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 am a huge creature of habit and I find that because of it, I can make my life a little less complicated. When my routine gets tinkered with, I tend to get a little stressed… But I just do all that I can to get back in sync and everything seems to be a little more simple: for instance, I might take a nap prior to going out for a late night… Or I might eat a big lunch if I know I am being forced to go to a restaurant that’s extremely unhealthy… There are always ways to make things a little less complicated – we just seem to over exaggerate to ourselves when things because a little overwhelming.

    GiGi wrote on March 14th, 2013
  2. Awesome post Mark! My wife and I have been purposefully moving towards simplicity of lifestyle for a few years now. We’re not minimalists by any stretch of the imagination. But, we have certainly lightened our load by donating things that we do not need. We downsized our home. We plant much of our own food. We eat raw, or cook raw food instead of prepackaged overprocessed food-like stuff from big box stores. This has dramtically changed our lives and we’re much better for it. Keep up the good work!

    Bluesguy wrote on March 14th, 2013
  3. “those who felt less loved and accepted within relationships rated material possessions as more monetarily valuable.”

    interesting…. sometimes I do run into people who think I’m strange for trying so hard not to buy much, and thinking about the most recent encounter with someone who really thought I might be a bit crazy for liking simplicity, this quote rings true. They were a lonely, image-conscious person.

    For me, every time I try to change ANY habit I keep in mind that “nature abhors a vacuum,” so I don’t *just* get rid of or stop doing something. I do it so that I can do something I like *more* than what I am discarding. Like with clothes, I got rid of a bunch of things and now I spend a more time finding and even sewing clothes that feel luxurious to me. It’s kind of cool, the more “simple” I get my life, the richer I feel.

    kickingtheplastic wrote on March 14th, 2013
  4. I am trying so hard to focus on important issues and let unimportant issues go!
    My daughter said to me that there is so much in life that is beyond your control that if there is something you dont like and can control, the do it!
    Thank you for your article it made sense to me.

    Jay wrote on March 14th, 2013
  5. For many years now I only buy things that I really love or that I really need. If it doesn’t fall into one of those categories then I don’t buy it. I also stopped coloring my hair. I’m 45, gray, and very happy not to go to the salon every 3 weeks and spend $80 on hair dye. We also clear out clothes and clutter pretty constantly but at least every spring and fall. I also keep my schedule pretty empty. I hate to be “busy”. Simple living is the best living.

    Ara wrote on March 14th, 2013
  6. that’s why I love Thailand.

    Bill Berry wrote on March 15th, 2013
  7. Whatever we want to achieve, first it must be summarized and fixed in our head. Weight loss is a very psychological process, not only a diet and sport.

    Jessica Miller wrote on March 15th, 2013
  8. I would love to be be able to afford a lifestyle like this. The reality of life is that everything is extra. Not using grains and bread means cooking a lot more to feed the family. Including daily movement for all members of the family means more hours in a day, prompts and scheduling. Keeping our minds occupied means coming up with craft and other ideas. Growing your own food means making time for the garden. Supplying good quality meat means research, forms, correspondence, etc. Shopping is not simple either. You take time to explain to your child why we do not eat bread….

    SAD lifestyle is simple. You don’t spend time on any chores, and do nothing. Primal lifestyle is not simple.

    I chose this complexity over feeding my child cookies with pasta and letting her spend her days in front of the TV or with a video game.

    And I chose having family over solitude any day as well.

    leida wrote on March 15th, 2013
  9. And, oh, yes, most of the things I have purchased over the past two years were due to Primal lifestyle. Dehydrator, mandolin, 5-fingers, juicer, pull-up bar, etc… Before that I had everything I needed in the kitchen and a closet full of second-hand clothes….

    leida wrote on March 15th, 2013
  10. I read a wonderful book years ago “Your Money or Your Life.” Mark’s post could almost have been lifted from it. The auther covers his own journey ti simplicity, and I believe he actually toured and gave lectures for a number of years. He uses examples like avoiding the stock market (or using low cost index funds, worrying about individual stocks drives stress), living in a smaller house that ideally you pay off as quickly as possible and similar financial advice. Similar advice in other aspects of life. One of his seminar attendees, a Dr from NYC, realized that matbe he did not need 18 pairs of brown shoes. Perhaps one would do? (True story!)

    Mitch wrote on March 15th, 2013
    • Loved that book! Read it over a decade ago and that’s what started me on The Simple Living path! Thanks for the reminder.

      Ara wrote on March 15th, 2013
  11. A paraphrase from the American poet Charles Bukowski:

    “When everything you own fits in a suitcase, only then can your mind be free.”

    Mitch wrote on March 15th, 2013
  12. Eliminate ruthlessly!

    Milan wrote on March 15th, 2013
  13. The best things in life are not things….love the sentiment of this post, and couldn’t agree more!

    Since I started eating primally almost two years ago, I found that it made me want to challenge conventional wisdom even more.

    That led me down the path of thinking differently about fitness, lifestyle, ‘things’, and ultimately helped me arrive at a point where I think being primal goes hand in hand with a simple, minimalist life.

    Keith wrote on March 15th, 2013
  14. I agree 100% on simplicity! I am not quite to the point of 100 things but I have certainly paired life down. Great post!

    Barb wrote on March 15th, 2013
  15. Last time I moved, I basically had to get rid of a lot of stuff because I am naturally a pack rat. Probably was one of the best things I ever did. It is amazing how our stuff controls us, tying us down from a more mobile lifestyle, rather than the other way around. Simpler definitely can be better.

    Michelle wrote on March 15th, 2013
  16. Well said. I’m a minimalist, so I’m rather familiar with these notions. The rest of the “modernized” world could stand to pare down and simplify a bit more. Many of the world’s problems would be solved, if so – but the modern world, as it is, would fall into chaos.

    Nneka Atto wrote on March 15th, 2013
  17. This is so true mark. My husband and i spent the last year trveling in a van living a very simplelife. Eating paleo, not working, enjoying being outside and finally having time to stop and smell tthe roses.

    We unfortunately had to jump back into the rat race (where we are constantly stressed, bombarded with media and ads) but we are hoping to get out soon to our much simpler, stress free life! It was almost like a mini retirement. Looking to make the simple lifestyle a permanent change!

    Ay brown wrote on March 15th, 2013
  18. I read this book once written by an former inmate of a correctional institution. He wrote about how the life lessons he learned while in prison ended up being quite simple. His words were “live simply, be honest, and cherish relationships”. I will never forget reading those words and live by that motto myself.

    GOG wrote on March 15th, 2013
  19. Great post. Definitely trying to simplify my life lately. Agree with an earlier comment…tough to head back into the rat race after reading this post

    Mike wrote on March 15th, 2013
  20. Sometimes it’s not that easy to develop social connections, however. Some stress is involved.

    Mary Anne wrote on March 15th, 2013
  21. We as a society certainly do like to complicate stuff. Between gadgets, taken on too much, and just not treating our bodies the way they deserve. I recently found that living simple was something suited me and have been journeying towards that goal ever since.

    Chris wrote on March 16th, 2013
  22. Thanks for such an aspiring article with an emphasis on making “simplify” a DIY project… there is no set formula… the common ground we all seek is the outcome of greater valued living.

    Karen Taylor wrote on March 16th, 2013
  23. I find it interesting and revealing that the main thrust of the Antiaging Movement appears to be towards, not only dangerous caloric restriction, but also a massive increase in the intake of lab synthesized chemical compounds, almost the precise inverse of the philosophy of simplification espoused in this article.

    It is for this reason that I believe that the entire approach of that movement is based on a flawed premise – the idea that you can somehow prescribe youth and longevity pharmacologically. Obviously, I have my own views on this issue, but I’d be fascinated to hear yours, Mark. Perhaps even an entire article charting the points of contrast between Paleo and Antiaging philosophy.

    If you don’t write it, I might have to, and no-one wants that.

    Dane wrote on March 17th, 2013
  24. My husband, who currently works 12-hr rotating shifts (switching from days to nights and back), is looking into a job switch that would give him straight Mon-Fri 8-hr days. It will be a pay cut for 2-3 years, though. For us, the benefits of a steady schedule, more family time, and a regular sleep schedule for him, are really worth it. It will also be a more physical job that will use the schooling he got years ago (welding, instead of monitoring the system via computer). I’m looking forward to it, despite the tightening of the family budget. I can give up a lot for more time and healthier spouse.

    Beccolina wrote on March 17th, 2013
  25. Each year I set a goal. This years goal was (and is) “this is the year I give up productivity and exhaustion as badges of honour” (Canadian spelling)thanks Mark, your post fits right in there.

    TerriAnn wrote on March 17th, 2013
  26. Scale Down… great song on this topic by Rising Appalachia

    The Primal Minister wrote on March 18th, 2013
  27. It’s so true that we are addicted to making our lives complicated. I think we believe if its not complicated it won’t work.

    Yesterday I took all the clothes that where choking up my wardrobe and give to charity. There was a ton of this stuff that I never wore, but just couldn’t let it go.

    But once I did it was such a wonderful feeling of freedom and lightness. Its amazing how much of us go thru life just collecting stuff.

    Josie wrote on March 20th, 2013
  28. “Some of us overwork ourselves for a nice house we barely get to enjoy.”
    I see this happen so much. Are we insane as a society?

    Lisa Being wrote on August 2nd, 2013

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