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"Hack" Culture and Optimizing Your Environment

March 28, 2018


Interesting Thought: Bullshit "Hack" Culture 


This past week, Outside Magazine ran a story about Dave Asprey and his Bulletproof empire. For those who aren't familiar, Asprey considers himself a "biohacker." He believes that if you do stuff like add butter to your coffee, sit in cryogenic chambers, or lie in oxygen-rich pods, you'll become healthier, more athletic, and smarter. He also sells all this shit.

None of it works. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. There is no solid science on any of this stuff. And yet Asprey truly does have an empire! So what gives?

So much of this biohacking nonsense probaby boils down to a few things:

1) An unwillingness of people to admit their insecurities;


2) A something-for-nothing attitude, which never loses its charm;

3) A refusal to accept ambiguity on complex processes like aging, fitness, nutrition, and creativity;

4) The illusion of gaining control over a complex process by doing something—anything, really; from drinking a certain kind of tea to sitting in a sauna—that you can tell yourself will help reduce uncertainty.

Biohackers then swoop in and sell something to get rich off of those who struggle with numbers one to four above.

While Asprey may be the king of biohacking, there are a whole slew of others in this arena—some of whom are pretty popular with large followings. And, at times, it can be hard to discern who is truly an innovative trailblazer versus a charlatan. Here are a few simple rules to help you make that call. Follow these rules and you'll be more bulletproof to schemes like bulletproof!

1) If someone tries to make everything super complex and then sell you a relatively simple or reductionist solution, best not to listen to them.

2) If someone cites self-experimentation for the vast majority of what they do and then proceeds to call it "scientific" and assumes it will work for you, best not to listen to them.

3) If someone presents themselves as an "expert" on many things—ranging from cancer, to fitness, to nutrition, to creativity—that person is probably full of shit; best not to listen to them.

4) If when you ask someone, "How might you be wrong?" and they answer in brevity or that they can't possibly be wrong, best not to listen to them. A good and rigorous thinker gets equally excited about answering the "how might you be wrong?" question as they do about explaining their original premise. 

For further reading on this topic, check out this tweet storm by Steve from earlier in the week. And also this blog post on Asprey in particular and this one on hack-culture more broadly.




Coaching Corner: Optimize Your Environment 


A running track is standardized. One lap around is 400 meters. There is a starting line. There are markers that signify every 100 meters, and other lines for if you want to start in an outside lane. If you know what you are looking for, all of the information is there.

As a runner and coach, you take this knowledge for granted. We never have to wonder where to start or finish at, the track tells us. But, what happens if we don't know?

I love watching non-track people come out to do a workout on the track. Over the years, I've watched many strength coaches or other team sports take their squads out and start running 400 meter repeats or some other variation.

Often, instead of walking up to the starting line at the end of the straightaway, they start in the middle of the home stretch, about where the 50-yard line is on the football field. Before the athletes take off, the coach gives them a time that they need to finish in. The coach conveys the message that they must finish under 90 secnds. Whether it's 75 or 89, doesn't paricularly matter as long as the team finishes in under that time period. As the 400- meter repeat commences, the coach starts a countdown, "75...60....50....40... 30...20... 10...9..8...7..."

The athletes who are well clear of the time breeze through, but the ones closing in as the countdown reaches zero often attempt a last second spurt to make it. If the athlete fails to reach the time, they are often told to "do it again" until the goal has been reached.

Now, contrast that with how runners operate on the track.

The runners start in a place that  gives them optimum feedback. Without much thinking, they quickly can tell how much distance they've covered and how much they have left. They have accurate checkpoints every 100 meters if they need it. Before the interval commences the runner is often given a pace to run. He understands the target.

When the running commences, the coach doesn't count down, but counts up. He doesn't shout out round or even numbers, but instead conveys times at specific points. As the athlete crosses the 100-meter mark he might yell a time, regardless of if it's a nice even number,"15 seconds!" or something odd, "17.5!" That provides useful information that the runner can use since he knows the time and distance, and what he is supposed to run. He or she can quickly adjust their pace.

When the runner crosses the line, the coach calls out his time, not as a sign of success or failure but as feedback. It tells the athlete if he was on pace or off. If he is slightly slow, that isn't a sign of failure, it's information. Instead of telling an athlete to do it again, it may be a sign that the workout is over. "He can't hit the times," a coach might think, which means that fatigue might be setting in so the coach needs to adjust the workout.

My point isn't to criticize these other sports. They aren't track people and probably have never taken the time to understand the intricacies or details of how workouts on a track work. Instead, it's to consider how we take advantage of our environments. Because of experience and knowledge, the track coach is creating an environment and optimizing the information delivered so that his or her runner can achieve the best workout they can. They are set up to succeed.

Whether you are working out on a track or figuring out the best place to write your next novel, taking time to consider what the environment affords is something that few of us consider and probably something we should. 


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