Autumn Notes is the last note of the series 100 Days of Challenge that I wrote in the Autumn of 2022. This is a random-thought post as usual. The content is about what I learned, how I overcome my difficulties, and why things work.
Loss of motivation is the most difficult thing that I need to deal with in the recent year. Working on others’ projects, fixing bugs, following others’ rules, and sometimes dealing with toxic work culture drove me crazy and exhausted. I found myself lost and overwhelmed by almost everything.
At that time, my English got better and I started to listen to The Huberman Lab at their very first episodes. The conversation between Prof. Huberman (the host) and Dr. Anna Lembke (the guest) about Dopamine enlighten me about why and how all these things happened. I didn’t notice that my dopamine level was very low at that time so I have no mood on anything.
- Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter that plays a role in many functions in the body, including motivation, mood, attention, and memory. If your dopamine level is very low, you might have almost no motivation to do anything.
- A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that transmits signals in the body. It also acts as a hormone.
To learn more about Dopamine and how it works to control your mood, I recommend you read the amazing and detailed Dopamine paper: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4826767/.
After a year of trial and error, here are 3 things that significant improve my mood:
- Viewing sunlight in the morning (before 8 AM) and/or in the late afternoon (after 4 PM).
I think the lack of vitamin D (D3) is due to covering my body by wearing like a ninja outside and working indoors all day. In the summer, it seemed reasonable when I protected my body this way. But in the winter, the lack of sunlight decreased my performance at work. I felt tired and low mood all day.
No one ever told me about the relationship between sunlight (especially blue light) and the alert system in the human brain. Sunlight suspends melatonin in the human brain. Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. That way if we feel alert when we view the sunlight.
For more information, I hightly recommend you watch this episode from The Huberman Lab: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF0nqolsNZc.
Magnesium plays many crucial roles in the body, such as supporting muscle and nerve function and energy production. Huberman mentioned Magnesium as a great supplement for sleep, mood, and exercising in one episode (sorry, I forgot its name). You can read more studies about the benefits of Magnesium in Examine.
I started to use Magnesium supplements 5 months ago. My dose is 400 mg a day (an average dose for women my age), before bed. You can use it after your workout session or before bed depending on the way you feel better. I was dealing with sleep quality so I used it before bed. If your priority is improving training, you can use it after training.
- Sleep control
I tracked my sleep quality with a smart band that connected to my phone via Bluetooth. The app analyzed my sleep via some indicators such as the time woke up, the time to bed, regularity of rising time, deep sleep continuity, etc. When all indicators are normal, it means high sleep quality. Trying to improve as many indicators as I can help me feel relaxed and calm the next day.
The rules of thirds
I started my powerlifting journey and prepared for my first meet 4 months ago. This sport is not easy for me, an absolute beginner. I was struggling with SBD techniques for the first 2 months (didn’t know how to hold the bar and arching in bench, good-morning squat, conven-sumo deadlift, etc). I cried, yelled at myself and thought of quitting it. The rules of thirds by Alexi Pappas, came into my life as a magic Mantra.
I couldn’t hit my last exercise 2 weeks ago. Then it happened again a week later. 2 weeks left before the meet. I was crying so hard. I didn’t know why. My mood was down. Then I thought of the rules of thirds and counted my sessions. 2 crappy days (3.3%) along the 4 months (60 sessions). The ratio is quite good. Well, the number never lies you. No cry, no anxiety.
“When you are chasing a dream or doing anything hard, you’ve meant to feel GOOD a third of the time, OKAY a third of the time, and CRAPPY a third of the time. If the ratio roughly in that range, then you’re doing fine. Today was a crappy day, along your dream chasing.”
Note: Alexi Pappas is a Greek-American runner, filmmaker, actor, and writer.
Beside the loss of motivation, I also deal with the sleepiness in the morning that affected my performance at work.
First, I started with nutrition as the easiest way to manipulate my sleep. I used to be a high-carbs eater (>= 60%) for a long time. It turned out reducing carbs down to 50% helps reduce sleepiness because my stomach doesn’t need to spend a lot of energy to digest carbs and the insulin level won’t peak too high.
Intermittent fasting also works well for me, I skip breakfast on the day I do work out in the morning due to no time to cook in the morning. I maintained macros, just no breakfast. After 3 months, I saw some amazing results such as:
- My body recomposition improved, my abs decreased from 71 to 68 cm.
- I look leaner and don’t be annoyed because of my full stomach. I started to realize that I love an empty stomach in the morning.
- No sleepiness in the morning and afternoon, except my sleeping period, is too short (below 5 hours) or the sleeping quality is not good.
As a result, the incredible thing happened that I started to feel hungry at meal time (3 times a day in the morning/noon/night) after a year of no hungry at all. Therefore, I stopped intermittent fasting and my eating routine back to normal. Life always compensate us in some way if we work hard.
Second, I still fall asleep more quickly on rainy/cloudy days. The greatest way to find a solution of any problem is figuring out why it happened. Here are some reasons that cause sleepiness on rainy/cloudy days.
- The increased negative ion content in the air.
- Rainy sounds are lullabies.
- Studies have found that when rain sounds enter people’s brains, the brain unconsciously relaxes and produces alpha waves, which are very close to the state of the brain when a human sleeps.
- Increased secretion of melatonin in the body when it darks
- Decreased oxygen content in the air.
- Oxygen can stimulate the brain and make us feel refreshed. When it rains, there is more water vapor in the air, which results in lower air pressure and a relative decrease in oxygen content. In such a situation, the brain begins to slack off, and people will feel sleepy.
When understood the causes, I didn’t found myself lost in negative thoughts that ruined my days. I came up with some solutions.
- Make the room as bright as possible (Light suspends the melatonin).
- Take a deep breath (To increase the oxygen content in my body).
- Increase heart rate by exercising or talking to someone (Increases my dopamine level and alert my brain).
Lex Fridman, the famous AI researcher, is the first guy to teach me about compassion and love on his podcast, but Q is the guy who motivated me to make my first move. I’m quite good at Maths and logic but very bad at learning abstract things and emotions. Compassion requires deep observation, mindfulness, and patience.
Self-help books taught me to spend most of my time with great people.
“We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn said.
“Great” means wealthy, flourishing career, good-looking, blissful relationship, etc. If you don’t fall under the criteria, I will ignore you. That mindset caused me a ton of trouble in daily life. I compared myself to others and developed low self-esteem. I also treated people unfairly by their “success status”.
How do I know where I am in my success status when I don’t compare myself to others?
When I thought I’m on a higher level, I ignored the existence of the “lower” people. On the other side, I felt “motivated” to move forward when I see success people. But that motivation was just an illusion. It took me weeks, months, or even years to accomplish my goals. Meanwhile, most time I felt jealous and ashamed by the thought I was not good enough, or people might call it “Imposter syndrome”.
When Q told me about the class hierarchy of wealthy people vs poor people, we debated for an hour and I suspected most of his arguments and reasoning. We didn’t discuss more about this topic after that. A few weeks later, I saw a comic named Hedonic treadmill about the way we live our lives by breaking old boxes and fall into more comfortable boxes, do it again until we are satisfied with our lives. I found my Aha! moment.
When I was in a fresher position, I thought of my career path and saw my coworkers and my friends working so hard to get their dream jobs. They double/triple their salary in the next 2 years and became superman at work. When I compared myself to them, I was distressed. I didn’t realize that they have NO personal life. They work all day and hang out with family or friends at weekends or holidays. They don’t exercise and don’t have a “balance work-life”. Their body shapes and their health become worse. Some of them fall into the mindset of cold-hearted as I did. I respect their hard-working, and they contribute value to the world but I quite dislike the way they live.
The way I disliked my family is they were born in a box and lived their whole life in that box. No ambition, no improvement. I blamed them for laziness and backwardness. I felt ashamed of my behaviors. They have their choices. They are satisfied with their boxes. So do I.
This is the last note of the series 100 Days of Challenge.
I started this series just want to write down what I observed in my daily life with the philosophy is “Doing it for fun”. A year look back, I have a blog with 100 posts and some new friends came into my life unexpectedly. I realize that I love reading, writing, and sharing. The more I write, the more I understand myself and become a better me. Smart brain with a compassionate heart.
Welcome to my world!