Why I Started Long Life

I’m very curious to see if we can lead longer healthy lives. I believe that this is one of the most interesting fields out there and one where I might contribute to. Longevity research might have a disproportionately large impact on the world. This blog is my first investigation into this field. Below I spell out my reasons in more depth.

Real Solutions to a Hard Problem

As far back as our history goes, people have been searching for the Fountain of Youth. We don’t want to become old (but see the next part) and so we’ve been searching for tools to tackle diseases (symptoms) and the whole ageing process itself (causes). Now that we’ve started to understand a part of our metabolism a bit better, we might stand a chance to tackle this.

Research in the lab and in animals is promising. Some mouses live twice as long before, some genes are identified in the ageing process (by deactivating them), and some prominent scientists (notably Aubrey de Grey) predict that we have a good shot at finding robust solutions to the causes of ageing in 20 years.

I Want to Live Forever

I can’t imagine myself wanting to grow old. To have pain everywhere, to battle cancer, to be in the hospital more than outside of it. Growing old has been romanticised and many people believe that it’s even good to have an expiry date. That motivates you to live a full life, right?

Well, I think that the opposite also is true. If we were to live to 150, 600, or forever, wouldn’t we take more care of the planet? Make better life decisions? Save more for the future?

And imagine the wisdom that we might accumulate. Think of the professors that don’t need to retire, the scientists that can keep on theorising, the chess grandmasters that can keep on learning. Think of the full life you can live, the countries you can visit, the love you might experience.

One of the inspirations for this blog has been this article: The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant by Nick Bostrom. It uses the analogy of a dragon (for death) and how the people living under the dragon are used to sacrificing their family and friends to it. But what if we were able to stop the sacrifice, to keep your loved ones alive. Also, see this video by CGP Grey that summarised the article:

Longevity is Multidisciplinary

Another reason for my interest in longevity is the reason that it brings together many different disciplines. And I think that interesting research happens at the intersection of multiple areas.

For me, it brings together artificial intelligence (e.g. DeepMind doing protein folding, learning algorithms helping with drug discovery), biology (e.g. CRISPR), entrepreneurship (the many companies that have sprung up, and a chance for me to have an impact in this field), and ethics (e.g. who will get to live forever, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed” – William Gibson) . Of course, it brings together many other fields, people, and ideas.

Now is the Time for Me

At Queal (where I’m the co-founder and CEO), we’re at a very good point and I’ve freed up some time to think about other ideas (about a day or so as of writing this). I will use this time to start an inquiry into what we (collectively) know about ageing and what we can do. At the start, I will first try and deduce what different areas/subtopics (e.g. molecular damage, dietary influences) there are, and what the latest knowledge is there. I will also focus on finding the right sources (news/scientific) to keep up with the latest discoveries.

I hope I’ve been able to give a good overview of my reasons for starting this blog. With that being said, I will leave you with this final note:

This is Why We Die

Most of us die from ageing. For every person that dies in a car accident, 34 have died from cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other age-related diseases. Compared to homicide (105 to 1) and conflict (357 to 1) it’s even more striking[1].

Yet we don’t focus most of our energy on preventing age-related diseases. And maybe with good reason, one day we will die (probably). But what if we could extend our healthy lifespan by 10, 20, 50 or even more years. I for one think that is a very exciting possibility.

Today is the right time to start thinking about this, or as the Chinese would say: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.” To the best of my knowledge, we are now at the point where we start to understand some of the underlying processes that cause ageing.

The elixer of life is now growing on the tree of knowledge and this is my first step at learning more about this.

Why We Die

With all that being said, here are the 7 reasons/categories why we die. I’ve taken these from Aubrey de Grey (wiki), a brilliant gerontologist/connector/promoter of the fight against ageing. Here we go:

  1. Mutations – in chromosomes
    • this causes cancer due to changes in the nuclear DNA, proteins that bind to this, or molecules that contain genetic information in the eukaryotes
  2. Mutations – in mitochondria
    • this causes problems in the energy-producing parts of a cell (the mitochondria), again these are changes to the (local) DNA
  3. Junk – inside of cells
    • when the junk inside the cell is not being cleaned/digested properly neurodegenerative diseases rear their heads
  4. Junk – outside of cells
    • the same but this time outside/in-between cells, Alzheimer’s senile plaques are the most well-known example of this
  5. Cells – too few
    • some cells don’t get replaced (or too slowly) and this makes us weaker with age (Parkinson’s disease, immune system)
  6. Cells – too many
    • the dead cells that don’t divide but also are in the way (senescence), they can block space for living cells or even secrete proteins that do harm
  7. Extracellular protein crosslinks
    • cells are held together by linking proteins and when too many connections form, they lose elasticity

Which Diseases are Responsible?

If we look at it from another angle, the diseases that kill us, what is it that actually takes us out? All of them have links to the 7 systems described above, yet all in different ways, which I hope to describe in future in-depth blogs.

  1. Cardiovascular diseases (18 million, 32%)
    • A class of diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels
    • “The most important determinant of cardiovascular health is a person’s age.”[2]
    • Related terms: caloric restriction (CR), sirtuins, IGF-1, rapamycin (mTOR)
  2. Cancers (9 million, 17%)
    • A disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body
    • “Ageing is the inevitable time-dependent decline in physiological organ function and is a major risk factor for cancer development. “[3]
    • Related terms: genomic instability, telomere attrition, epigenetic changes, loss of proteostasis, decreased nutrient sensing and altered metabolism, cellular senescence and stem cell function
  3. Respiratory disease (3.5 million, 7%)
    • A type of disease that affects the lungs and other parts of the respiratory system. Includes asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, pneumonia, and lung cancer [4]
    • “The respiratory system undergoes various anatomical, physiological and immunological changes with age. The structural changes include chest wall and thoracic spine deformities which impairs the total respiratory system compliance leading to increase work of breathing .”[5]
    • Related terms: Stiffening of the thoracic cage (7th underlying principle), lower respiratory muscle strength (especially in men),
  4. Diabetes, blood and endocrine disease (3 million, 6%)
    • A disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, resulting in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood
    • “Almost one-third of U.S. adults over the age of 65 years have diabetes. Approximately half of those are undiagnosed, and an additional one-third of older adults have prediabetes.”[6]
    • Related terms: impaired glucose intolerance, postprandial hyperglycemia, defects in β-cell function, metformin
  5. Lower respiratory infections (2.5 million, 4,5%)
    • Lower respiratory tract infections are any infections in the lungs or below the voice box. These include pneumonia, bronchitis, and tuberculosis
    • Viruses, bacteria, fungal infections, and mycoplasma are the main causes.
    • I guess this one is a bit of an odd one out, it’s not so much related to ageing as to health (in how strong your body is to overcome this). Also, the main burden of it is felt in subsahara Africa. [7]
  6. Dementia (2.5 million, 4,5%)
    • Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia
    • “Epidemiological studies have shown that dementia could be avoided even at extreme old ages.” The incidence of dementia has also gone down in the last few decades. [8,9]
    • Related terms: Amyloid-beta, microglia (CD22), P. gingivalis
  7. Neonatal deaths (1.7 million, 3%)
    • The first cause on the list that is not directly related to ageing
    • Neonatal deaths are all the children that die in the first month
    • This has fallen dramatically from 140/1000 (14%) to 5/1000 (0,5%) of births [10]
  8. Diarrheal diseases (1.7 million, 3%)
    • The second cause on the list that is not directly related to ageing
    • Diarrheal diseases are a collection of diseases caused by multiple viral, bacterial, and parasitic organisms that share the common symptom of diarrhoea, defined as the passage of three or more loose or liquid stools per day
    • Especially kids and the elderly are the most at risk (thus in a way linking it to ageing, at least for the latter group)
  9. Road incidents (1.3 million, 2%)
    • Not related to ageing, and unfortunately something that hasn’t gone down over the last 10 years
    • It has gone down in some countries (e.g. Germany) where safety measures prevent deaths
    • The most vulnerable group is in the 70+ bracket (35/100.000 people)
  10. Liver disease (1.3 million, 2%)
    • Not strictly related to ageing, but damage over time may lead to liver cancer

Together this top 10 causes of death cover approximately 85% of deaths. If we remove all those not strictly related to ageing, we still have 73% of deaths that are related to ageing directly.

Other Causes?

I think this list doesn’t cover everything we think of when we image death. Two things are missing that many relate to deaths. The first is war/conflict/terrorism [11]. The second is our lifestyle.

War used to be a much more common cause of death. Until the 20th century, most countries were at war, not at peace. The peak in the last 100 years was the second world war, with 22 deaths per 100.000. Today it stands at just over 1 per 100.000.

Our lifestyle is not something to boast about. Obesity stands at 13% worldwide, and at 28% in North America and Europe [12]. And I think that this can be one of the causes/co-factors of many of the causes of death listed above. Together with air pollution, bad diets, no exercise and other lifestyle related choices, we should count ourselves lucky that we’re actually living this long.

In this post I’ve explored the causes of death and looked at the diseases that eventually tackle us. I’m optimistic that we will find solutions to most, if not all, of these in the coming decades. Our solutions should be combined with an approach in which we also make sure we do our best to keep our body healthy through diet and exercise.

To end a short analogy. Imagine yourself as a car. If you run it down, put in the wrong fuel, and eventually drive it total loss in a car accident, you would be a very irresponsible driver. If you take good care of your car, change the oil when needed, and sometimes push the peddle to the floor for just a sprint, then you might have a longer journey ahead. If then someone comes along and replaces a part of the car, or gives it a special fuel that restores the engine, you might be driving the car for a very long time to come.

Longevity Websites

In my first exploration of longevity, I’m looking at who is doing what already. Here is an (incomplete) list:

Websites/Community/Non-profit

https://www.sens.org/ – SENS Research Foundation, research, education, outreach

https://www.lifespan.io/ – Website for funding research projects, blogs, and a great Rejuvenation Roadmap

https://www.reddit.com/r/longevity/top/?t=week – Subreddit for longvity, good (read: critical) comments (sorted by new)

https://neo.life/ – Original reporting on ageing (and a bit wider), by Jane Metcalfe, found via this article on Longevity as the greatest investment

https://www.longevity.international/ – Online platform, under construction, backed by Longevity International Consortium, Biogerontology Research Foundation, Aging Analytics Agency and Deep Knowledge Life Sciences, good overviews (summary here)

Companies

http://www.gerostatealpha.com/ – Gerostate Alpha – 3 well-known researchers

https://www.calicolabs.com/ – Calico, backed by Alphabet, no products, some turnover, $1.5b research center

https://verily.com/ – Verily, backed by Alphabet, $1.8b funding, work on monitoring, interventions, precise medicine (not root causes?)

https://unitybiotechnology.com/ – Unity Biotech, developing medicines that potentially halt, slow or reverse age-associated diseases, while restoring human health. Senolytic medicines

https://www.springdisc.com/ – Spring Discovery, machine learning for ageing research, $18m+ funding

https://insilico.com/ – Insilico Medicine, artificial intelligence for drug discovery, biomarker development & ageing research

https://www.longevity.vc/ – Longevity Fund, venture capital investing in longevity research

https://www.juvenescence.ai/ – Juvenescence, drug development and artificial intelligence (AI) company focused on ageing and age-related diseases. (parent company)

Other

https://ourworldindata.org/ – Research and interactive data visualizations to understand the world’s largest problems

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outline_of_life_extension – Wikipedia overview, and here an index of related topics

https://www.ldeming.com/longevityfaq#explanation – Laura Demin (Longevity Fund) explanation of ageing research

https://www.bluezones.com/ – Based on the Blue Zones (where people live long), correlation?, and only small effect

Older / Less Active

http://aginginmotion.org/blog/ – Advancing research and treatment of sarcopenia and age-related functional decline

https://joshmitteldorf.scienceblog.com/index-to-this-blog/ – Blog by Josh Mitteldorf (started September 2012)

http://act-ad.org/ – Accelerate Cure / Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease

https://agingportfolio.org/ – Knowledge bank on ageing research, from 2011 (not active?)

https://www.agingresearch.org/about-us/ – Aliance for aging research (founded in 1986), infographic

http://www.anti-agingfirewalls.com/ – A weblog on the sciences and practices of living healthily very long by Vince Giuliano

http://www.brainpreservation.org/ – Brain Preservation Foundation (BPF), whole brain preservation (price, mammal brain preserved)

https://www.crsociety.org/ – Caloric restriction, old forum (still active), with some good posts

http://ageing-research.blogspot.com/ – Cellular Senescence blog – last post start 2018

More Organisations

https://www.afar.org/ – American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR), business organisation (B2B)/promoter, metformin trail

https://www.asaging.org/ – American Society on Aging, business organisation (B2B), more focus on quality of life

https://www.americanagingassociation.org/ – American Aging Association, business organisation (B2B), dedicated to understanding the basic mechanisms of aging in order to enable humankind to preserve and restore functions typically lost to age-related degeneration, and to extend the healthy human lifespan, linked to AFAR

https://www.a4m.com/ – American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), also Metabolic Medical Institute (MMI)

https://alliancerm.org/ – Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM), development of safe and effective regenerative medicines and advanced therapies worldwide

http://bsra.org.uk/ – British Society for Research on Ageing (BSRA), promotion an d funding for causes and effects of ageing

http://www.cellage.org/ – CellAge, destroy aged cells, didn’t get of the ground?

https://www.churchofperpetuallife.org/ – Church of Perpetual Life (faith in technology, interesting/old website)

http://www.rlecoalition.com/ – Coalition for Radical Life Extension, conferences on radical life extension

https://www.cohbar.com/ – CohBar is a clinical stage biotechnology company whose mission is to increase healthy lifespan by developing treatments for the underlying metabolic dysfunction driving the diseases of ageing

https://dogagingproject.org/ – Dog Aging Project, study of ageing in dogs with rapamycin as possible drug

Financial Independence

This is the essay for the second theme of my 2020 goals.

In this essay, I will research how best to think about my financial situation. A part of this is related to the why (what does money enable), and a large part is also related to time (because that is often juxtaposed to money).

Currently, I don’t have much money/cash, but I hope that in the future I will be able to accumulate some wealth (and/or give it away effectively). So better prepare now. And I think many of the lessons do apply to my (and your) daily life already.

Learning Goals

  1. How do I compare spending now vs saving? (time value of money, interest, etc)
  2. How should I spend my working/productive time? (opportunity cost, freedom)
  3. How can I invest?
    1. Is there a place where I have an informational advantage?
    2. Which stocks to buy? (which ‘basket’, via which broker (de Giro?))
    3. Are there even other opportunities next to stocks? (real estate?)
  4. Am I spending money on the right things? (monthly checks)
  5. How can I best save for retirement? (change anything?)
  6. How do the taxes work? (wealth, income, dividends, etc)
    1. Can I make a good model for this?
  7. How much money would I need to ‘retire’ (FIRE/LEAN FIRE)?
  8. How do I protect the downside? (tail risk, black swans)
  9. How do I look at the above in relationship to Effective Altruism / donating? (e.g. make even more to donate more)
  10. What are cool (or informative boring ones) blogs/websites/videos to follow to keep learning?

Plan of Attack

  1. Coordinate with a friend about the topic/who will research what
  2. Define what my goals are for my finances (what does it enable?)
  3. Recap what I already know (books, videos, etc)
  4. Do the research
  5. Write down learnings/plan here
  6. Make an implementation plan (7. Profit)

Financial Goals

The goals below are somewhat chronologically/more expensive. They are mostly based on income/wealth and not really on spending, mostly because almost everything I do is cheap/within just about every Dutch person’s reach.

  1. Earn a living wage (have enough money to pay the bills)
  2. Save money for my pension each month
  3. Have money spare to do nice things (vacations)
  4. Have money to donate
  5. Own a house
  6. Pay of that house
  7. Pay down student debt (someday)
  8. Invest in stocks/bonds/other
  9. Build wealth
  10. Live of that wealth (if needed)

What I’ve Learned

I’ve decided to stick to the questions I’ve had before and wrote down my learnings.

How do I compare spending now vs saving? (time value of money, interest, etc)

This is based on that you shouldn’t save all your money and then spend it when you’re old and can’t enjoy it (or are dead).

For myself, I would say that spending anything on things I could also do for free or cheaper is somewhat of a waste of money. With that attitude, I think I will have enough money left to donate and save.

Let me give an example here. I think that getting coffee at Starbucks is somewhat of a waste (so I aim to always bring my own coffee / get it for free at the office which is near Starbucks). But I do spend some money on festivals because I enjoy that more than say only taking walks in the park.

I do think that I will be happier if I have more money saved (so saving in itself is a good thing), but that the effect on the day-to-day is very small.

What I can imagine is that I should spend some money now to save in the future and that I shouldn’t be hesitant to do this (e.g. to get solar panels)

Actionable: Make a budget (well I have one, so updating it, see appendix 1).

How should I spend my working/productive time? (opportunity cost, freedom)

I think that working on interesting problems is one of the most important things. I think that should also include things that allow me to make money or free up time to work on interesting things that don’t make money.

Or in other words, spending some more (boring) time on maximizing income should be done if that frees up time to work on new (non-paying) interesting problems/ideas.

But… only to a certain degree. You (or I) shouldn’t work for 100 hours a week to make a lot of money (e.g. as a lawyer or consultant) as to ‘later’ be able to use that money to ‘enjoy’ life. I think that at all moments you should enjoy life and only work until there are no more benefits (short or long term) from it.

How can I invest?

You can’t time the market (see A Random Walk Down Wall Street) so buying stocks every month is one of the best (if not the best) strategies.

Below are the more specific questions about where to invest (money-wise).

Another book that I liked is The Most Important Thing. This is more sensible advice on how to think about investing, more for the active investor.

Is there a place where I have an informational advantage?

Maybe one day there is an informational advantage to be had in either psychedelics or longevity. Both are of great interest to me, but I haven’t looked at the investment space yet. I also doubt that there is much a single investor can do here at this moment (i.e. it’s only for funds and other organizations).

I do think that my psychology (calm, thoughtful, second-order thinking) is suited for investing. But I do know that I don’t know much. So, for now, I will defer this question to my advice on investing (for a pension) the same amount every month.

Which stocks to buy? (which ‘basket’, via which broker (de Giro?))

As far as my reading of blogs and reviews goes, DeGiro is the best place for people in The Netherlands to buy stocks. If I do commit to this way of investing, I will update which tracker/basket (or individual stocks?) I’ve bought.

At this moment (March 2020) I will also leave this question open. I might investigate this further (or defer to friends) when I want to buy stocks outside pension investments.

Update (April 2020)

DeGiro has various trackers (baskets) that you can buy. The most popular are:

  • Vanguard FTSE – worldwide, costs 0,25% per year (cp/y)
  • Vanguard S&P 500 – tech stocks, 0,07% cp/y
  • iShares MSCI World A – worldwide, 0,20% cp/y
  • iShares S&P 500 – tech stocks, 0,07% cp/y

The most popular trackers, like the ones above, are free to buy (so no transaction costs if you have one transaction per month!) (see this blog with info about finding all these, and the official list here).

Most blogs say that buying the first one is the best/most recommended. Personal preferences may also lead you to buy the second (which is already a large part of the first, but more focused on tech).

Some may even argue that you want to buy individual stocks, but I would urge against this. Historic results are no guarantee for the future, one company can fall (but an index will keep rising), you are not a professional investor, you could just be lucky – for a while.

Shares or bonds?

The advice, by the founder of Vanguard, is to have XX% shares and YY% bonds, where the latter is your age (e.g., of you’re 30, you will have 70% stocks, 30% bonds).

I think this makes sense, but with me planning on living far beyond 70 years of age (when people plan on withdrawing money, and thus want fewer fluctuations), I think I will stick to a higher percentage of stocks. The exact percentage, I will have to see.

Buy all at once or spread it out?

I might have a relatively significant amount of money to invest (versus the €300 I now invest in pension-investing every month). I’ve searched if I should invest it all in one go, or spread that investment out.

This Vanguard article says that historically the lump sum way works best. But investing over a longer time may lower your chances of regret (e.g. by not investing everything just before a crash).

Are there even other opportunities next to stocks? (real estate?)

After looking into this (with a friend), this is only possible if you’ve paid off your own house. Then it would possibly be interesting, but it has many risks also associated with it.

So for now, I’m sticking to stocks.

See appendix 2 for more info.

Am I spending money on the right things? (monthly checks)

This point fits nicely in with appendix 1. Here I look at my monthly budget and take a snapshot of how I spend my money. This will change over time and every month I fill in my excel to track this. Please message me if you want to have an (empty) copy to make your own plan.

How can I best save for retirement? (change anything?)

I will stick to €300 investment into a pension investing every month. I have some ‘sandbox’ calculations where I can see that at low expenses this is all I ‘need’, so for now I will just invest/give away everything above what I spend.

How do the taxes work? (wealth, income, dividends, etc) Can I make a good model for this?

Together with a friend, I’ve made a model of this and as with the other things, feel free to ask me for it.

The key points are:

  • Dividend income is taxed lower than salary, so we have our ‘normal’ DGA loon, and the rest is dividends
  • Wealth taxes only apply at a very high level and soon probably only above 440k
  • You will be taxed over your income if you’re retired, this includes the AOW and pension-savings (pensioenfonds).

How much money would I need to ‘retire’? (FIRE/LEAN FIRE)

Well, I don’t plan on ever retiring and sitting behind the petunias. I also plan to live for a whole long while (see here). And that is living in good health (mental and physical), so therefore I also plan to stay productive and be able to earn enough (and have low expenses).

Ok, that all being said. I’ve modeled some scenarios (again, feel free to ask for the excel) and these are some concrete (probably wrong, but in the right ballpark) numbers:

All of the below numbers assume a ‘safe’ withdrawal rate of 4% of the principal (the money saved).

They also include €826,80 gross income from AOW (government handout to all people with a pension – but I think it will go up with inflation) and my own pension saved (estimated at €1754 gross – (already in ‘future’ euro’s – so no inflation correction here). They are not included in the ‘before 70 y/o’ section.

FIRE – Financial Independence Retire Early

If I would want to keep on living as I do now, with the same expenditures, I would need the following:

After 70 y/o: €390.000 (or €235k if no mortgage – INM)

Before 70 y/o: €1.180.000 (€900.000 INM)

Lean FIRE

If I would live on the ‘bachelor’ budget (see appendix 1), I would need the following:

After 70 y/o: €30.000 (€- INM)

Before 70 y/o: €700.000 (€550k INM)

So it does really differ a lot if my (our) expenditures are high or low when I ‘retire’. If, after 70 years (the assumed retirement age) I retire and spend little, I need virtually no savings, but if I want to retire now and keep on living at the same pace, the amount of money needed is substantial.

A few notes. The model is somewhat pessimistic in money from AOW (could be higher) – but with inflation could be the same. And it takes into account an average amount of taxation on savings in a few trances, so the actual taxation is a bit lower (see here for more on ‘vermogensbelasting’)

How do I protect the downside? (tail risk, black swans)

One thing I think is important here (besides that you read The Black Swan), is to limit expenditures. This is what limits the amount of money needed to be saved and then also the amount of taxes you have to pay over that amount of money.

Later. Emergency fund?

How do I look at the above in relationship to Effective Altruism / donating? (e.g. make even more to donate more)

If I look at my budget (appendix 1), then one could argue that everything above €3000 income (net) is too much (i.e. could be donated – on top of the €250 already in there).

But I also want to save money to be able to ‘retire’, I want to buy off the mortgage on the house, and I still have quite a lot of student debts.

This is my draft for the spending percentages of the ‘extra’ money above €3000:

  • first €1000 on mortgage
  • then 50% donated, 50% saved for student loans (start paying back in 2022) / investments
    • Donation minimum is €3000 per year, so this will supersede the other two categories (investments/mortgage) if need be
    • The money saved for student loans is also the money I will invest (so everything above student loans is investment money)
    • So, if I’ve ‘saved’ the student loan money, the 50% is investment
    • And if I’ve paid off the mortgage, I could just keep the 50/50 donating and investing
    • I plan to invest (put money into stocks) every month, and take out money for donating in December (read: On average I could gain 3.5% by doing this)

What are cool (or informative boring ones) blogs/websites/videos to follow to keep learning?

Implementation Plan

I’ve already implemented most of the things discussed. I do think I could be spending less and will focus on doing those regular things better (getting a beer at the supermarket, getting free coffee at work, etc).

But the main focus points, over time, will be on investing and making the most of the money. And of course, being able to donate.

With my next venture (now in the early phases), I also plan to donate away everything where possible, as long as there is enough money to keep the business going.

I plan to write out my views for that soon.

Appendix 1 – Personal Budget

This is my personal budget and some notes on what I think falls into each category and possible actionables. This budget is also my budget and doesn’t include my girlfriend’s expenses (but does include our combined expenses / 2).

Income

Total Income: €3000 (this is variable and based on the ‘DGA loon’ plus a little extra (e.g. Airbnb income))

Expenses

Mortgage: €410 (I understand that this is extremely low, I’ve paid off a part of the mortgage already so that factors in)

Repairs: €125 (VVE – collective money for repairs)

Improvements: €100 (other improvements, like insulating glass, later solar panels (not possible), so not something regularly, but good to have it in the budget)

Electricity: €65 (I think this also includes gas but could be a bit higher together – maybe this will be updated to €100 ish)

Water: €15 (for the municipality)

Sewer: €80 (it’s a smaller amount per month, but includes a once-a-year payment to the municipality)

Cleaning: €0 (no housekeeper, can do it ourselves plus Anne (our cleaning robot – highly recommended, as is a cordless vacuum))

Phone: €7,50 (no-phone abbo, 2gb)

Internet: €34 (alas no fiber internet yet)

TV: €0 (also no Netflix for me, girlfriend does have it in her personal budget)

Insurance: €105 (Medical, Travel, Home/Inventory insurance)

Medical: €40 (budget, but averaged €5 in 2019)

Groceries: €180 (seems reasonable, but I think it could be lower, €6 per day now – pandemic update: this is much higher as going out and other categories have folded into this one)

Clothing: €45 (I don’t really shop that much, if at all, for fashion, so it’s mostly new shoes, pants, etc when needed)

Mobility: €80 (I was over budget here, with €97 per month last year, of that €34 is weekend-free for NS, rest is also mostly NS – pandemic update: also much lower)

Pets: €80 (food for Max, some indestructible toys)

Dining: €30 (1x per month)

Brunch: €30 (1,5/2x per month)

Going Out: €140 (everything from going climbing, to seeing a movie, festival, could also be a bit lower)

Drinks: €60 (could/should be lower, budget recently separated from ‘going out’)

Personal Care: €15 (things bought at pharmacy)

Sports: €20 (sports attributes, now low because the gym is below office (free))

Tech: €150 (this is too high, also a bit of a catch-all of websites, but includes new phone, laptop, etc – some/a part also gets reimbursed by work)

Gifts: €30 (actual was €42 last year)

Vacation: €500 (also quite high budget, but only for this year (2 months away, and ski, and with friends 11 days – normal budget is €250)

Donations: €250 (will probably be higher soon)

Books: €20 (actual was €4, so a large portion disappeared in the ‘tech’ category)

Pension: €300 (I’m saving this per month via BrandNewDay for my pension)

Savings: €50 (what is left after the rest – this excludes some money from my girlfriend for the house, the large vacation budget, and possibly higher income – but overall it’s quite balanced as a basis)

Or in other words, in this budget, I spend €2950 per month. Some of it comes back through taxes on the donations and pension. I estimate that the total out-of-pocket expenses in this budget are €2745 per month (€32.940 p/y).

What if I lived just as a bachelor, without a girlfriend but with a social life. Then I expect that I will not spend €2950, but only €1942 per month (€23.304 p/y). Most of the savings come from the lower vacation budget of ZERO. Or €1392 (€16704 p/y) without donations and pension (which now already are partially deductible).

Or even massaged further, to see what I could theoretically live on if the house is paid off and I live alone (but of course you could live for the same amount together), the total ‘necessary’ spending (also lowering tech a bit) would be €932 per month (€11.184 per year).

Cheap Bachelor expenses
Mortgage € 410,00
Repairs € 125,00
Improvements € 20,00
Electricity € 65,00
Water € 15,00
Sewer € 80,00
Phone € 7,50
Internet € 34,00
Insurance € 105,00
Medical € 10,00
Groceries € 130,00
Clothing € 40,00
Mobility € 40,00
Pets € 80,00
Going Out € 60,00
Sports € 20,00
Tech € 100,00
Gifts € 30,00
Vacation € –
Donations € 250,00
Books € 20,00
Pension € 300,00

Appendix 2 – Real Estate

This applies to The Netherlands, and specifically to me. So, you know, do your own research.

A second mortgage, to buy a house to rent out, is virtually impossible. No lender will approve the loan, or you can only do it if you pay the lion’s share of the house (I imagine 50%+).

The rent (percentage) will also be higher (more risk), and even then, you will probably have a line in the agreement that you can’t rent out the house (so only use it as a second home).

And, because you’re not staying in that house, you can’t get the mortgage deductible (‘hypotheek rente aftrek’).

But, if you’ve paid off the mortgage on your primary home, then buying a second home would be possible. You can then get a ‘renters mortgage’ where you only have to pony up 20-30% of the house in cash (downpayment).

The rent can be a bit higher than on a ‘normal’ mortgage, but not too much.

The friend I worked on this with thinks you could get a 9% ‘rent’ on the cash you would have paid). This includes the monthly fees, but excludes repairs and initial costs of the transaction (buying the house). It also excludes bad renters and property damage, so yeah.

Buying a house to rent it out will probably not be the way to go. Maybe one day if/when I plan to live outside the city, then renting out the (fully bought) house here could be an idea. That would, however, take another 6-7 years at the fastest.

Sources

Most sources are linked throughout the article, but here are some more great links.

Finally getting that six-pack

I’m thinking more seriously about losing a little bit of weight / having a slightly lower percentage of fat (which is the real ‘problem’, weight is perfectly fine – it just should be muscle).

For that reason, I’ve read How Not To Diet, HNTD (and because Michael Gregor is just really good at communicating science and doing so much research). Based on that book, and some other recommendations, these are the tweaks I plan to add to my daily (food) routine.

You can see more about the (normal) food routines in this post – Eat for Health & Energy.

13 Tweaks

  • 0 soda drinks
    • Even 0 calorie drinks mess with your system and make you ‘sweet’ sense messed up, so just carbonated water from now on
    • Hot situation: when going out this is the most important time to say no and drink ‘spa rood’ (sparkling water) (and a beer sometimes of course, not that that’s good either)
  • 0 energy drinks
    • For the same reasons as above, and it’s quite the waste of money versus coffee at home
    • Hot situation: when in the supermarket I sometimes get an energy drink (and at 6.30 pm that is a good time for one), but instead I should just make a coffee at home if I really want that caffeine boost
  • 20 minutes eating
    • Spreading out the meal over 20 minutes should have a good effect of making you more satiated (even if eating the exact same amount of food)
  • 2x p/d weigh myself
    • This should not really do something besides making me more conscious about my weight (and if you miss one time, you still have the other time)
    • This is morning and evening (fun to see what the difference is)
  • 1 min cold shower
    • Have a cold shower (last minute) to activate brown fat (located in shoulders/back)
    • Brown fat is the one that burns/eats the other/passive fat
  • + Cardio
    • I will add 30 minutes of cardio (or more if suitable) to my workouts
    • Not HIIT, but just steady-state cardio burning some more calories
  • + Barn
    • When making bread I will add some barn (pieces of whole wheat, instead of milled whole wheat), because the fibers are less broken/ground-up and thus is better for your gut/health
    • (someday soon I will publish the bread recipe here)
  • + Carniferous Greens
    • Because that is one of the few recommendations from Gregor that I’m not consistently (daily, now 2x per week) following
    • This means leafy greens will be added (almost) daily, and that will be in a smoothie (see below)
  • + 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar
    • Because it revs up the metabolism and is good in general (I guess the same goes for all/most of the points below, I defer to the book)
    • And they all go in the smoothie (most probably)
    • (could also be other type if this really isn’t bearable)
  • + 1/4 tsp black cumin
  • + 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • + 1 tsp ground ginger
  • + 1/2 tsp cumin (normal – kurkuma in Dutch)

The More is Less Smoothie

As mentioned above a few times, I will add some ‘good’ and metabolism stimulating greens/herbs to a smoothie that I plan on drinking every day (at breakfast). It will be a small (shot-size) smoothie and not a full (long-drink) smoothie per serving.

  • Spinach (400g bag of fresh leaves)
  • 4x the herbs/spices/vinegar as mentioned above

Appendix 1 – Counting Calories?

Based on food research earlier I’ve calculated the number of calories I would need. I think this is a useful first step, but after reading HNTD I think I’m not focussing on these numbers.

The main reason is that the ‘science’ is not that precise as we would like to believe. That relates both to how many calories are in foods (mislabelling), and how we process them in our body (earlier in the day – less calories absorbed, and for some food (with a lot of fibers) we poop out a significant 20% of the calories/food). And there are many more variables at play.

What I most want to focus on is knowing what I eat, if those meals are good and don’t allow/encourage me to snack in-between (aka cheat) and let me be healthy and full of energy.

That all being said, here are the calculations:

At about 500 calories in deficit (eating for instance 2800 calories) I would lose about 500 grams per week (MayoClinic).

(Fitbit update: Fitbit thinks I burn about 3600kcal per day, so that is even higher)

Or if you spread that out over a week it might look like this:

  • Monday: 3000 kcal
  • Tuesday (no sports): 2000 kcal
  • Wednesday: 3000 kcal
  • Thursday: 3000 kcal
  • Friday: 3000 kcal
  • Saturday (no sports): 2000 kcal
  • Sunday: 3000 kcal

The total would be a deficit of 4100 kcal or 585 kcal per day.

Appendix 2 – Sports at Home

Because the gym is closed (COVID-19). This is my new sports schedule:

Monday – Wednesday – Friday

General warmup and stretches. Three times the following.

  • 8 Halos (each side)
  • 10 Goblet Squats
  • 8 Overhead Presses (each side)
  • 15 Kettlebell Swings
  • 8 Bent Over Rows (each side)
  • 6 Front Rack Reverse Lunge (per side)

Tuesday – Thursday – Saturday/Sunday

  • Hiking (2 hours plus), or
  • Running (30 minutes plus), or
  • Outside workout (airsquats, pushups, burpees, etc) (15 minutes plus)

Next to this I will do a lot of stretches and hope to make my mobility better during this time. I will also continue to do some weightlifting practice, but alas I only have a PVC pipe at home (no barbell or weights – and live on the first floor so that is for the better).

Eat for Health & Energy

This is the essay for the first theme of my 2020 goals.

Food is something we deal with every day. It’s something that most people in The Netherlands have an abundance of. The marketing, endless choices, well-meant health advice, and more stuff our ears almost every day.

So, how do we make a good choice, a better choice than the day before? That is what I want to find out over the period that I’m writing this essay.

It’s motivated by a feeling of drift. I have Queal as my basis, I (or Lotte) cook most days. But I snack random things at the office, I have no idea what is in my meals exactly, and I don’t know exactly what better choices there are.

This might be a bit exaggerated. I don’t normally eat fast food, there might be no more than a few lost saturated fats in my diet, and I eat as many greens as your average rabbit.

Still, I think I can do better. So here are the learning goals and a plan of attack.

Learning Goals

  1. What foods should I be eating every day/week?
  2. How many calories should I be eating (and are calories really a good measure)?
  3. What are good (and easy) meals I can eat, and what is in them?
  4. I hear that fasting can have many benefits, should I do it?
  5. I eat mostly vegan, do I need to supplement anything?
  6. When to eat best for energy (next to sleep, sports, etc)?
  7. What about protein, it should be high for sports (I think) and low for longevity?
  8. And what about IGF-1, it’s good for sports, bad for ageing?
  9. (added Aug 2020) How to prevent the common cold?

Plan of Attack

  1. Recap what I’ve already read (books)
  2. Visit trusted sources (web/books)
    1. And read underlying research if possible/needed
  3. Write down what I’ve learned
    1. And write down the longer arguments (appendixes)
  4. Make an implementation plan (creating new habits)

What I’ve Learned

“For most of our leading killers, nongenetic factors like diet can account for at least 80 or 90 percent of cases. As I noted before, this is based on the fact that the rates of cardiovascular disease and major cancers differ fivefold to a hundredfold around the world. Migration studies show this is not just genetics. When people move from low- to highrisk areas, their disease risk nearly always shoots up to match the new setting.” – Dr. Greger, How Not To Die

Bad food can kill us. Unless we do other stupid things, it is probably the thing that will do us in. Below all the things I’ve learned and want to implement.

Calories

Based on my height (194cm) and weight (90-94kg), my basal caloric need per day is 2219 kcal (also see Appendix 1). This is the amount I need if I sit still the whole day.

At an earlier date, I’ve calculated that this would translate to the following:

  • 222g carbs
  • 166g protein
  • 74g fat

On very active days I will burn about 3500-4000 kcal. That is with doing a full session in the gym to running 10km. This was taken earlier from my Fitbit. But I think this is an overestimation.

I estimate that I burn through 3000-3300 kcal per day.

Daily Dozen

I want to eat 3000 kcal, but where should they come from? Here I’m basing most of my research on Dr. Greger – his books How Not To Die, How Not To Diet, and his website Nutrition Facts.

One of his main recommendations is to try and eat a variety of foods called the ‘Daily Dozen’. Here is a short summary of the list, see Appendix 2 for further analysis.

  • Beans ☑ ☑ ☑
    • Black beans, black-eyed peas, butter beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), edamame, English peas, great northern beans, kidney beans, lentils, miso, navy beans, pinto beans, small red beans, split peas, tempeh (which is made from beans, duh)
    • 3 servings
      • 1/4 cup hummus or bean dip
      • 1/2 cup of cooked beans, split peas, lentils, tofu, tempeh
      • 1 cup of fresh peas or sprouted lentils
    • €0,20-€0,50 (per serving)
  • Berries ☑
    • Acai berries, barberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, concord grapes, cranberries, goji berries, kumquats, mulberries, raspberries, strawberries
    • 1 serving
      • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen
      • 1/4 cup dried
    • €0,20
  • Fruits ☑ ☑ ☑
    • Apples, dried apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, clementines, dates, dried figs, grapefruit, honeydew, kiwifruit, lemons, limes, lychees, mangos, nectarines, oranges, papaya, passion fruit, peaches, pears, pineapple, plums (black), pomegranates, pluots, prunes, tangerines, watermelon
    • 3 servings
      • 1 medium-size fruit
      • 1 cup cut-up fruit
      • 1/4 cup dried fruit
    • €0,50 (per serving, or free at the office)
  • Cruciferous ☑
    • Arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, horseradish, kale, mustard greens, radishes, turnip greens, and watercress
    • 1 serving
      • 1/2 cup chopped
      • 1/4 cup brussels or broccoli sprouts
      • 1 tbsp horseradish
    • €0,50
  • Greens ☑ ☑ ☑
    • Same as above plus, beet greens, sorrel, spinach, swiss chard
    • 2 servings
      • 1 cup raw
      • 1/2 cup cooked
    • €0,50 (per serving)
  • Vegetables ☑ ☑
    • Artichokes, asparagus, beets, bell peppers, carrots, corn, garlic, mushrooms, okra, onions, purple potatoes, pumpkin, sea vegetables (nori, dulse, arame), snap peas, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini
    • 2 servings
      • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
      • 1/2 cup raw or cooked non-leavy vegetables
      • 1/4 cup dried mushrooms
    • €0,30 (per serving)
  • Flaxseeds ☑
    • Flaxseeds
    • 1 serving (1 tablespoon)
    • €0,06
  • Nuts (and Seeds) ☑
    • Almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chia seeds, hazelnuts/filberts, hemp seeds, macademia nuts, pecans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts
    • 1 serving
      • 1/4 cup nuts/seeds
      • 2 tbsp nut/seed butter (including peanut butter)
    • €0,05-€0,30 (or free at office)
  • Grains ☑ ☑ ☑
    • Barley, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oats, popcorn, quinoa, rye, teff, whole-wheat pasta, wild rice
    • 3 servings
      • 1/2 cup hot cereal or cooked grains, pasta
      • 1 cup cold cereal
      • 1 tortilla or slice of bread
      • 1/2 bagel
      • 3 cups popped popcorn
    • €0,10-€0,50 (per serving)
  • Spices ☑
    • All you can think of (salt-free) (garlic, ginger, nutmeg, oregano, etc)
    • 1 serving (e.g. 1/4 tsp turmeric)
    • €0,05
  • Beverages ☑ ☑ ☑ ☑ ☑
    • 2 litres of water +
    • green tea, etc
    • €0,00 (free or a few cents for tea)
  • Exercise ☑
    • 90. min moderate OR 40min. vigorous
    • Moderate examples: bicycling, dancing, housework, hiking, surfing, swimming recreationally, yoga
    • Vigorous examples: backpacking, circuit weight training, football, jogging, running, swimming laps
    • €0,00-€3,30 (if €100 gym, per day)

See a picture of this here.

I will strive to get as many as possible done on this list every day. And at the same time not get lost in the woods by wanting to do it perfect.

Some things I already do very well (beverages, exercise), others I do only sometimes (nuts, 3 fruits).

I think this advice is also in line with most other nutritionists and can be summarized as ‘eat greens, don’t eat too much’.

Below I’ve listed my cheatsheet as to how I will get as many of these as possible.

Other Things To Eat

Next to those things listed above, I have also thought about the ingredients listed below.

  • Salt ☑
    • I should get between 3-6 grams (see video here)
    • I’m more concerned about not getting enough (because no processed foods)
    • And that I should also get enough iodine (which isn’t in seasalt, and is very much in bakers salt)
    • In four pieces of bread, you should get enough iodine for the day (from ‘Wat is nu gezond?‘)
    • The bread I’m making myself, I make with iodinated salt.
  • Dark Chocolate ☑
    • Maybe positive because it contains flavanols
    • But not much conclusive research
    • It’s also processed, so cocoa powder is probably better
    • Could sometimes be a good snack (better than white/pink chocolate)
  • Garlic ☑ (allicin)
    • Is shown to prevent and shorten common cold duration
    • Half a clove (fresh) or 2 prepared
    • And it could help prevent cancer
  • Coffee ☑
    • There is a high chance I will get my caffeine fix in a pre-workout (good for the gym, but haven’t found a good one for the gut/microbiome)
    • I personally found that a cup helps me be a bit more alert, but I’m not particularly sensitive
    • And that I felt (after drinking a few cups per day for a few months) that I’m not the most productive/creative with it
    • So, I aim to drink one cup of coffee or less on workdays
    • Without milk, or (in the weekends) with soy/oat milk
  • Alcohol ✖
    • It’s not good for you (not even red wine, ok)
    • But good socially and widely accepted
    • I aim to drink fewer than 2 drinks on weekdays (mostly 0)
    • And drink a maximum of 5 drinks when with friends/going out
    • Still, one of my goals to improve, I do think that becoming older (chronologically speaking that is), that the temptation is lower and social situations less geared towards heavy drinking

Feeding the Microbiome

This part is mostly based on The Good Gut (also see this video, 3). There is much overlap for feeding your microbiome and eating healthy in general. Very specifically it also recommends eating fermented foods and prebiotics.

Personally, that means I will drink some kefir almost daily (made at home).

Update June 2020: the kefir wasn’t that tasty, so I have updated this to a home-based ginger-drink.

  • Kefir ☑
    • 1 small glass per day
    • €0,05 (bought starter once, now just add some sugar and things to flavour it)

The recommendation is also to eat 28g of fibre (men, 25g for women) per day (so more than generally recommended).

Supplementation

Before doing this research (January 2020), I wasn’t really using any supplement for health. I was using Creatine and NAC only for sports.

So, I think you can survive – and thrive – without them. But they might be beneficial for the reasons listed below.

  • Vitamin B12 ☑
    • 2500mcg cyanocobalamin serving 1x p/w
    • (I have 1000mcg so once every 3 days)
    • Reason: because of good sanitation, it isn’t in our food anymore (it used to be on the dirt)
    • This form is the best supported/bioavailable
    • If you’re over 65, raise it to 1000mg per day
    • €0,02 per day (€0,04 per pill, from bulkpowders)
  • Vitamin D ☑
    • 2000 IUs of D3 1x p/d
    • (I have 5000mg, so once every 2 days)
    • Reason: we’re not in the sun enough, so no need to take it if in the sun (without too many clothes) for more than 15 minutes
    • €0,01 per day (€0,01 per pill, from bulkpowders)
  • Creatine ☑
    • 3-5g per day (when doing sports)
    • Creatine use can increase maximum power and performance in high-intensity anaerobic repetitive work (periods of work and rest) by 5 to 15%” (source, via wiki – also see here)
    • It might lead to a bit of bloating, so maybe not take it if cutting weight
    • €0,04 per day (5x per week)
  • NAC ✖
    • To be honest, I can’t find research that conclusively supports taking this (a prodrug for L-cysteine – an amino acid)
    • So, once it’s gone, I won’t be getting it again

When to eat? (for longevity, weight loss, energy levels)

Conclusion: late breakfast, no late-night snacks.

Breakfast might not be necessary, but skipping breakfast (on average) also doesn’t lead to weight loss (video). The main reason mentioned is that the group that did eat breakfast, exercised (read: moved) more. There was no change in metabolic rate.

What is also mentioned (and I’ve read before too), is that calories later in the day are worse for you (i.e. let you gain weight more) than during the earlier times. So late-night snacking or eating a very large dinner, is also out the door.

Where to get food?

I was inspired by a new look at The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan to think a bit more about where I get my food.

In the book, Pollan challenges your view of organic food (and shows how meat is made too).

What I do want to do more (and have yet only done once) is order more local food. Here I can buy interesting vegetables for cooking, and I would still want to eat some eggs and I believe that here they can do this in a way that is more sustainable/less harmful. The website for this is Rechtstreex.

Update June 2020: We are now getting a lot of vegetables and fruits via Rechtstreex.

What about IGF-1?

Conclusion: Difficult to say. I should watch my sports performance, but not really strive for higher or lower IGF-1 I think.

Should your levels of IGF-1 [insulin-like growth factor] remain too high when you reach adulthood, however, your cells will constantly receive a message to grow, divide, and keep going and growing [which may of course be what you want for muscle growth]. Not surprisingly, the more IGF-1 you have in your bloodstream, the higher your risk for developing cancers, such as prostate cancer.

The release of IGF-1 appears to be triggered by the consumption of animal protein. This may explain why you can so dramatically bolster the cancer-fighting power of your bloodstream within weeks of eating a plant-based diet. … One of the ways your body tries to protect itself from cancer—that is, excessive growth—is by releasing a binding protein into your bloodstream to tie up any excess IGF-1.”

From a study, mention in this (not super) YouTube video, it’s mentioned that the cancer risk is also higher if you have low IGF-1 (i.e. it’s an u-shape). He also talks about low-carb and intermitted fasting (and by that having low IGF-1 despite eating meat/keto).

How to prevent common colds?

Eat half a clove of raw garlic (e.g. in a salad).

And a teaspoon of nutritional yeast could also be helpful if experiencing physical or mental stress (the former I have because of sports).

Cheatsheet

Here is my cheatsheet (check-list) for the day, cooking, and week. As mentioned earlier, this is aspirational and I won’t check off everything every day. That is ok.

Waking (6 am)

  • Vitamin B12 and/or D (if needed)
  • 300ml of (green) tea

Breakfast (10 am)

  • Homemade bread with hummus
    • 1 serving beans
    • 1 serving spices
    • 1 serving salt (iodine)
    • 3 servings grains
    • 1 serving flaxseed
    • 1 serving nuts
    • 660kcal, 24g protein, 9.2g fibre
  • Serving of (frozen) blueberries (75g, 1/4 cup)
    • 1 serving berries
    • 36kcal, 0.7g protein, 1.8g fibre
  • 1 litre of water (with citrus) and (green) tea combined

Fruit (11.30 am)

  • Kiwi and/or apple
    • 1 or 2 servings fruits
    • (kiwi) 42kcal, 0.8g protein, 2g fibre (more with skin on)
    • (apple) 95kcal, 0.5 protein, 4.4g fibre

Lunch (1 pm)

  • Queal Ready (100g)
    • 1 serving grains
    • 0.5-1 serving berries – if Berry Good
    • 400kcal, 26.6g protein, 6.6g fibre
  • Update June 2020: Greens salad, e.g. spinach with herbs/spices
    • Update August 2020: Will probably update this to a smoothie with garlic and nutritional yeast also added.
  • 600ml of water (with citrus)

Exercise (2 pm)

  • Weightlifting and/or Bodybuilding
  • 60 to 90 minutes + warm-up
  • 600ml of water

Second Lunch (4 pm)

  • Protein shake + creatine + 2 scoops Queal Steady (66g)
    • (protein) 197kcal, 34.8g protein
    • (Steady) 275kcal, 13.9g protein, 4.6g fibre

Subtotals until now:

  • 21 checkmarks (water and sports included)
    • 16 of those from Daily Dozen
  • 1705 kcal
  • 101g protein
  • 28.6g fibre (and that is another check!)

Dinner (6-7 pm)

So here it gets trickier/less standard, the cheatsheet reflects mostly what I haven’t yet gotten and/or foods that I think are good.

  • 2 servings beans (e.g. black beans, tempeh)
  • 4 servings (cruciferous) green (e.g. broccoli, spinach, cauliflower)
  • 2 servings grains (I’ve already had some, but most dinners do include this)
  • 1 or more servings spices (e.g. turmeric, pepper, garlic)
  • 600ml water (at least 2 cups of water in the evening)
  • 1 serving kefir (a small glass when getting home/during dinner)
  • 1725 kcal left, 70g protein left, 0g fibre extra needed

(historic note 27 jan 2020) I’m totally lying/misremembering/overeating above what I state here. If it’s really just 1300kcal during the day, then I’m eating 2000 in the evening. I really want to start tracking this and probably need to add some more foods during the day! I will start with some more Queal (Steady) at lunch. (update 20 feb 2020, now at 1700kcal so closer to what is expected).

Appendix 1 – Caloric Need

Based on Calculator.net I would need to eat the following amount of calories per day:

  • Sedentary: little or no exercise 2415
  • Exercise 1-3 times/week 2767
  • Exercise 4-5 times/week 2948
  • Daily exercise or intense exercise 3-4 times/week 3119
  • Intense exercise 6-7 times/week 3472
  • Very intense exercise daily, or physical job 3824

If I would have to estimate, I would be needing 3300 kcal per day to maintain my weight.

At about 500 calories in deficit (eating for instance 2800 calories) I would lose about 500 grams per week (MayoClinic).

Or if you spread that out over a week it might look like this:

  • Monday: 3000 kcal
  • Tuesday (no sports): 2000 kcal
  • Wednesday: 3000 kcal
  • Thursday: 3000 kcal
  • Friday: 3000 kcal
  • Saturday (no sports): 2000 kcal
  • Sunday: 3000 kcal

The total would be a deficit of 4100 kcal or 585 kcal per day.

I would want to get a bit leaner sometime soon. And after I’ve done most of the research for this article I might attempt this and document it.

Finally getting that six-pack

Appendix 2 – Daily Dozen

There is no incentive from the industry/medical to promote food healthy. It’s like smoking in the 50s. Take control yourself.

My translation of daily dozen:

  • Beans: Hummus (beans), 1 serving during lunch, most days.
  • Berries: 75g frozen berries (blueberries) or mix, most days.
  • Fruits: at least 1 (serving) apple, kiwi, banana per day.
    • Citrus skin (grated) in water/drink
    • Vary the fruits with some more exotic/different ones
  • Cruciferous vegetables: some during dinner
  • Greens: some during dinner
  • Vegetables: some during dinner
  • Flaxseeds: 1 tbsp of broken/powdered flaxseed with some nuts – or already in homemade bread
  • Nuts: Mix of nuts (with flaxseed) in a small container (1/4 cup or less) – or already in homemade bread
  • Grains: some during dinner or home-made bread
  • Spices: add to dinner (and get tumeric and garlic in there many times) – and/or already in homemade hummus
  • Beverages: lots of water, 2 to 3 cups of a variety of teas (green, black, ginger, etc)
  • Exercise: yes, 5x per week weightlifting/bodybuilding, biking 20 minutes, walking 20 minutes (but slow pace for both – with Max)

Some more detailed meals

  • 2 Whole-grain pieces of bread with hummus and avocado
    • 180g bread (472kcal 4.3g fat 88g carbs 17.6g protein 2g salt)
    • 1/4 cup hummus (190kcal 11g fat 18g carbs 6g protein)
    • 1 avocado (322kcal 29g fat 17g carbs 4g protein)
    • Vegan
  • Queal Ready 100g + Flaxseeds
    • Ready (400kcal 12.3g fat 42.6g carbs 26.6g protein 0.6g salt)
    • Flaxseeds (tbsp)
    • 1 serving berries, 1 serving seeds, 1 serving grains
    • Vegan
  • 3 home-made thin-slices of bread with hummus + Flaxseeds
    • 130g bread (340kcal 3.1g fat 63.5g carbs 12.6g protein 6.2g fibre 1.4g salt)
    • 1/4 cup hummus (190kcal 11g fat 18g carbs 6g protein 3g fibre)
    • Flaxseeds (tbsp)
    • Vegan
  • Protein shake + creatine
    • Protein powder 1,5 scoop (197kcal 3.7g fat 5g carbs 34.8g protein)
  • 1/2 cup of blueberries
    • About 75g (36 kcal 0g fat 8g carbs 0.7g protein)

Daily dozen,

  • Beans
    • Amount: 1.5 cups (235ml*1.5=350ml, 1.5x small glass) of cooked beans OR 3/4 cup (176ml) hummus (some breads with royal spread of hummus)
    • Why: contains fibre (good against heart disease and almost all others)
    • How to incorporate: Eat hummus and cook with beans a few times per week
    • What are some of the truly potassium-rich foods? The healthiest common whole-food sources are probably greens, beans, and sweet potatoes.
    • “Folate is a B vitamin concentrated in beans and greens.
    • Costs: €1.90 per 900g dry. With some olive oil, tahini, herbs (and/or roasted paprika, garlic, etc). Guesstimated cost of 50g prepared product (1 serving), €0.20
  • Berries
    • Amount: 0.5 cup (120ml – 75g) of frozen blueberries/mix
    • Why: contains fibre (see above), antioxidants, may prevent cognitive decline, polyphenols (which contain antioxidants amongst others), protective against cancers
    • “Some berries have more than 1,000 units [of antioxidants]”
    • “Berries offer potential protection against cancer (chapters 4 and 11), a boost to the immune system (chapter 5), and a guard for the liver (chapter 8) and brain (chapters 3 and 14). An American Cancer Society study of nearly one hundred thousand men and women found that those who ate the most berries appeared significantly less likely to die of cardiovascular disease.”
    • The colors are the antioxidants.” i.e shop for the brightest fruits.
    • Costs: €1.99 per 1kg frozen. So at 100g (47kcal) it’s €0.20
  • Fruits
    • Amount: 3 fruits
    • Why: same as above, also mention of longer telomeres
    • Apples, Citrus (skin of it, scraped), kiwi – all mentioned favourably
  • Cruciferous
    • Arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, horseradish, kale, mustard greens, radishes, turnip greens, and watercress
    • 1 serving
      • 1/2 cup chopped
      • 1/4 cup brussels or broccoli sprouts
      • 1 tbsp horseradish
  • Greens
    • Same as above plus, beet greens, sorrel, spinach, swiss chard
    • 2 servings
      • 1 cup raw
      • 1/2 cup cooked
  • Vegetables
    • Artichokes, asparagus, beets, bell peppers, carrots, corn, garlic, mushrooms, okra, onions, purple potatoes, pumpkin, sea vegetables (nori, dulse, arame), snap peas, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini
    • 2 servings
      • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
      • 1/2 cup raw or cooked non-leavy vegetables
      • 1/2 cup vegetable juice??
      • 1/4 cup dried mushrooms
  • Flaxseeds
    • Amount: 1 tbsp
    • Why: lower blood pressure (original article, via HNTD)
      • Other research also links to lower breast and prostate cancer
    • How to incorporate: Add a tablespoon to lunch or when eating a mix of nuts (see next one)
    • Extra: Another video about Flaxseeds
      • 3 tbsp is 30% of magnesium needs, B1, 20% phosphorus, 10% selenium
    • “Though lignans are found throughout the plant kingdom, flaxseeds have around one hundred times more lignans than other foods.117 What are lignans? Lignans are phytoestrogens that can dampen the effects of the body’s own estrogen.”
    • “Mother Nature packs them a little too well. If you eat flaxseeds whole, they’re likely to pass right through you without releasing any of their nutrients. So, for best results, first grind up the seeds with a blender or coffee or spice grinder, or buy them preground or “milled.” “
  • Nuts (and Seeds)
    • Almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chia seeds, hazelnuts/filberts, hemp seeds, macademia nuts, pecans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts
    • 1 serving
      • 1/4 cup nuts/seeds
      • 2 tbsp nut/seed butter (including peanut butter)
  • Grains
    • Barley, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oats, popcorn, quinoa, rye, teff, whole-wheat pasta, wild rice
    • 3 servings
      • 1/2 cup hot cereal or cooked grains, pasta
      • 1 cup cold cereal
      • 1 tortilla or slice of bread
      • 1/2 bagel
      • 3 cups popped popcorn
  • Spices
    • All you can think of (salt-free) (garlic, ginger, nutmeg, oregano, etc)
    • 1 serving (e.g. 1/4 tsp turmeric)
  • Beverages
    • 2 litres of water +
    • green tea, etc
  • Exercise
    • 90. min moderate OR 40min. vigorous
    • Moderate examples: bicycling, dancing, housework, hiking, surfing, swimming recreationally, yoga
    • Vigorous examples: backpacking, circuit weight training, football, jogging, running, swimming laps

Sources

Most sources are linked throughout the article, but here are some more great links.

  1. Youtube: Dr. Gregor’s Daily Dozen Checklist
    1. https://nutritionfacts.org/app/uploads/2018/03/metric.png
  2. Youtube: How Not to Die: An Animated Summary
  3. Youtube: How the Gut Microbiome affects the Brain and Mind
  4. Red Pen Reviews – great website that reviews nutrition books

Music to Improve your Performance at Fitness

Listening to music can significantly improve your performance. Research indicates that it can improve your endurance by 15%. This effect is reached through three different mechanisms; rhythm, arousal, and distraction from discomfort. This article will elaborate on each of these mechanisms. Further, it will give some tips on the songs to choose and what effect this has on not only fitness but also running.

The rhythm of music is primarily responsible for improving performance. A study on bicycle speeds showed that people conform to the tempo of the beat they are listening to. People are drawn to the synchronous sounds produced by the music. The study found that it did not matter what kind of music was playing. The beats per minute (BMP) was the only mechanism responsible for the faster speeds.

Arousal is the second mechanism that music activates. This means that music will get you to move, to get you in action-mode. From a biological perspective, it can be stated that music tricks your body in thinking a lot is going on, it activates the fight-or-flight responses. But instead of fighting people we nowadays use music to get that little edge during working out. People have even coined music a legal drug for sports.

The third mechanism is about distraction from discomfort. Music, which is mostly played at quite the volume, distracts you from other stimuli that want your attention. Without it, you may be focusing on the discomfort of lifting the weight again. Or you will constantly look at the time indicator on the treadmill. Music lets you drift away and absorb the power from the tunes. In the case of power-lifting, as opposed to cycling, it can be stated that the kind of music is of importance. “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy will probably do much better than “Baby” by Justin Bieber.

Music can be a great motivator during sessions at the gym. The confidence and sense of power can even be transferred to other situations. Play that great song you always hear during fitness right before an interview and feel how your energy levels will rise. If you do not currently have a favourite power song, than this shortlist may help you along:

Not only during visits to the gym you can benefit from music. Your running performance can also benefit greatly from using music. The three effects (rhythm, arousal, distraction) also apply here. Emphasis should be put on the rhythm part, using the BPM information of songs, you can compile a list that suits the tempo of your heartbeat perfectly.

If you are using music for fitness or for running, it can be a great help in achieving your goals. Make sure to pick the right music and vary the songs every now and then. Unplug when you see a friend, but turn up the volume when you do the last set of an exercise. Make music an integral part of your routine and increase your performance.

References & Further Reading:

1. http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/805/

2. http://www.muscleandfitness.com/training/tips/25-greatest-power-songs-all-time

3. http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/exercise-and-music

A/B Testing

A dump of my posts from 2013 about A/B testing some things in my life. (not spellchecked/corrected)

Read about Reading – A/B Testing #1

How nice is it to be able to read a book every week or two? No, not read only once, but read one whole book in that timeframe. That is the plan, to read 26 books coming year. For that I am wondering when best to read, just before going to bed, or just as I wake up. I will start the first week (w2) with reading half an hour in the morning, the second week (w3) I will read in the evenings. See below for the conclusion:

First Week

The first week worked out great. Each morning (ok, almost every morning) I got up at 6.30 am and read for half an hour. Then I did my exercises for my back and started my day. All I did before starting to read was turn on the lights, no computer, no phone, no distractions. It felt great, some knowledge to kickstart the day. This first week has been a really good test and I am curious of what the second week will bring.

Second Week

And there were the signs of a good experiment, I failed miserably. But this is not a problem. The Mythbusters justly state; Failure is always an option! Reading in the evening turned out to be very difficult for me. The one day you are exhausted from a full day of activities, and the other day you come home from an event and (again) only want to jump into your bed. Of the nights that I should have been reading I only completed doing it about two time (I caught up on my reading in the weekend).

To Conclude

This first A/B test has been a fun and exciting experiment. It has shown me that you can definitely see big results by changing a habit ever so slightly. For me it turns out reading in the morning is a blessing, reading in the evening impossible. At the same time I should note that for other people the conclusions of a similar experiment may be very different. When you have a regular schema and like to relax with a book in the evening, why wake up 30 minutes early? So what is your prefered style? Have you tested both moments? And of course, why have to chosen the one over the other?

A/B Testing

A/B Testing is a new category on testing habits. Each week I, and anyone who likes to join, will test a new habit or change in a daily aspect of my life. The next week I will try a different configuration. Both weeks taken together will result in a conclusion about that specific habit. At the start of the week after that I will report my findings here. If this post does not yet contain the findings, then the experiment is in progress right now.

How Much Sleep Do We Need? – A/B Testing #2

Sleeping is essential in your life. Most people spend about a third of their life doing this, seemingly trivial, activity. So what is to it, do we really need the recommended 8 hours, or is a little less also enough? In week 3 and week 4 I will test the difference between 7 and 8 hours of sleep. In the first week (w3) I will sleep only 7 hour a day, and in the second week (w4) I will sleep the recommended 8 hours. In my bachelor studies into Psychology I have once learned that it does not really matter how much you sleep, you can get used to almost anything. Will this mean the first experiment without a significant result? The answer is below!

First week

Staying awake has never been a big problem for me, getting up early however can sometimes be quite the hassle. On average I have slept 7 hours or less and have experienced two distinct things. The first is that sleeping only 7 hours is definitely possible. It is not too much to ask from your body and it allows for enough time to restore from the workday. The second is that sleeping irregularly is quite the hassle. Waking up the one day at 5am and the other going to bed at 3am (and waking up at 10am) is not the schema you want to follow. Now onto the second week.

Second week

Sleeping 8 hours straight has also been no problem at all. During a weekend away skiïng it has proven to be really useful and helps your body restore. At the same time, the 8 hours limit your working day by that one hour extra. Sometimes this is the hour that you would have wasted on watching a series or tv, but could also mean the hour that you would have spend on a beautiful blog or some educational purpose. The second week has shown me that the extra hour of sleep is not really something different.

To Conclude

As predicted in the introduction, there were no significant changes in the amount of energy I had when sleeping 7 or 8 hours. In earlier blogs I have written about sleeping. One is about the hours we need. The second is about biphasic sleeping (to have powernaps during the day to reduce the amount you have to sleep at night). For future A/B tests it would be interesting to test these versus 7 hours of sleep. For now I can conclude that 7 hours is sufficient and that rhythm is key.

How To Find Your Best Productivity Window – A/B Testing #3

How long can you focus on a task? What is the optimal window for you to work without losing focus? One thing I can state beforehand is that this is not from 9 till 5 (8 hours total). A more likely answer would be 15 minutes to 90 minutes. So why not test this hypothesis. In the coming weeks I will focus on single tasks for different time-frames and see what is most productive. In the end I will review some literature, but for now the three conditions are most important; 30 minutes, 45 minutes, and 60 minutes. I will see which of these will result in the most work done and with the least amount of distractions.

First week

Working for 30 minutes is a piece of cake. It is not difficult to focus on one task for this amount of time. Some tasks are finished within this time-frame, others will take multiple windows to complete. At the same time it is also very convenient to work 30 minutes at a time, since this is the (standard) length of a Google Agenda time-frame. The problem with a relatively small timeframe of 30 minutes is that you are not able to work on big pieces on which you need longer concentration spans. And at the same time it does allow for enough breathing space to recuperate each half hour.

Second week

Concentrating for 45 minutes does not seem to be a problem either. The breaks are even more welcome now, so there is some depletion of your attention span going on. For the rest the 45 minutes seem to be working equally well as the 30 minutes. The real challenge is going to be the 60 minutes on tasks that are not so engaging (read: statistics). A final remark on this week is that with engaging tasks I seem to be able to focus for way longer periods, we will see if there is some research about this in the literature.

Third week

And also 60 minutes seem to work just fine. If you are aware of an impending deadline, a time to relax for a few minutes and to have the current task done, that really seems to help. Doing statistics has become a lot more manageable when you know that within 60 minutes you can turn your brain of again. Working on some other tasks at the same time has been quite the other experience, when really engaged a technique is not needed to manage your time. In those cases you manage to push on, and I guess that your toilet breaks and snacks every once in a while are enough to recharge you.

To Conclude

I was originally inspired by this article by Jeff Haden. He beautifully explains why working for 8 hours does not work. He argues that you need to rest (for 20 minutes) after a maximum of 90 minutes work. In my own experiments I have found this to be very true. Things you do not enjoy doing on an intrinsic level become more manageable when you break them up in smaller pieces. Windows of 90 minutes may be possible, and I will probably test that in my future assignments. For now here are two great resources on productivity windows:

No More Email – A/B Testing #4

In this day and age of the mobile life, more than half of the emails are opened on a mobile device. People have the ability to check their email almost every second of the day. We have the endless opportunity to install alerts, create pop-ups and district us from our real work. I myself have not turned on any of these features, but still am able to check my email every hour or so. It is interesting to read the email I get, and it is fun to engage with others. But it is also eating away at the time that I could have used for doing real substantial work. In the first week (w5) I will only check my email in the morning (8am) and evening (6pm). In the second week I will limit myself to checking my email only in the afternoon (1pm). A few questions that I am mainly concerned with are; 1) Will I miss things?, 2) Will I be more productive than normally, and 3) Which configuration is the most productive and satisfying?

First week

This works. Not checking your email every hour or so is quite liberating. There are no more emails that I ‘check’ in a study-break and then consequently be working on for the next half hour. The morning is usually filled with little mails, but allows me to work on a new ‘News in Leadership’ article or the answer someone who was up later than me. Reading my email in the evening is a bit more overwhelming. Not only are there more emails than you normally see (when checking in every hour), but you also see different kinds of tasks at the same time. Luckily however most emails are only concerned with communicating information. In the end you will read through them faster (since similar emails are read at the same time) and the emails that require action will now be dealt with at a set time.

Second week

One moment per week was maybe too optimistic. But am I disappointed with finding this result? Far from it, having one moment a day to work on your email is a real good aim. The problem that prevented me from achieving this feat was that you sometimes work from your email, there is information stored in emails and you cannot avoid to spot the new emails when you open your favourite email program. What you can avoid is opening these mails, and this is what I did. If something is really urgent a person will call, so not opening an email until (on average) 12 hours later, will not do much harm. Sometimes less is more.

To Conclude

Reducing the amount of times I checked my email has been a fun experiment. Secretly there was a third condition, week -100 – 0 in which I checked my email about every hour. Now there is more time for working on long-term goals and to really get things done. Having a set moment to check my email is not what resulted from this experiment (my student life is too unpredictable), but only checking it once or twice a day is what will stick around for a long time. Why not give it a try yourself, you will be amazed how easy it goes?

Pro Tip: Only checking your email incidentally does not mean you have to be less responsive. There are many people who have their email open all the time, but do not seem to be able to respond to your email from two weeks ago. When you check your email, reply with an answer when possible. But when you have to perform an additional task, plan this task, inform the other party about your intention to complete the task and email again when you have finished the task. Great communication is not about how many times you check your email, but about how you manage expectations.

Time to get Zen – A/B Testing #5

Having peace of mind can be a great advantage. It lets you think more clearly and gives you space to think about new ideas. But when your brain is occupied with worries about tomorrow and regrets of yesterday, you will get nothing done. Mindfulness seeks to achieve the former, and avoid (or process) the latter. As one of the most longstanding traditions in many cultures, mindfulness has proven to be an effective tool to deal with the circumstances of everyday life. In this A/B test I will not aim to be enlightened, nor do I seek spiritual guidance. I will take 30 minutes each day to process the last day, let worries pass through me and open up that mindspace to generate new ideas.

First week

Starting the other way around this time leads me to spending the first week without meditation moments. I have become more aware of my thought processes, but have not taken the time to sit back and relax. Working on a large deadline for my last course proves to be quite exhausting. Not taking the time for meditation on the one hand allows me to continue to work longer, but if I have been optimally productive, I do not know. Starting an A/B experiment with the control is on the one hand relaxing (you do not have to change too much of your behavior), but at the same times makes me more eager to try meditating out the coming week.

Second week

Week two, time to sit down and meditate. Yes and no. The first two days I managed to take the full 30 minutes, let me start here. When meditating, not doing anything else, you become acutely aware of everything around you. You stop being involved with thinking about everything and will feel the blood rushing through your veins. Time also seems to go slower and the 30 minutes seemed to last longer. All thoughts that came to my mind quickly faded away and this gave me a sense of calm and ease. The problem with this experiment in meditating is that I have not followed through, in the other days of the week I found myself busy with so many thing I did not take the time to relax. It was quite the bummer, but let me move that discussion to the conclusion.

To Conclude

Mindfulness is a great activity to do. Maybe it is not really an activity, but more a mindset, a sense of calm and readiness. Becoming aware of a lack of calm has helped me to realize to take a break every now and then. At the same time I know that taking 30 minutes every day is not the way I want to incorporate that break in my life. Each morning I read for 30 minutes and do my daily exercises, this is already a great start of a mindful week. During sports (fitness and running) I also feel as calm as a person could be. Only when I feel that through these two mechanisms I am not getting enough mindfulness already, I will step back and actively be passive (which sounds quite poetic).

What is your view on mindfulness? What activities do you consider to help you become more mindfull? And do you actively participate in meditation or have you found another way to reach mindfulness?

How Much Should You Drink? – A/B Testing #6

An average drink contains 14 grams of pure alcohol. After a few of these drinks you will start to learn some of the effects alcohol has. On the one hand you are more relaxed, joyful, talkative and extravert. But at the same time your concentration falls, reflexes decrease and reasoning skills soon decline. This is to say there are both positive and negative effects of alcohol consumption. In the long term there are actually many more negative effects than positive ones. However in our current culture it is very acceptable to have a few drinks every now and then. But how many is enough? Where is the fine line between short term benefits and costs? In this four evening A/B/C/D test I will try and find out what is the optimal amount of standard drinks to have.

Condition One – A few drinks

Having a few drinks (2 per hour, no more than 6 in the evening) is not that eventful. You get the taste of drinking something without experiencing the full effects of alcohol. This leads to having a calm night out with the added pleasure of some good tasting drinks. What you do not get is a hangover. The alcohol is processed long before you wake up, and provided you normally drink enough water, you are completely fine. Nothing to see here, lets go to the next condition.

Condition Two – Getting your Buzz on

When you feel that your inhibitions fall away, you become more talkative and forget the name of the people you just said hi to, you are getting your buzz on. I do not know if these symptoms are the same for everyone, but after 10 drinks within a few hours I have experienced these symptoms. You still have full control over how much you drink and you are far away from losing control, but also know that this is different from being sober. Getting your buzz on is the basis of a fun evening, parties at a friends house or going to a café are the perfect places for this. Provided you drink enough water at the end of the evening, and/or mix in a few soft drinks you will not have any trouble the next morning.

Condition Three – A lot of Beer

When you have lost count of how much you have been drinking you are probably in condition three. All the symptoms that alcohol produces are present and dancing is almost guaranteed. Some of the best evenings in my life have been the direct consequence of condition three. A big danger of course is drinking too much, as a student in The Netherlands this is really important to find out. Making new friends is very easy in this condition, but a headache is also almost certain. Over the years I have learned to stay away from mid-night snacks after drinking and have gotten to know my limits. This does not mean that I have or will always adhere strictly to them, and the number of drinks is of course also highly dependent on how long the night is going on for. But when you feel that you are on the verge of losing control, then it is time for a soft drink.

Condition Four – A lot of Mix

This fourth conditions is similar to the third, having many drinks, but now not with beer but with mix drinks (e.g. bacardi-cola, coebergh-sprite). It is a tradition to serve these kinds of drinks at galas for study and student association in The Netherlands. Drinking here is somewhat obligatory. This on the one hand is not good (think about all the people who will drink too much), but on the other hand creates a atmosphere that embodies fun. Dancing without restrictions and making crazy pictures with your friends will both be fun and give you some memories (plus photos) to laugh about for quite the while. Again you will want to be conservative with mixing too strong, and drinking a few normal soft drinks during the evening will keep you hydrated and prevent you from drinking too much.

To Conclude

Drinking is bad, but sometimes it is also bad in a good way. In moderation (but in drinks and evenings that you drink) it is a socially acceptable way of diverting from your normal routine and to embark on an evening full of fun. Between the different conditions I can make no definitive choice. For each different occasion there is a different way of going about the evening. During the working week you will want to be in condition one or two, but when your agenda is free for the coming day, why not make for some crazy memories.

What kind of drinker are you (find out below)? In which condition have you found to be the perfect balance? What would you recommend or advise against?

How to Brainstorm 2.0

Originally published 2 Feb 2014

Brainstorming is a great way to generate new ideas. It allows a company to take a new direction, to find better study habits or determine your next outfit for that upcoming party. But what if I told you that we have been brainstorming the wrong way? Although most of us understand the basics of brainstorming, we often forget about some of the more delicate parts of the process. In this article, brainstorming will be taken apart to discuss everything from the technique and idea generation to synthesis and follow-up. The process is divided into three parts; 1) alone, 2) together and 3) synthesis. To be the most effective brainstormer is to know how it works.

Alone: Sizeable chunks to be visually solved on your own 

Thinking about how to improve the profits for a company has many aspects to it, not only revenue but also costs, customers, suppliers, etc.. The first start to brainstorming is to divide a problem (read: opportunity) into sizeable chunks. The topic of concern preferably should be divided into no less than three and no more than seven pieces. This is enough to make each piece small enough to handle whilst keeping the number of pieces also manageable. Thinking about your next party outfit could be divided into: type, colour, size, and material. How can you divide the ‘better study habits’ example?

Having made chucks it is time to start the brainstorming process. Unlike to what is normally expected, you will not be collaborating with the rest of the group (yet). Brainstorming, in essence, is a process that best works on your own. Being in a group does increase the number of ideas that are available, but at the same time has some very large drawbacks. The more extraverted (but equally smart to introverted) people take more of the available time to speak up. And ideas that you are not so sure of can get lost when you dare not to speak up. Or when you speak up your ideas will get shot down immediately, preventing you from proposing radical ideas in the future.

Thinking about a problem on your own prevents groupthink. In the initial stage of brainstorming everyone is best left to think on their own. Research has shown that this allows for more extensive generation of ideas. When you think about the number of ideas in a mathematical way, it also makes sense. When the first person in group discussion might have 10 ideas (and dares to say them all), the second probably had some similar ideas and will now maybe only name eight, the third only five, the fourth only three and the last one only one idea. This totals to 27 ideas, but when everyone is left to generate ideas on their own you will end up with 50 ideas, almost double that of the group brainstorm.

Generating ideas on your own is best assisted by using visual representations of your problem. A mindmap is the perfect tool to use for a brainstorm. Put your topic in the centre and write down every idea that comes to mind around it. In writing down your ideas feel free to write down anything that comes to mind, however realistic or not (see more tips below at idea generation). Next to using words to describe your problem, also feel free to use images to support your ideas or picture a future situation. Present in the room therefore should be markers, a3 or a2 paper and post-its (third phase). Taking your time to generate extensive mindmap allows you to optimally utilize the first step in brainstorming.

Before continuing to the idea generation phase of brainstorming, a note about your surroundings should be made. Working in a messy place does not help your productivity, things get lost and your mind will never be at ease when there is too much clutter in your immediate area. This is also true for brainstorming. The location you are at should be free of distractions, free of rumble and other things that might distract you from creative thinking. Next to having a clean and fresh place to brainstorm, it is advisable to have this place be somewhere else than your normal working environment. Finding an alternative location allows people to get free from the constraints that sometimes (or often) come with being (and thinking) in the office. What would your favourite brainstorming location be?

Brainstorming at an external location starts with mindmapping the problem on your own. This process should last about five minutes per problem and one should feel free to write down everything possible. To help you in generating ideas are the tips in the next paragraph. Only when all ideas are written down per person, per problem, you can enter the next phase of brainstorming.

Idea Generation

Ideas about your next party costume can run in various directions. These tips will help you come up with creative ideas that will boost the quantity of the brainstorm output.

  • Unlimited funds: What if you had all the money in the world? What about an outfit made out of diamonds?
  • Time travel: What will the value be in 1, 10, 100, 1000 years time? Will people still think it is something worth wearing then?
  • Teleportation: What if people in another place were facing this problem? How would someone in China think about party costumes?
  • Rolestorming: How would your customers, employees, competitors think/act/like? What would your best friends come up with?
  • Reverse thinking: What would you normally do in a situation? Think the opposite. What about wearing a female costume?
  • Exaggeration: What if it is 10, 100, 100 times as large of an idea? What if you teamed up with friends to wear complementary costumes?
  • Sense change: Per sense think about the impact of your idea. How will the costume feel/look/smell?

Sometimes ideas have to be implemented within a short amount of time, but even then feel free to take breaks. In a business brainstorm, plan it around your lunch break. When not actively thinking about a problem your mind actually does continue to process. And in this process it is still connecting dots, dots that might before have not been connected and allow you to come up with an original idea. Even this morning I was reading a book about trust, and without actively thinking about my thesis made me connect it with that topic and now has gotten me a whole new and exciting idea to write about (leadership boundary management effectiveness moderated by trust).

Together: Connecting ideas into categories and combinations

The second phase of brainstorming is where you get together. When working in large groups it is advisable to sit together with about three to four people per group. When working in smaller teams it is always useful to have at least two groups, and preferably three groups. After coming up with many ideas individually it is now time to get them together. In connecting ideas there are two steps; 1) categorization and 2) combination.

Categorization of ideas means that your group takes on the effort of making distinct categories in which ideas fall. Getting back to our costume example, under material you can categorize; synthetic, cotton, wool, etc.. During this phase it is perfectly ok to have new ideas pop up and to be categorized in the right place. Combining ideas is the second part of the connection-phase. Ideas that are similar or complementary can be added together to form combinations that incorporate multiple categories. In the ‘better study habits’ example can you think of categories and meaningful combinations between them?

Synthesis: Coming to conclusions with creative concepts

After connecting ideas within your group it is now time to test your ideas. Until this point the number of ideas has only been increasing, when connecting and combining these have been put together, but in no way did the amount of ideas decrease. In the deviation-phase idea elimination finally has to happen. From your combined ideas you select the best few ideas (around three works great) to present to the other groups. In the selection it is now time to get back to reality and assess whether some ideas or not to elaborate or expensive. Of course still keep an open mind and think of ways to avoid writing off ideas to quick. For instance when thinking of a diamond costume for the party, you can of course also use glass or plastic as alternatives.

To best represent the ideas of your group to the others you can make use of the visual tools you were given. Use post-its to concisely write down your ideas and explain how you have combined the categories and ideas to generate this idea. Tackle objections before they arise by explaining why you think the idea is obtainable. When not presenting have an open mind towards the ideas of the other groups, and ask intelligent questions to test their ideas. From all the presentations and discussion you will end up with one or a few concepts that are the result of your brainstorm. These great ideas will let you stay ahead of competition, make you look amazing at the next party and help you form better study habits.

A problem can be effectively tackled if you know the three phases of brainstorming. Get started with an individual brainstorm and use the idea generation tips to come up with as many ideas as possible. Get together in small groups to categorize and combine your ideas. And finally present these ideas to the other groups and end up with one or a few concepts worth working with. Feel free to try out these steps on your next problem!

Follow-up: Ownership and an action plan

Alright, you now have some great concepts, what to do with them now. Putting them in a locked cabinet is not advisable. Sitting on them a few days however could not hurt. As with the initial phase of brainstorming, waiting a few days and not actively thinking about your concepts might spark some new insights. After these few days you do need to take action. Make an execution plan for your ideas. Define the concepts in S.M.A.R.T. goals, write down how you are planning on implementing them within a specific timeframe. Give feedback to your teams on this plan of action and involve all relevant parties in getting this plan started. Also never forget to make someone responsible and give ownership to the person you want to be in charge of the plan.

Variations: Online and offline alternatives

The process described in this article is based on a synthesis of online material on brainstorming and creative problem solving. The method is applicable in a wide range of situations and with little tweaks can be applied from product design to housing problems. Below are two useful variations, both online and offline.

  • Online: Use tools like ThinkBuzan or Mindview to create mindmaps in an online environment. Export them to word or pdf files and share them with everyone that is working on the same problem. Then use skype to have a conference call and connect your ideas together. Meet with the different teams (on skype or offline) and synthesize new ideas when first interacting online before you get together. Using these programs can help you start a brainstorm without having to physically get together.
  • Offline:  Stand during meetings. This gets everyone in an active mood as opposed to the passive sitting we normally do. It also limits the time we take for meetings in general, when standing you are more aware of the time you spend. Standing is of course also healthy and helps blood circulation after sitting the whole day. To maximize on the effects of standing during meetings, get some standing tables at your office and get some paper, markers and post-its attached to the table to always have something to write on.

References & Further Reading:

1. http://www.mindtools.com/brainstm.html

2. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ejsp.2420030402/abstract

3. http://www.wikihow.com/Brainstorm

4. http://www.inc.com/ss/7-unique-brainstorming-techniques

5. http://personalexcellence.co/blog/25-brainstorming-techniques/

6. http://www.openideo.com/blog/seven-tips-on-better-brainstorming

7. http://www.psysr.org/about/pubs_resources/groupthink%20overview.htm

8. http://thinkbuzan.com/

9. http://www.matchware.com/en/products/default.htm?utm_campaign=multisite_msprojectwbs

10. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/young-entrepreneur-council/13-unusual-brainstorming_b_3880619.html

11. http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/content-brainstorming-ht

The 5 Chemicals of Happiness

Originally published 23 Feb 2014

Leadership is not a rank, leadership is not a position, leadership is a decision, leadership is a choice – Simon Sinek

How is it that people can be happy at work? What is the ground on which we can build great relationships, and what destroys this? These are two questions I pose to people when introducing Introduction and Organizational Psychology. Simon Sinek has the answers, through 5 chemicals he explains, with passion, how great leaders operate. He dissects our chemistry and lets us understand how we should look at leadership in light of these findings. Inspired by the 99U talk featured below, I write this article.

Johnny Bravo

The talk starts with an example of Johnny Bravo, an A10 Warthog pilot who heroically flies through a warzone time and time again to protect the troops below. The weather is bad, there are no good maps, and he even leads another plane down the clouds when his ammunition has run out. What does he have to gain? nothing! In the military, people who are willing to sacrifice themselves are rewarded with medals, in business this is the other way around. People dare not to go against the rules or make the extra effort. Our way of doing business does not take into account the way we reward our bodies and how we should reward behavior.

Our happiness is mainly driven by 4 different chemicals. Two of these are completely selfish, you do not need anyone else to get them. The other two are the ones that we need to create great leaders, these are the chemicals that let us connect to others and build relationships. Let’s examine each one of them separately.

1. Endorphins

Endorphins are responsible for masking pain. When you go out for a run you will feel good in the beginning, feel great at the end, and feel the pain only a while after running. This has two goals, 1) to make you enjoy the (long-term) positive activity you are engaging on, and 2) destroy the link between the pain and the activity (the pain comes later). Endorphins are active during many activities, this includes laughing (you are convulsing your organs, remember those times you laughed until it started hurting – you ran out of endorphins).

2. Dopamine

Dopamine lets you reach your goals, it is the getting-things-done chemical. It has evolved from the constant search for food we encountered many thousands of years ago. Nowadays it is responsible for us writing down to-do lists. Most people are visually orientated, and seeing we have corporate visions we can assume companies face the same.

Dopamine is highly, highly, highly addictive. It is activated via alcohol, nicotine, gambling, and even cell phones (yes really). We wish to reach goals, to check things off lists, and therefore we are easily distracted when working on longer tasks. The indication of ADD and ADHD has increased by 66% over the last decades, but since it is inherently biological (a problem with the frontal lobes) we can conclude the increased diagnosis has to do with our environment.

Having too many goals in your company can be a bad thing. People will do anything to reach them (anyone remembers the Milgram experiments), and it can lead to the destruction of relationships. The amount of dopamine should be balanced and when unbalanced can lead to very ineffective behaviors.

3. Serotonin

Serotonin is the leadership chemical. It is responsible for pride and status. Because of serotonin, we have public awards and we do not give away a diploma via the mail but have a commencement ceremony. Higher levels of serotonin will lead to increases in confidence, not only with yourself but also for others (via mirror neurons).

The problem with serotonin is that we can easily trick the mechanism. We associate status with how much money you have, this is why we wear the label on the outside of our clothes. We therefore try and achieve things that have no goal, for which there is no pride to be gained via meaningful contributions.

Serotonin is also responsible for people working together in a hierarchy. The alpha’s (the ones with the power) enjoy the favours given by the rest of the group. At the same time, a large cost is imposed on the leaders. It is their responsibility to protect the group from outside danger, you control the safety circle. As a leader, you cannot have self-interest and you should be willing to sacrifice yourself for the group. Being a leader means not working less, but working more.

4. Oxytocin

Oxytocin helps to create human bonds. It is responsible for friendship, love, and trust. You can stimulate oxytocin by physical acts like hugging, and behavior such as generosity. This does not work with money, it only works when you genuinely give something valuable away, such as time and energy. Generosity is accepted when you give something non-redeemable. People who witness acts of generosity themselves also experience the positive effects it has.

The more you exert these behaviors, the more you will want to do it. Oxytocin is however not addictive and even prevents people from addictions. It can increase your health, longevity, problem-solving skills and creativity. It does take time to develop (when dating you will not marry a girl within 7 days, but will probably within 7 years).

5. Cortisol

Cortisol is responsible for stress and anxiety. It is an antagonist of happiness. From a biological perspective, it is a sensible chemical, it starts the fight or flight response. Glucose is pumped into your muscles, your heartbeat increases and you scan your surroundings. On the social level, you automatically alert others and get them in the same state. This state also shuts down growth and the immune system.

The problem with the cortisol is that it should be shut down immediately after an emergency has passed. But in our lives nowadays this does not happen. Our dopamine craving centers have created situations where there seems to be an emergency every few seconds and our health deteriorates. Oxytocin is blocked, and we take the problems from work back to home with us. Simon Sinek states that jobs are killing us, and that this is the leader’s fault.

Putting it All Together

Happiness is caused by 4 chemicals and prevented by 1. Endorphin and dopamine let us mask pain and reach goals. These two selfish chemicals are managed by serotonin and oxytocin, the chemicals responsible for connection, love, and trust. When cortisol is activated the positive effects of the latter two soon cease to exist. A great leader knows how to prevent this. He creates a space where trust is the norm, where people are acutely aware of the why of the company, and stress is kept as low as possible. People should have goals, be recognized for good work and always have the support from the company. A great leader balances the hormones sensibly!

Leadership Lessons From Simon Sinek

Leaders are responsible for 2 things:

  1. To determine who gets in – start with WHY
  2. To decide how big the circle is – Only the C-suite or the whole company

Leaders can build trust by trusting others, when you have (and you should have) interpersonal contact with the people around you, there is no time to be in contact with everyone, delegate trust!

It is the shield that matters, not the sword – Simon Sinek

References & Further Reading:

1. http://99u.com/videos/20272/simon-sinek-why-leaders-eat-last

2. http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/cortisol.htm

3. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/serotonin-boosters/

4. http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro05/web1/isiddiqui.html

5. http://io9.com/5925206/10-reasons-why-oxytocin-is-the-most-amazing-molecule-in-the-world 

6. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=55001