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

How Simplifying Your Life Can Help You Refocus on What’s Important

simplicityEarlier this week I ran across a study that demonstrated a “simple lifestyle” can decrease our contact with toxic endocrine disrupting chemicals. The researchers looked at lifestyle elements like transportation, personal care products, and homegrown versus purchased food in their participants. I was struck by the study’s suggestion itself but also by the larger metaphoric significance. A simpler code of life can spare us some of the inherent stress and damage of our modern lives. As this study showed, the principle certainly holds for physical health, and I easily venture it holds for mental well-being, too. Living simply offers a multi-layered protective benefit. That’s worth taking apart.

The heart of The Primal Blueprint, as broadly applicable as it is for many people, is pretty simple, but I wonder how and when it inspires simplicity itself. We simplify our food by choosing fresh options based on what our ancestors ate for tens of thousands of years. We simplify our fitness by letting go of the need to follow every “latest and greatest, end-all” fad and just adopt some easy Primal movement principles. We simplify our priorities by putting a premium on sleep, outdoor time, and social connections. In many ways, it’s kind of about getting back to basics – ancestral style.

We do all this, of course, while we live in a culture that loves to complicate. In fact, we moderns have an uncanny way of making life difficult for ourselves. We stay up late, eat crap, guzzle caffeine, and wonder why we crash and recover multiple times a day. We surround ourselves with so many “things,” the clutter impairs our own ability to focus.

We’re strivers, analyzers, and accumulators but wonder why we burn ourselves and our relationships out on stress, self-chatter, and anxiety. Most of us have so much – much more than the majority of the world at least (and more than our primal ancestors ever dreamed of), yet we live with a misplaced sense of deprivation. Too often, we neglect or undervalue what we need (e.g. time to foster close relationships, time in the sun, time to sleep) but elevate aspects of life that are tangential at best. We give our positions and possessions more power than they deserve in the grand scheme of life – let alone human history.

It’s true of how we experience our own lives and how we look at others’. In our culture, we tend to attach status, even maturity and identity to the elaborateness of a home, vehicle, or outfit. Some of us overwork ourselves for a nice house we barely get to enjoy. Others forgo a vacation but spend money on collections that could easily pay for time away. Too often, we accumulate instead of experience. How much sense would any of this make to our ancestors? We’re stuck circling in a cul-de-sac of our own making. This would be the time to abandon the car and just trample through the manicured yards to get out of dodge.

Of course, it’s all about coming back to yourself. The freedom comes, I think, in identifying your core interests and values and centering your life around them. Although I’m not one for austerity, I think there’s something to simplicity – the mental, logistical, and physical spareness that brings a few key priorities into focus. If you can avoid the literal and figurative toxins of modern life while you’re doing it, all the better.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s about formulas or absolutes or right answers. Everyone’s different. I think simplicity is about proportion – about aspects of our lives finding their “right” size in respect to everything else. In assessing these proportions, we recognize the influence each choice has on another as well as the impact of action on mentality. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire and Yale University, for example, found that those who felt less loved and accepted within relationships rated material possessions as more monetarily valuable. Underscoring this study, the researchers explain, is the source of our security and comfort. It’s worth asking, with what or whom do we situate our sense of personal security and comfort? Do our life choices and investments of time and energy appear to follow these priorities?

When I think about how I’ve changed over the last several years, I come back to that question. Although I’ve never been a complicated, high maintenance guy, I know I’ve changed as I’ve defined living Primally. These days I wear pretty much the same shoes – my Vibrams – wherever I go. I don’t think I’ve ever given much thought to clothes, and that’s certainly true now. I eat more or less the same thing for lunch each day. I like to work from home to avoid the hassle of traffic. Unless I have to be on the road for work, I pretty much follow the same schedule with some room for a spontaneous hike in the hills near my home or dinner with friends. I’ve never considered myself an accumulator of things or gadgets, and that remains true today. Maybe it’s in part the journey of later adulthood, but I know at this point what I like and what I need. I’ve decided what matters to me and what doesn’t. For example, I enjoy good food and a comfortable bed. I love to travel (sometimes) and then simply being home for long stretches where I can be with family and spend time in the ocean. When it comes to my personal life, these are the things in which I invest my time, resources, and attention.

At the end of the day, I think we embrace simplicity when we pare down our lives to a point at which we’re not overwhelmed or diverted by our inputs – our stuff, our choices, our responsibilities, or our aspirations. “More of everything!” seems to be a chant distinctive of our modern age. Although ambition and even a degree of materialistic interest might be part of human nature, gone are the traditional codes that kept those in check. People too often mistake this for inevitable progress and justification. When you take the original context away, however, natural impulses end up not making sense. Living Primally, I think, is about living conscious and respectful of that original context, however we choose to envision it at work in our personal health and life journey.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. Let me know your thoughts on living simply and how the Primal Blueprint illuminates or contributes to that motivation. Have a great end to the week.

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. I find my own OCD tendencies are my greatest enemy. There is always work too but there is only so much one can do when you haven’t won the lottery.

    Groktimus Primal wrote on March 14th, 2013
  2. Thanks Mark, I love it when you stop me in the middle of a busy day with something that makes me think about the bigger picture :-)

    Primal V wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Exactly… hard to get back in the rat race after reading a great article like this… just want to go home…

      bjjcaveman wrote on March 14th, 2013
  3. Great insights.

    I think this speaks to the power of producing instead of consuming.

    I read another blog post today, challenging readers to try ONLY producing for 30 days – absolutely no consuming. Imagine the possibilities capable if you were to take on a challenge like this.

    Paul wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • That is a GENIUS idea!

      What would the parameters be though?

      Do you just mean buying non-food items?

      Would raw materials for producing be OK, or would we be creating from what we already have?

      I’m taking this idea home for some serious thought…

      Primal V wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Paul, curious which blog you were reading that suggested the 30 day hiatus on consumption.

      Cheers,
      Paige

      Paige wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • That *must* have been written by Ben Bernanke…

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Hey Paul,

      I run something called the “Continuous Creation Challenge” where I challenge people to eliminate consumption and focus exclusively on creating for a period of time. But I’ve never heard of a challenge where you only produce for 30 days. I mean, whoa!? What are the guidelines and commitments for that one?

      A link would be awesome!

      Joel Zaslofsky wrote on March 14th, 2013
      • Doesn’t the process of producing anything require consuming inputs?

        Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on March 14th, 2013
        • Um, yes. And if you “produce” but don’t consume for 30 days don’t you end up with a bunch of clutter? And if everyone else decides to produce without consuming? Seems like we’re all wallowing in clutter then.

          Production without consumption seems a little silly.

          A better 30 day challenge would be to pause for 2-5 minutes before consuming. Mindfulness is more important.

          Amy wrote on March 14th, 2013
        • Overproduction and underconsumption…that equals another Great Depression.

          Nocona wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Thats a great idea. I think even trying just a week would show a great result.

      However, there are some people who have a very difficult time “simplifying” there lives. I was wondering .. and hopefully this could become a blog post on MDA… what are some ways to simplify our lives beside: growing our own food, using home-made products, hollistic medicine, etc. ??

      I would love some input! Great post!

      Max Ungar wrote on March 14th, 2013
      • Hey Max! You’re a student, right? Funnily enough, I just found this blog earlier today that’s pretty much about ‘simplifying’ life as a student. This is the first post I read (and it’s not just about double majors): http://calnewport.com/blog/2010/09/27/how-double-majors-can-ruin-your-life-two-arguments-for-doing-less/

        I feel like his message is probably applicable for at least a few people who read MDA! I know I really needed to read it.

        Anyways, great post Mark! Perfect timing, as usual.

        Alyssa wrote on March 15th, 2013
      • I rarely shave. I grow what I’ll call a small beard, shave it, wait and not bother much about it. It’s the same with haircuts. Two buzzcuts a year can be good enough.

        Animanarchy wrote on March 15th, 2013
    • Paul, this is EXACTLY what I was thinking too.

      Totally agree. A lot of people I talk to complain about not having a meaningful life – that it all feels totally pointless.

      The first thing I tell them is to “start producing, and stop consuming.”

      Another good thing is that there will be an increasing number of consumers (just look at kids on their phones).. so the producers that produce for financial reasons will be making a hell of a lot more.

      Alexander wrote on March 16th, 2013
  4. Great post! :)

    R wrote on March 14th, 2013
  5. Very nice tie-in with yesterday’s post. Simplicity is why we tend to cut to the chase.

    Wenchypoo wrote on March 14th, 2013
  6. Bang on – as usual!

    Lindsay wrote on March 14th, 2013
  7. This is a great reminder to keep the larger picture in focus–I have been fairly consistent with setting a bedtime this month, and that’s greatly pared down some of the less productive habits I sometimes lean on when I’m up too late. I’m also trying to remember that less is more when it comes to things that just clutter the house and mind.

    Brent wrote on March 14th, 2013
  8. This is where I’m at right now. I’m selling off nearly everything, letting go of the things I don’t need, and shipping off to a simpler life. Instead of commuting to work every day, I’ll be walking. Eventually life will happen on my farm. My spirit is absolutely dying for this change, and it can’t come soon enough.

    Great post, Mark!

    Deanna Eberlin wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • I’m excited for you!

      Kevin wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Allow nothing in your life that you can’t walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner.

      Kevin wrote on March 14th, 2013
      • ..and don’t spend too much time watching that television.

        Animanarchy wrote on March 14th, 2013
        • or give away your tv, like i did over 2 years ago.

          noodletoy wrote on March 15th, 2013
    • Good luck!

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Good luck. :)

      Amy wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Good for you! I’m guessing you have land. I remember when I was a hippie I thought that getting back to the land and setting the soul free was it. I was a teenager, and had no idea of the work involved. Years later, I worked a dairy farm, and still consider that low paying job one of my best experiences. Good luck to you, and soon!

      Rob Harrison wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • I’m selling off posessions that aren’t useful as well. I’ve been hocking DVDs.

      Animanarchy wrote on March 15th, 2013
  9. Simpleminded of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your posessions….

    Whoops, let’s try that again.

    Simpleminded of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your stress….

    Ahhh… much better

    Ruth wrote on March 14th, 2013
  10. I’m sitting here at my ‘puter, my soon to be tool for making a living, I’m on duty, yet my partner and I are making the transition to the Primal lifestyle. I was just thinking how I could create some bars, OUTSIDE, to use for pull up, and other exercises. So I’m hoping for more of the simplicity to catch on. Being a drummer, a firefighter/EMT, and student, means I’m inside and sitting a lot. Thanks for a good article.

    Where can I get a Grok avatar?

    Rob Harrison wrote on March 14th, 2013
  11. Another great post by Mark- 2nd smartest man (next to my husband!)

    ella wrote on March 14th, 2013
  12. the phrase “those who felt less loved and accepted within relationships rated material possessions as more monetarily valuable” really resonated with me. I will probably be thinking about that all day…

    Elisa wrote on March 14th, 2013
  13. This was an interesting post. I have recently begun trying to reduce my personal possessions. At some point the stuff you own can start to get in the way of your life.

    Eric Evans wrote on March 14th, 2013
  14. I have moved many times. Doing so forced me to think about what I own and why. I was schlepping boxes of stuff across country a few times only for it to stay in the box. I did not want to let go. After some introspection, the mental addiction to possessions was broken. I learned to let go.

    Today I have far less and I derive pleasure from the unlcutteredness and open spaces in my house. I prefer to buy used than new in clothes and housewares. Now and then a few things creep back in the house that I do not need but I enjoy.

    Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • We moved to our current farm 4 years ago, and still have an unpacked box in the garage! I am an artist, and a collector, so this post is a real challenge for me. My collections are mainly natural history, seed pods, stones etc, but also junk, textiles, they inform my art, but I have said to my kids; when I go, just back up a skip and load it all in!
      Clutter is confusing, and defocusing, but thoughtful accumulation is not all bad, if we were all minimalist what would happen to my favourite op shops?
      Cheers

      Heather wrote on March 14th, 2013
      • Heather, we sound so much alike! I’m an artist too & I collect old books & oddments from the flea market to use as collage materials, as well as seed pods, animal bones & other visual inspirations. They cost little or nothing, but they do take up space & require organizing & tending. It’s a challenge to decide what to keep & what to let go, because a particular painting might “need” pretty much anything. %}

        I’ve told my kids the same thing too– I know none of this is valuable to anyone but me!

        Paleo-curious wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • We’ve jettisoned many processions and quite often will buy used.

      However, it so happens that today we bought our first ever new car. (Really!) We replaced an 11 year old beater that was worth, drum roll please, $500 at trade in.

      In one sense the beater was “simpler”. We certainly didn’t worry about dings in the parking lot. ;)

      On the other hand, the beater was consuming car payments worth of repairs at this stage in it’s life. It was very stressful not knowing what was going to go next and if it was going to do it on the road. We have access to an excellent repair shop, but spending lots of quality time there was not in my master life plan.

      After long consideration, we bought new a base model domestic mini-van. The only “option” we added was to extend the bumper to bumper warranty to 5 years. The kids are *gasp* forced to use their own strength to open the doors, deal with bench seating, *and* have Mom and Dad control the A/C. (Somebody call the authorities.)

      At any rate, I have no idea where I’m going with this other than a)the irony of this post on the day we bought our first ever shiny new car and b)sometimes used/aka “simpler” things aren’t always.

      Amy wrote on March 14th, 2013
      • Enjoy your new car Amy, don’t feel guilty. Just make sure to drive it for a long time and get every pennys worth out of it. My car is 12 and I’m hoping for 2 or 3 more years. I “simply” love it and don’t even want a new one.

        Vanessa wrote on March 14th, 2013
      • LOL, I just bought my first “new” car recently too. It’s 3 yrs old, but had very low miles. I still feel uneasy paying that much for a car (never had one before that cost more than $1500). Of course, the flip side of my old cars is that they constantly demanded parts, repair and my weekends spent repairing them, so yes, in this case, buying new or newer actually has simplified my life too. Doesn’t make me feel any less weird about my first ever car loan/payment though :)

        Josh wrote on March 15th, 2013
      • After a series of 15 year old beaters as a student, buying a 4 year old “new” and reliable car significantly simplified my life. The payments were absolutely worth the peace of mind!

        Tracy wrote on March 15th, 2013
      • I have a special appreciation for your car choice. We’ve always lived simply so I could afford to stay home with the kids so we bought a three year old really basic (non-auto windows!) mini van in 2000, when our kids were young. Even though they didn’t want to be seen driving a mini van, at first, they learned how to drive in it, had their learner’s fender benders (never hurt our car one bit), carried all their friends to events and made such wonderful memories using it (some of which I don’t want to know about) that my daughter named it “Lafonda”. They’re well into college and post grad school now but we still use that van for a bicycle/bus backup. At the time we bought it we would have never guessed how living simply, with our top priorities in mind, could have worked out so well; and all represented through an old junker named Lafonda.

        Susan wrote on May 15th, 2013
  15. I can’t for the life of me remember where I read it, but some guys did an exercise on simplicity and minimalism where thy packed up ALL their studf into boxes and put it on one side of the room and then only go out the stuff they needed when they needed it.
    Gotta brush your teeth? Take your tooth brush back outguess it makes the cut! Pretty cool way to get back to the basics and find out what you vs. do without

    Luke DePron wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • I read that too! It’s from the blog, The Minimalists. http://www.theminimalists.com/21days/day3/
      Very cool idea, I’d try it if packing and unpacking EVERYTHING I OWN wasn’t so time consuming.

      Marissa wrote on March 16th, 2013
  16. Great post!!! After taking a serious look at my life lately, I realize I care about less things ( newest gizmo, being popular, going to bars, having a bigger house, fancier car) but the things I do care about ( my health and well being, family, close friends, being outside and moving around) I care about alot. Being passionate in a few aspects of life, instead of being consumed by all the things in life that don’t really matter has made me a better person.
    Thanks Mark for all you do

    joeregular wrote on March 14th, 2013
  17. Wonderful thoughts; I hope I can get them to rub off on the people around me.

    And kudos to that UNH study. UNH rules! (i work there)

    Rob wrote on March 14th, 2013
  18. Money. Time. Things/Possessions

    Choose (at most) 2 of the 3.

    Piper A R wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • I don’t get it.

      You need money and you can’t change time….?

      Alexander wrote on March 16th, 2013
  19. sounds like a man in ketosis alright

    brandon clobes wrote on March 14th, 2013
  20. Another great article. It’s all about finding the “fit” and keeping everything in perspective. Perfect timing too, as I am leaving tomorrow for Florida, and a week of “ocean time”.

    Canoeman wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • I think of the ancient american indians sitting around and wondering where they want to go for a vacation…NOT!

      Nocona wrote on March 14th, 2013
  21. This is timely for me. Just recently I’ve really started to embrace the idea of “less stuff is more”. I’ve always been very driven by material possessions and having lots of fancy stuff. Part of my paleo journey has been realigning my values. And ironically, I’ve starting coming to this point of desiring simplicity as well through my own journey. Clutter creates stress! I’m all about eliminating that right now.

    Susie wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Where I have issues is with my music and books. As for stress and drama, all about getting rid of that, as I am painfully discovering is worthwhile.

      Rob Harrison wrote on March 14th, 2013
  22. Great post Mark. I have benefitted from the practice of identifying three or four core priorities and continually asking myself whether my actions support or distract from those priorities. If they distract, I eliminate.

    I think humans are happier when their homes (or cars, or jobs, etc.) support their lives, and not the other way around.

    Felix wrote on March 14th, 2013
  23. De-cluttering must be one of the first things to do to ‘simplify’ your life. My enforced simplifying came about when my wardrobe collapsed this week – I got rid of 3 bin bags of clothes that I had been hanging on to in the hope of a) them fitting me (again) one day b) them coming back into fashion or c) because they are memories and I love them! I feel such a sense of relief and hubby is very happy too! Of course, the ban on consuming would mean I can’t go and replace them, so maybe I won’t adopt that challenge just yet.

    Grokesque wrote on March 14th, 2013
  24. “We give our positions and possessions more power than they deserve in the grand scheme of life” and “those who felt less loved and accepted within relationships rated material possessions as more monetarily valuable.”

    W O W. Truely profound and powerful insights.

    Thank you.

    J wrote on March 14th, 2013
  25. I continue to be struck with how similar the ideals of the primal life are so similar to the ideals of an authentic Christian life. Our family is a huge fan of both, and both lead us to the same conculsions.

    I know some folks cringe at the thought. Not trying to offend or debate, just sharing personal observation I had while reading above post.

    Miki wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Many creeds promote the same basic concepts of a simple, community-oriented life. Follow the golden rule.

      Animanarchy wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Amen!

      Kiki wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • I had the same thought, Miki.

      Alyssa wrote on March 15th, 2013
  26. It is really tough when you want to make major simplifications and your (otherwise perfect) spouse does not.

    Julie wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Get rid of the spouse too!

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on March 14th, 2013
      • Seems a bit harsh given that he’s ‘otherwise perfect’ – just needs more training!

        Grokesque wrote on March 14th, 2013
      • Ron, I did just that.

        One of my best decisions yet.

        Josh wrote on March 15th, 2013
  27. Mark you good thing you!

    My first post!

    I’m new at primal, but at 51 it seems my search for the answer is found and life begins.

    Simple is me and that suit wears well.

    When I’m a little further into my journey, I will share my good news to help inspire those who need and appreciate such things….as I have been and continue to be inspired.

    Bests to all,
    Dave:)

    Dave Groves wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Welcome aboard Dave.

      Nocona wrote on March 14th, 2013
  28. LOL!

    Hulasurfer wrote on March 14th, 2013
  29. OK – my “LOL” showed up in the wrong place – sorry.

    Hulasurfer wrote on March 14th, 2013
  30. You took the words right out of my brain. When people complain endlessly about their lives, I always think to myself – well you have chosen this life and you make things extra complicated for yourself. On the other hand, I strive to carry as little baggage, whether physical or emotional, and I can’t complain about my life. I feel free and enjoy myself and my family.

    Natasha wrote on March 14th, 2013
  31. My motto from this day forward:

    “Experience instead of Accumulation”

    Thanks, Mark!

    Denise wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • - a rolling stone -

      Animanarchy wrote on March 15th, 2013
    • Solid motto ;)

      Alexander wrote on March 16th, 2013
  32. I’ve always remembered the saying “Things are the theives of time”. Now to get rid of everything I don’t need.

    curiouscavegirl wrote on March 14th, 2013
  33. I started this last year, cleaned out every cabinet and closet…but I still have to much stuff )clothes mostly in our house. This has inspired me to continue on so that I have only what I need it makes for much less stress. Less to clean and everything can have it’s place.

    Sandy wrote on March 14th, 2013
  34. AMEN.

    Elisa @ Beach Girl Abroad wrote on March 14th, 2013
  35. Spot on Denise. The memories of a great experiences last much longer than shiny things.

    Gary Conway wrote on March 14th, 2013
  36. Great post and replies. For me simplifying means that I still work hard but I come home to our veg garden and hens, make as much of our own food as possible, bacon sausages, cottage cheese etc. it keeps us so grounded, and work can pay the bills !

    Peter Fryer wrote on March 14th, 2013
  37. This reminds me of Christmas time. I absolutely dread getting a bunch of gifts. Just give me sporting tickets, or take me to dinner – I would much rather have the experience than something else to keep and take care of (or return)!

    Crystal wrote on March 14th, 2013
  38. Excellent post! Quite inspiring. I’m starting down the primal path, and the thought of becoming more minimalist/zen is quite appealing. Time to ditch the shopaholic in me, and aim for some serious spring cleaning.

    Gwen wrote on March 14th, 2013
  39. Great post. Malcolm Gladwell discusses the concept of too many choices being problematic; causing indecision and stress. I’ve especially noticed that since I’ve gone primal, my life became even simpler. I’ve always been the type that never wanted for much, but now I could care less about ever owning a new car, new clothes, fancy house, etc. My Vibrams are always on unless I have to meet with a client, but the VivoBarefoot dress shoe fills in nicely. I am in the process of looking for an opportunity that allows me to work out of my home more often. Who needs the traffic and hassle? Heck, I’m even following your simplified recommendations for personal hygiene.

    James wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Agreed on too many choices causing stress. When I was a kid there were about 4 shoe companies (Keds, Adidas,Chuck Taylor All-Stars and Puma). Now go try and buy a pair of shoes…it will give you sensory overload.

      Nocona wrote on March 14th, 2013
      • Maybe thats why Mark goes barefoot ;) Hahaha

        Alexander wrote on March 16th, 2013
  40. I’ve taken up camping in the past couple of years. It has been an amazing journey in what I can live without. I still take too much stuff, but getting better all the time. Makes me look at the house and wonder why I have all this *stuff*.

    Lyn wrote on March 14th, 2013

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