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Why Is It Important to Define Your Life Purpose?

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Today, we bring you another great blog from JD Moyer.

It sounds intimidating, to define the purpose of your life. It also sounds unnecessary. Why not just live? Why not just enjoy life, and take each day as it comes?

I don’t think there is any ultimate purpose to life beyond what we decide is important. I think James Altucher puts it well in this post:

“People get depressed now if they feel they are not fulfilling a purpose in life.

Here’s what I think purpose is: the universe doesn’t know anything. So it cut off tiny pieces of itself to go out there and experience things, any things, and then come back home when they were done.

That’s it. So whatever you are experiencing today, good or bad, the universe is learning and happy and grateful to you because it is exploring new things about life.

BAM!

No other purpose.”

I don’t believe in any kind of singular, universal purpose (not even the poetic purpose Altucher describes), but I do feel better and live better when I live by my own principles. What do I think is important? How much am I willing to bet on those values? How ’bout everything. All in.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, in a beautiful response to a question on a reddit (“What can you tell a young man looking for motivation in life itself?”) gets to the core rationale for defining one’s own purpose in life:

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”

Love, meaning, and motivation all work together. You can discover what gives life meaning (for you) by listening to your heart (in fact I think this is the best way to discover meaning). For Tyson, increasing personal knowledge and reducing human (and perhaps also animal) suffering reflect his core values (codified into purpose, or “main philosophies” as he puts it). He advises the young man looking for motivation to decide what is important to him, and then act on it.

If the word “purpose” rubs you the wrong way, consider defining your “core values” or “life philosophy” instead. For you, what gives life meaning?

Motivation and Goals

Does motivation automatically flow from purpose and meaning? Not necessarily. Low motivation can be a sign of low dopamine in certain parts of the brain, depression, and/or overstimulation.

But jacking up the neurotransmitters involved in motivation doesn’t actually lead to productive or helpful activity unless there are already well-established habits in those areas (yes, the movie Limitless is a fantasy). For example, bromocriptine is a powerful dopamine agonist. Side effects include gambling and compulsive shopping. Reward-seeking behavior, in other words, but not really what most people think of when they think about motivation. Drugs like modafinil can enhance concentration, motivation, and cognitive abilities, but come withdisruptive and potentially health-damaging side effects. Videogames are designed to jack up reward-seeking behavior, and sometimes the dopamine boostcan overflow into other life areas. But just as easily, videogames can suck time and energy, providing the feelings of motivation and drive (achievements! points! levels!) without any real-world effects.

Goal-setting can also temporarily increase motivation, but if a goal isn’t purpose-driven, the motivation boost will be short-lived. If I don’t care about money very much, setting a “goal” to become a billionaire isn’t going to do squat. Even if I come up with a plan and work that plan like a maniac, I’m going to lose steam if I don’t actually care about becoming rich. Goals shouldn’t require motivation, they should provide motivation. And goals only provide motivation when they line up with life purpose/core values.

Here’s my own system for turning purpose into action. Feel free to steal it (I’ve stolen all the bits from other people).

1. Make a 5-year commitment that is true to your life purpose (and/or values and/or life philosophy). Where do you want to be in 5 years? As Steve Pavlinapoints out, we often overestimate what we can do in a single year, but underestimate what we can do in five years.

2. Choose a single actionable goal that supports your 5-year commitment. Give yourself a target date. If it appeals to you, set up additional rewards (completing the goal will be a reward in itself) and “kick-in-the-butt motivators” (I prefer this phrasing to “punishment”) around the goal. For example when I was trying to finish the first draft of my most recent novel, I promised myself I wouldn’t consume any alcohol until I finished (which resulted in this post, and also finishing my first draft).

3. Commit to a daily practice (don’t break the chain!) that moves you closer to your goal. If you can, complete this practice early in the day, when your willpower and concentration are at their highest. If you don’t have that luxury, just carve out some time every day. Even an hour a day of focused work will get you somewhere.

Even if you don’t choose this kind of structured approach to living your life, it’s still worth it to choose your own purpose in life. At the very least, you’ll have something to fall back on when the “What am I doing here?” question pops into your head. And oh yeah, you’ll live longer.

Your Computer is a Gateway to Other People’s Agendas

This cat's day is shot.

Today, we bring you another great post from JD Moyer.

This cat’s day is shot.

Until recently, the first thing I did in the morning was turn on my computer. I would then begin a very predictable series of actions: check email, look at news headlines and maybe skim an article or two, check a few sites related to various hobbies, look at the front page of reddit (and click on most of the links), read social media feeds, check my calendar and task lists, check music sales numbers and blog page views, and so on. Probably 25% productivity/work related items, 75% entertainment & news (I consider 95% of the news I consume to be entertainment; only about 5% significantly affects my creative or work activities or worldview).

Luckily, the necessity of getting my kid ready for school would cut the internet browsing short. On good days, once she was off to school, I would disable the wireless connection on my laptop and transition quickly into my morning work (writing, music production, or sometimes work for clients). On other days, I would continue aimlessly browsing the internet, “doing” this or that, effectively wasting part or all my morning.

Sound familiar? Those of you who are self-employed (or unemployed) may relate more than those with the defined structure of a regular job.

When you choose to be self-employed, you gain a tremendous amount of freedom. You also take on the burden of managing your own time and tasks. It’s difficult! Ten years in, I’m still working on my systems. Not just systems for getting things done, but systems for capturing ideas, turning ideas into action, and staying motivated.

The other day I realized that the very act of turning on my computer often translated into giving up part of my free will. Unless I started with a very clear intention of what I was going to do, I would lapse into “habitual use mode.” I would lose track of my own agenda, and instead fall under the influence of other people’s agendas, including:

  • people asking me to do things, or promoting things to me (most of my email)
  • news and entertainment stories that major corporations think will capture and hold my attention (and draw my attentions to ads)
  • advertisers wanting me to buy products and services
  • the opinions of my friends, associates, and other people I follow via social media

These things are not “bad,” per se. I use my computer to track my tasks and calendar, and to communicate with my clients and business partners, and also with my family and friends. So checking various inboxes and my schedule is important. I enjoy seeing what my friends and acquaintances are up to, and what they find to be interesting or notable. Clients asking me to do things is how I make a living (mostly). Family, friends, artists on Loöq Records, and even random acquaintances asking me to do things; that’s not a problem either — usually I’m happy to help.

But on some level I knew that starting my day with the vastness of the internet and requests from other people was not healthy. My own intentions and goals were sometimes getting lost. So I decided to try a new routine.

The New Routine

1. Immediately after waking up (around 7am), meditate for a few minutes.

2. Take some free-form notes in a paper notebook, including dream fragments, ideas for various projects (including music, blog posts, and fiction-writing), priorities and to-do items for the day, random thoughts, etc. Go back and forth between note-taking and meditation until my mind is clear, my subconscious has had its say, and my intentions for the day are well-formed. Maybe my wife and daughter wake up before this process is complete, but even if I just meditate and take notes for a few minutes, it’s an entirely different way of starting the day than turning on a screen and going into reactive mode.

3. Morning routine (make coffee, brush teeth, shower, get dressed, get kid dressed, family breakfast, make lunch, etc.). You know the drill. POWER MORNING BOOM.

4. Around 8:30 am (kid is at school), turn on computer and phone, check messages, tasks, and calendar. Organize day and prioritize tasks. Put out any fires that need extinguishing, respond/complete tasks that take 2 minutes or less (flag or create tasks for everything else). If there is time, check social media and/or news sites, blogs, etc. (I allow myself to do more internet browsing in the evening; at night I’m less inclined to go overboard on internet use  because I’m not procrastinating).

5. Start work, no later than 9am.

Even if I don’t manage to start work by 9am, the important change here is the order of things. Starting with a few minutes of meditation and note-taking sets me up to have clear intentions and goals for the day, and prevents me from slipping into a habitual/reactive mode.

What’s your morning routine? Do you look at  your computer or phone immediately? What kind of “first action” best establishes your outlook and energy for the day?

If you decide to make a change in your routine, please feel free to share your experience and results here.

To Protect Your Heart, You Need to Bleed

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Photo courtesy of Gordonator.com via Creative Commons license

Today, we bring you another guest post (repost) from JD Moyer.

This post is about why you should let someone stick a needle in your arm, take your blood, and sell it (in exchange for a cup of juice and some cookies).

If you’re over thirty and male, or a post-menopausal woman, you should probably be donating blood every 2-4 months. If you’re not eligible to give blood (due to a recent tattoo, international travel, illness, needle use, medication, or being a gay man) then you should take steps to reduce your iron intake and absorption.

Why? Reducing iron stores in the body (though blood donation or reducing iron intake) is probably one of the easiest things you can do to sharply reduce your chance of heart attack, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes. Those three categories of disease account for over 50% of deaths in the U.S. (link to PDF, see page 5 for chart).

People prone to anemia probably shouldn’t give blood, but it’s worth noting that anemia can also be caused by B12 or copper deficiency. Usually doctors just prescribe iron supplements when anemia is diagnosed, which can result in iron overload if the cause of anemia isn’t iron deficiency.

If you’re a premenopausal non-smoking non-diabetic woman, you have a much reduced risk of heart diseaseprobably due to lower iron levels (though estrogen levels may also be a factor). But after women stop menstruating, heart disease becomes the leading health risk (women are especially prone to vascular dysfunction; blood flow decreases even when the major arteries are clear).

Donating blood on a regular basis (and thus reducing the amount of stored iron in your body) improves your health in three ways:

1) Reduces chance of heart attack, reduces hardening of the arteries

High serum iron levels immediately constrict blood vessels, reduce blood flow, and in the long term lead to hardening of the arteries. “Iron loading impairs endothelial function, mostly due to oxidative stress,” says Hidehiro Matsuoka, MD, PhD (lead researcher and chief of the Kurume University School of Medicine’s hypertension program).

Donating blood, even as infrequently as once or twice a year, reduces iron levels in the body (by as much as 250mg per donation), and markedly reduces the chance of heart attack.

 2) Reducing iron stores improves insulin sensitivity, thus reducing the chance of Type 2 diabetes

This post from Stephen Guyenet discusses the relationship between iron and insulin sensitivity in some detail.

This study looked at insulin resistance in Type 2 non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and found that iron reduction via phlebotomies (removing blood from the body) significantly improved insulin sensitivity.

This article from the American Diabetes Association discusses the glucose-iron relationship in depth, and reaches a similar conclusion. From the article:

Phlebotomy was followed by decreases in serum glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides and apoprotein B (14), and by improvement in both β-cell secretion and peripheral insulin action in patients with type 2 diabetes (15). A significant impact of tissue iron excess on systemic effects of diabetes is suggested by recent reports in which iron appears to influence the development of diabetic nephropathy and vascular dysfunction.

Excess iron is a killer — get rid of it!

3) Reducing iron stores decreases cancer risk

This study followed up, years later, with patients who had undergone iron reduction therapy in order to improve vascular health, and found that the iron reduction group had significantly lower cancer risk and mortality.

This older but quite large study found an inverse relationship between iron levels and cancer risk, especially in men.

This study found that high iron stores are associated with a higher risk of death from cancer in postmenopausal women.

Hemochromatosis

I recently learned through 23andMe that I am heterozygous for the gene that causes hemochromatosis. If I had both copies of the mutated gene, I would have a very high chance of absorbing and retaining too much iron, resulting in serious health problems. According to this study, heterozygous carriers of this gene also tend to accumulate iron in the body as they age at a faster rate than the normal population (especially when the gene is inherited from the father). I inherited this particular gene from my mother (she also did the 23andMe test, so we can compare), but I am cautious with iron intake nonetheless.

Modulating Iron Levels Via Diet

Iron is an essential nutrient, and many people don’t get enough. If you are a growing child, a menstruating woman, or have digestive issues that reduce iron absorption, you might need to boost your iron levels in order to feel energetic. You can do this by:

  • eating iron-rich animal foods like beef, chicken liver, oysters, clams, and mussels (all very good sources of heme iron which is easily absorbed and utilized)
  • eat iron-rich plant foods like beans, tofu, and pumpkin seeds (all good sources of non-heme iron)
  • eat iron-rich foods with vitamin-C rich foods, or a vitamin C supplement, which increases iron absorption (taking vitamin C with each meal can tripletotal iron absorption)
  • taking iron supplements (non-heme iron), which most includes multivitamin-mineral supplements and many breakfast cereals
  • cooking with cast iron, especially if the recipe includes an acidic ingredient (like tomato sauce, wine, or lemon juice)
  • consume beverages high in tannins (like coffee and tea) in between meals instead of with meals; tannins reduce iron absorption
  • don’t consume calcium supplements or calcium-rich foods (like dairy products) with iron-rich foods; calcium also reduces iron absorption
  • don’t consume foods rich in phytates (most grains and legumes, especially oats) with iron-rich foods

If you want to reduce iron absorption, follow the opposite advice. Avoiding iron supplementation is especially important. I wouldn’t recommend drinking coffee and tea with every meal, or trying to eat a lot of phytate-rich foods, as you could end up reducing absorption of other nutrients that  you do need.

Heart Health Summary

I’ve written before about how to prevent heart disease, highlighting the importance of sunlight and not smoking.

But what’s most important, in terms of lifestyle changes? The idea that saturated fat and cholesterol intake lead to heart disease has been largely discredited, but that doesn’t mean diet isn’t important.

Genetics may protect some individuals against specific risks factors (everyone knows someone with a grandmother who smoked like a chimney and live to be 100). But it may be possible to group lifestyle factors into “very important” and “somewhat important” (in terms of protecting against heart disease). Here’s my attempt:

Very Important Lifestyle Factors to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

  • don’t smoke, avoid extreme air pollution
  • prevent iron overload (oxidation) and sodium overload (high blood pressure)
  • get regular sunshine (convert nitrates in skin to nitric oxide)
  • avoid too much sitting, move around every day
  • control weight (especially abdominal and visceral fat) by limiting total carbohydrate (especially refined and high glycemic foods)

Somewhat Important Lifestyle Factors to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

  • exercise vigorously several times a week
  • reduce chronic stress (acute/brief stress is not harmful)
  • eat well (low processed/refined foods, high nutrient, fresh food)
  • take helpful supplements (vitamin K2, magnesium, fish oil, coenzyme Q10)

I could be wrong, but that’s my best guess. A multi-vitamin and jogging a few times a week isn’t going to protect your heart if you’re overweight, you sit a lot, you smoke, and you don’t get sunlight on your skin on a regular basis.

On the other hand, simple lifestyle changes like getting more sun exposure, converting to a standing desk, giving blood regularly, or losing a spare tire mightmitigate other risk factors. If you do all of those things, you’re probably in good shape even if you don’t exercise vigorously and eat perfectly.

Another benefit of giving blood is that it feels pretty good. You’re probably saving a life every time you donate! And it’s weird, but kind of amazing, to think of your blood circulating in another person’s body. We are all connected, but the blood donor and receiver more than others.

Good health to you — may you live long and prosper!

 

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