Stress Control

Getting criticized by your supervisor; finding out that someone you love has lied to you; receiving some bad news — these things cause stress. And stress has negative consequences, as you well know. But these are only stressful events. The source of stress that wreaks the greatest havoc on your health and sanity is ongoing stressful circumstances.

Like what? Like when a stepchild moves in with you, permanently disrupting the privacy you had with your spouse; or when your younger brother marries someone who verbally abuses your favorite niece. These are the kinds of stresses you have to live with. They don’t just come up and rock your world for a little while and then go away. They stay. And, like living in a house with a fire alarm going all day long, it starts to wear you down.

But there is something you can do about it. When you have an ongoing stressful circumstance in your life, you can modify your level of responsibility. Either take more responsibility or less. Start by asking yourself, “Am I trying to control something I can’t or shouldn’t control?” or “Is there something I should take responsibility for that I have been leaving out of my control?”

It might help to write it out. Write the questions and then jot down some ideas — where are you taking too much or too little control of some aspect of your life?

Be specific. You are responsible for your child in general, for example, but specifically, do you control what he wears or what he eats or when he goes to bed? You must decide. What exactly do you control and what is either out of your control or none of your business? You must decide.

If something is out of your control (or is none of your business and you’ve been trying to make it your business), you will relieve yourself of a lot of stress by letting go of it. Drop that one. Recognize it’s out of your control and busy yourself with things that are in your control. You may be in the habit of trying to control that thing, so you’ll have to remind yourself again and again for a couple weeks: “Oh yeah, I’m not trying to control that anymore.” Write it on a card and carry it with you. Post notes to yourself on your bathroom mirror. Do whatever you have to do to remember you no longer have to waste your energy trying to control that thing.

Now, if you find something you should and can control and haven’t been, roll up your sleeves and get to work on solving the problem. Use the problem-solving method from page 266. Deliberately take steps to repair the troubling circumstances. That’ll relieve your stress better than anything else. It may be difficult at first; it may actually cause you extra stress to face the situation and try to deal with it, but in the long term, your stress level will go down.

Take responsibility for what you are responsible for, and stop taking responsibility for what is not your responsibility. It’s that simple. Control what you can control, and let the rest go. It will relieve a great deal of your stress. Control stress by stressing control.

This article was excerpted from the book, Principles For Personal Growth by Adam Khan. Buy it now here.

What the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 Has to Teach Us About the Food Versus Fuel Issue

The famous Whiskey Rebellion occurred in 1791. Farmers were rebelling against a tax on their whiskey making — a tax they perceived as unfair and that harmed their businesses.

Back then, farmers "out West" (western Pennsylvania) had solved a problem in an ingenious way, and they didn't want it taken away from them. The problem they had was surplus corn. What can a farmer do with surplus corn? They could try to ship it back east to sell it, but it's bulky and expensive to ship. And it can rot, it gets eaten by bugs and mice, etc. Their solution was to turn it into whiskey (ethanol). So most farmers had a still. They transformed their excess corn into whiskey, which was valuable and condensed (easy to ship). It didn't go bad. Mice couldn't destroy it.

They turned their surplus corn into something wanted and valuable.

Flash forward to the 20th century. American farmers were continually suffering from massive surpluses which flooded the world market with cheap grain. There was so much surplus, grain prices around the world dropped out the bottom. Many farmers went bankrupt. They were so successful at increasing their crop yields that they were putting themselves out of business!

So what did they do? They tried to find other markets for their excess grain. One of the things they came up with was high-fructose corn syrup.

And another market they found was fuel. They began doing what their predecessors were doing back in the Whiskey Rebellion days — they turned their excess grain into ethanol.

But (music changes to a sinister tone) their success began to eat into the gasoline market. Because ethanol burns cleaner and has a higher octane rating, many states mandated its use as a small percentage of all gasoline sold. And as ethanol became better known, people wanted to use it more and more. So the oil industry went on a propaganda rampage against ethanol. And when food prices rose sharply in 2008, they exploited that fact by implicating the ethanol industry in raising food prices.

In fact, ethanol had almost no influence on the steep rise of food prices. In an ironic twist, the biggest culprit was oil prices! Turns out, the price of a barrel of oil has a large influence on the price of food because fertilizers and pesticides are petroleum products, farm equipment runs on petroleum, packaging often relies on petroleum (plastic is made from petroleum), and shipping the food relies on petroleum.

But the oil industry has been on a campaign to convince people ethanol production raises food prices. Another irony is that the ethanol industry was created because food prices were too low!

Pundits were crying out a warning that because of ethanol, food would get too expensive. People in poor countries would starve because of our greedy need for fuel, etc. But this is so far from the mark, it would be laughable if so many people hadn't fallen for it.

For someone who doesn't know anything about how it all works, it makes sense that higher food prices would lead to hunger. But in fact, in many ways, just the opposite is true. Most of the criticism about food-versus-fuel is centered on corn, so let's look at that.

Most of the corn America exports isn't purchased by poor countries. They don't have the money to buy it, no matter how cheap it is. Japan often purchases more U.S. corn than any other country. And when U.S. grain is cheap enough that poorer countries can buy it, the grain is so cheap, it puts local farmers from the poorer country out of business. This isn't good for local economies and can worsen their poverty.

This is a bigger deal than we might think. The vast majority of people in developing nations don't live in cities. They live in the countryside, and most of them are small farmers. Agricultural products are a large part of their country's economy. So when grain prices drop too low, rather than helping poor people, it can and does make them even poorer. Alexandra Spieldoch of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy said, "Research shows that domestic food productivity is more effective in stabilizing developing-country food security than the reliance on inexpensive food imports. A fair price for the farmer's production will also help stabilize demand for wage labor in the local economy."

Jeffrey and Adrian Goettemoeller, experts in environmental remediation and sustainable agriculture, said, "Keeping grain prices quite low might seem like a good way to fight poverty, but the opposite result can come about when economies based largely on agriculture are damaged. Ironically, then, a reduction in U.S. exports resulting from increased corn ethanol production might help alleviate poverty-driven hunger in some places when coupled with efforts to enhance food production within developing countries."

Many people fear that fuel competition will cause food shortage or raise food prices. This fear was deliberately cultivated by the oil industry because it rightly sees ethanol as a competitor. But not only is ethanol from corn unlikely to raise food prices, but even if it does, it may very well be good news for developing countries.

Beyond that, fuel competition is not ethanol-specific. Cars could be capable of burning methanol too, and methanol can be made from renewable resources like forest thinnings and agricultural waste as well as natural gas and coal. It can even be made directly from CO2 captured from power plant and factory emissions.

And fuel competition is not limited to even these. Anything goes except cars that can burn nothing but gasoline. It will give us a wide choice of alternatives, which can then compete with each other for our transportation dollars, lowering the price for consumers and boosting the American economy.

Let's make it happen. The best place to start is an open fuel standard.

Adam Khan is the co-author with Klassy Evans of Fill Your Tank With Freedom and the author of Slotralogy and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam BombYou can email him here.

Super Grass

A new hybrid grass has been recently developed that is not an invasive species, is not genetically modified, can be grown on marginal lands (land not suitable for regular agriculture) and yields more biomass per acre than any crop ever cultivated. It is called Giant King Grass and it grows 15-18 feet tall.

This is a fast-growing, low-cost feedstock that can be used to create ethanol and butanol, as well as what are known as “bioplastics” — a renewable replacement for petroleum-based plastics.

Read more: 

New Butanol Production

Several big companies, including Gevo and Butamax, have found a way to convert ethanol production facilities into butanol plants. Butanol is an alcohol with an energy density (that is, BTUs per gallon) closer to gasoline, and it’s made in a similar way, using fermentation, and it can be made from the same feedstocks, including corn and switchgrass.

The technology is already developed and there is a ready market — oil companies are willing to blend it with gasoline in higher percentages than ethanol, it doesn’t evaporate as easily, so it can be more easily transported via pipelines, and it doesn’t have a tendency to take up water, as ethanol does. It is a promising renewable fuel.

Read more about it: Corn Ethanol Makers Weigh Switch to Butanol.

We Don't Have a Free Market in Transportation Fuel

Petroleum does not exist in a free market. Some oil production operations produce oil for much cheaper than others, so they could sell theirs on the market at a price lower than anyone else, and thus gain a larger market share.

But they don't. They all sell barrels of oil for the same exorbitant price. Why?

Because they can sell everything they have at top dollar.

Why? Because OPEC keeps oil artificially scarce. They keep it scarce enough that all the oil that becomes available on the world market is snatched up. There is no competition. It's an unprecedented seller's market.

OPEC's price-fixing, economy-devastating scheme (and its destructive effects) can be bypassed with the simple introduction of fuel competition. Cars would become a platform upon which different fuels would compete against petroleum in a free market.

And then what would happen? Prices for fuel would drop, and the economy — no longer dragged down by crushing, encumbering, onerous fuel prices — would boom. Let's make it happen now. First step: Add a conversion kit to your car.

The International Battle For Cattle

In the minds of many, cattle are a problem. They generate methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. People are chopping down Amazon rainforest to make pasture for cattle. Feedlots are cruel, polluting, ugly and stinky. Vast areas have turned to desert because of overgrazing by cattle. As the human population grows, and as people around the world rise out of poverty in ever greater numbers, the demand for meat has increased dramatically, making the problem even worse.

If this is all you knew about cattle, it would be enough to want to end the practice of raising cattle for meat. But, as is often the case, there's another side to this story. 

Have you heard Allan Savory's TED talk entitled, How to green the world's deserts and reverse climate change? It gives you an entirely different way to think about cattle. The main idea is that you can raise cattle on a piece of land in such a way that the ecosystem is restored, there is more food for wildlife, the aquifers get filled with water, running water on the land comes back, and carbon is removed from the atmosphere and sequestered underground. The desert becomes a lush grassland, full of life. And, oh yeah, whoever does this makes money, so it doesn't need any government spending.

And Savory is not talking theory here. He has trained people to do this and they have gone out and done it to their land (on 40 million acres so far), and it works. In his TED talk, he shows some before and after pictures — what the land looked like before they started using Savory's method, and what it looks like now — and it's really amazing. You can see more before and after pictures here and here.

I've written a full explanation of how it works here, but I can give you the basic idea in a paragraph. There are some places where there isn't enough rainfall for forests to grow, but there's enough for grasses. These places exist all over the world, and they are huge areas. Most of them have been turning to desert, largely because of the absence of grazing animals. What do you always have on a thriving grassland? Large herds of grazing animals. Take them away, and the grassland turns to desert. Graze them the wrong way, and the grassland turns to desert. Graze them the right way, however, and that desert can turn back into a rich grassland.

So instead of growing corn and soy to feed to cattle in feedlots, instead of burning down Amazon rainforest to create pasture, we can utilize the millions of acres turning to desert that are, right now, in desperate need of grazing animals. Rather than being a problem, cows could be an ally in saving the planet.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Reliance, Translatedand co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam BombYou can email him here.

Cure for Normal

Therapists who try to help depressed people have a problem. Depression is characterized by a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. In other words, a depressive doesn't think his actions will make any difference. He's quite sure of it. He feels his situation is hopeless. He believes he can't do anything about his situation or his depression. He feels helpless about it.

The therapist knows better. If the depressive would change the way he thinks, he could reduce or even eliminate his depression. But here's the catch: Changing the way he thinks would take effort. And effort requires motivation. And motivation requires the assumption that his actions can have an effect.

In other words, before the depressive can get over his feelings of helplessness, he must first get over his feelings of helplessness.

Cognitive-behavioral therapists have actually found a way to do this. They give the depressive an antidepressant drug and then while he's feeling more hopeful and less helpless, they help him change the way he thinks.

Then they take away the drug and he doesn't (usually) lapse back into depression because he no longer thinks depressingly about his circumstances. Research has shown that the combination of antidepressants and cognitive therapy works better than either alone.

Now here's my point: Meditation does the same thing for the "normal" mental illness we all have.

Abraham Maslow wrote that in his studies of psychology, he came to the conclusion that many of the most cherished "laws of psychology" often turned out to be "no laws at all but only rules for living in a state of mild and chronic psychopathology and fearfulness, of stunting and crippling and immaturity which we don't notice because most others have this same disease that we have." 

Maslow also wrote, "What we call 'normal' in psychology is really a psychopathology of the average, so undramatic and so widely spread that we don't even notice it."

He wasn't the first to have noticed this. Freud wrote of the "universal neurosis in man." Buddha said that "all worldlings are deranged."

There is a kind of craziness we all share and it's hard to get out of it. The craziness is a self-perpetuating trap similar to the depressive's dilemma.

Most of us wish we could be more peaceful, feel more contentment, be better listeners, feel more forgiving and patient, and so on, but our own physiology defeats us. It's frustrating because we know we could be that way, but somehow, no matter how great our insights are on a relaxing vacation, when we get back into our daily lives, we are unable to be the people we want to be.

You know what I'm talking about, don't you? The problem is, you constantly release stress hormones into your body in response to the crazy world (and your ingrained mental responses to that crazy world). It is almost impossible to ingrain any new mental patterns because the anxious, agitated, frustrated, discontented state of your bodymind will continually thwart you. You're saturated with stress hormones and it causes the "psychopathology of the average" you can't seem to escape.

However, there is a way out. Meditation lowers stress hormones. Specifically, it reduces cortisol and lactate drastically. Read more about that here. So when you meditate a couple of times a day, twenty minutes a pop — enough to keep your stress hormone level low — you become calm. And in your new, calmer frame of mind and body, new habits of mind can form.

In this calmer state, you naturally and inevitably develop more serene, loving, and peaceful points of view and habits of action. These new ways of thinking and looking at the world and behavior can become natural and ingrained when you keep up your meditation practice, so even if you were to skip a day of meditation, your new habits would sustain your serenity and sanity.

It is worth taking the time to filter out your cortisol by meditating. It is the fastest, most efficient way to reduce your stress hormones.

If you did nothing, the cortisol in your bloodstream would eventually get used up or filtered out. The problem with just waiting is that while they are in your system, the stress hormones have an influence on your behavior. And the stress hormones influence your ways of thinking. They influence how you interpret the events of your life. And those actions and thoughts can make your body produce more cortisol.

Because your stress hormones have not yet been filtered out, you might snap at your spouse, for example, and that makes you a little more upset, especially when your spouse snaps back. It puts more cortisol in your system. It makes your life a little more upsetting, a little crazier. In this way, the craziness tends to perpetuate the craziness.

That new jolt of cortisol also stimulates more anxious thoughts or frustrating reactions, which come right around and boost your cortisol level some more. It is a cycle of insanity that is hard to get out of.

But meditation is a reliable way out of the madness. Read the literature to convince yourself. Or simply try it.

A tremendous amount of research has been done on the physical effects of meditation. This is not guesswork or based on mere anecdotal evidence. The research is solid and there is a lot of it. And the results all point in the same direction.

Meditation can make you an oasis of sanity in a crazy world. Learn how to meditate here.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.