In our search to find well-being (the balance of compassion and thought) we discovered the magic of meditation, the wonderful benefits of prayer, and the healthy infusion of mind, body, and spirit through the consumption of tea. Throughout these discoveries, we have come across various writings, videos, and artistic presentations which further this pursuit. To be of further service to you, we have compiled an assortment of these works which you may find beneficial. Please enjoy as we have.
Have you ever read something a million times only to one day, for no apparent reason, think “Wait, what is that?” This happened to me the other day for “the vagus nerve.”
I kept coming across it in relation to deep breathing and mental calmness: “Breathing deeply,” Katie Brindle writes in her new book Yang Sheng: The Art of Chinese Self-Healing, “immediately relaxes the body because it stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the neck to the abdomen and is in charge of turning off the ‘fight or flight’ reflex.” Also: “Stimulating the vagus nerve,” per a recent Harvard Health blog post, “activates your relaxation response, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure.” And: Deep breathing “turns on the vagus nerve enough that it acts as a brake on the stress response,” as an integrative medicine researcher told the Cut last year.
I liked this idea that we have something like a secret piano key, under our skin, to press internally to calm us down. Or like a musical string to pluck. At this point I was envisioning the vagus nerve as a single inner cord, stretching from the head to the stomach. In reality, the vagus nerve is a squiggly, shaggy, branching nerve connecting most of the major organs between the brain and colon, like a system of roots or cables. It is the longest nerve in the body, and technically it comes as a pair of two vagus nerves, one for the right side of the body and one for the left. It’s called “vagus” because it wanders, like a vagrant, among the organs. The vagus nerve has been described as “largely responsible for the mind-body connection,” for its role as a mediator between thinking and feeling, and I’m tempted to think of it as something like a physical manifestation of the soul. Also: “When people say ‘trust your gut,’” as one Psychology Today writer put it several years ago, “they really mean ‘trust your vagus nerve.’”
I became increasingly enchanted with this nerve, even as it felt like I understood it less and less. How does this all work? How does activating a nerve calm us down? Is this why I get so needlessly upset about things?
“Stimulating the vagus nerve to the heart has a really powerful effect on slowing the heart rate,” said Lucy Norcliffe-Kaufmann, associate professor of neurology at NYU-Langone. And this, specifically, is what relaxes us. The vagus nerve is basically listening to the way we breathe, and it sends the brain and the heart whatever message our breath indicates. Breathing slowly, for instance, reduces the oxygen demands of the heart muscle (the myocardium), and our heart rate drops.
The vagus nerve is essentially the queen of the parasympathetic nervous system — a.k.a. the “rest and digest,” or the “chill out” one — so the more we do things that “stimulate” or activate it, like deep breathing, the more we banish the effects of the sympathetic nervous system — a.k.a. the “fight or flight,” or the “do something!” stress-releasing adrenaline/cortisol one.
Put another way, “Your body senses your breathing and adapts its heart rate in response,” Norcliffe-Kaufmann told me. When we breathe in, she explained, the sensory nodes on our lungs (“lung stretch receptors”) send information up through the vagus nerve and into the brain, and when we breathe out, the brain sends information back down through the vagus nerve to slow down or speed up the heart. So when we breathe slowly, the heart slows, and we relax. Conversely, when we breathe quickly, our heart speeds up, and we feel amped, or anxious.
I was surprised by the idea that it’s specifically the exhale that triggers the relaxation response, but Norcliffe-Kaufmann confirmed: “Vagal activity is highest, and heart rate lowest, when you’re exhaling.” She mentioned that the ideal, most calming way to breathe is six times a minute: five seconds in, five seconds out. She also noted that in the study that determined this rate, researchers found that this style of slow breathing is also what practitioners naturally lapse into during meditation with mantras, and during the Ave Maria prayer with rosaries. “Each time you do either the rosary prayer or a meditation mantra,” Norcliffe-Kaufmann said, “it naturally synchronizes your breathing at six times per minute.” (“That’s fascinating,” I said. “It is!” she said.)
It made me wonder if there are ways of measuring the quality of the vagus nerve, or “vagal tone,” as Norcliffe-Kaufmann described it. This is basically how healthy, strong, and functional the nerve is. One way, she said, is to measure heart rate variability (HRV) — it’s a sort of “surrogate” for measuring actual vagal tone (barring open chest surgery). Heart rate variability is the amount that the heart rate fluctuates between a breath in (when it naturally speeds up) and a breath out (when it naturally slows down). That is, heart rate rises on the inhale and falls on the exhale, and the difference between those two rates essentially measures vagal tone. Athletes are known to have higher vagal tone, for example, whereas people who experience extended periods of bed rest — and astronauts in no-gravity situations — are known to have lower vagal tone. (How quickly your heart rate slows after exercising is also a good marker of vagal tone.) Vagus nerve stimulation has also been proposed as a way to treat addiction (some heavy drinkers, for instance, have low vagal tone).
Certain devices measure HRV — and I’ve personally tried a chest strap and a wristband, but I got stumped on what to do with the data — although Norcliffe-Kaufmann is skeptical about their reliability. “Those technologies are coming,” she said, “but it’s more important to focus on breathing and feeling calm and balanced, rather than on a number.” Some other practices believed to improve vagal tone (beyond deep, slow breathing) include laughing, singing, humming, yoga, acupuncture, and splashing the face with cold water — or having a full-body cold rinse. (Stimulation of the vagus nerve, both manually and with electricity, has also been used to control seizures in epilepsy patients, reduce inflammation, and treat clinical depression.)
Writing this story, and after talking with Norcliffe-Kaufmann, I found myself breathing more slowly and feeling calmer. Not necessarily happy, but steady. Slow breathing is boring, but it’s almost sad how effective it is. I’d usually rather spend hundreds of dollars to get a gadget to track myself than do this free and more-effective thing.
“If you’re in a stressful situation,” Norcliffe-Kaufmann said, “and you’re like, How do I respond, how do I respond? — if you consciously slow down your breathing just for one minute, or even a few seconds, you can put yourself in a calmer state, to be able to better communicate.”
Americans are suffering from a bad case of loneliness. The number of people in the United States living alone has gone through the studio-apartment roof. A study released by the insurance company Cigna last spring made headlines with its announcement: “Only around half of Americans say they have meaningful, daily face-to-face social interactions.” Loneliness, public-health experts tell us, is killing as many people as obesity and smoking. It’s not much comfort that Americans are not, well, alone in this. Germans are lonely, the bon vivant French are lonely, and even the Scandinavians—the happiest people in the world, according to the UN’s World Happiness Report—are lonely, too. British prime minister Theresa May recently appointed a “Minister of Loneliness.”
The hard evidence for a loneliness epidemic admittedly has some issues. How is loneliness different from depression? How much do living alone and loneliness overlap? Do social scientists know how to compare today’s misery with that in, say, the mid-twentieth century, a period that produced prominent books like The Lonely Crowd? Certainly, some voguish explanations for the crisis should raise skepticism: among the recent suspects are favorite villains like social media, technology, discrimination, genetic bad luck, and neoliberalism.
Still, the loneliness thesis taps into a widespread intuition of something true and real and grave. Foundering social trust, collapsing heartland communities, an opioid epidemic, and rising numbers of “deaths of despair” suggest a profound, collective discontent. It’s worth mapping out one major cause that is simultaneously so obvious and so uncomfortable that loneliness observers tend to mention it only in passing. I’m talking, of course, about family breakdown. At this point, the consequences of family volatility are an evergreen topic when it comes to children; this remains the subject of countless papers and conferences. Now, we should take account of how deeply the changes in family life of the past 50-odd years are intertwined with the flagging well-being of so many adults and communities.
Scholars sometimes refer to the domestic earthquake that first rumbled through wealthy countries like the U.S. in the mid-twentieth century as the Second Demographic Transition. (The first transition occurred around the time of the Industrial Revolution, as the high death and birth rates that had been humanity’s default condition since the Neanderthals declined dramatically, leading to rapid population growth.) Mostly associated with the Belgian demographer Ron Lesthaeghe, the SDT (the unfortunately evocative acronym) is a useful framework for understanding the dramatic rupture between the Ozzie and Harriet and Sex and the City eras.
The SDT began emerging in the West after World War II. As societies became richer and goods cheaper and more plentiful, people no longer had to rely on traditional families to afford basic needs like food and shelter. They could look up the Maslovian ladder toward “post-material” goods: self-fulfillment, exotic and erotic experiences, expressive work, education. Values changed to facilitate these goals. People in wealthy countries became more antiauthoritarian, more critical of traditional rules and roles, and more dedicated to individual expression and choice. With the help of the birth-control pill, “non-conventional household formation” (divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, and single parenthood) went from uncommon—for some, even shameful—to mundane. Lesthaeghe predicted that low fertility would also be part of the SDT package, as families grew less central. And low fertility, he suggested, would have thorny repercussions for nation-states: he was one of the first to guess that developed countries would turn to immigrants to restock their aging populations, as native-born young adults found more fulfilling things to do than clean up after babies or cook dinner for sullen adolescents.
The disruption of family life caused by the SDT in the U.S. has been rehearsed thousands of times, including by this writer, but the numbers still startle. In 1950, 20 percent of marriages ended in divorce; today, it’s approximately 40 percent. Four in ten American children are now born to unmarried mothers, up from about 5 percent in 1960. In 1970, 84 percent of U.S. children spent their entire childhoods living with both bio-parents. Today, only half can expect to do the same.
Lesthaeghe was prophetic about what would happen to fertility in wealthy countries. In the U.S., the percentage of childless women doubled between 1970 and the mid-2000s; today, 14 percent of U.S. women past their childbearing years have never given birth. That actually makes us more fertile than some other developed countries. In Germany, nearly a quarter of women end up childless. The U.S. number might more closely resemble the German figure if it weren’t for our high levels of immigration, most of it from poor countries that haven’t yet embraced the change in attitudes. In 2015, in six U.S. states, more than 30 percent of births were to foreign-born women.
Postwar baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were Generation Zero for the Second Demographic Transition in the United States. Now shuffling their way into their sixties and seventies, older boomers give a glimpse of the long-term downside of the post-SDT culture. If we had to pick just one word to describe it, “lonely” would do. In widely quoted research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ashton M. Verdery and Rachel Margolis uncovered a recent surge in the number of “kinless” older adults. Lower fertility translates into fewer siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins, whether for hospital visits or emergency contacts.
A jump in the number of never-married and divorced adults is also part of the kinlessness story. Boomers were the first generation to divorce in large numbers, and they continue to split up even as they amble into their golden years, giving rise to the phenomenon known as “gray divorce.” The divorce rate has doubled for people over 50 since 1990. In 2017 Senate testimony, Robert Putnam, author of the 2000 milestone Bowling Alone and the national prophet of social-capital decline, cautioned that for all these reasons, boomers will face a more lonesome old age than their Greatest Generation parents. “[R]oughly 12 percent fewer of the mid-boomer birth cohort of 1955 will be living with spouses when they reach age 65 than was true of the birth cohort of 1930,” he observed. Those boomers will also have 36 percent fewer children than the earlier cohort.
Divorce has frayed ties between boomers and the children that they do have. Divorced fathers tend to stay close to their children in the months and years immediately following separation, but for various reasons they often drift away over time. And the younger the child at the time of the breakup, the less likely it is that fathers will continue to be involved. “Waiting till the kids have moved out,” as the gray-divorce boomlet suggests that lots of couples are doing, is not as strong protection from a kin deficit as one might expect. Gray divorce damages parents’ relationships with their adult children, too.
Divorce didn’t turn boomers off to marriage entirely; a substantial number plunged in again. But instead of replacing defunct relationships, remarriage further fragmented family ties. For one thing, when parents remarry, it often brings jealousies, bad chemistry, and resentments into their relationships with their children. That’s especially true when a parent starts a second family with a new spouse. Given the overscheduling of contemporary childhood, not to mention the emotions provoked by ex-spouses, it’s inevitable that fathers who remarry or whose ex-wives remarry become an afterthought to, or an irritating intrusion into, their children’s daily family routines.
The other reason remarriage frequently fails to replenish kin networks is that second marriages are even more likely to break up than first—and third unions are flimsier still. Divorced people generally can’t count on ex-wives or husbands to provide much companionship or support when they have a heart attack or a close friend dies. Studies also show—unsurprisingly—that stepchildren don’t care for needy stepparents as much as they do their biological parents; that’s especially true in gray remarriages, when kids are likely to be older when a stepparent enters the picture. As Verdery and Margolis sum up: “Evidence is accumulating that the legacy of divorce and remarriage has a long reach straining inter-generational relationships and suppressing the support that divorced parents, stepparents, and remarried biological parents might expect from their children in later life.”
The authors don’t mention cohabitation, but it’s a key ingredient in the rise of kinlessness. Superficially, cohabitation looks roughly equivalent to marriage; couples live together as “husband and wife,” sharing a bed, living space, meals, and, in many cases, children, but without the ring and city-hall certificate. In reality, especially in the U.S., shacking up is a kind of marriage-lite that has added to the tenuousness of post-transition relations. Cohabiting couples break up faster and more often than marrieds. Separated, cohabiting fathers are more likely to withdraw from their kids’ lives than previously married and divorced dads, who are already more unreliable than married dads still in the house. One study of low-income cohabiting parents found that, within three years, half the fathers had moved out; a considerable number would vanish from their kids’ lives entirely. Cohabiting and single parents also have looser ties to their own parents and friends than marrieds. According to the 2018 Cigna study, single parents are about the loneliest of Americans.
In translating family formation into a strictly private matter, the SDT whistled past a critical fact of our history—namely, that kinship has been the most powerful glue of human groups since Homo sapiens first discovered the mother-in-law. Evolutionary psychologists have a compelling theory about why: humans practiced “reciprocal altruism” in relation to kin because they had a stake in the reproductive success of their genetic relations. Even evolutionary-psychology skeptics, though, might notice that though marriage has shape-shifted over the centuries and across cultures, it has always defined those people—spouses, parents, children, grandparents, siblings, in-laws—to whom we owe special attention and mutual protection. That would explain why cohabiting couples, even those with children, don’t have the same support from extended family as married couples with children. Marriage creates kin; cohabitation does not.
Some of the most crucial obligations of kinship have always been to tend to the sick and to bury the dead. Even today, the vast majority of (unpaid) caretaking of the aging in the U.S. is done by relatives, according to Putnam. In 2015, the New York Times Magazine published a memorable article, “The Lonely Death of George Bell,” that captures the existential plight of the kinless. The subject was a 74-year-old Queens man whose body was discovered by police after neighbors complained about the foul odor coming from his apartment. His badly decomposed body left him unrecognizable, but even had he been found earlier, only one or two people on earth could have ID’d him. George Bell had no brothers or sisters, his parents were both long dead, he had no children, and he had never married.
The kinless elderly are often hoarders who hang on to every stray electric bill, used coffee cup, or odd bit of broken furniture that enters their apartment; perhaps the chaos of useless objects is the objective correlative of their sense of abandonment. The article describes one woman whose apartment was “so swollen with belongings that [she] died standing up, unable to collapse to the floor.” Bell’s own stash, which took seven hours to clear out, included four new tire gauges and six unopened ironing-board covers.
The kinless elderly are often hoarders who hang on to every stray electric bill, used coffee cup, or odd bit of broken furniture.
A death like Bell’s mobilizes an impressive cadre of officials in addition to junk removers and cleaners: a medical examiner, who calls local doctors and hospitals to see if anyone has records for the deceased; a medical legal investigator to rule out foul play; police detectives to track down close relatives or friends by calling phone numbers found in papers strewn around the apartment, and, when that fails, a “decedent property agent,” who disposes of unclaimed property; a “kinship investigator,” required by law to find next of kin down to first cousin once removed; and employees of both the city-chosen funeral home and crematory. After creating a family tree, the investigator learned of several cousins scattered around the country and abroad; as it happened, they were themselves dead, or couldn’t be reached, or said that they hadn’t spoken to Bell in decades. Investigators found a will with four legatees, including a long-ago girlfriend. She was notified about the bequest but died before she received it, which meant that the money—mostly from the sale of Bell’s apartment—went to her own legatees, who had never met or even heard of him. N. R. Kleinfield, who wrote the piteous story, pieced together some details of Bell’s life, one of which was full of tragic irony, given the anonymous isolation of his demise: he had fed and bathed his mother, who had severe arthritis in her old age, until her death.
For a fuller picture of the brave new kinless world, consider Japan, a country now in the throes of an epidemic of kodokushi, roughly translated as “lonely deaths.” Local Japanese papers regularly publish stories about kinless elderly whose deaths go unnoticed until the telltale smell of maggot-eaten flesh alerts neighbors. Such deaths are common enough that Japanese entrepreneurs have created an industry of cleaning companies for dealing with their aftereffects. Last year, a reporter watched as workers clad in full-body protective gear from one of those companies—with the chilling name “Next”—disinfected the apartment of Hiroaki, a 54-year-old divorced man with no children. No one noticed that he had been gone for four months, and even then, it was only because Hiroaki’s rent money, which had been automatically deducted from a savings account, had dried up. A representative of the building’s management company finally discovered his decomposed remains on a soiled futon.
Lonely-death cleaning companies promise to be a good investment in Japan. The culture’s legendary filial piety has gone the way of the samurai; children and grandchildren are often too busy or far away for regular visiting. And that’s for the lucky ones who have progeny. A record number of young people are forgoing marriage, just as they are in the United States. But unlike other post-transition countries, Japan is not replacing marriage with “nonconventional” family arrangements. Divorce, nonmarital births, single parents, and cohabitation remain rare. (Oddly, even sex appears to be losing its appeal for young Japanese men and women.) The country’s fertility rate is about the lowest in the world, and despite Prime Minister Shinzo¯ Abe’s support for parental leave, tax incentives, and various other measures designed to increase births, there’s no sign of public enthusiasm for marriage and baby-making. “The general concept of family in Japan has fallen apart,” as Masaki Ichinose, of the Centre for Life and Death Studies at the University of Tokyo, told the Washington Post.
One way to respond to lonely deaths is with an existential shrug. “We are fools to depend upon the society of our fellow-men,” Pascal wrote. “Wretched as we are, powerless as we are, they will not aid us; we shall die alone.” Loneliness is as much a part of the human condition as joy, you could argue, and, at any rate, it is a price we should be willing to pay for freedom from dictatorial patriarchal rule. The Second Demographic Transition offered relief from many of life’s most palpable miseries: hectoring or depressed wives, abusive or sullen or just hapless husbands, controlling relatives, and taboos on premarital and gay sex. It expanded emotional and psychological horizons and attachments to new people, places, and experiences, and gave us permission to explore myriad ways to eat, pray, and love. How many would choose to sacrifice those freedoms—even if doing so could guarantee a crowded funeral?
Hard-nosed realists could also correctly point out that over-romanticizing family bonds has its own risks. People can feel lonely and despairing amid a boisterous family Thanksgiving dinner. If family members inspire our most intense love, they can also provoke the most rage and frustration. And let’s not forget that many people want to live alone. Researching Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, sociologist Eric Klinenberg was surprised to hear from most of his elderly subjects, especially women, that they preferred living by themselves to the available alternatives, including living with their children.
Yet these benefits shouldn’t prevent a clear-eyed accounting of other blowback from the Second Demographic Transition that goes beyond lonely deaths. The transition helped shape a social ecology that would worsen some of our most vexing social problems, including growing inequality. Throughout the Western world, wealthier, more educated parents tend more often to be married before they have children, and to stay married, than do their less advantaged fellow citizens. Their children benefit not just from their parents’ financial advantages, with all the computer camps and dance lessons that a flush checking account can buy, but from the familiar routines and predictable households that seem to help the young figure out the complex world they’ll be entering. The children of lower-income, less educated parents, by contrast, are more likely to see their married parents divorce or their cohabiting parents separate, and then to have to readjust to the strangers—stepparents, boyfriends or girlfriends, step- or half-siblings—who come into their lives. Some children will be introduced to a succession of newcomers as their parents divorce or separate a second or even third time.
Why, after the transition, did the rich continue to have reasonably stable and predictable domestic lives while the working class and poor stumbled onto what family scholar Andrew Cherlin calls the “marriage-go-round”? Observers typically point to deindustrialization and the loss of stable, decent-paying low-skilled jobs for men. True enough. A jobless man, especially one without a high school diploma, is no one’s idea of a good catch. But there’s more to the marriage gap than that. While the loosening of traditional rules gave women freedom to leave violent or cruel husbands, it also changed the cultural environment for couples trying to weather less dangerous stresses and disappointments, including a pink slip. Lower-income men and women are bound to have more financial anxieties, more work accidents, and more broken-down cars and evictions, and they lack the funds for Disneyland vacations, massages, and psychotherapists that might take some of the edge off a struggling marriage. And they see few, if any, long-term married couples who could offer a successful model. With single parenthood and cohabitation both on the lifestyle menu, what they see instead is an easy out.
When so many marriages melt into thin air, lower-income kin networks, a source of job connections, child care, and family meals, attenuate as well. Your mother’s sister’s husband—your uncle by marriage—might give you a tip about a job opening at a local machine shop; an uncle separated from your aunt and living with a girlfriend with her own kids in the next town over, maybe not. Communities flush with fatherless households tend to be troubled. In his landmark study of county-level social mobility, economist Raj Chetty discovered that places thick with married-couple families created more opportunity for kids, regardless of whether they were living in a married or single-parent household; places with large numbers of single-parent homes, on the other hand, pulled kids down—including those living with married parents. It’s hard to imagine more concrete evidence of the truth of the old cliché that family is the building block of society.
Racial inequality predates the transition, of course, but with their families and communities already weakened by slavery, racism, and clumsy government policies, black Americans were hit hard. Verdery and Margolis believe that blacks are at especially high risk of kinlessness as they age. Black women are two times as likely as whites to have never married by age 45, and two times as likely to be divorced, widowed, or separated. Seventy-two percent of black children are born to unmarried mothers. Black nonresidential fathers tend to see their kids more than do white men living apart from their offspring in the early months and years of the child’s life; but over time, they fade out of the picture. An oncologist of my acquaintance working at an inner-city hospital tells me that he sees a remarkable number of black men arriving at the clinic for treatment by themselves. If they get hospitalized, visitors are sparse; as they near death, still no one comes. “My poor mother, like many other slave-women, had many children, but no family,” Frederick Douglass once wrote. Many black men could now say something similar about themselves.
Family instability and fatherlessness collide with racial and economic disadvantage to create a negative feedback loop in black communities, hampering children’s potential and perpetuating racial inequality. Black children are by far the least likely of any demographic group to go through childhood living with both parents. Considering that kids from single-parent homes, black and white, have less chance of completing high school and college and a greater chance of becoming single parents themselves, the current calculus of inequality will endure. A just-published study by demographer John Iceland concludes that differences in family structure are the most significant variable in explaining the black–white affluence gap. In fact, its importance has grown over time relative to other explanations, including discrimination. Unable to pool earnings with a spouse, to take advantage of economies of scale, and to share child care, black single parents have a tougher time than their married counterparts building a nest egg.
In more recent decades, the transition has eroded the God-fearing, “middle American” white working-class family, too—and their communities. As of 1980, about 75 percent of white working-class adults were married, a figure very close to the 79 percent of high-income adults. By 2017, however, the working-class number had fallen to only 52 percent. Worse, white working-class adults divorce at much higher rates than more educated adults. “The white working-class family is today more fragile than the black family was at the time of the famous alarm-sounding 1965 ‘Report on the Negro Family’ by Daniel Patrick Moynihan,” Putnam has written. J. D. Vance’s best-selling Hillbilly Elegy evokes that fragility: his parents divorced when he was little, and his father disappeared from his life until he was a teenager; a series of his mother’s boyfriends and husbands cycled through J. D.’s childhood; his maternal grandmother fought constantly with her drunken husband, once dousing him with gasoline and setting him on fire.
The crumbling of the white working-class family has contributed to the country’s opioid crisis. Opioids are now the leading cause of death for people under 50: a majority of them are unmarried or divorced men. Though only 32 percent of the population, that group of adults accounts for a stunning 71 percent of opioid deaths. Opioids themselves, now a larger cause of American deaths than car accidents, are poisoning the foundational kinship bond between parents and children. Officials believe that opioids are at the root of a heartrending increase in foster-care placements. Fourteen states experienced a 25 percent rise or more in the number of kids sent to foster care between 2011 and 2015; Maine saw a 45 percent increase in that same period. Can it be a coincidence that the drug dominating today’s headlines provokes a similar response in the brain as the hormone oxytocin does? Oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone,” occurs naturally at moments of intense love and connection: during childbirth, breastfeeding, and orgasm. Opioids, Andrew Sullivan wrote in a powerful essay on the epidemic in New York, have given the lonely a “shortcut—and an instant intensification—of the happiness [they] might ordinarily experience in a good and fruitful communal life.”
And finally, there is family breakdown’s role in the “deaths of despair,” as economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton call the exploding number of deaths by suicide, alcohol abuse, and drug overdose. Case and Deaton shocked demographers and policymakers several years ago when they published findings showing that the increase was enough to reverse the long-term trend toward longer, healthier lives, one of the proudest signs of human progress. In the first decades of the twenty-first century, suicide suddenly surged for both white men and white women. Case and Deaton found these deaths especially common among people with only high school or less education and among separated, divorced, and widowed (though not single) men. Public-health researchers have known for a long time that unmarried men and women are at higher risk of early death from a variety of diseases. One spouse might find a suspicious-looking mole on the other’s back or notice if she’s drinking more than her usual. And who hasn’t heard accounts of relatives stopping harried nurses from giving patients the wrong medication?
Notice that men are more likely to die from opioid overdoses and other deaths of despair. Men seem to have a harder time coping with isolation and family breakdown than women. Most of the lonely deaths in Japan are men. Fathers continue to have more tenuous relations with their children than mothers do, despite growing cultural preference for gender-equal child care. A 2016 report from the University of Michigan Population Studies Center found that an extraordinary 20 percent of young adults in the U.S. have absolutely no contact with their fathers (not including those who have died), far higher than the 6.5 percent who no longer talked to their mothers. Women initiate more divorces, and when the papers are signed, according to a Pew survey, they are more likely to swear off marriage for good; men tend to want to remarry. In Going Solo, Klinenberg discovered that women are far more adept at creating their own social networks, going out with groups of friends, volunteering at local charities, and the like. Single women will purchase a home more often than do single men. Even after the SDT, women are the more intuitive homemakers.
Turn the place completely upside-down, inside-out, and you still won’t find a solution to kinlessness, social isolation, and their tragic fallout in the office of a Minister of Loneliness. Government can fund services for the isolated and frail elderly. Many American cities have neighborhood senior centers with help desks and activities to keep the aged active and socially connected. Civil society has also jumped in, with groups like Meals on Wheels and Seniors Helping Seniors. Churches and other religious institutions help keep an eye on elderly congregants.
These efforts are undeniably beneficial; sometimes, they save lives. But when you consider the more damaging systemic changes wrought by the transition, they are little more than aspirin for a gaping wound.
Though there’s no going back to a time when people had little freedom to pursue personal life on their own terms, there are reasons to think that some healing is possible. The transition put unprecedented personal autonomy up for sale, but as it happened, relatively few were interested in buying the whole package. An innate human desire for elemental familial bonds continued to assert itself. In surveys, Americans today describe family relations as the most meaningful part of their lives, far surpassing work and friends. Post-transition Europeans are no less sold on family as the major source of meaning in life. As they reach middle age, most Americans remain heavily involved in supporting and advising elderly parents. American women continue to report a relatively high number of desired children. You’ve heard about—or maybe logged onto—Ancestry.com? It’s not some soon-to-be-forgotten fad like Candy Crush to feed short attention spans. Instead, it’s tapping into a deep desire to discover family roots that connect us to a place, a collective story, and a corner of history. “Uprootedness uproots everything except the need for roots,” as Christopher Lasch once wrote.
The challenge is to find ways to communicate that need to coming generations before they make decisions that will further fragment their lives and communities. So far, that’s not happening. Millennials and their younger brothers and sisters say that they would like to marry and have children, but only 30 percent see a successful marriage as one of the more important things in life. About half shrug off single parenthood as a nonissue; in their view, cohabitation is fundamentally the same as marriage. Though the overall share of American babies born to unmarried mothers has declined a bit in the past few years, the majority of births to millennials are to unmarried women. So far, younger kids—Gen Z, as they are sometimes called—don’t look as though they’re ready to rebel from the nonchalance of their older siblings. In a 2018 survey of attitudes of 10- to 19-year-olds by PerryUndem Research and Communication, three-quarters rated having a successful career as “very important.” Fewer than a third said that marrying or having children mattered that much. Notably, boys and girls had almost identical answers.
This doesn’t surprise me. My boomer acquaintances, college-educated professionals and devoted parents, nudged and prodded their kids from elementary school through college and beyond to prepare for the Big Career. When it came to that other crucial life goal—finding a loyal, loving spouse, a devoted mother or father for their children—their lips were sealed. Such traditional aspirations would have seemed an imposition on their children’s authentic desires rather than a piece of learned wisdom. Yet learn it they had: they danced euphorically at their children’s weddings and are now putting dinner companions to sleep rattling on about the grandkids.
For the most part, this studied cultural silence about marriage, children, and kinship hasn’t damaged the prospects for my peers’ kids to create and sustain bonds so essential to individual and social well-being. They see these relationships all around them; they’re part of the air they breathe. That’s far from the case in less advantaged communities, where the most elemental bonds are fraying like a piece of 100-year-old muslin. Most policy discussions about the troubles of the American working class and poor center on vocational and technical education, higher-paying and reliable jobs, and benefits. These are necessary efforts, but they are not enough to counter the loneliness, kinlessness, and despair crushing so many spirits. There also must be what Tom Wolfe called a “Great Re-learning” about how to satisfy the human longing for continuity and connection.
And it’s not just for the sake of the children.
Top Photo: JONAS BENDIKSEN/MAGNUM PHOTOS
10 years ago, the scientific and journalistic world was telling you your self-esteem was the most important thing for your success and happiness. All you needed to do was feel good about yourself and it didn’t really matter how sabotaging your behaviors were.
However, the science has shifted over the past decade, bringing to light the bogus-ness of the self-esteem movement. In its place, today, self-control — or more popularly “willpower” — has taken center stage. And unlike self-esteem, increased self-control has no drawbacks.
Like muscles, your willpower increases when you exercise it. If you don’t get regular and intensive fitness, your self-control muscles become flabby. The opposite of willpower is addiction — the complete loss of self-control.
And today, human beings are more addicted than we’ve ever been in the history of our species. Our addiction is distraction, another reflection of a lacking self-control. We are, quite literally, pulled in thousands of cognitive directions daily. The internet provides a blunting and painful blow to our brains, which are clearly not evolved and ready for such a stark and unique responsibility.
The underlying process of evolution is repetition. Anything repeated overtime structurally and chemically alters your brain. And science confirms that internet addiction affects the brain the same way alcohol and drug addictions morph our beautiful brains. Interestingly, addiction to one thing can lead to other addictions.
Without question, toned self-control muscles are needed more now than any other time in the history of our planet for at least three reasons:
1. There has never been more choices or distractions available
2. There has never been more opportunity for colossal freedom, success, and influence
3. And the cost of failure has never been so great — going backwards after evolving so far as a species would be a shame
As Humans, We Evolve by Choice
The human brain is surprisingly malleable. We can purposefully create triggers causing automatic responses — like the second you hear the alarm clock you feel pleasure at jumping out of bed, making that bed, and then immediately taking a cold-shower. We can train our brains to associate pain and pleasure to anything. Unfortunately, in the case of the previous example, most of us have trained our brains to associate pleasure to staying in bed, just a little longer.
Although most of humanity has been trained to experience pleasure in ease and pain in difficulty, those on the quest for self-actualization, leadership, influence, or even simply living a better life embrace difficulty and discomfort — the doorway, not destination, to growth.
Yes, you can actually enjoy difficulty and risk. You can embrace it because you know it’s taking you somewhere higher and better. And being in-control of the direction of your life is a satisfaction immeasurably different than indulgence.
Fasting: Your New Willpower Workout
There are a number of ways to increase your willpower, so as to determine the direction of your life. However, one method that is inexcusably ignored is the practice of regular fasting from food and caloric beverage ingestion.
From a biblical perspective, it’s interesting to note that Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before undergoing intensive “temptations.”
Although little discussed, the purpose of this article is to convince you of the utility of this powerful practice. I will first describe the benefits of fasting, followed by strategies to make your fasting experience invigorating and enlightening.
15 Superhuman Benefits of Fasting
1. Superhuman Willpower
Fasting, by its very nature, is the putting-off of the physical in order to tap into higher realms of meaning.
Destructive addictions and other sabotaging behaviors are the opposite of willpower. And they slowly but surely ruin your life.
Every decision you make is important. If you justify poor decisions from time-to-time, you’re stunting the development of quality habits. More accurately, consistent poor behavior is in actuality the reflection of bad habits.
And bad habits are a fast-track to a crappy life — the root of which is a lack of self-control.
If you can’t control even yourself, what can you control?
But while you’re fasting, you are consciously choosing not to eat — even if you feel hungry — for something else. And there’s nothing more fundamental to survival than food. Consequently, when you learn to control your own eating, you develop the ability to control less fundamental and often destructive addictions.
Fasting is by far the most sophisticated willpower workout available. If you get good at fasting, you can learn to control every other aspect of your life. If you get good at fasting, you can overcome any addiction, not matter how deeply imbedded. Medically, fasting has been found to rapidly dissipate the craving for nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and other drugs.
2. Superhuman Confidence
Neuro-chemically, fasting increases levels of catecholamines — such as dopamine — which elevates your happiness and confidence while reducing your anxiety.
But it’s simpler than that.
Without self-control, you can’t have confidence. Indeed, confidence reflects your view of your own capability. And if you constantly self-sabotage, rather than confidence you’ll experience internal-conflict.
Internal-conflict corrodes your willpower. It’s exhausting and leaves you constantly on the defensive — both to other people and yourself.
But when you see yourself act in ways you intended on acted, your confidence in yourself increases. You develop greater trust in your own capabilities, and this prompts you to take on bigger goals, risks, and challenges in the future. Eventually, you develop the self-efficacy that allows you to control your destiny and future. Complete power and confidence.
3. Superhuman Brain Functioning
Fasting actually increases your number of brain cells. Here is a short list of some of the scientifically backed cognitive benefits of fasting:
- Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy (e.g., “self-eating,”), which is how cells recycle waste material, down-regulate wasteful processes, and repair themselves. Brain health is dependent on neuronal autophagy. Another study shows that interference of neuronal autophagy prompts neuro-degeneration. Simply put, without the process of autophagy, brains neither develop properly nor function optimally.
- Fasting increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that interacts with neurons in the hippocampus, cortex, and basal forebrain (the parts of the brain that regulate memory, learning, and higher cognitive function — uniquely human stuff). BDNF helps existing neurons survive while stimulating the growth of new neurons and the development of neuro-synaptic connectivity. Low levels of BDNF are linked to Alzheimer’s,memory loss, and cognitive impairment.
- Evidence suggests that low BDNF is related to depression. Indeed, antidepressants increase BDNF levels. Thus, many doctors believe fasting can reduce depression.
- Fasting reduces the likelihood of having a stroke.
- Fasting reduces the oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and cognitive decline that normally results from brain trauma. Research has found that a 24 hour (but not a 48 hour) fast was neuro-protective against trauma to the brain like a concussion.
- Fasting reduces cognitive stressors that bring about aging, cognitive decline, and chronic diseases.
- Fasting reduces your risk of cancer.
- Fasting increases your longevity and lifespan.
- Fasting enhances learning and memory.
- Fasting elevates your ability to focus and concentrate.
If you’ve fasted before, you can attest to the radical mental benefits of fasting. If you haven’t, please start a regular practice of fasting. Over a period of time, you’ll be startled by the cognitive results.
4. Superhuman Clarity & Direction
With the increased clarity and cognitive functioning brought on by fasting, it is easier to analyze your poor habits and make critical decisions about the direction of your life.
When you remove yourself from the noise of addiction — even food addiction temporarily — you clear space for the subtle signal of your guiding truth.
While fasting, you will quickly become aware of the incongruencies in your life. Your poor habits, lack of organization and intention, and misdirected path get put under a cognitive and spiritual microscope.
With increased perspective and willpower, you can use fasting as a vehicle to “let go” of addictions, behaviors, relationships, the past — whatever you want — restart, and move forward. Physically, cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually, fasting is quite literally a reset. It allows your body to catch up on needed digestive functions it generally delays due to our constant eating. But it also helps you reset in other ways.
Fasting can become your trigger to keeping proper perspective on what matters most in your life, and it helps ensure you remain on the path you desire to be on.
5. Superhuman Health
As a society, our brains have been miss-trained about the true nature of hunger, chemically tricking us into feeling hungry every 2–4 hours. But this is actually ludicrous. Naturally, our bodies shouldn’t experience hunger for 12–24 hours after eating.
Research has shown that obese individuals do not receive correct signals letting them know they are full due to excessive eating patterns. Their neuro-chemicals and hormones are all out of whack due to improper eating.
As you fast, your body regulates the release the correct hormones, so that you can experience what real hunger is. Further, with the proper flow of hormones, you get full quicker.
Other scientifically backed health benefits of fasting including:
- Fasting can reverse binge eating disorders, and help those who find it difficult to establish a correct eating pattern due to work and other priorities.
- Fasting can clear your skin from acne, allowing you to have a healthy vibrant glow.
- Fasting “reboots” your immune system from free radical damage, regulating inflammatory conditions in the body and killing-off cancer cell formation.
- Fasting improves blood pressure levels.
- Fasting improves cholesterol levels.
- Type 2 diabetes has become commonplace in our unhealthy culture. Fasting has been shown to strongly support insulin resistance and lead to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels.
- Similarly, blood levels of insulin drop significantly, which facilitates fat burning.
- The blood levels of growth hormone may increase as much as 5X. Higher levels of growth hormone assist fat burning and muscle gain, and have numerous other benefits.
Not only will your body functioning improve as you fast, but your decision-making regarding your health and fitness will improve.
6. Superhuman Motor Skills & Precision
Research has found that age-related declines in cognitive and motor abilities (such as physical balance) can be reduced by fasting.
My 93 year old grandfather, Rex, is an incredible example of this. As a Mormon, he has had the regular practice of doing a 24 hour fast, monthly, his entire life. He attributes his longevity and healthy brain and motor functioning in large part to his regular practice of fasting.
It’s fun to watch him. In the past five years, he’s written three books. He lives with his son (my father) and takes responsibility over mowing the lawn weekly and making sure the yard work is done. He has an amazing daily routine of going to bed at 8 P.M. and waking up at 4:30 A.M. every day. He spends the first 2.5 hours of his day reading or listening to instructional/inspiring content. He eats a bowl of oatmeal at 7 o’clock sharp, then he works until about 2 P.M. every day. He even sets timers every hour to allow him a 10 minute Solitaire break (which is also timed). The second the timer goes off, he gets back to work.
All those incredible habits and he attributes fasting to be a crucial needle, threading them all together and making them all possible.
7. Superhuman Sleep
If you travel a lot or have a lackluster sleeping cycle, research has found that a 16-hour fast can reset your sleep cycle. Other research has found that fasting can improve the overall quality of your sleep.
8. Superhuman Productivity
“If you want to get more done in life, eat less food.” — Robin Sharma, best-selling author
Human beings are holistic. When your body is over-full, particularly on processed foods, your energy levels are low and your mind becomes dull. Conversely, research at Yale has found that being on an empty stomach helps you think and focus better.
While you’re fasting, if you want to take it to a higher level, chew gum. Research has found that chewing gum can increase your concentration and mental accuracy. It also stops you from eating out of boredom — which is the primary reason for most eating.
In a fasted state, your mind can narrow in on your work. I believe this is because the cognitive and sensual amplification of fasting forces you into the moment. In other words, fasting helps you live in the present. It’s powerful and beautiful. High focus and psychological flow are commonplace for me while I fast.
9. Superhuman Emotions
Fasting stabilizes your emotions. This happens by detaching from the emotional dependence on food, in addition to removing over-stimulating foods like caffeine, processed sugars, recreational drugs, tobacco and trans-fatty acids — all of which negatively effect our emotions.
Fasting can also reset your negative emotional patterns. We all get locked-up in weird emotional cycles, and fasting can break us free of them — allowing us to experience the world in a healthier way. It’s also important to note that our emotions are heavily influenced by our environments — and fasting allows us to perceive the incongruencies of our life more clearly — thus challenging us to reshape our environments.
10. Superhuman Energy
Fasting gives you a feeling a physical “lightness,” which provides a boost of energy. Another reason for this energy-surge is because, in a normal diet, our body generally converts foods through carbs and sugars. But fasting retrains our body to convert energy from fats, thus boosting our natural energy levels.
11. Superhuman Weight Loss
Fasting has facilitate weight-loss of 3–8 percent of total body mass in just 3–24 weeks! During that same time-frame, you could lose 4–7 percent of your waist circumference (e.g., harmful belly fat that causes disease).
Fasting decreases insulin levels, while boosting growth hormone levels and increased quantities of norepinephrine (noradrenaline) — a hormonal coctail that breaks down body fat and enables its use for energy.
Consequently, fasting actually increases your metabolic rate by 4–14 percent, helping you burn more calories.
12. Superhuman Inspiration
Fasting taps into higher realms than merely increased consciousness. My experience with fasting is physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual. And I leverage fasting for all it’s worth. I openly pray while fasting for miracles and blessings to come into my life and the into the lives of people I care for.
And I genuinely believe it works.
Regardless of the source of my inspiration, I keep my journal and pen constantly at my side while I’m fasting. The majority of my ideas for writing come while I’m fasting. It’s like drinking from a firehose. “My cup runneth over.”
If you’re looking for mental and spiritual breakthroughs — or simply an increased free-flow of intelligence — regular fasting will aid you in this.
13. Superhuman Appearance
Fasting clears the skin and whitens the eyes. It is common to see acne clear while fasting; and the whites of the eyes never look so piercingly clear and bright as they do after fasting.
The reason for this is the release of human growth hormone, which has been found to make your skin look younger and more vibrant.
But it’s even simpler than that. When you’re living a life of self-control, your health and confidence shine through. You smile more, laugh more, and are more perceptive and discerning of others. Human beings are holistic. When we’re out of alignment, it’s actually quite apparent to others. When we are in alignment, it couldn’t be more obvious. You will simply look more attractive by resonating on a higher physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual plane.
14. Superhuman Learning
Research confirms that being in a fasted state improves focus, memory, and ability to comprehend information.Put most simply, fasting improves brain efficiency and effectiveness.
15. Superhuman Senses
It’s easy to get addicted to sugary foods. When we do, we stop craving healthy, earthy, and wholesome foods. But fasting restores our appreciation for these delicious flavors. Your taste-buds become electric after fasting, and eating healthy foods never tasted so good.
Beyond taste, fasting increases the acuity of all your other senses as well, including hearing and smell, and sometimes even vision.
Actually, it can be a startling experience when your brain functioning radically elevates during a fast. Your listening skills sharpen, and you focus in on every word the other person is saying. Your thinking is honed and your ability to quickly and accurately respond is dynamite.
You can hear the slightest sounds in your natural environment which you are usually unaware of.
Time slows down.
Everything is heightened. The colors you see, the sounds you hear, the thoughts bouncing around in your head, your connection to your physical body and external environment.
It’s like the drug in the movie Limitless, but the most natural, healthy, and sustainable version.
13 Strategies to Amplify Your Fasting Experience
1. Fast for a Specific Purpose
Fasting without a purpose is nothing more than starving yourself. However, fasting for a specific purpose transforms your physical into a spiritual experience.
You can fast for literally anything. It is simply a form of prayer or meditation — but intensified. Thus, if prayer and/or meditation is a part of your regular practice, coupling these with fasting is like injecting them with steroids.
Before I begin a fast, I ponder on something meaningful to put my elevated energy toward. Sometimes I fast for other people, like a family member or friend who is sick. Other times I’ll fast to do well on a project I’m working on. You can fast for anything, but have it be something immediately relevant to you or someone you care about.
2. Make Fasting a Ritual
Ritualizing activities enhances their enjoy-ability and deepens their meaning. The definition of a ritual is, “a solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” You can revamp and ritualize any activity.
I try to ritualize as much of my life as possible to create anticipation, excitement, flow, and intense presence during the activity.
For example, my running partner, Tyler, and I have made our runs into rituals. We meet each other at the same place before our run begins. While we run, we talk about deep philosophy and science. We’ve even created rituals around the food we eat during our run. Every 45 minutes, we walk for one minute and eat. At the conclusion of the run, we get chocolate milks, turn on the hot air, and zone out while on an endorphin high.
The whole activity is a sequence of events, designed for the purpose of intensifying the experience. Repetition and pattern create depth.
I have rituals around my writing, reading, eating, exercise, and other activities. When I used to live in Salt Lake City, a friend of mine and I would always order the same breakfast sandwich from Einstein Bagels and listen to the same playlists while driving up the canyon to go snowboarding.
To make fasting a ritual, I always begin and end with mediation and prayer. Before I start, I visualize and think about the things I’m fasting for — my specific purpose for fasting. I open my journal and write down the thing(s) I’m fasting for.
When my fast is complete, I write down the insights I’ve gained from my fast. Once you become accustomed to fasting, you’ll get used to the rapid inflow of ideas, insights, inspirations, and deep learning that is an integral part of fasting.
Making fasting into a ritual creates anticipation between your fasts. This anticipation will elevate your experience.
3. Make a Fast-Offering by Giving Food You Would Have Eaten to Someone in Need
To elevate the experience even further, take the money you would have spent on food (or its approximate equivalent), and give that money to someone in need or a cause you believe in.
Personally, I enjoy giving what I call my “Fast Offering” to someone who is hungry and without food. Thus, not only am I not eating for a higher purpose, but I’m giving that food to someone who needs it more than I do.
Giving a fast-offering is what makes your fast truly complete.
4. When You Think About Food, Re-Focus on Your Purpose
The first few times you fast, you can expect head aches and feelings of hunger throughout. If you’re a fortunate person, you’ve probably only experienced real hunger a few times in your entire life. It’s interesting to think that millions of people on this planet live hungry every single day.
But the more you fast, the better you’ll get at controlling your mind. You’re not really starving, you’re addicted (probably to sugar).
So whenever your mind fixates on food, take a few moments to refresh yourself on why you’re fasting. What’s that specific purpose you’re fasting for?
Open your journal and re-read what you wrote at the opening of your fast. Write down some thoughts or ideas you’ve had about the person or thing you’re fasting for. If the purpose is compelling enough, your momentary lack of food should be placed back in proper context.
5. Ease Into Fasting & Don’t Fast for too Long
But in order to work your way up, practice fasting at first for just one meal. Then after you’ve gotten accustomed to that, move up to two meals and then 24 hours.
It’s common for people who experience the radical benefits of fasting to take the practice to extremes. This isn’t smart. One day is more than sufficient for a specific fast. The blessings and benefits you seek will come.
6. Associate Pleasure with Fasting
You can create mental triggers for anything. For most people, the feeling of hunger triggers negative emotions. However, you can trigger feelings of pleasure and joy when you feel hungry during a fast. All you have to do is think about your purpose for that specific fast.
The moment you feel hunger, remember how marvelous it is to be tapping into higher realms of conscious and deeper wellsprings of health. It feelsamazing to be fasting.
Creating a pleasure trigger for hunger turns fasting from an arduous experience into a combination of zen and ecstasy.
7. Snowball Effect: Practice Self-Control in Other Ways While Fasting
Your mental acuity will never be sharper than while you’re fasting. Similarly, your self-control will also be peaked. Take advantage of this by double-dipping the willpower workout.
While I’m fasting, I take cold showers and make sure to work with intensive focus during the hours I’ve planned on working. I also give my full attention and joy to the people I’m with. I play like a crazy-man with my foster kids. I don’t check my social media and I turn my phone on airplane mode. The more things you can do to increase your self-control while fasting, the more optimal the experience.
Self-control, at its heart, is extreme implementation of those things you already know you should be doing. So, implement those things you’ve been procrastinating. During a fast is the best time to improve all your habits and daily behaviors.
Just like working out in the gym, your willpower will likely be exhausted after a fast. The rest between fasts — like the rest between workouts — is just as essential as the fasting itself.
8. Transition In & Out of Fasting with Small Meals
It’s funny, but at the end of a willpower workout, people often make the idiotic decision of gorging themselves after their fast. Don’t lose control after having just practiced self-control! If you gorge out on a bunch of junk food right after a fast, you’ll destroy your willpower progress and personal confidence. Without self-control, you can’t have confidence.
Novice fasters gorge themselves directly before and after a fast. They think that by eating a ton of food, they’ll have enough food in them to not get hungry during the fast. Ironically, when you eat large portions of food, your body creates an overabundance of insulin which lowers your blood sugar. When this happens, you feel hungry — generally craving sugar — even when you’re really not hungry.
Eating big meals before a fast makes the experience hell. Don’t do it. Instead, eat something really light to transition into your fasted state. Similarly, when you complete your fast, eat a small portion to zone-out.
I’ve had success lately starting my fast around lunchtime. I’ll eat a normal sized breakfast, and for lunch I’ll have a light protein shake or maybe a salad to transition into my fast. I’ll close my fast at lunchtime the next day with a bowl of fruit or a light protein shake and lots of water.
9. Fast With Other People For a Joint-Cause
Getting a group of people together to fast for a singular person or thing is powerful. It knits the group tightly together in unity and love. It also leads to miracles and radical breakthroughs.
Fast as a family for something relevant and important to your family. Fast as a company to meet your business objectives.
Fast in whatever group you want — so long as the purpose for the fast is relevant to each member of the group.
10. Learn Your Body & Fast in a Way that Best Suites You
There are tons of ways to fast. The purpose of this article is not to tout any specific type of fasting, but rather, the practice of fasting in general.
If fasting is something you want to incorporate into your life, experiment with different approaches.
Intermittent fasting is very popular right now. Juice fasting is also awesome. I’ve tried both of these in different forms and for varying lengths of time.
For me, the form of fasting that works for my body is doing a 24 hour fast from both food and water once per month. However, lately, I’ve been doing a 24 hour fast from both food and water weekly or bi-weekly.
Experiment with it and figure out what works best for you. Most fasting practices don’t exclude water. But for me, that’s part of my practice.
Lastly, some people physically can’t fast for medical reasons. You can get many of the psychological, relational, and spiritual benefits of fasting by abstaining from anything you perceive as a need. For example, I often do 24 hour fasts from the internet and my cell phone. You could fast from caffeine, or sugar, or alcohol.
11. Stay Hydrated throughout the Week
If you’re not properly hydrated, fasting for an extended period of time can cause dehydration. You can avoid this by drinking healthy amounts of water throughout the week — 64 plus ounces per day.
12. If You Slip-Up, “Lock it Up!”
Our self-control is super fickle! Usually, when I “give in” to one even small conflicted choice, the flood gates open up! The best example for me is food. I could be eating awesome all morning, then justify even a little bit of junk food. The problem is, that one justification weakens my resolve against future justifications, and I quickly find myself sugar-binging.
But just because you feel like you’re “losing the battle,” doesn’t mean you need to give up and lose the war.
Finish! Done is better than perfect.
I spent months studying for a test called the G.R.E. to get into graduate school. I needed to get a specific score in order to be competitive for strong PhD programs. Half way through the math section of the test, I felt like throwing in the towel. I was sure I had missed several questions and felt, in the moment, that there was no chance I’d get the score I needed.
But then this thought popped into my head: Finish strong! The past is out of your control. But you’re still in this. Don’t quit before you finish. This will be over soon, so take control and crush this.
I closed my eyes, took a few breathes, visualized the score I wanted, prayed for strength, and sprinted with confidence to the end of the test. Do what is right, let the consequence follow — come what may, and love it!
I got the score I needed.
The worst thing you can do for your willpower is throw in the towel after one slip-up. The same is true of fasting. There are no rules. There is no “perfect” fast. Just finish strong.
13. Don’t Make it a Big Deal
When you’re fasting, it may be tempting to talk about it. There’s nothing wrong with talking about the fact that you’re fasting. However, you’ll get deeper meaning and insight out of your fast by keeping it private and personal.
If you’re fasting for someone else, like someone who is sick or going through difficulty, keep it anonymous. They will feel the power of your fast without you having to tell them you’re doing it.
If you start to feel drained, splash cold water on your face. Don’t look weighed down, sad, and tired. Stay upbeat and vibrant.
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