nepali dish. Bistari jane roughly translates to walk slowly. It’s often used among friends to say, “Let’s walk slowly.” It’s a wonderful way to live. It’s about taking your time. Savoring the experience. Smelling the roses. Enjoying life. You’re going to love this.

For dessert, nothing beats the ever-so-decadent Italian treat dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing. The sweetness of being. The sweetness of your existence. Does it get any better than that?

Yes, I played a trick on you. Because nourishment comes from much more than food. Yes, the standard American diet is nearly void of nutrients and eating well is an important aspect of wellness. But no amount of broccoli and salmon is going to give you the real nourishment you need if you’re living in the the standard American soil contaminated by busyness, pushing, rushing, and never-enough-time-for-that-which-really-matters.

Photo 148--Sandy Trail

I invite you to enjoy these nourishing dishes regularly. You might just find yourself proclaiming, as Costa Ricans do, “Pura vida!” (“This is living!”)

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

Check Out Those Gams!

Aging is inevitable. Death is inevitable.

You might be thinking, “Gee, Jason, thanks for starting us off on such an upbeat note today.”

Don’t worry, we’ll get to the upbeat note quickly. And it’s very exciting!

I’m going to show you three pictures from a study article published in the medical journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine (1).

This is the first picture.

Photo 145--Gams 1

This is a magnetic-resonance-imaging scan of the upper leg of a man in his 40s. Look closely and you’ll see the femur, the upper-leg-bone, running through the middle. Outside the femur, you’ll see the muscles of the upper leg. Around the edge, you’ll see body fat.

This is the second picture.

Photo 146--Gams 2

This is a magnetic resonance-imaging scan of a man in his 70s. Look closely. Start with the femur. It’s much smaller. Now look at the muscles. They’re also much smaller. And, there’s much more body fat. I mean this in a descriptive, non-judgmental way: This is a decrepit leg. This is a decrepit person. This leg is wasting way. This person is wasting away.

Hang on, the upbeat note is coming. And it’s very exciting!

This is the third picture.

Photo 147--Gams 3

This is another magnetic-resonance-imaging scan of a man in his 70s. Go back and look at the scan of the man in his 40s. That one and this one look almost identical, right? How could that be?

The scans of the man in his 40s and the second man in his 70s are from people who are consistent exercisers. The scan of the first man in his 70s is from a sedentary person. That’s the only difference.

You and I are aging every day and you and I will die. (Those are actually very life-giving realities to embrace, possibly the most life-giving realities to embrace.) And we have more to celebrate today: Decrepitude is optional. Stated positively, robust vitality and wellness well into old age is natural and is ours to savor, if we chose to do so. As the authors of the study article (1) state:

“The good news, however, is that many of the diseases and infirmities exclusively attributed to aging are more accurately related to the effects of sedentary living.”

“This study contradicts the common observation that muscle mass and strength decline as a function of aging alone. Instead, these declines may signal the effect of chronic disuse rather than muscle aging. Evaluation of masters athletes removes disuse as a confounding variable in the study of lower-extremity function and loss of lean muscle mass. This maintenance of muscle mass and strength may decrease or eliminate the falls, functional decline, and loss of independence that are commonly seen in aging adults.”

Disuse. Misuse. Abuse. These are the factors that create deterioration. The mere ticking of the clock has little to do with disease.

“Exercise improves quality of life by decreasing body fat (BF) and obesity rates, increasing muscle strength, improving balance, gait, and mobility, decreasing the likelihood of falling, improving psychological health, reducing arthritis pain, and reducing the risk of developing coronary heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, cancer, and diabetes.”

“It is commonly believed that with aging comes an inevitable decline from vitality to frailty. This includes feeling weak and often the loss of independence. These declines may have more to do with lifestyle choices, including sedentary living and poor nutrition, than the absolute potential of musculoskeletal aging.”

“In this study, we sought to eliminate the confounding variables of sedentary living and muscle disuse, and answer the question of what really happens to our muscles as we age if we are chronically active. This study and those discussed here show that we are capable of preserving both muscle mass and strength with lifelong physical activity.”

Aging and deterioration have been mistakenly linked by too many people for far too long. Aging is required, decrepitude is optional. Stated positively, aging is required, thriving is optional. Thriving is available to all of us who meet our needs. Our needs for nourishing movement, nourishing food, plenty of sleep and rest, fulfilling relationships, fulfilling work, and more. Needs we can meet with self-care. Are you with me?

There’s an important nuance to consider when taking in the findings of this study: It isn’t license to exercise excessively. Yes, exercise is beneficial, but only moderate exercise. Exercising excessively is as dangerous as being sedentary. (2) A study article published in the medical journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings (2) drives home this important point:

“From a population-wide perspective, physical inactivity is a much more prevalent public health problem than excessive exercise. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans call for 150 min/wk [minute(s) per week] or more of moderate-intensity aerobic PA [physical activity] or 75 min/wk [minute(s) per week] of vigorous-intensity aerobic PA [physical activity]. A recent survey of a half million adults in the United States reported that about 10 of every 20 people fail to obtain this suggested minimum weekly dose of PA [physical activity]. However, extrapolation of the data from the current Williams and Thompson study to the general population would suggest that approximately 1 of 20 people is overdoing exercise, potentially increasing the risk-to-benefit ratio. Individuals from either end of the exercise spectrum would probably reap long-term health benefits by changing their PA [physical activity] levels to be in the moderate range.”

“On the basis of multiple studies, it might be prudent to limit chronic vigorous exercise to no more than about 60 min/d [minute(s) per day]”.

“A weekly cumulative dose of vigorous exercise of not more than about 5 hours has been identified in several studies to be the safe upper range for long-term cardiovascular health and life expectancy.”

Wellness isn’t the result of excessive exercise. It’s the result of moderate exercise combined with meeting all of our needs, all of which can be a lot of fun. I wish you many years of thriving.

(1) Chronic Exercise Preserves Lean Muscle Mass in Masters Athletes. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 2011, 39(3), 172-178.
(2) Exercising for Health and Longevity Vs Peak Performance: Different Regimens for Different Goals. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2014, 89(9), 1,171-1,175.

Author’s Note: The study article this article is based on didn’t provide a magnetic-resonance imaging scan of a sedentary man in his 40s. I’ve shown you all three scans that are part of the study article.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

The Motivation Mistake That’s Keeping You Trapped

Which of the following statements is most motivating?

  1. “I’ve been so stressed. I know exercise is good for stress relief, so I’m going to make some time to exercise this weekend.”
  2. “My physician has really been on me to exercise and I see her again in a month. I don’t want to disappoint her, so I’m going to start exercising again this weekend.”
  3. “I don’t want to get dementia like Dad did. I’m going to go for a run this weekend.”
  4. “It’ll feel so good to be in shape again. I know it will take a few months, at least, but I’m going to start swimming this weekend.”
  5. “I can’t wait to go paddle boarding in Rickles Cove with Eric.”
  6. “I want to get back to lifting this weekend. They say it helps prevent osteoporosis.”
  7. “I’m hitting the gym this weekend. I really want to look great by the time we head to Cancun.”

The answer is: “I can’t wait to go paddle boarding in Rickles Cove with Eric.”

Photo 144--Paddle Boarding

Here’s what 99 percent of wellness practitioners and 99 percent of people seeking to be more well don’t know:

  1. If you’re engaging in self-care because it’s good for you, you’ll likely do it for a while, and you’ll do it sometimes.
  2. If you’re engaging in self-care because you enjoy it, you’ve found the key to motivation superpowers.

Let me give you a quick look under the hood of motivation.

First, there’s intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, which you might have heard of.

Intrinsic motivation is motivation to do something for sake of doing it. For example: “I go rock climbing a few days per week because I love it. I love being on the rock wall and I love climbing with my friends. I love the whole experience.”

Extrinsic motivation is motivation to do something for what it will get you. For example: “I go rock climbing a few days per week because I want to have a stronger upper body.”

In either case, if you go rock climbing regularly (or do similar exercise), you’ll get a stronger upper body. But you’re much more likely to go rock climbing (or do similar exercise) when you’re intrinsically motivated.

Second, there are experiential and instrumental benefits, which take our understanding of motivation up a level.

Experiential benefits are the benefits you get that are an immediate part of engaging in an activity. For example: “Wow, I love these fresh blueberries you picked. They’re so delicious. Thank you. Let’s put them in the fruit salad.”

Instrumental benefits are the benefits you get as a result of engaging in an activity. These benefits can be a reward and/or the avoidance of a punishment. For example: “Thank you for bringing me these blueberries. I’ll put them in my smoothie tomorrow. Did you know blueberries increase longevity and prevent dementia?”

In either case, if you eat blueberries (and other whole, natural, real food) regularly, you’ll help yourself live longer and prevent dementia. But you’re much more likely to eat blueberries (and other whole, natural, real food) when you’re seeking experiential benefits.

What’s the magic of intrinsic motivation and experiential benefits? In a word: enjoyment. Fun. Pleasure. (I know, I added a few words. I did it because it was fun and gave me pleasure.) To tap into your motivation superpowers, the key is to tap into fun and pleasure.

Let’s back up a second and consider why extrinsic motivation and instrumental benefits are inferior motivation tools. Something very interesting happens when you try to motivate someone based on extrinsic motivation and instrumental benefits: YOU BUILD RESISTANCE. This is very common in teaching, coaching, parenting, management, and other forms of leadership, unfortunately.

When you say: “Fermented vegetables are a great way to improve your gut health,” the other person hears, “There must be something bad about fermented vegetables. They must be gross. Why are they trying to convince me to eat them?”

When you say: “You should come swimming with me. It’s great for your whole body,” the other person hears, “There must be something bad about swimming. It must be boring. Why are they trying to convince me to do it?”

The same applies to your relationship with yourself and your attempts to motivate yourself. Using extrinsic motivation and instrumental benefits as motivation is keeping you trapped. You don’t want to do what you’re being convinced to do (even by yourself). It’s like being sold to. No one likes to be sold to (even by themselves).

If you want to be free, turn up the fun and pleasure. How much? Turn it up to 11.

Seriously, turn up the fun and pleasure all the way! If you like hiking, make it even better by hiking with a friend. Make it better yet by hiking in a really beautiful place. When in doubt, make it more fun and more pleasurable. If you love to have potlucks with your friends and eat nourishing food, invite more people, invite someone who’ll play some live music, or do whatever would make it even more enjoyable for you. You’ll keep doing what you enjoy.

We live in a culture that promotes toil and preaches that the only way to get good feelings is to suffer for a period of time in order to get good feelings in the future. I invite you to challenge this outdated, Puritan notion. I invite you to go right for the good feelings. It’s super motivating.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

 

A Wellness Tool You Need: The Sacred NO

Pretend it’s the end of yoga class and say it with me:

Nooohhhmmm! Nooohhhmmm! Nooohhhmmm!

That’s not a typo. It’s just like ohm, but nohm! This’ll make sense in a moment, I promise.

Nooohhhmmm! Nooohhhmmm! Nooohhhmmm!

My client (let’s call her Suzy for the sake of anonymity) brilliantly graced me with this idea yesterday. She’s been doing great work on setting boundaries in her life since boundaries are essential to wellness. Wellness is the natural result of self-care which is all about making great choices and meeting your needs. It’s about saying YES to getting great sleep, spending time with your friends, doing exercise you enjoy, and so much more. And here’s where boundaries come in:

Your YES is only as good as your NO.

You might fully want to say YES to family dinner four nights per week. But if you’re also saying yes to a client that isn’t a good fit for you, a toxic relationship with your sister, and way too many volunteer opportunities, those family dinners just ain’t going to happen consistently. Your time and energy will be drained and you’ll find ways to not follow through on this important value of yours. Yes, self-care is about saying YES to that which nourishes you. It’s equally about saying NO to that which doesn’t nourish you.

You need to be able to say a strong NO in your life in order to be able to say a strong YES in your life.

Suzy has been working very hard on strengthening her NO. She’s stepped into saying NO to things that weren’t really filling her up and to some things that were downright toxic. She’s had to be very firm sometimes. Some opportunities, some people, don’t respond to meek NOs. Sometimes it takes a lot of contrast to push us to say NO like we mean it. That’s what happened with Suzy. We got on Skype a few weeks ago to start our work together and right away I could tell she was drained and weary. As soon as we started talking, she said, “Fu*k NO. I have to tell him this sh*t stops NOW.” Suzy proceeded to walk her talk and has since put a few big burdens behind her.

When we got on Skype yesterday, and I asked Suzy how she was doing, a softer, gentler, and much more alive woman, looked at me and said “Nooohhhmmm.” I knew instantly what she meant. She was still setting boundaries, but feeling much calmer about it. We talked about what’s going on in her life now and what she wants to create in the coming weeks. To thrive even more, she needs to bring more nourishment into her life. As an entrepreneur, business owner, philanthropist, and great all-around person, she gets asked for a lot. Will you do this with me? Will you do this for me? Suzy and I talked about how what she’s developing now could be thought of as “the sacred NO”. Not sacred in a religious way, but sacred as in essential to LIFE, to the life that is each of us. Thinking of our NOs as nooohhhmmms, Suzy and I realized together, is a way to say NO that’s not only guilt-free, tension-free, and 100-percent jerk-free, but actually sacred.

I do my very best to live my life by a simple, powerful credo: Do the most loving thing for everyone involved.

That means I can’t be selfish. I can’t only do what’s best for me. But I also can’t sacrifice myself. Because I’m one of the “everyone” involved in any situation. Suzy’s been working really hard on this too. And yesterday it was clear she was coming into her own.

The next time you have an important NO to say, I invite you to do a few nooohhhmmms to yourself to get in touch with your best self. To remind yourself you’re doing the most loving thing for everyone involved. You might even deliver the NO with an imaginary nomaste (that’s namaste and NO having a baby in case you missed it). Nomaste: “My inner light honors your inner light (namaste) while I’m saying NO because it’s the most loving thing to do for everyone involved.” Nomaste. The sacred NO.

Photo 143--The Sacred NO

All of my clients work on setting boundaries at some point in our work together since most of my clients are Strivers, Martyrs, or both when we start our work together.

A Striver is a person who puts a great deal of time and energy into accomplishing things, and, in doing so, neglects self-care. Of course, accomplishing things is a positive trait. A striver simply takes it too far, at the expense of self-care, and ultimately their wellness.

A Martyr is a person who puts a great deal of time and energy into caring for others, and, in doing so, neglects self-care. Of course, caring for others is a positive trait. A martyr simply takes it too far, at the expense of self-care, and ultimately their wellness.

Strivers and Martyrs both have to learn the sacred NO in order to transform into THRIVERS.

A THRIVER is a person who thrives by proactively meeting his/her needs. They retain their strengths, even enhance them, as they become balanced by learning to take care of themselves.

If you identify as a Striver or Martyr (or both), I invite you to work on strengthening your sacred NO. A few nooohhhmmms will get you centered. The spirit of nomaste will help you deliver your NOs just right.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

The Wellness Hack to End All Hacking

“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Hacking is all the rage these days. You can hack your sleep, hack your relationships, hack your mind, hack your anything really. The spirit of hacking is interesting. When I hear hacking, I hear a few things: solving, outsmarting, tricking, finding a shortcut, beating the system. Some of the wellness advice given in the spirit of hacking isn’t bad, but in my experience, hacking yourself and your life is far from the best spirit in which to approach yourself and life.

Hacking reflects an expanding trend of people exerting dominion over nature. None of us have to look very far to find clearcut forests, polluted rivers, and extinct species as the result of people thinking they knew better than nature. People have been increasingly going against nature for a few millennia with devastating consequences for all.

Hacking oneself is exerting dominion over oneself, over one’s nature. It’s a form of slave-master relationship with oneself. It’s you telling you what to do even when it’s not what feels good to you at all. It’s you feeling like you know better than you. It’s an organism, in this case a person, working against itself. It’s the epitome of unnatural. It’s a strained relationship at best, a tortuous one at worst.

You might be thinking that if you don’t control yourself, who will? “Self-control is the key to wellness, right? I have to be vigilant. I have to push myself to exercise. I have to watch what I eat.”

As a college classmate of mine is fond of saying: I call bullshit. In fact, vigilance isn’t related to wellness at all. You don’t need to control or hack yourself. In fact, there’s a wellness hack to end all hacking and it’s been around since long before there was a word hacking. Let’s start with two Taoist concepts.

The first is tian ran. Tian ran translates roughly to: that which happens of itself. Like how a heart beats.

The second is wu wei. Wu wei translates roughly to: with the flow of life. Like how the tide goes in and out.

Wellness, your natural state, happens of itself, when you go with the flow of life. You can’t make yourself well. You are well. You can, however make yourself unwell when you work against yourself.

I had the amazing opportunity to spend some with a great Taoist master recently. I met the master at a nearby trail in the woods. When the master first approached me, she was full of energy, almost bouncing as she walked, and smiling widely. She didn’t say a word, but I took in my first lesson: Live life with a spirit of play. Don’t toil, don’t strain: play with life.

I nodded and we walked. We walked for a 20 minutes or so, both enjoying the humid, salty air. Then, to my surprise, the master stopped walking. Instantly. Not like she was scared or anything; like she had something much better to do. She sat on the ground and I sat on a nearby fallen tree. She looked at me approvingly like she was doing exactly what felt best to her, then rested her head on my foot which became her perfect pillow for the occasion. Her eyes closed and she drifted asleep. And so I received my second lesson: Do what feels good when it feels good. In this lesson, Lola taught me something I hadn’t learned from priests or professors or anyone in a teacher role in my life growing up. Again: Do what feels good when it feels good.

The master didn’t think about this nap at all. She wasn’t walking along thinking, “Naps increase the release of human growth hormone which helps with exercise recover. A nap will make me fitter.” Nor did she think for a millisecond that maybe should could get something else done. Nor did she compare herself to anyone else thinking, “I wonder why Jason doesn’t need a nap.” At that time, everything in her being wanted a nap more than she wanted anything else. That happened of itself and she went with the flow of life. She napped. She didn’t rush and she didn’t hesitate. She napped when she wanted to nap, not sooner, and not later. The power in this lesson wasn’t so much that she decided to nap when she wanted to nap. At her level of mastery, she seemed to not even make decisions. Instead of controlling herself, she seemed to be allowing herself. She was allowing herself to be. It was powerful to witness. I took it all in while this living master rested her head on my foot. I rested too and watched her belly rise and fall as she inhaled and exhaled. It was beautiful.

Ten or so minutes later, the master awoke, looked right into my eyes and with a powerful look said: “Let’s walk.” She had even more pep now and danced along the trail. She walked beside me, in front of me, and behind me at times. She taught not with her words, but with her way. A short while later, she was getting warm, sweating more, and breathing more heavily. She looked right at the backpack I was carrying and said only a word: “That.” She knew exactly what she wanted and she wanted it now. Not with concern or urgency, but not with indecision or deliberation either. She simply knew what she wanted and she made her desire and her action one. I poured some water into a white ceramic cup for her. She delighted in the water for a bit, then looked at me smiling widely. I looked back at her, in turn starting to communicate without speaking, and said clearly, “Don’t you want more? It’s pretty hot out here.” Her smile never faded, and she flipped the cup over and over, laughing the whole time. She had enough water and was now enjoying showing me a few tricks. I couldn’t help but laugh in kind as my learning deepened. She drank when she wanted to drink and stopped when she had enough, all with a playful spirit. She didn’t measure her sweat rate to dial in the “perfect” amount to drink or add electrolytes to her water to “make it better”. Nope, no hacking here. She is a master of letting wellness happen of itself by going with the flow of life.

For years, I’ve been practicing the art of meeting my needs by doing the next thing that feels best. To be in the presence of a master was truly inspiring!

As we parted, I bowed in gratitude. The master grinned sarcastically at me. Her message, and my third and final lesson, again was clear: “I’m not a master any more than you’re a master. We can all live this way. It’s our natural way.”

At that time of our walk together, Lola, from the Taoist lineage known as black lab, was nine weeks old. She was adorable. We had a fun time together and I sure learned a lot.

Photo 142--Lola

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

Let’s Shake Up This “Healthcare” “Discussion” A Bit (A Lot)

I was walking home from work recently and I overheard two men “discussing” “healthcare”.

“We can’t have a system led by the big insurance companies,” one man said. “No way,” the other man replied. “It’s just not working. My premiums keep going up every year; like 25 percent a year. It’s crazy. Plus, I’ve got a huge deductible and co-pays for everything to boot.” “Something has to be done about this,” the first man chimed in, getting angrier. “Obamacare is a mess,” he said. “They can’t get anything right in Washington.”

Can you see why I put “discussing” and “healthcare” in quotes? First, this is a complaint jam session; nothing is being discussed. Second, neither man said anything about health or about caring for one’s health; they complained about insurance and government.

Let’s be really clear. When most people are talking “healthcare”, they’re talking about medical care and medical insurance. Medical care is the treatment of the symptoms of sickness by physicians and other medical professionals. Medical insurance is insurance to pay for the treatment of the symptoms of sickness. “Healthcare” is sick care. It has little to do with fostering health. Or wellness.

I prefer the word wellness over the word health. Wellness has positive implications and is all-encompassing. To be well means to thrive as a person. What would it mean to truly care for our wellness? I mean both what would it mean to care for our wellness as individuals and what would it mean for us to care for one another’s wellness?

Photo 141--Thriving Woman

Let’s hold those questions in our minds for a moment and talk about one of the greatest examples of collaboration ever accomplished by humans*: car insurance. Car insurance is a phenomenal collaboration*. Car insurance works. Car insurance works really well. Have you noticed the sheer absence of people holding signs and chanting about car insurance? That’s because there’s nothing to complain about. Car-insurance companies also consistently have really funny ads. There’s a lot to like about car insurance.

In 2015, I paid $624 for a year of “good” (modest deductible, good coverage) car insurance. In 2016, I paid $641 for the same insurance. In 2017, I paid $660 for the same insurance. If I was in a small car accident that was my fault, say one that would cost $2,000 to repair, I’d pay $500 and my insurance company would pay the rest. If my car were totaled in an accident that was my fault, I’d pay $500 and my insurance company would give me enough money to buy a brand-new replacement car (an approximately $20,000 value). I pay a relatively modest amount of money into the system, and I have the assurance that if something goes wrong with my car, I can get it repaired or replaced. My annual premium increase have been modest, sustainable increases in line with the inflationary increases in the costs of most goods and services. This whole situation is working really well for me. I think most people would say car insurance works really well for them too. No one has e-mailed me asking me to go march in Washington to fix car insurance anyway.

What makes car insurance such an effective system? Is it the lack of big insurance companies and meddling from the government? That’s not even close to the answer, much to the dismay of the fellowship of the complaining miserable. State Farm, Allstate, Progressive: these are mega companies moving billions of dollars. And the government has it’s hands all over our cars. We’re required by law to have insurance in order to register our cars, which is also required by law. To maintain our insurance and keep our cars registered, we must have our cars inspected regularly to ensure they’re in good working order and safe to operate. In addition, we must each also have a driver’s license ensuring we know the rules of the road, have good driving skills, and can see well enough to drive safely. The fees (taxes) we pay to register our cars and have them inspected are relatively modest. So are the fees for driver’s licenses. The government also imposes speed limits on most roads, requires us to wear seat belts, and doesn’t allow us to drive under the influence of alcohol or while using our phones. The government regulates car companies as well and sets standards for the safety of the cars they make. This government intervention helps keep most of the cars on the road running well and most drivers driving safely. Together, insurance companies, the government, and all of us run a very effective car-insurance system. We pay very modestly into the system, annual expenses rise in a sustainable manner, and when big things go wrong with our cars, it’s easy breezy to get us back on the road. No massive deductibles. No co-pays. No waiting months for an appointment. No real hassles at all.

This system works so well because most of us take great care of our cars and drive safely. Other than Tyler Durden, when he decided to have a “near-life experience”, I’ve never seen a person get in a car accident on purpose. People generally obey at least the spirit of most traffic laws. Nearly everyone’s car is inspected ensuring that their windshield wipers are in good working order, their lights work, and their tires have enough tread to get great traction. Most people also have regular maintenance performed on their cars by mechanics. This system works so well because the overwhelming majority of the cars on the road are in excellent working order.

The people in the medical-insurance system, not so much:

  1. According to the John Hopkins University Medical School, 84 million people in the United States (27 percent) live with cardiovascular disease.
  2. According to the American Diabetes Association, 39 million people in the United States (13 percent) live with type-2 diabetes and the number of people living with type-2 diabetes is growing at a rapid rate. The total cost of treating type-2 diabetes in the United States increased 45 percent (from $174 billion to $245 billion) in just the five years between 2007 and 2012.
  3. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of people in the United States will develop type-2 diabetes in their lifetime.
  4. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, the global cost of dementia is over $600 billion annually, about the same as the Gross Domestic Product of Switzerland.
  5. The World Health Organization has declared depression a worldwide epidemic, with five percent of the population living with the disease. In the United States, nearly 15 percent of the population takes an antidepressant medication, with this rate steadily growing in recent decades.
  6. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than two-thirds (69 percent) of adults in the United States are overweight/obese. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of men are overweight/obese. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of women are overweight/obese. More than one-third (35 percent) of children are overweight/obese.
  7. According to the World Health Organization, about 60 percent of all deaths around the world are the result of these non-communicable diseases (a.k.a. lifestyle diseases).
  8. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 70 percent of all deaths among United States citizens are the result of these non-communicable disease (a.k.a. lifestyle diseases).
  9. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these non-communicable diseases (a.k.a. lifestyle diseases) account for 86% of medical costs in the United States.

Our “healthcare” problem isn’t a problem of insurance, it isn’t a problem of government, it’s a problem of health. Of wellness.

As such, no amount of think tanks focused on the medical-care system and/or medical-insurance system is going to be able to solve this problem. The numbers will never add up. Not with free-market medical insurance. Not with single-payer medical insurance. The dollars and cents will never add up. In 2015, I paid $252 per month ($3,024 per year) for a year of “blah” medical insurance (very high deductible, fair coverage). In 2016, I paid $301 per month ($3,612 per year) for the same insurance. In 2017, I paid $359 per month ($4,308 per year) for the same insurance. I’ve already been informed of my projected premium for 2018 for the same insurance and these near-25-percent annual increases are projected to continue. Is it because “Obama had has head up his ass” or because “The Republicans just want to screw us all”? I wouldn’t give any of them that much credit. The reason for increasing deductibles, rising premiums, and rising co-pays is, in insurance speak, more and bigger claims. I know it’s easier to be mad at a politician or Blue Cross Blue Shield, none of who I claim to be angels, but they’re not the problem. The problem is the number and size of claims. The number and size of claims, if you’re willing to accept the truth, is directly proportional to the sinking wellness of citizens of the United States. You don’t have to be Will Hunting rogue studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to understand this is a math problem, not a malice problem.

The amazing car-insurance system would fall apart too if we all stopped taking care of our cars and started driving recklessly. Premiums and deductibles would skyrocket. There’d be a long wait to get in to see a mechanic. They’d add co-pays to the system. People would be chanting in public spaces: “Fix car care. Fix car care. Fix car care.” It’d be a mess. But that’s what the overwhelming majority of people are doing with themselves: They’ve stopped taking care of themselves and they’re living recklessly. As such, there’s no realistic way to insure us and our wellness.

We don’t need an insurance solution for our wellness problem. We need a wellness solution for our wellness problem.

We need to align a highly functioning medical-care system, with a highly functioning medical-insurance system, with a highly functioning self-care system. No one seems to want to talk about that. And don’t tell me that you agree and that “preventative medicine” should be “covered”. “Preventative medicine” is really early detection of disease. Sure, that’s helpful because it’s easier and less expensive to treat the symptoms of sickness when you find them earlier rather than later. But true disease prevention is self-care. Self-care prevents disease altogether.

According to the World Health Organization, about 80 percent of non-communicable diseases (a.k.a. lifestyle diseases) are preventable by exercising well, eating well, and related self-care.

What if we took 80 percent, even 40 percent, even 20 percent of the claims out of the medical-insurance system? Blue Cross who? Medical insurance would quickly become a non-issue. And, as a side effect (pun intended), millions of us would be feeling better. That’s priceless.

I’m not calling for anything regarding medical insurance. Insurance is terribly boring to me. Insurance is also fear-based which isn’t how I operate. I stand for life. For wellness. For thriving. Wellness doesn’t happen in hospitals or in Hartford (“The Insurance Capital of the World”) or at “healthcare” rallies. Wellness happens in communities, on hiking trails, among friends, in dance halls, at dinner tables, in vibrant workplaces, at farmers’ markets, etc. Wellness happens when, like Andy Dufresne when he decides he’s not going to spend the rest of his life in Shawshank State Penitentiary, we realize: “It’s either time to get busy living or it’s time to get busy dying.” I mean really living. Thriving. Who’s with me?

*Car insurance is a great example of collaboration only by very recent standards. Pre-agricultural people collaborated in ways that blow most people’s minds. Prior to the advent of agriculture a mere 10,000 years ago, all humans lived as hunter-gatherers (a.k.a. foragers). Hunter-gatherers were fiercely egalitarian masters of collaboration. I speak of hunter-gatherers in the past tense because most humans become farmers about 10,000 years ago and factory workers about 300 years ago. However, some humans remain hunter-gatherers today and continue to live in very egalitarian, collaborative societies.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.