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The River of Doubt

July 09, 2018

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard is a remarkable account of Theodore Roosevelt's epic journey through uncharted territory in the Amazon.

I am a fan of anything that tests the limits of the human being and the journey that Roosevelt and his crew that he assembled undertook down the River of Doubt was one of the most incredible tests of the human spirit that I've ever heard of.

The stretch of the Amazon that the men set out to conquer was filled with so many obstacles. The men had to conquer intense whitewater rapids nearly every step of the way. They lost most of their boats and provisions to the difficulty of the rapids alone and were forced to build their own canoes. Losing provisions forced them to suffer through near starvation. They also had to worry about the native Indians of the jungle attacking them at any moment. The wildlife in the River of Doubt was no help either. If the men fell in the water, there was potential for piranhas to rip apart their limbs. At one point in the jounrey, Roosevelt cut his leg when he fell in the water, and was brought to the brink of suicide over the latter part of the expedition due to the infection he got from having the open wound. One of the men drowned on the journey, one of them killed another man and then was abandoned by the crew.

The stress of the journey led the men to intense despair. Roosevelt wrote in his diary, "Under such conditions, whatever is evil in man's nature comes to the front." Nothing like seeking out a good struggle to see what you're truly made of.

Map of the journey.

River of doubt

Theodore Roosevelt and crew.

Roosevelt and crew

Behavioral Fitness and Resilience

July 16, 2018

I recently have been interested in sleep and how to best optimize the time I am sleeping. In my curiosity, I found an article titled, “Behavioral Fitness and Resilience” by Sean Robson and Nicholas Salcedo. It’s an interesting read, centered around the Air Force and their behaviors that either help contribute to their health or are harmful to their health. I was interested in the article for its facts on sleep and health hygiene.

One concept I found fascinating was TFF. Total Force Fitness, a concept defined by Admiral Michael Mullen: “A total force that has achieved total fitness is healthy, ready, and resilient; capable of meeting challenges and surviving threats.” The eight domains of TFF: medical, nutritional, environmental, physical, social, spiritual, behavioral, and psychological. This framework expands on the traditional conceptualization of resilience by looking beyond the psychological realm to also emphasize the mind-body connection and the interdependence of each of the eight domains.

The study talks a lot about US Military Personnel and how they are at a high risk for many deleterious outcomes. The idea is that there are certain routines and habits that can help the military become more resilient and have stronger behavioral fitness. Behavioral fitness refers to the relationship between one’s behaviors and their positive or negative health outcomes. The concept emphasizes individual responsibility to engage in behaviors and activities that facilitate the maintenance of health or prevent disease or dysfunction. Resilience refers to the ability to withstand, recover from, and grow in the face of stressors. Fitness, which is related, is meant as a “state of adaptation in balance with the conditions at hand.” The study focuses on sleep, smoking, and drug and alcohol abuse and shows that failure to properly manage one’s habits in regards to these three domains can lead one to be more susceptible to the negative effects of stress.

In regards to sleep, here are some facts from the article. Sleep is absolutely necessary and decrements in sleep are strongly linked to a wide range of negative outcomes including reduced physical health outcomes and obesity, poor mental health, and decreased job-related performance. Sleep is particularly important in cognition and promotes brain plasticity, which supports learning and memory by forming new and lasting connections in the brain. Sleep loss can reduce cytokine production, which is a biological function that may lead to decreased immune system functioning. Excessive sleep loss can contribute to chronic health conditions, including coronary heart disease and diabetes. Getting too much sleep can be just as harmful as excessive sleep loss. Sleep promotes the consolidation and generalization of emotional experiences, whereas sleep loss may increase reactivity and irritability to events. Sleep loss can result in slower reaction times and decrease hand-eye coordination and accuracy, mimicking being drunk.

Lastly, if you are as interested as I am in getting good sleep, here are some ways the article suggests do so. According to the National Sleep Foundation, individuals struggling with sleep will engage in a number of maladaptive strategies to restore normal sleep patterns. Two of these being: 1) staying in bed longer by either going to bed earlier or staying in bed later, and 2) staying in bed while awake. These maladaptive strategies may be mutually reinforcing, ultimately leading to conditioned arousal in bed rather than restful sleep. According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, inadequate sleep hygiene is affected by “various habits and activities of daily living that may promote a sleep difficulty.” These habits generally fall into two categories. The first category represents behaviors and habits that increase arousal such as drinking caffeine late in the day and staying out late at night. Studies regularly find that exercise is associated with better sleep. The second category are behaviors that disrupt the development of consistent sleep patterns. Examples include spending too much time in bed, going to bed at different times, getting up at different times, and taking long or multiple naps during the day. Alcohol in high doses has been excessively linked to sleep disturbances. The following are ways to increase sleep hygiene: 1) Go to bed at the same time each night, and rise at the same time each morning. 2) Sleep in a quiet, dark, and relaxing environment, which is neither too hot nor too cold. 3) Make your bed comfortable and use it only for sleeping and not for other activities, such as reading, watching TV, or listening to music. 4) Remove all TVs, computers, and other “gadgets” from the bedroom. 5) Avoid physical activity within a few hours of bedtime. 6) Avoid large meals before bedtime.

Man's Search For Meaning

July 20, 2018

Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl is a fantastic testament to the mental powers of a human being. It's all about Viktor Frankl's perspective and how he mentally navigated the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. When you read about what prisoners went through, and how they were subject to unimaginable suffering, it makes you wonder what kept the prisoners going.

Viktor Frankl's attitude, that he gained only by going through the suffering that he went through, is so important to understand and try to put into practice. If you'd like more details on the actual day-to-day experiences of the prisoners, I suggest reading this book. For now, I'd like to mention the most inspiring takeaway for me, which comes near the end when Frankl begins to go into what it means to live a life. He begins on page 76 with a quote from Nietzsche, "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how." Then he goes on in the next two paragraphs to lay out one of the most beautiful outlooks on life.

"What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life--daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. "Life" does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life's tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man's destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response...

When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden."

Frankl proves to be very inspiring and positive in the face of his tremendously horrific reality. In reading his book, I take it that we should disregard trying to define a meaning to life. We should rather take a deep look at our situations and accept them as our own. Once we do this, we carry on and we bear the burden of our existence. We let life be meaning in itself and in doing so, life shows us the meaning of our life.


A Way of Being by Carl Rogers

February 16, 2019

I just finished reading the book titled A Way of Being by Carl Rogers. Carl Rogers was an influential American psychologist who began publishing work in 1930 and continued until the publication of this book in 1980. This book is a sum total of what Carl Rogers learned about people in his career as a psychologist. He writes about the human character in total and what it looks like when it is functioning at its best. What I like about his writing is I feel that I can trust him. He writes about a topic that he has had direct experience with for over 50 years. I recommend this book for anybody interested in human nature.

Throughout the book, Rogers describes many facets of people's personalities and many character traits that he consistently sees in his work with people. He talks about what it truly means to listen to someone openly. He talks about interpersonal relationships and the effect that real, true connection has on people. He includes letters written to him from former high school students that he impacted. He talks about how important it is to be present, open and listening to people. He talks about the fact that it is so rare for people to come across somebody that really, genuinely listens and accepts their ideas that when they do experience the connection of that type of person, the impact lasts a lifetime.

My favorite parts of the book was where Rogers predicts what the person of the future will have to be like in order to thrive in the changing world we live in. He calls it the person of tomorrow. He describes them as being opposed by the conventional world. "The new person has been and will be harassed, denied freedom of expression, accused of conspiracy, imprisoned for unwillingness to conform." He talks about how the person of tomorrow will be ostracized and ejected from local public schools and universities whenever possible. Since the new person puts self realization ahead of achievement, personal growth above salary or profit and cooperation with nature ahead of its conquest, corporations will also be in opposition to this new person. The new person attempts to be a whole person - with body, mind, feelings, spirit, and psychic powers integrated.

Rogers talks about how this new person will thrive in the modern world, despite their opposition. With scientific, social and cultural change blowing strongly, we will need whole persons who are able to adapt to the changes. The fully integrated person of the future, which since this was written in 1980 can be called the present, will be the individuals most suited for their environment, according to Rogers' prediction. He describes a person-centered future, based on the individual being a whole person by itself. The last two sentences of the book sum up his prediction: "We may choose it, but whether we choose it or not, it appears that to some degree it [the person-centered scenario of the future] is inexorably moving to change our culture. And the changes will be in the direction of more humanness."

Carl Rogers (1902- 1987)

Carl rogers