In the last two weeks, I wrote about how to have a healthy body. This week, I want to bring your attention to the healthy mind. I am re-quoting Earl Nightingale, “We become what we think about most of the time.” But how do we know what to think about? We acquire our knowledge from various sources every moment we are awake, based on the foundation which we received from our parents the moment we were born, and later friends, teachers and books. But there is something else which might affect how we think or act and it seems we all inherited it from cavemen (or cavewomen). I learned about it in “I Done This Blog” by Black Thorne, posted on October 15, 2019. It starts by describing how a negative experience while driving to work can have a negative effect over the rest of the day. Turns out, we need to blame the caveman for that experience. Research shows that our brains evolved to react much more strongly to negative experiences than the positive ones. This reaction is supposed to protect us, better be safe than to be eaten by a tiger. But there are no hungry tigers, at least where we all are. Nevertheless, many of us prefer to be safe rather than sorry. It’s called the negative bias. According to research, our focus on the negative things is rooted in how our attention works.
I started looking for the answer for the reasons of human behavior during this year’s responses related to politics and the handling of the coronavirus. Neither one made any sense to me, since it was based on hatred, negativity, and fear; being afraid of the “hungry tiger”. If you have patience to read the whole article, you might have a better understanding of why people are afraid of the unknown, blame others, put on face masks while driving by themselves, or riding a bicycle. You also will find out that it’s not easy to have a positive bias, but there are at least 5 ways to beat a negative bias.
As far as I am concerned, I decided to isolate myself from the sources of negative information. No more reading the news in the newspapers or listening to the Public Radio Forum. My rational is very simple, since I can do nothing to change external events, I will work on rewiring my brain to focus only on the positive information. To do this, I have to change old habits. 45 years ago, I decided to stop the habit of eating meat to become a vegetarian. 18 years ago, I changed the habit of drinking alcohol to keep a clear mind. Now my objective is to become a positive thinking person. It is a gradual process. To help, I came up with the sixth way to beat the negative bias; to laugh a lot and to entice others to laugh together with me. My next book “42 Encounters with Laughter” is going to be available on amazon.com before the holidays. Stay tuned.
P.S. These four images show you how the same image or information can look differently depending on the presentation of the photo-artist (or political manipulator).
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In my essay last week, I wrote about how fruits and vegetables can be a beneficial part of your diet and your well-being. Online I learned that one of them, the tomato, has an annual production of 60 million tons, 16 million more than the second most popular fruit, bananas; and apples are the third. The “Joy of Cooking” cookbook lists 64 tomato recipes.
An article written by K. Annabelle Smith, which was originally published in Smithsonian Magazine, with the intriguing title “Why the Tomato Was Feared in Europe for More Than 200 Years” got my attention.
Tomatoes originated in South and Central America at about 700 A.D., and have had a very interesting journey. They were brought to Europe after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs Empire. In the article about tomatoes, I learned that while tomatoes are fruit that are botanically classified as berries, they are commonly used as vegetables. This is perhaps why in 1893, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Mother Nature by declaring tomatoes were not fruits, but vegetables.
When the heart-shaped red species arrived in Italy, they were considered an aphrodisiac and were given the name “poma amoris” – “love apples”. Meanwhile, in the late 1700s, a large percentage of Europeans were calling the fruit “poison apple”. Turned out that many aristocrats who ate tomatoes got sick and some died. However, the problem was from the pewter plates, which were high in lead content. Because tomatoes are high in acidity, they would leach lead from the plate. What saved and rehabilitated tomatoes was the invention of pizza in Naples around 1880. American colonists considered tomato poisonous as well, until September 1820, when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson stood on the steps of the Salem New Jersey Courthouse and ate an entire basket of tomatoes without any negative effects to his health.
Most of us are familiar with the processed fruit, which is harvested by machines while still green. Some producers even shape tomatoes in squares for more productive packaging. I personally prefer Heirloom Tomatoes, which I’ve purchased at farmers markets and in specialty stores. Smelling them brings back a memory of my childhood. When I was a teenager, a group of us broke into someone’s greenhouse and stole big ripe tomatoes that we then threw at each other. As a teenager, I also liked to drink tomato juice which was sold at local vegetable stores. The last time we used tomato juice was some years ago to give our corgi dog a bath, after he was sprayed by a skunk.
P.S. Besides their nutritional value, tomatoes serve as a great photo subject for me. You can see my artistic development process from the tomato that I photographed on a branch in our neighborhood to the photo-image, which can be printed in a large size and hung as an art piece in your kitchen.
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I paraphrased my title from a quote by Earl Nightingale, “We become what we think about most of the time, and that’s the strangest secret.”
Actually, those two statements are interconnected, and this is the strangest secret. A lot of people, even those who are on a diet, do not think about the real reasons why, they want to lose weight and often they gain it back. Many eat without thinking of what is going into their mouth, whether it’s eating for comfort or hunger.
In my view, and what I practice, food is a fuel for our bodies and we have to think what kind of person we would like to be, and to choose it wisely. For instance, I think that if you want to lose weight, rather than counting calories, visualize yourself instead as a slim and healthy person. Act as one, live your life accordingly, exercise regularly, walk a lot, limit your intake of alcohol and of course find the right person to ask for professional advice. Your body’s intelligence will help you develop eating habits that correspond with how you think about yourself most of the time. And thankfully there is always help available from various sources. I decided to write about this subject after reading an article which originally appeared in Fast Company Magazine on 08-06-2017 titled, “What Happened When I Ate The Best Brain Food For A Week”, where the author, Anisa Purbasari Harton described her experience of consuming food with the appropriate name MIND Diet, which was short for Mediterranean Inversion for Neurodegenerative Delay. It was developed over the course of nine years. Researchers studied eating patterns of 960 adults, trying to find out how what we consume can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Being 28 years young, Ms. Harton was not concerned about Alzheimers; however, since the diet was designed to optimize cognitive function, she thought it might help her brain. She decided to try it for a week to see what happens. You need to read the article to find out about her experience; meanwhile, I can share some of mine with you.
We lived in Israel when I was 28. One day, my wife Elfa suggested that we should follow a vegetarian diet. At the beginning it was challenging, since while I was growing up in Riga, Latvia, I ate a lot of meat (my father managed a meat store). However, I was considering myself vegetarian, and only ate vegetable based food, and gradually my body and more importantly my brain adjusted. Later on, when we moved to San Francisco, we went to a nutritionist who advised us to add fish to our diet and so we began to follow a pescatarian diet. And again, our bodies and minds adjusted. Our experiment started forty-five years ago and we are still following this diet today. As a result, I am a healthy, energetic individual, who plans to keep serving others for many years to come. I believe, what I eat and my lifestyle will allow me to live until I am one hundred-and-twenty. And then I will make new plans.
P.S. Since this story is about what we choose to eat, I decided to share with you four images of vegetables with my artistic interpretation.
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When we grew up in Riga, Latvia, every autumn we would go to a local forest to pick mushrooms. So when I saw an article on October 1, 2020 in “The Wall Street Journal” titled, “Russia’s Love Affair With Fungi Has Mushroomed in Pandemic”, it brought back pleasant memories. I sometimes use the analogy of how to pick mushrooms with how to find clients. First of all, you need to know which mushrooms are edible and which can be poisonous (think about clients). Then you need to know where to find mushrooms. You can spend the whole day walking in the forest and only find the wrong ones.
Some species grow under specific trees. In the Russian language, the mushrooms’ names can be related to the name of the tree. To be successful, one needs to get to the forest very early. And the most important part is, most of the time, only poisonous mushrooms are visible. The good ones are hiding under the moss and leaves. You have to use a stick to remove obstacles, and then when you find the right one, bend down and cut the stem of the mushroom, leaving the bottom part of the root in the ground. Then you need to cut the mushroom to check for worms. Worms can be one of the indications that this is an edible type. We would carry a basket or a bucket in the anticipation of a plentiful find. If you are lucky, as you walk, the basket gets heavier and heavier. Then there is another important part – how to find your way back; after all, there might not be even trails. Therefore, using a local person or a guide can help you in your foraging experience.
It is a good idea to bring a backpack to keep an extra shirt, since the temperature can change, or if it rains, mosquito repellent is a must, and you also need an extra knife, water, snacks or sandwich and a compass. Nowadays, a mobile phone can serve many functions, if there is cell phone service. But finding mushrooms and bringing them home is only the beginning of the process of appreciation. They need to be cleaned (very dirty work), preserved and then cooked, dried or marinated. This last type is good with drinking Vodka, which is a Russian tradition. While describing how to pick the mushrooms, I realized that the method of processing mushrooms is similar to the processing of mortgage loans. Finding a client and filling out the loan application is only the beginning, and there are many, many steps to get the final results.
In spite of the obstacles, foraging for mushrooms can be fun. If you’ve never done it, check online, join a group and be prepared to have a lot of fun.
P.S. I often photograph mushrooms in our neighborhood. Unlike those in the forest, they are mostly poisonous. However, they look good with my personal touch.
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You might have heard about how dog owners start to resemble their dogs. Research has been made to verify this phenomena. One of the reasons may be that people choose dogs that look most like themselves (Do I really look like Max?). There is also some research that shows that it’s not just appearance; our dogs may also share our personality traits.
One of the books in my library is called “Inside Your Dog’s Mind” with the subtitle, “What They Really Think”. There are twenty articles written by different authors with the titles like. “Why We Love Dogs (and They Love Us)” and “Listen Up”. The last one was recommended to train your dog to do what you want, using positive reinforcement, which suggests that humans think they know what is right for their four-legged best friends. But do we really know? To find out, I consulted an article written by Gregory Berns, which appeared in Scientific American titled, “What Does Your Dog Really Want?”.
Some of the research followed a divorce case, during which a couple was arguing about the custody of their pet. In 2017, Alaska became the first state to pass a law requiring the consideration of pets’ well-being in custody disputes. The question was how humans know what their pet really wants. To find out, scientists decided to use MRI equipment to determine whether a dog’s apparent love for their owners was driven by food or kind words.
The project started with two dogs who were trained to go willingly into MRI scanners. Five years later, 90 dogs had participated in a dozen different experiments. The conclusion is that most of the dogs liked both food and human praise and attention.
Of course I am not a scientist and have only one dog, our Labradoodle Max. During our three years together, Max has taught me a lot, while ensuring me that I know what he really wants (besides food and praise) – to play ball. Max is very smart and expressive. He speaks with his body language; particularly, his paws and his eyes. Sometimes I am slow to learn. Max patiently waits until I get it, and then he continues to encourage me to play with the ball. In my photo-story book “42 Encounters with Dog Lovers”, which you can buy on Amazon, I outlined seven lessons that I’ve learned from Max. Here they are;
1. Life is a Game
2. Life is Short
3. Life is Sharing Love
4. Life is a Journey
5. Life is Making New Friends
6. Life is a Cycle
7. Life is Learning
P.S. I received the poster with the Dog’s words of wisdom from a client. The other three images are the latest photos of my ball partner, Max.
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