Crazy, coffee and conundrums: Lessons from Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

In the years that most informed my early adulthood — those from my mid-teens to my mid-20s, say — I frequented the town of Northampton, Massachusetts. I had many late nights and long, deep conversations at the now-closed Fire & Water Cafe (you can now see remnants, or indeed, a new iteration, at Cafe Evolution up the road in Florence).

I visited friends at Smith College, which has an all-female undergraduate student body.

And the city is also known for the Northampton State Hospital, a mental institution that grew so big in its first century so as to be serving nearly 2,500 patients by the mid-1950s.

Northampton State Hospital was also a terrible place — you can actually see some of it in the asylum scenes in the movie "In Dreams" — that in 1978 a judge ordered the institution to reduce its patient load to 50 by 1981.

While the Brewster Decree (or Northampton Decree, as it's sometimes called) didn't fully close the hospital until 1993, you don't go from serving over 2,000 patients down to 50 without largely just discharging your patients out into the streets of the city.

A number of those wandering, previously committed souls were still out wandering the city in the 1990s and early 2000s while I was also out wandering the city. So I learned some stuff from them, too.

"You need to be a little crazy to change the world," write Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler on page 233 of Abundance, "and you can't really fake it."


Coffee

I drink a lot of coffee. My wife will have a cup when she wakes up, and sometimes, on a day off, she might have a second. On my days off, I'll drink one cup when I wake up, and two or three more throughout the day. If I'm working, I'll have one when I wake up, one while I'm making dinner, and then it's a fairly steady stream of joe until midnight or 1 a.m., depending on when I'm scheduled.

Depending upon whom you ask, coffee might have been discovered as a beverage in the ninth century or the tenth century or perhaps a little bit later, at least for the modern version (thirteenth century).

It was probably more like the seventeenth century when we started mass producing coffee and slurping it like we do.

Something else I enjoy drinking is beer, which we've probably had since we figured out agriculture (leave some grain in a pot, head out for a hunt, it rains, you come back in a few days, drink the water out of the pot and get drunk).

Take an hour of your life to watch "How Beer Saved the World" — you'll probably learn more than you wanted to.

When water wasn't safe to drink because we had sewage and dead animals running into our water supplies and no treatment plants, we were drinking beer, because the fermentation process made it safe to drink.

So, for centuries, we were drinking beer, and then we figured out coffee. We didn't go from half-drunk to sober, Diamandis and Kotler point out, we went from half-drunk to wired.

In his essay Java Man, Malcolm Gladwell gives coffee (and tobacco) a lot of credit for really getting us going as a species.

It is worth noting, as well, that in the original coffeehouses nearly everyone smoked, and nicotine also has a distinctive physiological effect. It moderates mood and extends attention, and, more important, it doubles the rate of caffeine metabolism: it allows you to drink twice as much coffee as you could otherwise. In other words, the original coffeehouse was a place where men of all types could sit all day; the tobacco they smoked made it possible to drink coffee all day; and the coffee they drank inspired them to talk all day. Out of this came the Enlightenment. (The next time we so perfectly married pharmacology and place, we got Joan Baez.)

In time, caffeine moved from the café to the home. In America, coffee triumphed because of the country’s proximity to the new Caribbean and Latin American coffee plantations, and the fact that throughout the nineteenth century duties were negligible. Beginning in the eighteen-twenties, Courtwright tells us, Brazil “unleashed a flood of slave-produced coffee. American per capita consumption, three pounds per year in 1830, rose to eight pounds by 1859.”

What this flood of caffeine did, according to Weinberg and Bealer, was to abet the process of industrialization–to help “large numbers of people to coordinate their work schedules by giving them the energy to start work at a given time and continue it as long as necessary.”

I've certainly had at least (and probably more than) my fair share of focus and productivity thanks to caffeine. Just listen to Kelvin and I slurping away during our JKWD podcasts.


OK, so let's talk about the lessons we learn from Abundance. This was supposed to be a post about the book, remember?

First, let's look at how we move from thinking in a scarcity mindset to thinking in an abundance mindset.

Abundance is wrought of technology.

If I have an orange tree and I pick all the oranges on the lowest branches, I now have a scarcity of oranges. When someone invents the ladder, I now have an abundance of oranges, since I can reach all the fruit on the higher branches.

In the mid-19th century, aluminum was more valuable than gold. The top of the Washington Monument is capped in aluminum. It cost more per ounce than the average daily wage for someone working to build it. In the ensuing decades, researchers in America and France would figure out how to isolate the metal with an electrolytic process, and now it's so easy to get aluminum we wrap our cold pizza in it.

Some 70 percent of the Earth's surface is covered with water, but 97.3 percent of that is salt water. Lots of people today die from lack of clean drinking water, but when we come up with a good desalination technology, the scarcity will go away.


The bottom of pyramid, the domino effect and reworking Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Right now, hundreds of millions or billions of people live in poverty, food scarcity, water scarcity, lack of health care, etc. These people represent the the bottom of the pyramid — a swath of humanity large enough to boost up the rest of the world, except for the fact that they're suffering.

If we can take care of these people, they can contribute to society, solving more (world) problems.

Think, also, of a mother who spends her day toting water for cleaning and drinking and cooking. Giver her clean running water in her home, and now she can go to work, raising both the wealth of her family and her nation's GDP.

Give Bill Gates enough money to pay his bills, now he can go defeat malaria. Give a painkiller-addicted, depressed MMA fighter a new purpose, and he can go build wells in the Congo.

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who, in the mid-20th century, developed a fundamental hierarchy of needs. It starts with basic human needs (food, water, air and such) at the bottom, and once you can get that taken care of, you can move on to the next level, with the top being self-actualization, or the ability to be personally fulfilled.

Diamandis and Kotler argue for reworking Maslow's pyramid into a three-tier pyramid starting in about the same place, but basically replacing the middle three tiers with a single tier that includes education, energy (as in power, be it solar, battery, etc.) and communication. At the top, you find liberty, freedom and other things that many of us take for granted, like health care.


Other Notes and Resources

Worry Brain

The amygdala is an almond-shaped sliver in the temporal love responsible for assessing danger and then looking to neutralize it. I talked about this in the our crazy brains spisode of the podcast. It's an anxious slice of your brain, and once stimulated, it almost never shuts up. It's responsible for fight or flight, and the biggest problem it has right now is there are very few real reasons to be naturally concerned, so it makes up worst-case scenarios to find a reason to panic.

Don't get caught up in what your amygdala's telling you, or you have problems, and probably not even real ones.

Four motivations for innovation

From the weakest to the strongest, there are the reasons people innovate:

• Curiosity
• Fear
• Wealth
• Significance

In other words, money is actually a stronger driver than many people might admit, but it's still not as strong a driver as the esteem in which you'll be held.

Other resources

A few places you can connect with Diamandis and his projects:

Abundance Hub
Singularity Hub
Singularity University

On shortcuts

It's important, when considering shortcuts, that you nail two things: what you're willing to bypass and where you're going.

If you use a surgery as a shortcut for weight loss, you might bypass the formation of healthy habits that will help you keep the weight off.

If you buy social media followers, you only get the appearance of an audience. They don't engage with your company or buy things from you.

Watch where you're going, and how you get there.

Civility in disagreement

If you're not subscribed to the JKWD Podcast, I suggest you try our most recent episode. In fact, here it is:

Kelvin and I have been doing our podcast for about 10 months or os — JKWD stands for "Josh and Kelvin World Domination" — and normally we have a fairly standard routine.

We'll get on a call about 10:30 a.m. on a Friday, talk about our week and whatever else for an hour and a half, then figure out what we're going to do for a podcast, go refill our coffees, and then record the podcast.

This time, we had to reschedule, and neither of us was really at full speed when we started speaking. We got into our routine as we always do, and 45 minutes or so into our typical ongoing babble, we both realized without saying anything that we were actually recording the podcast.

I am of the opinion, generally, that unscripted podcasts are best, but since we often tackle a specific subject, we tend to at least outline and have a pre-discussion.

We got into stuff that we had planned on doing in the future — most prominently The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, with shoutouts to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson and The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman — and during that discussion, we disagreed a fair bit.

Kelvin and I are very different people. We often mention that we're of different generations, of different races and faiths, with different upbringings.

We're into very different things, and we have very different approaches to almost everything.

A little bit ago, Kelvin said we should read The Power of Now and discuss it on the podcast. So, I read it. Much of it wasn't meant for me. No harm, no foul. But that doesn't mean I had to like it.

We hadn't planned to discuss the book yet, but I had been reading The Antidote, which is subtitled Happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking. Burkeman interviewed Tolle for a chapter, and it gave me some new insight, so I wanted to talk about it.

Kelvin and I often mention that the discussions we have before we record the podcast would be fun to eavesdrop on, and we recognized that this was so far the most glowing example of that.

It's unscripted, entirely raw (even Kelvin cusses a bit, and we had to bleep out names that we said because we weren't planning on it being a podcast), and more importantly, we have an active disagreement.

Not an argument, mind you, but a disagreement. We were civil to each other throughout, and we simply moved on to another topic when we were done with that subject.

I think there are a lot of people in political power who could learn a thing or two from it.

Lessons in leadership and work from the AHCA mess, plus a letter to my congressman

Well, last week was interesting, wasn't it?

I want to start with some thoughts on Obamacare, and the reason I want to do that is so you don't think I'm a cheerleader.

The Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") is not perfect. It's barely even good. It did a couple of good things, like making sure anybody who wanted health care could get it, and made sure that if you had a preexisting condition, you could get a policy.

It's also way too expensive for most of us in the middle class (I say most of us, because I think some people who think they're paying too much would be paying way more on the open market, if they could get insurance at all). It's harder to figure out what's going to be covered under my plan — I can pick a doctor in my network, but it takes a lot of work to figure out which tests (if any) are carried out by labs in my network.

The deductible plans under Obamacare are ludicrous. Ten years ago, insurance cost me about $160 a month. If I went to the doctor, I paid $10 and insurance covered the rest. If I went to the eye doctor, I paid $20 and insurance covered the rest. If I got glasses, insurance covered roughly the cost of basic lenses and I was responsible for the frames and any lens upgrade I might want.

Now, it costs about three times as much for insurance (granted I'm older and I have a second person on my insurance and there's been inflation). But the kicker is, the first $5,000 of in-network care comes out of my pocket, outside of one physical. The insurance company negotiates down the cost of care, but doesn't kick in anything except a physical until I've spent over $10,000 (the cost of insurance plus the deductible).

Obamacare, in other words, is not amazing. But it's what we have, so that's where we have to start from.

Here's the thing: In all the years since we've known Obamacare isn't amazing, nobody's bothered to start writing something amazing.

And then Donald Trump was elected president, with one of his major campaign promises being to repeal Obamacare.

If anybody had been doing one iota of real work on health care over the last seven years, we would have had some idea of the basics of a new plan that could have helped us move forward.

There are plenty of career politicians in both houses of Congress — people who would certainly have been around to reap the benefits of their work whenever it came to fruition.

Not that that's why you do it. Remember, you're entitled to work hard, and that's basically it.

Instead, what we wound up with was a quickly-hacked-together piece of legislation that some people were affectionately calling repeal and go fuck yourself.

This is not what you get if you spend seven years putting together a good foundation and then refine some of the details. It's what you get when you assume that people fall in line behind you instead of actually asking them what they want.

It takes 218 votes to get a piece of legislation through the House. It has to be a pretty good piece of legislation, then, not something that gets hacked together.

Lesson One, then, is do the work.

Lesson Two is work with your colleagues.


Two more lessons learned came straight from the top.

Lesson Three: Don't give ultimatums. The president told the House to pass the bill or forget about it. Trump's been in office just over two months, and he left everything on the field on health care? That's even an insult to athletes who actually go out there and leave everything on the field.

If you leave everything on the field, you focused on nothing but this game, gave it everything you had, and are so exhausted at the end that you'll have to deal with the emotion of the result later. For now, all you can do is scrape yourself together and try to pull off your shirt so you can get off in the shower.

Not one of those things describes anyone in the legacy of the AHCA.

Lesson Four: Take some responsibility. And even if you don't control the whole process, understand who can actually help you. If instead you're angry at your son-in-law for being off skiing with your daughter and your grandkids, you clearly don't understand that your son-in-law's job is basically to say what he thinks should happen and hold your hand when things don't go your way.

Jared Kushner doesn't write policy and he doesn't vote on it. And frankly, if he didn't think this was a battle worth fighting, that's his business, not yours.


This is the letter I wrote to Congressman Buddy Carter on Sunday after I received his weekly newsletter. I'll update when I get a response. He only accepts email from his constituents, so unless you're in the first Georgia district, you can just read and enjoy (or whatever).

Congressman Carter,

You write in your most recent email to constituents (March 26, 2017) that "Obamacare is a disaster," and you list many reasons why that may be true.

You also blame a "small number of [your] colleagues in the House" for failure to pass the AHCA.

If a small number of your colleagues were against the AHCA, it would have passed -- at least 218 of them must have been against it.

The problem with dwelling on the faults of Obamacare is that you create no solutions.

Obamacare was always imperfect, and nobody -- Democrat or Republican -- has tried to fix it or work out any of the kinks in the past seven years.

The proposed version of the AHCA failed because the president rushed together a new bill and tried to bully it through the House with a "pass it tomorrow or forget about it" dictate, rather than spending the time working with a majority of the House to write good legislation.

It's going to take some time to write good legislation. If it means gut Obamacare and start over, then do that -- don't just pick apart what you and your colleagues don't like and hope it works out.

Look, I am a healthy 40-year-old man with a healthy wife and so far no children. That makes me fairly immune from whatever comes down the pike over the next few years; even if we're blessed with a child or two, we're in pretty good shape.

My parents are not getting any younger, and their premiums are way too expensive under Obamacare, but they would not have been eligible for coverage under the previous system because a bad back or a previous rotator cuff surgery would have been flagged as a preexisting condition.

We're not sure what would have changed for them under AHCA because nobody bothered to tell us what's in it, other than, "it's better."

I want you to understand something, before you read the rest of this letter. I'm a writer by nature, and do a fair bit of writing by trade. I have a vocabulary roughly three times that of the average college graduate. I say that because the words I'm going to use are very strong, and you should know that I'm picking them purposefully. Ready?

Get it the fuck together.

Your constituents know Obamacare isn't working. We're subject to it, unlike you and your colleagues who have federal health care.

You're not struggling. We are.

You don't have to tell us "Obamacare is a disaster." In fact, we'd really like it if you found your own descriptor. We've heard that one before. Chernobyl was a disaster. By that metric, Obamacare is at best annoying.

While you're coming up with words, try some that mean something. Here is what you said about AHCA in your email: "The legislation contains the critical reforms necessary to deliver relief and a patient-centered health care system with the choice and control needed to empower patients. "

In case you need someone to translate your fancy speech for you, that says, "AHCA contains changes that will give patients power."

Give me some details, please.

You don't fix a broken system by calling it a disaster and then hoping you can speak vaguely enough for long enough that people will cheer for the new one.

Do some fucking work.

I know it's difficult. Remember that you are a public servant. You represent us, but you work for us. It's not the job of your constituents to make you feel great about yourself. It's the job of your constituents to ask you to do great things, even if it takes sacrifice and hard work.

Even God never promised us the fruits of our labor, only the labor itself.

Now, take a deep breath, then decide to take some responsibility for working together with 217 (or more) of your colleagues, to write some legislation that's good for your constituents instead of your reelection campaign.

Yours,
Joshua Shear
Savannah, Georgia

I promised to update this if and when Rep. Carter responded, and I did get an email from him on April 7. I'm just going to paste the letter in and let you infer my reaction.

Thank you for contacting me about the urgent need to rescue America’s failing health care system.

As a lifelong health care professional, I have seen first-hand the devastating impact Obamacare has on health care in America, especially in South Georgia where I served patients for more than 30 years. This misguided law has driven up costs, taken away choices, and inserted Washington bureaucrats in to one of the most personal aspects of our lives: our health. It contained $1 trillion in new taxes, kicked 4.7 million Americans off their health care, and created a new class of uninsured with 19.2 million Americans who could not afford the coverage offered them.

I supported the American Health Care Act, which was our plan to rescue patients and families from the Obamacare train wreck. While imperfect, it put aside the failed policies of the past and built on the best ideas from around the country. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed it would lower costs and empower patients to make their health care decisions. I was disappointed this bill was not brought to the floor for a vote.

Please know that this is not the end. I will not stop working until we empower all patients with access to quality, affordable, patient-centered health care.

Thank you, again, for contacting me and for the benefit of your input. It is an honor to represent you in the United States Congress.

Of stories and storytellers: Farewell to the ‘unlettered bum’

Clifton Pollard's name was queried on Google more on Sunday than it had been perhaps any other day except for one — Nov. 22, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy.

I'll save you the search, if you don't recognize the name. Pollard was the man who, on a Sunday morning, finished his bacon and eggs, went to Arlington National Cemetery, climbed into a reverse backhoe, and dug the grave into which Kennedy's casket would be lowered.

He made $3.01 per hour, and he came in on his day off.

He didn't get to go to the funeral. It was too crowded.

We know about Clifton Pollard because a New York Herald Tribune columnist named Jimmy Breslin wrote about him.

On April 5, 1992, Pollard, a World War II veteran, died and was soon after buried not too far from our thirty-fifth president.

Breslin died over the weekend at the age of 88. He had, earlier in the week, been admitted to the hospital to be treated for pneumonia and released the next day. His wife thought he was getting better and his death came as a surprise to her.


Breslin was part of a generation of hard-scrabble storytelling journalists. He wrote stories, not articles. He drank whiskey. He smoked cigars. He scorned reporters who stayed in the newsroom, and instead wandered the streets, pubs and tenements of New York, speaking to people.

It's a storied generation — one that included Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal. Most of them predeceased Breslin.

While journalism — and the rest of the world, frankly — has certainly changed in the couple of generations since Breslin went and found Pollard, there are remnants of his world. I recently found in a used bookstore a collection of essays by PJ O'Rourke. Younger essayists like Doug Rushkoff and Chuck Klosterman certainly carry forth a biting witness. My friend Tommy Shea was so well-loved at The Republican that even the competition wrote him a nice sendoff. My friend and former colleague Sean Kirst had the same impact in Syracuse, and has now moved on.

Reading Shea and Kirst in print — actual newsprint still feels, and smells, familiar to me — put me in mind of a time I never really got to know. But the writing is still there. Wolfe is still writing books and the occasional column. Count among Breslin's non-journalistic contemporaries William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac.

These are not easy men to read, but once you start, it's nigh impossible to stop.


Yes, the world has changed. You won't find many smoky bars anymore. Nor too many people in suits willing to walk into a slum in search of a story (nor many people willing to talk to them if they did).

Breslin was the sort of guy who was able to find not only Clifton Pollard but also a man named Tony Palma.

If that name doesn't sound familiar, I'll again save you the searching. Palma was once a long-haired Beatles fan in the 1960s, and later, on December 8, 1980, he was the police officer, along with his partner, Herb Frauenberger, who responded to a call of, "Man shot, 1 West 72nd St." That night, they helped a dying John Lennon.

And Breslin had his interview conducted and typed up that night in time for 1:30 a.m. deadline.

It takes hours or days to get that kind of access to some people in uniform nowadays. That's not a complaint; it's just the world we live in.


There are stories, and there are storytellers, and there are people who read stories.

I think a lot of people would like to claim to be the second, but to do so, you have to truly understand the first. And that's a hell of a craft. You'll know who they really are, because they attract the third.

Many people have stories — hell, many people are stories — they just don't know it. It takes a real storyteller to pry the stories out of those folks.

It's why we'll read a headline or a couple of sentences in almost everything we click on these days, but we'll read giant novels by Wolfe and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It's why we'll read Kirst's book of Central New York stories.

Breslin told stories. They were stories of New York and New Yorkers, and people felt they knew him and the stories. Maybe that's why David Berkowitz — the Son of Sam killer — wrote him letters.

Sometimes the stories don't realize what they are. You might think you have a story to tell, but the one that comes out when a storyteller gets a hold of it may be entirely different.


"You climb the stairs," Breslin is quoted as saying, "and all the stories are at the top of the stairs."

Maybe it's a simple metaphor for doing the work ‐ climb the stairs while everyone takes the elevator, or just stays in the lobby. Or maybe it's a simple instruction manual. When you climb enough stairs, there are certainly stories when you get to the top.

Breslin called himself an "unlettered bum." He certainly put a lot of letters on a lot of pages.


Be a story, or be a storyteller. Hell, be both. Or neither. But don't pretend to be either. We have enough pretenders out there.

To Mr. Breslin, ever a story and a teller, may your cigar ever be lit, your glass three fingers full and your typewriter ready for some punishment.

#TheIdesOfTrump, the problem with #resist and why persistence is more important

We are a heavily divided country. End of sentence.

Many of us feel left behind. Millions of people have turned out for demonstrations. Usually quiet town hall meetings this past recess saw people get left out because fire marshals were concerned about occupancies. Some representatives simply didn't have them; some of their constituents held town halls anyway and brought cardboard cutouts of their elected officials.

Tomorrow marks the Ides of March, the day immortalized as a day of which to be wary thanks to the murder of Julius Caesar.

It also marks a day on which many people will send postcards to the president — liberals to send negative messages and conservatives to send messages of support to counter what those on the left are calling #TheIdesOfTrump.

I'll keep the more amusing details of how I think this plays out to myself, but I think the larger result is the recycling pickup at the White House next week is going to be somewhat heavier than usual.

Before you drop me in a corner here, I want to remind you where I stand. As an American, if President Trump succeeds in improving education and trade and international relations and community relations, I succeed. I'm rooting for him.

I'm just not optimistic.

Don't point to the stock market, please. It works independently of the president, and consistently works its way up. We're in the midst of the longest bull market ever (eight years). Pundits who are crediting President Trump for the growth since the election didn't give President Obama any credit for the previous seven and a half years of steady growth; markets aren't partisan — they just grow. At some point we'll have a bear market for a little while. Every single bear market in US history has been followed by a bull within a year, with the one exception being the Great Depression (and technically, they called that a crash, not a bear).

Here's the problem with the liberal side of this postcard campaign: It takes up the battle cry #resist.

A couple of years ago, when it was announced that no charges would be brought against police in Ferguson, Mo., and the city went crazy, I wrote of police who came with armored vehicles and riot gear:

I understand you prepare for the worst-case scenario, not the best, but if you don't appear ready for the best-case, you're never going to get it.

I feel like that's what the left is doing with #resist. Says the dictionary of resist: "to withstand, strive against, or oppose; to make a stand or make efforts in opposition; act in opposition; offer resistance."

This is different from debate, persuade, seek to change or even to work within the bounds of constitutional process. It's to set up a physical opposition, not a political one. It's a very aggressive message to send, and not one that invites discussion.

There are hundreds of #resist meetups that have popped up around the US (and also elsewhere in the world). The conversation is not civil. It's mostly a lot of shouted threats, again, not at all like discussion.

Aggressors rarely come out on top without a strong show of actual force, and liberals are going to have to decide if they're liberals in the way of George Washington and Fidel Castro, ready to pick up arms and overthrow their government, or progressives in the way of Mahatma Gandhi and Ram Dass, willing to fight with their brains and their mouths for what's right and not quitting until they get it.

If it's the latter, get on the phone with your elected representatives. Show them the numbers. If Medicaid is shut down in 2020 and your parents won't be able to get health care because simply being 72 years old is a preexisting condition and your $100,000-a-year CFO salary belongs to the hospital after three nights recovering from a fall, they need to know.

If your kid's public school can't afford a new roof after 30 years because half the federal aid that would have gone to that school is going to a private school down the street, they need to know.

If the NEA disappears and all the museums in your city that might have inspired children to be artists and archaeologists and historians have to close and those kids wind up in gangs because that's the only way they've ever seen to break the cycle of poverty, your representatives need to know.

If you're worried because the administration is purposefully lying to media to keep the public in the dark as to what's really going on in the world, your representatives need to know.

I'm not saying roll over for your government — for sure, always stay vigilant — but understand when you meet fire with fire you get a bigger fire. When you meet fire with water, you get relief.

Here's how to contact your elected representatives. Don't give up until you feel you've been heard (be polite to staffers; they can pass along your message or not).

We can be resistant, or we can be persistent. We can't be both.

Would you still be doing what you’re doing?

I recently re-read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Maybe I should be doing it more often, particularly given it's about a three-hour read.

Here's something important I pulled out of it.

"Here’s another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?"

It gave me pause, but not for very long.

Blogging and podcasting are how I understand the world. I would certainly still be doing those things.

My job in news? I would definitely do that. It's gathering information, processing it and sharing it.

Running? Yep. Eating? Yep. Meditating? For sure.

There really are a lot of lessons in that book. I recently ordered a copy on a whim for someone who needed it. It's that important.

Here are a couple of other lessons I've learned from the book.

What's the Platonic ideal for Resistance? »

Pressfield imagines Resistance as a dragon, and you, as artist or entrepreneur or whatever, must slay the dragon to do the work you want to be doing.

The thing is, upon further review, I'm not sure that dragon ever dies. Is wounded to the point of dormancy? Sometimes. Dead? Never.

We are nothing if not present tense »

There's a line. On one side are the people who say "I'm gonna" and "I used to" and "I wanna" and "I wish I could," and on the other side are the people who say "I am."

Be on the important side of the line.

Quieting down: A month without Twitter and Facebook on my phone

If you've been listening to the podcast the past few months, you know that I have not fared well living in my brain, from the election on through the first month of the Trump administration.

By inauguration day, it had gotten so bad that I was trawling news sites, Twitter and Facebook several times an hour looking for people to argue with.

Inauguration day also happens to be my dad's birthday. As we drove to Charleston to visit and get some lunch (the dictate was at a place without televisions), I knew I had to do something to change direction.

So when we arrived, I opened my phone and deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps.

I'm still plenty active on both (Twitter | Facebook), but I really am only on the platforms when I'm sitting in front of my computer.

I do miss the opportunity to share from an app — most often Flipboard and my podcast app — but if there's anything I want to be sure to share out I'll email it to myself with a note.

There's something about deliberately visiting social media sites that makes my posting and commenting more deliberate. I have less time available, so I'm pickier about what I say and to whom I say it.

It's also led to some more in-person engagement. I'm certainly not pulling out my phone to look at it as often as I used to. I'm talking to more strangers, and I'm eminently more present around friends and family.

Need a break? Try it for a week. Enjoy.

As the brain spins: It takes incremental growth to build toward monumental growth

I've gotten very into the brain recently. I'm not really sure why — it's just one of those things that popped up in my life and I decided to roll with it.

I was listening to Steven Kotler on Joe Rogan's podcast and decided to go to the library and take out Kotler's book The Rise of Superman.

The brief backstory on Kotler is that he got Lyme disease, it was misdiagnosed and he was in bed for three years. Eventually a friend convinced him to go surfing and his body started to heal. "Hmm," he thought. "Surfing is not a known cure for chronic autoimmune diseases."

So he did some research and discovered that action sports with a fair bit of risk get us into a state called flow, a state that not only helps with decision-making in high-pressure situations, it's that state that gets us writing, conversing, coding or whatever for hours with a high level of correctness and efficiency.

Kotler figured out for himself while writing a book that he could get himself into flow reliably with a specific bit of exercise he would use any time he was blocked and trying to solve a problem. If you've ever sat down with a friend and started talking and all of a sudden four hours have passed, you've been in flow.

Anyway, Kotler was so fascinated with flow he started a business around it.

In The Rise of Superman, Kotler outlines some of the neuroscience behind flow. Meanwhile, I was taking another one of my random walks through the library stacks and Kayt Sukel's The Art of Risk jumped out at me.

She was a badass when she was younger. A climber who, after getting divorced, took her one-year-old son and backpacked around Europe. She got in an MRI machine and had an orgasm for a book and went around the country talking about it.

But she found herself taking fewer risks as she got older and wondered why, so she set out to figure out what goes on in a risk-taker's brain.

And fuck if she wasn't writing about the same bits of the brain that Kotler wrote about.

Somewhere in there — and I have absolutely no idea how I came across this — I stumbled upon a study of gamma brain activity and Parkinson's.

We'll come back to this later, but gamma activity is a signifier of flow.

Crazy. It was a sure sign that I needed to know a little more.


Here are some things we know about the brain. While I've been reading a lot here and there, the most succinct source for the historical stuff in this section is The Great Brain Book by HP Newquist.

Several thousand years ago, the Egyptians, in the mummification of the dead, were the first people to cut open bodies in an effort to preserve them.

They thought the brain was trash.

In the mummification process, the organs were removed so that the body could dry. The heart was returned to the chest. This is the organ the Egyptians believed handled thought, emotion and everything else, and that it would be useful in the afterlife to have it inside the body.

The lungs, kidneys and other stuff that sits in the torso were placed in jars and left nearby the body in the tomb (the Egyptians also left toys and tools and other things they thought the body could use in the afterlife).

Then they shoved a chisel in the nasal cavity, stuck a hook up there and yanked out what they could of the brain. They would later scoop out whatever was left.

They didn't leave the brain in the body. They didn't even put it in a jar. It just went out with the garbage.

Things go that way for about 1,400 years, until Herophilus, the "father of anatomy," cuts open cadavers and finds that the brain does connect to the rest of the body. This is around 300 BCE.

Four to five hundred years later, Galen posits that the brain actually handles a lot of functions, including moods. He gets the mechanism so wrong it's not worth discussing, but there's at least the understanding that the brain controls a good bit of what makes us people.

We're at about 1,900 years ago now.

Over the next, oh, 1,750 years, we get detailed drawings, but no real new science.

Then, in 1848, a railroad worker named Phineas Gage is clearing some space to lay track. He puts dynamite in a hole, tamps it down, and BLAM! — the explosive blows before he can get out of the way and his tamping rod goes up through his jaw, behind his left eye and out the top of his head.

As he's laying on the ground, the rod still stuck in him, workers come over and collect what they assume is the body of their late colleague. Instead, they help Gage up, and he's walking around and talking just like normal.

Well, as normal as you can be with a tamping rod sticking out of two holes in your head.

Gage lives another 12 years, with the only real noticeable side effect being that he turns into a really grumpy dude.

Doctors, of course, started examining him right away, and they studied his brain long after he died.

The biggest discovery early on from Gage's examinations was that different parts of the brain handle different things.

In 1861, a French physician named Pierre Paul Broca meets a patient named Louis Victor Leborgne. Leborgne could only say the syllable, "Tan." He seemed perfectly normal otherwise. His body language suggested that he understood everything that people said to him or asked him, but he couldn't say anything but "Tan."

Broca postulated that Leborgne had damage in the part of his brain that handled language, and, sure enough, when they opened his head upon his death, one part of his brain was badly decayed.

In the 1870s, a pair of doctors figured out that the right side of the brain handles the left side of the body and the left side of the brain controls the right — in other words, the two sides of the brain work independently.

Over the ensuing half-century, we learn that the brain sends out electrical signals, and in 1924, we get the EEG, which worked then pretty much the same way it works now (we of course now also have the MRI as a more comprehensive way to look at brain activity).

In the 1950s, Wilder Penfield discovers he can get physical reactions by stimulating different parts of the brain.

And that's it, until very recently. Quick review:
1700 - 300 BCE: We go from throwing out the brain to learning that it's connected to the rest of our inside.
Around 100 CE: We start thinking the brain controls our feelings
Around 1500 CE: Anatomists start drawing things
1848-1950s CE: We learn basically everything you and I learned in science class about the brain.

More on innovation timelines: Rambling thoughts on innovation »


We That covers about 3,650 years.

In the 60 or so years that have passed since then — and we all know people who are way older than that — we've learned so much more. We've developed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines that can read what's going on in the brain. We know what each part of the brain does, at least to some extent. We know about neurotransmitters. We know about brain waves.

And we've been manipulating pieces here and there, with more and more accuracy. With the development of earlier drugs like fluoxetine and sertraline (Prozac and Zoloft, respectively), we figured out how to do things like block some neurotransmitter receptors. More and more specific drugs have been developed as well, and a current fad is over-the-counter nootropics like Alpha Brain and lion's mane-and-chaga mushroom "coffee" (both of which I'll recommend, but the Alpha Brain much moreso than the mushroom coffee).

As much as Alpha Brain help you with your focus and thinking abilities, there are other supplements for other things, for example, I have been using ligandrol for almost 2 months now and I absolutely love it ligandrol testosterone booster.

Kotler also recommends a recipe for getting into flow predictably, though I won't post it here as (a) he put the work in, (b) I haven't tried it to be able to recommend it and (c) it might not be legal everywhere.

We're only going to get better at manipulating our brains, too, and the speed of information gathering is going to continue to increase.

Exciting stuff, huh? And what amazing creatures we are!

How to contact your elected representatives

We as a people have been griping a lot on Twitter and Facebook. While social media can be an informative and instructive tool — as well as a good medium for discussion if you can stay out of echo chambers and petty sniping — these posts largely are not read by anyone who actually makes laws.

We have the ability to contact our elected representatives, and, as with other rights, this is a use-it-or-lose-it responsibility.

Start here, with a former congressional staffer explaining how to be heard.

Next, follow through.

You'll need to know two things: Who your Senators and Representative are, and how to contact them. Reminder: Senators are elected to six-year terms with a third of the Senate up every two years, and are not currently term limited. Members of the House of Representative are elected to two-year terms without term limits, and the entire House is up for election every two years.

Hey, look! Tools!

To find your Senators — every state has two of them, and they both represent everyone in the state — go here and select your state in the dropdown.

You'll get both Senators' names, along with their websites, phone numbers, office addresses and email addresses,

The House is a little trickier. Each state has a varying number of Congressmen based on population, and districts aren't always drawn with intuitive boundaries (that's another discussion for another time).

The best thing you can do is to start here with a ZIP code finder. If you happen to live in a ZIP code that has been divided by district boundaries, you'll have to go deeper.

Just like with the Senate search tool, you'll get your House member's website, email address, office address and phone number.

Again, here are ways to get your elected representatives to listen to you.