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Over the past year, as I've been learning more and more about Objectivism, the amount of thinking I do on a regular basis has increased dramatically. But I still have moments, and sometimes entire days, where I feel very lethargic mentally and find it hard to focus on tasks that demand much thought. Sometimes I try taking a nap, which can help, but there are also times when I don't feel like falling asleep. I'm wondering how common this is, and what to do about it. I'm a graduate student in mathematics, so I definitely can overwork myself sometimes until I'm exhausted, but this isn't always the cause of the lethargy. Sometimes it seems to come out of nowhere.

In OPAR, Peikoff discusses how people who are used to being out of focus mentally will have to struggle to reverse the habit, but that eventually it will become easier and feel more natural to enter that state. I haven't been very mentally focused for the majority of my life (I've always done well in school, but until recently I haven't learned to apply my intelligence to other areas). So it could be that going through a gradual mental readjustment and that's the cause of the lethargy, but I'm still not sure.

Any help/advice would be appreciated. :D

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Check your diet. I switched from a diet high in carbohydrates and processed foods to a high fat natural food diet and my ability to focus for long stretches has been dramatic. The food I was eating was clouding my brain and generating lethargy. I started working out again too which also boosted energy a great deal. Try focusing on physical health just as much as mental health. This is my suggestion.

If your diet is in order then I can't think of anything else to add. Getting my eating, sleeping and moving in order really helped my mental clarity. I'm talking thousand-fold.

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Over the past year, as I've been learning more and more about Objectivism, the amount of thinking I do on a regular basis has increased dramatically. But I still have moments, and sometimes entire days, where I feel very lethargic mentally and find it hard to focus on tasks that demand much thought. Sometimes I try taking a nap, which can help, but there are also times when I don't feel like falling asleep. I'm wondering how common this is, and what to do about it. I'm a graduate student in mathematics, so I definitely can overwork myself sometimes until I'm exhausted, but this isn't always the cause of the lethargy. Sometimes it seems to come out of nowhere.

In OPAR, Peikoff discusses how people who are used to being out of focus mentally will have to struggle to reverse the habit, but that eventually it will become easier and feel more natural to enter that state. I haven't been very mentally focused for the majority of my life (I've always done well in school, but until recently I haven't learned to apply my intelligence to other areas). So it could be that going through a gradual mental readjustment and that's the cause of the lethargy, but I'm still not sure.

Any help/advice would be appreciated. :D

Well, the mind and body are integrated, and as it was suggested above, a long day of work, or a poor diet can affect the efficiency of your brain. I would say our volitional capacity is much weaker during those sorts of times. Will power isn't all powerful.

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Over the past year, as I've been learning more and more about Objectivism, the amount of thinking I do on a regular basis has increased dramatically. But I still have moments, and sometimes entire days, where I feel very lethargic mentally and find it hard to focus on tasks that demand much thought. Sometimes I try taking a nap, which can help, but there are also times when I don't feel like falling asleep. I'm wondering how common this is, and what to do about it. I'm a graduate student in mathematics, so I definitely can overwork myself sometimes until I'm exhausted, but this isn't always the cause of the lethargy. Sometimes it seems to come out of nowhere.

In OPAR, Peikoff discusses how people who are used to being out of focus mentally will have to struggle to reverse the habit, but that eventually it will become easier and feel more natural to enter that state. I haven't been very mentally focused for the majority of my life (I've always done well in school, but until recently I haven't learned to apply my intelligence to other areas). So it could be that going through a gradual mental readjustment and that's the cause of the lethargy, but I'm still not sure.

Any help/advice would be appreciated. :)

I'd echo the suggestions given earlier regarding diet. Make sure you're getting your daily requirements of vitamins and minerals. You may want to check your level of exercise as well.

Have you consulted a doctor? Your symptoms may have a medical cause. It wouldn't hurt to cover that base.

I'd also suggest that if you are highly focused on mathematics, you could simply be preoccupied with it and that is preventing you from being able to focus on other things. A change of pace can really recharge your batteries. Go for a walk, a swim, or bike ride. Try taking a quick road trip for a change in scenery.

Most importantly, keep at it. Maintaining focus will come easier with time.

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CastleBravo mentions a low carb diet, and I would agree with that, however you should be consistent with it. Switching between high carb and low carb every few days will leave you lethargic as your body goes in and out of ketosis.

Edited by brian0918
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CastleBravo mentions a low carb diet, and I would agree with that, however you should be consistent with it. Switching between high carb and low carb every few days will leave you lethargic as your body goes in and out of ketosis.

Yet another point is to try not to get into ketogenesis. It has it's benefits as a good way to blast through fat, but your body is not meant to constantly run on ketones. They are highly inefficient. Carbs should come from vegetables and fruits (mainly berries) and will concordantly be mostly fiber. Fats should be rich in a 1:1 omega 3/6 ratio. Exercise should not be overdone and cardio should be limited. Move slowly often, lift heavy things, and sprint for <10 minutes once a week. Its all surprisingly simple.

I suggest doing some reading here:

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/

I am currently following those guidelines and I can only say that they have made life a lot more enjoyable. This is alll irrelevant unless you decide to change your diet over. By all means, explore other areas the lethargy may be coming from (as flatlander said, make sure you aren't burning yourself out in one area of study) because a change in diet is not easy. I think I know what you're feeling though and I know how I fixed it.

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I'm no authority but I find that if I've been studying all day there comes a point where nothing more will be gained that day. Unless I have a deadline to meet I might as well go out and socialize after 8pm say. It's like I've reached the mental saturation point for that day.

Maybe there's also a mental saturation point for each week or each month, whereby no further days of studying will create progress.

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Yet another point is to try not to get into ketogenesis. It has it's benefits as a good way to blast through fat, but your body is not meant to constantly run on ketones. They are highly inefficient. Carbs should come from vegetables and fruits (mainly berries) and will concordantly be mostly fiber.

I don't believe this is accurate. You do not need to get your carbohydrates from food. While in ketosis, your body will produce its own glucose through the process of gluconeogenesis. However, fiber does have its own benefits that should not be ignored.

Toward what ends are ketones inefficient means, and in what circumstances is such efficiency important? (getting off topic)

Edited by brian0918
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Thanks a lot for all the responses. My diet is much better than what it used to be, but I know it could still be better. I've started cooking at home more often, and in addition to it being healthier, I've found it's also a lot of fun! But the main benefit I have definitely noticed from foods is that eating fruits (particularly apples and berries) really helps with my focus. And the effects are almost immediate, which is great. I don't know much about nutrition, but I'm assuming this is due to the natural sugars in fruits. Thanks for the link, CastleBravo, I'll check that out. And Tyco, I totally agree with you. My mind is usually refreshed each morning though, so I rarely feel "saturated" for more than one day in a row.

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I don't believe this is accurate. You do not need to get your carbohydrates from food. While in ketosis, your body will produce its own glucose through the process of gluconeogenesis. However, fiber does have its own benefits that should not be ignored.

Toward what ends are ketones inefficient means, and in what circumstances is such efficiency important? (getting off topic)

That is the problem. Your body transforms protein into glucose. Why would you want that to happen? Unless you're trying to lose muscle alognside fat, wouldn't you want to keep all the protein you can? Isn't too much protein hard on the kidneys as well? I didn't say you need you get your carbs from food, I said you should be getting it from healthy sources instead of starches and processed foods.

Ketones are inefficient to the end that fat cannot pass the blood-brain barrier. Fat must be broken down into ketones in order for the brain to use them and even then the brain will only draw 30% of it's energy from them until 40 days in which it switches to 70%. That 70-30% deficiency will probably come from muscle glucose. I just think this is an unecessary stress on the liver unless you are trying to lose fat.

I'm a fan of keto for weight loss purposes but keto never helped me push through that last chapter in my chemistry book. It always put me in a "cloud" and made me lose strength in the gym. I only said OP should stay out because the goal wasn't fat loss. If he were overweight, keto would be a great way to shed pounds.

All of my opinions are based on my past experience. Keto made me lose fat but also lose strength and did nothing for my mental clarity. Balancing my diet with plants fixed this.

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That is the problem. Your body transforms protein into glucose. Why would you want that to happen? Unless you're trying to lose muscle alognside fat, wouldn't you want to keep all the protein you can?

Why should I assume that I would lose muscle mass from gluconeogenesis? I would first need to see some numbers that indicate that even with my diet high in protein and fat, my body's demand for glucose through gluconeogenesis is so high that no protein is left over to maintain/build muscle.

Edited by brian0918
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Over the past year, as I've been learning more and more about Objectivism, the amount of thinking I do on a regular basis has increased dramatically. But I still have moments, and sometimes entire days, where I feel very lethargic mentally and find it hard to focus on tasks that demand much thought. Sometimes I try taking a nap, which can help, but there are also times when I don't feel like falling asleep. I'm wondering how common this is, and what to do about it. I'm a graduate student in mathematics, so I definitely can overwork myself sometimes until I'm exhausted, but this isn't always the cause of the lethargy. Sometimes it seems to come out of nowhere.

In OPAR, Peikoff discusses how people who are used to being out of focus mentally will have to struggle to reverse the habit, but that eventually it will become easier and feel more natural to enter that state. I haven't been very mentally focused for the majority of my life (I've always done well in school, but until recently I haven't learned to apply my intelligence to other areas). So it could be that going through a gradual mental readjustment and that's the cause of the lethargy, but I'm still not sure.

Any help/advice would be appreciated. :)

I'm asking you, is there a difference between constant conscious deliberate action, and hard mental labor?

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Learning Objectivism takes a lot of mental work because it is not rationalistic, but rather factual and reality oriented. This is not something most people are used to and requires developing better mental habits (i.e. going to the facts and reasoning from there). Mathematics tends to be rationalistic in that once you know how to do it you just have to crank the formulae to get and answer. Objectivism is not formulaeic, but rather requires real thinking about real things. Until you get used to turning to the wide variety of facts to take into account, it will come across as much more difficult than even higher-level mathematics. I know, I've been there and done that. Compared to vector calculus, Objectivism is much more difficult, at least in the early learning stages when you are developing the mental habits of focusing on the facts in a conceptual process. But keep at it! You, too, can learn to think in terms of reality oriented principles.

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Why should I assume that I would lose muscle mass from gluconeogenesis? I would first need to see some numbers that indicate that even with my diet high in protein and fat, my body's demand for glucose through gluconeogenesis is so high that no protein is left over to maintain/build muscle.

If you're not eating enough your body is going to cannibalize the thing that is going to be easiest for it to use and that is muscle. I don't have any numbers and I don't know how much you eat or work out so I can't convince you to assume anything. It's right about now I'm wishing I would have saved my sources :)

Feel free to PM if you wish to continue conversation. I feel like were stealing the spotlight.

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I'm asking you, is there a difference between constant conscious deliberate action, and hard mental labor?

Yes, there is. Depending on your purpose in a particular moment, "conscious deliberate action" might mean something which requires little effort or a lot of effort. For instance, when taking a walk outside, I can consciously observe my surroundings and identify them, but if for instance I spot a bird flying through the sky, I might not choose to identify the genus and species of the bird, because that would require more effort and wouldn't suit my purpose of "casual observation".

Mathematics tends to be rationalistic in that once you know how to do it you just have to crank the formulae to get and answer. Objectivism is not formulaeic, but rather requires real thinking about real things.

I know this is a little off topic, but I have to defend my career here:

Mathematics is not by it's nature rationalistic. The concepts with which mathematicians deal (most mathematicians) are derived from things in reality. And higher-level mathematics does not consist of "cranking" mental wheels to get answers. Proving theorems can requiring a tremendous amount of thought. The formulas you're talking about only exist because mathematicians labored over them for many years. The formulas are an end result of a long chain of conceptual reasoning. So is Objectivism. The difference is that it's easier to know how to apply mathematical formulas to particular problems because mathematical concepts are very simply defined, compared to the concepts used in philosophy.

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I wasn't trying to imply that coming up with mathematical formulae was easy.Whether it is in mathematics or in physics, no it isn't easy to be the first one to come up with the mathematics, just as it isn't easy to come up with a new philosophy. What I was getting at is that I've done vector calculus, and it is easy compared to doing Objectivism. Learning how to be reality oriented after our modern education is not easy, but that is the principle behind Objectivism. It's not a matter of starting from the basic premises or the axioms and getting to the nature of art based upon those axioms -- philosophy doesn't work that way. Mathematics done correctly doesn't work that way either, but it is rarely taught correctly with a focus on how it was derived from reality. In other words, Ayn Rand came up with Objectivism inductively not deductively, and being able to follow it requires at least a certain amount of inductive abilities, or it can't be followed or applied. I still suspect that this is the crux of the difficulty, if you are having problems re-integrating to Objectivism.

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Yes, I think you're right. I admittedly was attracted to mathematics originally because I thought it required more rationality than other disciplines. But I've come to realize that isn't true, and I've also discovered that many of the best mathematicians I've met are very reality oriented and are rational in the other areas of their lives also, particularly the combinatorists.

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Excuse me but what is this mental heavy lifting one needs to do in order to practice Objectivism? I can see that trying to write Atlas Shrugged and make weighted generalisations about reality/society takes incredibly effort on the author's part to stay honest, but just going about day to day life in what way is Objectivism difficult?

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Objectivism is a new philosophy and requires a lot of re-integration of one's thinking skills. And it has a high learning curve to learn how to be reality oriented in all aspects of one's life. It's not simply a matter of reading the literature and understanding what it is saying, but of re-thinking everything one has already learned. I found this especially to be true for the ethics since I came from a Catholic background. Re-thinking ethics and becoming an egoist to the point where I can say I am proud of my egoistic stance took some doing. But most importantly getting into the habit of turning to the facts and not some abstract formulation takes a lot of dedication to becoming re-integrated to reason and reality. If you think it is easy, then you haven't thought enough about it, or maybe you haven't been challenged in such a way as to realize you have a clash between what you were taught or learned and the beginning of re-integrating to Objectivism.

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If you are having trouble with energy and focus, try getting a prescription for Ritalin, Adderall, or Concerta, etc (they are not all the same. I have found that Adderall works great for me, but Concerta gives me headaches after the dose wears off). These things have definitely helped me with the symptoms you're describing.

Healthy diet and exercise also vital.

Last, sheer will-power never hurts either, which comes from a strong philosophy and sense of values.

Edited by Daniel Casper
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Could you give some examples, Thomas? (other than being able to proudly say you're an egoist... which is more of a meta-example)

A recent example would be my stance against ObamaCare, even though, in my tax bracket, I might not be taxed for it and I would most likely benefit from it in the short run. I have about $300 per month doctor and prescription charges, that under ObamaCare might be taken care of by the State to some degree or I might be able to get some pre-existing condition waver and be able to get health insurance, which I don't have right now. However, when I think about my medical condition and that it will be with me for the rest of my life, projecting out decades means that I don't want the bureaucrats involved, because I want competent doctors to be giving care to me. And under ObamaCare, those competent doctors may well go on strike or follow legal procedures instead of being there to help me twenty years from now. In the past, I wouldn't have been against ObamaCare for egoistic reasons because I was a Catholic altruist and would have thought it would be a good thing to take care of the downtrodden. Now my vision is more egoistic and more long-range, and I don't want the government to be involved and them forcing me into a medical procedure against my will, which they might happen years from now if we get complete socialization of medicine. However, it took me quite some time to become an explicit egoist, because I had to re-integrate my morality; and there were times when I was greatly conflicted.

In a certain sense, my example is like Howard Roark turning down a bank commission for a building that would violate his integrity.

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Could you give some examples, Thomas? (other than being able to proudly say you're an egoist... which is more of a meta-example)

For me, the big challenge has been going back and rethinking the definitions of a lot the abstract concepts with which we deal regularly and checking to make sure those definitions are grounded in reality. I'm constantly identifying, differentiating, and integrating everything I observe, which can be quite taxing. But it is very rewarding. It's the best feeling in the world to understand everything around you and feel that you are truly in control of your existence.

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  • 3 months later...

There is a certain amount of integration that goes on behind the (conscious) scenes. It may be that you are in need of down-time to take care of that.

There is a psychological phenomenon of "steady-state" that interferes with attention to a single subject, if sustained too long. (In perception, the object actually disappears from view.)

Also, from Hutchinson's most excellent book about creativity, a period of thorough analysis preceeds much of creative thought. But once that has been carried out, a period of substitute activity is necessary. Perhaps you're experiencing that.

Mindy

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