This is one of many attempts to blog about my progress towards self improvement. Some have gone quite well, spanning for months at a time, and some have been relegated to a minor 1 or 2 blog posts before being struck into oblivion.
I am hoping this blog series will be different, but not merely out of pure hope.
I am going to make some adjustments to the format of this blog series to bring it into alignment with the experiences and knowledge I have gained. Whether it will be a success or not is another story, but either way hopefully it will be a learning experience.
There are a few key concepts I hope to integrate into the framework of this experience. They are listed below. They are not a solid list of concepts and are of course ready to be adapted and changed as the series progresses.
When it comes to doing difficult tasks that deplete the beneficial (or, perhaps even necessary) chemicals in my brain - it is important to do them in a way that can create a loop of replenishment of those chemicals. The core idea behind this concept I first discovered from a talk by Andrew Huberman. I am paraphrasing here and before implementing I will go over the material again and make sure I have this right, but essentially when doing something that requires significant mental effort or struggle, we are using up a chemical (or, chemicals) in our brains.
Once this chemical is depleted, everything in our beings is telling us to stop doing that thing. The idea of "Just doing it" and overcoming the mental barrier is fine in theory, but if we are unable to refill those reserves, the odds of carrying on become exceedingly lower with every second that passes. And the quality of the output we are able to perform will also degrade as well. So, to be able to consistently perform and do difficult things, this replenishment is needed.
Ideally, the process of replenishment needs to be integrated into a loop. The process of replenishment needs to happen on a regular basis to keep up with the usage of the chemical. If the chemicals remain at satisfactory levels, it should be much easier to continue doing the difficult task in question.
This is almost a cliché, but a cliché that to the best of my knowledge has a large amount of data, science and what one might call common sense to back it up.
There are a variety of different aspects to why health is important, and I will try to list those below now, although I'm sure there will be many insights in which I am lacking.
If you are unhealthy, you will probably die sooner. Yes, obvious right? But one unfortunate issue with clichés and often repeated common sense is the desensitization that sometimes can come with it. There have been periods of my life where the prospect of dying sooner was not a huge issue. The only issue being that I did not want to hurt others emotionally, and that is largely the reason I am still alive today. However, I can thankfully say the prospect of dying any time soon is a rather undesirable thought for me, and while I still do not wish to harm others, it is not the only reason I have left.
I am not chronically depressed anymore, which to say is a good thing would be an understatement. Because of this - and other changes in my perception, the idea of staying alive as long as possible is a rather valuable one. If by any chance there is someone out there reading this who is in a state of depression, I would ask them to read on, there are concepts that apply even in those states too further down the line. However, in my current state of mind the idea of prolonged life is a considerable motivator.
If you are unhealthy, you will probably have a larger degree of suffering during your lifetime. This is something I wanted to avoid even when I was in a less stable mental state, although the desire for this is even more now. While the right kind of suffering or struggle can no doubt be beneficial and perhaps even integral to a fulfilling life - the type of suffering I am referring to here is the kind that preferably would be avoidable or minimized in favour of more constructive kinds of suffering, or hey, just enjoyment.
If you are unhealthy, you will most likely cause pain or suffering to other people. The more a person cares about you, the more pain you will probably cause. This is often for me a disconnect, and it is a thought that often gets put to the back of my head because of the unpleasant sensations and emotions that it invokes within me. But it is a reality. I am in a fortunate position where I have multiple other people who care about me, and my own pain, suffering or death would transition into their lives as well. This is probably one of the biggest motivators for increasing my level of health, however it is one that, as I said before, I often push to the back of my head, ironically exactly for the same reason it is a large motivator when paid attention too. It invokes strong emotion.
Conversely, if you are healthy, you will probably live longer. It's not a guarantee, by any stretch of the imagination. But there's not a lot that life seems to offer in terms of guarantees, and we often have to make the best out of probabilities instead. Death could come at any moment, just as when you roll a dice, any of the numbers may appear on top. However, it does appear that looking after your health is akin to a weighted dice. One, that when used properly, will tip the odds in your favor - allowing you to reap the benefits. Just as learning the art of gamed gambling to win bets down the local pub can be a difficult skill to master, learning to hack the odds of health in your favour can be difficult too. However, one is arguably rather unethical, taking from an innocent person. The other, conversely, is stealing from death. And I think we all agree, he or she is a bit of a bastard anyways.
If you are healthy, you will likely experience less suffering and pain. Again, no guarantees here. And some degree of suffering will undoubtedly fall into our laps at various points throughout our lives. Health, though, is a suit of Armour that can be worn to protect almost completely from the little punches it takes at us, and gives us a fighting chance against the more daunting weight of larger issues that may find themselves on our plate. It also helps when the smaller issues gang up on us, right and left hooking at every chance they get.
If you are healthy, there is a lesser chance of causing pain and suffering to those who care about you. Of course, we cannot protect those we care about from all pain and suffering, as we cannot deny these experiences to ourselves. But being healthy, decreasing the chances of our own unfortunate experiences, means we will not inflict undue stress on those who care about our well-being. It also means that when they may be experiencing pain, or suffering from another influence, you are capable of helping them by allowing them to lean on you, in times of need. Bill wither's knew what he was talking about.
In case it is not clear yet - and I have a bit of a habit of being unclear in my thoughts - the concept of health which I am referencing is being used rather broadly, and in some ways it is a little fuzzy. This is intentional. Fuzziness bothers me - it has done for as long as I can remember. However, lots of things in life are fuzzy, and there is a utility to that fact as well. By writing about health in this fuzzy way, I hope I am flexing my fuzziness-handling-capability muscle and I hope I will become better at dealing with fuzzy concepts. I'm going a bit off track here, but to clarify, when I say "health" I am referring to health in a broad context. Not just physical health, and not just mental health.
These two types of health could arguably describe the entirety of the concept of "health" in relation to human beings. It's fair to say that most people would consider the body and the mind to be the main players in the human experience, and I do not disagree with that. But health as I am referencing here, also branches out into less commonly associated avenues such as business health, societal health and the health of every aspect of life.
I know, this is a rather lofty idea and I am the first person to think of many criticisms in regards to what I just said. However, I am not saying that I will solely be responsible for the health of businesses, society and life itself. But I am saying that, to the capacity that I am able to influence these things, I will aim to consider and incorporate the health of these concepts into my decision making and subsequent actions. Unfortunately, I cannot control the nature of business, or society. (Or perhaps very fortunately, given how prone to mucking things up I am!)
However, I can decide what to do with my small part in that equation. I can do business in a way that is in alignment with the health of business as a whole. I can participate in society in a way that is constructive, rather than destructive. And I will undoubtedly make unwitting mistakes, or even knowingly do the wrong thing from time to time. But to take the sum of experience and mistakes and decide it is equal to apathy, is bad math, if you ask me.
Fair, fair. But I do like a good jabber, so I'm going to answer that question with more incessant jabbering. Watcha gon' do about it?
What I am actually going to do - can be fuzzily described as "Put health first". And while I am trying to be OK with fuzziness, I do think it would be beneficial to identify some of the basic steps that I may need to take to actually "Put health first".
As I am merely a little human being, it does make sense to tackle the health of myself first. If I want to improve the health of my business or any other more detached concept, it's going to be rather difficult if my own state of health is in disrepair. Trying to nail together pieces of wood with your bare hands is probably inadvisable. Possible, maybe. And it would be pretty badass. But the chance of success does undoubtedly increase when you have an appropriate tool for the job, such as a hammer.
Now, the human body and mind is a little bit trickier to construct than a hammer. But thankfully nature has done most of the leg work here and I do have a metaphorical hammer. A brain and a body. But that's not to say it is in it's best condition, or that it cannot be improved. Far from it. My aim is to take the tools I have and sharpen them, remove the rust and discover new ways of using them. Maybe even add a motor or two, but we're getting ahead of ourselves there.
There are two main aspects to my personal health. The physical and the mental, but these two seem to be so intertwined it is becoming increasingly commonplace for people to consider them one of the same thing. I will therefore list some of my proposed actions / steps to be taken below as a conglomerate, rather than tightly grouped into the physical and mental categories.
First port of call on the list is the acquisition of data. Sounds a bit bland - and might put some of you to sleep. But the beauty and power of data is something far withdrawn from many representations that are commonly associated with it. Data of course is a broad concept in itself, there are many different types of data. Text, video and audio being the primary forms of data we are used to working with. But the interesting part is not necessarily the data, it is what the data represents. It is what the data can illuminate and allow us to do that is the more intriguing. I will go into more detail on how I plan to collect, represent and infer meaning from data below and in subsequent posts, but for now, take my word that data is going to be integral to this process.
Before we are able to understand the data, naturally, we have to collect it. We also have to decide what data is pertinent to the situation in terms of the availability and ease of access to the data vs the potential benefit.
What I mean by this is that some data is easy to come by. Cheap, quick and readily abundant. Requiring almost zero effort to gather. An example of this might be the amount of times you unlock your phone each day. Many phones have this data by default, or you can quickly and freely install an app to monitor this for you, with zero effort for ongoing data collection. However, the usefulness of this data is questionable.
Actually, scratch that, that's very intriguing and I'd love to see a plot of how many times a day I unlock my phone vs a scale of self reported emotional states such as anxiety or contentment. But there in comes the second type of data. Scruffy, uncertain data, liable to bias, taking consistent, frequent effort to gather. There are multiple issues with this type of data. To list some in relation to the previous example given:
Self-reporting means I have to make the conscious, and consistent decision to report my emotional states. Sometimes, that will be easy. Sometimes, not so much. On a stressful day, the priority my brain assigns to filling out a small questionnaire might be dismal in comparison to the priority it assigns to the cause of the stress. Understandably so, filling out the questionnaire has little to no effect on reducing the stress I am currently facing. And replying to that email, or distracting myself with some flashing lights and noises on a screen, certainly has a much more immediate effect.
Self-reporting also relies on myself making accurate reports of the emotional states I am experiencing. This is difficult for a number of reasons, including:
Due to the need of consistency, I will need to report these emotional states at regular intervals, and if I miss one, I might be tempted to just fill it out later, based on the memory I have of my emotional state in that particular moment. Unfortunately, memory has a bit of a habit of being incorrect. In ways that are often not too much of an issue in day-to-day life, but when it comes to gathering data to infer meaning on, it can matter quite a bit. To the best of my knowledge, our memories are not akin to video or audio recordings of an event. They are not exact copies.
The algorithm used to store and retrieve memories by our brains seems to recreate each memory as we remember, using data saved at that time, but also data that is currently available or general purpose data that is used to fill in the gaps. It makes sense from a resource optimization point of view, good job mother nature the systems architect. But it is a little annoying when we rely on it to gather data like this.
While not as much of an issue if it is just me collecting data on myself, if in the future, I or someone else would like to use that data and compare it with others, the concepts I have around those emotional states may differ considerably to the concepts others hold for the same set of words. This is an issue that is pertinently explained in How Emotions Are Made by Northeastern University Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett
Yes! Well no, but yes.
This is a DAUNTING task, and this post alone is not intended to have all the answers. It is intended to be the start of a long arduous journey, with the end goal of being better than before with putting health first in my own life, and maybe, hopefully, helping at least one other nice human being out there on the internet start a similar journey. The fuzziness of the goal "being better" is troublesome in some ways, as you kinda can never really stop being better than before. So the end goal will probably never be reached, at least by me. But oh well, the fun is in the journey, right?
Due to the near infinite possibilities and the unavoidable mistakes I am going to make along this journey, defining all the data to be collected and how it will be collected is not a small task, and trying to do so in this one post is probably not the best idea. But it does ignite some interesting ideas on how to make this approach modular and encourage the gradual improvement.
I propose that I will start a series on data collection. In each post, I will focus on a particular type of data, try to explore the potential ways to create the data, figure out what works for me and share alternatives as well for those who want to collect the same data, but have different needs.
I'll start off with the simple stuff. And perhaps along the way, we can get a bit more adventurous and even develop some open source solutions to collecting data that is not currently available or easily accessible! That'd be neat.