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Sleep Research, Workaholism, and Self-Regulation (Sunday Reads #4)


Welcome to Sunday Reads on Refocuser, a collection of weekly links from around the web to help you do incredible things.  These links span topics like creativity, performance, focus, exercise, nutrition, and positivity.  I’m posting this on Saturday this time to make sure email subscribers get this on Sunday.

Join thousands of other readers by subscribing to this blog and email newsletter or by following @Refocuser on Twitter.  If you’re receiving this in your email inbox, spread the love and forward it to a friend.

High-Performance Work and Life

Research shows that workaholism is related to many negative outcomes including burnout, job stress, work–life conflict, and decreased physical and mental health.

Checking your email too often is stressful.  There can be a significant reduction in stress when people check email less frequently.

Better posture equals less stress.  A recent study “found people who sat upright with straight shoulders coped better emotionally with a stressful task than people who were hunched over.”

Researchers compared 10 psychological strengths on their ability to predict goal attainment and the greatest changes in overall well-being using a sample of 755 people.  Which strengths won?  Curiosity and grit.

Keep reading this »

Written by Mike Torres

January 24th, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Boosting Memory, Perils of Diet Soda, and Getting Unstuck (Sunday Reads #3)


Welcome to Sunday Reads on Refocuser, a collection of weekly links from around the web to help you do incredible things.  These links span topics like creativity, performance, focus, exercise, nutrition, and positivity.  I’m posting this on Saturday this time to make sure email subscribers get this on Sunday.

Join thousands of other readers by subscribing to this blog and email newsletter or by following @Refocuser on Twitter.

High-Performance Work and Life

Fantastic post on the differences between a high-performer and a workaholic.  In my experience as someone who could maybe appear to be a workaholic from the outside, the conclusion rings true: “The big difference isn’t how many hours are logged, but how the individual feels on the inside about who they are in relationship to their work.”

When it comes to creativity, the “myth of epiphany” is commonplace.

An amazing episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast with Pavel Tsatsouline on the Science of Strength and the Art of Physical Performance.

Keep reading this »

Written by Mike Torres

January 17th, 2015 at 9:20 am

Your Microbiome, Bone Broth, and Fancy New Fitness Gadgets (Sunday Reads #2)


Welcome to Sunday Reads #2 on Refocuser, a collection of my favorite weekly links from around the web spanning topics like creativity, performance, focus, exercise, and positivity.  I’m posting this on Saturday this time to make sure email subscribers get this on Sunday.

Speaking of which, join thousands of other readers by subscribing to this blog and email newsletter or by following @Refocuser on Twitter.

On Moving, Eating, and Sleeping

The healthy human microbiome is the new frontier.  All the more reason why I’m surprised I didn’t know about uBiome (10% off with that link!) – it’s similar in spirit to WellnessFX and 23andMe.  They send you a sample kit for only $89 (!) so you can learn more about your body’s own bacteria in an effort to improve your overall health.  Don’t need to twist my arm to do this – I’m in!  We’re super early in this citizen science movement but I love it.  You can also learn more on Fast Company.

Mark Sisson challenges some of our common misconceptions when it comes to calories (part 1part 2).

How does exercise really affect our brains and how does it really make us happier?  Fast Company set out to understand the science.  Turns out addiction to exercise isn’t a crazy concept since BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor) and those ever-popular endorphins have the same characteristics as nicotine, heroin, or morphine.  Big takeaway: Daily exercise of just 20 minutes is all it takes.

Keep reading this »

Written by Mike Torres

January 10th, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Finding An Answer: Dogma, Frameworks, and Changing Your Mind

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Have you ever found yourself believing something “just because”? Just because your family does, your friends do, or the “facts” as you know them just seem intuitively correct? Maybe this belief has been there your entire life, and is cemented deeply in your psyche as “the truth” regardless of whether or not the facts support it. Or maybe you believe something, but have no clear idea where the belief started or why you believe it at all. My guess is that you, like me, believe a lot of things that have no basis in objective reality – but you have never stopped to question many of those beliefs.

It’s human nature to like things to be simple. We don’t like to muster up our cognitive reserves to dig into the rationale, the logic, the reasoning, or the “why” something is the way it is. It’s usually easier to simply believe the so-called experts and focus our energy elsewhere. Quite often this is the right tradeoff to make, in fact. You don’t have to research cyanide to know that you shouldn’t put it in your mouth – it doesn’t rank high enough on the “investment relative to importance” scale to question whether or not it will harm you. Similarly, there’s no reason (for most people at least) to personally test the safety features of their car. You can take it on faith and a small bit of research that the claims made by your car company are valid without putting them to the ultimate test. But there are other things that really DO matter – or at least SHOULD. Things that could make a BIG difference in your life if you spent the time digging into them to understand them just a little bit more… and didn’t assume the answer was correct “just because”.

The definition of dogma: a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true; prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group.

Keep reading this »

Written by Mike Torres

January 7th, 2015 at 8:44 pm

Books, Kettlebell Swings, and the Goal-Gradient Effect (Sunday Reads #1)

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Welcome to the first edition of Sunday Reads on Refocuser.  In an effort to both engage with my readers and have a complete archive of awesome stuff I’ve been reading, I’m going to start filtering the web for things that are most applicable to Refocuser subscribers.  This way you get the most out of subscribing to this blog and email newsletter.

These updates will consist mostly of links to other sites with minimal commentary, and will vary in length and depth.  They should be easily consumable… and should be fun.  Here we go.

Reading is Fundamental

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Founder of Facebook, believes in the power of reading books.  He says, “I’ve found reading books very intellectually fulfilling. Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.”  I agree 100% and have joined his book club to follow along.

More on reading books: Reading in the Age of Amazon is a great profile of the people I work with every single day at Amazon and our mission to empower the world to read more every day.  In short, reading is good for you and, of course, Kindle is the best way to do it.

On Fitness, Nutrition, and Sleep

“Optimized meat products higher in omega-3″ reduce body fat more than “optimized” products lower in overall fat. This implies that if we’re going to be eating meat, we should seek out the grass-fed variety. (via Mark Sisson)

Keep reading this »

Written by Mike Torres

January 4th, 2015 at 11:53 am

Improve Your Health in 5 Minutes Flat with WellnessFX


My blood draw took a total of about 5 minutes.  5 long minutes in a downtown Seattle lab… looking out the window, focused on the “Go Seahawks” and “12th Man” signs on nearby buildings so I didn’t pass out.  Something like 12 or 13 vials of blood were taken from my right arm and confirmed, one by one, that they were labeled correctly.  I thought I would be lying down in a spinning haze after the 6th vial but I breathed through it like a ninja warrior would.

One could say that the lengths I go to learn more about my mind and body are a tad bit excessive. And expensive.  But you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and in this case what I’m measuring include some of the most important indicators available today for overall health, well being, and spiritual, mental, and physical performance.  If there’s something I could be doing to feel better, think better, or move better that I’m not already doing, I want to know immediately.  Am I overtraining? Am I more stressed than I thought I was? Are my hormones getting in the way of my training progress or ability to solve problems at work? Is chronic inflammation an issue and if so, why? Do I need to scale back on my creatine or fish oil supplementation?  Is lack of vitamin D holding me back during the winter months?  What about the summer?  Is my Primal/Paleo lifestyle actually improving my health as promised or making it worse?  And so on.


Enter WellnessFXWellnessFX is a relatively young service with a pretty straightforward outward mission: to improve the health and performance of its clients through data. And that data comes from the ultimate source: your blood. A quick trip to a lab and a couple weeks later you have a complete analysis of the primary blood markers you should care about.

Why does this matter?

“The future has not been written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” – John Connor

What we eat and what we do in our everyday lives have major impacts on our body and mind.  The field of epigenetics explains how controllable environment factors like your diet, your training, your friends and family, your job and stress levels, and the sunlight or toxins you’re exposed to can trigger gene expression.  So while we may be pre-coded for certain outcomes, we aren’t prisoners to those outcomes.  We have a lot more control over how our body ages and adapts to external stimuli.  So if we care enough about living better, there’s frankly a lot we can do.

I do believe that taking your health into your own hands is an important skill to hone.  I’ve found that far too few doctors keep up on the latest research, so their recommendations are typically outdated (“eat a low-fat diet and lose weight”).  And the lack of true personal connection with patients means their advice is almost always based on limited information about you.  So it’s best to arm yourself with the same data they have – and then some – since only you know how you actually feel at any given time.  In other words, a medical doctor has a role in your overall wellness, but so do you.

Keep reading this »

Written by Mike Torres

February 5th, 2014 at 9:35 pm

How to Become a Morning Person

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Photo by Christopher S Penn

For as long as I can remember, I haven’t been a morning person, preferring to stay up late over prying my heavy head off the pillow in the cold morning.  I’ve been a night owl most of my life, with some of my best work and inspired thought happening after 10pm.  Throughout the years, I’ve been following the growing body of research that points to night owlish (or ‘larkish’) as a genetic trait: there’s apparently a specific genetic variant that can indicate whether someone is a night owl, a lark, or somewhere in between the two.  Unfortunately this indicator wasn’t included in my 23andMe genetic profile a few years ago so I’m not sure where I fall on the continuum.

But even if I knew where my genes wanted me to be, there isn’t much I (or most of us) can do about societal, professional, or family pressure to wake up early.  Every single day, one of our kids wakes up at or before 6:30am.  At least 3 or 4 mornings per week I need to be out the door by 7:20am for school drop-off prior to a can’t-miss 8am meeting.  And when I get home at night, by the time I’ve eaten dinner, cleaned up afterwards, spent time with my family, and put the kids to bed, it’s already after 9pm.  So in order to do anything beyond “the basics” in life – including strength training, meditation, writing, extra work, or anything else – I have a simple choice: I either do it late at night and suffer the next morning, or I get up 30-60 minutes earlier.  I choose not to suffer.

Now, for a night owl, the thought of waking up earlier than 6:30am is anathema.  But for the last several months I’ve been doing it, and not only has it gotten easier, but I’ve ‘dialed it in’ to be a habit that I feel has dramatically improved my overall well-being, productivity at work, and presence at home.  These days I’m up at 5:45am to drink a cup of loose-leaf green tea and get a focused kettlebell or bodyweight workout in – or some dedicated writing – before my kids wake up and the house starts buzzing.

I’d be lying if I said the transition was all kittens and rainbows.  It was actually quite hard, and is still not without its challenges occasionally.  But I’m consistent about it and am determined to make it work.  Oddly, on the days I “sleep in” until 7 or 7:30am I don’t feel quite as right compared to those when I’ve gotten up and have broken a sweat before the sun rises.

Here are the ways I became a morning person and how you can too.

Keep reading this »

Written by Mike Torres

January 26th, 2014 at 3:01 pm

The Only Constant is Change

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One of the strangest things about human beings is that we seem to be wired to believe that where we are in life, that the people and things all around us, are somehow their final versions… that everything is how it will always be.  That our homes, our families, our likes and dislikes, our daily routines… they’re all carved in stone and won’t really change much if at all.

Intellectually we know things will change, of course.  No one really thinks they’re still going to be doing the same things with the same people at 78 as they were at 18.  But most aren’t emotionally aware enough to let themselves think about just how things will change over time.  To welcome the vulnerability.

We even think our tastes in music won’t change and yet looking back, we know they already have.  Psychologists have taken to calling this the “end of history illusion” – our inability to foresee change in our lives despite knowing how much change we’ve already experienced.  We believe to the core that we are who we are, who we’ve always been, and who we will always be… and we’re so incredibly sure of it.  That even though we talk about ourselves as ‘growing’ and ‘changing’, that we’re really the same person despite this, and that everyone and everything around us is as well.

The older you get the more you realize that the passage of time isn’t a linear path either; that time speeds up each year, and this perceived reality contributes to this generally vague awareness that things are more constant than they actually are.  The first time you realize that an experience you can remember so well that it’s so a part of your being was, in fact, 20 years ago, you realize that time has sped up beyond your ability to catch up to it.  Most everything in your life has changed since then. Keep reading this »

Written by Mike Torres

June 25th, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Happiness

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The Unconventional Gym Bag Continued: 5 More Things

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Last year I wrote The Unconventional Gym Bag: 5 Cool Things You Don’t Use and a few months prior, I wrote about Building the Perfect Home Gym. As expected, my training has evolved over the past year – and will continue to evolve – and the contents of my actual gym bag (and home gym) have also been upgraded. I take my training seriously – more seriously every year – and making sure I’m up-to-date on the latest and greatest is part of the fun.

While I’m a strong believer in self-experimentation, I also “keep it real” with basics in every training session. Loads of bodyweight workouts for general physical preparedness, and of course moving big iron for strength skill work. My strength & conditioning sessions (the primary choice for my entire adult life) consist primarily of the basics: kettlebells, deadlift, squat, bench press, and military press variations. Depending on my goals at the time, I vary the sets, reps, tempo, rest periods, and “supplementary” work. Sometimes the goal is to get stronger or bigger, sometimes it’s to get faster, and sometimes it’s to get leaner. I enlist the help of an awesome, experienced strength coach every few weeks or months to make sure my form is spot-on, and that I’m constantly improving (something I shouldn’t have waited so long to do).

I’ve also evolved my programming and have found a pretty good rhythm. After tearing my right medial meniscus after a July 4th Crossfit workout last year, I realized the hard way that there is a big difference between exercising and training. As much as I loved Crossfit workouts, anyone will sweat and feel spent if pushed to the breaking point. Training is different. Training is personal. Training is about goals. Now, every time I enter the gym, I have a goal to hit. That’s what training is all about. No more random daily workouts with no structure or sound programming behind them.

So what’s new in my gym bag? Let’s get to it.

Keep reading this »

Written by Mike Torres

July 7th, 2012 at 2:57 pm

How to Keep the Creativity Train Running on Time

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Some days you feel like absolutely nothing can go wrong.  You’re on fire, unstoppable.  Ideas are flowing, confidence is high, and you’re walking around with your chin up and your back straight.  There’s no better feeling than knowing you’re at the top of your game.  The world is your oyster.  Everything you touch seems to turn to gold and you wonder how you were ever stagnant before.

Until the past few years, I had really only been able to identify these times when looking back.  Now I’m acutely aware of them when I’m in them and I grab onto them and try not to let go when that train is rolling.

But these feelings never last long. Maybe a day or two, maybe a little more. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a full week of this superhuman ability to create things out of nothing without obstruction.  Sooner or later things will return to normal and there’s no explanation why this happens.  You just can’t self-motivate like you were able to the day before.  Ideas are at a distance, just out of reach.  You aren’t feeling flow and a day’s worth of work is taking two full days instead of just three hours.

It’s crazy frustrating when this happens. You try and recreate the environment, the feeling you had, and you just can’t. Your mind has moved on, your thoughts are elsewhere, and your current experience has been altered in some inexplicable way. And you don’t like it at all.

What happened?  Well, nothing at all.  It’s perfectly normal for creativity to ebb and flow like this.  It happens to every single creative person dozens – even hundreds – of times throughout a year. It’s just not possible to keep anything running at its highest capacity all the time.

But are there ways to keep it running for as long as you can?  Maybe.  There are things you can do that will help but only in the sense that they may be able to prolong that window.  There’s no guarantee that these things will work every time, but if they buy you an extra few days or a shorter period in the downswing, it could be worth it.

Keep reading this »