Length: 4500 words
Executive summary: This post is about habits; not habits in general, but my particular habits in areas such as food, sleep, exercise, learning, alcohol, leisure and work.
When, how and why do I do what I do, and are there any general takeaways for you?
In short, I recommend you focus on sleep, food and everyday movement and exercise; and the rest will take care of itself.
Create a good solid drum beat of healthy and natural habits, and lead a varied, lateral life, ad libbing with moderate extremes, while following your natural tendency to explore, recognize patterns, learn new things and solve problems.
Good habits are bad too
Even good habits are a form of homeostasis; stagnation. Sometimes it’s not even possible to objectively tell which habits are good and which are bad. It’s one of those “how long is a piece of string?” issues.
E.g., it might be better for me to stop lifting weights, and I consider it every now and then, but just can’t do it.
That said, it still seems to be easier to slip into bad habits, such as sitting for several hours per day, watching blue-tinted screens before bed-time, or eating junk food.
I, however am quite unbiased in my habit-forming. Yes, I admit that is one of very few things that actually is a bit unusual about me.
Anyway, I’ve been asked about my particular habits, why I stick to them, and how they were formed to begin with. So, with the caveat that my habits are not optimal in any way, and that different strings work for different things, here goes…
I go to bed around 11:30 pm and fall asleep at midnight. I typically wake up a little before 8 am, after slightly less than 8 hours of sleep. In the summertime I sometimes wake up for a bathroom break at 5-6, due to the sunrise but I go right back to sleep afterward.
I often spend time on my computer until right before going to bed, but that’s okay, since my “lights out” time is midnight. Blue light screens like TV sets, computers and most mobile devices trick the body into believing it’s day time.
I read a little on my Kindle Paperwhite e-reader from Amazon every night, aiming for falling asleep close to midnight. If I nod off three times while reading, I just hit off, drop the book, close my eyes and fall asleep exactly as I lay reading (on my side).
My bedroom is dark and cool, to mimic a prehistoric African night.
I sleep in my underwear and with my feet outside the covers (and outside the bed) to keep them particularly cool.
I live alone, but my dog Ronja has her bed right next to mine. If I need some extra oxytocin (calmness and bonding hormone), I can just put my hand down and pet her.
Sometimes I micro meditate for a minute or two, mentally going through my body parts until I fall asleep.
I’ve written more about sleep optimization, the how and the why here. In this post I’m focusing on the over-arching habit structure.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that sleeping well affects your health, your willpower, your ability to stick to healthy routines, your general life balance, your level of stress and anxiety, which in turn affect your sleep.
Hence, you want to make sleeping part of a synergistic process, instead of a vicious cycle:
Sleeping poorly affects your income, your health and your happiness. To counter the effects you might turn to drugs (caffeine, tobacco, alcohol or cocaine), which only make matters worse. Perhaps it’s time to ditch the nasty habit of bringing your smartphone into bed, or at least install an app for red-tinting the screen.
Another way of fixing your sleep is by fixing your life and health first…
I work out every second day, spending two and a half hours per session in the gym.
After my morning walk with the dog, I head for the gym. I warm up on the treadmill for 15-20 minutes and then lift weights.
This year I’ve been following one of Sheiko’s strength training programs for bench press, squat and deadlift. Including 10 sets extra for biceps after the ordinary program, I spend around 2 hours on the strength and hypertrophy exercises.
What’s almost magical with Sheiko’s program is the undulating/periodisation of intensity and range of exercises within exercises (!), within sessions, between sessions, between weeks and between longer time blocks. The variation is good both for the muscles and make training more fun.
A very good reason for exercising is that it releases the BDNF substance, which makes you smarter (neurogenesis; birth, growth and plasticity of neurons) or happier (BDNF controls depression more than cognition in some people). Maybe BDNF is connected to the experience of stress relief from the day’s constant pressure to fight or flight as well. Or that’s an added benefit.
You are a smoker; you just don’t know it yet
Exercise makes you healthier as well of course. Not least, exercise gets you up on your feet…
I’m sure you’ve heard that “sitting is the new smoking”. Already after 20-25 minutes of sitting, bad and weird things happen in your body, with fat and muscle tissues exchanging unhealthy signal substances, blood vessels becoming more inflammation prone etc. It’s almost as if sitting was a signal of dying back in the day when we normally roamed the savannas.
It’s difficult to do really deep work for 90 minutes, if you have to move around for two minutes every 25 minutes (the Pomodoro method may have something to it) but it might still be worth it. Just don’t look at your phone during your breaks. By the way, I stand at least half the time I’m on my computer.
Anyway, my routine is that I work out for 2.5 hours every second day, of which 15-20 minutes is cardiovascular exercise. (it used to be 12 minutes sharp, but I’ve recently expanded the allotted time).
In addition, I go for 3 dog walks every day, 1 hour each, sometimes more, depending on who I meet in the park. The walks are very low intensity but I’m up on my feet, i.e., not sitting, and moving around for 3-4 hours a day. And that, my friend, is what will keep both my brain and body inflammation and alzheimer’s free until I’m 150, as opposed to “office sitters” who can’t expect to remember their own children by the age of 75.
In addition, I listen to science podcasts and do some power posing while out on my dog walks.
But enough about me, I don’t recommend my extreme lifestyle unless you are in the same situation as I am.
You don’t need to walk as much as I do. What you should focus on is never sitting down for more than 90 minutes straight, without taking 5 minutes for some brisk walking (or burpees, but that would be aiming too high in my book). That is both practical and has long term benefits at the same time. Besides, walking outside the box often opens up new perspectives and resolves issues with being stuck mentally.
Finally, I do a set of 5-10 mobility exercises around 5-10 minutes a week, and micro meditate (just taking a deep breath, e.g., or touching a surface mindfully).
I subscribe to 26 podcasts which more or less are all about science or economics, and are all intellectually challenging. I also subscribe to numerous science channels on YouTube, and regularly read scientific and economy blogs, journals and newsletters. I don’t watch the news, read regular newspapers, watch typical TV-shows etc. I do watch certain select TV-series and movies though, and I really like going to the cinema for the best movies.
Yesterday I watched Allegiant (2016):I
I listen to the podcasts when walking my dog (3 times a day, in total some 3-4 hours a day). Moving around helps both focusing, understanding and learning. The rest of the material described above, I consume at home, sometimes while doing mobility exercises.
Oh, and I take notes in longhand, which forces me to process the information while writing (rather than taking verbatim notes in shorthand or on a device). In addition, I write about what I learn (Evernote, Twitter, e-book, blogs, Facebook etc., even Periscope sometimes), which further enhances my understanding and learning.
The choice of food ties in closely to the sleep, exercise and learning complex. Duh, its life.
I do intermittent fasting every day. 8 hours of eating between 1 and 9 pm and 16 hours of fasting the rest of the time.
It’s good for me. For you. For everything (age, Alzheimer’s, cancer, inflammation…) Google it. I’ve been doing it for several years, since I learned about it from Martin Berkhan (leangains).
Actually, it’s not true. The last few months I’ve reduced my fasting, in order to focus more on strength gains. Now I typically have a protein shake earlier than 1 p.m. and one later than 9 p.m. In addition, I eat breakfast before going to the gym, which means around 10 am. So, I guess I’m not fasting at all anymore…, even if I still fast more than I eat, but perhaps 13:11 on average instead of 16:8.
Hello! “fasting” for 12 hours overnight is just called sleeping…
So, what and when do I eat, when I eat?
I turned flexitarian two years ago (for ethical reasons only). At the time I ate meat (land living or poultry) every day. I had fish every day as well, but the important distinction is that in September 2014, I decided to significantly limit my consumption of beef, pork, lamb, chicken and other land dwelling mammals and birds.
It began as just one day, but turned into 30 days straight. Since then I’ve relaxed my new habit a little and I probably have some kind of meat once a week or so, or with 3-5% of my meals. I’m hoping for and investing in alternative food sources like insects, algae and bio printing.
I get up at 8 and drink a large glass of water (I keep it by the bed in case I get thirsty in the middle of the night… which never happens, so I drink it in the morning instead).
New habit: morning drink. Now, that I’m trying to gain weight and have relaxed my fasting routine, I mix (and drink) about an ounce (30g) of whey powder with about an ounce of olive oil and water and then go out for an hour’s walk with Ronja.
During my waking hours, if I’m at home, I have a drink like that every three hours, unless I’m eating a real meal at the time. Sometimes I have one with my meal anyway. My reasons for this routine are as follows:
1) There is no use eating protein more often than every 3 hours, but every 3 hours, protein should boost net muscle growth
2) whey protein is digested very quickly. Hence, having more than some 30g at a time will be burnt for fuel rather than used for building muscle
3) I want to eat a little more than 2g/kg (4.5g/lb) body weight of protein a day, or approximately 210g of protein. That takes 7 meals at a 30g clip to accomplish
4) spaced 3h apart I need to start eating at 8 am and stop at 11 pm, with at least one meal getting 2x30g of protein.
When eating “real” food, that takes longer to break down than whey, it’s no problem wolfing down more than 30g of protein, so I typically have a total of 40-60g of protein with lunch and dinner.
I eat three meals a day, breakfast around 10 am – 1 pm, post workout or lunch around 2-3 pm and dinner around 8 pm, often complemented by a final whey drink at 9 pm. Now, that I’m “bulking” I often have one more drink right before bed-time, around 11 pm.
A typical breakfast consists of 5-6 fried eggs, half a can of beans (usually black or kidney) and some spinach and kale. And a cup of coffee. Another typical breakfast is 100g of oatmeal (cooked to porridge with half a liter of water) and some whey.
I season my eggs, my whey drinks, my beans, most about everything, with turmeric, cinnamon, oregano, chili and black pepper. The last month I’ve sprinkled Spirulina algae from Simris Alg on top of my food and drinks as well.
Lunch and dinner are typically variations on the same theme, and not seldom the exact same thing: Some kind of pan fried fish (salmon or cod) with broccoli, haricot verts and beans, potatoes, pasta or rice.
I know, I don’t have much imagination when it comes to food. I actually don’t rule anything out (unless it’s been kidnapped, like cattle, pigs, chicken and sheep). I have no problem eating bread, butter, cream, snacks, gluten or whatever you can think if, I just never buy it or make it myself.
I often eat too little carbs and thus have to force feed it to myself sometimes. It can take the form of a leftover cold boiled potato from the fridge, muesli/müsli with milk, or crispbread sandwiches. Or alcohol… If I know I’m going out for a drink later, I don’t feel the same need to chase carbs for lunch or dinner, since I know I’ll get some later anyway. To make up for the lack of carbs I consume about 1 dl (3 oz) of olive oil every week.
One more thing, I drink a liter/a quart of milk right after my workout sessions. The timing of protein isn’t that important, I hear, but I’m thirsty anyway, and it’s usually 4 hours since my last meal, so I figure it can’t hurt.
As a rule I shy away from vitamins and other supplements.
Anti-oxidants, e.g., have been shown to cause damage, if eaten as supplements instead of as whole fruits, berries and vegetables. Hence, I eat a varied and colorful natural diet of whole foods instead. I add various red and blue berries, as well as leafy greens and spices to my whey drinks. My diet of milk, beans and lemons (to the fish) add further to my intake of vitamins, minerals, fibers ant anti-oxidants. Check out this article for more details on what I eat, rather than when.
However, living in Sweden, I do eat a vitamin-D supplement of 4000 IE (100 ug) a day between September and April. I also have a pill of lactic acid bacteria every day (Biogaia’s Lactobacillus Reuteri product Protectis) to help my little friends in the gastrointestinal tract stay varied and healthy. I also supplement my food with fish oil from Arctic Med (and right now also with the cleaner and more sustainable, albeit more expensive, algae based omega-3 oil from Simris Alg).
Supplements, fasting and saunas: All three supplements help reduce inflammation, strengthen the immune defence system, speed up recovery after injury, stress, illness, exertion etc., as well as in general reduce a lot of modern welfare diseases and vague symptoms of stress and weakness. As does fasting by the way (including reduce the risk of cancer it seems).
Hot saunas are a fifth miracle cure in the same vein:
Bonus: Link to Tim Ferriss and Dr Rhonda on saunas
(No, I’m not providing any other references; google it, check out examine.com, listen to the Discovery podcast etc.)
Most of all I think about creating a good environment for my microbiome, my bacteria. After all, they account for more than 99% of my genetic material and are probably the ones controlling my behavior anyway. I care for the ones living on me as well as in me…
Hygiene and grooming
I shower every second day (after gym), or if necessary (a particularly hot day, before a date, after swimming in a lake).
I scrub my heels and big toe briefly every time I take a shower, and apply a fat foot cream afterward. I use the same cream morning and night as well, to keep my feet soft and supple. I doctor friend of mine once said that bacteria living in heel cracks have been associated with Alzheimer’s. Be that as it may, nice feet are nice.
I use a combined hair and body wash in the shower, but I don’t wash my face with anything but water (I rinse my face carefully morning, evening and when showering).
Afterward I use lotion on my face (from Bulldog), and apply a mild deodorant (Nivea or Bulldog) before taking care of my feet with foot cream.
When I’m done I spray some after shave/eau de cologne on the back of my neck (currently Armani Code Ice or Bvlgari Man in Black, if you care at all).
I shave when I have to or when meeting people, appearing on TV etc. On average I shave about every second or third day or so. I use an electric shaver – it’s convenient and I don’t have to use any product on my skin that might kill off the good bacteria residing there.
I don’t use any hair products, but I do rub off some excess lotion in my hair, to make it slightly shiny and easier to shape.
Sometimes I can get a pimple after partying. I try to refrain from touching it, but every once in a while I can’t resist the urge to squeeze it (especially if I’m meeting someone the next day), using some protective tissue and very clean hands. Depending on the damage, I sometimes (rarely) apply alcohol or zinc paste afterward (or instead of squeezing).
I brush my teeth when I get up, after breakfast, before seeing someone and after the last meal of the day. I floss (J&J) thoroughly a few times a week.
Once a week or so I indulge in a hot sauna at home, sometimes throwing myself in the snow on the balcony. I keep a book for reading, and a water proof notepad (that I got from Ludvig Sunström) for taking notes in the sauna.
Leisure, socializing and alcohol
I don’t work, I spend a lot of time with my dog (and other dog owners) and in the gym, and I’m a bit of a loner.
Consequently, I don’t spend much time seeing other people (except in the dog park or nodding curtly and manly to fellow weight lifters).
When I do see my friends, alcohol is often involved. It could be a wet lunch, dinner and party, a house party or during travels (I have a few recurring party vacations every year).
All in all, however, I socialize so rarely it can hardly count as part of my daily, weekly or even monthly habits. Somehow, I still manage to find an occasion about twice a month on average to go all in on the juice of the devil. Perhaps I should learn to hold off just a little, but it’s just sooo much fun to get drunk, goof around, party, dance, surf on Spotify, YouTube or the internet in general, climb things, talk about life etc.
I didn’t drink until I turned 18, so I do have some experience of partying and dancing sober, but it feels way more fun and natural with alcohol than without. Perhaps a warning sign, but I’ll start heeding that a little further down the road… (the “I don’t have a problem” fallacy)
Working and writing
Finally we’ve come to my raison d’être: my writing.
I don’t work the (Wall) street for money anymore, and I don’t write for money either; just for fun. The question for the day, however, is when and how I go about it, not why.
I use an app called RescueTime to keep track of how I spend my time at the computer. If you’re looking for productivity you should look elsewhere, if that app is any reliable. I manage to accumulate just 1-2 hours a day of desirable work (blogging, writing on my next book, answering comments etc.) and a little more than that on “distractions” like social networks – of which Twitter is the “worst”.
Lately I’ve been spending as much as on hour a day on weekdays on my trading platform as well (up from 1-5 minutes a day a year ago; no doubt an effect of talking to day traders on Twitter all day).
It’s hard to objectively discern between productive and distracting activities, but one thing is clear, I don’t spend much time producing quality and lasting content, and too much on indulging in online socializing.
I’m useless and hideous; don’t look at me!
(I don’t write enough, I just tweet my life away)
Well, it’s my choice right now to focus more on learning, weight lifting and relaxing, working based on inspiration (otherwise a no-no among culture workers), rather than having set time or productivity goals (hours or words per day, e.g.).
OK, let’s get down to concrete numbers and times.
I don’t write before working out, and I don’t write before let’s say 5 pm after working out and walking the dog. As a rule, I don’t write after dinner or the late dog walk either, which leaves about two hours between 5-7 pm for writing on gym days. Right now, I’m closing in on the end of exactly such a writing window.
On workout free days, there is in theory much more time to write, but I often eat more slowly, brush my teeth or floss watching TV, spend more time on Twitter and my trading platform, or reading articles on Kurzweil, Hussman, Singularity Hub, ZeroHedge, Contrarian Edge, Financial Orbit, HORAN, James Clear, Wall Street Playboys, Barking, Raptitude, Wait But Why, Danger & Play, Start Gaining Momentum, various Swedish and international exercise and nutrition blogs (Styrkelabbet, Hjärnfysikbloggen, Tyngre, Träningslära, Träna Styrka etc.)
In effect, I torturously manage to squeeze in an hour between 1-3 pm before dog walk nr 2, and another hour or two between 4-6pm, and finally, if needed 1-3 hours late in the evening between 8-12 pm.
Funny thing: I’m actually a little worried of getting too caught up in my writing, becoming obsessed and stop socializing altogether. At the same time I worry about not producing enough; that I’ll “wake up” in the future and think I squandered my life on dog walks and tweeting.
Well, all things considered, things are the way they are because I’m happy with them – both in the moment and when taking stock of my accomplishments a few times a year. Yesterday’s “hard” decision was saying no to a wet lunch, in order to write this. “Too asocial or writing too little?”, well how long is that bleeding string?!
Life and habits summarized
Good habits are good to have (“Oh, thank you Sprezza, for dispersing such wisdom”); they make you healthier and more productive, without spending any willpower.
On the other hand it’s easy to get married to your habits and suboptimize life; climbing just one hill, and the nearest hill at that, instead of several, more interesting and higher hills elsewhere*. The string measuring habits and homeostasis is of unknown length, as with all interesting things in life.
* life achievements; not mounting or conquering other *ehm* things
Life needs both routine and variation, just like a Sheiko strength training program, with intensity and choice of activity undulations.
In Gödel|Escher|Bach, Hofstadter explores recursivity (self-reference) in music, math and music; and finds beauty and intelligence in the complex, half-chaotic space between the monotone and the completely disordered.
That’s where you want to be as well, exposing yourself to moderate extremes (convexity*) of all kinds (food, exercise, focused work, socializing…), albeit with a recurring healthy underlying bass rhythm – like a Bach fugue, Sheiko’s program or the starting values of Mandelbrot’s fractals.
*That word – convexity – has vexed me my entire life. I don’t think it fits with pictures of convex items.
OK, let’s get practical and focus on what you can do instead of what I happen do be doing
Foster an underlying drum beat of habits supporting physiological and mental health; a base line you always fall back to after other ventures like traveling or partying. The bass should be strong enough not to be derailed by simple things such as after works, dating or friends visiting town.
Aim for a “natural” set-up of daily everyday exercise and whole foods, rather than compensating sitting all day with gym class in the evening and then back to sitting again. Or pills instead of fruits, berries, beans and leafy greens. Eat real food with lots of color instead of relying on pills.
Engage your large muscle groups (legs, back, abs) for a few minutes at least once an hour. You’ll be much better of than if sitting all day and spending an hour on aerobics after work. Stand at your desk if you can, and take walking meetings instead of sitting (you’ll think better as well).
Read and listen to new things as often as possible. Cut out the daily news of your information flow. It’s not real anyway. Find better, more objective and to the point sources of information than digesting the same entertainment and propaganda in newspapers and on TV over and over again.
Create an environment, and foster habits, for sleeping well.
Sleep, food and physical activity (sex definitely counts) are the pillars of life
Then comes curiosity, pattern recognition and problem solving (you need them to find the first three, and you need those to keep going). The rest is more or less noise (though I do get that you need to finance your food, roof and bed somehow; just at least try to consistently tilt the balance more and more toward what really matters).
I have a whole other line of reasoning ready; from an individual’s starting condition of reactive “self” with limited free will, effects of external stimuli and pressure that nudges his development in a certain direction, which turns ideas into habits, which in time internalize and form a new self, partaking in and enjoying different activities and with just as little truly free will.
With the right guidance, your future self can be a healthy, wealthy productivity machine, but your experience of it will be effortless and sprezzaturian, almost with the perception of living day to day governed by whims of lust.
Perhaps it’s just me.
Anyway, the subject of self and free will (and consciousness and math as well perhaps) is for another day. Or year.
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