Grain Brain Summary

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Grain Brain takes a look at the impact carbohydrates have on the structure and development of your brain, arriving at the conclusion that a diet high in fat, low in carbs and especially sugar, combined with fasting, lots of activity and more sleep could provide you with a much higher quality of life.

I hate 90% of all diet books. Any diet, which categorically eliminates any category of foods (or even whole nutrient groups), is imbalanced and doomed to fail, if you ask me. It just doesn’t work.

You see, the mistake most diet books make is assuming they can deliver a diet that works for everyone and making conclusions about what must be good solely based on what’s bad. This book does this too, so it wasn’t off to a good start with me. But I have to admit that in the end, David Perlmutter turns it around, by branching out, going beyond diets, and providing a full picture of what makes humans healthy or ill.

Omitting the fact that the book states that fruit juice is as bad as soda for your health, and that some of its hypotheses are flawed in the way that they can never be proven, this actually made a few good points.

Here are 3 lessons from Grain Brain to help you make healthier decisions:

Cholesterol isn’t unhealthy because your body regulates it, depending on your intake.

With the right diet, your body can possibly create more neurons, which makes you smarter.

Sleep has a huge impact on leptin levels, which in turn control your hunger.

No grain, no gain – is that actually true? Let’s see if we can find out!

Lesson 1: Your body regulates your cholesterol, depending on your intake, so cholesterol itself isn’t a problem.

My grandma used to say: “Don’t eat more than one egg per day, it’s bad for your cholesterol,” when I was a kid. I distinctly remember having one boiled egg every Sunday morning for breakfast, and that was it. High cholesterol had been linked to lots of incidents of heart diseases for decades – but as it turns out, cholesterol isn’t the problem.

It’s the kinds of cholesterol and their ratio. You have two types of cholesterol in your body. They’re called LDL and HDL. LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein, while HDL equates to high-density lipoprotein. You can remember it by thinking of the L as low-quality and the H as high-quality, because LDL is the “bad” cholesterol, while HDL is the “good” cholesterol.

The total number of these two values combined + 20% of your triglycerides (a type of fat in your bloodstream) was always to be kept below 200 to avoid increased risk of heart disease. Actually, doctors now know that the ratio of HDL compared to your total is more important. Dividing your total cholesterol, say 150, by your HDL, say 50, should never yield a number higher than 5, and ideally stay at 3.5 or below.

However, eating lots of eggs, cheese or butter won’t hurt you in this regard. Only eating low-quality eggs, cheese and butter will, because of the other health-threatening ingredients they contain.

Your body regulates your cholesterol on how much you take in with your food. If you eat 5 eggs every day, your body simply produces less. Only if you completely overload (or lack) cholesterol will your body try to dial back (or overcompensate) – and that’s what causes problems.

If our ancestors survived on a diet that was 70% fats, chances are, so can we.

Lesson 2: You might get smarter by eating right, because it could allow your brain to create more neurons.

This is a classic example of a book blowing the results of a study out of proportion. When your brain creates new neurons, this process is called neurogenesis. An important part of this process is BDNF – brain-derived neurotrophic factor protein. The book states that by eating less, you can increase the amount of BDNF your brain produces, and therefore get it to create more neurons.

There are currently no studies out there that prove this effect in humans. So far, this has only been observed in diabetic mice and other animals, but not in humans.

The study the book quotes is indeed one about calorie restriction in elderly people, but this is confirmed to only positively impact memory, not BDNF.

What does that mean? There’s a chance that with the right diet (if you find it), you could get your brain to create more of those precious neurons – but so far, we don’t know.

Lesson 3: How much you sleep affects your leptin levels, which in turn control your hunger.

Here’s something we know for sure makes your life better: sleep more. A lack of sleep impacts the functionality of up to 711 of your genes, including the ones in charge of stress, inflammation, your metabolism and immune system.

Take leptin, for example, which regulates your body’s inflammation response to potential dangers. The level of this hormone influences how hungry you are and if you crave carbs. When leptin drops by 20%, your appetite and craving for carbs goes up by 24%.

What causes leptin to drop? Sleep deprivation. The less you sleep, the hungrier you’ll be and the more sugary foods you’ll crave, to make up for the lack of energy, and the harder it’ll be to resist. Sleep is also the only thing that impacts leptin levels – there aren’t any supplements for it.

You see, it’s all connected, and there’s no way to change your diet without impacting other things and vice versa. Don’t live a half-healthy life. So go get some rest and you’ll see your hunger will take care of itself.

My personal take-aways

As I said, I was very skeptical about this book at first. Somewhat still am. Not all of it can stand its ground. That said, there are some high-level lessons in there worth nothing, as you can see from the 3 I outlined above. If you know your food, and think you can safely distinguish between what’s good and what’s not, go for it!

First Bite Summary

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First Bite explains how you’ve acquired your eating habits in your childhood and why they’re not hardwired, as well as how you can change them for the better and teach your children to eat healthy.

“I can’t help it, I’ve just always loved cake!” Chances are “always” started when you were four, five or six years old, not actually when you were born. Telling ourselves our eating habits are hardwired into our genetic code is a welcome excuse, of course. It allows you to avoid taking responsibility for how you look and how healthy you are.

But at the very latest when we have kids, it might be time to look in the mirror, suck it up and say “Alright, it’s time to set a better example.” I believe awareness is always the first step. That’s where books like this one come in. By educating yourself about the history of eating habits and what research says really makes us eat the way we do, you’ll be well on your way to improving your diet (as in “way of life,” not weight loss program).

Here are 3 lessons from Bee Wilson’s First Bite:

  • Kids make better food choices than you think – if you let them.
  • Your parents might make your children fat, in spite of having good intentions.
  • Learn to tell hunger from appetite to make sure you don’t take in unnecessary calories.

Want to cultivate healthier eating habits? You’ve come to the right place, here we go!

Lesson 1: Children will make good food choices on their own, if we let them.

Who had the biggest impact on your eating habits? Your parents, of course! Chances are that, if you were always told to finish your plate, you still eat whatever’s in front of you today, even when you’re already full. Or if your mom always allowed you to snack before dinner, you probably still do that today. The eating habits of our parents become our eating habits.

Therefore, the only right way to get your kids to acquire good eating habits is to lead by example.

One thing that’s proven to never work is forcing kids to “eat the right stuff” – especially when you’re not doing it yourself. Kids will see right through the “salad scam” and simply refuse. But imagine letting your kids choose to eat what they want. A nightmare, right?

Maybe not. In 1929, a study was done letting babies as young as six months self-select their food. The babies were all given a selection of 34 foods and then allowed to choose among everything from milk to kidney. The study continued for six years, and the kids were never pressured into selecting.

Astonishingly, over the duration of the study, all children chose all foods, and even went for the healthiest ones when sick.

So don’t stress about letting your kids decide what to eat – especially with you being a good example not that much can go wrong.

Lesson 2: Grandparents tend to make their children and grandchildren overeat.

Did your grandma use to tell you to “have just one more bite” when you were little? Or to finish your entire plate? Or to have dessert, even when you said you were full?

Why do grandparents do that? And is it any good?

First of all, no, it’s not good, of course. It just makes you fat. And that’s exactly what grandparents want. But they mean well. You have to remember that your grandparents likely lived in times when food wasn’t always readily available. Most grandparents have been through a war, famine or food shortage at some point in their lives, so their natural tendency is to want something better for their children and grandchildren.

It’s the equivalent of rich parents paying everything for their kids, and thus spoiling them. While your grandparents think you’ll be well prepared with a few extra kilograms of weight, chances of a food shortage are very slim in most places nowadays, which turns these good intentions into bad weight problems.

This problem is especially prominent in China, where most parents work and grandparents take care of the kids, making them chubby on purpose.

So watch how your parents influence your kids’ eating habits (and your own).

Lesson 3: Know when you’re hungry and when you just “want to eat” to spare yourself plenty of unnecessary calories.

Of course nutritional value is a problem nowadays, with salt, sugar and fat being the primary components of most processed foods. But the worst calories to consume are still the ones you never needed in the first place.

Welcome to comfort eating. Just like food scarcity has become rare in the Western world, so has hunger. But if food is always available, it’s very easy to mistake appetite for hunger. When you’re bored, sad, frustrated or not satisfied with something, food is an easy, fast, and readily available choice. If I’m honest, I don’t really know what it means to be really hungry.

Recently, I’ve sometimes skipped dinner, just to see what it feels like, and I’m often surprised that it’s not that bad. It just makes me appreciate breakfast more.

Studies have shown that children can learn to regulate how much they eat within a few weeks, and for adults a week is enough. So the next time you’re about to eat a Snickers bar, ask yourself: Are you really hungry? Or just bored?

My personal take-aways

Some of the insights in this book are surprising, others not so much – but all of them are important. This isn’t the most exciting book in the world, but a very necessary one, if you ask me. Awareness is key, it all starts with learning about how we work and what biology and history tell us about eating. A good read!

Fast Food Nation Summary

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Fast Food Nation describes how the fast food industry has reduced the overall food quality worldwide, created poor working conditions for millions of people and ruined public health.

The most serious thing about this book is that it was written 15 years ago and not much has changed. Many books have taken on the topic of fast food, and while they all emphasize different aspects, they share one unanimous message: fast food is bad for everybody, regardless of whether you eat it or not.

Even if you don’t eat fast food, you’ll still be negatively affected by some of the consequences, like rising crime rates where you live, because a big supplier moved there recently and now employs illegal migrant workers, who are poor and desperate.

And if you think that’s bad, wait till you read the other 3 lessons from Eric Schlosser’s book. Chances are, you’ll take a break from eating at McDonald’s for a while. Here they are:

Fast food franchises deliberately target children, because they’re more effective to market to.

The meat packaging industry has made American cities poor and ridden with crime.

Obesity isn’t the worst health issue that fast food creates. There’s something bigger.

Ready to kiss your favorite burger joint goodbye? You’ll want to find a new one soon!

Lesson 1: Fast food companies target children in their marketing, because they’re impressionable.

When you think about who to market a product to, one of the first questions that comes up is usually: “Who has the money to buy this?” But the fast food industry found a group of customers that helped them go around this question: children.

Children are responsive, easy to impress and can be convinced with very simple incentives. You show them a bunch of toys and funny characters plus a savory burger and they’re sold. Speaking of sold, how do they come up with the money to pay for the food?

They don’t. They simply annoy their parents until they buy it for them. There’s hardly anything more convincing for a parent than a child’s plea and since the tendency of parents to compensate a lack of attention with spending more money on their kids has gone up since the 80s, this kind of advertising made for the perfect combination of desire and guilt.

Just think of all the colors at a McDonald’s. The playground outside. The naming of “Happy Meals.” The toys. They’re a children’s paradise. Adding the toys alone can double or triple sales in any given week.

A shocking result of their deliberate marketing to children is that 90% of all children in the US between the ages of three and nine go to McDonald’s at least once a month.

Oh and the food has long snuck into schools too. Fast food chains like Subway are often the main suppliers of cafeteria food.

Lesson 2: Wherever big meat packaging companies go, crime and poverty are on the rise.

How is it even possible for one cheeseburger to cost $1? I mean, think about how much of the work that goes into one burger you could do if I gave you $1. And that’s not even thinking about profit!

Of course mass production is the main driver behind these prices, but even with that in mind the race for cheaper could hardly be any closer to the bottom, could it?

The meat processing industry has long adopted the same assembly line, highly standardized process the fast food industry uses to make the food. This has made skilled workers unnecessary. Instead, they hire cheap, replaceable employees, often illegal migrants, homeless people or refugees and pay them next to nothing.

For example, since an employer must only offer paid holidays and health insurance after at least six months of work time, many meat companies fire their workers shortly before passing this mark. Another thing meat packagers love about hiring illegal immigrants (like the 25% of workers in this industry in Iowa and Nebraska are) is that they can’t form unions.

The natural result of these practices is not just a cheap burger, but also a downfall of the cities these companies move to. Because poor and desperate people make up the workforce of meat packaging firms, the cities they move to see a drastic spike in crime and the need for medical care. Lexington, Nebraska, for example, doubled both its crime rate and state-subsidized medical care incidents within ten years of a big slaughterhouse moving there in 1990. Gangs controlled the streets and turned the city into a drug hub.

Everything comes at a price. Even if it’s just $1. Especially if it’s just $1.

Lesson 3: There’s a worse health issue than obesity that the fast food industry creates, and it affects 130,000 people a DAY.

You’re probably aware of the big obesity problem in the US, and you’re right to suspect that fast food is largely at fault here. However, there’s an even bigger health issue, one that affects still more people, that you probably have no idea about.

A type of bacteria called E. coli sometimes pops up in the news for bringing someone into the hospital or even causing their death. It’s a pathogen that mostly grows within feces (that’s poop). But sometimes, somehow, it ends up in the food people eat, which then gets them infected.

Now you might say “Wait a minute. If the bacteria grow in feces, and end up in food, then…” – and you’re right. It means some of your fast food is shit. Literally.

Because in both the meat packaging and fast food industry the work is done fast, by unskilled people and in unsanitary conditions, it’s not uncommon for crap to somehow come in contact with the meat. But that doesn’t even have to be the case. By illegally feeding the cattle (which naturally eats grass) wrong (like corn) and sometimes downright atrocious food (like dead horses, pigs or chicken poop), they’re increasing the chances of E. coli even further.

Since so few companies (there are just four big meat packagers) supply all of the US with meat, just one contaminated batch can affect millions of people.

As a result, 130,000 Americans get sick from food poisoning – EVERY DAY.

My personal take-aways

I’ve eaten at McDonald’s once in the past four years. And once at Burger King. I haven’t regretted it so far and I think neither will you. Get educated. Choose better food.

Farmageddon Summary

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Farmageddon is a shocking compendium of the facts and figures about how the mass production of cheap meat influences our world, ranging from water and air pollution, to threatening species, to making us obese and sick, in order to show why we must return to more traditional farming techniques to sustainably feed the world.

First of all, this book has nothing to do with the 2011 film of the same name (which is really good, btw). Isabel Oakeshott and Philip Lymbery co-authored this book in 2014, to raise awareness regarding the issues with mass meat production in factory farming.

Lymbery is the CEO of Compassion in World Farming, a UK registered charity and animal welfare organization, which fights for fair conditions for animal livestock and against all agricultural mass production systems, which drive most of the meat we consume today.

The book is a compendium of incredibly shocking statistics, showing how far the impact of cheap meat really goes, from fish to air, from famine to bacteria, from cramming to cloning.

To stay focused on the most important part, I’ve decided to share 3 lessons from the last part of the book, which address the core of the issue, and what we can do about it:

Even China starts to farm industrially now, which is a huge problem.

The only way to undo the damage of factory farming is to go back to more traditional ways.

We as food consumers must vote with our voices and dollars to save the future of food.

Ready to get real about food? Prepare for Farmageddon!

Lesson 1: The more popular factory farming gets, the more problems it causes, and now even China catches on.

China is the world’s biggest country, with over 1.3 billion people living there. So whenever something becomes a trend in China, it’s likely to affect the whole world, as they make up almost 20% of the entire population of the planet. In the past decade, China has gotten wealthier and wealthier, as it slowly goes from developing to developed country, mimicking a lot of what more Western countries, like the US or Germany, do.

As the middle class in China gets stronger, so does the demand for meat, because now the majority of the Chinese population can finally afford it on a regular basis. The average pork consumption per person, for example, has topped the British average of 25 kg/year already, with the average Chinese person consuming 34 kg of pork annually.

And Chinese meat manufacturers are happy to comply, for example Muyuan Foodstuff Co., Ltd. shoots for 9 million pigs per year in 2017, while others go as far as importing especially well-bred pigs from over 9,000 km away via Boeing 747 – a £330,000 trip.

Next to the usual side effects of mass pig farming, like bacteria development, low quality meat and horrible conditions, these companies are also prone to scandals, often using steroids and adding chemicals to the animal food and meat products, in order to cheat their way to meeting safety standards.

Lesson 2: Going back to traditional farming can undo the damage mass meat production is causing.

Of course going back to more traditional farming methods is a rather obvious answer to this problem, but it’s still the best one. However, there’s something even easier we can do right now: waste less food.

The US alone waste about 30% of all the food consumers purchase. Imagine that! If you spend $30 on food, $10 goes down the drain (or into the trash can, rather). Worldwide, we waste about 11 billion (!) chickens, 270 million pigs and 59 million cows – every year.

If we did nothing but cut down how much food we waste, we’d easily be able to feed the world.

This would also save precious resources, for example some of the 28% of agricultural land, which is used to produce food that goes to waste, the supply water of which alone could take care of the domestic needs of 9 billion people.

Traditional farming is also much more sustainable for all involved: humans, land and animals. Humans can’t eat grass, but cows naturally do, so instead of feeding them grain and fish we can eat, we can just let them eat what they want and give us milk and meat in return (without shipping it across the globe). Due to the natural cycle management of traditional farming, soil would be replenished and stay fertile for much longer too.

Lesson 3: We, the food consumers, must vote with both our voices and the dollars we spend, to save the future of food.

Do you buy the food you eat?

Yes? You do? Then guess what: You’re part of the problem AND also the only solution. No one but us, we, the food consumers, can turn this around. What the food industry does is give us what we demand, as long as we demand it enough. So every dollar spent, every complaint made, and every food label read makes a difference.

We want earth to survive, after all, it’s the only way we can survive, and the only way to make that happen is to make a conscious choice with how we spend our money.

One thing you can do to instantly make better choices is to look out for labels like “grass-fed” and “pasture-raised,” which indicate that the animals ate grass – their natural choice of food. Avoid meaningless ones like “farm-fresh” or “all-natural,” which companies are legally allowed to use, even if raising their animals in horrific conditions, and you’ll be one step closer to making a difference!

My personal take-aways

I seriously couldn’t believe how many “Holy shit!” moments I had while reading this. The number of horrifying statistics in this book is insane. It’s like a slap in the face with a pork chop, saying “Hello, buy higher quality food!” Much needed and recommended book.

Ending Aging Summary

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Ending Aging describes how the process of aging is like a disease and therefore, treatable, by outlining the seven primary ways in which we age and possible antidotes to all of them, plus a glimpse into the future of potentially indefinite human life.

One of my coaching clients is very passionate about biotech, longevity and anti-aging. He recently told me about SENS, a foundation dedicated to the battle against death. Now I found out that their Chief Science Offer Aubrey de Grey has written this book, so I had to give it a go.

He argues that the biggest problem in fighting off what most of us believe to be inevitable is funding – we know what to do and science knows how to do it, there’s just not enough money to pay for it.

In this book he identifies the seven primary causes of aging and how to deal with them.

Here are 3 lessons to help you age less:

  • The solution to aging isn’t prevention or medication – it’s repair.
  • Mitochondrial mutation is one of the biggest aging factors,and it can be taken care of.
  • In order to win the war against aging, we need to change our mindset.

Want to live to be 150? Better read on then!

Lesson 1: The cure for aging is neither prevention, nor medication – it’s repair.

The most common way to deal with a disease is to prescribe medication for it. Have a headache? Take a pill. Have heart problems? Take a pill. Itchy feet? Take a pill.

The problem with medication is obvious: You never get to know what caused the problem in the first place, and can therefore never really fix it. You’re just treating symptoms.

Another, slightly better idea is to prevent getting sick in the first place. But you can only do that if you know what causes the disease. With aging however, that’s impossible, because there is a plethora of contributing factors, so it becomes hard to pinpoint which ones you personally should address.

How to fight against aging then? The answer is to repair the damage that has been done until you first start treating aging.

For example, if a 40-year-old is expected to live to be 80, and you cut his aging speed in half with preemptive measures, his remaining life span doubles from 40 to 80, and he can live up to 120. But if you jump in when he’s 40 and repair all the damage up to that point, he might now only have the damage of a 20 year old – but can continue that treatment for the rest of his life. As long as he keeps repairing prior damages, he can keep extending his life span, maybe up to twice his expected age, and might live to be 160.

Lesson 2: A huge aging factor is mitochondrial mutation, and it can be dealt with.

You might have heard a thing or two about free radicals. Usually, all of the outmost electrons of an atom pair up in twos, which makes them stable. These are the lines you see around the letters in chemical formulas (like here). However, some reactions can cause an electron on the outer shell of its atom to end up by itself – which makes it a free radical.

Free radicals are highly reactive. They’re very unstable, so they’re dying to react with something and team up with another electron. So much in fact, that they’ll tear apart close-by molecules, just to react, often setting off a chain reaction.

Therefore, free radicals are troublemakers in your body, and they don’t just come in from the outside. Many of them are produced in your mitochondria (the so-called power plants of your cells, which deliver energy to all cells), and can lead to a change in your mitochondrial DNA. These mutations accelerate aging, so it’d be best to stop them.

A potential solution is allotopic expression: By hiding a healthy backup copy of your mitochondrial DNA in each cell’s nucleus (that’s the core of the cell, which has protective shields around it), we could save it from exposure to free radicals!

Lesson 3: If we want to win the war against aging, we’ll have to change our mindset first.

Most anti-aging treatments, like the one above, are still in experimental stages. Aubrey de Grey says the time we waste with trying to get more funding and waiting for drug trials to be approved actually costs more lives than the experiments it takes to get them released.

For every person, who dies from using an experimental stage drug, ten die, because they had to wait too long for their drug to be approved.

Our brains prefer safety now over bigger benefits later, but unless we shift our mindset to accepting that some people will die on our way towards ending aging, we’ll create further and further delays by exaggerating every single failed treatment cause.

Aubrey himself currently has a project called robust mouse rejuvenation going, where SENS is trying to extend the life span of mice from three to five years, with treatment beginning in year three. He hopes that proving anti-aging technology works in mammals will help speed up the drug approval process and get us to infinity a lot faster.

My personal take-aways

This was an out of the box read for sure! Very specific, incredibly detailed, and quite insightful. It’s interesting to see the development of this crucial branch of medicine and science, and alarming how little attention (and money) is paid to it. Even if you don’t want to live forever (I know I don’t), well worth a read.

Buddha’s Brain Summary

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Buddha’s Brain explains how world-changing thought leaders like Moses, Mohammed, Jesus, Gandhi and theBuddha altered their brains with the power of their minds and how you can use the latest findings of neuroscience to do the same and become a more positive, resilient, mindful and happy person.

Here are 3 very practical lessons from the book to help you improve your life:

  • Stop throwing second darts by not dwelling on your pain.
  • Practice composure to not live in a state of constantdesire.
  • Don’t identify with so many things to reduce your suffering.

Prepared to tap into Buddha’s brain? Let’s neuroscience the heck out of your happiness!

Lesson 1: One dart hurts enough. Don’t make your pain worse by dwelling on it.

There’s a great quote you might have heard, which is often accredited to Buddha, but whose origin is actually unknown.

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” ~ Anonymous

It pretty much sums up the idea Hanson describes in the book, which says that we experience discomfort on two levels.

The first level feels like being struck by a dart. It’s a sudden rush of pain, for example from an accident (stubbing your toe, touching a hot plate, crashing with your bike), a disappointed expectation, failure or rejection. This kind of pain is normal, we all have to face it in our lives, and there’s not much we can do about it.

Most of the time, however, we make it worse by throwing a second dart at ourselves, based on how we physically and mentally react to the first dart. For example, when you crash with your bike, you might curse at the person that blocked your view, blame the shitty tarmac, or not instantly go to the hospital because you have an important meeting. All of these add suffering to the pain you already have, but are entirely in your control.

You don’t have to do any of these. Instead, you can just accept the pain, do what’s necessary to heal your wounds, and get on with your life. 99% of the time the second darts are a lot worse than the first ones, because we keep throwing them long after the first dart has vanished, for example by obsessing for months over an ended relationship or worrying about test results.

Life throws enough darts at you as is, so stop throwing more at yourself, okay?

Lesson 2: Quit the eternal rat race for more by practicing composure every day.

Have your parents ever told you to “keep your composure” when you were a kid? What does that even mean? Most of the time, we use it in a false context. When people say it, they often expect you to not act out your feelings.

For example, when you get an email in the middle of class, telling you you’ve been accepted into the school you so desperately want to go to, you’ll likely want to jump up and dance right then and there. If you do it, your teacher will probably tell you to “keep it together”. Same goes when we’re on the brink of despair, about to do something crazy.

But composure doesn’t mean hiding your feelings. When you’re composed you stay with and experience your feelings just long enough to let them sink in, without developing a permanent reaction to them. Doing your victory dance is just fine. When you instantly start to think about what’s next, that’s when it gets problematic.

Composure is a circuit-breaker. It allows you to cut the connection between “I feel good about this” and “I need more of it” or “I feel horrible about this” and “I must avoid this forever”.

You can practice true composure by noticing when you feel particularly good or bad and then taking a short moment to just stay with the feeling for 20-30 seconds. This allows you to let it sink in, while at the same time accepting that it’s okay as it is, without instantly chasing the next thing in your head.

Lesson 3: Reduce the suffering in your life by not identifying with so many things.

What do buddhist monks and death-row prison inmates have in common? They let go of their sense of self. At both ends of the spectrum, ultimate enlightenment and inevitable death, letting go replaces all suffering with peace, fulfillment and acceptance.

But then again, a strong sense of self is important. You have to assert yourself and your right to be happy. Who you think you are gives you continuity in life and helps you set yourself apart from other people. So no, leaving everything behind and living alone in the woods isn’t the solution.

You simply have to tame your sense of self by not identifying with so many things. Every time you put the word “I” or “my” in a sentence with something, you make its fate your own. Since everything in the world eventually comes to an end, over-identifying with things ultimately makes you feel like you face loss a lot and can thus make you depressed.

For example, if you have a ton of clothes, electronic devices and material possessions, you’ll say “my laptop”, “my sweater”, “my TV” and “my remote control helicopter” a lot. No matter which of these breaks next, you’ll feel the pain of the first dart, so the more you have, the more darts are likely to come flying your way.

Imagine taking a weekend to unclutter and ending up with 30% less than you had before. That’s a lot of less “I’s” and “my’s” in your vocabulary and therefore, will help you moderate your sense of self.

Note: A personal exercise I like to do is when I step out on the street, I look up to the roof of the highest building I can see, then imagine seeing myself from up there and slowly zooming out and out and out until I’m in space (like with Google Maps). Always shows me that I’m just a teeny tiny part of this great thing called the universe.

My personal take-aways

I’ve totally run out of words, so all I’ll say is that the science + practical tips + examples of results make this book a pre-mindfulness/post-mindfulness comparison with an included manual to go from A to B. Go get it!

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