Brain Gardeners: Social Justice Irony in the Irish Independent Newspaper

“The problem with a guy like me writing a piece like this is that to the neutral non-affiliated I may seem like some kind of misogynist, racist, xenophobe, transphobe, homophobe, or all of the above. From a mile high view it makes sense that the guy criticizing the seemingly virtuous and compassionate is the villain right? Then to the ideologues already gripped by the talons of political correctness, the fact that I am a straight white cis male might mean that my so-called privilege discredits my opinion.”

Read More

Podcast Appearance - Sigma Nutrition Radio #235

I recently appeared on the Sigma podcast to breakdown a really cool research paper about weight cutting and performance in Mixed Martial Arts. 

Check it out by clicking the image below...

K1 Cage Fight of Mine From Last Year

This is a K1 Kickboxing Cage fight of mine from August last year that I came across again recently.

Video 1: Just the fight

Video 2: Another angle that also shows the fighters entrance to the cage.

 

 

Fueling Your Meat Vehicle Part 1: Calories Matter

By Ciaran O'Regan

Pre Flight PREP:

  1. This is a roughly 8-9 minute read. 
  2. This article may NOT be for everyone. There may be a small subsection of people who read this who should potentially not quantify and track their food due to having disordered eating. Tracking and quantifying nutrition, in these people, may further exacerbate, reignite, or even create new unhealthy eating-related behaviors. I am not a psychologist and helping people with eating disorders is not my field. 
  3. Who is it for then? This article is for people who maybe have just tried to lose or even gain weight many times but failed and just want to cut the bullshit and start to get a handle on their nutrition for weight management once and for all. It is also for those who may wish to improve their sports performance as appropriate Calorie intake is key to fueling human movement and as well as recovery from said movement. 
  4. For the purposes of this article, I will use weight loss in my examples more often than weight gain or performance needs. This is because I hazard a bet that most people reading this will be a lot more likely to find it easier to gain weight than lose it and will be more interested in body recomposition than optimizing performance.  Performance demands will be dealt with in later articles in this series.  

Let us begin...

What is a Calorie and why is it important?

You know the way dead people are cold? Well it may seem like I am stating the obvious, but they are cold because they are not producing any heat.

You know the way you get really hot when you exercise really hard? Well, to state the obvious yet again, you get hot because you are producing loads of heat. 

Now you may be asking yourself "what in name of fuck is this nutcase on about I thought I was reading a nutrition article?

Well heat is given off from humans as a result of energy being expended within our bodies and our blood carrying this heat around. Since dead people are not burning any energy and are lacking a heart beat, and you burn loads of energy when training and have a heart that is beating the heated up blood around like fuck; the deceased are cold and you are hot. A word we use to describe this energy our bodies burn that releases heat is "Calorie". 

 All credit to genius.com for the image

All credit to genius.com for the image

In its most simple terms, a "Calorie" with a capital C is also known as kcal which is 1000 kilocalories with a small c. Calorie/kcal is one of the descriptors we use to describe the energy available to our bodies from within our food. We also use it to describe the energy our body burns with its metabolism to get shit done such as move muscles during movement or use your brain to read this ramble of mine. 

 All credit to wikipedia for the screenshot. 

All credit to wikipedia for the screenshot. 

The reason it is important to understand this concept is because the balance between the Calories burned by your metabolism, and those it gets in through food is the principle upon which weight management depends. 

Energy Expenditure and your metabolism

You most likely have heard or even used phrases like "he/she has a fast/slow metabolism", but what is your metabolism and how does it relate to energy expenditure? The factors that contribute to your bodies total energy expenditure from your metabolism are as follows:

  1. Exercise. This is obvious.
  2. The thermic effect of food (TEF). This is the energy expended to actually break down and do stuff with the food you eat. 
  3. Resting metabolic rate (RMR). For ease, let us just describe this as the energy your body would still burn if you just laid there with your eyes closed doing absolutely fuck all except being alive because your body is burning energy/Calories to do things like repair tissues, make hair and nails, allow organs to function etc.
  4. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT is essentially stuff you do that burns Calories without even realizing it such as tapping your foot, fidgeting, doing laundry, etc. 

(See this article by Lyle Mcdonald for a detailed explanation on the above factors that make up your metabolic output.) 

People with "fast metabolisms" basically just burn relatively more Calories when the above 4 listed factors are added up and those with "slow metabolisms" basically burn less. What is also worth noting is that YOUR metabolism and subsequent energy expenditure is not fixed in stone and can actually change as a result of a host of factors including how much food Calories/energy you eat. This is a topic for future articles however (but if you want to read further on it check this article out by Danny Lennon). 

ANY WEIGHT LOSS "DIET" CAN WORK

Before I go in to why any diet can work, let us make sure we both mean the same thing with the term "weight loss". "Weight loss", as in someone weighing less in kilograms or pounds on a bathroom scales, can occur for loads of reasons such as decreased hydration levels, muscle and liver carbohydrate stores depleting, gut residue depleting due to decreased fiber intakes etc. However, when I use the phrase "weight loss" in this article, I am referring to what most people use the phrase to describe which is the process of decreasing body fatness (decreasing body fatness can actually occur independently of someone's bodyweight decreasing due to factors such as gaining muscle at the same time as losing fat which can happen with sufficient strength training and protein intake, especially in inexperienced trainees. However, this is a topic for another day.) 

So now that we are on the same page, how can any weight loss diet work?

To my knowledge, there have been no diets created by Gandalf, Saruman, Harry Potter, The Wicked Witch of the West, or fucking Sabrina the Teenage Witch. No diet is magic. If a diet causes weight loss for someone it abides by one simple principle; they have simply used an eating method that caused them to be in a Calorie deficit long enough to lose weight. This is regardless of what method/diet they have done to end up like that. 

A diet is just an eating methodology that ONLY works for weight loss if it abides by the principle of creating a Calorie deficit. 

“Principles Vs. methods’ is a concept that we should always be conscious of when looking at any health and fitness topic. The reason this is so important is that when you only know some method, you only know one way of doing things. When you understand the principles that underpin why certain methodologies work, however, you can create and choose your own methods to suit your individual circumstances.

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” – Harrington Emerson
 All credit to  myoleanfitness.com  for the image.

All credit to myoleanfitness.com for the image.

………the laws of physics do not give a FUCK how many books people have written blaming certain foods or certain nutrients like fats or carbs for weight gain. Diets that work only do so because they get you to eat less energy than you burn which is called a "Calorie deficit". 

(Side Note: this is a great article on the history of diet books by the legendary fitness writer Lou Schuler who has worked with world-leading evidence-based nutrition educator Alan Aragon.)

Thanks to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the mechanism that is NECESSARY for your body to want to break down its own tissues to a large enough degree to lose weight (body fat, muscle tissue etc.) is simply a Calorie deficit. This is because, as long as you are alive (remember the cold dead people example from earlier???), your body needs to accomplish certain metabolic tasks. Metabolic tasks, however, cost energy to perform and so your body will look for energy from somewhere to fuel these metabolic actions. If it is not getting sufficient energy from external sources of fuel (your food), it will turn on its own tissues (fat, muscle, etc.) to look for this energy.

Energy Balance

The thing is though, if you find yourself in a total Calorie/energy intake SURPLUS; you can still get fatter whether you are eating LCHF/Vegan/Paleo/Weight Watchers/etc. or not because your body will store excess energy from Calories not burned for use in the future. This is because no diets are magical transporters of food energy or body fat to mystical dimensions.

Screen Shot 2018-01-23 at 12.28.08 PM.png

All credit to www.cod.edu for the image.

Energy balance, as shown in the above picture, is the exact same principle whether you are an elite level swimmer burning 10,000kcal per day or a dude who had a parachute that didn’t open and is bed bound with 4 smashed limbs who burns 1500kcal a day. The swimmer will burn so much due to doing 6 hours in the pool per day, while the lad who is only alive because he was lucky enough to have a really tall tree to fall through before meeting the floor burns just 1500kcal due his body simply staying alive and using energy to fuel stuff like his brain thinking as well as using the energy needed to repair his now powdered bones.

You can even get leaner eating nothing but total bullshit junk food too so long as you dial in the required caloric intakes relative to your expenditures. As a little example, see this self-experiment by Mark Haub of Kansas State University in which he ate only Twinkies and other "junk foods" and lost weight simply because he was in a Calorie deficit. 

This is of course NOT to say that consuming 1800 Calories of chicken and potatoes will do exactly the same thing in your body as 1800 Calories of macronutrient matched protein powder and pop tarts as there are loads of factors that play a role in health such as fiber levels, micronutrient levels, gut health, etc. etc. All I am saying is that if you are eating nothing but protein powder and pop tarts and your body is burning on average 1800 Calories a day, eating less than 1800 Calories a day will force your body to have to get the remainder of that energy from somewhere in order to fuel the metabolic tasks I mentioned earlier. This “somewhere” will simply be the existing tissues of your body (fat, muscle, etc.).

It. Really. Is. Simple. As. Fuck.

So What Now?

It is all very well and good to learn that Calories are important and that they need to be manipulated somehow in order to manage weight, but how the fuck does one figure out how many Calories they are eating? This is where learning basic tracking techniques come in to play.

If you are somehow averse to the idea of tracking and it offends you to think you may need to spend time actually quantifying what you put into your face, I want to leave you with this screenshot from a brilliantly written article on Calories by Aadam Ali over on his site: 

 No punches pulled. 

No punches pulled. 

How Nutritious is Your Mental Diet? - Part 2/2

By Ciaran O'Regan

Pre-flight checklist:

  • As per the title, this is part 2. To get part 1 click here... 
  • Reading time: 15-17 minutes (without watching the videos)
  • This ramble is literally about the quality of our mental diets. As such, if you are going to read this in a distracted manner due to flicking back and forth between social media notifications or while watching TV or some shit then just save yourself the irony and stop reading now. 
  • To take a concept from the great book by Cal Newport: go Deep or go home!

Let us begin part 2....

INVESTMENT ACTIVITIES

My definition of what constitutes an investment activity:

Investment activities are those with which we bargain with the fabric of time itself by making in the moment short term sacrifices of easy pleasures in order to acquire some future benefit. Performance of these activities more often than not requires discipline in order to overcome "the resistance"

There are a few quite obvious activities that fit the Investment category such as the actual paid work that puts food on the table and a roof over your head. The chores you need to do in order to live in habitable order such as making your bed, doing laundry, food shopping, cooking, etc. etc. would also fit here. Depending on your individual circumstances, you may find you have some free time after these necessities are accomplished but are unsure of what other Investment activities you could be doing during this time.

It is this rudderless ambiguity surrounding free time that leads us towards chasing short term pleasures flitting from stimulus to stimulus with a sort of restless anxiousness (think of a person at a great restaurant with a delicious meal in front of them but will still have their face buried in their phone brainlessly scrolling some newsfeed at the expense of embracing their present situation).  

Some example symptoms of this restless anxiousness would include buying shit for entertainment rather than necessity, using social media as a crutch to fill time by mindlessly scrolling rather than as a selective tool to accomplish some specific task, and, of course; eating hyper-palatable nutritionally sparse processed foods out of PURE BOREDOM. I am a firm believer that we spend large chunks of our time doing nutritionally sparse Withdrawal activities like this because we do not have a "noble aim" to steal a phrase from Dr. Peterson below. 

"If you don't have a noble aim, then you have nothing but, but, shallow trivial pleasures. And they don't sustain you." - Jordan Peterson

If you do not have any activities that you could classify as "noble aims", here are 3 foolproof foundation stones of micronutrient dense Investment activities that offer us all good places to start: 

1). PHYSICAL TRAINING: These are Investment activities that offer a challenging enough physical stimulus to force your body to want to adapt in order to better deal with future stressors of a similar kind (i.e. "if it doesn't challenge you it doesn't change you" - cheesy but accurate fitness cliche). Developing your body is an Investment activity which could be defined as a noble aim for a number of reasons. The most glaringly obvious however is that the better you take care of your meat vehicle, the more useful you are going to be to those around you. There are the obvious practical reasons for this such as being better at moving couches and having more energy to get everything done, but, there are less obvious benefits to having a hard physical practice in your life. One is that there can be powerful socialization benefits when exercising in a group or taking part in a sport. Another, is that you will also have a mind that simply works better. Let me reiterate the latter, exercise contributes powerfully to your mental diet because if you are not physically active enough, your brain will NOT work properly.  

"If the body be feeble, the mind will not be strong. Not less than two hours a day should be devoted to exercise, and the weather should be little regarded........... Brute animals are the most healthy, and they are exposed to all weather, and of men, those are healthiest who are the most exposed." - Thomas Jefferson (1786)

2). SELF-EXPRESSION/DEVELOPMENT: These are investment activities involving learning and refining challenging skills such as practicing a musical instrument, creative writing, drawing, painting, designing stuff, building stuff, studying educational content that improve how you operate in the world (Stoicism is a good place to start), learning new languages, etc. These actions are noble as without people doing them, there would be no meaningful advance to our cultures. Apart from providing sources of knowledge and beauty to others, these activities give the creators meaning and direction by acting as vehicles for the "development of human potential" to steal a phrase from Joe Rogan. 

While art is obviously a form of self-expression, it is also a method of self-development. What has "art" got to do with self-development you may ask? Well this is where the French philosopher Marcel Proust comes in. Proust went so far as to suggest that art was the meaning of life in his epic novel "In Search of Lost Time" (which I have yet to read as it is literally double the length of "War and Peace"). 

"Artists are people who strip habit away and return life to its deserved glory." - Marcel Proust

When you "strip habit away", you are simply exposing yourself to new things and thereby learning through these new exposures. Hence, when you really think about it, "art" is simply continuous self-development and self-expression through whatever your chosen medium may be. 

3). ALTRUISM:  Last but for sure not least, is the activity of being cool to people. Altruism is essentially the awareness that our actions have repercussions on the wider world, and, that we are going to choose to act in ways that takes the greater good into account. When we do act this way, we also feel great on a personal level so it is a win win situation. This is the easiest one to illustrate because all I need to do is bring it down to one simple example: gifts. We all know it feels 10X better to give presents than to receive them. Aims do not really get more noble than trying to leave the world in a better state than if you had not been here at all. 

"The meaning of life lies in the nobility of the individual" - Jordan Peterson

Investment activities like the 3 I mentioned above, are essentially what give our lives meaning and purpose (without trying to be too grandiose about it LOL).

 "A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace...........do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself." - R.W. Emerson.

While I have just mentioned how important Investment activities are, It can't be Investment all the time or else we would simply burn out. This is where Withdrawal activities come in to play. 

WITHDRAWAL ACTIVITIES

This is my own definition of what constitutes a Withdrawal activity:

Withdrawal activities are those which offer immediate pleasure with a no more obvious benefit than the fact that it acts as a respite from the fatiguing efforts of investment periods. These activities are often easiest to identify by their provision of instant gratification rather than the delayed gratification that accompanies activities of the Investment category. 

The reason we can't always veer in the direction of short term easy pleasures in the form of a lifetime of Withdrawal activities, is best summed up by this beautifully simple and eloquent quote I heard from a badass weightlifting coach and all round philosopher in his 60's on this episode the Tim Ferris podcast

"Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life." - Jerzy Gregorek

Just as some actual ice cream can be super enjoyable and exciting when enjoyed as a treat in an otherwise healthy physical diet, our Withdrawal activities essentially act as short term enjoyable pleasures in our mental diets that allow us rest and recovery from the efforts of our Investment activities. In fact, if you really think about it, effortful and uncomfortable investment activities actually ENHANCE the enjoyment from the pleasure and comfort of subsequent withdrawal activities. Just think about how fucking deliriously beautiful a warm fire is after a long run in winter weather so cold you feel like your finger nails are on fire, or the inverse situation in which arrive back into an air conditioned building after a grueling run in sweltering heat. We NEED suffering and discomfort in our lives in order to truly appreciate pleasure and comfort.  

But since we can't just fill up all of our blocks with Investment activities all day every day or else we would burn out, and, therefore need to have rest and relaxation in the form of Withdrawal blocks in our diets to some extent, the question is how much Withdrawal blocks do we use? Well just like an ATM machine has Withdrawal minimums and maximums, so does our mental diet. 

withdrawal minimums and maximums

I have read enough books and heard enough interviews from old and wise people to have learned that when push comes to shove and they talk about regrets from life, it is the things they didn't do that bugs them and not the things they did do but failed on. No matter how old you are, if you are totally honest with yourself, I would hazard a bet you would come to the same conclusion as these wise old people. As such, I do not want to have any regrets when it comes to that moment in which I return my borrowed carbon to the universe. Therefore, the more confident I am that I am in the process of successfully squeezing every last drop out of myself in whatever activities I do, the more happy and content I am with life.

Hustling 100% of the time with Investment Activities "all day err day" is not feasible however as you will run out of gas sooner or later thereby taking away from your ability to do future Investment Activities. It is for this reason, therefore, that instead of focussing on how many Investment blocks we should be doing, an easier way to view it is to determine how many Withdrawal blocks we should be doing. 

With actual food there are objective means of estimating things like how much of certain vitamins and minerals we need etc. from the caloric load of our diets. This thereby allows us to be flexible with how much "junk" food we fit in if needs must. With this more abstract mental diet concept however, the problem lies in determining how much Investment vs. Withdrawal time we spend in our 100 blocks. 

Just like there are minimum nutrient amounts which we need to not be deficient, and maximum amounts that once approached can become toxic; the same can be said for Withdrawal activities. 

This is where Dr. Jordan B. Peterson and Fyodor Dostoevsky will help us by defining minimums and maximums for our Withdrawal activities......

Withdrawal Minimums

As mentioned above, Withdrawal activities are essentially pleasurable in the short term and offer rest and recovery from our effortful and fatiguing investment activities. Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is one of the sharpest dudes I have ever heard speak and has been a huge influence on my world view since luckily coming across his work in November of 2016, and, in a recent lecture of his mentioned what I think to be be one of the most beautifully simple ways of addressing the conundrum of the how much should we rest question.

What Peterson said about the idea of work and rest, to paraphrase, is that we should not work so much that we fry ourselves thereby taking away from our future ability to work.

Given then that Investment activities can be seen as work, and Withdrawal as rest, Peterson's aforementioned constraint therefore provides us with a minimum amount of rest/Withdrawal activities we need to do so that we do not negatively affect our ability to do future work/investment activities.

But then what is the maximum?

Withdrawal Maximums

So since Investment activities constitute work, and, Withdrawal activities constitute rest, Withdrawal activities can only truly function as rest once it is not adding to your allostatic load by throwing more stress into the pot:

 All credit to  Wikipedia  for definition. 

All credit to Wikipedia for definition. 

But, you may find yourself asking, how can Withdrawal activities ADD to the total stress your body undergoes? 

Let's go back to the spuds vs. pop tart example as a way of illustrating this point. Pop tarts are fine once they are part of an overall nutritionally dense and varied diet. Our whole diet cannot constitute foods like pop tarts, however, because you will not get the required nutrition and your body will simply not work properly thereby adding to your physiological stress whether you subjectively feel the difference or not. 

Now lets take this analogy to a Withdrawal activities such as watching TV shows and the point becomes even more clear. TV shows are perfectly fine to watch (especially Game of Thrones, American Gods, and The Wire) once they have the right "set and setting" to steal a phrase from the famous psychonaut Terence Mckenna.

 All credit to  Wikipedia  for the definition.

All credit to Wikipedia for the definition.

Just for the craic, here is a sample conversation that may take place between us about the information thus far with me playing the archetypal monk lad sitting cross legged on a rock up a mountain, and you playing, well, you:

You: "What is the right set and setting for a Withdrawal activity like watching my favourite show to truly be a Withdrawal activity though? How can I be sure that I am not adding to the stress pool of my allostatic load?"

Me: "Only you know that."

You: "How could I possibly know that?"

Me: "When watching your show, does your brain wander and drift to things you have yet to do such as household chores? Work tasks? The training session you skipped or gave sub-par effort on? Do you find yourself thinking back to that important email you haven't responded to or job you want but haven't applied for? Do you experience restlessness even though it is your "favourite show" and you by all rights should be enjoying it?

You: "Ya, sometimes. So what? What has that got to do with stress?"

Me: "All of those drifting thoughts are because of T's you have left uncrossed and I's you have left undotted. Each time your mind drifts like that toward something you have yet to do, or, was supposed to do but didn't, or, you do not even know what you need to do but you just have this relentless restlessness nagging at you letting you know you need to do something else with your time, you get a little bit of a stress response that manifests itself in the body the same way regardless of the source thereby adding to your allostatic load." 

You: "...............................the fuck does that mean?" 

Me: Loses all patience and foregoes the monk act: "Make your fucking bed, do your fucking study, and don't be a lazy slug skipping training next time before you watch your show!!! Get your shit together and earn your rest or else you will be stressed out even more because your conscience knows you don't deserve to rest and will wreck your head because of it!" - Goes back to closing my eyes and looking all serene and shit on my rock....

"Always let your conscience be your guide." - Pinocchio

The easiest way to illustrate this point is that sense of restlessness we all have experienced after our first few days on holidays if we have no real plans or any real definite stuff to do. Another is that restlessness you may have when at a family event because there was a bunch of work taks you were nonchalant about the day before and now are constantly popping up at the back of your mind and affecting your ability to truly relax and enjoy quality time with your family. Even if you think you have all your shit together but still do not know why you feel restless, delve into the 3 foolproof foundation stones I mentioned above until you actually find your noble aim.

This concept of meaningful work providing a level of purpose and thus happiness to our lives is by no means a novel idea. Dostoevsky for example wrote the below quote in the 1800's: 

"Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark, raving mad." - Fyodor Dostoevsky

Essentially, what I am getting to with the admittedly quite random combination of the above fictional conversation, Pinocchio video, and Fyodor Dostoevsky quote is that, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we fucking know when a Withdrawal activity is actually providing us with true rest and recovery because our conscience is at ease and we can truly relax and be present in the moment. Hence, we know our Withdrawal maximum has been reached once our conscience starts nagging at us to get back to work. 

The Wise Old Version of You...

Our 100 blocks can't be all Investment in nature all the time or else we would burn out and take away from our ability to do future Investment activities thereby limiting how much we can work toward our noble aims. 

Similarly, our blocks can't be Withdrawal in nature all the time either or else we would get quickly disillusioned in a world of shallow-hedonistic-materialistic-hollowness finding ourselves drifting from quick dopamine hit to quick dopamine hit in search of short term novel enjoyments and go "stark, raving mad" to quote the great Mr. Dostoevsky.

By truly listening to ourselves and acknowledging the signs and signals our bodies give us, however, we can identify the minimums and maximums of the blocks we can allow for our Withdrawal activities. Thus we will know how many blocks we have left over to spend on our metaphorical micronutrient dense Investment activities. We will, therefore, be making the absolute most of our time as temporarily assembled clusters of atoms as everything we do will have a purpose.

"Do nothing which is of no use." - Miyamoto Musashi

You may still be wondering why maximizing the number of Investment blocks and the quality and depth of experience of our Withdrawal blocks is even important in the first fucking place.

Maybe the aforementioned concept of the "noble aim" Dr. Jordan Peterson talked about is too esoteric and has gone over your head, maybe you see no problem in rudderlessly wandering your way through your free time with no real direction or purpose scrolling news feeds and allowing yourself to watch hour after hour of reality TV in a state of relentless niggly agitation. 

Here is a fictional scenario that may clear things up: live your life as if you are being followed around by a camera crew who are filming your day to day experiences so that your Great Great Grandkids whom you will never meet can learn how to live when they are the age you are now. What kind of nutritional content would the wise old version of you look for in the 100 blocks of consciousness lived out each day? To put it even more simply, how would the wise old version of you live if trying to leave a positive legacy for loved ones?

"So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise and then just behave like they would." - Neil Gaiman

 

If you like what you read here, then please click here and add you best email to the bottom of the page. I will only contact you when I have new content and direct email is the best way to notify you as social media algorithms are not always the most facilitating.  

How Nutritious is Your Mental Diet? - Part 1/2

By Ciaran O'Regan

Pre-flight checklist:

  • As per the title, this is part 1. To get part 2 click here
  • Reading time: 9-11 minutes
  • This ramble is literally about the quality of our mental diets. As such, if you are going to read this in a distracted manner due to flicking back and forth between social media notifications or while watching TV or some shit then just save yourself the irony and stop reading now. 
  • To take a concept from the great book by Cal Newport: go Deep or go home!

Let us begin....

Post Lock-In Esoteric Existential Tangents

It was a particularly crisp and somewhat annoyingly bright Sunday morning back in March in which I found myself making my way home happy AF after a "lock-in*. My in ear entertainment of choice during this particular epic journey was episode #933 of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast in which former pro MMA fighter Julie Kedzie was the guest.

 Good craic. 

Good craic. 

While Julie is one of the pioneers of female MMA and a super interesting individual, it was a single concept mentioned by Joe that sent my allegedly intoxicated mind off in a tangential direction even more esoteric than on a usual existential buzzed stroll home. The conceptual bomb dropped by Joe in passing that resonated so much related to the nutritional content of our mental diets. 

Since then, this concept has been bouncing around in my dome. Due to having studied philosophy and psychology as a hobby for the last few years as well as being a legit physiology nerd since even before doing my exercise science degree, this analogous comparison between physical and mental nutritional content was a thing of beauty. The more I thought about it, the more fucking sense it made and the more it irked me that such a simple analogy had never occurred to me before. Genius. 

“In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Before I delve into what analyzing what the nutritional content of a mental diet could involve, I am going to quickly go over what it could look like in a physical diet. 

Nutritional Analysis of Our Caloric Intake

Long story short, calories are the old metric system unit we still use to label the energy content of our foods and are often represented with the acronym "kcal". The balance of our caloric intake vs. our output are what determines whether our bodies increase or decrease in weight essentially.

 All credit to  www.cod.edu  for the image.

All credit to www.cod.edu for the image.

While all the food we eat contains calories (real food anyway), the macronutrition that makes up those calories in the form of proteins (@4kcal per gram), carbohydrates (@4kcal per gram), and fats (@9kcal per gram) can vary dramatically. On top of this,  the micronutrition that comes with those calories in the form of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, prooxidants etc. can also vary dramatically. 

This variety of macronutrition and micronutrition can be what is used to describe the nutritional content of our foods. When it comes to processed or "junk" foods however the main differences can be found in micronutrient and fiber breakdowns and not the 3  basic macronutrients.

For example, 200calories of a Kellogg's Pop Tart gives you a pretty similar macronutrient breakdown to 200calories of potato, but, there is a DRASTICALLY different micronutrient breakdown with vitamins, minerals etc. This is pretty obvious considering that potatoes are a natural whole unprocessed food that grows in the ground, whereas, Pop Tarts were formulated in a laboratory by food scientists. This is even ignoring the fact that 200kcal of potatoes is about 250grams (a full cereal bowl pretty much) and that 200kcal of Pop Tart is just one single 52gram tart thereby also being drastically different on the impact these foods would have on our satiety signaling due to factors like food volume, fibre content, and flavor profile for the same calorie load. 

(SIDE NOTE FROM CIARAN: Speaking of Kellogg's, if you want to get a bit of a laugh then click here to learn about the origins of Kellogg's Cornflakes. But I digress............)

Now this is not to say that we need to only eat whole unprocessed foods like potatoes all the time time just because they have more favorable micronutrition breakdowns and lead to better satiety signalling. This is because there is only so much micronutrition we actually need to be healthy, and, the differing effects of satiety signalling vary not just between people but within people based off a variety of changing circumstances. 

(SIDE NOTE FROM CIARAN: The rabbit hole that is the factors governing neuroregulation of appetite are way outside the scope of this piece, but, If you do want to go down this rabbit hole however then this episode of Sigma Nutrition Radio with Stephan Guyenet is a great place to start). 

Therefore, a healthy diet for the average person could of course have the potential room in their caloric intake to squeeze in some Pop Tarts or ice cream or whatever else so long as all of their other nutritional requirements are met (and they do not have some kind of specific health issue prohibiting them from eating a certain food like an allergy for example.).  This careful attention to the nutritional content that comes with our caloric intakes can then give us the freedom to live both healthily by getting all the nutrients we need, and, to also have the luxury to enjoy treats and "junk" foods guilt free as we know our physical needs are being met which makes things like social events for example way easier to navigate. Essentially, the flexibility of this kind of diet leads to a far more enjoyable process. Our diets can't be all ice cream and pop tarts, but, we can make some room for these foods if we want to. 

What we do with our time can also be seen through this concept of nutritional contribution to our long term mental health. 

TIME AS CALORIES

In this great article on one of my favorite blogs Wait But WhyTim Urban details a concept of time management based around the idea that assuming we sleep about 7-8 hours per night, our waking day can be broken into 100 10 minute blocks.  

"It’s always good to step back and think about how we’re using those 100 blocks we get each day. How many of them are put towards making your future better, and how many of them are just there to be enjoyed? How many of them are spent with other people, and how many are for time by yourself? How many are used to create something, and how many are used to consume something? How many of the blocks are focused on your body, how many on your mind, and how many on neither one in particular? Which are your favorite blocks of the day, and which are your least favorite?" - Tim Urban

To reiterate: we have a caloric need that functions as the over arching determinant of our food intake which can then be analyzed by what kind of nutritional density come with these calories under the scrutiny of their contribution to our physical health. We can do the same with our time regarding its contribution to our mental health.

This is easy to conceptualize, because, just as we need to eat a certain amount of calories in order to gain/lose/maintain our bodyweight and these calories come with a certain nutritional load, we are conscious for roughly 100 10 minute blocks per day and during this time are using our brain for something. What we use our brains for during this time, therefore, can then be easily seen as our mental diets. This concept of 100 blocks is absolutely beautiful in its simplicity as it sub-divides our day into bite sized chunks that are easy to analyze for their metaphorical nutritional contribution to our mental diets. This is just like the calorie and macronutrient matched Pop Tart and potato I compared earlier for their nutritional contribution to a physical diet. 

"You’d have to think about everything you might spend your time doing in the context of its worth in blocks. Cooking dinner requires three blocks, while ordering in requires zero—is cooking dinner worth three blocks to you? Is 10 minutes of meditation a day important enough to dedicate a block to it? Reading 20 minutes a night allows you to read 15 additional books a year—is that worth two blocks? If your favorite recreation is playing video games, you’d have to consider the value you place on fun before deciding how many blocks it warrants. Getting a drink with a friend after work takes up about 10 blocks. How often do you want to use 10 blocks for that purpose, and on which friends? Which blocks should be treated as non-negotiable in their labeled purpose and which should be more flexible? Which blocks should be left blank, with no assigned purpose at all?" - Tim Urban

Now I am 100% not saying to become an extremist person like a Nikola Tesla kind of dude and devote yourself to nothing but your work abandoning even your most primal motivations (see below Tesla quote), I am just saying that what we do with our 100 blocks is worth having an inquisitive look at for its nutritional contribution to our mental diets. 

"I destroyed my sexuality." - Nikola Tesla

SIDE NOTE from Ciaran: I know he was a super genius and all, but, Tesla man....  

 All credit to  Wait But Why  for the image. 

All credit to Wait But Why for the image. 

But I digress yet again............

Just like we can have room for nutritionally sparse "treat" food within the caloric load of our physical diets once we have calories left over after our nutritional needs are met by our highly nutritionally dense base, we can, theoretically, have time for "treat" food in our metaphorical mental diets once our nutritional needs are also being met. While "nutritionally dense" foods and nutritionally sparse "treat" foods are easy to identify in actual food (spuds vs. pop tart for example), what constitutes these categories in our mental diets?

A handy lens to analyze our blocks through, is that of identifying whether the blocks constitute Investment activities or Withdrawal activities. 

Investment vs. Withdrawal - Macro to Micro

In this episode of the Sigma Nutrition Podcast,  the very smart Menno Henselmans of Bayesian Bodybuilding described how he sees days as either being "investment" or "withdrawal" in nature. This is not a surprising analogous outlook to hear from him, considering, that while he may very well now be one of the most influential thinkers in the world of drug free bodybuilding: he actually comes from a business and statistics background. 

I want to steal this Investment vs Withdrawal concept of Menno's and apply it to not just days, but smaller chunks of time, or more specifically - the 100 10 minute blocks of daily consciousness that constitute the caloric load of our mental diets. To take this and use another concept in economics, scale: I want to go from the macro of days, to the micro of minutes. 

Basically, I want to put forward the concept of looking at time spent doing Investment activities as the nutritionally dense food that should make up our base intake, and, time spent doing Withdrawal activities as the figurative treat foods we can squeeze in to the remaining of our 100 blocks once the rest of our nutritional needs are met. 

While Menno had his explanations of what he meant by these terms, I want to define what my own definitions of Investment and Withdrawal activities actually are.......... 

Click here for part 2...

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The Fake Tan and Speedo Counter to Gary Taubes (Piece for mixedmentalarts.co)

By Ciaran O’Regan.

Reading Options:

  1. If you only want to learn how to practically manage your weight for the rest of your life then skip to the section with the picture of the lad in Fake Tan and Speedo and read from there.
  2. If however you also want to learn about what Taubes has made a mess of then read the whole thing as you will have a much deeper understanding of nutrition for weight management.

TAUBES AND HIS BOOGEYMAN OF OBESITY

Soooo we need to talk about something……..

Gary Taubes was recently on both the Joe Rogan and Sam Harris podcasts and so was exposed to HUUUGE audiences. Taubes is a personality that has been floating around the nutrition world for years now and has authored books on low-carb high-fat diets (LCHF).

Basically, his mission is to portray carbohydrate as the Boogeyman cause of obesity…..

 Screenshot from an interview with Taubes on  gretchinrubin.com

Screenshot from an interview with Taubes on gretchinrubin.com

Taubes is also a fantastic speaker who is genuinely good at getting his message across in easy to understand manner using analogies, metaphors, and a vocabulary rich in scientific terms that really makes his argument seemingly make sense. For this skill of communication, I genuinely admire him. On top of this, he portrays himself as this noble revolutionary science outsider who is lifting the lid on bad science and highlighting the supposed fact that “the conventional wisdom on why we get fat or fatter is both foolish and wrong” (Gary Taubes). Just check out this beauty of a passage as an example of his skills of communicating his message:

 Screenshot from an interview with Taubes on  gretchinrubin.com

Screenshot from an interview with Taubes on gretchinrubin.com

On the surface, he makes some good points right?

I will even admit that I was once myself on the anti-carb bandwagon for a spell in 2014 as guys like Taubes had me convinced. Their seemingly scientific arguments and anti-establishment take were extremely compelling to a person like me who was ripe for the picking after already being exposed to things like the whole history of the Ancel Keys saturated fat controversy and the USDA based origin of the food pyramid. I was even one of those guys that thought chucking big chunks of butter and coconut oil into coffee was not just a way to make a strangely tasty high-calorie coffee, but was the recipe for a magic potion that resulted in body fat being forced to disappear into a mystical dimension.

Luckily, however, I was fortunate enough to come across some great resources and was able to learn myself good about the principles that actually underpin nutrition science for body composition management. Before I get to the principles of nutrition science (and the “fake tan and speedo counter” I mentioned in the title), I want to explore what Taubes potentially got right as well as what he made a mess of.

GARY, DO YOU EVEN SCIENCE BRO?

To continue reading head over to the full article on
mixedmentalarts.co here..........

The 3 Principles of Strength & Conditioning for Combat Sports

By Ciaran O'Regan

Let’s face it, combat sports are nuts.

In choosing to partake in combat sports, we are willingly putting ourselves into positions in which our bodies are at great risk. We essentially prepare ourselves day in and day out to come out on top when we finally test our damage-inducing and avoidance capabilities against those of our opponents.

This element of health risk is not a bad thing. Rather, in my eyes, it is what makes combat sports such a powerful “vehicle for the development of your human potential”, to quote Joe Rogan.

The sheer intensity of what getting into a ring/cage entails, as well as the risks involved, are in my eyes what makes combat sports so special as they can really dial in your mindset and teach you a lot about yourself. The intensity and risk it what allows the development of very favourable psychological and physical traits.

A couple of these favourable psychological traits are extremely high levels of discipline and mental toughness. For some fighters though, their discipline and mental toughness can lead them to train in a way that may, in fact, be counter-productive to achieving peak performance on the only day it really fucking matters: competition day.

Fighters may choose training modalities and volumes that may not just lead to no actual performance improvement, but may actually result in injury either during their S&C work itself or in their martial arts training as a result of what they did in the gym or on the track.

This is why I want to lay out a really simple guideline of 3 principles of S&C program design that may help in viewing the role of a strength and conditioning program in the big picture.

Continue reading over on the Sigma Nutrition site here...

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The Caveman Effect: What CrossFit and Vegan Fundamentalists Share with ISIS. - Fitlosophy

By Ciaran O'Regan

***NOTE: The FitLosophy series looks at wide-reaching philosophical concepts through the lens of the fitness world.

 All credit to  Salon.com  for the original image with which I took the piss when making the meme.

All credit to Salon.com for the original image with which I took the piss when making the meme.

Let me Introduce You to Mongo...

Mongo is a human hunter gatherer who lived about 40,000 years ago. Mongo and his tribe of less than 150 people (see #TheDunbarNumber...) basically move around following herds of migrating animals as this is a big part of their food supply. Mongos tribe split their time between brief periods of hunting and gathering followed by chilling at camp making tools and clothing, preparing food, and having plenty of sex for enjoyment as well as group cohesion (see "Sex At Dawn" by Dr. Christopher Ryan...).

Mongo and his people, of course, experience difficult situations such as food shortages or delightful encounters with Saber Tooth Tigers. Overall however, they have a really meaningful day to day existence simply because they are living in accordance with their evolutionary biology. 

Mongo is however from an era of human existence that would mean he is labeled a "caveman". I do not know about you, but any cave structure I have been in is usually a cold, dark, moldy, and miserable kinds of place and are not all that pleasant. As such, associating Mongo and his kin with living caves is associating them with a cold, dark, moldy, and miserable kind of existence which probably couldn't be further from the truth from what we know about hunter-gatherer lives (important reminder: see "Sex At Dawn" by Dr. Christopher Ryan...). Why would Mongo be labeled a "caveman" however? Did Mongo and his tribal kin live in caves?

Maybe, sometimes.

In all fairness though when you think about it from a common sense perpective, apart from a potential handful of cave rich areas worldwide with Swiss cheese looking hillsides, how fucking common are caves that can fit 150 people in them that you will be able to find EVERY night you get to a new location while following the aforementioned migrating herds? Probably not too common right? So if not in caves, where did they live? Well:

"Most hunter-gatherers are nomadic or semi-nomadic and live in temporary settlements. Mobile communities typically construct shelters using impermanent building materials." - Wikipedia

The key bit is "impermanent building materials", with the key word being "impermanent". You know what usually doesn't go away over time? A fucking CAVE! And it is this inherent resilience of caves that is precisely why Mongo and his kin are called cavemen. This is because stuff Mongo and his buddies would have drawn or scratched into a cave wall is obviously far more likely to survive long enough for us to find than the "impermanent building material" they built their dwellings with. This is the Caveman Effect. 

An example of selection bias is called the "caveman effect". Much of our understanding of prehistoric peoples comes from caves, such as cave paintings made nearly 40,000 years ago. If there had been contemporary paintings on trees, animal skins or hillsides, they would have been washed away long ago. Similarly, evidence of fire pits, middens, burial sites, etc. are most likely to remain intact to the modern era in caves. Prehistoric people are associated with caves because that is where the data still exists, not necessarily because most of them lived in caves for most of their lives. - Wikipedia

So what the fuck have Crossfitters, Vegans, and ISIS have to do with the caveman effect?

JOKE LOL... 

JOKER: "How will you know if someone you meet is a Vegan/CrossFitter?"

VICTIM: "I don't know how?"

JOKER: "Wait 5 minutes and they will fucking tell you!"

VICTIM: Responds with a laugh/snigger/pitiful sigh/shake of head/etc. 

Those of us in and around the fitness and health world have probably heard jokes like this thrown around for years. I would hazard a guess that the reason these jokes are so common, is because they are based on stereotypes that bare some validity due to our personal experience with people from these communities causing them to resonate with us.

However, this is essentially a selection bias. This is because the quiet majority of people from these communities we meet who do NOT shove their fundamentalism down our throats go unknown to us. This then skews our perception of the % of people from these respective communities who are in fact militant in their ideology. 

This is a perfect example of the Caveman Effect. Just like caves containing data from Mongo and his buddies survived longer than the "impermanent building materials" they used thereby leading us to associate them with caves and label them as cavemen: stereotypes about the obsessive nature of Vegans, CrossFitters and other fitness related tribes develop due to the militant ones making themselves ridiculously conspicuous and the non-militant majority just going about their lives without trying to preach some dogma. 

This is the exact same fucking concept that applies to ISIS!

ISIS Vs. Islam 101

Due to people in ISIS acting the prick and doing horrible acts in the name of Islam and the media operating with the standard "if it bleeds it leads' approach, it is easy for all Muslims to get lumped into the one stereotypical category. This is just like Mongo's homies being labeled cavemen simply because the majority of data on them comes from caves. Just like we did not find evidence of Mongo's "impermanent building materials", we do not hear stories about the quiet majority of Muslims. This issue is magnified due to the fact that our brains are hard-wired to create stereotypes to categorize people into large groups. We categorize people based on identifiable differentiating factors such as skin color, religion, sports team, etc. This is due to the limitations of the aforementioned Dunbar's number (which you really should learn about if you want to understand a key aspect of social psychology....). 

While we repeatedly hear about ISIS being made up of Muslims, something we do not hear too much about is the actual structure of ISIS and who is pulling the strings and why. This beast of an article in Speigel Online, for example, details the command structure of ISIS in Syria from top to bottom as laid out in documents found in the house of a now deceased former Iraqi colonel called Haji Bakr. An interesting aside about Bakr is that when he died they found shitloads of documents in his house relating to military planning and structure, but no Koran or religious texts. Hmmmm, is it not thought provoking that a key leader of an organization supposedly motivated with religious ideology has no religious texts in his house, but instead has a shitload of detailed plans on how to step by step take over a country? I will leave that one with you. But I digress.

Below is a description of ISIS activities in Syria in a single sentence. I issue a challenge to you to read it all in one breath ;).....

ISIS is basically an organization mostly led by coldly calculating power-hungry former high-ranking Iraqi military men who are leveraging the religious fundamentalism of extremist Muslims by puppet mastering a Muslim cleric figurehead called Baghdadi and recruiting non-Syrian Muslims from all over the world through clever internet marketing designed to manipulate rudderless disillusioned people who are lacking a meaningful purpose and direction to their lives.

Did you get it on 1 breath? 

These ISIS leaders are basically a just a shower of nutcases who claim to be "Muslim" but are in fact just leveraging a bastardized version of the ideology to further their own ambitions. And, since these power hungry lunatics and their once rudderless and unfortunately disillusioned followers are the most outspoken and loud in their actions, they become proxy representatives for the Muslim world by by extension. 

Since ISIS activities are probably the most common Islam-related data source the western world gets, I really feel it was important to highlight to you what ISIS actually is so that we can be aware of the potential to have our opinions on the religion skewed by the Caveman Effect.  

But if the majority of Muslims, CrossFitters, and Vegans are just regular people however just going about their days trying to make better lives for themselves and those they care about just like all the rest of us - what makes the extremist minority different?

Fundamentalism

What is fundamentalism?

Or as the Urban Dictionary says....

Hunter Maats also absolutely nails it with this description...

I will 100% admit that Fundamentalism is a really attractive concept for our small ape brains. The idea that there are these really simple solutions to difficult problems is very attractive as it allows us to surrender our personal responsibility and decision making over to some single source. The alternative to fundamentalism is to be constantly seeking personal growth and development to reach higher levels of consciousness and understanding by entertaining information from a wide variety of sources. 

But how does fundamentalism apply to Vegans and CrossFitters? 

I do not want to bash CrossFit at all as I genuinely think it has been one of the most important Black Swan Events in the history of fitness. Before CrossFit, the standard narrative for years with fitness was that guys played sports or lifted weights like a bodybuilder would, and women walked quickly or did fucking step aerobics. CrossFit has done more to make super effective training modalities such as barbell and gymnastics strength training sexy and appealing to the masses than any other single entity. The CrossFit movement has also done a great job of producing a well-needed highlighting of the importance of positive lifestyle habits such hard exercise, nutrition, sleep, and potentially most importantly; a sense of tribal support and encouragement for people around these habits. 

Similarly, with Vegans, there is elements of community and tribal support around positive traits such as environmental impact awareness around food production and a desire to limit the suffering of animals that are hugely important. I especially respect vegan athletes who manage to succeed at a high level as there is so much discipline and attention to detail needed to ensure that physical performance is not affected when avoiding animal products such as; the organization skills needed to plan and prepare their food, meeting not just protein but specific amino acid requirements, B6 and B12 requirements, iron requirements, long chain Omega 3 fatty acid requirements, etc.

The Vegan and CrossFit fundamentalists I am talking about are the ones who see their respective ideology as the one and only way to do things at the expense of acknowledging the fact that they are simply acting in accordance with a methodology, and, when it comes to methodology Harrington Emerson said it best....

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” - Harrington Emerson

This fundamentalist mentality is not just in the CrossFit and Vegan community, but is present in many of health and fitness communities such as Ketogenic people, "If It Fits Your Macros" people, Paleo people, Yoga people, etc.

However, just like the rudderless and disillusioned people who are lacking a meaningful purpose and direction to their lives that are easy for ISIS to manipulate, there are also people of the same type who find their respective fitness or health niche and take it too far. Some reasons for this may include;

  1. They previously struggled with health issues such as being overweight and this particular methodology worked for them to get healthy.
  2. It fills some hole in their lives by providing a sense of tribal affiliation (a lot of what people find great about any of these fitness niches is the sense of community and the idea that you are part of a larger tribe not just in their immediate local, but around the world. That is why people often use language to identify themselves AS a certain thing rather than say they DO a certain thing. For example, you will often here something like: "I am a vegan" rather than something like "I eat vegan" or "I eat a vegan diet".
  3. They get extremely fond of the feelings of superiority or elitism that goes with feeling like they have it all figured out and no one outside of their niche does.
  4. They really enjoy the feelings of being in an ideological echo chamber constantly surrounded by confirmation bias and tribal affirmation while avoiding the discomfort of having their views questioned and disproved (I previously wrote about ideological extremism here...). 

So how do we avoid The Trappings of Fundamentalism?

MIxed Mental Arts...

Accept that no single person or resource has all the answers and adopt the mentality of a Mixed Mental Artist....

Mixed Mental Arts is about evolving better and better culture drawing on the best of all times and places and learning everything we can from humanities mistakes. It's bringing the principle of agile development used by software developers to evolving cultural software. We move fast and we break beliefs. - Hunter Maats

Fitness fundamentalism, just like religious fundamentalism, is a way of grasping at simplistic solutions to complex issues. Our brains are small and limited while the world is big and complicated. As such, we find ourselves consciously and subconsciously clawing at simplistic models through which to view the world as the whole thing is far far far too complicated for us to fully understand in every minute detail. These limitations of our little ape brains are something we are unable to control. What we can control, however, is how we view the fact that our brain does have innate cognitive limitations and then adopt the mentality of a Mixed Mental Artist so that we do not close ourselves off to true growth and personal development in whatever endeavor we partake in. Basically, we all need to accept the magnitude of our own ignorance. 

"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing." - Socrates

 

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Sparring Methodologies: To Spar, or Not To Spar, That is the Question (Part 2)

[IMPORTANT NOTE: As the title implies, this is Part 2 of a series. This piece can be read in isolation but a much better overall picture could be gotten by first reading Part 1 which can be found here. ]

The Dark Side of Hard Sparring

I wasn’t fucking around when I chose the title of this series; “to spar or not to spar, that is the question”.

I did so for a very specific reason. The original line that I was playing off is of course perhaps the most famous line of all of the Shakespearean literature:

“To be, or not to be, that is the question.” – Hamlet in Act III Scene I of “Hamlet”

If you have only heard this line in passing over the years and do not know the context in which Hamlet was speaking it, you may not realize how dark a line it is. Hamlet was talking about suicide.

Now at first, this may seem alarmist or dramatic to draw parallels between suicide and hard sparring. However, after learning just how easy the brain is to damage irreparably (read part one to refresh your memory), ask yourself; am I really being overly dramatic?

To continue reading click here..........

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A Tale Of Two Dr. Manhattans Part 1/4: My Bias & Mixed Mental Arts

 All credit to wikipedia.com for images of  Dr. Manhattan  and  Dr. Oppenheimer . 

All credit to wikipedia.com for images of Dr. Manhattan and Dr. Oppenheimer

SETTING THE STAGE.... 

Right now in 2017 humanity at large finds itself in a situation in which it has access to increasingly god-like technological capabilities, but, finds itself still employing chimp-like behaviors. Even though we can do things like communicating pretty much instantaneously across thousands of miles, and, we have more than enough food and energy resources to sustain every human on the planet; causes of human conflict and suffering like extremist ideology still exist. As a result of the ridiculous dichotomy between capabilities and actualities evident right now, it is quite apparent that our cultural software is in dire need of an upgrade.

This is a 4 part series of short articles exploring the powerful cultural lessons humanity at large can learn through analyzing the combined endeavors of two different Dr. Manhattans. One is the fictional character from the movie/graphic novel  "Watchmen" and is actually called Dr. Manhattan, the other is Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer whom I have nicknamed "Dr. Manhattan" because he was the actual real life project head of the Manhattan Project during World War 2 from which the Atom Bomb was birthed.  But, before I get to what humanity can learn from the super-intelligent blue skinned physicist who can shoot lasers from his face, and the chain-smoking physicist who was basically responsible for a Little Boy and a Fat Man ending WW2; I need to set the stage by looking a few important underlying concepts.

The 4 part series is laid out as follows:

  1. Part 1 looks at the biased lens through which I see the world as well as an introduction to the concept of Mixed Mental Arts.
  2. Part 2 looks at what it means to be a "hobgoblin" and the issues surrounding ideological extremism using US politics as a case study. 
  3. Part 3 looks at the fictional Dr. Manhattan and what he can teach us as a unifying-nemesis.
  4. Part 4 looks at the real life Dr. Manhattan and what he can teach us as a unifying-generalist as well as the power of the logos.

Let us begin.

BIASED LENS

My primary work is as a strength coach and my educational background is in Sport and Exercise Sciences. I chose that course of study as I wanted to get into strength and conditioning, but at the time there was no specialist 3rd level course in Ireland for that field. In retrospect, this was a very fortuitous situation.

I had an interesting time in university studying not just the three main elements of the sport and exercise sciences (biomechanics, physiology, psychology), but also a really broad range of feeder disciplines such as computers, mathematics, physics, and sports injuries. While very little of what I studied actually directly applied to my work as a strength coach, this broad study gave me a real appreciation for what I would later come to realize was being a generalist

Ironically, after years of coaching one realizes that being a strength coach actually is an activity that warrants being a generalist of sorts. Having a broad understanding of how not just the body, but the mind works, is a huge help in coaching people from a wide range of backgrounds with drastically different needs both physically and mentally. On top of this, there is the practical bonus to having a wide enough surface understanding of how the world works to be able to hold a decent conversation with often highly intelligent clients during the rest periods of a training session. 

When I finished university I received a scholarship to do a Ph.D. in biomechanics with a supervisor I highly respect. News of the scholarship came to me while I was traveling in America. After some deliberation, I turned it down for a number of reasons with the primary one being that I was just too interested in a wide a variety of areas to shoehorn myself at that time. Years later, I would hear a really eloquent one-liner by a podcast host that pretty much summed up my mentality at the time of my refusal: 

"I would rather be a curious generalist, than an exhausted specialist." - Jim Lawler of the Melted Snow Podcast

So that is my bias: while in a lot of ways I am a specialist, I also enjoy being a generalist. It is potentially this generalist lens that I think has led the concept of "Mixed Mental Arts" to resonate with me so deeply.

So now that I have laid my bias out on the table, what in the fuck is "Mixed Mental Arts"?

MIXED MARTIAL ARTS & MIXED MENTAL ARTS: ATOMISM TO HOLISM

Mixed Martial Arts is the name of a sport in which elements of Boxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling, and Brazillian Jiu Jitsu (as well as any other fighting style that may be useful) are amalgamated to solve the problem of winning a full contact fight under agreed upon rules. Basically, whatever works to solve the problem at hand (a fistfight) is used, regardless of its origin. 

 All credit to  lovethispic.com  for image. 

All credit to lovethispic.com for image. 

"Mixed Mental Arts" is the name of a podcast by Hunter Maats and Bryan Callen in which elements of everything humans have ever known (apart from what was lost in the Libraries of Alexandria that time some asshole Romans decided to have a bonfire) are taken so as to analyze and potentially solve big picture cultural problems. They got the name from being Mixed Martial Arts fans themselves and watching fighters adopting useful techniques to win fights from wherever they could get them. Mixed Mental Arts is not just the name of a podcast however, but a way of looking at the world. 

The core tenet of Mixed Mental Arts is to try to get away from a dominant culture of atomism and move towards higher levels of holism.

 

The same atomistic thinking that caused Westerners to become so individualistic and to separate housing into little separate units caused them to divide up the world into separate disciplines. There's math, literature, physics, chemistry, biology, history, psychology, economics, gender studies, African-American studies and on and on. And now, the boxes keep on getting smaller and smaller. There are smaller and smaller subdisciplines in each of these areas. Initially, this was helpful. The world is a complicated place and much of the success of the West's intellectual endeavors came from breaking the problem up. However, as you focus on less and less, you lose more and more context. The more you stare at a tiny part of one tree the more you lose sight of the forest." - Hunter Maats

 

The progressive atomism that is the standard narrative in academia in which we know more and more about less and less is both good and bad. Good because we are increasing our depth of understanding and knowledge base, but, bad if this continues to happen at the expense of serious collective analysis to solve actual big picture cultural problems. To my knowledge, there seems to be very few people within academia who are doing a serious job of trying to solve major issues facing our culture and society through collective analysis of the available knowledge, not just inter-discipline, but intra-discipline. As Hunter alluded to above; we are not just missing the forest for the tree, but we are missing the forest for a tiny part of the tree. Looking at how that tiny part of the tree plays a role in the forest at large would be a holistic viewpoint.

To a certain extent however one can't blame academics for this focus on atomism because of the framework they operate in. For the most part, people in academia receive not just research funding, but job security, based on their ability to produce novel findings that will ideally be published in journals with as large an impact factor as possible. To illustrate my point and to show how long this publication system has been a problem, here is an extract from a 1968 article called "Publish or Persish: The road to academic job security.":

 

"Objections to the publishing system center upon the time necessary to author a reputable work and the emphasis it places in written rather than classroom competence. Mrs. Bette Lustig, assistant professor of Modern Languages, felt that "class preparation suffers due to publishing. Either you teach less to do both, doing mediocre research and causing your teaching to suffer, or you teach, and fail to make re-appointment." - Mike Brady

 

From their perspective, there is very little incentive to not just focus on being a good teacher to their students, but to adopt a holistic big picture approach. The elephant in the room, however, is that atomism is in all likelihood NOT how we will come to solve the complex problems facing our species. 

 

For example, what approach would you take if I told you that you have 3 months to train before you have to fight another trained person in a cage in your underwear? You wouldn't give ONE-SINGLE-FUCK which martial arts styles the techniques you learned came from, so long as they worked and resulted in you not getting your ass handed to you.

Mixed Martial Arts represents holism perfectly because elements of specialist disciplines are taken regardless of their source to address the problem of a fistfight. In the same exact way, Mixed Mental Arts represents holism perfectly because elements of any discipline will be taken to address the problem that we live in a world with cultural software that badly needs a fucking update. 

 

Mixed Mental Arts is about evolving better and better culture drawing on the best of all times and places and learning everything we can from humanities mistakes. It's bringing the principle of agile development used by software developers to evolving cultural software. We move fast and we break beliefs. - Hunter Maats

 

Q. But if being a Mixed Mental Artist seemingly makes so much fucking sense, why is it so rare?

A. Because we, as a species, are acting like hobgoblins...........

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3 Things A Murderous Swordsman Can Teach You About How To Live: Lessons from Musashi

 (All Credit to  historyoffighting.com  for picture.)   Musashi murking an opponent in a famous duel. 

(All Credit to historyoffighting.com for picture.)

Musashi murking an opponent in a famous duel. 

Miyamoto Musashi

Miyamoto Musashi was a 17th-century Japanese swordsman who was supposed to have killed more than 5-dozen people in fights. He was essentially a traveling duelist who had a primary hobby of finding the most badass dudes he could, then challenging them to a scrap. Believe it or not, strolling around looking for other trained killers to have mortal combat with,  was not an all too uncommon thing to do with your time back in the day in Japan. 

To put this accomplishment into perspective, Floyd Mayweather is famous for being 49-0 in boxing, Musashi was more than 60-0 in sword fights for fuck sake. In boxing, an undefeated record after dozens of fights is super impressive because all it takes is one shot to sneak through and you could go to sleep. In fights involving spears or 3-foot razor blades called Katanas, if a shot sneaks through, you fucking die. Considering that this was a man who successfully partook in an activity that is possibly the most extreme imaginable, then afterwards was both self-aware and intellectually capable enough to write his teachings down in a way that is world renowned to this day: it is pretty safe to say there is probably a lot we can learn from him about how to live.

 (All credit to  Daily Mail  for Floyd Mayweather picture and    historyoffighting.com    for the Musashi picture.)  Floyd may have had faster hands and nicer shorts, but in terms of accomplishments, 49-0 in boxing isn't even on the same planet as being 60-0 in fucking sword fights. 

(All credit to Daily Mail for Floyd Mayweather picture and historyoffighting.com for the Musashi picture.)

Floyd may have had faster hands and nicer shorts, but in terms of accomplishments, 49-0 in boxing isn't even on the same planet as being 60-0 in fucking sword fights. 

Luckily for us, in his final years of life he retired to a cave and poured his knowledge into the phenomenal book, "The Book of Five Rings." Now while the vast majority of the book is about how to kill people really efficiently with specific "cuts" etc, there are lessons in it that apply to every aspect of life (whether you want to make mortal combat a hobby or not). Below are some of what I think to be his most powerful teachings. 

 

1. Relentless self-improvement

Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the Warrior. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men. - Musashi

There are two ways to read the above quote. The first, is that you need to get better every day so that you can beat other people eventually. The second, is that getting better every day is the absolute priority in life and that defeating other people is a bonus.

Either way, you just need to get better every single day. This focus on self-improvement as a way of life is something that people all over the world and throughout history have realized. This concept of relentless self-improvement is not just echoed in other Eastern philosophies such as Taoism ("The Way") or the Japanese principle of Zanshin (which basically means to live your life with intention and focus), it is also echoed all over Western philosophy. For example, French philosopher Marcel Proust went so far as to suggest that art was the meaning of life in his epic novel "In Search of Lost Time" (which I have yet to read fully because it is literally the longest novel ever written). What has "art" got to do with self-improvement you may ask? 

"Artists are people who strip habit away and return life to its deserved glory." - Marcel Proust

When you "strip habit away", you are simply exposing yourself to new things and thereby improving through new exposures. Hence, when you really think about it, "art" is simply continuous self-improvement and self-expression through your chosen medium. Your chosen medium can be something that is classically considered to be "art" such as music, painting etc. Or, it could even something like engineering or school teaching. It really doesn't matter in the least so long as you are on a path of relentless self improvement in whatever direction excites you the most

This drive to continuously seek to improve and excel at whatever our chosen craft may be, is something that can give meaning and purpose to everything you do by providing a direction and focus. Whatever your craft(s) may be, ask yourself: what have you done today to be better than you were yesterday? (Side note: if you have yet to discover what your craft may be, a good place to start might be "Mastery" by Robert Greene.)

 

2. Do Not Be One-Dimensional (aka, a boring bastard)

It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of the pen and the sword, and he should have a taste for both ways. - Musashi

Even though Musashi made a lifestyle out of fighting people to the death for the fuck of it while an active swordsman, then went on to train other people how to to murder people with swords once he started teaching, he still thought it was important to be well balanced in methods of self-expression. As you can see from the above quote, he saw it as important for even warriors to not be totally consumed with their single primary craft, but to also have intellectual pursuits through the "Way of the pen". Musashi himself was a painter, calligrapher, and poet for example. 

 Example of some art work created by Musashi when he wasn't busy swinging swords at people (all credit for image to  japanbrandonline.com )

Example of some art work created by Musashi when he wasn't busy swinging swords at people (all credit for image to japanbrandonline.com)

But what benefits come from being invested in a few simultaneous pursuits you may ask? Well, apart from not being a boring bastard at parties because you know a tonne about fuck all but fuck all about a tonne, there may be other benefits.

A second potential benefit was eluded to in a podcast I listened to a few months back in which Tim Ferris was on episode 50 of Jocko Podcast. In this episode,  Ferris talks about the importance he himself places on having a number of pots on the stove with regards to creating his own personal anti-fragility by "diversifying" his identity. He discusses how he tries to always have at least 3 "primary" goals. Now while this statement may sound like an oxymoron, Tim places huge importance on this concept so that he does not have to deal with the pressure of having all of his eggs in one basket. These "primary" goals do not need to conflict with each other in the least and may simply involve seeking improvement in your 5km time or deadlift personal best while simultaneously pursuing your accountancy qualifications or whatever. Therefore, according to Tim, should one of your pursuits not be going so well, at least you have an inbuilt buffer of having another pot on the stove that you can be working away on. For example, if you fail an accountancy exam that sets you back a little bit in your career, you will still have your physical pursuit such as your 5km running time to work on while you re-evaluate your accountancy progress. Skip to the 1.00hour mark of this video to hear Tim talk about this approach....

A third potential benefit I can see in having a few pots on the stove, is that it may help maintain a white-belt mentality. The phrase, "white belt mentality" comes from martial arts as a white belt is the first belt one receives upon starting. Having a white belt mentality basically means that you are constantly hungry to learn and that you do not get complacent, which can happen to someone in any field as one progresses to more advanced stages of ability. The reason maintaining a white belt mentality and presenting yourself with new challenges all the time is so important, is because the learning process is the same regardless of the medium. 

"If you know the way broadly, you will see it in everything." - Musashi

Whether you are a musician or an martial artist, the fundamental skills are the foundation stones upon which you can gradually layer more complex skills. By continuing with your primary medium, but taking up new outlets every so often, you will be forced to constantly return to a white belt mindset. When you first learn a new skill, such as an instrument, a clever teacher will force you to begin with learning a foundational understanding of the fundamental principles upon which you can build. This may in turn help your primary medium by frequently reminding you of the importance of the fundamentals which you may have inadvertently drifted from over time.  

 

3. Being Comfortable With The Worst Case Scenario

Imagine you were told that you were eventually going to end up in a fight to the death with a razor sharp sword, would you be afraid? How would you prepare for such an event? How do you deal with fear as a whole? 

A common practice not just by Musashi himself, but by Samurai culture as a whole, was to meditate on their own demise. Samurai would regularly visualize the scariest ways of dying they could imagine and become comfortable with the potential that this may occur.

"Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is the resolute acceptance of death" - Musashi

This practice of becoming comfortable with worst case scenario then allowed them to approach actual combat in a cool and collected manner thereby allowing them to perform at their best. Essentially, the more comfortable they became with their death, the more they could get out of their own way, ironically decreasing their chances of actually dying. 

What the fuck can the average person ever do in their own life that is more intense than a sword fight to the death? Musashi and his Samurai counterparts were guys who knew a thing or two about mental preparation and fear. Learn from them. 

 

Bonus Lesson: Stop wasting your fucking time doing silly bullshit

The only thing we are guaranteed in life, is that we will at some stage we will have to return our borrowed carbon to the universe. As such, what we do with the time we have during our temporary existence is of the utmost importance. Now I am not saying that we should just work all the time, far from it. I am simply saying that everything we do should have a purpose and should not just be to fill time, or to satisfy the addiction our simple ape brains have to the dopamine release we get from our phones. For example, if you have free time, do not just aimlessly fill it by brainlessly scrolling through some social media feed. Consider using your phone to listen to a podcast or read an interesting online article in a subject area that excites and challenges you. I am not saying we totally avoid social media, it for sure can have a time and place. However, rather than allowing yourself to excessively drift around in that black hole we keep in our pockets in a completely rudderless manner, we can use that phone as a tool rather than a crutch. Life has far more depth and clarity when what we do has a purpose and direction. 

"Do nothing which is of no use." - Musashi

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Podcast Appearance: Sigma Nutrition Radio Episode #100

By Ciaran O'Regan

SNR #100

I had a great chat with the very smart and insightful Danny Lennon of Sigma Nutrition & Performance around this time last year. I had known Danny for a while and have been a fan of his work for years so was quite frankly surprised to have been asked to do this. 

We covered a wide variety of topics on this episode

From the episode description:

"Ciaran is a strength & conditioning coach with an undergraduate degree in Sports & Exercise Science from the University of Limerick. He has worked with elite athletes in various sports such as swimming and rugby, including spending time coaching at Connacht Rugby.

Ciaran’s real passion is combat sports, having won provincial championships in amateur boxing. He is a native of Limerick, Ireland but more recently has been based in Boston, MA.

  • Principles vs. Methods
  • The learning process: Focusing on the process vs. focusing on outcomes
  • Confirmation bias and self-selection of viewpoints
  • Focusing on the minutia of nutrition – missing the forest for the trees
  • Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID)
  • What makes a great coach? – Lessons from Greg Jackson, John Kavanagh & Mark Dellagrotte
  • Musashi’s Book of 5 Rings as an operating system for life
  • Using different training modalities with athletes
  • The importance of not speaking in absolutes in fitness and sports science
  • Personality differences & personality profiling in coaching practice"

To check out the episode just click here..........

EXCHANGING IDEAS VS. DEFENDING STANCES VS. BEING TRIGGERED: LESSONS ON DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS AND ON BEING INCORRECT FROM EMERSON AND AURELIUS

By Ciaran O'Regan

RATIONAL CONVERSATION

Due to both having lived in the US during the final 6 months of the recent circus election, and, with the sheer amount of social events surrounding the current Christmas season, the concepts surrounding the ability to have rational conversations with people are at the forefront of my mind. Whether it be at social events, work nights out, or parties with friends: the vast majority of us have been and will be spending time in groups of people frequently over these weeks. 

Q. But what will we most likely discuss when surrounded by these people?

A. Fuck all of any importance probably. 

MEANINGLESS SURFACE INTERACTIONS

Why do we talk about fuck all of any importance when in groups? People avoid important and meaningful topics of discussion because of a fear of offending people of delicate disposition resulting in an impassioned argument, or worse yet, an outburst of batshit irrationality (Side Note: I took the phrase "batshit irrationality" from my fellow Limerick men in The Rubberbandits. I know nothing about the intricacies of batshit or why it is irrational, I just love the phrase. But I digress......).

 

"Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often." - Mae West

 

People will more than likely simply stick to relatively soft topics of conversation such as weather/fashion/movies/material objects they bought or received as presents etc. I like the label of meaningless surface interaction (MSI) to describe this type of conversation due to its obviously inherent lack of importance or depth. Big ideas that are of huge importance to our entire society such as economics or emotional intelligence are rarely if ever discussed. Religion and politics? Don't touch them with a fucking barge pole! 

RELIGION, POLITICS, AND CANDYMAN

Religion and politics are seen under the same light as saying "Candyman" five times into a mirror (FYI: "Candyman" was a 1992 supernatural horror film directed by Bernard Rose in which saying the name five times resulted in a bunch of people getting murked by a steel hook wielding paranormal villain).

Religion and politics are at the forefront of our societal structure. They are literally two of the most important (if not THE most important) things to have played roles in shaping the world we live in today. Why the fuck can't (supposed) adults rationally discuss these topics? When we discuss soft nonsense by entertaining the aforementioned MSI topics, we are doing fuck all else but making sounds with our faces so that we are not standing around in silence. Other than to get a social interaction warmed up, this kind of conversation revolving around a series of predictable MSI's, is more or less a waste of everybody's time and energy. It serves no purpose other than to act as a human equivalent to two dogs sniffing each other upon making acquaintance.

ENTER MR. RALPH WALDO EMERSON AND HIS HOBGOBLIN.....

Q. Why are big topics like religion and politics generally deemed to be unmentionable?

A. Because the vast majority of us are close minded hobgoblins where these topics are concerned. 

 

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall." - Emerson

 

What Emerson is getting at in the above quote, is that we should not only not fear being proven wrong, but we should be actively trying to learn new stuff all the time or we may as well concern ourselves with our "shadow on the wall". A "foolish consistency" simply means being too stuck in our ways with our minds closed to new ways of thinking. Being a "hobgoblin" means we are essentially being foolishly consistent in our thought processes at the exclusion of entertaining new ways of viewing a topic. When it comes to supposedly controversial topics like religion and politics: far too many of us fall into the "hobgoblin" category as we are irrationally unwilling to entertain that we may, in fact, be incorrect in some of our thought processes. 

A FEW EXAMPLES OF TOPICS ON WHICH HUMANS EN MASSE HAVE BEEN INCORRECT ABOUT SHIT....

Being incorrect is not a bad thing, it simply means one did not have sufficient information to make a more accurate opinion. That is all. For example:

  • Prior to the work of William Harvey in the 1600's,  it was not generally known that the heart was the pump of our blood. Some people even though that the liver may have been responsible for generating venous blood while the heart was responsible for the origin of arterial blood. This was due to the work of Galen. 
  • Prior to the work of Galileo Galilei, it was widely believed the sun moved around the earth and not vice versa. 
  • People used to think the earth was a fucking flat disk from which shit fell off the edge (which is an idea that curiously still prevails amongst a small subgroup of tinfoil hat donning individuals.)

EXCHANGING IDEAS VS. DEFENDING STANCES VS. BEING TRIGGERED

EXCHANGING IDEAS - The Scientific Method

When we have conversation with other humans with the scientific method as the lens through which we view the incoming information, we are exchanging ideas. As a rational human, all we can do is make decisions and form opinions based off of available ideas or evidence. When we get new evidence, we can entertain it and decide if we should change our opinions or not based off of the accuracy and reliability of the new information. If we do change our opinion, we then just hold it until we come across yet more evidence. This is essentially the scientific method. In science there is no such thing as a "scientific fact" but there are simply ideas that are more likely to be true than not true based on these ideas holding out against rigorous attempts to prove them wrong. (while science is unable to be truely true for want of a better phrase, mathematics can be. This is a topic for another day however.)

This is obviously the more favorable way to interact with each other as it removes irrationality and allows for more intelligent interactions.

DEFENDING STANCES - The Believer Method

When we have a conversation with other humans using a belief system operating outside of the scientific method as our lens for viewing the information and responding, we are defending stances. I call this 'The Believer Method'. Topics like religion and politics are probably the most common to fall into the believer method. These hot topics are so deeply personal to people that they have ZERO FUCKING INTENTION of changing their opinions but will instead defend their beliefs with as much emotion and close-mindedness as are humanly summonable. With this lens, we are guilty of ignoring the scientific method in favor of not trying to disprove our ideas at all. Instead, we are simply defending our currently held stances against all new evidence. 

(Side Note: This clouding of our thoughts by irrational emotion was eluded to by the ancient stoics. They labeled the source of this irrationality to be the "passions".) 

BEING TRIGGERED - The Victim Method

When we have a conversation with other humans in which the fear of being "triggered" is the lens through which we view the incoming information, we are adopting what I call The Victim Method. People using the victim method as their lens have no intention of either entertaining the incoming information as if it were potentially truer than their current opinions (via the scientific method), OR, even defending their beliefs with emotion and irrationality as the driving force (via the believer method). Instead, they simply fuck off to their safe space. 

I understand that our primitive ape brains are still struggling to get past their culturally ingrained bad habits such as racism and sexism. However, fostering a culture of it being ok to be easily offended is not the answer. Real life doesn't give us a fucking trigger warning before it swings a metaphorical "Hadouken Punch" at us in the form of a major illness, family death, or even a simply a setback in our career or personal relationships. As such, our time would be much better spent learning some tools of emotional intelligence and using hardship in life as opportunities to sharpen these tools in preparation for when the big shit actually happens. Did Rosa Parks cry over trigger warnings? Fuck no she didn't. She got sick of the bullshit she saw and took action that changed the world.

The type of rationality involved in holding discussions using the the scientific method as a lens to view and process information, is as good a place to start as any with regards to learning how to better separate emotion from data thereby allowing us to make better decisions. This approach is just a more honest way of looking at the world, or to put it accurately; a more intellectually honest way. 

 

"Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

INTELLECTUAL HONESTY - THE OPPOSITE OF EMERSON'S HOBGOBLIN

To be intellectually honest is basically when we do not choose to ignore new information because it contradicts our current opinions or viewpoints. The scientific method is pretty much the definition of intellectually honest. Whereas, both the Believer and Victim methods are intellectually dishonest and reside in the same neck of the woods as the cognitive operating systems one would reckon to be employed in the brain of Emerson's "hobgoblin".

The ability to entertain a new idea and explore it with diligent rational analysis, without accepting it as necessarily truer than our current opinions, whilst maintaining the ability to change our opinions if the information warrants it: is the hallmark of intellectual honesty. To shun this way of looking at new information is to think one is special in some way as it means we think we know better than others.

ARE SNOWFLAKES REALLY SPECIAL?

Everyone and their dog has heard that snowflakes are cool and are supposedly "special" because they are all different. I personally do not see why this uniqueness is a big deal. Regardless of how unique and admittedly beautiful they are to view through magnification, they are still simply supercooled cloud water droplets nucleated about some lucky dust particle.

Us humans are the same. None of us are special because all we are as an individual, is how our genetics have been expressed through our environmental and social influences (basically everything we were exposed to in our lives). With this way of viewing other humans in mind, the next time we find ourselves in a discussion with someone revolving around a topic we have strong opinions on, remember this: if we had their genetics and their exposures we would fucking be them. Simple. To use a very dramatic example let us run an interesting thought experiment: 

Q. What would happen if I (or you for that matter) had Hitler's genetics and Hitler's exposures?

A. I would have been Hitler (and so would you).

This is not controversial but is simply a fact. This is not a fact in a scientific sense but in a mathematical sense as both sides of the equal sign would be identical; Hitler's actual life on one side, and the details of my thought experiment involving the idea that I had both his genetics and exposures on the other.  

This type of outlook removes any of the aforementioned "passions" from the situation as it simply allows us to look at the person in front of us as collection of parts rather than potentially as an enemy that we need to attack via the Believer Method or flee from to a room in an "educational" institution containing cuddly toys and puppies via the Victim Method. As I talked about in THIS ARTICLE, there are potentially huge benefits to breaking a person down into their various parts and analyzing them mechanistically as opposed to emotionally. Regarding difficult conversations, this mechanistic manner of viewing people may thereby limit the likelihood of our emotional ape brains throwing up a barrier to new and potentially beneficial viewpoints. 

Expanding our Frame of Reference

As humans, we each have a unique frame of reference through which we view the world. By adopting the scientific method as our lens through which we view and process new information, we are allowing for the potential that our frame of reference may be changed in beneficial ways should we encounter better information.  Otherwise, we may as well concern ourselves with our "shadow on the wall". 

 

"If any man is able to convince me and show me that I do not think or act right, I will gladly change; for I seek the truth by which no man was ever injured. But he is injured who abides in his error and ignorance." - Marcus Aurelius

How To Deal With A Prick: Lessons from Seneca, Jocko, and Aurelius.

By Ciaran O'Regan

What Is A Prick?

Firstly, I want to clarify what exactly a "prick" is in the context of the vernacular used in modern English to describe a person. The below screen shot is of the "top definition" as voted in the Urban Dictionary at the time of writing.

 

(NB* In case I was not clear enough; for the purposes of this article I referring to el numero dos above; "derogatory term used to sum up the existance of a worthless asshole", and not the first definition, "a penis". It is always good to clarify your intentions in any aspect of life in which "a penis" is involved).

The reason I chose the word "prick", is simply because it is a word I have been exposed to in many the discussion with friends when an unpleasant person was the topic of choice (now, while I was probably mostly exposed to it through hearing my own vocal cords producing it rather than from my friends voices, I still have been exposed to it a lot). As such, it is the first descriptive word of its genre that springs to mind when I sat down to write this piece. My predilection towards vulgarity is probably more pronounced than most, much to the chagrin of my parents when growing up (and still to this day). But I digress.....   

Now, while I chose the word prick, you could substitute in any of your own locally appropriate synonyms used to describe a rather unpleasant individual. The same unpleasant person, depending on the part of the world they find themselves in, may be a prick/dickhead/asshole/fucker/fuckwit/fuckhead/twat/gobshite/gomie etc. The list of the descriptive words of this genre is never ending and constantly being added to in innovative and admirably creative ways. This innovation is necessary since calling someone a "cream-faced loon", as did Macbeth to his servant in the Shakespearean play, loses its impact after a while. 

Right, so now that I have provided a pseodo-academic definition of a distasteful descriptive word, along with having taken you admittedly unnecessarily far down the rabbit hole of English vulgarity: what makes a prick a prick in a practical sense?

Perception And Labelling

In its most basic sense, calling someone a prick all comes down to 3 step process. The first step involves an interaction. The second step involves our interpretation and subsequent perception of their actions in this interaction. The third step then involves labeling the person we have deemed to be distasteful, with a suitable word from our own personal vocabulary based off our perception of our interpretation of their actions in this interaction. This highly complex 3 step process summarized like this:

Step 1. We have an interaction with another homo sapien sapien (modern human) of our species.  

Step 2. This other ape we have interacted with (yes we are actually apes, this is not an insult but a factual declarative statement) has a characteristic(s) and/or performs an action(s) we deem to be distasteful/mean-spirited/aggressive etc.   

Step 3. We now decide to label this person a prick.  

 

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” - Marcus Aurelius

 

Why Are They A Prick?

During my brief 27 years on this planet, I have thus far been able to identify and label 3 subcategories of prick through my own personal interactions and study:

1. The Ignorant Prick: This type of prick actually means well and do not want to upset us at all but are for whatever reason totally unaware of how they are being perceived. This ignorant prick may actually be trying to help us but simply does not have the social awareness or skills to understand how to impart their advice to us in a suitable way thereby coming across to us as unpleasant or domineering. 

2. The ASPD Prick: ASPD stands for "Antisocial Personality Disorders" as outlined in the "Diagnostic and Statistical manual for Mental Disorders".  Here are the criteria for ASPD in case you were curious. Under the heading of ASPD are both sociopath and psychopath. A prick under this category upset us because they are a basically a sociopath (which according to Dr. Martha Stout could be 4% of the population) or a psychopath (Coid et al. 2009 found 0.6% of people in Great Britain to be born psychopath). These types of people have the inability to feel remorse or guilt due to social trauma (sociopath), or a genetic defect resulting in an underdevelopment of the part of the brain responsible for emotions (psychopath). As such, a prick of this variety may upset us because they don't care about us or may even derive enjoyment from upsetting us.   

3. The Bully Prick: They are not ASPD and are just coming across as unpleasant because they are simply projecting their own insecurities and/or sadness out onto the world due to some inner turmoil they have yet to resolve. This type of prick has undergone some trauma themselves and tries to establish some feeling of empowerment by attempting to demonstrate dominance over other people. This is the classic bully. 

 

“All cruelty springs from weakness.” - Seneca

 

Why is This Breakdown and classification Important?

This is important for a very simple reason: it removes the influence of any emotional reaction from a potentially highly emotional situation by looking at a person's personality mechanistically as a collection of parts. Negative emotions such as anger or sadness simply cloud our judgment and rarely if ever result in good decision-making. Once we attempt to break a person down into their component parts, and try to look at where a person is coming from with regards to why they are a prick (or at the very least acknowledge that they are a prick for a reason outside of our control), the likelihood of developing a very clear and logical strategy to deal with this person is much higher as our negative emotion has been removed from the situation. 

Don't lose twice

They are what they are – should we get emotionally attached in a negative way we lose twice. We lose initially as we have allowed ourselves to get stressed (which results in a whole host of harmful physiological and psychological issues), then we lose again as we will probably make a not so good decision while in the stressed state. Essentially, they are just a "prick" because that is what we have chosen to label them as such due to an emotional reaction. Regardless of the reason for their actions, if we were to get upset we are allowing negative emotions to fester due to something they did not even mean to happen, or we are allowing them to win, or we are getting upset at someone who simply has a sloppy mind. For example:

1. Negative Emotion and Ignorant Pricks: If we get angry/sad over the actions of this type of prick, we are getting stressed due to the actions of someone who actually means well and does not mean any harm but is simply unaware of how they are being perceived. Ask yourself: how is allowing a negative emotional reaction to influence your decision-making process in this situation in any way rational?

2. Negative Emotion and ASPD Pricks: If we get angry/sad over the actions of this type of prick, we are getting stressed due to the actions of someone who actually means to cause us harm. By getting stressed here we are essentially allowing this person to win by giving them the reaction they want. We are gifting them a victory wrapped in a bow. Ask yourself: how is allowing a negative emotional reaction to influence your decision-making process in this situation in any way rational?

3. Negative Emotion and Bully Pricks: If we get angry/sad over the actions of this type of prick, we are getting stressed due to the actions of someone who actually means to cause us harm but their actions are coming from a place of inner turmoil and emotional weakness due to sloppy management of their own mind. Ask yourself: how is allowing a negative emotional reaction to influence your decision-making process in this situation in any way rational?

 

“If any man despises me, that is his problem. My only concern is not doing or saying anything deserving of contempt.” ― Marcus Aurelius

 

As you can see from the above 3 examples, allowing ourselves to get emotionally involved to the point where the negative emotion we are allowing to happen is clouding our judgment just doesn't stand up to logic

"But removing emotion from the situation is easier said than done" I hear you say.

"But I am not a robot" I hear you say.

"But I am only human and emotion is normal" I hear you say. 

So what is my response to these statements I imagine many of you to be pondering?

Dealing with pricks is like lifting weights

Think of how we deal with pricks just like how we think of lifting weights. When we lift weights week on week we keep getting stronger (Bro, do you even lift?). This physiological stress followed by subsequent recovery allows us to lift a heavier weight next time for the same reps, or simply to lift the same weight for the same reps with much less relative effort. Dealing with lighter weights initially allows basically allows us to throw heavier weights around eventually. 

Dealing with difficult people is the very same.  

When we get used to practicing dealing with difficult people, even if just practicing staying calm when someone cuts us off in traffic (think light weight), we are strengthening our ability to deal with difficult people. It really is like a muscle. Dealing in a constructive way with unavoidable adversity is just an opportunity to get better with dealing with future unavoidable adversity. Every obstacle in the form of a difficult person we are forced to deal with is just an opportunity to get better at dealing with future difficult people.

 

"The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way."  - Marcus Aurelius

 

This is all very well in theory, but how do I remove emotion enough to allow for unclouded rationality you may find yourself asking?

Detach. Calm Down. Mind control.

Jocko hits yet another home run with this gem of simplicity: 

 (Side note: someone should really make a book of Jockos tweets. He really is a blackbelt at getting powerful lessons across in usually way less than 140 characters)

(Side note: someone should really make a book of Jockos tweets. He really is a blackbelt at getting powerful lessons across in usually way less than 140 characters)

Become detached. It really is that simple. 

Learning to become detached is difficult but very possible. This is a simple concept but not an easy one. Practicing detachment is subject to the same simile I used above regarding weight lifting. It can be trained and improved upon with effort and time. There are also a bunch of approaches we could use to trigger our detachment when dealing with difficult people. For example here are just a few I have used as triggers when experimenting with what works for me:

 1. Look at the situation for what is really is, and acknowledge that getting upset and allowing a negative emotional reaction to cloud our decision making usually leads to nothing good.

or,

2. Look at the ephemeral nature of not just our lives, but of our whole existence as a species. On top of this, realize that this stress is not just a blip on the radar of our lives, but that our negative stress means as much to the universe at large as moving a single grain of sand from one spot on a beach to another means to the ocean. Nature does not give a fuck about us and we are just here to spend our short time before we return our borrowed carbon to the universe having a laugh so stop wasting time and energy dwelling in negativity. 

or my personally preferred option due to its simplicity and brevity,

3. See this stressor as an opportunity to make yourself better and sharpen your social tools. Or, as Mr. Willink likes to say in any situation involving unavoidable adversity (using literally as few words as possible);

 

"Good." - Jocko Willink

 

management of negative emotion is like water filling a sink...

The more and more we practice this concept of emotional management the better we will get at it. Removing negative emotion such as anger or sadness from the situation is not about becoming a robot and not feeling emotions, it is about seeing the negative emotion occur like water filling up a sink. Before the water fills the sink causing an overflow, however, we just pull the plug and let the negative emotion go down the drain. The better we get at managing our emotions, the less water will be able to collect in the sink before we pull the plug. This shit takes constant practice however and I honestly see it as a skill that has no ceiling to its development.

It is all about perception

It is up to us how we deal with pricks. Will we allow ourselves to get emotionally entangled in a downward spiral of negativity leading to subsequent irrationality in our thought processes, or will we see these situations as opportunities to sharpen our social tools. 

It is WAY WAY WAY beyond the scope of this piece to break down every single possible solution to dealing with people who may trouble us. In fact, I think such an article would be infinitely long and infinitely complex due to how varied and multifaceted our weird species is. Humans love getting caught up in gossip and taking other people's negativity to heart far too much. Fuck knows how many times I have heard someone in an enraged voice saying things like "who do they think they are?" or "what right have they to say that to me?" or some other nonsense. Limp Bizkit put it best in their glorious song "Break Stuff";

 

"It's all about that he-says, she-says bullshit
I think you better quit, let the shit slip
Or you'll be leaving with a fat lip
It's all about that he-says she-says bullshit" - Limp Bizkit

 

Our closest mammalian relatives are the chimpanzee and the bonobo and these species solve social problems in polarized but much more simple ways that do not allow for taking each other's negativity to heart and allowing it to fester. Chimpanzees have a very patriarchal society and when they have problems with each other just fuck each other up in vicious fights. On the other hand, bonobos have a more egalitarian and matriarchal society and don't really have any conflict because rather than resolving issues through violence, they substitute sex for aggression. (side note: this is probably why we do not see many bonobos in zoos as all the promiscuity may result in some difficult questions directed at prude parents from their sheltered kids). Humans are far more complex however (which is quite unfortunate as living like a bonobo seems like a good old time. But I digress yet again...). 

As such when looking at our lives in a logical fashion, we cannot see difficult people as “bad” or label them as pricks and view them in an emotional manner as it then it leaves our happiness in life up to pure randomness. With this labeling and emotional investment in negative areas, happiness and peace are left up to chance because theoretically, by sheer mathematical probability, it is possible that;

1. We may be lucky and never come across a single difficult person like this ever again in our lives,

or just as equally likely,

2. We may be unlucky and forced to interact with a difficult person that has characteristics worthy of labeling a prick every single day of the rest of our lives if they are a difficult colleague or family member that we cannot escape due to circumstances out of our control. We could, by utter chance be subject to a series of random unfortunate events which could result in the potential for every job we will ever have for the remainder of our lives containing one colleague that has the characteristics of a prick. Therefore, if we allow ourselves to see this kind of person as a negative and adopt a soft victim mentality, our lives life will fucking suck. 

 

"You don't have to turn this into something. It doesn't have to upset you." Marcus Aurelius

 

The choice is up to us

All I am trying to get across with this piece is the there is benefit to at least attempting to break a problematic person down into their various possible components (figuratively and not literally a la Dexter). This process of attempted mechanistic analysis facilitates a much more calm and rational response from us, rather than the emotionally driven reaction the vast majority of us have been guilty of in the past. Once we get into the habit of seeing difficult people as what they are - just a genetic code that has been expressed through whatever social and environmental influences were undergone, we can then see them as a tool to improve our ability to deal with future difficult people. As a social animal, there is a game to play as a human. We can play this game in a lot more of a stress-free manner if we do not allow our happiness to be left up to random luck.

 

“If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.” - Marcus Aurelius