Category Archives: Health

Psychology example: Healthy mind

As outlined in the seven posts on a healthy psychology, I consider life-long learning (1, 2), creative expression (3, 4) and unconditional contribution (56) to be the primary causes of the very interesting health and longevity statistics listed here (7). This post will give a brief example of how these three factors complement each other in my life.

When it comes to learning, my primary occupation (research scientist) makes this very easy because I simply have to go to work in order to get myself into an environment where constant learning simply has to happen. However, this researcher mentality has spilled over into many other areas of my life as well. The One in a Billion project in particular has been a tremendous learning experience.

I consider myself very fortunate to have accidentally fallen into this natural learning environment because I have now come to realize that constant learning is a prerequisite for creative expression. It is only when you have developed your understanding or your skill set to a certain level that you can really get access to the power of creative expression. For example; I first had to read a lot of literature before I could start writing my own scientific papers, I first had to develop my basic skills to a certain level before I could participate in spontaneous team plays or write new songs and I first had to work through hundreds of books, programs and articles before the One in a Billion project could begin to take shape.

Just as learning is a prerequisite for creative expression, creative expression is a prerequisite for true unconditional contribution. We will talk a lot about this later on, but if you really reach the level where new ideas just form all by themselves, the process of adding value to the world becomes the reward in itself and compensation beyond that which you really need becomes totally irrelevant. From this frame of mind, unconditional contribution is the natural state. At the moment, I consult for the company I will return to after my PhD is complete, I coach the local rugby team and I write this project all completely free of charge and without expecting any favors in the future. Most people would think this is crazy, but my mind has now reached a stage where this feels completely natural.

Now the crux of the matter is that these three components; learning, creative expression and unconditional contribution, automatically create a self-sustaining healthy psychological environment. The more you get exposed to the joy of creation and the joy of really contributing to the world, the more you are motivated to learn, create and contribute further – the very definition of a self-sustaining healthy environment. Our world really needs a lot more of these self-sustaining benevolent cycles.

Psychology: The power of unconditional contribution (practice)

When putting the power of unconditional contribution into practice, the best place to start is with your loved ones. Regular unconditional contribution within close personal relationships is hugely beneficial both for the person who gives and the person who receives. The person who gives earns the gratitude of the other person, an intangible commodity which seems to be quite strongly linked to health, happiness and longevity. Simultaneously, the person who receives gets the benefit of whatever the contribution was, but, most importantly, gets the reassurance that the giver really cares about him/her, another intangible commodity which seems to be quite strongly linked to health, happiness and longevity.

Indeed, such back and forth unconditional contributions form the basis of every healthy and nourishing relationship. Good and healthy feelings of gratitude and belonging are continuously exchanged, working their mysterious and wonderful magic to add years to the lives and life to the years of those who share the relationship. Hey, you can even use your creativity to come up with some unconditional contributions that will directly benefit the health of the other person. Invest the effort to cook him/her a healthy and delicious meal, take him/her on a hiking trip or surprise him/her by learning a handy new skill such as massage therapy.

Unconditional contribution does not need to end with your loved ones though. As discussed in the previous post, your job is another area where unconditional contribution can bring loads of benefits. Shake off that incredibly restrictive what’s-in-it-for-me attitude that plagues society today make a conscious effort to start contributing unconditionally to your company and your customers. This frees up your creativity, brings joy to your work, earns you priceless job security and often leads to great financial benefits in the long run.

Another channel for unconditional contribution is charity work. We will discuss this in a special chapter of the One in a Billion project later on, but freely giving a little bit of your abundance to those who have been hit hard by the realities of socio-economic hereditability can also contribute significantly to your health and happiness. You can also give time instead of money by volunteering or by freely sharing your skills and knowledge as a coach/teacher. All of these things pay off handsomely when it comes to health, wealth and happiness.

But in the end, it is all about the mindset. Our modern world has taught us to always look out for number one and only do that which we are paid for. Again; if making money is your primary reason for working, you are definitely on the wrong track. Goals like free creative expression and meaningful contribution to society offer much healthier and more sustainable motivation. If these are your goals, you skills and reputation will escalate at such an astonishing rate that you will soon be welcome in any company under any economic circumstances.

So, why not give this philosophy a try?

Psychology: The power of unconditional contribution (theory)

It might not always feel like it, but doing something valuable for another person without expecting anything in return is one of the most beneficial things that you can ever dream of doing. It builds strong social networks, earns you lots of precious goodwill and often rewards you with a healthy dose of endorphins. It also gives you a very pure and healthy reason for doing creative work, leading to all the good things described in the previous two posts (1, 2).

Unconditional love is the most natural state from which unconditional contribution can flow. Couples who are in love contribute unconditionally to each other’s lives all the time. In fact, if this contribution dries up later in the relationship, it often dries up the love as well. Parents contribute to the lives of their children in a similar way. Their love allows them to give large quantities of their time and money without even thinking of what they might get in return.

Unfortunately, we live in the age of instant gratification and have become indoctrinated with a mindset that any “sacrifice” of time or money we make has to be instantly rewarded. This mindset is also strongly related to our self-destructive culture of consumerism where we have become completely addicted to the instant fix brought by consumption, even if this fix has to be bought on very expensive credit. 

Unconditional contribution is the complete opposite of this hopelessly flawed pursuit of happiness. If you truly contribute unconditionally, you don’t care when you will get rewarded. You don’t even care if you ever get rewarded. In fact, reward has nothing to do with making this contribution in the first place. The motivation for unconditional contribution is completely intrinsic.

Yes, there are people out there in the real world who will blatantly misuse your commitment to always go the extra mile, but I like to believe they are in the minority. When talking about your career, unconditional contribution can be seen as an investment: you might not get any immediate rewards, but you will gradually build up invaluable work experience, a habit for always producing quality results, precious goodwill among your colleagues and a very favorable reputation among your customers. These things pay off handsomely in time.

But who cares about the payoff anyway? The process of unconditional contribution is the reward in itself. If your paycheck is your primary reason for working I’m afraid you are on the wrong track. It is only when you start doing your job unconditionally that you can really slide into that precious benevolent cycle where your competence and reputation earns you greater opportunities which lead to more job satisfaction, more contribution and ultimately an even greater rate of professional development. 

And the link to health? Well, that is simple: unconditional contribution => healthy relationships and high job satisfaction => at least 10 years added to life expectancy.

We’ll get get a little bit more practical tomorrow.

Psychology: The power of creative expression (practice)

There are a number of practical ways in which you can tailor your environment to allow for natural and automatic creative expression. The first an most obvious is of course to ensure that you earn your living through creative work. This is a very broad and challenging topic, however, and we will spend much more time on that in subsequent chapters of the One in a Billion project.

In this post, we will only look at a much simpler short term source of creative expression: creative leisure activities. It is a sad fact that most modern leisure activities are consumptive in nature and therefore the complete opposite of creative. Watching TV is the best example of a consumptive leisure activity and should take a large portion of the blame for the lack of creativity within the general population today. Yes, seeing a good movie every now and then and watching the game with some friends every weekend is good and healthy, but parking on the couch for six hours every day staring at absolute nonsense really is bad in every way.

The best creative leisure activity to engage in is a creative hobby such as making music, painting or gardening. Sports, especially team sports, are also highly creative. In addition, social activities can also be highly creative if a very interesting or witty conversation starts forming. It is therefore clear that there certainly is no shortage of creative leisure activities out there. Shifting large potions of your TV-watching time to these kinds of creative outlets is therefore highly recommended.

In addition, you would do well to encourage and allow the free creative expression of those you interact with. Whether you are a parent, a boss, a colleague, a spouse or just a friend, always try to create an environment which allows the creativity of the people within your sphere of influence to come out and flourish. Creativity can bring some of the purest joy available to humankind. It can also be highly profitable in business.

Sure, our cynical world would like to impose limits on people’s creativity in an effort to maintain order and structure. After all, the most creative criminal (or the most creative toddler) will also be the one doing the most damage. However, if you simply use Warren Buffet’s advice when choosing who to associate with, this should not be a problem. He said: “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” The creativity of an integrous person is not to be feared or constrained.

So, bring some more creativity into your life via some creative leisure activities and some creative (and integrous) people. Better health and more happiness will soon follow.

Psychology: The power of creative expression (theory)

Free creative expression is central to general health and wellbeing primarily because it provides your life with something truly essential: purpose. If your life has no purpose, you really have no reason for even getting out of bed in the morning. On the other hand, if you are convinced that your life has purpose, you are automatically granted large quantities of energy and, generally speaking, large quantities of life.

Humans are creative creatures. We all have an insatiable drive to put part of our unique selves out there in the real world through creative expression. The specific channel through which this occurs is not important – the important thing is that you get those budding ideas swirling around inside your head out there for the world to see, whether it is in the form of a product, a service, a song, a dish, a team play or a piece of creative writing.

Creative expression is one of the most direct routes to health and happiness, but the opposite is also true. If creative expression is supressed by an overbearing parent, a controlling spouse or a deadly dull job, health and happiness definitely suffer – partly because of a tragic lack of purpose in life and partly because of the self-destructive consumption habits which thrive in such a situation.

But I have come to believe that the primary reason for the lack of free creative expression within our society today is our widespread culture of consumerism. Consumption is the polar opposite of creation and since most of us see our jobs purely as a means to fund our consumption habits, free creative expression is all but non-existent within our society. A widespread mental shift is sorely needed in this area and we will return to this topic repeatedly in the coming chapters of the One in a Billion project.

For the time being, however, we will strive only to tailor our own living environments to allow for free creative expression and also allow for free creative expression within our families and among our subordinates. We’ll take a look at that tomorrow.

Psychology: The power of learning (practice)

As outlined in the previous post, the most important reason for maintaining excellent mental fitness is preventing degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. We also saw that, just like the benevolent cycle of fitness, getting into the benevolent cycle of learning is crucial simply because a fit mind makes learning easier and more fun to do, thereby leading to more learning and more mental development.

But still, nothing will happen if you never begin. If you never build yourself a mental and physical environment within which mental development becomes automatic I’m afraid that learning will forever remain nothing but a tedious chore – just as is the case for physical fitness before you construct a healthy fitness environment.

So how do we build such a mental fitness environment? Well, firstly we have to acknowledge a common mistake that many people make: waiting to become naturally interested in something before they start studying it. This really is putting the cart in front of the horse. The truth is that you most often have to work with something for a while before you truly become interested in it.

The reason for this is that you first need to raise your understanding to a certain level before you can actually begin using this new understanding to better you own life (or the lives of those you care about). It is only at this point, when your understanding has reached a level where you can start applying it and experimenting with it, that a specific subject area becomes sufficiently interesting to fuel a self-sustaining cycle of learning. The study of personal health is an ideal example of such a subject area since you can start applying the things you have learnt in your own life very soon after you have begun the learning journey.

The best way to get started is to get yourself some good resources. If you decide to study personal health for example, the information on nutrition and fitness on this blog (summarized on this contents page) is a good place to start, but I would strongly recommend buying some good books on the subject (as discussed in a previous post). An excellent habit to get into is always having a good non-fiction book next to your bed to read until you are really sleepy. This method can really broaden your mental horizons and also ensure that you never have problems falling asleep. Another excellent habit is to simply follow the advice of Groucho Marx who said: “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

So, why not develop excellent mental fitness for good health by learning about good personal health practices? You really win all the way with this strategy.

Psychology: The power of learning (theory)

There is an old saying which I believe in very deeply: If you’re not growing, you’re dying. Once you have reached adulthood, however, you really should stop growing physically, but definitely continue growing mentally. Unfortunately, most people today get this equation completely backwards, continuing a rather impressive horizontal physical expansion thanks to the standard American diet (SAD) and halting mental development due to the totally idiotic perception that learning becomes redundant after high school. This social norm is highly detrimental to health and longevity, not only because of the SAD, but also because of the mental stagnation. 

It really is vitally important to give your brain regular stimulating workouts. After all; if you don’t use it, you lose it. This old maxim is just one of the many parallels between body and mind: just like a fit body will make exercise progressively easier and more fun and thereby lead to more exercise, a fit mind will make learning progressively easier and more fun and thereby lead to more learning. The benevolent cycle of exercise we have talked about in the fitness section will be echoed in this section as the benevolent cycle of learning. 

Unfortunately, these benevolent cycles can just as easily turn very vicious as well. The vicious cycle of sedentary living is very hard to break simply because your body can become so bloated and weak that exercise becomes very strenuous. Similarly, the vicious cycle of a sedentary mind can make even the tiniest mental challenge seem insurmountable, thereby causing you to shy away from many stimulating intellectual tasks.

The most terrifying expression of the vicious cycle of a sedentary mind is Alzheimer’s disease. Mental stimulation plays an important role in preventing the terrible emotional, practical and financial implications of this degenerative condition. Just like paralysis can cut away access to your arms and legs even though you still have them, Alzheimer’s can cut away access to your entire store of memory, knowledge and experience even though you still have your brain. You quite literally lose your life while you are still breathing. Don’t let this happen. Keep your brain fit.

As always, the hardest part of the journey to mental fitness is the first few steps. But if we simply apply the good old One in a Billion formula of intelligent micro-environment design in this area, we can end up with a situation where learning becomes natural and automatic just like exercise becomes natural and automatic in the healthy fitness environment we constructed earlier. We’ll look at some brief practical guidelines tomorrow.