Why you should embrace the abundance mentality

Why are some people successful — financially, socially, and romantically, while others stagnate and never amount to anything?

The Abundance Mindset

Successful people share many traits, but I think one key attribute is the abundance mindset.

The abundance mindset sees the universe as full of opportunity — for friendship, love, and financial success. By contrast, the scarcity mindset sees everything as a fixed pie and leads to hoarding, envy, and stagnation in every aspect of life.

Think of the friend who forms a circle around them a party in any city, the successful serial entrepreneur, the man or woman who fearlessly starts genuine conversations and asks their romantic interests out on a date — what do they have in common? They recognize an opportunity in any form, and they are not afraid of failure because they know that life is full of chance to achieve their goals.

The Scarcity Mindset

By contrast, think of the failures you know. People you met decades ago who ended up in a dead-end career, unable to form or keep romantic relationships, and still living paycheck to paycheck. What do they have in common? In their relationships, they see the value as fixed and scarce. They bicker with their spouses and their coworkers over responsibility, budgets, and commitments because they see relationships as a tit for tat game over a fixed pie. Instead of using their relationships as a foundation to build value, they wear down their romantic and business partners and sabotage their success — yet they are too afraid of finding someone else to move on.

Learning to identify opportunities, and getting the ability and confidence to act on them is a skill, though some of us come by it easier than others. It starts the same way: with the philosophy that the world is full of opportunity if only we can learn to recognize and take advantage of it.

Resources are scarce. Opportunities are not. People hoard resources because they see the world as fixed, and by extension, they see their nature as fixed. Believing that you are incapable of change is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Abundance and Minimalism

For me, minimalism is an important aspect of an abundance mentality:

The homes of the self-made wealthy people tend to be sparse: they contain only the objects that are necessary for who they are today. Whether it’s an inspirational work of art on the wall or utensils in their kitchen, their possessions serve a practical purpose for who they are now. They do not need to hold on to the objects that embodied who they were yesterday.

Poor people and those who did not earn their wealth, on the other hand, stuff their homes with everything that they ever were. They have no confidence in their ability to find opportunities for either material success or self-growth in the future, so they hoard possessions both in case of material and spiritual shortage. Why spiritual? If you view the world as scarce in spiritual fuel, you must hoard all the symbols that have ever defined you. Think of the middle-aged man with his self-esteem and self-identity still linked to the things he did in high school or college, rather than pursuits he has now.

The same thing happens with romantic relationships and friends: abundant people focus on friends and partners who add value to their lives, whereas scarce people hang out with energy-draining friends and relationships that go nowhere.

Embrace Abundance in All Aspects of Your Life

The abundance vs scarcity mentality applies in many aspects of life: for example, time preference is the preference to enjoy goods sooner rather than later. People with a scarcity mentality have a high time preference and struggle to save their salary for the future. People who save for their future have a low time preference because they can imagine the life of abundance that will result from forgoing current consumption.

Whatever savings they do have, people with a scarcity mentality keep mostly in cash because they attribute their own scarcity mindset to markets and entrepreneurs. Likewise, they vote for politicians who redistribute the wealth of others rather than create an environment that fosters wealth-creation.

The scarcity mentality also causes an unhealthy lifestyle, since the scarcity mindset is unable to visualize the future benefits of a healthy diet, and focus only on the pleasure of immediate consumption.

Don’t blame markets for obesity

For nearly the entirety of human history, the chief concern of most people has been getting enough to eat. The invention of capitalism finally enabled the majority of people in market-based societies to focus on higher pursuits. Yet capitalism is now widely blamed for causing obesity – because of the availability of fast food, “food deserts”, or simply because markets incentivize products to make food as delicious and cheap as possible.

Whether or not you are a fan of free markets, it is personally important for you to understand why this idea is wrong:

The ultimate cause of obesity is not that we eat too much food, or that we lack access to healthy food, or that our food is simply too delicious. The cause is that we eat the wrong foods. The reason so much of the food in America is so unhealthy is mostly due to bad science enshrined in agricultural subsidies and government-issued guidelines.

Regardless, if you are overweight (and over 70% of us are), you need to know that the cause is not due to your genetics (our grandparents weren’t all obese), a failing of morality or willpower, or the capitalist system.

When you eat a healthy diet, your body naturality self-regulates the hormonal signals for hunger and satiety to keep you at a healthy weight. It takes years of eating bad foods to cause chronic hormonal imbalances that lead to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and the majority of chronic lifestyle diseases that we deal with today.

I’ve written about the hormonal cause of obesity and what a proper diet consists of elsewhere, but it is also important to understand that you don’t need to shop at premium grocery stores like Whole Foods to eat well.

Organic and groceries considered “health foods” today have only been around for a few decades thanks to health food venture capitalism from people like Whole Foods founder John Mackey. (Follow this link to listen to his story, and you might be surprised about the pro-market views of America’s leading hippie food promoter.)  Food that is objectively nutritious can be found cheaply in most anywhere America, even if it comes in a can on the shelf of a Dollar Store.

Experiments such as “30 Days of Gas Station Food” prove that you can find decent food even if you shop exclusively at gas stations.

If there is interest, I would like to conduct an experiment: identify some staples of a healthy diet, then match them one for one between Whole Foods and Dollar General. I suspect that the building blocks of a nutritious diet can be found in most fast food venues, gas stations, and even “food deserts.”

How I found the one trick to “lose belly fat overnight”

About three years ago, I decided to reach an ambitious financial goal, that would put me in the top 5% of my peers. I engaged in a deep dive of personal finance, which led me to reject the conventional wisdom about career, savings, and investing. I developed new principles, achieved financial success, and moved my retirement date forward by several decades.

Two months ago, I became aware that though I was only slightly overweight, as I got older, my weight was having a detrimental effect on my health in many ways. I decided to engage in a similar process to lose weight.

I already knew that the conventional wisdom of a low-fat diet and more exercise was wrong, but as I dived into the topic of weight loss, what I learned transformed my approach. I’m still learning more every day, but here is the gist of what I found:

The most common explanations for why 70% of Americans are overweight are wrong. Obesity is not caused by eating too much or exercising too little, but by a hormonal imbalance in the body. The human body has a “set body weight” which it maintains through hormonal feedback systems. Inactivity and overeating is the result of obesity, not the cause. This is why diets which focus on eating less and moving more almost always fail — as has been proven by numerous studies. Unfortunately, the lure of hundreds of billions in agricultural subsidies has maintained a false theory of obesity despite 50 years of negative evidence.

The ultimate biological cause of obesity is a hormonal imbalance caused by insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is caused by persistently high levels of sugar in the blood. High sugar levels come from frequent carbohydrate-heavy meals. Cheap and plentiful processed carbohydrates from corn and wheat are the result of agricultural subsidies, which were passed to support the false hypothesis that obesity is caused by excess fat consumption.

Insulin resistance is the cause of fat accumulation. Insulin is a hormone which enables all cells to use and store sugar in the blood. Insulin is essential for the body, but persistently high levels of insulin cause resistance and fat accumulation. Fat storage is thus hormonally mediated. Attempts to lose or gain weight by calorie regulation below the set weight inevitably fail long term because the body compensates in myriad ways:

The body will respond to decreasing fat stores by increasing appetite, reducing satiety, lowering the metabolic rate, decreasing body temperature, and many other ways.
Long term weight control can only be achieved by understanding and addressing the causal factors – the hormones that regulate weight – especially insulin and leptin. This is why people who address weight by regulating calories suffer from a life-long rollercoaster or weight loss and regain. Lack of activity and larger meals is the outcome of obesity, not its cause.

More fundamentally, obesity is caused by dysfunctional emotion-handling skills. Carbohydrates are a highly effective and pleasurable endorphin activator. Like alcohol, tobacco, or heroin, carbs help addicts with chronic stress, anxiety, and depression — which are all common in the developed world. Carbohydrate addicts treat emotional instability with food in the same way as any other substance abuser.

Humans have evolved satiety mechanisms in response to fat and protein consumption (leptin is released to signal satiety). But like alcohol or cocaine, humans have no evolved satiety mechanism for carbs, which causes chronic overeating.

Understanding that carbohydrate consumption is an addictive relationship is essential to effective weight loss. Telling an alcoholic to consume less alcohol does not work because any amount of alcohol reinforces the addition. For the same reason, eliminating all processed carbohydrates from the diet is necessary for an effective dietary change.

Adopted sibling studies show that obesity is 70% genetically determined. I suspect that the specific trait is an inherited lack of emotion-management skills, which combined by super-availability of cheap carbohydrates is responsible for the modern obesity epidemic which affects 70% of Americans. Treatment of obesity requires addressing the need for emotional self-regulation and insulin resistance. Weight and fat loss will follow naturally as a result.

Exercise is effective for weight loss not because it burns fat or builds muscle (these effects are trivial and counteracted by the body in non-athletes), but because the endorphins produced during exercise reduce the emotional dependency on carbohydrates in food.

It is impossible to become fat from eating food — real food. Real food contains fats and proteins that trigger the body’s automatic satiety mechanisms. Obesity develops due to artificial food in the form of refined carbohydrate products. You can’t lose weight by eating MORE of anything. You must reduce the harmful effects of addictive carbohydrates.

The solution to obesity is to correct the hormonal imbalance by reducing insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can be reduced by creating periods of low blood sugar, specifically by eating a low carb diet, extending the periods between meals, such as by avoiding snacking and intermittent fasting.

Lowering insulin resistance will signal the body to automatically reduce fat stores, by increasing activity levels and correcting satiety levels. More activity and smaller meals are the *result* of fat loss, not the cause.

Finally, it is necessary to address the underlying emotional needs which cause carbohydrates addiction. Healthier substitutes such as walks, coffee, meditation, exercise, or just more sleep can reduce the dependency to derive endorphins from frequent carbohydrate consumption.

As I’ve discovered these ideas over the last month, I achieved dramatic success with my own health. I now have a healthy BMI for the first time in years and am rapidly moving towards my goal of 10% body fat without calorie restrictions or exercise. By switching to a low carb, high-fat diet and adding periods of intermittent fasting (a restricted daily eating window) I achieved a steady loss of 2.7 pounds per week.

Furthermore, I found that daily walks, coffee, and a concerted effort to get more sleep reduced my need to constantly snack to find emotional balance.

So, here is my one trick to lose belly fat overnight:

Extend your nighttime fasting period:
Don’t eat anything after eight pm or before noon. Have a glass of water with sea salt (to replenish electrolytes) before bed. Your body will use up the remaining sugar in the blood and enter fat-burning mode overnight, and you will pee out the ketones in the morning. Weigh yourself every morning to motivate yourself and track progress.

America’s Deadliest Drug Addiction Affects Everyone

Today, my *web browser* is insisting that I “can help curb opioid abuse.”
Here is my contribution:

Stock photos in the West universally use the presence of a mug in the shot to connote work, just as the presence of soda or alcohol drunks connote fun. The mug presumably contains coffee, a psychoactive compound which may enhance mental performance. What is shocking is that we not only sanction a chemical dependency on caffeine but celebrate not just the coffee, but our very dependency on it.

Americans see no contradiction with celebrating their own drug addiction to coffee and alcohol while jailing millions of their neighbors who happen to use a different plant for entertainment because of a different economic and cultural context. Cannabis, methamphetamines or cocaine may be stronger per coffee per dose — but make no mistake — if coffee were made illegal, the caffeine density of a single dose would increase to those of banned drugs. Keep in mind that cocaine, heroin, and other banned drugs started out as additives to health tonics and soda drinks, while the THC dose in cannabis rapidly increased after the U.S. banned it in 1937.

I have no problem with coffee as such. I drink it most working days specifically for its psychoactive properties and as medication for occasional tension headaches. However, I would be ashamed to be addicted to caffeine and would consider it a moral failure and a threat to my health. Caffeine addiction is a real health threat, though surprisingly little studied given that perhaps hundreds of millions of Americans suffer from it.

While excess caffeine usage is only mildly harmful, there is a far more serious substance addiction which even more Americans suffer from: sugar. Excess sugar consumption is a primary cause of metabolic syndrome, which is a leading cause of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Alzheimer’s, as well as many types of cancer.

Virtually all Americans consume unhealthy amounts of sugar, and 70% of U.S. adults age 20 years or older are overweight or obese.  Sugar kills more people than all other psychoactive drugs combined. Excess carbohydrates in the diet are the primary cause of obesity, and bad diets rather than genetics or lack of exercise are the overwhelming cause of obesity.

There is sufficient evidence to link excessive sugar intake to the pandemic of obesity and cardiovascular disease. – AHA

The growth of sugar in American diets is primarily linked to U.S. agricultural policy and regulatory capture of agencies by the farming and food industry. This (not our prosperity or sedentary lifestyle) is why obesity is strongly linked to income levels, as wealthier Americans are less affected by sugar additives in food influences by agricultural policy.

Metabolic syndrome is the result of a dangerously addictive diet, just as addictive and difficult to break as heroin or methamphetamines. “Hard drugs” do kill people faster, but only addiction-vulnerable members of society tend to become dependent on them, whereas sugar is a low-level high which has nearly completely infiltrated the American food supply. One big secret of the War on Drugs is that vast majority of people are unlikely to ever become addicted to hard drugs (whether prescription or illegal) because addiction is the result of certain genetic, social, and psychological attributes.

The *primary* cause of any drug addiction is not the pleasure of the high or the pain of withdrawal, but the lack of mental and social structure to provide healthy alternatives to addictive behavior. This is equally true of cocaine, meth, alcohol, pornography, coffee, or sugar. Drug addicts of all kinds universally suffer from a lack of a social support network which advocates and enables healthy dopamine-generating activities.

Loving weird food: how I stopped being a picky eater

Like most Americans, I used to hold some self-evident beliefs about food:

The three dogmas of the food phobiac:

  1. There are foods I “like” and foods I “dislike” and I ought to stick to the things that I like.
  2. The better something tastes, the more unhealthy it must be and vice versa.  You must choose between a long life of disgusting food or indulge yourself and die early.
  3. There is a value hierarchy for all the edible parts of any animal. For example, top sirloin is the ideal for beef.  There’s a similar value hierarchy for animals themselves. Decisions about which animal and which part of the animal to eat are therefore a simple cost/benefit equation.

Two things completely changed by attitude on food: getting married, and moving to China.

The psychology of taste

Our perception of taste is closely associated with our memories of things such as the taste of past meals, our emotional states, and sensory associations with similar foods.  We come to associate foods with sensory reactions based on many factors such as familiarity, the quality of most meals, the people we were with, etc.  By dissociating taste as such from negative experiences we can learn to appreciate food for its inherent taste, without emotional baggage.  We can learn to prefer the taste of healthy foods by the same process.

Sensory integration therapy for food phobiacs

The first step to fixing food phobias is to recognize the problem: it’s not OK to exclude foods because of food sensitivities.  All the “most hated” American foods are delicious when prepared properly. Having recognized the problem, here is the program that worked for me:

The strategy is to gradually introduce foods in different settings, gradually building exposure and positive associations with certain foods.  For example, when my wife learned that I hated zucchini, she gradually introduced it into my diet starting with small amounts balanced by other flavors, and growing to having zucchini be the dominant ingredient.   Here is what she cooked:

  1. Stuffed peppers with zucchini and sausage
  2. Potato and zucchini frittata
  3. Roasted vegetable meatloaf with zucchini
  4. Grated zucchini topped with marinara
  5. Lasagna with zucchini noodles
  6. Zucchini gratin
  7. Zucchini latkes
  8. Zucchini fried in butter with onions
  9. Parmesan crusted fried zucchini

The same program was used for eggplant, brussel sprouts, avocados, cabbage, and okra.  Once I learned to appreciate food for its taste and texture of foods rather than negative associations and new textures, it was no longer necessary to disguise the ingredients.   When I have a negative reaction to something, I isolate the components of the food (source, flavor, smell, texture) and think about which aspect I reacted to. Oftentimes I react to negative memories and associations and not the food itself. Consciously understanding that a negative reaction has no rational basis is often enough to overcome it.

The importance of ceremony

The ceremonial aspect of dining is very important when learning to appreciate food.  If you merely try to inhale as many calories as quickly as possible, any unusual tastes will be an unpleasant distraction.  A proper sit-down meal is required to take the time to really analyze the taste of foods and form new positive sensory-conceptual associations to replace the old negative ones.

 A cosmopolitan attitude to dining

One of the main differences between the Chinese diet and the Western diet is that the entire animal is considered edible. Whereas Americans stuff everything other than “choice” cuts into burgers, sausages, and McNuggets, the Chinese proudly consume the head, claws, organs, and other miscellaneous parts of animals as delicacies. This is not because they’re poorer – the head and feet are the most expensive parts of the animal. Neither do they restrict themselves to a few “blessed” animals – the entire animal kingdom is on the menu.

The difference is that of the food elitist versus that of the food connoisseur. The elitist believes that only a narrow socially accepted list of foods is good enough for him. The connoisseur is an explorer, who uses his palate as the universe-expanding sensory organ it was meant to be.  The elitist lives within the small dietary-social circle he was born into. The connoisseur traverses the biological and cultural realms.

The approach I now take to eating new things now is exploratory one. Instead of responding with “like” or “dislike” I try to understand the flavor components and texture of food. I appreciate meals from many perspectives – sensory, anatomical, social, and historical, to fully integrate it with my worldview.

Note: I have found that  adopting a Paleo diet enhances flavor discrimination. For example, a carrot is actually quite sweet and delicious to eat raw, but a typical carb-addict wouldn’t know it.

None of this is to claim attitude alone will make everything taste good. Meals must be prepared skillfully to taste good. The notion I want to dispel is that taste is either genetic or set by undecipherable psychological factors we cannot affect. Human culture has a rich history of many culinary traditions and we ought to learn to appreciate them without emotional baggage or provincial bias.

It’s time to bring your lunch to work

One stark difference between my coworkers during the time I lived in Shanghai was that the majority of Chinese workers brought their lunch from home, whereas foreigners tended to go to restaurants to eat.  Going out in central Shanghai is not cheap, but like New York City or San Francisco, it has a fantastic selection of exotic dining options.   Chances are however, that if you live elsewhere in the world, you frequent your local Chick-Fil-A or Chipotle simply because it’s the most practical lunch option.  Two thirds of Americans go out for lunch, costing them over $2000 per year.

If you love going out for lunch to eat great food, that’s great.  However, consider that you can save a lot of money and time, as well as eat much better if you pack your own lunch.   I bring my own breakfast almost every day, and it’s not nearly as much effort as most people imagine.  Furthermore,  bringing my own lunch makes it much easier for me to stick to a paleo diet.

The photo below shows the three parts of my lunch box:

Breakfast

  • 3 eggs and bacon or sausage:   each Sunday, my wife prepares two dozen hard boiled eggs and a pan of bacon and sausage in the oven.  These go into individually-packages ziplock bags for the week.   Each morning we throw one bag into my lunchbox.

Lunch

  • My main course is usually leftovers.   There are ideas online for how to pack a lunch box, but keep in mind you don’t need to prepare food specifically for lunch:  if you go out for dinner, get some to take with you, and if you cook at home, just make enough for the next day.   When I don’t have any other ideas, I grab some single-serving canned salmon or potato salad.

Snacks

  • My snacks for the today: almonds, dark chocolate,  carrots and an orange.  Like my breakfast, snacks are prepared a week or more in advance in individual ziploc bags.

Swiss Steak with Venison

Ingredients

  1. 2 lb. deer round or chuck steak
  2. 1/2 c. flour (seasoned with 1/2 tsp. salt and pepper)
  3. 1/4 c. vegetable oil
  4. 1 med. onion (chopped)
  5. 2 carrots (fine chopped or grated)
  6. 1 (#303) can sliced stewed tomatoes
  7. 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  8. Roux (2 tbsp. flour dissolved in 2 tbsp. melted butter)
  9. Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Heat oil in iron or heavy skillet over medium heat. Dredge steaks in seasoned flour and brown on both sides slowly over medium heat. Remove meat, set aside.
  2. Add 1 cup water, onion, carrot, Worcestershire sauce and stewed tomatoes. Stir while bringing vegetables to a boil. Reduce heat. Add meat. Cover and simmer until meat is tender. Remove meat carefully with slotted spoon or spatula. Place in serving bowl.
  3. Remove sauce from heat and stir in roux until smooth. Stirring constantly, heat to boiling over medium heat. Cook until slightly thickened. Taste, adjust seasonings. Pour over meat. Serve with mashed potatoes.

Why I eat Paleo

We are animals not far removed from the jungle. Genetically, we are nearly identical to primitive man.

Our bodies have been shaped by our environment to make the best of the resources available to us. Our genotype (the DNA) only develops a healthy phenotype (our body and mind) in response to the environmental inputs it evolved to thrive in. The trouble with our modern, industrial lifestyle is that it is very different from the environment our bodies evolved to thrive in.

As a result, most of us are plagued by chronic illnesses that our ancestors never dealt with. If they survived childhood illnesses and accidents, our primitive ancestors could expect to live almost as long as us without the help of any modern comforts.

What are the sins of the modern lifestyle?

  • We eat terrible, non-human food: our bodies are adapted to handle a diet of mainly whole animal carcasses, leafy greens,nuts & berries.  Modern man eats a diet full of grains and starches – full of carbohydrates that were a rare delicacy for primitive man.
  • We evolved to eat whatever food is available and to handle occasional fasts – not to gorge ourselves multiple times a day on substances engineered to directly trigger our pleasure hormones.
  • We evolved to tone our bodies with hours of daily activity, but today we fight every exertion with door to door transportation.
  • Most people who try exercise programs follow stressful, repetitive and boring workouts which can be counter-productive and do not match the natural workouts our bodies adapted to.
  •  We evolved to handle occasional intense stresses (chasing prey and escaping predators) but we are overwhelmed with constantly stressful modern workplaces and hectic schedules.
  • The substitution of a physiologically proper diet with highly processed modern foods and toxic, synthetic sweeteners has destroyed our health as well as our sense of taste: we can no longer taste or appreciate the natural sugars and flavors in many foods.

So, why Paleo?