Monday, July 30, 2007

How Not to Create an Attraction Magnet

I recently received a mass e-mail message inviting me to “help in a really big experiment.” The “experiment” — actually an advertising campaign — is an attempt to create world peace by having many people focus on a short movie (at that argues that world peace is a real possibility. If enough people watch the movie and send it along, chain-letter style, to one friend every day, then surely, its authors imagine, world peace will result.

Now, the authors of this movie have seen The Secret, so they, more than the rest of us, should know that this approach won’t work. For those who aren’t up on all this, The Secret movie and book focus mostly on the Law of Attraction, which says that your thoughts and energy attract results that are in line with what you are thinking and feeling. Putting the Law of Attraction to work at the most basic level means that you can get what you want more easily if you stop fighting against the things you don’t want. Move your focus from what you don’t want to what you do want, The Secret tells us, and you will start getting more of the things you want. The perfect example from the movie: instead of being anti-war, be pro-peace.

According to the Law of Attraction, it doesn’t work so well to argue for what you want, because when you argue, you are focusing on the obstacles that would seem to keep you from getting it. Focus on obstacles, and what you get is more obstacles. You also aren’t supposed to worry about how you will create something, because there are likely many ways to do anything you might want to do, and concentrating on one particular approach tends to make you think about the obstacles you may find when you take that approach.

So here’s a so-called attraction magnet being sent around that is not only an argument and a how-to, but that actually shows anti-war protesters carrying banners and signs that say “War No More,” “Stop War,” “Mobilization Against War,” and so on, basically saying “war, war, war,” as far as the Law of Attraction is concerned.

Also problematically, the movie features a series of quotes about the importance of peace — quotes from U.S. presidents who attracted controversy because of their support for war. Including politicians in an attraction magnet is a dubious move because politicians are magnets for controversy and their implied presence is likely to interfere with many viewers’ attempts to feel good. Feeling good is no mere luxury in the process of attraction. Feeling good is essential. Among other things, it is much easier to focus consistently on the good things you want if you are feeling good.

And there is one more major problem with the movie as an attraction magnet. It contains nothing to represent what peace feels like at the individual level. Seeing results at the individual level is absolutely essential in attraction, because any attracting you do comes from your individual power to attract things specifically to you. Think of it this way. If you hold a magnet in your hand, you can’t use it to attract things to a building across town or to people you have never met. It will only attract things to you. So to attract peace, you have to focus on your experience of peace, or what peace looks like where you are.

Anyone can make an attraction magnet using commonly available web movie tools, or you can make a simpler one by cutting and pasting pictures from magazines. If you decide to make one, be careful that you don’t include any of the things we commonly think of that would prevent an attraction magnet from working. Don’t include even a shred of how-to. Don’t hint at anything that in any way shows “both sides of the story” — no obstacles, no mistakes, no arguments, no rationales, no compromises, no common ground, no “positive thinking.” Don’t include anything that feels bad, raises doubts, or distracts from the end result you are looking for. All these things are important in life, but when you really want to attract something, you set them all aside.

Instead, when you make your attraction magnet movie:

  • Focus predominantly on one specific result you want.
  • Make it so clear and specific that when you watch it, there is no doubt in your mind about what the result will look and feel like. Depict the result in a simple, obvious, and compelling way.
  • Make it a feel-good experience. Attraction magnet movies, like entertainment movies, usually use music and beautiful images to create the right kind of mood.
  • Keep it simple. Take out everything that doesn’t add to the effect.
  • Keep it short, usually 2–5 minutes, so you can watch it over and over again.

Popular attraction magnets focus on general ideas of success. You might see one that focuses on prosperity, another for health, another for love, and so on. When you make an attraction magnet for yourself, you can make it more powerful by making it much more specific. For example, an attraction magnet for your new job can depict specifically the kind of job you are seeking and what you will look like doing your new work. It’s like advertising to yourself — the more specific you can make it, the more meaningful it becomes.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Inspiring People to Move

People are talking about a new study that predicts 75 percent of U.S. adults will be overweight in 2015. It is a bizarre study, and not just because it uses body mass index as the measure of obesity. Body mass index can provide a crude approximation of how fat a person is, but it isn’t used to indicate obesity in most serious scientific studies because it doesn’t distinguish fat from muscle or a 30-inch waistline from a 40-inch waistline. It just doesn’t make the distinctions you want to make when you talk about the health consequences of fat. So the use of body mass index as a measure is questionable, but that’s not what is bizarre about this latest study. What is so bizarre about it is the way it applies demographics to obesity, as if your body weight is entirely determined by your age and sex, and not at all by your own actions, choices, and individual nature. Then it uses a simple extrapolation to predict the future, a technique that almost never works. The result is a prediction that no scientist would take seriously and that no responsible journalist would include in the news.

Yet you don’t have to be a scientist with a research grant to reach the essential point that the study makes, which is that lots of people in the United States are overweight or obese. Fitness is a multibillion dollar industry and it is almost all about people wanting to lose weight or keep from gaining weight. The size of the fitness industry is even more astonishing when you stop to consider how simple its objective is. All the exercise videos, all the machines, and 90 percent of the classes are geared toward the same simple purpose: to inspire people to move.

The fitness industry doesn’t emphasize that point because if people realized how simple fitness is, they might not buy all the equipment and services. But movement is all it takes to be fit. And not any great amount of movement, either. The difference between being out of shape and being fit is little more than the question of moving around for a small part of the day. About 3 percent of the time, day after day, is what it takes. The technical side of exercise, though critically important to competitive athletes, is mostly a distraction as far as beginners are concerned. It scarcely matters what kind of moving you do as long as you don’t hurt yourself by doing something too extreme or too repetitive. You could just get up out of your chair and move right where you are, jump up and down and side to side in some way, and it would work. If you wanted to give your movement some structure, you could go for a walk. Yet many people quickly feel discouraged approaching exercise in such a simplistic way. So the whole point of Sweatin’ to the Oldies or the Ultra Spinning class or the Bowflex machine is to get you through an exercise routine that you wouldn’t do on your own — to focus your mind on the process of moving so that you’ll continue to move for more than a minute or two at a time.

Why is it that people need inspiration or some special push to exercise? The human body, after all, is made to move, and we are only talking about getting up and moving around for maybe 3 percent of the day. You could still mostly sit around for the other 97 percent of the time. It doesn’t sound like much to ask. So what makes it so difficult?

The simple answer is that it doesn’t necessarily feel good to move, especially when you’re just getting going. And this is not about laziness, lack of interest, or a shortage of will power. To oversimplify, it is all about inflammation — the whole range of biological effects that cause breakdowns at the cellular level in joints, muscles, and other places in the body. When you think of inflammation, you might think of things like mosquito bites and sunburn, but for most people, the biggest causes of inflammation are food and drugs.

Some kinds of food are known to promote inflammation, while others help prevent it. Lots of people eat diets that could be described as inflammatory, with large amounts of animal protein, sugar, synthetic food ingredients, alcohol, caffeine, and polyunsaturated fat. If what you eat makes it hurt, ever so slightly, when you exercise, then it’s easy to see how the food could make it easy to gain and hard to lose weight.

On top of that, many ordinary drugs also have inflammatory effects. To make it worse, a sedentary lifestyle adds to the tendency to inflammation. So does a high level of body fat. So do many of the diseases that go with being overweight — the diseases that, presumably, create the need for the drugs I mentioned. So there is a vicious cycle of inflammation, lack of inspiration, lack of exercise, drugs, weight gain, and disease. We try to overcome this cycle by inspiring people to exercise using every gimmick we can think of, from flashy videos to fancy exercise machines to sexy exercise clothes. When it works, it changes people’s lives, but it works only a small fraction of the time. It is hard to inspire people to move when it hurts to move, even if it only hurts a little.

Yet you can break out of this cycle any time you want to. Just move. Ignore the initial discomfort and keep going. Keep going day after day and you find that it is soon not as uncomfortable is it might have been on the first few days. Eventually try to get to the point where you are spending three percent of your time in moderate exercise. It sounds too easy when I put it this way, and it is not necessarily as easy as it sounds, but it is essentially just this easy. There may be a great many overweight people in the United States, and it may be one of the biggest issues the country faces, but on an individual level, you don’t have to be part of it. Your weight is not determined by your age, and your weight does not automatically go up as you get older. You can take control of it. The illnesses that go with being overweight do not have to be part of your life. And the simplest way to take control is to decide that you’re going to move — and that you’re not going to wait for inspiration. And if enough people do this, then we won’t have to worry about what a country in which 75 percent of people are overweight will be like, because it will never happen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Food Pyramid Scheme

The U.S. government can’t give you good nutritional advice. If they did, it would go against their bigger responsibilities.

In a country such as the United States that has a commercial-oriented government, every government agency tends to align itself with the interests of the largest companies that work in its area of interest. If there were a Water Slide Commission, it would see itself as being responsible for promoting the benefits of water parks to the public. The Department of Running, if there was one, would work most diligently when it was doing things that would be financially beneficial to Nike and Adidas. There is no Department of Nutrition, but if there was one, it would likely be more interested in the financial success of the vitamin and diet industries than in giving honest nutritional advice to consumers.

It is the Department of Agriculture (USDA) that has the primary responsibility for nutritional information, so it’s no surprise that their nutritional schemes give special emphasis to the most expensive food categories. Meat. Milk. Cheese. Processed food. Because basically, the Food Pyramid and similar devices for telling you what to eat are advertisements for the big food companies. They promote expensive food because that is what the biggest, most powerful food companies like to sell.

In truth, there is no advantage whatsoever in eating expensive food, but you wouldn’t expect the U.S. government to tell you that. If you really want nutrition, the easiest way to get it is by eating some of the least expensive food in the supermarket: whole vegetables, whole fruit, and whole grains. These foods are so rich in nutrients that it almost doesn’t matter which ones you choose and what combinations you eat them in. If you ate mostly whole plant food, it would be virtually impossible for you to miss any nutrients. Yet if eat you what the USDA suggests, emphasizing meat, milk, and processed food, you will almost surely be deficient in more than a few nutrients.

One way the USDA tries to scare you into eating expensive food is by exaggerating the importance of protein. According to scientists, protein is a key nutrient only for people on starvation diets, usually with the idea of losing weight. If you are eating a normal diet, you are doing fine if you get 10 percent of food energy from protein. On a good day, it is enough to get 5 percent of food energy from protein. When I checked, it was hard to find anything that you would think of as food that had less protein than that. Apple juice and white grape juice often have almost no protein, but that is because the protein is removed when the juice is filtered. Apples and grapes, apple cider and unfiltered grape juice have significant amounts of protein. Butter is virtually free of protein, but it is made from milk, which has plenty of protein. Processed foods are made from purified ingredients like oil and sugar that contain no protein at all, yet even processed foods often contain protein-rich ingredients like flour, so most processed foods also have enough protein to live on. Eating the levels of protein suggested by the USDA puts an extra strain on the body and can actually cause disease. When you realize that the need for protein has been so greatly exaggerated, you could just cross the high-priced meat and milk off your food pyramid circus tent without really missing anything.

There is a reason why the 2005 edition of the Food Pyramid is presented as a circus-tent shape rather then the more conventional pie chart, and it’s not just that the Food Pie would sound silly. If you turned the Food Pyramid into the Food Pie, you might compare it to other pie charts and realize that it has more to do with revenue than with nutrition.

How else do you explain how milk got its own circus-tent fold on the Food Circus Tent? Milk is a fattening junk food, but the financially powerful dairy industry buys their marquee product some credibility by getting it endorsed by the U.S. government.

If you think the USDA has a conflict of interest, that’s a piece of cake compared to the agency primarily responsible for food labeling, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Their primary loyalty is to, you guessed it, big pharma, the huge companies who make billions of dollars by selling prescription drugs. These companies can’t make a profit unless you get sick, so what do you think the chance is that the FDA will prescribe food labeling that will help you stay healthy?

The FDA gives an amazing advantage to processed food by allowing them to list their nutrient information based on ingredients, without adjusting for the nutrients that may have been damaged during the processing of the food. The result is that processed foods can claim to have the same nutritional value as whole foods, even though, because of the way they are processed, the processed foods may have much less. You can think you’re getting a whole list of vitamins and minerals that aren’t really in the food by the time it gets to you.

If you believe the nutritional labels and eat mostly processed foods, you probably will get sick, and then the FDA will have a reason to work on its primary mission of regulating prescription drugs.

The truth is that good nutrition is not nearly so complicated as the U.S. government and the big multinational food companies would have you believe. If you can divide food between real food and junk food, you can then proceed to eat virtually any combination of real food you like, and you’ll do okay. But if you build your menu plans around junk food, there is no magic combination of real food that will save you.

All you really need to know is not to rely on junk food for any food value. Junk food provides a toxic load on the body that is greater than any nutrition it provides. You might eat junk food because it makes you feel good or because it makes your recipe work, just don’t imagine that you are taking care of your body by eating junk. Just to give you an idea, for those who haven’t been paying attention to the research on food, these are examples of junk food:

  • sugar and sweeteners
  • heavily processed food, including basically anything that comes frozen or canned
  • almost anything that lists more than 20 ingredients
  • smoke and anything made with smoke
  • meat, poultry, fish, lard, and anything made from an animal
  • milk
  • anything fried in boiling fat
  • all those artificial food ingredients, like partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, coal tar dye, and glutamates
  • beer, wine, spirits, and alcoholic beverages of every kind
  • corn starch, white flour, and other dried, pulverized forms of plants
  • white bread, and commercial “whole wheat” bread too

It’s simple. If it’s junk, don’t think of it as food. If you know that much, you’ll do better than most people.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Significance of Live Earth

The Live Earth concerts on 7/7/07 were more than just the biggest media event in history, a step toward retrieving the cause of the global environment from the marketers and extremists, and an excuse for a new Madonna single. They also show that the traditional corporate interests that created the climate crisis are running scared — scared that the control they have exercised over everything that happens in the world is starting to slip away.

The concerts were such a huge success that it is easy to overlook the way they were put on almost entirely outside the traditional corporate structure. True, Live Earth had its share of corporate sponsors, and they were necessary to make the event what it was, but as far as controlling the event or the message it put out to everyone who participated, they were on the outside looking in. Live Earth did not even have its own internal corporate-like way of doing things. There was no single person nor any tightly woven hierarchy running the show. Instead, there was Al Gore, who went around publicizing the event in the corporate media and appeared on stage for only a few minutes, and Kevin Wall, the highly skilled event coordinator who, though he was nominally running everything, nevertheless acted more like a coordinator than a CEO as he pulled the event together, and who never seemed to be in the spotlight even when he was. Some of the concert power was actually off-grid — generated right there on the site instead of being purchased from the electric utilities. As events go, Live Earth clearly put the emphasis on the individual rather than the business corporation.

And that tells you why the big corporate media have tried so hard to ignore Live Earth. Only a small part of the live event was on broadcast television at all, and television news gave the event only two sentences — a way of saying, “Yeah, we know it happened, but we don’t think the biggest media event ever is much of a story.” The news headlines on Live Earth were mostly negative, with stories downplaying and criticizing the event and the musicians who participated in it. Even MSNBC, who broadcast a small part of the event, felt the need to minimize its political significance, saying that it’s hard to see what the event was supposed to accomplish.

The corporate media did not turn their backs on the Live 8 concerts two years ago, but the world has changed. Live 8, recall, was an attempt to pressure the world’s most powerful heads of state as they held a summit meeting in Scotland. In 2007, it is hard to make the case that any big change in the world could start with prime ministers and presidents. Live Earth pointedly did not aim its message at governments, but at the possibility of individual action. On stage, there was more discussion of bicycles and buses than of treaties and regulations, and for good reason. The top-down, centrally controlled part of the economy obviously does not have the leverage to solve the climate problem — they are absorbed in problems of their own. Yet the 2 billion people who participated in Live Earth could solve the climate problem in the end. And if the ordinary people of the world, acting outside the corporate structure, can put on the biggest media event ever, and then think they can solve the world’s biggest environmental issue ever, what else might they be able to do? It’s this question that has the people in the upper floors of the office towers working to hard to try to persuade you that nothing really happened at Live Earth. Because if you believe you did something at Live Earth, then you might believe you can do something else for the world. And if even a few million people were to start thinking that way, then where would the corporate fat cats be?

Actually, the big corporations are losing their control over people’s lives more rapidly than they would like to admit. YouTube is now bigger than television, because all the video that all the television studios can put together is no match for all the video the world can make. Two years ago it might have seemed cute the way the Huffington Post sort of sounds like the Washington Post. No one in the traditional news media is laughing now that the Huffington Post has surpassed the Washington Post in terms of content and may shortly do so in terms of readership. Cellular phone carriers have for years squeezed money out of their customers by charging for every single event that happens on the phone — a dollar to download a photo, six dollars to change the ring tone. Now that the Apple iPhone is out, that business model may be going down the tubes. This summer, restaurant chains are having a new difficulty hiring and retaining workers — workers today have more options than before, in part because the corporate-led drive to swamp the United States with millions of new foreign workers fell apart in Washington.

The huge profits that big corporations make depend on their ability to determine what goes on in the world around them. As employees and customers have more to say about what goes on in their own lives, corporations have less leverage to use to create profits for themselves. So you’ll have to excuse them if they feel a little grouchy when they look at Live Earth. To them, it’s just another sign of the impending end of the corporate era.