He’s a young guy, 23 or 24. His name is Michael. He just graduated college and he’s starting to go to real parties. Like, no Natty Ice. No. Like the parties where there are cute little cupcakes and napkins.
This party is overwhelming for him. He’s stepped into the home of his boss. He wearing an ill-fitting sport coat and khakis. It’s much bigger than the place he lives and, it’s honestly a bit intimidating to him.
But, he came because he knows it’s probably a good opportunity to get to know his coworkers better and maybe gain some better understanding of what makes them tick.
He’s a pretty friendly guy. And in the right setting, he gets along well.
Michael came alone, and the moment he walks in he feels isolated. Everyone is paired off in couples. There are lots of people already talking. Michael thinks, “maybe it’s already too late and the good conversations are halfway over.”
Whether you relate to Michael or not, would you like some tips about how to work a room that aren’t ambiguous or inauthentic?
I recently wrapped up Vanessa Van Edwards’ Captivate. The book is an excellent quick read on how to engage people. And there’s a nice section on working rooms. I’m going to run through her advice here.
It’s quite a good read and does a nice job of packing a ton of practical tips into a very readable book that’s still fun. Vanessa is a fun personality and is super relatable as an author.
Rules for working a party
Pick your battles
Know in what types of situations you thrive and what types of events don’t interest you. What events do you enjoy? Try focusing on these. You’ll always be a more effective communicator when you’re having a good time.
Along with this comes the fact that you’ll need to be able to say no to things. If you don’t want to do something, let your invitee know that you’re flattered, but that this type event is not a priority at this time for you. There’s no need to single out their event. Just let them know you’ve made a blanket decision not to make this type of thing a priority at this time.
The party “map”
Vanessa is the first I’ve ever seen to practically identify the best places in a room to meet people.
Avoid the food table. You’ll just get in the way of people who want to eat, not talk.
Avoid the bathroom area. It’s creepy to hang out there.
Avoid the entry area. People there are still getting accustomed to being at the party. They are also often still making their obligatory hello’s to the hosts and guests of honor.
The golden zone? Right near the drinks and the eating area. This is where people have settled in and are now ready to mingle. This is a crucial space to wait and allow people to come to you. I’ve personally tried this method at a few events and was really surprised at how well it works. Most people at parties are there to meet people to, you just have to be in the right place to make it easy for them.
First Impression Body Language
Vanessa found in her social science research lab that people are much friendlier and interested when you make hand gestures as you meet someone. This is probably due to the fact that it’s disarming and friendly. It signals that you’re willing to lead the interaction and that you’re socially confident enough to feel comfortable expressing yourself.
Shaking hands is almost always appropriate. This sort of goes without saying I think. But, it’s a tried and true way of offering a gesture of peace, comfort, and friendliness to a new person.
The best level of eye contact is 60-70%. More is creepy, less is weak. People who use 60-70% eye contact in their interactions come off as more attentive, friendlier, and less dangerous.
A few conversation starters can help you be interesting and also make others’ feel like they have permission to share something about themselves.
What was the highlight of your day? (I like it because it’s specific, concrete, and shows concern/interest beyond the ornery.)
What personal passion project are you working on? (give someone a lot of leeway to discuss something they are passionate about.)
Have anything exciting coming up? (Probably the same as above but might work better for folks you think may not have “projects.”)
It’s always good to focus on asking specific and unique questions that show you really want a personal answer beyond the generic “oh, pretty good.” In our age, you have to create a conversation starter that really creates a space for this to happen.
These are some quick tips that can make parties or “networking” events a bit more enjoyable. I find that having trusty rules of engagement for these types of things makes them much more inviting and even a bit of a game.
This book I got these from, Vanessa Van Edwards’ Captivate, was good. If you want the deep dive into this stuff, its worth a read.
Reflection on the past is extremely important to the determination of goals for the future. That’s why I want to take a look at my 2017.
Travel is an important part of what I’m starting to call my “tertiary” (third-level) education. I travel to…
Develop resilience to change.
Be able to connect with people from various cultural background through sharing a knowledge of their homeland.
Expose and develop palates for new foods and flavors.
Have conversations with fellow travelers TOTALLY outside my mindframe to get a “headcheck” on my ideas, thought processes, passions, etc. (This is WAY underrated.)
Remove myself from my daily routine in order to gain perspective.
Enjoy a less rigid schedule. (I enjoy my daily schedule, but taking a break/changing it up is important to growth and appreciation.)
Consume podcasts/books at my own pace throughout the day.
The year started with an incredible eye-opening journey to South America with my friend Matt. Just being able to feel the warmth of the tropical sun in February was amazing.
Getting to see how they live in Ecuador was really cool. It wasn’t a glamorous trip with fine dining adventures, but it was amazing. We dug our feet into the Pacific sand, climbed hills in the low jungle, and developed friendships along the way.
On the domestic side, we got together several old friends for a culinary tour of New York. This was an important trip for me. It allowed my old and new friends (MD and PA) to meet and get to know each other. That was a great joy for me.
It didn’t hurt that we ate at Le Bernardin, which has become likely my favorite restaurant in the world.
We stayed in a small apartment in Chinatown for $30each/night. It was special to get together with all these guys at once. It’s a rarity now that many of us are spread out and some have children.
My brother Chris really wanted to go to Texas, so I obliged (It was awesome.)
We visited with his college friend Greg. The trip was a time well spent with my brother and two of our good friends, Nate (see image above) and Greg.
We went cliff jumping in a big lake. We ate obscene amounts of BBQ. And we drove around central TX in the heat cracking jokes and drinking beers. This was another joyful trip.
Vegas was an interesting trip. I went with four guys I don’t know that well, but had met their group through mutual friends. They are all deep thinkers and take personal growth very seriously, which is why I wanted to spend time with them.
While Vegas itself was a bit of a depressing place wrought with prostitution, licentiousness, and just overall garish anti-intellectual “new money” Dionysian complacency, I found the trip to be a nice time to be able to have some good conversations with new people.
It didn’t hurt that Vegas has some very well-executed food (albeit very pricey.)
Andrew was an incredibly gracious host. We explored the town he live in. We played soccer with his work crew (great guys, hope to hang out with them in the near future.) We discussed travel hacking and Euro soccer. We went to the best apartment complex impromptu pool party I’ve ever attended.
My roommate Matt and I did a quick weekend NYC trip to tour some food joints with my friend Kana (we met through Yelp and our mutual obsession for good food.) Kana is always fun. She has such an intense love for the NY food scene, which I really appreciate. She may be one of three people on this planet to love talking about food more than me.
My roommate John had a place in Wildwood, NJ for the week so we decided to go down with my other roommates for a quick beach trip. The Wildwood boardwalk and beachfront itself is an utterly debase place (dirty, loud, and crowded.) However, nearby Cape May is pretty and has a lovely quiet beachfront.
Solo travel is really fun if you’re the type of person who enjoys novelty and excitement (with the tradeoff of some uncertainty.)
I met a lot of really cool people on this trip around the continent. I was quite satisfied spending two weeks just walking around european cities in the summer listening to my favorite podcasts and walking long distances to find the restaurants I had mapped out.
Just spending time by the hostel bars in Copenhagen, London, Barcelona and Ibiza chatting with fellow travelers was a gold mine of fun. Meeting new people of all ages who are in a place where they are open-minded and conversational is hugely rewarding for me.
These cities were all unique in geography and culture. It was really cool to see these places I’d alone ever heard about before from friends, textbooks, and news articles.
NYC Friend Trip
We went back to NYC with a smaller group of childhood friends. We had a whole two-bedroom apartment to ourselves. We ate our way around the city. It was fantastic.
I ended up in Pittsburgh this past Thanksgiving weekend for a surprisingly fun non-“baby shower” baby celebration party. It was good to connect with a few friends and send them off into this new chapter in their lives. This whole “getting married and having kids” thing is starting to become very popular amongst my friends :).
Major moves and focii
I have implemented and stuck to a much simpler approach to my living space. This has been a joyful simplification as now the stuff I have is all owned very intentionally.
I had a solid year in reading. Books that stick out are. I could probably benefit from doing a bit more fiction.
Guns, Germs, and Steel
The Little Book that still beats the market
The Boron Letters
Early Retirement Extreme
The Six Pillars of Self Esteem
Don’t Shoot the Dog
Million Dollar Consulting
We hosted 6 dinner parties for friends. We hosted another 6 bigger parties at the house, most of which were very well attended and raving successes. I’d like to continue to provide a space for my friends (and new friends) to gather and meet in a comfortable and fun setting.
I started the year a bit pudgier than I’d prefer. I think I took a healthy and sustainable journey in 2017 towards being healthier. Here is an album of pictures taken about monthly through the year. I don’t see much change really (which is good.)
TimBuk2 BackPack for lightweight but well-organized budget personal item-only airline travel.
Patagonia down jacket that is ultra-light and shockingly warm.
This past month I decided to ask my friends to fill out a survey giving me feedback. I wrote up a 5-question survey (using SurveyMonkey) and asked around on Facebook, text, and email for responses. I got 19 replies.
The first 3 questions asked about interestings things my friends had done for 2017. I received some great suggestions about movies, book, and restaurants that I will definitely be checking out in 2018. Almost none of the responses were the same.
The next two questions got into the heart of the matter: What have I been doing well, and where can I improve? I am confident that everyone took this to be anonymous because the answers were very forthright.
In terms of my areas of weakness, there were some clear patterns.
Lack of patience with others and with situations.
Lack of empathy towards the opinions and needs of others.
At first I took these results very harshly. People think I’m too self-oriented and oblivious to their needs. I had so many frustrated thoughts about how I only use the harsh language I do because…
I expect the same or more from myself.
I only want everyone to get better along with me. And complacency and feelings shouldn’t get in the way of that.
However, I hope I realize now that I don’t want my friends to view me as a ruthless critic. It’s not worth the optimization if you hurt people along the way (even if it is with good intention).
My mind is geared to correct, improve, and suppress emotional reaction in order to optimize my life. It is really hard for me to empathize with others, especially when they seemingly (to me) show no concern for my well-being or the well-being of whatever worldly endeavor on which we happen to be sharing a journey.
Can a person be both ruthlessly effective AND empathetic? I don’t know. It’s been shown that 20% of CEO’s are clinically diagnosable psychopaths and probably many more are almost there.
Now, I’m not a psychopath (or a CEO) but I understand the underlying psychic dilemma here: Empathy slows progress.
What I need to assess is: How much progress am I willing to give up for the sake of deeper levels of friendship connection? That’s a really tough question. Obviously, I’m already doing it somewhat. I don’t lash out at every opportunity. But, I clearly have an issue with slowing down and hearing others’ thoughts, feelings, and concerns. I know this is important, and I know, in some cases, it can lead to greater progress (though many times it does not.)
This is a topic I will be thinking about a lot in 2018, as I already had been less formally in 2017.
It’s important to add that not everyone felt this way. In fact, this was a minority of people. But, if 5/19 comments mention this, there is a pattern that needs to be addressed.
In terms of strengths, there were some clear patterns. My friends (and some acquaintances/fellow travelers/etc.) felt that I (am)…
Friendly and take an effort to bring people together.
Oriented towards progress and making things better.
Takes initiative to make things happen.
To a lesser extent: Open to suggestions and sincere.
I am happy and proud that my friends see me as a man who takes initiative, adventures, plans, and brings people together in a friendly, fun, and sincere way. The positives did seem to significantly outweigh the negatives in the survey. My problem is in shared decision-making, not spending time with others in fun/social settings.
Was it worthwhile?
I’m glad I did this survey. While it is harsh to hear criticism, it’s really the only way to improve. I hope to focus in 2018 on ways to develop empathy and patience without sacrificing any commitment to personal growth.
At the same time, I will think about ways to amplify my strengths of focusing on improvement and being a social connector.
This is definitely a dangerous exercise that isn’t for everyone. It was very tough to hear critiques that I couldn’t rebut. However, it was invaluable to get this feedback from people I trust and whose opinions I value.
I’m writing this from my laptop in suburban Pittsburgh. I’m in an empty Panera Bread in a busy strip mall. It’s a brisk day today. I’m on a weekend-long solo road trip across the state.
I’ve been thinking recently about ways to improve my ability to clear my head and come up with new ideas. Brian Grey of the CGP Youtube Channel likes to go on “workcations” where he goes on a trip to a hotel and just focuses on his work. I decided to try something similar this weekend.
I didn’t have anything specific to work on this weekend. But, I’ve gotten great rest and renewal.
On Friday morning, I drove from Baltimore to Pittsburgh. I decided to drive in 90 minute chunks. I chose this segment length because…
It’s about the maximum time I can focus on a single task.
It’s about how much time it takes me to digest a small meal.
Every 90 minutes I would stop at a top Yelp restaurant. I found this strategy make the trip go by MUCH faster and I never felt that I was getting burnt out from driving. I have never enjoyed long drives before, but this is beginning to change my mind.
The other thing that kept the drives interesting was having a podcast list from which to pull. I have about 50 hrs worth of podcast episodes downloaded on a wide range of topics I am personally intensely interested in:
These made the trip very intellectually stimulating and created an ability for me to pick out the next audio without being forced into content.
It also is a great use of my theory of sandwiching anticipation. I’ve found it vastly invigorating and motivating to have things that will excite me coming up next. I’ll often intentionally delay things I’m excited about and sandwich them with boring necessary tasks. This feeling of having something exciting coming next is phenomenal at keeping my spirits up during boring tasks. I recommend you try this if you haven’t before. It’s one of the reasons I like to plan trips at random times of the year. Because it helps add excited anticipation right after otherwise mundane times of year. In this way, I always leave a few really edge-of-my-seat intriguing podcast episodes to help me always look forward to getting in the car to drive.
So I got to my destination very quickly from a psychological perspective because I felt the time spent listening to podcasts was time well spent. It didn’t feel like lost travel time. The feeling of travel time loss I think is a MAJOR motivator for folks to avoid travel. Think about ways you can feel productive while traveling. Maybe hold brainstorming sessions in the car, plan out phone calls, etc.
I found myself coming up with a ton of ideas for blog posts, future books I want to read, and people I’d like to reconnect with just by giving my mind this mental space in the car to churn in a different environment listening to episodes I know will perk up my ears at least a few times per episode.
I stayed totally free (I got 5-8 free nights free by signing up for the Hyatt Rewards card which required a $75 annual fee and $2000 spend in 3 months) in an upgraded King Suite at the Hyatt in Pittsburgh. Having a hotel room was awesome. I felt totally obligationless and distractionless. I decided to use the time doing some research, napping, and catching up on Game of Thrones. I didn’t feel like I was being less productive than anyone around me. I didn’t feel I had anywhere to be. I was in “travel mode” without having any real travel goals, other than trying out a few awesome restaurants in the city. The night in a hotel was extremely relaxing. There was nothing to clean up. No noise. And everything I needed was right there in a small, comfortable 1 bedroom environment. The one thing I was dissappointed with was the lack of a bathtub. I really was looking forward to just soaking in hot water. Oh well. There was a heated pool, but I decided not to grab a used swimsuit from the local goodwill. Could have been fun.
I think what I’m getting at is the importance of creating physical and mental spaces in our lives that allow us to “reset.” The goal isn’t to get anything specific done. Or to visit a person. Or to see sights. The goal is to let your brain work on the things it’s intrigued by in a setting that is wholly free of distractions. Sometimes we are distracted more by our normal spaces than we think.
The other insight here I think is the importance of not allowing the fear of lost travel time to become a roadblock in your exploration of travel and new things. Have a strong list of podcasts downloaded at all times to tap into during road time. I’ve found this actually now has me looking forward to long trips.
Insulin is a major factor in weight loss many people overlook and several myths hurting people on their weight loss attempts, some of which deceptively help in the short-term. There are some simple (but often difficult) habits we can adopt to help change our patterns of obesity.
The following explanation of science-based weight loss comes from the book The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung. He’s respected in the field and backs his arguments with research. I’ve seen similar themes crop up in blogs I follow: Ben Greenfield, Tim Ferriss, Charles Poliquin, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, amongst others. These principles may not be perfect, but they are a superior means of achieving lasting health and weight loss, all other factors (disease, sleep disorders, genetics, job hours, etc,) being tabled for another discussion. I’m not an expert on the topic so I can’t speak authoritatively on this, but Dr. Fung presents a strong argument. I’m presenting this information as Dr. Fung does, not as myself or my own personal opinion. It’s worth hearing his opinion out and researching on your own. Get the book. It’s good.
His hypothesis is that 70% of obesity can be explained by insulin and our resistance to it.
Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar. We eat foods. They release glucose (sugar) into our blood. The pancreas releases insulin to message cells to take this blood glucose and use it for energy or fat storage. Once functioning cells of our body have enough energy, insulin brings glucose to be stored in fat cells and as fat in our liver.
As we eat more carbs, refined sugars, and to a slightly lesser extent proteins, our insulin levels go up. Due to the excess sugar and insulin, our cells become resistant to the insulin, because it’s trying to bring in excess glucose. Because the body always wants to stabilize its blood sugar levels , this resistance causes the need for more insulin to be created. As insulin levels increase and cells are rejecting it because they already have enough glucose, more glucose is transferred more quickly to fat cells and the liver, increasing obesity.
A person who is insulin resistant will more easily gain fat than someone who eats the same meal but is not insulin resistant. This is because their non-fat cells are slower to accept insulin signals. Excess glucose it quickly swept into fat cells for storage.
The vicious cycle: even if an insulin resistant person switches their diet, their pancreas is still accustomed to set levels of insulin at a high level because their cells are still resistant to the insulin. An insulin resistant person prioritizes fat storage compared to an insulin sensitive person. The secret is to reduce insulin levels and insulin resistance to allow your body to relearn how much insulin it needs to maintain a healthy metabolism.
Foods and Habits to Help
The foods that promote insulin reduction are fats. Protein does spike insulin a bit. But, carbs are the biggest culprit in insulin levels. The more processed the carb, the worse it is. Quinoa is a prime example of a decent carb, all the way to white table sugar, which causes pure insulin level spikes with almost no feeling of satiation.
Fasting allows our bodies to recover from high-insulin periods and “reset” to lower healthy insulin levels. Going from low to high insulin levels was very common in the history of mankind, but is now lost on us through constant snacking. If we want to train our bodies to not store fat, we need to get them in a state where the pancreas isn’t constantly producing insulin, and healthy non-fat cells aren’t constantly pushing away glucose to fat stores in the liver and elsewhere. This can be greatly aided by giving our bodies frequent breaks from food when possible.
Weight Loss Myths
There are dangerous myths in popular culture about weight loss. They are slowly being dispelled. But they still persist.
Fat is bad for you. (causes weight gain and heart disease)
Cutting calories will help you lose weight long-term.
Artificial Sugars help weight loss.
Exercise is good for longterm weight loss.
Breakfast is a necessary meal (blood sugar, energy for the day, etc. )
Snacking improves weight loss.
Fasting causes muscle loss.
You are fully in control of how much you eat.
Fat is bad for you
Dietary fat is not associated with cardiovascular disease or obesity. Healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado, and fatty fishes like salmon fill you up and provide micronutrients. Even fats like olive oil, nuts, and beef tallow are much less associated with obesity than carbs.
Calories are the metric of food that causes weight gain, but they aren’t the internal metric our bodies use to set our weight, that is insulin. Cutting calories will cut your weight. But, it won’t control your hunger. It won’t control your metabolic expenditure. It won’t control how much energy you have. While cutting calories works short-term, your body will always try to reach the homeostatic state that your insulin and insulin resistance levels and metabolic state indicate. Ultra low-calorie diets will leave us under-nourished.
Ideally you want to fuel your body to maintain your alertness, energy, sleep, and hunger.
Over the long-term (12+months) your body will compensate for a purely low-calorie diet and hormonally (through hunger & a lowered metabolic rate) gear you up for weight gain. While watching calories is helpful, it is only part of an intelligent long-term weight loss plan. We also need to cut out refined sugars and probably eat less often.
Cutting calories works. The calories in/calories out theory is not wrong. But it doesn’t show us the whole picture of our bodies response to decreased energy intake. Dr. Fung points out this is why almost all diets work for 12 months, then fail. They cut calories , but fail to train our brain and pancreas, to set our metabolism and cells up for a new sustainable normal body fat level.
Artificial sugars like Splenda and aspartame are just as linked to obesity as real sugar. They trick your body into thinking it’s getting sugar, and thus promote the same hormonal pathways that cause weight gain from sugar. While they do help cut calories, they don’t provide satiation. They spike insulin just like sugar. Thus, they promote the conversion of preexisting blood glucose into fat.
They make us hungrier and more prone to fat gain through insulin spikes.
Unless you’re running 3+hrs a day, you cannot out-exercise food from a calorie perspective. Exercise is great for cardiovascular health, but it’s not linked to weight loss. Some exercise (weights and low-intensity cardio) does decrease insulin. But, this is not enough to rely on it for fat loss.
Exercise is good. But we can’t rely on it to beat a bad diet.
Breakfast is not magical. Blood sugar can be stable for days without food (unless you’re diabetic where insulin is pulling your blood sugar into your cells too rapidly or inappropriately, causing low blood sugar (faintness, dizziness, shakiness, slight nausea, etc.). We don’t need breakfast for energy or health. If we’re not hungry, don’t eat it. Breakfast only forces us into insulin/glucose processing mode for a larger percentage of the day.
The more times we eat, the fatter we get. Snacking is not associated with weight loss. Snacks are notoriously unhealthy and loaded with empty refined carbs. detailed source. It seems like the exception may be if you’re doing bodybuilding and need to get tons of calories into your body. But for the median person, limiting food intake to two or three meals will be helpful in reducing calories and giving our bodies time to sit at lower insulin levels.
Fasting allows the body time to process food. Hormonally it gives us time with low insulin to process fats and sugars. The contemporary 3-meal system is not what the human body was built for. For the majority of human history, humans ate when they could find food, which gave us a lot of time when we weren’t eating regularly set meals.
If you’re constantly eating, your body will naturally think it needs to be constantly producing insulin and storing fats, especially when those calories are coming from refined sugars like bread, pasta, chips, bagels, candy, etc.
You are fully in control
Your body is built for homeostasis. It controls when you feel hungry and full through hormones. If you eat refined carbs and sugar, you will be tricking your body into thinking it’s not getting enough food, so it will keep allowing you to be hungry. This is why we never feel full on cake or ice cream.
On short bursts of time, we are able to cut calories. But our bodies adapt to burn less and hunger more. This is why, after 12 months, all diets stop working. They are crafty ways to cut calories. But, they don’t address the long-term hormonal nature of obesity.
If we’re going to keep weight off, we need to adopt more intelligent and sustainable eating habits that promote lean mass gain while burning fat. This is primarily done through eating a diet high in fiber, fat, with a balance of whole natural carbohydrates (brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes) and proteins. This is becoming increasingly difficult when even our “healthy” vegetables like corn, potatoes, and lettuce are being bred to maximize sugars and size at the expense of fiber and nutrition.
Eat only when you’re hungry. Try to occasionally take 24+hrs between eating.
Substitute meal times when you’re not hungry (if they exist) with coffee, tea, bone broth.
Eliminate sugar and refined carbs (bread, pasta, cakes) as foods in your diets. Treat them as special celebration items. If you do eat pasta, rice, potatoes, eat them with fibrous vegetables to reduce the insulin load. If you’re exercising more than 45mins/day, it becomes OK to up your clean carb intake.
Add more fat to your meals to fill you up (butter, coconut oil, olive oil). Fat does not affect insulin levels.
Drink at least 2 L of water per day.
If you do have a big splurge meal :), take 2 tsp of vinegar with it to reduces it’s insulin load.
Try to eat grass-fed and wild caught animal products. Conventional farming relies on corn feeds that jam animals plump full of sugars.
Be aware of your caloric intake, but don’t obsess over it. If you’re following a clean diet, it will be hard to eat too much. Most overeating comes from lack of fiber and refined sugar intake.
For more info do check out The Obesity Code by Jason Fung. This isn’t a wild and contentious theory. Reducing carbs and eating more fiber has been the classic advice of grandmothers for generations. Dr. Fung explores the social impacts of food subsidies, mass-produced carbs, and changing eating patterns in the 1950’s and how they made us fatter than any generation in history.
Simple ideas for travel, productivity, and food
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