Break the Negative Thinking-Feeling Feedback Loop

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A friend asked for my advice recently. He was experiencing emotional turmoil or as he described it, an overwhelming shit-storm of horrible feelings all mashed up together. He didn’t know what to do; he was thinking in circles. He needed another person’s perspective. As he listed all the troubles that he was going through, I could understand why he was disturbed. There were a lot of bad happenings, uncertainties and unknowns. I suggested talking over all his issues, one by one, to separate and understand them. In the end, though we didn’t solve anything, I think he felt better.

061PinkyNBrainLater, he told me that he had identified the horrible feelings in his gut as stress. He had been stressed out by all his problems. So stressed that he couldn’t think clearly, couldn’t made good decisions, and couldn’t work. I think the problem started off with him dwelling on his issues, creating negative emotions as a result of all that thinking, and those emotions in turn causing his thinking to become more negative. Or the bad emotions caused negative thoughts, which made the emotions even worse. It was a feedback cycle of negative thoughts and feelings that caused him to work himself into a stressed-out state.

The gist is that negative thinking leads to negative feelings which lead to negative thinking and so forth in a feedback loop. Or it could start with negative feelings leading to negative thoughts and so on. This cycle will increase stress as the person dwells upon one negative event after another. Sometimes, the person won’t be able to determine which came first, the negative feeling or the negative thought. Thankfully, which comes first doesn’t matter. Breaking the negative feedback loop is what is important.

Dominant thinking personality types probably start with a negative thought, while dominant feeling types start with a negative feeling. The dominant thinking type thinks a negative thought (maybe not consciously), which generates a negative feeling, and the thinking type tries to identify where that negative feeling came from and comes up with justifications for the bad feelings which generate further bad thoughts. Dominant feeling types get a negative feeling (probably unconsciously), which causes a negative thought, which causes another negative feeling (or re-enforces the existing one) and soon they wonder why they are feeling so bad. Feeling types also can come up with justifications which are negative thoughts which then cause them to feel worse.

However, dominant thinkers don’t always lead with a thought. And dominant feelers don’t always lead with a feeling. For me, as a dominant feeling type, most of the time, I probably lead with a feeling, but that doesn’t preclude that sometimes I lead with a thought. Most of the time, I feel that both arrive at the same time. It may be that unconsciously, one comes before the other; but by the time they reach my consciousness, it seems like they come simultaneously. Regardless, because they almost always appear in inter-dependent pairs, we must treat both thought and feeling. (Treating both may be especially required for hot button issues where I already have a pre-programmed thought and feeling response.)

There are two methods to break a feedback loop, one to prevent negative thinking from causing negative feelings and the second to prevent the reverse. Both may be required to break the feedback cycle.

Reframing: Prevent Negative Thoughts From Causing Negative Feelings

In my post, Who Are We to Blindly Judge?, I talked about reframing as a way to replace a negative judgment with a positive one. Fundamentally, reframing converts a negative thought into a positive thought (or at least a neutral thought). By changing negative thoughts to positive ones, we prevent the negative thinking from giving rise to negative feelings. This short-circuits one part of the feedback cycle.

To reframe, the moment you catch yourself having a negative thought, force yourself to think of an alternative, positive thought. For example, immediately after you find yourself thinking that the salesperson is being rude to you (and hopefully before you get irritated), think “gee, he was much more rude to the customer before me, so he actually likes me more”. If you can’t manage a positive thought, think of a neutral one like “that’s just how he is, what can you do… I’m glad I won’t be seeing him again ever”.

The goal is to prevent you from continuing to ruminate on another person’s bad behavior or some external misfortune, and working yourself into an agitated state. A reframe may prove to be the little additional support that prevents the emotional avalanche from occurring.

Reframes are great for one-of interactions and events, but if you find yourself doing reframes for the same person or event again and again, then you’ll need to be pro-active and attempt to confirm the validity of your reframes. If the repeated event is always stressful, consider removing yourself from the event. If repeated interactions with a person cause you stress, confirm with the person whether your negative thought is valid or not; you might have misunderstood. If you haven’t misunderstood, consider reducing or discontinuing interactions with that person.

Let us look at an example to explore the full range of methods to handle negative thoughts. If a friend said something which sounded really bad to you, here are some possible responses you can make, from worst to best:

  1. Respond to your friend based upon the negative thought and feeling response. Accuse him of being a bigot or whatever bad label comes to mind. This will escalate the tension because your friend may not understand why he is under attack and may counter-attack as a response. Most likely, both you and your friend will experience negative feedback loops and the resulting stress.
  2. Give your friend the benefit of a doubt; he is a good person so that is most likely not his intention. You don’t say anything in response beyond a non-committal acknowledgement and you let the conversation die or go elsewhere. This is still not the optimal response because you will always have a tiny bit of uncertainty and doubt about what your friend said, and the emotional response is still there, existing in your head and taking up your mental space. If this repeats in enough incidences, you may hold an image of your friend as someone who unintentionally makes bad-sounding statements and this will adjust your expectation. Because this friend is someone you care about and will see again, having to keep such an expectation in mind is unnecessary mental stress and baggage.

  3. Give your friend the benefit of a doubt and ask for clarification to remove all doubt. Give him a chance to respond and resolve any misunderstanding. Your friend will probably say that he didn’t mean it to sound that way, that it was not his intention, and that he meant to say it another way. You will end up with no mental stress or baggage — any related negative emotion is fully resolved and cleared, and your image of your friend as a good person is reaffirmed. Misunderstandings in conversations and human interactions are normal. What you want is to take this third step to avoid accumulating mental stress and baggage about people.

Acceptance: Prevent Negative Feelings From Causing Negative Thoughts

In a previous post (Acceptance: I Think And Feel, Therefore Nothing), I talked about how accepting thoughts and feelings, acknowledging their existence without judgment or attachment, leads to freedom from them. By observing and accepting my thoughts and feelings as they came and went, I learned not to be affected by them and to take control of how I acted (and reacted). Acceptance is also how one can prevent negative feelings from generating negative thoughts.

Feelings are irrational so most of the time, one cannot address them by rational thinking or reframing. Feelings don’t care about the possibility that the cause is innocent or that there is a misunderstanding. A negative feeling just feels bad and that is that. You can’t convince it otherwise, suppress it, transform it, or kill it. All you can do is to accept that feeling and decide whether to act on it or not. Usually with bad emotions, accepting them and then deciding not to act on them, with practice, can prevent negative feelings from generating negative thoughts. If you decide not to dwell on what could be causing the negative feeling, but just accept the negative feeling as okay to experience as itself, you won’t generate negative thoughts.

Acceptance means to expand your mental space to accommodate that negative feeling. It will still be uncomfortable, but you will let it be. If it chooses to stick around, you are fine with the continuing discomfort. If it leaves, that would also be good. You have no expectations of the feeling… you don’t react to it beyond acknowledging that it exists.

If you haven’t gotten the hang of acceptance, here are less ideal (though progressively healthier) ways to handle negative emotions that may serve as stepping stones to acceptance:

  1. Think very briefly about what is causing that negative emotion or why you are having it. If nothing immediately comes to mind, stop! If something does come to mind, hopefully understanding it will lead to acceptance. This method is dangerous (can degrade to extensive dwelling on why you are having bad feelings) and should only be done for causes that are very obvious; like when you are scared and pissed because you have just slammed the trunk on your thumb, the thumb is stuck, and you can’t reach the lock to release the trunk (yeah, this happened to me once). Otherwise, if you keep trying to come up with a cause, you might generate other negative emotions or thoughts.

    Thinking about the emotion will give it energy and keep it potent. So while calling up a good friend to discuss the problem might help you to understand it, if the conversation drags on without resolution, you may start feeling worse. Venting your negative thoughts and feelings may only re-enforce and increase them.

  2. Emotions persist. You usually cannot think a feeling to death. You can try to starve a negative feeling by getting yourself to experience positive emotions. Just like how it is hard to keep two opposing thoughts in your head for a long time, it is difficult to experience two opposing emotions at the same time for any significant length of time, especially if you focus on one of the emotions. So by feeling a positive emotion and thinking about that positive emotion, you will starve the negative emotion of attention and energy, and it will die… hopefully.

    My friend watches inspiring feel-good movies. The movie diverts his attention (thoughts) from the negative emotion and inspires him to have positive emotions. Reading a book, going out with friends to dance (but not to talk about your bad feelings), or doing any activity that takes your mind off the negative emotion and also encourages you to have positive emotions will most likely work.

  3. In some cases, reframing may help to handle negative emotions. A negative judgment contains both thoughts and feelings. When we reframe the judgment, we change (more accurately, replace) the thoughts and feelings. In fact, an effective reframe causes you to experience an entirely different powerful emotion that overwhelms the original negative feeling; the more powerful, the more effective the reframe.

    For example, there is a story about a dad on an airplane with a crying son. The boy was screaming and the dad was incapable of quieting him down. The passengers nearby grew irritated, annoyed and angry. Finally, the dad explained in a trembling voice that the boy’s mother, his wife, had just died. The passengers felt shocked, sorry and even some shame, which immediately short-circuited all the irritation and anger. They then asked what they could do to help.

    Initially, in a reframe, I had believed that the explanation (thinking) was primarily responsible for changing the negative emotion, but it was really a much stronger emotional response which replaced both the negative emotion and thought. An effective reframe needs to provide an explanation that explains the behavior, diverts attention from the negative emotion to a strong new emotion, which overrides the negative thought and feeling.

Hopefully the tools above will help you to break out of the negative thinking feeling feedback loops that we all experience as a part of life.

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Expectations Are Bad, M’kay?

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My friend was complaining that his neighbor was mean, that he knew this because of the few times he has said hi to her, she rarely replied and when she did, she sounded annoyed. I then had this conversation with him:


Me: “Yes, I used to be annoyed too until I learned to let go of my expectation that everyone should reply.”
Him: “No, I don’t have expectations of people like that.”
Me: “Well, you seem upset about it. Why are you upset?”
Him: “I was taught that when you greet someone, they should greet you back. That is common social decency.”
Me: “So you got irritated because she did not exhibit social decency?”
Him: “Yes.”
Me: “So you expected her to say hi back and when she didn’t, you got annoyed?”
Him (with chagrin): “Yeah, I guess I did have an expectation… but it was drilled into me by my parents.”
Me: “I understand. Most of my expectations came from my parents also.” (Another one to blame the parental units for!)

I believe that letting go of expectations is the key to avoid getting upset or annoyed by the actions of others or even by random events. If you expect your spouse to read your mind, be ready for disappointment. If you expect that life should be fair and bad things happen to you, you are going to be angry. I didn’t discover this principle; it is nothing new and is actually one of the primary teachings of Buddhism (and probably other faiths).

Training Wheels: The Anti-expectation

Unfortunately, there is no step-by-step manual to letting go of expectations. You are told to let go of expectations, but how to go about doing that? There are fortunate people out there who can just decide to let go, but I’m not one of them. I had to come up with my own method.

Because it is easier to replace something than to just get rid of it (leaving a vacuum), I decided that I needed to replace the expectations with something else. Similar to how a smoker would replace cigarettes with a nicotine patch, I decided to replace an expectation with its opposite, an anti-expectation. An anti-expectation is not a low expectation; it goes all the way to the opposite end. Optimists would call it a totally negative expectation; I call it keeping my sanity.

Some examples of anti-expectations:

  • I do not expect people to reply to my greeting or to demonstrate social decency at all.
  • I do not expect my spouse to read my mind.
  • Life is not fair. Sometimes, it looks like life is out to get me.

With high expectations, you’ll be disappointed most of the time. With low expectations, you’ll be disappointed some of the time. With strict anti-expectations, you’ll be occasionally pleased when people and events exceed your anti-expectations. Which kind of expectation would you rather adopt in your live?

For my friend, if he held the anti-expectation that his neighbor would not return his greeting, he can continue to greet her pleasantly, take her non-replies in stride, and occasionally be pleasantly surprised when she greets him back. Maybe, her greeting will be so enjoyable that it will give the rest of his day a positive glow.

If you are married and hold the anti-expectation that your spouse cannot read your mind at all, you’ll assume he or she is as obtuse as a rock (though very lovable) and requires very clear communications. And even when he or she messes up, you are not upset because well, what can you expect? You probably didn’t do a good enough job explaining it. And when they do exceed your expectation by getting it partly right or totally right (pigs are flying), you’ll be so giddy that your feet will not touch the ground for the rest of the day.

If you don’t expect life to be fair, you’ll be the calm at the center of any storm. Tornado throws a tree missile through your living room? Well, you’re just glad no one got hurt. When a cashier overcharges your grocery, you’re glad you only lost a few bucks instead of a million dollars because that could totally have happened! Your coworker, who you think is less capable (though still very likeable), gets the promotion you believe you deserve; oh well, it’s amazing that even one of you minions got promoted and it offers that tiniest chance that life will decide to stop screwing with you and promote you someday… maybe… probably not.

To start, you’ll need to practice identifying the broken expectation when you get disappointed, upset, or annoyed at the actions of others or events. Once you have identified the expectation, you can pretend that you believe in its opposite, the anti-expectation. Mulling over the anti-expectation will then quell the disappointment. (What are you disappointed about? After all, you anti-expected it in the first place. Duh!) With practice (a month or two), this will become a habit. With even more practice (several months), the time between the disappointment and move from expectation to anti-expectation will reduce — until the disappointment, identified expectation, and anti-expectation occur almost simultaneously.

Letting Go (After A Lot Of Hard Work)

Eventually (after half a year to a year of practice), you will find that things which bothered you in the past will no longer disappoint, upset, or irritate you. It would seem as if you have no expectations, that you have successfully let them go (at least for those expectations that you have practiced anti-expectations for). I believe that practicing the anti-expectation will train your subconscious mind to disregard the unmet expectation immediately, so that no emotion response occurs. Letting go of an expectation means that you are no longer affected by whether it is met or unmet.

Unfortunately, learning to let go of one expectation does not automatically get rid of all your other expectations. You will have to put in the work for each expectation that you identify and wish to let go of. Over time, with practice, it should become easier and less time-consuming to do the anti-expectation work.

Great Expectations

I don’t think it is healthy to let go of all your expectations. The expectations you might consider keeping are positive expectations concerning yourself (like achieving life goals) and expectations concerning how others should treat you (they should treat you well). If you keep those expectations, you will want to manage how you react when those expectations are not met or violated. You will want to react understandingly and calmly, while determining your next steps.

The solution is to simultaneously hold both the expectation and its anti-expectation in your head. The practice of recognizing your unmet expectation and then bringing its anti-expectation to mind should hopefully have given you this ability to have two conflicting thoughts at the same time (well, almost at the same time). When an expectation you have decided to keep is not met, the existence of its anti-expectation should blunt any emotional reaction and give you the clear head to decide what to do next.

If you have placed the expectation on yourself to win the gold medal, but end up with the bronze, it’s okay; you’ve tried your best. If a friend consistently mistreats you, you may decide to hold onto the expectation that friends should treat you well and gracefully reduce the time you spend with that friend. The anti-expectations should prevent any regrettable, emotional reaction. You’ll be more understanding and forgiving because you know that you are choosing to hold that expectation for yourself, not anyone else.

The Serenity Prayer authored by Reinhold Niebuhr:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

I think the goal is to not hold expectations that you have no control over (other people’s actions and events) and to hold expectations that you have autonomy over (yourself, how you react to others, and how you allow yourself to be treated by others). I find this way of looking at things very empowering and hope that you will too.

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Ski in Jeans, Run in Tennis Shoes

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matterhornBack in the early 90’s, my college buddy and I decided to go skiing in the Swiss Alps. Never mind that we were beginner skiers, we were confident that we could tackle the Alps. We took a train to Zermatt, rented skis, took the lift to the top, looked in wonder at the nearby Matterhorn mountain, looked at the slopes, asked if we could re-board the lift to go back down, and the man said “the exit lift is 3 miles that way” with his finger pointing down-slope.

I had on my standard protective skiing outfit at the time: a pair of Levi’s jeans, t-shirt, sweat-top, blue-and-hot-pink jacket (from the 80’s), and neon red/pink gloves (also from the 80’s). My buddy had a comparable outfit on. On our best days, we could take a 30 degree slope, but starting from the top, we were looking at 45 degree slopes. Not wishing to die, we decided to sled down on our skis.

After much sledding, a few short bouts of skiing on small slopes, walking awkwardly on flat icy passages, shouting responses of “we’re okay, thanks for asking” to concerned skiers, we finally made it to the exit. We took so long that by the time the lift got to the bottom, it was almost dark. I had five holes in my jeans from the sledding; the two on my derriere were big enough that I had to hide them with my hands on the way back to the hotel.

Later, we found out that we were lucky because it would have been easy to head down the wrong side and end up in Italy (without our passports) instead of Switzerland. Looking back, I see that we were totally overmatched and unprepared, lacking the necessary skills and protective clothing. Still it was great fun once the ordeal was over. Youth are easily amused.

What strikes me is that back then, I was fine skiing around New England in jeans and whatever I had on hand. I didn’t feel the need for specialized winter clothing. Nowadays, I would need to spend several hundred dollars on thermal under-layers, a tri-climate jacket with high-tech materials, and waterproof snow pants before going skiing or snowboarding.

I feel that exercise and recreation have been commercialized, specifically in the expectation that I have to purchase expensive equipment as a prerequisite or precaution. To go jogging, I had better get running shoes that match my foot type and running form to prevent injuries. Back during high school track, I remembered that we had no problems running in tennis shoes (or whatever footwear we had on).

Now, I’m not against getting appropriate equipment if you want to, but I’m against being misled into believing that it is necessary or a safety requirement. Definitely, waterproof snow pants were a vast improvement over water-logged jeans. And if I ran a marathon, I would want the best footwear that I can afford. Or would I? It turns out that expensive, specialized running shoes may be no better, and may even increase the chances of injury, than an inexpensive, neutral pair.

“The First 20 Minutes” book by Gretchen Reynolds is a surprising look at how we exercise based upon the latest research. Reading it has caused me to change many of my assumptions. Here’s what I learned:

  • 150 minutes a week of light exercise (like walking) split into any chunk of time is enough to achieve health benefits. Do more intensity or duration to increase benefits.
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can reduce that time drastically (150 minutes down to 6 minutes of hard exercise a week, not including prep and rest times) while gaining equivalent health benefits.
  • A warm-up (like stretching) before a workout may be counter-productive by tiring out muscles, so do it lightly or not at all. It’s better to just start easy; i.e., walk before you run. Having said that, dynamic stretching to activate the joints specific to the activity (handwalks for tennis) can be effective.
  • Cool-down activity doesn’t lessen soreness. Ibuprofen, massage, and ice bath don’t reduce soreness either, but may actually slow down recovery. Rest from vigorous activity is the most effective remedy.
  • During exercise, drink only when you are thirsty. After exercise, low-fat chocolate milk is better than Gatorade for recovery.
  • Moderate exercise doesn’t rev up your metabolism for the rest of the day; the extra calorie burning ends with the exercise session. And moderate exercise isn’t effective for weight loss because the body compensates with less activity and more appetite/food intake. However, prolonged or painfully intense exercise will maintain the increased metabolism and blunt the appetite, resulting in weight loss. (Moderate exercise is helpful for maintaining weight though. Exercise is also necessary to mitigate the bad side-effects of a low-carb diet like Atkin’s.)
  • Weight training (resistance exercises) improve cardio/endurance performance and vice versa.
  • Core strength (that is, having a six packs) do not improve athletic performance. Repeated bending of the spine can contribute to damage of the spinal discs, so go easy on (or forgo) crunches (or sit-ups).
  • Running is not a problem for many knees; marathon runners continue to have sturdy, healthy joints. However, running (and other intensive sports) does result in significantly more injuries than walking. In fact, elderly people who run lightly to moderately have healthier knees (less arthritis) than those who don’t.
  • Reduce the duration of cramps by stretching the muscle (if you can) and/or taking a shot of pickle juice (no one knows why pickle juice works, but it does).
  • Don’t use foot type as a basis for buying a running shoe because it is not clear that over- or underpronation is the real, underlying issue. Buy shoes that fit and feel right (and do not cause pain or discomfort) regardless of foot type. (The evidence is not solidly for or against barefoot running, so take it easy when transitioning to it.)
  • The biggest predictor of injury is a previous injury, so don’t get hurt in the first place. When hurt, cortisone injections will slow healing; it’s better to do nothing (wait and see) or undergo physical therapy.
  • Exercise is good for the brain, may improve cognitive capabilities, better your mood, and might prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The gist is that if you have not injured yourself with what you are doing for exercise (warm-up, using exercise equipment like shoes, eating/drinking before/during/after, and cool-down, etc.) and are comfortable doing it (no pain), then keep doing it. There is really no conclusive scientific evidence as to the best way to exercise.

Given all the benefits of exercise and really how little exercise we need to maintain our fitness, it is a no brainer to move. Walk a couple blocks to the grocery, take the stairs, park further from the store entrance, mow the lawn, vacuum the house, do push-ups when you are bored … it all adds up.


Supportive Excitement For When Too Much Excitement Is Just Too Much

Personality No Comments

My friend was telling me about how he was doing a diet with his sister. More importantly, how he was suppressing his excitement about the new diet’s effectiveness so that his sister would be more excited about it. This is the first time he has consciously done this and it is born of past diet attempts when he was very excited and his sister was not. He was wondering why that was the case? Why did he have to dampen his excitement to avoid killing other people’s excitement and motivation to do things?

In the past, I had tried to speak with my friend about this very same subject, though not very well because I had not figured it out myself. Telling him how his excitement affected me didn’t really help him to understand because he is not wired that way (he is a thinker type). So I was very glad when he broached the subject because it meant that he is ready to learn. As they say, when the student is ready, the master will teach?

stewie_excited_animatedI explain that he tends to get extremely excited about things. He admits that he has cultivated the ability to pump himself up to atmospheric heights, to motivate himself to achieve. I reply that it is a great skill to have; but unfortunately, some (if not most) people don’t have that ability and their excitement (and motivation) usually builds slowly. And that his way can kill their way. Some people build their excitement like a small campfire and he, in turn, is the forest fire sweeping down on them. They are not going to keep nursing their fire, they are going to abandon it and get the heck out of there.

To further clarify, I reminded him about how we spoke about a first date I had a couple of months ago. I told my friend that the date went well, that I felt attracted to her, and was excited to go on more dates to get to know her better. My friend commented how wonderful that is and as he spoke more about it, he got visibly more excited in voice tone (faster and louder) and more expansive in body language (waving his hands about). My friend talked about how my date was a great match for me, pulling in details (that I had told him) such as how her teaching job gave her the summer off so she could travel and how I loved to travel. And when I married her and had kids, we could travel as a family in the summer because the kids would also get summer off from school. And since Valentine’s Day was coming up, my friend told me that I should plan a weekend trip as a test run to see how well we would travel together. Within a few minutes, my friend was at least 10 times more excited and pumped up about my date than I was. Suddenly, I wasn’t as excited about my date anymore. In fact, I was not feeling much of anything about the subject beyond a growing annoyance at your friend. I wasn’t sure why I was getting irritated; I only knew that I was. Why did that happening?

As far as I can determine, the loss of excitement is caused by the large dissonance between my excitement and my friend’s excitement. His extreme exuberance made me want to protect my small kernel of hope by going numb. I ended up feeling, well, not very excited at all. Because do you know who was really, really excited? My friend was. Maybe he should date the woman, I thought. This feeling and thought dampened my excitement down to zero.

I think this comparison happens for most everything (though I’m training myself not do it). Say that you are great at tennis; you enjoy it and love playing it. Then you meet a new friend who is 10 times better than you. Suddenly, you’re not feeling so good about tennis and don’t think you are great at it; actually, you think you’re a horrible tennis player. You feel bad. Even though you are better than most people, the comparison makes you feel that you are worse.

My friend says that he doesn’t react that way to the dissonance. That he wants to meet very excited people because he wants to become even more excited. I think there is truth to that. When someone is a little more excited than you, you can become more excited by association. However, when someone is 10-100 times more excited than you, it can serve as a dampener. Because he constantly pumps himself up so much, I doubt that my friend has encountered anyone who is 10 times more excited than him about anything that he wants to be excited about.

stewie_barfing_animatedMy friend is a brainstormer and problem solver. As I’m sure most women know, men generally will interrupt with solutions when all you may want is a friendly sympathetic ear. (This is why when a friend tells me about something troubling; I try to ask first, do you want suggestions to fix the problem?) I believe this focus on fixing is the cause of my annoyance above. His excitement is causing him to plan out my future. He means well. Unfortunately, the end state is that he is “telling” me what my future will be and what I should do to realize that future. His excitement makes him very forceful in tone, like he is commanding me. Nobody likes to be told what to do. I know he means well so my rational mind attempts to suppress the irritation while my subconscious is reacting very badly.

To help my friend, I coined the term “supportive excitement”. I told him that I believed that supportive excitement is what he should have as a goal and what he is aiming for with his sister. (D’oh! Here I am, telling him what to do.) He quickly objected, “But that’s what I do. I pump up other people’s excitement.” I replied, the emphasis is on supportive, support comes before your excitement. He asked me what that meant.

It means don’t be more excited than the other person. Be just a bit less excited and at worse, a little more excited. You want your excitement to reinforce theirs, not overwhelm. This is not a battle of attrition; you are on the same side. You want to give that person the gift of motivating himself. In turn, by trying to increase your mutual, supportive excitement, he will increase his own excitement and motivation.

And it means not dreaming or brainstorming more than they would. If they are dreaming up one or two good outcomes in the near future (like a second or third date), while you are coming up with 50 good outcomes spanning from the near future to the distant future (when they are married with kids), you have effectively overwhelmed any small hopeful dreams they may have. Again, the emphasis is on “supportive”. You want to re-enforce what small dreams they have, not overwhelm and kill off all their hopeful buddings. Rather than coming up with a vision of their life (can you see how assuming and offensive that is?) and throwing out your ideas on what they should do, you should ask them to expand on their small dreams. Give them the gift of cultivating their own hopes and dreams.

I think supportive excitement is what my friend is attempting to do with his sister concerning their new diet. I hope that I at least helped him to understand what he is trying to do so that he can be more effective at it. I can see that if he drops into his normal, volcanic, pumped-up excitement mode, it may just kill whatever motivation his sister has. And that would not be good for either of them, because in the end, he also needs her to maintain his own excitement and motivation.

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The Russian Roulette Diet

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014ChefDisclaimer: I am not a doctor, so take everything I write with a big pill of aspirin.

As I mentioned in my previous post, My Brain is Made Out of Saturated Fat!, after I added fat and meat back to my diet, my cholesterol levels strangely improved.

For two years, I had eliminated fat, reduced meat consumption, and exercised regularly to improve my blood chemistry. Dishearteningly, my cholesterol level refused to change (hovering around 230) and worse, my HDL (the good high-density cholesterol) decreased significantly (from 52 to 36). After watching the Fat Head movie, I started eating fats and meat moderately and even reduced the amount of exercise I got. My cholesterol level dropped to 200 and my HDL increased to 48, both borderline normal!

I didn’t understand why, but was just glad that I could enjoy the occasional, mouth-watering marbled steak again. I decided to eat everything I wanted, in moderation; though I continued to avoid sugar, especially in the form of soda, and heavily processed food items, like hot pockets.

In honor of my Russian coworker’s “eat everything but don’t overdo it, stupid” philosophy, I named this diet the Russian Roulette Diet. Basically, put all the different foods on the roulette, spin, and then consume whatever food gets landed on… in moderation. It’s Russian roulette because eventually, the latest science will warn us that a few of those food or food ingredients are very bad for us… and then tell us that what was bad before is now okay or good.

I just read Nina Teicholz’s book, titled “The Big Fat Surprise”, and it has cleared up some of my food confusion. Evidently, the modern recommendation to avoid fats, especially saturated fats (meat, butter and cheese), is not based upon good or sound science. This low-fat, low-cholesterol diet was proposed in the mid-20th century and then seized upon by the government (in the 1970’s) as the answer to the increase in heart disease rates during the first half of the 20th century. Since then, obesity and diabetes have increased drastically.

Instead, the preponderance of the scientific evidence suggests that eating meat, butter and cheese is better for our health. However, this is not a license to eat any sort of fat, saturated or otherwise.

I recommend avoiding heavily processed food such as meat that has been pulverized and glued back together (with chemicals and preservatives) into a pleasing shape, a chicken nugget. Or fried food. Restaurants may be using trans-fat-free vegetable oil to fry with, but under sustained high heat, the vegetable oil (which is less stable than trans-fat-producing hydrogenated oils) may breakdown into toxic oxidative products. The long-term effect on the human body of such products is unknown.

Meat Good

From the Fat Head movie and the book, I learned that eating animal fat increases HDL and eating carbohydrates increases LDL (and lowers HDL). When I ate more fat and meat, my HDL increased and because I ate less carbohydrates (rice) as a result (of eating more meat), my LDL decreased. My total cholesterol dropped to around 200 (borderline normal).

There is no correlation between LDL and heart disease. There is a correlation between HDL and heart disease though. A follow-up to the famous, long-term Framingham Heart Study (which followed participants from 1948 and is still continuing today with their children and grand-children) indicates that someone with a HDL less than 35 mg/dL has eight times more risk of heart attacks than someone with a HDL greater than 65 mg/dL.

So, one can safely ignore the total cholesterol level (until it reaches near 300) and concentrate on the HDL level instead.

country6plotCorrelation is Not Causation

That correlation does not imply causation is drilled into every student of science. Just because B follows A does not mean A causes B.

Ancel Keys, the scientist who promoted the linkage of fat (in the diet) to serum cholesterol (in the blood) to heart disease, used the chart to the right to show a correlation between increased fat consumption and greater occurrence of heart disease. Keys concluded that fat is the cause of heart disease.

Yerushalmy and Hilleboe, two other scientists, showed that no correlation is evident when more than the six countries hand-picked by Keys are plotted. The plot of data from 22 countries suggests that the correlation between fat and heart disease is false.

country22plot.jpgYerushalmy theorized that wealth is the cause of increased heart disease rates. Rising prosperity in the mid-20th century led to increased consumption of sugar, protein (meat) and margarine (trans-fat), a more sedentary lifestyle (population movement to cities, use of automobiles), and increased vices such as smoking.

Wealth makes sense to me. People eat richer, unhealthier food (more calories in) and exercise less (less calories out). Weight increases and diseases (like diabetes and heart disease) are more prevalent. It seemed to me that Key’s six countries were the most industrialized and prosperous countries at the time, and all of them had increasing rates of heart disease as compared to Japan (less industrialized). If we look at countries that have industrialized recently, are growing prosperous, and have adopted the American diet (highly-processed, carbohydrate-rich food and sugar) like China, we see that they are experiencing increasing rates of obesity and diabetes.

Sugar is the Enemy

The “The Big Fat Surprise” book suggests that sugar is the enemy of the heart. High sugar levels in the blood cause inflammation and tearing of the artery. The damaged artery is then infected by bacteria (ever present in our body; the same bacteria responsible for gum disease). White blood cells and LDL (the supposedly bad low-density cholesterol) kill bacteria and fix the tearing. Cholesterol is not the cause, it is the spackle. Just because one sees a lot of spackle on the artery walls (of a person with heart disease) does not mean that the spackle is the cause (of the disease). The culprit is whatever is causing the damage and most likely, the culprit is sugar.

Furthermore, there is no compelling evidence to suggest that the narrowing or shortening of arteries (arteriosclerosis) is a cause of heart disease. The plaque (cholesterol spackle) buildup which leads to the arterial narrowing may just be a fact of growing old, caused by the multiple repairs across the years of infection. Or it could very well be that some plaque grows unstable (cause unknown), detaches from the artery wall, floats along the blood stream, and eventually causes a heart blockage. Until we know for certain, reducing sugar consumption seems to be the most prudent action.

Avoiding sugar means avoiding refined carbohydrates and fruit juice. The human body easily converts refined carbohydrates into glucose (a simple sugar) in the blood. Hence, the recommendation to eat unrefined brown rice instead of refined white rice, because the body will take longer to convert the brown rice (which avoids a sudden increase of blood sugar). Likewise, the body converts fruit juice easily into fructose (also a simple sugar) in the blood. Eating a whole fruit is recommended instead because the fiber (in whole fruit) slows down the absorption of the fructose into the blood stream.

Update: The book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes, suggests an alternative cause of obesity that provides a compelling explanation for the role of carbohydrate/sugar. The book posits the following:

  1. “The basic proposition is that obesity is caused by a regulatory defect in fat metabolism” where rate of energy storage (fat) exceeds energy release; internally, the body starves which leads to over-eating and/or inactivity.
  2. “Insulin plays the primary role in this fattening process, and the compensatory behaviors of hunger and lethargy.”
  3. “Carbohydrates, and particularly refined carbohydrates — and perhaps the fructose content as well, and thus the amount of sugars consumed — are the prime suspects in the chronic elevation of insulin; hence, they are the ultimate cause of common obesity.”

So, to reduce the rate of energy storage, we need to reduce the level of blood insulin (“insulin regulates fat deposition”). To reduce insulin levels, we need to reduce the intake of carbohydrates (“carbohydrates regulate insulin”). To reduce the consumption of carbohydrates (sugar and starch), we need to increase the consumption of protein, fats, and non-starchy vegetables; evidently, people on non-carb or carb-restricted diets usually get satiated faster (don’t feel hungry all the time), so they tend not to overeat.

Listen to Your Body

Thankfully, my body tells me clearly when I am eating particularly badly. Besides having taste buds that prefer salt, my body punishes me if I consume too much sugar. After consuming a lot of sweets, I will get a sore throat within an hour and/or a mouth sore within a day (which then lasts for days). I can only eat a certain amount of cheese or meat per day before I get an upset stomach.

An essential part of the Russian Roulette Diet is to listen to your body. Your body will tell you in minor and major ways when you are consuming a particular food past your own healthy limits.

Now go out there and eat some poor, defenseless animal.

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Roadblock To Nirvana

Self No Comments

Imagine that you have made a commitment to always remind yourself that reality is an illusion. That the floor you stand on, the air flowing into your lungs, your body, and the people and places around you are all illusions. That everything and everyone is not real. Whenever you remember to, you make this reminder to yourself. When washing dishes or stopped at a light in your car. Several times a day. For a year.

Brainwashing Myself

043GirlOnBeachThat’s what I did. I consciously brainwashed myself for a whole year. Good idea? I’m not so sure. I experienced many wonderful benefits but encountered one major downside.

Believing that reality is an illusion does have a basis in science. It does not need to be a fanciful flight of the imagination. At the basic quantum level, everything can be regarded as probabilities. In this instance of time, the probability collapses that a quark exists at this position in space. Other probabilities collapse into other quarks at the same position in space to create a neutron. And other probabilities collapse into positrons, neutrons, and electrons to make an atom. And this atom, in combination with other atoms, forms a living cell and with other cells, forms your body. All these gazillion probabilities collapse into you, a thinking being, at this exact moment. And they collapse into you again in the next moment and the next. It’s a miracle that we don’t fly apart, scattered across the universe, blinking into and out of existence.

Expand that miracle to include each of the billions of humans, the Earth we inhabit, and the universe around us. It is awe inspiring. As I convinced myself more and more that all was illusion, I grew more amazed at reality. When I’m hiking, I have to stop and let the marvel of nature wash over me. What possibilities exist for there to be this majestic valley and mountain before me? Sometimes, I spend minutes looking at my hands, wondering at its existence and at the fact that I can move it with my thoughts. Amazement soon moves into gratitude for my existence and the endless wonders that surround me.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ― Albert Einstein

Note that I’m not in the state of amazement and gratitude continuously, all the time. This mindfulness infrequently comes and goes. Similar to how I have to continually remind myself to remember that reality is illusion, I have to remind myself to be amazed and grateful. I think this infrequency is a very good thing. Because humans adapt, I’m sure that after a while of being continually in such an “enlightened” state, it would start to be dull and average.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

The goal I was shooting for with this mind experiment was to attain better detachment from worldly concerns. And I believe the experiment succeeded. What does detachment sound like? The phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff… and it’s all small stuff” (from a book title) comes to mind. Small stuff like almost hitting a car that cuts suddenly into your lane on the freeway, or having to wait at the checkout line because someone ahead of you has an issue. Because all is illusion, why should I be attached to events and their outcomes? Everything is as it should be. The near collision wasn’t a collision. I am here, waiting in this line, because I am supposed to be here. And I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing. No decision can be wrong if everything is an illusion, including the decision itself.

Detachment is great. Most of the time, I’m not stressing out about what goes on, wondering if I’m making the right choice, or worrying about the future. I am just calm, relaxed. Now, I still do things that I have to do, such as paying the bills and being productive at work, to avoid the possibility of externally-induced stress, such as getting evicted or not having enough money for food. There is only so far you can go before reality takes a bite. I’m sure that a truly detached being wouldn’t care about what happens to his body, but I’m still concerned about not experiencing bad things like pain and starvation.

Other than the survival stuff, I expect things to work out. If they do, great. If they don’t, that’s okay. Surprisingly, most of the time, things work out for the best; if not immediately, then in the near future. Sometimes I think it’s the worse, but then a twist occurs and it’s actually for the best. My previous car, a Jetta, developed a weird crayon smell in hot weather caused by the decay of the sound absorption material Volkswagen used. I was a bit vexed because the issue was a manufacturer defect but the car was out of warranty. I decided to live with it. Months later, my sister upgraded and offered to give me her Civic. I sold the Jetta and ended up with a car which was more reliable, used cheaper gasoline (regular, not premium), and was less expensive to maintain. Because I try not to expect good results, I’m pleasantly surprised when things just work out for the better. The universe (or if you prefer, God) knows what it’s doing.

Do Sweat The Big Stuff

The good thing about detachment is that I’m floating along in life, without stress. The bad thing about detachment is that I’m floating along in life, without stress. I’ve realized that self-induced stress is necessary to push me beyond my comfort level, to take action, and to force me to grow. Without stress, I feel like I’m at a dead-end. I’m no longer clawing my way up the corporate ladder. I’m not pushing myself to arrange get-togethers and activities with friends. I’m not under a time crunch to do things, professionally or personally. I get what needs to be done done, but I don’t push myself to go the extra mile. Sometimes I miss being busy, having to sweat about juggling family, friends, work, personal life, and their related dramas. I miss feeling like I’m accomplishing a lot.

“Creativity requires action, and part of that action must be physical. It is one of the pitfalls of Westerners adopting Eastern meditation techniques to bliss out and render ourselves high but dysfunctional. We lose our grounding and, with it, our capacity to act in the world. In the pursuit of higher consciousness, we render ourselves unconscious in a new way. Exercise combats this spiritually induced dysfunction.” – Julia Camera, The Artist’s Way

When I know that my accomplishments have no meaning, it takes a lot of wind from feeling triumphant. There is a lack of motivation and a lot of passivity. I’m not driving. The universe directs my life… I’m just waiting for it to send experiences my way. The ride is very pleasant but I’m not going anywhere. I’ve gone too far to the other end and am falling down a puddle without end. As with anything in life, when you reach a roadblock or dead-end, it’s time to look for a detour.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff… and everything is small stuff” is right and wrong. While learning to not sweat the small stuff, I should have kept sweating the big stuff. The big stuff is not everything, it’s just the important thing. And it is right that I should be sweating the big stuff in my life. Sharing experiences with family, friends, and coworkers. Figuring out what is important and meaningful to do with my life. Having compassion for my fellow humans in their misfortunes and sharing the joy in their triumphs. Putting myself out into the world, making mistakes, getting bruised, meeting cool people, and learning and doing crazy, interesting things. Trying to be a better person than I was yesterday. And, though I hate to say it, forcing myself to eat healthy and exercise. Those are the big stuff that matters.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff… and everything is small stuff except for the big stuff.” – My addendum

Good Vs Bad Procrastinators

I admit that it is an awful amount of big stuff to sweat, especially for a procrastinator such as myself. As with anything in life, procrastination is good and bad, depending upon how you handle it. Being a “good” procrastinator, I push myself to be creative about eliminating unnecessary work and doing the remainder in a way that requires much less effort and time. As a software engineer, I would spend my time to write a program to do repetitive work, instead of doing the repetitive work myself, especially if I know it is recurring work. And I write how-to instructions in detail, in my technical blog and in a wiki at work, because it saves me a ton of time when I can quickly refer people asking for help to an article and when I need to remind myself how to do something. (You probably have experiences with coworkers who ask you a question that you take the time to answer and a few days later, they ask you the same question again. I just point them at the wiki repeatedly until they understand that I won’t humor them and they go off to find another “victim”.)

Sometimes, if I feel a task is not important, waiting until near the deadline to do it can save me time when I find out the that task is no longer necessary. The downside is that if I’m wrong, I may have to work extra hard to meet the deadline; but that is the acceptable risk and most of the time, I come out ahead. Good procrastinators are careful gamblers who figure out the odds that something needs to be done. Bad procrastinators are bad gamblers who bet their energy on things that don’t need to be done, ignoring the important work.

A Simple Plan For The Rest Of My Life

Back to the main topic, I believe I have found a simple 2 step plan to making progress on the big stuff. I created this plan by merging ideas from two books, “The Now Habit at Work” by Neil Fiore and “Why People Fail” by Simon Reynolds. This plan will work for procrastinators, and if it works for procrastinators, it should work for everyone else.

Here is the simple 2 step plan for sweating the big stuff:

  1. Commit to start creating for 15 minutes each day or whatever is most attainable. (For the truly bad procrastinators, 5 minutes might be a better starting point.)
  2. Increase the time as you feel comfortable to.

Why the weird “start creating” phrase? Let’s address the latter part first, as it is the most important. I believe that the purpose of life for all humans is to create. We express our most pure nature when we do something creative, like drawing a picture, writing a blog, inventing a new skateboard trick, building furniture out of discards, combining flavors into a new dish, and testing a new prank on a friend. When we create, we are pushing our limits to bring something new into existence. It reminds me of the phrase, “man is created in the image of God”. To me, that phrase means that when we are creating, we are closest to God.

When I look closer at my big stuff, I find that the biggest, most challenging stuff has to do with creation. Creating enriching moments with my family, friends, and coworkers. Trying to find my life’s purpose can more accurately be stated as creating my life’s purpose. Creating a better life for myself and my fellow beings. Creating a new, better version of myself each day. If I keep my focus on the big stuff and commit to creating each day, my creations will naturally become the big stuff. I sweat the big stuff by creating it.

Self Help For The Procrastinator

The “start creating” phrase and “15 minutes” time limit are for procrastinators or people who lead very busy lives. I synthesized this approach from two ideas about overcoming procrastination, getting started from the “The Now Habit at Work” and limiting time commitment from “Why People Fail”. I hesitate to take on tasks because I don’t want to commit to spending my time and effort to complete them. The bigger the task and the greater the effort required, the more I hesitate. However, if I think that a task is short (just 15 minutes or even 5 minutes) and the effort is small (I’m committing to starting the task, not finishing it), I don’t mind taking it on. Once I get started, I usually go for longer than 15 minutes and sometimes a couple of hours later, I will complete the creation. (This method is how I usually complete postings for this blog.)

It’s a mind trick I play on myself. The goal is to do something (anything) creative every day and the secondary goal is to establish a daily habit of creation. Once I have the habit, I won’t need the trick as much. Or if the habit never develops (usually true for a procrastinator), I may just have to live with the trick. I can still “start” the same thing today that I’ve started the past 20 days or that I’ve started a year ago. Off and on, I’ve “started” this blog post more than two dozen times already.

Before I end this posting, I want to talk about learning. Sometimes I confused learning with creating. When I’m surfing the Internet and learning new things, could that be considered part of my commitment to doing something creative each day? The answer is yes and no. There is a gray area between creating and learning. I believe that learning may be required to meet the goal of creating, but it should never be the goal itself. For example, how can I invent a new skateboard trick if I don’t know how to skate and can’t perform any of the existing tricks? How can I create a video game if I don’t learn how to program first? So if you are learning in order to surpass that learning and create, then yes, it meets your commitment to start creating each day. If you are learning just to learn, then no, it does not meet the commitment to create.

Start Creating Every Day

Aya_KitouIf we are made in the image of God, then his greatest gift to us is creation in its many splendors. Are we not then made to create? By creating, do we not express our truest nature and offer thanks and gratitude to God?

I wanted to end with a story about Aya Kitou. She was a young woman, a teenager who was stricken with a disease, Spinocerebellar Ataxia, which took her mobility and ultimately her life. Yet, she never gave up on living, on growing, on creating her future, however imperfect and dark it became. From her diary, a quote (translated from Japanese) stands out: “So fall down, get up, and smile because you are alive and experiencing this wonderful gift of life.”

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Judging vs Perceiving Dominant Types

Personality No Comments

In a previous post, MBTI: Not Misleading, Just Misunderstood, I mentioned judging and perceiving dominant functions. I was talking to a friend and believe that I have stumbled upon a good way to differentiate between the two. Consider judging and perceiving in terms of communication.

smurf-devilvsangelJudging dominant types are almost always judging what they hear and what they say, but their judgments are works in progress. Such types will give clues, verbal and nonverbal, as to the degree of certainty in what they are saying. They would say something like “In most cases, I think that this is true.” And the progression over time is that the judgments will grow from less certain to very sure. Eventually, they will say, “This is true.” Some things are not judged, some start with no previous judgments, and others have strong judgment immediately (the result of similar decisions in the past). As judgers examine and re-examine, they re-judge until they reach a point where they are strongly certain.

Conversely, perceiving dominant types do not immediately judge unless they have made similar decisions in the past. Without prior judgments, they wait until the very end to decide. Unfortunately, they (especially dominant perceivers with thinking secondary) usually do not give any clue (verbal or nonverbal) as to the level of certainty of their statements, mainly because they have not decided anything as of yet. They would say, “This is false”, and say it with no, little, some, or total certainty; a listener can’t be sure which. Perceivers wish to explore all the possibilities first before deciding on one. What they state may not be certain at all because no judgment may be attached.

The two different styles result in conflict when they communicate with each other. Judging dominants are continuously judging and communicating their level of certainty. Early on or midway through the discussion, they may say “I believe this is so but I may be wrong”. Perceiving dominants instead will state “This is so” without indicating any level of certainty.

Each type believes they are communicating with their own type. Unfortunately, this is may not be the case. A judging dominant would believe that a perceiving dominant is very certain (because there is no verbal qualifier to the statement made) and attempt to figure out why the perceiver believes his statement to be true. A judger would then ask questions and come up with exception cases. The perceiver, who is “just throwing it out there”, is wondering why the judger is questioning him about what he said and attempting to close off possibilities prematurely. The perceiver first responds by trying to answer the judger’s questions, quickly gets annoyed when the questions persist, and start throwing out other statements or possibilities in reply to the exception cases. The judger gets vexed because he views the perceiver as not willing to explain why, making tangential statements that may conflict with each other, and changing judgments randomly. The end result is a communication breakdown and irritation with each other.

The above situation is made worse if any of the two types do not possess high emotional maturity and strong self-esteem. A perceiving dominant would feel under attack by the judging dominant. The perceiver would wonder why the judger is questioning him. A judging dominant would feel that the perceiver is not being serious, being disrespectful and making fun of him. Negative emotions are mixed into the irritation cycle and can build up to eruptions in anger with each other.

Perhaps a better understanding can be arrived at when we consider how each type brainstorms. When brainstorming, judging dominants will make continual judgments that they refine using exception cases. Judgers will examine the feasibility of a possibility before moving on the next one; judgers explore depth first. Perceiving dominants wish to explore all the possibilites before determining any possiblities’ feasibility; perceivers explore breadth first. Seeking refinement, judgers will look for exceptions to what is suggested by a perceiver. The perceiver may feel that is too premature to close off the possibility by questioning. Because statements made by perceivers are viewed as very certain, judgers may feel that it is too premature to make such judgments so soon. Brainstorming becomes an unpleasant experience for both types.

To make my point, I have painted the two types in their extremes. Both types make judgments. For judging dominants, the judgment is spread over the whole process. For perceiving dominants, the judgment is compressed to the end. Unfortunately, a non-judgmental statement said by a perceiving dominant sounds like a definitive statement to a judging dominant. A definitive statement said by a judging dominant sounds like a non-definitive statement to a perceiving dominant. These misunderstandings lead to a communication cycle which will frustrate both types.

The cycle can only be broken if at least one of the types do not assume that they are talking to their own type and make the effort to determine the type they are speaking to. Judging dominant types should not ascribe certainty of judgment to statements made without qualifiers by perceiving dominant types. Absent any expression of degree of certainty, the judger should ask directly whether what was stated is a definitive judgment. Perceiving dominant types should ask if there is any certainty to another’s statement, instead of assuming none, and if possible, provide verbal indicators as to the certainty of their own statements.

When you find yourself getting irritated in a discussion, stop and ask yourself whether your conversation partner is of a different type. Adjust accordingly and with patience, you will communicate and feel better and so will the other person.

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Real Insurance Is Better than AppleCare

Money No Comments

Recently, my brother-in-law decided to buy a 13 inch Apple Macbook Pro with Retina. He asked me if the AppleCare Protection plan, which costs $249 extra, was worth it. I told him no. For the same amount of money or less, one could get a better protection plan than AppleCare.

broken-mask-robotThe AppleCare Protection plan is a 3 year extended warranty plan. It only covers malfunctioning parts. It does not cover accidental damage, loss, or theft. If you drop the Macbook and the display cracks or the laptop stops working, you are out of luck because AppleCare does not cover that. You will need to pay the full repair price, which could be $1000 or more to replace a retina display. If you spill water on the keyboard and your Macbook shorts out, that’s too bad. If you lose the Macbook or someone steals it from the safety of your house, oh well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. AppleCare does not cover any of that.

What does AppleCare cover? Well, if your keyboard or display malfunctions through no fault of yours, then Apple will repair or replace that component. The Genius Bar members at your local Apple Store will check the Macbook for damage, such as large dents, that could cause the malfunction. If they find such damage, they can refuse the repair; if you are very lucky, you will get someone nice enough to allow the free repair. Be aware that Apple has put moisture detectors inside the Macbook so that if you spill water on it, the Genius Bar will know and can refuse the repair even if you have AppleCare Protection.

There is a reason why extended warranties are pushed so often by retailers. They make a lot of money off of them. Usually if a product such as a laptop were to fail, it would most likely fail during the first year when the product is still under the standard one year warranty. So if the customer pays for an extra year or two of warranty, that is considered an almost guaranteed 100% profit for the retailer. Not to say that there isn’t any case where a day or two after the one year warranty expired, the product failed and the owner was glad to have paid for extended warranty. That case is the exception though. The odds suggest not buying an extended warranty.

When most people buy AppleCare, I think they believe that they are buying insurance. They aren’t. Insurance could cover repair or replacement due to accidental damage, loss, or theft. AppleCare is not insurance. For the same amount of money, they could get real insurance that provides greater peace of mind.

First, before we talk insurance, make sure that you buy that expensive Macbook with an American Express credit card. (If you don’t have an American Express card, get one. There are basic American Express cards with no annual fee that provide the two benefits below.) Purchasing an item with an American Express card provides the following two benefits for free:

  • Purchase Protection: your purchase is protected for up to 90 days from the date of purchase from accidental damage or theft. You will be reimbursed up to $1000. (If you have an American Express Platinum card or similar, you get protection from loss also and up to $10,000.)
  • Extended Warranty: doubles the warranty on your purchase up to an additional year. For an extra year after the original warranty expires, if the purchase malfunctions through no fault of yours, you will be reimbursed the original cost (up to $10,000).

Purchasing the Macbook with an American Express credit card will add one additional year of extended warranty on top of the standard Apple one year warranty for free. It is a no brainer to do so. American Express service is very friendly. For example, the Wifi feature on my sister’s iPhone 4s broke (due to an Apple hardware defect) after she upgraded to iOS 7. Because it was past the one year warranty, Apple wanted $200 to replace the iPhone. I told my sister to call American Express to see if she was eligible for the free extended warranty. She was. They asked her to send them the receipt and then gave her a credit for the original cost of the iPhone. How cool is that?

Second, before buying insurance for your Macbook, check that you don’t already have it. You may have a rider on your house or rental insurance that covers your personal property such as electronics. Check to see what is covered. For example, my renter’s insurance covers theft and loss of personal property due to fire (burst pipes, etc.). Unfortunately, accidental damage is not covered. In the case of theft or loss, my rental insurance company will reimbursed me for the deprecated cost or if I purchase a replacement, they will cover the original cost. (This is nowhere as nice as American Express’ full credit of the original cost without requiring you to buy a replacement.)

If you don’t have a rider for personal property like electronics, you may want to ask your home insurance company about one. It may be the cheapest option because a rider is considered part of the bundle and you may get a better deal that way. Homeowners on forums provided some examples such as $40/year for $2000 coverage (much less than AppleCare) or $80/year for $5000 coverage for malfunctions, accidental damage, loss, and theft. The insurance cost seems to vary widely (one homeowner mentioned $15/year, another $30/year for $4000 coverage, and a third mentioned a deductible of $50).

Instead of a rider, you can purchase personal property insurance directly. Most likely, standalone insurance will be more expensive than a rider. The most recommended standalone insurance for a Macbook is an Inland Marine Insurance policy (can be gotten from several insurance companies like AllState, State Farm, and Farmers Insurance). Though originally created to cover expensive electronics on boats, the policy applies for land usage also. In a forum post (Best Insurance on Earth for your MacBook / Air etc. Far better than AppleCare), one person mentioned that it costs about $32/year for $1500 coverage of multiple devices with no deductible. (It was mentioned also that the Inland Marine Insurance policy did not cover phones.)

Another insurance mentioned was State Farm’s Personal Articles Policy, which costs $60/year for $3000 coverage. There are also insurance companies, like Safeware, that sell policies specific to high-end equipment and electronics. As with all other types of insurances, make sure to shop around to get the best deal.

When talking about insurance for electronics, Square Trade is a name that often comes up. Square Trade costs about the same as AppleCare; but in addition to the extended warranty, Square Trade covers accidental damage. Because Square Trade does not cover loss or theft, I believe that it is not the best deal. Square Trade is better than AppleCare but you can get better insurance than both for less.

Insurance is personal. I do not purchase extra insurance, such as extended warranties. (I do use an American Express card to take advantage of the free extra year of warranty though.) I am gambling that I’ll be careful enough not to break my Macbook, lose it, or be robbed. Considering all the money I have saved from not buying extra insurance or extended warranties on my many laptops, even if I have to pay full price to replace a Macbook, I will break even or come out ahead. However, if you feel more comfortable having some protection (nothing wrong with that), please consider the alternative options above to AppleCare. You will get much more bang for your buck.

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Send Me Money, Sucker!

Money No Comments

Recently, I got an email from a family member which reads as follow:

Subject: Urgent!


I'm out of town suffering a terrible incident, I need your urgent favor,
Please email me back as soon as possible.



The displayed email address looks correct as, but when I check the headers, the reply-to address is And the phone number has the wrong area code.

I recognized it as the money gram scam. Basically, if you reply to that email, you will receive a request to send money by Western Union (or a similar money transfer service), where it is easy for anyone to go and pick up the cash. (If you call the number, you will probably get voicemail.) The way this scam works is to hack into someone’s email account, send this same message to everyone in the address book, and hope that one or two people will fall for it and send money.

ScroogeMcDuckI sent a warning to my family and wasn’t surprised to find that most did not recognize this email as a scam. They were confused or thought it was a joke. The family member, whose email account was hacked, disclosed that several friends and acquaintances were calling to ask why he needed $930. This tells me that a lot of folks are not knowledgeable about Internet scams. I want to talk about scams, Internet and otherwise, and the one method that I use to fight them.

In the past, this and other frauds were perpetrated by isolated con artists. Nowadays, I believe that most of the scams on the Internet are perpetrated by criminal organizations. If I was a mafia boss, I would definitely have an Internet racket because face it, you can make a ton of money (from the hundreds of millions of victims) with very little risk of getting caught or punished, especially if you are located in another country.

So, there are groups of hundreds of criminals, backed by the best servers that dirty money can buy, running scams across the Internet (and elsewhere). They are working full-time to steal money from you and the companies you do business with. If they are truly International, they may be working full time across multiple time zones, while you are sleeping, eating, going to the bathroom, and watching TV.

You may throw up your hands in defeat at this point. And to be truthful, I agree. There is no way you can beat everything that an organization like that can throw at you. The best you can aspire to be is a potential victim that would take too much effort to defraud. Sad to say, your goal is to be less naive than the masses. Or more simply, the criminals will go for the lowest-hanging fruit and your job is to avoid being the lowest-hanging fruit.

The most powerful tool that we victims have in our arsenal is to “trust but verify” or more accurately, verify before trusting. This applies to almost everything in life. To illustrate, one of my friends did fall for the money gram scam above a couple years ago. After sending the money, she had some doubts so she called the friend up and the friend replied, “What? I’m not in XXXX country, robbed of everything, and in need of money!” My question is: Why didn’t she call up the friend or the friend’s family first before sending money? If she had verified first, the friend or the friend’s family would have told her that the email was a fake.

Email Links: Bad Idea

Avoid clicking on any links in an email, especially an email from your bank. Definitely, do not login if the link takes you to a login page where you are prompted to input your username and password. Instead, open up a browser and manually type in the address of your bank or whatever.

If you’re lucky, clicking on links indiscriminately may get your computer infected with a virus or spyware which will just slow down your computer. If you’re unlucky, a virus will erase your hard drive or a spyware will record what you type, like passwords, and transmit the data to someone who doesn’t have your best interest in mind. Worst, if you click on a link to your bank account and input your username and password, you may have just given access to your bank account to a criminal.

The last is referred to as phishing (pronounced like “fishing” because they are “phishing” for your money) which involves pretending to be a trustworthy entity in order to acquire sensitive information. Basically, someone nefarious creates a website which looks exactly like your bank’s login page. They send you a fake email from your bank with a link. When you click on the link, you are taken to the fake login page. After you input your banking username and password, they could then forward you to the real bank or just throw an error that maintenance is in progress. In the meantime, they have your username and password to access your bank account with.

Phishing may be used to gain access to accounts belonging to other companies than your bank, like investment firms, credit card companies, loan application processors, mortgage payment companies, etc. I believe that all legitimate businesses should make it a policy to not include any links in their official emails; instead, they should ask their users to manually browse to their company websites.

Note: If you receive a complicated link in an email, perhaps pointing to a specific Google or Yahoo photo album, which requires a login and you can’t figure out how to manually browse to it, here’s what you can do:

  1. Browse to the company address by manually typing it in, and log into your account.
  2. Go back to the email and click on the link.

If the link is legitimate, the system will recognize that you are already logged in and bypass the login screen. You would then go directly to that page; that is, the photo album. Doing the above will help you to avoid being tricked by a phishing website.

Phone Calls: Just Hang Up

Similar to the above, if you get a phone call from your bank and are asked to verify your identity, ask what the call is about, say bye-bye, and call your bank’s official phone number (listed on the back of your ATM card, their website, or in the phone book). Calling them directly is the equivalent of manually browsing to the company website. If the “bank” calls you and you provide your verification info (mother’s maiden name, social security, etc.), you may have just given your identity away to thieves, who could then gain access to your accounts or more likely, open a new credit card or loan in your name.

Knowing the above, the perpetrators will attempt to override your caution. A year ago, I got a phone call from my credit card company. They told me that they believed my credit card number had been stolen because they were seeing charges for flowers amounting to over a thousand dollars in Florida. They asked me to verify my identity so they can confirm that the charges were fraudulent. Of course, I answered every question they asked. Afterwards, I realized with horror that I might have just given the keys to my identity away to someone who “called” me on the phone. Thankfully it was a legitimate call, but it could have easily been a trick. What I should have done was ask them what the call was about, hang up, and call the credit card company back directly.

Phishing: Old as the Pharaohs

Phishing isn’t something new on the Internet; it has been around for a long time. I’m sure it has been around since mankind first discovered how to cheat and steal. I think all effective scams involve the use of phishing (again, pretending to be a trustworthy entity) because no one hands their money to some entity they don’t trust.

For example, suppose that you are on a business trip. You arrive late at the hotel. You’re hungry but too tired to go out. Conveniently, there is a flyer for pizza delivery that someone slipped under the hotel room’s door. You dial up the pizza place, make an order, and pay with your credit card. An hour later, the pizza hasn’t arrived yet. You call back and get some lame excuse like the oven has exploded, sorry, but there won’t be pizza for anyone. Or maybe no one picks up. Congratulations, you’ve just had your credit card number stolen.

Remember what P.T. Barnum supposedly said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Try not to be that sucker. But if you fall for a scam (which I must embarrassingly admit to once or twice), forgive yourself. You are only human. Just repeat to yourself, “There’s a human born every minute.” (To be exact, there’s a human born every 8 seconds.)

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MBTI: Not Misleading, Just Misunderstood

Personality No Comments

In my previous post, I indicated that the MBTI personality types were misleading and that Carl Jung’s cognitive functions were the solution. After reading “Gifts Differing” by Isabel Briggs Myers, who created the MBTI instrument with her mother Katherine Cook Briggs, I realized that I had misunderstood. The cognitive functions theory that I learned is based upon Dr. Carl Jung’s book, “Psychological Types”, but includes enhancements and clarifications from Mrs. Myers and Mrs. Briggs. The MBTI instrument is the result of making Carl Jung’s cognitive functions theory relevant to and easy to understand by the average person. Isabel Briggs Myers and Katherine Cook Briggs built upon Carl Jung’s cognitive functions theory with two major contributions.

Crouching Extravert, Hidden Introvert

042GirlPetDragonFirst, for the average person, the dominant and auxiliary (secondary) cognitive functions must work together to balance each other out. Dr. Carl Jung concentrated on unbalanced personalities (especially introverts) where the dominant function was supreme and was not in balance with the auxiliary. He did not explore balanced types and only mentioned the auxiliary function in a few references without great detail. Myers and Briggs fleshed out the role of the auxiliary function.

To be balanced, if the dominant function is a judging function (Thinking or Feeling), then the auxiliary must be a perceiving function (Sensing or iNtuition) and vice versa. If the dominant function is extraverted, then the auxiliary must be introverted and vice versa. In effect, the auxiliary function is opposite to and balances the dominant function between judging and perceiving and between extroversion and introversion.

Second, the most visible personality trait seen by the outside world is the first extraverted function, which is used to interact with the exterior world. For extraverts, this is the dominant function. For introverts, this is the auxiliary function (because the dominant is introverted). Thus, introverts have a dominant function which is hidden, and people interact mainly with the introvert’s auxiliary function. This leads to confusion because someone who is viewed as perceiving by others may be an introverted judging dominant type. Likewise, someone who appears very judging to others may be an introverted perceiving dominant type.

When thinking of balanced types, each type has an inward-facing and an outward facing function, which could be any of the four perceiving and judging functions. For example, an INFP has an inward-facing introverted dominant Feeling function and an outward-facing extraverted auxiliary iNtuiton function. An ESTJ has an outward-facing extraverted dominant Thinking function and an inward-facing introverted auxiliary Sensing function. When one interacts with the INFP, one sees visible indications of the outward-facing iNtuition function (auxiliary) in how the INFP gets along with everyone. When one interacts with the ESTJ, one sees visible indications of the outward-facing Thinking function (dominant) in how the ESTJ takes time to think and talk through decisions.

Note: One can see how the MBTI instrument and cognitive functions are tied together by how the MBTI can be mapped to the cognitive functions. As we explored in the previous post, the cognitive functions theory does not treat the first E/I (Extroversion/Introversion) and last J/P (Judging/Perceiving) MBTI preferences as standalone functions. Instead, the E/I preference indicates the attitude (E/I orientation) of the dominant function and thus, the attitudes of the remaining functions. The J/P preference indicates the extraverted perceiving or judging function used to deal with the external world. For dominant extraverts (E), this is the dominant function. For dominant introverts (I), this is the auxiliary function.

When identifying personality types, the goal is to determine the dominant function. Unfortunately, this is difficult when dealing with introverts. The most visible function is outward-facing and can be dominant (for extraverted dominant types) or auxiliary (for introverted dominant types). For example, an ISTP has a visible external-facing Sensing function which is the ISTP’s auxiliary function. But for an ESTP which also has a visible external-facing Sensing function, it is the ESTP’s dominant function. To determine which is which, one must either spend a lot of time with the person or much faster, one could just ask the person questions to learn what their dominant function is. This is why the MBTI creators describe the instrument as a self-reporting tool.

What Type Am I Again?

Update: I may sound certain that I am an ENFP below, but I am not 100% sure. I am continually swinging between INFP and ENFP. When I wrote this post, I believed I was more on the ENFP side. In this update, I believe I am more INFP. Unfortunately, ambivalence may come with the MBTI territory.

Even as a self-reporting tool, it may be difficult for a person to accurately MBTI type himself. Case in point, I’ve recently realized that I am an ENFP, not an INFP. As I understood more about MBTI and cognitive functions, I’ve refined my type. (DaveSuperPowers has a video on this ENFP vs INFP confusion.) If we compare the cognitive functions for ENFP and INFP (see below), we see that the functions and attitudes are the same, but the order is different. For both types, I would use the same extraverted iNtuition function to interact with the external world, whether I was an extrovert or an introvert. Someone observing me would have a difficult time deciding which E/I type I was. Because ENFP is the most introverted of the extraverts, I had a hard time myself figuring out which side of the E/I divide I belonged to. When I’m alone, after a while, I want to be with people. When I’m with people, after a while, I want to be alone.


I think the view of the E/I preference as being how one gets energy is confusing. The theory is that an extravert would be energized by being with and interacting with people and an introvert would be energized by being alone. I don’t experience this at all. Instead, I believe that energy expenditure is a better indicator. Introverts are drained of their energy faster than normal when forced to interact with people (to extravert). An extreme introvert would reach energy exhaustion quickly. Likewise, extraverts are drained of their energy faster than normal when forced to be alone (to be introspective). In both cases, I believe that the introverts and extraverts are forced to use their auxiliary functions, which use up more energy than using their dominant functions would. Even as an extravert, when I’m with people who are boring and who don’t want to engage (in conversation or activity) with me, I do expend more energy to compensate and thus become exhausted faster.

Having said the above, there are scenarios where I feel that I’m not expending energy or even that I am gaining energy, but they are independent of the E/I preference. Zero energy expenditure can seem to occur when I am deeply concentrating on a task (I am in the flow) and hours pass without me getting tired. And I seem to gain energy when I am participating in an activity or interacting with people that I am very passionate about. I gain energy whether I’m doing an interesting solitary activity (Introversion) or partying with a bunch of closed friends (Extraversion).

The trick to identifying my type is what most books recommend to do, which is to recall how I was like when I was younger, preferably in high school and college. I believe that high school helps to solidify our dominant preferences which we then exhibit clearly in college. After college, when we join the workforce, we are forced to strengthen our auxiliary and lesser functions (even our shadow functions) to cope with work demands, coworkers, and bosses. As an ENFP, I have to thank my work experience for my strong ability to focus on the details (shadow Sensing function) and to bring projects to completion (shadow Judging function). With life experience and age, all our cognitive functions mature and we become very balanced. If I take an MBTI test and answer the questions based upon who I am now, the test would not provide a strong match to any particular MBTI type. I have to force myself to answer based upon who I was when I was young.

The second trick is to read self descriptions from other people by MBTI type to see which ones I most identify with. For this to work, the source of the self descriptions must be accurate. The source that I recommend is the book titled “The 16 Personality Types: Descriptions for Self-Discovery” by Linda V Berens. After reading the self descriptions for INFP and ENFP, I was surprised to find that I currently identified very strongly with ENFP and very weakly with INFP. To double-check, I recalled how I was in high school (where I was active in many clubs, often as an officer) and college (where I organized parties and dinners for other students and alumni). In the end, ENFP with its dominant extraverted iNtuition function seemed a more fitting match for me.

I feel that after a long journey, I have finally identified my MBTI type. However, at the same time, I realized that my MBTI type may no longer strongly identify the current me. My INTJ friend tells me that I am a disturbance to his system of identifying MBTI types because I behave in contradictory ways. I took that as a compliment and think that he truly enjoys trying to upgrade his system to account for my behavior. Dr. Carl Jung and Mrs. Isabel Briggs Myers briefly mentioned that eventually, with age and maturity, an individual may transcend their type. I don’t know what that would be like, but as an ENFP, I find it very intriguing. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Check out my continuing post on this topic, Judging vs Perceiving Dominant Types.

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