Welcome to Good Thought, a newsletter about fresh ideas for purposeful living in the 2020s.
I’m Aaron Nesmith-Beck. I founded Atman, one of the first legal psilocybin retreats, and my writing at Freedom & Fulfilment has over 1M pageviews. You can learn more about me here.
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Starving Yourself from the “Dope Hits”
Back in university, I had a roommate who only ate one meal per day. He would emerge from the kitchen every evening carrying a plate piled high with meat, salad, carefully cooked stews, curries, potatoes, and God knows what else.
He would devour this mountain of food in about a half hour, then top if off with a big protein shake or cavernous bowl of oatmeal and greek yogurt. I thought this was insane – but more on him later.
As it turns out, this mode of eating is actually very sane.
Frequent eating, especially carbohydrates, causes our blood sugar to spike and crash. The cycle looks like this:
This cycle has many negative effects, including:
One reason fasting is good for us is that it keeps our blood sugar stable – the opposite of the spike/crash cycle.
(Fasting has other benefits, too. If you’re curious, see here and here.)
You may have noticed that it is becoming harder and harder to manage your attention. Do any of these sound familiar?
These negative effects seem to be caused by another spike/crash cycle, similar to that with food.
“Feasting” our attention on highly stimulating digital media is analogous to feasting our appetite, particularly on high carbohydrate food. In this way, dopamine (the brain’s reward chemical) is analogous to blood sugar (blood glucose).
I first saw this idea, ironically, on Twitter:
There are many studies that show the surge in blood glucose levels after eating cookies.— balajis.com (@balajis) June 6, 2020
We could probably use new tools to generate similar graphs of brain activity after using Twitter.
The analogy between your information diet and food diet may be exact. https://t.co/wotu5pR6Vn pic.twitter.com/5qFakFHcYv
And so I thought, if fasting from food keeps my blood glucose stable, what if I fasting from social media would keep my dopamine stable?
Intermittent fasting for social media. Maybe now is the time to start taking that *really* seriously.— Aaron Nesmith-Beck (@anesmithbeck) June 6, 2020
0 calories for 16-22h/day => 0 units of attention for 16-22h/day. https://t.co/9zdJSJb5ru
I saw Balaji’s tweet around the time the BLM protests had just started. Social media was crazier every day and it was even harder than usual not to get sucked in.
I don’t really use Facebook or Instagram, but Twitter has always been the social media that gets me.
So I started limiting my Twitter use to a set window of time each day, just like an eating window in intermittent fasting.
I started only using Twitter from 4-8PM, then shortened it to 4-5PM. I began to feel less distracted, less of a sense of false urgency (everything on Twitter is like I AM THE MOST IMPORTANT LOOK AT ME RIGHT NOW), and I have more attention for things that matter.
One level up from this would be to limit any phone use at all to a set time window each day. 1-4 hours in the afternoon seems best, because that way you have the morning (the best working hours for most people) to focus on important things.
Two failure cases for limiting phone use entirely are:
Happily, limiting phone use is not all or nothing. Currently I put my phone on airplane mode in the evening, and try to keep it on airplane for as long as possible in the morning. I find this works pretty well for “fasting” from my phone.
Remember my old roommate, the one-meal-a-day eater? He also happens to be one of the healthiest and fittest people I know. He can sit flat on the floor, float into a handstand and hold it there, making the whole thing look pretty easy. He can squat up and down 20 times on one leg.
At first I thought he was crazy for eating one meal a day, but most days now, I do the exact same thing. My energy is more stable, I don’t get irritable from not eating, and I don’t really get hungry until the evening. It’s convenient not to have to think about food for most of the day, and I enjoy the one meal more because of it.
Fasting from food stabilizes blood glucose, and helps you navigate the natural cycle of hunger, craving, and satiation. You can manage your eating habits rather than them managing you.
Fasting from digital media stabilizes dopamine, and helps you navigate the cycle of attentional urges, checking, and reward. You can manage your attentional patterns, rather than your devices managing you.
Imagine no more urges to “check”, no more mindless scrolling, and more free attention to put towards things that really matter.
Will attentional fasting work for you? I invite you to try it out. If you do, let me know how it goes!
🍄 TheraPsil gets first exemption to treat end-of-life cancer patients with psilocybin in Canada
This will be the first use of a classic psychedelic in medical treatment outside of a clinical research setting in over 50 years. Big news for the psychedelic renaissance. It’s a long road ahead, but massive congratulations to the TheraPsil team for acheiving this important milestone.
🛠 Cool tool: Roam
Lots of hype around this note-taking/research tool. Two major ways Roam has been helpful for me:
1. Categorization was always a mental block for me with note-taking or PKM (personal knowledge management) tools. Roam’s knowledge graph style organization and automatic concept-linking means that I can just dump information into Roam and not worry about having perfect a priori categories.
2. The user-friendly interface, “Daily Notes” feature, and automatic interlinking means that I’m taking a lot more more notes than I otherwise would, which I see as a big net benefit.
See here for a full demo of Roam (watch on 1.5X speed).
(Please note, I’m not being paid by Roam or anything to include this. I just really like it.)
📖 Long, worthwhile read: You and Your Research by Richard Hamming
A speech about how to be successful in a scientific research career that is actually a speech about how to be successful in any career. Includes a lot of concentrated wisdom.
“From his [Richard Hamming’s] more than forty years of experience, thirty of which were at Bell Laboratories, he has made a number of direct observations, asked very pointed questions of scientists about what, how, and why they did things, studied the lives of great scientists and great contributions, and has done introspection and studied theories of creativity. The talk is about what he has learned in terms of the properties of the individual scientists, their abilities, traits, working habits, attitudes, and philosophy.”
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