Humility Helps

“Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?”

So begins Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poem.  It’s all about mortality, and poetically reminds us that our time on this Earth is short.  Many act as if they are immortal, yet all of them eventually return to dust.

Why was it that Abe had to remind himself of this fact?  Certainly he already knew this.  Being surrounded by the Civil War must also have been a constant reminder as to everyone’s eventual end.  And he was the first President to start receiving actual death threats (as far as I know).  So what’s with the poem?

Another way to ask this same question is why don’t modern politicians and leaders remind themselves of the same thing?  How many actually acknowledge their mortality, not only in words, but in deeds?  The newest pope comes close, by the way.  Why does admitting their own mortality matter for leadership?

Because the sin of pride distorts your world in your favor, and increases the distance between your view of reality and the rest of us.

If you are proud enough you expect to have a 747 at your beck and call.  You expect to live in a palace with a staff of 100.  You expect a legion of photographers to follow your every move.  And the more you come to expect these things as normal, the more likely you are to make decisions that reinforce your reality.

Do small airplanes get in the way of your 747?  Tell them all to stop flying wherever you fly.  Are the parks around your palace looking dingy?  Ask the government for a few million to tidy them up.  Are the paparazzi getting a bit too close?  Ask for laws to keep them at bay, or decide you’re above the law and do whatever you want to mislead them – like speeding.

But if you’re serious about making great decisions and seeing the world as the rest of us, then mortal, be not proud.

Don’t be afraid of your public, take a regular flight from Washington to Chicago in the economy seats.  Palace park has litter?  Go pick it up yourself!  Paparazzi want your pictures?  Give it to them, and stand there till they get bored.  Heck, hire some yourself and make some money yourself.  Better yet, lead a modest, quiet regular life and bore them to exhaustion.  If you really want them to go away, that is.

Abe was humble because he wanted to be the best leader possible.  He knew he was smart and powerful, he didn’t need sycophants for that.  But he also knew he had to understand, to the best of his ability, what the world looked like for ordinary Americans.

He may have been afraid that fateful night when he went to the theater.  He certainly knew he had enemies and crazy people threatening him.  But he also knew that he could not live in fear, not if he wanted to be a great leader.  Especially when his country needed a great leader the most.

I like to think that Abe would still go to the theater that night, even if he knew what was going to happen.  And to me, that is the greatest attribute of leadership – humility and the loss of fear.

Thank you Mr. Lincoln.


Living the Gym

I hate exercising.  I hate to sweat.  Yet, I do it anyway.  Several times a week.


If I work out so hard that I feel like dying, then I know I must be alive.

I know, it doesn’t make much sense.  I’m hoping that if I say it often enough I’ll believe it.

But exercise is behavior.  It’s something we do; at least, it’s something that many of us do.  If you’re a die-hard writer, it’s hard to get up the gumption to sweat, especially since it might interfere with the creative juices.  Then again, pushing that damn pen (or keyboard) can be hard enough.

What does exercise tell us about others?  Or about our society?

We seem to like to exercise in groups, for one thing.  We like to be led, and we like something that is new and somewhat flashy.  Remember when fancy dancing was the rage, then lots of ab work on balls?  Then there was slidy things, and now it seems to be hot yoga and lots of boot camps.  It also seems that many people like to be seen when they work out, so it’s a form of parade where we show off our social status.  We work out in only the ‘best’ places.

How many people exercise because they know it’s good for them?  And indirectly good for their families because it means they’ll be around longer to help them and less of a burden on them in their old age?  How many people think that it’ll be a good thing for society because their health-care bills will be lower?

Or do we do it because someone will take a long look at us when we’re in our skimpy bathing suit?

Because that’s how you know you’re alive.


Paleo diet assumption number one

I overheard a young man in yoga the other day saying that he and his wife had been on the “paleo diet.”  She took herself off that diet when she became pregnant.  That’s the good news.  The bad news was that she discovered that she was now gluten intolerant.

I live in a cave, pretty much, so I’d never heard of the paleo diet.  A few minutes on the all-mighty all-knowing internet and I’m now an expert.  Well, good enough for dinner conversation, anyway.

Seems that the diet is supposed to consist of what mankind was eating some 10,000 years before the present.  No grains, no refined sugars.  And apparently no milk, either.  What, no cows back then?  Overall, the diet seems smart – good foods, natural, stay away from the processed junk and sugar.  Except one small thing.

That small thing is the fundamental assumption underlying the paleo diet.  That biologically we are the same species, only 10,000 years later.  Are we?

Absolutely not.  If good old Chuck Darwin proved anything, it was the fact (FACT) that over time, species change.  And we know why they change; it’s called variation and selection.  If the paleo diet people think that we’re the same species over 10,000 years, they simply aren’t looking closely enough.

Ooooh – hate mail from the paleo people.  I’m so scared.  They say we can’t really measure this sort of thing. (We can.)  They say that even if we can measure this, we can’t know what genetic changes really mean for today’s human.  (Dang it.  They’re right about this one.)  What are we to do?

We look to biology for insight.  And one of the greatest insights within the last few years is the discovery of our biome – the mass of living things in and around our body.  A large part of our biome makes up our digestive system, and in an impressive display of cooperation and feedback, our gut not only helps us live within our environment, it can actually enhance our experience.  Without the right bugs, we won’t be as happy.

Which brings me back to the young lady who is suddenly intolerant of gluten.  It may be that her “paleo diet” has shifted her microbiome in such a way so that she is no longer tolerant of grains.  It’s taken thousands of years of her ancestors to develop a relationship with the local bugs to digest those grains – and she’s lost it.  Worse, she can be endangering her unborn child.

And that’s where evolution comes in.  Her ancestors tried eating grains.  Face it.  Her ancestors were hungry, and I’m sure that they ate whatever they could get their hands on.  Paleo diet my foot.  Back then they were starving most of the time!  You caught it, found it, or unburied it, you ate it!  And some of those ancestors tried eating grains.  Luckily, those ancestors may have already had some grain-friendly bugs in their guts.  Guess what?  The grains went down and stayed down.

Those ancestors went on to have some kids.  The kids ate their spaghetti and had their own kids.  And so on and so on until this young lady was born.  Except she decided to go on the paleo diet and has (possibly) lost her grain-bugs.

Moral of the story.  Eat right.  Take care of yourself.  And never, never, bet against Mother Nature.  Whether she comes in the form of evolution, climate change, or the biome, she is one powerful bitch.

Now, how about some garlic pasta?

Beautiful yoga; Ugly yogi

I really detest exercise.  It’s not me.  Never was.

But common sense, a weak back, and a desire to live a productive healthy life (NOT necessarily long) is a pretty good motivator.  And there is also the mental health benefits.  Like a nano-vacation, getting out of our regular skin is a great feeling, even if it is only for a 1/2 an hour a few times a week.

Along the way I’ve discovered yoga.  It’s been described as slow gymnastics by the Dutch, repressed dance by choreographers, and as a new form of torture by anyone who has seen a contortionist or the cirque de soleil.

That said, it’s going to be the last exercise my body will endure.  I can do it sitting down, or standing in line, or even lying in bed.  Heck, I’ll be doing it in my coffin just before they torch me; the pose is called corpse pose!

More to the point, yoga itself is beautiful.  Balancing the position of every muscle in your body against gravity, and against yourself, is a precise discipline that makes me appreciate my body in new ways.  My gurus and yogini friends claim that all this stretching and balancing will reduce the chance of hip surgery and even simply falling and breaking my hip or head.  But learning more about my body, and getting stronger at the same time are true benefits that I can appreciate today.

There are some side benefits.  Savasana for one – getting to just lie on the floor for a few minutes at a time.  Reminds me of nap time in kindergarten.  And then there’s all the pretty yoginis, of all ages.  Skin tight fashionable clothing, sweating and posturing right there next to me.  How can that not be fun?

And, yes, there’s the downside, and the reason for this article.  I do love the new exercise we call yoga, but I’m terrible at it.  My body is rather ungainly, doesn’t flex well, and certainly doesn’t do anything in a coordinated way.  Yesterday my shoulders went one way and my hips decided to go an entirely new way, and my knees went in two entirely different directions.  It took the instructor a few minutes just to stop laughing long enough to try and put me back together.

Yet, as ugly as I am in yoga, I’m learning from it and getting better.  I feel sorry for those fellow students who have to look at me when they’re pointing their heads my way.  I also feel for those courageous instructors who feel that they have to touch my body to get me bending in a meaningful way.  I want to offer them some sanitizer when they finish.

If I can do it, you can certainly do it.  And there’s a good chance you’ll look a heck of a lot better at it than I will.



Episodic Living™

Gentle Reader, I’ve hit upon a great lifestyle pattern that owes itself to the study of behavior and attention to detail and respect for our biological heritage. I’m calling it Episodic Living™, and trademarking it!

What? How can someone purporting to promote free and open scientific discourse go about setting up intellectual barriers to knowledge by using the copyright and patent system? Easy!

Like so many of you, I am seeking a greater degree of financial power and freedom through the creation of a powerful new lifestyle. With this power, I will promote even greater scientific inquiry into behavior and further the success of all mankind! But until then, you, and I, will have to be satisfied with these tiny insights into our behavior. So, here we go!

What does this mean, Episodic Living™? Well, it has two fundamental parts to it: getting away from monotony, and, pushing yourself to gentle extremes. Take these two parts and apply them to the two most important things we do in our lives, our most fundamental behaviors. Eating and moving, also known as dieting and exercising. Diet as in what we normally eat, not what we eat only when trying to lose weight. Exercise as in how we move every day, not only what we do at the gym.

I call these two components Episodic Diet™ and Episodic Exercise™. Since more people diet than exercise, let’s discuss that first. What we normally eat is our diet. That we need to alter our diet to stay healthier or lose weight is obvious, but what is the best way? Every other diet leans towards fewer calories, but monotonously so. They may be all about meat and cheese, or juice and veggies, but monotony reigns. No so for the Episodic Diet™!

Go ahead, eat your calories. If you can reduce them, better for you! But don’t be monotonous. Three squares? Try six smalls. Or the other extreme, only one meal a day! How about this, try fasting – for a night at first, then a whole day. Maybe even two days. Your body will react in its own way, some people can handle it, some can’t. Don’t push it! If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t right for you. And don’t rush it. Fast six hours this week, then maybe seven the next week. What’s the hurry? You have a whole lifetime to perfect the system. As always, you shouldn’t practice any major changes in your lifestyle without your doctor’s participation.

Why is mixing it up good? For our animal ancestors, food came in spurts, so they would binge when they could. They would starve until the next bounty appeared. They survived and evolved on this system, so we know we can do it. It will make you tougher, and increase your will power so that even though we, today, are swimming in an ocean of food, you can hold off until that one morsel you really need presents itself. Your stomach will shrink, your will power increase, and yes, get this, even your cells will thank you!

What’s this? you say?, How can my cells thank me? It turns out that contented cells don’t do a good job of housecleaning. Yes, every one of your trillion living cells has to clean their own house. And if they don’t have a clean house, then they can make mistakes. Mistakes lead to malfunctions, and malfunctions can make you sick!

By making your cells hungry, guess what happens? They start cleaning their own house! They eat up the bad stuff floating about their insides, much like we throw out garbage from our own houses during Spring Cleaning. Perhaps this is one reason animals and even some people on calorie restrictive diets tend to live longer and healthier. Who knows, but it’s only one good reason to start the Episodic Diet™. If you want to know more, let me know.

There’s more. One good way to maintain the Episodic Diet™ during your transition to an Episodic Lifestyle™ is to start your Episodic Exercise™ regime. No monotony here. Are you one of those people who gets on the exercise bicycle and pushes the pedals three miles in thirty minutes at a three degree grade? Do you do this three times a week? STOP! Mix it up!

Stay on your bike, but for one of those days try for three point three miles instead. If you’re successful, try for three point six. One day a week, push it! It doesn’t have to be any day, and you don’t have to do twenty miles per hour all the time, do it in little bits.

What about the other days? Mix it up, even during your thirty minutes. Bike the random hills, or do one big hill and one valley. It doesn’t matter, just have fun and break the monotony.

There you have it, a new lifestyle rediscovered from our animal past – and branded Episodic Living™. I know it works because it’s worked for me for twenty years. Your diet will be more interesting, you’ll know hunger, and you’ll still be able to feast with the family. Your exercise will get more meaningful, you’ll watch yourself get stronger, faster, and go further, without trying to kill yourself every time you step on the treadmill.

Live your life like a great story. All great stories have episodes, so isn’t it time your life did too? Episodic Living, Episodic Dieting, and Episodic Exercise all add up to an Episodic Lifestyle™. Live it today, and every day, for the rest of your life!