Digest #5 - Strengthening body and mind as a builder

Being strong is a character trait that is both endlessly rewarding and challenging. Finding ways to integrate thorough understanding of 'strength' as a character trait into your life can transform things in ways you didn't think possible. I'm on a constant exploration of this improvement.

Digest #5 - Strengthening body and mind as a builder

Being strong is a character trait that is both endlessly rewarding and challenging. Finding ways to integrate thorough understanding of 'strength' as a character trait into your life can transform things in ways you didn't think possible. I'm on a constant exploration of this improvement. Fate permitted, I'll become a true master.

Alas, here are some basic thoughts that popped into my mind the last week, some of them on the concept of strength and perpetual progress in life. In particular through exercise and cultivated suffering (woohoo! Suffering!).

Random thoughts

Working  long days as an engineer, dealing with chronic back pains:

Since my 19th I've had back pains. It's not only the sitting, but also my love for martial arts and lack of careful discipline in my practice that gave me a strong push in the back (pun intended) to my story of back pains. If there's anything that's limiting in life, whether it's for usage of the mind or the body, it's the inability to sit or move comfortably.

For a while now, I've been getting deeper into calisthenics. Not only to challenge myself with a new way of moving but also to find a well balanced way to prevent injury and integrate movement into my life. It's easily overlooked how big the strain of sitting all day is on the body. Your lumbar spine (lower back, basically) carries a lot of weight and you need to support it. There are three things I noticed that have a big impact on my sitting happiness:

  • Strength and flexibility of the hip area: legs, hips, core. The whole are is essential for good sitting;
  • Pelvic position: your pelvis and its position are essential for your quality of sitting: do it badly, and the effects are intense;
  • Frequent regenerative movement: Our whole body is frugal and functions like our muscles do: signal that it needs to adapt and it will. Don't, and it won't.

I might post my specific routines at some point.

There are two things I do that I feel help me with my back:

  • Morning routine: cat/cow warmup, some in-place running and some deep squats. Or if you have it available: a sauna, stretching and ice bath routine is really good too;
  • Frequent movement: Moving helps the body move better overall. There are a few things I focus on:
    • Letting my back rest by lying down, properly;
    • Breaks with exercises, at least every 2 hours;
    • Strength training: sports where you use full body strength, and a strong focus on a good warmup;

Suffering is opinion: hot sauna's and ice baths

I believe a state of mind, and the ability to manage it, is indispensable for any definition of success. Things like values, reflection and emotional health are essential. Throughout the years, I've experimented with several mental rituals that improve wellbeing and thereby, productivity. I prefer 'rituals' over 'hacks' because the essence is managing attention. A hack puts emphasis on a shortcut, which is not the way this works in my opinion. A ritual is the most consistent way to translate a belief into true action. There aren't a lot of things more meaningful than this, as far as I can see.

One of them is morning routines. The way you start your day is reflected in every moment thereafter. Start lazily, and you'll have to fight against the state of relaxation when you want to get something done. Start stressed, and you'll have to fight against your reactivity until you settle down.

Having tried immediately - within 10 minutes - getting to work, exercises like running and HIT, meditation, 3 shots of espresso, reading and not waking up before 10:00 and priming in several combinations, I've had some time to learn what works for me best. Obviously I've also had morning where I would start with a bag of chips and Netflix, or worse: a joint. Worst idea so far.

Throughout all of the experiments I saw one thing time and time again: The mindset I hold when I start is the mindset I take with me. Depending on a phase in your life, you can use activities or rituals to cultivate one of the following mindsets:

  • Positive affirmations (with a stoic flavour of a reserve clause): I am the master of my decisions. I can choose how I show up in any situation, fate permitted;
  • A hard HIT workout of 20 minutes: I can push through this (if you're not adept at making your own workouts, you can try Sworkit);
  • Immediately jump out of bed and drink a strong coffee: Let's go as hard as I can to push through the day and the task at hand. I can rest later. No distractions. Let's do this;
  • A meditation session: Let's approach this day with calmth and collection.

In any case: do not allow anything to decide on your mindset in the first 30 to 60 minutes of your day. No phone. Really! No. Freaking. Phone. Put it in a timelocked safe if you have to.

And then my latest experiment: 30 minutes of switching between sauna and ice baths, while meditating and ending up with positive affirmations. So far, it's the best cocktail I've had. It takes around 1 hour, combined with breakfast and a coffee, and I feel grounded and basically unbeatable. My mind is filled up with motto's for the day, I know what to do that day and I've confronted myself with the fact that all suffering is a matter of opinion.

Space and a mental model

Our mental model of dividing objects in space has a nice idiosyncrasy! Imagine a ball: Top-bottom and front-back aren't equally easy to figure out: top-bottom is obvious as there are boundaries in our idea of space (gravity: we undeniably have a floor and a ceiling). But front and back are ambiguous and depend on the object we're applying them to, and whether we are imagining ourselves looking at the ball (the side facing us would be posterior).

Dorsal positioning is easy to intuitively grasp, anterior or posterior not so much depending on the object. It's a nice thought for storytelling even: Intuitively there is a fixed limit to going 'upward' but not one to going 'forward'. The way we experience the spacial world has defined, pretty universally, how we interpret these things subjectively. Objectively however, they're just axes of course. Staying in the subjective realm: It's probably preferable to go forward over hills instead of upward towards a ceiling.

Dopamine training

I'm going on some side-tracked research about dopamine and  perception of reward. There is some research that suggests that dopamine correlates with a sense of agency. I'm mostly wondering whether it's mentioned anywhere that there's a correlation between substance (ab)use (especially those that include dopamine in their neurological effects) and a strong need for sense of agency (perhaps a constant feeling of not having agency and trying to create it, originating from some insecurity). I figured it'd be interesting to know as reward systems, drug use and agency are very important in the world of business and success.

What got me there in the first place was reading up on the dark triad: An ineffective strategy to power. Often used by more coercive power players and, I think, positively correlated with insecurity in these people.

A takeaway: The way we handle our dopamine impulses has a big impact on our happiness. What is our relation with dopamine releases? If we know what they feel like, we can improve there. It's as if you become a surgeon to your own behaviour, slowly..

Books and articles

Wait but why: The story of us (#1 and #2)

A really interesting article series on our role in life, looking at science and philosophy. So far, some of my takeaways and interesting thoughts are:

  • Nature is recursive in structure;
  • Religion and the cultural morale have defined the discussion of what our role is. It's not about our purpose in the universe per se, but our role in the life we see around us. It's a good start;
  • We're cogs in a huge machine that is the force of nature, we can only decide how fast we rotate;
  • The pessimistic reality of true stability is that every entity is essentially completely selfish;
  • Our imagination is our only power and our weakness. *The universe is change, life is opinion (*Marcus Aurelius);
  • We're in the mutation game. Expect the unexpected and you'll get what you expect;

Also some questions:

  • What is the role of overruling genes in a world defined by genetic competition, besides more mutation?
  • How much do reason and imagination differ, a priori? The former is a collection of imaginations tied by association, but validated by a predefined system of conditionals that are the consequence of imagination in the first place.


  • There is a great deal of human nature in people. – Mark Twain
  • A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world. - John le Carré
  • The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have. - Epictetus
  • Nothing happens to anybody which he is not fitted by nature to bear. - Marcus Aurelius
  • We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. - Will Durant

Break image

From Poorly Drawn Lines