Category Archives: nutrition

Get a 6-pack without ‘ab workouts’

Ab workouts not required

A year from now I’ll be in the 50th year of my life. For my age and lifestyle (minimum exercise, mostly sedentary days, and daily consumption of large amounts of fat and sugar in many forms) it seems unusual that I ought to have a noticeable set of abdominal muscles. They happen to be visible to the public because, when I run, unless it is too cold, it is almost always without a top on. (The reasons for that, some other day, soon.)

I receive a quizzical look in response when asked “Sir, how do I get a 6-pack too?” because my reply typically starts with…

I never do ab crunches or set aside any time to do an ab workout”.

Wait a minute! What did I just say? Yeah, just that – I never set time aside for an ab workout. The last time I did ab crunches with any seriousness was almost 35 years ago in Karate class! (And now you’re probably thinking that this sounds like my earlier conversation about why you need not run.) So, clearly any vaguely visible or distinctly discernible 6-pack needs some questioning! That is what today’s chat is about.

[see Why I am not a Fitness Freak]
[see The Accidental Wisdom of Pain Seekers]

These days even some women want a 6-pack (I’ve been approached by more than a handful with that request, and a couple of the ladies I mentor are a fair way there) but whether you’re a guy or a gal, it’s worth considering what it involves. So, let’s go through the following questions together:

What is a 6-pack?
What’s the use of it?
Did you know you have a 6-pack?
Why can’t you see yours?
Will you ever be able to see yours?
Why is doing ab crunches wrongly directed action?
What should you focus on instead?
What kind of effort do you need?
Who will have easier success with it?
…and…
OK, so you have a 6-pack, what next?

What is a 6-pack?

What’s happening underneath

Your muscles work when they contract. In your front abdominal region, there are many muscle groups performing different functions (e.g. twisting, bending side to side). The 6-pack that has captured the public’s attention is simply one of those many muscles, technical name, rectus abdominis. The reason it catches your attention is simply because it is the outermost muscle in that region. The other muscles that lie below it and perform different but equally important functions (e.g. internal oblique muscles) do not get the same media attention!

Bands of connective tissue traverse your rectus abdominis. These separate your rectus abdominis into distinct muscle bellies – the ‘packs’. In your abdomen if you are someone with low body fat, these masses of muscle can be viewed externally and are commonly referred to as “four”, “six”, “eight”, or even “ten packs”, depending on how many distinct muscle bellies were created in the first place by the connective tissue traversing across.

Not a 6-pack!

The lower your body fat, the more likely that the lower muscle masses will be seen. Six is the most common – and having more than six does not mean you are fitter or stronger – it is just about how many bands traverse your rectus abdominis. If you see just one pack – that’s a family pack – and it’s fat, not muscle. However, the good news is that you can convert it into a 6-pack.

Of what use is a 6-pack?

When your rectus abdominis contracts, its pulling action is at either end, between your chest and groin. So, the use of your 6-pack is primarily postural – for bringing your pelvic area towards your chest or, equivalently, for preventing your torso from tipping back. It also assists in your breathing and for forceful respiration when you exercise.

Did you know you have a 6-pack?

Yes, if you lead a reasonably active life then you probably have a rectus abdominis that is of decent size and strength.

Why can’t you see your 6-pack?

Family pack still gets you love!

If your 6-pack is not visible, the reason will be obvious to you by now. There is a layer of fat between the outermost layer of your skin and those muscles. Doing 1,000 crunches a day will not make them more visible! You will need to chisel the fat away. You don’t burn much fat at all doing 1,000 crunches!

Will you ever be able to see your 6-pack?

Yes, of course you will. It all depends on what you do for it. And what you stop doing. The details matter!

Why is doing ab-crunches not effective?

Although the classic ab crunch works your rectus abdominis, it is not the most effective in terms of stimulating those muscles. In fact, far from it.

6, 8, 10 – does not matter!

Have a look at this research report by San Diego State University. Specifically, the classic crunch is rated 11th out of 13 exercises examined. The ab crunch is also not a functionally useful movement – it does not appear in your activities of daily life. Also, in the same way that you would not put your spinal cord at risk by bending over repeatedly and rapidly when standing [remember all those tips to “bend your knees” when lifting objects off the ground?] – the classic crunch is not very different a movement for your spine housing your spinal cord (you are simply lying on the ground instead of standing on your feet).

What should you focus on instead?

When I say “I don’t do ab workouts” what I mean is that I never specifically target that region. Instead, acknowledging that your abdominal muscles are ideally engaged and working when doing most of your activities of daily life, including various sporting activities is a great way to get started. And, to keep going! I do not do any of the 13 exercises listed in that research report by San Diego State University. But, I am definitely stimulating my rectus abdominis to grow in size with all the other activities I perform. That is what I encourage you to do too.

Who will have your back?

Having a strong core is important for various reasons. To prevent injury from normal daily activities. To prevent aches and pains as you age. To ensure your body can cope with anything vigorous you do for recreation at various stages of your life. Since the rectus abdominis is only one of many muscles of your core, giving it undue attention can lead to imbalances that will not serve you well in the long run. And as I tell those I mentor, “symmetry is a subset of balance”, so ensure that you have equivalent development in your back musculature too. Balance between your ‘front’ and ‘back’ muscles.

A strong body with good flexibility and high levels of endurance will automatically lead you to a state where your body composition changes and your 6-pack emerges, almost as if by magic. No specific attention required!

Having a 6-pack ‘for show’ is not of much use unless you need it for your job. The vanity that might come with specifically targeting only that will be short-lived. Instead of focusing on appearance goals, focus on the processes for performance goals – being stronger, fitter, faster, leaner.

[see what I said earlier about Health Based Measures of Fitness]
[see the widely followed article on Pushups for the Ladies]
[see the 1-arm pushups article if you want to take things up a notch without leaving home]
[see my approach to nutrition]

Will distance running get you a 6-pack?

Not the final solution

In my mostly widely read article on why you need not run, I described how you will not see most of the men and women crossing the finish line at recreational distance running races looking ripped and toned. The observation does not change when you move from half to full marathons, to ultramarathons. Conversely, if you go to a gym where the big strong guys look muscular with well-defined 6-packs, you might find that they cannot do endurance activities particularly well. Like, I’ve said before –  Balance is True Mastery!

What kind of effort do you need?

The effort needs to go only towards systematic execution of daily processes. Nothing big, nothing extreme. Just the many small features of daily life that will lead to a body that is a fine-tuned machine. The physical 6-pack is just ornamental. If you are appropriately focused on living each day of your life well, then besides the physical 6-pack, your mental state will also have developed its own (invisible) 6-pack. The same holds true for your emotional and spiritual planes. Perhaps you have a 24-pack and most people can see only 6!

[for a mind map of the areas that might work for your current stage in life see the Wellness Tree]

Who will have easier success with it?

Would have been easier 15 years ago

Men, younger men. Women typically have to work much harder for the same visual results because of their naturally higher body fat percentage and lower muscle mass. And because from the age of 30, even men lose about 1% of their muscle mass each year (assuming they did not make any changes to their lifestyle to get fitter or otherwise), younger men will find it much easier than older men. But, remember, difficult does not mean impossible. If you are an older woman and work at it, you can get there too, if you want it. And if you do get there, I’ll admire you like no one’s business!

So, you have a 6-pack, what next?

The great thing about having a 6-pack is that you will appreciate that it is your own effort to live as close to your natural state as possible. And, when I talk about effort, I am not even referring to any unusual effort. Just the simple effort of living as naturally as possible.

It’s always work-in-progress

Having got there, it is worth then asking yourself how you got there. To what extent did you stray away from what is natural? (pharmaceutical aids, poor sleep, free of chronic injuries or illness). Think about what you can do to fix those. Then ask yourself how you are placed vis-à-vis where you would like to be for the health and skills based measures of fitness I wrote about earlier. Then take steps to get there too. And going beyond the physical dimension, looking at the Wellness Tree, ask yourself how you can get a 6-pack in the dimensions of mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

A 6-pack is not a panacea for happiness – but working to have one will, perhaps, help get many other rooms of your house in order. Ab workouts not required!

Puru

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Life can be Good with French Fries

Things are not always as simple as they first appear

I am often asked questions like “is it OK to eat French fries?” or “isn’t weight lifting dangerous?” or “isn’t running bad for the knees?” or “why do I find running boring?” or “is it OK to sleep in the afternoons?” or “why am I not able to motivate myself to exercise?

The questions are simple. My answers are rarely so. I invariably prefix them with “it depends”. And for good reason. Or many good reasons. Most expressions of love are conditional. And, so it is with the answers to most practical questions of life.

There are 2 central messages for today’s conversation. And they are both related. The first is that the details matter when you have a specific problem to deal with. The second is that what appears to most people to be a problem need not be one for you, and what might be OK for someone else might be a problem for you.

Allow me to explain, with that yummy plate of fries.

Scenario D (for Disaster)
Mr. FatCat has spent the day in a sedentary manner, eating a gut-busting breakfast, a luxurious lunch and then a delicious dinner with dessert. An hour after dinner, strolling around his neighbourhood he has an urge to eat fries from the burger joint that’s bustling with business at 10pm. Poor quality factory bulk processed potatoes deep fried in (reheated) animal fat. All consumed when his glycogen tank is fantastically full already. There’s almost nothing good about that snack. A recipe for disaster if this becomes a habit.

A disaster in the making…

Scenario A (for Awesome)
Sunny the Swimmer has cycled from school to his daily 2-hour swim. He has then cycled back home and along with a large platter of fruit, nuts and seeds, his father has prepared a plate of fries. These are sweet potatoes bought at the local organic market, and have been grilled after being brushed with a combination of olive and mustard oil to just the level of crispness on the outside that Sunny enjoys. There’s so much value in that meal. Awesome!

Fries can be awesome for you!

These 2 scenarios are not out of the ordinary. I have friends who fall into each of those scenarios on a regular basis. Both groups enjoy their fries. But for one the result is positive on long term wellness, for the other, negative!

And so, whenever I’m asked “are French fries bad for me?” my answer typically starts with “it depends…“.

I have referred to this aspect of life numerous times before. When talking about attention to detail or process for performance. And, just looking at the Wellness Tree, you can see that there are so many drivers of good health and sickness. Paying attention to the details is what will make a difference whatever be the aspect of life you are considering.

French Fries go to Heaven

So, when someone asks me in passing conversation a question looking for a short answer, I invariable respond in an enigmatic manner, if at all. It is only when the situation or context in which the question is being asked is clear can a short answer carry specific value to the questioner.

This applies to all kinds of questions besides the ones at the start of this conversation. Examples of other simple popular questions for which my answer would definitely start with “it depends…” include:

should I invest in the stock market?
is it OK to eat chocolate?
should I do an MBA?
is it OK to drink coffee?
is my yogasana class good enough as my only exercise?
are eggs bad for me?
should I do my own tax return?
what’s wrong with being vegetarian?
how do I improve my guitar playing?
can a vegan be unhealthy?
is it expensive to have children?
should I run a full marathon?

The list is almost endless.

Life is like a bowl of fries, it is up to you to pay attention to the details to make the best of what you desire.

Puru

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Balance is True Mastery

Balance is True Mastery

You have targets to achieve in life. You want to achieve them all. Overlying this is your desire to be happy and live a fulfilling life. You have heard me rant about process and discipline. But it happens often that you work really hard at something and results do not seem to follow through. So, what might be going wrong? Well, what if you are rowing hard in the boat with a strong wind blowing, and all you needed to do was to put the sail up? Often, that is the case. But, wait, there’s more. Read on.

Progress in just about anything is typically driven by many factors. For example, within the framework of the Wellness Tree you will know these factors to be the various roots feeding into the various branches. Yet, we often forget to strike the appropriate balance between the various input factors that drive results.

We see it all around us even if we do not look for it – but you do have to pay closer attention to notice it happening. An excess display of a narrow dimension of effort. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a strong place for focused and intense effort in the journey to success. And there is a great deal of internal happiness from the completion of a bout of intense and single-minded focused hard work. But often what ought to be all of those adjectives, ends up being this – “just a large quantity of a tiny number of actions”. Oops!

Why might you fall into ‘the trap of extreme‘ instead of ‘mastering balance‘?

The lazy will typically have low effort in a few things let alone overdoing one or many! The rest of us are often obsessed with the singular idea that ‘doing’ is the way to progress. So, we might do a lot in order to make a lot of progress. And, since we observe some improvements, it appears to make sense that we do even more for further progress.

How will you handle many variables?

The way your human brain has evolved, the pre-frontal cortex typically handles, at one time, just 4 variables well. So, it is always easy to focus on a couple of input factors. Add to this the constraint of your most valuable resource i.e. time, and you might feel that with that limited resource, it makes sense to focus on only a couple of factors and push them really hard. Dealing with multiple input factors is always challenging for the brain – and interactions between them can make things even more perplexing to think through. [With 4 variables, there will be 6 pairwise interactions.] And so, we conveniently fall into what I call The Tuesday Trap – to turn up for class on Tuesday and feel good that we must be making progress just because we turned up.

Ultra-unwise

Whenever someone who has recently introduced recreational running into their life approaches me with the grand idea “I have run a half marathon, I have a run a full marathon, now I want to run an ultra”, my first question in response is always “why?”. Not because running an ultramarathon is not a tough challenge, but because often the thought process behind the desire to do so is heavily skewed. Going extreme isn’t mastery. Balance is true mastery.

[To understand why you need not run see this]

Going longer, without paying attention to other factors that drive performance does not need much intellect. And the results are not likely to be great. Driving results in life, using a range of factors, appropriately balanced with changing life conditions, is what is difficult. Getting that right is satisfying, and leads to greater success. Balance is true mastery.

What’s wrong with not focusing on balance?

Balance is True Mastery

At a bird’s eye view level, I spoke about how even having daily or weekly work-life balance was not enough and focusing on lifetime optimization was more important. So, if you do not have a plan to stay balanced, to start, you are reducing your chances of getting to your goals in the first place – simply by not having a balanced approach to getting there. Depending on what the area of focus is, there is also the risk of burnout, illness, injury, boredom. Now think about the fact that what you do is only rarely isolated from others around you, and then the societal (or family) problems only worsen the argument against balance. For instance, your children or others who look to you as a role model will also pick up the wrong strategy to follow for a fulfilling life.

Did it impress you when that parent once talked about how their 12-year-old was swimming twice a day every day to qualify for the school team? When your neighbor told you they were doing a zillion suryanamaskars to get fitter for a marathon did you think “Wow, how cool!”? When your colleague told you how they were forced to practice the guitar for an hour every school day before they were allowed to go out and play, did you think “Wow, such discipline!”? When that investment *anker gloated about how he worked 120 hour weeks, did you think “Such an impressive job!”? I wonder if you know where I’m going with this. Going extreme isn’t mastery. Balance is true mastery.

The gist through the mist

Move yourself towards Mastery

The central message for today is simply this – within your process, set up a regular assessment of all that you are doing and their connection with your final set of goals. It is wonderful to love the daily process because, after all, that internal motivation helps you move towards your goal. But, it would be unwise to have those processes not be in sync with your longer-term goals. And, typically, if you are doing a lot of X to get to your goal, almost always you need to do a little less of that X and introduce Y and Z too. Because, together, XYZ have a much better chance of getting you there. That is balance. Going extreme isn’t mastery. Balance is true mastery.

Let us look at a few examples together.

The Student Before Exams
The typical behavior plan I see is greater numbers of hours spent studying. Sometimes sleep is compromised. The effect of this is worst when the midnight oil is burnt the night before the exam. Food habits become unhealthier. Junk food is increased to satisfy the emotional stress of the grind, instead of there being greater focus on what one might call ‘brain foods’. Play time goes for a toss, instead of there being regular physical activity to support the academic study time. (Tip: refer to the Wellness Tree for more ideas on solving this problem.)

The Long Hours Investment Banker
Unfortunately, most corporate finance investment bankers gloat about their long hours at work. Those who have had any experience of what those professionals do will understand that a large part of it is grunge work, driven mostly by the chance of a large payoff from the lucky one out of 20 (or 50!) pitches. The sacrifice of personal health, relationships, and plain and simple (lack of) exposure to daylight plays havoc on the overall state of being. The idea that this must be the holy grail to a life of wealth and happiness is an odd one. (Tip: refer to the Wellness Tree for more ideas on solving this problem.)

The Newbie Ultramarathoner
When I see a friend has recently taken up recreational distance running and is clocking a crazy number of miles each week I wonder if they have ever stopped to think about the bigger picture. Typically, their effort seems to be pointed toward going longer with, perhaps, their main lifestyle change being to eat more calories to support the energy expenditure of their training. With only 24 hours in everyone’s day and the need to often be at work most days of the week, something has got to give. Unfortunately, that something is often sleep hours! Of all things, sleep is, perhaps, the single most important activity in a person’s week for good health, but it gets tossed out of the common-sense window. And there is often no increased focus on the details of the quality of nutrition. And what happens to family time and socializing with non-runner friends? (Tip: refer to the Wellness Tree for more ideas on solving this problem.)

The many good examples

This successful business woman targets balance=mastery

OK, so those were a few dismal displays of imbalance. On the positive side, if you look around you, you will find excellent examples of balance too. I happen to mentor so many women who have wonderful balance between their satisfying careers, taking care of their homes, their children’s education and husbands’ demands. And yet they ensure that their own physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health is in balance. Perhaps your mother was like that too. Balance is true mastery!

So, what next?

I mentioned that broadly it is important to take stock and check if you have balance between the various driving factors that will feed into successfully achieving any of your many goals. This approach can be taken at any level. Within a process, for a balance between the sub-processes. Or within each sub-process, a further balanced approach to what goes into each of those as well. This is true for every aspect of your life – from the quality of overnight (or mid-afternoon!) sleep to minimizing the negative impact of dessert after dinner. The Wellness Tree highlights that concept well.

I know someone who reads a lot but knows very little of value. Yet, I also know someone who spends only a small amount of time on study and knows a lot. I know someone who spends hours on prayer and meditation but seems to never be in a state of calm and peace. Yet, I know someone who appears to dedicate no time to silent meditation but maintains a state of immense calm even when others would be in a state of turmoil. I know someone who runs a lot but looks nothing like an athlete.  Yet, I know someone who dedicates only a small part of the day to exercise and is fit and looks ripped.

Balance is true mastery of life!

Puru

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Genetic Potential Fitness

GPF, Genetic Potential Fitness

What is Genetic Potential Fitness? How do you apply the concept to your favourite hobbies? Did you know it need not have anything to do with your physical fitness? Can you possibly measure it accurately? How could you estimate it? How does it vary through your life? What is an optimal level for your performance target? What should you do to ensure that your performance stays optimal?

What is GPF, Genetic Potential Fitness?

In a recent media interview when I made reference to Genetic Potential Fitness, a term I coined when proposing a framework for lifelong assessment of progress, I meant for it to be relevant for all your dimensions of existence. Although, at first, because of the word ‘fitness’ in the acronym, GPF appears to be relevant for sporting activities, it is applicable for just about every dimension of human endeavour. Or even where you are not consciously making an effort.

Your performance at anything you do, whether it be playing a game of chess, writing poetry, painting or running a marathon is a combination of the genes that came from your parents and the nurturing of that aspect of your life. You cannot do better than your genes will permit – a fast tortoise will never overtake an average rabbit – but how good can you get? As good as your genes will permit!

It is important to note that I am not saying that only your genes solely determine your actual performance. As a matter of fact, I live my life believing and professing quite the contrary. What I am referring to is an upper bound on your actual performance – and if your actual performance is 50% about your genes, then the other 50% is driven by all those parts that were in the roots of the Wellness Tree.

Your GPF has nothing to do with what others are doing

When I first had an IQ test about 30 years ago two things became clear to me around that time. One was bad news, the other good. The first was that deterioration was guaranteed (bad news) but the second was that the rate of deterioration was significantly under my control (good news). From that time on, just being smarter than over 99% of the population in a very narrow dimension of existence was not what was all important for me. My own performance relative to myself is what matters. I made direct reference to this when I spoke to you about what you could do regarding Competing and Comparing, Targeting Happiness Maximization.

What therefore became more relevant for me three decades ago was the need to have a strategy to maintain that specific measure of (mental) fitness as close to what was genetically possible for the next 80 years ahead. And the same for all the other parts of my Wellness Tree. This theme also appeared when I told you why I do not care much about your podium finish (or mine)!

What does GPF apply to?

I spoke a few days ago about the Wellness Tree but what about achievable targets for those many branches of wellness? Your fitness levels in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health are all equally important. From those branches, even if you pin-point a very specific leaf e.g. controlling anger, you can have a quantifiable measure that can be improved upon. Perhaps the measure chosen for a specific leaf is open for debate – for instance, what measure correctly captures how mindful you are? Having said that, it should be possible for you to focus on ways to work on your performance in that dimension.

Because you can think of GPF being applicable to anything you do, there are literally millions of versions of it depending on the granularity you decide to look with. For instance, you could have your GPF with respect to muscular endurance, or specifically running, and even more specifically, running marathons, and to be yet more specific, running long distances uphill. In summary, the concept of GPF can be used to focus-in with depth, or it can be used to zoom-out to look at your life from a broader perspective.

Can you measure your GPF exactly?

I do not believe that you can measure your true GPF exactly. Because you are typically so far from your genetic potential in most things, and perhaps a little closer in a few that interest you, you rarely ever have a precise measure of it. Perhaps if you are competing at an elite level e.g. Olympic swimming, you can have a narrower estimate range for your GPF in that specific sport – in fact specifically for the stroke that you specialize in. For the rest of us, non-Olympians, GPF is a measure that we are typically very far from. In fact, even the Olympic athlete is likely to be close to his GPF in only a specialized set of activities that her focus is on e.g. 50m backstroke.

Estimating GPF

Although you cannot measure it exactly, what you can do is estimate your GPF. If you work really hard on your squash game for 12-24 months you could get to a level that is very close to (but lower than) your GPF for squash. Because you are close to it, estimating your GPF is likely to be more correct. However, if you have never played water polo, during that same period of squash training, you are likely to be very far (much worse) than your GPF in water polo. And, because you are far from it, confidently estimating its level within a narrow range is difficult.

Estimating your GPF is easier when you are closer to it

How can GPF be useful for you?

So, if your GPF is something that is far from your current ability and is difficult to estimate anyway, what use is it?

Each of the three individual terms provide clues to answer that question. One of the benefits of giving serious thought to the concept of GPF is that it allows you to think about what you might be naturally capable of, given your genetic foundation. The other benefit is that it allows you to think about your potential and thus it can be a realistic motivating factor in your practice. And, finally, to the extent that the term fitness focuses your mind on the various branches of wellness, that is a good thing too.

How does your GPF change through your life?

You will have gathered by now that your GPF is a useful benchmark about where you could get to given your genetic material. Your GPF will change throughout your life for various reasons and depending on the activity or measure you are considering. Some physical fitness measures e.g. muscular endurance peak in the second or third decades of our lives. Typically flexibility is highest closer to birth. Some skills based measures deteriorate faster than health based measures of fitness. Your IQ (as measured by standardized tests) will have peaked in early adult life. Some measures of emotional health can get stronger as we age. Perhaps some measures of spiritual health continue to strengthen as we go through life all the way up to the point of death. And, it may be that something like wisdom necessary increases through life, almost by definition.

Your GPF varies differently through your life depending on what it is focused on

If you examine the roots in the Wellness Tree you will see that many factors feed into the branches. Because life is typically path dependent, your GPF will also be altered by what you feed the roots for the branches to flourish. At a microscopic level, your body literally turns genes on/off based on the exposure it faces. So, you can think about the various factors (roots of the Wellness Tree) and how they might turn certain genes on/off.

Although I said earlier that your GPF has nothing to do with others, there is of course an environment that is created by others too that affect your life and possible gene expression. This could be as sinister as second- hand smoking or even third-hand smoking, or as benevolent as a best friend with an excellent sense of humour.

What is an optimal level to be at relative to your GPF?

Depending on what you are measuring this ought to vary considerably. For instance, if you enjoy playing your piano for recreation, perhaps being far from your GPF is desirable or at least not a problem. On the other hand, if your interest is in performing for others then perhaps you will want your performance at the piano to be pushed closer to your GPF. Or it might simply be that taking your playing closer to your GPF is precisely what makes you happy, even though you play for no one other than yourself.

The largest constraints we typically face are those of ‘time’ and ‘money’. And for most of us, the constraint that is typically binding is ‘time’. So, with constraints of this nature and many different areas of interest, it is natural to think of a portfolio of interests and trade-offs between them in terms of proximity or distance to their respective GPFs.

And as you go through life, your interests and preferences will change, as will your constraints. If you think of your basket of interests, the decision for each constituent in that basket will also vary. Perhaps running marathons is of less interest to you now that you have taken up Latin dance and bread-baking. Approaching these changing interests in a structured manner will allow you to be at greater peace with the decisions you make. Even Olympic athletes cannot simultaneously maintain fitness close to their GPF in more than a few areas.

How do you get to your target level relative to your GPF?

The simple answer is “it is complex”. If you look at the Wellness Tree again, you will see the myriad pathways to the roots of the tree. To ensure that any branch flourishes will require you to engage as many of the paths in some optimal manner. I shall explain this in more detail in future conversations. For now, the key thing to remember is that your GPF is your GPF, that your GPF varies over your lifetime, and you can do things to get yourself to get closer to it at any age – but only if that is your wish. There is no compulsion!

Puru

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

As Beautifully Simple as PuruTheGuru’s Wellness Tree

The Wellness Tree – CLICK to ENLARGE

I have grown it for you, and here it is today, The Wellness Tree from Puru The Guru.

Quick Background

A few weeks ago, I presented you with The Better Life Infographic. That infographic pertained to information, thoughts, feelings, actions, results. However, almost every day someone I mentor asks a question about the benefits of ‘this’ or the problems associated with ‘that’. The ‘this’ or ‘that’ could range from anything like ‘running while listening to music’ or ‘the impact of drinking coffee on the effort to regenerate the beta cells of the pancreas’ or something as banal as ‘body-sculpting to get a 6-pack’.

The Wellness Tree

For living life well, I believe we need to focus on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. These branches of the tree of wellness will be healthy and grow well if the driving factors that feed into them, the roots, are managed well.

Most things in life are multifactorial, and so it is with wellness. Some things have a small impact, some large, some a positive impact, some negative, and in most cases the impact is non-linear. In addition, things can get confusing from interactions between two or more factors. On top of that we have the impact of my favourite variable, time! In practice, almost nothing stands still as time flows. So, as I’ve said before, details matter.

Fruits from The Wellness Tree

In the weeks ahead, you will hear from me on a wide range of topics. I grew this Wellness Tree as a backdrop to describe various concepts, discuss many hypotheses and present guidance – usually with, sometimes without, evidence.

This tree probably won’t grow much above the ground i.e. I am unlikely to change my definition of wellness. However, below the ground, the roots might start branching further as the weeks go by as and when I decide to fill in further detail as relevant to the topic, or based on my mood. For instance, if you look under wellness->activities->social the root has not branched out further yet – but, perhaps, it will! Whenever the tree grows in any part, the ‘last updated’ will have a fresher date. Keep an eye on that!

I suppose one more thing to point out at this stage is that often what we think is important for good health is just one part of myriad changes we can make in life for living it well. For instance, it might take you a while to even locate ‘exercise’ in that tree, and when you do, you might continue to look but will not find something as powerful as ‘running’ in it. At least not in this version of 8th May 2017. That should also not surprise you if you have already read what I have said about why you need not run.

Learning from The Wellness Tree

You would do well to spend time looking at this tree as often as possible over the next few days. (Go ahead, bookmark this page, or save the image on your smartphone.) I suspect that, if you do, over time certain new thoughts will come to your own mind that you will be happy to explore further to live your life well – to live it better.

I will chat again soon, perhaps about that 6-pack question – or perhaps about the regeneration of the beta cells of your pancreas…who knows? We’ll see!

Enjoy the fruits of The Wellness Tree by focusing on the roots

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

How Green are my Movements? 100 Days of Data

It is worth reflecting on HOW you move

Global warning: This conversation might make you plan your life towards benefiting the planet.

Quick Background

With a clear interest in protecting the health of our planet, and a strong belief that data tells us more than what we would ‘choose to remember’, I started collecting data about my transportation modes at the start of this year. Yesterday was the 100th day of the year. Here are some thoughts on the subject that I felt were worth sharing with you.

Since the Summer of ‘69

“Mummy” is no longer a mode of transport for me

In the summer of ’69, my father was navigating a Boeing-707 flight from London to New York that he did on a weekly basis when my mother packed her bag in their home in London, dropped my elder sisters off at a friend’s and drove to the hospital where I was born a few hours later. Apparently, my father was pleased when he was given the news, “it’s a boy”, upon landing at JFK Airport.

A few years later, growing up in Mumbai, I loved cycling, and although my father drove a British car on Indian roads, we were always encouraged to walk wherever we could. Those were the 70s and 80s, times when even the upper middle classes, if they owned a car, typically owned just one.

Cycling back from lectures

Moving ahead in time, as a student of engineering and management at the University of Cambridge I learned a fair amount about inefficient modes of transport from a ‘green perspective’. In fact, since the start of motorized transport, the rule at that university was “no cars permitted for undergraduates” and so, no matter what your social status, you would typically move around Cambridge by bicycle or foot. Whether it was to the boat house to row early in the mornings, or to parties in colleges across town, the common feature about the transport was green. The environmental benefit of such a culture will be obvious to you even if you were to visit Cambridge this summer.

Mumbai: when motorized transport is so slow, pedestrians will walk on the road (PC: Mid Day)

Mumbai: when motorized transport is so slow, pedestrians will walk on the road (PC: Mid Day)

Moving ahead another 30 years, back in Mumbai today, it is awful to see how the city has only become worse in many respects, as each decade has rolled by. One of these, familiar to anyone who has spent even a few hours in the city, where I spend a good chunk of each year, is the terrible state of roads, and inefficient use of public money. The popular media has published many reports [see this for an example from 9 years ago, and this one more recent] on how most tax dollars are spent on providing facilities for the limited number of car users when in fact the largest percentage of travel is done by public mass transportation (bus, train, metro) or bicycle and foot. What makes the situation sadder still is that despite the disproportionate allocation of tax money to the roads, those roads are in a terrible state and the transport on them crawls along – and that is when it does move! May God help you if you need an ambulance for an emergency in that city!

From BMW to Bicycle

With many claims to be green and being someone who generally likes to walk his talk, I thought it would be interesting to collect broad level data on my transport modes. My first car 24 years ago was a BMW but for the last 10 years I have not owned a car. In Mumbai, I own a bicycle instead. I have a strong preference for ‘as green a form of transport as possible’. Public transport is not particularly comfortable in Mumbai but I have typically opted for a bit of personal discomfort to benefit the city.

Bombay Bustle – Bicycles Faster than BMW

Data Collection and Behaviour Change

Normally, the commencement of data collection about oneself tweaks one’s behaviour (for instance, there is some evidence that those who weigh themselves daily, tend to lose more excess weight than control groups who don’t). Because of my choices for many decades now to minimize my carbon footprint from transportation, there was no sudden change in my travel methods. In my on-going quest to understand myself, the data simply gives me a better handle on my claims about being greener than the next guy stuck in traffic.

Simple Data Collected

Easy to record the data every night

All I recorded each day was the number of different journeys I did and their modes of transport. Often to meet someone, I might cycle to the station, take the train, and then walk at the other end. In many European cities that is not unusual at all. In Mumbai, a city that could really do with what I call CTW (cycle-train-walk) it is very unusual – especially for those who live in million dollar homes!

What I recorded was simply a count of the number of journeys, not the kilometres travelled. Given that the two transcontinental flights that I did take in February were of 8000km length each, whereas most of the bicycle journeys are for just a few Km, the story would be quite different if represented by carbon footprint. Having said that, there are clearly some journeys that cannot be done by greener modes of transport. Mumbai to London for a week with family is one of them!

How Green are my Numbers?

Breakdown of # Journeys by Mode of Transport for 100 days

How Bad am I?

I could be doing much worse

At first I felt terrible that I was not at 90% green. But then it struck me that I was still doing a lot better than most well-educated and reasonably wealthy people in pretty much most of the urban centres of India. Not that they ought to be anyone’s benchmark, but still.

What can you do?

You must not leave it up to your government to make the change you want to see. Even as I clicked on “Publish” for this article, I received this news snippet from a friend. If the news reporting is correct, it is tantamount to expecting people to eat less because grocery stores are shut on a Sunday. No, I’m sorry, that will not work!

Wherever you live, and in everything you do, you always have hundreds of choices daily. Every decision that you make that helps the planet, will help you in the long run. You might think that ‘since the bus is going there anyway, I might as well ride it’ is a green choice. But even getting off a stop earlier and walking 500m does have a positive impact on the planet. Whenever you are green, you can probably go even greener. If you collect data about yourself, you are more likely than not to make wiser decisions. I urge you to try that.

It is not about competing with your neighbour

Although it is not a bad idea to compete with your neighbour to be greener (why care what he drives!) you should keep your focus on simply becoming better yourself. Once you appreciate that everything you do has a definite impact on the only planet you have, you will make other changes that are better for your own health too. For instance, unless you are predominantly plant food and drink (please say NO to milk whenever you can!) human it is likely that giving up meat and dairy (yes, Mrs Vegetarian, give up milk – it did not come from a plant!) will have an even bigger positive impact on the planet than taking that bicycle to work. Better still, do both!

My Lucky 13

Today is day # 101 of the year 2017. I plan to take my son to an afternoon appointment a few kilometres away. He is visiting from London after 2 years but is comfortable cycling wherever we need to go in Mumbai. If he can do that at age 13, I reckon that just about everyone in this city can.

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Attempting Work-Life-Balance? Instead, plan for Time-Optimized-Living

Daily Work-Life-Balance is great, but what about Time-Optimized-Living?

Daily Work-Life-Balance is great, but what about Time-Optimized-Living?

Happiness warning: This conversation might make you plan your life towards greater lifelong joy.

From Work-Life-Balance to Time-Optimized-Living

I hope you have what the world calls ‘work-life-balance’. Perhaps you have figured out some method in your busy life that works for you in achieving that. But what if you are still missing something? Something much bigger that you had not given much thought to! In fact, I am willing to bet that the vast majority of people with ‘work-life-balance’ are missing what I think is of greater and overriding importance. So, today, I am going to talk to you about what I call ‘time-optimized-living’. I will also suggest a few tips for your journey towards achieving it.

I am addressing Everyone

This topic is of relevance to everyone. I consider myself lucky to have friends with accomplishments in various domains. Blockbuster movie stars, championship sportsmen, international sportswomen, fashion models, poets and book authors, award winning surgeons, globetrotting dentists, journalists, tech entrepreneurs – the list can go on…

As I state very clearly to billionaires or to those with a millionth of that, we all have only 24 hours in the day, but we don’t all have the same number of days. And it’s not clear that for a given 24 hours, that each of us spends it wisely. Yes, we all do things that we think maximizes our happiness (and often it doesn’t even do that). And, yes, we all try to do it with intelligence – but do we do it wisely?

Time is Money – Demonetization in Different Currencies

Thank God I’ve had a lot of minutes!

I am quite obsessive about time and how I use it. Besides being disciplined about punctuality with meeting times, I like to keep track of how my time is used once a meeting commences. Humans are not naturally programmed to have a supremely optimal handle on time. Besides the circadian clock that is controlled naturally by the light-dark cycles driven by the earth’s rotation, human perception of the passage of time is very subjective. That subjectivity is captured beautifully by Einstein’s quote about a pretty girl, a hot stove and the passage of time. Most of this relates to short time spans – a minute, an hour, a day, a week or even a year. But what about longer periods – multiple years, decades or even large lifetime fractions? Unfortunately, the phenomenon of mishandling time, at a practical level, gets worse – for individuals and, therefore, for society.

You WILL die – you WILL leave it all behind

I would like you to now internalize this ultra-simple graphic of your financial life. Whether you are one of my billionaire friends or one of my friends who struggles to make ends meet, ignoring debate about the slope or the lengths of any of the lines, this pretty much captures it succinctly. What is clearly not up for debate is that you came to this life with nothing and you will go with nothing.

A picture worth remembering

Satisfying our Professional Passions or Hobbies

Partly because of the need to survive and thrive, but mostly because corporations tell us we need to do it, we spend a very large part of our adult years uncontrollably engaged (I wrote ‘enslaved’ and as an afterthought changed it to ‘engaged’) in some form or the other by the corporate world. Whether we have very satisfying professional careers, whether we started off our adult lives with large amounts of endowed wealth or whether we build profitable businesses from scratch ourselves over decades, the connection to the world of business is strong. And that is perfectly fine, as long as there is balance. And by ‘balance’ I mean balance in all time-intervals of life. In that ‘all’ lies the key to my message.

Do you think working to make too much money is risky?

Work-Life-Balance does NOT necessarily imply Time-Optimized-Living

We are all aware of the general idea of ‘work-life-balance’. Whether your business is in New York and pays lip service to it, or in London and encourages it, or in Mumbai and doesn’t care about it, you will have a decent idea of what it means – even if you do not have it. We even have businesses that are built around that concept (hey, why work in the kitchen when you can order in, with a few clicks on your smartphone? never mind that this habit will kill you slowly).

Now, here is the central point of my chat today. What I would like to draw your attention to is the distinct possibility that, perhaps, if you focus on daily or weekly work-life-balance, you are highly susceptible to incorrectly reaching the conclusion that you have achieved a state of time-optimized-living – balance across the time span of, not a working day, or a work week, but over your expected lifetime. Although work-life-balance is very important, it is only one, perhaps necessary, component of time-optimized-living – it is not time-optimized living.

We think we have a good handle on certain time spans

Mind you, if you do not even have work-life-balance then it is near impossible that you have time-optimized-living. I have friends, some younger than I am, who have shortened their lives significantly with the false belief that a terrible lifestyle to accumulate financial assets is some form of time-optimized-living. Intelligence being applied, I’m sure, but wisdom, not!

Do not let it be a vague fear; face it, deal with it, and then move on

Money has Time Value, Time has Money Value, in all Denominations

In my career as a finance professional I have been fortunate in being able to work in settings where the intellectual focus of problem solving has spanned across time horizons of micro-seconds to multiple decades. Typically, in any of these settings, at any future horizon under consideration, the typical goal is to maximize benefits with respect to the costs incurred. Whether it is to execute thousands of stock-portfolio trades a minute, or set strategic asset allocations for pension funds with future promises to beneficiaries, 70 years from now, the problem statement is clear – maximize profits, minimize shortfalls, keep costs low.

In my years of advising professionals on their career plans or individuals on their wellness, it is evident that, as humans with cognitive biases of all kinds, we do not necessarily optimize across all the relevant horizons in optimal ways. Because the human species is not specifically designed to do this well, that is nothing to be ashamed of. However, the “wise person” inside of you ought to be extremely conscious of it – that ‘awareness‘ is the first step to positive change. Being focused on daily or weekly ‘work-life-balance’ without also paying attention to lifelong time-optimized-living is similar to studying very diligently for medical school entrance exams when, in fact, you want to major in computer science! You might even get into and go through medical school, but you will have thereby missed the big picture of where your true happiness might lie.

Practical Tips for Thinking about Your Solution

Everyone has different circumstances, so a one-size-fits-all solution cannot work. However, the problem-solving framework for every one of us can be common. Here are just a few tiny pointers on the heavy stones in your bag.

Financial

Create a simple spreadsheet model that simulates your future financial wealth. It needs to have just a few columns, for example:

[1] month (e.g. May-2019)
[2] future income
[3] future expenses
[4] their difference i.e. monthly savings and
[5] accumulation of savings shown in [4].

Even a simplistic approach such as this is extremely powerful in the insights you will gain. You can even assume, to get started, that your investment return on savings will be 0%. Once you have set it up going out into the future, you will begin to place appropriate weight on the true risks of living with less wealth. In fact, if you do not do this, you run the risk of focusing on the accumulation of too much wealth beyond your needs! It might seem odd that someone with a doctorate in Finance is suggesting that you worry about the risk of accumulating too much wealth, but the actuary in me is saying precisely that!

When was the last time you knew someone yourself who died penniless? On the other hand, when was the last time you knew someone who died with a fair amount of wealth left behind? My guess is that the former is quite rare and the latter very common. Food for thought, eh!

In many urban cultures (e.g. Indians, Chinese) there is a popular lifegoal of working towards leaving ‘a separate home for each of the kids’. If that were to happen for you by chance, that’s great. But to have that as a general goal, to me, is clearly unwise. As for ‘wedding costs’, if you are reading this, you are from a socio-economic background that would normally imply that your child should be able to have a wedding that they can afford for themselves. Pay for a decent well-rounded education, and that’s all.

Medical

A very real fear that many humans have is that of healthcare costs when they’re much older. Given that physical health is so closely tied to mental, emotional and spiritual health, this is a concern that I do think you should take seriously, especially because it pertains directly to you – and not to someone else in your generation, previous generation, or future generation (see previous points about leaving homes for your kids or paying for their weddings). The vast majority of my conversations with you over the last few years have been about precisely this aspect – your physical existence and, if you’ve been paying close attention, to other dimensions of your existence.

The best medical insurance you can get for yourself is an improved lifestyle! Anything you pay for over and above that in term of insurance premiums should really be just for the unexpected large medical problems. [Note, of course, medical insurance companies do not exist to make your life easier, they exist to make profits for their shareholders. So, watch out for exclusions, deductibles, sum insuredsub-limits and other features that might leave you ‘open to risk’ when you are least prepared for it.]

Recently, an old friend who was forced to quit what he described as “the corporate banking rat race” wanted to get back into it very soon because, in his own words, “I will get medical cover”. Besides the numerical value of providing that perk being meagre (cost of medical insurance being small in the grander scheme of things) it was going to ‘allow’ him to continue complacently down the same path of unhealthy living that he had been taking for decades. Please do not get me wrong – I have nothing against working for large corporations per se; what I am against is unhealthy living – across all time horizons!

It is not easy, but it is definitely not impossible

If I were to grade the people whose lives I know fairly well, on a scale of 0-to-100 for time-optimized-living, they would span that entire range. Even the wisest urban yogis will not get very close to 100. And, perhaps, the most intelligent among us is closer to zero! Developing wisdom will help us get closer to 100. But, we have to work towards it, on a daily basis. It definitely doesn’t just happen overnight – even if you have had a sudden and unexpected heart attack!

Although I talk about lifelong time spans, do not leave it until some future day. Whether you die later tonight, or 10 years from now, you will go with nothing. You have been guaranteed that. Get started with a plan for time-optimized-living today.

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.