A Simple Way to Eat Properly

I was one of those people who always tried to eat reasonably healthily. That means I would eat mostly healthy things most of the time with the occasional treat. But then I discovered I was doing it all wrong.

First a note about nutritional science.

Nutritional science is dubious at best. Conducting a reliable study requires monitoring exactly what tens of thousands of genetically diverse people eat every day for decades. Unsurprisingly, this is nearly impossible to achieve which is why there aren’t reliable nutritional studies that definitively confirm what is good and what is not.

The most prominent example of this is the sugar vs. saturated fat debate of the late 20th century which resulted in a dramatic reduction of saturated fat in the western diet. To replace those lost calories, huge quantities of sugar have been added into processed foods for decades. Only now has the scientific community started to turn this idea on its head and claim that sugar is the real problem and saturated fat is fine as long as you don’t have too much.

Because of this lack of scientific consensus, I adopted the paleo philosophy which boils down to this: Since humans are essentially just another kind of animal that evolved in a hunter gatherer environment, then it stands to reason that our biologies are adapted to the foods which were accessible during this time – meat, fish, vegetables, fruit and nuts.

The 30 day experiment.

I have never had a weight problem but I have always been interested in the physiological effects of a more natural diet. When a friend told me about a particular 30 day paleo diet he was trying out I decided to finally put theory into practice.

The diet was one of the many variants of the paleo diet and can be summarised as 4 main rules:

  • No Sugar (refined or added)
  • No Grains (wheat, rice etc)
  • No Dairy
  • No Alcohol

I struggled for the first week as I realised that pretty much everything bought ready made from the supermarket fails one or more of these rules. Being a big fan of ready meals and bought lunches this resulted in a complete diet replacement.

Before After
Breakfast Oats with Milk Nuts and Fruit, Eggs
Lunch Store Bought Wrap (sugar in the sauces) Tuna/Chicken, Avocado, Olives, Olive Oil and Spices
Dinner “Healthy” Ready Meal (loads of sugar in these) Meat/Fish and Vegetables (Broccoli, spinach, sweet potato, Aubergine), Eggs
Snacks Chocolate, Fruit Nuts and Fruit

I have always been a water drinker. Stop drinking juice or carbonated sugar drinks. They are killing you – google it.

A side effect of this change is that I became more mindful of what I was eating. I realised that people really don’t vary their diets very much. If you closely look at what you eat right now I bet that you probably eat the same thing every day for both breakfast and Lunch. And if you do mix it up it is probably between 2-3 variations. I would also guess that you have followed this routine for years and probably even since childhood. Dinner might have a bit more variation but again we always tend to keep within a small range of typical options (Incidentally the same goes for clothes).

This actually makes changing diet quite easy. All you need to do is develop a handful of new meals to replace your old ones without having to worry about learning loads of new recipes.

The result.

  • In about a week I felt a huge increase in energy and started to sleep about 30 mins less.
  • Lost 3kg in the first month and 2 kg in the second month.
  • Guy friends started to comment on the clarity of my skin – this is culturally unusual for a man to say to another man.
  • I found that my sense of taste adjusted to enjoy the natural flavours of unprocessed food. I actually stopped liking a lot of the things I used to like eating.

After the 30 days.

There was no way I was going back to my old ways. I have maintained this diet ever since but without being as super strict as I was during the initial 30 days.

I think it is unrealistic (and a bit unsocial) to maintain an extremist diet 100% of the time. However, it is entirely possible to do it most of the time. I stick to the diet at all times except in social situations like meeting a friend or special occasions like birthdays (cake!). For me, this results in about 3-4 unhealthy eating occurrences in a week. That’s not a bad ratio considering I consume about 21 meals per week.

Final thoughts.

It is important to realise that we aren’t much better than crack addicts except that we use sugar and simple carbohydrates to get our highs. The effects of this substance abuse aren’t much better than crack – we forget what normal feels like and crave our next hit so that we can feel good again. How about we just stop using and feel good all the time?

I suggest following the four rules for 30 days just to see how you go – I think you will be amazed at the result. If you are too piss weak to do that then the very least you can do is cut out all sugar for 30 days and I suspect you will still get most of the benefits.

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Compassion Changes Everything

If you think about it, who you are today is simply a product of your genes and past life experience – neither of which are in your control. Some might disagree with me by arguing that we are conscious humans who are capable of making decisions and choosing our actions – but what are these decisions and choices based on? Genes and past experience.

Let me illustrate my point with an animal story (everyone loves those): We have a pet dog named Jimmy. One day Jimmy bites a kid. We don’t go blaming the dog for being “bad” and exacting some kind of elaborate punishment in the name of morality. Everyone understands Jimmy was just following his nature, we accept that this is the way he is because he is a dog with a disposition for biting. We have to take a calm approach to this; maybe we can make Jimmy wear a muzzle, maybe we can train him to be more friendly, maybe we will have to put Jimmy down because he is part wolf and will probably strike again. We don’t hate or blame Jimmy, we accept and manage the reality of the situation. Why treat people any differently?

If we take this point of view, then it becomes difficult to feel anger towards anyone. A more constructive approach of understanding and acceptance becomes the default – this is compassion.

Compassion changes lives

Victimisers have always been victims of others who created negative experiences for them in their past. And those people from their past are also victims from their own pasts. This is a chain of causation that reaches back through history. It is up to each of us to break it by being compassionate instead of reinforcing the cycle through poorly thought-out, aggressive responses.

An example that most of us can relate to is an aggressive friend or family member. If we take the position of blame then we fight back which leads to things spiralling out of control and increasing aggression within the relationship until breaking point. If we take the position of compassion then we respond with warmth and empathy to their behaviour – we can find ways to assist them to calm down and take a different perspective. If helped like this over some time then this part of their personality can eventually be improved as they learn new and better ways to respond to their situation.

This is good news. The past experiences that make us who we are today can be changed because today’s experiences are tomorrow’s past experiences. That means we can help ourselves and others to improve by creating new positive experiences together.

Compassion changes the world

A more macro example of a political/social context is how we view and treat criminals. If we take position of blame then we will tend to punish because of simplistic ideas of eye for an eye justice. This just causes more psychological damage to the criminal who will probably be released into the community again at some point.

If we take the position of compassion then we also see the criminal as a victim and seek opportunities for reform. They probably still need to be locked up to deter others or protect the public from their re-offending but the focus would be on re-education and the prison would come to be seen as a kind of school.

Compassion

Compassion changes you

By adopting this mindset, we can eventually develop a spontaneous compassion response to any situation. We can calmly look at the situation and work out why it is happening and what could be done about it. The negativity just flows through you instead of getting stuck inside creating a great sense of inner peace.

How far should we take it?

Obviously we cannot go around as some kind of compassionate superhero trying to help every single person we meet in a comprehensive way. We don’t have unlimited time and energy. In my life, I prioritise based on how important the person is to me and how much real difference I think can be made by helping. Some people can change a lot just from simple talk that shows them something in a way they haven’t thought of before. Some people will never change. In any case, the least we can do is be understanding and manage every person we meet with a gentle, benevolent, compassion.

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Loving Mindfully

What is love? What is it to genuinely love somebody?

Just a feeling?

Children experience love almost purely as an instinctive feeling which they have little control over, it serves to attach them to the people who help them survive; they love their mother because she is their mother, there is no deeper reasoning, it is a feeling only. Even if she is an alcoholic abusive mother the child will still love her.

But as we get older our relationships start to become more complex. They become conditional on the expectations we hold for others. We love a person because we have reasons to love them. But it seems that most people never fully reach this stage and end up somewhere in the middle.

This is the reason that people have so much trouble with love; they are not explicit in their reasons for allowing themselves to feel it. If you don’t have explicit reasons then you cannot understand why you have the feeling with any clarity. And if you do not understand, you are at risk of feeling love based on a false perception of who the person is which will lead to problems as your false perception inevitably collides with the reality.

The thin line between love and hate

If love isn’t based on some clearly thought out reasoning then it will tend to be inconsistent, swinging between highs and lows. Ironically, it is often the case that the people we hurl most of our cruelty and anger towards are also the people we love the most (Isn’t that ridiculous and a little bit sad?).

Loving mindfully

I believe that by mindfully loving – understanding and creating clearly defined reasons for why you love someone is one of the most important habits to develop in life.

loving mindfully

There is a cultural dogma that romanticises love as some kind of sacred feeling that is inexplicable and to analyse it is to take something from it, to diminish it. My first response to that is, “yes!”. It absolutely does diminish love that you feel towards someone that might not deserve it. I think everyone has at least one example of a painful relationship with a bad friend, family member or partner. These relationships could have easily been prevented or shortened with a bit of critical thinking about why they deserved your love and attention in the first place.

But when you love someone that truly deserves it, the clarification brought by these rationalisations can amplify it to amazing heights. Having in our minds all of the reasons we love someone develops a strong sense of appreciation for who they are and gratitude for having them in our lives. It is very difficult to be angry or resentful towards someone if you have in the front of your mind all the reasons you love and appreciate them.

Because we are basing our love on something real, something permanent we are able to reach a state where we reach a mindset of deep love that actually grows stronger over time

 

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How to Live a Long Life

We live for a really long time. I recently read that a woman died at the age of 114. She was born in 1900. That means she was 18 when WW1 ended. 38 when WW2 started. She saw the birth radio (Yes, radio!) and television.

Life expectancies are growing and it is likely that many of us will live well beyond 90 years. Consider that only 20 years ago; a mobile phone had to be carried in a suitcase, Google didn’t even exist and there were millions being killed or starving in developing countries. What will we see in another 20 years? 40 years? 60 years? 80 years? That’s a really long time!

But I think that how long your life is has much to do with your perception of time passing. How can we create this perception of a long life? How can we stop it all fading in our memories into a blur?

Long Life

Do Special Things

Will you remember this day? Some days are so uneventful that you forget them in a week. Others stand out so much that you remember them for a lifetime. Doing special or unique activities will stand out in your memory. If you just went to work and came home to watch TV you will forget about this day of your life by next week. But if you came home and did something a little different like baking a cake with your family or going for a spontaneous drive to the sea you may remember this day for a long time (especially if you record it in your journal and take pictures/videos).

Change Your Routine

Don’t get stuck in routine. It makes your perception of time blend into one monotonous blur. It is good to have clear life phases. Change job, try new hobbies, create your own projects, emigrate to a foreign country. These will all help you to look back on your life as a challenging, rich and varied one.

Make Lifelong Friends

Memories shared with people can often disappear if those people are no longer in your life. A lifelong friend is a library of your history together. You reminisce over old memories and keep them alive. This is probably the most difficult to achieve as most people don’t succeed in having life long friends, most friendships are based on convenience or co-dependence and so fizzle out after a while (but that’s another article).

Take Photos and Videos

I like to take a lot of photos and Videos of things that I am doing. It becomes a kind of visual journal of your life. You can scroll back over your personal treasure chest in chronological order and relive the memories which are triggered by each one.

Write a Journal

A journal records not only events of your life but how you felt and what you thought about them. Combined with photos they help you keep your memories alive and thus you can look back at a past year or decade with a sense of accomplishment and time well spent.

 

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Perception is Not Reality

“Perception is reality”, so the saying goes. In a way it is true. Everything we know about what’s going on are merely signals from our senses interpreted by our brains and then jumbled up by all sorts of cognitive flaws. Our perception is our reality but it is not the real reality.

The real reality is what happens outside of our heads, outside of our little bubbles. We may interpret and perceive through our senses and minds but that doesn’t change the fact that what’s real is real.

The only thing we can know is that we know nothing.

Life is kind of like walking around in a dark room with a dimly lit flashlight. You can’t see anything outside the beam of light and the things you do see aren’t that clear either. Fumbling around in the dark you keep bumping into things and hurting yourself. Just because you don’t see the hazards it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.Perception is not reality

It is the same with other perceptions too. We are constantly bumping into reality because all we have are our perceptions which are limited to where we shine our crappy little light of attention.

Since everything we know is merely a perception that means we can never know the true reality for sure. So we must constantly test our perceptions to keep them in check and work to make our best guess of reality.

Getting closer to the real reality.

As I see it, there are two things we can do:

Be flexible – We must accept that we know nothing and that everything we think is merely a perception. This opens us up to correcting our perceptions when they are challenged. We will then have a more flexible approach to our opinions and beliefs.

Engage and question – We need to engage with the world more outwardly. We must discuss and listen to alternative perceptions and compare them to ours and then decide whether or not to adopt them.

Once these two principles are adopted as habits of thinking and behaving then we have equipped ourselves with the ability to constantly refine our perceptions and align them closer to reality.

This is the difference between people who learn from experience and those who do not.

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The Selfishness of Kindness

Kindness is generally considered the most important personality trait to possess. But why are people kind and altruistic to each other? Is there selfishness behind the kindness?

Motives for kind actions.

It seems to me that there are four motivations for kindness, some better than others:

  • Empathy and compassion: You feel their pleasure by empathising ie. you feel happy because they feel happy. I think this is the most pure motive.
  • Principles: Following your philosophical principles (religious, humanist etc.). Also a good motivation in my view.
  • Ego: You are trying to boost your sense of self worth and define yourself as a “good person”. People with this motivation usually have low self esteem and depend on others to feel good about themselves.
  • Personal gain: You want something from them; Money (directly or indirectly), trust, acceptance, love, sex, opportunities. The effect of this drive for self gain could range from relatively harmless to cruel and selfish manipulation.

I see this as a spectrum of “pure intentions” with empathy at the “good” end and personal gain at the “bad” end. Let’s be honest with ourselves, we have all used kind actions to gain something or satisfy our egos. Using kindness for personal gain is not always wrong; for example if you have a sadistic boss at work it may be the only way to survive. But I think the ultimate way of being is where our motivations are driven by empathy, compassion and principles.

Why does it matter?

A kind action is a kind action regardless of the intentions behind it, the outcome is the same.

I guess it says something about a person’s Selfish Kindnesscharacter. Are they primarily empathy driven or ego based in their motivations?

The wrong motivations.

There are people who shower others with kindness with the ego centric motive to feel loved and accepted. They will give you what they think you want so long as you make them feel good.

There are those who are more interested in creating the perception of being kind than in the kindness itself. Battling their low sense of self worth by being kind so that they are able to define themselves as a “good person” – it will be very important to them that others are aware of these kind actions validate this.

And then there are the deliberately manipulative. The pick-up artist, the office suck up, the phoney salesman. Their kindness is not genuine, it is based on self gain. The irony is that in all these examples they would do better for themselves in the long term if they were genuinely empathetic.

The kindness from people with the wrong motivations tends to be conditional on getting something back. If they don’t get what they want they will seek it from someone else. Their kindness may even suddenly flip into outright cruelty and apathy.

Empathy is best.

A highly empathetic person will be kind because they really feel the happiness within others through empathising. Their actions will also be based on strong principles of how they believe they should live. They will almost never use kind actions as a tool for getting things out of people because they will know that good things will flow their way as a by-product of being kind in general, since everyone loves kind people.

So thinking on it more, we always get something out of being kind to others. We always get something positive out of everything we do otherwise we wouldn’t do it; whether it be something material, fulfilling some kind of abstract philosophical belief or just mirroring a good feeling from someone.

I guess to me this matters when determining what place a person should have in my life. I respect those who are more empathetic in their motivations and aren’t just using me for personal gratification.

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The Meaning of Life: The Three L’s

What is the meaning of Life?

I think a better way to phrase it is; “what gives my life meaning?”

Why do we need meaning?What does it all mean

Meaning is what makes us get up in the morning, it is what drives us to do what we do. Every person is driven by a different set of meanings.

Meanings are usually beneficial but can be harmful in two ways. The first way is if it results in harm to self or others. For example, the religious fanatic relies strongly on the meaning have given to their religion so much so that they can be compelled to violence in the name of it.

The second way that meanings can be harmful is if too much attention is focused in one particular area while mostly neglecting everything else. The most common example is not balancing work with family which can result in a broken marriage, neglected children or a lot of important life moments missed.

We need to make sure that we are driven by the right set of meanings and it is up to us to look within ourselves and out into the world to decide what we want that to be.

This search for meaning is what drives people to philosophy, religion and self-help gurus – these are ready made meaning structures that we can take and adapt for ourselves. The search for meaning might be why you are reading this. The act of writing this is part of my own quest for meaning.

In my view, everyone (with the exception of sociopaths) has the same basic needs and desires. We all have similar brains and similar psychologies. And thus the most fulfilling things that give our lives meaning must be similar as well.

My answer.

I call it the “Three L’s” philosophy of life:

Love: I need love. People to love and care for. People to love and care for me. I need a sense of closeness and belonging. I need to share experiences and thoughts. These are the deep relationships that make life worth living.

Learning: I need a sense of continual personal growth and learning. I need to feel like I am acquiring new and useful knowledge, removing bad habits, adding good habits and moving towards a better self through new and interesting experiences.

Living Ethically: I need to maintain a sense of ethics and “goodness”. This is a complex topic but in summary I stay true to my word and take trust extremely seriously. I do not use or hurt people deliberately. I balance my interests with the interests of others. I give more than I take.

Everything I do is with these three aims in mind. This leads to a deep sense of satisfaction and joy with the combination of where I am now and where I am going in the future. A sense of progress while enjoying the journey with a clear conscience.

I find that following these principles brings a deep and dynamic life filled with inner peace and contentment which is exactly what everyone is seeking, is it not?

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