Categories
Health

What Health And Fitness Mean and How They Differ

I have been interested in fitness since 2003 and in health since 2013.

Although I am not a doctor and I don’t have any formal health or fitness credentials, I hope to share some of what I have learned about these topics on the blog in the past several years.

Given this disclaimer, please don’t misconstrue any health or fitness related content on the blog as medical advice.

As always, consult with your physician before making any health or fitness related lifestyle changes.

What Is fitness?

Fitness is category specific.

Someone who is fit to run a marathon isn’t fit for body-building.

And someone who is fit for power-lifting probably isn’t fit for yoga.

Furthermore, no matter what physical activity or sport you are fit to do,  your fitness level doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy. 

I think this incorrect assumption occurs most frequently in the realm of cardiovascular fitness.

While cardiovascular fitnesss can contribute to a healthy cardiovascular system, it doesn’t necessarily mean your heart is healthy.

Dr. James O’keefe has thoroughly documented the phenomenon of endurance athletes dying prematurely of heart related issues.

Conversely, you can also avoid “working out” in the western sense of lifting weights or running your entire life and still be totally healthy as long as you maintain an active, mobile lifestyle among other things.

This is apparent when considering “blue zones,” or areas of the world with a disproportionate number of happy, healthy centenarians.

Blue zone inhabitants have in common frequent walking, spending time outdoors, gardening, completing household chores, and other mild exercise habits.

Although they don’t hit the gym or run regularly, they are happy, healthy, and often live longer than those who do exercise regularly in the western sense.

To clarify, I’m not against weight-lifting or cardiovascular endurance exercise.

In fact, I think evidence supports the idea that a certain amount of strength and cardiovascular training contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

However, neither strength nor cardiovascular endurance necessarily mean you are healthy, and too much training for either can result in negative health effects.

So remember that physical fitness simply means you are physically prepared to perform a certain activity, not necessarily that you are healthy. 

It’s tempting to believe physical fitness means you are healthy because fitness has many attractive qualities.

Here are some of them.  

A moderate fitness level doesn’t have to be very time intensive. 

With a few hours a week or less over a relatively short period, you can become fit for weightlifting, gymnastics, running, or whatever physical fitness pass-time interests you. 

A moderate fitness level doesn’t necessarily require radical life-changes to work.

For example, in college I hit the gym for an hour three to four times a week and added noticeable muscle (and definitely fat) to my physique after about a month and a half.  

Other than that, I didn’t do anything else for my fitness goal except eat a lot of unhealthy food. 

I found increasing strength and adding predominantly muscle mass to my physique fairly simple without making many life changes.

Fitness is almost universally respected.

You typically get props from friends and family for working out. 

Why?

When people see you jogging or weight lifting, they respect your self-discipline. 

Fitness results are tangible.

Whether it’s a physical transformation or increasing the distance you can run, the visible progress of fitness is exhilarating and encouraging. 

The first step in fitness is about doing more, not less.

When you’re transitioning from not training to training, step one is simple: 

Just add ABC exercise regimen to your routine.

Unfortunately, people often use the “do more” fitness mentality to justify unhealthy habits. 

They think something like, “I can eat this donut as long as I hit the gym later.”

While that donut may not affect your fitness training all that much, consistent donut consumption can affect your health.   

What is health?

Western healthcare seems to indicate that health is the absence of disease. 

However, if I had to define health, here’s how I’d do it: 

Health is about maximizing functional longevity, cognitive performance, fertility in fertile years, and minimizing the likelihood of disease or injury while pursuing your dreams, good relationships, and spiritual truth. 

I know.

It’s a mouthful.

And it’s still not perfect or complete. 

But it does capture the physical, mental, reproductive, disease-free, injury-free, relational, and spiritual aspects of health. 

As you can probably tell, the pursuit of health given my personal definition is more difficult than the pursuit of physical fitness.

Here are a few qualities of the pursuit of health that make it a difficult endeavor. 

Health questions are constant and cannot be relegated to discrete chunks of time.

While fitness is about what you do in the handful of hours that you train, health is about what you do in all the rest of your time.

Health questions like the following are almost constant.

Do I eat the donut?

Do I go to bed early?

Do I have a beer?

Do I need to drink more water?

Should I stand instead of sit? 

Health is such a commitment because you must choose it over ease and comfort so many times every day. 

Good health sometimes requires radical lifestyle changes. 

Whether it’s changing your diet or getting to sleep earlier, health affects every part of life and therefore requires a holistic approach.

This approach may appear radical especially to those who don’t share your convictions. 

For instance, If you don’t drink alcohol or don’t eat gluten in the name of health, many will marvel at your “radically” different lifestyle.

And being radical, different, or outside the social norm isn’t easy.

This is why so many sink (or rise) to the habits and norms of those around them.

The pursuit of health doesn’t seem to be as universally respected as the pursuit of fitness. 

This is particularly true with dietary restrictions or special dietary requests.

Many people perceive special dietary requests as high maintenance and even emasculating for men. 

Health improvements are often not visible or tangible.

Improving your health (like sleep hygiene) just isn’t as apparent as improving fitness often is (like getting six-pack abs or completing a marathon).

As a result, you will hardly ever receive a congratulations for improving your health unless it manifests itself in outward appearance (like weight loss).

Better health often involves breaking more bad habits than starting new habits. 

We all know bad habits form more easily than good habits.

And unfortunately, bad habits seem to have a disproportionately large effect on our health.

Imagine if you ate an abundance of nutrient-dense vegetables but also smoked a pack of cigarettes every day.

Consuming even more vegetables probably wouldn’t improve your health.

But giving up smoking would radically improve it.

Although this is an extreme example, I think most people could improve their health significantly by quitting or reducing certain habits like drinking alcohol than by adding new health habits.

It’s often the things you don’t do that make the most difference for your health.

Conclusion

I find it helpful to have definitions in place for terms like health and fitness that are discussed frequently but rarely defined.

And although my definitions for these terms are far from perfect, they provide a starting place for discussion about them.

How would you define health or fitness?

Let me know in the comments.

Categories
Code

Learning to Code Might Be Easier Than You Think

If you’re one of the 750+ million people in the world who use Microsoft Excel, you have an excellent launch pad into coding. 

Excel formulas are like very simple computer programs. 

So if you write Excel formulas regularly, you are already on the path to learning to program.

Excel is how I first got into coding. 

But I wasn’t always proficient with Excel.

In fact, I started my career barely knowing how to use basic Excel functions. 

But because I am a financial analyst, I have spent the majority of my work days using Excel since I started this career in 2015. 

And now, I have a high level of proficiency with the program. 

Excel got me on the path to programming when a co-worker of mine asked me if I could automate a monthly process he did with Excel. 

I realized this project required more sophisticated automation than I could accomplish with basic Excel, so I started looking into VBA to help my colleague with his task. 

VBA stands for Visual Basic for Applications.

It is the internal programming language used to automate Microsoft products like Excel, Word, Outlook, and more.

I broke down my co-worker’s task into simple steps, and I searched the web for each step + Excel VBA. 

I found nearly everything I needed to do with VBA already perfectly coded and shared online. 

However, I needed to tweak each bit of code I found to make it apply to my specific problem. 

Eventually, I had a fully-automated VBA solution to my colleague’s problem. 

He was thrilled with what I had made for him and estimated that my code would save him hours of work each month! 

This experience helped me realize what coding actually is. 

The Unintimidating Truth: What Coding Actually Is  

At the time, I thought that what I had done wasn’t actually coding. 

I just thought I had gotten lucky and found all the solutions online. 

Then, I showed my code to a computer programmer friend of mine, and he said, “I didn’t know you could code!”

I remember telling him that I don’t actually know how to code.

I just searched all my questions online, found other people’s code, put it all together, and tweaked it until it did what I wanted to do.

He laughed and said, “Yeah, that’s what coding is.” 

What I didn’t realize until this experience is that even high-level programmers use search engines to find simple solutions to problems they don’t need to remember like AJ, the creator of carrd.co.

Here’s how he puts it.

I’m not trying to diminish the power of programming or the amazing intellects that contribute to it with my story. 

And I acknowledge that programming skills, like any skill, can improve over time. (And as you improve, you may search for fewer, or at least different, code-related solutions online.) 

But searching the web for basic programming solutions, copying other people’s code, and tweaking it to fit your needs is a perfectly acceptable way to start programming. 

In fact, many successful coders think this is the best way to learn to program.  

Understand how you learn best.

I’ve had countless false starts with coding: 

  1. I’ve purchased several Udemy coding courses only to partially finish them and never apply the skills I briefly learned. 
  2. I’ve completed a handful of codecademy’s free coding courses. 
  3. And I’ve even taken part of a Udacity data-analytics nanodegree that I stopped half-way through the course.

None of these stuck. 

Why? 

In each of these courses, I didn’t know how to apply the abstract concepts I was learning (or when, if ever, I could apply them). 

Even when these courses had me “apply what I learned,” I was always solving a problem I didn’t have.

I’ve realized I learn best when I start learning inductively and add in deductive leaning resources later as I gain practical skills. 

This is how I prefer to learn musical instruments; leaning songs first (inductive) and theory later. 

It’s how I prefer to learn natural languages; learning phrases first and grammar later. 

And apparently, it’s how I prefer to learn coding languages too; creating simple programs first and learning the scope of the language next. 

I don’t think this is how everyone prefers to learn.

But I think flipping the traditional deductive -> inductive learning model is a good experiment to try if the traditional model isn’t working for you.  

Coding is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Programming is a tool just like a screwdriver. 

Usually people aren’t excited about screwdrivers; they’re excited about what they can build with them. 

Likewise, people typically don’t learn to use a screwdriver by taking a class on screwdrivers. 

Instead, they learn to use a screwdriver as a byproduct of wanting and learning to build something. 

In the same way, it can be hard for some people to get excited about programming. 

But who doesn’t want to save time, automate a process, and generally make life easier? 

This is what programming offers to anyone who uses it. 

So remember that programming is usually easiest to learn in the context of a specific task you want to accomplish. 

From Excel User to Programmer

For those who already use Excel in their day jobs, I recommend trying to automate an Excel task you do regularly.

Try to break the task into very simple steps and then search the web for “how to do X in Excel VBA.”

The amount of free code online will probably shock you.

Once you’ve worked through automating one task in VBA, the sky is the limit.

I found that automating one task gave me the confidence to try more and more complicated automation.

Now, I’m working on automating these same tasks with Python.

I let negative self-talk and impostor syndrome stop me from coding for a long time.

I hope this doesn’t happen to you.

If it helps, know that I majored in French at my university and have no business coding, but I still do.

Categories
Wisdom

Why I Don’t Go Out of My Way to Consume Mainstream News

I came across a quote recently that I think is powerful. 

Only intrinsic motivation lasts.

Alfie Kohn

This idea eloquently captures the reality any adult has faced: that you can only will yourself to do something you don’t care about for so long. 

Eventually, you end up either cultivating a taste for your discipline, and thus continuing it, or you quit.

In the context of this article, I lack intrinsic motivation to read, watch, or otherwise consume mainstream news. 

Although I don’t believe this sentiment is uncommon, many seem surprised when I openly discuss my lack of concern with mainstream news. 

This lack of concern largely stems from my understanding of why people prioritize the news today. 

News (aka gossip): The Evolutionary Origin

Business vector created by vectorpouch – www.freepik.com

Most human behavior fits neatly into the evolutionary framework. 

Following the news is no exception.

Imagine a pre-historic situation in which some people closely follow “the news” like:

  • Where the best hunting opportunities are
  • Where to find water to drink
  • When a leader from an enemy tribe has died and thus when they are vulnerable
  • What mates are available

Knowledge of this sort of news (or gossip) in the prehistoric world would certainly increase your odds of reproduction.

Thus, I believe we live in a world where that trait is extremely common as the evolutionary timeline has resulted in an abundance of news followers. 

However, we no longer live in a world where our survival depends on “the news.”

And yet, mainstream news still very much exploits our evolutionary tendency to find importance in it.

Mainstream News’ Exploitation of Evolutionary Tendencies for Monetary Gain

Most mainstream news outlets optimize their articles for clicks since a greater number of clicks typically means more money for its creator.  

Clickbait posts in tandem with social media’s optimization for engagement have resulted in a world where mainstream news no longer educates.

Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, has recognized this failure of the news to educate.

To combat misinformation, he released a free PDF version of the book, Factfulness, to college students on his website.

Here’s what Bill has to say about Factfulness.

In Factfulness, author Hans Rosling, provides a fascinating deep dive into the economic situation of the 21st century world. 

Rosling’s extensive research reveals the shocking reality that, according to almost any metric you can find, the world has gotten healthier, wealthier, and safer in the past 50+ years than it has ever been. 

If mainstream news reported this reality, it wouldn’t be shocking. 

Rosling also points out through survey how few people know about this reality.

According to his surveys, most people believe the world has either gotten worse or is far less healthy, wealthy, and safe than it actually is. 

Among the various cohorts of people surveyed, journalists scored just as poorly as everyone else in having an accurate understanding of the world’s economic situation. 

This seems to be proof that misinformation from mainstream news is not with malicious intent since some of those most deceived by it are its creators.

Instead, it’s likely the result of incremental shifts toward profitability in a world that appears to reward taking advantage of our evolutionary tendency to fear predators (at least in the short-term). 

I don’t think every mainstream news journalist, falls into this trap. 

In fact, I think excellent journalism occurs at many mainstream news companies. 

However, it seems to be the exception rather than the rule, particularly in the case of video and television.

This is why the evening news from any TV network always feels “spun” to me. 

“If you don’t watch the news, how you do stay informed?” 

Being informed is a largely subjective measure. 

What’s informed to some isn’t necessarily informed to others. 

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that mainstream news will truly inform you in light of Rosling’s research in Factfulness. 

Instead, it will keep you apprised of certain negative events that others who consume mainstream news also know about. 

Consuming mainstream news is a good way to fit in with others who follow mainstream news. 

I understand the desire to feel like you’re part of a social group, but I think there are better things to rally around than mainstream news. 

However, I think you can get sufficiently up-to-speed by chatting about current events with a knowledgeable friend when it suits you. 

I have a handful of people in my life who are truly passionate about current events. 

They do the deep work necessary to uncover the truth, and they consume news from a variety of sources, mainstream and otherwise. 

Anytime I want to vote or just have a question, I chat with them and they get me up to speed. 

Though this might sound involved, it’s actually really simple. 

Usually chatting with them for a few minutes on the phone suffices. 

However, I occasionally spend an hour or so with a friend who explains to me the current geopolitical landscape. 

It’s fascinating and extremely enjoyable. 

“I thought you weren’t interested in the news.”

In general, I don’t focus on consuming mainstream news.

However, one of my favorite things is talking with friends about their interests, even if their interests are not my primary interests. 

Learning about geopolitics from a friend whom I trust in a context where I can ask questions is thoroughly enjoyable. 

“Isn’t it embarrasing to not know what’s going on in the world?”

I don’t think mainstream news accurately portrays what’s going on in the world.

Thus, I typically don’t feel insecure about not consuming mainstream news. 

“If you don’t consume mainstream news, don’t you live an echo chamber of your own opinions?” 

I go out of my way to consume content from thoughtful people I disagree with. 

An example of someone who falls into this category for me is Ray Dalio. 

I think Ray’s book, Principles, is excellent. 

He has also published several articles about various subjects including political reform that I disagree with. 

However, I thoroughly enjoy reading his perspective because it causes me to think deeply and question my assumptions.

“Do you think it’s bad to consume mainstream news?” 

Not necessarily.

I think you can get a balanced perspective on what’s happening in the world if mainstream news is one of your news sources. 

But if mainstream news is your only news source, your perspective on current events is likely far from reality. 

“What news source do you recommend?”

My recommended news source is a friend you trust who is passionate about current events.

I’ve also heard good things about Stratfor News, but I’ve never had a subscription to their service. 

Categories
Wealth

How to Brainstorm Income Opportunities for Skills You Already Have

Introduction

I remember chatting about after school career prospects with a friend at USC my senior year.

As a French major, business minor, I didn’t feel confident about my career prospects.

I remember this friend asking me, “Well, what are your skills?”

“Skills?” I thought.

This was the first time I really considered what skills I had that a company could monetize.

At the time, my conclusion was that I didn’t have any monetizable skills.

I know now this conclusion was wrong.

But I’m afraid many people underestimate their skills.

For those who do, I hope this post provides you with the tools to better brainstorm what skills you have and how you might monetize them.

Step 1: Create a list of any and all skills you have. (Don’t filter in this part of the process.)

This step is harder for some people than it might seem.

Like I said above, after 4 years at a top-25 American university, I seriously thought I didn’t have any monetizable skills.

And although I may have chosen one of the least practical degrees possible, I had skills I could monetize even with my impractical degree.

But we are often most blind to our own skills and strengths (and weaknesses).

For this exercise, I encourage you to think about skills as something that you’re moderately good at. 

Many people think that you have to be in the top 10%, 1%, or .01% to consider something a skill.

Instead I recommend considering something a skill if you think you might be in the top 50%.

In other words, if you choose 100 random people and compare your skill level to theirs, are you likely better than half of them at this skill?

If so, it’s a skill you definitely want to list in this brainstorming process.

Lastly, though I share some thoughts about monetization in the section below, I recommend not focusing on monetization in the first step of your brainstorm process.

It’s better to come up with an exhaustive list of your skills and filter them for monetization potential after than to rule something out early in the process that may actually have potential.

An Example of My Skill-Sets Immediately After College

Thankfully, I’ve gained several skills since entering the workforce.

But this is how I thought about my skills shortly after college before gaining several skills from the work place.

Hopefully my skill break-down sheds light on your own situation.

If you’re having a lot of trouble with the brainstorming process, you might consider Noah Kagan’s tactic.

Noah was employee #30 at Facebook and #4 at the personal finance web app, Mint.

He’s also had incredible success building his own company, Sumo.

Noah recommends asking friends and family what they think your skills are or what they imagine you doing professionally.

Noah says that what’s difficult for you to determine is often obvious to those who know you best.

Step 2: Think about monetization by grouping similar skills.

Hopefully now you have a handful of your skills in list form ready for classifying.

Why classify or group your skills?

This can give you a better sense of what direction you should take to monetize them.

Start by grouping obvious pairs or closely related skills.

For instance, photography and videography are a natural pair.

Becoming a wedding photographer/videographer is the application that immediately comes to mind as a path to monetization with these two skills.

But there are several commercial paths you could follow with photography and videography.

In my case, my native speaker fluency in English and my conversational capacity in French are a natural pair.

With this duo, I could probably become a French teacher to native English-speaking students.

Or I could become an English teacher to native French speaking students.

I might need to take some web courses, get certifications, build a portfolio of work, and otherwise brush up on them.

And that’s probably true for you as well.

As you think more about skills to monetize, you’ll probably need to do some work on them before you can use them to generate income.

That’s OK. 

Now that you’ve gotten the hang of this step, let’s move on to my favorite exercise in Step three.

Step 3: Consider how to monetize unlikely skill combinations.

Scott Adams, the creator of the hit comic, Dilbert, recommends considering the intersection of two or three of your skills as your skills stack.

Adams says that you are often in the top 1% of that intersection or skill combination. 

For instance, Adams considered himself moderately funny and a decent comic artist.

Combining comedy with his artistic skills to create Dilbert launched his financial success.

Notice that Adams wasn’t in the top 1% of either skill-set, but when combined he had great success.

He says this practice is particularly powerful when you can combine a skill with effective communication.

There are countless examples of public speakers who get paid to talk about their skill-set even when they may not be the best in their field.

The same goes for writers and authors.

Returning to my skill list mentioned above, I could potentially combine my guitalele skills (a guitar, ukulele hybrid) with my interest in videography to create a top guitalele YouTube channel.

The viability of this concept as a business model merits further consideration.

But you can see how Scott Adam’s skill combination process can result in money-making ideas to consider.

Step 4: Determine your focus.

Now is the time to pare down your skill list to those that you want to pursue.

Why?

Because you have limited time and you can only pursue one or two monetization projects at most.

This step is hard for me.

I’ve always wanted to feel free to pursue whatever I want, whenever I want.

But the reality is that, if you don’t focus, you won’t get results.

How do I know?

Because I’ve tried to build many side hustles at once only to burn out.

When you try to do too many things at once, you move a little bit in every direction instead of going far in the right direction.

John Lee Dumas’ advice is to F.O.C.U.S or Focus on One Course Until Successful.

John followed his own advice and recorded a podcast for his (now) hit show, Entrepreneurs On Fire, every single day for 9 months without making a penny.

He continued producing daily content for 2,000 days and now he regularly nets six figures in profit per month!

Warren Buffett’s advice along these lines is to make a list of your top twenty-five priorities, circle the top five, and then never look at or pursue the other twenty until you’ve achieved your top five.

Why?

People tend to overestimate what they can accomplish.

Focusing on five gives you a reality check as to what you may actually be able to accomplish.

If you crush your top five, you can always revisit your list later.

But in your top five, make sure to consider the already existent time commitments in your life.

For instance, if you want to spend time with your family, and you must spend time on a day job, these two already significant time commitments eat into the time available for pursuing monetization side-projects.

My guess is that most will only have time to develop one or two skill sets into viable money makers.

When in doubt, focus on fewer than you think you can accomplish.

Step 5: Stay consistent.

Once you’ve decided which skill(s) you want to monetize, you need to stay focused on monetization for a long time.

How long till you see results from your efforts?

As usual – it depends.

But you can find success stories of people who have made money from the skill you’d like to monetize to get a ballpark estimate for how long it will take.

For instance, many novice coders using the coding website, freecodecamp.org, have gotten job offers in under a year.

More specifically, one of the founders suggests 2 hours of coding a day for nine months minimum before you might see career prospects as a result of your skills.

Whatever results you find regarding timelines till success, remember that your efforts may very well take longer than what you find on the web.

Why?

Most people don’t publish their failures, only their successes.

So for every success story you read or hear, remember there are countless stories of failure that were never told.

Best-selling author and researcher, Angela Duckworth, found that “passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way,” (how she defines grit) is the leading predictor of success in any endeavor.

Whatever skill you want to monetize, know that consistency, or sustained persistence as Duckworth would say, is a critical component of the grit required for success.

If you have laser-focus but only for a week, it’s unlikely you will see any progress.

But if you focus on monetizing your skills day-in and day-out for years, you will stack the odds of success in your favor.

Conclusion

Like anything in life, results take time.

You find the theme of consistency over a long period of time in nearly every success story.

When bodybuilding.com asked Jeff Seid, the youngest IFBB bodybuilding pro in history, what his secret was, he said it was that he hadn’t missed a workout in over ten years.

If you have the dedication and consistency to improve and monetize your skills over the course of 10+ years, it’s hard to imagine that you won’t succeed in some form.