Of all the Action Items, #5 can be the hardest or the easiest for people. (Confession time: it’s the one I still work on.) It’s probably the most far-reaching of the AIs, but likely the most fun. In the midst of great Primal fare and Grok approved exercise, there’s the rest of life after all. This Challenge emphasizes genuine transformation, and that means optimizing all the major fronts of life and lifestyle. Overhauling your diet and movement will absolutely reshape your health, but true thriving encompasses a broader, more nuanced sense of well-being. It’s about fulfillment, contentment, and vitality – both physical and mental. Just as the other Action Items guide you to examine and often revamp your daily choices for better health, #5 brings the same scrutiny and strategizing to other aspects of life. The purpose is familiar by now: to let go of practices that don’t serve your well-being and implement those that do.
What does it mean to “slow life down”? It means releasing the white knuckle obsession with speed and efficiency, connectivity and complication. It means adopting a rhythm that allows you to cultivate attention and intentionality in your life. We’re better able to be present and enjoy everything from a good meal to a meaningful relationship. We’re more focused on how our body feels during a workout or a meal rather than on what the latest health magazine tells us. Ultimately, slowing down calls us to bring life more in balance with evolutionarily defined patterns. It’s about connecting with those Primal expectations that nudge us toward everything from sleep to simplicity, intimacy to productivity. When we understand our Primal patterns, we’re able to optimize the benefit of modern conveniences and minimize their drawbacks. We’re able to cut out what is simply modern static and feel back in control of how we enjoy our daily life.
A lot of people come to the Primal Blueprint having tried all kinds of complicated and regimented diets. Meals have been more about counting or weighing than enjoying. For others, eating has long been more of an afterthought in their lifestyle. A meal is an exercise in speed, and convenience has trumped both actual healthfulness and a deeper satiety.
Slowing down your diet means realigning your relationship with food. It’s about getting back in tune with your body’s response to food. It means learning to differentiate between real hunger and the past roller coaster of carb cravings. It’s about recognizing your body’s response to authentically filling, nourishing food. It means enjoying the full experience of a meal and walking away from the table (yes, the table and not desk/kitchen counter/car) fully gratified. Let yourself savor your food again. Rediscover dining as a leisurely indulgence.
What to Do:
- Plan and prepare meals that appeal to all your senses.
- Eat when you’re genuinely hungry rather than when the clock suggests it’s time for another meal.
- Give yourself the time to enjoy cooking. Make it part of your time with friends, a partner, or family.
- Take the time to sit and savor each meal. Make eating a fully gratifying experience by setting the table or finding a perfect spot under a tree. Put on some good music. Taste each bite. Enjoy the company of good friends and family.
I’m a big fan of the convenience and entertainment modern technology offers. I have my favorite shows, I like my smart phone, and my business these days depends upon the Internet. Nonetheless, I don’t let my life revolve around a digital sun.
With mobile technology, it’s too easy to get caught up in a pellet mentality – obsessively checking email, pulling out the PDA whenever there’s a spare ten seconds. When we buy into hyperconnectivity, we too often disconnect from the reality in front of us. Even when we put the digital device down, we’re distracted thinking about the status update or gloomy news story we just read. The constant state of interrupted thinking becomes addictive to our vigilant hunter-gatherer brains and can leave us feeling jangled and exhausted for no good reason. When this happens, the digital realm isn’t a convenience to us anymore. It’s a burden. Get back in control of your time and energy. Set practical boundaries for your media usage, and situate your mind in the present concrete reality. You’ll enjoy what you’ve been missing.
What to Do:
- Set “business hours” for your PDA, and stick to them. Your family will thank you, and you’ll be surprised how much extra time you have without the major time suck in your hand.
- Prioritize your media viewing. Choose the social media groups, websites, and shows that you truly enjoy or learn from the most. Then see if you can focus your media time by using a DVR or watching online streaming versions of your favorite shows. Doing so will allow you to be in control of your own schedule and let you skip past or reduce commercial time.
- Avoid the overstimulation of screen time before bed and choose something relaxing instead.
So many readers tell me they’ve spent years running themselves into the ground with punishing workouts. Others have gritted their teeth each day going through the motions of a dull, uninvigorating exercise regimen. It’s time to get back in touch with what cultivates genuine vitality.
Learn to listen to your body. What’s your physical condition today? What’s your level of mental energy? How does your body respond to different workout practices or environments across the spectrum of physical and mental vigor? Check in with your body and not just your agenda. Hone your intuition.
What to Do:
- Harness the power and motivation behind your natural competitiveness, but don’t let it get the better of you. Value your workout partnerships and personal physical condition above a competitive edge.
- As you get ready to exercise, ask yourself what kind of workout will serve your physical or mental well-being that day.
- Make time for totally spontaneous workouts when you let your creativity and mood dictate your movement.
- Don’t be afraid to lighten or even skip a workout if that’s what you body needs.
It’s so easy to fill our personal schedules to the brink that alone time is often a five-minute shower in the morning. Nonetheless, we all benefit from solitude, and some of us (depending on our temperament) require more to bring our best self to the rest of life. There’s real power in knowing yourself and serving your needs despite the guilt trip many of us give ourselves.
Genuine well-being calls us to invest in ourselves. It obliges us to fill the well, to fulfill needs and instincts that go beyond diet and exercise. When we give ourselves time to unplug from our world and everyone in it (as much as we love them all), we can decompress from the duties and stressors that fill our days. We can restore ourselves, bring hormonal and emotional baselines back to a healthy levels, and bring our better natures to whatever the day holds. Have you been living the full measure of your humanity – and individuality? Need a refresher?
What to Do:
- Ask yourself what you’ve wanted to do for yourself but haven’t because you have too much going on. Is there an old hobby you want to revisit? Do you miss evening bike rides after dinner? Have you been planning to begin a meditating practice for as long as you can remember? Commit to it today. These things matter.
- Ascertain the time wasters in your life (e.g. excess TV, PDA surfing, unnecessary commute time) and trade them for some quality solo ventures.
- Set aside (yes, put yourself on your own schedule) no less than 15 minutes a day for pure, unadulterated alone time. Plan for longer breaks or getaways over weekends or vacation time. Consider going for broke and taking a solo retreat.
The Power of Solitude: Why You Should Spend More Time Alone
The Restorative Power of a Personal Retreat
Total Immersion: Tapping Into the Power of Flow
The Pleasure Principle
20 Ways to Cultivate IE in Your Life
The pace and nature of modern life seems to increasingly devalue close relationships. In the age of Facebook, LinkedIn, and every other virtual network, it can feel like quantity trumps quality. At the end of the day, however, who would back you in a fight with a saber-toothed tiger? What would Grok think of your 872 Facebook friend count? Famous anthropologist Robin Dunbar says comparative cultural records indicate we’re designed to maintain an intimate circle of about twelve people (family and close friends) and a larger social circle (e.g. neighbors, coworkers, casual friends, etc.) of approximately sixty (the upper limit on traditional hunter gatherer band size). Let’s just say modern measures don’t always jive with Grok standards.
The heart of this Action Point: be more genuinely present to your nearest and dearest. That doesn’t mean de-friend 812 people tonight, but it does mean paying less attention to your virtual network and more to your family and close friends. In the end, these are the folks who determine your social wellness. They’re your support network, and you’re part of theirs. The mutual give and take of close relationships is as embedded in our genes as the need for healthy fats – and that’s saying something. Take time during the Challenge to nurture your social animal.
What to Do:
- Make the most of your social time by leaving the digital devices off or at least out of sight.
- Do something to invest in your intimate circle today. Surprise your partner or the kids by getting home early from work. Call your best friend and plan an evening on the town this weekend.
- Give some genuine face time to someone in your social circle this week. Meet for lunch or an early morning racquetball game.
We pride ourselves on being a nonstop society, and we’ve long since moved beyond a “sun up to sun down” schedule. Sometimes it’s just more convenient to get work or emails done at night. Other times, we just want to stay up late to finish a good movie. The problem is, these modern opportunities take a heavy toll on our hormonal cycles. You’ve likely heard of the circadian rhythm. It’s our body’s innate, natural schedule, and we throw a proverbial wrench in the system when we mess with its various cues like light, sound, temperature, and food. When the cues are disrupted, so goes the hormonal cascade associated with the circadian cycle. Melatonin release is compromised, which means a poorer quality sleep and dampened responses in metabolic and brain activity associated with a full sleep cycle.
The solution isn’t complicated. As much as possible, adapt your nighttime routine to evolutionary patterns – especially those geared toward light and dark. Make the hour – or ideally two – before bed as calm, relaxing, and dark as you can. For some folks, this means turning off a few lamps and enjoying simple conversation with a partner before bed. Others might save their yoga routine or leisurely walk for later evening hours. A happy few might decide to take a warm bath and curl up with a book before bedtime. However you approach it, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to get a genuinely good night’s sleep when you’re not obstructing your body’s natural rhythm.
What to Do:
- Dim the lights two hours before bedtime to cue your body toward relaxation and sleepiness.
- Avoid using electronic devices, TV, and other blue light sources in the couple hours before bed.
- If you have to work at night, download f.lux software or wear yellow lens sunglasses to minimize blue light exposure.
- Make the hour or two before bed a time for rest and relaxation. Avoid stressful activities and conversations.
High Energy Mornings
Once you adapt your sleep habits to allow for a full sleep cycle, you’ll find you have more energy in the mornings. A good evening routine goes a long way toward beginning the day rested, but a few other adjustments can ensure optimized energy and focus.
- Sleep with as much darkness as possible, but expose yourself to bright light when you get up to feel more awake and help boost serotonin activity. Ten minutes of bright light (especially the more pleasant glow of natural sunlight) just might make that cup of coffee obsolete.
- Get up early enough to allow for a sane morning. Give yourself time for a simple yoga session, a morning walk, or a leisurely shower and breakfast. Rushing around in the morning squanders energy (not to mention incites a bad mood).
We pride ourselves on working hard, but are we making the best use of our energy and time? Too often we relinquish real productivity through overstimulation. We relentlessly multitask, wearing ourselves down and diluting our mental energy with every swerve in attention. Productivity isn’t measured in time. Nor is efficiency driven by obsessive immediacy.
The truth is, we’d be better served operating from a Single Peak Performance model – the good old, one-task-at-a-time approach. Whether we’re an E.R. nurse or a software designer, we work better when we work focused. That means an unbending attention to the task at hand. Multitasking beyond the demands of walking and chewing gum at the same time rarely pays dividends. We’re more likely to make mistakes, forget a step, and just feel fried at the end of the day.
What to Do:
- Quit the losing (and exhausting) game of multitasking. Give yourself the chance to focus on each task and don’t squander energy and concentration flitting from one thing to another and back. Plan your day as much as you can into longer, focused blocks with specific functions like email and project time.
- Minimize distractions throughout the day by avoiding irrelevant stimuli and unnecessary stressors (e.g. web news, traffic).
- Maximize your focus and energy with regular breaks. Take short breaks of 1-3 minutes every 20 minutes or so. Get up an move (or rest if you have an active job). Take longer breaks of 10 minutes every couple of hours, and don’t skip a real break of at least 30 minutes on your lunch hour. Get some bright light, bask in the sun, and invigorate yourself with a brisk walk or some mood elevating music.
- To minimize the negative effects of sedentary work, stand at work as often as you can.
- Try a totally new approach to work by taking it outside whenever bosses and schedules allow.
Slowing life down is ultimately about prioritizing comprehensive well-being. It’s about optimizing our energy to meet all of the responsibilities in a day with some to spare for fun and fulfillment. It’s about nourishing our more nuanced health needs like social wellness. It’s about making time for self-enrichment. In the hectic modern world, it can take vigilance to maintain the mental space for these endeavors, but that’s what ultimately defines thriving over surviving.
We can find the key to basic physical health in our evolutionary roots. Likewise, I think our evolutionary blueprint serves as the ultimate guide for a deeper sense of wellness and balance. Just as the Primal Blueprint provides a framework for living a long, healthy life, the extension of the PB in my upcoming book The Primal Connection, applies the evolutionary lens to creating a fulfilling, content, and happy life. It’s about reconnecting with essential, timeless principles that have governed our health and survival for eons.
Thanks for reading today, everyone. Let me know your thoughts on what slowing life down means to you during this Challenge journey.
The Primal Connection Available January 2013!
Are You Hyperconnected … and Disconnected?
The hectic pace of modern life distracts us from a painful truth: we are disconnected. Disconnected from our DNA recipe, forged through the selection pressure of human evolution, to enjoy health, happiness, and peace of mind. Horns, office chatter, and whirring machines batter our ears with incessant noise. Artificial light and digital stimulation overstress our nervous systems day and night. Traffic jams, long lines, interruptions, distractions, and big egos pervade daily life in such a manner that we don’t even realize the piece—or rather the peace—that’s gone missing.
In The Primal Connection, Mark Sisson, the leading voice in the Evolutionary Health movement, and bestselling author of The Primal Blueprint, expands on the premise that each of us is born with the genetic blueprint for a fit, lean, healthy, and productive life, presenting a series of guidelines to trigger the feel-good hormones your hunter-gatherer genes are hardwired to expect. As you make the mind-body connections, you will redefine your core values, discover your own pace, and make time for play, adventure, quiet reflection, friends and family, and optimal rest and rejuvenation.
Time To Get Primal!
- Go barefoot—cures foot and back pain
- Play in the dirt—boosts mood and immune function
- Wear sunglasses at night—promotes sound sleep
- Family before Facebook—strengthens your inner circle
- Commune with nature—relieves stress at the biochemical level
- Power down when you should—learn to single-task
- Cultivate an attitude of gratitude—appreciate simple gifts, roll with punches
- Redefine wealth—includes free time, fun, and fitness, too