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The Blog Startup: Notes

Meera Kothand
Meera Kothand

Meera is an email marketing strategist and 3X Amazon best-selling author.

TLDR: Main takeaways

  • To make money from your blog, you need to sell products or services. Ads is not enough
  • Build your email list
  • Define your niche/theme
  • Define your ideal reader
  • Mine forums, Facebook Groups, Amazon etc for content ideas
  • Map out your readers journey
  • Give every post an objective and map it to the readers journey
  • Be creative with opt-in incentives

Notes on The Blog Startup

In march 2019, over 4.4 million blog posts were published every day. Each minute, 380 websites are created. Why would someone read your blog when there are millions out there? Why should they buy from you instead of someone else?

Blogs don’t make money

Many of us want to get started with internet marketing because we’re fascinated with all the golden promises we’ve heard, intrigued by those income reports we’ve read, and want to scratch that itch of “Can I really make money online?”

But unless you use ads as a monetization strategy, blogs don’t make money. Businesses do. Your blog is not a business. It would be really difficult and you would need a huge amount of traffic to be able to make money from the ads alone on your blog. So when people say, “My blog makes 10k a month,” they have a solid business in the background working for them. They have a business model. They have their core or brand that is responsible for attracting people to them.

There are two ways to approach blogging when you’re starting out.
In method 1, you start with no product or service and create content to attract, grow, and nurture your audience. Your blog serves as a content hub to get people in the door.
In method 2, you have existing products and services and your blog serve to support your business.

Nail your lucrative niche

Niche is probably the most loathed word in your vocabulary right now. You’ve probably seen interconnected circles, taken quastionnaires about your passion and interests, and still circled back to where you started – with nothing to show for it.

The real reason you’re not able to pick a niche is that you’re afraid to commit. You’re afraid that you’ll go down the wrong path and waste all this time (and maybe even money) starting something that you realize later is not working. Nailing down your niche can seem like this immensely critical decision that can make or brake your site.

Here are some myths you may have heard about niches:

  • If there are big, established blogs in a niche, stay away from it
  • If you don’t have enough experience and knowledge in the niche, don’t even attempt it
  • Your niche has to be original

If there are several blogs in a niche, that niche is crowded. But it also means that there is validation of an existing audience out there for your blog.

Those big blogs may take a chunk of your audience, but not everyone will resonate with the voice and style of the big blogs. That’s the reason several blogs are able to thrive alongside each other. Remember that people are more likely to be influenced by someone they like and can relate to – someone who’s at a level that seems attainable. The pie is big enough for all of us.

Think of your blog in terms of the problem it solves. In its essence, a niche is a solution to a problem. People want to be better versions of themselves.

The missing puzzle pieces that people don’t consider before they pick a niche are:

  • Are there others in this niche who are serving a similar audience (big or small) who have the same problem or pain points that you want to help sove
  • Effectively monetizing their sites

Who is participating in the conversation in this niche? Make a list of these people. Take note of their biz models: How are they monetizing their blogs? If you see that people are paying to get rid of pain or to gain something, then there’s certainly potential in that niche. You’re looking for signs of money flows in the niche. This could be via digital products, coaching, services, events, or even physical products.

Your niche needs to have recurring income potential. You don’t want to solve a problem that people only seek help for once. You want a niche where people have the opportunity to advance and fulfill their potential at various stages. How can they solve pain points of various intensities as they progress?

What if I can’t see myself talking about a single topic?
There are lots of lifestyle blogs that make good money. But you do need to bring your topics under one overarching theme or topic. What is your main message to your audience? What is the one thing you want them to take away? What message combines your different topics?

Pick a message, keep it at the center, and then work out your value proposition. Keep drilling that in and your audience will understand what you have on offer compared to when you try to explain five other things at the same time.

Your one reader

By defining who exactly your ideal reader is, you’ll be able to:

  • Talk to your audience at the right level
  • Not waste your effort writing for people who will never enjoy or gel with your content
  • Not scratch your head thinking about what content to create because you know exactly what your audience needs

Pshychographics:

  • What frustrates them?
  • What worries do they have?
  • What websites do they visit?
  • What blogs do they read?
  • What other hobbies or interests do they have?
  • What social media channels do they hang out on?
  • What mental block do they have to overcome?
  • What is preventing your ideal reader from achieving the desired outcome?

Motivation factors:

  • What do they desire, want, and aspire to?
  • What are their fears, frustrations, and challenges?
  • What do they want to achieve in the next three years?

Mine for information

Join Facebook groups where your ideal audience members are likely to hang out. Find out what questions they are asking and what pain points they have. Other places you can mine for information on your ideal reader are Amazon, Udemy, and Product Hunt to name a few.

The more you alienate people, the more you attract your own kind of people too

The reader journey

What keeps my audience stuck in this phase and what do they need from me and my content to move forward? Create different pieces of content to fuel the reader journey.

For instance, let’s take the example of a single mom who wants to start a virtual assistant (VA) business. Here are some topics that I came up with for readers who are at different stages:

  • Why a VA business is perfect for moms and why you need to start one today (problem unaware)
  • 13 things holding you back from launching your VA business (problem aware)
  • Think you have no skills to start a VA business? Think again. Here’s why you may be perfect for the role (solution unaware)
  • How this mom makes $10K a month form her VA business (desire)
  • The only e-book you need to start your VA business in 10 days flat (action and implementation)

Determine the purpose of the post

Always determine how each piece of content is going to fit into your entire blog and business. Ask yourself what’s the goal of the post. What do you want each post to do? When you write with the end in mind, you know what the post is meant to do based on the tangible and intangible goals you set beforehand.

Tangible goals:

  • Drive opt-ins to gauge interest for a product
  • Get opt-ins and then lead them down a sequence to a paid product
  • Make an affiliate commission
  • Pitch a sponsored post
  • Educate your reader

Intangible goals:

  • Position yourself as an expert or thought leader
  • Network with influencers
  • Empower your readers
  • Entertain with personal stories

Opt-in incentives

The easiest way to grow your email list is to offer an opt-in incentive or lead magnet. Examples:

  • Swipe files
  • Cheat sheets
  • Tool kits
  • How-to guides
  • Exclusive access to membership/Facebook groups
  • Test/Quiz/Assessment
  • Webinar
  • Bite-sized email series
  • Free assessment
  • Free consult
  • Coupons
  • Loyalty program

The thank you page

The thank you page is your opportunity to wow your readers. Here are som elements you could include:

  • A picture of you
  • Clear instructions on what they should do next
  • Your social media links
  • A request to share your site or freebie
  • Links to your best content
  • Testimonials from your readers
  • A personality (the most important thing!)

Links to a selection of Meera’s books on Amazon


Personal review

I had hoped it would be a little more advanced with more insights and tips. But hey, I understand that this is meant for people who are just starting out, and from a newcomers perspective I believe it is a okay introduction. It does contain several actionable tips & tricks, and I got inspired on some of the chapters. It is also a very easy read. The book is short and the text is very big, so you’ll be rushing through it in no time. I appreciate books that are just as long as they need to be.

Rating: 5/10

Categories
Book notes

The Obesity Code: Notes

Dr. Jason Fung
Dr. Jason Fung

Dr. Jason Fung is a Canadian nephrologist. He’s a world-leading expert on intermittent fasting and low carb, especially for treating people with type 2 diabetes. He has written three best-selling health books and he co-founded the Intensive Dietary Management program.

TLDR: Main takeaways

  • Insulin drives weight-gain
  • Reduce your consumption of added sugars
  • Reduce your consumption of refined grains
  • Moderate your protein consumption
  • Increase your consumption of natural fats
  • Increase your consumption of fiber and vinegar
  • Use intermittent fasting
  • A lot of todays nutritional “truths” are based on very little or shaky scientific backing

Notes on The Obesity Code

The art of medicine is quite peculiar. Once in a while, medical treatments become established that don’t really work. Through sheer inertia, these treatments get handed down from one generation of doctors to the next and survive for a surprisingly long time, despite their lack of effectiveness.

In the science of nutrition, there is rarely any consensus about anything:

  • Dietary fat is bad. No dietary fat is good. There are good fats and bad fats.
  • Carbohydrates are bad. No, carbohydrates are good. There are good carbs and bad carbs.
  • You should eat more meals a day. No, you should eat fewer meals a day.

Evidence-based medicine does not mean taking every piece of low-quality evidence at face value. I often read statements such as “low-fat diets proven to completely reverse heart disease.” The reference will be a study of five rats.

The parable of the cow

Two cows were discussing the latest nutritional research, which had been done on lions. One cow says to the other, “Did you hear that we’ve been wrong these last 200 years? The latest research shows that eating grass is bad for you and eating meat is good.” So the two cows began eating meat. Shortly afterward, they got sick and died.

Causal factors vs association studies

It is dangerous to assume that because two factors are associated, one is the cause of the other. Witness the hormone replacement therapy disaster in post-menopausal women. Hormone replacement therapy was associated with lower heart disease, but that did not mean that it was the cause of lower heart disease. However, in nutritional research, it is not always possible to avoid association studies, as they are often the best available evidence.

Of all the parasites that affect humanity, I do not know of, nor can I imagine, any more distressing than that of obesity

William Banting

Fat doctors

Here’s the question that has always bothered me: Why are there doctors who are fat? Accepted as authorities in human physiology, doctors should be true experts on the causes and treatments of obesity. Most doctors are also very hardworking and self-diciplined. Since nobody wants to be fat, doctors in particular should have both the knowledge and the dedication to stay thin and healthy. So why are there fat doctors?
The standard prescription for weight loss is “Eat less, move more.” It sounds perfectly reasonable, but why doesn’t it work?

The demonization of dietary fat

The increase in life expectancy from 1900 to 1950 reinforced the perception of a coronary disease epidemic. For a white male, the life expectancy in 1900 was fifty years. By 1950, it had reached sixty-six years, and by 1970, almost sixty-eight years. If people were not dying of tuberculosis, then they would live long enough to develop their heart attack. Currently, the average age at first heart attack is sixty-six years. The risk of a heart attack in a fifty-year-old man is substantially lower than in a sixty-eight-year-old man. So the natural consequence of a longer life expectancy is an increased rate of coronary disease.

But all great stories need a villain, and dietary fat was cast into that role. Dietary fat was thought to increase the amount of cholesterol, a fatty substance that is thought to contribute to heart disease, in the blood. Soon, physicians began to advocate lower-fat diets. With great enthusiasm and shaky science, the demonization of dietary fat began in earnest.

There was a problem, though we didn’t see it at the time. The three macronutrients are fat, protein and carbohydrates: lowering dietary fat meant replacing it with either protein or carbohydrates. Since many high-protein foods like meat and dairy are also high in fat, it is difficult to lower fat in the diet without lowering protein as well.

So, if one were to restrict dietary fats, then one must increase dietary carbohydrates and vice versa. In the developed world, these carbohydrates all tend to be highly refined. Low fat = high carbohydrate.

This dilemma created significant cognitive dissonance. Refined carbohydrates coult not be simultaneously be both good (because they are low in fat) and bad (because they are fattening). The solution adopted by most nutrition experts was to suggest that carbohydrates were no longer fattening. Instead, calories were fattening. Without evidence or historical precedent, it was arbitrarily decided that excess calories caused weight gain, not specific foods. Fat, as the dietary villain, was now deemed fattening – a previously unknown concept. The calories-in/calories-out model began to displace the prevailing “fattening carbohydrates” model.

The issue was finally settled in 1977, not by scientific debate and discovery, but by governmental decree. George McGovern, then chairman of the United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, convened a tribunal, and after several days of deliberation, it was decided that henceforth, dietary fat was guilty as charged. Not only was dietary fat guilty of causing heart disease, but it also caused obesity, since fat is calorically dense.

The resulting declaration became the Dietary Goals for the United States. An entire nation, and soon the entire world, would now follow nutritional advice from a politician. This was a remarkable break from tradition. For the first time, a government institution intruded into the kitchens of America. Mom used to tell us what we should and should not eat. But from now on Big Brother would be telling us. And he said, “Eat less fat and more carbohydrates.”

The food pyramid

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, now updated every five years, spawned the infamous food pyramid in all its counterfactual glory. The foods that formed the base of the pyramid – the foods we should eat every single day – were breads, pastas and potatoes. These were the prceise foods that we had previously avoided to stay thin. For example, the American Heart Association’s 1995 pamphlet, The American Heart Association Diet: An Eating Plan for Healthy Americans, declared we should eat six or more servings of “breads, cereals, pasta and starchy vegetables that are low in fat and cholesterol.” To drink, “Choose fruit punches, carbonated soft drinks.” Ahhh. White bread and carbonated soft drinks – the dinner of champions. Thank you, American Heart Association.

Success!

Refined grain consumption increased by almost 45 percent. Since carbohydrates in North America tended to be refined, we ate more and more low-fat bread and pasta, not cauliflower and kale.
Success! From 1976 to 1996, the average

  • fat intake increased from 45 percent of calories to 35 percent
  • Butter consumption decreased 38 percent
  • Animal protein decreased 13 percent
  • Egg consumption decreased 18 percent
  • Grains and sugars increased

There is no survival advantage to carrying a very high body-fat percentage. A male marathon runner may have 5 to 11 percent body fat. This amount provides enough energy to survive for more than a month without eating.

Is a calorie a calorie?

“A calorie is a calorie” implies that the only important variable in weight gain is the total caloric intake, and thus, all foods can be reduced to their caloric energy. But does a calorie of olive oil cause the same metabolic response as a calorie of sugar? The answer is, obviously, no. These two foods have many easily measurable differences. Sugar will increase the blood glucose level and provoke an insulin response from the pancreas. Olive oil will not. When olive oil is absorbed by the small intestine and transported to the liver, there is no significant increase in blood glucose or insulin. The two foods evoke vastly different metabolic and hormonal responses.

How do we process food?

What is a calorie? A calorie is simply a unit of energy. Different foods are burned in a laboratory, and the amount of heat released is measured to determine a caloric value for that food. All the foods we eat contain calories. Food first enters the somach, where it is mixed with stomach acid and slowly released into the small intestine. Nutrients are extracted throughout the journey through the small and large intestines. What remains is excreted as stool. Proteins are broken down into their building blocks, amino acids. These are used to build and repair the body’s tissues, and the excess is stored. Fats are directly absorbed into the body. Carbohydrates are broken down into their building blocks, sugars. Proteins, fats and carbohydrates all provide caloric energy for the body, but differ greatly in their metabolic processing. This results in different hormonal stimuli.

Caloric reduction is not the primary factor in weight loss

The correlation between weight gain and the increase in calorie consumption has recently broken down. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the United States from 1990 to 2010 finds no association between increased calorie consumption and weight gain. While obesity increased at a rate of 0.37 percent per year, caloric intake remained virtually stable. Women slightly increased their average daily intake from 1761 to 1781, but men slightly decreased theirs from 2616 to 2511.

If we eat an extra 200 calories today, nothing prevents the body from burning that excess for heat. Or perhaps that extra 200 calories is excreted as stool. Or perhaps the liver uses the extra 200. We obsess about caloric input into the system, but output is far more important.

Reducing calories in works only if calories out remains stable. What we find instead is that a sudden reduction of calories in causes a similar reduction in calories out, and no weight is lost as the body balances its energy budget. Some historic experiments in calorie reduction have shown exactly this.

(In this experiment) thirty-six young, healthy, normal men were selected. For the first three months, subjects received a standard diet of 3200 calories per day. Over the next six months of semi-starvation, only 1570 calories were given to them. However, caloric intake was continually adjusted to reach a target total weight loss of 24 percent, averaging 1.1 kg per week. Some eventually received less than 1000 calories per day.

Even (the professor initiating the study) was shocked by the difficulty of the experiment. The men experienced profound physical and psychological changes. Among the most consistent findings was the constant feeling of cold experience by the participants.
Resting metabolic rate dropped by 40 percent. Measurement of the subjects strength showed a 21 percent decrease. Heart rate slowed considerably, from an average of fifty-five beats per minute to only thirty-five. Heart stroke volume decreased by 20 percent. Body temperature dropped to 35.4 degrees. Physical endurance dropped by half. Blood pressure dropped. Men became extremely tired and dizzy. They lost hair and their nails grew brittle. Psychologically, there were equally devastating effects. The men experienced a complete lack of interest in everything except for food.

The body reacts in this way – by reducing energy expenditure – because the body is smart and doesn’t want to die. What would happen if the body continued to expend 3000 calories daily while taking in only 1500? Soon fat stores would be burned, then protein stores would be burned, and then you would die. Nice. The smart course of action for the body is to immediately reduce caloric expenditure to 1500 calories per day to restore balance. Caloric expenditure may even be adjusted a little lower to create a margin of safety. This is exactly what the body does.

With reflection, it should immediately be obvious that caloric expenditure must decrease. If we reduce daily calorie intake by 500 calories, we assume that 0.45 kg of fat per week is lost. Does that mean that in 200 weeks, we would lose 91 kg and weigh zero kg? Of course not. The body must, at some point, reduce its caloric expenditure to meet the lower caloric intake.

Doctor’s orders

The applicability of these findings to caloric-reduction diets is obvious. Assume that prior to dieting, a woman eats and burns 2000 calories per day. Following doctor’s orders, she adopts a calorie-restricted portion-controlled, low-fat diet, reducing her intake by 500 calories per day. She feels lousy, tired, cold, hungry, irritable and depressed, but sticks with it, thinking that things must eventually improve. Initially, she loses weight, but as her body’s caloric expenditure decreases to match her lowered intake, her weight plateaus. Her dietary compliance is good, but one year later, things have not improved. Her weight slowly creeps back up, even though she eats the same number of calories. Tired of feeling so lousy, she abandons the failed diet and resumes eating 2000 calories per day. Since her metabolism has slowed to an output of only 1500 calories per day, all her weight comes rushing back – as fat. Those around her silently accuse her of lacking willpower. Sound familiar? But her weight regain is not her failure. Instead, it’s to be expected. Everything described here has been well documented over the last 100 years!

Caloric reduction and portion-control strategies only make you tired and hungry. Worst of all, you regain all the weight you have lost.

Glycogen

Glycogen is easily available, but in limited supply. During a short-term fast, your body has enough glycogen available to function. During a prolonged fast, your body can make new glucose from its fat stores – a process called gluconeogenesis (the “making of new sugar”). Fat is burned to release energy, which is then sent out to the body – the fat-storage process in reverse.

This situation partially explains the difficulty in losing accumulated fat. Before getting money from the bank, you spend what’s in your wallet first. But you don’t like having an empty wallet. In the same manner, before getting energy from the Fat Bank, you spend the energy in the Glycogen Wallet. But you also don’t like an empty Glycogen Wallet. So you keep the Glycogen Wallet filled, which prevents you from accessing the Fat Bank. In other words, before you can even begin to burn fat, you start feeling hungry and anxious because your glycogen is becoming depleted. If you continually refill your glycogen stores, you never need to use you fat stores for energy.

Insulin

Under normal conditions, high insulin levels encourage sugar and fat storage. Low insulin levels encourage glycogen and fat burning. Sustained levels of excessive insulin will tend to increase fat storage. An imbalance between the feeding and fasting will lead to increased insulin, which causes increased fat, and voilà – obesity. Could insulin be the hormonal regulator of body weight?

Certainly, the insulin response differs greatly between lean and obese patients. Obese patients tend to have a higher fasting insulin level, as well as an exaggerated insulin response to food. It is possible that this hormonal activity leads to weight gain.

Insulin can make you fat

In a fascinating 1993 study, high-dose insulin allowed virtual normalization of blood sugars in a group of type 2 diabetic patients. Starting from zero, the dose was increased to an average of 100 units per day over a period of six months. At the same time, patients decreased their caloric intake by more than 300 calories per day.

The patients’ blood sugar levels were great. But what happened to their weight? It increased by an average of 8.7 kg! Despite eating less than ever, patients gained weight like crazy. It wasn’t calories that drove their weight gain. It was insulin.

Insulin can make you thin

If insulin causes weight gain, can lowering its levels have the opposite effect? Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Type 1 diabetes has been descibred since ancient times. Arataeus of Cappadocia, a renowned ancient Greek pysician, wrote this classic description: “Diabetes is a melting down of flesh and limbs into urine.” No matter how many calories the patient ingests, he or she cannot gain any weight. Until the discovery of insulin, this disease was almost universally fatal.

Insulin levels go waaayyy down. Patients lose a lot of weight. In the type 1 diabetic community, there is a disorder called “diabulimia.” Diabulimia is the deliberate under-dosing of insulin for the purpose of immediate and substantial weight loss. It is extremely dangerous and certainly not advisable. However, the practice persist because it is an extremely effective form of weight loss.

Insulin levels go down. Weight is lost.

The results are very consistent. Drugs that raise insulin levels cause weight gain. Drugs that have no effect on insulin levels are weight neutral. Drugs that lower insulin levels cause weight loss. The effect on weight is independent of the effect on blood sugar.

Hormones

Hormones tell us we are hungry (ghrelin). Hormones tell us we are full (peptide yy, cholecystokinin). Hormones increase energy expenditure (adrenalin). Hormones shut down energy expenditure (thyroid hormone). Obesity is a hormonal dysregulation of fat accumulation. Calories are nothing more than the proximate cause of obesity.

Obesity is a hormonal, not a caloric imbalance.

Both fasting insulin and fasting leptin levels are higher in obese people, indicating a state of both insulin and leptin resistance. The leptin response to a meal was also different. In lean people, leptin levels rose – which makes sense, as leptin is a satiety hormone. However, in obese subjects, leptin levels fell. Despite the meal, their brains were not getting the message to stop eating.

Understanding how to treat obesity

Once we understand that obesity is a hormonal imbalance, we can begin to treat it. If we believe that excess calories cause obesity, then the treatment is to reduce calories. But this method has been a complete failure. However, if too much insulin causes obesity, then it becomes clear we need to lower insulin levels.
The question is not how to balance calories; the question is how to balance our hormones. The most crucial question in obesity is how to reduce insulin.

Cortisol

Once released, cortisol substantially enhances glucose availability, which provides energy for muscles – very necessary in helping us to run and avoid being eaten. All available energy is directed toward surviving the stressful event. Growth, digestion and other long-term metabolic activities are temporarily restricted. Proteins are broken down and converted to glucose .

At first glance, cortisol and insulin appears to have opposite effects. Insulin is a storage hormone. Under high insulin levels (mealtimes), the body stores energy in the form of glycogen and fat. Cortisol, however, prepares the body for action, moving energy out of stores and into readily available forms, such as glucose. That cortisol and insulin would have similar weight-gain effects seems remarkable – but they do. With short-term physical stress, insulin and cortisol play opposite roles. Something quite different happens, though, when we’re under long-term psychological stress.

In our modern-day lives, we have many chronic, nonphysical stressors that increase our cortisol levels. For example, marital issues, problems at work, arguments with children and sleep deprivation are all serious stressors, but they do not result in the vigorous physical exertion needed to burn off the blood glucose. Under conditions of chronic stress, glucose levels remain high and there is no resolution to the stressor. Our blood glucose can remain elevated for months, triggering the release of insulin. Chronically elevated cortisol leads to increased insulin levels – as demonstrated by several studies.

And so, by extension, stress causes weight gain – something that many people have intuitively understood, despite the lack of rigourous evidence. Stress contains neither calories nor carbohydrates, but can still lead to obesity. Long-term stress leads to long-term elevated cortisol levels, which leads to extra pounds.

Sleep

Sleep deprivation is a major cause of chronic stress today. Sleep duration has been steadily declining. In 1910, people slept nine hours on average. However, recently, more than 30 percent of adults between the age of thirty and sixty-four report getting fewer than six hours of sleep per night. Shift workers are especially prone to sleep deprivation and often report fewer than five hours of sleep per night.

Population studies consistently link short sleep duration and excess weight, generally with seven hours being the point where weight gain starts. Sleeping five to six hours was associated with a more than 50 percent increased risk of weight gain. The more sleep deprivation, the more weight gained.

Getting enough sleep is essential to any weight loss plan.

The empire strikes back

The American Heart Association (AHA) published its own book called the No-Fad Diet: A personal Plan for Healthy Weight Loss. It’s only mildly ironic that while condemning other diets, the AHA would recommend the only diet (low-fat) repeatedly proven to fail. But the low-fat religion was enshrined in the medical community and it did not tolerate disbelievers.

No concern that higher intake of sugar and other refined carbohydrates could be harmful. No concern that the low-fat diet had been proved a spectacular failure by every dietary study done. No concern that obesity and diabetes epidemics were raging full force under their very noses. The AHA fiddled while Rome burned.

During the forty years that the AHA advised a low-fat diet, the obesity crisis grew to gargantuan proportions. Yet no time did the AHA question whether their completely ineffectual advice was actually helping people. Instead, doctors played their favorite game: blame the patient. It is not our fault the diet doesn’t work. It is their fault for not following the diet.

It is now increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health consequences

Harvard researchers DRS. Frank Hu & Walter Willett, 2001

Cholesterol

The liver manufactures the overwhelming majority -80 percent- of the blood cholesterol, with only 20 percent coming from diet. Cholesterol is often portrayed as some harmful poisonous substance that must be eliminated, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Cholesterol is a key building block in the membranes that surround all the cells in our body. In fact, it’s so vital that every cell in the body except the brain has the ability to make it. If you reduce cholesterol in your diet, your body will simply make more.

Addictive food

Let us assume we’re at a all-you-can-eat buffet. At some point, you simply cannot eat any more, and the idea of consuming two more pork chops is sickening. That feeling is your satiety hormones telling you that you’ve had enough. But what if you were offered a small slice of cake or apple pie? Doesn’t seem so hard to eat now, does it? As kids, we used to call this the second-stomach phenomenon: after the first stomach for regular food was full, we imagined that there was a second one for desserts. Somehow, despite being full, we still have room for highly refined carbohudrates like cake and pie – but not proteins or fats. Highly refined and processed foods somehow do not trigger the release of satiety hormones, and we go ahead and eat cake.

Think about foods that people say they’re “addicted” to. Pasta, bread, cookies, chocolate, chips. Notice anything? All are highly refined carbohydrates. Does anybody ever say they are addicted to fish? Apples? Beef? Spinach? Not likely. Those are all delicious foods, but not addictive.

Refined carbohydrates are easy to become addicted to and overeat precisely because there are no natural satiety hormones for refined carbs. The reason is that refined carbohydrates are not natural foods but are instead highly processed. Their toxicity lies in that processing.

Unrefined carbohydrates are different

Dr Staffan Lindeberg studied the residents of Kitava, one of the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea – one of the last places on earth where poeple ate a largely traditional diet. Starchy vegetables, including yam, sweet potato, taro and cassava, made up the basis of their diet. An estimated 69 percent of calories were derived from carbohydrates, and less than 1 percent of the calories came from processed Western foods.

Despite this high carbohydrate intake, insulin was very low among the Kitavans, resulting in virtually no obesity. Comparing the Kitavans to his native Swedish population, Dr. Lindeberg found that despite a diet that was 70 percent carbohydrates (unrefined), the Kitavans had insulin levels below the 5th percentile of Swedes. The body mass index of young Kitavans averaged 22 (normal) and it decreased with age.

Similarly, natives of the Japanese island of Okinawa eat a diet that is nearly 85 percent unrefined carbohydrates. The dietary staple is sweet potato. They eat three times as many green and yellow vegetables, but only 25 percent of the sugar consumed by residents of nearby Japan. Despite the high intake of carbohydrates, there is virtually no obesity, and the average body mass index is only 20.4. They are one of the longest-lived people in the world, with more than triple the rate (compared to nearby Japan) of people living past 100 years.

Homeostasis

In his 1945 Nobel lecture, “Penicillin,” Dr. Fleming correctly predicted the emergence of resistance:

“There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by eposing his mocrobes to non lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant. Here is a hypothetical illustration: Mr. X has a sore throat. He buys some penicillin and gives himself, not enough to kill the streptococci but enough to educate them to resist penicillin.

By 1947, the first cases of antibiotic resistance were reported. How did Dr. Fleming so confidently predict this development? He understood homeostasis. Exposure causes resistance. A biological system that becomes disturbed tries to go back to its original state. As we use an antibiotic more and more, organisms resistant to it are naturally selected to survive and reproduce. Eventually, these resistant organisms dominate, and the antibiotic becomes useless.

(…) even using normal, physiologic levels of insulin will yield the exact same result. Men with no previous history of obesity, pre-diabetes or diabetes were given a ninety-six-hour constant intravenous infusion of insulin. By the end, their insulin sensitivity dropped by 20 percent to 40 percent. The implications are simply staggering. With normal but persistent amounts of insulin alone, these healthy, young, lean men can be made insulin resistant. I can start these men on the road to diabetes and obesity simply by administering insulin – which causes insulin resistance.

The main compartments are the brain, liver and muscle. Changing the resistance of one does not change resistance in the others. For example, hepatic (liver) insulin resistance does not affect insulin resistance in the brain or muscle. When we ingest excess carbohydrates, we develop hepatic insulin resistance. Significant dietary intervention will reverse the hepatic insulin resistance, but will have no effect on insulin resistance in the muscles or the brain. Lack of exercise may lead to insulin resistance in the muscles. Exercise will increase insulin sensitivity there, but has little effect on insulin resistance in the liver or brain.

Whenever the body is exposed to a constant stimulus, it acclimates to it

When we eat

In the development of obesity, the increase in meals is almost twice as important as the change in diet. We obsess about what we should eat, all in the hopes of making us slim. But we spare not even a single thought as to when we should be eating.

Eating six small meals per day causes the metabolic rate to go up six times a day, but only a little.

One myth is that eating frequently keeps blood glucose from becoming too low. But unless you have diabetes, your blood sugars are stable whether you eat six times a day or six times a month.

We are eating all the time. Societal norms, which had previously frowned upon eating except at mealtimes, now permit eating anywhere, anytime. Government agencies and schools actively encourage snacking, something that previously had been heavily discouraged. We are taught to eat the minute we roll out of bed. We are taught to eat throughout the day and eat again just before sleep. We spend up to eighteen hours in the insulin-dominant state, with only six hours insulin deficient.

Crazier still – we have been brainwashed to believe that constant eating is somehow good for us! Not just acceptable, but healthy.

Indeed, many health professionals have been very vocal about increasing the number of eating occasions. This situation is just as crazy as it sounds. Eat more to weigh less. That doesn’t even sound like it will work. And guess what? It doesn’t.

Big Food

Big Food sponsors many large nutritional organizations. And then there are the medical associations. In 1988, the American Heart Association decided that it would be a good idea to start accepting cash to put its Heart Check symbol on foods of otherwise dubious nutritional quality. The Center for Science in the Public Interest estimates that in 2002, the AHA received over $2 million from this program alone. Food companies paid $7500 for one to nine products, but there was a volume discount for more than twenty-five products! Exclusive deals were, of course, more expensive. In 2009, nutritional standouts such as Cocoa Puffs and Frosted Mini Wheats were still on the Heart Check list.

Funding sources

Funding sources have enormous influence on study results. In a 2007 study that looked specifically on soft drinks, Dr. David Ludwig from Harvard University found that accepting funds from companies whose products are reviewed increased the likelihood of a favorable result by approximately 700 percent!

The scapegoat: Calories

The obesity epidemic couldn’t very well be ignored, and a culprit had to be found. “Calories” was the perfect scapegoat. Eat fewer calories, they said. But eat more of everything else. There is no company that sells “Calories,” nor is there a brand called “Calories.” There is no food called “Calories.” Nameless and faceless, calories were the ideal stooge. “Calories” could now take all the blame. They say candy doesn’t make you fat. Calories does. They say that 100 calories of cola is just as likely as 100 calories of broccoli to make you fat. They say that a calorie is a calorie. But show me a single person that grew fat by eating too much steamed broccoli. I know it. You know it.

One of the worst myths is that eating more frequently causes weight loss. Eat snacks to lose weight? It sounds pretty stupid. And it is.

Obesity has begun to afflict younger and younger children. In one study covering a twenty-two-year period ending in 2001, children of all ages show an increased prevalence of obesity, even in the zero- to six-month-old age range. That finding is especially interesting. Conventional calorie-based theories of obesity are unable to explain this trend. Obesity is considered an energy-balance problem, one of eating too much and exercising too little. Since six month-olds eat on demand and are often breastfed, it is impossible that they eat too much. Since they do not walk, it is impossible that they exercise too little. Similarly, birth weight has increased by as much as 200 grams over the last twenty-five years. The newborn cannot eat too much or exercise too little. What is going on here?

The sad but inescapable conclusion is that we are now passing on our obesity to our children. Why? Because we are now marinating our children in insulin starting in the womb, they develop more severe obesity sooner than ever before. Because obesity is time dependent and gets worse, fat babies become fat children. Fat children become fat adults. And fat adults have fat babies in turn, passing obesity on to the next generation.

Several large-scale studies on prevention of childhood obesity were started in the late 1990s. (…) The specific nutritional goal was to reduce dietary fat to less than 30 percent (…) Did the children learn how to eat a low-fat diet? Sure did. Dietary fat started at 34 percent of calories and over the course of the study, fell to 27 percent. Did they eat fewer calories? Sure did. The intervention group averaged 1892 calories per day compared to 2157 calories per day in the control group. Fantastic! The children were eating 265 fewer calories per day. They learned their lessons extremely well, eating fewer calories and less fat overall. Over the course of three years, calorie counters expected a loss of approximately 37 kilograms! But did the children’s weight actually change? Not even by a little bit. It was the “largest school-based randomized trial ever conducted.” They ate less and exercised more. They just didn’t lose any weight.

Calories do not drive weight gain, and thus reducing them will not lead to weight loss.

Knowing that they were fighting a losing battle in North America and Europe, the sugar pushers took aim at Asia to make up for lost profits. Asian sugar consumption is rising at almost 5 percent per year. Things are shocking when you consider that only 1 percent of Chinese had type 2 diabetes in 1980. In a single generation, the diabetes rate rose by a horrifying 1160 percent. Sugar, more than any other refined carbohydrate, seems to be particularly fattening and leads to type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes correlates with sugar, not calories.

Breakfast

The majority of Americans identify breakfast as the most important meal of the day. Eating a hearty breakfast is considered a cornerstone of a healthy diet. Skipping it, we are told, will make us ravenously hungry and prone to overeat for the rest of the day. Although we think it’s a universal truth, it’s really only a North American custom. Many people in France (a famously skinny nation) drink coffee in the morning and skip breakfast.

It is simply not necessary to eat the minute we wake up. We imagine the need to “fuel up” for the day ahead. However, our body has already done that automatically. Every morning, just before we wake up, a natural circadian rhythm jolts our bodies with a heady mix of growth hormone, cortisol, epinephrine and adrenalin. This cocktail stimulates the liver to make new glucose, essentially giving us a shot of the good stuff to wake us up. This effect is called the dawn phenomenon, and it has been well described for decades.

Many people are not hungry in the morning. The natural cortisol and adrenalin released stimulates a mild flight-or-fight response, which activates the sympathetic nervous system.

Our bodies are gearing up for action in the morning, not for eating.

All these hormones release glucose into the blood for quick energy. We’re already gassed up and ready to go. There is simply no need to refuel with sugary cereals and bagels. Morning hunger is often a behavior learned over decades, starting in childhood.

A large breakfast is thought to reduce food intake throughout the rest of the day. However, such does not always seem to be the case. Studies show that lunch and dinner portions tend to stay constant, regardless of the amount of calories taken at breakfast. The more one eats at breakfast, the higher the total caloric intake over the entire day. Worse, taking breakfast increases the number of eating opportunities in a day. Breakfast eaters therefore tend to eat more and eat more often – a deadly combination.

Furthermore, many people confess that they are not hungry first thing in the morning and force themselves to eat only because they feel that doing so is the healthy choice. As ridiculous as it sounds, many people force themselves to eat more in an effort to lose weight.

(In a study) breakfast eaters averaged 539 extra calories per day compared to those that skipped breakfast – a finding consistent with other trials.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day – for Big Food. Sensing the perfect opportunity to sell more highly profitable, highly processed “breakfast” foods, Big Food circled the easy money like sharks on wounded prey. “Eat breakfast!” they thundered. “It’s the most important meal of the day!” they bellowed. Even better, here was an opportunity to “educate” the doctors, dieticians and other medical professionals. Those people had a respectability Big Food could never achieve. So the money flowed.

There are some commonsense questions you can ask yourself about breakfast. Are you hungry at breakfast? If not, listen to your body and don’t eat. Does breakfast make you hungry? If you eat a slice of toast and drink a glass of orange juice in the morning – are you hungry an hour later? If so, don’t eat breakfast. If you are hungry and want to eat breakfast, then do so. But avoid sugars and refined carbohydrates. Skipping breakfast does not give you the freedom to eat a Krispy Kreme donut as a mid-morning snack either.

Our own disaster

Our own disastrous, misguided dietary changes since the 1970s have created the diabesity debacle. We have seen the enemy, and it is ourselves. Eat more carbohydrates. Eat more often. Eat breakfast. Eat more. Ironically, these dietary changes were prescribed to reduce heart disease, but instead, we’ve encouraged it since diabesity is one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease and stroke. We’ve been trying to put out a fire with gasoline.

Government policies

Despite the similarity in culture and genetics between populations in Canada and the United States, U.S rates of obesity are much higher. This fact suggests that government policies must play a role in the development of obesity.

Socioeconomic status has long been known to play a role in development of obesity in that poverty correlates very closely with obesity. States with the most poverty also tend to have the most obesity.

Financial aid

While mass production of corn and wheat receives generous support, the same cannot be said for cabbage, broccoli, apples, strawberries, spinach, lettuce and blueberries. Food additives receive almost thirty times more in subsidies. Saddest of all, apples receive the most, not the least, federal aid of all fruits and vegetables. All other receive negligible support.

Was this a giant conspiracy to keep us sick? Doubtful. The large subsidies were simply the result of programs to make food affordable, which began in the 1970s. Back then, the major health concern was not obesity, but heart disease that was believed to be the result of excess dietary fat. The base of the Food Pyramid, the foods to be eaten by us every day, was bread, pasta, potatoes and rice. Naturally, money flowed into subsidies for those foods, the production of which was encouraged by the U.S Department of Agriculture. Refined grains and corn products soon became affordable by all. Obesity followed like the grim reaper.

It is noteworthy that, in the 1920s, sugar was relatively expensive. A 1930 study showed that type 2 diabetes was far more common among the wealthier northern states compared to the poorer southern states. As sugar became extremely cheap, however, this relationship inverted. Now, poverty is associated with type 2 diabetes, rather than the other way around.

The second-stomach phenomenon

Removing protein and fat in the diet may lead to overconsumption. There are natural satiety hormones (peptide YY, cholecystokinin) that respond to protein and fat. Eating pure carbohydrate does not activate these systems and leads to overconsumption (the second-stomach phenomenon).

Nutritionism

A big problem was the inadvertent triumph of nutritionism. Rather than discussing individual foods (spinach, beef, ice cream), nutritionism reduced foods to only three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. They were then subdivided further as saturated and unsaturated fats, trans fats, simple and complex carbohydrates, etc. This sort of simplistic analysis does not capture the hundreds of nutrients and phytochemicals in foods, all of which affect our metabolism. Nutritionism ingnores the complexity of food science and human biology.

An avocado, for instance, is not simply 88 percent fat, 16 percent carbohydrate and 5 percent protein with 4.9 grams of fiber. This sort of nutritional reductionism is how avocadoes became classified for decades as a “bad” food due to their high fat content, only to be reclassified today as a “super food”. Nutritionally, a piece of butterscotch candy cannot be reasonably compared to kale simply because both contain equal amounts of carbohydrate.

Nutritionally, a teaspoon of trans-fat-laden margarine cannot be reasonably compared to an avocado simply because both contain equal amounts of fats.

Smarter than nature

We gave our children artificial baby formula. We drank artificially sweetened sodas. We thought we were smarter than Mother Nature. Whatever she had made, we could make better. Out with all-natural butter. In with industrially produced, artificially colored trans-fat-laden margarine! Out with natural animal fats. In with solvent-extracted, bleached and deodorized vegetable oil! What could possibly go wrong?

Fats

Saturated fats are so named because they are saturated with hydrogen. This makes them chemically stable. The polyunsaturated fats, like most vegetable oils, have “holes” where the hydrogen is “missing.” They are less stable chemically, so they have a tendency to go rancid and have a short shelf life. The solution was to create artificial trans fats.

Ironically, trans-fat-laden margarines had always branded themselves as heart healthy since they were low in saturated fat. Twenty-year follow-up data from the Framingham study revealed that margarine consumption was associated with more heart attacks. By contrast, eating more butter was associated with fewer heart attacks.

A comprehensive review of all the studies of high-fat dairy finds no association with obesity, with whole milk, sour cream and cheese offering greater benefits than low-fat dairy.

Eating fat does not make you fat, but may protect you against it

Eating fat together with other foods tends to decrease glucose and insulin spikes. If anything, dietary fat would be expected to protect against obesity.

While literally thousands of papers have reviewed this data, perhaps Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said it best in his 2002 review article entitled, “Dietary Fat Plays a Major Role in Obesity: No.” Considered one of the world’s foremost experts in nutrition, he writes: “Diets high in fat do not account for the high prevalence of excess body fat in Western countries; reduction in the percentage of energy from fat will have no important benefits and could further exacerbate this problem. The emphasis on total fat reduction has been a serious distraction in efforts to control obesity and improve health in general.

The multifactorial nature of obesity

The multifactorial nature of obesity is the crucial missing link. There is no one single cause of obesity. Do calories cause obesity? Yes, partially. Do carbohydrates cause obesity? Yes, partially. Does fiber protect us from obesity? Yes, partially. Does insulin resistance cause obesity? Yes, partially. Does sugar cause obesity? Yes, partially. All these factors converge on several hormonal pathways that lead to weight gain, and insulin is the most important of these. Low-carbohydrate diets reduce insulin. Low-calorie diets restrict all foods and therefore reduce insulin. Paleo and LCHF diets (low in refined and processed foods) reduce insulin. Reduced-food-reward diets reduce insulin.

The truth is that there are multiple overlapping pathways that lead to obesity. The common uniting theme is the hormonal imbalance of hyper-insulinemia. For some patients, sugar or refined carbohydrates are the main problem. Low-carbohydrate diets may work best here. For others, the main problem may be insulin resistance. Changing meal timing or intermittent fasting may be the most beneficial. For others, the cortisol pathway is domimant. Stress reduction techniques or correcting sleep deprivation may be critical. Lack of fiber may be the critical factor for yet others.

Most diets attack one part of the problem at a time. But why? In cancer treatment, for example, multiple types of chemotherapy and radiation are combined together. The probability of success is much higher with a broad-based attack. In cardiovascular disease, multiple drug treatments work together. Treating high blood pressure does not mean ignoring smoking.

In cardiovascular disease, for example, “Choose the treatment that suits you” would never be considered satisfactory advice.

It is also important to tailor the approach individually to address the cause of the high insulin levels. For example, if chronic sleep deprivation is the main problem causing weight gain, then decreasing refined grains is not likely to help. If excessive sugar intake is the problem, then mindfulness meditation is not going to be especially helpful.

Obesity is a hormonal disorder of fat regulation. Insulin is the major hormone that drives weight gain, so the rational therapy is to lower insulin levels.

The steps to lower insulin levels

  • Reduce your consumption of added sugars
  • Reduce your consumption of refined grains
  • Moderate your protein consumption
  • Increase your consumption of natural fats
  • Increase your consumption of fiber and vinegar

Coffee

Coffee, even the decaffeinated version, appears to protect against type 2 diabetes. In a 2009 review, each additional daily cup of coffee lowered the risk of diabetes by 7 percent, even up to six cups per day. The European Protective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study estimated that drinking at least three cups of coffee or tea daily reduced the risk of diabetes by 42 percent. The Singapore Chinese Health Study showed a 30 percent reduction in risk.

Coffee drinking is associated with a 10 to 15 percent reduction in total mortality. Large-scale studies found that most major causes of death, including heart disease were reduced. Coffee may guard against the neurologic diseases Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

A word of caution here: While these correlation studies are suggestive, they are not proof of benefit. However, they suggest that coffee may not be as harmful as we imagined.

Vinegar

Vinegar is also a protective factor. Used in many traditional foods, it may help reduce insulin spikes. Italians often eat bread dipped in oil and vinegar – a prime example of eating a high-carb food with protective factors. Vinegar is added to sushi rice, which reduces its glycemic index by 20 to 40 percent.

Fasting

While we obsess over the question of what to eat, we virtually ignore the crucial aspect of meal timing

To succeed, we must break the insulin-resistance cycle. But how? The body’s knee-jerk reaction to insulin resistance is to increase insulin levels, which, in turn, creates even more resistance. To break the cycle, we must have recurring periods of very low insulin levels.

We know that eating the proper foods prevents high levels, but it won’t do much to lower them. Some foods are better than others; nonetheless, all foods increase insulin production. If all foods raise insulin, then the only way for us to lower it is to completely abstain from food. The answer we are looking for, is fasting.

The ancient Greeks believed that medical treatment could be discovered by observing nature. Humans, like most animals, do not eat when they become sick. Consider the last time you were sick with the flu. Probably the last thing you wanted to was eat. Fasting seems to be a universal human response to multiple forms of illnesses and is ingrained in human heritage, as old as mankind itself. Fasting is, in a sense, an instinct.

The ancient Greeks believed that fasting improved cognitive abilities. Think about the last time you ate a huge Thanksgiving meal. Did you feel more energetic and mentally alert afterward? Or instead, did you feel sleepy and a little dopey? More likely the latter. Blood is shunted to your digestive system to cope with the huge influx of food, leaving less blood for brain function. Fasting does the opposite, leaving more blood for your brain.

The body’s response to fasting

Glucose and fat are the body’s main sources of energy. When glucose is not available, then the body adjusts by using fat, without any health detriment. This compensation is a natural part of life. Periodic food scarcity has always been part of human history, and our bodies have evolved processes to deal with this fact of Paleolithic life. The transition from the fed state to the fasted state occurs in several stages.

  • Feeding: During meals, insulin levels are raised. This allows glucose uptake by tissues such as the muscle or brain for direct use as energy. Excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver.
  • The post-absorptive phase (six to twenty-four hours after fasting starts): Insulin levels begin to fall. The breakdown of glycogen releases glucose for energy. Glycogen stores last for roughly twenty-four hours.
  • Gluconeogenesis (twenty-four hours to two days): The liver manufactures new glucose from amino acids and glycerol. In non-diabetic persons, glucose levels fall but stay within the normal range.
  • Ketosis (one to three days after fasting starts): The storage form of fat, triglycerides, is broken into the glycerol backbone and three fatty acid chains. Glycerol is used for gluconeogenesis. Fatty acids may be used directly for energy by many tissues in the body, but not the brain. Ketone bodies, capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, are produced from fatty acids for use by the brain. Ketones can supply up to 75 percent of the energy used by the brain.
  • Protein conservation phase (after five days): High levels of growth hormone maintain muscle mass and lean tissues. The energy for maintenance of basal metabolism is almost entirely met by the use of free fatty acids and ketones. Increased adrenalin levels prevent the decrease in the metabolic rate.

The human body is well adapted for dealing with the absence of food. Stored food (fat) is naturally released to fill the void. The body does not “burn muscle” in an effort to feed itself until all the fat stores are used. It’s crucial to note that alle these beneficial adaptive changes do not occur in the caloric-reduction diet strategy.

Regular fasting, by routinely lowering insulin levels, has been shown to significantly improve insulin sensitivity. This finding is the missing piece in the weight-loss puzzle.

Growth hormone

Growth hormone is known to increase the availability and utility of fats for fuel. It also helps to preserve muscle mass and bone density. Growth hormone secretion is difficult to measure accurately because of its intermittent release, but it decreases steadily with age. One of the most potent stimuli to growth hormone secretion is fasting. Over a five-day fasting period, growth hormone secretion more than doubles. The net physiological effect is to maintain muscle mass and bone tissue mass during the fasting period.

Myths about fasting

Many myths have been repeated so often that they are often perceived as infallible truths.

  • Fasting will make you lose muscle/burn protein
  • The brain needs glucose to function
  • Fasting puts you in starvation mode/lowers basal metabolism
  • Fasting will overwhelm you with hunger
  • Fasting causes overeating when you resume feeding
  • Fasting deprives the body of nutrients
  • Fasting causes hypoglycemia
  • It’s just crazy

If these myths were true, none of us would be alive today. Think about the consequences of burning muscle for energy.

Starvation mode

Starvation mode is the mysterious bogeyman always raised to scare us away from missing even a single meal. This is simply absurd. Breakdown of muscle tissue happens only at extremely low levels of body fat -approximately 4 percent- which is not something most people need to worry about. At this point, there is no further body fat to be mobilized for energy, and lean tissue is consumed. Fat is burned first.

This situation is akin to storing a huge amount of firewood but deciding to burn your sofa instead. It’s stupid. Why do we assume the human body is so stupid?

There is another persistent myth that brain cells require glucose for proper functioning. This is incorrect. Human brains, unique among animals, can use ketones as a major fuel source during prolonged starvation, allowing the conservation of protein such as skeletal muscle. Again, consider the consequences if glucose were absolutely necessary for survival: humans just wouldn’t survive. After twenty-four hours, glucose becomes depleted. If our brains had no alternative, we would become blubbering idiots as our brains shut down. Our intellect, our only advantage against wild animals, would begin to disappear. Fat is the body’s way of storing food energy for the long term; it uses glucose/glycogen for the short term.

Daily caloric restriction does, in fact, lead to decreased metabolism, so people assumed that this effect would be magnified as food intake dropped to zero. It won’t. Decreasing food intake is matched by decreased energy expenditure. However, as food intake goes to zero, the body switches energy inputs from food to stored food (fat). This strategy significantly increases the availability of “food,” which is matched by an increase in energy expenditure.

Appetite tends to decrease with increased duration of fasting

Can I exercise while fasting?

There is no reason to stop your exercise routine during fasting. There is a common misconception that eating is necessary to supply “energy” to the working body. That’s not true. The liver supplies energy via gluconeogenesis. During longer fasting periods, the muscles are able to use fatty acids directly for energy.


Links to a selection of Jason Fung’s books on Amazon


Personal review

As you can see by the massive amount of notes I took from this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Almost every page contain some form of eye-opening insights.

Rating: 9/10

PS: A new book by Jason Fung is coming this november, with a very interesting title: The Cancer Code. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Categories
Book notes

Joy on demand: Notes

Main takeaways:
Be happy. Wish for others to be happy. Smile. Meditate. The world is a beautiful place.

Notes

Bicep curls for the mind

In my long struggle with misery, quite by accident, I discovered the mental equivalent of physical exercise. I found that one can deliberately effect life-changing mental changes with simple training exercises – if you will, bicep curls for the mind. And in doing so, improve every single aspect of our lives. The mental equivalent of physical exercise is meditation.

The lucky sperm club

I was born into a family that was poor but caring. In my entire life, I always had enough to eat (and I know my mom sometimes went hungry to ensure that). I always had shelter. I never suffered a single day of war nor a single day of homelessness. Despite being born in what was then a poor, developing country, my country had always given me clean water on tap, free vaccinations, and free education. Billionaire Warren Buffet famously referred to those who grow up in prosperity as “members of the lucky sperm club,” and given the circumstances of my birth and growing up, I too consider myself a member of that club. There are many millions of people who are born into circumstances in which they do not even have access to books, much less to education or clean water. If you are reading this book, it is likely that you are blessed with at least the same luck as I.

Willingness

The willingness to bear witness to our own pain and failure. To be willing an able to clearly see this self – this wretched useless self – to see all his pain, to see all his failings, his desperate clinging on to all things pleasant and his frenzied aversion to all things unpleasant, to see all the suffering involved in having this human form manifest in him, to be willing and able to bear witness to all of that with composure and kindness – that is an immense source of confidence.

Internal science

When (he) was becoming accomplished as a meditation teacher, he developed a conviction, which I totally agree with, that if meditation (which he calls “the internal science and technology of the east”) were to successfully mate with the science and technology of the west, it will change the world dramatically, for the better.

Prepare for opportunities

A way I prepare for opportunities is by constantly prioritizing my personal growth, sometimes with spectacular results. In early 2000, when I was looking for a job, it was the height of the dot-com boom, and anybody with a pulse and a software engineering degree could get a job in Silicon Valley. Being an award-winning software engineer with straight A’s from a top university, I could have any job I wanted. I decided to join a small, unprofitable startup with a silly name called Google. Why? Because I decided I never want to be the smartest person in the room. If I am the smartest person in the room, I won’t learn anything. Hence, to maximize my personal growth, I chose to work in a company where people seemed to be much smarter than I, and it was Google. And, boy, did that decision work out.

In life, opportunity knocks fairly often, but if you are unprepared for it or unwilling to jump at it, then it will pass you by.

Familiarization

Familiarization is a key aspect of meditation. It’s so important that the Tibetan word for meditation literally means “to become familiar”. The more the mind is in contact with any mental quality (such as calm or joy), the more familiar it becomes with it, and the more familiar the mind becomes with that mental quality the more quickly and easily it gets it.

Meditation is not about not thinking

One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that it involves “emptying your mind of all thoughts.” This one misconception is more responsible for turning people away from meditation than any other that I know of. Many beginners mistakenly think that they are supposed to have no thoughts during meditation, and then when they find thought after thought cascading endlessly and uncontrollably in the mind like a raging waterfall, they decide that meditation is impossible and they give up.
No, meditation is not about suppressing thoughts. Instead, it is about allowing the mind to settle on its own terms, in its own time, which includes allowing thoughts to arise as and when they want to. It is true that over time, with practice, as the mind becomes more deeply settled, the stream of thoughts slows down and eventually goes from being a raging waterfall to being like a fast-flowing river, then more like a slow-flowing stream, and finally, the mind is like a placid lake.

One way to rest the mind is to use an image. Imagine a butterfly resting gently on a flower moving slowly in the breeze. In the same way, the mind rests gently on the breath. Another way is to use this mantra, “There is nowhere to go and nothing to do for this one moment, except to rest.”

To feel regretful, you need to be in the past, and to worry, you need to be in the future. Hence, when you are fully in the present, you are temporarily free from regret and worry.

Notice joy

The training is simple. It is simply to notice joy. Whenever there is any joy arising in our field of experience, even if it is merely a subtle hint of joy, simply notice that there is joy, that is all. That is the entire practice.

Noticing joy is like noticing blue cars on the road. When you’re in traffic, blue cars pass you by all the time and, usually, you don’t notice them at all. But if you play a game of noticing blue cars, you’ll find that they are everywhere. There is joy to be found in many moments of our lives, though it may be subtle and fleeting. For example, with that pleasant feeling of warm water on the skin as we get into the shower, joy arises immediately, but we seldom notice it and it fades away in seconds. The practice is simply to notice when joy is there.

Given this insight, we can effectively invite joy just by smiling a genuine smile. Smile as if you are really happy. When you do this, you may create changes in the autonomic nervous system relating to happiness, and from these changes, you may experience joy. This works for me almost every time. It doesn’t need to be a full smile – a half smile works as well.

Whenever there is any experience of joy, notice it. That is all.

Attending to the joy of pleasant daily experiences

Whenever you engage in an activity that involves a pleasant experience, take at least one moment to attend fully to the joy that pleasantness invokes. Some examples:

  • At each meal, attend fully to the enjoyment of at least the first bite
  • When seeing a loved one, take one moment to appreciate that he or she is there, and attend fully to that joy
  • When holding hands with a loved one, take one moment to attend fully to the joy of that contact

Keeping a gratitude journal, finding new things to be grateful for, and recalling a joyful experience every day are all great ideas. However, taking one moment to fully attend to every joyful experience has the advantage of taking no time and no effort. You can do it many times a day, in real time, with zero delay in gratification.

Some examples:

  • That promotion I got is so precious – I know because I worked years for it
  • Owning my car and my house are both precious, and I know because I saved up for years for my house and my car
  • Having a child who loves me is so precious – I know many people who do not
  • Having good health is so precious
  • Having a good livelihood is so precious
  • Living in a peaceful country is so precious
  • Having access to clean water and food is so precious
  • Being able to see the blue sky and green grass is so precious

Everything is amazing right now, and nobody’s happy

Louis C. K.

Awareness of mortality

Someday, I will die. Every single person I love will die, some of them before I do. Even if science and technology can extend the human lifespan to some extent, eventually, I will die, and everybody I love will die. Being aware of mortality changes everything. At the very least, it puts things into proper perspective, it gives us clarity into what is really important versus what is not so important, and it therefore changes how we prioritize things in our lives.

Just note gone

There is a simple practice that can greatly enhance your ability to notice the absence of pain, though it isn’t only concerned with pain. “Just note gone” is a powerful way of practicing with any phenomenon, whereby we train the mind to notice that something previously experienced is no more. For example, at the end of a breath, notice that the breath is over. Gone. As a sound fades away, notice when it is over. Gone. At the end of a thought, notice that the thought is over. Gone. At the end of an experience of emotion – joy, anger, sadness, or anything else – notice it is over. Gone.

This practice changes the way we perceive phenomena: It brings balance to our perception of sensory and mental events. Every sensory and mental event has three parts: arising, presence, and ceasing. Most of us are aware of the first two, but we are seldom aware of ceasing. In other words, our experience of sensory and mental events is unbalanced – we often see the coming but seldom the going. By noticing gone, you restore perceptual balance, thus moving toward seeing things as they really are.

Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation

Wishing for random people to be happy

During working hours or school hours, randomly identify two people who walk past you or who are standing around you. Secretly wish for this person to be happy. Just think to yourself, “I wish for this person to be happy, and I wish for that person to be happy.” This is the entire practice. Don’t do anything; don’t say anything, just think.

Uplifting and settling the mind with altruistic joy

Setup
Sit in any posture that allows you to be alert and relaxed at the same time, whatever that means to you. You may keep your eyes open or closed.

Uplift the mind (2-5 minutes)
Take a few minutes to bring to mind one or more people to whom you have brought joy or benefit out of purely altruistic intent. Reflect on the deed(s). Take delight in your good intentions and deeds.

Settle the mind (5-10 minutes)
Settle the mind either with anchoring, resting, or being. You may anchor your attention to any sensory object such as the breath, or you may rest the mind on the breath like a butterfly resting gently on a flower, or you may simply sit without agenda. Allow the mind to settle on its own.

Closing (1-2 minutes)
Close by noticing if there is any joy present in the mind, and if so, attending to it for one or two minutes.

In addition to the formal practice, I also recommend the informal practice of taking a moment to rejoice in inner goodness and altruistic deeds whenever you see them.

Whenever you make a donation of time or labor, or do something out of altruistic intention, take a moment to think, “I am doing this out of altruistic intention. Having this intention makes me so happy.”

Whenever you meet or bring to mind an admirable, inspiring person, take a moment to think, “There exist this wonderful person in this world. I’m so happy.”

Whenever you see somebody performing an altruistic or heroic act, take a moment to think, “More good is being done in this world, I’m so happy.”

Just because you’re in pain doesn’t mean you can’t be joyful

Rigoberta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her life’s work in promoting human rights. When I met her, I found her to be exactly what you’d expect of a steriotypical Nobel Peace Prize winner: she was wise, kind, and joyful. She is friendly to everyone and treats everyone with kindness. She gives people a huge smile and warm hugs. She is bursting with joy. Right beneath the surface, however, there is a huge reservoir of pain. Her father was burned alive. Her mother was raped and tortured before she died. Her brother was murdered. She lost her youngest son. She watched many thousands of people oppressed, tortured, and murdered. When I realized the amount of pain she was holding, I wanted to cry. One of the signs of true greatness is the ability to hold a large amount of pain, not just with courage and equanimity, but also with kindness, compassion, and joy. Rigoberta showed me what greatness looks like. I was moved.

She showed me that when pain is overwhelming, joy does not dissolve away the pain. Instead, it becomes a skillful container for the pain, limiting its damage and allowing the healing process to work. It is a little like putting a cast around your leg when you have a serious fracture. It prevents further damage and allows the leg to heal over time. Rigoberta demonstrated to me, by her own example, how one can hold immense pain, gently, with joy.

Just because you’re in pain doesn’t mean you cannot be joyful

Peace prize nominee Dawn Engle

Seeing everything for the miracle it is

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh poetically says, “The real miracle is not to walk on either water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child – our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
Or, as Louis C. K. put it, less poetically but more humorously when he talked about people complaining on airplanes, “Did you partake in the miracle of human flight, you noncontributing zero? You got to fly! It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going “Oh my god! Wow! You’re flying! You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky!”

A sailboat in the ocean

It is a parable of a person pushing a sailboat to the ocean. Before arriving at the ocean, the sailboat is pushed with much effort, but once it reaches the ocean, the sailboat is pushed with much effort, but once it reaches the ocean, pushing is useless. On the water, the sailboat is effortlessly propelled by the wind. The distance it travels on the ocean in one day is farther than it could be forced over land in a hundred years.

This analogy carries two important lessons. The first is that effortlessness often needs to be preceded by deliberate effort. If we never push the sailboat to the ocean, if instead we foolishly sit in the sailboat while it is on land hoping for it to be “propelled without effort by the wind,” we get nowhere. In meditation, effortlessness must be established on the foundation of attentional stability; otherwise it is really just mind wandering and a waste of your time. The second lesson is that while the effortful stage is important, its main role is to enable effortlessness. A meditator who does not understand this is like a sailor who keeps pushing the sailboat when it is already in the water, or worse, like the guy who pushes his sailboat all the way to the destination over land rather than pushing it to the water with the intent of sailing to the destination. He is wasting valuable time and effort. I’d rather be sailing.

It takes a very long time to be a overnight success

The non-self

As a fellow adventurer, I can share with you a description of the tiny bit of territory I have personally explored on this subject of non-self. It is nowhere near what the masters have described, but since my exploration is much closer to our day-to-day worldly experience, it may be helpful to you. In my exploration, I learned that there are at least two flavors of non-self, one weaker and one stronger. The weaker flavor is the experience that there is only the observer, and the observer has no identity. This flavor is actually quite easy to describe and fairly straightforward for someone with strong samatha and vipassana practice to arrive at. When we sleep, we sometimes dream. In our dreams, we are sometimes an entirely different person from the person in real life. In other words, in those dreams, we have an entirely different identity as the person who is awake. During the process of falling asleep and getting into that dream, the mind abandons one identity and takes on another. My experience of the first flavor of nonself took that path. Once, as I was in deep meditation, the mind became subtle enough to enter that dreamlike state while being vividly aware, and it arrived at the state after the mind abandons one identity but before the mind takes up another. In that state there was only the observer, and the observer had no identity whatsoever. There was no “Meng,” that “Meng” completely disappeared. There was only the observer. I was able to stay in that state for roughly thirty minutes, and that experience was life changing. In my life, some large percentage of my suffering arises from issues involving my identity (“How dare they treat me like this? Who do they take me for?” “Why am I not lovable?” “Why does he treat me like I am incompetent?”) When the observer has no identity, the observer gains experential realization that identity is entirely mind-made. Identity has no substance whatsoever – it is nothing but a mere creation of mind.

Having experienced that realization, when one gets back to real life, identity-related problems such as being treated like I’m useless or unimportant still sting, but the mind also knows that there is zero substance to that identity anyway, so the suffering is meaningfully reduced.

Strive hard to let go

In striving toward mastery in samantha, vipassana, and brahmavihara – calm-abiding, insight, and sublime states – what are we trying to achieve? Well, we are not trying to achieve anything at all. It is very important to understand that ultimately, meditation is not about getting anything – meditation is entirely about letting go. In fact, I can summerize my entire twenty-plus years of meditation practice in just two words: letting go. The entirety of my practice is learning to let go. For example, early on, I learned to let go of my addiction to constant sensory and mental stimulation. A bit later on, I learned to let go of restlessness and distraction during sitting meditation. Much later on, I learned to let go of some amount of greed, hatred, anxiety, and destructive ego. And at the current stage of my practice, I’m learning to let go of clinging, aversion, ill will, my dependence on sensory pleasure in general, and my need to fluff up my identity and ego. The entire process is nothing but letting go.

At every stage of letting go, I was rewarded with a new source of wholesome joy. For example, when I let go of the need to constantly be stimulated by some sensory pleasure, I experienced the joy of ease. I developed the ability to be joyful simply by sitting down and relaxing. When I let go of some meaningful amount of anger and resentment, I experienced the joy of goodwill. When I let go of my compulsion to not feel the unpleasant feelings relating to my failure, I experienced the joy of confidence. In every single case, what I experienced was the joy of freedom, for example, the joy of freedom from boredom, freedom from want, freedom from anxiety, freedom from my own ego, and freedom from resentment. I am, and always have been, enslaved by two tyrannical masters: my clinging to sensory and ego pleasures, and my aversion to all things unpleasant to senses and ego. I am the slave of Clinging Monster and Aversion Monster. With every bit more of letting go, I gain a little bit more freedom from this enslavement. In freedom, there is great joy.

Personal review

The book carries a lot of insights. It is written humorously and is easy to read. Gave me inspiration and tools for how to find more joy in life.

Rating 1-10 where 7 is not an option: 8/10

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Book notes

Can’t Hurt Me: Notes

Wow, what a fantastic book! The story of David Goggins journey from abuse and obesity to becoming the (perhaps) worlds hardest man is extraordinary. He describes the process he has gone through, starting with a very rough childhood with an abusive father, becoming fat and lazy, never working out, to joining the Navy SEALs, running ultra marathons and setting a world record for most pull-ups in 24 hours…

David Goggins
David Goggins

The hardest man god ever created

Notes & takeaways

To the unrelenting voice in my head that will never allow me to stop

Do you know who you really are and what you’re capable of? I’m sure you think so, but just because you believe something doesn’t make it true. Denial is the ultimate comfort zone.

Motivation changes exactly nobody. The bad hand that was my life was mine, and mine alone to fix. So I sought out pain, fell in love with suffering, and eventually transformed myself from the weakest piece of shit on the planet into the hardest man god ever created, or so I tell myself.

Human beings change through study, habit, and stories. Through my story you will learn what the body and mind are capable of when they’re driven to maximum capacity, and how to get there.

The Accountability Mirror

“Look at you,” I said. “Why do you think the air force wants your punk ass? You stand for nothing. You are an embarrassment.” I reached for the shaving cream, smoothed a thin coat over my face, unwrapped a fresh razor and kept talking as I shaved.
“You are one dumb motherfucker. You read like a third grader. You’re a fucking joke! You’ve never tried hard at anything in your life besides basketball, and you have goals? That’s fucking hilarious.”
After shaving peach fuzz from my cheeks and chin, I lathered up my scalp. I was desperate for a change. I wanted to become someone new.
“You don’t see people in the military sagging their pants. You need to stop talking like a wanna-be-gangster. None of this shit is going to cut it! No more taking the easy way out. It’s time to grow the fuck up!”

A new ritual was born, one that stayed with me for years. It would help me get my grades up, whip my sorry ass into shape, and see me to graduation and into the Air Force. The ritual was simple. I’d shave my face and scalp every night, get loud, and get real. I set goals, wrote them on Post-It notes, and tagged them to what I now call the Accountability Mirror, because each day I’d hold myself accountable to the goals I’d set. At first my goals involved shaping up my appearance and accomplishing all my chores without having to be asked.
Make your bed like you’re in the military every day!
Pull up your pants!
Shave your head every morning!
Cut the grass!
Wash all dishes!
The accountability mirror kept me on point from then on, and though I was still young when this strategy came through me, since then I’ve found it useful for people at any stage in life.

If You look in the mirror and you see a fat person, don’t tell yourself that you need to lose a couple of pounds. Tell the truth. You’re fucking fat! It’s okay. Just say you’re fat if you’re fat. The dirty mirror that you see every day is going to tell you the truth every time, so why are you still lying to yourself? So you can feel better for a few minutes and stay the fucking same? If you’re fat you need to change the fact that you’re fat because it’s very fucking unhealthy. I know because I’ve been there.

Tip: Can’t Hurt Me pair well with Born To Run

If you have worked for thirty years doing the same shit you’ve hated day in and day out because you were afraid to quit and take a risk, you’ve been living like a pussy. Period, point blank. Tell yourself the truth! That you’ve wasted enough time, and that you have other dreams that will take courage to realize, so you don’t die a fucking pussy. Call yourself out!

Your life is not fucked up because of overt rascists or hidden systemic racism. You aren’t missing out on opportunities, making shit money, and getting evicted because of America or Donalf fucking Trump or some people hate immigrants or jews or harass women or believe gay people are going to hell. If any of that shit is stopping you from excelling in life, I’ve got some news. You are stopping you!

You are giving up instead of getting hard! Tell the truth about the real reasons for your limitations and you will turn that negativity, which is real, into jet fuel. Those odds stacked against you will become a damn runway!

No time to waste

There is no more time to waste. Hours and days evaporate like creeks in the desert. That’s why it’s okay to be cruel to yourself as long as you realize you’re doing it to become better. We all need thicker skin to improve in life. Being soft when you look in the mirror isn’t going to inspire the wholesale changes we need to shift our present and open up our future.

During my senior year in high school, all I cared about was working out, playing basketball, and studying, and it was the Accountability Mirror that kept me motivated to keep pushing toward something better. I woke up before dawn and started going to the gym most mornings at 5 a.m. before school to hit the weights. I ran all the damn time. One night I ran thirteen miles – the most I’d ever run in my entire life.

Craving discomfort

From that point, I brainwashed myself into craving discomfort. If it was raining, I would go run. Whenever it started snowing, my mind would say, Get your fucking running shoes on. Sometimes I wussed out and had to deal with it at the Accountability Mirror. But facing that mirror, facing myself, motivated me to fight through uncomfortable experiences, and, as a result, I became tougher. And being tough and resilient helped me meet my goals.

Memorization

After my mother realized I was serious about joining the Air Force, she found me a tutor who helped me figure out a system I could use to learn. That system was memorization. I couldn’t learn just by scratching a few notes and memorizing those. I had to read a text book and write each page down in my notebook. Then do it again a second and third time. That’s how knowledge stuck to the mirror of my mind. Not through learning, but through transcription, memorization, and recall.

When you have no confidence it becomes easy to value other people’s opinions, and I was valuing everyone’s opinion without considering the minds that generated them

As soon as I realized that, being upset with them was not worth my time. Because if I was gonna kick their ass in life, and I was, I had way too much shit to do. Each insult or dismissive gesture became more fuel for the engine revving inside me.

Goals

Whether it’s a career goal (quit my job, start a business), a lifestyle goal (lose weight, get more active), or an athletic one (run my first 5k, 10k, or marathon), you need to be truthful with yourself about where you are and the necessary steps it will take to achieve those goals, day by day. Each step, each necessary point of self-improvement, should be written as its own note. That means you have to do some research and break it all down. For example, if you are trying to lose forty pounds, your first Post-It may be to lose two pounds in the first week. Once that goal is achieved, remove the note and post the next goal of two to five pounds until your ultimate goal is realized.

SEAL training

They say you like suffering, Goggins. That you think you’re a bad motherfucker. Enjoy your extended stay in Hell!

Just getting through Hell Week would be the biggest honor of my life so far. Even if I never graduated from BUD/S, surviving Hell Week alone would have meant something. But I didn’t just survive. I was about to finish Hell Week at the top of my class, and for the first time, I knew I was a bad motherfucker.

Once, I was so focused on failing, I was afraid to even try. Now I would take on any challenge. All my life, I was terrified of water, and especially cold water, but standing there in the final hour. I wished the ocean, wind, and mud were even colder! I was completely transformed physically, which was a big part of my success in BUD/S, but what saw me through Hell Week was my mind, and I was just starting to tap into its power.

In a society where mediocrity is too often the standard and too often rewarded, there is intense fascination with men who detest mediocrity, who refuse to define themselves in conventional terms, and who seek to transcend traditionally recognized human capabilities.

Never forget that all emotional and physical anguish is finite! It all ends eventually. Smile at pain and watch it fade for at least a second or two. If you can do that, you can string those seconds together and last longer than your opponent thinks you can, and that may be enough to catch a second wind.

Challenge: Taking souls

Choose any competitive situation you’re in right now. Who is your opponent? Is it your teacher or coach, your boss, an unruly client? No matter how they’re treating you there is one way to not only earn their respect, but turn the tables: Excellence.

That may mean acing an exam, or crafting an ideal proposal, or smashing a sales goal. Whatever it is, I want you to work harder on that project or in that class than you ever have before. Do everything exactly as they ask, and whatever standard they set as an ideal outcome, you should be aiming to surpass that.

If your coach doesn’t give you time in the games, dominate practice. Check the best guy on your squad and show the fuck out. That means putting time in off the field. Watching film so you can study your opponent’s tendencies, memorizing plays, and training in the gym. You need to make that coach pay attention. If it’s your teacher, then start doing work of high quality. Spend extra time on your assignments. Write papers for her that she didn’t even assign! Come early to class. Ask questions. Pay attention. Show her who you are and want to be.

If it’s a boss, work around the clock. Get to work before them. Leave after they go home. Make sure they see that shit, and when it’s time to deliver, surpass their maximum expectations.

Whoever you’re dealing with, your goal is to make them watch you achieve what they could never have done themselves. You want them thinking how amazing you are. Take their negativity and use it to dominate their task with everythin you’ve got. Take their motherfucking soul!

Armored mind

Time stood still as I realized for the first time that I’d always looked at my entire life, everything I’d been through, from the wrong perspective. Yes, all the abuse I’d experienced and the negativity I had to push through challenged me to the core, but in that moment I stopped seeing myself as the victim of bad circumstance, and saw my life as the ultimate training ground instead.

My palms were soft and quickly got torn up on the bars because they weren’t accustomed to gripping steel. But over time, after thousands of reps, my palms built up a thick callous as protection. The same principle works when it comes to mindset. Until you experience hardships like abuse and bullying, failures and disappointments, your mind will remain soft and exposed. Life experience, especially negative experiences, help callous the mind.

Hell Week is designed to show you that a human is capable of much more than you know. It opens your mind to the true possibilities of human potential, and with that comes a change in your mentality. You no longer fear cold water or doing push-ups all day. You realize that no matter what they do to you, they will never break you.

Yes, it was miserable, but I fucking loved it. I thrived off of the barbaric beauty of seeing the soul of a man destroyed, only to rise again and overcome every obstacle in his path.

Doubt

The sympathetic nervous system is your fight or flight reflex. It’s bubbling just below the surface, and when you are lost, stressed out, or struggling, like I was when I was a down and lost kid, that’s the part of your mind that’s driving the bus. We’ve all tasted this feeling before. Those mornings when going on a run is the last thing you want to do, but then twenty minutes into it you feel energized, that’s the work of the sympathetic nervous system. What I’ve found is that you can tap into it on-call as long as you know how to manage your own mind.

Tip: read my notes on “The Compound Effect” which is also a great book on self improvement

No matter the task at hand, there is always opportunity for self-doubt. Whenever you decide to follow a dream or set a goal, you are just as likely to come up with all the reasons why likelihood of success is low. Blame it on the fucked-up evolutionary wiring of the human mind. But you don’t have to let your doubt into the cockpit! You can tolerate doubt as a backseat driver, but if you put doubt in the pilot’s seat, defeat is guaranteed.

Sounds simple, right? It isn’t. Very few people even bother to try to control the way their thoughts and doubts bubble up. The vast majority of us are slaves to our minds. Most don’t even make the first effort when it comes to mastering their thought process because it’s a never-ending chore and impossible to get right every time.

There is no shame in getting knocked out. The shame comes when you throw in the motherfucking towel, and if I was born to suffer, then I may as well take my medicine

After finishing Hell Week

“Mr. Skop is dead,” the captain said. He took stock of the room. His words had been a collective gut punch to men who were already on the knife’s edge after nearly a week with no sleep and no relief. The captain didn’t give a fuck. “This is the world you live in. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last to die in your line of work.” He looked over at Mr. Skop’s roommate and said, “Mr. Moore, don’t steal any of his shit.” Then he left the room like it was just another fucked-up day.
I felt torn between grief, nausea, and relief. I was sad and sick to my stomach that Mr. Skop had died, but we were all relieved to have survived Hell Week, plus the way the captain handled it was straight ahead, no bullshit, and I remembered thinking if all SEALs were like him, this would definitely be the world for me. Talk about mixed emotions.

Was it possible to survive this, day after day? I thought about quitting. If failure was my future and I’d have to rethink my life completely, what was the point of this exercise? Why delay the inevitable? Was I fucked in the head? Each and every thought boiled down to the same old simple quistion: why?
“The only way to guarantee failure is to quit right now, motherfucker!” I was talking to myself now. “People have a hard time going through BUD/S healthy, and you’re going through it on broken legs! Who else would even think of this?” I asked. “Who else would be able to run even one minute on one broken leg, let alone two? Only Goggins! You are twenty minutes in the business, Goggins! You are a fucking machine! Each step you run from now until the end will only make you harder!”

No matter where we were stationed, we got after it every single morning. We’d meet up at 4 a.m. and get to it. Sometimes that meant running up the side of a mountain before hitting the O-Course at high speed and carrying logs up and over the berm and down the beach. In BUD/S, usually six men carried those logs. We did it with just the two of us. On another day we rocked a pull-up pyramid, hitting sets of one, all the way up to twenty, and back down to one again. After every other set we’d climb a rope forty feet high. One thousand pull-ups before breakfast became our new mantra. At first, Sledge struggled to rock one set of ten pull-ups. Within months he’d lost thirty-five pounds and was hitting one hundred sets of ten!

Warming up for a 100 mile race

Also, I didn’t exactly come in well-rested. The night before the race, I passed by the SEAL Team Five gym on my way off base after work, and peeked in like I always did, just to see who was getting after it. The captain was inside warming up, and called out. “Goggins, let’s jack some fucking steel!” I laughed. He stared me down. “You know, Goggins,” he said, stepping closer, “when the Vikings were getting ready to raid a fucking village, and they were camped out in the fucking woods in their goddam tents made out of fucking deer hides and shit, sitting around a campfire, do you think they said, “Hey, let’s have some herbal fucking tea” and call it an early night? Or were they more like, “Fuck that, we are going to drink some vodka made out of some mushrooms and get all drunked up”, so the next morning when they were all hung-over and pissed off they would be in the ideal mood to slaughter the shit out of some people?”
The captain could be a funny motherfucker when he wanted to be, and he could see me wavering, considering my options. On the one hand, that man would always be my BUD/S instructor and he was one of the few instructors who was still hard, putting out, and living the SEAL ethos every day. I’ll always want to impress him. Jacking weights the night before my firsts 100 mile race would definitely impress that masochistic motherfucker. Plus, his logic made some fucked-up sense to me. I needed to get my mind ready to go to war, and lifting heavy would be my way of saying, bring on all your pain and misery, I’m ready to go! But, honestly, who does that before running a hundred fucking miles?

Challenge

Set ambitious goals before each workout and let those past victories carry you to new personal bests. If it’s a run or bike ride, include some time to do interval work and challenge yourself to beat your best mile split. Or simply maintain a maximum heart rate for a full minute, then two minutes. If you’re at home, focus on pull-ups or push-ups. Do as many as possible in two minutes. Then try to beat your best. When the pain hits and tries to stop you, dunk your fist in and let it fuel you!
If you’re more focused on intellectual growth, train yourself to study harder and longer than ever before, or read a record number of books in a given month.

before a race his girlfriend was going to run-
Kate was ready to go. Her goal was to break five hours, and for once, I was satisfied being a cheerleader. My mom had always planned on walking it, and I figured I’d stroll with her for as long as I could, then hail a cab to the finish line and cheer my ladies to the tape.
The three of us toed up with the masses as the clock struck 7 a.m., and someone got on the mic to begin the official count down. “Ten…nine…eight…” When he hit one, a horn sounded, and like Pavlov’s dog something clicked inside me. I still don’t know what it was. Perhaps I underestimated my competitive spirit. Maybe it was because I knew Navy SEALs were supposed to be the hardest motherfuckers in the world. We were supposed to run on broken legs and fractured feet. Or so went the legend I’d bought into long ago. Whatever it was, something triggered and the last thing I remember seeing as the horn echoed down the street was shock and real concern on the faces of Kate and my mother as I charged down the boulevard and out of sight.

What am I capable of?
I couldn’t answer that question, but as I looked around the finish line that day and considered what I’d accomplished, it became clear that we were all leaving a lot of money on the table without realizing it. We habitually settle for less than our best; at work, in school, in our relationships, and on the playing field or race course. We settle as individuals, and we teach our children to settle for less than their best, and all of that ripples out, merges, and multiplies within our communities and society as a whole. We’re not talking some bad weekend in Vegas, no more cash at the ATM kind of loss either. In that moment, the cost of missing out on so much excellence in this eternally fucked-up world felt incalculable to me, and it still does. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Training hard

I ran that sixteen-mile stretch at least three times a week. Some days I ran home too, and on Fridays I added a ruck run. Inside the radio pouch of my standard issue ruck sack, I slid two twenty-five-pound weights and ran fully loaded for as many as twenty miles to build quad strength. I loved waking up at 5 a.m. and starting work with three hours of cardio already in the bank while most of my teammates hadn’t even finished their coffee. It gave me a mental edge, a better sense of self-awareness, and a ton of self-confidence, which made me a better SEAL instructor. That’s what getting up at the ass crack of dawn and putting out will do for you. It makes you better in all facets of your life.

By now, I’m sure you can tell that it doesn’t take much for me to become obsessed. Some criticize my level of passion, but I’m not down with the prevailing mentalities that tend to dominate American society these days; the ones that tell us to go with the flow or invite us to learn how to get more with less effort. Fuck that shortcut bullshit. The reason I embrace my own obsessions and demand and desire more of myself is because I’ve learned that it’s only when I push beyond pain and suffering, past my perceived limitations, that I’m capable of accomplishing more, physically and mentally – in endurance races but also in life as a whole. And I believe the same is true for you.

Our culture has become hooked on the quick-fix, the life hack, efficiency. Everyone is on the hunt for that simple action algorithm that nets maximum profit with the least amount of effort. There’s no denying this attitude may get you some of the trappings of success, if you’re lucky, but it will not lead to a calloused mind or self-mastery. If you want to master the mind and remove your internal governor, you’ll have to become addicted to hard work. Because passion and obsession, even talent, are only useful tools if you have the work ethic to back them up.

Sadly, most of us give up when we’ve only given around 40 percent of our maximum effort. Even when we feel like we’ve reached our absolute limit, we still have 60 percent more to give! It takes twenty years to gain twenty years of experience, and the only way to move beyond your 40 percent is to callous your mind, day after day. Which means you’ll have to chase pain like it’s your damn job!

Life is one big mind game. The only person you are playing against is yourself. Stick with this process and soon what you thought was impossible will be something you do every fucking day of your life.

Over a period of time, your tolerance for mental and physical suffering will have expanded because your software will have learned that you can take a hell of a lot more than one punch, and if you stay with any task thay is trying to beat you down, you will reap rewards.

Our minds are fucking strong, they are our most powerful weapon, but we have stopped using them. We have access to so many more resources today than ever before and yet we are so much less capable than those who came before us. If you want to be one of the few to defy those trends in our ever-softening society, you will have to be willing to go to war with yourself and create a whole new identity, which requires an open mind.

If you are on the hunt for your 100 percent you should catalog your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Don’t ignore them. Be prepared for them.

Ultraman

I took the bike and logged over 1,000 miles in the three weeks prior to Ultraman. I’d wake up at 4 a.m. and get one hundred-mile rides in before work. On weekends I’d ride 125 miles, get off the bike and run a marathon, but I only did six training swims, just two in the open water, and in the ultra octagon all your weaknesses are revealed.

In one stretch in 2007, I ran an ultra almost every weekend. There were fifty-mile races, 100-kilometer races, 100-mile races, and longer ones too. I was all about spreading the Navy SEAL legend that I loved, and wanted to be true and living our ethos.

Maybe you think I’m a special case or an obsessive maniac. Fine, I won’t argue with you. But what about my friend Mike? He’s a big-time financial advisor in New York City. His job is high pressure and his work day is a hell of a lot longer than eight hours. He has a wife and two kids, and he’s a ultra runner. Here’s how he does it. He wakes up at 4 a.m. every weekday, runs sixty to ninety minutes each morning while his family is still snoozing, rides a bike to work and back and does a quick thirty minute treadmill run after he gets home. He goes out for longer runs on weekends, but he minimizes its impact on his family obligations. He’s high-powered, wealthy as fuck, and could easily maintain his status quo with less effort and enjoy the sweet fruits of his labors, but he finds a way to stay hard because his labors are his sweetest fruits. And he makes time to get it all in by minimizing the amount of bullshit clogging his schedule. His priorities are clear, and he remains dedicated to his priorities. I’m not talking about general priorities here either. Each hour of his week is dedicated to a particular task and when that hour shows up in real time, he focuses 100 percent on that task. That’s how I do it too, because that is the only way to minimize wasted hours.
Evaluate your life in its totality! We all waste so much time doing meaningless bullshit. We burn hours on social media and watching television, which by the end of the year would add up to entire days and weeks if you tabulated time like you do your taxes. You should, because if you knew the truth you’d deactivate your Facebook account ASAP, and cut your cable. When you find yourself having frivolous conversations or becoming ensnared in activities that don’t better you in any way, move the fuck on!

Perhaps you aren’t looking to get fit, but have been dreaming of starting a business of your own, or have always wanted to learn a language or an instrument you’re obsessed with. Fine, the same rule applies. Analyze your schedule, kill your empty habits, burn out the bullshit, and see what’s left. Is it one hour per day? Three? Now maximize that shit. That means listing your prioritized tasks every hour of the day.

The 24 hour mission

The whole point of the twenty-four-hour mission is to keep up a championship pace, not for a season or a year, but for your entire life! That requires quality rest and recovery time. Because there is no finish line. There is always more to learn, and you will always have weaknesses to strengthen if you want to become as hard as woodpecker lips. Hard enough to hammer countless miles, and finish that shit strong!

Are you an experienced scuba diver? Great, shed your gear, take a deep breath and become a one-hundred-foot free diver. Are you a badass triathlete? Cool, learn how to rock climb. Are you enjoying a wildly successful career? Wonderful, learn a new language or skill. Get a second degree. Always be willing to embrace ignorance and become the dumb fuck in the classroom again, because that is the only way to expand your body of knowledge and body of work. It’s the only way to expand your mind.

In life, there is no gift as overlooked or inevitable as failure. I’ve had quite a few and have learned to relish them, because if you do the forensics you’ll find clues about where to make adjustments and how to eventually accomplish your task.

Breaking the world record for pull-ups

After seventeen hours of pain, around 3 a.m. on January 20, 2013, I did my 4021st pull-up, and the record was mine. Everyone in the gym cheered, but I stayed composed. After two more sets and 4030 total pull-ups, I took my headphones out, stared into the camera and said, “I tracked you down, Stephen Hyland!”
In one day, I’d lifted the equivalent of 846,030 punds, nearly three times the weight of the Space Shuttle! Cheers spread to laughter as I pulled off my gloves and disappeared into the back room, but much to everyone’s surprise, I was not in the mood to celebrate. Does that shock you too? You know that my refrigerator is never full, and it never will be because I live a mission-driven life, always on the hunt for the next challenge. That mindset is the reason I broke that record, finished Badwater, became a SEAL, rocked Ranger School, and on down the list. In my mind I’m that racehorse always chasing a carrot I’ll never catch, forever trying to prove myself to myself. And when you live that way and attain a goal, success feels anti-climactic.

At first, when you push beyond your perceived capability your mind won’t shut the fuck up about it. It wants you to stop so it sends you into a spin cycle of panic and doubt, which only amplifies your self-torture. But when you persist past that to the point that pain fully saturates the mind, you become single-pointed. The external world zeroes out. Boundaries dissolve and you feel connected to yourself, and to all things, in the depth of your soul. That’s what I was after.

The Buddha famously said that life is suffering. I’m not a Buddhist, but I know what he meant and so do you. To exist in this world, we must contend with humiliation, broken dreams, sadness, and loss. That’s just nature. Each specific life comes with its own personalized portion of pain. It’s coming for you. You can’t stop it. And you know it.
In response, most of us are programmed to seek comfort as a way to numb it all out and cushion the blows. We carve out safe spaces. We consume media that confirms our beliefs, we take up hobbies aligned with our talents, we try to spend as little time as possible doint the tasks we fucking loathe, and that makes us soft. We live a life defined by the limits we imagine and desire for ourselves because it’s comfortable as hell in that box. Not just for us, but for our closest family and friends. The limits we create and accept become the lens through which they see us. Through which they love and appreciate us.

The internal voice

But it’s not the external voice that will break you down. It’s what you tell yourself that matters. The most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones you’ll have with yourself. You wake up with them, you walk around with them, you go to bed with them, and eventually you act on them. Whether they be good or bad.
We are all our worst haters and doubters because self doubt is a natural reaction to any bold attempt to change your life for the better. You can’t stop it from blooming in your brain, but you can neutralize it, and all the other external chatter by asking, what if?
What if is an exquisite fuck-you to anyone who has ever doubted your greatness or stood in your way.

We live in a world with a lot of insecure, jealous people. Some of them are our best friends. They are blood relatives. Failure terrifies them. So does our success. Because when we transcend what we once thought was possible, push our limits, and become more, our light reflects off all the walls they’ve built up around them. Your light enables them to see the countours of their own prison, their own self-limitations. But if they are truly the great people you always believed them to be, their jelousy will evolve, and soon their imagination might hop its fence, and it will be their turn to change for the better.

Unsure what to read next? The Obstacle Is The Way explores similar ideas and mindsets as Can’t Hurt Me.

Categories
Book notes

The Obstacle Is The Way: Notes

This was my first real introduction to the philosophy of Stoicism. Having heard a lot about it from the Tim Ferriss Podcast, I was eager to dive deeper into it. This book was a great place to start, as it delivers clear and actionable principles.

Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday

A media strategist and prominent writer on strategy and business.

Notes & takeaways

I think Stoicism is a deeply fascinating and critically important philosophy. But I also understand that you live in the real world, and you don’t have time for a history lecture. What you want are real strategies to help you with your problems, so that’s what this book is going to be. – Ryan Holiday

This thing in front of you. This issue. This obstacle – this frustrating, unfortunate, problematic, unexpected problem preventing you from doing what you want to do. That thing you dread or secretly hope will never happen. What if it wasn’t so bad?

What if embedded inside it or inherent in it were certain benefits – benefits only for you? What would you do? What do you think most people would do?

Probably what they’ve always done, and what you are doing right now: nothing.

The discipline of perception
There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try:

  • To be objective
  • To control emotions
  • To choose to see the good in the situation
  • To steady our nerves
  • To ignore what disturbs or limits others
  • To place things in perspective
  • To revert to the present moment
  • To focus on what can be controlled

See things for what they are.
Do what we can.
Endure and bear what we must.

What blocked the path is now the path.
What once impeded action advances action.
The obstacle is the way.

Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.

Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel

Recognize your power

Just because your mind tells you that something is awful or evil or unplanned or otherwise negative doesn’t mean you have to agree. Just because other people say that something is hopeless or crazy or broken to pieces doesn’t mean it is. We decide what story to tell ourselves. Or whether we will tell one at all.

There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.

Choose not to be harmed – and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been.

Marcus Aurelius

Live in the present moment

It doesn’t matter whether this is the worst time to be alive or the best, whether you’re in a good job market or a bad one, or that the obstacle you face is intimidating or burdensome. What matters is that right now is right now.


Think differently

Having learned early in life that reality was falsely hemmed in by rules and compromises that people had been thaught as children, Steve Jobs had a much more aggressive idea of what was or wasn’t possible. To him, when you factored in vision and work ethic, much of life was malleable.

For more inspiration on thinking differently, read my notes on The Everything Store

This is radically different from how we’ve been taught to act. Be realistic, we’re told. Listen to feedback. Play well with others. Compromise. Well, what if the “other” party is wrong? What if conventional wisdom is too conservative? It’s this all-too-common impulse to complain, defer, and then give up that holds us back.


Finding the opportunity

A good person dyes events with his own color, and turns whatever happens to his own benefit.

Seneca

The Blitzkrieg strategy was designed to exploit the flinch of the enemy – he must collapse at the sight of what appears to be overwhelming force. Its success depends completely on this response. This military strategy works because the set-upon troops see the offensive force as an enormous obstacle bearing down on them.
This is how the allied opposition regarded the Blitzkrieg for most of the war. They could see only its power, and their own vulnerability to it.


Take that longtime rival at work (or that rival company), the one who causes endless headaches? Note the fact that they also:

  • Keep you alert
  • Raises the stakes
  • motivate you to prove them wrong
  • harden you
  • help you to appreciate true friends
  • provide an instructive antilog – an example of whom you don’t want to become

Or that computer glitch that erased all your work? You will now be twice as good at it since you will do it again.

When people are:
Rude or disrespectful:
They underestimate us. A huge advantage.

Conniving:
We won’t have to apologize when we make an example out of them.

Critical or question our abilities:
Lower expectations are easier to exceed.

Lazy:
Makes whatever we accomplish seem all the more admirable.


Build your inner citadel

We take weakness for granted. We assume that the way we’re born is the way we simply are, that our disadvantages are permanent. And then we atrophy from there. Nobody is born with a steel backbone. We have to forge that ourselves.


Anticipation

If only more people had been thinking worst-case scenario at critical points in our lifetimes: the tech bubble, Enron, 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, and the real estate bubble might ave been avoidable. No one wanted to consider what could happen, and the result? Catastrophe.

Book notes: Zero To One

Today, the premortem is increasingly popular in business circles, from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies and the Harvard Business Review. But like all great ideas, it is actually nothing new. The credit goes to the Stoics. They even had a better name: premeditatio malorum (premeditation of evils).

A writer like Seneca would begin by reviewing or rehearsing his plans, say, to take a trip. And then he would go over in his head (or in writing), the things that could go wrong or prevent it from happening: a storm could arise, the captain could fall ill, the ship could be attacked by pirates.

Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation, nor do all the things turn out for him as he wished but as he reckoned – and above all he reckoned that something could block his plans.

Seneca

Always prepare for disruption:
What if…
Then I will…
What if…
Instead I’ll just…
What if…
No problem, we can always…

And in the case where nothing could be done, the stoics would use it as an important practice to do something the rest of us too often fail to do: manage expectations. Because sometimes the only answer to “What if…” is It will suck but we’ll be okay.

We are dependent on other people. Not everyone can be counted on like you can (though, lets be honest, we’re all our worst enemy sometimes). And that means people are going to make mistakes and screw up your plans. Not always, but a lot of the time.
If this comes as a constant surprise each and every time it occurs, you’re not only going to be miserable, you’re going to have a much harder time accepting it and moving on to attempts number two, three and four. The only guarantee ever, is that things will go wrong.

Beware the calm before the storm.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
The worst is yet to come.
It gets worse before it gets better.

The world might call you a pessimist. Who cares? It’s far better to seem like a downer than to be blindsided or caught off guard. It’s better to meditate on what could happen, to probe for weaknesses in our plans, so those inevitable failures can be correctly perceived, appropriately addressed, or simply endured.


The art of acquiescence

The fates guide the person who accepts them and hinder the person who resists them

Cleanthes

When a doctor gives you orders or a diagnosis – even if it’s the opposite of what you wanted – what do you do? You accept it. You don’t have to like or enjoy the treatment but you know denying it only delays the cure.

If someone we knew took traffic signals personally we would judge them insane.

Things could always be worse. The next time you:
Lose money?
Remember, you could have lost a friend.
Lost that job?
What if you’d lost a limb?
Lost your house?
You could have lost everything.

Yet we squirm and complain about what was taken from us. We still can’t appreciate what we have.

The goal is:
Not: I’m okay with this.
Not: I think I feel good about this.
But: I feel great about it.
Because if it happened, then it was meant to happen, and I am glad that it did when it did. I am meant to make the best of it.


Perseverance

If persistence is attempting to solve some difficult problem with dogged determination and hammering until the break occurs, then plenty of people can be said to be persistent. But perseverance is something larger. It’s the long game. It’s about what happens not just in round one but in round two and every round after – and then the fight is that and the fight after that, until the end.

Persistence is an action. Perseverance is a matter of will. One is energy. The other, endurance.

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield

Alfred Tennyson

When Antonio Pigafetta, the assistant to Magellan on his trip around the world, reflected on his boss’s greatest and most admirable skill, what do you think he said? It had nothing to do with sailing. The secret to his success, Pigafetta said, was Magellan’s ability to endure hunger better than other men.

There are far more failures in the world due to a collapse of will than there will ever be from objectively conclusive external events.


Something bigger than yourself

Hoping to stain the McCain family’s prestigious military legacy and the United States, the Vietcong repeatedly offered McCain the opportunity to be released and return home. He wouldn’t take it. He would not undermine the cause, despite self-interest. He stayed and was tortured – by choice.

People are getting a little desperate. People might not show their best elements to you. You must never lower yourself to being a person you don’t like. There is no better time than now to have a moral and civic backbone. To have a moral and civic true north. This is a tremendous opportunity for you, a young person, to be heroic.

Henry Rollins

Sometimes when we are personally stuck with some intractable or impossible problem, one of the best ways to create opportunities or new avenues for movement is to think: If I can’t solve this for myself, how can I at least make this better for other people? Take it for granted, for a second, that there is nothing else in it for us, nothing we can do for ourselves. How can we salvage some good out of this? If not for me, then for my family or the others I’m leading or those who might later find themselves in a similar situation. What doesn’t help anyone is making this all about you, all the time. Why did this happen to me? What am I going to do about this? You’ll be shocked by how much of the hopelessness lifts when we reach that conclusion.

Stop making it harder on yourself by thinking about I, I, I. Stop putting that dangerous “I” in front of events. I did this. I was so smart. I had that. I had that. I deserve better than this. No wonder you take losses personally, no wonder you feel so alone. You’ve inflated your own role and importance. Start thinking: Unity over self. We’re in this together.

Whatever you’re going through, whatever is holding you down or standing in your way, can be turned into a source of strength – by thinking of people other than yourself. You won’t have time to think of your own suffering because there are other people suffering and you’re too focused on them.

Help your fellow humans thrive and survive, contribute your little bit to the universe before it swallows you up, and be happy with that. Lend a hand to others. Be strong for them, and it will make you stronger.


Meditate on your mortality

Death doesn’t make life pointless, but rather purposeful. And, fortunately, we don’t have to nearly die to tap into this energy.

It’s a cliché question to ask, What would I change about my life if the doctor told me I had cancer? After our answer, we inevitable comfort ourselves with the same insidious lie: Well, thank God I don’t have cancer.

But we do. The diagnosis is terminal for all of us. A death sentence has been decreed. Each second, probability is eating away at the chances that we’ll be alive tomorrow; something is coming and you’ll never be able to stop it. Be ready for when that day comes.


Prepare to start again

The great law of nature is that it never stops. There is no end. Just when you think you’ve successfully navigated one obstacle, another emerges. But that’s what keeps life interesting. And as you’re starting to see, what’s what creates opportunities.

Elysium is a myth. One does not overcome an obstacle to enter the land of no obstacles. On the contrary, the more you accomplish, the more things will stand in your way. There are always more obstacles, bigger challenges. You’re always fighting uphill. Get used to it and train accordingly.

Related book: The Compound Effect


Knowing that life is a marathon and not a sprint is important. Conserve your energy. Understand that each battle is only one of many and that you can use it to make the next one easier. More important, you must keep them all in real perspective.

Not everyone looks at obstacles – often the same ones you and I face – and sees reason to despair. In fact, they see the opposite. They see a problem with a ready solution. They see a chance to test and improve themselves. Nothing stands in their way. Rather, everything guides them on the way.

First, see clearly.
Next, act correctly.
Finally, endure and accept the world as it is.

Of course, it is not enough to simply read this or say it. We must practice these maxims, rolling them over and over in our minds and acting on them until they become muscle memory.

So that under pressure and trial we get better – become better people, leaders, and thinkers. Because those trials and pressures will inevitably come. And they won’t ever stop coming.


On Stoicism
Today, Bill Clinton rereads Marcus Aurelius every single year. Wen Jiabao, the former prime minister of China, claims that Meditations is one of two books he travels with and has read it more than one hundred times.

If Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is antiquity, it is we who are the ruins.

Joseph Brodsky

As I tried to show in this book, countless others have embodied the best practises of Stoicism and philosophy without even knowing it. These individuals weren’t writers or lecturers, they were doers – like you.

Over the centuries though, this kind of wisdom has been taken from us, co-opted and deliberately obscured by selfish, sheltered academics. They deprived us of philosophy’s true use: as an operating system for the difficulties and hardships of life.

Philosophy was never what happened in the classroom. It was a set of lessons from the battlefield of life.

Now you are a philosopher and a person of action. And that is not a contradiction.


You now join the ranks of Marcus Aurelius, Cato, Seneca, Thomas Jefferson, James Stockdale, Epictetus, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, and many others. All these men explicitly practiced and studied stoicism. They were not academics, but men of action.

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.

Henry David Thoreau

Personal review

Structure
The book is divided into three big sections: Perception, action, and will. Each section has about 10 chapters, exploring different aspects of that theme. Each chapter starts with a story, and the rest of the chapter expands upon the principle found in that story.

Pros

  • Interesting book, and a lot of great value
  • Motivating
  • Easy to read. Small chapters, short stories
  • Great book to read in small segments over a longer period of time
  • Inspiring stories from people who have put the stoic principles to use throughout history

Cons

  • Somewhat repetitive. Better to read in small doses
  • Some of the principles are overemphasized and the text length could be reduced

Conclusion: Worth to read in small bites, perfect as a 10-20 pager before bedtime.

Categories
Book notes

Never Lose A Customer Again: Notes


Gary Vaynerchuk, with his books The Thank You Economy and Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, was the first person to open my eyes about the importance of great customer service, and how it often seems to be at the bottom of companies priority lists in the digital age. Joey Coleman, with his book Never Lose A Customer Again, wants to give companies new inspiration and tools to succeed.

The author
The author

Award-winning speaker and business consultant Joey Coleman teaches audiences and companies all over the world how to turn a one-time purchaser into a lifelong customer.

Review

Pros: If you have not read similar books, it’s worth a read as it gives inspiration and strategies on how to improve customer relationship, a vital part of any company. There are several good ideas and points that makes this a good read, especially if you haven’t read any other books on customer experience.

Cons: Having read the works of Gary Vaynerchuk, I felt this did not bring a whole lot new to the table. Could have cut 1/3 of the book, too much repetition. Most of the examples is the authors own personal experiences with different companies’ customer services, which I sometimes find a little too easy. I also consider it a cheap move to write about the creation process of the book and try to derive value from that. You should have a clear vision of what should be in a book when you start writing it. Trying to squeeze in how the author experienced the customer service from some kind of author-helping-consultancy is just not very interesting.

Losing customers is the biggest threat facing business today – and yet most companies don’t even realize it

Joey Coleman

Notes

The current situation

Current business trends glamorize growth, incentivize acquisition, fail to consider the emotional journey of the customer, undervalue retention, and underpay and underequip customer-facing employees. Not to mention the fact that they completely ignore their customers basic biology and human behavior.

The very structure of most businesses is set up to reward the acquisition of new customers. In most businesses, the “stars” are the employees who bring in new clients, not the employee who keep clients happy after the sale. As if this didn’t stack the deck enough, the leaders of most companies usually came through the ranks of marketing or sales. Because they understand sales and marketing, they are quick to look there for guidance and advice, as well as focus and interest. It’s what they know.

This creates a propensity within the typical organization to reward, acknowledge, and promote those who are outward facing and focused on new business development, rather than recognize individuals who are internal facing and focusing on keeping current customers happy.

The salesperson is not concerned about getting the right prospect – a person who will be a good fit and stay with the company for a long time – because they are typically incentivized by the total number of new accounts, not retained accounts.

The number of resources devoted to marketing and sales are enormous compared to those directed toward customer retention. The 2017 edition of the annual CMO Survey found that the average business spends 6.9 percent of total company revenue on marketing – and yet less than one fifth of that total spending is dedicated to customer retention activities.

customer life cycle

Despite the fact that the customer life cycle graphic is balanced with three elements on each side of the “purchase”, very few businesses devote any attention to the right side of the graphic.

Individuals working in customer service usually report to another department (marketing, sales, operations etc), and that department head reports directly to the CEO. The customer service/experience voices go unheard for lack of a seat at the executive table. As a result, the work they do is often seen as a commodity or ignored altogether.

Across a wide range of industries, a 5% improvement in customer retention rates will yield a 25 to 100% increase in profits

Frederick Reichfield, author of The Loyalty Effect

Many people mistakenly interchange the terms “customer service” and “customer experience” I believe they describe very different situations. Customer service is reactive, while customer experience is proactive.

Customer service is how a business responds when things go wrong or a customer expresses a need. Customer experience, on the other hand, comes on the front end. It anticipates what might go wrong and structures the interactions to avoid this from ever happening

Apply the Hollywood technique.

Applying the Hollywood technique in business, the customer’s emotional journey becomes the primary focus. If businesses approached their customer interactions in the same way movies approach their audience interactions – figuring out the emotions a customer should have every step of the way – the entire world would change.

Evaluate your current situation

  • When prospects review your marketing materials, do they get a good idea of what their experience is going to be like if they become customers (not what they will receive from doing business with you, but how they will feel when doing business with you)?
  • How long does the typical prospect assess your product or service before becoming a customer?
  • Does your sales team effectively and accurately record customer desires and needs?
  • Does your sales team effectively and accurately share customer desires and needs with the individual(s) responsible for maintaining the relationship once the sale is made?
  • Do prospects receive a detailed and accurate preview of what the experience will be like after becoming customer?
  • Do you preframe the prospect’s expectations to be in alignment with your business operations?
  • Do you create remarkable experiences during the Assess phase?
  • If so, what are they?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is “pathetic” and 10 is “world class”, how would you rate the experience your prospects currently have?

Personalize

Make the required remarkable

Joey Coleman

Zogics is one of the wellness industry’s largest one-stop shops for fitness professionals. They send a personalized thank you video as part of the confirmation email to every customer. After implementing this strategy, the open rate of that email rose from 20 to 60% and the video watch rate is around 20%

Counter buyers remorse

The most important thing a business can do to counter feelings of buyer’s remorse is to offer ways for a customer to reaffirm their decision as quickly as possible. By reaffirming the customer’s decision through a series of positive, high-energy communications, you can counter the chemically induced feelings of doubt. Whether it’s a video that reminds the customer they made the right choice or a case study affirming that your offering can solve their problem, giving evidence of your ability to deliver can serve as a counterbalance to the customer’s feelings of doubt and uncertainty.

A brief “Keep the Faith” video can be emailed to new customers between the time they place their order and when the order is received or service delivered. Giving customers visual confirmation of the business’s enthusiasm for the new relationship is a great way to reassure them about the decision to do business with you.

Building personal connections

Building personal connections is a vital element of relationship building. By explaining who is on the team and detailing roles and responsibilities, it’s possible to reduce uncertainty and establish trust early in the customer life cycle. Customers need to know where they should go with questions, concerns, and problems that may arise in the first few weeks and months of working together. Offering personal details about team members that go beyond their duties and responsibilities creates possibilities for connection via points of commonality or contrast. By empowering your employees to play an active role in creating your customer journey touchpoints, you increase buy-in, implementation, and commitment to the process in the long run.

Make it physical

On Online Trainer Academy, the first-ever certification program for online trainers.
After the training course is purchased, Jon’s team mails the customer a hardback textbook, a spiral-bound training workbook, and instructions for how to use these two items in conjunction with the online training videoes. The fact that Jon’s online training program has a physical textbook and workbook automatically distinguishes it from the bulk of online education programs. The fact that these books are beautifully designed and printed further cements the emotional experience customers have and supports the brand image/reputation of a high-quality, high-value program.

Defy customers’ preconceived expectations. Create contrast in experience. Online customers expect that every interaction will be online. Consider adding offline interactions to bring your company and experience into the tangible world. Sending something via mail feels almost old-school in comparison with online offerings, but this contrasting experience creates a remarkable interaction.

Create micro experiences

On Baro, successfull new restaurant in Toronto
The customers interests, food and drink selections, and preferences not only are captured, but the experience coordinator reviews these daily. Before the restaurant opens for the evening, the coordinators talk to each server about the specifics of the guests who will be seated in that server’s section. “Our goal is to constantly create micro customer experiences for our guests” Michael Falcon, one of Baro’s partners, explains. “Small, subtle, memorable gestures that will resonate with them for years to come.” The budget for creating these interactions is purposely kept lean – 250$ per month total, for the entire restaurant – to “keep the team creative.”

Give special treatment

Your most loyal customers deserve special treatment. Create something of unique value to them and not only will they feel appreciated, but they will see themselves as “part of a club”. If there is the opportunity to add a dash of nostalgia, that will only heighten the experience. Exclusivity is a powerful feeling. Don’t be afraid to create a limited-edition item or make a special experience available just to these customers who are most loyal and supportive.

The best customer rewards offer exclusivity and rare opportunities – and sometimes both! Look for things that you can give away that cost very little to you compared with how much your customers will value them. For your best referrers, go above and beyond to actively seek out special experiences that they wouldn’t easily be able to arrange on their own.

I developed a four-step process to help you understand your customers and position your business to roll out an enhanced customer journey:

  • Investigate
  • Observe
  • Personalize
  • Surprise

Eliminate your logo, tagline or any other message about you: Let’s be honest – if you give a customer an item with your logo or name on it, you’re not giving a gift. You’re giving a marketing tool that you hope the customer will show to their friends, which ideally will lead to more business to you.

Experiences are great, but help the customer remember: Gifting your customers with remarkable experiences is fantastic, but don’t forget to memorialize the experience with a memento. Dinners, concerts, golf outings, and the like tend to be forgotten rather quickly – but not when paired with a cookbook from the restaurant, a framed photo of the band from the concert, or a piece of golf apparel from the pro shop at the golf course you played.

Don’t forget the note: If you’re going to make the effort to surprise someone, you should be willing to make the effort to write a handwritten note to accompany your gift. If you’re not willing to do that, please don’t even bother with the gift.

Don’t give to receive: Give presents and surprises because you want to, not because you want to be seen a certain way or you think it will lead to something else in return. No one likes a present that arrives with strings attached.

Success surveys

A in-depth “success survey” allows for data collection about the individual customer to be used in personalizing future communications. In addition, larger data sets from these surveys will identify trends within the customer base and could alter early sales messages, systems, and processes for future prospects.

Gather referrals

The best referrals come from happy current customers. Make your referral program easy to understand, even easier to participate in, and worthwhile for the referring customer’s investment of time and effort. Your best customers most likely spend time associating with your ideal prospects. Creating the opportunity for customers to talk with their friends and lolleagues about your offering feels natural when you give customers the necessary information to make it easy for them to refer people to you.

Asking for referrals requires thoughtful timing and a sincere ask. The goal should be an honest assessment of how you are performing. This feedback not only provides the data to enhance operations, but can serve as a marketing tool to draw in prospective customers. Used properly, testimonials drive sales in a meaningful and measurable way.

When asking for a testimonial, the company should give the customer specific guidance on what it’s looking for. It’s not enough to email the best customers and say, “We have a new website launching, would you be willing to write a testimonial?” That’s not have you create an advocate. That’s putting the onus on them to do the work.

The better approach is to go to the customer and say, “We’ve worked together for a long time. You’ve had some massive success and changes within your organization as a direct result of your relationship with us. Would you be willing to share the impact of our work together?

To make giving a testimonial even easier, you can also say to the customer, “Look, I recognize that you’re busy and have a lot on your plate right now. With your permission, I’d like to draft a testimonial for you. You can feel free to edit or amend it as you see fit.”

Investigate

Dale Carnegie is famous for saying, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” The typical business approach to interacting with customers is to jump up and down and scream, “Look at me! Look at me! Look what I have!” Instead of asking questions and learning all about their customers, businesses have a tendency to focus on themselves.

It never ceases to amaze me how much I can learn by merely spending five to ten minutes investigating online

Joey Coleman
Categories
Book notes

The Compound Effect: Notes

You understand what this book is all about from its title: How small, targeted steps and habits over time will add up. A simple, but high-energy and motivational self development book written by the founder of SUCCESS Magazine, Darren Hardy. Several inspirational real life examples of the compound effect at work, and several useful techniques and strategies to improve yourself in every aspect of life.

The author
The author

Darren Hardy is an American author, keynote speaker, advisor, and former publisher of SUCCESS magazine.

Notes

I want you to know in your bones that your only path to success is through a continuum of mundane, unsexy, unexciting, and sometimes difficult daily diciplines compounded over time.

If we want to succeed, we need to recover our grandparent’s work ethic.

Darren Hardy

Your biggest challenge isn’t that you’ve intentionally been making bad choices. Your biggest challenge is that you’ve been sleepwalking through your choices. Nobody intends to become obese, go through bankruptcy, or get a divorce, but most often those consequences are the result of a series of small, poor choices.

If I always took 100 percent responsibility for everything I experienced – completely owning all of my choices and all the ways I responded to whatever happened to me – I held the power. Everything was up to me. I was responsible for everything I did, didn’t do, or how I responded to what was done to me.

From this day forward, choose to be 100 percent responsible for your life. Eliminate all of your excuses. Embrace the fact that you are freed by your choices, as long as you assume personal responsibility for them. It’s time to make the choice to take control.

Go for whole-life success – balance in all the aspects of life that are important to you: business, finances, health, family, lifestyle and relationships.

Track your progress

You cannot manage or improve something until you measure it. Likewise, you can’t make the most of who you are – your talents, resources and capabilities – until you are aware of and accountable for your actions.

Pick an area of your life where you most want to be successful. I want you to track every action that relates to that area of your life. If you want to get out of debt, you’re going to track every penny you pull from your pocket. If you want to lose weight, you’re going to track everything you put in your mouth. This process forces you to be conscious of your decisions.

It’s time to WAKE UP and realize that the habits you indulge in could be compounding your life into repeated disaster. The slightest adjustments to your daily routines can dramatically alter the outcomes of your life

Darren Hardy

Position yourself for luck

The complete formula for getting lucky:
Preparation + attitude + opportunity + action = luck

“When I asked Richard Branson if he felt luck played a part in his success, he answered, “Yes of course, we are all lucky. If you live in a free society, you are lucky. Luck surrounds us every day; we are constantly having lucky things happen to us, whether you recognize it or not. I have not been any more lucky or unlucky than anyone else. The difference is when luck came my way, I took advantage of it.”

It’s a funny thing; the more I practice, the luckier I get

Arnold Palmer

The biggest difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people are willing to do what unsuccessful people are not. Successful people aren’t necessarily more intelligent or more talented than anyone else. But their habits take them in the direction of becoming more informed, more knowledgeable, more competent, better skilled, and better prepared.

For example: by listening to something instructional why commuting, you will gain knowledge equivalent to two semesters of an advanced college degree – every year. Think about it; using the time you’re currently wasting by listening to radio or generic music, you could obtain the equivalent of Ph.D. in leadership, sales success, wealth building, relationship excellence – or whatever course you choose.

Action steps

Write out the half-dozen small, seemingly inconsequential steps you can take every day that can take your life in a completely new and positive direction.

Write down the small, seemingly inconsequential actions you can stop doing that might be compounding your results downward.

List a few areas, skills or outcomes where you have been most successful in the past. Consider whether you could be taking those for granted and are not continuing to improve, and are therefore in jeopardy of having that complacency lead to future failure.

Where in your life are you not taking 100 percent responsibility for the success or failure of your present condition? Write down three things you have done in the past that have messed things up. List three things you should have done but didn’t. Write out three things that happened to you but you responded poorly. Write down three things you can start doing right now to take back responsibility for the outcomes of your life.

Identify your triggers: look at your list of bad habits. Identify what triggers them.

Your why

The power of your why is what gets you to stick through the grueling, mundane, and laborious. All of the hows will be meaningless until your whys are powerful enough. Until you’ve set your desire and motivation in place, you’ll abandon any new path you seek to better your life. If your why-power isn’t great enough, if the fortitude of your commitment isn’t powerful enough, you’ll end up like every other person who makes a New Year’s resolution and gives up too quickly and reverts to sleepwalking through poor choices.

Goals

The one skill most responsible for the abundance in my life is learning how to effectively set and achieve goals. Something almost magical happens when you organize and focus your creative power on a well-defined target. I’ve seen this time and again: the highest achievers in the world have all succeeded because they mapped out their visions. The person who has a clear, compelling, and white-hot burning why will always defeat even the best of the best at doing the how.

Choice + behavior + habit + compounded = goals

Top people have very clear goals. They know who they are and they know what they want. They write down and they make plans for its accomplishment. Unsuccessful people carry their goals around in their head like marbles rattling around in a can, and we say a goal that is not in writing is merely a fantasy.

Every morning at 7 a.m., I have what I call my calibration appointment, where I take fifteen minutes to calibrate my day. This is where I brush over my top three one-year and five-year goals, my key quarterly objectives, and my top goal for the week and month. Then I review (or set) my top three MVPs (Most Valuable Priorities) for that day, asking myself, “If I only did three things today, what are the actions that will produce the greatest results in moving me closer to my big goals?

Right now I’m working on adding more adventure into my life. I set weekly, monthly, and yearly goals to do something I wouldn’t normally do. Most of the time it’s nothing earth-shattering, but things such as eating different kinds of foods, taking a class, visiting a new destination, or joining a club to meet new people.

It’s important to cash out your day’s performance. Compared to your plan for the day, how did it go? What do you need to carry over to tomorrow’s plan? What else needs to be added, based on what showed up throughout the day? What’s no longer important and needs to be scratched out? Additionally, I like to log into my journal any new ideas, ah-has or insights I picked up throughout the day – this is how I’ve collected more than forty journals of incredible ideas, insights, and strategies. All hell can break loose throughout the day, but because I control the bookends, I know I’m always going to start and finish strong.

Develop your own personal board of advisors

I’ve hand-selected a dozen people because of their areas of expertise, creative thinking ability, and/or my great respect for who they are. Once a week I reach out to a few of them and solicit ideas, run thoughts by them, and ask for feedback and input. Having started this process, I can tell you the benefits I’ve already received have been profound – far more than I anticipated! It’s surprising the genius people are willing to share when you show sincere interest.

After spending a couple of hours with Paul, hearing about his plans, ventures and activities, my head would spin. Just trying to make sense of all he had going on exhausted me. After time with Paul, I’d want to go take a nap! But my association with him raised my game. His walking pace was my running pace. It expanded my ideas about how big I could play and how ambitious I could be. You have to get around people like that!

Don’t wish for easy

When conditions are great, things are easy, there aren’t any distractions, no one is interrupting, temptations aren’t luring, and nothing is disturbing your stride; that too is when most everyone else does great. It’s not until situations are difficult, when problems come up and temptation is great, that you get to prove your worthiness for progress.

This is perfect attacking weather, mainly because I know the others don’t like it. I believe that nobody in the world is better at suffering. It’s a good day for me.

Lance Armstrong

Be extraordinary

Regarding applying for a job: Research all the people in the organization. Take that list and run it by your entire network to see if they know anyone who might know someone in this organization. Search every name against your LinkedIn database. Find a few people to connect with. Talk with them and ask them to put in a good word for you. Send them gifts, notes, and other things, and ask them to hand-deliver these things to the decision makers. Phone, e-mail, text, tweet and Facebook them during the process. Could this be overly aggressive? Heck, yes! But I have found that you may lose one out of five for being too aggressive, but you get the other four!”

Do what it takes, even the unexpected, to make your case heard. Add a little audacity to your repertoire.

Darren Hardy

It takes very little extra to be extraordinary. In all areas of your life, look for the multiplier opportunities where you can go a little further, push yourself a little harder, last a little longer, prepare a little better, and deliver a little bit more. Where can you do better and more than expected? Where can you do the totally unexpected? Find as many opportunities for “WOW,” and the level and speed of your accomplishments will astonish you… and everyone else around you.

Categories
Book notes

Born to Run: Notes

Summary.

The story builds upon the author’s own running experience. Being a semi-enthusiastic runner, he kept getting injuries. Speaking to doctors, they told him that humans simply were not built to run long distances, and injuries therefore inevitably would occur. However, he did not take those answers for granted, and started investigating the subject on his own. He hears rumours about “the running people”, a Mexican tribe called the Tarahumara. Supposed to be some of the greatest runners in human history, while avoiding injuries, the author wants to find out how they manage it.

This sparks a fantastic adventure, switching between tracking down the Tarahumara, researching their history, ultra-marathons, meeting some wonderful characters, as well as a hefty attack on the shoe industry.

Notes.

On why we are born to run by Dr. Lieberman.

“…You’ve got to ask yourself why only one species in the world has the urge to gather by the tens of thousands to run twenty-six miles in the heat for fun. Recreation has its reasons.”

Dr. Dennis Bramble

“Forget about speed; maybe we were born to be the world’s greatest marathoners.”

“Even though biomechanically smooth human runners have short strides, they still cover more distance per step than a horse, making them more efficient. With equal amounts of gas in the tank, in other words, a human can theoretically run farther than a horse.”

Which is also proven, in the yearly 50 mile “Man Against Horse Race” in Arizona, where human regularly beat horses in endurance.

“Dr. Bramble discovered that when many quadrupeds run, their internal organs slosh back and forth liker water in a bathtub. Every time a cheetah’s front feet hit the ground, its guts slam forward into the lungs, forcing out air. When it reaches out for the next stride, its innards slide rearward, sucking air back in. Adding that extra punch to their lung power, though, comes at a cost: it limits cheetahs to just one breath per stride. Actually, Dr. Bramble was surprised to find that all running mammals are restricted to the same cycle of take-a-step, take-a-breath. In the entire world, he could only find one exception: you.

Springy legs, twiggy torsos, sweat glands, hairless skin, certical bodies that retain less sun heat – no wonder we’re the world’s greatest marathoners.

The reason for humans to develop into long distance runners were simple: to catch prey. Dr. Lieberman says “To run an antelope to death, all you have to do is scare it into a gallop on a hot day. “If you keep just close enough for it to see you, it will keep sprinting away. After about ten or fifteen kilometers’ worth of running, it will go into hyperthermia and collapse. We can dump heat on the run, but animals can’t pant while they gallop. We can run in conditions that no other animal can run in.

Unlike our true ancestors, the running men, the Neanderthals were the mighty hunters we like to imagine we once were; they stood shoulder to shoulder in battle, a united front of brains and bravery, clever warriors armored with muscle but still refined enough to slow-cook their meat to tenderness in earth ovens and keep their women and children away from danger. Neanderthals ruled the world – till it started getting nice outside. The new climate was great for the running men; the antelope herds exploded and feasts of plump roots were pushing up all over the savannah.

But there’s a problem. Our greatest talent also created the monster that could destroy us. Unlike any other organism in history, humans have a mind-body conflict: we have a body built for performance, but a brain that’s always looking for efficiency. We live or die by our endurance, but remember: endurance is all about conserving energy, and that’s the brain’s department. The reason some pople use their genetic gift for running and others don’t is because the brain is a bargain shopper. For millions of years we lived in a world without cops, cabs, or Domino’s Pizza; we relied on our legs for safety, food, and transportation and it wasn’t as if you could count on one job ending before the next one began. You could never be sure that you wouldn’t become food right after you catching some. The antilope you’d chased down could attract fiercer animals, forcing you to drop your lunch and run for your life. The only way to survive was to leave something in the tank – and that’s where the brain comes in. The brain is always scheming to reduce costs, get more for less, store energy and have it ready for an emergency. You’ve got this fancy machine, and it’s controlled by a pilot who’s thinking “okay, how can I run this baby without using any fuel?”
You and I know how good running feels because we’ve made a habit of it. But lose the habit, and the loudest voice in your ear is your ancient survival instinct urging you to relax. And there’s the bitter irony: Our fantastic endurance gave our brain the food it needed to grow, and now our brain is undermining our endurance.

We live in a culture that sees extreme exercise as crazy. Because that’s what our brain tells us: why fire up the engine if you don’t have to?

To be fair, our brain knew what it was talking about for 99% of our history; sitting around was a luxury, so when you had the chance to rest and recover, you grabbed it. Only recently have we came up with the technology to turn lazing around into a way of life; we’ve taken our durable, hunter-gatherer bodies and plunked them into an artificial world of leisure. We’ve taken away the jobs our bodies were meant to do, and we’re paying for it. Nearly every top killer in the western world – heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, hypertension, and a dozen forms of cancer – was unknown to our ancestors.

“We monitored the results of the 2004 New York City Marathon and compared finishing times by age. What we found is that starting at age nineteen, runners get faster every year until they hit their peak at twenty-seven. After twenty-seven, they start to decline. So here’s the question – how old are you when you’re back to running the same speed you did at nineteen? The answer is sixty-four. Isn’t that amazing? Name any other field of athletic endeavor where sixty-four-year-olds are competing with nineteen-year-olds!”

On ultramarathons and coach Joe Vigil:
“No other elite coach could give a hoot what was going on at that giant outdoor insane asylum in the Rockies. Self-mutilators, mean motherfuckers or whatever they called themselves – what did they have to do with real running? With olympic running? As a sport, most track coaches ranked ultras somewhere between competitive eating and recreational S&M. Super, Vigil thought, go ahead and sleep, and leave the freaks to me – because he new the freaks where onto something. He loved the fact that ultrarunning had no science, no playbook, no training manual or conventional wisdom. That kind of freewheeling self-invention is where big breakthroughs come from. These runners were like mad scientists messing with beakers in the basement lab, ignored by the rest of the sport and free to defy every known principle of footwear, food, biomechanics, training intenstity…everything.

On the beginning of Barefoot-Ted:
“…He got checked by a chiropractor and an orthopedic surgeon, and both said there was really nothing wrong with him. Running was just an inherently dangerous sport, they told him, and one of the dangers was the way impact shock shoots up your legs and into your spine. But the docs did have some good news: If Ted insisted on running, he could probably be cured with a credit card. Top-of-the-line running shoes and some spongy heel pads, they said, should cushion his legs enough to get him through a marathon. Ted spent a fortune he really didn’t have on the most expensive shoes he could find, and was crushed to discover that they didn’t help. But instead of blaming the docs, he blamed the shoes: He must need even more cushioning than thirty years of Nike air-injection R&D had come up with.

After doing research on his own, Ted discovered that Leonardo Da Vinci considered the human foot, with its fantastic weight-suspension system comprising one quarter of all the bones in the human body, “a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” He learned about Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian marathoner who ran barefoot over the cobblestones of Rome to win the 1960 Olympic marathon – and about Charlie Robbins, M.D., a lone voice in the medical wilderness who ran barefoot and argued that marathons won’t hurt you, but shoes sure as hell will.

Shoes block pain, not impact!
Pain teaches us to run comfortably!
From the moment you start going barefoot, you will change the way you run.

“No wonder your feet are so sensitive,” Ted mused. “They’re self-correcting devices. Covering your feet with cushioned shoes is like turning off your smoke alarms.”

On his first barefoot run, Ted went five miles and felt…nothing.

There was an important point in all of this: running shoes may be the most destructive force to ever hit the human foot. Barefoot Ted, in his own weird way, was becoming the Neil Armstrong of twenty-first-century distance running, an ace test pilot whose small steps could have tremendous benefit for the rest of mankind. If that seems like excessive stature to load on Barefoot Ted’s shoulders, consider these words by Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University: “A lot of foot and knee injuries that are currently plaguing us are actually caused by people running with shoes that make our feet weak, cause us to over-pronate, give us knee problems. Until 1972, when the modern athletic shoe was invented by Nike, people ran in very thin-soled shoes, had strong feet, and had much lower incidence of knee-injuries.”
And the cost of these injuries? Fatal disease in epidemic proportions. “Humans really are obligatorily required to do aerobic exercise in order to stay healthy, and I think that has deep roots in our evolutionary history,” Dr. Lieberman said. “If there’s any magic bullet to make human beings healthy, it’s to run.”

On the Tarahumara.
“The Tarahumara aren’t great runners,” Eric told me. “They’re great athletes, and those two things are very different. Runners are assembly-line workers; they become good at one thing – moving straight ahead at a steady speed – and repeat that motion until overuse fritzes out the machinery. Athletes are Tarzans. Tarzan swim and wrestles and jumps and swings on vines. He’s strong and explosive. You never know what he will do next, which is why he never gets hurt. Your body needs to be shocked to become resilient. Follow the same daily routine, and your musculoskeletal system quickly figures out how to adapt and go on autopilot. But surprise it with new challenges – leap over a creek, commando-crawl under a log, sprint till your lungs are bursting – and scores of nerves and ancillary muscles are suddenly electrified into action.

For the Tarahumara, that’s just daily life. The Tarahumara step into the unknown every time they leave the cave, because they never know how fast they’ll have to sprint after a rabbit, how much firewood they’ll have to haul home, how tricky the climbing will be during a winter storm.

On Caballo Blanco.
“I’d get up at four-thirty in the morning, run twenty miles, and it would be a beautiful thing. Then I’d work all day and want to feel that way again. So I’d go home, drink a beer, eat some beans, and run some more.”

Categories
Book notes

The Everything Store: Notes

Summary & Thoughts

“The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the age of Amazon” is a mix between a biography of Jeff Bezos and a history of Amazon.com, much like “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. I’ve wanted to read this for a long time, and had high expectations. I’m very happy to say that the book delivered everything I wanted plus more!

“There is so much stuff that has yet to be invented.
There’s so much new that’s going to happen.
People don’t have any idea yet how impactful the Internet is going to be and that this is still Day 1 in such a big way.”
– Bezos

The start
Bezos started his career at a Wall Street investment fund:
While the rest of Wall Street saw D.E. Shaw as a highly secretive hedge fund, the firm viewed itself somewhat differently. In the owner David Shaw’s estimation, the company wasn’t really a hedge fund but a versatile technology laboratory full of innovators and talented engineers who could apply computer science to a variety of different problems. Investing was only the first domain where it would apply its skills. So in 1994, when the opportunity of the Internet began to reveal itself to the few people watching closely, Shaw felt that his company was uniquely positioned to exploit it. And the person he anointed to spearhead the effort was Jeff Bezos.
It was through this time the idea of “The everything store” first were born. Bezos later left D.E. Shaw to start his own company, which eventually became Amazon.

Amazon was started on a shoestring budget. Bezos backed the company himself with 10,000$ in cash. He later added 84,000$ in interest-free loans and received a 100,000$ investment from his parents.

Books where not a coincidence
Amazon’s first product catalogue consisted only of books, which were no coincidence. They were easy to send, had the same format for packaging, no expiry date etc. There were also a gigantic number of books available, which meant Amazon could compete with traditional bookstores by simply offering pretty much every book available in the world, since they were not limited by a small, physical store. This also meant that Amazon’s first customers were hardcore, loyal fans, often purchasing books they simply could not find elsewhere. This also lead to a positive word of mouth, as they would tell their friends were to find those hidden gems.

Later, when researching new product categories to stock, Amazon hired a “SWAT team” to research categories of products that had high number of SKU’s (unique products), were underrepresented in physical stores, and could easily be sent through the mail. This was a key part of Amazon’s early strategy: maximising the internet’s ability to provide a superior selection of products as compared to those available at traditional retail stores.

Fun fact
One early challenge was that the book distributors required retailers to order ten books at a time. Amazon didn’t yet have that kind of sales volume, and Bezos later enjoyed telling the story of how he got around it. “We found a loophole. Their systems were programmed in such a way that you didn’t have to receive ten books, you only had to order ten books. So we found an obscure book about lichens that they had in their system but was out of stock. We began ordering the one book we wanted and nine copies of the lichen book. They would ship out the book we needed and a note that said “sorry, but we’re out of the lichen book.”

The review function
Amazon early developed a review feature, coded by one of the early developers over a single weekend. Bezos believed that if Amazon.com had more user-generated book reviews than any other site, it would give the company a huge advantage. A lot of the book publishers where unhappy about the feature, due to negative reviews from non-professional critics. However, it went on to serve as an organic marketing channel, where customers used Amazon as a reference guide for purchasing books, looking at the hundred of thousands of user-generated reviews.

How they outcompeted established stores like Barnes & Noble
Bezos had predicted that the chain retailer would have trouble seriously competing online, and, in the end, he was right. The Barnes & Noble owners were reluctant to lose money on a relatively small part of their business and didn’t want to put their most resourceful employees behind an effort that would siphon sales away from the more profitable stores. On top of that, their company’s distribution operation was well entrenched and geared toward servicing physical stores by sending out large shipments of books to a set number of locations. The shift from mailing small orders to individual customers was long, painful, and full of customer-service errors. For Amazon, that was just daily business.
A lot of the big players in the markets Amazon challenged made the same type of errors. Semi-motivated attempts to build a digital presence, but unwillingness to commit due to a historically stable and more profitable physical market.

Amazon warehouses/distribution centers
After hiring Jeff Wilke, a Walmart logistic executive to rebuild Amazon’s distribution centers, Bezos told him he wanted a distribution system that was ten times larger than it currently was, and not just in the United States but in Amazon’s new markets in the UK and Germany. When asked what products they would be shipping, Bezos replied “I don’t know. Just design something that will handle anything,” Wilke recalls. “I’m going, you’re kidding me, right?” And Bezos said “No, that is the mission.” I had to have a solution to handle everything but an aircraft carrier.”
At Walmart, distribution centers shipped containers of products predictably, once a day, to all stores in the surrounding area. At Amazon, there were innumerable packages going to countless destinations. And there was no predictability, as Amazon sales were growing 300% a year and constantly adding new product categories.

“A customer might order one book, a DVD, some tools – perhaps gift-wrapped, perhaps not – and that exact combination might never again be repeated. There were an infinite number of permutations. We were essentially assembling and fullfilling customer orders. The factory physics were a lot closer to manufacturing and assembly than they were to retail.”

To get things under control, Wilke started a series of daily conference calls with his general managers. He told them that on each call, he wanted to know the facts on the ground: how many orders had shipped, how many had not, whether there was a backlog, and if so, why.

Amazon Marketplace
In november 2000, Amazon announced a new initiative called Marketplace. The effort started with used books. Other sellers of books were invited to advertise their wares directly within a box on Amazon’s own book pages. Customers got to choose whether to purchase the item from Amazon itself or from a third-party seller. If they chose the latter, either because the seller had a lower price or because the product was out of stock at Amazon, the company would lose the sale but collect a small commission. “Jeff was super clear from the beginning. If somebody else can sell it cheaper than us, we should let them and figure out how they are able to do it.”

Insane growth
During an early investor presentation, Bezos would tell the investors he projected $74 million in sales by 2000 if things went moderately well, and $114 million if things went much better than expected. This was high goals, but the actual net sales in 2000 tells the story about the explosive growth: $1.64 BILLION.

High demands for the workforce
An early employee worked part-time, which amounted to 35 hours a week. If he wanted to be accepted as a full-time employee, it was expected to almost double that time to around 60 hours a week.
During interviews, if the potential employees made the mistake of talking about wanting a harmonious balance between work and home life, Bezos rejected them.
At Amazon, everyone on the team was supposed to work harder than everyone else. The assumption was that no one would take even a weekend day off. “Nobody said you couldn’t, but nobody thought you would. There was deadlines and death marches,” says an early employee.
As Amazon’s growth accelerated, Bezos drove employees even harder, calling meetings over the weekends, starting an executive book club that gathered on saturday mornings, and often repeating his quote about working smart, hard, and long.
As a result, Amazon had a high churn rate of employees, and a lot of executives left the company when they wanted to have children, as it was not a family-friendly environment.

“Even though we were probably faster than ninety-nine percent of companies of the world, we were still too slow.”

“If you’re not good, Jeff will chew you up and spit you out. And if you’re good, he will jump on your back and ride you into the ground.” – Amazon employee

Some of the quotes from Jeff, remembered by the employees:

“If that’s our plan, I don’t like our plan”
“I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?”
“Are you lazy or just incompetent?”
“If I hear that idea again, I’m gonna have to kill myself”
“Why are you ruining my life?”

But most Amazon employees also acknowledged that Bezos was primarily consumed with improving the company’s performance and customer service, and that personnel issues are secondary. “He had this unbelievable ability to be incredibly intelligent about things he had nothing to do with and he was totally ruthless about communicating it. Jeff doesn’t tolerate stupidity.”

“This has to scale to infinity with no planned downtime. Infinity!” – Bezos

“…It was considered a Jeff project, which meant that the product manager met with Bezos every few weeks and received a constant stream of e-mail from the CEO, usually containing extraordinarily detailed recommendations and frequently arriving late at night.”

“The meetings can be intense and intimidating. “This is what, for employees, is so absolutely scary and impressive about the executive team. They force you to look at the numbers and answer every single question about why specific things happened. Because Amazon has so much volume, it’s a way to make very quick decisions and not get into subjective debates. The data doesn’t lie.”

On investments.
In the company’s first letter to its shareholders, Bezos wrote: “We will make bold rather than timid investments decisions where we see a sufficient probability of gaining market leadership advantages. Some of these investments will pay off, others will not, and we will have learned another valuable lesson in either case.”
Amazon went on to invest in companies like IMDB.com, Exchange.com, Pets.com, Gear.com and a lot of similar companies.
Ultimately, Amazon ended up losing hundreds of millions of dollars on these investments. “Amazon had to be focused on its own business. Our biggest mistake was thinking we had the bandwith to work with all these companies,” says one Amazon executive from those days.

On innovation

“The thing about Bezos is that he is not tethered by conventional thinking. What is amazing to me is that is bound only by the laws of physics. He can’t change those. Everything else he views as open to discussion.”

Jeff have a grand vision for Amazon – that it be not just an everything store, but ultimately an everything company.

“If you look at why Amazon is so different than almost any other company that started early on the internet, it’s because Jeff approached it from the very beginning with that long-term vision. It was a multidecade project. The notion that he can accomplish a huge amount with a larger time frame, if he is steady about it, is fundamentally his philosophy.”

A major Amazon shareholder once asked Bezos at the profitability prospects for Amazon Web Services. Bezos predicted they would be good over the long term but said he didn’t want to repeat “Steve Jobs’s mistake” of pricing the iPhone in a way that was so fantastically profitable that the smartphone market became a magnet for competition.

When brainstorming around the Kindle reader: Bezos felt Amazon needed to control the entire customer experience, combining sleek hardware with an easy-to-use digital bookstore. “We are going to hire our way to having the talent,” he told his executives in a meeting. “I absolutely know it’s very hard. We’ll learn how to do it.”

When speaking to a design team: “I’ll figure this out and it is not going to be a business model you understand. You are the designers, I want you to design this and I’ll think about the business model.”

In 2002 he started a new personal ritual: He took time after the holidays to think and read. Returning the company after a few weeks, Bezos presented his next big idea to his team. One of this ideas was to split all divisions into smaller team, that set its own “fitness function”. For example, a team in charge of sending advertising e-mails to customers might choose the rate at which these messages were opened multiplied by the average order size those e-mails generated. A group writing software code for the fulfillment centers might home in on decreasing the cost of shipping each type of product and reducing the time that elapsed between a customer’s making a purchase and the item leaving the FC in a truck. Bezos then wanted to personally approve each equation and track the results over time. It would be his way of guiding a team’s evolution.

“Step by step, ferociously.” The phrase accurately captures Amazon’s guiding philosophy. Steady progress toward seemingly impossible goals will win the day. Setbacks are temporary. Naysayers are best ignored.

On brutality
For the big book publishers, Amazon’s dawning monopoly in e-books was terryfying. As suppliers had learned over the past decade, no matter the category, Amazon wielded its market power neither lightly nor gracefully, employing every bit of leverage to improve its own margins and pass along savings to its customers. If the company didn’t get what it wanted, the reaction could be severe.

One competitor said: “They have an absolute willingness to torch the landscape around them to emerge the winner.”

“We don’t have a single big advantage, so we have to weave a rope of many small advantages.” – Bezos

Fun facts.
Bezos was one of the original investors in Google, his company’s future rival, and four years after starting Amazon, he minted an entirely separate fortune that today might be worth well over a billion dollars (based of a supposedly 250 000$ investment).

Categories
Book notes

Zero to One: Notes

Summary & thoughts

Several interesting ideas and perspectives, though few groundbreaking. The book is more a collection of notes and ideas than a book with a clear structure and flow. Not longer than it needs to be, and worth reading.

Build a monopoly

Thiel advocates the importance of building for a monopoly, not going head-first into a big market with lots of competitors. Only by building a monopoly business will the company be able to reap strong profitability and create lasting businesses. To achieve this, he advices to start by taking an dominant position in a niche market before scaling to adjacent markets:

“Amazon shows how it can be done. Jeff Bezos’s founding vision was to dominate all of online retail, but he very deliberately started with books. There were millions of books to catalog, but they all had roughly the same shape, they were easy to ship, and some of the most rarely sold books – those least profitable for any retail store to keep in stock – also drew the most enthusiastic customers. Amazon became the dominant solution for anyone located far from a bookstore or seeking something unusual”.

Same goes with Tesla, that did not start of by trying to dominate the entire market for electric cars, but identified a gap in the segment for luxury electric sports cars.

Burned by bubbles

Writes about how different bubbles have affected the mind set of future entrepreneurs, for example from the dot com crash and green-tech. “Would-be entrepreneurs are told that nothing can be known in advance: We’re supposed to listen to what customers say they want, make nothing more than a “minimum viable product”, ant iterate our way to success.”

The entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley learned four big lessons from the dot com crash:

  • Make incremental advances
  • Stay lean and flexible
  • Improve on the competition
  • Focus on product, not sales

However, the opposite principles are probably more correct:

  • Its better to risk boldness than triviality
  • A bad plan is better than no plan
  • Competitive markets destroy profits
  • Sales matters just as much as products

Seven questions & the cleantech bubble

The 1990s had one big idea: the internet is going to be big. But too many internet companies had exactly that same idea and no others. An entrepreneur can’t benefit from macroscale insight unless his own plans begin at the micro-scale. Cleantech companies faced the same problem: no matter how much the world needs energy, only a firm that offers a superior solution for a specific energy problem can make money. No sector will ever be so important that merely participating in it will be enough to build a great company. Most cleantech companies crashed because they neglected one or more of the seven questions that every business must answer:

  • The engineering question: Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
  • The timing question: Is now the right time to start your particular business?
  • The monopoly question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
  • The people question: Do you have the right team?
  • The distribution question: Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
  • The durability question: Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
  • The secret question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others dont see?

He then argues that most cleantech companies did not have a answer for most of these questions. However, one company that did get 7 of 7 was Tesla:

Technology: Tesla’s technology is so good that other car companies rely on it: Daimler uses Tesla’s battery packs; Mercedes-Benz uses a Tesla powertrain; Toyota uses a Tesla motor. General Motors has even created a task force to track Teslas next moves. But Tesla’s greatest technological achievements isn’t any single part or component, but rather its ability to integrate many components into one superior product. The Tesla Model S sedan, elegantly designed from end to end, is more than the sum of its parts: Consumer Reports rated it higher than any other car ever reviewed, and both Motor Trend and Automobile magazines named it their 2013 Car of the Year.

Timing: In 2009, it was easy to think that the government would continue to support cleantech: “green jobs” were a political priority, federal funds were already earmarked, and Congress even seemed likely to pass cap-and-trade legislation. But where others saw generous subsidies that could flow indefinetely, Tesla CEO Elon Musk rightly saw a one-time-only opportunity. In January 2010 – about a year and a half before Solyndra imploded under the Obama administration and politicized the subsidy question – Tesla secured a $465 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy. A half-billion-dollar subsidy was unthinkable in the mid-2000s. It’s unthinkable today. There was only one moment where that was possible and Tesla played it perfectly.

Monopoly: Tesla started with a tiny submarket that it could dominate: the market for high-end electric sports cars. Since the first Roadster rolled off the production line in 2008, Tesla’s sold only about 3000 of them, but at $109,000 a piece that’s not trivial. Starting small allowed Tesla to undertake the necessary R&D to build the slightly less expensive Model S, and now Tesla owns the luxury electric sedan market, too. They sold more than 20,000 sedans in 2013 and now Tesla is in prime position to expand to broader markets in the future.

Team: Tesla’s CEO is the consummate engineer and salesman, so it’s not surprising that he’s assembled a team that’s very good at both. Elon describes his staff this way: “If you’re at Tesla, you’re choosing to be the equivalent of Special Forces. There’s the regular army, and that’s fine, but if you are working at Tesla, you’re choosing to step up your game.”

Distribution: Most companies underestimate distribution, but Tesla took it so seriously that it decided to own the entire distribution chain. Other car companies are beholden to independent dealerships: Ford and Hyundai make cars, but they rely on other people to sell them. Tesla sells and services its vehicles in its own stores. The up-front costs of Tesla’s approach are much higher than traditional dealership distribution, but it affords control over the customer experience, strengthens Tesla’s brand, and saves the company money in the long run.

Durability: Tesla has a head start and it’s moving faster than anyone else – and that combination means its lead is set to widen in the years ahead. A coveted brand is the clearest sign of Tesla’s breakthrough: a car is one of the biggest purchasing decisions that people ever make, and consumers’ trust in that category is hard to win. And unlike every other car company, at Tesla the founder is still in charge, so it’s not going to ease off anytime soon.

Secrets: Tesla knew that fashion drove interest in cleantech. Rich people especially wanted to appear “green”, even if it meant driving a boxy Prius or clunky Honda Insight. Those cars only made drivers look cool by association with the famous eco-conscious movie stars who owned them as well. So Tesla decided to build that made drivers look cool, period – Leonardo DiCaprio even ditched his Prius for an expensive (and expensive-looking) Tesla Roadster. While generic cleantech companies struggled to differentiate themselves, Tesla built a unique brand around the secret that cleantech was even more of a social phenomenon than an environmental imperative.