Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
3 Jul

5 Things I Still Struggle With

Can Not Can't When it comes to living a healthy, Primal lifestyle, for the most part I’ve got things dialed in. There are very few things, if any, I’d change about my eating plan, my workouts, or my sleep schedule, for example, but there are some areas in which I know I can improve. Some major, some not so major. Like everyone does, I’d imagine. Nearly all of my struggles are related to finding a deeper sense of peace and contentment in this hectic modern world. In fact, I selfishly wrote a book, The Primal Connection, to give myself more tools and strategies to achieve the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment from within that we all seek. (The book, you may be happy to know, recently won the Eric Hoffer award for best self-published book of 2013.)

While I’ve made some strides in these areas in recent years, the journey is never over. There is no perfect lifestyle or perfect diet or perfect workout. We all have something, or some things, we’d like to get better at. We all have struggles. So, today, I thought I’d share with you guys some of my personal struggles, as well as some ways for addressing and even overcoming them.

Stress Management

For all the posts I’ve done on the subject, all the advice I’ve doled out, all the focus I’ve given it, stress remains my biggest struggle. And, from talking to lots of you guys, this is a common issue in the community. The reason why stress continues to vex us, even if we’ve come to terms with our diet, fitness, and sleep? Stressors exist everywhere and they are non-specific and often non-material. They can be anything – or anyone – and the stress that results is intangible. You can choose not to eat the cupcake, but you can’t choose not to drive to work in traffic, pay your bills, or hear the neighbors’ insanely loud music at 2 AM. I suppose you could avoid opening the envelope containing the overdue notice on your mortgage, but that’s not really managing stress. That’s actually compounding it. The problem’s not going anywhere, and it actually intensifies the longer you ignore it. The cupcake you declined? That’s it. It’s done. You’ve said “no” and it ceases to impact you. Stressors are different. They linger. There’s no easy way to deal with them or the stress they produce.

And so we must manage our stressors, we must prepare ourselves to deal with the inevitable. That can be really, really tough. Another problem with the intangibility of stress? It’s tough to know when you’re truly managing it successfully. There’s no instant feedback. Even a stress management technique as relatively concrete (in the sense of “I’m taking active steps to manage my stress”) as meditation doesn’t deliver instant results. Heck, it can take months or years of consistent practice to derive tangible benefit. So when I try to manage my stress, it’s hard to know if it’s working or not. I’m an instant feedback kind of guy. That’s how I operate best. When that feedback doesn’t materialize right away, I struggle.

How I deal: I’m still working on this one. I’ve done a bit of meditation (too formal for my tastes). I’ve tried avoidance (impossible and ultimately ineffective). What seems to work best is filling up on nature. I’ve come to realize that I can’t avoid stress. It’s there and if I want to keep doing what I’m doing, it’s unavoidable. But if I can get out into nature several times a week, preferably every day, I feel markedly better. “Nature” can mean a hike through Topanga Canyon, a few hours of standup paddleboarding, lounging on the beach, a weekend camping trip in the Sierras, or even – if I’m really desperate – a game of Ultimate Frisbee in the park. As long as I can get the grass (or sand, or dirt) between my toes and some greenery in my periphery, I can deal with the stress. It doesn’t last for long, though. I have to keep re-upping my nature intake.

Staying in the Moment

I’ll often notice my mind drifting away, mid-conversation, mid-reading-a-book, mid-watching-a-great-flick, mid-workout, mid-anything-that-deserves-full-attention. It’s not that I try to think of the post I’m writing, that meeting tomorrow, or what I’m eating for dinner that night when talking to another person. Those thoughts just drift in and seize hold of my attention. The problem is that however momentary the lapse in attention on the here and now, it’s disruptive and off-putting (especially if you’re in the midst of a conversation) and ultimately cheapens the experience of everyday life.

How I deal: I can’t avoid those thoughts, but I can stop myself from focusing on them. Lately, I’ve had success by changing how I perceive the exchange. My mind isn’t drifting to other thoughts; other thoughts are drifting into my mind, which stays in the same place. This reframing allows me to acknowledge, briefly analyze, and then ignore the incoming thoughts. They’re there, and I know it, but I don’t let them seize control of my attention. If they happen to be important thoughts with a legit claim to my attention, I can switch over. But it’s under my control, at least in theory. It seems to be working so far.

Staying Off the Phone and the Laptop When I Know I Should Be Chilling with Friends and Family

The Internet is an amazing resource offering untold delights. With a few taps on the keyboard, you’re privy to untold reams of knowledge vaster than any library, historical, fictional, or otherwise (except maybe the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – the electronic database depicted in the book of the same name, not the book itself). And it’s always growing, moving, living, responding – in real time. You don’t just read an article, you read the comment section that unfolds before you and often contains better stuff than the article itself. You don’t just read a single Wikipedia entry and then power off the computer. You start clicking links, bouncing from Roman mythology to astronomy to astrology to mythological dragons to cryptozoology to Bigfoot to famous hoaxes to the JFK assassination to Vietnam until you’ve fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole and emerged moderately more knowledgeable than you were before. It’s great, and that’s what makes it so irresistible and addicting.

It doesn’t help that much of my work takes place on the computer or phone, whether it’s responding to emails or taking meetings online or conducting research for blog posts. If I want to keep doing what I’m doing, I need to be connected, which makes it easy to come up with justifications for using it all the time. But I don’t need to be connected during dinner with the family. Or when out for drinks with some friends. My brain may “think” it needs to check that email or respond to that text, but I know better. Even though I “want” to grab the phone because it’s been twenty minutes since I last checked my email, I ultimately can refrain from doing so.

How I deal: This is a constant struggle, but actually physically powering the devices down when I know I shouldn’t be using them has really helped. So, if I go out to dinner, I’ll often turn my phone off. It’s there if I need it, but it’s not tempting me. If I’m at home with the family, I’ll shut my laptop down. It’s a simple and effective solution. Powering something back on is just difficult enough to dissuade you from constantly doing it on a whim.

Learning to Say “No”

I’m constantly in “go” mode, as I alluded to earlier. I’m always looking for a new experience, something bigger, something better. And the bigger MDA and the Primal community has gotten, the more opportunities I’ve had to get involved in extremely cool projects. It’s hard to say no to them, and I rarely do. There’s an innate desire, in everyone, I think, to devour new and “awesomer” experiences. It’s that very Primal part of me that just wants as much as he can get. Thousands of years ago, when the world was very small, when traveling thirty miles took an entire day (not twenty minutes) and relaying messages required physical transportation of that message (not a click of a button), we could go for every opportunity and stay grounded because, well, there weren’t that many opportunities. The number and scale of opportunities in the ancestral environment were inherently limited.

Now? Now I can get an invitation from a guy in South Africa to speed off for a safari. Now I can get fifty emails a day requesting my participation in some project or another, and most of them sound great. And because everyone’s so interconnected, and data is so widely available, and cool ideas are mating with cooler ideas, people are coming up with fascinating opportunities. It’s really, really hard to say no. But say no I must, because our bodies are still meat machines limited by physical realities.

How I deal: With the help of an assistant, I break down what I have to do, what I’ve already planned to do, and what I’d like to do, then set a “venture limit” each month based on my schedule. It isn’t perfect, but it does help keep me accountable to someone that’s not me.

Turning My Brain Off

Our brains are “us.” Quite literally, our hopes, our dreams, our personalities, our consciousness, our sense of self – they call come from the brain. With that in mind, the idea of turning off the brain is scary. I mean, won’t that kill me? Or, at the very least, reduce me to a mindless automaton? No. By “turning my brain off,” I mean “getting out of my head.” It’s important to be able to get out of our own heads from time to time and get into the instinctual “flow” state, where you are completely absorbed by your endeavors without engaging in fluffy, counterproductive metathought.

I’ve touched on the flow state before. The problem with getting to the flow state is that once you realize you’re there, it’s in danger of slipping away. It’s kind of the eternal, uniquely human struggle faced by big brained hominids: how do we reconcile the animal inside us with the intellectual? The passion and the rationality? There are nights where I keep myself up just thinking about… stuff. I’ll think about what I have to do the next day. I’ll think about what I didn’t do twenty years ago and now regret. I’ll think about all these struggles I’ve been relaying in this post. I’ll think about thinking. In short, I’ll be in my own head way too much, so much that it gets in the way of living, doing, and being.

How I deal: This is a tough one, especially since I have to use my brain to tell my brain to stay out of itself, or something. I can’t do this on cue, but I have the most success getting out of my head when I’m intensely focused on an important, interesting task. The key for me is to figure out how to do that when I’m just lying in bed.

Well, that’s what I struggle with, folks. What about you? What do you still struggle with? How do you cope, and how successful are your coping strategies? Let me know in the comments! Oh, and if you’ve got any suggestions for my struggles, I’m all ears!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Thank You Mark!!!! :-)

    Alexandra wrote on July 5th, 2013
  2. Re meditation: There are many flavors and paths as well expressed in many comments. The research being published is unmistakable that we can rewire our brains on many levels and also improve our immune function.

    It’s worth it to keep trying until you find a meditative approach that is right for you. I’ve had a lot of super-formal meditation training, and found that I really benefit from free, guided meditations available on my phone. I need the gentle helping hand.

    Of course many meditative traditions have a strong history of movement and nature. I find that learning new physical activities forces me to focus on one thing in a strongly meditative way.

    Oddly enough, I also have a little training as a Zen temple cook and trust me there is a many thousand year tradition of learning how food affects one’s energy and state of mind. This is where I first learned about the glycemic index. Also, vinegar perks you up. (Just a little freebie there friends). Clean eating does help clean the mind.

    Lastly, for all my smart talk, of course I have my own stress to manage too. Over the years, three things have helped me the most:

    -“Move toward anxiety” — meaning ID what is bothering me and deal with it

    -“Do the hard things first” — related to the above but also helps me elevate strategic projects and get them done. Somehow makes getting all the “other” stuff done easier.

    -“Just because it’s a good idea, that doesn’t mean it has to go on the list.” This has spared me more stress than I can ever express. The day I realized that I don’t have to do everything I come up with. Because I come up with A LOT.

    It’s really wonderful to have this community to share with and a place to contemplate these topics as well as receive thoughtful ideas and recommendations. I enjoyed this thread and will check out some of the ideas that are new to me. Thank you all.

    Juli wrote on July 6th, 2013
  3. Mark, I could completely relate to this post! I share the same difficulty with meditating, quieting my brain and focusing. At least now I know I’m in good company, LOL! Just last night I ended up getting out of bed to work on my new blog and website because I knew I wasn’t going to get any rest until I did.

    As to those who suggested Eckart Tolle, I only found his books helpful as a cure for insomnia…so I agree, when you can’t get your brain to shut down you should try reading his books, they should help you go to sleep. Always works for me.

    Diane J wrote on July 6th, 2013
  4. Wow!!! What an article. I hope you get to read my reply. I have been where you are. Meditation is ok and yes it takes years. The Secret is a great book. But, all of these leave out one specific mode of the mind. I have written a booklet on this subject. Have cd’s.
    Was is my business for 20 yrs. I am not perfect for sure but would not want to think of where I would be in my life if I hadn’t learned this technique. Mark I like to discuss this with you and see what you think.
    Your story reminds me of when I was working in a doctors office and helping people with this particular situation of the mind wandering and why meditation didn’t seem to work for them, etc., Men would come to us to see if we could help them with premature ejaculation<<<<>>>>right?
    Some men said they were taught to think of a train wreck and that would hold them back. I was floored. It is not productive to try and dodge what you want by replacing it with another challenge. Such as walking or turning off you computer, etc. Both are good things but in most circumstance one just replaces an anxiety with another leaving the results the same. More angst.

    Sue wrote on July 6th, 2013
  5. Stress (even PTSD) can be melted away by using Emotional Freeing Technique, Tapas Acupressure Technique or Eye Motion Desensitization and Reprocessing. I’ve been using EFT since 2005 and credit it (and my persistence) with healing a huge number of issues many of which were stress-related. EFT is great for specific things while TAT is best (for me) for more “global” issues. EMDR is awesome any time for anything, even when you’re too tired to tap or hold the TAT pose. These three things used together are too much for pretty much any stress. It does take time and persistence, though. I have had a few “one minute wonders” but over-all it takes time and persistence. Give them a try! If you can find a therapist the learning curve is much easier to negotiate but you can learn them on your own and do just fine.

    Felicia wrote on July 6th, 2013
  6. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone O Lord make me live in safety. Psalm 8:4
    Nature–declares the glory of our creator, God!
    Meditate–on His Word–it is life!
    A body in motion can’t have a troubled mind.
    Are you married? Have sex!
    Lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path. Proverbs 3:5-6
    We need to get OVER the idea that we are our own God–what a great load off our shoulders!

    laurie wrote on July 7th, 2013
  7. I recommend yoga! It may not be for everyone, but there are different variations so you are bound to find one style that suits you.

    Lauren wrote on July 8th, 2013
  8. For me not being able to turn my brain off is my biggest problem because I’ll be thinking about whatever, and then a few minutes later get dizzy and realize that I’m not breathing. It’s also hard to get to sleep at night because I’ll keep not breathing, even if I’m not thinking about anything. I guess that means what I struggle with is breathing then :)

    Ann wrote on July 9th, 2013
  9. All of these things are evidence that we were made for more and we sense it always…a relationship with our Creator. Being in nature, the creation. Relationships. Meditating, “work to enter that rest” (Heb. 4:11)…all begin to draw us to what we were made for…relationship with Him …in the now, daily manna…try it and rest.

    swampbunny wrote on July 12th, 2013
  10. It’s not time management, or food, or sense of purpose that vexes life. It is fools. The jerk at 2 a.m. (or 2 p.m.) with the insanely loud music should be summarily executed. No warning, no trial. Just dragged out into the middle of the street and executed on the spot, painfully, and the stereo burned to ashes (especially if it is a car stereo) and any soul they might have cursed to eternal hell and his/her family damned for seven generations at least… and that’s just for starters… Their muzak in your house is like their smoke in your house. Unwanted, unhealthy, uncaring, unneighborly. One really only suffers two things in life: Jerks and your body betraying you. Going Primal helps mitigate the body some. It will win in the end, meaning you will lose, though you can have some influence over that (my goal is to get into overtime then sudden death.) As for jerks… Sir Lawrence of Arabia said you can argue with opinions but convictions are better off shot…. I wouldn’t even give stereo a blind fold… let them stare their just reward in the eye… oh, and go for a body shot so the bastards can HEAR the slug that kills them…

    Green Deane wrote on July 15th, 2013
  11. For stress: dance around the house… dance, dance!
    For sleep: drink a small glass of tart black cherry juice two hours before bed. Really works, don’t know why, but it does.
    For simple joy: care for and connect to animals as equals, they’ll down-regulate your fears.
    For perspective: help someone in a small offhand way, like it’s no big deal

    maidel wrote on June 29th, 2014
  12. Mark and others, I suggest reading “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris. Dan Harris is a news anchor for ABC. He talks about how the high stress competitive nature of his job combined with his Super Type A personality led to a break down and how he learned to control his brain and his stress. HIs journey was hysterical and relatable and led him to meditation, something he never thought in a million years he would ever do. Forget Tolle, he’s a flake.

    Dan Harris (Author)

    Linda wrote on June 29th, 2014
  13. One word: WINE. Works wonders for relaxation and sleep :)

    Nancy wrote on July 3rd, 2014
  14. I second Eckhart Tolle’s books – simply because he teaches you how to meditate in every moment and rethink Western ideas from a different perspective (and not be annoyed by neighbors or other life’s stressors) – you don’t need to use your brain unless you’re working on a task for a short amount of time. The rest of the time you set it aside and focus on breathing and being you, not the voice in your head with a list of what to do or what not to do. You need to go beyond just reading it though and just try it out.

    Plus everyone needs to find their own way to zone in during the day – either through yoga, nature, exercise, or whatever. Any pleasurable thing can be a release. I’ve used floatation tanks and nature to help understand how to meditate too.

    My best tip from my business mentor was to do a gratitude journal at night and meditate. It has helped me clear my head before bed so sleep comes easier. For me writing at the end of the day what I did well, my concerns, and the different ways I’m grateful helps me unwind and recognize reality – then meditation allows me to relax so I can more clearly see what I need to do.

    Kathryn wrote on July 4th, 2014

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