Archive for March, 2015

Drama, Distraction, Work

A few days ago a friend posted something about having gotten back to work after all the drama, disease, destruction, and distraction. He was happy to have found his footing again by getting his head back into his work. We’re all a little better off for this because he does good work and has an important perspective about things that needs to get out.

But there was something about reading his post that made me wonder, why does there need to be drama —> disease —> destruction? What if they were just sources of distraction? What if they were sources of pain from which work serves as a distraction?

I wonder this because what he said I have heard before, worded differently, or noticed before, in terms of peoples actions. So many tend to become fixated in the feelings of being wronged, held down, persecuted, whatever as opposed to seeing the actions of others as simply self serving without thought or concern towards us. And this is what motivates most people, their own interests. WE play no role in their decisions. They are mostly oblivious to us, our hopes, dreams, wishes and needs.

Maybe the drama, disease, destruction trifecta serve to show us that work isn’t as bad as we thought it would be. This is usually the case after a particularly brutal session of self-destruction and self-deprecation. Work becomes the distraction for those things and compared to them, work is fine. It’s work, but it’s just effort and more or less painless, especially when compared to the self created suffering of drama, disease and destruction.

Why And What You Read Might Be Dangerous

I love to read and to learn. Both are critical to the growth and development of ones intellect. Both are extremely important and go hand in hand as a big way to make life better. I am not suggesting that you stop reading completely. What I am suggesting is that you, from time to time, alter your intention when you read.

‎The post why your life is fine, I talked a little about the 3 ways we approach or respond when we are listening to someone. The first is with agreement - their information or story confirms to what we know to be true. The second is with disagreement - what they are saying doesn’t match what we know to be true. The third way is with authentic curiosity as to how and why what they are saying is right, if we disagree or wrong if we agree. From this dialectic approach we’d ask the question what would need to be real for that state that to be true.

Doing this isn’t easy and it requires a willingness to say I don’t know, which is risky and uncommon for us. While it is well worth doing, it is mentally draining and something humans are innately disinclined to do.

But moving forward by not doing it isn’t moving forward at all, and this why I make the statement that why and what you read might be dangerous. If you read with the intention of acquiring knowledge that confirms a belief, you aren’t really learning anything valuable; at least from my point of view, you are not generating anything new. The best parts of your brain are not being activated and your essential contribution to the world are not being actualized.

For example, I get a lot of emails about services and systems that pertain to the fitness field. 90 percent of them at least are about generating more revenue and becoming an effective seller. All of them use the same model, which is based on solid scientific research about gaining compliance. All use emotional selling methods with the goal of uncovering an emotional “why”. They all say the same catch phrases like “people won’t care until they know how much you care” ‎or “we have a proven system that has been used successfully by this many thousands of people”. It all sounds truthy, feels like it is correct and lands like it is genuinely helpful.

These sales systems are effective at getting people to sign up for large packages, commit on the spot to many months of training, and in creating a feeling of hope that is then leveraged to create revenue and massive profits for the seller. But it is total crap in terms of actually helping people improve their fitness. The questions they encourage the reader to ask exist to generate the information needed to back a person into a corner and then overcome any objections.

The success rate for people who work with trainers is powerfully low. 80 percent of people get very little change ever and less than 10 percent ‎maintain their results over a three year period. With success numbers like these there is something unworkable about emotional selling; it helps close the deal but it doesn’t help most of the people it is used on. Anyone who is reading these books / systems is doing so because they are looking for a panacea to help close a sale. This is dangerous to the trainer / coach because it ruins their brand, destroys their reputation and alienates their staff and team members.

So what exactly am I saying here? Very simply, if you are reading books about how to become the perfect trainer, coach, lover, pick-up artist, consultant, sales person, etc…., rethink the question you are trying to get the answer to. For example, if you are seeking a system to help improve your sales, consider asking the question “why are my sales not at a level I like?” or “am I actually helping clients with the service I am providing?” or “is my service or product effective at doing what it is supposed to do” or “are the results and experiences of my clients / customers good enough to enroll other people into my service” or “what is the unique thing that I bring forward in this area?” Compare these questions to “how do I improve my sales?” You’ll get very different answers which will shine a light on the things that actually need to be improved, changed or highlighted.

The best people in any industry are the best because they are the best, not because they read a book or implemented a system. They cultivated their wisdom through education, practice, trial and error and uncovering the X factor that they bring to the table. They understand individuality and tailor their advice to match the individual. They sell what people need and want and they do so without using emotionally manipulative techniques. They don’t enter into conversations with the belief that everyone should buy their product or service. They know who will benefit from buying and they know that that isn’t everyone.

As you move forward, I invite you to be more curious and mindful about your intentions when you read. What is the outcome you are seeking and what is your motivation? Once you are clear on these things you’ll have a better idea of what exactly you should be doing. And adjust your course when these things don’t line-up.

An Example Of A Supplement That Takes Advantage Of The Regression To The Mean

The following is a summary of the directions from an immune boosting supplement:

Take two tablets every two hours for 12 hours, then take one tablet three times daily between meals for five days.

From the best I can tell, you start taking it once you feel a cold coming on or you believe that you are getting sick. This is probably going to be late on day one or on day two.

Let’s do the math:

There are 30 tablets in the bottle. One the first day you begin taking that tablets, you consume 12 to 14 tables depending upon how you interpret the directions. Every day there after, you consume 3 tablets per day for 5 days, that is 15 tables. You’ll have 1-3 remaining and will consume tablets for 6 days.

There is a big range in the length of time a cold will last - some as short as 3 days, others as long as three weeks. There is a reported average of 7 days.

What does this mean? Well, I don’t know. If two people get a cold on the same day, the one who takes the tablets will take the last tablet on the same day as the last day of the other persons cold.

It is entirely possible that the person who takes the supplement would have recovered by day 7 anyway; assuming that they are an average person, given that the regression to the mean.

If only there was a way to test the effectiveness of the supplement…. oh, wait, there is. In fact, it would be fairly easy to create an experiment to test the effect of the supplement vs. a placebo and, given the proprietary nature of the supplement, it would serve the company well to perform a high quality study. If they submitted it to a peer reviewed journal and the study was published, the results would provide evidence that their product worked. After that there would be more test and if the findings were repeated, we would have a real treatment for the cold.

To the best of my knowledge, that study has not been performed, or if it has, it hasn’t been published. Either way, that is revealing because colds cost billions of dollars a year and while not worlds biggest health problem, they do impact a lot of people in the western world where most of the wealth is. There is a lot of money to be made from creating something that actually works.

And sadly, there’s a lot of money being made through selling things that claim to work yet do absolutely nothing.

Creativity vs. Obedience / Conformity

I’m not sure if creativity and obedience / conformity are mutually exclusive but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they are. I know that creativity is a natural thing for human beings. Anyone who has children or watched the ways they go about getting what they want KNOWS that they’ll pull out all the stops and come-up with new moves over and over again until they get what they want. Over time they’ll develop a strategy based on what worked before and they’ll adjust it when new behaviors prove fruitful.

It is amazing to witness because there is something special about seeing brand new actions being created out of a basic human want or need and the ability to produce novel behavior.

Much less amazing is being witness to the cultivation of obedience / conformity. It’s life draining and it stifles the progress of young people towards self determination and self expression. I can understand that there is a time and place for these things, but that time isn’t always and the place isn’t everywhere. Certain behaviors are needed for people to coexist and to work together productively and in harmony. Interrupting other peoples conversations for non emergency things isn’t helpful, ignoring well established social conventions that make possible individual liberty should be stopped quickly and doing dangerous or harmful things cannot be allowed to continue. But there is very little else that falls into the MUST BE ELIMINATED category.

Sure, it’s a lot easier for me, not having children, to righteously say that anything that culls the creativity of a human being is bad but that doesn’t make the statement any less true. If you are a parent, try saying each of these two sentences out loud to see which one feels better or is true.

“I want my child to be self expressed, to uncover and maximize their talents and become whatever they want to be.”

“I want my child to be the best cog in the machine that they can be.”

This is not a scientific test, it’s emotionally manipulating because it leads you to say the answer I want you to say. But there is a very good chance that, as a parent, you’d want your child or children to have the almost complete freedom to choose the life they want.

So right now consider the possibility that creativity and obedience / conformity cannot exist together. Imagine what happens when a child’s spontaneous behavior is unnecessary chastised and ridiculed in an attempt to stop, change or completely eliminate it. Now consider that most spontaneous behavior of children is their form of play and completely harmless. Most of it will burn itself out after a short period of time anyway so they don’t need to conform to any notion other people have for them. What difference does it make if a child is singing or humming quietly at the dinner table? What harm is there in repeating everything you say? It can be annoying as hell but that is it; if you make a game out of it, it can be a very effective teaching tool and very funny when they repeat preciously scientific things.

In the coaching, personal development and self-help fields there is an idea that coaches and mentors offer people increased choices, information about the outcomes of behaviors and rewards for good behaviors of the people they work with. Bad behaviors are not punished and very little attention is paid to them. The reason we approach people like this is because punishing behaviors decreases choices and tends to make people defensive; defensive people tend to close off and this hinders progress as it eliminates creativity and produces fight, flee, or freeze responses.

It’s also worth mentioning that if pain is used or a lack of fairness is perceived, these are the only thing that the subject is going to process. This is why beating a child may stop them from doing something, but it is going to create long term damage that will get in the way at some point in the future. Violence is inhibiting and while it may create obedience / conformity, it suppresses everything that lead up to the event. The lessons the child learns are that spontaneous behaviors need to be avoided and the perpetrator of the violence or unfair act cannot be trusted.

If you want to help someone foster their creative skills and possibly solve some of the worlds problems leave them alone when they are doing things that annoy you, encourage them when they come-up with novel or new solutions and reward them when they transport a skill from one area into another area. Give them the freedom to understand or figure out their own world and if they seem to be spending a lot of time in their head get them to talk about what they are experiencing. Even if they don’t know how to express it, give them the liberty to use their brain any way they want.

Let’s be fair, so much of what we do is only the result of us living in a developed society. There’s nothing natural about it and over time children will figure out how they need to exist within the world. Allow them to cultivate their creative instincts and enjoy the amazing things the human brain is capable of.

Regression To The Mean - How to Sell BullShit

A few years ago I was getting a cold, or at least I had some of the symptoms that I thought were indicative of getting a cold. And it was a reasonable conclusion because I hadn’t been sleeping very well and was working a lot. I mentioned that I though I was getting sick to a peer and he asked “do you have a cold now or do you think you might be getting one?”

I replied with “I think I might be getting one.”

“Okay, take this” and he handed me a small bottle of pills, 15 of them with the instructions take 2 now and 2 every 2 hours until they are gone. I wondered why there was an odd number of pills but did as he instructed. And they worked. I never got a cold. This was amazing, I didn’t get sick and it only cost me $16 - I got the friend price, other people were buying the cold prevent for $26.

The next day I asked him what he would have recommended had a cold already taken hold and he showed me a different pill bottle. It was the same size and had the same instructions but a different name. This was a cold cure.

You can imagine just how grateful I was, a month later, when I started to feel sick again, that he was willing to sell me more. This time the cold took hold in-spite of me consuming another bottle of the cold prevent. So I bought a bottle of the cold cure, it was more expensive but I got the friend price. I remained sick. The $16 prevent and the $20 cure didn’t do anything.

So what had happened, why did it work the first time and nothing worked the second time?

The explanation is very interesting and it reveals as much about human psychology and as it does about the tricks charlatans use to take your money.

Three things were at play. First off, I trusted my friend. We had been friends for more than 10 years and I believed that he knew things. Even though I know better, I valued his opinion and believed that he wouldn’t take advantage of our friendship to help sell supplements. Next, I saw a pattern between taking the cold prevent pills and getting better. Human beings evolved to notice patterns and well find them even when they do not exist. Considering that I did other things on the same day that I took the first bottle of cold prevent pills that may have impacted my internal environment - ate more vegetables, ate more fruit, went to bed earlier, watched some funny cat videos on youtube, etc…. - I made a conscious decision to link the pills with the outcome. Finally, maybe I wasn’t getting a cold in the first place. Maybe I was having an allergic reaction to something in the air, maybe I ate some food that caused cold like symptoms. Or maybe my body was able to fight off the cold on its own and I wasn’t ever going to get sick.

It’s the final thing that is most important here. The human body is an amazing thing and it is fantastic at fighting off infections, illness and the things that cause disease. We’ve evolved to be self healers and our immune system just does its job, without us asking it to do so and without much outside influence. In most cases and with most people, the body fights off illness / sickness and disease and returns to normal. The further away your state happens to be from your normal state, the more likely it is to return to its normal state in the near and immediate future.

This tendency for things to return to normal is called regression to the mean, when paired with our tendency to see patterns that don’t exist, contributes to the formation of erroneous connection between two unrelated things. The cure my friend sold me was worthless. I was going to feel better the following day anyway. I could have taken sugar pills or nothing at all and the impact would have been the same. I know this because the cure didn’t work the second time and in the months that followed, many of the other people who were sold the cold prevent got sick.

Just because two things happen around the same time does not mean that they are connected in any way whatsoever. The people were going to get better anyway, that is the nature of a regression towards the mean. And it is why anecdotal reports are not considered evidence.

Fixing The Symptom, As If It Will Help

Someone asked me why I tend not to gain body fat, even when I eat way too much food and take time off from working out. I don’t know why, it’s a complicated question. I have a fast metabolic rate, my body temperature tends to stay stable although I get colder in the winter than many of my peers and my blood levels tend to be in the nominal range. These are observations, not reasons. They are symptoms of something that may be the reason why, but they are NOT the reason why.

This is a silly example of a major challenge in health, wellness, medicine, any field that relies of research to prove that things work or don’t.

Let’s unpack some more. IF someone was to look at my blood levels and make the assumption that all people who have levels similar to mine will get the same results I get, they may progress this line of thinking and make the call that lowering LDL and raising HDH cholesterol will create an internal environment that makes one resistant to fat gain. It’s an easy leap to make because human beings have evolved to see patterns even when a pattern doesn’t exist. It also feels like it could correct and when we look at the cholesterol levels of lean or skinny people, and obese people, there is a trend for the levels to fall within a range for the lean / skinny people and outside of that range for obese people. And the obesity problem has been solved! If we’re able to get an obese persons cholesterol levels into the nominal range they will become lean / skinny.

Except it is bullsh!t. Changing ones cholesterol levels through medication does nothing to their level of body fat and it may not do much of anything other than lower their cholesterol level. This example is simply used as an illustration and I am not implying that taking medication to lower cholesterol will directly impact body fat levels.

The problem with using a change in a biological marker as an indication that something will have a real world outcome (other than just a change in the biological marker) is that is relies on correlation vs. causation. There are 1000’s of things that cause changes in biological markers but have no impact on the thing they are trying to impact. Imagine, for example, the notion that insulin sensitivity is inversely correlated to increases in fat storage. While it may be true that some people who are obese have lower insulin sensitivity than people who are not obese, any intervention that improves insulin sensitivity will not necessarily lower ones body fat level. Adding body fat and losing body fat are a lot more complicated than just altering insulin sensitivity and altering levels of body fat is, for most people, very challenging in one direction or the other.

I have a tough time gaining body fat and little difficulty dropping it. But I also don’t really enjoy eating a lot of the things that help people gain fat. I don’t feel very good when I eat a lot of sugar and I am prone to chest pains when I overeat in general. All you can eat restaurants are no longer the source of gluttonous joy that they were when I was younger.

The opposite is true as well. I have worked with many people who have no difficulty gaining body fat because they have no trouble eating large amounts of the foods that promote fat storage. They don’t experience the negative side effects of eating too much of these foods that I do.

I have little doubt however that if I was to spend a year not moving much while force feeding myself, or they were to spend a year eating and doing the things that have been shown to burn off extra body fat, we would switch places.

So what am I getting at and what should you take our of this post?

Biological markers or surrogate endpoints are useful in researching things that you cannot ethically control for. It would be unethical and immoral to perform a study that used death as the measure of the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of an intervention. In these cases, biological markers / surrogate endpoints are used when strong correlations have been demonstrated between the marker and the real world outcome that is being investigated. Imagine creating a double blind randomized placebo control group designed study to measure the effects of alcohol and driving deaths. While the study would be very simple to design and could yield high quality data, it wouldn’t be ethical, moral or legal to get people drunk and let them drive their cars around. In this case, the surrogate endpoint that is used is reaction time in a task that is performed while sitting down given the correlation between slowed reaction time and car accidents. This way no one is put at unnecessary or unreasonable risk.

Biological markers have a place in research and are not necessarily bad or indicative of a poorly designed or performed study. BUT if they are unnecessary, if the real life outcome can be measured without undo harm and a surrogate endpoint was used, be weary of the conclusions that are drawn. More importantly, be cautions of how these studies are used as evidence that product / compound / molecule X is effective at causing an impact on something. A good example is antioxidant supplementation as a way reduce cancer risk. It is true that people who have a diet that is high in vegetables tend to have lower incidents of cancer and that vegetables are high in antioxidants. But the studies testing the effectiveness of antioxidant pills indicate that they are not helpful and in some instances increase the incidences of cancer.

By treating the symptom, low levels of antioxidant consumption, you achieve nothing. It may be the whole food that is helpful, it could be another lifestyle factor entirely, but most likely it is a complex combination of things that make the difference. Consume the science directly or with a more critical mind, and do not accept someone elses interpretation of the conclusions, particularly if they sell the solution.

Effective Progressives Are Not Iconoclasts

Not all progressives are iconoclasts, and maybe that’s why they are so effective at causing change.

I have two mentors who hold progressive views about the fitness industry, neither is an iconoclast. One owns a gym and works hard with his business partner to create the best gym around. The other doesn’t have anything to do with the fitness industry other than talk to me about what is going on, in an effort to help me unpack why working within the industry makes me feel so off course‎.

What is fantastic about both of them is their ability to see what is occurring without setting about fixing it. The gym owner works to make his piece how they know it should be. The other guy just states his observations and how these occurrences may be impacting me. The beauty about their approaches is that they come at the topic from a place that nothing is wrong, and this keeps free any resources that would have been directed toward ‎fixing that which is viewed as broken or wrong.

Complaining about something is an action that will keep you locked in the past, and it is very easy to point out all the things that are wrong with something; the human brain is amazing at finding information that confirms a point of view and it does this automatically, without effort or energy. Unfortunately, problem solving is NOT the opposite of problem finding. It requires creativity, analysis and thinking all of which require effort and tend not to be rewarding along the way, only at the end when the problem is solved. Given this fact, complaining is what comes naturally, doing something about it isn’t.

So give the following a try when you start to notice just how crappy something is:

  • Remove your judgment. Very little is right or wrong, so just assume that everything is as it should be.
  • Become curious as to why it is the way it is. This will open you up and after a few minutes you’ll begin to uncover a growing list of reasons why it could be as it is. Keep this list grow for as long as you can or as long as seems necessary. Doing this is a skill and it may be completely new to you. Too often we “know” why things are the way they are and this knowing keeps us from unpacking the truth.
  • Figure out how you want it to be. This, again, is a skill, one that we may have had taught out of us. Obedience and compliance have historically been more important for society than change and there is a good reason why those who are in positions of influence or power want things to remain as they are. But the skill to identify how things can be better is innate in most of us so put some effort towards reigniting it and once it is fired up, determine how you want things to be.
  • Share your idea with peers, friends, coworkers, whoever. Communicating with others about how things can improve if they are changed is the only way your are going to generate the collaboration needed to progress something into a new realm. It’s also the best way to get feedback and to get new perspectives. This synergistic interaction can add power and wisdom to an idea.
  • Never think that your ways is the best way or the only way. It’s great and necessary to believe in your ideas for progress, but you will continue to refine and grow them only if you remain open to the possibility that they can be refined or grown.
  • Accept and be grateful that you are able to play a small role in the collective wisdom that is human knowledge. You may not answer any of the big problems but your contribution to progress will help someone, and that is a worthwhile endeavor.

Why Your Life Is Fine

In my post about the Dunning–Kruger effect I spoke about the inverted bell curve shape between the amount of knowledge someone has about a subject and their level of confidence in the subject - those who are experts and those who know very little about a subject will display the same level of confidence about the subject while those in the middle will show low levels of confidence in the subject matter.

Your life is fine because you rely on shortcuts to make a call as to who to listen to. One of these short cuts is the level of confidence a person displays. ‎As a consequence you’ll trust an amateur as much as an expert. Welcome to you fine life.

Dunning Krueger applies equally to yourself though. Often times you’ll believe you know an enormous amount about a subject when you know practically nothing. The end result is that you feel confident cherry picking information that confirms your point of view while you close off to anything that doesn’t match your world view. This tendency is called a confirmation bias and given that wealth of information that is easily available on-line, it is hard not to find opinions, studies and data that support any point of view.

Think about it this way:

When you listen to someone talk about a subject, you’ll approach it from one of three places. The first is that the person is correct ‎because what they are saying matches what you know / believe to be true. The second is that they are wrong because what they are saying doesn’t match what you know. The final way is from a place of curiosity about what they are saying, why they are saying it and how did they end up believing it. They aren’t wrong, they are correct in what they are saying not because they agree with you but because human beings are completely logical even if one of their assumptions is inaccurate.

Few people spontaneously approach things from a place of genuine curiosity; they either nod and think “yeah, thats how it is” or shake their head and say “what a load of nonsense.” Both approaches are a flawed, dangerous, and hurting the quality of your life.

Consider what would happen if you were to, as soon as you hear something and feel agreement or disagreement, immediately go to the other side and come-up with reasons as to why you disagree or agree. It’ll force you to think about things in a very different way, to try on some unusual thoughts and feelings and help you find out ways to be right about something that is wrong. After you come-up with 3 or 4 possible reasons, allow your mind to return to its initial state and then move forward as you deem appropriate. The goal is not necessarily to change your point of view, it is to take a moment to get away from knowing and open-up to other possibilities.

When you do this, you’ll find yourself becoming more curious about what is actually going on and very soon realize that you’ve started to learn more about something you thought you knew a lot about. This is going to take your fine life and make it so much better!