I'm about two weeks into one of my latest experiments... floor sitting. I got the idea from a book about the Blue Zones - four areas in the world that have an unusually high number of centenarians (100+ year olds). One of the people chronicled was a woman in Okinawa, Japan. She had no chairs in her house.
So I removed the legs from my desk and set it on top of stacked books about 12 inches off the floor to make it the right height for sitting cross-legged style. My son came home and asked what had happened. I said, "We got robbed". He asked why they hadn't taken the computer. "They wanted to improve my posture", I replied. He gave me a pained, teenager expression to intimate that he didn't appreciate my nerdy humor.
The first effect was obvious. I did a lot more ass-to-grass squatting. But as often happens when you try something new, there were secondary effects that I never could have guessed. Sitting on the floor, I found myself constantly shifting around and stretching. The current advice for dealing with an 8-hour desk job is to get up and stretch every 30 minutes, but that's hard for most people to put into practice. The other secondary effect is that I spend less time in front of the computer because it simply isn't that comfortable, so it forces me to be more intentional about that activity which translates into less time-wasting.
Have you ever done something or reacted a certain way, and then said, "Why the fuck did I do that?". I'll tell you why - because your brain was designed 70,000 years ago to reward you for actions that increased your chances for survival or reproduction. It goes something like this. Every time you do something your brain asks itself, "Did what this fool just do increase our chances for survival or making children?". If the answer is yes, your brain releases some dopamine (the feel-good drug) as a reward.
This is why we pursue food, sex, and social status as if they were drugs. But the world has changed on us. We're chasing a dopamine high for things that don't necessarily improve our chances of survival. Back when getting enough food was a challenge it was beneficial to be chemically rewarded for eating, but now that it is overly abundant this mechanism leads to over-eating and chronic disease.
In tribal days, social status was important for finding a mate, but now even after finding a mate we're still stuck in the endless loop of trying to impress others on Instabrag and Facebook. The caveman in us is still running the race for survival when in reality we've already crossed the finish line.
Our brain was designed for our survival... not for our happiness. However, we were given a tool - consciousness. We can be aware of our nature and therefore seek to master these things that no longer serve us. Be master of your dopamine.
I don't fly a lot - a couple times a year - but when I do I like to peruse the bookstore at the airport. Traveling tends to put me in a different frame of mind, so it's a good way to throw a changeup into my reading list. A couple weeks ago this habit resulted in picking up a copy of You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero. There was a time when I read self-help books 24/7, but it's been a while, and I felt like I needed a kick in the pants.
With the title and bright yellow cover I have to admit I felt a little self-conscious reading it, but I liked the author's voice. The part I found most interesting was when she discussed the power of our subconscious mind. She put it like this.
"Our conscious mind thinks it's in control, but it isn't. Our subconscious mind doesn't think about anything... but it IS in control".
She goes on to say that our subconscious mind develops its belief system in the first five years of our lives. Usually this belief system is dominated by our parents' fears and insecurities and whatever emotional trauma we experience. Then, for the rest of our lives we're walking around with this 5-year-old part of our brain setting the tone for everything we do and how we react. Scary, right?
The good news is that if we're mindful of this dynamic, we can slowly start to unpack our subconscious belief system. Understanding the emotions that are driving our behavior is the first step in changing it.
Birthday number 48 passed quietly while I was traveling with my daughter on the left coast recently. They say the Pacific Ocean has no memory. That may be true... but I do. It's been a good life. The experiences are what I cherish most. As the California sun bid us a fond farewell that evening, I thought of all the wonderful lessons learned along this bumpy road.
One of my guiding principles is that because our bodies are so amazingly brilliant, we should be more than happy to give them the basic things they need - whole foods, sleep, movement, sunlight, nature, relaxation. In return for this, our bodies engage in miraculous biological processes that keep us not only alive but thriving.
Did you know that we have natural killer (NK) cells patrolling our bodies? They are the first responders to threats like viruses and cancer formation. The rest of our immune system takes several days to ramp up, so NK cells are vital for keeping us healthy.
The lifecycle of an NK cell is really cool. They aren't born knowing how to fight cancer cells. They begin their lives in the bone marrow which serves as their Jedi training academy. Each day they learn how to identify and kill different types of cancer and viruses. Once their training is complete, each NK cell must pass a final test. They must demonstrate that they can tell the difference between a cancer cell and a healthy cell. This is called "licensing". Without a license to kill the NK cell cannot become a Jedi. Once an NK cell is licensed it is released from the bone marrow to serve and protect. How cool is that?
I remember one summer day back in 5th grade. My mother was taking my sister and me to the lake. We stopped at a gas station, and I immediately noticed a girl from school everyone used to pick on. "Ooh, Ugly Becky!", I shouted. My mother turned around and gave me a look like, "What the fuck just came out of your mouth?". So you know what she did? She walked over to Becky's father who worked at the gas station, and asked if Becky would like to spend the day at the lake with us. Becky was totally down with that, so into our car she jumped.
That was my mother - ferocious, kind, and just. I wasn't able to appreciate the lesson she gave me that day. Like a punk, my only thought was that she had ruined my fun. But now her act of kindness reverberates in me with the subtlety of a 1000 sticks of dynamite. We all hold such awesome power to impact each other. And make no mistake, a small act can alter the trajectory of another person's life.