In any uncertain life context, here are 9 positive habits you can control and focus on.

Caution: this is a longer read that you'll want to bookmark if you don't have 20 minutes right now.

I am writing to you during the COVID-19 "quarantine" but don't want to dwell on that. While these are uncertain times, uncertainty has come around before. It'll come around again.

The situation is outside of my control. It's likely outside your control too. And thus, there's no sense in obsessing about it.

Zombies in paint with overlay 'Uncertainty'.

Let's talk about 9 things we can focus on. These habits have served me well long before *ahem* recent events.

Steal them for your own benefit!

Sunlight exposure

Studies have found that people who work near windows are happier. [1] And that sun exposure seems to ward off depression. [2]

When I lived in Hoboken, my bedroom and office were basically in a basement. There was one submerged window into my bedroom.

Now my sleeping and working spaces in Jersey City have lots of sun, being in a high rise. I am overall much happier. Coincidence? Certainly could be.

But if you're able to move your workspace near a sunny window, instead of not being there, I suggest you do the former. 🌞

Standing desk near a window.

What if you work at a scary isolated place like my former employer, a defense contractor? There are still a few things you can do.

Turn lights on at your desk. My sister is a basement worker and has a special light to ward off seasonal depression. However, I think any lights or a lamp will help.

At my old job and multiple places I've consulted for, you'll get stuck at a cubicle. They oftentimes have "under-cabinet" lighting you can leverage for this purpose.

Lights under cabinets in cubicles.
Photo credit - cubiture.com

Supplement with vitamin D. There are more effects from sun exposure than just upping your vitamin D levels, but this is easy and may help in lieu of "the real thing."

"Effective detection and treatment of inadequate vitamin D levels in persons with depression and other mental disorders may be an easy and cost-effective therapy which could improve patients’ long-term health outcomes as well as their quality of life." [3]

I use this vitamin D β€” we'll actually discuss more supplements later in this post. πŸ’Š

Don't just work, build

With a basic computer and Internet connection, you can learn or build something new.

I continue to work from home during this time but have found working on "side projects" to be especially fulfilling. Consider learning a new skill or even constructing some physical thing for your own good vibes.

Let's face it β€” if you're not working right now, you have a lot of time staring you square in the face.

You can no longer excuse away things you're afraid to start learning or building because of "time." At the moment you could have 40-plus additional hours per week to chase whatever dreams you have.

You can write a novel or a memoir; you can paint a room or an oil painting; you can program a game or some SaaS-type online business.

See 30 things to do when stuck at home by Anne-Laure Le Cunff for more ideas.

Exercise

Go do 4 sets of 12 heavy-but-manageable deadlifts then tell me how concerned you are about whatever troubled you beforehand. πŸ₯΅

When you really challenge yourself with exercise, you stop worrying about everyday, earthly matters. You focus in on "surviving" your workout.

Then of course, post-workout you're prone to endorphin rush or "runner's high". [4] All of this is great for anti-depressant purposes. Various studies have found exercise to be the most effective anti-depressant. No pills required!

In fact, beyond just lifting your mood short-term, regular exercise has been called a "magic bullet" for life extension and medical purposes. [5]

Power rack for weightlifting, set up in a basement.
Holed up at my parents' house, here is my makeshift gym.

There is a catch β€” you have to build up self-discipline to really push yourself. That's why a personal trainer can 100% be worth the money. You don't have an "out" like you may give yourself to avoid pushing your limits.

If you can still hold a conversation in the middle of your exercise routine then you need to work harder.

As many quarantine at home right now, I understand you may not have the workout equipment you'd like. My gym in upstate New York has been posting creative home workouts to Instagram.

That's a positive, justifiable use case for social media and I'll give you a pass for it. Because we're about to discuss...

Socializing > social media

Unless you're using them for business purposes -- and I'll leave that up to you to define -- what are you getting out of social media use?

Supposedly the average person burns a good 144 minutes a day on social media. [6] That even sounds conservative to me, given how many people on public transit appear transfixed on Facebook or Instagram.

"Randy, hello, it's how I stay connected to people!!?"

You can only really connect with 150 people or so at any given time. [7] Your 2,000 Facebook friends are mostly acquaintances.

People come into and out of your life. As hard as it is to realize, human social lives don't snowball.

Studies also suggest your brain doesn't feel any less alone on Facebook or other social media. [8] You might as well sit by yourself to build an online business with your 2 hours a day.

I won't drone on and on about my negative take on it. Just consider that real socialization beats social media.

Digital paint of evil Mark Zuckerberg with red-black stripes.

Times when things seem uncertain for everybody are a great excuse to reconnect with family or friends. If you can't share a meal together in-person, then a phone or video call will do.

Haven't talked to someone in a while? Send them a text, then follow up with a voice call once they get back to you.

Avoid discussing social media at all when reconnecting, i.e. "Did you see so-and-so posted such-and-such?" 🀐

Limit "the news"

When's the last time something from "the news" β€” local or national β€” had an impact on your life?

When's the last time it made you anxious?

I make fun of my dad for spending hours on his iPhone and scrolling "Apple News", presumably some algorithm-generated infinite stream. He claps back that I just stick my head in the sand.

It's not that I don't absorb any news. Earlier you heard about my election news habits via PredictIt.

News sources vary in quality. Most "free" sources optimize towards views and clicks, not towards high standards of journalism. That taints the whole thing because making people angry gets views. Peddling doom gets views.

At least with The New York Times or Wall Street Journal, there's a revenue base via paid subscribers.

But β€” I digress. This isn't about where you should get your news from. It's just that the return on investment for your time must be considered. Your anxiety levels must be considered.

Try restraining your daily "news" consumption to 30 minutes or less. Coupled with the absence of social media, you're going to notice a difference in thought patterns.

Stencil of people with faces in their phones.

Intermittent fasting

This is one of the first times I've talked about my intermittent fasting, in over 5 years of doing it. During that time it's become pretty trendy I guess.

Here's the easiest way to get started β€” only eat things with calories during an 8-hour window of the day, i.e. 11 AM to 7 PM. The first week may be hard as your body adapts. Have tea or black coffee in the morning. Now you're doing it!

What are the benefits? One, this makes it easier to keep bodyweight under control. You can have a bigger lunch and dinner within the same daily calorie budget.

Two, you just enjoy your food more when you're legitimately hungry for your first meal.

Three, there's a lot of research into longevity (lifespan) benefits. [9]

Four, caffeine and other "brain drugs" get absorbed faster in the morning this way. You'll be more effective in the morning this way.

Okay that's enough benefits. You shouldn't need any more than that.

Here's a pro tip β€” shrink your eating window down from 8 hours as you get more confident with this. I might aim for about 4 hours if trying to cut weight. Perhaps just a single big meal to satiate yourself during the day.

Bonus pro tip β€” try working out fasted in the morning. But ideally you should take 15 grams of BCAAs before doing it. And 10 grams afterward if you won't be breaking your fast right away. You can read more about that specific tip in Martin Berkhan's The Leangains Method.

"But Randy, { insert excuse here } !!" 😫

There is a lot of information about intermittent fasting online. Various talking heads have written whole books and blogs around their slights twists on this.

Avoid the decision paralysis, just try it, take action.

Supplement if you can

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. Do independent research. The pills I am popping every day are liable to change over time, along with my reasons, opinions, etcetera. Proceed with caution.

For over two years I haven't been noticeably "sick." Including the nasty thing going around right now.

My last bout of sickness was a nasty, three-day thing that had me bedridden, drugged up, and dead to the world. Ask my sister β€” she came to visit in New York during this zombie time.

What's been consistent since then? Supplements I take. Even when traveling, you can count on me taking the following things every day.

  • Rainbow Light Men's One Multivitamin
    • Single dose taken during the day, not long after a meal
    • I think of it as a vitamin baseline even if eating crappy on the road
    • No iron in here
  • Jarrow Formulas N-A-C Sustain
    • Single dose taken during the day, not long after a meal
  • NOW High Potency Vitamin D-3 5000 IU
    • Single dose taken during the day, not long after a meal
  • Doctor's Best Glucosamin Chondroitin MSM
    • Single dose taken during "eating window" (see section on intermittent fasting)
  • Youtheory Collagen Tablets
    • Single dose (6 tablets) taken while fasted
      • Right before starting to eat for the day
  • Universal Uni-Liver Argentine Beef Liver Tablets
    • Usually 10 of these with each meal
      • So at most 30 tablets a day
      • Tend to take them in the middle of a meal
        • "Bro science" to ensure protein uptake
    • My family and friends are used to me popping these at restaurants
      • I don't take at work dinners though
    • Helps get more protein in my meals to build muscle
      • "Old school bodybuilder" thing
      • Every so often I worry about all the iron in these but nobody's ever written about that online...?
        • Maybe they didn't live to tell their tales
  • Zinc
    • 50 mg usually before bed
    • Linked is the brand I take but have never been that picky
      • There are many variants of zinc, some upset your stomach if not taken with food, this one has been good to me
    • Helps with immunity and "male vitality"
  • Doctor's Best High Absorption Magnesium
    • 100-200 mg before bed
  • Gorilla Dream
    • 2-6 capsules before bed
    • Though lately have opted for Sleepy Time Hippo, same intentions
      • Provides some magnesium and zinc but mainly black pepper extract and vitamin B6 help those other supplements absorb
        • "Bro science"
        • Other calming stuff for bedtime

"Where are the references, Randy?!?" 😀

Each of these is based off research I did a long time ago, or recommendations from friends, mentors... they seemingly have served me well.

Not going to back-generate references (i.e. PubMed). You don't have to take anything recommended here.

Sporadically I will "cycle off" if unplanned travel pops up. Like covering someone in Washington D.C. for four days, work stuff. I don't ever plan cycling-off periods for my supplements.

In addition to that list, I take at least 250 mg of metformin on most days, before carb-heavy meals.

This is a prescription drug in the United States. It's mostly prescribed for diabetes, but an anti-aging doctor will write the script for life extension. The latter case applies to me β€” I take it as an anti-inflammatory.

Supposedly it can have negative effects on your mitochondria. This has come up at least on one of Dr. Peter Attia's podcasts as he discusses "zone 2 training" on the drug. [10]

Also supposedly, there's talk that metformin counteracts symptoms of COVID-19 well. [11]

Positivity and "reframing"

Concerned about a virus floating around outside? Buy a P100 half-mask respirator and a bunch of filters on eBay. At the time of this writing, those can still be had for less than $70 altogether, about a week of shipping time.

Concerned about hyperinflation from the government printing money? Go to APMex for some precious metals and Coinbase for some cryptocurrency.

Those are just two potentially negative things one could dwell on, swept aside by taking action. What else can you do after you've taken action? Kicking around negative thoughts in your head is simply unproductive after that.

Every day there are tons of negative things in the world you could focus on. Animal cruelty, pollution, the general inevitability of change and mortality... ad nauseum. These things can cripple you mentally.

Can you change any of the negative things? Then take action. Any thoughts beyond that are, again, unproductive.

We each have a limited amount of time "here" β€” define that however you'd like. You can choose to think positively or negatively.

David Muir was peddling doom in the cover photo but he is happy now.

A virus makes everyone have to quarantine inside? At least you're not sick. You'll appreciate your gym and barber a lot more when they eventually re-open. Etcetera.

When you have to grapple with the negative, try to find "silver linings" by "reframing" the situation. Like the time this situation may have generated for you to learn or build something new.

Track your habits

There's a saying that goes

"What gets measured, gets managed." - Peter Drucker

Tracking all the stuff in this post will make it more effective. You'll stick with these habits if they are new. As mentioned earlier, these are things I have been doing for a long time myself.

Tracking is like a "meta-habit" because it can make all the others more effective.

There are many approaches you can take to this. However, you've got to admit that software trumps paper. With your records in software of some sort, there's less friction to eventually analyzing everything.

My habit-tracking system currently revolves around Google Keep and Google Docs. It may seem "hokey" but I β€”

  • Have been able to stick with this daily for months continuously, generating valuable personal data.
  • Am writing a custom application to systemize this better, with analysis built in and without Google.

The best system is one you can stick with!

Without further ado, I keep a "template" note that's blank or has default values of things to track.

TEMPLATE
Location: ???
- Wake up @ ??
- Cold shower? N
- Caffeine? N
- MUD/chai? N
- Alcohol? N
- General email checks? Y
- Once @ ??
- Email newsletters? ??
- "News" stream? ??
- Instagram? N
- Facebook? N
- Twitter? N
- Workout? N
- Sunlight exposure? N/A
- Elevate brain training? N
- Eating window start @ ??
- Eating window end @ ??
- Collagen tablets? Y
    - 6 Youtheory tablets @ ??
- Multivitamin? Y
    - 1 Rainbow tablet @ ??
- Vitamin D? Y
    - 5000 IU @ ??
- Aspirin? Y
    - 81 mg @ ??
- Ibuprofen? N
- N-A-C? Y
    - 600 mg @ ??
- Metformin? Y
- 250 mg @ ??
- Gorilla Dream before bed? N
- CBD before bed? N
- Solo melatonin before bed? N
- Ashwaganda before bed? N

Then I keep copy-pasting that in a pinned note (Google Keep) before filling it in. When that note gets too long, I append it to a Google Doc for longer-term storage.

Sunday 03/29/2020
Location: Syracuse, NY
- Wake up @ 07:22
- Cold shower? Y
- Caffeine? Y
    - 1/2 cup black coffee @ 08:30
- MUD/chai? N
- Alcohol? N
- General email checks? Y
    - Once @ 08:30
    - Once @ 19:51
- Email newsletters? N
- "News" stream? N
- Instagram? N
- Facebook? N
- Twitter? N
- Workout? Y (basement; pull)
- Sunlight exposure? N/A
- Elevate brain training? Y
- Eating window start @ 11:55
- Eating window end @ 18:50
- Collagen tablets? Y
    - 6 Youtheory tablets @ 11:55
- Multivitamin? Y
    - 1 Rainbow tablet @ 13:10
- Vitamin D? Y
    - 5000 IU @ 13:10
- Aspirin? Y
    - 81 mg @ 13:10
- Ibuprofen? N
- N-A-C? Y
    - 600 mg @ 13:10
- Metformin? Y
    - 250 mg @ 17:37
- Gorilla Dream before bed? Y (3/3)
- CBD before bed? Y (1.5 mL)
- Solo melatonin before bed? N
- Ashwaganda before bed? N

Of course, this isn't the only way to track habits. You might not even think it's a good way. πŸ™‚

Find what works for you! Consider other programs like Notion or Microsoft Excel before committing to one system.

Closing thoughts

I'm sending you my best wishes, and the hope these habits serve you well.

Count your blessings. Stay healthy. Not just now but all the time.


[1] The #1 Office Perk? Natural Light via Harvard Business Review
[2] Unraveling the Sun's Role in Depression via WebMD
[3] Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine? via US National Library of Medicine
[4] New Brain Effects behind "Runner's High" via Scientific American
[5] Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression via Harvard Health Publishing
[5] You Name It, and Exercise Helps It via The New York Times
[6] Daily time spent on social networking by internet users worldwide 2012-2019 via Statista
[7] Dunbar's number via Wikipedia
[8] Not So Social Media: How Social Media Increases Loneliness via Psycom
[9] In pursuit of healthy aging by The Harvard Gazette
[10] Metformin and Exercise via Peter Attia MD
[11] To fight severe coronavirus disease and even ageing, make metformin an OTC drug, now! via Consumer Choice Center