Why is it so hard?

Why is it so hard for us to go against the grain? Because we are programmed as social beings who rely on feeling accepted by our peers to feel at ease with ourselves and others.

Why are most accepted opinions and views usually wrong? Because we tend to look at things superficially for the simplest explanations in order to avoid having to acknowledge and work with a wider context that takes into consideration the complexity that stems from the interdependent nature of phenomena.

Why does it still today take so incredibly long—typically many decades—for faulty accepted views to be updated? Because the moment we believe something, no matter how little evidence there is or how tenuous the explanation, that belief becomes a piece of ourselves that helps define our view of the world and of everything in it. That belief becomes an unquestionable part of both our worldview and of ourselves.

Why are we willing and actually prone to fighting, often viciously, to defend our beliefs? Because it is through the collection of our beliefs that we define ourselves, and therefore immediately feel personally attacked when any one of our beliefs is put into question, especially by someone else.

Why do we avoid asking ourselves questions about the world around us, about the statements we hear, about the explanations we are given? Because any kind of process of questioning is bound to bring into question some of our beliefs, and this is a painful process we do not want to engage in.

We humans—we homo sapiens—have been human for about 200 000 years. The fact that we have built the astonishing corpus of knowledge and the breathtaking technologies that we possess today is testament to the incredible power of enquiry of the human mind. But this should not be for one second taken to mean that we are, as a species, different in our most basic tendencies and needs than we were 200 000 years ago.

Fundamentally, our behaviour and thought processes are driven by the overarching need to feel accepted by our peers, independently of how clever we may become at justifying our positions and beliefs to ourselves and others. This is indeed very insidious, because the more clever and educated we become, the more convincing we can be, no matter how wrong we are.

The only remedy is to train ourselves—to force ourselves—to question into our own beliefs. Instead of finding ways to justify them to ourselves and others, to look for ways and reasons to put them into question, and through this process clarify them further.

When we hear a statement, to question into it. When we read an explanation, to question into it. To never settle for what seems to be obvious, but to always question into things.

We need to make this approach—this continuous questioning—our basic mindset. Questioning our own beliefs in exactly the same manner as we question any other belief, statement, explanation.

Questioning, questioning, questioning, and never settling down.

Refocusing on hydration and fasting

I’m not sure about you, but for me, there are two times of the year when it feels natural to take a step back and give ourselves a little more perspective on what we are doing and where we’re going. One is around our birthday, and the other is at the turn of the new year. And out of this process of reflection, it is normally the case that the topic of health is, at one point, highlighted as fundamental.

I’ve been thinking about health for a long time, and because of my training in physics, I regularly come back to first principles, which in this case means the basics: what are the basics, the most impactful aspects, those things that we should keep in mind above all others?

The reason it’s important to come back to the basics is that as our knowledge and understanding deepen, our perspective on how the various elements fit together grows more complete and also more subtle. In my current thinking, I believe the two most important things for health are optimal hydration and fasting.

Fasting

It is odd, in many ways, that what most of us tend to be obsessed about, from the moment we get up to the time we go to bed, is eating. But that eating itself is in fact so secondary compared to not eating.

When we eat, we can nourish. But when we fast, what we do is repair, cleanse, and rebuild the bodymind from the inside out. But what’s critical is that the majority of these repair processes cannot take place unless we are fasting. Isn’t this enough to show us that fasting is on the whole much more important than eating for preservation of health? I certainly think so.

Now, when we do eat, what do we eat? For most of our evolutionary history, this was not a question we had the luxury to ask. Today, however, most things we eat are devoid of nutrition. And not only devoid of nutrition, but filled with anti-nutrients, like phytates and lectins, that prevent absorption of micronutrients and damage the lining of the digestive apparatus. So, what happens when this is repeated every day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade?

What happens is that we see the world in which we live. A world of sickness and disease, of damaged metabolic and digestive systems, weakened and compromised immune systems, premature ageing and death from chronic conditions that arise from overeating and malnutrition, and all of it normal, customary, expected. How stunning it is.

Hydration

Optimal hydration is without any doubt critical to health for two very simple reasons: the first is that the function of every cell in the body depends on the continuous filtration of the blood by the kidneys that rely on optimal hydration to work well. The second is that macroscopically the body is like a bag of salty water: cremating our body leaves behind ashes that amount to 3.5% of the starting mass. That’s really not very much: for a 60 kg person, we’re talking 2 kg; and for an 85 kg person, it’s 3 kg of ash that remain. While optimal hydration is simple, it does require some effort.

We can’t drink too much too quickly. We can’t drink a lot of water without eating enough salt. And we can’t hydrate when the stomach is not empty. We can’t drink too much too quickly because the kidneys filter the blood at a particular pace which is equivalent to approximately 400 ml/hour. Drinking faster than this will dilute the blood (mostly the sodium) and force the kidneys to push water out of the system (through urine). We can’t drink lots without eating enough salt for exactly the same reason. And we can’t hydrate properly unless the stomach is empty because otherwise the water is stuck in there until the breakdown of the protein content is complete.

In conclusion

You can read a lot more about this in our articles that discuss fasting, digestion, and kidney function. The purpose of this post was to give a very short back-to-basics, and with it, an inspiration to refocus on these essential elements of health which are optimal hydration and fasting, and that are, in the end, very simple:

  • Drink approximately 400 ml of clean, filtered water per hour for a total of about 3.5 liters per day (before 20:30 to not get up at night);
  • Have approximately 1 to 2 teaspoons of unrefined salt per day with your one or two meals;
  • Eat a lot less frequently and in smaller quantities;
  • Avoid metabolically and digestively damaging food, and focus on nutrient dense animal foods and green vegetables.

That’s it.

Mindfulness of speech

Have you ever noticed how people most often tend to start their sentences? Have you ever paid attention to how you yourself tend to start your own sentences?

Before acquiring some measure of mindfulness about ourselves—how we are when we are alone, how we hold the body when we are standing, walking, speaking to someone, how the posture is when we sit down, how it feels to wash the hands before eating, how it feels to rinse the shampoo out of our hair in the shower; how we are with others, how we interact, how we speak, how we engage, how we listen—before we gain some mindfulness of these basic aspects of our life, we are not aware of the context in which these details arise. We therefore behave, act and react, in an automatic unconscious manner.

As a result, we, ourselves and most people we know, generally have this in common: practically everything we think and say starts with the word, the article, “I”: “I think that”, “I believe that”, “I feel that”, “I want to”, “I don’t want to”, “I like this”, “I don’t like that”, “I love this”, “I hate that”, and on and on.

This is true whether we are talking to friends, people we just met, family members we’ve known our whole life, or talking to ourselves: “I need to pee”, “I’m hungry”, “I’m thirsty”, “I’m tired”, “I’m sick of this”, and on and on endlessly.

How can we ever actually listen to someone, actually hear what they are saying, take interest in them, understand them, feel their joy or their sadness when they are talking to us, if the only thing we have unconsciously trained ourselves to do is to think and talk about ourselves?

Self-concerned, self-centred, self-absorbed.

But we don’t want to be like that. Do we? So, the first step to take in outgrowing this childish tendency perfected over our lifetime is to become mindful of it. We need to become able to see ourselves doing it. Once we have, more space will immediately become available to us.

This space will allow us to see ourselves more clearly and provide a measure of freedom by which we can begin to exercise a choice in how we speak and how we listen. Through this, we will naturally begin to think differently, see differently, listen differently, and hear differently, more openly, more consciously, more mindfully, and less selfishly.

Try it. When someone tells you something, don’t reply by telling them something about you to shift the focus of the conversation to yourself. Instead, ask them another question. Get them to speak so you can practice listening. Shift your self-centred tendency to taking an interest in them. Shift self-interest to interest towards others: other people, other subjects, other ideas.

Practicing mindfulness of speech is simple: speak less, listen more, and most importantly, listen to yourself speak.