Welcome back to another lesson-filled article with your host, John. Today, we're learning about some of my experiments over the years. I have a deep belief that everyone else is wrong about everything, so I am sure to test what they all say out on myself to make sure it works. Sometimes they're wrong, sometimes they're right. But the core idea here is that whenever possible, we want to take action on what we hear, as opposed to just thinking about things. Dreaming and thinking is easy. Doing is hard. The more we can get in the habit of doing, the faster we will learn, progress, and ultimately succeed.
So let's get into it.
Eating is Overrated.
Imagine not having to waste time on food ever again. Always interested in ways I can use as much of my time for the really important things, I was extremely excited when I hear about Soylent. I always thought of food as a necessary evil. I've always hated wasting time buying food, preparing it, and worst of all, eating it. I want to get back doing fun stuff like hanging out with friends, working, reading, or going to the gym.
That's when I came across Soylent.
While I did not drink only Soylent for three weeks, the drink was most of my calories. About 60-80%. I would drink it all day at school, but then I would come home feeling like an animal, needing to ravenously devour something solid and edible. So I would, but I would make sure to be drinking Soylent for most meals. I wanted to give it a try.
Soylent allowed me to avoid wasting time on food. I wouldn't have to buy any food from the store, saving me a few hours a week. I wouldn't have to prepare food, saving me a few more hours each day. And, I wouldn't really have to eat the food, since "eating" was the same as just drinking out of a water bottle, saving me even more hours each day.
As I wasn't allowing myself to buy any food, my cupboards slowly dwindled down from the evening pig-outs. At the same rate as this, I was starting to feel malnourished, sort of like a plant without sunlight, but still with water. I felt I had my nutrients, and water too of course, but I had no energy. When I went to the gym, I couldn't lift anything as heavy as normal, and more than that, I didn't want to. I was tired all the time, and I didn't realize why.
In case you hadn't already guessed, trying to only "eat" Soylent ended up being a massive failure. But I am still incredibly glad I did it.
See there are two ways to live: sometimes we are thinking, and sometimes we are doing. For me, I find it easy to spend too much time thinking and not enough time doing. When I am trying to learn about something, I find doing it teaches me many more lessons much faster than just thinking about it. In fact, in my head, I was certain Soylent was going to work. At the start, I was extremely confident about being able to save my time wasted on food for way more important things.
By removing eating from my life, the value of it became really obvious to me. As the saying goes, you don't know what you have until it's gone. Here are the lessons I learned from the experience.
1. Soylent made me feel bad, when food is supposed to make us feel good.
I always thought the point of eating well was to live longer. This makes sense, right? The better I eat now, the more life I get to live? Not really. In fact, the science says caloric restriction (eating less) is a possible cause of living longer. Regardless, even if eating effects our length of life, what about the actual time we spend living? What about the 80-120 years we're alive? I am pretty sure the point of eating well is to help us feel good during this time period.
If eating is supposed to make us feel good, then we should pick what we eat, how much, and when based on what makes us feel good. For me, I have noticed this to be a constant learning process. I know what core foods make me feel good, so I make food choices based on this knowledge. Conversely, I know what foods make me feel bad, so I try to limit those.
Soylent made me certain that picking food that makes us feel good is important. In fact, I think it's extremely important. When I was on Soylent, every part of my life seemed to be falling apart. I didn't realize this until I took an honest look at the time period, but my exercise was off, my mood was off, I had no energy, I was experiencing strain in my relationships, I was finding it hard to focus, I was more stressed, and overall, I was unhappy.
This was because how we feel affects everything we do.
This is why it's so important to have a good diet. Our diet affects how we feel, which affects literally every area of our life. Choosing a bad diet is choosing to live poorly in many areas beyond the "diet" part of life. So, if we want happy lives where we can feel good, and make awesome decisions, let's work to have an awesome diet, most of the time.
2. Soylent taught me that food time should be short, which is totally wrong.
Something that keeps coming up in my life is this feeling like everything needs to be rushed. I am sure I am not alone. I want to spend less time on everything, so I can get to relaxing faster, because I hate working. Upon review, this is obviously backwards, since we should look for enjoyment in every moment of life, rushing nothing. But it's easy to get caught in the trap.
Taking breaks for eating is like taking breaks in general, we want to take them as often as we need, because they give us energy, and allow us to perform better in daily life. Without the occasional fun trip to the grocery store, goofing around at Costco with my friends, and playing tetris at home to get everything in the cupboard, I found I didn't create any sort of similar fun time that allowed me to slow down. Especially on the daily scale, without any meal time, I found I really wasn't taking many breaks at all. Every moment could be spent doing something, so it was.
Food time is important time. It is one of the only things we will do for our entire lives, up there with sleeping and exercising, I hope. It is important because it forces us to slow down, take a break, and care for ourselves. If we miss this, we do much worse in other areas of our lives, and become unhappy. So take the time to eat. You deserve it.
3. Soylent taught me we don't need to taste our food, which is also totally wrong.
Eating food, as it turns out, is one of the beautiful parts of life. It's an art of life that we should enjoy slowly and thoroughly. Without a variety of tastes of food, and, more importantly, not eating any solid food, I was completely without enjoying any meal-time. And, just like taking time to slow down otherwise, I didn't exactly replace eating food with some sort of other awesome "art consuming time". Instead, I just sped through life, not rewarding myself with anything.
Tasting food is, if we recognize it, a daily gift to ourselves of a plethora of pleasurable tastes. Now, having replaced a variety of tastes with the bland taste of Soylent for a couple of weeks, I am much more grateful every time I sit down to eat, and I am sure to pay attention to all of the awesome tastes, because I deserve it. And so do you.
If you're interested in reading more, check out my friend Josh Helton's piece on his experience drinking only Soylent for 30 days.
Sleep is Overrated.
Or so I thought.
I had been playing with the idea ever since I read about it in Tim Ferris's book The Four Hour Body. Basically, if you sleep in multiple phases throughout the day and night (polyphasic sleeping), your body learns to spend less time in light sleep (supposedly useless sleep), and quickly jumps into REM and slow-wave deep sleep (the good kinds) whenever you're sleeping. Da Vinci did something like it. Tesla, Churchill, and Jefferson too. Seemed like a cool thing to try.
Imagine, only needing to sleep two hours a day.
This idea intoxicated me. I thought about it for a couple of months, and then finally realized if I wanted to do it, I just needed to do it. I had three days before my marketing report for my first year business class was due, and I hadn't even started. Whatever right? It's now or never. Let's do it.
I proceeded to jump full force into trying to nap for twenty minutes every four hours. This schedule is called Überman, rightfully so. It does require you to be über-crazy to stick to this schedule. This is the most intense of the polyphasic sleep schedules (you can find the rest here).
It was too much too quickly, which allowed me to enjoy an epic failure. I did very poorly on the assignment, and by the third and final day, I succumbed to over four hours of continuous sleep, ending the challenge for me.
In the years following this experience I have made a few more attempts at versions of polyphasic sleeping and learned some extremely valuable lessons about sleep deprivation, polyphasic sleeping, and the role sleep has in a balanced life. Here they are.
1. If you think you need to sleep less, you're being lazy.
Elon Musk and you have the same number of hours in a day. The only difference is that he gets more done than you do. It's easy to succumb to the illusion that spending more time working will yield greater results. If we're feeling like we need to sleep less to allow ourselves more time to work, we are being lazy in the work we are choosing to engage in.
If we're finding our most important tasks not finished by the end of the day, it's not time's fault, it's our fault. Instead, we need to work harder to do a better job prioritizing how we spend our time, beginning our days with the most important tasks, not the other way around.
2. Sleep is non-negotiable.
I happen to be extremely sensitive to the amount of sleep I get with little sleep causing me to pretty much lose all ability to function. While you might not be exactly the same, I have yet to meet someone that performs well, over the long term, being sleep deprived. Sleeping is a non-negotiable. We need it every single day, in as large an amount as our body calls for. In fact, if we want our body to work harder, we need to give it more sleep, not less.
Whenever we ask ourselves how little sleep we can get, we are compromising our energy levels, which will always result in a greater cost than benefit since it will take days for our bodies to recover from the little sleep. Sleeping as much as our bodies need every night is the most important thing we can do to maintain balance in our lives. Anytime we find ourselves compromising on this basic is a great sign that we are unbalanced in many areas of our lives and need to re-evaluate our priorities.
3. Understand and use sleep science to your advantage.
Sleep in multiples of 1.5 hours.
This is the length of one sleep cycle, approximately. Fine tune this to what works well for you. I usually find my cycles are a little shorter than this, especially when I get to sleep earlier. If we can sleep in multiples of our sleep cycles, then we won't wake up feeling drained from our alarm interrupting the middle of a deep sleep cycle.
Sleep in the dark.
It's the little things that make the big things happen. Get a sleep mask, and shut the blinds. Tight. Get dark blinds if you can. Less light = better sleep = better life.
If I learned anything from polyphasic sleeping, it's that a LOT can happen in 20 minutes. After some days of conditioning, taking a 20 minute nap at a similar time each afternoon can make you feel unstoppable. You can experiment with having multiple naps throughout the day, or even taking 1.5 hour long naps.
If you're looking for a good place to start your research, try this website.
Sleep will always be a part of your life. If I have learned anything through our love-hate relationship, it's that I am happiest when I allow myself an unrestricted amount of sleep (no alarms) and go to bed early. It's as simple as that. Of course, there will be late nights and early mornings that you can't control, but the best we can do is acknowledge these interruptions and work towards getting back on track. It is a constant battle, but prioritizing sleep over all our activities is the best we can do to ensure we live productive, happy lives.
Exercising is Overrated.
In 2017, I thought I would experiment with exercising less.
I am always looking for ways I might be wrong, so I know that I have to be extremely careful of anything that is biasing my life experience. Testing whether or not I need the basics in my life (sleeping, eating and now, exercising), has allowed me exactly this: to uncover the biases in my life by removing things I have always had. This is what biases are, right? Things that we are constantly exposed to that cause our experience to be biased because of these things.
An Aside on Biases
Avoiding travel, following in our parents footsteps, picking their careers, and keeping the same friend group for life are all ways we create major biases in our lives. We create bias from holding onto what's most comfortable to us, and least risky. We create bias from avoiding trying new things. We create bias from avoiding change.
Whenever possible, I think it's an awesome idea to remove biases from out lives by challenging our most deeply held beliefs, and living life differently than before. There are two sides to everything, and even if we're on the right side to begin with, there are always many valuable lessons that can come from exploring other ways of living.
Exploring means trying new things. It begins with us becoming aware of our own biases, things we have done forever like living in one place. Then, we think about why we have held these beliefs for our lives, uncovering the real truth behind these biases. Finally, we happily try the opposite, or at least a different version than what we're used to. This will show us the other side of our bias, and uncover what side we really want to be on.
I decided to try life with less exercise just to see what I was missing out on. Just like eating and sleeping, I wanted to remove this basic thing from my life to really uncover the true value of it in my life.
I learned a ton of things throughout the months-long process. Here they are.
1. We need exercise every day.
On days where I don't move, I feel like shit. End of story. So we must move, in some way, every day.
I think this is because our bodies were made to move. Before we had our food caught and prepared for us, in old society, we had to hunt for our own food, every single day. Our bodies are super happy when they're moving, and super unhappy when they're not. Injuries happen when we move improperly, and stiffness occurs in parts of our bodies that don't move at all.
As I tested removing different types of exercise from my life, for different lengths of time, in different frequencies, I found that daily movement, even if it's just going for a walk, made a huge difference in my happiness for that day.
2. All exercise is not created equal.
Some exercise, like squatting heavy barbells, has a stronger effect on changing our bodies than other exercise, like walking.
The key is balance. I noticed that when I missed a few days of walking, it had a much different effect on my body compared to when I missed a few days of squats. Since there are different intensities of exercise, I found it best to focus on maintaining a consistent schedule of my most intense exercise (going to the gym and lifting heavy weights), and other types of exercise would fall into place.
While we need heavy lifting to build muscle (and burn fat), we also need yoga, cardio, and playful exercise like sports to build balanced bodies. Only going to the gym will tighten us up, prevent us from moving well, and eventually limit us from getting stronger. We must be sure to allow our bodies tons of different exercise to allow them to become stronger and to allow us to feel better. The more we can achieve balance in our exercise routines, the better we will feel.
Remember, feeling better allows us to do better in literally EVERYTHING.
3. They're called exercise routines for a reason.
Falling out of my exercise was the worst thing I could have done.
While I wanted to test what biases I was exposing myself to with this experiment, I experience an unanticipated negative outcome. For me, since I have always been in some sort of exercise routine, I never realized just how easy it was for me to get up and go exercise. After taking a significant amount of time off, allowing myself to fall out of the habit of exercising, the difficulty I experienced getting back in the habit of exercising was extreme.
If you can take one thing away from this posts it's that you should do everything in your power to avoid falling out of your exercise routine. Missing days here and there are okay, as long as we make it a priority to get back to our routine as soon as possible. Missing a day isn't missing it a day. We must look at it with a much broader lens than this. Missing a few days in a row means we literally lose months. It's these first few days of falling out of our routine that are most important. Because once we're out, we're out. And it's a long road getting back on track.
In short, get in your exercise routines and stay in them. Even if it's going for a short walk, make a deliberate effort to exercise, in some way, every day.
4. Sitting is smoking.
In my experiment, I also tried out sitting vs. standing while working. As it turns out, sitting is incredibly terrible for us. Even after a couple of hours of sitting, I could feel my belly become more flabby. My muscles became weak from not having to use any of my bum, core, or back muscles to keep me up. Plus, my body got used to slouchy posture from the hours of practice. Overall, I became a mess.
Standing forces us to be strong through our entire bodies as we work. It help tons of muscles in our bodies get stronger, especially all the little ones. Plus, since so many muscles are working, in some ways, it acts as exercise. Certainly, we are burning more energy than if we were sitting, thus making working have a much lower toll on our bodies.
Some of my favourite standing desks have been made out of stacks of paper at the office (see below), or stacking cushions at my hostel in Bali (also below). I find the most convenient standing desks to be using high tables that have higher chairs (maybe at a restaurant), or using any sort of ledge that usually requires a stool.
5. We should stop thinking about our bodies.
Over the course of the past few months, my body got significantly less healthy.
Experimenting with less exercise, no doubt, made my body hate me. I got more fat on my body, I lost muscle, and most importantly, I lost my dignity. This thing that I had worked a lifetime to build up was vanishing right before my eyes. Day after day I would wake up, look in the mirror and worry about how far away I was getting from my ideal body. Then I realized...
Worrying about how we look is a complete waste of time.
When we worry about how our body looks, we aren't actually doing anything to make it better. In fact, if this worry causes stress, it actually makes our bodies worse, since stress makes us unhealthy. The entire thought pattern of worrying in our head should be totally removed from our lives, as it is entirely unproductive.
Instead, we should use worry to help us become healthier. Chances are if we're worried about our health or how we look, we may actually be getting unhealthy. So, in this way, worry is a great thing, as it is warning us that we need to do something. When we worry and don't do anything, our worries grow. Instead, we take worrying as a cue to make time to make our bodies healthy again, refocusing on our diet, or making time to go get some exercise.
Instead of thinking about our bodies, we simply take action to improve them.
Looking at ourselves in the mirror has no effect on actually changing our bodies for the better or for worse. Instead, we focus our energy on taking action to improve our bodies through more sleep, exercise, rest, or better diet. Whatever we feel our bodies need. We must be in touch with ourselves and respond with action, not just thinking.
Bonus: We cannot identify with our bodies.
The reality is that tomorrow, you may be hit by a car. You could become a paraplegic, rendering your body useless for the rest of your life.
There are so many things that are out of our control that affect our bodies. For women, there is menstruation, and for men, there are injuries that come from us fighting each other. For everyone there is unexpected sickness. For everyone there are unexpected injuries. There are things out of our control that can have a seriously negative effect on our bodies, and if we think we will never face these things, we're going to set ourselves up to be surprised by unhappiness.
Exercise is, as I have learned, something that extends deep within our selves. It is an expression of our abilities to demonstrate discipline, to work hard, and to become gritty. It is these values that we should work to identify with, not their results. Since anyone can get a great body through cheating (using steroids, plastic surgery, etc.), and anyone can lose a great body to unexpected circumstances (car accident, sports injury, etc.), identifying with our bodies takes our happiness out of our control.
So, let's identify with what we have control over: our values. And let's work to demonstrate these as we build healthy bodies.
I consider myself an explorer. I want to uncover as many rocks as I can, trying as many ways of living as possible, continually changing how I live to find the right way. Of course, there is no right way, which makes this journey never-ending. And, there are some things that are tried and true, rocks that are already "turned over" like the fact that we need to eat, sleep, and exercise. So, I can see how this article may have seemed silly to you. You may have found yourself thinking, why would John waste his time trying the opposite of such tried-and-true things like eating, sleeping, and exercising?
It's because I'm an explorer. I need to explore everything. I feel the need to be sure about everything, and I deeply believe I cannot achieve this if I don't turn over all the rocks. Since most of us don't like turning over all the rocks, and this process is tedious and takes a lot of time, what we find when we turn over the rocks is pretty interesting stuff. Hopefully, you learned something in this article.
If I can end on one note, it's that we should all work to be explorers. The more rocks we turn over, the more we will learn. And the more we learn, usually, the more we get out of life.
Happy rock-flipping, my friends.