286: Create a Dashboard for Your Life With Dan Pardi From Human OS

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Katie: Hello and welcome to “The Wellness Mama Podcast.” I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com and I’m here today with a new friend, Dr. Dan Pardi who is the CEO of humanOS.me, which is an application dedicated to helping you take care of your body and mind so that you can perform better per hour in life. He does research at Stanford University in California, and at Leiden University in the Netherlands. His research investigates how lifestyle factors like sleep, exercise, and diet influence cognitive functioning. He also works directly with high performing organizations from Silicon Valley VCs like the Mayfield Fund, and RTS Ventures to companies like Workday, Adobe, Pandora, Intuitive Surgical, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, and many more. He also works with Naval Special Warfare including the infamous SEAL Team Six to help the most elite fighters in the world maintain capable decision making under challenging circumstances. He is a wealth of knowledge and today we’re going to talk about how you can apply what he’s learned from all of that high level research and training to your daily life to perform better. So welcome, Dan. Thanks for being here.

Dan: Katie, thank you so much for having me on the show, I really look forward to chatting with you again, after we met at Paleo FX this year.

Katie: I can’t wait to jump in. And I mentioned in your bio, that you are the CEO of something called humanOS. So let’s start there. What is humanOS? And why did you start it?

Dan: It is a, I call it a health ecosystem, which to me represents the idea that we do a variety of different things. Some of those things do different things like educating people around aspects of health to try to promote fluency, which is means that you know a subject well enough to discuss it. To little tools that you can use within your day like breathing apps or tracking of physical activity level so you can stay mindful of your sleep, and physical activity, and daily steps, to even how to guides that you can you review, for example, to how to structure your lighting environment in your home and then reference. So if you forget a piece of information on and you can quickly get back to it. And even daily program, so workouts of the day and recipes of the day.

So we try to help in a lot of different ways and from a three dimensional manner. I started it because there’s probably a bunch of different moments in my life that nudged me into this direction. But one big life experience was losing my father at 59 from cancer, and I was doing Cancer Research at the time. I tried to help him with giving him information. You know, anybody in the health space will tell you that it’s the last person people that you will probably help are your family. Like it’s just very difficult I’ve found for family members to take advice from you, you know, they grow up with you, etc. And a lot of people in health space share that. But anyway, after he passed away, I thought, “Okay, well, one of the reasons why he wasn’t able to implement some of the ideas is just because it can be really hard to get bombarded with lots of info.” And that’s certainly what I did, I sort of overwhelmed in my belief.

And it made me think about human behavior, and what really drives it. And all the different way that that led to me creating a behavior model. And that behavior model is called the Loop Model to sustain health behaviors. And the executive summary of it is, in order for us to pick up an idea and do it long term, we should know why we should do it, how to do it, if we’re doing it and if it’s working. And that is the basis of humanOS, essentially. And so from years ago, while I was working on my PhD concurrently, I started to build out that idea, and I’m really proud of where we are today. So we help consumers around the world. I hate to refer to people as consumers, but you know, people that actually purchase our program. We have a basic and pro, and we also work with groups ranging from the military to VC’s, and banks, to corporations, and startups. And I think I’m in the right line of work because for as long as I’ve been doing this, I still wake up every day and run to my computer because I can’t wait to get back at it.

Katie: Well, first, I just wanna say I’m so sorry for your loss. I still have both of my parents with me, but I can’t imagine how difficult that is. So just I’m so sorry that that was your catalyst. But I’m also so grateful for what you’ve created as a result. And I think you’re right. It’s hardest ever, like they say, you can never be an expert in your own family.

And we hear that a lot. I’ve had that same experience in my family as well. But I think you really hit on such an important point, which is that a lot of us know all this stuff we’re supposed to be doing and we know a lot of the building blocks of what it takes to be healthy. And statistically, most of us are still not doing it. So are you guys able to see behavior change more effectively with humanOS?

Dan: Yes, we have. And I say that belief is not a binary concept. So we might have an understanding that something might be good for us. But when you can deepen somebody’s understanding on that subject, it can take on a new life where before you had, let’s say, familiarity with an idea, but with a little bit more knowledge, tightening up that understanding to a different level, that can now become a skill, right? It goes from, I’ve heard of that before, to now I understand it well enough where it can be a part of, like picking up a bike and riding it. And then you have to ask the question, well, how much should your average person who’s not a health expert. How much should you teach them? Right? Should they know as much as, let’s say, a professor on that very subject? I don’t think so. But can a person learn, let’s say, the top 10 most important things about that subject. And if you think about like with our…we create these courses, the courses are short, 20 to 30 minutes, they’re peer-reviewed by professors to give them a level of credibility. Those professors will be experts in that specific field.

And then we also want to make sure that, you know, we put our best foot forward. We’ll spend months making one course, highly referenced, really well researched. But it’s still nice to have that level of oversight where somebody can say, “Tighten this area up or make some adjustments here. I had questions here.” And so before we put that out to the world, we’d like to, it’s not a guarantee that information base won’t change or that we’re getting it perfectly right, but we’re doing our best that we can. And then if you think about how… And I’ll give you a very specific example. So how the system works. We created a course on the traditional Mediterranean diet. It was peer-reviewed by David Katz at Yale. We then worked with chefs to then make traditionally prepared Mediterranean diet recipes. And we also made a how-to guide. And if you think about the course, the course is meant to give you sort of a umbrella framework understanding of how do we become interested in this diet? What is the evidence behind it? What is it shown to be good for?

And then the how-to guide really is excavating the points that you actually take action on and putting that into a easily referenceable sheet. So now you have a mechanism to give you a greater understanding of the subject, you’ve got a reference that you can easily go back to. And then you got this tool that serves you, if you think about like a cookbook, you buy it, it’s beautiful, you put it on your shelf, and it collects dust. With our application, humanOS is a web app, which means that you use it in your browser. And we take one of those recipes from the different recipe packs that we have, and we make that your recipe of the day. So you’re kind of always getting reminded of these recipes that you have to make. And so you can see now the synergy between how the different parts of the system work to make it easier for you to then implement these ideas that you might already be enamored by. You might already say, “Hey, this is compelling to me.” And I use the Mediterranean diet as an example, but we have that for fasting and we’re making one on the Paleo Diet now which I’m also very favorable towards. And even on exercise, etc. So that is sort of how I think we’re different, right? It’s tying a lot of these pieces together to then create this tool that amplifies…any ability, any effort that you put in, we’re gonna try to amplify that and give you greater return on investment.

Katie: That’s so fascinating. And it’s really an amazing platform. And definitely, I’ll make sure there’s a link in the show notes for you guys listening, if you wanna check it out. It’s really cool. And I think you guys have the code “Wellness Mama,” so that everyone can get their first month for a $1. So I’ll make sure that link is in the show notes at wellnessmama.fm. I’m also curious to circle back because you mentioned when your dad got that diagnosis that you were doing cancer research. So I’m curious what you were researching and if you found anything through that that has been, like helpful in the process of this or they can be helpful to any of us in hopefully avoiding cancer.

Dan: Yeah, well, it was an interesting line of work, and it wasn’t directly related to the cancer that he had. It was looking at prostate cancer. I was working, I had just graduated with my masters in exercise physiology from Florida State University. And I came home and I got an internship working for Dr. Dean Ornish, who is a famous name in the health space. He’s a cardiologist. And he’s, you know, a bit controversial. He has a very low fat plant based program for reversing cardiovascular disease. But generally, a lot of his guidance is very measured. And what I liked about the work is that he, as opposed to so much research that we see, which is, let’s say, looking at one variable, and let’s say isolating things like a Selenium level to make sure that we’re understanding if that…we’re designing a study to see if that one variable has an impact in a condition. What Ornish was doing was tying together a multifactorial lifestyle program that was looking to leverage different aspects of how we live in order to affect the internal hormonal milieu that would then hopefully, help slow the progression of a disease, possibly even reverse it.

And so that include things like stress management, which then also included meditation or interpersonal communication with your spouse. Realizing that for a lot of men who get prostate cancer around this time, they might be retiring. A lot of their social network is tied into work. And all of a sudden, they go from having a broad social network to having none. So that’s a big stressor that can exacerbate any chronic condition, to even things like diet and exercise. And so that left an indelible impression on me to say, and that was another, I think, formative experience for sure. How do we then tie together an entire wellness program that is looking at all the different inputs on health because as we certainly know, we talk about diet and exercise the most. Now sleep is coming into the floor as a topic that people are understanding should receive an equal amount of attention.

And there are other things as well, right? So it’s stress management. And stress management, by the way, is not simply just knowing how to meditate or relax or taking a break from your tasks, both in terms of your day, but also in terms of, you know, using your vacation time, things like that. But stress management also means getting exposure to the stressors that keep us healthy, right? So many things that are healthy come in the form of being slightly stressful, or hormedic that can include things like fasting and exercise. It can include things like sauna or cold exposure, heat exposure, or thermic conditioning. And so interestingly, we tend to sort of encapsulate stress as this mental, you know, the things that stress the brain and the mind. But stress is a broader umbrella. And it’s also one that we must sort of…we have to…you know, life has a little suffering to it. We have to then do these things that are a little hard, but then they elicit what are considered to be pro-survival pathways that then make us stronger. Right, so, a life, even though exercise is stressful, a life without exercise means that we develop chronic disease much sooner. Or life with a rich amount and the right amount of physical activity, even though it’s stressful, makes us live longer, makes us perform better in our day. And that is a good example of a variety of different, of one’s type of stressor that then keeps the body functioning at its best. And so that’s why I think we do need this multi factorial program that really addresses all the different inputs to keep the body working at its best.

Katie: That was a great explanation. And I wanna go deeper on another thing related to that. So you’d given a TEDx talk on light, and how it affects our health. And it’s something I’ve written about quite a bit as well. And I feel like it’s one of those things that people still like to doubt really has an effect kind of like they doubt if EMF can actually have an effect because you can’t immediately necessarily feel the effect. So I wanna talk about this, walk us through some of the aspects of light and how it impacts health. And then how we can manipulate that for good or bad.

Dan: You are absolutely right. The light sounds a little hokey when you first hear about it. The reality is, it’s probably one of the most important, impactful aspects of our own health practice. And I refer to a health practice as the willful effort we make to try to get the right stimuli to keep us healthy. So it’s what we’re trying to do. And now because of the way that we live, we don’t live outside like our ancestors did, getting exposure to only natural light rhythms. We now live in built-in structural environments so that we can have lights on at night, we live…and that we spend 90% of our time indoors. And so that’s a different type of light than outside light as well. So overall, our lighting environment is completely changed. And not only that, the type of light has changed quite a bit. So in 1879, Thomas Edison patented the incandescent light bulb, and that light was exclusively used. It grew rapidly. The technology grew amongst the population rapidly. But in the ’80s, of course, before that we started to use light emitting diodes, but actually excuse me it was the ’90s. The Japanese invented light emitting diode or yes, LEDs, I’m sorry, before that it was compact fluorescent light. So we went from incandescent to compact fluorescent to LEDs. So the lighting has changed.

And now that type of technology is in our screens. It’s in our lamps, and it emits a different type of light. It’s more full spectrum. It has more blue in that spectrum. So if you think about an incandescent light, depending on how old you are, when you were younger, it was more amber tone, more like the tone of sunset or fire. Now we can represent the light tone from one of these new bulbs, can be more like daylight. And that has a lot of benefits to it, but it also has downside. So if we have that type of light on right before bed, we’re giving our brain a daytime signal when or when it’s actually dark outside. And in 2017, 3 gentlemen won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work in circadian biology, which is the biology of timing of all of our physiology. Light is the most significant important signal to determine the timing of our body. And so the most easy way for anyone to understand this, if you’ve ever done any travel across time zones, so you go from, let’s say, San Francisco or New York to Italy, right when you arrive, your body timing is still set to where you left, right, to San Francisco. But over the course of days, as you take in as you get exposure to the new lighting environment, then your physiology timing can completely switch. So where maybe eight days ago you were sleeping during this time, which is now day in Italy, now you’re up and you’re fully alert and you know it’s sort of 4:00 in the morning back at home, but you feel like it’s 2:00 in the afternoon.

A lot has to go on in the body for that to change. And it takes days, you know, up to 5 to 10 days to fully adjust. But the way that we live now, because we’re constantly always in a state of this misalignment because of our lighting, the good news is that these lights aren’t inherently bad, they’re more powerful. And because of that, we have to then do more ourselves to make sure we’re getting good light during the day, and evening and night. And so yes, the cool thing about LEDs is that we can get ones that are adjustable, we can dim them, so that’s adjusting the intensity. And we can also get ones that affect the tone and the temperature. And you want a temperature during the day that’s around 5000 Kelvin, Kelvin is the unit of light temperature. And then as it becomes evening, you want that temperature to drop to around, let’s say, 2000 to 3000. And then right before bed, you want it to be 1500 to 2000 Kelvin. And that’s gonna be, again, the tone of fire. And that type of light does not tell the brain that it’s day. So you can see perfectly fine, but you’re not giving your brain a daytime signal. And why this is so important is because our entire neuro endocrine system is under the control of our circadian system. So every hormone in the body and its timing will have an influence on…will be affected, excuse me, by our lighting environment and what time of day the brain thinks that it is.

So it is massively important and that’s why we see people that do shift work like nurses and firefighters and police officers. If you’re doing shift work where you’re working, let’s say, a few nights a week at a completely opposite schedule then you live your life, you’ll have, over the course of 10 or 15 years, your risk for developing chronic disease is four to five times higher, and that’s including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancers, it is a massive influence on our health. So it’s one of these things where if you have the right information, you can do something about it right now. But a lot of people that aren’t exposed to this information, they’re just going to be living in accordance with…you know, they’re gonna go buy lights that are available at Walmart, or Amazon or wherever. They’re gonna use them in their home, they might not dim them. And that is sort of the standard default condition now of modern life. So we need this type of information to see, okay, this is why it matters. Here’s what you can do about it. And luckily, you know, like I said, it’s one of those things that you can do something about. So that’s why I like this subject so much.

Katie: Yeah. And it’s not an especially difficult thing to do something about, like I know, for instance, sleep temperature also makes a relatively big difference in sleep patterns, at least when I track them. So I sleep in the chili pad it’s an easy thing. It doesn’t take any effort at all to do because it’s just about my sleep things like changing your light. Once it’s done, it’s a very no stress, no effort change that, like you said, can make a huge difference. Do you have any, like more specific recommendations on bulbs? Because I get that question a lot. And like I don’t have any specific recommendations I like to make.

Dan: Yeah. By the way, we do have a how-to guide on. It’s called Smart Light Rhythms day, evening and night. And it gives you things you can do in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, in night and during sleep to really get this right. And not only does it include products that you can buy, and bulbs, etc. But it also includes how to adjust your behavior and how to adjust settings on other devices like screens. We all use screens, whether it’s your monitor, phone. So yeah, most people are not going to stop using their iPad or phone in bed. But if you adjust the lighting setting, it will not be nearly as problematic. So the way that I like to motivate people to actually take part in this is because when you have a miss times lighting, it drastically causes you to feel much sleepier and less cognitively sharp the next day. If you get it right, you’re giving yourself the benefit of a good day tomorrow, a better day tomorrow. So that is sort of the near term, quicker feedback benefit. And that motivates me, you know, every day because if you wanna watch, let’s say, a movie in bed to relax at night, our visual system likes a full spectrum of light, right? We like to see all the colors etc. But I will put on these settings on my devices that then will cause the screen to look more yellow and amber. And I know that I’m doing myself a favor 12 hours from now when I do that.

And to go back to your question about different light bulbs. When the TED Talk came out, gosh, probably not quite a year ago. I knew I wanted to write this how-to guide about what things you could do. And it took probably six or seven months for me to get it out. And one of the reasons why is I wanted to test a lot of different light bulbs. So like, I ordered a variety of different types from Amazon and I would try them for a little while. I would actually have another device that I can test the Kelvin from my phone. I wanted to get first-hand experience before I made actual product recommendations. The products that I… And I actually have a variety of different strategies that I use now. So I have my home lights, those dim, that’s good. But then I have evening lights and those are on specific lamps. So I’ll turn off the home lights, and I’ll only use these lamps in the evening. And I have the different available options. The ones that I like are from LIFX L-I-F-X and that as opposed to Hue. Both of those make adjustable Wi-Fi lamps and what you can do is have them so if it’s 7:00 in the evening, I can have that bulb change color so that it’s giving off a sort of warmer yellowy color. But as it gets within two hours of bed, it’s getting more and more amber and orange tone. When I’m within an hour of bed, I have my home look like a dark room, like in photography, so it’s all red light. And that is having a very minimal impact on the circadian system. Again, it creates what’s called circadian darkness, which means your brain thinks it’s nighttime, but you can see perfectly fine, your visual system can see you can navigate your home, you’re not gonna trip on anything. And that is an optimal lighting situation in our modern world.

Katie: I love that. That’s probably the most comprehensive explanation I’ve heard on this podcast. So thank you for that.

And I know another area that we both talked about a little bit when we were on a panel together at Paleo FX was the importance of community and I’ve talked about this on the podcast quite a bit as well. And I wanna talk about it again because I think it’s a hugely hugely important aspect of health that a lot of people miss and like I know the statistics about it being more important than quitting smoking or twice as important as exercise. But I think it’s also one of those things like light and like EMF so people can just kind of ignore because it doesn’t have…like, if you eat a food that really makes you feel bad, you feel it pretty quickly, or things like that. I feel like it’s easy to ignore, but also so important. And I know that you share this as well. So can you walk us through what you’ve learned about community and maybe some practical steps you would suggest for people to build that in their lives.

Dan: It is another one of those really important points. Think about how our world, our modern world is shaping our interactions with humans over the day, with things like social networks, Facebook, etc. We might feel like we’re interacting a lot with humans, that the nature of the communication changes because of the platforms. But also we’re not…there are literal physical occurrences or biological effects from being around humans. When we’re around humans, we will release more oxytocin, which we tend to think of as the hormone that facilitates pair bonding within a mom and a child when she’s breastfeeding, which is true. But even just being around your friends will elicit more oxytocin release, that then has a variety of benefits on our physiology to help us get into more of that parasympathetic, less sort of sympathetic driven state, which, if you’re in that state too long, you will become slightly resistant to those chemicals that are keeping you driving forward, those tasks on oriented compounds. You become resistant to them. And one of the downstream effects of that is to actually develop low grade chronic inflammation. Because if it’s sort of a complex mechanism, I won’t explain it but that is sort of the A to B there or maybe even A to Z. And so it’s another one of those drivers of modern health problems, right?

And so when you’re around people, you can switch out of that task oriented state. And not only do you get a boost in oxytocin when you’re around friends, but then it will also facilitate your ability to wanna be around them more because it gives you those warm feelings. So just being around friends and getting exposure to that reinforcement will then facilitate you being around friends more often. Now, it’s strange enough, but we might actually just need to make time for that in our world. Now depending on where you are and sit on the lifespan, if you have a family and you’re very busy, that can just being around families wonderful. So keeping them near but making time for friends and I wrote an article about friendship. It had the most unsubscribes from my blog of all time. And it was actually probably maybe the one of the most impactful articles that I have written for me. I went to a salon dinner, salon dinner. The idea of it I do this with some friends, we choose a topic. And we bring people there with no pretense of expertise on that subject to discuss it. Some of the topics have been fatherhood 2.0. One was on meditation. But this one was on friendship.

The next day after that conversation, my mind was just on fire with ideas. And so I wrote, I just started to write and I really tried to understand first academically, like what qualifies as being a friend? Like way, you know, if you just have repeated friendly interactions, let’s say with somebody at the checkout counter that you see regularly, is that a friendship? You know, and just sort of challenging the idea a little. And then I went down to all different aspects of like, keeping old friends in your life, the value of making new friends, how and why to let friends go if you’re no longer serving each other and helping one another, which can happen. And it doesn’t mean that you want to abort a friendship at the very first sign, but sometimes it is the right thing to do to just move on. I ended up writing 4000 words on it. I think the reason for the unsubscribe is not that it was controversial. It was just because it felt maybe off topic for people that are coming to our blog for health. But no, it is an absolute health subject. And what was so interesting for me about that article is how many private messages I got detailing some interaction with friendship for that person. I didn’t realize what a private topic it is. You know, if people weren’t commenting on the blog in the comment section, they were writing me personally. And so that was really illuminating. And actually, one day I will sit down and write the 2.0 version of that because I have more to say. There’s more topics that I’d like to explore, male-female dynamics.

Dynamics related to, you know, being friends with, let’s say, somebody famous. Like, what is your… Is that necessarily a bad thing? Meaning like, you know, if you have somebody who is sort of well-known in your world, what’s your motivation for being friends with them? You know, and if they lost that status, would you still be friends with them? You know, just interesting subjects that I’d like to explore. And it’s given me a lot of tools, mental tools to then understand that not every friendship needs to be the same. Right? You hear the saying of like, “A good friend does this.” Well, maybe one good friend always will show up to you when you’re having a hard time. But other friends will show up for you in other ways, at different times. And so it’s sort of let me relax and let different types of friends just be themselves and sort of enjoy that relationship for what it is versus having some misplaced frustration if they’re not necessarily they don’t have all the characteristics of all my friendships in a way. So anyway, long answer, but community is extraordinarily valuable. You have to make time for it in your life. And yet, you know, I think reading that article on friendship could be a good way to sort of get into that subject a little bit more deeply and understand the relationships in your life. So you have family, you have your friends, and how do you cultivate that sort of perfect tribe.

Katie: l love that. I’ll make sure we link to that article on the show notes so that all of you guys listening can find it. And I think you’re so right on all those points you just made, I feel like community is an excellent teacher because I know in developing my own community, which I’ve also had to kind of build myself multiple times in different places. It’s great because, like you said, it offers a mirror a little bit too. So it’s brought up things I needed to work on in myself, which I was really grateful for. And then also realizing like I feel like when you’re younger, you sometimes have that best friend who’s like your all-encompassing friend and you guys kind of fulfill so many of those needs for each other. And for me adulthood has been a transition to more of that model, like you mentioned, where I have friends that all serve different needs, and hopefully I’m serving needs in them as well and that are various parts of the community but it much less of wanting one person or just a couple of people to be everything and to fulfill all of those needs. It’s building a community in a broader sense. And so I think that’s an excellent point that you made. You also have been in stress a couple of times. And we’ve touched on a few things that can help with stress. And I think light and community are tremendous factors, and that but we also now know that stress is literally epidemic in our society. So do you have anything that you have learned through all this research that you feel like is really helpful across the board for dealing with stress?

Dan: Yeah, there’s a lot to share. But if you think about one of the reasons why we try to be healthy, is to make ourselves more resilient to stress. So even just doing exercise, it makes the body more resilient, but it makes the mind more resilient too. And that applies to a lot of different aspects of dealing with stress in our world. So the stronger the body becomes, the stronger the mind becomes too. Now one thing that I have personally needed to work on is I do love my job. I prioritize taking care of myself, and my family, and my life. And then a lot of the rest of my time is filled in with working to the degree where I can overwork. My dad had that characteristic, too. I recognize it in myself, and I’m mindful of it. But what I also know that I need to do is take breaks in my day, and not necessarily be trying to accomplish a task. Let my mind wander, take a break, do some breathing, just sit and chill. Additionally, which is harder for me is figuring out ways to fully step away. And the way that I’ve positioned it to myself is I like to focus a lot on mental performance. And a lot of what we do at humanOS is how do we make your day. How do we make you better at your day and your day easier for you? And a lot of that comes through taking care of the body in what I call the practical fabric of your life, right?

It’s one thing that I tried to admonish you for, “Hey, you didn’t make two hours in your day to go for exercise?” Well, actually, how do we then help you fit physical activity into the world, so it actually works in your life versus… Well, I’m never really going to be able to sustain, you know, making extra time where I don’t have any. So I’m always thinking about that can be a really, really significant mental stressor too. You care about your health, you haven’t been introduced to some concepts that make it easier for you to be healthy, in what works in your life. So a lot of what humanOS is actually designed is with that idea in mind, the modern human. And I think, you know, it’s not that people don’t get that they should be doing this stuff. It’s just that we’re not always offered solutions that meet our actual needs. So that’s one idea and then it’s just like I was kind of circling around here, but really stepping out and realizing that if I’m a serious performer, stepping away from my work doesn’t mean that I’m not serious. It actually is a part of my performance practice to give myself legitimate rest. I think we all know that experience where you go on vacation and the first five days you just feel this decompression. And then by the end of the five days, you’re like, “Oh, yeah, I feel really relaxed now.”

Now, I wish I had another week to live in this physical self for a bit of time. I’ve been decompressing. So, last year, we did a couple of big trips, my family and I was really wonderful, went to Japan, went to Iceland. And I gave myself that time and I need to make sure that I’m doing that every year and probably a few times within the year. So rest within the day, bigger, longer rest periods, several times within the year and then just simply three-day, two-day weekends fully off not really looking at my computer, not trying to digest 15 different podcasts or read books, just stepping away from work and coming back to it with a renewed sense when I do go back to my tasks.

Katie: Yeah, that’s a great point about vacation. And when we were also on the panel together, we talked a little bit about homeschooling and family. And you just mentioned your family, it made me think of it. And so one of the reasons that our family decided to homeschool was that I could create what I felt like was a more optimal learning environment for our kids, and shift things like rather than then starting with 100 and losing points when you make a mistake, you start and you get to work up. And so it’s like focused on not the negative but the positive and just maintaining things like critical thinking and creativity and things that I felt like got stifled quite a bit in a lot of school environments. And I know this is something that you said you’ve thought through a lot as well and you considered homeschooling for a while. So I’d love to hear basically like why you guys considered it and we talked about some of those objectives that you had for your sons, and so like what were those and are you still incorporating those even though you’re not homeschooling?

Dan: Yeah, this is a subject that I was really excited to circle back with you on. And I don’t think we’re gonna have all the time today even to go into it as deeply as I’d like. But I know for me, my education, I always had an incredible opportunity in terms of the schools that I went to, and it was very, very much supported in my family. But as I went on in school, I learned more about myself and how I learned and that corresponded with me enjoying school, I was always like, “Hey, I like school,” I never hated it, but I learned to love it when I had certain criteria fulfilled. And it is weird how school cannot always facilitate those conditions. So our objectives for our boy Desmond and our little guy Cas, is nine months old, so this will come for him, but by the end of the high school time, the marker of success is not what school he’ll get into. I’m not even sure he’ll go to college, maybe it’ll be his decision. But that’s not a huge objective of ours. Rather, does he love learning? And does he have the skills to do so? Because I think if so, the world is your oyster. There’s so much. There’s more access than ever before to information, and the world is a fascinating place.

And so, I created these five development objectives, or at least categories: brain development, mind development, wisdom development, personality development, and then real world skill. So, for example, brain development, that is more about the physical structure of the brain. For a young child, what are the different conditions that you would want them to be in in order to have the best opportunity for that brain to fully develop without any hindrance. And that’s, of course, stress optimization, both sides of stress that we’ve been discussing, getting enough physical activity in their life while getting outside with, you know, in bare feet. Of course, sleep and circadian rhythm, light is huge, no screens in bed. One line from my TED talk is that children that have screens in their bedroom perform worse at all grade levels tested than children who don’t have screens in their bedroom. That is a very powerful point to show you just how much light is affecting our brain and our next day performance. So that’s an example of that.

And then of course, nutrition. What is the best diet to optimize brain development? And then if you move from sort of the physical structure of the brain to the mind, how do you learn? What do you recognize if you were to sit down as a child and try to learn something? What processes can we teach them so that they have command and agencies to say, “Okay, so this is the type of challenge I have, and this is the tools that I’m going to use to make that process most efficient.” Can you also facilitate things like focus and grit, and self-regulation, doing a lot of training of meta cognitive processes, helping the child sit back, do an inventory of themselves, how do you feel right now? And just let them instead of just drive, drive, drive, let them regulate, teach them how so that they can, again, keep that process exciting and interesting and not… You know, learning doesn’t feel like “homework” which is usually thought of with an eye roll.

And then you move to things like wisdom development. So for all the information that you’re learning, how do you move it from integration? Can you integrate those different subjects? Association. What associations can you make. And articulation. Can you articulate what you know in a way that is compelling and convincing, and one that can capture people’s attention. Projection, right? Can you then take these concepts and model what this might look like in the future under different scenarios, and even getting perspective? Why the scenario might not play out in a different context for different people in different situations? So I think that’s a really good way. So instead of just learning declarative facts, you’re now creating a mind that interacts with the world in an increasingly wise way.

And then things like personality development. So going into that fourth category. How do you develop confidence and humor, leadership and the idea of teamwork and regulating your ego in the context of working with other people? Do you always have to be the leader? Are you forcing everybody to work around you so that the conditions are right for you? Or can you adapt flexibly to a new situation and help whatever that situation is move in the right direction? And then some of the real world skills, things that are absolutely trained out of us by our world, and not trained by our older generations, cooking skills, financial skills, right? So we’re now talking about with our boy Desmond, actually giving him an amount of money that for chores, that would actually help him pay for a lot of things in his life. So we’re now teaching him because I think when you make just a little bit of money, and you don’t have any responsibility with that, it’s just spending money. So we’re teaching this money you spend, versus like, here’s all the money and you now have to go to your dentist and pay for that, and obviously, would be under a very controlled environment by us. But you’re now giving them a real world skill of how to work with money in a successful way. That is, of course, age appropriate, but then you get to high school and that person really understands how to control their finances.

And then one thing I’ve heard you mention, and it’s the same goal we have, and I won’t go through all the different things here for real world skills. There’s quite a few, including, you know, self-defense and self body care and charity, but the one I’ll mention now is entrepreneurship. I would be incredibly happy for Desmond to arrive at a, you know, college age, with the ability to learn, skills to do so, the ability for leadership and humor and all of that and to grit, find a challenge in the world that he finds important, and to figure out a way to make an astride to improve that situation in some way that’s either local or global, or whatever it is. And I don’t care what he chooses to work on, you know, but who knows, there might be other outcomes, he might want something different. So I’m not trying to necessarily push him down that path. But I think that that would be one outcome that I would be really excited about, is his ability to find a problem and get a group of people to help solve it.

Katie: I absolutely share that. I mean, like you said, I hope that for our kids, I won’t push them into it, just like I certainly won’t push them into college or career or any of that. But I love how you’ve essentially organized so much of the same thoughts that we have with our kids into a system like that. And on the physical development side, like just add a few things that we’ve incorporated that have been really helpful. We’ve had all of our kids do gymnastics and martial arts at some point, I think both of those are really good for shaping your environment and shaping your body and your ability to move. And there’s so much cool data on children, especially at different developmental milestones, and their shaping of their brain and their limbic system and so much that goes back to that. And I think when you teach those skills early, same with music, you can really activate parts of the brain in a different way.

And make it really fun. There’s a cool program also called Games of Genius that incorporates the movement, the music, pattern recognition, and a lot of that. They basically took the brain of a polymath and kind of engineered it backwards and said, like, how do they think differently than most people? And how can we take those thought patterns? So kind of try to incorporate some of those things as well, but absolutely right there with you on all of it. And to circle what you said on entrepreneurship as well. I know this is, like you said, one area that you and I talked about, but whether or not they have an entrepreneurial career, I share your hope that my kids will find a problem in the world and try to make it better, or see a need and serve people who have that need. And I think entrepreneurship and business is a great way to teach that even if their path ends up different than mine.

And so in our house, I’ve mentioned it before on here, but I’ll say it again, we basically finished up book work in school by about 13 or 14, ideally, and we try to minimize book work anyway. But they’re actually done with a high school curriculum by that point. So that, at that level, we can basically move them into an entrepreneurial incubator that we let them help learn skills like tolerance for failure, because that’s a tough one every entrepreneur gets to face at some point, and to develop a business plan, try at something, probably fail a few times at it, but then also succeed at it. And so that’s kind of our contract with our kids, that before they drive or have a phone, they have to have a profitable business. It doesn’t have to be wildly profitable, but it has to show profit. And that way we can teach all of those skills of consistency, and all the financial aspects and so much of what goes into that through your hands on experience. I love that you guys share that. It’s such a fun topic for me to talk about as well. And I think you’re right, we can talk a whole another episode just about parenting and homeschooling and imparting these necessary skills to your kids.

Dan: Since your children, I think, are a little older than mine, when they are at a time where they’re offering an internship, please let me know, because maybe Desmond may apply for it and can learn from them.

Katie: Oh, my gosh, yeah, absolutely. We definitely have to stay in touch.

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Katie: I’m curious at a high level, if you could just kind of walk us through daily habits that have stuck because you’ve done so much research. And I fall in this trap as well knowing so many things that I should do could do that are good to do. Which ones make the cut as far as things that you incorporate on most days?

Dan: Yeah, great question. I have a bit of flexibility. So this is a part of the book that I’m writing and it is around self-regulation in your day. I think that sometimes we can gravitate towards hard and fast rules, always wake up at this time, always do this at 10:00 a.m. Right? Some of that stuff can actually be really helpful. And it can also be helpful as a very clear way to a set of rules that you can take part in and then that can hopefully develop and flower into your own set of rules that you have for yourself. For me, there are certain things that I will try to do within my day and in the week. Lighting is a very important component to that. So I spend about a half an hour outside, at least 10 minutes in the morning. So if I have a cup of coffee or phone call, it’s always outside to get that morning light. In the evening, I have certain alarms in my day, so an hour before bed, an alarm goes off, so that it gives me enough time to prepare for bed. Okay, stop what I’m doing and now initiate my going to bed routine in which there’s a couple of things that I’m doing including taking up, making a list for the next day, which we wrote a blog on Greg Potter, my team did this that looked at some research that says if you… That research had people write a gratitude list or a to-do list for the next day, and they monitor to see what had a bigger impact on sleep.

And it was the to-do list that actually had the bigger impact of basically getting out those thoughts on paper allows the mind to relax. And that actually helped people get sleep longer, like go to sleep faster and get longer time in bed. So that was really interesting. Then during the week, one of the first things I do we have something called the Daily Per Formula. It’s a daily e-mail, you can turn it on if you know, it’s funny. It’s sort of one of the more controversial, if you will, parts of the site because people some people hate it. “Oh, it’s some other e-mail?” Other people it’s their favorite thing. But in it, it’s like here’s your recipes today. Here’s your workouts today. So I look at that first and I created something called Intune Training. And it stands for integrative and opportunistic training. And it’s a different type of training program, where instead of trying to consolidate all of your physical activity into one workout, I have no problem with doing that. But it’s not the only way we can move. Rather, you can then just chip away at these reps for the program. It’s all bodyweight oriented across your day. And I actually do that to stimulate mental performance as well.

So what I do is I look at that first thing in the morning. And then the rest of the day really depends on what the day looks like. And so you have to then… I think the mindset that I really care to facilitate in myself and in others is, look at your next couple of hours. What can you do to make that time better? And sometimes, it’s, I’m gonna be speaking in front of people. Sometimes, you know, “I’m not feeling very sharp right now. Let me step away from my harder tasks and just clear off a lot of that little two-minute clutter that has built up and congests my to-do list.” To maybe I’m gonna do some meditation or take a nap. So it’s sort of dependent and conditional on what I have in front of me and what my day looks like. But I think that that mindset of saying, “Okay. What does the next few hours hold? What’s in my tool kit or quiver that I can then use to make myself perform better at not just my day in the few hours, but really in the week as well?” And I also monitor my activity level. So we have something called an Activity Score, and it looks at your daily steps, so low intensity, physical activity, and any exercise that you enter into our system. And it gives you a percentage score. And that score is relative to the Department of Health and Human Services. So I know that if I’m maintaining a score over 100%, then I’m meeting their recommendations for weekly activity level. So I look at that as well. “Okay, I need to do a little bit more activity here.” And it just sort of gives me that feedback to nudge me to keep that weekly pattern moving.

I also try to ingest a good variety and diversity of plant phytochemicals in my day. They help improve blood flow to the brain and keep me feeling sharper. And then I’ll do just a lot of movement. So I’ll be, you know, there’s a saying that “Sitting is the new smoking,” I disagree with that, sitting is a natural behavior, we just sit too much. It’s that’s sort of analogous to saying that bad cholesterol makes you feel like let’s get rid of all of it, right? We know it has a place in health, we just don’t want it to get out of balance. So similarly, with standing, we want to make sure that we are not sitting for long periods of time. So I’ll sit and stand. And there are times where I’ll be writing, you know, my best work comes laying on my back writing on my phone. So I’m always changing my position. I’m always moving around. And that’s how I navigate my day and I feel fortunate because I think a lot of the things that we are allowed to do, if you will, have everything to do with the permissiveness of our environment. If I wear a suit and I work in an office, what I can do is going to look different than if I work in the back of my house in a garage and I have kettlebells. And you know, so you have to then sort of plan your day, given the constraints that you face.

But developing that mastery and how to do that. You are the direct beneficiary of all the effort you put in, even if you occasionally try things that don’t stick or that didn’t actually serve you as well as you’re hoping. Figuring that stuff out trying and learning and keeping refining. I mean, what I call human classes, we say master your health practice, right? There’s no promises that we make that, A, in 30 days you’ll have it all solved. It’s actually an ongoing process. There’s always if you think about self-care, in today’s world, we’re dealing with a you that is changing. So your interests change over time, your interests when you’re 20 to 30 are different than when you’re 40 to 50, and is an example, at least what’s driving you to be healthy. The environment is changing. Look at the reference to light emitting diodes or LEDs just in the last 30 years that’s drastically changed right underneath our feet. And now we have to respond to that. And then the information base is changing. As we know, the microbiome and circadian rhythms. Those were not a part of any health model 15, 20 years ago. Now we know what a massively powerful effect they have in our body, but we need to be able to adjust to that.

So you can’t just teach like here’s health and in a pillar nutshell, it’s rather you have to teach the capacity for evolving self-care over time and that has to do with regular engagement. It has to do with regular learning. And just keep working at it making it a significant part of your day and your mission. It can’t just be pushed off to the backdrop and sort of save for the weekends, because that ends up sort of not sticking usually for a lot of folks. How are you constantly working at it, and doesn’t mean that you have to be a professor at all this stuff, it just means that you’re working to make your experience as good as possible.

Katie: I love all of that. And I can’t believe our time has flown by so quickly except for that you’re easy to talk to you, so I can. A question I love to ask at the end, and I know you’re gonna have probably some great suggestions is if there’s a book or a number of books that have really changed your life. If so, what are they and why?

Dan: Oh gosh. So I have to admit, I don’t do as much reading of books as I’d like to. It’s something that I’d like to change. I’m somewhat resolved to the fact that all of my time is filled with reading scientific papers and articles and that’s okay. But reading a good book, mostly nonfiction for me. It’s just a wonderful… There’s so many books I’d like to read. I’m constantly feeling like I’m behind. But one book that really has stood out in the last 10 years is “Thinking Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman. In fact, I think that book gave rise to an entire category of books that were basically referencing his work and sort of rephrasing a lot of his stuff in different ways, which is not a bad thing. But that is like a Bible for me. And Daniel Kahneman, if you’re not familiar with him, is a Nobel Prize winner, with he and Amos Tversky, came up with something called Prospect Theory. They look at cognitive biases. We tend to think of biases is entirely a negative thing, but they’re essentially mental shortcuts that help us navigate the world because we don’t, we can’t, we’re not AI computers. We don’t go and assess the statistics of every situation. We have gut feelings and we have a lot of these reactions that we have to the world. We’re blind to them and so the book goes into this what system one and system two.

And system one is this sort of more reptilian, primal driven reaction to our world. And then system two is our cognitive control. It’s our thinking. And it’s our assessment. We tend to think that system two has much greater command of how we live, than is real. The truth is we do a lot of thinking and navigating our world by system one. But even just understanding how the brain works in that way helps you understand situations you get in and see if you can see behaviors in others. It’s always easier to see behavior in others than it is in yourself. But it sort of pulls back a veil on the world and you can see things in a bit of a different way and it hopefully navigate your own world a little bit differently, too. It’s a great book. I’ve read it three or four times and I feel like I could read it another 10 times and still get a lot more information out of it. That’s a wonderful book.

Katie: I love it and we’ll add it to the show notes so that you guys can all find it. Those are again at wellnessmama.fm. For anyone listening who wants to try it, how can they get started with humanOS?

Dan: Yeah. So I’m so proud and happy to be able to offer your community the ability to try humanOS for a month for $1. If we could give it away for free, that’s the minimum we can charge till we flip the system into Pro. And in that time, gosh, get in there, watch all of our courses are like 20 minutes. They’re broken into short lessons, two to three minutes. And they’re interrupted with quizzes. We do that so you have a moment to pause and think about what you just learned, which we now know actually facilitates this idea of fluency better than just familiarity. And I also feel that doing a physical activity, for instance, is not the only type of health behavior that we must construct. But humans are tool-using animals, we also must figure out the tools that support our ongoing knowledge, wisdom, development and practice. And so I think of the use of humanOS itself as a health skill and, you know, that can apply to other health apps as well. But can you interact with this information and put yourself in a better position so that in one year from now you’re wiser, smarter, and your pattern is more confident and stable.

And then you know, can you continue to develop? So, yeah, get in there, you can make a basic account. In the coupon area, you put in the “Wellness Mama” code, that’ll give it to you for free if you wanna continue using it. I hope you do. I hope you feel like you get enough value from it where it’s worth the price of…it’s $9.99 a month. It’s sort of I would think ridiculously inexpensive for all that we give. There’s over 25 different courses in there. Probably 10 or 12 different how-to guides, bunch of different recipe packs and workouts. And if you have a Fitbit, you can integrate that too and monitor your sleep and your physical activity level. So yeah, get in there, try it out, learn the different elements of the system. Give yourself a month and see how much you can get from it.

Katie: Awesome. Thank you so much for offering that. And of course, the link will be in the show notes so you guys can find it. Dan, I know how busy you are. Thank you so much for your time being here and sharing this. I feel like this is a wide-ranging and super helpful conversation, so thank you.

Dan: Oh my gosh, thank you for having me on. I just knew in this short time of interacting on the two panels that we had, that we just had to connect again. And I’m so glad we did. And thank you for having me on the show. It’s been a pleasure to be here and chat with you again.

Katie: All the pleasure is mine and we will definitely have to stay in touch. And thanks to all of you for sharing your valuable asset, your time, with us today, we’re so grateful that you did. And I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of “The Wellness Mama Podcast.”

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

Credits: Wellnessmama

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