Associating Game

April 26, 2005

I’ve been interested in memory techniques since I was in 8th grade, and I regularly use them in everyday life in order to remember just about anything. I’m a big fan of teaching them to others, and have been developing a talk that I plan on taking around to local schools.

Most memory techniques focus on association, since that is that way our brain works in order to remember something.

Recently I came up with a small association game that I’ve been trying out. It goes like this:

Pick an object, either something you’re looking at, or something you’re thinking about. Then ask yourself: What do I have associated with this? Sometimes the associated object will come to mind immediately, but sometimes the answer will be nothing. If the answer is nothing, the trick is to just wait for a second, and let your mind mull over the object until something comes to mind. So far, I’ve yet to find something that doesn’t trigger another memory. And sometimes it seems completely random that one thing reminds me of the next. Its a lot like tracing your thought pattern after you’ve been daydreaming for a while.

I’m not sure what the benefit of this particular exercise is,… but it seems like you might get to know yourself better… and possibly come up with explanations of why you have certain feelings towards the original object. The cool part, is that everything is associated to something else in your mind… its just a matter of letting it come forth.

Maybe its a silly, trivial game, but if nothing else, your concentration and focus improves, and you might learn something about yourself… possibly the most important topic of all.


Proponents of Healthy Eating

April 20, 2005

I’ve been thinking about diet and nutrition for about a month now, and I have decided to take on a personal challenge to revamp my diet for a few months. This was brought on after I met Dean Karnazes… the UltraMarathonMan, who ran 262 miles in one shot, which took 3 days, with no sleep. It was quite impressive, and after hearing him speak, I was most impressed by the fact that he only slept 4 hours a night. With that kind of tax on the body (he runs 80-120 miles a week, keeps a full time job, has two kids, and has written a book)… I couldn’t understand how anyone could survive on 4 hours of sleep. More importantly, the question I had was… is there anything I could do to reduce the amount of sleep I need? Now, some people think this is a crazy goal, but to me, I find sleep somewhat boring. If I could wake up just as refreshed after 4-5 hours as I do after 7, I would certainly never go back.

Dean hinted that his diet was very strict, no refined sugar, no saturated fat, etc. I realized that the reason I didn’t eat an extremely healthy diet (I usually eat pretty well, but have a sweet tooth), is that I never saw the immediate benefits. Sure, eating this vegetable or not eating that side of fries may help me when I’m 70, and fighting cancer, but really, those reasons were too far off and not nearly tangible enough to act on. Besides, with all the running, becoming fat was never an issue. However, if changing my diet gave me more energy, and more time, I would surely be all for it.

And so in comes my Food Plan Personal Challenge. (I’m calling it a food plan, as opposed to diet, because I’m not exactly fat, so when people hear me say diet, they think I’ve gone crazy.) I’m going to try to go a bit extreme, and follow as closely as I can to what I think is a healthy diet. I came up with this challenge way before I knew what I actually considered to be healthy, and the more I looked into it, the more I realized there was vast disagreement in this area.

I waded through websites and browsed through some books, I found a host of different strategies. Low Fat , Low Sugar , Low Glycemic Index , Low Carb, Vegetarian, etc. The list goes on and on. I decided to stray from material that adhered to one type of diet, and go for general nutrition guidelines, since the ‘fad diets’ seemed to recycle every few years, and didn’t have enough research backing them in some cases.

I happened upon a book called “Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy” by Dr. Walter Willett which is backed by the Harvard Medical School, and got rave reviews on Amazon. It rips apart the USDA food pyramid and gives general guidelines backed by science research. It also does a great job of not taking firm stands when there isn’t research to back it. It gives examples of recipes, has a bibliography of research papers that were used, and has a section “Putting it into Practice” in most chapters. So far, its been fantastic, I can’t wait for the new version to come out in June, which apparently addresses the new food pyramid that has been recently released by the USDA.

I won’t go into details about the diet, but in summary its this:

  • Don’t stray from fat, but eat good fat (unsaturated) instead of bad fat (saturated/trans).
  • Get your protein from quality sources (nuts/legumes/fish).
  • Eat carbs that digest slowly and don’t spike your blood sugar/insulin levels. (Whole grains)
  • Take a multi-vitamin for extra insurance.
  • Make vegetables a staple.

And that’s as far as I’ve read so far… 🙂

I will say that the whole grain carbohydrate thing is by far the hardest to do. Nearly everything you think of, in terms of carbs seems to be refined, in which case it spikes your blood sugar.

So anyhow, I’m kind of diving in head first this week, but at the same time, I realize that this is a lifestyle change that is going to take some time before I’m used to it. I’m also trying to wake up earlier (6am instead of 7:30)… in hopes that the two balance each other out. My plan is to continue on this for two months, and hopefully feel a difference. At that point, I’ll re-evaluate and probably pull back a tad on the strictness of the food plan… if for no other reason, because its hard to keep on the diet, and eat at social outings at the same time.

On the plus side, I’m now taking WAY better care of my body than I am of anything material in my life (like my car or something)… which makes me think I’m starting to get my priorities straight.

Perseverance: Lessons from Running

April 20, 2005

I recently completed my 1st Boston Marathon, and after nearly 15 years of running, I’ve only recently seen in the last year (my first year outside of organized competitive running) what a place running has taken in my life. If I was to truly follow the subtitle of this post, it could take me years. The lessons I’ve learned from running, and sports in general are way too numerous to mention. However, my Boston marathon experience highlighted one thing that I think is worth mentioning.

Despite my years of experience, I fell trap to a few small nagging injuries that hindered my training for Boston. In addition, I messed up somehow with pre-race prep, because I completely ran out of fuel about halfway through this marathon. I dropped off my pace, felt dizzy, had cramps, etc.

Yet I feel like crossing the finish line, despite a horrendous time, was quite an achievement. Probably more so, than when I ran well. It was, in some ways, the epitome of a lesson that I’ve learned from running… that my mind is usually the only hindrance between where I am now, and where I want to be,… and perseverance is the answer to getting beyond those hurdles.

I love the feeling of moving beyond something that at some point seems impossible. I definitely hit that point on Monday… and with over 10 miles to go.

Moving past these hurdles gives me the feeling that I can do nearly anything, if I’m committed enough. Running, despite rain, heat, freezing cold, snow, ice, exhaustion, soreness, etc, has given me a sense of control. I feel like I am in charge of how much I achieve, and its just a matter of persevering through the low points, in order to get to my goal.

It seems almost strange to be writing this down, because on paper, it seems so logical and straightforward. It seems like I’m just rewriting the same thing I’ve been told over and over since I was small. But the fact is, hearing the advice had very little effect on me. It was my running has turned the advice into a conviction, and that, I believe, can only happen through 1st hand experience.

Studying human interaction : listening

April 13, 2005

I’ve become increasingly interested in human interaction of late. I’ve always noticed the massive difference with how some people seem to be very good at interacting with others, while others are decidedly lacking that ability. This is immediately apparent to me at my work, as I work in a very technical environment, where at least consciously the ability to interact well with people is not a skill that is highly valued.

I call out “consciously” because I believe that even though we might try to be objective robots in transferring information from one person to another, we are all still human. Because we are human, we cannot help but notice if someone seems disinterested when we are talking, or is overtly rude when speaking to us.

Recently, I’ve been noticing this more and more, and I’ve been thinking about how much I value this skill. I also believe that a proper study of this, and in the very least, conscious thought about it, can improve ones ability to interact with others.

One deficiency I find in myself is my ability to listen. Now, that seems rather simple, but I’ve been paying more and more attention to it, and I find that I’m really not alone. Its hard to find people who are truly listening when you are speaking to them. Now, this is not to say that they don’t understand your point, but most people only listen to select portions and then spend the rest of the time thinking about what they will say. I definitely fall into this group, but I’ve been doing better since I noticed it. I think this is a common observation, however, the value of changing this within yourself, I think is often overlooked.

The value of listening, is that you can really communicate more effectively. When you are truly listening, you can then personalize your own thoughts to fit the situation more appropriately. Also, the very fact that you are listening will definitely affect your conversation partner positively, even if they don’t notice the difference at a conscious level.

Also, I’ve been thinking… it really makes sense to develop your listening abilities, as you will definitely learn more by listening, than by speaking. Cutting people off early (something I’ve been guilty of) sends them the subconscious idea that you aren’t interested in them or their thoughts, or that you think you already know what they will say. Both of which would be somewhat insulting.

Money, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness

April 4, 2005

It seems generally agreed upon that happiness is the holy grail of human existence. Other than avoiding pain, nothing else seems to motivate us as humans. (Sometimes you have to dig through layers of abstraction, but one of these seems to be at the end of every human endeavor)

Yesterday, I had an interesting discussion with some friends about happiness. We were discussing the role of money in happiness, whether it had a role, and if so, how much?

There is a popular study that one of my friends quoted… A group of psychologists created a survey in which they asked people to rate their happiness:

“When asked to rate their over all level of happiness, on a scale
from 1 to 10, the majority of people indicated about 6,7 or so. Interestingly it
was discovered that a divorce, or serious injury, even the loss of a limb,
caused this level to go down a one or two points for a 1 to 2 years, but then it
usually came back to about 6 or 7. Falling in love or winning the lottery caused
the level of happiness to go up a point or two for a year or two, but then it
went back to the previous level. What this implies is that a slight increase
that could be sustained, was more significant than more dramatic life events. In
other words if you find small things that make you feel good, and do them on a
regular basis, your overall level of happiness is greater than if you fall in
love, win the lottery.”*

This experiment seems to state that mentality about the small things in life is where true happiness is found. It was argued that their isn’t a set way to measure happiness, and that interviews of people would yield different results because everyone has their own scale. This seems to tie into my other post about the Paradox of Choice, in which someone with a scale that includes an untouchable amount of elation might end up rating himself at a 5, instead of a 7, but this is justified, since it is in accordance to his expectations. Since Happiness is so subjective, how can someone possibly rate himself, and be wrong? Even if the scale is different for different people, the only opinion that matters is your own, so normalizing scales is unnecessary.

It was my contention that money only matters until your basic needs (food, shelter, clothing) are met. Beyond that, what truly matters is your relationships with family, friends. Religion can play a big role, depending on how religious you are.

One paradox in this discussion is the difficulty of explaining the value of a close family or friend to someone who doesn’t have one. In the same way, the value religion plays in a person’s happiness is a concept that is hard to explain to a non-religious person. It’s hard to imagine value (in terms of happiness) if one has not already experienced it at some point.

I’m going to have to continue thought down this path. For such an important topic, my ability to articulate my thoughts is frightfully inept.

* I couldn’t locate the actual study, just this synopsis.