J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Category: Health/Body-hacking (Page 2 of 11)

How I Helped My Wife Get Skinny (Freedom and Joy, not Dieting)

Kia hotel

Not a blues dancing outfit.

This isn’t a post about diet or exercise (at least not directly). It’s also not about exerting control over my wife. The opposite, in fact.

This post is about how your body-brain system is going to wring some pleasure out of life, one way or another, and the choices you have in terms of how that happens.

Kia wanted to go dancing with her friend Myra on a Wednesday night. Would I be willing to do bedtime and stay home with our daughter that night? Couples with young kids have these kinds of conversations.

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Which Supplements I Take, and Why

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Supplements are confusing. Research supports both taking and avoiding them.

In this post I’ll cover the case against supplements, why I take a select few supplements anyway, which high-nutrient foods I eat, and how I design my supplementation program and introduce new supplements.

I’ll also disclose which supplement I take that is also used as a psychiatric medication, and the herbal supplement that makes me go a little nuts if I take too much.

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Hair Regrowth Update and FAQ

Family portrait 2011 -- the

Family portrait 2011 — the “before” shot

Top of head July 2015

Top of head July 2015

In April I wrote about how I’ve been using a scalp massage technique to thicken my hair and advance my hairline, and shared progress pictures. Understandably the post generated a great deal of interest. Rub your head and grow your hair back? Get your hair back without drugs or surgery? Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Another hair regrowth scam?

I was skeptical too. Rob from perfecthairhealth.com introduced me to the technique, and it took a few email exchanges to convince me to try it. The basics of the system are as follows:

  1. Twice a day, morning and evening, massage your scalp using deep, intense pinching, pressing, and squeezing, for about twenty minutes. Your scalp should feel a little sore at the end of the massage, but you don’t want to break the skin.
  2. Adopt (or continue) a highly nutritious anti-inflammatory diet (low grain and sugar, plenty of vegetables, fruit, fish, poultry, meat, etc.) — more or less a paleo diet.

Why does it work? Is there any science to back it up?

  1. Rob was inspired to try this technique after reviewing this study by Henry Choy (Hong Kong University). Though the study has not yet been replicated (as far as I know), Choy’s results were impressive. 100% of the subjects regrew 90%+ of their hair. Choy describes the technique as “detumescence therapy.” According to Choy, bald and balding people have more “dome shaped” heads due to thickening of the scalp on the top of the head. The massage therapy thins and reshapes the scalp, expels trapped sebum, increases blood flow to hair follicles, and releases trapped DHT (which causes the hair follicle to miniaturize and become inactive).
  2. Rob has written an eBook which expands on Choy’s theory, and adds his own ideas about scalp calcification and diet. Soft tissue calcification (which is implicated in many diseases of aging, including heart disease) can occur in the scalp, and the intense massage process can help break up tissue calcification (which blocks nutrient supply to the hair follicles). In terms of diet, Rob recommends paleo both because such a diet tends to push to immune system towards a less inflammatory state (chronic levels of skin inflammation can contribute to hair loss), and also because foods like organ meats and bone broths provide high levels of certain amino acids which may encourage hair growth. He also discussed the role of thyroid health in relation to hair loss.

Personal Hair Regrowth Update

In my earlier post I detailed my own hair loss chronicles, and shared my experience using the massage technique described in Rob’s eBook. Since then I’ve been continuing the massage technique, but not as strictly. On average I probably do the head massage about five minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening. My hair is continuing to thicken and advance, slowly but noticeably.

My scalp no longer gets “greasy” after the massage sessions — I believe that I expelled any excess sebum within the first few months. My scalp feels much thinner, looser, and more flexible than it did when I first started. I am still experiencing what can best be described as “adult cradle cap” — excess dead skin accumulating on the top of my head that needs to be scraped off. I assume this is in reaction to the intense stimulation of the scalp skin, but it could also be a side effect of increased blood flow, old material deep in the scalp being expelled, or even some kind of stem cell activity or other hair growth factor related to the reactivation of the hair follicles. I don’t have dandruff as long as I “scrape off the gunk” and keep my hair and scalp clean (I use just water or a very gentle, “no bad stuff” shampoo).

In my earlier post some readers were critical because my “before” and “after” pictures were taken from different angles, with the “after” shot taken from further back and thereby making my hair look fuller. I’ve tried to correct that with the following “same angle” comparison:

July 2014 vs. July 2015

July 2014 vs. July 2015

Overall I would say at this point I’ve regrown about 80% of my lost hair (if you include thickening on top of my head), and about 50% of the previously totally bald areas grown in at least partially. Much of the regrowth is hard to see, but I feel it when I run my fingers through my hair (verified by my wife and a few curious friends).

This isn’t as dramatic as the results of Choy’s study, but I’ve definitely regrown a lot of my hair! Frankly I’m amazed it works at all.

Readers of my earlier post have been curious about various aspects of the technique. I’ve tried to condense some of the frequently asked questions below.

F.A.Q.

1. Did your fingertips get numb?

At times they did. Using my nails more (trimmed short, just long enough to dig into my scalp a little) helped relieve pressure on the fingertips. So did using altering the angle so that I was using the finger pads more than the fingertips.

2. Did you use any special oils, like emu oil?

No — too messy for me personally. Emu oil may have a mild anti-inflammatory effect, but there isn’t much evidence that it helps regrow hair. It probably can’t hurt though!

3. What is the “correct” massage technique?

Choy’s paper describes “pressing and kneading.” Rob’s eBook focuses on “squeezing and pinching.” My guess is that the exact technique probably doesn’t matter a great deal as long as you are going really deep, almost to the point of pain, to loosen the scalp, break up calcification, and stimulate blood flow. Really get in there! What you don’t want is friction on the surface of the scalp; go deep instead.

4. When will I see the first regrowth?

Probably after about four months, though you’ll notice your scalp feels looser after only a few weeks. Readers who have been using the technique from Rob’s eBook for more than four months — when did you first start to see results?

5. Will I lose more hair before regrowing new hair?

Possibly. I didn’t experience this, but others have. Shedding may occur from follicles that are already undernourished and partially miniaturized. For some, this possibility might pose enough risk to want to avoid this technique. You could always wait until you’re completely bald — then try the technique risk-free!

6. What about supplements?

I take some supplements on an ongoing basis, including vitamin D, vitamin K2, cod liver oil, and chelated magnesium. I didn’t add anything new when starting the massage technique.

7. What if my scalp is too tight to pinch?

Try pressing and kneading, using both hands if necessary, until your scalp gets looser.

8. Would a wooden massager, brush, or electric contraption work just as well?

I doubt it. To generate enough force and really remodel your scalp tissue, direct pressure from strong hands and fingers are your best bet (and your hands and fingers WILL get stronger if you practice the massage technique daily).

9. Can the massage cause headaches?

This didn’t happen to me, but it’s conceivable that increased blood flow and vasodilation could cause a headache. Since the massage is generally relaxing, a vasoconstriction headache (the type brought on by stress) seems unlikely. To prevent a vasodilation headache, adequate hydration, salt intake, and possibly coffee could be helpful.

10. If the scalp calcification theory is correct, why do hair transplants work?

A reader wrote to both myself and Rob with this question. I didn’t know anything about hair transplants, but here is Rob’s response:

Many years ago, a big research paper came out about hair transplants. Scientists took thick healthy hairs from non-bald regions in the back of the scalp and transplanted them to balding regions. These hairs continued to grow normally for the duration of the study, and so scientists concluded that these hairs would continue to grow in perpetuity because they were protected, for reasons unknown, from MPB.

This paper became the basis of support for all hair transplant surgeries, but there were significant flaws with it. The problem: the study wasn’t long enough.

Transplanted hairs weren’t tracked over a series of hair cycles, but rather for relatively short periods of time. During this time, it was concluded that these hairs weren’t miniaturizing at the same rate of other hairs in the same region, so these hairs must be protected from MPB. This turns out to be a false conclusion. In actuality, the transplanted hairs begin to miniaturize and eventually fall out, but the process takes a long time because the transplanted hairs are so healthy to begin with.

The reason why is just as the book argues: they’re transplanted into regions of the scalp suffering from fibrosis, calcification, excess sebum/dandruff build-up, plus a host of other epigenetic changes to collagen structures. As you know, the conditions for MPB are present years before the symptoms (hair loss) begin to show. So, we can assume that if these conditions precede hair loss, then it must also take time for thick healthy transplanted hairs to miniaturize after being moved to a relatively more calcified region in the scalp.

Anecdotally, I’ve worked with a lot of people with hair transplants. Of the group who received them 5-10 years ago, almost all of them claim that most of their transplanted hair is already gone. I have a friend with a hair transplant who’s experiencing the same problem right now. It’s one of those weird cases where the science doesn’t add up with the anecdotal evidence.

To make matters worse, all hair transplant surgeons are aware of this. It’s why they ask you to go on finasteride and minoxidil after a transplant (in hopes that some of the conditions to the scalp will be addressed). They also ask you to join a hair club, and some now even mandate massages to promote elasticity (you can find YouTube videos of doctor demonstrations on this).

In regards to hair transplant surgeons being aware of these issues, Rob followed up with a link to this article, which includes the following passage.

“Micrograft survival rates in hair transplantation have been frequently described in private conversations by hair transplant doctors as variable at best. References in medical literature may grossly underestimate the prevalence and magnitude of poor growth. This is probably because most hair transplant surgeons arc concerned that publication of a significant incidence of poor growth would reflect negatively on their practice.”

11. Do headstands help?

I’ve been doing headstands for years, partially because I thought it might prevent hair loss. It may have helped, but headstands on their own didn’t help regrow my hair. I still do headstands for general health, and in addition I also twist and rub my head on the floor (or mat) while inverted, to make my scalp more flexible and to apply more pressure. No idea if it helps, but it feels good and may be synergistic with the massage technique.

12. Has this technique worked for many people outside of Choy’s study?

Many of Rob’s eBook readers have sent in before-and-after pictures, and Rob (with their permission) has forwarded some of those pictures to me. The results are impressive: significant regrowth with several men regrowing all of their lost hair (at least as much as you can tell from a picture). I hope that some of these gentlemen will grant Rob permission to use their pictures in the next edition of his eBook.

Still, we’re far from this being a “proven” technique. Anyone who is trying it now is an early adopter/experimenter. I salute you — together we are forging the way for potentially thousands of people who can use this simple technique (along with patience and persistence) to regrow lost hair!

If you’ve been using the technique for five or more months, please write in and share your results (with or without pictures).

13. How important are diet and general health to the hair regrowth process?

Since Choy’s study doesn’t mention diet or nutrition at all, and all of his subjects experienced hair regrowth, I can only assume any dietary changes are less important than the massage process. Personally I did not modify my diet at all, but I was already eating a low-grain, low-sugar, high-nutrient diet before I started.

Still, why not take the step of improving your diet if you choose to embark on the hair regrowth journey? It can’t hurt, and it may help other issues related to poor diet and/or chronic systemic inflammation, including asthma, insulin resistance, and heart disease. Even if you don’t go paleo, or maybe don’t eat meat at all, you can still take steps like cutting out baked goods (like bread), sweet drinks (too much fructose), and more than one drink a day, while at the same time increasing omega-3 intake, water, and nutrient dense foods.

14. Are you planning any video tutorials, eBooks, or other hair regrowth products?

Not at the moment. Rob and I have discussed working together on something (in very vague terms), but for the moment I think Rob’s current eBook is a great product.

If you are already experimenting with the massage technique, let us know how it’s going. I’m especially interested in people who have been using the massage technique for five or more months. Is it working for you? Did you get discouraged and give up? Do you look like Fabio now? Please share below, and as always please be polite and respectful towards other commenters.

Update:

Some readers have requested more pictures. Here are my most recent progress pictures from August 15, 2015, right after I cut my hair.

Hair regrowth progress as of August 2015.

Hair regrowth progress as of August 2015.

Update Sep. 2015: Rob has recently taken his eBook offline because the amount of time he was responding to email became unmanageable. I proposed that he make it available as a free download, but he felt that would be unfair to his customers who had paid large amounts on the sliding scale (so please don’t ask me to send it to you). While the eBook is no longer available, the “how-to” is all contained in this post, the original post, and in my responses in the comments.

Update Oct. 2016: Good news — Rob has updated and relaunched his eBook. The new version includes a number of before/after pictures (my own included) as well as the most recent research studies in regards to scalp massage and hair regrowth. The new video is extremely comprehensive and includes examples of pinching, pressing, and stretching the scalp. You can purchase the new edition of Rob’s book at http://perfecthairhealth.com/

How I Thickened My Hair and Advanced My Hairline with a Simple Massage Technique (and no Drugs)

Head hair as of June 2014 vs. April 2015

Hair as of June 2014 vs. April 2015

Back in June of 2014, about ten months ago, I received an email from a young man named Rob with some ideas about DHT and hair loss (in response to this post). Rob had an interesting theory that DHT was not the main culprit in terms of male hair loss; that scalp fibrosis/calcification and excess sebum production were more responsible for male pattern baldness than any excess of dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

I was initially skeptical of this claim. There’s plenty of evidence to link miniaturization of male hair follicles (and subsequent hair loss) to DHT. One of the two major drugs prescribed to slow or reverse male pattern baldness is Propecia (finasteride), which is a strong 5AR inhibitor, preventing the conversion of testosterone to DHT. The problem with inhibiting 5AR (and the reason I never tried finasteride for my own hair loss) is the long list of potential side effects including reduced libido, impaired sexual performance, depression, and anxiety. I would rather be completely bald!

Rob claimed to have complete halted his own hair loss and regrown almost all of his hair using a massage technique. He wrote:

The cool thing about all of this is that it’s actually possible to reverse scalp fibrosis and release excess sebum trapped in the scalp skin, thereby increasing blood flow and allowing your scalp to flush out any trapped DHT. Using specific massage techniques I was actually able to arrest my hair loss and regrow nearly all my hair in just under a year (no drugs, shampoos, products, or surgeries). This is where our opinions differ slightly – I believe you can have healthy DHT levels and your hair too – and that the trade-off between sexual functionality and hair loss doesn’t need to exist 🙂

Rob offered to send me his eBook and instructional video for free. This made me even more suspicious — there are hundreds of scam artists out there peddling snake oil hair regrowth products to vulnerable, hopeful men hoping to get their hair back. But Rob wasn’t asking for anything in return, and he seemed sincere. What did I have to lose (besides more hair)? I downloaded the eBook and read it with growing interest …

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Losing Weight in the United States is an Act of Rebellion

Disney wants to fatten you up.

Disney wants to fatten you up.

I just got back from Disneyland. Fun trip. Also a bit of a shock, in one regard.

America is fat. Seriously fat. The number of people I saw who were disabled by weight problems was disheartening and saddening.

In the Bay Area, it’s easy to forget this fact. On average, we’re thinner here. It’s not because we’re morally superior or have more willpower. It’s because we have access to fresh food, and we live in a microculture that encourages healthy eating, organic food, and exercise.

Most Americans aren’t so lucky.

What I realized, looking around at my fellow Americans, is that to eat a decent diet in most parts of the country is an act of rebellion. To eat well (real, high quality food), the average American is rebelling against:

  • what most restaurants have available on their menus
  • packaged items advertised as “food” on television
  • 9 out of 10 aisles in the average grocery store
  • cultural conditioning
  • the fattening and hormone-disrupting foods our government subsidizes (sugar, corn, wheat, soy, etc.)
  • in many cases, what your family serves for dinner

There are thousands of voices telling you to eat the wrong foods: pseudo-foods that won’t support your health; packaged foods that will make you fat (or fatter); Franken-foods that will leave you with no energy and feeling depressed.

It was a wake-up call for me … I had forgotten how bad it was out there in mainstream America. I want to reach out to U.S. readers who are struggling with weight (some of you have contacted me personally), and who may not have access to the culture of good food that is so readily available in the Bay Area and other health-conscious parts of the country.

Words of encouragement to those who would like to lose 30 or more pounds of fat (at least half the adults I saw in Disneyland could easily lose this much):

  • In most of the United States, the deck is stacked against you in terms of eating well. That doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. U.S. food culture is changing, slowly. You can be part of that change.
  • To make a change in your diet, health, and life, you will need to commit 100% to the process. To do this, take some time to consider the consequences of not changing your diet (Type 2-diabetes, reduced virility, reduced mobility, early death) and also the rewards if you do change (improved energy, physical attractiveness, self-confidence, better health, better sex life, longer life).
  • Once you commit to a change, you will get friction from your family and friends who may feel that you are judging them. Make it clear that you are just trying to get healthier, and that they do whatever they want with their own bodies, and that you are going to eat real food regardless. (Secret: if you stick with it, they’ll eventually follow)
  • Your first step, which will yield massive results, should be to eliminate or greatly reduce refined carbohydrates. This includes high-fructose corn syrup (soda), white flour (bread, pastry, donuts, etc.), and sugar (ice-cream, candy bars, etc.). If you only make one change, it should be this one. You might have a rough couple of days while your body adjusts to not having a massive flow of sugar available at all times, but you’ll adjust.
  • To get your (fat-burning) liver in good shape, go easy on the alcohol. A 40-day reset was helpful for me. Beer is good, but beer is not your friend.
  • Second in importance (after removing/reducing refined carbs) is getting rid of processed oils that oxidize easily, promoting inflammation, chronic disease, and weight gain. These include vegetable oils like corn oil, canola oil, sunflower seed oil, other seed oils, and trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils). I’m guessing that for most Americans, the biggest sources of these oils are french fries, popcorn, and chips.
  • What should you eat instead? Fresh fruits and vegetables, good fats (extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter from grass-fed cows, unsalted nuts and seeds, avocado), and humanely raised animal products (the “humanely raised” is not only to be a good person, but free-roaming, grass-eating animals tend to be healthier, happier, and more healthful when you eat them, especially in terms of omega-3 fatty acid content). If you don’t have access to grass-fed meat and free-range poultry and eggs, consider supplementing your diet with fish oil (for omega-3 fatty acids), or eating more fish (but only eat wild-caught, low-mercury fish, like sardines and wild salmon).
  • Don’t replace refined carbs and classic desserts with massive amounts of “natural” fructose. Eating an apple or a square of dark chocolate is fine. Skip the 12oz. glass of OJ or big handful of raisins or granola bar. Lots of fructose is hard on your liver and will slow or prevent fat loss.
  • What about grains and beans? This is not the post where I tell you to go paleo. Unless you have serious digestive or autoimmunity issues, eat small amounts of properly-cooked beans, and lower-gluten grains like oats and rice. Organic whole-grain (or even partially whole-grain) sourdough bread may be fine too. Consuming grains and beans (neolithic/agricultural foods, which our bodies have had less evolutionary time to adjust to) are fine, for most people, in moderation (but if these foods give you digestive issues, get your complex carbs from starchy vegetables instead).
  • Get your gut bacteria working for you. Your gut biome will change as your diet changes, but you can fast-track a healthy gut biome (which will help you burn fat and improve your mood) by eating probiotic foods like raw sauerkraut and plain kefir.
  • Reduce your exposure to bisphenol-A and other hormone-disrupting chemicals. Common exposure sources are plastic water bottles, packaged foods, canned foods with plastic linings (soups, tomatoes), and thermal receipts (BPA can be absorbed through the skin).
  • If you have a deep emotional attachment to a food, eat that food once in awhile. Even eating it once a week probably won’t hurt you, as long as the rest of your diet is good. It makes sense to eliminate foods that you don’t actually enjoy that much first.
  • Don’t think in terms of dieting. Think in terms of permanent positive changes to the way you eat. Think in terms of nourishing your body, mind, and spirit.
  • Find out what works for you, in terms of your taste preferences, cultural upbringing, budget, food sensitivities, ethical standards, etc. Do it your way.

Supplements

There are no magic weight loss supplements. Diuretics, stimulants, and laxatives will all harm your health — don’t take them. Some supplements may support weight loss by reducing inflammation, improving insulin sensitivity, and improving liver function. If you don’t have a negative reaction (try them one at a time so you know), the following might be helpful:

  • fish oil (2-4g/day, depending on body weight)
  • vitamin D (2000-4000IU day, depending on body weight)
  • chromium picolinate (up to 200mcg/day, support insulin sensitivity)
  • milk thistle (support liver function)

I’m not a doctor, and you should consult yours before taking any supplements.

What About Exercise?

Yes, exercise! Exercise is great for you. But in terms of losing fat, diet is at least 80% of the equation. Most people would lose fat just by walking around Disneyland if the diet part of the equation was looking better.

I think the key to a successful exercise program is finding a physical activity that you enjoy, and that is easy to do. Then do it every day.

One More Voice

I realize that there are at least 1000 blog posts offering this exact same advice. But seeing how massive of an obesity problem we still have in this country, I can’t be silent. Even if this post only helps one person lose five pounds, it will still have been worth it to me to write it.

Mainstream food culture in the U.S. still sucks. For those of you who don’t have local access to good food culture, I feel for you! Until your local culture changes, find what you need on the internet (places to buy good food, recipes, health information, like-minded folks), and keep your own standards high.

It’s rough out there. Don’t give up. Raise your standards. Corporations and government will follow where the people lead. So rebel against the bad food that makes us sick and fat. Together, we can change the USA from the land of the fat to the land of the strong.

How To Trigger Super-Momentum

Super-momentum: life in the productivity fast lane

Super-momentum: life in the productivity fast lane

No more than a dozen times in my life, I have experienced a state of what I call “super-momentum.” For days, sometimes weeks at a time, I operated at a extremely high level of energy, excitement, and creativity. I became so absorbed in my work that becoming distracted wasn’t an issue; I was distraction proof. I slept less and ate less, but had more energy. At times ideas came so quickly that I struggled to capture them, getting up in the middle of the night or pulling over in traffic to write them down.

There’s a clinical word that describes aspects of this psychological state: hypomania. But whereas hypomania is often associated with distractibility and thrill-seeking behavior (gambling, shopping sprees, sexual promiscuity, etc.), I associate super-momentum with extreme focus in a single work area, and the application of 100% of the excess energy to the work in question.

There are multiple advantages to having a singular focus. With project immersion, the subconscious mind is always engaged with the material (though other life areas may suffer from lack of attention and processing power). Project progress increases because there is less “loading” time; since the mind is continually engaged, you don’t have to “remember where you were” when you start working. You already know! This also reduces initial resistance/willpower expenditure for starting each work session. Instead of knowing and dreading the mentally strenuous work of reviewing your work for half an hour (or longer) to “get back in the groove,” you just pick up right where you left off the night before. You’re already in the groove — you never left.

Super-momentum is similar to Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, but I consider super-momentum to be more agitated, more based on heightened physiology (dopamine, sex hormones), and less reliably triggered. And while flow is characterized as “enjoyment in the process of the activity,” I would describe super-momentum as an ecstatic, near-frantic, inspired, completely focused work hustle.

It’s a great drug, and I’d like more of it. But it’s not something money can buy.

So, the questions:

  • Is super-momentum worth triggering? Does it actually result in value being created? Or is it just another high to be chased?
  • Is it possible to trigger super-momentum, and if so, how? What circumstances lead to this explosive burst of energy, enthusiasm, motivation, and productivity?
  • Are there negative effects of super-momentum, in terms of psychological strain, physical stress, and general wear-and-tear? Is the comedown painful? Is “project completion letdown” inevitable?

Is Super-Momentum Worth Triggering?

Absolutely yes. While not every period of super-momentum in my own life has paid off in every way, all have paid off in some way. To list just a few examples:

  • I spent weeks in a state of super-momentum writing an artificial life emulation program that took my programming skills to the next level. I still sometimes reference the source code of this application when solving similar problems.
  • For at least a full month I became complete absorbed in Minecraft, sleeping very little and thinking about the game constantly. My brain was so “activated” that I made major breakthroughs on completely unrelated problems (client work) during this period of time.
  • Momu and Grayarea collaborated during a very short window of opportunity. A sixteen-hour work session led to a week of very intense follow-up work, resulting in the track “One” which has generated thousands of dollars in royalty income.

In the long-run, these brief periods of super-momentum are mere blips when compared to productivity and results from consistent daily disciplined work. But still, these blips interest me. Not only are they fun when you’re in them, but many artists and writers I respect and admire seem to be able to consistently generate super-momentum, dramatically increasing their productivity during focused periods of being completely ON.

Is it Possible to Trigger Super-Momentum? If So, How?

Since flow is a possible subset of super-momentum, what have psychologists already determined are the prerequisites for the former?

In order to achieve flow, Csikszentmihalyi lays out the following three conditions:

  1. Goals are clear
  2. Feedback is immediate
  3. A balance between opportunity and capacity (the task is sufficiently challenging but not overwhelmingly difficult)

On most days I can enter a flow state (as characterized here) for at least a few hours. But I don’t know if I can consistently generate the heightened physiological state I associate with super-momentum. As a start, in terms of reverse-engineering, here are the factors (in addition to the above) that I associate with super-momentum:

  • a great idea
  • competition (personal, not abstract)
  • a crush/a muse
  • hunger for success and recognition
  • decent tools and working environment
  • an inflexible deadline
  • powerful collaborators or helpers
  • creating something that will really help or inspire other people
  • breaking new ground (in terms of knowledge, style, or genre)
  • some drugs (modafinil, bromocriptine, caffeine, etc.)
  • being in good physical shape and generally healthy
  • incremental success (power-ups)
  • emotional intensity (including heartbreak, joy, grief, love)
  • working hard, playing hard
  • terrible consequences if I don’t succeed
  • a big payoff if I do succeed
  • getting “amped” because of excitement around an activity or an upcoming event or release (anticipation)
  • extended hyperfocus (for example videogame immersion)
  • an extended period of quiet solitude or near-solitude, time and space to completely relax, decompress, reflect, and even become bored

I have personal experience with all of these factors except for modafinil (which I am curious about, but wary of). Some of these factors are within personal control, but just as many aren’t. Part of super-momentum might simply be utilizing the enormous energy that comes with momentous life events (births, deaths, falling in love, getting dumped, etc.).

Drugs are within one’s personal control, but to me that seems a dangerous route (for example, I could imagine quickly and efficiently writing an absolutely worthless one-thousand page novel under the influence of modafinal).  I once tried bromocriptine (which increases dopamine levels) as an experiment, and  once was enough. I consume a moderate amount of caffeine from dark roast coffee, but medium roasts leave me dehydrated and jittery — I’m not interested in increasing my caffeine intake.

What other factors are controllable?

  •  Setting an ambitious but achievable goal
  • Agreeing to a tight, inflexible deadline, such that other people are depending on you to deliver
  • Choosing subject matter than can potentially have a real impact or break new ground
  • Maintaining and optimizing your infrastructure and work environment so that when inspiration and energy do strike, you are not slowed down with mundane “fixit” tasks and distractions
  • Underscheduling and undercommitting, so that you end up with “empty space” in your life (and not filling that space with distractions like television — get bored enough so that your mind starts racing for its own entertainment — see Oates tweet above)
  • Engaging in a rich social life (ideally centered on or related to your work area) so that you increase your potential exposure to mentors, muses/crushes, rivals, and collaborators, all who can dramatically spur your motivation and amp up your nervous system.

This is the first time I’ve thought about this analytically. I’m surprised by how many super-momentum associated factors are potentially controllable. Maybe super-momentum can be engineered.

Can you Create Your Own Motivation and Excitement?

According to Neil deGrasse Tyson, yes.

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

– Neil deGrasse Tyson’s response on Reddit when asked “What can you tell a young man looking for motivation in life itself?”

What Tyson doesn’t explain is how. How do you go from sitting on the couch feeling blah to firing on all cylinders?

Well first, get off the couch. As Tony Robbins likes to say, “emotion is created by motion.” [Tony Robbins “Ultimate Edge — Hour of Power” mp3, link borrowed from this Tim Ferriss post]

Exercise generally stimulates dopaminergic systems, which generally increases motivation (though the neuroscience is complex; higher dopamine in some brain areas increases motivation, while higher dopamine in other brain areas increases awareness of the costs of certain behaviors).

So daily exercise is a must if you want to boost your “get up and go,” with the caveat being that you don’t want to overdo it and end up in a state of chronic inflammation. Lifting heavy weights or going on long runs every day will just exhaust most people. Walking or bicycling or yoga everyday plus short bursts of more intense exercise (sprints, weights) is probably a good balance.

But brisk walks won’t get you to super-momentum. You need to be excited about your work.

Well, what if you aren’t excited? Can this be changed?

Author Rachel Aaron has a good perspective on this. In this blog post she describes how she went from writing 2000 words a day to 10,000 words a day. She breaks her approach into three core requirements:

  1. Time (track productivity and evaluate)
  2. Knowledge (know what you’re writing before you write it)
  3. Enthusiasm (get excited about what you’re writing)

She has valuable insight into all three areas. I’d recommend her post to all writers. But for the more general purposes of this post, her insights into generating enthusiasm are the most relevant. From Aaron’s post:

The answer was head-slappingly obvious. Those days I broke 10k were the days I was writing scenes I’d been dying to write since I planned the book. They were the candy bar scenes, the scenes I wrote all that other stuff to get to. By contrast, my slow days (days where I was struggling to break 5k) corresponded to the scenes I wasn’t that crazy about.

This was a duh moment for me, but it also brought up a troubling new problem. If I had scenes that were boring enough that I didn’t want to write them, then there was no way in hell anyone would want to read them. This was my novel, after all. If I didn’t love it, no one would.

Fortunately, the solution turned out to be, yet again, stupidly simple. Every day, while I was writing out my little description of what I was going to write for the knowledge component of the triangle, I would play the scene through in my mind and try to get excited about it. I’d look for all the cool little hooks, the parts that interested me most, and focus on those since they were obviously what made the scene cool. If I couldn’t find anything to get excited over, then I would change the scene, or get rid of it entirely. I decided then and there that, no matter how useful a scene might be for my plot, boring scenes had no place in my novels.

This applies to all creative/innovative pursuits — not just fiction writing. If it’s boring, why are you working on it? Skip ahead to the good part or the interesting part.

You may need to come back to the “boring bits” of the project later, but if you’re already in a state of super-momentum, you’ll blast through them effortlessly.

Are There Negative Effects of Super-Momentum?

Obviously, being amped up physically and mentally for an extended period of time (even if drug free) is going to take its toll. More free radicals, more stress hormones, and accelerated aging are probably inevitable to some extent.

Super-momentum is not the fountain of youth. It’s burning the candle at both ends. Even if the high is natural, all highs are followed by a low.

In addition to physical and mental stress, focusing all your energy and attention on a single life area means that other parts of your life (household, relationships, children, eating well, sleeping well, other work areas) are going to be temporarily neglected.

In addition, when you come down (and you will eventually come down), you won’t have the energy to energetically deal with these neglected areas. You’ll be drained. After expending an enormous amount of energy and delivering or otherwise completing your project (or possibly abandoning it), you’ll experience letdown. While life coaches and therapists might distinguish physiological depression from post-project depletion, they feel about the same.

The advantage of going through the latter is that you know why (you just pushed yourself like a maniac, and now you’re out of gas), and you know that with rest and recuperation, you’ll bounce back and regain that life spark.

So pursue super-momentum at your own risk. There will be downsides. A near constant state of super-momentum without corresponding periods of rest and recuperation might lead to gigantic leaps in terms of career success, but long-term health life effects might include:

  • obesity, from sleep deprivation and circadian disruption
  • insulin resistance, see above
  • chronic inflammation, manifesting in joint pain, back pain
  • chronic depression
  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • damage to personal relationships, from neglect and/or volatile emotions
  • self-doubt, loss of sense of purpose, “Why am I doing this?”

To these risks you might say “So what?” In the famous words of a super-momentum enthusiast:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

– Hunter S. Thompson

He was a man true to his word.

On the other hand, there are equal or even greater risks to not pushing yourself, to eating and resting too much, to not discovering and stoking your inner fire. These risks are both physical and psychological. Chronic stress is terrible for health, but acute stress is necessary. A sedentary life devoid of all challenges is a fast track to obesity, heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Consider:

Work “sprints” (via super-momentum) are not necessarily bad for your health as long as you take some downtime to recover. Here are some basic life and health precautions to take if you are chasing the dragon of super-momentum:

  • stay super-hydrated
  • get at least five hours of sleep a night
  • eat at least one healthy meal a day
  • don’t use stimulants stronger than tea or coffee
  • rely on “natural” sources of motivation (see above) instead of drugs (including all so-called “smart drugs”)
  • start with “money in the bank” (literally, but also in terms of relationships, core infrastructure, etc.)
  • take extra care to be polite, patient, respectful, and considerate to your loved ones (your agitated, hypersensitive, hyperactive state will make you prone to snapping and snap judgements)
  • when its time to come down, come down gracefully (sleep more, eat well, decompress, pamper yourself, recuperate, thank everybody who supported you during your sprint, return the favor)

This cautionary tale from author-turned-cocaine-and-videogame-addict Tom Bissell is worth reading. It’s possible to amp yourself up into a state of hypomania and hyperfocus that feels like super-momentum, but moves your life backwards instead of forwards. While I’ve never gotten into recreational drugs, I can relate to the lure of videogames. These days I have a simple rule of “no entertainment during the workday” (including web browsing) that keeps me from falling into false “feeling productive while doing nothing productive” traps.

So Who Wins, The Tortoise or the Hare?

Well, we all know that slow and steady wins the race. There is no substitute for establishing rock-solid daily habits that inch you closer to your goals, day by day.

But there is a place for sprints, for extremes. Especially to reach the heights of artistic or innovative greatness, these sprints might be required.

So the tortoise wins the horizontal race, but the hare gets more air.

Or maybe, once in awhile, the tortoise bursts into a sprint.

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