Disclaimer: I have been a fan of some of BPH’s articles over the past year on Medium. He certainly comes across as a caring and smart guy who is trying his best to explain his favorite life hacks, gleaned from the hundreds of self-help books he has consumed.
I, and thousands of other Medium readers, appreciate the time he saves us, from having to read the works of those best-selling gurus. I have definitely benefited by reading some of his listicles.
Having said that, sometimes his advice resembles the fast food he urges us not to consume: well presented and marketed, without any real nourishment for the soul.
His most recent top 50 list was just such a happy meal, and I felt McCompelled to respond.
The following listicle contains my responses to his latest advice, using his headings as a starting point…
1. Stop Consuming Coffee
There is absolutely nothing wrong or unhealthy about having 1 or 2 cups of joe a day. It is actually right up there with red wine for additional health benefits. Some include helping to prevent diabetes, and a lower risk of liver disease and cirrhosis.
Coffee may actually be your major source of antioxidants, and is associated with a lower risk of liver and colorectal cancer.
While caffeine is addictive, many people easily stick to safe amounts. Those that do drink too many cups daily often have other reasons they do so, possibly related to sleep disturbances, addictive personalities, or undertreated ADHD.
Our bodies are incapable of producing energy from nothing, and require nutrients in many forms to function properly, despite what Michael Singer says.
Motivation does not always equate with energy, or else energetic people with ADHD or Mania would not complain about distractibility, or struggle with task completion.
Caffeine withdrawal is not a placebo response. Caffeine withdrawal is the physiologic response to caffeine addiction. While it is true the ‘headache’ is, technically, ‘all in your head’, it is also real and can’t be simply wished away. The only person I know capable of out-thinking a headache is Yoda, and we are all a long way away from mastering The Force.
If you are completely convinced by BPH’s perspective on the topic, the easiest way to give up coffee is to slowly wean yourself over weeks, by reducing your coffee’s strength or amount. At the same time, it is often helpful to substitute it with a healthy smoothie, decaf, herbal tea, or water, satiating your psychological habit of drinking throughout the day.
2. Pray or meditate morning, mid-day, and night
Most of us do not have lives that permit uninterrupted reflection episodes thrice daily.
Even if we did, it is interesting how cavalier BPH is in using prayer or meditation interchangeably, as if they are the same thing.
BPH cites Tony Robbins, who indicates he prefers visualization over ‘thinking about nothing’.
Meditation is not actually ‘thinking about nothing’. It is an exercise one gets better at over months to years. The hardest part of the practice is twofold: maintaining your focus on a single thing, and allowing yourself the gift of not judging or reacting to any competing thoughts that pop up.
Over time, as one becomes more adept at meditation, a phenomenon begins to occur where one experiences the ‘space between thoughts’. At this point, many studies have shown positive benefits associated with meditation.
Visualization and meditation both have positive psychological benefits, and both are capable of changing your brain.
It is important to understand the distinction.
3. Read 1 book per week
Considering many of the world’s most successful people are celebrities and athletes, I find it hard to believe there is any connection between ‘a book a week’ and success.
Extraordinary people also seek entertainment, and ordinary people like learning things too. Of course, if one doesn’t define what makes someone an extraordinary person, compared to an ordinary one, then it becomes easier to persuade us it is related to books.
If you are interested further in illusory superiority, check out the Wikipedia link. One study found 93% of drivers feel they are above average in driving (but below average in statistics).
All of that aside, reading lots of books sounds like pretty good advice. When BPH goes on to explain how this is accomplished, it turns out LISTENING to books is equated with READING them.
I think it is important to mention the benefits of actually reading a book, compared to listening to one. Reading is much better for your brain due to its active nature, as it stimulates learning areas more readily than audiobooks.
Audiobooks for many can be similar to watching a movie, which is much closer to ‘passive learning’.
On the flip side, if we ignore the risks of distracted driving, listening to audiobooks during your commute is a very efficient use of time, and likely was one of the methods BPH used to write his original article.
Being stuck in traffic is a whole lot easier if you can use the voice recorder of your smartphone to grab important quotes for your next Medium article. He definitely gets points for that one!
4. Write in your journal 5 minutes per day
Hey, who am I to argue you should give up your diary, or journaling your thoughts daily. There are many potential benefits, and finding healthy ways to express yourself is always a good idea.
I do think the notion of ‘5 minutes’ is a pretty arbitrary one, but I guess it helps ensure writing your ideas and feelings won’t feel too onerous.
This one gets a pass in my books/journals.
5. Marry your best friend
On the surface this looks like great advice, as almost all of us hope that our sexual and financial partner will also be our very best friend.
On deeper inspection of this wish, however, the advice likely only applies to very few readers, and may even offend those from arranged-marriage cultures.
Most of us are both heterosexual and share the same gender as our bestie. This certainly makes the whole intercourse part rather tricky.
Others of us do not have a ‘best friend’, but a network of friends and acquaintances. Still others of us have best friends who are virtual, animals, imaginary, or all of the above.
Those of us who do have best friends IRL who occupy a gender we are sexually attracted to, often find themselves firmly planted in the ‘friend zone’, making romantic gestures rather awkward.
If you would like to read about one woman’s trials and tribulations on the matter, click here.
If you would like to read about a woman who married her best friend, only to be cheated on when her husband hooked up with her other best friend, check out this link.
For the remaining 5% of people reading his article, I would consider this advice completely solid.
6. Make a bucket list and actively knock items off
Bucket lists can be very motivating, and have been recommended by many self help gurus for decades before Hollywood ever directed ‘The Bucket List’.
I used to have a bucket list, one that I carefully crafted when I was 25 years young. After completing medical school, getting married, and having children, I am no longer sure I need to actively pursue the Loch Ness Monster, or go base jumping off the Eiffel Tower.
Maybe it would be better for us to actively update our bucket list to represent the things we have learned since we created our original one. I know when I did this, I ended up following BPH’s advice, and knocked off a bunch of items that now seemed foolish or immature to the 40-year old version of me.
Some even feel an anti-bucket list may be a better way to live.
My current bucket list no longer resembles a grocery list with items to check off. It contains items like ‘love your children as much as you love yourself’, and ‘use your power and influence to help those less fortunate’. These are not tasks that I can ever fully complete, but rather a personal guide to living happily, which both includes and transcends many of the earlier items I once thought were great goals.
7. Stop consuming refined sugar
While I am in agreement with BPH about the dangers of refined sugar, including our growing awareness of its link to cancer, obesity, heart disease and diabetes, there are ‘safe’ amounts for humans to consume.
Safe amounts of refined sugar are considerably less than most of our dietary habits would allow.
Most health guidelines indicate the maximum daily recommended intake of sugar should be 25g (6 teaspoons) for women and 37g (8 teaspoons) for men.
To put this into perspective, a 355ml (12oz) can of Coke has 39g of added sugar, which is over the daily recommended dose. There have been several studies that indicate drinking 2 cans of soda per week may double your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
I think following the nutritional advice of Jamie Oliver may be a better guide to healthy eating compared to anything I or BPH could offer.
8. Fast from all food and caloric beverages 24 hours once per week
There is pretty convincing evidence minimizing your daily calories has incredible benefits, including prolonging life.
If you want to read more about this and other longevity hacks, feel free to check out my article ‘How Science Is Trying To Help You Live Longer’, which covers caloric restriction (CR).
Not eating any calories for an entire day is really not feasible for most of us functioning humans. Between parenting, having a job, and exercising, it is hard for me to imagine how well I would do skipping all meals and caloric beverages on any given day.
There are also risks in following this advice if one already has a distorted body image. Fasting for an entire day is often the first strategy employed by those who later go on to develop the eating disorders of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.
If you diet is awful, portion control, and making healthy food choices on a daily basis may be better advice.
9. Fast from the internet 24 hours once per week
There are many articles extolling the virtues of the electronic cleanse. The advice usually entails going a week or 2 without engaging in social media or staring at a screen if at all possible.
The main way most of us accomplish this is by going on vacation, or a retreat specifically aimed at increasing Zen and decreasing bandwidth.
For most of us reading articles on Medium, the internet is intricately woven into our lives so pervasively, it is somewhat naïve to think we can just not use it for an entire day.
The downside to his advice is the inevitable feeling of having to ‘catch up’ the following day, as the internet has filled up your email box and social media sites in your absence.
Better advice may be to limit your internet use on a daily basis, and turn off all notifications so the internet loses its ability to interrupt your face to face life whenever it feels like it.
You could also stop subscribing to internet and email sites asking to send you free updates on their products.
Instead of fasting from the flood of data for a day, I would recommend you start limiting how much information you receive on a daily basis, so you can still feel in control of your virtual life.
10. Stop consuming the news or reading the newspaper
I am not sure that forgoing the newspaper and using Google News for all of your current-event needs is the best advice.
Google, and almost every other internet site you surf, uses tracking bots to both collect data and attempt to influence your reading habits, which can greatly affect what information you are shown.
Besides that, there are also rich advertisers who pay Google to actively shape the information you are exposed to.
I am also not sure that learning about local events that may be affecting your neighbors or nearby communities qualifies as ‘toxic filth’.
I’m not a conspiracy guy, but I am aware enough to realize the newspaper may represent a slightly more objective source of news, but whether you choose the paper or the net, you are still relying on others to decide which news is actually newsworthy.
Sometimes reading about disturbing things like war or politics can inspire us to become more involved in the world around us by providing other perspectives. Learning about someone else’s life can often evoke empathy and compassion, and reduce the helplessness or horror in the face of ‘bad news’.
11. Do something everyday that terrifies you
12. Do something kind for someone else daily
This category is one I have a hard time disagreeing with. Kindness to others is a special kind of kindness to oneself, and the benefits are great.
Although I do think BPH artificially separated being nice with a few of his other headings, likely so he would hit the nice round number of 50.
The other headings that essentially offer similar advice, from the same article, include numbers:
17. Say “Thank you” every time you’re served by someone
18. Say “I love you” 3+ times a day to the most important people in your life
28. Genuinely apologize to people you’ve mistreated
29. Make friends with five people who inspire you
45. Be spontaneously generous with a stranger at least once per month
46. Write and place a short, thoughtful note for someone once per day
50. Spend time reflecting on your blessings at least once per day
It might be best to sum up this entire category with the wise words of Confucius, who stated in 523BC: ‘Don’t be an self-absorbed asshole’.
If you found that particular quote to be a little too crass, consider the wise words of Bill and Ted, who urged us in 1989 to ‘Be Excellent To Each Other’.
13. Go to bed early and rise early
This one can also probably be lumped together with his other heading:
14. Get 7+ hours of sleep each night
This is certainly not a revelation, or something most of us haven’t already heard for most of our lives.
The saying ‘early to bed and early to rise makes one healthy, wealthy and wise’ has stuck around in the collective consciousness for a long time.
The only novel thing offered here is the subtle change of recommending 7+ hours of sleep, instead of 8.
My main critique is the simplicity in which this idea is presented. Telling us Medium people to get more sleep is akin to telling an obese person to ‘just lose weight’. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to realize that one needs to address underlying issues behind insomnia, or obesity, or whatever other ingrained habit one is struggling with.
I am not sure what version of Terminator BPH is, but for the rest of us humans, It is very hard to restore the body to factory settings.
The more one learns about sleep and insomnia, it becomes apparent that there is no easy answer as to why our sleep habits are poor.
Maybe sleep deprivation is a complicated phenomenon, and societal pressures along with genetics, smartphones, and families with children, need to be mentioned as possible barriers to living the perfect REM life.
15. Replace warm showers with cold ones
The actual scientific evidence behind cold showers is pretty lukewarm.
There are a handful of small studies that have reported modest benefits, but the jury is still out as to whether these outweigh the benefits of hot showers.
Oh, you didn’t know there were benefits to having hot showers? I guess this is part of the reason I wrote this article- to provide a more balanced view of the advice people often dole out.
If you are interested in reading about the 50 benefits of both hot AND cold showers (most of the evidence in anecdotal), feel free to click here.
There is currently no scientific evidence that cold showers are more effective in the treatment for depression compared to either medications or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. At best, there may be a temporary relief of depressive symptoms. The overall conclusion from cold water studies is that more studies are needed to definitively demonstrate any relationship.
Just because someone is rich, famous, or brilliant, it does not mean we need to try everything we can to emulate them. This is often more a function of idealization or worship, as opposed to sound life advice. Besides, these same gurus often remind us to ‘be ourselves’, which, by definition does not entail copying them.
We don’t have to think, talk, or act like Tony Robbins to be happy or successful. Besides, even if we were to do everything he does, we would likely not be personally wealthy or famous.
On the other hand, if I did everything exactly like Steve jobs, who decided to forgo conventional cancer treatments for roughly 9 months at the beginning of his illness, before hitting it with the radiation/chemo combo, I might be dead right now.
I think the abuse Tony suffered growing up likely played a much larger role in his success than any of his personal hygiene rituals, but perhps I’m just simplifying things too much.
Have cold showers if you like them, but remember, the temperature of the water you stick your body into isn’t likely to have a significant impact on your life in the grand scheme of things. If it did, your friendly neighborhood medical doctor would have advocated polar bear swimming a long time ago.
But, if you still want to idealize a celebrity, you could do a lot worse than Tony Robbins.
16. Say “No” to people, obligations, requests, and opportunities you’re not interested in from now on
The Just Say No Campaign, introduced by Nancy Reagan in 1982 did not work as a national drug strategy.
Besides, one of the best ways to grow as a person is by volunteering for projects or other situations that you would normally say no to. Being outside your comfort zone is often very fertile grounds for learning and maturing.
Overall, it may be better advice to determine when it is best to no, as opposed to just saying it.
You are likely to both enhance your skill sets and connections when you say yes.
Lastly, isn’t saying yes to things akin to taking a risk, and isn’t that one of the later pearls of advice offered later on in BPH’s article?
19. Consume 30 grams of protein within the first 30 minutes of waking up
I am going to lump this heading into ‘general nutritional advice’, which would also include:
23. Consume a tablespoon of coconut oil once per day
24. Buy a juicer and juice a few times per week
Right off the bat I think it is important to warn you that coconut milk tastes like dog pee. Of course I am guessing they are similar, as I have only tried one of them.
There are no superfoods that can save you from an unhealthy diet.
The best nutrition advice one should follow is clearly spelled out on most government websites, like the Canada Food Guide.
Nutrition choices in general need to be tailored to the individual: an obese person, or someone with diabetes, will have vastly different caloric requirements compared to an athlete or couch potato.
There have been many people touting the benefits of superfoods, but most usually have a marketing angle, or shares in a specific company, and hope to benefit from people who enjoy jumping on bandwagons.
Dr. Oz often gets into trouble for endorsing ‘fat burning foods’ because he is a Medical Doctor, but his endorsements may not have any actual scientific evidence supporting them.
If you are still convinced that ‘superfoods’ are the way to go, I urge you to research other ‘superfoods’, such as:
Okay, I was kidding about the monkey jizz, and I apologize profusely about the Rickroll.
20. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts on 1.5 or 2x speed, your brain will change faster
My first name is Simon, so I already have some animosity towards the chipmunks. Listening to them for hours on end is just something I cannot stomach.
That aside, we did discuss the differences in listening vs. reading books earlier.
It is possible that listening to audiobooks even faster merely compounds the downsides of passive learning.
21. Decide where you’ll be in five years and get there in two
Actual examples of this feat would be very helpful.
I know of people who planned to summit Everest in the next year of their lives, but then discovered the incredible conditioning and financial commitment involved, resulting in delays.
It is also extremely hard, if not impossible to finish a 4-year degree in 2 years, unless your name is Steven Hawking.
It’s hard to have 3 kids in 2 years as well, but I may be belaboring the point.
I know what you are thinking, but I can assure you I am really trying hard to accomplish my own life goals. Sometimes it is less about effort, and more about luck and timing.
22. Remove all non-essentials from your life (start with your closet)
I started writing an excellent answer to this question, but then decided it really wasn’t essential to the article.
If you are going to follow BPH’s advice, I would recommend finding the best places to donate your gently used non-essential items.
Giving to others is really important as what is non-essential to you may be extremely valuable to someone else.
25. Choose to have faith in something bigger than yourself, skepticism is easy
I am skeptical about BPH’s original article and have decided to write this response, illustrating skepticism has a very important place in critical thinking.
It has not been easy to be skeptical, as 50 items has taken me a lot of time to research in order to obtain as balanced an opinion as possible. Without my skepticism as motivation, I would not have learned as much as I have during this exercise.
Some of the most influential humans of all time were skeptics who did not take the status quo as gospel, which has helped the human race forward.
An example might be Jesus, who believed in something bigger than himself while at the same time being skeptical about the religious beliefs of others around him.
I urge you to be skeptical about things in your life as this is often the path to critical thinking, searching for objective evidence, and defining your own truths, as opposed to adopting someone else’s.
26. Stop obsessing about the outcome
Okay this one is way too vague.
Do you mean, like, in every scenario?
Wouldn’t that make you The Fonz?
And isn’t trying to accomplish a 5-year plan in 2 kinda like obsessing about the outcome?
I don’t want to go all Napoleon Dynamite on you, but focusing on goals is one of the main currencies of motivation.
At this point, you may wish to remind me about the journey, but when I am on a plane to Hawaii, I am rather glad when we actually arrive.
And I guess this means I shouldn’t worry about rather trivial things like whether I made my bed, or whether I flossed last night.
Whoops, spoiler alert!
27. Give at least one guilt-free hour to relaxation per day
If you have no children/pets, are on vacation, or have a butler/nanny, I think this is great advice.
Most of my scheduled relaxation times are suddenly consumed by spontaneous requests or the needs of others.
Maybe I should have had a nap as opposed to writing this article, but so far I feel I made the correct choice.
Plus, it is really naïve to give us 50 things to think about everyday and then tell us to take an hour off and relax. Those audiobooks are not going to listen to themselves. Plus we have dietary changes to make, radical life moves to employ, cold showers to endure…
30. Save 10 percent or more of your income
I am going to lump this category with the others on the list that constitute ‘financial advice’, which also encompasses:
31. Tithe or give 10 percent of your income away
33. Buy a small place rather than rent
36. Define what wealth and happiness mean to you
37. “Change the way you feel, think, and act about money” — Steve Down
38. Invest only in industries you are informed about
39. Create an automated income source that takes care of the fundamentals
40. Have multiple income streams (the more the better)
I am sure some of the financial advice in BPH’s article is very helpful, and may prove beneficial in the long run.
Saving money and donating to charity certainly seems like it makes sense. Redefining how you feel about money and deciding for yourself what true wealth means also sounds like sage advice.
I have a nice house and car, and my children have gone to a private school for a few years. None of that really puts me in a position to hand out financial advice like an expert, so I will refrain from telling you what you should do with your money.
If you want some general information about the stock market or mutual funds, please ask your nearest financial expert or banker.
If you want to take a chance on learning about money from someone who isn’t an actual financial planner (like me or BPH), feel free to read my blog on ‘Why I Invest In Disney’. It describes the basics of the stock market as well as mutual funds and dividend generating equities.
Only investing in areas you understand or feel comfortable with can still lead to disaster.
Many people felt very safe investing in real estate, or the stock market in general, and then the Big Short came along in 2008.
Others felt pretty confident about the oil and gas industry, until oversupply due to OPEC and fracking caused prices per barrel to plummet farther than a Kim Kardashian neckline.
Creating an online course is extremely easy to type, but very difficult to actually accomplish. Creating an online course that creates actual wealth is even harder, and the jury is still out on how effective these courses actually are.
Then we get to the part about generating automated income sources and having multiple income streams.
I was very happy to read that BPH knows several individuals who are currently generating income from ‘hundreds’ of sources. I worry that some of those individuals may be in the breaking bad occupational stream, or named Pablo Escobar. Maybe these people have won several Nigerian lotteries.
I don’t know a single person with hundreds of income streams. I know a few people who own private or commercial real estate, as well as people who own stocks which pay dividends.
The way the information is presented in the original article just makes it seem way too easy, and I know it is not.
If you did successfully follow BPH’s financial advice, let us know in the comments section how long it took to generate your first million.
34. Check your email and social media at least 60–90 minutes after you wake up
Hey BPH, could you please write a note to my boss and explain to him that I find preparing myself for the workday too stressful, and would like to use the first hour to visualize my creative goals instead?
Make sure you ask him for an additional 5 minutes, so I can journal about it as well. Actually, as long as you have your pen out, throw in a request for a raise and company car.
All sarcasm aside, IRL most of us are not the CEO’s of a start up, or self employed. This means that we can’t always call the shots and decide when we should check our work email.
As far as checking social media, this is a bit of a mixed bag.
Some mornings I can find social media pretty infuriating, whereas other times I can be quite please or even inspired by things my connections are musing about on Twitter or Facebook.
35. Make a few radical changes to your life each year
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
42. Have no more than 3 items on your to-do list each day
Sorry kids, I will not be making dinner tonight, or driving you to soccer practice, as I have already put 3 things on my list today.
Maybe tomorrow, if you are lucky.
Talk about non-parent-o-centric advice.
I am also pretty sure most successful people have a few more than 3 items on their list, even during a vacation.
Feel free to check out this link– if you haven’t already exhausted your to do list- which describes successful people who’s to-do-lists are so long, they are often organized into subheadings.
43. Make your bed first thing in the morning
One of the great joys of being an adult is achieving the freedom to NOT have to do all the arbitrary stuff your parents made you do.
Please BPH, I beg of you, don’t take that away from us.
And if we examine the data a bit more closely, there is only a 9% difference in the quality of life between those that do and don’t.
I hate to get all scientific on you, but without any numbers listed in the study, it is hard to tell if that 9% difference is actually statistically significant, or completely irrelevant.
Plus, recent studies indicate keeping your bed messy prevents bed bugs. So there is that too.
44. Make one audacious request per week (what do you have to lose?)
There is zero evidence that this technique actually helps anyone in the long run, but I am very glad BPH got some free basketball tickets by begging some NBA’ers at his hotel.
Okay BPH, I would like to make the audacious request of asking you to read and respond to my article.
I think we are both on the same side of the advice ledger- and that is the side that is trying to help other people navigate reality happily.
I would also request that those of you who are fans of BPH, as I am too, also consider that just because BPH wrote his article first, it certainly doesn’t mean he has a monopoly on the truth.
47. Become good friends with your parents
Again, this seems like wonderful advice, but is so much easier to type on a computer screen than actually accomplish. Many individuals have suffered horrendously at the hands of their parents, due to neglect, or abuse.
These same individuals likely cringe when the rest of the world makes it sound easy to reconnect with their older genetic ancestors.
I would be curious to know whether the foster kids BPH is raising- which is definitely an admirable thing- are open to becoming ‘good friends’ with their parents.
Because of my own profession, I can virtually guarantee that some of the kids in foster care, or who are wards of the state, are likely better off never seeing their biologic parents again.
Better advice may be to create a loving and supportive family around you, composed of either blood relatives, other caring adults or friends, or some copacetic combination of all of the above.
Your family does not have to be your actual Mom and Dad, but rather people capable of loving you in a healthy and safe way.
48. Floss your teeth
It certainly sounds like someone is worried about the outcome of not flossing!
Interestingly, there has been some recent data indicating flossing may not actually make much of a difference after all.
49. Eat at least one meal with your family per day
Well, BPH, I think you got me on this one.
Eating with one’s family is very important for maintaining a healthy bond, and as he points out, there are numerous studies to back this.
I do think it is important to mention sharing a meal would mean there are no electronic devices at the table, as these often negate the positive effects, and can be a source of conflict.
Overall, I hope you enjoyed my article!
If you think others may benefit by reading it, please give it a Like!
Please leave me a comment to let me know what resonated with you, or where you think I could improve in the future.
Simon Trepel, MD