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December 2022

Post image for You Need to See Things Differently to Do Things Differently

If you want to get better at something – writing screenplays, gardening, making omelets, playing Tetris, organizing closets — find a way to do that thing with an expert, even if it’s just for an afternoon.

They’ll give you pointers, of course, but the real benefit is in how an expert can help you see the activity from a completely different viewpoint.

I got a lot better at rock climbing in 2022. That’s mainly because I did a lot of it. If I were to graph my progress, however, it wouldn’t be a straight line. It would rise slowly until the beginning of October, then angle up like a mountain over the last few months.

That’s because on October 2 I attended a climbing festival, and climbed with climbers way beyond my ability. Watching these people  was a revelation. They were slow, calm, and rested a lot. They moved more like sloths than monkeys.

Most importantly, they clearly saw the rock itself differently than I did. Whereas I saw it as a dangerous, prickly thing you’re fighting with and trying to conquer, they seemed to see it as a partner they can work with –- an eccentric but sturdy ladder that gets them to the top.

This was a complete figure-ground reversal for me. The rock helps you climb it! My climbing got better immediately, not because of any explicit advice I received, but because I had caught a glimpse of the activity from outside my normal way of seeing. My insight didn’t increase my existing climbing ability, so much as it changed my view of what climbing even is.

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Post image for How to Eat Your Vegetables

I once knew a man transformed by vegetables. When I first met him, he claimed he could barely stand to eat them, and rarely did so on his own initiative.

Six months later we both ended up at the same party, and I wouldn’t have recognized him if he didn’t recognize me. He looked like a fashion model.

During our conversation I brought up the vegetable question, and he told me that he had conceded to eating them at every meal and that they weren’t that bad. He still didn’t love them but he recognized their superpowers.

I always liked vegetables, or at least I thought I did. I began to question this belief when I started experimenting with the old suggestion of “filling half the plate with vegetables” at each meal. The idea is that it’s easy not to overdo the rich, non-vegetable foods as long as they’re at least matched, if not dwarfed, by a large serving of veggies. The vegetables are so voluminous and calorically sparse that it’s hard to overindulge in anything else, namely the dense and delicious carbs, meats, cheeses, and sauces that sit beside the pile of plants.

It’s an elegant solution, although not for everyone, to the so-called “omnivore’s dilemma” — what to eat, and how much, in order to stay healthy and satiated.

So far I’ve found these half-veg meals to be filling enough that I don’t need to rely on willpower not to overconsume the richer foods. I don’t hit an afternoon wall. My skin looks better. I crave snacks less. My whole system seems grateful. Superpowers, I tell you.

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