Latest Posts

My Top 5 Favorite Local Austin Restaurants and Drinking Holes

Let’s be honest, I’m not a huge foodie nor really do I have that great of taste. I mean, actual taste (though your opinion may mean more than just food). I don’t smell or taste well, so my range of taste is much more narrow than others.

But I like to go to restaurants and get rinks regardless. It’s an easy way to hang out with your friends. And Austin has tons of great places to choose from.

Here are my current Top 5 Restaurants and Drinking Holes in Austin:

1. Cantine Italian Cafe and Bar

Cantine is a relatively new restaurant and bar over in the South Lamar plaza that also contains the Alamo Drafthouse and Highball. It offers a variety of personal dishes with Italian flare, from salads to meat plates.

They often have a special or two to offer, and all the food I have gotten there has been good. I don’t have a favorite dish particularly.

The atmosphere of the place is great, and offers both a romantic vibe for those looking to go on a date and also a friendly vibe for those looking to have a meal with friends.

My favorite part of the bar is the cocktails. I typically enjoy whiskey, bourbon, vodka and gin based beverages (not all at once), and they have a bunch of great infusions that use these. A standard Moscow Mule still tastes delicious no matter where I go!

2. Barley Swine

While a now standard choice among Austinites, I recently went to Barley Swine for the first time before the South Side location closed. It was simply amazing. Lots of excellent small dishes so you can taste a wide variety of flavors.

They will pair a wine with each of your dishes as well, enhancing the experience even more. The service was great and everyone really knew their stuff.

If you like a fancier meal and want a place to take your date, I highly recommend Barley Swine. The chef is Bryce Gilmore, a highly successful chef and for good reason: his food and concepts are great.

3. Odd Duck

Since we’re talking about Bryce, we may as well bring up Odd Duck, another incredible restaurant that Bryce owns.This restaurant makes use of a similar concept of small plates but in a slightly different way.

The plates mostly are made up of wild game type meats and delicious paleo-like food that will leave you full and satisfied. I had the Wagyu Beef dish and I had to literally save the last bite for that last piece of beef it was so good.

Instead of focusing on wine, this restaurant focuses more on its cocktails and other drinks and it has a great variety. I had a couple of bourbon based drinks that were twists on the classic Old Fashioned and I was very pleased. The smokiness goes well with the dishes.

Highly recommend this newer concept from Bryce Gilmore.

4. The Roosevelt Room

Now that I made myself thirsty thinking about drinks, I should mention my all time favorite cocktail bar in Austin: the Roosevelt Room. You will find every cocktail that you can imagine in this bar, from every era of time since the cocktail was invented.

Bartender Justin Lavenue is the talent behind the majority of the drinks, and has been voted one of the top cocktail chefs in the country by many different groups, including Zagat and Bombay Sapphire.

If you want a dark, comfortable cocktail bar that you can listen to some live jazz and have a good time with your friends, you’ll enjoy the environment in this high class lounge.

5. Juniper

I don’t know how to properly describe Juniper, because I’m simply not advanced enough in the food arts. So I’ll explain it in my own words: holy crap its delicious.

There are tons of small plates here, and some of the best ones you wouldn’t guess. You’ll just have to go and try them for yourself and see what chef Nick Yanes is up to. The menu changes fairly frequently.

The atmosphere in the bar is great, nice and open with an open-view kitchen so you can watch the artists make your food. Sit at the bar if you want a really great view. I love watching them make the desserts.

I’ll rave about the cocktails here as well: they are also insanely good and there are a lot to choose from.

If that wasn’t enough, Juniper has a brunch as well. The variety of dishes and pastries, as well as brunch drinks like mimosas and bloody marys will leave you rubbing your belly and wishing you would never get full.

Hope You Enjoyed

I hope you enjoyed my current top 5 pick on the Austin food and beverage scene. I know you’ll enjoy the food at these great places!

If you have any questions about the restaurants or talent, or are looking to hire the talent, contact Resplendent Hospitality at ResplendentHospitality.com. They manage the PR for these great places.

Should I do Cardio if I have an Autoimmune Disease? | Cardio and Autoimmune Diseases

Cardio and Autoimmune Diseases – Is It Smart?

It’s a question that many autoimmuners are asking these days, and the answers they get are wide and varied. In this article I will give you some information about:

  • What cardio training really is
  • The benefits of it
  • The contraindications of cardio while having an autoimmune disease
  • Some examples that you can do today

Skip to the bottom if you just want to see some examples! Read on if you want to know the “why”…

What is Cardio Training?

Most of think of cardio training as running. While running is an exercise that falls in this category, it is really the effect of running that we are concerned with.

“Cardio” is actually short for “cardiorespiratory” (a combination “cardiovascular” and “respiratory”). It is our elaborate system of our heart, blood, and blood vessels, and lungs. When training this system, we are trying to stress our bodies ability to supply the vital blood and air that we need to survive so that our body adapts and is later able to withstand additional stress to handle every day life.

These systems are important because the blood serves three functions:

  1. It is the transporter of all of our vital nutrients, oxygen, and hormones to all tissues in our body and then removes the waste products,
  2. It regulates our body’s heat, pH levels, and water content, and
  3. It protects our body from injury by clotting and sealing off wounds and sends our immune cells to fight foreign invaders.

As someone with an autoimmune disease, you are probably already drawing attention to the facts that it removes waste products and sends our immune cells to fight foreign invaders.

Good eye.

The Benefits of Cardio Training

So the benefits are actually quite interesting to people with autoimmune diseases. First, blood can remove waste products, which is incredibly important for us. With a better trained cardio system, we can remove toxins more quickly and get ourselves feeling better!

YES, CARDIO IS IN.

Hold on! It also sends our immune cells to fight foreign invaders. So it seems that with a well-trained cardio system comes a well trained army. That would be good, if our armies weren’t a bunch of Benedict Arnolds. Since our immune systems have gone awry, we can theoretically increase the time of response of our immune reactions to toxins.

NO, CARDIO….NO!

Settle down. OK so let’s think about this. If we have a well trained cardio system we can remove toxins more quickly. This is QUITE an excellent thing to have on our side. Speaking from the standpoint of inflammation, this is likely where the best benefit is; removing toxins will stop the body from sending histamines there to inflame whatever area of your body is being attacked. Whether this is the exact mechanism that cardio uses reduces inflammation, there is no doubt that cardio training reduces inflammation. More on this later. The problem comes in when we are continuing to PUT the toxic things into our bodies. So the ideal situation is to implement cardio training and reduce the toxic load on our bodies in the first place. No more of this “I work out so I can stuff my face” crap. No cop outs!

Apart from the very specific function blood performs in our body, cardio training is good for so many other things. It releases healthy endorphins that improve our moods and reduce pain. This is a nice little benefit for those that have painful types of autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and so on. Cardio also:

  • Increases metabolism (shed those extra pounds you’ve put on from autoimmunity!)
  • Reduces your recovery time from injuries and wounds (related to it’s protection role), which is important for those with leaky guts and skin conditions like psoriasis or various rash symptoms.
  • Helps regulate your body temperature, or more importantly raises your body temperature during exercise (nice for those hyptothyroiders who can’t stay warm)

So why in the heck are doctors or others suggesting we don’t do cardio with an autoimmune disease?

Contraindications of Cardio and Autoimmune Diseases

Right so with all the good benefits we see before, why wouldn’t someone want you to do cardio?

Well the problem is probably two-fold:

  1. Most doctors aren’t personal trainers and really don’t know much about the various modalities of exercise, so they think of cardio training as long runs on the pavement or on treadmills, constantly pounding away at our knees and legs
  2. Most people think the same way as the doctors in number one, and see cardio as this needs-to-last-hours type exercise. Please dispel this from your mind now. I’ll wait.

….Dispelled? OK.

So let’s talk about what the real issue is. With certain types of cardio, such as long runs or aerobics classes or spinning classes (there are more but I like lists of three), there is a possibility of training too hard and doing exactly what the doctors and others worry you would do. When we train cardio too long, our body starts to go into a state called catabolism. In fact, your body can go into this state during weight training as well, but weight training deters it since it is it’s antithesis, anabolic training.

Catabolism is the state in which the body has begun to break itself down. This happens because of many reasons, but it is a combination of training too long, lack of vital nutrients and water, lack of rest, increase in cortisol, decrease in testosterone, and some others. The breaking down occurs in all of our tissues, it causes fatigue, and it messes up our immune system (even more). It is bad.

One thing in that list is especially important, and that is the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone, and stress is a huge part of autoimmunity. We usually have too much cortisol since our body is constantly being taxed by our immune system, and we want to do everything we can to reduce it. Well cortisol can also be released when we try to do something like run on knees that are already inflamed. Cortisol increases in general when we work a damaged physical aspect of our body. We don’t want that!

What we do want to do is minimize catabolism and cortisol, maximize anabolism, and improve our bodies ability to regulate these systems. Cardio training, that is the RIGHT cardio training, can help you do that.

So here are the real contraindications for cardio and autoimmune diseases:

  • Training too long (this varies per person and you need to listen to your own body; I would suggest for autoimmuners that you probably shouldn’t go past 15-30 minutes of cardio training a day)
  • Training in a modality that elicits additional cortisol for your autoimmune condition (such as running on hard pavement when you have rheumatoid arthritis or lupus flare ups in your knees)
  • Training in a state of nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, or extreme fatigue or lack of sleep

“Ugh, Brian, this is too hard.” Hey now, wait until the next section to get all huffy on me…

So What Cardio Exercises Are Good For People With Autoimmune Diseases?

These will vary person to person, autoimmune disease to autoimmune disease, so I will give examples and then you can glean what may be good for you.

  • Brisk Walking – Ah, the classic walk. Still so good. Walking is pretty low impact so should not bother too many people with autoimmune diseases. I take walks quite regularly when I’m not feeling well, because you just need to get moving to get your heart rate up and get it training. Try a 30 minute brisk walk around your neighborhood or the local park and you will get your heart rate up while probably seeing some interesting things and getting some fresh air (if your air is fresh…). I listen to podcasts or music during mine.
    • May not be good for those with current joint inflammation or those with sensitive skin or other types of autoimmune symptoms that are exacerbated by being outdoors.
  • Elliptical Training – this low-impact exercise machine reduces the amount of stress impact on your knees as you’re doing a running type exercise. That lowered impact helps prevent your body from producing extra cortisol. Try 15-20 minutes of elliptical training.
    • Similarly, not good for those with current joint inflammations if it’s difficult to get any range of motion, or potentially those with sensitive skin and prone to sweating (you can alleviate this second one by training in cold temperatures; this applies to many of these other exercises as well)
  • Spinning – see elliptical training and walking; but this is even more low impact. Try doing this for 20-40 minutes.
    • This may be extra difficult for those with reduced range of motion in their legs
  • Swimming – this could be your golden ticket. Swimming is an EXCELLENT cardiorespiratory exercise. And it is virtually impact free. This is is great for people who have inflamed joints or limited range of motion. You can literally just tread water in whatever range of motion you can muster, or if possible you can do laps either with your arms or using your legs and a kickboard. The additional benefit of swimming is that assuming it’s cold water, it is EXCELLENT for reducing inflammation. So if you HAVE inflamed joints, just jump in the coldest pool you can find and you will find sweet, sweet relief. Extra bonus benefit is that cold water has positive hormonal benefits as well. So basically this is a super exercise, go do it right now. Swim for 30-60 minutes. And you can just sit in the water for as long as you want or can handle to get the cold water benefits.
    • Risky for those who may be sensitive to chlorine or other chemicals hitting their skin. In this case, jump in a cold lake, river, or ocean. Preferably a nice clean fresh spring.
  • Stairmaster – This beast of a machine is one of my favorites. It’s pretty low impact, a little more anabolic than the others because it takes a lot of glute power to keep you moving. Try it for 10-20 minutes; you probably won’t be able to go much longer anyway.
    • Still a toughy for those with low ROM.
  • Rowing machine – enough of those lower body focused cardio machines; let’s look at rowing. You can do rowing with your full body, but if you have bad lower body range of motion, just row with your upper body. Set the machine to row for a certain distance or time, and I think you’ll find 8-15 minutes sufficient to make your heart get pumping.
    • Tough for those with upper body mobility issues

 

So those are my out-of-the-box ideas for cardio and autoimmune diseases. I can discuss more if you are interested but that should be enough to get you thinking!

 

How to Learn Something New

The Learning Process

How many times have you thought, “Man (woman?), I wish I could learn how to play piano/karate/basket weaving (insert your own new hobby desire here, obviously).”

I know I do all the time. And a lot of times (read: all the time!) it’s a struggle to understand where to start, how to get into it, and what to do. It all looks daunting. There’s so much to learn about everything!

Step 1: Watch Limitless, get NZT.

Just kidding.

So what are the steps to learning something new? I struggle with this a lot, but I always come back to my tried and true methods for learning things. There IS a method to madness. Before I lay mine out, I would suggest reading some books on change, which is both a mental and emotional process. One of my favorites is Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

The Method

So let’s follow a simple method. Your first thought is “Wow I really want to learn this! Let’s do it!”. Then you start researching how to get started. You get easily overwhelmed with the amount of information, decide it’s not for you, and then you just turn the TV back and and kick your feet up.

Don’t do that! It’s really easier than it seems. Step one is to get started. Don’t worry about where you start, the key is to start learning some things, applying them, and writing them down. Begin organizing some thoughts on the matter by taking notes. The key here is to engage your brain and emotions into the new skill or hobby. Because when you do this, you create an emotional connection (a very strong driver of habits) as well as engage our ever-so-powerful subconscious mind.

You’ll probably still be overwhelmed and feel like you’ll never get it, but don’t worry about that yet. Push those thoughts out and just enjoy learning a few tidbits here or there and engage your mind as fully as you can into it. Disregard your plan to learn, how to go about things efficiently, and generally admit you know nothing about what you’re doing. This is always the first step.

  • Step 1: Engage in the activity

Once you start doing this, your emotions and your subconscious mind will be making some behind the scenes deals that you won’t realize. They’ll start acting on the new information and organizing, understanding, and developing an approach to the new inputs. This is what that part of the mind was designed to do. To maximize this, we need to engage regularly and consistently (say 5-10 minutes a day) to get that fire stoked. Then we must feed the power of that mind through rest and sleep. We have to take the time off and get enough sleep to allow the mind to start wrapping it’s little fingers around the concepts. It needs to create a new category and filter for this information, through which it will start understanding it better (this is a process called reticular activation). Sleeping is like an amplifier for the subconscious mind, and without sleep it will be like trying to run a marathon without training.

What you’ll find now, is after an initial period of time that may be a day or two up to a couple weeks, you will begin to see patterns and have understanding of this new jumble of information like you didn’t in the beginning. Your subconscious mind will begin feeding your conscious mind it’s work, and you’ll be able to consciously configure plans and understandings of the material. It is this part of the process that most of us (myself included) always think we need to start at, and when we can’t wrap our little conscious minds around it, get frustrated and quit. Don’t be that person, allow our brains to pick up things the way it’s naturally supposed to!

So the next step is to now take your conscious understanding and to begin to develop further ideas and plans around learning it. What do you know so far? What do you NOT know? And realize there will ALWAYS be things you DON’T KNOW that you don’t know. These will come later. But for now, we want to start constructing an organized plan for our new activity. First, what are your goals? What have you learned that you like and don’t like? Does anything about this hobby cross-pollinate with other things you have learned (this is an incredible way to advance the process that will be discussed later)? Create a plan that works for you.

  • Step 1: Engage in the activity
  • Step 2: Create an organized plan around the activity

Once you have a semblance of a plan, the next logical step is to start acting on that plan. This step is incredibly powerful and often misused. There is an optimal way to execute a plan, and it may not be what you think. Practice makes perfect is a commonly heard, but often misunderstood phrase. To get better at anything, obviously we must practice. But the key is the frequency of that practice, not it’s volume. For instance, two different approaches to learning something may be:

  • Practice new skill 4 hours every Saturday
  • Practice new skill 10 minutes every day

Which one is better? The first gives you 4 hours of practice a week. Wow, you will probably get way better, right? The second is only 70 minutes of practice a week. Ugh, that’s like, WAY LESS TIME. Well, that second one will allow you to learn something MUCH more quickly than the first. Why is that?

Because with the second method, you are using all the systems of change and learning to their maximum potential. These are a plan of attack, your subconscious mind, and your emotions. By constantly engaging these, we create new neural pathways much more quickly in the mind that form habits (emotions). Then, our subconscious mind is constantly receiving new information to further understanding of material, and it will work on this constantly for you throughout the day, and especially in your sleep (make sure you’re getting good quality sleep, which is a topic unto itself). Think of the subconscious mind as interest on an investment (cross-pollination of subjects going on here!). Daily practice is like compounding interest, whereas weekly practice is simple interest. You will get more out of your investment by compounding it. The investment is the skill, and the interest is the frequency of practice.

So, we need to create a frequency schedule. Not everyone has time every single day to practice something. But I would highly recommend not allowing more than 3 days to pass before practicing the skill again if you are serious about learning it. Start small, with 10-30 minutes of practice more frequently.

  • Step 1: Engage in the activity
  • Step 2: Create an organized plan around the activity
  • Step 3: Create a frequency of practice schedule, with no more than 3 days between practice sessions at 10-30 minutes of practice per session

Now we have our machine running. We’re hitting on all cylinders, getting our emotional minds engaged (creating desire and interest), our subconscious minds engaged (amplifying understanding), and our conscious minds (being able to actually execute the skill). Keep up this schedule until you come to your next “ah-ha”. Keep learning new things, keep practicing. Your mind will tell you what to do next very soon. Eventually, it will say, “hey, you should have been doing this all along, add this to your plan!” Planning is, and always will be, an iterative process, not a one-and-done idea. As you practice, a better plan will manifest itself, and so it’s time to revamp the plan.

  • Step 1: Engage in the activity
  • Step 2: Create an organized plan around the activity
  • Step 3: Create a frequency of practice schedule, with no more than 3 days between practice sessions at 10-30 minutes of practice per session
  • Step 4: Update your plan to include all new information you have

Now, you are traveling at about 50mph on the learning curve. You’re getting better, you’re understanding more deeply, you’re obtaining a level of mastery of the subject. How do you reach the next level? You NOW need to up the volume. Your mind is now growing stronger on the subject, and it needs more nutrition to feed it. The nutrition here is the volume of information and practice.

I would recommend first adding in additional days of practice before adding in more time each day. So if you had three days a week of practice, first increase it slowly until you can get to ideally seven days before increasing your amount of time each day (Note: this is dependent slightly on the type of activity; if it is a physical activity, you need to take into account the fact your body physically needs time to rest, so if it’s strenuous, you actually don’t want to get to seven days, and perhaps 3-5 days is the ideal frequency). So perhaps you’re practicing seven days a week now. It is at this time that you should increase the volume of time, so perhaps go to 30-60 minutes a day. Obviously this is individual to each person, so you’ll need to keep practicing to find your optimal amount of time you can stay engaged and actually learning. If you find yourself getting disinterested, note how much time you spent practicing and just move onto something else. This is your subconscious mind telling you it’s full of info for the day, and it’ll need a break of input to sort it all out.

  • Step 1: Engage in the activity
  • Step 2: Create an organized plan around the activity
  • Step 3: Create a frequency of practice schedule, with no more than 3 days between practice sessions at 10-30 minutes of practice per session
  • Step 4: Update your plan to include all new information you have
  • Step 5: Increase training frequency and information volume

Wow, NOW we’re getting somewhere. You’re probably a black belt at this point.

Not quite. Here we are again at another crossroads. You’ve probably learned something you didn’t know you didn’t know finally. Holy crap, is that embarrassing. You mean I’ve been practicing wrong the ENTIRE TIME? Don’t get disheartened. This “failure” is one of the, if not the biggest part of learning (Les Brown has some great speeches on this). You have reached an amount of understanding that allows you to look critically at what you’re doing and understand you’re doing it wrong. Have you wasted your time? Obviously not, look at how far you’ve come already! It’s at this time that it’s time to revamp the plan again. Add or subtract what you need to, keep training, and we’ll get to the next plateau.

  • Step 1: Engage in the activity
  • Step 2: Create an organized plan around the activity
  • Step 3: Create a frequency of practice schedule, with no more than 3 days between practice sessions at 10-30 minutes of practice per session
  • Step 4: Update your plan to include all new information you have
  • Step 5: Increase training frequency and information volume
  • Step 6: Revamp your plan again

The Madness

We’re at a point now where you’re fully engaged in this activity. You’ve created real neural pathways that keep you focused on it, learning new things, and getting better at physically executing the skill. Now that we’ve created the method, what’s the madness?

The madness is simply that it’s a never ending process. “Mastery”  is relative. Perfection cannot be obtained. And this always trips us up. We think we have to be perfect and we think mistakes mean we should quit.

If you change your mindset to one of never quitting, you will truly become a “Master”. This is merely a mindset of always learning, getting better, and accepting mistakes and failures as learning processes. As long as you know that you always have room for improvement, you will be on your way.

So what do you do during the madness period? You repeat Steps 5 and 6 as often as you need to. Constantly change your frequency of training and learning to optimize what works for you, and revamp your plan as often as needed to make sure you’re focusing on the right things.

You’ll find that what you’ll start noticing is that there is always a lagging part of your skill. In everything in life, we have a limiting factor that, unless improved, will not allow us to push forward. So the trick is to improve this part of the skill until you are better at it, then find your new limiting factor and work on that. That’s what is happening when you practice and revamp the plan.

Summary

So follow this plan and I promise you that you will find yourself able to learn new things as easily as anyone. The biggest step is Step 1. Get started, and you will figure it out along the way.

  • Step 1: Engage in the activity
  • Step 2: Create an organized plan around the activity
  • Step 3: Create a frequency of practice schedule, with no more than 3 days between practice sessions at 10-30 minutes of practice per session
  • Step 4: Update your plan to include all new information you have
  • Step 5: Increase training frequency and information volume
  • Step 6: Revamp your plan again
  • Repeat Steps 5 and 6 constantly as you find your limiting factors to continue perfecting your skill

A Tale of Happiness

Happiness

This infographic popped up today. What do I get out of it?

First, the facts are that there are certain parts of the world that are happier than others, as clearly explained in the infographic. Those parts are mainly in Europe, South America, and Eastern/Southeastern Asia. The unhappier parts are the USA and Canada, Africa, Australia, Russia, China, and various other scattered countries.

I believe immediate thoughts of a lot of people are “But America is the greatest country in the world! The rest of those that are unhappy are poor/undeveloped/insert any other comment here!”

Let’s take a step back. First, the DATA IS CLEAR. Second, why does status have to come into play here? And I believe that question is what we face in America.

We base our happiness on what we perceive makes others happy. In the media/social media world, this is all material possessions or perhaps certain experiences (read: meals people can’t stop taking pictures of!) people are having. We crave what those people have, thinking that is what makes them happy. Thus we set ourselves off on this mad race to obtain these things through any means necessary, often to the detriment of our own personal finances (there is no question we have a debt problem). We constantly turn our eyes everywhere besides ourselves, always feeling unfulfilled. In one way, this helps drive the country’s success. I’ll admit that having this drive makes people innovate and come up with ways to get what they want to make them happy. Sadly, it is only part of the equation.

The other part of the equation that we don’t do here in America (and I would bet is similar in many of those other countries of lower happiness) is actually take honest looks at ourselves and see what we want/need. We are taught here that are needs and wants are unnecessary. Many religions tout that only by serving others can we be happy. We constantly turn a blind eye to what our body and mind is trying to tell us, and we wonder why we can’t figure out why we’re not happy. This, I’m telling you, is crazy.

To begin to understand what makes us happy, we have to each individually look inwardly. What makes one person happy will not make another happy. We know this on the surface, but we never apply it to ourselves. It is as true as morning and night. Humans have an emotional system that is very highly linked to it’s mental and physical systems. Ignoring one of them is detrimental to the others. To make sure we are truly happy, we have to take care of ourselves physically (exercise, eat right), mentally (learning, challenges, games), and emotionally/spiritually (reflecting, being honest with emotions, keeping track of your needs/wants).

Physical Nurturing

We all know what this is. Some, but very few, actually do it. This includes exercise and nutrition. I would say more focus on the exercise than the nutrition, but nutrition (and actually exercise again) is making large strides into mainstream. It is well known that with 3-5 days of moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes will drastically improve the quality of your life from both your physiological responses (which affect physical, mental AND emotional/spiritual) and by reducing your risk of getting diseases which could later on affect the quality of life. Think of exercise as your free (mostly) insurance policy on living a longer, happier, healthier life.

Nutrition is the other side of this equation. In fact, I’d say that the split is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. See, all the studies on exercise fail to account for the differences in nutrition. You could exercise every day of your life, but if you eat low quality food, you’ll only be able to improve your well being 20%. Granted, you CAN improve yourself by just exercising, but why do something half-arsed?

Eating right, which means getting the right needs OF YOUR OWN BODY (this is a very individual thing, much like the overall concept of happiness!) with regards to macro (protein, fat, carbohydrate) and micro (all vitamins and minerals) nutrients. There is a lot to study here, but to simplify it: eat whole, natural foods from the outside aisle of the grocery stores (veggies, fruits, meats, dairy) in a wide variety. You need so many different nutrients, and these are prevalent in some foods but lacking in others, so eating a rich and varied diet is the only way to ensure you’re getting the maximum amount of nutrients. You can supplement to help you, but in general try to eat healthy and varied foods.

Packaged foods and most foods from fast food restaurants are devoid of MANY micro nutrients. Macro-wise, you’ll be getting your needs all day with no problem. So why do you feel sluggish and bad after downing a days worth of fried chicken fingers? You’re getting a massive influx of macro nutrients that your body has to metabolize, but it doesn’t have the helper micro nutrients to allow it’s systems to function properly. Essentially it’s like putting diesel in a car that needs regular gas; both of them on a macro level are fuel, but only the regular has the right micro make-up to run your car.

Take care of yourself physically, and you will be on step 1 of 3 to happiness.

Mental Nourishing

Mental nourishing is arguably my favorite past time. I love to read/learn/think. I can do it while I do other things, such as working out or bantering with friends. We all think daily, but it’s how we exercise our minds and our mental abilities that help with our happiness.

Our minds need to be constantly challenged and fed. Just like our physical body needs exercise and nutrition, so too does our mind need these counterparts. For the mind, exercise is learning new things, and nutrition is learning the things that we are interested in.

We actually do this quite a bit in America. We have unlimited access (like most of the world does now as well) to information on the internet and elsewhere. Simply by pulling up a Wikipedia or something similar and reading some new stuff do we exercise our mind. Reading, thinking critically, and anything that forces us to learn something new is mind exercise. Our mind craves this in a primal way. It is hardwired to want to learn more. By disregarding this primal function, our mind is being deprived of something it needs. This cannot be, and is not, good.

Second, our mind “nutrition” is learning things we are interested in. The reason this is important is that now there is a drive to learn something new, and learn something we want. This keeps us focused and energized. This is what drives us to choose a major in college or a career in life or just a new hobby. Think about a time when you were learning about something you were truly interested in. Think about how much more connected you were to that on a mental level than when you were just learning some subject in school you weren’t too interested in. Both exercise the mind, but the focus on your interests nourishes the mind in a more fulfilling way.

Am I saying only learn things you are interested in? Nope! We all have a need to learn a wide variety of subjects, especially to live in a world as complex as the one we’ve created for ourselves. Exercise and nutrition go hand in hand. So spend time doing both to help reach step 2 of 3 to happiness.

Emotional/Spiritual Cultivation

This, I believe, is our number one killer in happiness levels.

To cultivate our emotional/spiritual side is as necessary as the other two. It is 1/3 of the formula to happiness. Do you only want to be 2/3’s happy? I hope not! So what is going on here that we are missing?

First of all, I believe that we think of emotions as detrimental. We think they will ruin our chances in business, prevent us from reaching our goals, and whatever other reason we may personally come up with. There is truth behind there, as we must be able to discipline our emotions with our mind (mental exercise anyone?!) to make sure our emotions don’t take us over. The reason for this is that emotions are VERY POWERFUL DRIVERS of our lives. But that is why we must HARNESS them for good rather than ignore them entirely.

Also, emotions are an absolute natural part of life. If you’re ignoring a natural function of your body, your depriving it of nutrition. Your body has a need for emotional nutrition, think of it as an existential micro nutrient. We don’t ingest emotion (well, maybe we eat our feelings over a bowl of ice cream) but rather we have to allow it to flow through us naturally. We must address it and not ignore it. The same is true for the spiritual side of life; they are highly connected but a bit different in that the spiritual side is connected to your beliefs about the bigger picture of life and life beyond.

The spiritual mistake I believe we are making is believing it is spiritually nourishing to ignore our emotional needs for the needs of others. These two are NOT mutually exclusive. They are mutually INCLUSIVE, along with everything I have already written about. Yes, helping others and giving up some of ourselves is a nourishing part of life that we must take part in. Being selfish ignores this part of our life. But the opposite of that is completely ignoring our own needs and wants. And I believe that needs and wants are what we need educated on.

Needs are essential to staying alive. These are are food (nutrition), shelter, security, connection. Things that if we lack we immediately begin to feel it like a nagging in our inner mind. What we don’t realize is that what I have written about above are all NEEDS. We NEED to have good nutrition and physical health, we NEED to have our minds exercised and challenged, and we NEED to address our emotions. You cannot turn these switches off (haven’t you seen Equilibrium?). By ignoring these, we have already broken the chain of happiness, and no amount of want-getting will cure that. But wants are not bad at all!

Wants are the joys in life. It’s our interests, hobbies, jobs, or whatever we crave to enhance our lives. It’s like an amplifier. While you need to have all the basic needs to be happy, once you have those met you need to address wants to continue to be happy. Life is a process and not an event, and therefore it takes constant work and inputs to make it rewarding and fulfilling.

Now before you say “this isn’t me”, I want you to take an honest look at yourself, and maybe then get a second opinion. We are VERY GOOD at convincing ourselves nothing is wrong. We can go years thinking we’re doing everything right, because our mind is a powerful thing that just tries to help us survive in any way it can. As I said, emotions are powerful, and if we’ve bottled powerful emotions, we essential block our connection to them. This leads us to believe we don’t have anything wrong. If you don’t find yourself feeling a bit emotional (save anger, this one is a manifestation of ignoring the others) then you’re likely blocking them. Please explore it until you can find out what’s going on.

 

The Problem

The problem is we try to pop in wants in place of exercise and eating right, in place of our emotions, and in place of what our TRUE needs and wants are. We look at others and see what they are doing, assuming that is a NEED, and go for it. But you cannot compare yourself to someone else, because you are NOT that person. Your self is a unique combination of physical of physical, mental, and emotional/spiritual needs that are unlike any other. Only by exploring what those are can you truly reach step 3 of happiness.

The Solution

The solution is simple: begin being honest with yourself about what you need. This takes becoming very introspective. Review your thoughts and feelings. Get help if you need it. Journal on a regular basis and review that to see if you recognize patterns of feelings and behaviors. Start eating right and exercising. Read some books. By putting all of these things together, you can create your own happiness.

So back to why some of the countries who are undeveloped/poor are happy? Because they are addressing what truly matters to them in life. Their free time, their hobbies, their friends, their life experiences. They aren’t constantly trying to fill voids with a material item, likely because those material items are much harder to come by. It’s actually quite cruel for us to live in abundance, because we can so easily try to replace our needs with wants and forget who we are.

You may also be wanting to point out that some of the other countries are unhappy for other reasons. I get this. There are turmoils, wars, and injustices going on all over. That will affect the overall happiness of that country. But I believe that those things are happening because there is an imbalance in those countries where those in power are people who are ignoring needs for wants of power and acceptance. If everyone learned to take care of themselves first, the world would be a better place.

So stop looking at what others have before addressing your needs. We can use others as ways to explore the various wants in life, but never to the detriment of our needs. Life will not be fair in this regard, and we cannot all obtain the same wants, but we can all take care of our needs and be happy with the small wants we get rewarded along the way. Always learn from everything. What makes those other countries more happy than the US? Likely the more relaxed emphasis on jobs/careers/success and personal time. Be grateful (gratitude journal!) and be smart.

Afterward: Happiness Checklist

Here’s a quick checklist to becoming happy based on what I just wrote about:

  • Physical (need help? get a personal trainer!)
    • Exercise –  minimum 3-5 days a week
    • Nutrition – eat healthy whole foods with good combinations of micro/macro nutrients
  • Mental (need help? get a tutor or get into a continuing education program!)
    • Learning new things
    • Learning things that are interesting to you
  • Emotional/Spiritual (need help? see a therapist or find a trusted friend to open up to!)
    • Addressing your own emotional needs
    • Connecting with others and helping them address their emotional needs
    • Spiritual practice (based on your own beliefs and not those imposed on you by others)

The Ketogenic Diet: How and Why

Diets in General

Diets in general have a bad rep. Everyone looks for the new fads and ways to lose weight while doing the least amount of work. I completely understand that and have been there myself, but let’s get real for a second.

A “diet” is merely a prescribed plan of eating. Just like we have plans for work, vacation, etc, a “diet” is just a word for the foods I am going to eat. Don’t let that word get a bad rep in your head. There are tons of diets. Popular ones include:

  • Vegetarian
  • Vegan
  • Paleo
  • Low fat
  • High protein
  • All natural
  • Etc.

These are just roadmaps to tell you how to eat. I have tried various forms of a diet, and I have had varied success. Diets are VERY person dependent. For instance, after trying many, many different things, I have finally come to the conclusion (with the help of a nutritionist) that I simply do not metabolize carbs and things through my liver quickly. I tend to take a long time get my blood sugar levels back to normal, when I drink I stay buzzed longer because the alcohol won’t metabolize out of my body, and I just have a hard time when I eat high carbs (this is also because of their addicting nature).

So one thing I have recently been using to great success is the Ketogenic diet. Let me tell you why I love it.

The Ketogenic Diet

This diet (again, plan of eating) is a high fat, low carb, medium protein diet. I eat approximately the following percentages and calories based off my plan of 2350 Calories per day (a deficit to currently cut weight):

  • 70% fat (1645 Calories, ~182g)
  • 25% protein (588 Calories, ~147g)
  • 5% carbs (117 Calories, ~29g)

I have gotten the “are you kidding me?!” from many people on this. However, this diet has been proven safe. The fats that I eat are all natural, good for you fats like nuts, seeds, coconut/olive oils, and other like dairy and animal fat (preferably from grass fed animals). There is much information out there about why fats are actually good for you (I won’t explain it all here), but fats are ESSENTIAL to your diet for two main reasons:

  1. They are needed to transport vitamins A, D, K and E which are necessary for hormonal functions. If you’re not eating fat, these will simply not be in sufficient levels in your body.
  2. Fats support brain health and are necessary if you want optimal cognitive function. See this video from Dr. Perlmutter who is an expert on the subject.

That’s enough for me, but in addition you might be interested to know that fat also helps regulate caffeine in our system, so if you’re drinking coffee you may want to consider adding some healthy fats to optimize your buzz!

Now onto what’s so great about this diet. For me PERSONALLY, I feel better on this because I don’t metabolize carbohydrates as well as the other nutrients; they simply lock up my liver like a dam if I eat them too much and I can literally feel soreness in my liver (Thanksgiving will be rough). What happens when you eat fats as your main energy source? Aren’t our bodies designed to run on glucose?

They are primarily, but in the lack of glucose, our body enters into mode of energy number two called Ketosis. In this mode of energy production, the body uses ketones, which are the energy form from fats, to fuel our bodies. This allows the body to much more easily regulate our glucose and insulin levels, which is important to me so that mine aren’t out of control. Others who may like this are diabetics, people who seem to really have trouble with sugar, and people trying to lose weight very fast.

The next part of the story is understanding that the fat cells under our skin are simply the stored versions of the fats we eat. So when we are in a calorie deficit, the body burns what it can to make fuel. In ketosis, the body is already in a favorable fat burning mode (rather than burn muscle or use excess glucose stores in the muscles and liver) and so it just starts burning that fat away at a very rapid pace.

The important thing to note is that you HAVE TO WATCH YOUR CALORIES STILL. Calories in still must be less than Calories out; that’s basic thermodynamics of the body. But when you’re in the deficit and in ketosis, your fat starts melting away. I was able to lose about 10 pounds in under a couple weeks. It’s just that you have to be very on point with not getting too many carbs or protein. Why no excess protein? Protein actually breaks down into glucose in the end as well if you don’t need any more of the amino acids, which then raises your blood sugar levels and exits you out of ketosis. It’s a delicate balance.

So read more about this diet and try it out for yourself; you may find it gives you very positive results!

Inspiration

Inspiration

I look for inspiration everywhere I go. Anything can be turned into an idea, anything can be cross-pollinated to make something better. For instance, the recent explosion of Uber across the world combined smart phones and private driving; I find it to be genius.

Why weren’t taxi services doing this before? Because they stopped looking for ideas and ways to improve. They stopped looking for inspiration.

Good Places to Start

If you’re looking for inspiration, a good place to start is just getting outside. I have implemented a regular walk around my neighborhood as a way to just defocus my mind on the immediate and pressing tasks (of which there are, and will always be, many) and to put myself into the beauty of the world and my surroundings. I often grab a cup of coffee or tea, my favorite sunglasses, and maybe my headphones (to be explained in a second) and just start going around and observing what is around me.

You can also go to places that challenge your thinking, like art museums. You can go see new shows, or just simply put yourself into a situation you have never been before. The thing about the familiar is that it puts our mind into this passive state where it isn’t really learning or absorbing, it’s just running on autopilot. This is an amazing tool that we can use to get more done, but it makes us incredibly dull if we never leave it.

My favorite way to do that is travel. If you just go someplace new, stay someplace you’ve never stayed, and do things you don’t normally do, your mind will “wake up” and you’ll have this incredible rush of creative energy. Think about if you’ve ever moved somewhere. You are now in a forced unfamiliar situation. I’ll bet that you feel incredibly alive as your brain maps out the routes in your new area, you take in new landmarks, and you meet new people. You will likely meet 100 times more people in the first couple months of living somewhere than you will later on once you have an established routine. And it’s all about the state of mind the brain is in.

So remember:

  • New = inspiring, creative, change
  • Familiar = habits, tasks, discipline

You need a healthy balance of both.

Audio

So I mentioned headphones before. As I talk about this next part, likely about 57% of your eyes will roll (that was a completely made up statistic).

Self-help.

I listen to a TON of audio by self-help gurus, motivational speakers, and people like this to help keep my mind pumped and to learn new patterns of thinking and behavior that will make me more successful. When I go on those walks I mentioned before, I’ll often pop one of those on to enhance my experience. It turns on your emotional triggers which helps your mind expand outside of its comfort zone and get creative. They can motivate you to get some drive for the day. Listening to them regularly helps change bad patterns of thought in your mind, such as negative self talk.

So give it a try. I use YouTube and search for people like Jim Rohn, Les Brown, ET the Hiphop Preacher (for real), Tony Robbins, and various other motivational speakers, YouTube channels, etc. Experiment by searching a phrase you want to find, an emotion you want to elicit, and see what happens.