A Lesson from the Fisherman

The following post is a personal realisation I had, like only a couple of hours ago.

I read this little story once, I can’t remember exactly what book it was from, one of those self-help spirituality ones I think, like the Power of Now or something. The story has stuck with me over the years and I have retold it to many people and I have always thought of it as a kind of personal philosophy to live by. So here is the story (a fabricated version from memory anyway), you may have heard it before, but I am sure it won’t stop you from reading it again, it is a good story.

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There once lived a man and his family on a little island. The man would wake up and walk down to the beach where he would spend the morning fishing. At noon, he would go to the markets to sell some of the fish he caught, but still have enough left over for dinner. He earned enough money each day so his family could live comfortably. After that he would return home to spend the evening with his wife and children.

One day a business man walked past the fisherman’s market stall and noticed all his fish. “Did you catch all of those fish this morning?” the business man asked.

The fisherman nodded and smiled.

“Have you ever considered, that if you fished for longer then you could catch more fish and make more money” the business man informed him.

“And then what?” the fisherman replied curiously.

“Well after a few years of saving, you will have enough money to buy a boat so you can catch even more fish and make even more money” the business man excitedly told him.

“What happens after that” the fisherman inquired.

“After putting in a few hard year of fishing, you will have enough money to buy more boats and employ people to fish for you” the business man explained.

“And what will I do after that” the fisherman asked, still smiling.

“With a few more years of hard work and the right investments, you could extend your business globally, move to the city and make millions” the business man exclaimed.

“What will I do after that?” the fisherman questioned.

“This is the best part” the business man replied, “After that you can sell the business and have enough money to move to a little island somewhere and retire. You will have all the time in the world to spend with your family and do the things you love. You can spend the rest of your days lying on the beach and doing a bit of casual fishing”.

“Society today is so caught up in working long hours, sacrificing leisure activities and spending less time with family and friends, all so one day they can work less, do leisure activities and spend time with family and friends”

I love this minimalist idea of living. I think society today is so caught up in working long hours, sacrificing leisure activities and spending less time with family and friends, all so one day they can work less, do leisure activities and spend time with family and friends. My career goals for the future are to eventually get a job that I love and earn enough money to get by comfortably, but minimally, hopefully only working two or three days a week. I am sure many people share this dream.

Some days I think about how far I am away from achieving this dream and wonder how on earth I am ever going to get there. It seems like there is a lot of hard work to do before I am anywhere even close to achieving this. Before I continue I should give you a little back ground info about myself.

So basically what you need to know is that, I am currently a university student and work part time. I am also passionate about exercise and keeping fit, I train with a bunch of awesome people most days. Dinner parties are my preferred method of socialising with my close friends and I volunteer with some random university related things where I can. I also don’t mind the odd adventure in nature and hike on the weekend. Previously I have received financial support from the government to aid my studies, but recently that has come to an end.

Today, like literally a couple of hours ago, I was thinking about how I am going to have to work an extra day to cover the money I will lose from the cessation of the finical support I was receiving and how that is basically going to suck. Suddenly this realisation struck me. My life at the moment consists of working a couple of days a week (even with the extra day I need to do); studying and reading the things that I am most utterly interested in; training everyday with not just one, but a whole community of awesome people; going for some outdoors adventure on the occasional weekend; having a dinner party now and then with my dearest friends.

So if you haven’t caught on yet, my realisation has some pretty close similarities with the fisherman story. I realised that every second I think about, when this dream future is going to come, I am wasting the moments living in the present, which is actually the dream in itself. All this time, well for the past couple years anyway, I have been living my dream life. Not to say that I don’t still have things to achieve, because there are many, but the outcomes that I want the most I have right now, which is surviving comfortably and having free time to invest in the things which really matter to me.

I hope that the fisherman story will urge you to reflect on you own goals and where and how you are steering your life, but more importantly why. I hope that my added reflection will encourage you to look at where you are now and ask yourself how close is this resent life to the ideal life that you are working towards? It may actually be closer than you think.

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How to Achieve Your Goals

So I have realised that this blogging thing is harder than I thought and takes a lot of time, especially when researching is involved. A couple weeks ago, after I first created my blog, I thought of an awesome topic that I wanted to write about. While researching, I got a little carried away and realised that there was so much to write about and it would take more time than I expected. I also get side tracked really easily and came across an article about behaviour change, leading me to where we are now. This wasn’t the original idea I had for my next blog (which is still in the making), but I thought it was an interesting topic.

Every part of our lives involves decision making and motivations that steer us in certain directions, whether we are conscious of it or not. Some motivations are deeply woven into the fabric of our biology and are tightly regulated, such as motivation for eating, sleeping and sex (all the important things right?). Others we have more control over and aren’t as tightly regulated, such as pretty much every choice you make on a daily basis. Although some of these decision might actually be sculpted by others (from marketing/advertising, priming and such) and some might go against your biological wants (not eating that delicious piece of fatty and sugary chocolate cake), in the most part, we are in control of what we choose to do.

In short, behaviour, motivation, choice, and decision making are complicated. There are a number of different inputs that can affect why people act the way they do, some basic examples are; a person’s needs, beliefs and values; emotions; and external events.1 I do not intend to explain behaviour here, but give a snippet of one strategy/theory of how to control behaviour and help achieve the goal and intention that you set for yourself.

Although ‘the student life’ might seem laid back and relaxing, it is usually a delicate balancing act of studying, work, family/social life and leisure activities. An average week during mid semester for me could involve going to class a couple days, working a couple of days, training every afternoon, studying every night, some extra curricula activities for a few hours, the occasional dinner party, a weekend adventure doing some hiking or climbing, meal prep and other house work duties (shopping laundry and such). Some days I get stressed and wonder why I pack so much on my plate, but the truth is that I actually cope better and get more done when my scheduled is full. My secret is planning and organisation; making specific times for when I will do things and anticipating possible setbacks or barriers that could get in the way.

The following text will explain one theory of goal setting, giving a description and explanation of how it works. Then some of the strength and weaknesses will be looked at followed by steps of how to use it in your life.

The strategy that will be looked at is called implementation intention, which is basically a pre-planned way to act in a specific situation. In other words, it is an ‘if-then what’ plan.2 Implementation intention can be broke down into two different subgroups, Sniehotta, et al.3 labels these as action planning and coping planning. Action planning is the planning of when, where and how to act in a certain environment cue. This is useful for the initiation of an action (when you first decide to make a new habit) for the first few weeks or month, until the behaviour becomes routine. An example of this is if you have a goal of getting fit and running more. Instead of just going for a run whenever you get some free time, you make a specific plan of how you will achieve this –“When the time is 4pm, then I will go for a 30 minute run around the block”. After the behaviour has become routine and habitual, the focus is shifted to protecting these routines.

Coping planning is a barrier-focused self-regulation strategy, use to overcome future obstacle and barriers. For example, say you have been sticking to your goal of running for 30 minutes at 4pm most days. But some days you had a hard day at work and just don’t feel like it. Coping planning works by acknowledging that you will have these barriers and creating an implementation intention around it. “If I have a hard day at work, then I will come home and relax for 30 minutes and go for my run at 4:30pm”.

Implementation intention works by reducing cognitive effort at the time of decision making, leaving more cognitive resource available to focus on the goal itself .4 In other words, say you have the goal of not eating sugary snacks, but when the situation arises where you are offered a sugary snack, due to time restrains of the decision making, social pressures/conformity and biologically wanting of that delicious treat, you may give in and accept it.

By having an intention of what you will do in a situation that will threaten your goal (getting offered sugary snacks when you are trying to avoid them), less time or cognitive effort is needed in deciding what to do or say, as a plan has already been set into place. So the intention could be – “if I get offered a sugary snack, then I will decline politely and explain that I am avoiding high sugary foods”. The more you visualise each possible barrier and situation that will threaten your goal, and visualise yourself saying/acting on your intention, the stronger it will become.

Another possible explanation of why implementation intention work is, because it is the person’s own free choice to make the implementation intention, they may experience cognitive dissonance if they do not follow through with the plan. In other words, if a person freely chooses to make an intention or goal and puts power to that intention by verbalising or visualising it, then they are more likely to go ahead with the behaviour.5 If they do not, they are likely to feel a mental conflict (cognitive dissonance) as their intentions and behaviour did not match up.

For goal directed behaviour to be successful, tenacity and flexibility are both needed. Tenacity is commitment and determination to see the goal to completion, even in the face of difficulties and obstacles. Flexibility is being able to take a step back from what is in front of you and being able to disengage with the goal, so it can be modify and constraints can be overcome.6 Implementation intentions greatly increase tenacity by pre-planning what your behaviour will be in a situation. This however weakens flexibility, as the implementation intentions are specific and do not allow for multiple options of what behaviour you can choose in the specific situation.

Two studies are important for this point. Firstly, a study by Vinkers, et al.4 looked at this exact problem, of implementation intentions weakening flexibility. They proposed that having a plan B or a flexible-implementation could allow flexibility while keeping tenacity. The idea here was that, for the situation (eating unhealthy snacks due to boredom) the participants would have a dominant implementation intention (distraction – doing something to preoccupy them from being bored). They would also have a plan B strategy (replacement – replacing the unhealthy snack with a healthy one) in case the dominant intention didn’t work or could not be achieved. Their results found that having more than one implementation intention weakened the tenacity of the goal directed behaviour thus it was not as successful as only having the dominant strategy. This suggests that having more than one plan is similar to having no plan, in that it still requires cognitive effort in deciding what to do when the situation arises.

The second study conducted by Ajzen, et al.7, looked at the difference between having a specific, general and no implementation intention. Participants were asked to watch and review a local and national newscast on the same day in a particular month. The first group were asked to write down what day in the month they planned to complete the task (specific), the second group were asked what week in the month they would complete the task (general) and the third group when asked to complete the task within the allocated month (no implementation intention). The results tested how many participants actually completed the task within the guidelines given. It was found that there was no significant difference between the specific and general group (group 1 and 2) on how many people completed the task, although these two groups did differ significantly from the third group that were not given a specific time to complete the task. This suggests that an implementation intention does not have to be specific, but a general intention will see the behaviour carried out. One explanation for this is that a person’s commitment to go through with a specific behaviour will increase if they implement an intention to do so, regardless of if that intention is specific or general.

The key points to take out of these two studies are:

  • Forming an implementation intention can reduce cognitive stress at times of decision making, thus increasing the likelihood of going through with a planned behaviour.
  • Implementation intentions increase commitment to a goal. As explained earlier, this may work as there is more incentive to complete the task to avoid cognitive dissonance.
  • An implementation intention can be specific or general, in that as long as you commit to the goal it will increase likelihood of you achieving it.

For best results, I personally think that in most cases it would be best to make implementation intentions as specific as possible, which will increase commitment and decrease cognitive energy when the time comes to implement them. However, when it is not possible to make a specific intention due to unknown circumstances, then a general intention will work. As long as only one implementation intention is made (whether specific or general) for any one specific situation, then I think this is a good strategy for keeping tenacity for the behaviour directed goal, while also giving some flexibility where needed.

Here is how to get started:

  1. Think of the goal that you want to achieve (saving money, eating healthy, exercising, etc.) and make sure it is clear and specific.
  1. Develop the ‘If’. For action plans, think about a specific time and/or situation you will use. The more specific the better; so exercising Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5pm is better than 3 times a week. For coping plans, think about all the possible barriers that you could come up against (shopping while hungry leads to buying lots of snacks).
  1. Develop the ‘Then What’. For action plans, think about exactly what you will do and how you will do it. Instead of exercising on Monday at 5pm, try going for a run around the block 3 times, or going to the gym for 1 hour where I will do half an hour of strength training (state what exercises you will actually do) and half an hour of cardio (rowing, cycling, running). For coping plans, come up with a strategy you will use when the ‘If’ situation arises. Be realistic and specific – “if I am hungry and need to shop for groceries, then I will eat something before I go” (state what you are likely to always have in the house).
  1. Write all of this down on a piece of paper and read to yourself aloud a couple of times daily.

References

  1. Reeve, J. Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.) – Hoboken, NJ – John Wiley & Sons – 2009
  2. Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: strong effects of simple plans.American psychologist,54(7), 493. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.54.7.493
  3. Sniehotta, F. F., Schwarzer, R., Scholz, U., & Schüz, B. (2005). Action planning and coping planning for long‐term lifestyle change: theory and assessment.European Journal of Social Psychology,35(4), 565-576. doi:10.1002/ejsp.258
  4. Vinkers, C. D., Adriaanse, M. A., Kroese, F. M., & de Ridder, D. T. (2015). Better sorry than safe: Making a Plan B reduces effectiveness of implementation intentions in healthy eating goals.Psychology & health,30(7), 821-838. doi:10.1080/08870446.2014.997730
  5. Webb, T. L., & Sheeran, P. (2008). Mechanisms of implementation intention effects: the role of goal intentions, self‐efficacy, and accessibility of plan components.British Journal of Social Psychology,47(3), 373-395. doi:10.1348/014466607X267010
  6. Kelly, R. E., Wood, A. M., & Mansell, W. (2013). Flexible and tenacious goal pursuit lead to improving well-being in an aging population: A ten-year cohort study.International Psychogeriatrics,25(01), 16-24. doi:10.1017/S1041610212001391
  7. Ajzen, I., Czasch, C., & Flood, M. G. (2009). From Intentions to Behavior: Implementation Intention, Commitment, and Conscientiousness1.Journal of Applied Social Psychology,39(6), 1356-1372. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2009.00485.x

Sprouting Legumes and Nutrient Bioavailability

My diet consists of a lot of lentil, I usually have them for dinner most nights with brown rice and a big pan full of stir fried veggies. What can I say, I live a pretty exciting life. I use lentils over other legumes as I can buy them dried and they are fast to rehydrate (unlike other dried beans that can be a pain to make tender without a pressure cooker), this allows me to avoid canned beans where possible. They are also super easy to sprout, like really really easy. I found that I had to screw around with mung beans, making sure I sift through them to get all the un-sprouted ones out so I didn’t break a tooth, plus they were kind of sensitive, if I missed rinsing them on time I would have to throw them out. I found this for quinoa also, except it was the most sensitive. Truth be told, I don’t really have any of the ‘pro’ equipment for sprouting, so it might be easier with that. But like many of you, I am ‘perceived time poor’ and don’t want to baby sit beans. So lentils are the winner for quick sprouting time, resilience if I forget to rinse them and quick cooking time.

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Legumes are a great source of nutrients no matter what kind of diet you follow. They are high in ‘low-GI’ carbohydrates,1 high in fiber and a great source of protein and minerals (iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc)1-3 for those that do no consume animal products.. For example, the iron and magnesium in both a 100g serve of lean eye-fillet steak and 100g of lentils is roughly the same.4 Legumes are also a good source of B vitamin such as thiamine, niacin, B6 and folate.1,4

One issue with legumes is that they contain phytic acid and other anti-nutrients that bind to nutrients, especially minerals and proteins,2 lowering how much you can absorb into your body. This can be counter-productive, especially for vegetarians and vegans, when trying to get a good part of their daily intake of minerals and proteins from these sources. However, through the simple process of sprouting, phytic acid levels can be reduced and bioavailability of all the other goodies increased, making legumes your friends again.

After soaking a variety of legumes for 12 hours and germinating for 24 hours, a study conducted by Ghavidel and Prakash2 found a 20% decrease in phytic acid, although reductions of up to 80% have been found in other research.3 An increase of protein by 6-9% was also found, along with a 65-80% increase for iron bioavailability and 60-70% increase for calcium. A gross loss of 15% of minerals was seen, most likely due to loss in the soaking process.2 All in all, sprouting is a winner for increasing bioavailability of nutrients.

Here is my method for sprouting lentils. What you will need is a glass jar and some dried lentils.

  • Soak lentils in the jar overnight (8-12 hours) with the upside down, half covering the jar (this is probably unimportant, but it’s just what I do)
  • Drain water in the morning. I literally just put hold the ‘upside down lid’ against the opening of the jar, leaving a little gap until the water drains out, giving it a few shakes.
  • Place on bench in semi sunlit area (you could probably put them anywhere really), rinse and drain before be and when you get up in the morning. So twice a day.
  • They should start to sprout on the second day. I usually use mine on the third day.
  • I put mine in cold water and bring to the boil for about a minute and then drain (just check when they are desired tenderness). It’s likely that you will lose some more nutrients by boiling them, but they will become more digestible, you could always try steaming.

References

  1. Świeca, M., Baraniak, B., & Gawlik-Dziki, U. (2013). In vitro digestibility and starch content, predicted glycemic index and potential in vitro antidiabetic effect of lentil sprouts obtained by different germination techniques.Food chemistry138(2), 1414-1420. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2012.09.122
  2. Ghavidel, R. A., & Prakash, J. (2007). The impact of germination and dehulling on nutrients, antinutrients, in vitro iron and calcium bioavailability and in vitro starch and protein digestibility of some legume seeds.LWT-Food Science and Technology,40(7), 1292-1299. doi: 10.1016/j.lwt.2006.08.002
  3. Sandberg, A. S. (2002). Bioavailability of minerals in legumes.British Journal of Nutrition,88(S3), 281-285. doi:10.1079/BJN/2002718
  4. FSANZ, Food standards Australia New Zealand, NUT TAB online search. 2015 Available from:http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumerinformation/ nuttab2010/nuttab2010onlinesearchabledatabase/ onlineversion.cfm?&action=search

The Importance of Vitamin B12 in Vegan and Vegetarian Diets

There is a lot of misconception out there as to what foods contain vitamin B12, especially for people following a vegetarian and vegan diet. Here is a poem I wrote about B12 and a little run down as to what exactly it is.

Vitamin B12 is created by bacteria, usually found in the guts of animals (although not found in human guts). It is obtained through the diet, by eating animal products (animal flesh, dairy and eggs) and can also be found in fortified cereals and soy milk. Trace amounts of B12 can be found in some algae/seaweeds, yeast and fermented foods, although not in sufficient quantities and it is usually inactive, thus useless.

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning it is found in the watery parts of foods and is absorbed quickly into the blood stream. Unlike other water-soluble vitamins which are processed by the kidneys and removed if there is excess, B12 is stored in the liver and recycled through bile back into the stomach. When it comes to digestion, B12 always needs a ‘helper’ to transport it around. A protein helper in the gut binds to B12, helping it to reach the small intestine, where a different protein takes over and escorts it all the way to the end of the intestines, where it is then absorbed into the blood and stored in the liver.

B12 plays a role in synthesising DNA (helping cells grow big and strong), the formation of blood cells and also helps cover nerve cells (myelin sheath) to make sure messages in your body are sent fast and efficiently. A deficiency in B12 can lead to anaemia (low energy levels), decreased memory and in serious cases paralysis of the limbs and spinal cord (due to the nerve cells not being protected). The average person absorbs about 50% of the B12 in their food and like mentioned earlier, it is usually recycled in their body. If you eat meat regular, it’s likely you have enough B12 to last you for the next 2 years or so. Deficiencies can be caused by lack of intake of B12 in the diet, or if your digestive system lacks the helper proteins that help transport B12. Vegetarians and more so vegans have to be conscious of their levels and it is recommended that they take a supplement to keep on top of things.