other people's things

Sleep Plants the Seeds of Your Memory

Simon and Garfunkel’s song, The Sound of Silence, describes quite accurately the process by which sleep plants the seeds produced during wakefulness so they can be remembered the next day. Here’s the first verse:

Hello darkness, my old friend I've come to talk with you again Because a vision softly creeping Left its seeds while I was sleeping And the vision that was planted in my brain Still remains Within the sound of silence

The rest of the song is about relaying the days waking events in the form of a vision to the sleeping brain at night:

In restless dreams I walked alone Narrow streets of cobblestone 'Neath the halo of a street lamp I turned my collar to the cold and damp When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light That split the night And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw Ten thousand people, maybe more People talking without speaking People hearing without listening People writing songs that voices never share No one dared Disturb the sound of silence

"Fools" said I, "You do not know Silence like a cancer grows Hear my words that I might teach you Take my arms that I might reach you" But my words like silent raindrops fell And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed To the neon god they made And the sign flashed out its warning In the words that it was forming

And the sign said, "The words of the prophets Are written on the subway walls And tenement halls" And whispered in the sounds of silence

I’m reading Matthew Walker’s book, ‘Why We Sleep - The New Science of Sleep and Dreams’. It’s opening my eyes in a big way to the importance of sleep. You can expect me to write a lot more about sleep in the coming months.

One more fascinating tidbit of information from that book while you’re here:

If you are sleep deprived (especially REM sleep - where most dreaming occurs), you become bad at reading emotions on peoples faces. You can’t distinguish one emotion from another with accuracy, and it takes your brain much more work to try.

What’s more, because you can’t distinguish the emotions accurately, you tend towards ‘danger’ as a ‘just in case’. You are much more likely to perceive the people around you to be in a bad mood or even threatening even when it’s not true.

If, on the other hand, you have a good nights sleep, your ability to detect emotions in facial expressions becomes much more accurate and much easier to perform.

Dreaming is an important part of the way you process your emotions AND tunes your emotion sensing skills.

I am finding this book to be delightful and surprising.

Everyday Mindfulness: Notice and Name

While studying for my Precision Nutrition Level 2 certification, I came across this cool metaphor for the relationship between our frontal cortex (‘thinking’ brain) and our deeper emotional brain. It’s from the book ‘Switch’ by Chip and Dan Heath. I think it’s a great way to describe the challenges you face when you’re trying to make a change in your life.

The elephant and the rider

  • The rider is logical, planning, judging, ‘thinky’ brain. It controls the direction of the elephant... sort of.
  • The elephant is the deeper emotional brain, as well as the more basic physical sensations and impulses devoted to survival. It’s powerful and the rider can only direct it for so long.
  • The path is the environment. The path can affect the elephants movements much more strongly than the rider can, and usually unconsciously.

As the rider, you believe yourself to be in control. So you try to ‘control’ the emotional-brain elephant. You will be met with disastrous consequences when you try to force the elephant to go somewhere it doesn’t want to go (or indeed, if something surprises the elephant on the path).

Instead, your job as the rider is to observe and guide the elephant to navigate the path carefully. You can do this through mindfulness - observing your emotional brain and your environment and acting accordingly.

Speaking to the rider alone is a waste of time. The rider will be overwhelmed by the elephant at some point and the elephant is constrained by the path. Instead, you must talk to the rider, guide the elephant, and shape the path.

Noticing and Naming

You can start doing this with a basic mindfullness strategy called “noticing and naming”. This helps the rider (thinky brain) observe the elephants (emotional brain) movements and the paths contribution so you can respond rather than react.

Noticing is about observing and describing something at the most basic level. Naming is taking that description further and putting language (or imagery/metaphor) to it.

This should happen before you decide how to respond.

Give it a go. Ask yourself three questions today:

  1. What am I noticing?
  2. What would I name the thing I’m observing?
  3. How will I choose to respond?

Make More Art: The Health Benefits of Creativity

James Clear found a review analysing over 100 studies about the impact of art on health. Here’s some of the things researchers had to say about the impact of visual art (see James’ article for all of them):

“Improved well–being by decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive ones” “Reductions in stress and anxiety; increases in positive emotions” “Reductions in distress and negative emotions” “Improvements in flow and spontaneity, expression of grief, positive identity, and social networks”

I have written about creation for health benefits before so it’s cool to come across this article backing up my pseudo research on the topic with some studies. James even cites a study that found cellular changes as a result of creation:

writing as a treatment for HIV patients... resulted in “improvements of CD4+ lymphocyte counts.” That's the fancy way of saying: the act of writing actually impacted the cells inside the patient's body and improved their immune system.


Consuming stuff seems to make you feel a little better at first, then worse if you consume too much. I don’t know about you, but I tend to default towards trying to consume something when I’m trying to feel better. Whether it’s food or something on the internet, it generally doesn’t work very well.

If I’m feeling down, I’ve found that the process of cooking food often helps me much more than eating does. I think it’s because creating something helps you feel better and I think it applies to more than food.

Let’s talk about that.

To create is to express yourself. To give words or form to what’s inside you. To make some part of what’s in side you tangible to others. Arguably what’s inside you isn’t even tangible to you until you create something.

In this search for meaning we’re all in, making something tangle to look at, hear, or feel is part of the search.

Consumption of stuff is important too. It fuels the flame and gives you material to test. It shows you what others have to show and lets you see things that couldn’t be created in a vacuum inside you.

But creation is where you take that fuel and do something with it. It’s the place you go to show part yourself that couldn’t be created inside someone else. It’s your exploration, it’s your thing.

Make more art. Your health and happiness will improve and we'll all be better off for it.

A Newly Discovered Organ

The new organ, he explained, was a thin layer of dense connective tissue throughout the body, sandwiched just under our skin and within the middle layer of every visceral organ.

I love stuff like this. It reminds me that no matter how much we learn, there’s always stuff we don’t know. There’s always another way to look at something.

The organ also made up all the fascia, or the thin mesh of tissue separating every muscle and all the tissue around every vein and artery, from largest to smallest. What initially seemed to be a solid, dense, connective tissue layer was actually a complex network of fluid-filled cavities that are strong and flexible, yet so tiny and undiscerning that they escaped the attention of the brightest scientific minds for generations.

Despite not ‘knowing’ about it, it’s likely that this organ is part of the reason why things like acupuncture work. So we didn’t know about it, but we sort of did.

Question your Needs to Set New Direction this Year

Seth Godin’s blog grabbed my attention again:

Once our needs our met, our instinct is to invent new ones, to find a fuel to continually move things forward, to bring that propulsive energy back.

I couldn’t help myself - one mention of ‘needs’ and I went way off from what Seth’s post was about. I thought about this compulsion humans have, to continually move things forward, and how our needs affect the direction we move.

This is why it’s important to break down your needs sometimes. Do you need everything you think you need? Have you tried fasting once in a while - you’ll find it hard, but I bet you’ll also find that you don’t need all that food all the time. You’ll find that it’s alright to be a little hungry sometimes and maybe you’ll enjoy your food more.

Further to this, what if you could get that propulsive energy back in your life that easily? What if you could question and strip back some of the things you need to find fuel in the things you already have access to?