In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.

Leave a comment

My Best Brain Hack

This is my fourth entry in a series of posts about things I do to improve – or at least preserve – brain function. Until I started writing these posts, I didn’t realize how much I actually had to say on the topic! And still do, apparently. This post was supposed to contain random “leftover” tips and tricks, but one element in particular grew into a post of its own. So there are still two posts left after this one: a summary of other odds ends that I do (post 1) or won’t do (post 2) for my brain.

Here is my big secret, and probably the single most important thing I do now for brain function. Yes, more than exercising and supplements and sleep. (Although sleep and exercise have benefits beyond just brain function.) I say “now” because I only started it recently, and the results have been amazing. Not only is my brain working better, but I know exactly how well it is performing.

It’s simple. I write down every creative idea I have.

It doesn’t have to be a good idea, but if it has any creativity, problem solving, or new idea-ness (to me anyway) at all, I grab a piece of paper and jot it down.

Why so old-fashioned? I write faster on paper than on my phone, and if I pick up my phone AT ALL I will get derailed by social media notifications; or seeing my grocery list app will remind me of something I need to add to the list; and heaven help me if I accidentally open Pinterest – the rest of the day will be lost! That creative idea will vanish in a puff of smoke and disappear into the recesses of my mind. I periodically transfer the ideas from paper to Evernote where they can be searched or organized into related notes and notebooks as needed. Some may need more research and definition before I can act on them and some may be complete dead ends, but at least they are all there.

This leads to two amazing outcomes. One: I can see just how many ideas I actually come up with over time. Some days are full of creativity, and others not so much … or not at all! But recording them means I can watch them pile up and realize just how much creativity still bubbles around in my noggin.

The second outcome is even more important. By getting the ideas onto the paper, they get out of my head, and new ideas pop into my head.

Crazy right? Who knew it could be so simple?

Oh, right. A lot of people, actually. I am building on a lot of other ideas from authors I have been exposed to over the years. When I thought back on how many years in fact, I was mildly horrified. If you would like to read on, I will go into detail about the different techniques I’ve learned which have lead up to this new compulsion to write everything down. If you don’t care so much about the backstory, grab a pen and paper and prepare to be amazed.

This creative approach has several key components that make it so effective (at least for me): writing down everything as it comes, without judging; exercising your brain’s creative and problem solving capacity; and deliberate daydreaming.

Writing Down Everything

The first time I was exposed to the idea of always having a way to write down ideas was in Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method, by Gerald M. Weinberg.  I read this book (mumble) years ago. Mind you, I didn’t actually start carrying writing tools with me all the time at that stage – although I probably should have, who knows how many more ideas I would have collected by now! In Weinberg’s methodology, these flittering thoughts I capture are the “fieldstones” in his method. The approach, in brief, is to collect these fieldstones (ideas) as you find them, regardless of whether or not they pertain to whatever writing project you are working on. You then store them where you can easily retrieve them, and then when you have enough fieldstones that fit together, you can build a wall… er, write an article or a book. This is actually the approach I’ve used to write many of my recent blog posts – I just keep capturing ideas until I have enough related ideas to string together into an actual post. While this is taking longer – because I am waiting on ideas instead of forcing words onto a computer screen – I have NO shortage of future blog post topics because they gush into my brain faster than I can keep up with writing them.

Popular productivity management approaches such as Getting Things Done and Zen to Done also advocate being able to get ideas out of your head onto a piece of paper, but those are more focused on to do lists and projects rather than creativity.

The most recent time I found this advice was in Get It Done, by Sam Bennett, which I listened to a few months ago. (Yes, I have started reading/listening to self-help books again… don’t judge!)

She calls it “Nearly Miraculous Daily Habit 2: Find an Idea Catcher” (aka somewhere to capture ideas as they come to us). She uses index cards, similar to Weinberg’s approach, to write down the ideas as they come and then sort them into envelopes. I always have a paper to-do list with me, and jot my ideas on the corners or back of the paper. It’s not fancy, but it still works!

Without Judging

This technique works so well for me, in part, because it gets the old ideas out of my head. I can’t generate new ideas because the current ideas play on endless repeat – even when they don’t appear to be useful or relevant to any of my creative endeavors.

This aspect is similar to the techniques of freewriting and brainstorming. I don’t remember the original book I read on freewriting, but the idea is just to get everything out without regard for complete sentences, grammar or punctuation. Usually freewriting is done for a specific amount of time, and helps overcome writer’s block. I often use the technique as a way to get “unstuck” when struggling with various issues. Once I start getting the endless-playback-words out of my head, additional ideas start flowing out as well. (In my case, this may be more like “freejournaling” rather than true freewriting.) Since I cannot share the specific book title, here is a Wikipedia article about it.

This is also related to classic brainstorming, which has the goal of generating as much content as possible, usually as a problem solving technique. For example I don’t always judge the ideas that pop into my head, I just diligently capture them to store for future analysis. Brainstorming is generally done as a group, whereas I am just dreaming up ideas on my own… although maybe there are multiple people in here. It sure feels like it sometimes anyway! Here is the Wikipedia article, if you somehow have never heard of brainstorming.

Exercising the Brain

Another reason this technique works is by exercising your brain’s creativity and problem-solving capabilities. I first saw this idea articulated about a year ago, when I read (most of) Tools of the Titans, by Tim Ferriss. One of the “titans”, James Altucher, suggested the habit of writing down ten ideas every morning, to strengthen your “idea muscle”. Even coming up with bad ideas, says Altucher, exercises the brain’s capabilities.

I wrote “ten daily” lists for about a month after reading those pages, before my attention was hijacked by something else. While I don’t write down strictly ten ideas every day, I definitely experience how writing them down – whenever they come to me – reinforces the capacity to come up with more ideas.

(Altucher also describes a second part of this habit: writing down a “first step” for the idea, which is something I need to start doing myself. I am wayyyyy to inclined to just dream up ideas which is OK when they are ideas about things to write, but not sufficient for things to do.)

Deliberate Daydreaming

With all these super smart people advocating writing everything down, why did I only just doing it?

Blame – or rather thank – Sam Bennett. Yes, the same Sam Bennett I mentioned earlier, in the same book.

It was the combination of “Nearly Miraculous Daily Habit 2: Find an Idea Catcher” and “Nearly Miraculous Daily Habit 3: Allot Fifteen Minutes a Day for Deliberate Daydreaming.”

The idea is to keep your hands busy on purpose and allow your mind to wander. If you are up on trendy self-help techniques, you might notice this is the exact opposite of mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches you to focus your attention on whatever you are doing, and when your mind drifts off, to gently bring it back to fully experience the here, the now, the task at hand. Deliberate daydreaming encourages your mind to wander. How crazy is that?

Deliberate daydreaming turns chores into an amazing opportunity to come up with new ideas: gardening, washing dishes, driving, even exercising. Although it gets complicated jotting the ideas down when your hands are covered in hot soapy water, or if you are driving!

Of course everyone has experienced this before. It’s why great ideas always pop into your head in the shower. Deliberate daydreaming differs because you seek out these hands-busy, brain-idle times intentionally (I now tolerate hand washing dishes, only for this reason), with pen and paper at the ready.

By the way, this makes me a bore in the car. The radio is always turned off when I’m driving – any sound, podcasts, audiobooks, or even music, renders me incapable of having my own creative thoughts. It entirely kills the deliberate daydreaming thing. Although sometimes it doesn’t happen anyway, which makes for a really, really, really long car ride. And for the record, earworms are just as detrimental to the deliberate daydreaming as actual songs on the radio!

There you have it – the whys and wherefores of my current idea capturing habit. Now go try it for yourself and watch your creativity soar!


The Cave

No, not Plato’s Cave. I haven’t felt sufficiently philosophical lately to tackle such deep topics!

Rather, this is another post in my series about what I do to improve brain function … or at least to keep it from getting any worse! Previously I discussed my experiments with nutritional supplements and exercise. This time I will talk about a subject even nearer and dearer to my heart: sleep.

(I know, I know. You thought I’d abandoned the series because I haven’t posted on this subject in weeks. Well, I still have things to share – at least two more posts after this one. I need to prioritize writing, that’s all!)

I have always taken sleep very, very seriously, even before I started focusing on mental performance. Originally I cherished the belief that if I could get perfect quality sleep, I would need less sleep. And if I slept less, I would finally have the time to master my ever-increasing to-do list.

I even briefly tried polyphasic sleep, but found it too hard to fit around a “normal” life of a day job, commuting, and family. (Maybe I’ll try again if my life stops being normal.) All in the name of getting more done!

Even though I no longer treat sleep as the solution to my to-do list, I am still passionate about sleep. I have learned over the years that my brain function is intimately tied to my sleep quality. Some “star achievers” brag about sleeping only a few hours every night, or starting every day at 4 a.m. – even on weekends! – but this is not me. Having experimented so long with my sleep (even using a FitBit for a while), I know I need seven hours each night, no exceptions. Eight is better. I call it my beauty sleep, because I am a monster when I  get less. Ask my family!  Just last week I was wide awake for 1.5 hours in the middle of the night, and I wasn’t sure my marriage would survive the next day. And not just quantity; quality matters too. A quick internet will turn up a gazillion hits on the link between sleep and brain function … slightly more than links for exercise and  brain function!

So what have I tried to improve my sleep?

First and foremost, I manage the levels of light in my bedroom. Intensely. I basically sleep in a cave. Starting with electronics. I almost bought little stickers to paste over the lights (Head Strong mentioned them) but thankfully they were out of stock at the time. This meant I could implement the free solution instead – just remove the electronics. That’s right. No night lights, no alarm clocks, no LEDs or other insidious little sources of light, except one power strip banished to underneath the bed where its feeble light is blocked from sleeping eyes. We recently installed a new skylight with a remote controlled shade, since we had to replace the roof anyway, and that has helped keep out ambient light from the night sky as well. My smartphone is always face-down on the bedside table. Always.

Speaking of the smartphone, I always put it in airplane mode before going to sleep. I don’t know to what extent the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emanated by smart phones impact sleep, but it’s easy enough to do, so why not? Especially since the phone so close to my head anyway… better to be safe than sorry. Because it now serves as my alarm clock, I cannot just banish it from the bedroom, as much as I might like to.

I also try keeping the bedroom relatively cool, and use a ceiling fan to keep the air circulating.

In addition engineering the environment for optimal sleep, what one eats and drinks also plays a role in sleep quality.  I appear to be particularly sensitive to stimulants. I never drink caffeine after lunch, and have recently cut back to just one cup of coffee a day – occasionally followed by a cup of black tea on mornings when I am really struggling. Whenever I am sick and congested, I will only take over-the-counter medicines with pseudoephedrine in the morning. Recently I also learned that cordyceps tea also interferes with my sleep if I drink it at any point in the afternoon. (Which means if I ever need to pull an all-nighter, I know exactly how to do it!)

I am also careful about how late I eat, and how much alcohol I consume (at least on nights when I know I have to wake up early, or high pressure days when I know I have to be on my “A” game). Both late night snacks and alcohol can interfere with how deeply one sleeps.

In my last brain-function post, I referenced several nutritional supplements that I used for brain function: n-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and phosphatidylserine (aka PS) and high dose magnesium. These work together to both help me fall asleep, and stay asleep, and sleep more deeply. I will sometimes cycle off of the supplements – which is a polite way of saying that I forget to order a new bottle before I run out, and then take a break for a week or two before buying more. These three are the ones I keep coming back to, though, because they really seem to help.

Not every technique I’ve used has turned into a habit, unfortunately. The one change I’ve struggled with the most is managing my late-evening-blue-light exposure. Late night blue light interferes with the body’s internal clock, which can interrupt sleep cycles. I spend far too long each day staring at various glowing screens – like most Americans, honestly. It’s the computer, it’s the cell phone, it’s watching TV or movie with the family. I would love to reduce my blue-screen-time, I really would. I just… you know, don’t. I tried software which adds a yellow tint to a computer screen or phone screen, but never saw enough benefit to put up with the colors looking funny. I even own amber safety glasses that fit over my regular glasses to filter out blue light wherever I look. Yeah, don’t even ask me where they are now!

Additionally, there are two sleep improvement techniques I do not plan to try. One is sleeping on an earthing mat. I’m not willing to invest that kind of money for technology to replace something that should be natural. Granted, in the winter it is particularly hard to get enough earthing time – time spent in direct contact with the earth’s surface. But buying a product to replace that natural connection just seems so wrong.

The other change I won’t make: rising at the same time every day, even on the weekend. If you can do this naturally, it indicates that you are getting enough sleep. Some folks recommend you force yourself to follow this practice because consistent sleep habits help reinforce quality sleep. Personally, I take the opposite approach. If I don’t have to wake up, then I am going to sleep until my body says it’s ready to wake up!


A Supplemental Mind

This is the second post in a series (of undetermined length) on techniques I have tried to improve my brain power. The first post focused on one of the easiest and cost effective approaches – physical activity and exercise. Today I’m going to talk about one of the more complicated options. Nutritional supplements. (Queue dramatic music.)

For the record, if I participated in an affiliate marketing program, this would be a profitable post for me because I’m talking about a LOT of products. But my goal is to share what I’ve personally tried, and what made a big enough difference to me to keep using. For this reason, I am NOT including hyperlinks to every single product listed in this message. If you are interested in learning more, you are very capable of looking them up on yourself!

(Also, if I ever permit on this site it will only be for causes or organizations I personally support as well.)

The supplement issue is especially challenging for me now, since in 2019 I am actively pursuing a lower-energy, less-industrialized, less-consumerist lifestyle.

And nutritional supplements are the poster children for industrial processed products.

But I, like so many other Americans, am seduced by the carefully crafted promises, the half truths, and my own desperate wish that fixing all my problems was as easy as popping a pill.

Especially mental problems!

Early in 2017 – before I started my ‘book diet’ – I acquired a copy of Dave Asprey’s Head Strong. I’d heard of lifehacking of course (who hasn’t) and even biohacking, but this was the first systematic treatise I’d read on the subject of deliberately hacking your brain chemistry.

Among all the other suggestions, there was (surprise, surprise) a section for nutritional supplements. After reading the whole book, I decided to give some of them a try… and if a few supplements were good, then MANY supplements must be even better. I carefully crafted a detailed schedule for which supplement, in what quantity, to take exactly when, to maximize my brain benefits.

Unfortunately, all those brain benefits failed to inspire me to put that schedule somewhere for posterity, so I could share the exact details with you almost two years later.

Here are the fragments I could reconstruct from memory and re-reading the relevant chapter of Head Strong.

  • Morning, with my Bullet Proof Coffee: COQ10 (p. 259), Magnesium citrate (p. 260 – 261), Krill Oil (p. 264 – 265), one packet of Jeunesse Reserve Antioxident Fruit Blend.
    BTW, I was already drinking my own personal variation of Bullet Proof Coffee years before this book came out.
  • During the day: I am pretty sure I took vitamin B12 and Folinic Acid in the afternoon (p.260), and I think I took them both twice a day although I cannot now recall why. Perhaps because the dosage I could find was only half of what the book called for. I also took Creatine throughout the day (p. 263) in pretty high doses for the “loading phase” described in the book. I didn’t stick with it long enough to actually get out of the loading phase! I know at some point during the day I also took “Sprout Extract” (p. 266 – 267) but I can’t remember when I took it because it is supposed to be taken on an empty stomach. At that stage of my life, I pretty much ate around the clock! …yes, I realize that wasn’t even two years ago. A lot can change in two years!
  • Evening: Calcium with Vitamin D3 (I don’t recall taking a separate, dedicated Vitamin D3 supplement, but Calcium with Vitamin D3 was already part of my routine) (p. 2261-262)
  • Bedtime: I experimented a few times with taking Magnesium at bed time to help with sleep
  • As needed: Activated Charcoal after eating any especially inflammatory foods (p. 262 – 263)

I also took BCAAs (p. 259) though I don’t recall what time of day. I do however remember distinctly feeling like a poser when I did it, because the supplement is intended for body builders!

I tried one bottle of the Brain Octane MCT in my morning Bullet Proof coffee, and it seemed to make a difference the first few cups. (I only drank one a day, I swear!) But I switched back to regular MCT oil because by the end of the bottle, the effects didn’t seem sufficiently dramatic to justify the expense. That was the only one of Asprey’s own brand of supplements I tried. The Ketoprime, Glutathione, and ActivePQQ looked interesting, but I just couldn’t bring myself to even more money, on top of everything else! At least most of the other supplements I could procure locally.

This whole experiment lasted only a few weeks. It was ridiculously expensive and the epitome of unsustainable in my world. My entire day revolved around ensuring I took various supplements on schedule! More tellingly, I personally did not notice much improvement in my mental performance … probably because I was so flustered and scatterbrained trying to stay on track with taking so many different supplements on a schedule! I still take a few, though – more on that below.

After reading The 4 Hour Body in early 2018, I added a few additional supplements to my daily brain health line up, mostly focused around sleep. I don’t have a copy of the book handy (this was *after* my book diet started), but going from my order history, I added N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) and Phosphatidylserine (aka PS) right before bed to help me fall and stay asleep. If I recall correctly, Tim Ferriss also mentioned magnesium in The 4 Hour Body, possibly also in context of sleep. My memory is faint because I was already taking magnesium at that point, so it was more of a reinforcement for an existing behavior, rather than a new one.

I have also experimented with the lion’s mane tea from Four Sigmatic. Unfortunately, the cost of the tea is high enough that I save the tea for “special occasions” (when my brain needs a hug, like the box says!) and I have read in online forums that lion’s mane is more effective when you take it regularly to keep levels consistent in your body. And drinking the tea daily is not in my budget right now!

Now in early 2019, these are the only brain specific supplements I still take:

  • COQ10: in the morning with my Bullet Proof coffee because allegedly the fat helps absorb the COQ10.
  • Magnesium: one in the morning and one at night. I can actually tell when I take them at night because my dreams are especially vivid and intense when I do.
  • PS: because I actually feel (or think i feel, anyway) a difference in my mental function when I am taking PS. The PS I take also has gingko, gotu kola, rosemary and dimethylethanolamine (DMAE) in it. I take this in the evening, again to help with sleep. I cycle off the PS for a week or so in between bottles.

I have also noticed I fall asleep faster and harder when I take NAC as well in the evenings. However there are plenty of other contributing factors for sleep quality (that’s another post of its own!), so I stopped taking NAC a few months ago. Although after researching NAC benefits while writing this post (namely reading articles like this one), I may reintroduce it!

Of course, the real question is how much do supplements really make a difference, versus just causing a placebo effect? After all, if you’re spending money on all these supplements, and all the smart lifehackers out there say they work, then they have to… right? But there have been numerous studies both about whether supplements are effective at all, and extensive debates over whether they even contain the ingredients labeled on the bottle. Additionally, I lost a lot of faith after listening to the audiobook version of Suggestible You by Erik Vance September of last year.  (If you take maintenance prescriptions or even over the counter medication on a frequent basis, you might want to skip this one. You’ll be happier not knowing.)

On the other hand, if the medicine or supplement works through the power of suggestion … it still works! So maybe that isn’t such a bad thing!

Off to the local vitamin store I go. Oh wait. Never mind. Off to research more natural ways to enhance brain function. Stay tuned!


Your Brain on Exercise

A few weeks ago, my friend Dave raised the issue of cognitive function, and his comment inspired me to write a post on the tactics I have tried to keep my brain working at peak performance.

Unfortunately, the more I wrote, the more I realized I had to say on the subject. As a result, I will write a series of posts. (Because I hate blog posts that drag on and on and on…)

First up: exercise.

Researchers are still exploring the exact mechanisms by which physical activity improves the brain’s health, along with questions like what kind, frequency and duration of exercise are most effective. A quick internet search will turn up a slew of hits, and many books (for example Dave Asprey’s Head Strong) also cover the topic. According to studies, physical activity boosts cognition, mood and even memory. These benefits could be from improved blood flow and oxygen to the brain; increased neurogenesis; enhanced mitochondrial function; more or different neurotransmitters to connect the neurons; other things we haven’t discovered yet (or I haven’t read about yet, which is more likely); or some combination of the above.

I am discussing exercise first because it has so many benefits beyond just mental capacity, such as increased stamina and heart health, the self-confidence boost that comes with sticking to a workout routine, and fitting into your favorite jeans you haven’t been able to wear in over a year. (Yes, really!) Plus, exercise can be cheap or even free. A brisk walk outdoors is free. (By the same token, exercise has the potential to suck up every spare dollar to have, so your mileage may vary! Speaking of which, does anyone want to buy a gently used elliptical machine?)

DISCLAIMER: I am not a certified fitness professional (although I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once), and the workout routine described in this post is what works for ME. Please consult a medical professional before engaging in any new exercise, and consider speaking with a personal trainer for advice on the proper execution of these or any other exercises. No, YouTube videos do not count – which is why I have not included links below.

I first described my workout back in May, so miracle of miracles, I have stuck with it for over 6 months now! (I guess that is long enough to make it a habit.) I have tweaked my original routine slightly to ramp up the intensity without having to buy a heavier kettlebell (see previous note about how exercising can be expensive but doesn’t have to be!). My current kettlebell weighs in at 35 lbs, up from the 15 where I started way back when.

My workout, three days a week:

Hip flexor stretches – 30 seconds per hip
Kettlebell swings – 25 reps
Jump squats – 30 seconds (this is anywhere from 15 to 17 jumps for me, depending on my energy level)
Donkey kicks – 20 reps per leg
Planks – high plank, side planks, and reverse plank, each for 45 seconds
Kettlebell swings – 25 reps
Jump squats – 30 seconds (by now I am panting)
Exercise Ball Bridge – 20 reps
Cat vomit – 10 reps of 20 seconds each, with a 10 second rest in between (I often do “Cat-Cow” stretches during the rest period)
Kettlebell swings – 25 reps (at this point my form gets sloppy so I really concentrate on proper technique)
Jump squats – 30 seconds (then I collapse)
Myotatic crunch (on my exercise ball) – 10 reps, with a four-count hold at the top of the crunch

Yes, this workout still kicks my abs. (Haha.)

Best of all, it only takes about 30 minutes to complete. So even at my busiest, I have no excuse to skip it.

Now for the real question: does it improve my brain function?

And the truth is, I have no clue. I don’t know how to self-administer tests for mental sharpness, and even if I did, I have no “before” metrics for comparison. Maybe I need more cardio to really see the difference, or maybe I should exercise longer for a noticeable improvement. (Or less often but with greater intensity, according to Mr. Asprey’s book.)

However, I do know that I love the dopamine hit from setting and meeting my fitness goals three days a week … and from being able to wear those jeans again!

Leave a comment

Learning New Behaviors

I have a problem.

Well, I have many problems. But most of all, I recently realized I am afflicted by a compulsive need to buy stuff. And buying stuff, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily “bad.” It comes down to what you are purchasing, and why. Every single tool and all the supplies and a bunch of books for a brand new hobby I became infatuated with? Yeah, that’s been the story of my life. Luckily at my age there aren’t many “new” hobbies left for me to repeat that mistake.

No, my real challenge (or “opportunity” if you prefer to think positive) is buying solutions for every little difficulty I encounter.  Maybe you can relate. I have a long history of doodads and gadgets and whatnots for every little hiccup I might encounter. The majority of them promised to make cooking easier and faster. Cooking and I enjoy a love-hate relationship, so anything that helps make mealtime less of a chore was a worthy investment in my book. Similarly for health. (The easy spending part, not the love-hate part!) Exercise equipment, videos, yoga props, more videos, nutritional supplements – you name it.

If I could buy my way out of a problem, why shouldn’t I?

Ummmm, because all these “solutions” clutter my home and very few ever made good on their promises of improving my life.

Because however cheap they may be, these consumer goods still cost money that might be better used elsewhere. And as they accumulate, you suddenly need more storage, more room, a bigger house, a store room, a new organization system, and maybe even a whole kitchen remodel. Just to accommodate all this great stuff … that … stops … being … so … great … when I can no longer find it because its buried under even more stuff.

(I won’t even go into how manufacturing and global shipping of cheap consumer goods impacts developing economies, the environment, and the rapid depletion of our planet’s natural resources. That’s already been covered quite thoroughly in other print and online sources!)

Basically, what it all boils down to, is that most of these purchases have actually been waste in terms of my life. Waste of money, waste of time, waste of the planet’s resources. In other words, this kind of spending is not in line with my values, and needs to stop.

But I’ve built this habit up over a lifetime, and modern society makes it so very easy to just keep spending.

…which means I have plenty of opportunities to practice new behaviors!

For example: I need a spiky massage ball.

I mean, REALLY need one.

See, everyone has some part of their body where they carry tension when they are stressed, often in the lower back, shoulders, neck, etc. Well in my case, I apparently clench my legs. Don’t laugh, this is a real thing! It may be related to the “flight or fight” syndrome. My leg muscles – particularly my hamstrings – tighten as they prepare for my mad dash away from danger. You know, lions, tigers and bears, or more often, bad traffic, poor customer service and telemarketers that call during dinner. True life and death stuff, there. But my lizard brain doesn’t know the difference, and lately my hamstrings have been seizing up to the point of cramping.

A spiky massage ball would solve my problem. I could sit on the floor with it under my thigh, and allow gravity and the weight of my leg to apply pressure to ease my cramped muscles.

You know what happens next, right? A quick internet search reveals that sells them for a great price for TWO of them, complete with Prime shipping. They would get here literally in less time than it would take to drive to every possible local store to see if they had the spiky massage balls I so desperately need. (No, calling the stores to ask a real live human being is not a viable option in my life… maybe if I could buy a product that lets me text the store…) All these thoughts skitter through my mind in a flash, and my finger reaches for the bright yellow “buy it now” option on my phone screen.

And because this is the exact habit I aim to break, my finger drifts past “buy it now” and taps “add to cart” instead.

Adding the item to my cart creates space between my compulsion to accumulate and the actual act of purchasing yet another product.

Instead of buying the spiky massage balls, I am buying time.

I put down my phone, and go back to my day, confident I can complete my transaction at some future point if needed.

Luckily, later that day, a solution presented itself.

I had recently found a(nother) golf ball while doing yardwork. While it is smaller than the massage balls, and missing those tantalizing spikes, it turns out to do the job just fine. After a few tries I found the perfect pressure point on the back of my leg for the deepest impact, and then I held the yoga head-to-knee pose (janusirsasana) for five minutes per leg.

A Massage Tool, Cleverly Disguised as a Golf Ball

A Massage Tool, Cleverly Disguised as a Golf Ball

And it worked. And it was free. And it was immediate, since I already had the golf ball and didn’t have to wait for even Amazon Prime shipping. It even fits easily in my purse, so I can take it on the road if needed. (And I have, in fact.)

Best of all, I had the proud feeling that comes from knowing I solved a problem on my own, rather than turning to the marketplace to solve it for me.

1 Comment

Ode to Self-Help Books

You may be wondering why my blog posts consist of a random mix of self-help / self-improvement / lifehacks and gardening / foraging. No, it’s not a symptom of multiple personality disorder, I promise! (Or is it?)

I am struggling to find (make) time to write. My weekly foraging series (while mostly unread) has created a firm commitment that I will post something, however short, at least once a week. But I have so much more to share.

I keep thinking… just one more technique from one more self-help book, and I will at last discover the ultimate trick to unlock my true gifts and unleash my creativity on the world. I will finally overcome (or embrace) the resistance, and be able to write.

Just as soon as I am done getting things done, papers filed, inbox to zero, boxes checked – then I will finally be have all the time I need to write.

Maybe I can change my life by tidying up, which will help me cultivate an uncluttered mind, and then I will finally be able to write.

You know, I need to manage my budget better, and when I am less concerned about finances, then I will have the spare brain cells to be able to write.

I must exercise, and eat healthy (including cooking meals from scratch), and take all the nutritional supplements because when I am at my peak, physically speaking, my mind will be as well and then I will be able to write.

If I could just lifehack a little more free time into my day, then, well … you know.

If I could only perfect my sleep so I could survive on less thanks to the amazing quality of the sleep I did get, then … sigh.

…are we noticing a theme here?

“Is there any chance that the healing you seek is just another form of resistance?”

–Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

My friend Kristen at The Sojourning Spinner recently suggest that for at least a month I try – get this – rather than spending time on lifehacks to free up time to write, I just (gasp!) write.

It’s a great idea. And I’m going to give it a serious try. But first, I need to find my “Flow Pattern” on the Flow Genome Project so I know I can really maximize those precious few moments to write.

…. oh wait. Oops.

1 Comment

Foraged Forays, Week Ending 07/01/2018

I’ve thought long and hard about how to articulate why I enjoy foraging, and why I think it’s important to share information about foraging with folks who stumble across my blog. I couldn’t think of just one singular reason! For this week’s foraging series post, here are the reasons why I forage. They fall under four main categories: financial, environmental, physical and mental.


  • It’s free. Given the economic instability of our era, knowing where to find and how to use free food is a valuable skill that should be developed before one’s sustenance depends on it.
  • No gardening expenses. Homegrown food can cost as much or more than store bought (although it’s still totally worth it), due to fertilizer, compost, soil amendments, seeds, or starter plants, mulch, pots, wood for raised beds, irrigation hoses, gardening tools, etc, etc. Wild plants don’t need all that extra fuss. (Although they might not mind a nice organic fertilizer occasionally.)
  • No weeding expenses. Instead of paying for costly lawn treatments,
  • Extra income. Some foragers actually earn money selling their finds to local restaurants or at farmers markets – ramps, morels, and stinging nettles come to mind. No, I haven’t reached that stage in my foraging career. Yet!


  • Zero food miles – no fossil fuels burned to ship the food cross country and keep it chilled in the grocery store. (OK, obviously if you drive to where you forage, there are some food miles and fossil fuels consumed, but not on the scale of industrial food production. Read Omnivore’s Dilemma sometime – it is a real eye-opener.)
  • No added chemical fertilizers or pesticides. I say “added” because almost everything is contaminated by industrial agricultural production somehow.
  • Understanding the local ecosystem. Including (and maybe most importantly) where humans fit.
  • Sensitivity to the seasons. This includes spotting clues for garden timing, for example when wild greens, lettuce, and carrots (aka Queen Anne’s lace) have similar growing conditions and timing as their cultivated counterparts.


  • Food gathered at peak of ripeness and nutritional value (and flavor). Grocery store food – even farmer’s market food – has to be picked ahead of time to bring to market. The ripest produce would spoil too quickly. Foraged food can be picked the day you plan to eat it. (Although if you wait even a day too long, it may be gone!)
  • Diversity of plant matter consumed. The majority of Americans today have a staggeringly simplistic diet with a correspondingly narrow range of nutrients.
  • Exercise. Walking and hiking and digging for wild food is excellent free physical activity, and a great way to enjoy a natural setting in lieu of artificial lights, climate control and constantly glowing blue screens.
  • I also believe – though I cannot yet prove – that human nutritional needs are adapted to the cycle of available plant food. Sugars from fruits in the summer; more sugary fruits, fatty nuts and starchy tubers in the fall; more tubers and preserved nuts and fruits through the winter; and nutrient-dense greens in the spring to recover from the sparser diet available during the winter.


  • Humility in the face of nature’s bounty. It blows my mind how much food is all around us, but no one ever taught us to see it. For generations we grew up believing food came from these hyper-air conditioned, fluorescent-lighted caverns with aisles of boxes and cans and bags, with one token section for fresh fruits and vegetables. In recent years, farmers markets and co-ops have improved this situation, but we still largely depend on other people, on “experts” to feed ourselves and our families.
  • Brain calisthenics. I am constantly learning to new identify local species, and learning more about botany as a whole.
  • The thrill of the hunt. Granted, what I discover is almost never what I am looking for, but it’s thrilling none the less.
  • Constantly new experiences. Both in the wild and at the dinner table. Foraging is always an adventure! Especially when, as mentioned above, what I find isn’t what I set out to locate, and suddenly dinner plans radically change.
  • Adaptability. Like when dinner plans radically change.
  • Great conversation topic at cocktail parties & and a surefire way to embarrass my kids. Guaranteed. Especially in public. It’s awesome.