The optimal human performance formula: the basics

Good news: Scientists have discovered a simple, effective trick to reach your optimal performance and be the smartest human you can be.

Bad news: You’re not gonna do it.

Here is the trick:

  • Breathe deep,
  • Drink more water,
  • Sleep 8 hours every night
  • Eat more vegetables,
  • Move your ass
  • Go outside

For optimal results, do it every day.

I am sure I am not blowing your mind with novel insight.

You probably are aware that air, water, sleep, and exercise are important. But because these are such basics, we tend to discount them. They are not newsworthy, they won’t make the headlines, and they don’t help you delude yourself that „this time will be different, because you have one more magic trick up your sleeve.”

You probably have heard those points before, but you have a list of concerns and cannot deal with a yet-another morning routine that will take your precious time away from you.

But there is more good news: taking care of these basics seriously will have an immediate effect on your to-do list.

“Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.”

Power of Full Engagement

In a best-selling book „Power of Full Engagement”, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz have listed 4 sources of energy that can fuel your attention, performance, and productivity:

  • physical
  • emotional
  • mental
  • spiritual

And your „Biggest Bang for the Buck” is the physical level by far – it is the cornerstone of the other ones. Unfortunately, Humanity has a fascinating ability to forget important lessons.

Breathing

Physical energy is derived from the interaction between oxygen and glucose.
„Surely I know how to breathe!” You may think to yourself.
If you feel constant anxiety or are low-key stressed all the time, here me out: you may be breathing incorrectly. Shallow breathing can very often influence your mood, focus and energy levels. Throughout our evolution, we would shallow breathe only when there is danger, or we have to chase after prey.
So guess what? Your body is releasing cortisol based on your crappy breathing.
But you are sitting in front of your laptop, doing none of those things and yet getting stressed like your life depends on it.
Proper breathing:

  • Your arms are back
  • Your belly sticks out while you are breathing (that is the diaphragm)
  • Air goes in through your nose
  • Inhale is at least 3-4 seconds

Watch this video of two navy seals explaining how to breathe:

A sidenote about your laptop/smartphone:

When you are sitting in front of a laptop or holding your smartphone with two hands, you are constricting your lungs.

  • Your arms get close together, closing your chest and lungs
  • Your head is down, constricting the air canals
  • This position is similar to how you would hide from a predator, prompting your body to release cortisol

Homework:

  1. Watch the navy seal video
  2. Set a timer in your phone for every 3 hours that says “breathe”
  3. If you work on your laptop, buy a keyboard and a monitor.

Drinking Water

Drinking water, we have found, is perhaps the most undervalued source of physical energy renewal.

Power of Full Engagement

Your body has lots of water, chances are you know that. But if you are like me, you probably keep putting other stuff in it, like:

  • Coke
  • Coffee
  • Tea

Even though they contain it, none of those things ARE water.

They have much lower PH (they are acidic), which means your body has to work hard to filter them before the water content can be used in metabolic processes.

On top of that, beverages tend to flush out the essential salts ( Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium ) out of the body. All of these elements are needed to keep your brain spinning to ingest my insightful blog posts.

A study published in “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience” has found evidence that drinking water improves cognitive performance in both children and adults. Hydration for health is collecting empirical evidence for the many benefits of just drinking water.

Homework:

  1. Buy a water bottle and put it by your computer
  2. Put a post-it on it that says „Drink Me.”
  3. Drink whenever you feel foggy

Sleeping

Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity.

Brain rules

I am writing this for you as much as I do it for my own benefit. Every once in a while, I will get deep into a fun automation project – a book, or a new Netflix series and realize that it’s 3 am already.

The next day is totally wasted and I promise to never repeat that mistake until the next time. Goddamnit, Artur!!

  • Yes, you need 8 hours of sleep.
  • You are not as productive at 10 pm as you thought
  • Go to bed

Arianna Huffington, the founder of HuffPost has decided to devote her entire career to promoting sleep and in this TED Talk, she explains why:

Homework:

  1. Set an alarm that says „Go to sleep” at, say 21:45
  2. Go to sleep when the alarm rings

Moving your Ass

Physical activity is cognitive candy. Civilization, while giving us such seemingly forward advances as modern medicine and spatulas, also has had a nasty side effect. It gives us more opportunities to sit on our butts.

Brain rules

Apart from the countless evidence that exercising keeps your body healthy, it also helps you think.
Read more about Ass-Shaking here
Exercise gets blood to your brain, bringing it glucose for energy and oxygen to soak up the toxic electrons that are left over. It also stimulates the protein that keeps neurons connecting.

Homework:

  1. When you wake up, go for a fast walk, every day for a week. Just try it.
  2. Report back

Basics are your key to success

We search for “advanced tricks” and “pro tips” in a vain effort to save ourselves time and effort on the basics.

The harsh reality is that mastering the basics is the real “trick”. We gloss over them, because they are intellectually simple. Yet simple is not easy and it takes practice to engrain proper habits and foundations.

Maybe someday I will. Until them, I’ll keep having to remind myself to drink more water and move once in a while.

Take a walk to get unstuck

Let’s start from the beginning.
Ever since Plato (423 BC), humanity was plagued by this notion of mind-body duality. Dark Ages have really entrenched the idea that the body is only a vehicle to move around our pristine and godly minds. The flesh pursuits are of lesser concern and don’t deserve much attention.

“Plato and Aristotle, conniving about derailing humanity’s understanding of mind-body connection”. By Raphael.

And this particular idea has seeped into western philosophy. We don’t pay specific attention to the link between the way we treat our bodies and mental performance

  • We try to “save time” by sacrificing sleep, resulting in severely diminished productivity and mental skills,
  • We sit all day on our asses, getting more and more stressed about some artificial situation, avoiding the solution that our bodies were built for,
  • We forget to hydrate or eat properly, because – of course – we “don’t have time.”

How taking a walk can help you get unstuck

Shinrin-Yoku

Japanese, forest bathing: The immersive experience of spending time in nature.

Spending time in nature has a profoundly therapeutic effect on thinking clarity, overall health, and is a surefire way to lower the stress levels. Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing) is a recognized treatment in Japan, and British doctors are looking into prescriptions for mindful walks in the woods themselves.

Our bodies evolved in green space, surrounded by trees, shrubs, streams, and rocks. We are familiar with the wild in the core of our souls. This is where our ancestors lived their whole lives, honing their genome to fit the environment.
Is life in a concrete jungle so drab? Can a few hours in a forest significantly improve my mood? I set out to answer these questions.

For a few years now, I document my thoughts in a journal. I have an Evernote-based system, where I mostly rate the previous day and recap what happened.
I will expand on this in another post, but one of the valuable insights I was able to discover is the answer to the question


“What do my happy days have in common”?

Every quarter or so, I review my notes and try to tease out what consistently made me happy during this time.
Over and over again, spending time in nature (and preferably good swimming) is at the top of the list.
Maybe it is because I was a scout for 11 years, and I am trying to reproduce the conditions of my youth. But perhaps it is because I am a human being, and this is the environment where humanity was thriving in for millennia.

My Wife, recognizing the importance of trees and taking a walk.

I try to plan my life accordingly, but as you probably know – it intervenes sometimes. Deadlines pile up, work has to be done, and I forget what restorative effect a walk has on my thinking.
I forget that it clears my head and allows me to get a fresh perspective.
I tell myself: “Tomorrow, I don’t have time today.”

What does the science say?

The science says that I’m dumb.

“To improve your thinking skills, move.”

Chris Medina, “Brain Rules”

Moving can help our brains via several mechanisms:

  1. Moving means more cardiovascular action, which means more oxygen. Our brains REALLY like oxygen. Brains like oxygen how I like the georgian meat pies. Often and in any quantity.
  2. Moving means neurons firing in the brain. Think of it as a bit of a rhythm. By making the body move, the brain gets into a groove of action, and any cognitive tasks get accomplished easier.

“Your lifetime risk for general dementia is cut in half if you participate in physical activity. Aerobic exercise seems to be the key. With Alzheimer’s, the effect is even greater: Such exercise reduces your odds of getting the disease by more than 60 percent.”

John Medina, Brain Rules

Before you embark on spending an exciting 60 minutes on a treadmill, consider the messy outside world. Moving helps but to get the best results, combine it with spending time outdoors.

“People living near more green space reported less mental distress, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment”

This is your brain on nature, National Geographic

What could you do to combine the amazing effects of moving with restorative effects of spending time in the green? Guess what! Take a walk in the forest!

Would it help to convince you, if you knew Steve Jobs was pretty insistent on walking meetings?

Check out Outside Magazine amazing feature “The Nature Cure

Artur, but this is basic! DUH!

I clicked on your link expecting some insightful comment, and I don’t want to be lectured about such basic things!

I hear ya. But this advice needs repeating.

Intellectually knowing something is not enough. As Derek Sivers says, “If knowledge was the problem, we would all be billionaires with perfect abs.” We can know something is true and still act totally irrationally.
By all means, I am guilty of this as well. I sometimes discard this advice as “not serious enough” and “this is fine for those wellness people, but I have serious work to do.”
Intellectualizing is not the answer. If you care about doing something, you need to build a habit around it.

The Outside Challenge ™️

Do a test! Check if going outside is really for you.

  1. Get your ass outside first thing in the morning, for a week.
  2. Just walk around, notice things. DO NOT STARE AT YOUR PHONE.
  3. After 30 minutes, go back home.
  4. Be awesome!
  5. Crush your day.

Subscribe to learn more about remote work

Remote work helps again.

I know not everybody has a nice green space near home.
But… If you worked remotely, what precludes you from living near a forest?
You could even have a view on the trees, getting the benefits of surrounding yourself in nature while you work.

Have you noticed that I post lots of pictures of my laptop opened somewhere in the wilderness?

Because for me, there is no better place to work than surrounded by tress, with wind on my face.

You don’t have to be in exotic place, or wait till the weekend to enjoy time in nature.

You can pick your laptop, hop on a bike (or into a car) and after an hour, you will most likely be in the forest. Yes, I’m pretty certain that they will have LTE coverage.

Now go outside and take a walk!


Bring Your Own Friends – Dealing with loneliness when working from home

@MarkAgee

Remote Work is awesome. It is no doubt, the future of employment and for a good reason:

  • It can solve environmental problems
  • It opens up the access to suitable jobs for the people outside of a bigger city
  • It’s just better for the human soul to avoid the trenches of office buildings all day, every day.

But it has downsides as well.

Ryan Hoover from Product Hunt has recently asked about Remote work problems and loneliness came up #1


It gets… lonely.


In my previous corporate life, I was working in an Open Space at Samsung Poland. The company was voted 3rd best employer five years in a row, and the office had everything that a millennial fresh-out-of-college developer could want. We had fresh fruit, great coffee, slick building with state of the art technology, beautiful view from the window…

And friends.

In some ways, the modern office is a bit of an extension of college life. The scenery changes a bit, but you hop on from the student life to corporate existence without skipping a beat.

office crew GIF

Most tasks in the corporate world are not that urgent or even necessary to perform, so we defer to our primal instincts: keeping up the relationships.

In our past, this served us exceptionally well. In case of a cheetah attack, people helped you if they liked you, so making them like you was vital.

The chance of a surprise cheetah attack in a Samsung office is very slim. There are Cheetos aplenty though. But our biology did not adapt. Keeping thriving relationships is not only the default, but it is also proven to be healthy both emotionally AND physically.

The gains people derived from face-to-face socializing endured even years later. The findings were published online in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Source

But in this brave new world of Remote work, there is no office and no colleagues to socialize with.

There is no daily chit-chat by the coffee machine, no banter on the Open Space and no scooter race in the hallway. That may be the best for productivity, but the silence is deafening at times. Sure, we have Slack and memes and calls and all sorts of social glue that lets us keep sane, but we are a human and we need other humans.

While working from home, YOU are responsible for your socializing. Your employer will not supply you with a kindergarten full of bored peers to play with.

You have to bring your own friends.

? ?‍? How to deal with loneliness in remote work.

Me and my fiancee have developed a set of tactics to deal with the loneliness of remote work. These improved our lives considerably, but we are still on the lookout for new ones.

? Party time.

Photo by Delaney Dawson on Unsplash

I have a confession to make. I have a rolling calendar reminder to organize a party for my friends every two months. There is no birthday or another occasion, just a party. I would say, I have a 50% success rate, so in reality, the said bacchanalia gets thrown every four months, but it’s still a great way to remind your acquaintances of your existence.

Committing to a cycle has several benefits:

1 – Lower emotional stakes.

Have you experienced a little bit of shame before reaching out to a friend you did not talk to for a while? Do you sometimes worry they will laugh at you when you finally DO reach out? I have this nagging feeling sometimes. But guess what. They probably feel the same, and you are just two proud dummies not talking to each other.

Reach out. It’s not a big deal. Only one party out of 10s you are going to organize.

2 – More significant chance you finally get to see some people

We’re all adults. Well you are, I’m just pretending. We have lots of responsibilities, and not everyone will be able to make it to your party. By the 4th time you invite someone, they may be able to make it. Go ahead, keep asking this childhood friend. Maybe she will come.

3 – You will get comfortable with this.

You will not stress about having enough chairs (people can stand for 4 hours, nothing will happen to them). Your place will not have to be squeaky clean. The situation will be normal for you. You will develop a party-prep routine. I can throw the party in 2 hours, provided there are no dead bodies to hide lying in my living room.

Here is my tried and tested, patented Artpi Party Prep Scenario ™️.

  • ? Dried tomato hummus
  • ? Sweet Potato chili-sprinkled fries with garlic sauce
  • ? Barbecue pulled-pork style Egglant
  • ? Salmon-horseradish party wraps
  • ? Home-made Coleslaw
  • ? Greek-Style salad (arugula, feta, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, olives, honey-coated walnuts, vinaigrette sauce)

I can do this on autopilot. I do something else if I have energy, but having default makes it easier to commit.

? More reminders

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

Yes, I am a robot. I have three lists of people I should reach out to weekly / every month / every quarter.

I have a bot that will select a person from one of these lists every day. This is a custom solution, but you can achieve the same result by following fantastic Derek Sivers advice.

Reminder ensures I will remember about everyone. I do ignore them some of the time, but I still see value in refreshing the fact of someone’s existence. It’s nice to stop and remember that I have the person X in my life.

Being a part of the community

This societal problem is widespread and touches not only remote workers. You probably don’t feel this in an Open Space, but humans have a deep longing for long-lasting connections with people around them. We evolved in tribes and later settled into villages. Everything was communal.

Getting benefits of community without going insane require some planning. Currently, we are

And I think that one of the most amazing things that anyone can go through and can do in their lives is a variation on the theme of going on a journey, doing hard things surrounded by friends

Tobi Lutke, Shopify CEO

? Organizing a wedding

Photo by Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash

Now, I’m only half joking. My fiancee and I are in the process of a fabulous adventure that is organizing a wedding. And we are inviting A LOT of family members. Some of which I have never heard of before. I don’t even think it’s possible to be related to so many people, but so be it.

The surprising part is that I enjoy getting to know them, giving them invites and nurturing those relationships. I can see myself in the son of a distant relative, and it’s very fulfilling and gives me a sense of belonging. If you told me five years ago that inviting 150+ people for an ultra expensive party would be in my future, I would laugh in your face.

But here I am, you can laugh at me.

The point is that these tested rituals served some purpose in the past. Weddings, Funerals, Equinox parties, Easters and Christmases – all of them were kind of a glue that holds people together in the face of loneliness.

Remote work is changing this balance, and we need to find new rituals and again take extra care to nurture a connection to people around us. New technology can help but let’s not forget about the tried-and-tested approach.

Call your mom once in a while. Yes, ON THE PHONE LIKE A CAVEMAN (cavewomen have probably already figured that out).

You have to be deliberate about reaching out to your friends and making time for them. They are busy too and nobody will organize this for you.

Bring them with you.