Genetics & The Uncontrollable
Becoming mindful, improving decision making & maintaining a proactive and resilient mindset while living to optimize for longevity.
At first, this article may seem to be a bit of a tangent from our main focus of direct longevity-focused strategies, tools, and tactics. However, the content presented here is crucially important to developing the mindset and mentality of someone who is able to set a goal or outcome, and then take the actions necessary to achieve it — a key characteristic of anyone living a longevity minded life. The ideas construed here have been, and still are, invaluable in shaping the person I am. I hope they are to you as well.
Becoming Who We Need To Be
Of the many benefits that come from designing a lifestyle geared towards living a longer and higher quality life, one of my favourites is the feeling of control. I’m in total and complete control over how I look and feel. I don’t have a boss that’s going to come over and shove donuts down my throat or an anti-personal trainer whose sole aim is to stop me from working out. If I choose to eat healthily, exercise, meditate and sleep well then I know I’ll look and feel great. No one can stop me. If I choose not to, then I won’t reap the benefits.
It was from this starting place that I came across two somewhat depressing realizations that made me feel rather powerless. The first is that I could get hit by a bus and die while crossing the street (death by accident) and the second is that I could be diagnosed with some terminal illness or drop dead from a heart attack at age 40 (death by poor genetics). Now that I’ve also planted the seed in your head and you can’t help but brainstorm all the unfortunate ways you may leave this world, I’m here to provide a simple and logical response: don’t worry.
There’s no point in fretting about the things that are outside our control. Be responsible and accountable where you can and simply smile and shrug off the rest. In Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he portrayed this idea by comparing reactive to proactive people. The difference is that reactive people live and think in their Circle of Concern whereas proactive people, although aware of the events in their Circle of Concern, decide to take responsibility for their lives and operate in their Circle of Control. This is where we want to live.
After studying the diagram above, you’ll realize that this idea is nothing new. We can all think of people we know who live in their Circle of Concern. In fact, they all share one common trait… no one really likes them. Think about the people you naturally like, admire or gravitate to, even if they’re strangers. Are they complaining and moaning about the bad weather, the poor economy, or how the government taxes them too much? NO!
The people we gravitate to are those who take control of the situation, not let the situation control them. Those who make their own sunshine regardless of their external environment. These people have nothing negative to say about anyone and don’t talk about problems unless they already have a solution. These people are living in their Circle of Control. This is where we want to operate.
Changing Where We Operate
I’m certainly not saying that this is an easy aim, nor that I am perfect — I’m far from it. It takes time, practice and energy to develop and maintain a mindset that is focused on only the factors we can control. To make a challenging aim more difficult, the media is constantly barraging us with news of natural disasters, wars, politics, tanking economies, and anything else that can send us into a spiral of reactivity.
This leads to the first practice I recommend in order to increase the amount of time we spend in our Circle of Control: a media fast. Believe me, your world won’t implode if you don’t know how many fractions of a point the stock market fluctuated yesterday or whether or not Dwayne “The Rock'' Johnson is still the highest-paid celebrity on Instagram (this was the first result when I googled celebrity). Everything that is crucially important will find its way to you through word of mouth. Let others bear the burden of sifting through the news. You’ll know all you need to from hearing what they tell you.
Tactic number two is to implement a mindful meditation practice. I can’t emphasize enough how beneficial a practice this is. It’s a superpower. Learn to meditate and practice for 15 to 20 minutes per day. After the tipping point, which will occur around day 30 to 40 of consistent meditation, you’ll see a noticeable benefit in your day-to-day life. You’ll begin to notice the gap between stimulus and response that is invisible to most. Pausing in that gap will give you the chance to think. That pause, if utilized, is the difference between impulsively downing three donuts and firing off a nasty email that makes the situation worse, and mindfully skipping the donuts for a glass of water while crafting an email that elegantly achieves the result you’re after. When we learn to use that gap, we greatly improve our decision-making prowess. The quality of our decisions weaves the fabric of our day-to-day lives. Learn to meditate and you greatly enhance your ability to design the life you desire.
Meditation: Getting Started
Although meditation is probably best done without the aid of an app, it’s beneficial to begin with a guide in order to gain a general understanding of the practice and learn useful prompts. You can always start with free trials on apps such as Headspace, Calm, Ten Percent Happier, or Waking Up by Sam Harris, but for the largest library and most diverse range of free meditations, I would recommend Insight Timer.
Some of my favourite teachers, whose guided meditations are on Insight Timer, include Tara Brach, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and Sharon Salzberg. Beyond its comprehensive library of guided meditations, the app also has a useful timing feature which I find much more meditation-friendly than the alarms on my phone.
Our Circle of Control in Longevity
Tying this back into our area of focus, there are five main objects in our Circle of Control within the realm of longevity. They’re the five levers I first laid out in The Longevity Framework: sleep, nutrition, exercise, mental and emotional health, and external compounds.
Each of these five levers further breaks down into its sub-levers which allow us to take actionable and measurable steps towards our goals. Proactive people who live and operate in their Circle of Control tend to these five levers, and their sub-levers, on a consistent basis. In comparison, reactive people who live in their Circle of Concern wait until it’s too late. They’re all worry and talk, but no action.
To track habits or key daily activities that I’m trying to enforce, I keep a notebook lying open on my dresser with habits at the top and the day of the month along the side. Every morning, I put a dot under each activity that I successfully completed the day before and then tally the number of dots.
This allows me to track my progress and consistency in certain areas that I am focused on in a given month. I’ve found this format to be very effective and would highly recommend giving it a try. The habits listed here are not the only things I work on each day, but just the ones I either want to keep a record of or improve upon. There are many other habits or daily routines that are deeply ingrained into my life that I don’t bother tracking here.
I hope you’ve been able to bear with me and find some value in this tangential to our main focus of longevity. The development of a mindset geared towards the lifestyle or the objective we want to achieve is the first step in moving towards that aim. To achieve anything in life, we must first become the person who is capable of achieving it. Meditate, cut out media and track key habits. These three simple practices will yield immeasurable results, vastly disproportionate to the effort and time required.
Next week we’ll dive into Lever #3: Exercise, the potency of exercise as a drug, and how to deploy the principle of minimum effective dose.
And, as always, please give me feedback on Twitter or by hitting reply to this email.