Master Life Faster: Newsletter

How Not Thinking Helps Athletes Win

Posted in Newsletter by Paul Lem, M.D. on November 19, 2009

Volume 2, Issue 11
HEALTHY: What Chinese villagers can teach you about nutrition
HEALTHY: Why Angus beef is bad for your heart
SMART: How not thinking helps athletes win

“Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.

What Chinese Villagers Can Teach You About Nutrition

Eat to LiveJoel Fuhrman is a family doctor in New Jersey who specializes in nutrition. He’s also a former world-class figure skater who placed second in the US National Pairs Championship in 1973. On top of these accomplishments, Fuhrman has written Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss.

China Study
In his book, Fuhrman discusses the findings of the China-Cornell-Oxford Project. Called “the Grand Prix of epidemiology” by the New York Times, the “China Study” compared the diets, lifestyles, and diseases of 65 rural Chinese counties in the 1970s and 1980s. Some of the county-dwellers ate completely plant-based diets, while others ate a significant amount of animal products.

Results showed a strong association between the prevalence of heart disease and cancer, and the proportion of animal products in people’s diets. In other words, people who ate extremely low amounts of animal-based food were virtually free of heart attacks and cancer.

Power Plants
Fuhrman recommends eating according to the “90 percent rule”: 90 percent of your diet should be unrefined plant food. Processed foods and animal foods should be used as condiments, and make up 10 percent or less of your diet. In addition, his “One pound-One pound Rule” advises you to eat at least 1 pound of raw green vegetables a day, and 1 pound of cooked/steamed or frozen green vegetables a day.

The Life Plan Food Pyramid summarizes his recommendations:

Foods How often should you eat it?
Beef, sweets, cheese/milk, processed food, hydrogenated oil Rarely
Poultry, eggs, oils Once weekly or less
Fish, fat-free dairy Twice weekly or less
Whole grains, raw nuts, seeds 5–20% of calories
Fruits 20–50% of calories
Beans/legumes 10–30% of calories
Vegetables (half raw, half cooked) 30–70% of calories

Healthy Weight Loss
VegetablesWhat benefits can you look forward to if you change your diet? First, you’ll lower your risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Second, Fuhrman’s Life Plan will help you become thin and fit. He says, “I have tested my recommendations on more than 2,000 patients. The average patient loses the most weight in the first 4–6 weeks, with the average being about 20 pounds…Those following the program continue to lose about 10 pounds the second month and about a pound and a half per week thereafter. The weight loss continues at this comparatively quick rate until they reach their ideal weight.”

Eat to Live is a compelling book. After reading it, I’ve been eating more vegetables and less animal products such as beef, chicken, and pork. Maybe you should give it a try too.

Campbell TC, Junshi C. (1994). Diet and chronic degenerative diseases: perspectives from China. Am J Clin Nutr. 59(suppl): 1153S–61S. Abstract.

Brody JE. (1990). Huge study of diet indicts fat and meat. New York Times. May 8. Full Article.

Campbell TC, Parpia B, Chen J. (1998). Diet, lifestyle, and the etiology of Coronary Artery Disease: the Cornell China study. Am J Cardiol. 82: 18T–21T. Abstract.

“If we gave up eating beef we would have roughly 20 to 30 times more land for food than we have now.”
-James Lovelock

Why Angus Beef is Bad for Your Heart

CowThe China Study found that villagers who ate animal protein had a higher risk of developing heart disease and cancer. Yet field studies of modern-day hunter gatherers have found that they are generally free of heart disease, even though their diets consist of about 65 percent animal food and 35 percent plant food. Why the contradiction?

Wonderfully Wild
It’s quite simple, actually. Hunter gatherers eat wild animal foods, and wild protein is high in heart-healthy monounsatured and polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. For example, white-tailed deer meat has a polyunsaturated fat content of 16 percent, compared to only 7 percent for grain-fed beef. Similarly, the amount of omega-3 fatty acids is almost twice as high in white-tailed deer meat.

Live Like a Caveman
Not everyone has access to wild meat. Instead, you can choose to eat heart-healthy animal protein such as fish or omega-3 enriched eggs. Another option is getting your protein from plant foods such as tofu, nuts, beans, peas, lentils, and other legumes.

Eat like a caveman, exercise like a caveman, and your body will reward you for years to come.

Cordain L et al. (2002). The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: meat-based, yet non-atherogenic. Eur J Clin Nutr. 56(Suppl 1): S42–S52. Full Article.

Cordain L et al. (2002). Fatty acid analysis of wild ruminant tissues: evolutionary implications for reducing diet-related chronic disease. Eur J Clin Nutr. 56: 181–191. Full Article.

“Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind.”
-Zen proverb

How Not Thinking Helps Athletes Win

SamuraiIn ancient Japan, Musashi Miyamoto and other legendary samurai achieved a state of mind known as mushin no shin, a Zen expression meaning mind of no mind. It refers to an absence of anger, fear, or ego. There is no thinking or judging. The fighter is free to act and react without hesitation.

Acting Without Thinking
Swordsmen trained for years to achieve mushin. They repeated the same movements thousands of times until they could perform them spontaneously without conscious thought. In The Book of Five Rings, Musashi wrote: “With your spirit settled, accumulate practice day by day, and hour by hour. Polish the twofold spirit heart and mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze perception and sight. When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away, there is the true void.”

With his mastery of mushin, Musashi was undefeated in over 60 duels. Why is acting without thinking so powerful?

Brain Delay
In the 1960s, psychologist Arthur Jensen discovered the answer. Jensen found that most people have minimum reaction times of 250 milliseconds. When he asked subjects to deliberately slow down their reaction times by a small amount, he was surprised to find that they could not. Their minimum reaction times jumped from 250 msec to 500–1,000 msec. There was no in-between. In other words, if you consciously perform an action, your minimum reaction time is 250–750 msec slower than if you act without thinking.

A lot can happen in half a second. Consider these examples:

  • A hummingbird flaps its wings 10 times in 100 msec.
  • If the phrase “one Mississippi” represents 1 second, then “one Miss” is about 300 msec.
  • In the 2004 NBA playoffs, Derek Fisher of the LA Lakers caught an inbounds pass and hit a turnaround jump shot at the buzzer to beat the San Antonio Spurs. Total time? 400 msec.

No wonder Musashi was undefeated. In the time it took for his opponents to decide what to do, Musashi had already cut off their heads. Whether you’re a samurai swordsman or a weekend warrior, thinking means failure if reaction time matters.

Libet B. (1981). The experimental evidence for subjective referral of a sensory experience backwards in time: reply to P. S. Churchland. Philosophy of Science. 48(2): 182–197. Abstract.

Eligon J. (2006). Basketball; When a blink of an eye is an eternity. New York Times. December 22. Full Article.

Copyright 2009 by Paul Lem, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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The Secret to Reading Body Language is Not What You Think

Posted in Newsletter by Paul Lem, M.D. on October 12, 2009

Volume 2, Issue 10
SOCIAL: The secret to reading body language is not what you think
WEALTHY: Why you should bet on David and not Goliath
HEALTHY: Why party animals catch more colds

“If you play a tune and a person don’t tap their feet, don’t play the tune.”
-Count Basie

The Secret to Reading Body Language is Not What You Think

SocksJoe Navarro spent 25 years as an FBI agent in the areas of counterintelligence and behavioral assessment. Over his career, he became an expert on nonverbal communication. In his book What Every Body is Saying, Joe reveals the secrets to speed-reading people.

Your Secret Weapon
Why should you care? Researchers estimate that nonverbal behaviors account for 60 percent of all interpersonal communication, and up to 100 percent during lovemaking. Reading body language can give you a big edge in business negotations, understanding your friends and family, and meeting cute guys and girls.

Look Down
According to Joe, the common misconception is that you should focus on a person’s face. The problem is that people train themselves to mask their emotions. For example, it’s not socially acceptable to show disgust when you meet someone you don’t like.

That’s why Joe recommends observing people’s feet to get a truer indicator of how they feel about you. Unlike their faces, most people have not trained their feet to hide their feelings. Also, millions of years of evolution have conditioned our feet to react instantaneously to danger. It’s an instinct that’s hard to fight.

Meet My Feet
Here are Joe’s top tips for reading feet:

  • People are genuinely welcoming you if they move their feet along with their torso to face you. If they just swivel their torso but don’t move their feet, then they’d rather be left alone.
  • When two people talk, their feet normally face each other. If one person turns her feet away or repeatedly moves one foot in an outward direction, you can bet she wants to get away.
  • If you see someone pointing his or her toes upward, it usually means the person is in a good mood or hearing something positive.
  • Crossing your legs is a sign that you feel comfortable and confident. The reason is because it significantly reduces your balance and makes it hard to run away from danger. Your brain only lets you do this if you feel safe and secure.
  • If you don’t like someone or don’t feel close to them, you will immediately move your feet away if they touch you accidentally with their feet. This is one of the early warning signs that a couple is having problems with their relationship.
  • “Happy feet” is when you’re bouncing on the balls of your feet. It’s a strong indication that you’re excited or getting something you want.

The next time you’re at a party, try reading people’s feet and see if it matches what they say to your face.

Navarro J. (2008). What every body is saying: an ex-FBI agent’s guide to speed-reading people. HarperCollins.

“Everybody pulls for David, nobody roots for Goliath.”
-Wilt Chamberlain

Why You Should Bet on David and Not Goliath

CannonIn the Book of Samuel, the Bible describes how the Philistine army had gathered for war against Israel. Goliath, the Philistine champion, was over 9 feet tall. Thick bronze armor covered every inch of his body. Each day for 40 days, Goliath came out and mocked the terrified Israelites. No one was brave enough to fight him.

Little and Lethal
Finally, the Israelites sent out David, a young shepherd boy who was scarcely old enough to shave. David staggered under the weight of his full battle armor. He could barely lift his sword. Facing off against Goliath, David realized he had no chance if he played by Goliath’s rules. So David took off all his armor and dropped his sword. His only weapon was a slingshot and some stones.

Goliath laughed when he saw David approaching. How could a shepherd boy possibly hope to win against him? Of course, we know that David made Goliath pay for his cockiness with a stone between the eyes.

As Wilt Chamberlain said, people love rooting for the underdog. But was David really at a disadvantage?

The Weakness of Strength
The Correlates of War is a data set of 197 wars fought around the world from 1800 to 1998. Out of this total, there were 170 wars where strong actors started off with military advantages of 5:1 or more against weak actors. Despite the overwhelming odds, weak actors were victorious nearly 30 percent of the time. In fact, the trend is that weak actors are becoming more successful over time. From 1800–1849, weak actors won only 12 percent of these asymmetric conflicts, but this increased to 55 percent from 1950–1998.

Crazy Like a Fox
How is this possible? When a weak actor is attacked by a strong actor, there are two main options: (1) direct defense, such as meeting the enemy head-on, or (2) indirect defense, such as guerilla warfare. The goal of direct defense is to stop the enemy’s attack quickly, whereas the goal of guerilla warfare is to destroy the opponent’s will over time.

Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung explained it this way: “In guerrilla warfare, select the tactic of seeming to come from the east and attacking from the west; avoid the solid, attack the hollow; attack; withdraw; deliver a lightning blow, seek a lightning decision. When guerrillas engage a stronger enemy, they withdraw when he advances; harass him when he stops; strike him when he is weary; pursue him when he withdraws. In guerrilla strategy, the enemy’s rear, flanks, and other vulnerable spots are his vital points, and there he must be harassed, attacked, dispersed, exhausted, and annihilated.”

Successful Strategies
Political scientist Ivan Arreguin-Toft summarizes how to be successful: “Strong actors are more likely to win same-approach interactions and lose opposite-approach interactions.”

Out of the 170 asymmetric wars fought from 1800 to 1998, strong actors won 76 percent of all same-approach interactions, and weak actors won 63 percent of all opposite-approach interactions. Same-approach interactions lasted an average of 2.7 years, whereas opposite-approach interactions lasted an average of 4.9 years.

So if a strong actor directly attacks a weak actor, and the weak actor responds with guerilla warfare, how should the strong actor respond? The answer is that indirect defense should be countered with indirect attack. There are two parts to an indirect attack: (1) Prepare expectations for a long drawn-out war, and (2) Send in special forces trained for counterinsurgency operations.

War and Business
These findings have applications outside of military strategy. For example, Clayton Christensen’s “Theory of Disruptive Innovation” recommends that companies not compete directly against incumbents. Instead, companies should either:

  1. Target the low-end of the market with “good enough” products and services. Incumbents don’t usually care if they lose these budget-minded customers.
  2. Target new customers in new markets. These new markets are typically too small to be of interest to incumbents, at least at first.

By not going head-to-head against an entrenched competitor, Christensen showed that the odds of success increased from 6 percent to 37 percent.

In a similar way, martial arts such as judo and kung fu teach you to turn your opponent’s force to your advantage rather than to oppose it directly.

Victory is a matter of choosing the right strategy based on your circumstances. Chinese general Sun Tzu was one of the greatest military strategists of all time. He said: “It is the rule in war, if ten times the enemy’s strength, surround them; if five times, attack them; if double, engage them; if equal, be able to divide them; if fewer, be able to evade them; if weaker, be able to avoid them.”

Arreguin-Toft I. (2001). How the weak win wars: a theory of asymmetric conflict. International Security. 26(1): 93–128. Full Article.

Christensen CM. (1997). The innovator’s dilemma. Harvard Business School Press.

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”
-Irish proverb

Why Party Animals Catch More Colds

Sleeping catHave you ever noticed that you’re more likely to get sick after a weekend of drinking and dancing? You’re not imagining things. It’s true.

The first reason is because there’s usually at least one or two sick people at any party. When they cough or blow their nose, their germs become airborne for you to inhale. When they touch a door handle or washroom faucet, their germs can get onto your hands without you knowing it. If you then touch your eyes or nose, the germs get transferred from your hands and into your body.

The second reason is because staying out late means getting less sleep. And not enough sleep means you don’t fight off colds as well.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University proved this by conducting a study with 153 healthy men and women. For 14 consecutive days, the volunteers kept notes on 3 things:

  • How long they slept.
  • The percentage of time they actually spent sleeping while lying in bed (sleep efficiency).
  • Whether they felt rested after sleeping.

Next, the volunteers were quarantined and given nose drops containing a virus for the common cold.  For 5 days after exposure, the volunteers were monitored for cold symptoms and administered lab tests to see if they were infected by the virus.

Less Party, More Pillow
The results? Eighty-eight percent of the volunteers were infected by the virus, but only 35 percent developed cold symptoms after being infected. Sleep losses of 2-8 percent (e.g., 10–38 minutes for an 8-hour sleeper) were associated with 4 times the risk of developing a cold.  About 9 percent of the volunteers had sleep efficiencies less than 85 percent (e.g., lying in bed for 8 hours but sleeping for less than 7 hours). These people had 5 times the risk of developing a cold. In contrast, feeling rested was not a significant predictor of preventing a cold.

The bottom line is that you’re more likely to catch a cold if you’re not getting enough sleep. And even a small amount of missed sleep means you’re much more likely to catch a cold.

redOrbit. (2008). Cold germs lurk for days. October 29. Full Article.

Cohen S et al. (2009). Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Arch Intern Med. 169(1): 62–67. Abstract.

Copyright 2009 by Paul Lem, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it

How to Give a Great Presentation

Posted in Newsletter by Paul Lem, M.D. on September 11, 2009

Volume 2, Issue 9
HEALTHY: Why eating eggs helps you lose weight
SOCIAL: How to give a great presentation
SMART: Insights from Singularity University – Part 2

“I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.”
-Dr. Seuss

Why Eating Eggs Helps You Lose Weight

EggsKathryn Myronuk describes herself as a “knowledge sommelier.” For Ray Kurzweil’s book “The Singularity is Near,” she was the perfectionist who collected and compiled most of the data and references.  At Singularity University, Kathryn is in charge of Library and Knowledge Resources, which is a fancy way of saying we go to her when we have unanswered questions.

Breakfast of Champions
In the NASA cafeteria, I sat down beside Kathryn and noticed we were eating the same breakfast: soya milk, cream of wheat, fresh fruit, and scrambled eggs. As we ate our eggs together, I remembered a study in the International Journal of Obesity recommending 2 eggs rather than a bagel breakfast of equal calories.

Compared to the bagel eaters, people who ate eggs as part of a calorie-reduced diet:

  • Lost 65 percent more weight in 8 weeks (2.6 kg versus 1.6 kg)
  • Reported higher energy levels
  • Saw no increase in their total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, or triglyercide levels

Nikhil Dhurandhar was the lead researcher on the study. He concluded, “People have a hard time adhering to diets and our research shows that choosing eggs for breakfast can dramatically improve the success of a weight loss plan.”

Tastes Great, More Filling
Why do eggs work? The reason is because eggs have a satiety index that is 50 percent higher than white bread or ready-to-eat breakfast cereal. Satiety is a measure of how filling a food is. Eggs are mostly protein, and protein takes longer to break down in your gut than simple carbohydrates such as bagels. This makes eggs more filling than bagels.

And when you feel full, you’re less likely to overeat or sneak a bad snack.

Vander Wal JS et al. (2008). Egg breakfast enhances weight loss. Int J Obesity. 32: 1545–1551. Abstract.

“Power corrupts and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.”
-Vint Cerf

How to Give a Great Presentation

David S. RoseAt Singularity University, we’ve had some incredible lectures—from Dan Barry’s talk on “Failure is an Option” to Andrew Hessel’s glimpses into the future of Synthetic Biology. David S. Rose is New York City’s “Pitch Coach.” Thanks to his 3-hour workshop on the anatomy of presentations, I now know why some presentations are so much better than others.

Here are 5 keys to success:

(1) Great presentations answer 3 questions well:

  • What is your main point?
  • Why does it matter?
  • If the audience remembers only one thing, what do you want it to be?

(2) The audience is there to see you.

If they simply wanted to read your handout, they would have stayed at home. Therefore, you are the center of attention. And to hold the audience’s attention, you must be passionate and genuine. If you’re not excited about your topic, then you shouldn’t give the presentation.

To be genuine, imagine you’re sitting around a fire and telling stories with your friends. For example, watch how South Bronx activist Majora Carter talks about urban renewal.

(3) Slides should be visual and emotional.
The best slides have few or no words. Just one evocative image that adds an emotional punch to what you’re saying. For example, check out these slides from Chris Landry of the Sustainable Food Lab.

To get images for your presentations, go to iStockPhoto, or check out MorgueFile and Google Image Search for royalty-free pictures.

(4) People have short attention spans.
Scientists have found that students recall the most information from the first 5 minutes of a lecture. Attention drops around the 6-minute mark and stays relatively constant until 15 minutes. Past 15 minutes, many students have a hard time staying alert.

This is why your presentations should be less than 20 minutes. If you must talk longer, then intersperse your 20-minute mini lectures with 2–5 minutes of active engagement. For example, ask students to stand up and share opinions with their neighbors.

(5) Practice makes perfect.
To become a great speaker, you must practice constantly. Violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz once said, “If I don’t practice one day, I know it. If I don’t practice two days, my critics know it. If I don’t practice three days, everyone knows it.” To get more practice, join your local chapter of ToastMasters International. In parallel, watch TED talks for role models and examples.

Knock Their Socks Off
We’ve all sat through countless hours of “death by PowerPoint.” The bar is so low that you’ll distinguish yourself the first time you apply these 5 tips. Then with a bit of practice, watch out as your calendar fills up with speaking requests.

P.S. for the definitive guide to giving great presentations, get a copy of Garr Reynolds’ book “Presentation Zen: Simple ideas on presentation design and delivery.”

Burns RA. (1985). Information impact and factors affecting recall. Paper presented at Annual National Conference on Teaching Excellence and Conference of Administrators, Austin TX. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 258 639). Abstract.

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.
-Winston Churchill

Insights from Singularity University – Part 2

Dan BarryI’m back in Canada from Singularity University, and I’ve had a few weeks to reflect on the mind-blowing experience I had this summer. Yes, it was super cool to learn about bleeding-edge technologies in fields such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics, and artificial intelligence. But technology is changing so fast that many things I learned this summer will be obsolete by next summer.

Stories of Success
As I discussed in last month’s newsletter, the most valuable lessons were insights into human nature and psychology. Specifically, what do successful people do to become successful?

Here are some thoughts:

  • Dan Barry is a famous retired astronaut. He told me that some of his astronaut friends have their schedules booked up a few years in advance. But Dan does the opposite. He keeps his schedule free by turning down most invitations. This means he’s available when a truly great opportunity comes along, such as the opportunity to teach at Singularity University for 9 weeks.
  • Barney Pell is the founder of Powerset, the natural language search engine that was acquired by Microsoft for about $100 million in 2008. For 15 years, Barney knew that natural language search would eventually find its way into the mainstream. In 2006, he judged that the timing was right. He assembled a team of people and technology that he had cultivated patiently for years. It’s a strategy he’s looking to repeat: (1) identify powerful trends, (2) wait patiently for the right time, and (3) assemble the right team.
  • Yonatan AdiriThere were 40 students in the inaugural class of Singularity University. There were doctors, scientists, bankers, entrepreneurs, engineers and artists from around the world. From these outstanding young leaders, we voted Yonatan Adiri as our Class President, and Vijai Anma as most inspiring student. What made these guys stand out from everyone else?
  1. It felt good to be around them. They had positive energy.
  2. When they said they would do something, they always did it.
  3. They were confident and humble.
  4. They were secure in the five Master Life Faster areas: Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, Smart, and Social.

Singularity University was a life-changing experience for me. Maybe you should apply for next year’s class?

Copyright 2009 by Paul Lem, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it