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Live Life Love | Volume Twenty-Nine

Hello Everyone,

Happy New Year’s Eve! I don’t want to take time away from you celebrating with friends and family so I’ll keep this quarterly update brief. I was able to nail down some pretty awesome interviews this quarter, especially if you are interested in building great products or are a fan of elite fitness. So if you are interested in either of these two things when you have a little more time, please come back to this post.

In the meantime, I leave you with this: Always find a way back to your youthful spirit. There was a great New York Times article in October titled What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set? that outlined the work of Dr. Ellen Langer. Langer’s work suggests that when we believe (in our mind) we are younger than we are, our body follows. Dr. Langer’s work has been criticized by some for a lack of rigor, but was just validated by another age related study out of the University College London that suggests those who feel younger live longer than those who do not.

So tonight, as you ring in the New Year, remember to play. Laugh with your partner about something silly; let your child tickle you this time; when you walk your dog, skip instead of walk. Smile. It is clear more than ever that our personalities and experiences shape our destinies. Great experiences generally do not interrupt your life or happen on their own; you have to seek them out. Find them.

Wishing you a joyful and prosperous 2015, and a year full of wonderful new experiences!

Entrepreneurship: This quarter’s entrepreneurial interview is with Nir Eyal whose new book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products just debuted on the Wall Street Journal business bestseller list. My five questions with Nir Eyal about the Hook Model and product development can be found here.

Health and Wellness: This quarter’s health and wellness interview is with Ben Greenfield who is also a best-selling author. His current book, “Beyond Training,” is in stores now and his “Get-Fit Guy” podcasts are available on iTunes. My five questions with Ben Greenfield about elite fitness and endurance training can be found here.

Contribution: This quarter’s contribution was by way of donation, in support of Kelly’s effort to Run to Feed the Hungry. This is an annual event that benefits the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services in its mission to feed the less fortunate.

Life Experience: This quarter I fed my passion for corporate wellness with a visit to the Nike corporate campus in Beaverton, Oregon. Nike is an impressive organization that really exemplifies the rewards a company can reap when there is meaning behind the company’s mission and vision: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete.

Mike Rucker at the Nike Corporate Campus, 2014

Thank you for reading. Again, may your year ahead be full of wonder and joy.

Warm regards,
Michael

Interview with Ben Greenfield about Elite Fitness and Endurance Training

Ben Greenfield is an ex-bodybuilder, Ironman triathlete, professional Spartan racer, coach, speaker and author of the book “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health and Life” (http://www.BeyondTrainingBook.com). In 2008, Ben was voted as NSCA’s Personal Trainer of the year and in 2013 was named by Greatist as one of the top 100 Most Influential People In Health And Fitness. Ben blogs and podcasts at http://www.BenGreenfieldFitness.com, and resides in Spokane, WA with his wife and twin boys.


1) There appears to be an uptick in reports lately about the role and importance of conscientious thought as it relates to longevity and performance. In your opinion, (when looking to optimize performance) what is the relationship between adjustments of the mind/thinking and adjustments in nutrition? We tend to discuss these subjects separately, but should they be?

When we talk about conscious thought as it relates to longevity and performance, we can talk about gut/brain access and the thought that both are pretty intimately intertwined. The two elements of the nervous system, the central and the peripheral nervous systems, are essentially connected and stay connected via the vagus nerve as we grow and reach adulthood.

Whenever you talk about optimizing performance, you have to understand that anxiety and disruptive thought patterns can affect the gut, and there is also a lot of evidence showing that what you eat can have an effect on cognitive performance. So there is no doubt that a synergistic relationship exists between the two.

2) When you’re working with clients, how do you effectively make adjustments and/or additions to nutrition? How do you determine which interventions are beneficial and which are arbitrary? When making recommendations regarding nutrition — specifically any supplement recommendations — how important are therapeutic windows, considering ADME will be unique in different individuals?

We live in an era where genetic testing, gut testing, hormone testing and full blood panel testing are pretty convenient and becoming more and more affordable too. I always recommend at a minimum to get a blood panel, and if you really want a gold standard (especially in regard to nutrition), get a gut test. Get a genetic test, too. A spectral cell analysis will give you a look at micro-nutrients and minerals. If someone is experiencing a lot of autoimmune food allergen-type issues, the tests I recommend are a Cyrex Panel 4 or Cyrex Panel 5.

Really, the goal is to get a good idea of where someone is at from a food summary standpoint. Once you put all of that information together, then you can make a decision, but until then you are taking a shot in the dark. If your budget is limited, you might say “okay, whatever, I’ll start on a full spectrum multivitamin” and skip the testing. In those cases, basically I would recommend best practices for someone based on symptoms and goals, but it is always better to test. People generally get better results when they test, and continue to retest.

Testing can also include something like heart rate variability, where you look at how the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are responding to a change or intervention. In short, you put an intervention in place and you test to see what’s going on with the blood, or gut, or salivary gland to access the response to treatment. A lot of the folks I work with are testing at least one parameter every eight to twelve weeks.

3) In my interview last year with Dr. Howard Jacobson, we discussed the downsides of using reductionist research when addressing broad nutritional questions. Presumably you make some of your assertions based on this type research. How do you mitigate any potential risks?

I am a proponent of using natural whole food sources when possible. My recommendations come down to assessing whether a supplement or dietary strategy is going to get you a lot of bang for your buck. Take phosphorus compounds for example, they likely have some sort of anticarcinogenic effect — as such I am a bigger fan of incorporating broccoli, cauliflower and onions as staple components of a diet, versus suggesting someone use a sub-level glutathione.

But ultimately there are some situations where, by taking a food group or ingredient down to its complete reductionist form, you can concentrate it and get higher amounts of it. A good example is Chinese adaptogenic herbs, something that I use. I can take the isolated compound in a tiny little packet and it’s the equivalent of 40 pounds of the whole herb, which I physically couldn’t consume all at once.

4) In my 2009 interview with Chris Talley, he indicated there would likely be future developments for those interested in hacking their myostatin levels if they’re willing to experiment with antisense therapies (note: he highlighted the potential for considerable risks, too). I saw this year you mentioned cold thermogenesis as a safer alternative (since this type of therapy might have an effect on irisin). Do you find this to be effective with your clients who are looking to gain muscle? And, do you have any other suggestions regarding reducing myostatin?

With myostatin, one of the big goals is to not be in a consistent anabolic state. I think what you are referring to with a cold thermogenesis type of approach is the upregulation of m4, which is going to essentially downregulate myostatin, helping with muscle cell growth. However, you could potentially get undifferentiated cell growth.

I like cold thermogenesis because you do get hormones like irisin that help activate m4, and yet at the same time you are getting the upregulation of AMPK. That’s actually a perfect example of a strategy I like: an anabolic approach that uses caloric cycling on certain days that have higher levels of physical activity coupled with cold thermogenesis, because strategic fasting is also a way to reduce myostatin.

5) Piggybacking off cold thermogenesis: If you ask Tim Ferriss for his cliff notes on unconventional tried-and-true tips for weight loss he’s likely to tell you ice baths, his PAGG regimen, and 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up. What are a few of your unconventional tried-and-true tips for amateur endurance athletes looking to improve performance?

If you are asking for tips that fly under the radar, I am a fan of isometric protocols like long 30-second eccentric contractions and holds for 3, 4, or even 5 minutes in lunge or squat positions. Basically, it’s filling your muscles with a bunch of lactic acid, so you are upregulating your lactic acid buffering capacity.

If someone has a lot of inflammation and muscle damage from chronic repetitive motions, I am a fan of curcumin. I have been using a lot of curcumin phytosome, and there is a brand called Meriva, which a lot of supplement manufacturers are using now. It is a form that is well-absorbed and has really good anti-inflammatory effects.

Lastly, it’s not sexy, but I am a big fan of making sure that you engage in low-level activity all day long — basically standing on your feet, getting a standing work station, or even using a treadmill desk. Avoid sedentary positions for a long periods so that all day long you are building low-level physical endurance, which you can then rely on during your interval training and endurance training. A lot of people do not understand that a lot of your available endurance simply comes from your daily routine. If you are trying to improve performance you are not doing yourself any favors by sitting at a desk all day long.

Interview with Nir Eyal about the Hook Model and Product Development

Nir Eyal is an educator, entrepreneur, author, and blogger who maintains the website NirAndFar.com. In addition to his blog, Nir has written articles for TechCrunch, Psychology Today, and Forbes. Nir’s new book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” debuted on the Wall Street Journal business best seller list this year.


1) What is a creative “growth hacking” method you have seen bolted onto the Hook Model that can positively influence the viral coefficient (or alternative variable) and amplify the effect of your model? Clickbait is one potential example (adding a trigger to a hijacked audience); are there any better ones?

Clickbait is an okay example. I tend to think of engagement and growth as two things that can be connected, but that do not necessarily have to be. So when I look for opportunities to invest in or consult with companies, the three criteria I always look for are: growth, engagement, and monetization. A startup must possess two of these at the onset, with a strategy to obtain the third, or I’m likely not going to be interested.

Most viral strategies have nothing to do with engagement. This is important to note; most viral growth strategies lack engagement. These strategies are usually just a way to get people in the door. Sometimes you see innovators get so hung up on virality that they stop there, and unfortunately stop short of incorporating engagement into their product. For me that is what is interesting: how can you make engagement part of the product itself, part of the growth strategy? It is pretty rare to see engagement as part of the overall growth strategy. It’s pretty hard to do well unless you are a social network. Most others are doing it as a bribe: “Here is ten dollars; invite your friend.”

2) In your teachings, you speak about the power of negative valence and how feelings such as boredom, fear, and depression can be effective mechanisms to get someone to act. In your opinion, why have emotions with positive valence (such as a joy) proven to be less effective action triggers?

When we feel happy, we don’t have a problem. Every solution is used to address a problem. Negative valence states are painful. They create pain points and we seek to correct those pain points. One could also argue this is teleosemantic… two sides of the same coin. For instance, is someone lonely or do they simply desire connection? I like to focus product makers on the negative so they understand that they should be solving a problem. Unfortunately opportunities are generally not found when people are hunky-dory; opportunities are found when people are suffering from something.

3) In the process of your research, what are one or two of the most effective reoccurring external triggers you’ve seen that do not use the computer or mobile phone as the conduit? Is there anything on the horizon that might match or come close to the utility of smartphones with regard to effective trigger conduits?

Mobile devices are fairly new, but visual triggers obviously are not… advertising, storefronts, etc. Smartphones simply let us interact more effectively with these triggers. As far as something on the horizon, I think the smartwatch is going to be huge. Whenever there is a broad base interface change, it opens a world of opportunities to build innovative products. And as simple as this sounds, some of the most powerful triggers are often hidden in your pocket. You cannot see that you have an incoming email if you have put your phone on silent. A watch is ever-present; however, the downside is there is a lot less real estate to grab your attention (than a phone). This is going to make creating habits more important because with less real estate there will be less opportunity to grab your attention. It creates a more competitive environment for app makers.

4) In a previous conversation, you and I discussed that fitness is hard to position as a reward because fundamentally it’s punishment, making it inherently difficult to inspire this action. Are there strategies to help bolster the perceived intrinsic value of a difficult action in an attempt to strengthen the perceived reward?

It is not my position that fitness is “fundamentally” punishment. I don’t think it creates pain for everyone; some people are clearly passionate about fitness and get a lot out of it. They get pleasure from exercise. It is rewarding and they love it. It is what they like to do in their spare time.

What I do suggest is that those who do not enjoy exercise feel that way because it is potentially perceived as punishment and not viewed as rewarding. I believe that these people view exercise as not fun; simply put if they thought it was fun they would be doing it. The problem is people who don’t already enjoy it make up a majority of the general market, right? People making fitness products, or at least most of them, are trying to create behavior change in the hope of making inactive people become active. It is the proverbial brass ring that people in the fitness industry are reaching for.

From what I have seen to date, it just doesn’t work; it is just punishing users. Look at the phenomenon of “moral licensing”: when we do something that we feel punishes us, when we feel we are suffering in one area of our lives, we tend to go overboard in other areas. That’s been shown with charity giving, and it’s been shown with recycling: sacrificing in one area of life leads to indulgence is other areas of life.

If someone gets into this spiral — for instance they workout each day and burn 300 calories but then reward themselves with a 400-calorie Jamba Juice — what happens over time when they do not see results? They ask, “why am I gaining weight? I guess I am just a fat person.” In the end they come to a conclusion, “well, I’m just fat; it’s who I am.” And that’s the saddest part of this story, because “being fat” has become a part of their identity, and identity is much harder to change than behavior.

At a global level, a person’s environment is going to play a major factor in the obesity crisis. People make poor choices about what they eat because unhealthy food is easy to get. If we had better access to healthy choices, I believe that would go a long way. In that regard I love what the company Pantry Labs is doing. Pantry Labs makes it easy for companies to offer fresh foods to their employees through vending machine innovation. If you enable people to make healthy choices, I think this is an easier intervention to implement than expecting everyone to pick up exercise.

5) Continuing the theme of influencing healthy behavior change, in your TechCrunch article Why Behavior Change Apps Fail to Change Behavior you state, “When our autonomy is threatened, we feel constrained by our lack of choices and often rebel against doing the new behavior.” I believe this to be true as well. However, I also believe Barry Schwartz’s contention that choice can often be paralyzing. Personally I struggle with the coexistence of these concepts when it comes to prescribing varying fitness modalities to a population (especially in light of data that suggests you get higher participations rates when you limit choice). Where do you believe the balance exists, if there is a way to find balance? 

I believe you are talking about two different things here, I don’t think it is apples to apples. When we talk about the “paradox of choice,” we address things we desire, like picking between 24 flavors of jelly. We want the jelly, but we cannot decide which one we want. When we are talking about issues of autonomy and choice, we’re addressing things that we do not want to do. “I do not want any jelly; I hate jelly,” is different than the statement, “I want jelly, but which one do I get? It’s just too difficult to decide.”

There is some crossover — there is the concern that making choices, even simple choices, may tax one’s willpower — and there is this other issue of behavior, high willpower versus low willpower. The “behavior change matrix” can be helpful in explaining the difference and how it relates to forming positive habits.

Automatic behaviors — in other words, our habits — fall into one of four modes: amateur, expert, habitué and addict. I categorize them by how much self-control is required (high willpower vs. low willpower) and whether motivation can be classified as pleasure seeking or pain alleviating. Amateur and Expert are both pleasure-seeking modes, but amateur requires little willpower while expert requires a high degree of willpower. Both modes tend to result in beneficial behaviors that people want to increase.

Habitué behaviors are pain alleviating but require little willpower. They may be beneficial or destructive. Addictive behaviors are primarily negative and people seek to rid themselves of them. If you want to change someone’s behaviors, or help them develop new ones, you need to understand the matrix and use techniques in line with these four behavior modes. In other words, we do not need to frame this as “finding balance” rather understand that various desired behavior change types call for different strategies depending on the situation.