Ego - Volume 5 : Devising a survival vaccine

This is the fifth and final volume of a multi-volume series aiming at hacking the 'ego'. It doesn't mean I solved the 'ego' piece yet. Simply that I found the steps and processes to move forward and 'hack' away.



Battling the ego stems from a deep conviction that living free of it is a big step towards well-being. The biggest enemy in thriving towards any personal goal however is oneself. The phenomenon is wide-spread, well documented and has a name.

"Greenspan might have been a hero - just by being lucky. But there seems to be some failing, some pernicious gene that drives the lucky to acts of self-destruction."
Bill Bonner from 321gold

 Self-sabotage or self-destruction is the action or habit of un-consciously creating the conditions conducive of failure, especially when one is getting nearer to accomplishing one's goals.

  1. Inadequacy - Such a condition could be due to the fact said goals don't correspond to the true nature of the self
  2. Procrastination - Or that said goals' long-term payout is lost of sight or no longer relevant. That's a form of procrastination
  3. Pseudo-perfectionism - It might be that personal improvement hasn't lived up to one's standards and a make-perfect-the-enemy-of-good attitude leads to a radical tabula rasa
  4. Success Stress - Another reason could be that succeeding at personal improvement is inherently stressful as it pushes us away from our comfort zone
  5. Lack of Acceptance - One last reason could be a lack of acceptance as it creates the environment for negative willpower. Not accepting who you are at a given moment will lead to an attempt to join another (maybe sub-optimal) personal status-quo

That might sound like a bunch of spiritual blablabla for lack of a better Oxford dictionary word. However this covers examples as practical as dieting, waking up earlier, sticking to a productive schedule. Amazingly, the very demon we're fighting might hold a solution to this problem in its genes.

Ego is the name of a 'living planet' in Marvel comics - proof that Lee did read Freud maybe

Ego is the name of a 'living planet' in Marvel comics - proof that Lee did read Freud maybe





Vaccines are viruses that were stripped out of their viral components. Same for ego. What if we shouldn't throw the baby with the bath water ? What if some aspects of ego are actually beneficial and should be kept and leveraged. Ego is most probably a product of evolution. If it's there, it's for a reason and imho it's mainly to give us purpose.

 My friend Klaus struck me with the following some days ago : your "story" is your ego, your purpose. Consider how you sometimes try to frame your personal story by bleaking its beginning and making your past sound harsher. Maybe our 'culture' has something to do with it. Consider Walt Disney movies where the lion king, who lost dad and got kicked out of the kingdom, then rose to claim it again. Look at Mulan and Snow White and how the beauty of their success stems from how hard their beginnings were. 

Ego is the driving narrative of the self and an acute perception of it. So it may be that ego is a means of self-acceptance and a way to solve burden #5 in the quest for self-fulfilment mentioned above. Ego helps you love yourself. One needs to inoculate against its nasty sides however : When self-love becomes the default way of interacting with others.

Ego Leonard - Guerilla art showing how we are all essentially (L)EGOS

Ego Leonard - Guerilla art showing how we are all essentially (L)EGOS

Can Ego help overcome self-sabotage and become a solution to the pyromaniac fireman inside us all ?



A discussion with a friend yesterday opened my eyes to the importance of a large driving force in life. A purpose that encompasses all aspects of one's existence. I drew, or tried to draw, the following in my journal some days ago.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 11.20.21 PM.png

Purpose, willpower and structure are an interacting trio making sure one is on track and moving forward. Ego has its role to play in forming a purpose at a personal and spiritual level. It shouldn't be present however in any other aspect of one's life: Mental, emotional, financial or emotional.

The ego is something to be kept for oneself. It's a mirror one can look into and smile when alone. Self-contemplation during social interactions or in thriving for a physical / health goal is a pity. It should be a personal lens and a judge. Ego can serve as an internal feedback mechanism and ensure compliance high standards on oneself. The second it starts spilling over, it gets smudgy.




Ego - Volume 2 : From glass to sand

This is the second volume of a multi-volume series aiming to hack the 'ego' 


Ego is grease

The ego is obvious though not explicit. it's a smell everybody perceives and grins about but never mentions. The ego is similar to a fart. Sorry, I couldn't find another metaphor. So ego is a fart. It ferments in one's innards. It reveals something's wrong inside or not working well. It means the person is ingesting and hence being exposed to some bad things and influences.

Ego is self-promotion. It is what ego does best. And it's indiscrete. Very. It's when someone tells a personal story and tries to camouflage it in randomness whereas the sole goal is to paint a brighter picture of himself. Ego will invariantly lack subtlety, at least to subtle eyes. It's an oily stain. Try as you might to take it off, it'll remain. And in a way it's good that it's greasy. As it makes it easier to find. when you think of your week, ego moments, such as when you down-talked your colleagues, are clearer than all the rest.

Ego is hunger

Ego means more. It's a form of hunger. A mutation, if you will, our species got as part of that exceptional 'self-consciousness' package we bought in throughout evolution. A person gives you attention and you ignore it. Why ? Because you want more of it. A person gives you her love and you give little back not because you don't want it but rather because you want more. You're looking for raving fans. You want to be hailed and the ego is that inner emperor with a stiff nose waiting for every one to bow. You need to feel worshipped. And it's the worship that you cherish ... or worship. Your ego is eating itself.

Kundera has an amazing conception of friendship which, though cruel, hits the nail on its head in some case. You see, according to Kundera friendships are a way to cultivate memories, to feel more like oneself. Friendships are a reminder for the self of a part of it. Individually, they act as time capsules.

“Remembering our past, carrying it around with us always, may be the necessary requirement for maintaining, as they say, the wholeness of the self. To ensure that the self doesn’t shrink, to see that it holds on to its volume, memories have to be watered like potted flowers, and the watering calls for regular contact with the witnesses of the past, that is to say, with friends. They are our mirror; our memory; we ask nothing of them but that they polish the mirror from time to time so we can look at ourselves in it.”


Kundera then stipulates that in our post-modern society, friendships might be dying because we don't face dangers together anymore. The fantasy of two or some brethren's united against the world is fading away. Of course, it still pops up from time to time, be it in super-hero movies with Batman and Robin against all the world's evils as well as in phenomena such as "bromance" or "the bro code".

Still, the foundations aren't there to counter the weight of the underlying trend: Friendships, conceived as companionships, are disappearing.  Rather than fighting tigers and physical enemies like we used to, today we're fighting organisations, big abstract masses of power and control. And friends have no power to help us in that struggle.

Ego is a side-kick

Regardless of whether it is disappearing or not however, perceiving friendship as a mirror is pretty bleak and supportive of the hunger-nature of the ego. That innate mechanism we have of ignoring others' outreach to attract them even more is half-reminiscent of the economic principle of scarcity (the less available it is, the more expensive a commodity becomes, given it is still as desirable) and half-reminiscent of kids' tyrannic strategies to pull their parents' attention. And here the dilemma arises: 

For the child is thought to be ego-free. A child won't ignore another person's text or attention or delay his answer to a Facebook message to convey an un-neediness or play an immature push-pull with the other. The child doesn't hide in each question and remark a way to route the conversation back to himself. The child accepts criticism easily. he absorbs and learns. He knows he can be wrong and accepts it. 

So maybe people with the smallest egos are the ones who were most loved in their childhood ? The ones who never had to ask for more. Or maybe all this ego-less child is only valid for kids younger than a given age ? Maybe ego grows with time and develops like a reflex. 

In a way, one develops a reliance Ego slips into the slits of behaviour and acts as a filler. You're trying to attract a person and you ignore her by times because that's your fall back option. That's the thing you do when you can't do anything else. The ego becomes your side-kick. You're talking to a friend and suddenly, during a conversation down-time, you fit in a story about yourself and a bragger race begins.

Ego - Volume 1 : Missile lock-on

This is the first volume of a multi-volume series aiming to hack the 'ego' 

 This is the first of many attempts to explore, de-construct and hopefully find a way to bring the ego to an end. The project is the product of a double encounter. Both out of a distant past : Osho and Ben Vautier.

 Osho is an Indian born meditation master famous for books such as 'Maturity' and 'Courage'. Both amazingly simple to read but easy to overlook while growing up as one puts them 'on the side' and moves on, thinking he 'gets it'. 

Ben Vautier is the ultimate 'provocateur'. And one of his favourite targets is the ego. He is famous for his child-like white writings on black canvas and sentences such as 'Tous ego' ('All ego' in French with a wink at 'All equal').



 What really, and shamefully, got me thinking however is this simple quote:

If you're working out in front of a mirror and watching your muscles grow, your ego has reached a point where it is now eating itself. That's why I believe there should be a psychiatrist at every health club, so that when they see you doing this, they will take you away for a little chat.

Osho has a wonderful quote about ego :

Where does the ego get its energy? The ego feeds off your desire to be something else. You are poor and you want to be rich – the ego is absorbing energy, its life-breath. You are ignorant and you want to become a wise one – the ego is absorbing energy. You are a wretched nobody and you want to become powerful – the ego is absorbing energy.

And it related to another excerpt, courtesy of Brainpickings and stated by David Wallace during a commencement speech he gave:

If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already – it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
ben vautier (5).jpg

If you're secretly waiting for compliments after a presentation or a job you did, you're staring at your muscles growing in a mirror. And your ego is feeding on itself. At its core, it feels as if ego means taking oneself seriously. It has nothing to do with taking one's thoughts seriously as this is the essence and the produce of an individual. Taking the self seriously however means raising a barrier and fleeing self-ridicule. Osho writes:

As the ego becomes strong it starts surrounding intelligence like a thick layer of darkness. Intelligence is light, ego is darkness. Intelligence is very delicate, ego is very hard. Intelligence is like a rose-flower, ego is like a rock. And if you want to survive, they say – the so-called knowers – then you have to become rock-like, you have to be strong, invulnerable. You have to become a citadel, a closed citadel, so you cannot be attacked from outside. You have to become impenetrable.

Ego is isolation and correlates with a lack of confidence (which often manifests through self-ridicule). Realizing ego is self-devouring is the first step. The solution however is constant mindfulness: "The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness". Like everything else, Ego is a habit. The brain is plastic. And just as ego builds up, ego can be destroyed through incremental and constant progress.

In defense of iron : Life lessons from the gym

The body-builder world can be extremely judgemental of outsiders. Suffice to watch some show figure videos and read guru trainer articles to understand it looks at the rest of the world with some contempt. This is a form of snob in so as one takes a single aspect in a given person and uses it to form a global judgement of that person. Basically, if you're above 12% body fat, in the mind of a trained individual, you're an aimless creature with a willpower near nil. Body condition often gets associated with moral values. A common quote in the body-building world is : "obsessed is a world the lazy use to describe the dedicated".

Of course, the world pays it back to the 'fit' community quite well :) Body-builders are seen as obsessive mindless freaks with a brain size affected by muscle size. "When you spend so much time in the gym, when do you read ?" Shallowness is a prime characteristic. A guy with veins popping out from his calves probably won't even consider a girl who doesn't squat. People even wonder if these guys speak ! They never speak when they're lifting in the gym... They just groan. They must be so boring. Oh and of course: They eat all the protein on Earth and are responsible for the extra cows we need to feed and the gas emission and, in extension, global warming. Obviously.


And please, there's no 'truth be told' here. And I'm not even trying to sketch a truth between parties. Both sides will find specimens in the other camp to corroborate their arguments. Except the global warming bit maybe. All this aside however, body-building per se is an intriguing activity. For instance, is it a sport ? It's solitary and doesn't involve team work but you do get better at it with time and practice. You lift more and more weight for example.


Now, some might ask for example if you master anything with time ? And contrary to common misconceptions, you do. Heavy squats (mimicking a person sitting down with a loaded bar on your shoulders) and dead-lifts (pulling a bar with your back straight basically) are not a given. These take practice and mastery can be reached. Below are Mr. Olympia Phil Heath and worldwide crossfit champion Rich Froning. I'm curious whose able to do more pull-ups ...

images (1)


At first, improving physique is the goal for a new gym-goer. But as you struggle against the weights and try to get better at it, mastery (proper form, higher weights, more explosive movements) becomes the primary goal and physique fades in to the background. It becomes a nice by-product of your favourite sport. This mental perspective took a year and a half to set into my mind. More interestingly however are the universal lessons the gym can deliver. And I do mean life lessons :

  • Commitment and discipline. Let me get the obvious ones out of the way. The gym has saved more than a life : Teaching some prisoners dedication and giving them a sense of purpose, giving confidence to bullied skinny kids, teaching discipline to people who lack it ... Some stories on the forum can be quite touching. Increasing your weights from a week to another, or failing to do so then succeeding in a heavy lift, understanding the randomness of performance and the importance of grit and focus ... Body-building might not be perceived as a sport but it's hard to argue it's not a craft. You are the sculptor of your physique and by doing so, you notice how important repetition and, by extension, determination is. Going to the gym regularly translates into results and you understand the importance of "showing up". But the next stage is discipline : That is when you've tested long enough to understand that though repetition is fundamental, planning workouts and segmenting muscle groups can shift results upwards.
  • Progress and Optimization. This echoes and parallels the difference between determination and discipline. Progress is binary. If I show up, I will grow in size. Optimization is not: If I show up x times a week, I will grow faster. No 0/1 here. Discipline kicks in and attention is paid to details. You see, progress is about whether you're gaining size or not. optimization is about how much size you're gaining based on how much you're eating and training. It's the difference between 0/1 and an actual 0,4cm extra in shoulder width.
  • Resilience. You might have heard that "Pain is temporary, glory is eternal" or "No pain, no gain" from the lips of a gym goer. The latter has been questioned a lot in the body-building world. The duration, intensity and focus of the pain has been put to trial. But rather than the scientific side of it, "no pain, no gain" reminds us of Nicholas Taleb's anti-fragile which applies nicely tothe biological world. A muscle put under extreme stress better grow if it wants to survive the next load. Just like Taleb's hydra, a muscle grows through hardships. That same gym routine then becomes a blueprint for any skill that one wants to develop. The frequency,  repetition, effort can be replicated in the world of the mind (which in some sense is also a muscle) to learn new skills.
  • Push and pull.  Least obvious maybe. When it comes to gym work, you either push a bar or pull a bar basically. Wildly creative I know. But still, the is the couple of interactions that structure our world at the atom level for example. Now, interestingly, when pulling you can cut the effort or stop without danger of getting hurt. You're lifting a bar from the ground, realize you were stupid to load so much and just let it go. You can back out when pulling without too much collateral. However when pushing, you need to be consistent as the weight can hurt you if you stop pushing mid-way. You're lifting a bar from your chest, the weight is slightly above your max, you can't follow though. Still, you will. Because if you let go, it's going to crush your chest. Simple: you have no alternative. Same in relationships come and think of it. When pulling someone towards you, it's you taking the initiative, and there's no real consequence if you stop mid-way. No-one gets hurt. And it's probably better to stop there and then if you're not sure you can pull through. When pushing some one out of your system however (some one you previously puled in), you need to be consistent. Hesitate, bullshit, fake and your push is not genuine or credible any more. If you fail, it'll come back crashing on your chest.

Body-building is often perceived as the hobby of the vain but looking back at its core, and maybe pre-steroid time (Arnold Schwarzenegger was actually one of the first to break that boundary to gain size faster), there was pride and manliness in overcoming iron. It takes years to build up a worthy physique and natural (steroid-free) body-builders are laudable for their line of conduct. There's no overnight miracle. As for every other skill worthwhile, 10,000 hours is probably what one needs to put in to reach a certain strength goal. But contrary to other fields, it's probably not enough. With time, one realizes it's a lifelong practice. It becomes clear how humbling this sport is and, just as every obsession you eventually overcome, how little physical appearance means in the big picture, where passion gets involved.


Body Fat scales

I've always been doubtful of the Fitbit's output. Lately, it has been indicating Body Fat percentages in the vicinity of 7% which is too low in my opinion seeing my current body composition. But I received a confirmation today from the Virgin Body fat scale :)

I guess it's the same underlying measuring principle. Still, a double confirmation is essential. One measuring method is not sufficient.

Hacking diet design

I'm starting with a link :
If you've ever dieted, make yourself a favor and read it. It's not ground-breaking but it puts things into perspective. The author brings up everything wrong about the calorie demonizing movement :
  • Quality is more important than quantity
  • Calorie theorists imply you are sloths not expanding enough calories
  • Fat people eat just as much as skinny people
  • Calories make you obsessive
  • Counting calories doesn't work
  • Hormones are the real culprit and solution

Thermodynamics can't be beaten. A recent article in Science even explains it's being re-explored as a theory of everything to finally reconcile quantum physics and Einstein's relativity. I you want to lose weight, eat less. Fast for five days and you will lose weight. Guaranteed. But here's the catch. What weight will you lose ?
Here is my recent weight change :
And this graph is completely irrelevant. You don't want to lose weight. If aesthetics is your goals, and it is, you want to lose fat. Enter two relevant graphs :

 You want to gain muscle and lose fat. Now you might wonder why the weight gain doesn't add up to the muscle gain and fat loss (6-1.6 = 4.4 which is not 3). I think it's because of water weight. The program I'm using here is called and it actually makes my fitbit measuring fluctuations comprehensible.

But back to what you lose, it's obvious you'll always need a calorie deficit. Only to determine the nature of your losses, just as to determine the nature of your gains, you'll need to get your macro-nutrients right. More precisely your protein intake. Whether you then opt for carbs or fat to complement is your choice. Personally I go for fat. Is it more effective for fat loss ? I haven't run a test using carbs but compared to when I used to eat carbs, energy levels are more stable throughout the day.

So that's a primer on diet design. Calories first. Macros second. But there's a lot more to take into consideration. Stay tuned !

Hacking binge eating

I don't know how many of us have dieted so much for so long they ended up with an eating disorder. I think the first step is to acknowledge it's not a fatality and actually put it out there.
There are many culprits here of course and many likely causes for why we end up bingeing : stress, gut microbes ... But I'm convinced 70% is due to an acquired neural pathway. In other terms : a habit. And neural pathways, in many ways, are like cancers : undesirable corpses grown from our own cells that feed on our food and relish the bad things we ingest.
In many ways then, we need to break that pathway and establish another one. It seems 30 days is the time it takes to destroy a habit and build a new one. I don't think that's enough in the case of an eating disorder. And i don't think it's the right strategy. Cycle every day to work and comes the time where it becomes a part of you, write every day and the same thing will happens. But for it to become a need, a crucial component of your being, it'll take years. I don't know if it relates to the 10,000 hour theory. That would be a long time.
Tim Ferris often starts by looking at examples of successful people when trying to solve a problem. He also deconstructs the problem into its smallest components. Successful people I shall find. But deconstructing the problem in order to find and push the right levers is just as essential.
As I stated earlier. Binge eating might be due to stress, gut microbe imbalance, coffee (which affects the gut lining if you have sensitivities), the emotional connection you have with a person (after whom you meet, you always end up bingeing)  ... 
Some of these are causes of hunger which is one of the real culprits of binge eating :
  • The reason I mention gut microbe is because I think a bacterial imbalance in the gut ends up affecting the brain's perception of hunger.
  • Your adipose tissue is out of whack sending all kinds of wrong signals to your mind though you just downed half a kilo of chicken (about a pound of chicken). This means your leptin isn't signaling satiety to your brain. The main reason is probably that it's not crossing the blood brain barrier and that's due to high triglyceride which hamper that signal and the crossing of the barrier.How can you lower triglyceride then ? Higher fat intake. Especially MCT oil or coconut oil. Dave Asprey puts it in his coffee in the morning. This might be a solution. 

If hunger was the only cause of binges, I would know. Hunger is hack-able as stated in the two points above. You can nail down the physiological causes. Still, there's 70% psyche here that need to be tackled. And that's something else. Hacking psyche should be possible if one writes everything down and tries to link causes and consequences or just figure out correlations while hoping to find some causation. I'll keep you posted !

Hacking stubborn fat

Hi everyone ! This is the first of many short bite-sized blog posts to come. I plan on keeping them short and daily. They're mainly reflections about material I've read and experiments I'm running. Today's post is a short take on stubborn fat.

What spiked my interest today was a post by ergo-log and another from Naturodoc. One might think stubborn fat is a bit like first world problems : A lean guy struggling to get rid of the layer covering his already bulging six packs compared to the fat guy holding 100 kg of fat (about 50 pounds). It's not however. Stubborn fat should be perceived as an indicator for many underlying dis-regulations.

What distinguishes it from "normal" fat is its ratio of beta-receptors to alpha-receptors which is lower. In layman terms, this means it cannot be mobilized for energy as easily as "normal" fat. Hence, it stays there. But there's much more to it as Naturodoc explains :

  • It doesn't have a high enough ratio of beta-receptors to alpha-receptors, so doesn't respond to adrenal fat-burning stimulation.
  • It has more estrogen receptors, which accelerates fat gain.
  • On top of all this, stubborn fat doesn't have a healthy blood circulation.  These slowly metabolized fat tissues have fewer blood vessels than a normal fat tissue, and consequently this fat is slower to metabolize, and therefore more stubborn or difficult to remove.

So looking at it this way, it seems obvious : we need to find a way to reverse that alpha to beta ratio. Easier said than done. But Tim Ferris did try a similar approach in this article. I've never used aminophylline though I did experiment with topical creams whose active compound was caffeine ... It was funny. And extremely useless. Rubbing caffeine on your belly is not the way to go.

So maybe we should tackle estrogen ? And that is a option. Calcium-d-glucarate is one way to go about it. Dave Asprey presents it as the miracle supplement to regulate estrogen. I've experimented with CDG and still am. Blood tests will show whether the effect has been positive as it is also supposed to lower LDL cholesterol.

But I think the Ergo-log post brings something to the equation. It suggests a mix of quercetin + reservatol "kills" fat cells. This, in many ways, is autophagy and reminds me of Tim Ferris' PAGG protocol in which very high dosage of green tea extract was aimed at "killing" fat cells. Whether this protocol or the ergo-log cocktail target stubborn fat, I don't know. I've tried the PAGG protocol with some great results but I was also dieting at the time.

Lyle McDonald might be one of the references here with his "stubborn fat solution". A lot of dedication to HIIT and slow cardio is involved however and, yes, of course, consistency is key in any hack but the idea here is to make it more minimalist.

This was a sum-up of all what I've read about stubborn fat. In the estrogen part, I should've mentioned the man behind the warrior diet. He has a specific stack of supplement to tackle stubborn fat which he thinks is a direct consequence of our toxin-heavy and estrogen-yielding environment. But the hack goes on. More on this soon !

The Vision

If evolution is the mother of all theories and the implicit logic underlying our becoming, what happens when we ponder upon it ? When we think about it ? When we tinker with it ? When we try to hack it ?

If evolution is a feedback based process, can we alter it by impacting that feedback ? By taking hold of it ? Controlling it ? Refining and honing it ? Are we able to do a better job than evolution ? Can we hack our way through life ?

And if this neo-evolution is taking place, if it is a reality, could it lead to better outcomes than evolution ? Can it be smarter ? Are we able to build a future better than the one our genes would normally lead us to ? Can we hack our way to a better being ?

As iconoclastic as these questions might be, hacking is the most natural thing we've ever done. It is the reflex we have when something feels broken, strange, different. We look. We think. We act.

Hack on

The Hacker Collective