Caregiver: An Exercise in Lean & Agile Design & Development

Bringing the Human Element
of Happiness to Home Care

A Hackathon

A month ago, PhillyCHI teamed up to promote Drexel University’s Philly Codefest, a three day hackathon in Drexel’s URBN Center. Of course, some of us also wanted to participate, so PhillyCHI board alum Matt Thomas, 50onRed dev ‘n design players Patrick Smith, Matthew Parke, Andrew Christiano, and myself created a team to make some cool stuff.


It was a fun weekend of camaraderie, coding and creating. Each of us got to know each other better, some of us stayed up all night and we did our best to create a lean, functional application with thought out, well designed accouterments (as our judging requirements suggested we do.) In the end, though quite a positive experience overall, we were unable to present any of it to anyone at the event. Thusly, I’ve taken the opportunity to showcase the raw materials of our efforts here.

With our diverse backgrounds, we decided to utilize the data provided us to create something useful for a growing constituency: caregivers in the United States. Welcome to our organized notes for our app, Caregivers.

(The slidedeck is broken up into parts below, but for a continuous look: Slidedeck)


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Summary

As life expectancy increases, so too, will the need for caregivers. Searching for home care services is challenging for a caregiver already managing a multitude of care-tasks.

The senior demographic is an emerging market for social innovation. In 2013, the oldest baby boomers (depending on birth years used) reached a common retirement age in the United States—67 years. This demographic also sits in what is called the “sandwich gap,” meaning they act both as caregivers for their parents while simultaneously caring for both the X-gen and the ever popular millennial.

Cornered into this unique position, a baby boomer, the average caregiver, is faced with managing a full-time job (remember, baby boomers aren’t retiring anytime soon), caregiving on either end, which deals with a multitude of logistics ranging from setting appointments, scheduling medication intake, transportation, other activities for daily living (ADLS).

Our solution looks to streamline this finding process with a unique score/comparison algorithm vetted by a unique Happiness Index. To enhance care-recipient safety and quality of life, when an appropriate home care service is located, the solution will act as a mediator to create a symbiotic relationship between caregiver and home care providers.

Persona

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

John Michaels is a 56 year old caregiver for his mother, Sarah, who is 84 years old. She has dementia which causes her to have difficulties with her Activities for Daily living (ADLs).

John works full time as a high school teacher in Philadelphia. His wife passed away several years ago leaving John as the sole caregiver for Sarah. He also has a 31 year old daughter, but his daughter lives in San Francisco.

Individual is a inspector-provider personality type.

Inspector (ISTJs) are responsible organizers, driven to create and enforce order within systems and institutions. They are neat and orderly, inside and out, and tend to have a procedure for everything they do. Reliable and dutiful, ISTJs want to uphold tradition and follow regulations.

Provider (ESFJs) are conscientious helpers, sensitive to the needs of others and energetically dedicated to their responsibilities. They are highly attuned to their emotional environment and attentive to both the feelings of others and the perception others have of them. ESFJs like a sense of harmony and cooperation around them, and are eager to please and provide.

John has a inspector-provider personality type, which means John prefers organization, having a procedure for his day-to-day while also having a high level of compassion and sensitivity.

Working long hours, John is looking for a home health care provider to send an aid with occupational therapy and nursing care capabilities to help out with his mother’s ADLs. Attempting to search online, John finds he must navigate to too many sources for quality assessment of home health care services. Furthermore, he is shocked at the information overload and that these sources do not talk to one another.

Despite being an organizer and planner, John is easily overwhelmed with too much input of information, but does his best to organize information to provide the best care solutions for his mother.

Overwrought with work, his personal life and other care-tasks, John’s pain points are as such:

Painpoints:

  • No quality assessment of existing home health care services (HHCS)
  • Information overload (when researching resources)
  • Fragmentation: all resources do not communicate together
  • No voice compared to HHCS
  • No community with other individuals in need of HHCS
  • Overwhelmed with other care-tasks (full-time job, scheduling, care-recipient’s activities for daily living

John owns an iPhone 5 and is proficient with email and word processing. He navigates the web for resources dealing with dementia, but his searching acuity is low.

Experience

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

John uses CAREGIVER’s geotargeting to find all of the home care services in his area. John then selects search filtering options appropriate to the needs of his mother and then CAREGIVER feeds medicare feedback data into a proprietary algorithm to provide John with a list of the best home care services.

Having selected a home care service, the aid visits Sarah every day, providing 5.5 hours of service including weekends. John rates his and his mother’s experience through CAREGIVER’s Happiness Index data, compiling this information into an overall score for the home care provider.

Hacking

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Happiness Index

Our solution innovates by streamlining the process of finding home care services with a unique score/comparison algorithm vetted by a unique Happiness Index. When an appropriate home care service is located, the solution will act as a mediator to create a symbiotic relationship between caregiver and home care providers. This in turn will enhance care-recipient safety and their quality of life, while also providing much need respite for the caregiver.

We are taking data provided by medicare.gov relating to home health care resources and aggregating this into an easily digestible format for the caregiver. A caregiver, using our solution will be able to locate and bridge into the best home care aid to assist the care-recipient.

In addition to indexing nearby facilities, we’re also feeding medicare feedback data into our proprietary algorithm, where it’s aggregated with our Happiness Index data, and compiled into an overall score for each in-home healthcare facility.

This in turn adds to the home care provider’s overall score for other users. John is able to go back and look at the trends of his and his mother’s experience to ensure an additional way to aid in the caregiving responsibilities and expectations for Sarah.

Presentation

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As stated earlier, for a variety of reasons, not everyone who created something at the hackathon was given a platform to present. While unfortunate, we are glad to have put this much thought and effort into our presentation. The broken up slides throughout this writeup made for a five minute presentation with a demonstration of our app. For an uninterrupted, undivided look at our presentation, check it out over here.

By Weekend’s End

By the end of it, we were all pretty tired, but built some great camaraderie and friendships. Honestly, these guys are great. If you have the honor of knowing them or working with them, pat them on the back. We all chose a topic that we hoped would benefit a needing population and we all did it with agility, ingenuity and a helluva lot of fun.

Initiate 2014

2014 x2

The first minute of 2014 came quietly, but in no way a bad entry to the new year. Reflective. Content.

And then Lunar New Year came with a gallop and a leap, befitting of the year’s sign, gallantly making its way into the world. Between the two New-Year-markers, much happened. The rush up to this minute was intense. Weeks prior involved many projects ending, new ones starting. You know, new year stuff. Last week I said I’d commit to writing more and putting my stuff out there.

So what better way to start than share a run-down of what I’ve been up to! Scroll on down to check it out, or jump to the update you wish to see!

PhillyCHI     |     Gung Fu     |     123&Co.     |     Dribbble     |     SBYF Project


PHILLYCHI

PhillyCHI_logo-01

I became the 2014 Chair of PhillyCHI! What is PhillyCHI you ask? From the source, PhillyCHI is the Philadelphia region’s chapter of the ACM SIGCHI, an interdisciplinary academic and professional group interested in Human-Computer Interaction, User Experience, Usability, and other related disciplines. PhillyCHI holds monthly meetings and socials to network and discuss current topics in HCI.

So we host cool events pertaining to user experience and usability. As for being Chair? I was apprehensive at first, but with great support and working with a phenomenal leadership team comprising our 2014’s board, well, it’s been pretty hectic, but also wholly satisfying. The greatest thing is learning to lead while being able to deliver. The curve is huge, but as I said, I’m working with a fantastically talented team with phenomenal support on the sidelines.

Some things PhillyCHI is looking to make happen this year:

Showcasing Philadelphia as a primier design & tech hub. Ever been to a PhillyCHI event? Heard our panels? Seen our sponsors? Engaged in the dialogue we’re having with the local universities? If you have, you will well know Philadelphia as a leading design city, one that creatively advances. If you haven’t, you can glean this from the many existing creative initiatives citywide. But PhillyCHI wants to push the focus further. We believe Philadelphia as a city of burgeoning opportunity for creative professionals. This year we want to hone in on the amount of opportunity for designers of all disciplines to embrace our city’s offerings.

Focus on stewarding Philadelphia’s design & tech talent. From recent grads, transitioning entry levels, aspiring experts and adept masters—this city has all shades and we want to help them blend in nurturing fashion. In a couple of week’s we have a coding marathon with Drexel. In the coming months, we’ll be partnering with even more organizations to make these relationships possible. So join our mailing list and tune in.


GUNG FU

why-we-train-computer

Why We Train: Three Generations of Cultural Study — my latest creative project was working with Arvil Prewitt to create this video short. It’s a reflection on the cultural relevance of gung fu, a piece I am extremely proud of. Please check it out by heading over here.

2014 marks my return to teaching gung fu. I taught for a little while at Philadelphia University as a part of their extracurricular physical education program. While the opportunity and exposure was great, it was hard to really nurture the art and the students: the turnaround was fast while the education really an introduction, a primer into the culture.

This year, I am fortunate in having a few private students request my teaching. Thus far I’ve worked with them for a little over a month, the relationships being fantastic. They are passionate, forcing me to become a better practitioner through their hard work. As pressure tests go, humble-yet-knowledgeable students, eager to learn, they are as good as they come.

This came at a coincidental moment to a project I was working on for a fellowship application I submitted. I chose to focus on the cultural relationship of my base martial art, Kwong Sai Jook Lum. As anyone who knows me knows, the passion I have for martial arts is multifaceted and you can glimpse another part of that by looking at this creative project I’ve had the opportunity to create with my colleague and gung fu brother, Arvil Prewitt. I’m proud of this piece, as it pays tribute to my teachers while also providing a synopsis of the cultural relevance to an otherwise obsolete art.


123&CO.

123&Co

123&CO. is a side project my roommate and I started. It is comprised of friends and colleagues working closely with organizations in Philadelphia for social good. While we realize that our small efforts won’t save the whole world, we believe affecting change in any sphere of influence is a great start.

Our first gathering is an ice cream social to support Youth Emergency Services. You can learn more about this particular social here and learn about the thought process behind my logo design here.


DRIBBBLE

autumn-dribbble

I’ve promised myself to be more assertive with sharing my work, especially on Dribbble: it’s the only way I’ll get better and hold myself accountable. I thought I’d share my latest with you here!

My latest Dribbble post was inspired by something I read last autumn: that the ancient Chinese believed winters grew so cold due to the Earth, once a year, moving far away from the Sun. They embraced autumn as a time of finding beauty in change and sorrow, a time for courage in the face of increasing darkness, and a time of hope for the coming spring.

This sparked a little story in my head with Tàiyáng (太阳), the Sun, reaching out to her departing love, Di (地), the Earth, due to unseen forces (gravity) driving her towards the direction of autumn.

If you’d like to see any of my other Dribbble shots, please head over to my collection and leave a crit or two!


SBYF Project

sample-3

SBYF Project rolled out with some updates during the last quarter of 2013. If you haven’t checked that out yet, we are continuing our workshops in storytelling and memory collecting! As a matter of fact, have a story to share? Have a memory you want to preserve? Head on over to our website and submit one!

While you’re at it, if you need some inspiration or simply feel like reliving tales from other members, direct your attention to the SBYF Online Memory Library. One of our objectives is to foster community and sharing through stories, so dive in and enjoy moments from a diverse pool of history!


There You Have It!

I hope you enjoyed some of the things I’ve been working on so far! This was a nice opportunity to take some stock in the excitement I have for the rest of 2014. Stay tuned and until next time, enjoy 2014!

Your Life is a Game

Oliver Emberton crafted a nice simplified analogy over at his site comparing life to a game. An aspect I really enjoyed from video games of yore were the strategy guides and the manuals. Sure, the games themselves were fun, but strategy guides, well crafted ones, were as much about gameplay tactics as they were about showcasing artwork, fleshing out the story, outlining play mechanics, and the thought process behind well-made games.

While some of his points lean “go-code!” heavy (this is a metaphor using video gaming structure after all), like those strategy guides from the past, Oliver’s “Life is a Video Game. This is Your Strategy Guide.” codifies all of those qualities together in a charming “life-hack-how-to.” Read all of it, it’s a lot of fun. One part that stuck out to me personally was this:

“Reduce the need to use willpower by reducing choices. If you’re trying to work on a computer that can access Facebook, you’ll need more willpower because you’re constantly choosing the hard task over the easy one. Eliminate such distractions.”

I like this bit, because we tend to think of distractions as little pinging mini-missiles annoyingly deterring us away from our tasks. But the way Oliver phrases it is best: it’s not that we have a small discomfort in distraction. It’s that we actually use up willpower to CHOOSE when we work at avoiding these distractions rather than working on our overall tasks at hand. Our will is tempted with something that doesn’t immediately satisfy our wants. Choosing against these distractions—to work on the art piece, on your business, on writing that novel or this blog post—takes up willpower, willpower best reserved for accomplishing your goals. THAT is a very powerful thing to consider.

Something

I’ve Been Busy…

I’ve been busy. I know, I know, it’s something we hear from most folks. And busy rarely equates with “productive” or—what I’ve learned to matter more—”purposeful.” But I’ve been busy. A lot of it productive, a good chunk of it purposeful.

Hence not writing in a while. Sure, I’ve THOUGHT a lot about writing, The trouble is, I had a hard time committing to putting something down. Typing or writing out the words made it “real” and if it were real, it was vulnerable to criticsim. And to quote George McFly, “I don’t know if I can take that kind of rejection.”

Which, as I am sure you are well aware dear reader, is absolutely silly. I read a quote from Matt Fraction recently (of the esteemed Hawkeye series—I don’t care if you think comics are for luddites or not, read it) in response to someone asking him about his process of sitting down to write. He said something along the lines of writing as a physical act. We assume it’s some ethereal thing, but in reality, it requires physical effort. He then asks us to pick up a pencil (or open Byword on your Macbook) and then write “Something.” “Something” what?

” i don’t understand the feeling of, the way people speak of writing as though it were, like, some kind of djinn to be summoned or like it’s the loch ness monster or seeing a shooting star. it’s a physical act. it is a thing you do with your muscles and your body and your willpower. watch, i’ll show you: get a piece of paper. get a pencil. put the pencil on the paper and write the word “something” there. you did it. you wrote. you wrote ‘something.’ now put a word after something. Something what? Something… happened? creaked? died? flew? exploded? snapped? Tell me. With your hand, with the hand holding the pencil or pen or marker or crayon, it doesn’t matter, push your fingers and hand up and back and across and back until there is another word after “something”.

There. Now you’re writing a story.”

— Matt Fraction

This is my something. Something I’ve been working hard at, getting a lot of ducks lined up for 2014 and beyond.

2013

2013 was a great year of change. Turning 30. Balancing out work and life. Changing careers to focus more on social services. Applying my interests in creative direction, storytelling and culture into servicing the social sector. Confidence. Exploring my values and behavior. It’s all in-progress. And for once, in-progress feels good. Not procrastination, but knowing these projects, even upon completion, are an in-progress iteration toward learning more, doing better, exploring, staying curious, being open.

It’s all been for the better. And as a part of that, I decided that it was also time for me to fear less, do better, share more. The doing part I’ve done, but I was never comfortable with sharing it. A part of that is the fear I was talking about. The fear of having your work ridiculed or dismissed. Of being called a hack or irrelevant. Of being an amateur.

Pressure Testing

It’s the age of information. And once we put something out there, it’s out there. That’s a lot of damn pressure. But you know what? If it’s not out there, no one gets to know about it either. And if no one knows about it, I won’t get feedback, I won’t get pressure tested. And if there’s anything that I’ve learned about myself it’s that life requires some pressure testing. Here’s to improving.

And so, I’m looking forward to posting up some of the work I’ve wrought into being from the past year, using this blog-space to explore some of my loftier speculations on life and wonder. It’s a place for process. To showcase how I think through my designs, to display some of the polished work I’ve executed. It’s a place for me to be accountable. To share ideas and share how they’re developing. A place to communicate to those interested in knowing how my mind works or what I’ve been up to. A place for my written word to do, you know, what humans do: relate.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned from this past year, it’s that you can do anything you want. But you can’t do everything. And with that lesson, I’m going to tell you of some of the things I have done and some of the things I will do. Because life is short, and if we’re unable to do everything, let’s pick and choose what’s worth doing.

So join me. Choose. Commit. And let’s do something.

Mid-Autumn Rising

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. —Annie Dillard

Watching a sunrise is breathtaking. Not actively watching it, mind you, but witnessing it unfold as a backdrop to the daily activities of people rising to greet the dawn, or with the pattering raindrops of sneakers, listening to those on their early runs, steam swirling from the cold air touching their radiated heat.

Watching a sunrise solely focused on the sun itself is to witness only the composer, the cacophony of sound comprising life unheeded. The mundane details no longer seem so mundane when orchestrated together with the rising tide of light that greets the early morning’s day. That is truly the sunrise.

Legacy

A Grandfather’s Gift to a Grandson He Never Met


“Who has fully realized that history is not contained in thick books but lives in our very blood?” — Carl Jung


Visiting America

As my family tells it, his face—with its defined lines grooved by dirt, strife and time—held a solemn look most days. Weary or apathy was not the matter, it was a face well worn. A face having spent time in his village watching the nearby river slowly dismantle the fading banks. Even with all those years between him and the war, it was a face etched with wrinkles wrought by the tears he could no longer shed. Anymore, his mood would shift only after dinner.

“I’m going to America today,” he’d declare. Taking out his faux leather-bound album, grandfather would chuckle as he opened to the first page. The photographs were slightly crinkled having sat beneath cracked yellowing plastic covers for some years. But that didn’t matter. The true treasure were the faces sitting behind those sheets.

The smile would appear slowly at first. As pages turned, the creases in his brow and on his cheeks would stretch taut, crevices giving way to delight.

“Look at that!” he would shout slapping his fingers onto the photos. Then he would smoothen the photographs with those fingers, fingers well aged in setting bones, mixing herbs, punching posts and pulling triggers. “That’s my grandson!” he’d proclaim, as if sharing the images to the family for the first time.

My grandmother told me that during those span of years in their lives, this was the only time my grandfather really showed any emotion. The war and reeducation had wrested the rest away from him. What brought him life were his memories.

And that album.

Across the Seas

The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit. ― Wade Davis

Those were the early 90s. Telecommunications were much different then, strikingly so when considering the gaps between the Vietnam countryside and Philadelphian suburb. Phone calls were scheduled months in advanced by handwritten postal mail. A time was arranged and the family in Ang Giang would travel to the designated phone station where the phone sat. When the phone rang, they would answer. And we’d be on the other side waiting for a “Hello?”

At this point in my life I had never met my extended family. Beyond the perimeter of my parents and sister, the rest of my kin were all abstract ideas inferred by stories and brief phone conversations during special holidays.

I remember the last phone conversation I would share with my grandfather. I no longer remember the sound of his voice, nor exactly what we talked about, but vividly recall the setting that January evening.

Our lights were off. It was early. My sister and I were already asleep, but our parents woke us up in the dark dawn to call the family. With the 12-hour difference, our uncles and aunts would be back from their day’s work.

I still remember sitting on the shag carpet watching my mother with the cordless phone pressed firmly against her ear. In two weeks time it would be the Lunar New Year and my mother was excited to talk about some final plans before she would touch Vietnam soil for the first time in 15 years.

I remember her talking to the family as I rubbed my eyes, head rested on the couch with arms slung over the side. I wanted a chance to talk to grandpa and grandma. I wanted to hear their voices. My mother handed me the grey magical box that would send me to my family a whole world away. And we talked.

I can remember pacing the room, chirping excitedly. And then we said our goodbyes as I passed the phone along to my sister. And that was the last time I heard my grandfather’s voice. A week later he passed away.

Verbal History

There was no wealth after the war and so there were no heirlooms to pass on, no tokens, no mementos. All we had were the memories. All I had were the phone calls made 12,000 miles apart. And our stories. For a time, all we had were our stories.

Those stories and what they inspired became the only links left between me and my grandfather. Some were loving, others humorous, a few fantastical and others still, curious. My favorites were always the gung fu adventures involving my grandfather, his teacher and a mysterious man by the name of Ong Dao Luong. (While amongst my favorite stories, Ong Dao Luong will have to wait for another time.)

Hearing my grandfather taught gung fu in those days—that he, in fact, practiced in a familial style tied to our heritage—grabbed my imagination early in my post-toddler life. Vo Lam it was called, a general term for a variety of indigenous combat arts. Despite the lack of specificity in name, his art was his and therefore it was something worth exploring.

Grandfather would wake my mother up in the early mornings to practice in the predawn light. Atop the roof of their three-story home, he forged her through the skills of our family’s art.

I wanted to learn gung fu like my mother had. I wanted to practice with my grandfather. But at this point in my life, my mother didn’t remember much of what she had learned. That was so long ago, further distanced by other worldly trials and concerns. She was, however, able to recall a few movements from grandfather’s routine called “Man Ho Li Son”–Mighty Tiger Up The Golden Mountain. And while my martial arts journey blossomed in other ways, it was with those movements I first felt aspiration, an undying passion for a particular kind of cultural movement. Here was where I began to learn, not only my grandfather’s legacy, but also his secret in visiting loved ones so far away.

A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere, since they open up for man his inner distance. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I spent the next years of my life asking my mother to retell me stories of my grandfather’s training, of his skills and of his personality. I dove into various styles of gung fu, boxing and MMA for the next 20 years of my life. In my early twenties I traveled back to Vietnam, to my uncles, aunts, great uncles and neighbors seeking nuggets of information about my grandfather. To discover how he interacted with people, what motivated him, the intricacies of his life and the peculiarities of his movements. With the help of loved ones I pieced together the aforementioned Man Ho Li Son in its entirety. My great uncle, a contemporary with my grandfather, attempted to show me applications and concepts he learned alongside his friend. The years prior spent refining other martial arts informed my practice with the new aspects I encountered from my grandfather’s art.

Fast forward four years. I met with another extended family member who recalled techniques and three additional forms. With a friend, I recorded this knowledge on video while dedicating a day practicing the forms, to not only document them digitally, but also commit them biomechanically. By day’s end, I received the physio-textbooks of my grandfather’s art, regardless of how patchwork the process, how piecemeal the research.

volam-elbow

Inheritance

There are aspects of gung fu and martial arts similar to dancing. But whereas there is generally a large level of cooperation in dance (there are certainly exceptions), communicating through martial arts offers more opportunity for abrupt randomization. While also requiring a level of cooperation and understanding, moments in martial arts provide plenty more instances of disruptive pulse-like exchanges. Many times, the purpose is to outsmart and out maneuver your friend, albeit in the hopes that your friend counters, returning the favor to you. It is communication on the level of a chess match—through feinting, counters and attacks. You not only learn your opponent’s or partner’s physicality, but also their mentality, personality and creativity. An exchange between martial artists can be made with anger and aggression or with amicability and admiration. Like life, communicating with martial arts has layers.

But how do you communicate in that way with a grandfather who passed before you met him? You can’t. But you can catch a glimpse of what it may have been like to do so by practicing the routines he practiced. By extrapolating the techniques from those routines. By contemplating what he would have suggested when you considered the relevance of using those techniques in exchanges with contemporary martial artists.

There is a concept of design called heritage design. It is the idea that in today’s planned obsolescence, in our daily items’ inherent devaluing over time due to the nature in which technology rapidly progresses, we should begin to again design things meant to last. Not simply lasting in our lifetimes, but creating things so well crafted they last generations. Designing family heirlooms.

These stories and the very tangible experiences of performing choreographed routines established by my grandfather, these are my inheritance. It is difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t had the isolation from family, who doesn’t desperately seek out glimpses of his past, it is difficult to describe how much this all means. For me, performing these movements are something very special, knowing that I am not simply reading a piece of history through which my grandfather lived, but for a moment in time and space performing the very movements he did, experiencing the same twist, turn and tumble of my limbs as he had. This experience, this art, my grandfather’s gift is my photo album. This art is a very sacred thing to me and it is through this art that I visit my grandfather

Some people are your relatives but others are your ancestors, and you choose the ones you want to have as ancestors. You create yourself out of those values. — Ralph Ellison

You see, I was never handed an oil-worn baseball glove, or precisely tuned watch. No one would want to sell their grandfather’s old timepiece; I wouldn’t want to sell my grandfather’s gung fu. What was gifted me was deeper than a simple bit of nostalgia. I was given a way of communicating cultural value and heritage within the mediums of story and practice, bonding me beyond land, ocean, time and death itself. My grandfather lives on because I dream of him, think to him and practice the things he cherished. For a moment in time, my grandfather visited my family through his photo album. For a moment in time, I visit my grandfather when performing those movements he performed all those years ago.

During those moments in time, he lives on.

In Our Minds

It’s all a state of mind. Isn’t it?

Food. Fitness. Reality.


I. Food


I was sitting at a local restaurant and bar the other night. It was a cooling evening despite the earlier humidity that stubbornly sat over the city. Post workout, the food was delicious. The random tufts of wind that breezed by were equally satisfying. To say the least, it was a nice night.

“What vitamins or nutrients am I missing from this meal?” my friend asked, breaking the silence. Before him sat a large plate of mashed potatoes and a side dish of asparagus.

“Protein, for one,” I guessed. I pondered that for a moment and within my inner ear heard Michael Pollan chide: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” My friend appeared well off enough with his evening’s choice.

“Sometimes I wish we didn’t know about vitamins,” he went on, “then we would just eat whatever. I think it’s mostly made up in our minds anyway. We could eat whatever we wanted and not feel good or bad despite not having the ‘right’ vitamins.”

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. — Michael Pollan

And so I mulled that over a bit. We do eat whatever we want. And for the most part, on the surface,—obesity, hypertension, high blood pressure, cholesterol and heart attacks be damned—we’re okay. How often does the average person consider what sort of nutritional value they receive when they plan their meals? Many, to be sure—I do myself despite the indulgences. But more likely than not, most consider taste, mood and setting before they consider the biochemical makeup of their fuel.

I have no doubt our minds are powerful tools capable of willing us to feel certain ways without us even realizing it. So there is something to be said with the idea that perhaps we feel better when we drink that coconut water after a workout precisely because we’re told that is what is supposed to happen. We need that cup of coffee in the morning to get things started because we believe it so. Ironically, placebos are real things with real effects.

II. Fitness


Earlier that day, my friend had also stated that we must be nearing a day when science could just make our bodies fit. We wouldn’t have to “workout” to get it “in shape.” Science in this near future would simply allow us to metabolize efficiently, produce muscular strength and endurance for no other reason than because that’s what we wanted (as opposed to our bodies adapting to produce physical labor.)

As we move our technology from physical manifestations—books, paintings, pen, paper, analog knobs, clocks and wallets—to the digital cloud, ebooks, tablets, and apps, are we envisioning a world in which we feel the same about ourselves? Do we wish that rather than dealing with the physical portions of our existence—the feeding of ourselves, the physical labor that so often produces physical health—are less relevant than the pursuits of our minds? Are our bodies simply annoying vessels requiring maintenance when the mind is where the “good stuff” resides?

We ascertain metaphors in books because we’ve physically experienced with our senses something similar to what is being described. What we take into ourselves and what we give out from it affects us and the world around us.

I don’t think I like that. There may come a day when we are nebulous matter floating around thinking deep thoughts about deep things. Perhaps there will be a day when we expand beyond our physical composition on a physical earth producing physical things and bringing forth creative ideas into the physical world. I don’t believe that day is around the corner. Despite our digital age, we still perceive those digital experiences in a very physical world. We ascertain metaphors in books because we’ve physically experienced with our senses something similar to what is being described. What we take into ourselves and what we give out from it affects us and the world around us. Our minds live in our bodies. Our bodies affect our minds.

III. Reality


Scooping up the remnants of our respective foods whilst discussing our day’s happenings, my friend mentioned how he spent most of his day in his fictional world, his writer’s world, more than the real world. He is quite a cerebral one this writer and so it made sense to me why in past musings he’d mentioned that he felt eating and exercise a chore. He did them to make him feel better, though perhaps given the chance, he’d not bother with them.

I chewed on that a moment as I dipped my last fry into a bit of vinegar. It occurred to me, though I am no longer religious, I certainly appreciate moments of gratitude prior to a meal. In our contemporary society, the majority of us don’t need to scavenge, hunt, kill, prep our food. Or concern ourselves with repeating it the next day. Our meals come delivered sliced, diced and cleaned whether at the grocery store or a restaurant. We don’t have to exert much physical energy to acquire our food and we certainly don’t have to worry as much about whether or not there will be anything to hunt or forage the next day. What was once our fundamental goal, our daily effort has been placed aside as a time management faux pas eating away at other things we could be doing. That’s our reality.

Maybe it was growing up knowing that a portion of my family did live that way, concerned with where the next meal was coming from and whether or not it would provide enough energy to procure more food the next day. Maybe it was growing up knowing that my parents fretted over whether this week’s funds would go towards food or another need or want. Either way, there’s a pleasure to eating foods and drinking drinks, but also a fundamental sense of accomplishment and gratitude that comes to knowing what I eat and how I use that fuel.

Our meals come delivered sliced, diced and cleaned whether at the grocery store or a restaurant. We don’t have to exert much physical energy to acquire our food and we certainly don’t have to worry as much about whether or not there will be anything to hunt or forage the next day.

I believe in a correlation between productivity and well-being, mental and physical both. I believe in a quality of life steeped in diet and fitness. While these factors are not yet accessible to the majority of the people living in this world, I do not think that is a reason for lowering the bar on well-being. I believe our knowledge, experience and humanity provided us with where the base line should be. And that it’s our jobs to see how we can get more people there.

Perhaps, if the mind is so powerful and so capable as to alter our perception of physical well-being, we may as well consider what it is we are putting into our bodies—and what we do with them. After all, the science already says diet and lifestyle will affect us accordingly, what does it hurt if we finally believe it too?

Further reading:

  1. Gut–brain connection is a two-way street, study says
  2. Mediterranean Diet Shown to Ward Off Heart Attack and Stroke
  3. Get Fit Now: Your Life (and Job) Depends on It