Why Digital Health Apps Won’t Save Us

A Digital Health App Won’t Help You Get Fitter, Live Longer, and Sleep Better

Touted as the ultimate fitness app, the Fitbit is a marriage of digital health with wearable technology. The device and app sold by the millions. Turns out that Fitbit‘s heart rate tracking is dangerously inaccurate.  Fitbit is meant to help you track sleep, measure activity throughout the day, give you notifications to workout, etc.

This is an emerging trend. I closely follow Rock Health, a venture fund dedicated to digital health. Each week, its newsletter mentions funding deals in the digital health space. Massive amounts of capital are allocated to companies where technology trumps common sense.

The premise behind these companies is that digital technologies will help us fix our health. However, I would like to argue that this is not the case. If Peter Thiel were to ask me his contrarian question, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?“, I would say that the premise behind most digital health companies is misguided. Technology will not help us save ourselves (at least in this case).


I’ve spent the last 3 years reading hundreds of medical journals in my spare time, and trying to make sense of how we can live longer, healthier, and fuller lives. I’ve spoken with hundreds of doctors, nutritionists, public health officials, and professors in related fields. I started writing in this space late last year, and got a lot more involved in this field by leading the Outreach team at NutritionFacts.org this year.

What has come up repeatedly is the importance of education, and people carefully curating their social, emotional, and mental lives to support their growth. Health is a game of changing the mindset of people, and apps are not designed to change mindsets. They’re designed to be addictive. Tracking sleep is pretty useless unless we address what’s keeping us up at night.

When a technology tool helps us reconnect to that old-fashioned sense of curating our lives, then we can change. Otherwise, a Fitbit used to make you fit makes as much sense as a Californian touting their environmentalism by driving an electric car, but using a dryer for their clothes instead of drying it in the sun: a useful illusion.

We tend to use shopping as a means of relieving the anxiety in our lives. For many of us, shopping in a traditional mall has replaced shopping technology products. And if they’re “personal development” oriented, hey, it’s a good thing, right? Sadly not.

Life changes begin with a change in mind-set. There is no gadget or app that will accomplish this for you. There is hard work involved. It means quitting mindless consumption of media designed to keep you complacent. It means taking charge.

Markets and consumers live on the hype and bust cycle (yes, I know it’s called boom-and-bust cycle you Keynesians!). And while technology companies in this space can be highly valued, I do not agree with their worth. They may have the market caps, the sales, etc. But does it change a person’s life, even incrementally? Would the fittest Fitbit users have achieved their level of health even without the device and app? I would argue yes.

I would bet that an infinitesimally small number of companies in the digital health space actually create products that matter. Ginger.io and Omada Health comes to mind. Most on the other hand, are focused on allowing technology to trump common sense. Many will undoubtedly sell well and make their investors a tidy return, but by tapping into the public’s need to consume away their anxiety for health, giving them an illusion of better control.

What’s the alternative? The alternative is to change what we consume (for our bodies and our minds). The return on that investment will be astronomically higher.

This is somewhat ironic for me to write, as a person deeply interested in figuring out how digital health can change the world. In my recent grad school application, I wrote about this in depth. It seems like I’m criticizing an industry which I wish to impact.

Not so. I was mistaken a few years back when I wrote this post. I too fell into the trap of pursuing value from the market’s perspective compared to value in terms of how lives can be affected. Since 2013, my viewpoint has changed substantially. Ideas of space exploration, and rubbing shoulders with billionaires and celebrities had a glamour attached to it, but was far too superficial.

Instead, this decision to work in digital health is much different. I’m in it for the long haul: a lifetime. I see my work as tackling the harder problem of changing mindset, perception, and motivation by using technology. I dare say this work may be less profitable than marketing a “magic” app, but I will be satisfied with the value I create.

Ideas in 2015

I had originally decided to write this as a post with the best books I read in 2015, but ideas are a lot more general and books are not always the best place to get ideas. I hope these ideas serve you as well:

1. The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson

This book was a game-changer for me. Everywhere around us, the stories that rise to the top are stories of people who had massive success. We hear about stories of Zuckerberg, Gates, Warren Buffet, et al. We hear about companies such as Instagram and Uber which are creating or transforming entire industries. Seeing all this, I used to get down on myself. I would wonder why others were succeeding while I was not. Perhaps something was wrong with me. The ones who made it are just more special or more worthy than me to have made such quantum jumps.

Not so. The Slight Edge talks about the incredible power of changing the definition of success to taking any action towards a worthwhile ideal. The book also has the idea that success is easy if the practice of success happens over time.

Consider the idea of losing weight. You know that drinking soda will not help you in that area. However, if you’re with friends you realize that drinking that can of soda in that moment will not make you gain weight. But you also know that NOT drinking that can of soda will not help you lose weight. And that’s where we fail. It is easy to say no at that moment to that soda, but it also easy to say yes. Yet, compound decisions like that over a long enough period of time and we are not able to succeed with our weight goals.

You can apply this to all areas of your life: schooling, fitness, relationships, business, etc. In fact, I ended up listening to this book 3-4 times this year. I found it to be absolutely powerful and I highly recommend it. The book helps you really understand the idea of the slight edge and how it can be applied to all parts of your life. It really is the secret between success and failure in life.

As a result of this, I ended up taking and following through on an online course by the University of Berkeley and edx: The Beauty and Joy of Computing.

While it may not have an immediate benefit in my life, I understand that getting more skills under my belt that interest me will undoubtedly pay off in the long run. [for more on that, read Scott Adams’ highly fun book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.] There were more areas that I applied the slight edge in, which I will get into below.

2. Giving > Getting

This idea was profound and was inspiring by a few books: The Go-Giver by Bob Burg, Become An Idea Machine by Claudia Altucher, and Choose Yourself by James Altucher, Charlie Hoehn (whom you should definitely follow), and the work I’ve done with BAPS Charities.

The goal of the list above isn’t to name drop, but to share the tremendous commonality of this idea to success and happiness that people have found again and again in all walks of life.

The idea is simple: the best way to have a fulfilling career, relationships, health, etc is to give first. James and Claudia Altucher propose the idea of giving out great ideas to people and companies. Coding, production, etc can all be outsourced, but good ideas cannot. The goal is to exercise the idea muscle (which is a muscle like any other part of your body) and give give and give the best away to people who can use it. This leads to conversations and conversations lead to opportunities to contribute. I have literally emailed founders at companies with ideas and gotten a positive reaction.

Textbooks for Change, Akira.MD, Ginger.io, and OpenCare  have been a few companies I’ve done this with in the last 2 months alone and have been blown away by how much I have learned about them, but also how appreciate they have been with my insights and ideas. In one instance, I have had a chance to become an adviser to the company.

Bob Burg and Charlie Hoehn mention that giving out ideas, but also connections, and opportunities will lead to more exciting career fulfillment. This is something that I plan to dive very deeply into in 2016. I find this method of forging a career to be a lot more rewarding than the apply via a cover letter and CV to jobs and move ahead. By giving with any expectation of getting anything back before any real tangible opportunity, we are much more likely to get a positive response back.

This technique above helped me make new friends as I’ve reached out to people I’ve admired and shared ideas that they may like.

3. Education != Schooling


John Taylor Gatto is a revelation. I first stumbled across his 5 hour interview titled The Ultimate History Lesson. As New York State’s teacher of the year, and New York City’s teacher of the year many times over, he had had enough and had to quit.

Gatto goes deep into the history of schooling and goes on to outline with startling clarity how modern schools are not designed to educate citizens, but rather designed to create a class of workers. These workers are conditioned over at least 12,000 hours of forced schooling to base their intellectual and emotional value and worth in external approval, have others set the agenda for their lives. The system is designed to enforce hierarchy and class structure so that most do not deviate from it.

He goes on to highlight alternative methods of education, which should develop the…

  1. Ability to define problems without a guide.
  2. Ability to ask questions that challenge common assumptions.
  3. Ability to work without guidance.
  4. Ability to work absolutely alone.
  5. Ability to persuade others that yours is the right course.
  6. Ability to debate issues and techniques in public.
  7. Ability to re-organize information into new patterns.
  8. Ability to discard irrelevant information.
  9. Ability to think dialectically.
  10. Ability to think inductively, deductively, and heuristically.

If you are short on time, at least carve out 1 hour to listen to his lecture titled “The Seven Lesson School Teacher: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

If you are more interested, there are many interesting ways to follow-up. Gatto’s book titled Weapons of Mass Instruction come to mind. There is also a massive open-sourced learning community that untethers education from schooling and encourage people of all ages to take control of their education. These ideas make it very clear that fixing schools won’t do it. For a real revolution, we must learn to educate ourselves. We must learn to take control of our own lives and not wait for the power-that-be to grant us the golden ticket of our destiny.

I know this all sounds very conspiratorial, but after doing your own independent reading and listening to the story that’s laid out, you cannot help but get how true the story presented above is.

Understanding these ideas helped me understand many of the feelings of general helplessness, loneliness, and poor self-image I have often experienced (or keep experiencing at times). Understanding the role of schooling in my life has given me such a large portion of my power back. It has helped me be bolder in my thinking in actions, fear less, and find happiness and self-worth in my own self.

4. Move!

Spark! The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey at the Harvard Medical School convinced me beyond a shred of doubt that daily exercise is a great lifetime practice not just for my body but also for my brain. As a nerd, it was the brain talk that convinced me to start exercising daily.

Aerobic exercise changes the brain completely and significantly impacts its ability to learn, manage stress, ward off and treat ADHD, depression, and addiction. The opening chapter alone is worth the price of admission as Dr. Ratey highlights the impact of exercise on a school population with an absolutely staggering impact.

I’ve been almost pretty disciplined since this summer to have kept a regular exercise habit going. Exercise has become a mainstay in my life and without it, I have a hard time thinking and functioning well. My body gets antsy after a while if I haven’t exercised. I highly recommend this book for those who do not take exercise seriously because it presents ideas on how the brain itself is impacted.

Credit goes to the incredible Special Ops trainer Mark Lauren for writing You Are Your Own Gym to help me devise a High-Intensity Interval Training program.

That was 2015 in a set of ideas. I’ve tried to present the most life-changing ideas above. I hope some of them were useful to you. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or clarifications you would like and I would be happy to go into them.

70% of New Businesses Fail…so what?

You may have heard the statistic that 70-80% of all new businesses fail within the first 5 years. This statistic is meant to act is a deterrent for you to venture out and experiment on your own.

The unstated fact remains that while 70% of new businesses may fail within the first five years, but do 70% of business owners fail? The answer is: no.

For most business owners, the failure of the business is not tied to their own personal failure. From my own personal experience running small experiments and a small start-up subscription box company a little over a year back, I can definitely say that while those business ideas failed to take off, I learned more about how business is done from those few experiments than I had from my 4 years of undergrad. It also cost me significantly less.

From talking with hundreds of entrepreneurs in my current role, I can confidently say that while many of them have had businesses that have failed, none of them have taken it personally. The lessons have been invaluable in growing their next venture.

Steve Pavlina puts it another way:

While a business or a job may cease to endure after a certain number of years, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth doing. You’re still going to learn and grow and create value along the way, regardless of the outcome. Just as a job can be a stepping stone, so can a business, and there’s no reason you can’t start a new business with the expectation that it’s only temporary. Jobs and businesses come and go. Your own personal growth is what endures. (source)

Do not let statistics deter your desire to experiment and try out new things. The failure of an idea or process is not the failure of the person. It is most likely a massive success in growth.


Building Momentum


I’ve been experimenting with different success strategies and I’d like to share one that seems to have a great yield for me: Momentum.

In a nutshell, here it is: the best way to beat procrastination, get more out of life, etc is to build momentum by doing ANYTHING that is productive.

Pick just one super small productive thing you can do and do it. That’s it.

The fact is that action is the greatest buster of procrastination and lack of excellence out there. Sometimes the action in front of us can appear too big. Like moving a 3,000 lb car. If there’s no gas in the car, pushing it will get you no where fast. And then we usually beat ourselves up about it.

Instead, if we just started to walk instead, or get on our bikes, we can start building momentum. It won’t go far, but the feeling of movement is enough.

I often struggled with procrastination. I have tried many tactics to help me get out of it. I have tried to make lists, I have tried to discipline myself, I’ve even tried to make the task appear as small as it does.

That’s the reason why picking a super small productive task is often enough. Momentum builds and before you know it, you’ve moved from one productive task to another. The most important thing is to maintain the momentum. Don’t pause, don’t wait. Just keep moving.

If you finish the first task, and you wait to move onto the second task, the mind will start suggesting ideas such as “let’s just lie on the bed for a few moments” or “let me just take a quick peak at my phone.”

No, don’t.

Instead, just do something super small with the next task. And then something small again. Momentum.

Chances are you’ve done all the intellectual thinking and worrying about what you need to do. Chances are the only thing that needs to happen is to take action. Large tasks, projects, etc take too much out of us. We need a full tank of gas to move. Momentum built through taking action (no matter how small) becomes the fuel that can end up powering the heavy tasks we need to get done.

Confused? Found this useful? Found this half-baked? Found this helpful? Leave a comment below to share your insights/refinements/questions.


A look back at 2014 and A look ahead to 2015

2014 has been a good year and I wanted to review some progress I have made, some stumbling blocks, and discuss a few things I would like to accomplish in 2015.

Social Assertiveness
Perhaps the most significant change in 2014 has been a growth in my assertiveness. I have been perhaps my own harshest critic. I used to beat myself up (not literally) over my mistakes, my shortfalls, and every time I would fail at something such as resisting junk food, candy, etc. In many ways, it was like carrying a bat around with me and hitting myself over every thing I did wrong. However, I never expected the people around me to live up to a certain standard as well.

This last year changed that. I have gone from being a bit of a pushover, to the other side where I demand more from others as well. Perhaps a bit too much. I have had people tell me that I can come across as abrasive, rude, and offensive. I am fine with this, because the pendulum had swung too far in the other direction where I would stretch myself too thin for others and risk my own happiness. Asserting myself, leading from a place of honesty (even if it hurts), and asking for more from others have been ways to develop my internal power.

I shall now work towards striking a balance. However, going from one polar to another with this issue has been immensely helpful in my growth this past year. I am still going to approach from a place of honest and forthright intentions, especially when it comes to meeting women and relationships. It has been easier for me to move on if the compatibility is not there. This confidence and ability to weather rejected has undoubtedly been a positive thing.

Social Media
I quit Facebook in the fall of 2013, and I have been able to stay off it all this year. I have also quit Instagram, but have been struggling with Snapchat. I expect that I will continue down this path of removing “social” media type connections, and moving towards more actual social connections. This includes using my phone less, YouTube less, and less random internet browsing. Ironically, here is a sketch on YouTube that highlights how big of a problem this has become:

And here is a recent article in New York Magazine about our addiction to the validation wagon of social media. I have perhaps noticed this most when I have gone out with girls (one instance of that posted here). People are having a hard time being with another human being where they have to make an effort to be social, when the quick validation from a selfie (by say a pretty girl) is enough for them to feel they got their social fix.

Men are not immune to this of course. I have been with many buddies who are quick to reply to every single message they get on their phones, even during important one-on-one conversations. I am guilty of this as well, and I shall be working on this.

It is not enough to remove this habit of course. I have to fill it with something. I want to spend 2015 actively cultivating more rich in-person relationships with people. To meet new people again who I want to get to know. This is remarkably difficult after university where spontaneous meetings with new people are a lot easier. I will undoubtedly have to grow well past my comfort zone and actively go after social activities where I can do this. I am most looking forward to this area in my life.

Health & Fitness
This has been another area of positive growth. I started off the year being a raw vegan, eating a high carb low fat diet. I soon could not eat enough fruit to stay full during the day. I then transitioned to a cooked diet with very little fat (no oil at all) based in starches (still completely vegan). I came to this place after much reading. I am grateful I finally have a eating pattern that is easy to maintain, fills me with a lot of energy, and keeps me in shape. I started the journey by reading The China Study (the largest epidemiological study of nutrition), Forks Over Knives, The 80/10/10 Diet (which put me on the raw vegan path) and The Starch Solution by John McDougall (which finally helped me eat cooked foods again, while keeping the right macros). There are many other books/articles I am probably omitting, but this has been a good place of growth for me. I have experimented and failed at my approaches to diet and nutrition over the last 3-4 years, but the entire picture makes sense to me now.

In terms of fitness, I started the year doing crazy 6-day workouts in a week with programs like Insanity by Shaun T from 2013, but I have since transitioned towards more HIIT over fewer days in a week. I am currently working out 3 days/week, and I am satisfied there. I have finally come to the acceptance that exercise and fitness is something that will happen over my entire life. Programs such as Insanity, P90X, etc are 30/60/90 day programs, and I would always fall off the wagon with them. I was trying too hard to turn my fitness around in 30-90 days at a time. That sort of mindset was destructive as it made me think that fitness was a destination, not an on-going practice.

I experimented with going to the gym, but I have since found that working out at the home is the best option for me. I save a tremendous amount of time a week this way, and I have a lot more flexibility at when I can work out.

I expect to have the greatest gains in health and fitness during 2015 now that I have a sustainable and consistent path to follow. I would like to re-introduce yoga into the mix, because I really enjoy it tremendously.

I now only shave with a straight razor. James Bond style. It had a steeper learning curve, and there were many many cuts in the first few weeks, but I wouldn’t shave any other way.
There is a major life-altering goal I will start working on near the end of 2015, but I expect that to unravel in its own way.
I experimented a lot with side projects in 2013 such as the children’s education subscription box business The Travelling Monk (which got some great reviews and great customer traction). I did not pursue anything of that sort in 2014, but these side projects really added a lot of zest to life and really helped me grow. I expect 2015 to have more side projects to keep me busy.

How have you grown this last year and what are your areas of focus for the upcoming year? Any comments/criticism/questions about what I shared above? Share below! And don’t forget to subscribe to this website.

How to Deal with the Frustration of Not Getting Enough Done

I’ve tried it all. Timeboxing, GTD (this is fantastic!), Triaging, priority lists, to-do lists, the pomodoro technique, visualization, a list of only 2-3 things I want to get done, etc etc.

But sometimes, no matter what, I just can’t get into action. And then I stay up late into the night wondering why I can’t seem to get it done. What’s wrong with me. How much I am disappointing myself and others, etc etc. I just can’t seem to get things done. It’s not a good feeling. Maybe you can relate. Most people I know do. So here is something that has worked for me. Maybe it will help you as well.

The basic idea is this: Feel what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it, and to not feel what you’re not feeling when you’re not feeling it.


Let me explain. I don’t mean to go all Eckhart Tolle on you, but whatever. If it helps, like it has for me, this can be a huge gain for you when it comes to productivity and getting things done.

Walk through this activity with me. It will help.

Think of something you absolutely need to be doing. A tangible action step that you need to take. I am assuming you’re stuck at the place where you’ve broken down what you need to get done into smaller do-able pieces. If not, then that’s the first thing you need to do. Can’t do it? Great! Use this process for the task of making a task list.

As you think about doing this task, keep sitting. Stay with me here.

A lot of things will start happening now. Maybe it will be a sensation in your stomach or chest. Maybe your mind will flood with opening a new tab and just checking in with something else. Reaching for your phone. Oh, and that other thing you need to get done. Yeah…all this and more. Just welcome it. Don’t fight it. Just let it be there.

Yes, even the feeling of push. What you resist persists. And if you’re feeling like resisting, then welcome that as well. Welcome more stuff. All the crappy stuff. I’m-not-good-enough. Why-can’t-I-get-this-done. The sensations, pictures, and sounds associated with it. Just sit with it. Welcome it. Don’t fight it. It hasn’t worked. A part of you still wants to fight, in which case welcome it.

Observe it all doing its thing. Any other discomfort. Squirming to get away from this. To do something, ANYTHING else but to experience this. Welcome that pain/unease.

Welcome it all.

And then, ask yourself if you could, would you be able to let it go? Lead with your gut. if the answer is yes or no, or nothing, or whatever, just be honest and say it. Then, ask yourself
Would you let it go then?

Keep asking yourself the could you/would you/when until it’s out. To be honest, it’s taken be 4-5 minutes on really big issues before, and sometimes only 1-2 minutes on something simple I’ve been resisting.

Once you do this, you will feel such an incredible sense of lightness and space that it will be easy to get stuff done.

The most I’ve resisted the discomfort in starting something, the more it has persisted, and the more it has not made me move, the more it’s made me procrastinate, the more it’s made me frustrated. I hated myself in those moments. Now, I just let myself feel it all. Get it all out. Not fight. Welcome. This has been a mistake.

And then, when I pick up a book, or listen to some music, or watch something, my mind is still half in the task. This is an example of me breaking the rule of feeling something when I’m feeling it, and not feeling what I’m not feeling when I’m not feeling it. My mind is in two places. It scatters attention. It makes things tough. I don’t end up enjoying what I’m doing because of the guilt.

Now, I just let it dance out.

Despite how illogical this all sounds, it has helped me deal with the frustration of not getting enough done. Hopefully, it helps you as well.

Get into action!

Leave a comment if it helps you, or share a way that has helped you get into action.

The Solution to Boredom

I used to be hooked on Facebook. And Buzzfeed, and a whole bunch of other sites. At the slightest amount of boredom, my phone would pop right out and I would start reading something, checking something out (or someone out) on social media, etc.
I tried to quit Facebook many times. I was inspired by Steve Pavlina’s excellent post on this topic (click here), until one day it just clicked. I have been off Facebook since late August 2013, and don’t miss it.

I substituted it with other things. Quora, reddit, etc became the new things I would check out or read. After all, I believed, that I’m better than others because I’m doing more intellectual things. I’m increasing my knowledge. This must make me a better person.

Nope. Interestingly enough, consuming content still did nothing to get rid of the unsatisfied feeling. Kind of like eating a bag of chips and not having a real meal. I was just going through empty calories. And what did I do to make that increasingly unsatisfied feeling go away? I’d just go through more empty calories. I’d keep reading another site, I’d open another tab. And the feeling intensified. It was a downward spiral.

Now, this is nothing that big. This sort of downward spiral doesn’t put you on the streets as other addictions might. But this is definitely something worth thinking about a bit more.

Michael Crowley writes about this in (this somewhat dated) New Republic article (via Ben Casnocha “In Defense of Boredom”):

Turning off the BlackBerry and just looking out the window feels like an act of spiritual emancipation. And perhaps only one of Amtrak’s famous delays can help me achieve the “profound boredom” that Heidegger recommended for its clarifying power.

Granted, few of us are likely to have blinding existential insights just because we’re out of BlackBerry service range. For me, boredom tends to produce ruminations more along the lines of whether I should move to a new apartment. But it’s a start. In this moment of anti-boredom triumphalism, there’s something creepy about our constant flight from ourselves. Our fear of boredom suggests a kind of self-loathing. What are we so afraid of?

What are so we afraid of after all? A sort of dread enters when I get bored. But I also didn’t want to keep reading more things and not doing anything with it.

So here’s what I propose: Instead of using boredom as a means to start CONSUMING content (or food, or whatever), use it to CREATE content (or food, or whatever). Take the most exciting idea you have in your mind, and then take one tangible action in order to create it. You can certainly do it with your list of to-dos or shoot off some work/school email, but acting on your most exciting idea will yield a better return for you. The momentum of such action will be like an ice-bath to your puny boredom compared to the tepid waters of doing something from your to-do list. You’re actually MORE likely to effectively get things done even from your boring to-do list this way.

I have found this to be the most potent solution to boredom so far. Agree, disagree, share your comments below. And if you think this idea was valuable, considering sharing it.