Versus My Mind

This week a friend of mine mailed me a book, which is probably the best gift ever. Is there anything more amazing than when someone thinks of you while reading a book and then sends it to you?

Anyway, this friend and I aren’t particularly close. I actually think we’ve only talked in person a few times and it was probably all superficial stuff, but thanks to Facebook I know he and I share a lot of things in common. I imagine that if we lived near each other we would be much closer and go on lots of adventures together. So, when I got a book from him I knew that it would be good because of the connection we’ve had online.

The book, “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright, has been absolutely phenomenal and entered my life at a perfect time. I’ve flown through 75 percent of the book in only a couple days and each chapter brings at least one “Aha!” moment. There are two things that have really impacted my life immediately.

The first thing, that our minds are “modular”, really changed how I view self-control. There is no logical, dictator that is in charge of our minds. There is no “me”. Instead, my mind is made up of a variety of modules that overlap, compete, and cooperate according to the way in which our minds evolved. Instead of viewing self-control as “logic vs. emotion” I’ve come to discover that everything is emotion-based, and that knowledge can be leveraged to make better decisions. I am trying to no longer view things as “me vs. craving for pizza”, but instead recruit the other modules in my mind. It becomes “evolutionary drive for salty, savory, high-calorie food vs desire for longevity, desire for secure finances, desire to be sexually attractive, desire to live an ethical life”.

Our minds are more like the House of Representative than a dictatorial king. There are impulses and urges and drives pulling in different directions and c0mpeting for control during different circumstances. These impulses and urges evolved in a different world with different struggles and they aren’t well suited to the modern world, but at least we are self-aware and work to adapt to the modern world.

The second thing is a new way to view my meditation. I struggle with meditation (as I’m sure all meditators do). I get carried away by thoughts and even counting ten breaths without getting distracted is incredibly rare for me. One method discussed in the book is to identify the thought and then try to find the emotional root of it. For example, when my mind wanders to an embarrassing moment in the past instead of just noting “thinking about the past” I investigate the memory and see why I might be thinking about it. It becomes “The past came to mind because it was a time when I craved friendship and I currently don’t feel like I have close friends in Wilmington”, and that is something that I can work with.

It provides a solution to the thought, which weakens the thought and it slowly fades away. Instead of fighting thoughts I now lean into them and investigate them with a detached curiosity. I’ve already noticed that I can apply this technique when my mind wanders in my normal day-to-day activities and not just when I’m meditating. It has helped me concentrate on work, my reading, and my writing. This might not be revolutionary to other people, but it has stuck with me.

I’m really looking forward to finishing the book (probably today or tomorrow), and I’ll write up a summary when I do but I already recommend it to anyone who is interested in the intersection of psychology and meditation and wants a science-based analysis of Buddhist practices. It is probably the best book I’ve read all year and has been a great book for these early days of my new project to read one book per week for a year.

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I’ve never really been particularly competitive. I played Little League baseball and one year of football in 6th Grade, but I never really got into it that much. The truth is, I’ve never really cared about winning that much and when I am competing (these days it is most likely a board game) I don’t really try that hard. I haven’t done much where failure was a strong possibility, and when I have done risky things I just shrug it off as unimportant. Like most things, I have a lot of trouble getting emotionally invested.

I always viewed this apathy to competition as a good thing, but my morning reading from “The Daily Stoic” has me reconsidering that.

“Difficulties show a person’s character. So when a challenge confronts you, remember that God is matching you with a younger sparring partner, as would a physical trainer. Why? Becoming an Olympian takes sweat! I think no one has a better challenge than yours, if only you would use it like an athelete would that younger sparring partner.”
– Epictetus, Discourses, 1.24.1-2 (Translated by Stephen Hanselman)

I don’t really buy into the whole idea that there is a God who has hand-picked a struggle for me to rest my mettle against. That kind of supernatural determinism reminds me too much of my Christian days where empty platitudes like “God won’t give us a struggle we can’t handle” replaced actual positive support for people, but there is still something there that is gnawing at the back of my mind.

Maybe there is some value in competition to test myself and grow stronger. Maybe my “I’m not competitive” mindset is a way of saying “I’m afraid to test myself because I might fail”. I have a history of focusing on individual tasks like school and running while ignoring competitive tests like chess or sports.

I think I’d like to change that. I’m not going to ignore yoga, but maybe there is room for some martial arts in my life. I’m going to keep studying and reading, but possibly I could benefit from chess or another mental test that requires an opponent. It might do me some good to give something my all, try as hard as I can, and then get my ass kicked.

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Fight or Flight

We evolved to survive. Not forever, but long enough for the next generation to become strong enough to survive on their own and reproduce. Unfortunately, the environment in which we evolved in is drastically different than the one we live in. We weren’t designed for the modern world… hell, we weren’t even designed for an agricultural world. Many of the traits that increased the odds of survival in the past are actually harmful in the present.

20,000 years ago the fight-or-flight response triggered by a perceived attack was a very real need. Maybe it was a wild animal or a hostile neighboring tribe that triggered it and that flood of hormones allowed for quick survival. Sometimes our minds made mistakes, that rustling of wild boar in the bushes was really just a squirrel, but the odds of survival was greater due to the false positives. Being wrong 99 times but correct 1 time worked well.

But, we don’t live in the past anymore and the odds have shifted greatly. Not only are the physical dangers when we are out roaming the world nearly non-existent, we are constantly triggering our fight-or-flight in situations where there is absolutely zero chance of real danger.

Take, for example, Facebook. I’m guilty of spending too much time on Facebook. Not only do the constant likes and comments on my post make me feel good (yay, addiction!) but it places me in an environment where it feels dangerous and that I have enemies. It triggers my fear response, which gets the adrenaline going. It is a rollercoaster without the fresh air, a horror movie without the unnecessary topless women running around summer camp.

The chemical cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters isn’t necessarily a bad thing (everyone knows I love a good serotonin rush), but the fight-or-flight response that we evolved with isn’t conducive with modern life. If I want to get a good night’s sleep, the last thing I should do is check Facebook. Seeing a “friend” who posts bigoted stuff is going to pump up my body for battle, not bed. By checking my phone (or even work email) at night I am sabotaging my own desires for a restful night sleep… or anything productive really. This response makes my relationships worse because I focus on the negative instead of the beauty of the world. I’m constantly on edge and stressed out because the system I evolved with is being over stimulated.

So, what can I do about this? Well, recognizing it is the first step, but overcoming it can take some work. As Robert Wright talks about in “Why Buddhism is True”, simply knowing that our mind is responding to evolutionary urges that no longer match our needs doesn’t necessarily lead to overcoming them (just look at food… I know my sugar cravings come from a time when fruit was the sweetest thing around but I still cram donuts in my mouth that destroy my body). What I need

What I need are practices, support, and an incentive system set-up to help me accomplish my goals. That means shutting off Facebook most of the time (particularly before bed), exercising more, reaching out to friends for support, meditating, and finding a way to make my health a moral imperative.

Sadly, I don’t have a lot of answers. I’m going to try to get control over my evolution though. That’s what it means to be human, after all. We have urges to reproduce, eat high-calorie food, be slothful, etc., but we can be stronger than our urges. We are not animals that live only to fuck, feast, and sleep. There is nothing special about reproducing, eating, or napping. Embracing our humanity means seeing these things for what they are, tools for happiness and by defaulting to them without conscious thought we are doing ourselves a disservice. It may feel good (because we evolution requires them to feel good) but that doesn’t mean they are good for us.

Got something to say? Wanna buy me a beer? There are many ways you can show support and connect with me! Send me a message anonymously via Sarahah or SurveyMonkey or email me. If you’re interested in a bike adventure I went on you can read my book! And I’m always accepting tips via PayPal or Bitcoin.

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“Whole Motion” by Derek Beres

I’ve read a couple different places that the most successful people in America read around 60 books per year. It isn’t because they have more free time, it is because they use their time in a way that allows them to consume more. I don’t know if there is a specific direction of causation between success and reading, but I would be willing to bet that they are a feedback loop.

Anyway, I am trying to up my reading and want to read one book per week. That’ll bring me to 52 books, I think the other 8 will come from the Audiobooks I listen to. I may never get caught up on Game of Thrones but maybe I’ll find tools and methods that help create the success I want. As I finish books I plan on writing a brief summary of what I read. Having a blog post in mind helps me really study the material and reviewing it helps me retain the information.

So, my first book is “Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body for Optimal Health” by Derek Beres. I can’t remember if someone recommended this book to me or if it just popped up on my Goodreads feed because it matched my interests, but I’m glad that I got a hold of it. Beres views health and human optimization in a similar way that I do. Our different areas of life cannot be compartmentalized and that healthy practices in one area can positively impact other areas. For example, regular physical exercise can improve cognitive abilities and mental health. Our body is one unit that includes a lot of different parts that depend on each other.

Beres divides his book into three parts: Setting the Stage, Movement, and Mind. In Setting the Stage he runs through his hypothesis, that we are meant to move, change is good, the body and mind are tied together, and that regeneration (rest, stretching, etc) is a necessary and often neglected part of health. To back up his hypothesis, Beres provides just enough scientific research and biology refresher to support his claims without getting overly technical (though he does provide a lot of references for further reading). I actually really appreciated this approach.

In the second section, Movement, Beres starts providing concrete things that we can each do to add more healthy movement to our lives. Nothing in this book requires any special equipment, each physical exercise can be done in the home with body weight. While each of the subsections could be performed in isolation, it is actually beneficial (and one of Beres’ arguments) that health comes from utilizing all the techniques. Nothing in here is magic or a silver bullet. On the contrary, Beres reminds the reader many times that everybody is different, but the variation from each subchapter does work to reinforce healthy habits and provide variety to the workout.

The second section, Mind, moves us into non-exercise related habits. Meditation, healthy eating, flow states, music, community, and technology are all addressed. This section was really beneficial to me and I enjoyed the practical advice that he gave. Some stuff (like eating healthy and meditation) I was familiar with but the benefits of certain types of music and community were kind of new.

Overall, I loved this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in finding some concrete steps to get a little more out of their life. Beres does a great job of providing evidence for his theory and reminding us that we are animals that evolved in a different environment and that by being aware of that and embracing play and nature we can improve our lives. Health isn’t about ripping muscles or fast marathon times, it is about improving the quality and quantity of our time in this beautiful universe.

Got something to say? Wanna buy me a beer? There are many ways you can show support and connect with me! Send me a message anonymously via Sarahah or SurveyMonkey or email me. If you’re interested in a bike adventure I went on you can read my book! And I’m always accepting tips via PayPal or Bitcoin.

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What Kind of Life Employee Will I Be Today?

I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life. I started earning my income around the age of 12 when living in Gresham, Oregon. I delivered newspapers, sold sodas at the local park, worked in my grandfather’s rare coin shop, and mowed lawns. Since then, my “career” has been a bit unconventional (a full list is at the bottom of this post), but I’ve noticed my work style at each place usually fell into one of two categories: run out the clock and create value.

What determines how I approach a job seems to have little to do with the job itself. Take being a grocery clerk, for example. When I was 15 I started working for Safeway as a grocery clerk. I didn’t care about the job and I felt like I was just a cog in the corporate machine. I saw no opportunities to create or add value, so I just did what I was told. I was running out the clock each day.

That experience was very different than my time at the Good Food Store when I was 33. At GFS I was constantly looking for ways to improve the system and make life easier for all of us clerks. I felt like I was part of a family and my supervisors cared about me and would take my recommendations to heart. The social incentives were in place for me to work hard. I felt like being a value creator.

The reasons for my different approach during these jobs are many. Certainly, my age difference and life experiences played a big part, but I think the institutional incentives were a big factor as well.

I write all this because I’ve been thinking about what kind of employee I am within my own life. Are my days spent “running out the clock” until payday, vacation, the holidays, or death? Sadly… sometimes, yes. And on those days I’ve only hurt myself and wasted moments of my life that I’ll never get back.

On my best days, I am a value creator and that value grows exponentially. When I work to improve my skillset for work or read a book on a new subject or go for a run or eat right or write I am adding to my life, but it is more than addition because that growth acts like compounding interest. And, as Einstein might have said, “Compound interests is the most powerful force in the universe”.

Take my crypto investments, for example. Over the last 115 days, my cryptos have earned ~0.67% per day, which seems like nothing. That isn’t even a new penny for every dollar, but over time that daily growth becomes incredible. If that growth rate continues then a $100 investment becomes nearly $150,000 in three years. I don’t know if my financial investments will keep growing at that rate, but I hope my life can.

I don’t know if my financial investments will keep growing at that rate, but I hope my life can. If I can grow as a person by 0.67% per day than my body and mind and life will grow quickly. All it takes is a little time per day, a little focus, and a little perspective… 30 minutes a day or so dedicated to personal growth (and, of course, more time means faster growth). Every action I take plays off other actions I’ve made, exercise clears the mind and improves neurological function, reading books on new subjects increase creative solutions to old problems, writing publicly grows my network, meeting new people provides new opportunities and perspectives, etc. It isn’t necessarily important how I start being constructive each day, maybe it is a run and maybe it is meditation or maybe it is chatting with a friend, the important thing is that I actually start doing it.

I only have one life and I need to decide, am I just running out the clock as entropy takes hold or am I working to make this the best damn life I can?


Full List of Jobs (maybe?)

  • Age 15 – Grocery Clerk
  • Age 17 – Papa Murphey’s Pizza Maker
  • Age 18 – Lube Technician at a Honda Dealership
  • Age 18 – Papa John’s Delivery Driver
  • Age 19 – US Army
  • Age 23 – Go-Kart Track Attendant at a NASCAR themed track
  • Age 24 – Security Guard at Strip Mall filled with bars
  • Age 26 – Papa John’s Delivery Driver
  • Age 26 – Student Body Secretary
  • Age 27 – Intern for Economics Department
  • Age 27 – Student Body Vice President
  • Age 28 – Researcher for Non-Profit
  • Age 29 – Operations Manager for Non-Profit
  • Age 31 – Security Operations Manager for Private Security Firm
  • Age 33 – Grocery Clerk
  • Age 34 – Researcher for For-For Profit Organization

Got something to say? Wanna buy me a beer? There are many ways you can show support and connect with me! Send me a message anonymously via Sarahah or SurveyMonkey or email me. If you’re interested in a bike adventure I went on you can read my book! And I’m always accepting tips via PayPal or Bitcoin.

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Good and Bad

Today, I went for a run in the rain and it felt glorious. So much of our life is subject to our own perception. Whether something is “good” or “bad” isn’t an objective truth, it is a matter of how we handle it and perceive it. nearly everything can be a learning experience that helps us grow, and nearly everything can be destructive and make our lives worse.

The rain can strengthen us and help us refocus on the beautiful world around us. We become aware of new sensations and can observe them from a new perspective. Or, we can allow the cold and wet to make us miserable or become an excuse to allow our bodies to weaken. It is all in our heads.

Whether it is money, food, possessions, weather, or relationships, our minds shape our experiences and can find growth in nearly everything. We are not slaves to our emotions or our brains, they are tools that we can shape to our own will by changing our perception and language. It isn’t a crummy day because crummy connotates negativity, it is simply a day with certain physical attributes that we can find the beauty in and opportunities for growth.

Like what I say or have questions/comments? Is what I wrote worth $1 to you? There are many ways you can show support! Send me a message anonymously via Sarahah or SurveyMonkey or email me. If you’re interested in a bike adventure I went on you can read my book! And I’m always accepting tips via PayPal or Bitcoin.

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Should We Forget?

Today is September 11th and with the rising of the sun, my Facebook feed starts to swell with nationalistic posts from part of my past and anti-nationalistic posts from another part (and a handful of conspiracy theorists). I’ve talked about my relationship with this day before, and I don’t really see a reason to revisit that. But there is one thing on my mind right now, the unofficial motto of today “Never Forget”. While this is clearly a knock-off (tribute?) to “Never Again*” and the holocaust, it makes me wonder, should we forget?

Memories are valuable, but only if they improve the world by helping us make better decisions. If a memory causes us grief or hatred, then it does not serve a purpose and we should work to overcome it. If a memory traps us in the past then we should work to move beyond it. If a memory builds walls, divides us, dehumanizes others, and makes the world a darker place, then we should forget it. If a memory justifies future atrocities in your mind, then the memory is not a tool for good, but one for evil.

But, if the memory helps inspire goodness in your heart then hold onto it. If thinking about 9/11 makes you think about the bravery of the firefighters who worked tirelessly to help the victims of the attack, then use it to motivate bravery in your life. If the memory reminds you of the way your community came together, despite racial or religious lines, to help each other out with love and comfort and care, then use that event to inspire selflessness in your life. If you can look back on that day and realize that you have followed Christ’s example to love thy enemy and turn the other cheek, if you see that day as a moment of flawed humans who need love and compassion instead of an evil, inhuman “other”, then remember that day.

We must also ask, are there other memories or events that can inspire that kind of motivation without the temptation to hate or dwell on tragedy? Would it not be better to think about the brave women and men who are fighting raging wildfires to protect us in the west? Or the volunteers with the Coast Guard who brave the rough seas to rescue people? We have doctors that cross borders to heal the sick, we have families who risk everything to flee their home countries to make a better life for their children, we have heroes everywhere. Heroism doesn’t require an enemy or evil.

So, what will it take to move on? I wish I had a good answer to that.

What did it take for the US to move beyond the attack on Pearl Harbor? I’m not a historian but, unfortunately, it seems like vengeance worked. We had a feeling of superiority after slaughtering of hundreds of thousands of civilians to feel strong again. We were sucker punched and responded by blowing up the city block that the attacker lived on. I hope that we have moved beyond that, as a culture. I hope revenge isn’t how we move beyond 9/11. I hope we can someday have the same relationship with the Middle East that we have with Japan and that it won’t require more death.

Personally, I think that moving on is actually going to be more difficult in the modern age. We have social networks that overwhelm us and demand our attention, and many of these bubbles have become feedback loops of nativism and militarism. There are people who feel like perpetual victims of the attacks on 9/11, the day isn’t one of remembrance but one of feeling empowered to cause more harm.

I don’t see this kind of behavior from the men and women that actually served in the military though. They may put up a flag or share their story, but there isn’t a violent fetishism to their actions. No, it is my parent’s generation that seems to have difficulty moving on. Soldiers have seen the horrors of war and realize that there is nuance and subtly to world events. Even civilians of my generation understand this because they grew up and were educated in a time when Middle East politics were being studied and discussed. We recognize that 9/11 wasn’t a sucker punch by someone that hated the US for illogical reasons, it was the result of complex geopolitical actions that the US was part of. We share the guilt, and that is difficult for some people to accept.

My parent’s generation seems to see this from a very “black and white” perspective. They experienced the most horrific thing imaginable, someone put their children in danger or killed them. The sin of killing their child is, for many people, unforgivable. Instead of reflecting on Christ’s teachings they spout things like “Kill ’em all, let god sort ’em out”. To them, Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” was right:

You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins

Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

And if Jesus won’t forgive them then they must be inhuman and unworthy of human forgiveness. But forgiveness isn’t for the person who hurt you, it is for yourself. That is a great irony, by “Never” forgetting or forgiving we only hurt ourselves and our nation. We allow the memories of those events to make our future darker, to prevent love and understanding across nations and religions, to fill our own hearts with hatred and anger and resentment.

So, should we forget? I don’t know, but we should definitely forgive everyone involved, from the United States government to al Queda. All should be forgiven because that is what is necessary to make the future a better place. The past is lost to us, it is beyond our action, but the future can be shaped into a brighter place.

*There is something deeply uncomfortable about the US kind of ripping off the “Never Again” statement. As terrible as the 9/11 attacks were, there is simply no comparison between it and the Holocaust. Besides, “Never Again” is something to be acted upon to better the world and “Never Forget” is simply a mental state. It is a shittier phrase.


I can tell the quality of my day by my desires when I lay down to sleep. If I curl up in bed and want to just put on the sleeping meditation track on Headspace then I know it was a productive day. I have no regrets, my mind and body are at ease, I am ready to sleep and wake renewed for the next day. The warmth of bed helps my drift into slumberland and my conscience is clear, and the sleep is good. After eight hours I wake up slightly before my 6 am alarm and I’m ready to tackle the day.

But, if my day was wasted then my nighttime routine is different. I lay in bed and crave a podcast or audiobook instead of meditation and rest. My subconscious recognizes that I wasted the day, that I didn’t live up to my potential. Those missed opportunities drift around my mind and I grasp at any last thing I can to feel productive. Listening to something makes me feel like I am lengthening the day and making the most of it, but what I’m really doing is trying to make up for lost time… an impossible task. On nights like this I wake up throughout the night, sleep is difficult, and I wake without rest.

It becomes a cycle. Good days lead to good nights lead to good mornings. Bad days lead to bad nights lead to bad mornings. Soon, one day becomes one week becomes one month and breaking the cycle becomes more difficult. And before I know it, it has been six weeks since I went to the gym, a month since I study or practiced a foreign language or blogged. But when the cycle reverses itself the momentum is addicting. My good mornings lead to good days and I accomplish all I want and more.

I think tonight will be a good night, the second one in a row. I’ve worked hard, exercised, bonded, produced, and consumed. My mind will rest easy that I had a good day and tomorrow the beautiful cycle will start again.

Last Month

Dear lord, has it really been a month since I blogged? Blargh. This year is going by at a blinding speed and, to be honest, I’m not really proud of my accomplishments. The first half of the year went well, but in the last couple of months, I have had a really hard time getting things going. I’m kind of embarrassed at how this blog has become little more than me struggling to get things started over and over again.

Oh well, every day is new and focusing on the past won’t fix anything. I’m trying to go easy on myself, but I am a bit disappointed in how little I have accomplished. My writing has basically stopped, as have my studies and exercise routine. I continue to be amazed at how hand-in-hand everything seems to go. I seem to operate at 100% or 10%, I either have a full day where I meditate, write, work, study, read, run, lift, etc. or I have an empty day where I get nothing done at all, there seems to be no middle ground. The only thing I was consistent with was answering Sarahah questions because I really enjoy those.

This last month has been particularly difficult, in no small part because of some random life events that happened and I used them as excuses to slack off. I had a work trip to Greenville, my wisdom teeth removed, had a vacation in Charleston, a planned work trip to Orlando, and an upcoming vacation to Lake Tahoe. Yeah, that seems busy but in reality, it only accounts for about 21 days out of 42 days. So, half my time was taken up by events but the other half was my own, and I have done almost nothing. Instead of thinking “man, my time is limited so I better take advantage of it”, I thought “man, what’s the use if I can only get two days of productivity in a row at a time”.

Well, I’m going to try and do better. I have six days until I fly to Lake Tahoe and I’m going to try and improve my productivity. Instead of shooting for a good week or month, I’m going to just try and have a good hour or day. I know that betting on my motivation is not the best option, but I really don’t know what else to do. Most people that seem super productive advise me to set up incentives and systems that will get me what I want, but what if I really don’t seem to want anything? I made a list of “tasks” that I can earn points to buy things I want with, but the list of things I want is so freaking small. I don’t really like going out or playing video games, I don’t want to buy anything and I don’t really get pleasure out of Facebook or other social media (those are more like numbing opioids than pleasure inducing MDMA). Basically, because I’m not at risk of starvation or homelessness I have trouble incentivizing myself. I’m gonna keep trying though, because once you stop trying you might as well bury yourself in a coffin.

I made a list of “tasks” that I can earn points to buy things I want with, but the list of things I want is so freaking small. I don’t really like going out or playing video games, I don’t want to buy anything and I don’t really get pleasure out of Facebook or other social media (those are more like numbing opioids than pleasure inducing MDMA). Basically, because I’m not at risk of starvation or homelessness I have trouble incentivizing myself. I’m gonna keep trying though, because once you stop trying you might as well bury yourself in a coffin.