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Unpacking the Comfort Crisis with Michael Easter | Ep. 393

Reclaim the real you by becoming a little uncomfortable

Join JJ as she explores how to lose more weight, have a better heart, be in a better mood, burn more calories, and more! The only thing you need to do differently is step just a little outside of your comfort zone. Sound too scary for you? Listen as editor and author Michael Easter explains how simple it can be to alter just a few small things you are probably already doing… and see big results!

Michael and JJ discuss why you don’t need a gym membership and a daily or weekly gym schedule to get in better shape, you can literally get more out of taking a walk in nature with nothing more than a backpack to give you the same (if not better) results. Michael doesn’t mince words though, there will be a bit of a challenge in certain ways like stepping somewhat out of your comfort zone. Less daily technology, more mindfulness, less instant gratification, slowing down a bit, all things that may sound pleasant on the surface, but we don’t realize how much mindlessness has become the norm for us. If we can get just a few small things in check, we will see great improvements in our physical and mental health, our emotional wellbeing, and our outlook on life.

You will be amazed and inspired when you listen to Michael explain how you can adjust a few small daily activities, like taking an enjoyable walk in nature and stepping somewhat out of your comfort zone, can get great gains!

You don’t want to miss this.

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JJ Virgin: So this is going to feel like something tough to sell, but what if I told you that you could. Get healthier, burn, more fat, be in a better mood, have better bones. Have a better heart. I just get in a little uncomfortable by just switching up your daily routine. Maybe adding one uncomfortable thing a week or every couple of weeks into it.

Yes, that's what I'm going to be talking about today with Michael Easter. He's the author of the comfort crisis. Embrace discomfort to reclaim your wild happy, healthy self. He's a contributing editor at men's health magazine columnists for outside magazine and professor at the university of Nevada. Las Vegas.

And he has appeared in more than that. His work as a beard, more than 60 countries, and can also be found in men's journal, New York, vice scientific, American Esquire, and others. And he lives out in Las Vegas at the edge of the desert with his wife and their doggies. And we are going to be talking today.

About his work that became the [00:01:00] comfort crisis. Now you'll be able to get the first chapter of the book for free. All you need to do is go to JJ virgin.com forward slash comfort to grab that. And I will be right back to unpack how we can get uncomfortable to get more healthy quickly.

All right, Michael, glad to have you here. So I want to dig in and, uh, cause I think this is a tough. That you have going on here, um, telling people to embrace discomfort, to reclaim your wild, happy, healthy self. Um, so like what are we talking about here in terms of discomfort and you named your book, the comfort crisis, like let's just unpack that.

What do you think is happening? Cause when I hear that, I think of how, you know, we've got. Um, S lawnmowers people can sit [00:02:00] in and we've got all these things that make it easy in life. And that's led to us being kind of, you know, overweight and depressed. Is that a little piece of it or is it way bigger than 

that?

Michael Easter: Uh, that is, uh, that's um, it's a piece of it, of like this much larger pie, right. It's like, as humans evolved, we evolved in these environments that were inherently uncomfortable. Right. It's either too cold, too hot. If we wanted to eat, we had to put in effort. Um, there was never enough food. Uh, it was just harsh, right?

JJ Virgin: So we developed all these drives to constantly do that, which was most comfortable. So, for example, we are wired to be lazy more or less, but our past environment used to make us move and our modern environment doesn't, we are wired to want to quell our hunger. Whenever we feel it, even in the slightest.

Now in our past environment, we didn't have enough food, but today we're like swimming and all this super calorie dense food. And we just eat for a lot of reasons beyond hunger on and [00:03:00] on and on this tells us this drive for comfort. We have tells us to avoid risks. It tells us to quell our boredom any way we can.

Now we have these really easy escapes from it. So on and on, you can look at all this, this drive we have for comfort in our comfortable world now. And it's associated with a lot of. Um, most pressing problems I argued. So like obesity, um, depression, anxiety, or lack of fitness, a lot of chronic disease and on and on and on.

Yes, it is a tough sell 

because like, so, so what do we do? Go move into a year, like, 

Michael Easter: well, so I make the argument that we need to basically figure out ways to consciously insert discomfort back into our life. And some of those are relatively. Easy to do others. I think we do have a history of humans. Like we need moments that push back at us and sort of are a little bit harder.

So I'll give you an example of something that's really. Approachable. I think so to report this book, I spent more than a month up in the Arctic and I traveled the world. Right. And [00:04:00] part of the one thing that happened to me up in the Arctic is I didn't have my cell phone not to mention it wouldn't have worked for about a hundred miles.

There was not a bar of service. Right. I didn't bring books and magazines. 

JJ Virgin: And were you by yourself or were you with other people?

Michael Easter: I was with two other guys. Yeah. All of a sudden, I find myself bored again and it's like, well, what is this feeling? Because nowadays we can just immediately pull out our phone or turn on a TV and quell any semblance of boredom.

We have really easily, well, humans evolved, um, develop the capacity to be bored. Cause it was this evolutionary discomfort that used to basically yell at us. Hey, whatever you're doing with your time, your return on time invested has worn thin. So go do something else. So picture like we're out on this hunt.

Um, after our 10, we still haven't seen animals. Boredom would kick on and be like, yo, go pick some potatoes, go pick some berries, go do something else. Now it used to basically tell us to do something productive. Right? [00:05:00] Well, nowadays, whenever we feel bored and we have really easy effortless escapes from it, we can just pull out our phone.

The average person spends more than 11 hours a day, engaging with digital media. When you do this, like, 

JJ Virgin: wait a minute, wait a minute, wait, hold the phone. How much time does the average person spend a day,

Michael Easter: more than 11 hours a day?

JJ Virgin: Wait a minute. How could they do that?

Michael Easter: I mean, look at your own day. I think it would be like, I, I think that people just don't realize it, but average person is on their phone about three hours a day in between two and three average person spends around four hours with the TV.

Um, we spend a lot of time behind computer screens. Now, all this stuff is like brand new in the grand scheme of humanity. Right. And it like hacks into this hardware. We have to sort of be to want to be entertained, but we never had this in the past. So we used to have to come up with creative, interesting ideas and things to do with our time.

Um, but now we can just [00:06:00] zone out and do our, our smartphone or whatever it is. So we have, we're like removing. From this time that used to tell us to be creative. And when you look at the research today, scientists will do studies where they'll get one group and they'll let them be on their cell phone, do whatever.

And then they'll get another group and they'll bore the crap out of them. And it turns out that the board group always scores significantly better on creativity tests. And less time you spend in media is also associated with all the depression and anxiety that's going on today. It's higher than it's ever been.

Since we started recording it. So I argue like here's an easy way to feel, to use discomfort, to improve your life, leave your phone at home and go on a 20 minute walk outside, get bored. Drive in silence. Turn off the TV and put your cell phone in another room and just sit on the couch. Yeah, it's going to be uncomfortable for a minute, but your head is going to go to some interesting places.

Some of those places might be totally weird, but some of them might actually be productive. So I noticed this [00:07:00] in the Arctic, is that. I'm sitting up there and what did I do? I start reading the ingredient labels on my cliff bars or whatever, start looking, reading the tags of my outdoor gear. I start just looking at the ground, right?

Like this is kind of strange stuff, but then I'm like, oh, I could come up with my Christmas list. Bam. That's out of the way I write for a lot of magazines. I came up with 17 story ideas. I wrote some of the book that I'm working on. I'm doing all these other things. That are productive and also creative.

Like when I think about writing that book up there nowadays, when I'm writing from behind my screen, I might have a thought, any thought, just something stupid. Like, oh, what's the last movie Colin Farrell was in, has nothing to do with anything. Right. And then all of a sudden I'm on this, like IMD B rabbit hole, whereas up there, I can't immediately.

Bam. Let's figure something else out. Right. And so this gives me this time with my attention on one thing, which is associated with better deeper work. 

JJ Virgin: Wow. True, true [00:08:00] white space, you know, it's, it's funny. I was at a mastermind. They're like, what do you need? And I go, I just need white space, but we have to force it on ourselves.

That is super interesting. So. Let's unpack two of them that I, I, you know, we get asked about all the time and I know you'll have a different perspective, so I really want to hear it. And, um, the first would be around exercise. Yes because exercise, I mean, exercise from your perspective would be very different, I would think than like what we do as a typical exercise prescription.

Michael Easter: Yes. So I argue in the book, all exercise is good. I will put that first and foremost, but I also argue that we've even tried to make exercise as comfortable as possible. So what do we do when we go to the gym? It's this like, Like specific allotted amount of time that I'm going to spend, you know, on an elliptical.

And what am I doing while I'm on an elliptical, I'm kind of doing this weird movement. And I'm like [00:09:00] watching TV, I'm watching judge Judy throw down on someone who hasn't paid their child support or whatever it is, you know? Um, and then when I decided I'm done with my 30 minutes, I can leave and the gym is air conditioned, and it's designed to make me feel as good as possible while doing this uncomfortable thing.

So it's kind of a strange thing we've had to do invent. Now I make the case in the book that if you look at why the human body is built, the way it is. There's two reasons. Two main reasons. One is so we could run down, pray over long distances in the heat. So you look at us, you compare us to other animals.

Humans are pretty athletically, pathetic. We are slow. We're not good sprinters. Uh, and we're also not that strong, but w we are good at doing is covering really long distances, uh, slowly. So we would use this to our advantage in hunting because other animals overheat, if you try and push them over a long time, So we'd like chase animals down over miles, miles, miles.

They would eventually overheat. [00:10:00] They would fall, you know, they would just give up and we'd spare them and then we would have dinner, but what will we have to do after we ran an animal down over 10, 15 miles, we'd have to carry it back to our camp. Right. So we'd butcher it in the field and carry these heavy animal parts back.

So that's the other thing that we are uniquely built for is carrying heavy weight across distances. And you can see this in, um, our anatomy. We have relatively short torsos. We, you know, obviously walking on two feet, we can cool ourselves efficiently. We have really strong. Oddly enough. Um, and so when I looked at the sort of how people exercise, it's like jogging is something a lot of people do, right?

So we've got one of the two things we evolved for, but how many people for our workout? Well, think I'm just going to pick up something heavy and I'm going to carry it a long way. Not many people, right. Yet it's this thing we're uniquely adapted to do. And so I traveled to Harvard and I met with some [00:11:00] anthropologists.

Who think that, you know, doing the activities that humans are uniquely built for. It can be uniquely good for us. So when you look at something like carrying weight, you're not only improving your cardiovascular health because it's, you know, covering a lot of distance, uh, you're also improving your strength and that's something that running doesn't do.

And I think particularly for, uh, women, women hit the, um, national exercise guidelines at a much lower rate than. But it's because they break it up into cardio and strength. So women do cardio the same rate as men, but women tend to not do as much strength. And I think that 

JJ Virgin: they should do more. 

Michael Easter: I know, I know. They really should. 

JJ Virgin: Especially when I hear about you talking about carrying. That's funny. I just sent something to one of my sons about the farmer's carry, you know, where they just pick up heavyweights and walk them around. My son's kind of a beast he's really like more strong, but you look at like the group [00:12:00] that needs to carry it.

It's 50 plus year old women need to be loaded on weight, protecting their bones, right. Keeping their heart healthy, keeping their brain healthy. Um, So, yes, pick up some heavy weights and carry around. Not those little pink ones. I call those paper weights. I love that. I will tell you, um, one of my most memorable experiences at a gym, I walked into the gym and there was a gal on was either the elliptical or the treadmill.

I mean, either one to me was shocking that she could be doing this. She was doing crossword. I'm like, how on earth are you? That is not a workout crossword puzzle. 

Michael Easter: Yeah. So in the book I make the argument that more people should do this form of exercise called rucking, and that's where you just get a backpack.

You load it with some weight, like anywhere from 10 to 50 pounds. You just go for a walk. You look at the research on it. It burns two to three times more calories than walking, depending on how much weight you have in the [00:13:00] bag. It's also a lot safer. So running the injury rate is pretty high for a lot of reasons.

It's like 20 to 70%. Rucking, it's like the same injury rate as walking and everyone can walk and everyone was back. 

JJ Virgin: If you were looking at it from a calorie load or an intensity load, you could achieve the same thing by rucking versus running. 

Michael Easter: Yes. A hundred percent 

JJ Virgin: and prepare yourself to, 

Michael Easter: and you get the strength element too, which I think is really important for people because not everyone likes the gym and that's totally fair, you know?

JJ Virgin: Well, and like, look at this past year, we couldn't go to the gym. So what are all the different things that you can do? And this is easy. Yep. Exactly. So that's awesome. All right. That was a good one to unpack. Let's unpack the other big one, which is obviously diet. Yeah, man. Have we gotten far away from how we were created or evolved or whatever?

Michael Easter: Yeah, we definitely have. Um, so I kind of look at it through the book, as you know, [00:14:00] there's a lot of different diets out there with special names and, you know, They all basically tell you to eat one thing and not the other, that like one food is really bad and another is good and blah, blah, blah, blah. And you look at the research on diets and they tend to all work until they don't for most people most of the time.

So the average person bails off their diet in five weeks. And when I was up in the Arctic, um, I was eating absolute garbage food because that's what we had to pack in. We had to pack in this freeze dried crap. I mean, it was crap, but I still managed to lose 10 pounds, but I tell you, what did happen is I was really hungry because I was in a calorie deficit.

Right. So in the book I look at sort of the science of hunger and how people today. Don't feel hunger as much as they used to. We tend to be eating a lot more food in the form of you measured by calories. And part of that too is because we do, we are surrounded in a sea of ultra ultra processed [00:15:00] food that is formulated to this.

Prey on these evolutionary instincts, we have to calorie dense stuff like it's engineered to hack our brain. We never had, um, 

JJ Virgin: and to have addictive things in there of the dairy, gluten sugar that have that opioid like effect on the brain and make you crave it. And truly, you wonder too. We've been trained.

I remember about 20 years ago, what came out in the diet industry was that we should not let ourselves feel hunger, that you needed to eat every couple hours to keep your blood sugar stable. I mean, this is so ridiculous and that you never wanted to let yourself get hungry because then you would lose control.

So, so you wonder nowadays. Like how many people really know what hunger really feels like. They think they're hungry, but it's not really hunger there they're thirsty. Or they just have a trigger because they just saw a commercial or they went to Starbucks and saw the muffin or the cup, the cake cup or whatever they are.

Um, so yeah. So, uh, hunger, since [00:16:00] you really felt it, like what's your recommendation for people on, on how to eat when to eat, what to eat?

Michael Easter: Well, I think that some of the research suggests that only 80% of our eating and is driven by true physiological hunger or sorry, only 20% is so 80% of it is. It's a certain time on a clock, or I don't know, I'm stressed.

Like I think stress modern stress is a big driver of a lot of the eating we do because food is a really easy way to get a temporary fix from stress. Right. So in the book, um, I think we need to find ways I talk about how I need, I think we need to find ways to re-engage with hunger. Now this, I think there's a lot of different ways to do this.

This could be from trying fasting every now and then, because I think when people do that, They learned that like hunger isn't that bad. It doesn't like grow and grow and grow until all of a sudden, like you explode. I didn't like kind of comes in waves. It comes and goes. And it's really not that bad, especially knowing that [00:17:00] you're going to eat some time, like we have food around.

Right. Uh, and then I think that we should think once we sort of are able to figure out what real hunger actually feels like, which I think fasting can help us do that. I think that people need to rethink the type of foods that you. So, you know, they do studies where they let people eat foods that are single ingredient versus those that are ultra processed and people who eat ultra processed foods always end up eating more calories because those foods are just not that.

Whereas stuff that is, um, not processed tends to be more filling. So in the book, I make an argument that we should be eating foods that we've been eating for thousands of years. So things like potatoes are one of the most filling foods that you can eat. Of course you can't fry them and cover them in sour cream and butter.

Cause that changes them fundamentally. Um, but things like potatoes, lean meat, vegetables, oatmeal, like this is all the stuff that we kinda know is good for us. And that has helped. And that's because it tends to tend to not eat as much of it. And [00:18:00] that tends to be good for controlling weight or losing weight.

JJ Virgin: One other one that seems interesting. Like I remember hearing about this, that, you know, I'm obsessed with the things that can get in the way of you losing weight and cause you to gain weight. And I remember reading this article about room temp. And how we so tightly, most of us control our room temperature.

We keep it around 70 and that the reality is you need to deal with your body, needs to go out and deal with heat, needs to go out and deal with cold, you know, and it has to work to adjust between these things. So how much does that play a role in, and are you then recommending things like, uh, ice bath's and sauna and stuff like that.

Michael Easter: So I tend to think about it. Um, Most of the discomforts that I think improve our health are really things that we used to just face in the past all the time, but we've removed from our environment. So I don't think that people were taking ice baths in the past because that would have been pretty dangerous.

Right. [00:19:00] But we do know that they were outside for good stretches of time and they. Probably we're cold. A lot of days, it probably were hot. And so we know that we have these mechanisms that tend to fire on when we are either too cold or too hot. Um, for example, when you get cold and your body temperature drops, your body will burn, um, use brown fat to burn white fat in order to keep you warm.

It's like your internal furnace kicks on that requires burning calories. All right. So you're drawing on these reserves. You have to stay warm and we don't ever have to do that anymore. So. You know the sign. I love how the scientists, um, who I talked to about this, put it, and he's like, look, you know, keeping your house at 64 degrees, which is the temperature they recommend in the winter.

He said, look, that is not going to all of a sudden turn you into a runway model, but it's going to help a little bit. And really, I think that, you know, the overall message of my book too, is that we've removed so many of these discomforts from our lives. That we just like, things have [00:20:00] fundamentally changed and we need to think like, how can I add these little things?

Because it's the little things that pile up over time. I think a lot of time nowadays in the health fitness nutrition industry, we get so a lot of silver bullets and for, for whatever reason, none of them really land. I think a lot of them can help, but it's like, we need to be doing probably a lot of little things.

JJ Virgin: All right. Well, let's talk about like, let's give people a couple little things they can do right now. Like things that you're already doing, but would you have people add in? 

Michael Easter: So I would say we've already covered rucking. I think that that is just like a great activity and you can do it. My wife, doesn't exercise in the gym with me.

She hates the gym. We'll go rocking together. It's awesome. It's social. You're making, walking a little bit harder. You're getting that strength benefit. That's 

JJ Virgin: How much does your wife put in her backpack? 

Michael Easter: 20 pounds. 

JJ Virgin: All right. And how long do you guys go for and do you do Hills or flat? 

Michael Easter: We go, so we [00:21:00] live on the edge of the desert in Las Vegas.

So we will go on trails. We'll go on flat. If we're bringing the dogs, we'll go wherever it's like, if you can walk there, you can ruck there. 

JJ Virgin: Nice. All right. So rucking number one, everybody can do that. That's easy. 

Michael Easter: Number one, I think we need, like I said, we need ways to get reacquainted with hunger. But, so I don't think that, um, I think the magic, uh, you hear that there's a lot of magic behind fasting.

I think what it does at the end of the day for weight loss is just gives you this small window where you're just not eating as much, but I think it can help teach you something about hunger that it's not the end of the world. So I think trying fasting every now and then is good. Um, I also think time and nature.

Look like humans evolved in nature. We were outdoorsy in the sense that we lived outdoors all the time. Right? Uh, now we date when now we spend 95% of our time in doors and this definitely has had some mental health consequences. You look at the [00:22:00] research on putting people back out in nature. Like it's amazing.

People's stress levels drop or well, they report feeling better, just better wellbeing. Less depression also increased creativity. And we also know there are certain doses that we need. So there's this concept in the book I talk about called the nature pyramid, and basically says that, uh, three times a week, you should spend 20 minutes outside just in any nature you can find like in a city park.

Uh, once a month or for each month, you should spend about five hours and a little bit more rugged nature. So stuff that'd be in like a state park. And that's really great with, um, battling depression. It seems some research out of Finland suggests none at the very top. And this is my favorite. There's this thing called the three-day effect basically shows that three days in a row.

In the back country, more or less, really kinda wild or nature, uh, that is associated with the same waves brainwaves. They find an experienced meditators, these waves that are called alpha [00:23:00] waves, and they really have a good do a good job, like show slowing down your sense of time and space and just really highly.

Your sense of wellbeing. It's like we don't get those stretches outdoors anymore. And then the asterisk to all this is you can't bring your cell phone that tends to not work. If you bring your cell phone one, because you're pulling yourself back into this modern frenetic world. 

JJ Virgin: Well, the good news is most of those places cells don't work, right?

Michael Easter: Yeah. That's yeah. That's exactly it. Benefit. I think that there's, uh, also some, uh, there's an idea in the book I talk about called a Muskogee and I won't get too into it where it came from, but it basically, you're trying to sort of mimic almost a Rite of passage. It's like, as you know, throughout all of time humans, when they were younger, We'll do something really challenging to learn something about themselves.

This thing was often in nature and we don't do that anymore. So I talked to this guy who was a Harvard educated doctor. He now runs the world's foremost, [00:24:00] uh, athletic training facility. He's really applying science to sport, but he also knows that what really improves people's perspectives on themselves, their potential can always be measured.

So once a year, he'll just pick some kind of wacky. Really hard task, which he defines as, um, him having only a 50% chance of finishing it. And then he'll go out and try and do it with people. And so it's nice because you know, my 50%, isn't the same as yours. Isn't the same as his, isn't the same as his. And it's like by putting ourselves in this position where we're not sure if we can do something, but we go out and we try and maybe we see our edge, right.

We just have, we're going to hike up some map and we're like, man, I can only go another mile. But then somehow we go two miles and we look back, we go, well, I thought I could do one more mile, but here I am two miles farther. Like what else in my life and my selling myself short on. So I think we need these sort of challenges that reframe, uh, not only what we're capable of.

But also show us [00:25:00] that a lot of our modern problems today are first world problems, right? 

JJ Virgin: Yeah, exactly. It's like, no, one's dying here is kind of my litmus test. And I always say we're never better than when we're challenged. Yeah, so just keep pushing it out there. Now you're going to give everyone the first chapter of your book.

So I, I invite everyone to grab the book on Amazon, the comfort crisis, but you can get the first chapter right now@jjvirgin.com forward slash comfort. So you can grab it there. This is like, to me, these are, I'm always looking for those things that can give you an answer. And your book is full of all these things that we can just now bring back into life that used to be there.

And each one will give you a little bit more of an edge, right? They're going to help you a little bit more with you're really impacting your metabolism, your brain, your mood, your heart. So simple, easy little things to do. Um, I would say simple, but not easy, simple, uncomfortable little things to do, but as soon as you get [00:26:00] used to it, then add another one because it just became.

Right.

Michael Easter: Yeah, exactly. You're expanding your comfort zone over time. It's like, once you can get out of your comfort zone, it's not fun, but all of a sudden that thing has expanded and you look back and go, oh man, I couldn't even get that deal blank. So yeah. 

JJ Virgin: Bring it on. What's the next one. All right. So thank you so much again, everybody.

JJ, virgin.com forward slash comfort. And Michael, thank you so much. I appreciate. 

Michael Easter: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

JJ Virgin: All right. So I'm going to give you three key takeaways that I made notes on from Michael, because honestly these are easy and that first one rucking like that you can two to three X, the, um, the amount of calories you're burning during your walking, by adding a backpack. Now, I remember when my kids were babies first, I had.

And brace or no grant. And I were granting windows, little baby Bjorn's in front, but then I had Bryce and Bryce, um, then [00:27:00] became, went into the baby Bjorn and I had this big backpack and grant went up above and back. So, gosh, I guess I just need to borrow some babies, but, uh, think about what you can do to load up that backpack 10 to 50 pounds start small, load it up next one.

And we've been talking a lot about. You've been hanging out in the community is like Hungary equals younger. Love that quote from Dr. Joel Kahn. Is that like, let's get back in touch with hunger. Are you even really hungry or did you just create that from all the, uh, triggers out there? So get a little hungry, do some fascinating.

And then nature get out into nature. Um, I have outside of my backyard, I got a TRX and attached to the tree, so that get out there and ground and do some workouts. And then I alternate that with doing some paddleboarding. So what can you do to get out in nature? What can you do? Maybe some walking meditations out in nature, meet a friend for a walk, and then I double triple dare you on the three days in nature.

Um, I haven't done that. I admit [00:28:00] that sounds like it involves camping. And um, yeah, let's just start with the three days a week, 20 minutes. How about that? I'll do that. You do that. Let's all do that together. So again, reminder, get that chapter JJ, virgin.com forward slash. And report in on what you put in place and how it's working for you.

Oh, and one more thing if you have not subscribed yet. Hello, I don't want you to miss out on anything. Sheesh. So I need to do is go to subscribe to jj.com and you'll get hooked up and you'll never miss an awesome episode. .

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