When was the last time you took in a full sky-dome of stars?
Losing touch with the magnificence of the night sky is one of the costs of living in a light polluted city.
It’s an easy cost to overlook, but not one we should take lightly. There is no view more sobering than the rich redness of gargantuan hydrogen clouds swallowing up the sky, speckled with evergreen fireflies casting scattering starlight across neon blue spacedust.
Its sheer scale serves as a reminder of how miniature we are.
That’s not to say we don’t matter. Only that whatever may be plaguing us matters even less.
Long story short, I’m trying to put on a little bit of useful weight. Skip to the bottom for the delicious recepie I’m using to jam breakfast back into my mornings.
Unfortunately, I’m not bulking up just for the hell of it. In order to continue being competitive in higher level jiu-jitsu competitions, I need to be stronger than I am.
As it turns out, this is harder do than I thought. First of all, getting strong hurts. A lot. Which doesn’t make training jiu-jitsu any easier either.
In spite of the pain, I’ve just started the Stronglifts 5×5 workout program. A number of muscly people I trust have reccomended it as a good starting point for building the type of strength required for jiu-jitsu.
The program consists of two alternating body weight workouts, each comprised of compound free weight exercises with the intent of progressive overload.
If that was gibberish to you (like it was to me a few weeks ago), what this means is that the program has you switch between two workouts which don’t involve any machines or special equiptment. You show up, lift free weights and progressively add a tiny bit more weight each session until you can no longer complete 5 reps at a given weight in an exercise.
Avoiding machines at the gym and focussing on free weights means there is a whole lot more balance and posture involved in the lifts. Because Each exercise activates (and agitates) a big portion of your body, so you have to focus on keeping your whole body activated throughout each lift, and need to focus on less total exercises to get results.
I’ve never been one to get motivated by superficial physical incentives. Muscles are nice, but if I were desperate for them I would have started going to the gym a long time ago.
I’m going to the gym primarily to hone the tools I take to war on the mats.
But what I’ve found out is that in order for all that work to mean anything on the mats, I need to pay a lot of attention to what I eat while I’m off them.
If I want to gain muscle mass, I need to be consuming roughly 4000 more kilojules than I’m used to eating every day and a large portion of that needs to be protein. At my current size, I’m simply not putting in enough food to offset all the energy I expend exercising. Which is a good problem to have. But still…
As someone mostly disinterested in the prospect of breakfast most mornings, this was a troublesome fact to uncover.
However, I think I’ve stumbled across something which is going to solve my problem; peanut butter protein shakes.
Luke’s Peanut Butter Protein Shake
1 cup rolled oats
2 scoops vanilla flavoured protein powder (whey or plant based)
2 table spoons 100% peanut butter
1 table spoon chia seeds
1 table spoon honey
3/4 cup frozen blueberries
2 cups milk of choice
The best thing about this recepie is that you can prepare it ahead of time.
Just put everything except the milk into a container or zip lock bag and pop it in the freezer. When you’re ready to have it, empty the contents of a container into your blender, add your milk and blitz away!
I’ve prepared a batch of these in advance, and am now looking forward to each morning when I get to slurp down a meal which feels like a treat, even though it’s a necessity.
The other day I genuinely heard an adult human complain after someone mentioned that blueberries were only $2 a punnet. This person felt hard done by because they had paid $5 only a month or two ago. They seemed honestly upset by this $3 differential. For the purposes of this post, I’ll call them Bob.
There’s a couple of interesting things to unpack here.
Firstly, Bob’s frustration didn’t spring from the initial $5 price tag on the blueberries he purchased. In fact, at the time, he was quite happy to pay the money.
Bob only became upset once he realised someone else had been offered a better deal, and felt like he’d been treated unfairly; the Blueberry gods had shafted him, and he wasn’t having a bar of it.
The reason this all seems silly is that of course, Bob hadn’t been treated unfairly at all. The availability of blueberries, like most fruits and vegetables, changes throughout the year. At times when they are less abundant, prices go up. It’s sad that mass supermarket availability has shrouded this commonly understood natural fact, but here we are.
What I find interesting about this whole thing is that while it’s not grounded in any truth, Bob still experienced the same frustration he would have if he had been mistreated. The emotions he went through were based purely on the perception that he had somehow been maligned.
This frustration was only possible because Bob had preconceived assumptions about blueberries, supermarkets, supply and demand. These assumptions informed expectations which did not align with his experience.
By nature, all expectations involve the risk of emotional pain.
It’s easy to laugh at Bob for not understanding that fruit costs different amounts at different times. But before you do, ask yourself; when was the last time you became upset or frustrated because someone didn’t go as I expected it to? When was the last time you experienced road rage despite not being put into any immediate danger? How often are you frustrated when a USB doesn’t go in on the first attempt?
These reactions are as useless as Bob’s being upset by cheap blueberries.
When we experience resistant cognitive dissonance over things which do not threaten the safety or security of our lives, the unpleasant experience of those feelings is by our own design.
Dilute your expectations of the world. It’ll never make as much sense as we’d like it to. And even when it does, you might find yourself sulking over $2 blueberries you have no reason to. Worst of all, you might not even realise that you’re being a fool.
Consistently becoming annoyed about the fact that something annoyed you is just as dangerous.
“How much more harmful are the consequences of anger…than the circumstances that aroused them in us.”
When we think back on the times where felt annoyed, what we really mean is that our expectations of a situation were met resistance. But when we reflect on these times, we have another option; instead of thinking back with regret and frustration, we can look back with gratitude.
Resistance is feedback. From feedback, we can learn. Greet all opportunities to learn with grace, and our problems become gifts; puzzles which we can relish the opportunity to piece together.
Your boss dumping too much work on your plate towards the end of the week is only becoming frustrating because you’re been avoiding a conversation with them about it.
Stubbing your toe on the corner of your table only happened because you were in a rush.
The first step is to diagnose the problem, and the only other step is to act. If you can’t (or won’t) act, it’s time to change your expectations – because the problem doesn’t care how you feel about it.
Neither of these things are about fault, they just are.
Have that conversation with your boss, take more care walking around the table, and all annoyance is torn out from the root.
Or, if these aren’t actions you’re willing or able to take, then you simply have to accept that being overworked and occasionally having sore toes are parts of what it means to lead your life. If you’re not willing to have the conversation or build the habit, these are the natural consequences. Once you’ve accepted them, how could you possible expect them not to happen again?
If you’re annoyed, it’s usually because there’s something you’re avoiding, or something you can change.
Sometimes resistance is a cost for the things we do. If you’re consistently annoyed by the price, stop doing the things.
Going through the process forces us to realise that indignation is a choice.
We have a lot more control over our lives than it ever feels like we do, so we ought to take it.
Seth Godin makes a hugely insightful point in his riff on Theodore Levitt’s famous quarter-inch drill bit quote.
People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They want a quarter-inch hole.
Theodore Levitt, Harvard Marketing Professor
Godin argues that it’s not even the hole that people want.
It’s not the shelf they plan on installing on the brackets they’re going to drill into the hole.
What people want are the feelings they’re able to access now that they have the drill bit; the feeling of pride when they install the shelf by themselves, the gratification of pleasing their spouse, or the safety and security they might experience when then can put all their things on the shelf, and keep their space tidy and organised.
This is important for marketers to understand, but equally important for us to understand as consumers.
When we spend (be it our money or our time), what are the feelings we’re trading for?
Are we being capitalised upon?
Are we making decisions which will serve us over time?
That next Big Mac might feel incredible at the time, but it won’t an hour later. And if that feeling you purchased diminished so quickly, what will it’s value be in twenty years when your health catches up with you?
People are plagued by the fact that we always want, but don’t always know what we want.
Learning to want less, and more specifically is the trick.
Nobody wants a quarter-inch drill bit – but we all want to feel safe, healthy, respected and loved.
There was a time where psychology didn’t align with our modern day common sense.
A time where almost any affection transferred from parent to child through physical touch was considered ‘coddling’.
There was a genuine fear that if you comforted a child during a time where they hadn’t ‘earned’ positive enforcement, you would be taking an active and sinister role in weakening the child’s psychological state.
Of course, this science has now been widely debunked.
But we wouldn’t be there without the brilliant and horrifying work of Harry Harlow.
After personally building his own laboratory, Harlow conducted an array of studies which revolved around the isolation and maternal deprivation of rhesus monkeys.
From a modern perspective, these studies almost seem like a barbaric way to prove a simple truth. But at the time, they were highly contested by the scientific community. Freud’s theory on attachment was widespread at the time.
Psychologists genuinely didn’t believe that children needed love, and Harlow proved otherwise. Albeit at the tragic expense of a group of rhesus monkeys.
We associate the quantity of choice a person has available to them with the amount of freedom that person possess.
Freedom is good. Therefore, we assume that choice must also be good – and to an extent, it is. However, there’s a turning point at which our freedom to choose from a growing list of options no longer increases our level of happiness. In fact, over saturation of choice can actually diminish our happiness.
In the early 2000s, a scientist name Barry Schwartz popularised this idea with a challenge western society’s obsession with generating freedom through an ever increasing number of options.
After conducting multiple studies, he wrote a book called The Paradox of Choice which argued that while abundance of choice provides some short term satisfaction in the moment (and keeps us coming back for more), the more options a person has available to them, the less likely they are to be satisfied with the result of their choice.
To demonstrate, imagine that you have to choose between two restaurants. You have no way to look at the menus, but you know that the first restaurant features a menu with four main courses, while the second has sixteen main courses on theirs.
Which restaurant are you more likely to try?
Statistically, you’d probably go with the second, and there’s a lot of sense in this; if there’s four times as many main dishes at the second restaurant, there’s a better chance that they’ll have a meal perfectly suited to your taste.
At first glance, it makes logical sense to give yourself as many options as possible. We are hardwired not to limit ourselves, even when it comes to something as basic as dinner.
But when we take a closer look, Schwartz’s paradox of choice comes into play.
He discovered that in circumstances where people had to decide between an outlet with more choice versus an outlet with less, it was true that those who opted for more choice, the ones who went to the second restaurant and scoured over the ingredients in all sixteen dishes before finally making a decision, reported being more satisfied with their choice than those who limited their options and made a quick dinner selection. But only by a tiny margin.
What’s fascinating is that while the group who went to the first restaurant didn’t think about the choice again, when asked about their decision after the fact (once the meal was over) those who went to the second restaurant started to second guess the choice they made. Their satisfaction, despite being mildy higher at the time of consumption, took a hit once they started to consider all the options they opted not to choose.
As our options increase, so do our expectations that we’ll be able find the perfect option.
The more options we have to forgo when making a choice, the higher the possibility that we’ll make the wrong one.
More choice does not equate to more happiness because choice itself is a double edged sword.
When we are constantly saturated with choice, it’s not uncommon to experience choice paralysis. A sensation which often results in no choice being made at all.
While sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, we have a lot more control over the choices we present ourselves with than we feel like we do.
I have at times been perplexed by the amount of sneezing I do at seemingly random intervals, deducing that I probably just have allergies to something.
During a meeting today, I needed to walk from one building to another. It was a gorgeous sunny day in Fremantle, and as we approached the second building, I couldn’t help but let out three muffled but aggressive sneezes.
“Sorry about that!” I said, embarrassed. “I think I must be allergic to one of the trees or something around here, it gets me all the time.”
The woman I was meeting with didn’t miss a beat before responding, “No, it’s probably the sun.”
Apparently, this is an actual thing.
The Photic Sneeze Reflex is a legitimate medical condition which causes people to sneeze when exposed to a variety of stimuli, including looking at bright lights.
Strangely, the earliest know record of the Photic Sneeze Reflex lives in the writings of Aristotle.
‘Why is it that one sneezes more after one has looked at the sun? Is it because the sun engenders heat and so causes movement, just as does tickling the nose with a feather? For both have the same effect; by setting up movement they cause heat and create breath more quickly from the moisture; and it is the escape of this breath which causes sneezing.’
Aristotle thought that the sun might cause nose sweat, which could tickle the inside of the nose enough to illicit a sneeze. While the logic checks out, this isn’t actually how it works.
Scientist’s best guess at the moment is that the sneeze reaction has something to do with the overstimulation of the trigeminal nerve,
This nerve is the connection point for three other nerve branches including; the ophthalmic branch, which can be stimulated by rapid changes in light conditions; and the maxillary branch, which when stimulated, can cause sneezing.
The running theory is that when the opthalmic branch is overstimulated, it can cause other branches of the trigeminal nerve to become irritated.
A 2010 study discovered that if you’re amongst the 18-35% of people who report sneezing at the sun, you almost definitely have a very specific and seemingly pointless inheritable genetic mutation.
For those of us with the mutation, the irritation passed on to our maxillary nerve from overstimulation of the ophthalmic nerve through bright light changes is just enough to send us over the edge and into a small fit of sneezes.
The condition is harmless unless you’re a brain surgeon, but one hell of a nuisance nonetheless.
You can test whether you’re affected quite easily. Just walk outside and look at the sun for a while (not directly, obviously). If after thirty seconds or so you wind up achoo-ing your head off, welcome to the Photic Sneeze Reflex Club. You’ll receive your card in the mail.