Interview: Eric Antonow, Co-Founder, Metabolic
Eric Antonow wasn’t the nerd, or the jock, or the drama kid growing up. In his words, he distinctly belonged to none of these groups. He wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do as a kid, or years later in college, or as a 20-something.
So he just did the things that seemed attractive at the time. While most of us were off chasing internships and following the obvious stepping-stones, Eric was laying drywall for Habitat for Humanity, running a bookstore, and teaching the ukulele to five-year-olds.
Skip ahead a few decades, and Eric has found himself in some of the biggest product marketing jobs in tech. But his path to Silicon Valley wasn’t obvious — before working at Google, Facebook, and Instagram, Eric helped start a small software company in his hometown of Chicago. He spent 150 days a year on Southwest flights to every small and medium-sized city in the country, selling software.
I spent hundreds of hours debating an approach or planning for the next product launch with Eric at Facebook and Instagram, but realized I knew little about how he became who he is today. Focused, deliberate, precise, and capable of articulating ideas with more clarity than the best of us, Eric is someone everyone remembers. And he does it all with character. Complete with a pencil and a piece of paper in hand, you’ll find Eric wearing an identical outfit from the day before.
Today Eric is the co-founder of a new company called Metabolic, based in Palo Alto. He joined founder Jonathan Gheller to attack the problem of changing what you eat. Eric has always been somewhat obsessed with how people learn, and as you’ll see in the interview, their approach to a health epidemic facing so many today is far from another fad diet.
Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Breakfast of Champions
David Swain: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Eric Antonow: I had a bowl full of walnuts, blueberries, coconut oil, cinnamon, and chia seeds. I’ve probably had that exact same thing for breakfast for about 120 days.
It is a quarter cup of chia seeds mixed in water with a tablespoon of cinnamon, half a cup of walnuts, a handful of blueberries, and a tablespoon of coconut oil.
Yeah. No variance. Another part of the experiment was seeing what it would be like not to have a coffee, given I’ve had one every day for a couple of decades.
How did you get to this breakfast of choice?
I’ve been testing a bunch of different breakfasts, but the goal of this is no impact on blood sugar. I’ve tried other breakfasts to find ones with no effect on blood sugar. This one happened to come from a guy, Adam Brown, who runs a Facebook group for diabetics. He’s a Type 1 diabetic and wears a glucose monitor so he can see the effect on his blood sugar. He has tested this breakfast hundreds of times.
I also wear a glucose monitor — not because I’m a diabetic, but because I’m curious about how my body works.
The blueberries are the only carbs?
There’s probably a little bit of net carbs in the walnuts and the chia seeds, but it’s immaterial. Basically, it’s a giant bowl of fat and fiber. It’s probably 50 grams of fat and, I don’t know, enough fiber to float a boat.
Most people who eat it find it incredibly stabilizing for their metabolism, but it’s an acquired taste. It’s not super-sweet, so to each his own.
Talk more about this 120-day experiment.
At the beginning of the experiment, I would usually take a full lipid panel to see what my blood looked like. Then I would take another blood panel every month or every two months along the way, and then at the end. You get a concrete idea of how your body reacts to the combination of things you’re eating. You can see how your cholesterol reacts, how your blood sugar reacts, whether there are any other markers that are materially affected.
You can also see viscerally how you feel during the day. Am I hungrier before lunch when I eat this type of breakfast? Before this experiment, I was eating three eggs for breakfast consistently for about 120 days. How do I feel differently now versus then?
What’s the answer?
This breakfast works a little bit better for me. I feel a more consistent energy. It also means I can grab an omelet for lunch without having eggs twice in one day. That’s a long answer to what I had for breakfast, but you asked the wrong person.
Childhood: 30 Floors Up in Chicago
Eric at five years old — what were you eating for breakfast? Where were you? Who was at your kitchen table?
At five years old, my dad was a diabetic, which meant we really had no sugar in the house. No sugar felt like a form of deprivation when I was a kid. We only had Special K or Product 19 in the house. On a good day, we’d have Rice Krispies.
I grew up in Chicago, downtown, in a highrise 30 floors up in the air with two younger brothers. They both live in Chicago still. One’s a fireman; one’s an attorney. I live in Palo Alto.
What brought you out to California from Chicago?
I grew up in the Midwest. I lived in Chicago for more than 30 years of my life. I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan for school. I’d been part of two startups in Chicago, and then I took a little bit of time off when my kids were born. I came out here to work for Google almost 11 years ago now.
Tech in Chicago — how did you get into that? What was your path into the tech world?
I don’t think it was technology. I grew up with a computer in the house, which was not yet normal. These were the first Apple and IBM PCs. We lobbied my dad to buy one. We spent most of the time playing games but learned a little programming. I had some background then but didn’t use it for almost a decade. My first jobs were everything from laying drywall to running a bookstore.
When did you lay drywall?
It was a couple of years after college. It was very unclear what I was good at or what I wanted to do. I didn’t have any strong desires that I can remember. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, so I just did anything that was attractive to me. I laid drywall for Habitat for Humanity for a while. I went and found a small bookstore that I really liked and helped run that. Then I worked for a music school, did some operational stuff, and taught baritone ukulele to five-year-olds.
It was at the music school I met Michael Hobor, who was doing consulting work, and he offered me an apprenticeship. He was incredibly generous with his time and took me on as a partner on a bunch of projects. He convinced me that there were interesting problems in business that were worth thinking about. I would have been pretty skeptical about that idea if it weren’t for him.
Tell me about high school. There are the sporty kids and the music kids and the creative kids, etc. Who were you?
There were all those groups of people and I distinctly belonged to none of them. I didn’t feel deeply connected to groups. I didn’t do theater, even though we had a pretty strong drama school. I didn’t do sports, even though we had good sports teams. I had lots of individual friends but didn’t feel any connection to a particular group.
I was just reflective, again not really knowing what I wanted to do, not really clear about what got me excited — other than the fact that I liked individual people. I had a couple of very good friends I loved hanging out with. Whatever they wanted to do, I was cool doing.
What about your family growing up? Were there any traditions or vacations you had that stuck with you?
My parents were really different people with very different outlooks. My dad was older. He’d grown up in Chicago. When I was born, he was already 53, so he was notably older than most dads. He looked older too, so people would often mistake him for my grandfather. He was also older in the sense that he just had a different perspective, both of his own mortality and of the world.
My mom’s personality was very different. She was younger. She was in her mid-20s and she was an immigrant. She was born and raised in France, left at a young age, borderline running away. Growing up, I had two very different perspectives on the world.
My parents eventually got divorced, when I was around 12. I think the strongest thing that came out of that for my kids is really recognizing that there isn’t a single way to do things. It wasn’t like I grew up with one family; I grew up with two really strong opinions that were pretty different. I think about that when I look at my own kids, when I just look at my own family — my wife Jennifer and I have two children — and I view it as four people with pretty different opinions living under the same roof. I think that’s the strongest thing that came out of my growing up; there are pretty different opinions in the house rather than a single vision of a family.
Your mom coming from France, almost running away — did she go back much? Were you connected to the French side of her as a kid?
Two separate things. One is you grow up with a parent who’s an immigrant and you’re making sense of that. The person has an accent. There are some traditions she’s not familiar with. You deal with some of that awkwardness as a child, or you experience some of it. Like her not knowing what to make me for lunch when I was in kindergarten or first grade, and me having an uncooked English muffin with peanut butter spread on it. I said there were other kids who were bringing peanut butter sandwiches, and she would say, “I’ve no idea what that is.” She would cut these Bays English muffins in half, uncooked, and just slather peanut butter on top, no jelly. It was horrible! It was really the worst (laughing). All kinds of funny things like that, where it just was awkward.
Then there’s the connection factor, her family and her parents. We would talk to our grandparents on the phone every three to six months; long-distance calls felt much more expensive back them, so it was rare. They spoke mostly French; my grandfather spoke a little English. We went to visit them every four years or so. I think we visited them when I was six, and then again when I was 10, and they’d come visit a little more frequently during the summer.
It definitely felt like we weren’t being raised in a particularly French way. Later on, after college, I went to live with my grandparents for a year, which was great.
Talk about living with your grandparents in France.
They were in Paris. That was a ton of fun. I got to meet two people who I really didn’t know, and I lived in a room off their apartment. Ate breakfast with them pretty much every day for a year. My grandfather was probably 90 at the time. My grandmother was in her mid-80s.
Living with two older people and their patterns and their conversation was great. I also got to know part of my family that I would have had no connection with — they ended up dying within a year or two of my leaving. It teaches you a little bit about your own parent and the environment they grew up in.
My grandparents, I think, had fun having their young grandkid around the house. I was right out of college, so I was also a little bit of a handful. They wanted to know what time I was going to be home, and I would be like, “I don’t know.”
One of the things I remember most from our years together at Facebook and Instagram is how deep you can go on the stuff you’re interested in, whether it’s music or conversation or food. You talked about not knowing what you were interested in when you were younger, but you seem to have serious interests. Is that true?
A bit more abstractly, I do think that if I find something I really enjoy, my bias is to become obsessive about it. To really experience everything I can about it. I don’t know how long it’ll last. Whether it’s a writer or a piece of music or whatever, I think my orientation is to become pretty obsessive and then at a certain point that will stop. I’ve either exhausted my interest in it or I’ve exhausted the subject on some level, but yeah, you’re right — that’s my orientation.
Music in particular has always been something that just gets me really connected to a particular song or artist or genre. For a period of time, I could pretty much follow it. I would follow all the trails until I just couldn’t do it anymore, until I was either completely exhausted or I’d exhausted the thread.
What’s your music right now?
The most fun thing that’s happened in the last three or four years is most of the threads don’t start with me anymore. They start with one of my two kids. Some of the greatest experiences have been going to concerts with my kids where I went in blind, not really knowing the artist. I’ve found music I wouldn’t likely have found, and I got to experience it with them for the first time.
I remember three years ago going to Chance the Rapper when he wasn’t a big star. My son was about 10 and he told me, “We have to go to this.” He knew the songs and was deeply moved by all of them. It’s a combination of gospel and hip-hop. It was great to see him excited about something he loves. To have that experience with him — there’s no better pleasure than that.
The same thing happened with my daughter. When she was six I went to see One Direction, and experiencing that with her was very visceral — a direct line to being that age. It was like, This is who I am and what I love.
Any time I get to experience my kids through their world, it’s more interesting than anything I could come up with myself.
Have any musical influences stood out to you more than others?
It would just be this long, long list of weirdos — and I promise you, it would sound like it was intentionally eclectic. I guess at some point, I liked somebody to that extreme. Sometimes it’s a song, not an artist. Again, there may be something I enjoy about having just a pure eclectic thing. I like having this range of music because there’s some ego in it. There’s something that I find cool about it, but that’s not most of it.
I think most of it is you hear a song and it resonates with you. You’re just like, That says something either I knew to be true or I’d never heard of before, and now it feels really true to me. It’s the full range of everything. I don’t think there’s a genre of music where I haven’t been deeply, deeply touched by a piece.
Learning: It’s Not an Individual Sport
You’ve done interviews on how people learn. I remember when you taught yourself piano. What have you learned about “learning”?
I’ve tried to learn a number of instruments by myself. I’ve tried to understand how to do that. The goal isn’t to learn piano; the goal is to learn how you can learn piano.
Learning for me is much more feeling my way in the dark, as opposed to some people who, at six years old, know they want to be a doctor.
Back to piano. I know I’m not a brute force learner. I’m not going to lock myself in a room five hours a day and practice. Some people operate that way. Not me.
Instead of pushing myself, something has to pull me — something I’m attracted to. Something that I know to be true. I couldn’t force myself to memorize things in school; that never worked for me. I’d generally use the approach of finding things I liked a lot and letting those things pull me. I’d find a writer I liked in English and then I would like that English class.
What I think I learned with the piano, and what I’ve learned a lot since then, is that I have this incredible bias toward thinking of learning as an individual sport. You’re there with a book or a math problem or a piano, and your job is to work on it and progress on it individually. That was, I think, my thesis for a long time — or the way I oriented myself.
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from work — from being in places like Google, Facebook, Instagram, and jobs before that — is how much faster I learn in the context of a team of people. I probably learn three to five times faster in teams than I learn alone. I think learning by yourself is often the least effective method. Join the right group, the right collective of people, and you’ll go much faster. I think that’s a huge misunderstanding of how we operate.
Going from not knowing what you wanted to do, to having some pretty serious jobs at Google and Instagram and Facebook, what did you take away? When were you really in your element?
Before I went to Google, I started a small software company in Chicago with a couple other people. We built it up over about five years, to about 20 people, and then we got acquired. It was the first time I ran a decent-sized team or an organization. When I went to Google, I wanted to focus on what I was going to learn about managing, and how I was operating inside a bigger organization.
But what I got out of Google was entirely different. Most of it was just learning by watching some very smart people. Watching them work, watching how they made decisions, watching how they ran meetings, watching how they thought through problems — this was an incredibly fast way for me to learn. I felt really lucky. When I went to Google, we were already roughly 10,000 people and all of the challenges were at a completely different scale.
You went into product marketing before you founded the startup, right?
Yeah, I wasn’t particularly good at anything, to be clear.
Before Google, at my startup, I was the sales person because we were 15 engineers, a designer, a PM, and then me. So I was on a Southwest flight to every small and medium-sized city in the country 150 days of the year, selling software. I wasn’t good at sales beforehand, but I got good at it pretty quickly. When I went to Google, I didn’t have any other obvious skills.
But they hired you.
They sort of hired me. It took them a long time, at least five months and 17 interviews for them to actually say, “I think we’ll have you.”
When it got near the end of the process, they made me choose whether I wanted to work in business development, sales, or product marketing. Product marketing was closely tied to the product organization, which was closest to the way the organization thought. I really wanted to learn from the people and the culture, so that seemed like the right choice. I sat in the center buildings on campus most of my time there.
I was responsible for product marketing for an area called Client, which was all the software that was resident on the desktop rather than delivered entirely over the cloud. That was Google Toolbar, and Desktop, and a few other products, and when we eventually launched Google Chrome, that was under that same team.
Product marketing became your calling for a while. Fast-forward a few years, and you are responsible for marketing a little product called Facebook.
This was all very organic. I had three really great people on my team when I joined Google — John, Joyce, and Mendel — and they taught me everything I needed to know. My manager at the time, a woman named Debbie Jaffe, was the best manager I could have learned from. We reported to Marissa Mayer at the time, and so occasionally we’d have meetings with her to discuss stuff, and I got to learn from watching her. My product counterpart was a guy named Sundar Pichai, who post-Chrome, went on to be responsible for large parts of the organization at Google. I got to watch really exceptional people work.
Partway through that, I also became responsible for the developer side, which included all of our APIs and our developer events. Those were two very different experiences. One was consumer marketing; one was developer marketing. That whole thing was three-and-a-half very intense years.
By the time I was done with that, I think I did know something. When I got the inquiry from Facebook, it wasn’t crazy that I would take on a product marketing challenge. I had done enough of it that I felt somewhat confident.
The experience at Facebook was just as profound. The combination of such exceptional people and the intensity of the mission made it the best place to learn.
I remember at Instagram we had the “Do Less” mugs for you. You had an intense focus on simplicity and making sure we weren’t spreading ourselves thin. Is that a philosophy you have in general, or is it specific to the environment?
Some part of it was specific to the environment at Instagram. Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom had a focus and a simplicity-oriented ethic that were at the core of what they built. That part was very clearly in the Instagram culture, and I think one of the things that made it special.
The second part of “Do Less” was more personal. In most of these environments, there are a handful of things that really matter, and then there are other things we spend a lot of time on. Trying to understand that when you have scarce resources, scarce time — what’s the one most important thing to focus on?
When you and I sat down with our teams, we would look at all these things we wanted to accomplish in a quarter, and it was always a massive list. The teams came back with these amazing ideas: “We want to do this project at a museum, and we really want to do this incredible thing with this artist.” We had all these incredible ideas, and we did many of them — so many of them. It was a little nuts.
Of the 73 things that people wanted to do, what’s the one thing you’d be most proud of getting done? What’s the one thing that would change the course of the organization, or the brand, or the product? “Do Less” is about putting more of your energy toward that one thing.
There are too many things to do, too many choices, always scarce resources. What are the things you’ve learned about filtering it down from 73 to one?
I don’t have an abstract filter. I know the process we would use. We would usually argue, which is to say, “Make the case for me how this will change the world on the other side.” To be worth doing, it must have a dramatic impact on the way we tell our story, and in how people interpret our story, and in how people understand us.
How, in that very brief time users give us their attention, can we do our best to close the gap between where we are and where they are? As we go through that list of 73, which of these items has a real chance of closing that gap?
That’s how we oriented ourselves toward the problem. We argued most of this stuff out.
I remember my daily walks with you. You had your pencil behind your ear, your piece of paper, and you were wearing the same-style shirt you’d worn the day before. These symbolic items and gestures are not that common. Talk about what they mean?
Yes, I wear the same outfit every day. When I moved here to the Valley, it was pointed out to me that there are other people who do this too (laughing).
For me, the most disappointing thing about being five years old was having a favorite shirt that you couldn’t wear every day. I remember having this t-shirt that I thought was amazing. It had an iron-on. I would argue with my parents, “Why can’t I wear it every day? This is the best shirt.” They’d say, “It gets dirty, and we have to wash it.” I would then say, “Well, can you wash it while I’m sleeping?”
If I found something that I really thought was the best, why couldn’t I wear it every day? The minute I got control over my wardrobe, which arguably wasn’t until my early 30s, I would find something I liked and just buy 10 of it. There are some things that seem totally reasonable to me, but looking at them from the outside they may seem a little more odd.
Metabolic: Changing What You Eat, One Step at a Time
Let’s skip ahead to Metabolic and what you’re doing now. You’re back in the startup world.
Metabolic was founded by Jonathan Gheller, and I joined him early on. The goal is to build a program and a set of tools to help people change what they eat. Many people — either for health reasons, or to change how much they weigh — turn to diet to go through that change. It’s mostly ineffective. Most people struggle to change what they eat, even if they start with a huge motivation to change, like how long they live or how much they’ll suffer. Even with those motivations, people struggle. We’re building a set of tools to make that easier. That’s what Metabolic is.
How far along are you in the process?
Pretty early, but we’ve made a ton of progress. You can think of changing what you eat as two problems: what to eat and how to change? We focus much more on the second part — on how to change.
I was thinking about your 120-day diet. Having the discipline to do that is not very common.
No, that’s not common. But it’s less about discipline and more about finding a way to make change easy. I’m changing just one thing: what I eat for breakfast. Most diets fail because they ask people to make multiple changes at once.
If I went to you and said, “Guess what, David? You’re going to wear all purple from now on. A big purple hat, purple shirt, purple tie, purple pants, purple underwear, purple socks, purple shoes, the whole bit, because that’s what it’s going to take to be healthy,” you’d be like, “I’m not a clown.”
If you tried to wear that for a week, you would reject it; it’s not you.
I might wear purple socks. That’s about as far as I would go.
Yes! Why don’t we just try purple socks? You do purple socks for a month. After a week or two, it’ll be less weird, and maybe you’re just the purple socks guy. People may actually know you as that.
It’s both a small fix and also, it becomes part of your identity. After a month, it would be weirder to find you not wearing purple socks than it would be for you to wear purple socks. With Metabolic, we find one small change in the person’s diet, the right thing to change. They do it for a month and lose between five and 15 pounds in 30 days.
Then, after wearing the socks for a month, we would ask, “David, how do you feel?” You’d say, “I lost seven pounds and feel great. I’ve got better energy all day just from wearing these purple socks.” And we would say, “Great! We’ve got one more change for you. Shoelaces — could you do purple shoelaces?” And a month later, the purple shoelaces wouldn’t be so weird. You’d feel better and you’d have lost a little bit more weight, and you’d go and do a lipid panel and your HDL would be up 15 points and your LDL would be down. Your triglycerides would be down and your A1C would be normal. You’d say, “This is amazing, and all I did was change my socks and shoelaces.”
For some people, they might be done. Those may be the only two fixes they need to make. For most other diets, you would get a black list of all the things you can’t eat, or a white list of things you must eat. That’s a dramatic change.
I actually can’t think of anything that’s a stronger expression of identity than what you eat. What you put in your mouth turns into your muscle and tissue, your cells and bone. That’s physiological. Then there’s the psychological part. People say things like, “I’m not myself without coffee” or “I’m a bread person.” Those are strong statements of identity, and making changes to your identity is really, really hard. If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to find small fixes with a large impact.
When you say, “I can’t imagine there are too many people who could eat the same breakfast for 120 days,” I would say, well, I’m not changing anything else. My lunch, my dinner — I’m not making any other edits during that time. I’m not trying to change my shirt.
So far this has been really effective for people. What you eat is important, but how you change is actually more important. Learning is actually just changing your identity.
How many employees do you have now? What does Metabolic look like?
About 12 people, but it’s still pretty early. It’s about one year in.
How do people use it?
There’s an app. You take a picture of everything you eat before you eat it. Within a couple minutes, a nutritionist somewhere scores the meal for carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. So your food journal is maintained automatically. After about a week, we can spot for the obvious patterns — the things that are probably affecting your body. We can see your best days and your worst days, and what foods are triggering them. Then we can recommend one fix. You then go and make that one fix for a month. You keep taking pictures of everything you eat so we can see the effects, and also find the next fix.
If someone is more interested in athletic performance than weight, can Metabolic adjust to that objective?
That’s not the focus at this stage. It is about long-term solutions to health risks. Things like, I’ve been struggling to lose 20 pounds for a long time. I need to lose this and I don’t want to be white-knuckling a diet for the rest of my life.
Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, most cancers — those are downstream from what you eat. The goal for what we’re doing is to reduce that chronic disease risk through diet.
There are probably close to 100 million people who are prediabetic, a third of the United States. We’re talking large swathes of the population: wealthy, middle class, and poor.
Parenting, Meditation, and an Annual Visit to the Parking Lot
Let’s close on parenting. What have you learned about managing work and parenting, and finding ways to really connect with your kids?
I think I’ve had a slightly different imperative about being a parent and being present. My dad died when I was 20 years old. It was my last year of college and I’ve really missed not having him around. He had diabetes, a stroke, and heart disease, and he was sick for the last three to five years of his life.
My early years of being an adult, I had many questions. How are you supposed to figure out the best way to spend your time? What are the mistakes to avoid? I found good people to get advice from, some wonderful mentors.
But I didn’t have a dad. It wasn’t because he was working all the time. He was just not there — he wasn’t alive.
As I had kids, I thought about the hierarchy of needs differently. I knew I wanted to be present as a parent, and I didn’t know how long I was going to be around. I thought, I really want to enjoy this. I really want my kids to enjoy this. I want to have as much time with them as possible. Even though I had very intense jobs, I allocated my time pretty well. The most important thing to me was being a good parent and a good husband. You’d have to ask my family if I’ve done a passable job at either of those things, but that’s what was important to me.
What about traditions and rituals you have instilled in the family? There’s presence, but are there certain things your kids will reflect on when they’re older?
We don’t have a ton of traditions in our house. I think both my wife and I are pretty aware of that absence. Her family has a certain way they celebrate Christmas. I’m so grateful to plug into that every year. It’s an amazing production they put on. I love that.
I’ll pick one that’s a little bit weird. Ever since my kids were either five or six, I would take them out to a parking lot, and I would let them drive the car. We would probably go once or twice a year, for maybe 30 minutes. I have videos of my daughter driving at five or six, having a total blast. They’ve felt this incredible power at the steering wheel, and I’ve loved giving them that sense of not being that different from me. “Your legs may not be long enough to do all the technical things right now, but you’re inhabiting the same world I am. There is the same risk. The same fear. I want you to calibrate against that.”
This year was really funny. My son Ben is pretty tall. He’s probably 5’9” now. He’s 14 years old. This year when we went driving, I sat in the front seat and said, “Come sit down.” He looked at me like I was crazy. He said, “I’m just going to drive.” I moved over to the passenger seat and he did it. He is a pretty happy-go-lucky person, but then he was dead serious and said, “I got this.”
That’s a tradition I want them to feel. I tried to set it up so they could feel like a full person, a full adult. My job as a parent is, on some graduated basis, to expose them to the danger, the awesomeness, and the risk of being in the world. The full ownership that comes with it. One part of being a parent is aggressively giving up that control.
I hope both my daughter and my son feel like I have interacted with them no differently than I would interact with any other person. I don’t view them as children.
Let’s talk meditation. One of the things you started last year is Pub Med, the Facebook Page. What does meditation mean for you? And then let’s talk Pub Med.
Meditation wasn’t a part of my life until a couple years ago. It was completely accidental. I was watching a comedy special on YouTube and it rolled into a benefit of Jerry Seinfeld trying to raise money for the David Lynch Foundation. He gave a 10-minute pitch on how he’s meditated every day for the last 40 years — particularly on how it provided him with the rest to be able produce a show, act, and be a standup comedian.
I went and learned a meditation technique, and I started to do it every day. I felt incredibly well-rested. It really changed the way I operate.
Then I ran into a bunch of people who had similar experiences with meditation, but they didn’t talk about it publicly. They kept it private, almost like they were ashamed of it. I was like, How do we fix that? How do we make it something that people don’t hide?
One morning at six o’clock, I broadcasted myself meditating on Facebook Live and a few hundred people watched it. People wrote these comments and sent me messages. My reaction was, I guess that’s all you need to do. When people see it, it becomes more normal.
So I invited guests to do it with me. It’s basically a talk show where there’s no talking, just two people meditating. I branded it Pub Med for Public Meditation. It’s taken off.
The next thing you know, you’re meditating with Arianna Huffington and Jewel.
Yeah. I did a Pub Med with some public figures, Jewel, and Arianna Huffington, and Sharon Salzberg, and a bunch of other great people. I would encourage anybody with a practice to do some of it in public. From time to time, do it at Starbucks or on an airplane, and eventually it will become normal to meditate in public.
That’s the origin of it. At the high level, no matter the particular practice, it is a little ludicrous that we don’t have a pretty simple form of daily mental hygiene.
And for our kids, it matters. You’ve got to exercise. You’ve got to eat well. Where does mental health fit?
We say to our kids, “You’ve got to do something physical every day and eat well.” We don’t have an accepted reflective practice that helps keep the mind in a healthy state. I’m not suggesting meditation as the only way to do it. But people should have some way to exercise or resettle the mind every day.
For kids, I can’t think of a time when there’s more change to metabolize than middle school, high school, and college. It would be great to give them better tools. You can view this as psychological rest or the ability to really experience the world as directly as possible and not get caught in all the narratives that you can get caught in. Investing in that seems like a pretty big deal.
Originally published at Common Threads Media.