How To Trigger Super-Momentum

Super-momentum: life in the productivity fast lane

Super-momentum: life in the productivity fast lane

No more than a dozen times in my life, I have experienced a state of what I call “super-momentum.” For days, sometimes weeks at a time, I operated at a extremely high level of energy, excitement, and creativity. I became so absorbed in my work that becoming distracted wasn’t an issue; I was distraction proof. I slept less and ate less, but had more energy. At times ideas came so quickly that I struggled to capture them, getting up in the middle of the night or pulling over in traffic to write them down.

There’s a clinical word that describes aspects of this psychological state: hypomania. But whereas hypomania is often associated with distractibility and thrill-seeking behavior (gambling, shopping sprees, sexual promiscuity, etc.), I associate super-momentum with extreme focus in a single work area, and the application of 100% of the excess energy to the work in question.

There are multiple advantages to having a singular focus. With project immersion, the subconscious mind is always engaged with the material (though other life areas may suffer from lack of attention and processing power). Project progress increases because there is less “loading” time; since the mind is continually engaged, you don’t have to “remember where you were” when you start working. You already know! This also reduces initial resistance/willpower expenditure for starting each work session. Instead of knowing and dreading the mentally strenuous work of reviewing your work for half an hour (or longer) to “get back in the groove,” you just pick up right where you left off the night before. You’re already in the groove — you never left.

Super-momentum is similar to Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, but I consider super-momentum to be more agitated, more based on heightened physiology (dopamine, sex hormones), and less reliably triggered. And while flow is characterized as “enjoyment in the process of the activity,” I would describe super-momentum as an ecstatic, near-frantic, inspired, completely focused work hustle.

It’s a great drug, and I’d like more of it. But it’s not something money can buy.

So, the questions:

  • Is super-momentum worth triggering? Does it actually result in value being created? Or is it just another high to be chased?
  • Is it possible to trigger super-momentum, and if so, how? What circumstances lead to this explosive burst of energy, enthusiasm, motivation, and productivity?
  • Are there negative effects of super-momentum, in terms of psychological strain, physical stress, and general wear-and-tear? Is the comedown painful? Is “project completion letdown” inevitable?

Is Super-Momentum Worth Triggering?

Absolutely yes. While not every period of super-momentum in my own life has paid off in every way, all have paid off in some way. To list just a few examples:

  • I spent weeks in a state of super-momentum writing an artificial life emulation program that took my programming skills to the next level. I still sometimes reference the source code of this application when solving similar problems.
  • For at least a full month I became complete absorbed in Minecraft, sleeping very little and thinking about the game constantly. My brain was so “activated” that I made major breakthroughs on completely unrelated problems (client work) during this period of time.
  • Momu and Grayarea collaborated during a very short window of opportunity. A sixteen-hour work session led to a week of very intense follow-up work, resulting in the track “One” which has generated thousands of dollars in royalty income.

In the long-run, these brief periods of super-momentum are mere blips when compared to productivity and results from consistent daily disciplined work. But still, these blips interest me. Not only are they fun when you’re in them, but many artists and writers I respect and admire seem to be able to consistently generate super-momentum, dramatically increasing their productivity during focused periods of being completely ON.

Is it Possible to Trigger Super-Momentum? If So, How?

Since flow is a possible subset of super-momentum, what have psychologists already determined are the prerequisites for the former?

In order to achieve flow, Csikszentmihalyi lays out the following three conditions:

  1. Goals are clear
  2. Feedback is immediate
  3. A balance between opportunity and capacity (the task is sufficiently challenging but not overwhelmingly difficult)

On most days I can enter a flow state (as characterized here) for at least a few hours. But I don’t know if I can consistently generate the heightened physiological state I associate with super-momentum. As a start, in terms of reverse-engineering, here are the factors (in addition to the above) that I associate with super-momentum:

  • a great idea
  • competition (personal, not abstract)
  • a crush/a muse
  • hunger for success and recognition
  • decent tools and working environment
  • an inflexible deadline
  • powerful collaborators or helpers
  • creating something that will really help or inspire other people
  • breaking new ground (in terms of knowledge, style, or genre)
  • some drugs (modafinil, bromocriptine, caffeine, etc.)
  • being in good physical shape and generally healthy
  • incremental success (power-ups)
  • emotional intensity (including heartbreak, joy, grief, love)
  • working hard, playing hard
  • terrible consequences if I don’t succeed
  • a big payoff if I do succeed
  • getting “amped” because of excitement around an activity or an upcoming event or release (anticipation)
  • extended hyperfocus (for example videogame immersion)
  • an extended period of quiet solitude or near-solitude, time and space to completely relax, decompress, reflect, and even become bored

I have personal experience with all of these factors except for modafinil (which I am curious about, but wary of). Some of these factors are within personal control, but just as many aren’t. Part of super-momentum might simply be utilizing the enormous energy that comes with momentous life events (births, deaths, falling in love, getting dumped, etc.).

Drugs are within one’s personal control, but to me that seems a dangerous route (for example, I could imagine quickly and efficiently writing an absolutely worthless one-thousand page novel under the influence of modafinal).  I once tried bromocriptine (which increases dopamine levels) as an experiment, and  once was enough. I consume a moderate amount of caffeine from dark roast coffee, but medium roasts leave me dehydrated and jittery — I’m not interested in increasing my caffeine intake.

What other factors are controllable?

  •  Setting an ambitious but achievable goal
  • Agreeing to a tight, inflexible deadline, such that other people are depending on you to deliver
  • Choosing subject matter than can potentially have a real impact or break new ground
  • Maintaining and optimizing your infrastructure and work environment so that when inspiration and energy do strike, you are not slowed down with mundane “fixit” tasks and distractions
  • Underscheduling and undercommitting, so that you end up with “empty space” in your life (and not filling that space with distractions like television — get bored enough so that your mind starts racing for its own entertainment — see Oates tweet above)
  • Engaging in a rich social life (ideally centered on or related to your work area) so that you increase your potential exposure to mentors, muses/crushes, rivals, and collaborators, all who can dramatically spur your motivation and amp up your nervous system.

This is the first time I’ve thought about this analytically. I’m surprised by how many super-momentum associated factors are potentially controllable. Maybe super-momentum can be engineered.

Can you Create Your Own Motivation and Excitement?

According to Neil deGrasse Tyson, yes.

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

- Neil deGrasse Tyson’s response on Reddit when asked “What can you tell a young man looking for motivation in life itself?”

What Tyson doesn’t explain is how. How do you go from sitting on the couch feeling blah to firing on all cylinders?

Well first, get off the couch. As Tony Robbins likes to say, “emotion is created by motion.” [Tony Robbins "Ultimate Edge -- Hour of Power" mp3, link borrowed from this Tim Ferriss post]

Exercise generally stimulates dopaminergic systems, which generally increases motivation (though the neuroscience is complex; higher dopamine in some brain areas increases motivation, while higher dopamine in other brain areas increases awareness of the costs of certain behaviors).

So daily exercise is a must if you want to boost your “get up and go,” with the caveat being that you don’t want to overdo it and end up in a state of chronic inflammation. Lifting heavy weights or going on long runs every day will just exhaust most people. Walking or bicycling or yoga everyday plus short bursts of more intense exercise (sprints, weights) is probably a good balance.

But brisk walks won’t get you to super-momentum. You need to be excited about your work.

Well, what if you aren’t excited? Can this be changed?

Author Rachel Aaron has a good perspective on this. In this blog post she describes how she went from writing 2000 words a day to 10,000 words a day. She breaks her approach into three core requirements:

  1. Time (track productivity and evaluate)
  2. Knowledge (know what you’re writing before you write it)
  3. Enthusiasm (get excited about what you’re writing)

She has valuable insight into all three areas. I’d recommend her post to all writers. But for the more general purposes of this post, her insights into generating enthusiasm are the most relevant. From Aaron’s post:

The answer was head-slappingly obvious. Those days I broke 10k were the days I was writing scenes I’d been dying to write since I planned the book. They were the candy bar scenes, the scenes I wrote all that other stuff to get to. By contrast, my slow days (days where I was struggling to break 5k) corresponded to the scenes I wasn’t that crazy about.

This was a duh moment for me, but it also brought up a troubling new problem. If I had scenes that were boring enough that I didn’t want to write them, then there was no way in hell anyone would want to read them. This was my novel, after all. If I didn’t love it, no one would.

Fortunately, the solution turned out to be, yet again, stupidly simple. Every day, while I was writing out my little description of what I was going to write for the knowledge component of the triangle, I would play the scene through in my mind and try to get excited about it. I’d look for all the cool little hooks, the parts that interested me most, and focus on those since they were obviously what made the scene cool. If I couldn’t find anything to get excited over, then I would change the scene, or get rid of it entirely. I decided then and there that, no matter how useful a scene might be for my plot, boring scenes had no place in my novels.

This applies to all creative/innovative pursuits — not just fiction writing. If it’s boring, why are you working on it? Skip ahead to the good part or the interesting part.

You may need to come back to the “boring bits” of the project later, but if you’re already in a state of super-momentum, you’ll blast through them effortlessly.

Are There Negative Effects of Super-Momentum?

Obviously, being amped up physically and mentally for an extended period of time (even if drug free) is going to take its toll. More free radicals, more stress hormones, and accelerated aging are probably inevitable to some extent.

Super-momentum is not the fountain of youth. It’s burning the candle at both ends. Even if the high is natural, all highs are followed by a low.

In addition to physical and mental stress, focusing all your energy and attention on a single life area means that other parts of your life (household, relationships, children, eating well, sleeping well, other work areas) are going to be temporarily neglected.

In addition, when you come down (and you will eventually come down), you won’t have the energy to energetically deal with these neglected areas. You’ll be drained. After expending an enormous amount of energy and delivering or otherwise completing your project (or possibly abandoning it), you’ll experience letdown. While life coaches and therapists might distinguish physiological depression from post-project depletion, they feel about the same.

The advantage of going through the latter is that you know why (you just pushed yourself like a maniac, and now you’re out of gas), and you know that with rest and recuperation, you’ll bounce back and regain that life spark.

So pursue super-momentum at your own risk. There will be downsides. A near constant state of super-momentum without corresponding periods of rest and recuperation might lead to gigantic leaps in terms of career success, but long-term health life effects might include:

  • obesity, from sleep deprivation and circadian disruption
  • insulin resistance, see above
  • chronic inflammation, manifesting in joint pain, back pain
  • chronic depression
  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • damage to personal relationships, from neglect and/or volatile emotions
  • self-doubt, loss of sense of purpose, “Why am I doing this?”

To these risks you might say “So what?” In the famous words of a super-momentum enthusiast:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

- Hunter S. Thompson

He was a man true to his word.

On the other hand, there are equal or even greater risks to not pushing yourself, to eating and resting too much, to not discovering and stoking your inner fire. These risks are both physical and psychological. Chronic stress is terrible for health, but acute stress is necessary. A sedentary life devoid of all challenges is a fast track to obesity, heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Consider:

Work “sprints” (via super-momentum) are not necessarily bad for your health as long as you take some downtime to recover. Here are some basic life and health precautions to take if you are chasing the dragon of super-momentum:

  • stay super-hydrated
  • get at least five hours of sleep a night
  • eat at least one healthy meal a day
  • don’t use stimulants stronger than tea or coffee
  • rely on “natural” sources of motivation (see above) instead of drugs (including all so-called “smart drugs”)
  • start with “money in the bank” (literally, but also in terms of relationships, core infrastructure, etc.)
  • take extra care to be polite, patient, respectful, and considerate to your loved ones (your agitated, hypersensitive, hyperactive state will make you prone to snapping and snap judgements)
  • when its time to come down, come down gracefully (sleep more, eat well, decompress, pamper yourself, recuperate, thank everybody who supported you during your sprint, return the favor)

This cautionary tale from author-turned-cocaine-and-videogame-addict Tom Bissell is worth reading. It’s possible to amp yourself up into a state of hypomania and hyperfocus that feels like super-momentum, but moves your life backwards instead of forwards. While I’ve never gotten into recreational drugs, I can relate to the lure of videogames. These days I have a simple rule of “no entertainment during the workday” (including web browsing) that keeps me from falling into false “feeling productive while doing nothing productive” traps.

So Who Wins, The Tortoise or the Hare?

Well, we all know that slow and steady wins the race. There is no substitute for establishing rock-solid daily habits that inch you closer to your goals, day by day.

But there is a place for sprints, for extremes. Especially to reach the heights of artistic or innovative greatness, these sprints might be required.

So the tortoise wins the horizontal race, but the hare gets more air.

Or maybe, once in awhile, the tortoise bursts into a sprint.

How To Calibrate Goals and Explore Obstacles to Increase Motivation

Don't ignore the needle -- decide how you're going to thread it.

Don’t ignore the needle — decide how you’re going to thread it.

Early this year I wrote about how goals should provide (not require) motivation.

Setting the right kind of goal is tremendously important. A good goal is:

1) Purpose drive (the goal helps you express your life purpose, it resonates with your answer to “Who am I?”)

2) Specific (you’ll know, without any ambiguity, if you’ve achieved this goal or not)

3) Energizing (thinking about the goal propels you to action)

A recent post on Eric Barker’s site opened my eyes to two additional factors.

Calibrating Your Specific Outcome

First, Barker points out that imagining a specific outcome for a goal can sometimes decrease motivation.

What??

It turns out that for a specific outcome to increase motivation, you actually have to believe that with effort and a little luck you can achieve it.

A few years ago I was reading a book by a bestselling fantasy author who I will not name. I finished the book, but was left unimpressed by the prose. Somehow, this experience was incredibly motivating. If he can do it, I can do it, I thought to myself. The experience of reading a successful but mediocre novel got me pumped to continue my writing and pursue my own writing career. Write better than Author X became my standard.

On the other hand, when I read an author like David Mitchell (I’m reading The Bone Clocks now), it’s deflating to think about trying to write like that. Maybe, in five years, things will be different, but at the moment shooting for that level of brilliance in my own prose seems unattainable.

Certainly it’s possible to aim too low. You should think as big as you can realistically believe is achievable. How do you know the limit? If visualizing the specific outcome pumps you up, that’s a good sign. Try visualizing the “next level.” Still pumped? Or does the next level feel “pie-in-the-sky”? Not everyone can be an astronaut.

If a specific outcome feels unattainable, that doesn’t mean you should necessarily shoot lower. Consider moving left or right instead, to a specific outcome that is just as (or even more) ambitious, but also a better fit for your particular talents and personality. A great example of this is Peter Diamandis, who abandoned his goal of becoming an astronaut in order to create the Ansari X Prize (which helped jumpstart the private space industry) instead. (Tim Ferriss recently posted a good interview with Diamandis and Tony Robbins.)

Exploring Obstacles

The second post from Barker’s post that resonated with me was that imagining obstacles and roadblocks on the way to achieving your goal (and planning for them) also increases motivation.

The idea is that if you plan for contingencies, when you hit the (almost inevitable) obstacles, instead of deflating and giving up, you think “I knew this was coming” and your plan kicks in.

Gretchen Rubin refers to this strategy as “safeguards” and “planning to fail.” When establishing a new habit, anticipate what will probably trip you up, and decided ahead of time what you’ll do in response a trigger.

The same strategy applies for bigger-stakes games. What am I going to do when I start submitting my fiction work and (almost inevitably) receive rejection slips, or no response at all? I’ll do the same thing as I did when I was a fledgling music producer — keep sending out material and not take it personally if it doesn’t connect. Creative rejection isn’t failure — it’s feedback. Rejection means either 1) your work needs to be better, or 2) you sent it to the wrong person/publisher/outlet, or 3) for whatever reasons your work doesn’t fit into the current zeitgeist/popular taste. Maybe it’s time for revisions, or maybe back to the drawing board with a brand new idea, or maybe it’s just time for a fresh envelope and a new stamp. Whatever your creative pursuit, rejection is going to be part of the game. While rejection never feels good, you can learn to consume it as a sort of food that gives you energy. All obstacles can be used to increase motivation if they are expected, and fit into your mental picture of your path to success.

Daniel Coyle describes how the Green Berets use negative visualization (as well as positive visualization) to prepare for missions. They rehearse a mission with every possible thing that could go wrong, going wrong (the Murphy’s Law version), and a later rehearsal where everything goes smoothly.

Reconsidering Multiple Life Goals

Previously I wrote about the value of having a single goal. I’ve changed my approach somewhat since I wrote that post. I still believe in having a single life direction that defines what you are trying to do or become. I am x becoming y, or I am attempting to to this or that in the world. But after some experimentation I have found that there is synergy and energy created by pursuing multiple goals simultaneously. I would agree with Peter Diamandis’s 3rd Law: “Multiple projects lead to multiple successes.”

In terms of tracking, I still use the same methods described in that post (specific outcome, evaluation date, reward, kick-in-the-butt motivator).

Will Any of This Make You Happy?

When considering goal-setting, it’s important to remember that achievements generally don’t increase happiness (at least not for very long). Achieving your goals will move your life forward and perhaps make the world a better place, but if you want to be happy, there are more direct ways. In fact, happiness helps you be successful more than being successful makes you happy.

So what are the essentials of happiness? That’s worth another post, but I think the pillars are gratitude, social interaction and inclusion, and neurogenesis/chemical brain health.

Another Reason to Send Your Child to a Less Affluent School

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A while back I wrote about why we chose to send our daughter to an under-performing, high-poverty public school in our neighborhood. Basically, a high rate of parental involvement and good teachers allayed any fears we had regarding low test scores (the concept of relative rank¹ was also a factor). Our daughter is now thriving in first grade, both academically and socially. School standards are high, and PTO fundraising has helped develop programs in art, poetry, and science (ideally tax dollars would pay for these things, but California schools are still struggling financially).

Yet Another Reason to Avoid the Affluent Schools

Recently Kia forwarded me this article which points out that vaccine opt-out rates in California have been on the rise for the past seven years. This had resulted in both measles and whooping cough epidemics. Research clearly showed that higher vaccine refusal rates fueled the epidemics.

Why are parents opting out? Fears linking vaccines to autism is the most likely reason, even though such research has been completely refuted. We still don’t know definitely what is behind rising autism rates in the U.S. (rates vary significantly by state). SSRI use during pregnancy is one possible factor, though a Danish study noted that depression itself is a risk factor, and that there was no difference in autism rates of children born to depressed mothers who had been taking SSRIs and those who had not. It’s also possible that more children are being classified as being on the autistic spectrum — a change in diagnostic trends. Bottom line, we still don’t definitively know. But vaccine avoidance isn’t helping anything, and is having devastating effects on herd immunity.

What’s herd immunity (or community immunity)? If your child is vaccinated, they’re safe against that disease, right? Unfortunately not. While being vaccinated reduces the chance of infection if a child is exposed to a disease agent, an additional benefit come from not being exposed in the first place. In other words, the protective effects of vaccines are cumulative, depending on what percentage of the kids are vaccinated.

Notably, wealthier communities, and wealthier schools within those communities, tend to have higher vaccination opt-out rates via the “PBE” (personal belief exemption). Marin county, the wealthiest county in the Bay Area, had an average 8% PBE opt-out rate (San Geronimo Valley Elementary in Marin had a whopping 79% PBE rate). Private schools also have higher PBE rates than public schools (on average).

Less affluent public schools (like our daughter’s school), tend to have a PBE rate of only 1%. Now there’s some community immunity!

Does Affluenza = Influenza?

Not all wealthy communities have high PBE rates. The San Francisco average is quite low (1.64%). Maybe Marin County, the land of crystal healers and psychics, just has lower scientific literacy.

Vaccines are not entirely risk-free. [CDC.gov] But in terms of cost-benefit analysis, the tiny risk of most vaccines is worth the protective effect against the disease. Just as importantly, you’re not only protecting your own child, but your child’s classmates.

If you’re considering NOT vaccinating your child, I can empathize. I considered it too — there are scary stories out there on the internet, real (but rare) cases of children being injured by vaccines. But please ALSO consider the risks of the diseases themselves, and check the published research in terms of the actual probability of serious injury. It’s far more probable a vaccination will save your child’s life than cause them any harm.

 

¹ On relative rank … sending your child to a school comprised mostly of elites can negatively warp their confidence and self-worth. If most of your child’s classmates are richer, smarter, more socially connected, more sophisticated, and/or more competitively oriented, your normal or above-average-under-normal-circumstances child might end up feeling a bit beaten down. Relative rank matters. On the other hand, if your child’s school is comprised of a more diverse cross-section of society, it’s more likely they’ll get a chance to shine in at least one area.

 

DNAFit Review

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Recently I was offered a trail membership to the DNAFit service. The service provides specific health recommendations (exercise and diet) based on access to your 23andMe SNP data. This kind of thing is right up my alley so I jumped at the chance to try out the service. Unfortunately 23andMe has been prohibited from providing health results to customers by the FDA, but for people who have already obtained health data from 23andMe, it’s still possible to get recommendations from DNAFit.

The Trial

I was offered a coupon to apply to various DNAFit services on an a la carte basis. I chose to apply the coupon the diet recommendations as that interests me more than exercise recommendations. Thus, this review only applies to the Diet recommendations on DNAFit, and excludes the Fitness section.

The Interface

The DNAFit is attractively designed, but I found the interface to be a little confusing. There is a collapsed view of your results that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 11.29.44 AMand an expanded view that looks like this:
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So you can click on one of thirteen boxes in various shades of burgundy, and that box expands to fill out the three panel row (with vertical scroll bars on the rightmost two panels). Maybe I’m just slow to pick up on new interfaces, but it took me a minute to figure out how to get to all the data. I would have preferred a single large pop-up screen or panel without any scroll bars.

Health Recommendations

Most of the health recommendations seemed reasonable to me, and matched up with my own trial-and-error results regarding what works for me in terms of diet and nutrition. However, some of the recommendations (like limiting my saturated fat intake to 10% of my total caloric intake) seemed off-base, and made me wonder what studies the recommendations were based on. Human or animal studies? One-off or well-replicated studies? Tiny or large sample sizes? Unfortunately this information does not seem to be included.

Maybe the designers wanted to keep the interface simple and clean and not overwhelm their customers with data. However, since 100% of their potential customer base are early 23andMe adopters (health nerds), I strongly believe they should be erring on the side of providing too much data. 23andMe provides detailed citations for each health result (see below). Why not do the same?

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The complete list of diet results includes:

  • Ideal Diet
  • Carbohydrate Sensitivity
  • Saturated Fat Sensitivity
  • Detox Ability
  • Antioxidant Needs
  • Omega-3 Needs
  • Vitamin B Needs
  • Vitamin D Needs
  • Salt Sensitivity
  • Alcohol Sensitivity
  • Caffeine Sensitivity
  • Lactose Intolerance
  • Coeliac Predisposition

The most interesting results for me were that I supposedly have an increased need for anti-oxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and vitamin D. According to their results I am also susceptible to high blood pressure if I consume too much salt, possibly gluten intolerant, and have no trouble with digesting milk products.

I’ve come to many of the same conclusions from my own experiments (for example, I got rid of my asthma by reducing gluten and supplementing with vitamin D and fish oil). However, some of the recommendations seem premature, or too vague. DNAFit recommends that I consume a certain amount of B vitamins based on my heterozygous MTHFR, but they don’t specify if I should get those vitamins from food or supplements.

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My MTHFR results show that my body methylates inefficiently; thus I’m less able than most to convert supplemental folic acid to its methylated, biologically available form (folate). And if I consume too much folic acid that could even make folate less available. Folic acid supplementation has even been associated with increased cancer risk. Vitamin B6 and B12 are also only useable in their methylated forms (and most vitamin B supplements are not methylated). In addition to all this, I have personally noticed negative effects from supplementing with B vitamins (asthma, insomnia, agitation). B vitamins are complicated, and I think DNAFit would be better off specifying food-based sources. To their credit, DNAFit does provide a lists of foods high in the various B vitamins they are recommending.Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 12.16.26 PM

Users are able to download a PDF of their complete health report. The report is attractively designed, well-written, and includes detailed health recommendations which seemed for the most part reasonable. My only complaint is that I wanted DNAFit to “show their work” (include citations) so I could drill down and decided for myself in regards to some of their recommendations.

Pricing

If it were my decision I would provide all the health reports for a single flat fee. This might reduce early revenue, but it would almost certainly build the customer base and increase word-of-mouth marketing.

Privacy

Obviously, to use the DNAFit service, you need to provide the company access to your genetic data via 23andMe. This is a personal decision — it’s perfectly understandable if you’re not comfortable doing this. For me, curiosity usually outweighs caution. Here is the company’s privacy statement.

Would I Recommend This Service?

I like this service, but I’m not quite ready to recommend it. With a few easy fixes I would be happy to recommend DNAFit. Here’s a summary of what I think needs immediate fixing:

  1. Offer a flat, reasonable pricing plan (pay once for all reports).
  2. Provide citations (even if buried at the end of the health report).

I also think the interface could be made more intuitive, and I would change the B vitamin recommendation as described above, but those are minor quibbles.

My guess is that 23andMe will eventually gain FDA approval (the company is based in the UK so I suppose they are not subject to FDA regulations re: health recommendations), and at that point DNAFit may see their potential customer base expand significantly. I think the company is offering a valuable service and I wish them the best of luck.

 

Improving Gum Health — Commit to a System

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About a year ago my OralB 3D electric toothbrush died. I went to the store intending to get a new electric toothbrush several times, but each time I was put off by both price and the sheer number of options available. I decided to just use a regular toothbrush for awhile and see how it went.

Well, it didn’t go well. After six months or so using a regular soft bristle toothbrush (twice a day, with reasonably good brushing technique), I got bad marks from the dental hygienist. My tooth enamel was hard and I didn’t have any cavities (previous adjustments to my home care routine were still working in this regard), but she accused me of not flossing (even though I’d been flossing daily), and noted that my gums had bled slightly during cleaning. I had some deeper pockets around some of my molars that indicated gingivitis and a risk of periodontitis. Also, the cleaning process itself was uncomfortable, which indicated some sensitivity and inflammation. I was surprised by this — I hadn’t noticed any gum bleeding when I was flossing, my gums looked healthy (at least the parts I could easily see in the mirror), and I hadn’t had any pain or discomfort. But I believed my dentist and I found the news to be alarming.

I know that sub-par gum health is bad thing. Gum inflammation and gum disease are associated with heart disease, and some studies indicate that gum disease may actually cause heart disease. I’ve probably mentioned this a dozen times on this blog.

So I knew I needed to make a change. The day after that dental visit, I bought a Sonicare toothbrush and a Waterpik, and instituted the following program:

1. Brush with Sonicare first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything. Mouth pH is neutral at this point so enamel is not disturbed by brushing. Also any plaque accumulated over night is not injected into bloodstream by eating.

2. Floss and use Waterpik after breakfast. Also clean tongue with copper tongue cleaner.

3. Quick brush with regular soft bristle toothbrush 20+ minutes after lunch.

4. Before bed: floss, thoroughly brush with Sonicare, and rinse with mouthwash (fluoride and/or antiseptic). Several times a week gently clean between teeth and along gum line with Stim-U-Dent plaque remover (basically a big blunt toothpick).

I found the new routine easy to stick to. It took a couple extra minutes each day, but I rationalized this easily in terms of the prospects of improved longevity. Time spent caring for your teeth and gums is similar to time spent walking; it adds at least that much time to your lifespan. Dental hygiene time is free time!

After only a week I noticed that when I cleaned my teeth with the Stim-U-Dent (toothpick) I was hardly getting any plaque. The Sonicare product seemed to be doing an excellent job of keep my teeth clean, especially along the gum line.

Last week, somewhat reluctantly, I showed up for my dental cleaning and exam. My mood improved when my hygienist noted that my gums looked great, the pockets had reduced in size (my gums had tightened up), and there was no bleeding during cleaning. There was hardly any accumulated plaque on my teeth. Also, the cleaning process itself was not uncomfortable, and at times even oddly pleasant. Four months of the new system had worked.

Commit to a System

The experience strengthened my conviction that creating and implementing systems is a key aspect of maintaining good health. Sometimes to get the same result (healthy teeth and gums) it’s necessary to step up the system. What worked before may no longer be sufficient. Unfortunately, that’s just part of aging. The good news is that a few extra minutes of the right kind of daily maintenance can restore your health to a level as good as or even superior to what you experienced in your carefree youth (and if you’re young, you can prevent health problems and save a ton of money on health and dental care by implementing good systems early in life).

Ten years ago I was asthmatic, had a 32 inch waist, was prone to severe mood swings. Today, at age 45, I breathe easily (vitamin D, fish oil, paleo-ish diet), have a 29 inch waist (lower carbs, better sleep), and feel happy and motivated on most days (exercise, turmeric, life purpose). Poor health can be reversed, and many symptoms attributed to “aging” may in fact be simply due to substandard maintenance routines.

Commit to a system that works for you, and get healthy. Don’t accept poor health. If you need help getting pointed in the right direction, or have a story to share, feel free to comment below.