It’s Not Rocket Science: 30 tips to an evidence-based life well lived

Confused by conflicting health advice?  Not sure if you should cook your kale in coconut oil or sweep it all in the rubbish bin. Coconut oil is nice and slippery like that.

The shocking truth is it’s actually not that hard or confusing.  There is more agreement and good science than confusion and shades of grey.

I realise this is not what some social media platforms or celebrities selling you snake oil to put up your hoo-ha at the full moon would have you believe.  See any recommendation by Gwenyth Paltrow or Pete Evens … ever.

So here are some science-based tips that could just change your life.

Eat

  • Eat loads of fresh fruit and veg
  • Eat red meat in moderation, or better not at all
  • Minimize mercury in fish
  • Enjoy dairy if you are not lactose intolerant.  Although the environment might not thank you, your body will.
  • Eat whole foods. Go for variety, lots of colours and types.  Sure enjoy ‘superfoods’ if they turn you on, but don’t obsess over them or eliminate perfectly good alternatives.  Can’t afford chia seeds? Eat a banana and a strawberry and smile at yourself and your savings. What about carbs some will say? There is some emerging science that for some people and situations low carb is helpful.  However good carbs are not the devil and don’t go down this route without good support or reason and certainly don’t swap your carbs for bacon!
  • Prioritize good quality oils.  While the saturated fat debate rages, I’d focus on vegetable oils.
  • Avoid the foods you have issues with BUT be careful avoiding stuff for shits, giggles or food fashion.
  • Chew well and enjoy.
  • Enjoy tea and coffee if you like it.
  • Minimize crap.
  • Have less than 10 teaspoons of sugar a day. This is more difficult than you might think, given how much is hidden in foods.  No need to get all obsessed and high-and-mighty about your #AMAZing-sugar-free-life.  Unless it makes you happy, in which case, fill your sugar-free-boots.
  • Enjoy alcohol in moderation, if your personal and genetic risk profile allows it.  Don’t kid yourself about what moderation actually means.  Check the guidelines.

Move

  • Get fit, stay fit.  This could be one of the best decisions you make
  • Avoid prolonged sitting or standing
  • Stretch

Love

  • Be connected to others and do stuff for them
  • Meditate or pray or whatever turns you on
  • Do stuff you love
  • Get some nature time, forest bathing is a thing that might even have science on its side.
  • Understand your personal values and live a life aligned to them

Protect, Check & Avoid

  • Protect yourself from the sun (slip, slop, slap)
  • Practice good dental hygiene
  • Get your regular (gender and age-appropriate) screening tests
  • Get the vaccinations you need
  • Don’t touch cigarettes or illegal drugs
  • Try and avoid smog and unnecessary chemical exposure at home and work
  • Manage your stress
  • Use your brain or lose your brain
  • Don’t believe what you read on the internet and never read the comments!

Live … a little

  • Just sometimes ….. eat doughnuts, drink champagne and stay up late …. just to know you have free will and your life is your own.

Footnote

My blogging career started with a health-based hobby blog, while writing a PhD, and also very ill.  I consumed a lot of science on health.  Something I had been warming up to for several decades prior.  Along the way, I feel I got a solid sense of some basic science-based principles re health and lifestyle stuff.  During the same time, I was horrified to see many ‘food and lifestyle fashions’ moving in the wrong or opposite direction to the science.

This list is a bit of a compilation of that time updated to account for new research.  I thought hard about backfilling references on each one – and it was time to get a life.  Maybe that can be my retirement project in a few more decades.  

For now, as at 2020, I am confident this list, if followed, will serve you well.  Updating it has reminded me of some large gaps that need attention in my life.

Yours as Ever,
Dr Rachel
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Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?

This is part of our quick reads series; helping you stay informed without hogging your precious time.  This post considers the book – Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?
Spoiler alert: yes it would seem poor old Gwyneth is wrong about everything; from juice cleanses, to coffee enemas and steaming her fanny (I added that one but I did read she does do this and I’m pretty confident of the lack of science in the idea).  She was a terrific actor – there is something to be said for sticking to your core competences huh?
Caulfield’s delightful tongue in cheek title and light, fruity and readable tone, belies a hefty and serious message within: we mere humans are hard wired to look up to celebrities (and yes that is as true of management gurus as it is of movie stars).  It’s an ape-like thing where we look to the fittest and the strongest – the most attractive (OK this might not follow fully for management gurus).
This tendency to look to both celebs and management gurus has worsened with the social media explosion.  Now we can look up to Gwen and also feel some sort of delicious personal connection to her as she tweets us directly to our living room mid fanny steam or bottom cleanse.
Did you know the show Mad Men increased cigarette sales? Or that most people feel not only less attractive but think their partner is less attractive after viewing a few models/celeb images.

Out with hard science in with the lovely people.

It seems to be out with science and in with celeb/guru advice.  Celeb advice being followed better than evidence based scientific advice.  Given we ALL have a beautiful people bias (we pay them more and trust them more).  No wonder we feel celebs are the pinnacle, the beautifulest of the beautiful.  Bad news – celebs are on balance, less happy, die younger, commit suicide more (maybe, stats are hard to find here), are often lonely and especially in the case of those that got there via sports, surprisingly often broke in the end.

All in all celebs/Gurus are ruining the world.
It is not a cheerful story.
But it is an entertaining, fact filled, eye opener that if you are a parent, or even just a person living on this planet …. is very relevant to you.
In the Author’s own words:
“Celebrity culture has emerged as one of the most significant and influential sources of pseudoscientific blather.” 
Celeb trends are changing our behaviours.

If you prefer hard science, here is Caulfield’s ‘science informed six’:

  1. Moderate your booze, don’t smoke
  2. Move
  3. Eat fruit, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains (yes true carbs are not actually the devil despite the celebrity blather) and good fats
  4. Don’t be too skinny or too fat
  5. Wear sunscreen. Btw this is one of only four things that are actually effective in reducing the signs of aging.
  6. Sleep (7-9 hours a night).

Seems like a no brainer when you put it like that eh? Sad truth is it looks like the celebs are being followed more than the scientists.  I guess it is easier to lie down in a luxury environment and have someone rub your face with gold leaf than go to the gym, put the wine back in the fridge etc.
I would like to see Caulfield turn his wit and intellect to the topic of management gurus (it’s me adding them here, because it is same same for much of this).  I would adore to see his “science informed six’ for leaders.  Until he does – this book is still important to read as it will help you with some of the skills you need to consider the evidence base in management guru ideas yourself.
Let me know how you go
Yours as Ever
The WellbeingAtWorkDr

Links, Info, Credits and all that Jazz

Adapted from http://www.wellbeingatworkdr.com
The Author: Timothy Caulfield – is Chair in Heath Law and Policy and Professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health the University of Alberta.   AKA he knows a thing or two and is a bear of big brain.
Long Title: Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything? How the Famous Sell Us Elixirs of Health, Beauty and Happiness.  Timothy Caulfield. Published by Beacon Press 2015.
Photo Credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/grey-metal-hammer-34520/

Science & Leadership Potential

This is the first blog in our quick five min reads series, in which we summarise articles we found interesting/useful.  Our thinking is to provide you the main points that will either satisfy you or lead you to your own further reading.
First up is Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “What science tells us about leadership potential”.

Apply what we know, ignore what we think we know

Thomas urges us to recognise that the scientific study of leadership is well established despite there being a huge gap between what is known and what is practiced. Sadly  much of commercial leadership practice is not based on rigorous scientific understanding.  This results in enormous losses in dollars, trust and resignations.

Common belief challenged

Many people believe that leadership is situational and anyone can lead.  The reality is that some people are more likely to become leaders.  We have the means to test for this with good psychological tools.  The personality characteristics that increase the likelihood of a person becoming a leader include; being well adjusted, sociable and curious.  IQ also plays a part – albeit a smaller one.  Although emergence does not automatically equate to effectiveness: we do know effective leaders are high in integrity and emotional intelligence.

Different styles

This doesn’t mean that there is only one type of effective leader, or one type of personality that can lead.  Different personality types can result in different styles for example transactional, transformational or entrepreneurial .

Leaders – born or made?

The answer is some of both.  Although heritable traits feature extensively (30-60% in fact), and are evident from a young age, it is possible to boost key leadership competences up to 30% with coaching.

Does gender matter?

No – differences are “virtually non-existent”.

What makes leaders go bad?

Many of the useful leadership traits can be present in the same leader as destructive traits.  Coaching can (sometimes) help leaders to recognise and control their toxic traits.
 

Relevance today?

The foundations of leadership have evolved since the beginning of time and are not likely to change – even in todays high-tech fast-paced society.
Bottom line: it is high time we spent our time & money applying what we know and stopped wasting our valuable resources on what we know for sure – that just ain’t so (so said Mark Twain and he was on the money).

Links, References etc

Art by Rosie (12)
https://hbr.org/2016/09/what-science-tells-us-about-leadership-potential

8 Tips to Get Control of your Habits

Recently I have focused on blogging and reading on the science of habits.  I have summarised my learnings in these eight evidence-based tips to create the habits you want & delete the ones you don’t:

  1. Get clear on your values and roles life (e.g. coach, parent, employee, leader).
  2. Set clear SMART goals for your planned habit changes (aligned to your values and roles).
  3. Ensure you have social support to keep you on track.  Ideally have someone or a group/team to answer to.
  4. Understand your cues, routines and rewards (for good and bad habits), try fiddling with them to stop bad habits & start good ones.
  5. Piggy back new habits onto existing ones (e.g. floss after brushing your teeth).
  6. Work with what you know about your personality, preferences and lifestyle to design the structure, tools etc that work best for you.  Don’t waste your time or money on one-size-fits-all solutions.
  7. Build regular self-care into your life to keep you on track.
  8. If you miss a day – Keep Calm & Carry On!

Keen to know more? Here is the fuller list with the links to relevant blogs and discussions.

  • Your intentions matter, as does environment and sometimes suddenly changing your environment (e.g. moving) changes habits.
  • Habit-forming is an asymptotic curve, i.e. there is some sort of tipping point of habity-ness. In this process, there are large individual differences.
  • The role of rewards in habits seems a bit unclear.
  • Missing ‘the odd’ day in habit formation is not big deal.
  • Charles Duhigg’s famous work focuses on the habit cycle: cue, routine & reward.  He says understanding this is key to breaking bad habits and forming good ones.  However I wonder if the lack of agreement on the role of reward in habits undermines his theory?  Although my personal experience in my 30 days to sobriety certainly support his thinking, as replacing ‘pour wine’, with read the book chapter, when the cravings kicked in, in the late afternoon, really helped.
  • Try and imbed new habits within existing routines but not at the start of them.
  • Traditional thinking was that our willpower (which is important in habits) would deplete or run out as the day/challenges went on.  This theory has experienced some debunking, which leaves big gaps in the understanding of habits.
  • Proactivity helps, but that might be difficult to learn.
  • Goals matter, but they must be aligned to your personal values as well as your roles in life to really make a difference.
  • To achieve anything much in live (including good habits) self care in emotional, social and physical domains matters.
  • Other things I have learned or vaguely remember include; social support is important, as is flexibility.
  • For me some kind of structure, tools processes is important – hence why the 30 day to sobriety program worked so well for me.  I am not sure if I am alone here or not.

Yours as Ever,
The Wellbeing At Work Dr.

Links etc

Choose habits from the categories drop down (right side or bottom) to see the blogs contributing to this.
Photo Credit https://www.pexels.com/photo/apple-bright-close-up-color-416443/
Adapted from wellbeingatworkdr.com

The 7 Habits: Do they stand the test of time? Will they save us?

Once upon a time when I was a young management consultant/coach, I swallowed ideas on offer at swanky conferences by swanky peeps (especially when the hotel and wine were good).  My past four years in the ivory towers (doing a PhD) have taught me to question everything, to ask for the evidence.  I am now transitioning back into my coaching and training business with my right-hand woman (yes, my mum).  Although we did good work previously and our clients were happy  …. I have started to wonder, where were we letting them down? Where were we selling them things that felt good and seemed nice but ultimately were not supported by good scientific evidence?

Of course science does not have all the answers, and is itself, sometimes too far removed from practice to be helpful.  However there are ideas/tools sold to business that are well researched and shown to be at best ineffective.  So I do not want to charge our clients for such tools just because some of our competitors are.
Hence – I am returning, with my new eyes, to some of our old favourite tools and authors – to see which ones we should put back on the shelf.  Given my current blogging focus is habits it is obvious to revisit Stephen Covey’s famous – 7 habits of highly effective people.
So what is the verdict? Well, I can’t seem to find any academics slamming the 7 habits (but I have given it half a day not a month so do let me know what I missed).  On the contrary I found a few articles in top journals using his tools for their specialty (i.e., pharmacology and nursing).  I also see he was himself and academic.   So far so good …. I think I’ll go further.
But first I have long forgotten what the 7 habits actually are, so let’s start with a recap for your sake and mine:

  1. Be Proactive – Wow this baby is big it is much more than Nikes ‘just do it’. It is doing it with self-awareness, with reference to your personal values, by leveraging your own unique awesomeness and more.
  2. Begin with the End in Mind – Get your mission statement going mate.
  3. Put First Things First – “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”
  4. Think Win-Win – This one sounds a wee bit too hippy dippy, law of attraction, abundance blah blah for me. But covey was a sensible man of intellect so I shan’t judge this book by its cover.
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood – Easier than it sounds.
  6. Synergize – that feels a bit last millennium, corporate bingo now huh?
  7. Sharpen the Saw – you never know when you need to prune a tree. Actually it’s about working on our four domains: physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual.  I’d say this is very much interlinking with habit 1.


So there we have the 7 habits of highly effective people.   Over the coming weeks I’ll take each one and see what evidence exists for it.  Perhaps I’ll have a crack at each habit myself.  Although I have achieved much in the 45 years I have been on the planet in terms of work, investments, education, raising half a child – I am pretty sure that I have a long way to go to have Covey smiling down at me from above.
Maybe this is my year to make an old, dead man proud.  Who is with me?
 

Footnotes

You can enter journal titles and see their ranking here.  Understanding them is another thing – I’ll get around to a post on that eventually.