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

How to Use the Friday Success Stories to Grok On and Keep Evolving

4M ChartThis is a guest post from Susan Alexander of

I study behavior modification like Mark studies nutrition, movement, and lifestyle. He’s created a paradigm of related principles for Primal living, as I’ve created a paradigm for self-chosen life change. Our similar interests, along with the fact that I’m a longtime member of the MDA community, is how I’ve come to write this post. Reading the Success Stories every Friday for as long as Mark’s been posting them, I’ve figured something out. There are common threads running through these stories that explain why so many different kinds of people, in so many different circumstances and walks of life, have been able to transform themselves through the PB.

This post is about those common threads. They happen to be the essential behavioral principles that enable us to make a substantial life change and sustain it – which is what we’re all endeavoring to do here in becoming and being Primal. None of us has it completely nailed. The point of the PB is to keep evolving. The point of this post is to help everyone do just that. So let’s get started, shall we? Here are the common threads:

Evolutionary belief

The Success Story writers share the basic core belief that they can evolve themselves throughout their lives. In other words, they believe this basic idea: “The way I am now is not the way I always have to be.” This belief is known as the growth mindset, identified and studied over a 20 year period by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck.

Mindset_solo1Mindset is reflected in what people do – as we see over and over again in the Success Stories. People who think they can evolve themselves do evolve themselves. We see a wide array of approaches to getting started, all of which worked. See e.g. Ed & Amy (“it struck a beautiful chord with us …. we tossed everything in the house”); Michael (“After reading MDA for a day I decided to abandon the vegetarian path entirely and take the plunge into the Primal lifestyle”); Katie (“I wasn’t totally convinced of the fat thing right away …. over the course of a year I made small changes”); Myra (“I decided to give this Primal thing a try for a week.”); Lee (“Without a lot of thought or effort, I transitioned into it.”); Adina (“I spent the next few months reconsidering why I’d become vegan.”).

The opposite of the growth mindset is the fixed mindset. As Primal followers, we hear it all the time in people who say things like: “I could never do that;” “I don’t have the genes for that kind of body;” “The treadmill is fine for me.” The bottom line is this: fixed mindset people don’t think they can change very much. They think their skills, aptitudes, and temperament are fixed, so they themselves are fixed. That’s why they’re not open to change.

Not everyone in the non-Primal world has a fixed mindset. There are plenty of growth mindset people out there who just haven’t heard of the PB or decided to try it yet. As for the fixed mindset people out there, there’s hope. Switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is easier than you might think. Just knowing about the two mindsets enables you to spot the thoughts that go with each one. You’ll start catching yourself in fixed mode, and from there, you can consciously switch into growth mode. After a while, it won’t take so much conscious effort. The growth mindset just becomes yours.

Takeaway #1: The growth mindset is, by its nature, evolutionary. It’s the simple belief that we can change and grow throughout life, through our own efforts. This belief is a major common thread running through the Success Stories. Its opposite is the fixed mindset belief that the way we are now is the way we always have to be. If you’re on the fence about going Primal, or you’re already Primal but you’re feeling stuck, there may be some fixed mindset thoughts going on in your head that are holding you back. Work on a mindset switch first. Read some success stories – it’s a great way to get some growth mindset optimism. Then try something new or different from what you’re doing now.

Evolutionary action

Another common thread running through the Success Stories is evolutionary action. We see all the writers evolving their efforts (and themselves) over time, in a continuous, iterative way. They all see the Primal Blueprint as exactly what it is – a continuing, lifelong process (as opposed to a “diet,” a quick fix, or something they’re doing just for now). See e.g. Mike (“My idea of fun is bettering myself and continuing to learn”); Myra (“My Primal journey continues as I try out different things and continue to learn how my body wants me to live.”); Jeffrey (“This has become much more than a way to lose weight for me, it is ingrained into who I am”); Katie (“I’m still learning and tweaking every day”); Jesse & Vickie (“We knew we wouldn’t be ripped in just 21 days”).

motion-soloThis continuous, iterative approach to Primal is reflective of what I call the motion loop – which is simply my illustrated distillation of the classic trial and error process through which all species in the universe evolved. When it comes to evolving ourselves throughout life, we follow the same course. To find what works for us – in all that we do – we do as the arrows say: we try things out, we learn from the results of our efforts, and rework what we’ve done. Then we try out our rework, learn from that, and rework again. To keep evolving our efforts and ourselves, we keep looping, over and over, just like this.

We see in the Success Stories that the motion loop is not a theory. It’s how effective people work in real life. We see each of the writers embracing the PB over time in just this way, without the objective of getting “done.” See e.g. Sean (“The Primal life is not a diet to me and has no ultimate finish line”); Dave (“Learning is something I will do forever and this way is a great place to learn … to live … to experiment and find your space that works for you”).

Takeaway #2: The motion loop reflects the classic trial and error process by which all species in the universe evolved. On an individual level, it’s our means of self-evolution. By staying in the motion loop with whatever we’re doing, whether it’s the PB or something else, we keep evolving our efforts and ourselves.

Evolutionary feedback

Evolution is chaos with feedback. – Joe Ford

The next common thread running through the Success Stories is the reliance on feedback. All the writers rely on it to keep their Primal journeys evolving. As we’ve already seen, feedback is an integral part of the motion loop. It’s precisely what the writers look to (and all of us must look to ) in order learn from our efforts and keep the motion loop going.

There are two main kinds of feedback running through the Success Stories: feeling and tracking. Let’s look at both.


Every single story details the feelings that arose from going Primal. The writers recount a wide range of physical to emotional feelings, with a lot of overlap. See e.g. Heath (“I now feel that I have a new lease on life”); J.P. (“I started to become more patient with people … and overall felt better emotionally. I literally was becoming happier”); Nikki (“I feel like I’m living my life the way I should be”); Cynthia & Paul (“feeling super fit and healthy all while training less and being true to our Primal selves”).

Feelings are a crucial source of feedback in any change we make, whether it’s going Primal, trying something new in our Primal journey, or some other change. Why are feelings so crucial? Because how something makes us feel has everything to do with whether we keep doing it. Decades of research by preeminent psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi explains why. His work can be distilled into this simple idea: Extrinsic motivation may be present somewhere in the background, but it’s rarely the main reason we do what we do. We humans like the feeling of evolving ourselves – by building skills, overcoming challenges, and being part of a process that leads to a higher level of harmony in life – so when we find something that gives us this feeling, and it’s learnable and accessible to us, we keep doing it.

Another way to view evolution is to see it not as the selective survival of life forms such as dinosaurs or elephants, but of information. Inside each person there is a wonderful capacity to reflect on the information that the various sense organs register, and to direct and control these experiences …. [H]aving a self-reflective consciousness allows us to write our own programs for action, and make decisions for which no genetic instructions existed before. – Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi

The PB is precisely that something, for everyone who’s written a Success Story and for the whole MDA community. There are lots of specific reasons we all can list for being Primal, but in its simplest terms, what’s really going on is this: We do it because we like it. We like it because it feels good. Self-evolution is inherently likable.

If you’ve been skimming this post, this is a good time to start reading every word, because what I’m about to tell you will change your life.

There is a particular feeling that shows up again and again in the Success Stories that’s not well understood but very powerful. Acclaimed author and psychiatrist Edward Hallowell calls it mastery. I’ve renamed it slightly. I call it micro-mastery to differentiate it from what we normally think of when we hear the word mastery.

Micro-mastery isn’t full mastery, as in the way Picasso mastered art or Wayne Gretzky mastered hockey. It’s something completely different. As Dr. Hallowell explains, it is not an accomplishment or the reaching of a goal. Instead, it’s that simple feeling of “Now I get it!” or “I can do it!” that comes when you’ve been trying hard to do something, and you do a small part of it just well enough to give you that feeling.

That’s it. That’s all micro-mastery is – a feeling. It seems small, but it’s huge. Because we humans like that feeling. So when we feel it, we’ll work to feel it again and again. When we’ll work to feel something, it means we’re intrinsically motivated. Thus, micro-mastery is a source of intrinsic motivation we make ourselves, through our own actions.

The Success Stories are a beautiful treasure trove of written accounts of self-made motivation brought on by micro-mastery. Over and over, we see writers come right out and say, unequivocally, that when they felt one part of the PB working, even just a little bit, it motivated them to go farther in their Primal journeys. Great examples are Andy, Keri, and Jenna:

  • Andy saw his weight drop a bit in each of his first 3 weeks of going Primal. “Talk about motivation!” he wrote. By his own account, it’s precisely what lead to his gradual, linear pursuit of athletic goals (a 5k, a 10K, and a 1/2 marathon).
  • Keri found herself where a lot of women runners do: gaining weight while training. Stumbling on MDA lead her to shift her macronutrient balance (to more protein and fat and fewer carbs). From that, she felt herself transform from a sugar burner into a fat burner, and she loved the feeling. Finding she could train on fewer carbs and have great race results, her motivation shifted as well. It became more intrinsic and less extrinsic. Here are her exact words: “I am not sure where my running will take me in the future but I know that the motivation will be from the pure enjoyment of getting outside every morning … not the calories burned.”
  • Jenna felt her breathing improve and her weight drop a little. That motivated her to start exercising – and she soon started liking the feeling of exercise, so she didn’t have to make herself do it anymore. She did it because she wanted to. She wrote: “There are so many gifts I have gotten from following the PB. My health, my motivation, my identity …. I am getting stronger, and exercising more because I enjoy it now, not because it’s a chore.”

Takeaway #3: Feedback from feelings fuels the the Primal process, because how something makes us feel has everything to do with whether we keep doing it. As we see in the Success Stories, many different kinds of feelings serve as valuable feedback. One of those feelings is micro-mastery. It’s important because it’s a source of intrinsic motivation. Once we feel micro-mastery, we’re on our way to being intrinsically motivated, because we like the feeling so much that we want to feel it again and again. Thus, it’s not true that we have to be motivated first, before we get started making a change in our lives. We can get started even when we don’t want to, and even when we think we’re not “ready.” Because motivation kicks in during the process. We create it ourselves by reaching micro-mastery, over and over in the motion loop.


Tracking is another common thread running through the Success Stories. By tracking, I mean that the writers used metrics of some kind to gauge what works and what doesn’t. Their metrics reflected their reasons for going Primal. For example, PaleoBird and Andrew went Primal to lose weight (among other reasons). Through self-experimentation, they both found that carb reduction alone wasn’t effective, so they both restricted calories as well. So their metrics and tracking focused on those things in the weight loss part of their efforts.

While weight loss is a common reason for going Primal, it’s not the only reason. The Success Stories make this clear. The writers had many other concerns, and they chose the PB, at least in part, as a means to healing themselves in some way or addressing medical conditions. As such, their metrics reflected those things. Katie created pie charts of the foods she was eating to get at the cause of her migraines (among other reasons). Michael kept medical stats relating to an array of health concerns.

It does seem that a few writers geeked out over going Primal for the pure enjoyment of geeking out, and that’s a great thing. It got them into the flow of their Primal Journeys and kept them focused. See e.g. Shane (charted his entire first year of being Primal); Jason (tracked weight, carb count, and blood work in his transformation from sugar burner to fat burner). There’s much to learn from their efforts, so be sure to have a look.

Tracking doesn’t have to to be elaborate, and it doesn’t even have to include numbers. You can keep a simple journal and write whatever is meaningful and helpful to you.

Takeaway #4: Tracking is a powerful source of feedback. There are as many ways to track as there are people tracking. The idea is to track what’s important to you in a way that makes sense for you and the change you’re making. The same is true for metrics. It’s where we get our much-needed answers to these fundamental questions: What are the effects of what I’m trying? What’s working? What isn’t? What’s next? Should I keep doing what I’m doing, or tweak and adjust it, or change courses entirely? It’s getting to these answers that propels us through the Motion loop of change, i.e. that powerful, continuing circle of try, learn, rework, that keeps us evolving.

Summing it all up

The common threads running through the Success Stories comprise the essential behavioral principles that enable us to make a substantial life change and sustain it. That’s what we’re all trying to do here, in becoming and being Primal. Knowing what these essential principles are, and seeing how so many people have put them into action, will help you evolve all your Primal endeavors and any other change or self-evolution you have in mind.

For those interested, I’ve taken these essential principles of change and created a “mind app” out of them. It’s called app4Mind. You’re all welcome to use it to change your life and Grok on!

Order Your Copy of The Primal Blueprint 90-Day Journal Today to Grok On and Keep Evolving

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. What me learn? Buzz kill :)

    Groktimus Primal wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Hmmm … Surely a guy with a name like Groktimus has some stuff he wants to learn. :-)

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  2. Beautiful post! Thank you, Susan. You obviously spent a lot of time reviewing the success stories and eloquently described many of the feelings I have come across as I start on my Primal journey. Very motivating.

    DB wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thanks so much, DB. It’s cool that your feelings paralleled those of the followers I wrote about.

      I loved delving into the Success Stories. That so many people wrote about their feelings really jumped out at me. It shows that Primal isn’t just something you do. It’s something you feel and become. That’s yet another thing that sets it apart from the conventional “diet” or eating plan.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
      • My favorite part of success stories is that moment most share when they first find this site, or however they were exposed to the sentiments of going primal, and how they just dive into it and scour and soak everything up they can find in relation to it.

        Its a moment I shared as well when i first found this site and its an amazing time i reflect back on often.

        Kevin wrote on April 2nd, 2013
      • I couldn’t agree more, and thank you for replying!

        DB wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  3. I love u all at the apple!

    Peter Schildt wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Me too. This is such a great community. I wonder all the time what I’d be like today if I hadn’t stumbled on MDA all those years ago. :-)

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
      • I know i’d still be bloated/ lethargic/ unhappy and wondering why!

        Patrice wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  4. Well put. I’m new to Primal (about 6 weeks) and I found myself reading one Success Story after another because they are typically very inspiring.

    The micro-mastery concept is spot-on. The first day I discovered MDA and read the Grains post, I did an experiment: I ate a bowl of granola w/almond milk and just monitored how I felt as it digested. When a familiar bloating feeling arrived, I had an a-ha moment that led to me dropping grains. I see that as micro-mastery, just negative — you get that something is bad so you want to exclude it.

    I’d love to see some functional MRI’s of people’s brains when they experience a micro-mastery moment.

    SLS wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thank you, SLS. I can see that you totally get the micro-mastery concept! As you write, micro-mastery is indeed very feelings-centric, so your granola experiment reflects what it’s all about.

      When we do things (e.g. eat grain, not eat grain), feedback is key, and it’s very easily obtainable from our own feelings – as long as we know to look to them. It’s great that you focused on that cereal-induced bloating feeling, as it lead directly to behavior change (dropping grains). Had you ignored the feeling, you might still be eating them.

      I suppose you’ve been focusing as well on how GOOD Primal food makes you feel? Has that helped you stick with your plan?

      I’d love to see those MRIs too!

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Negative micro-mastery is just as effective as positive, I have found. I feel great making it through a day being perfectly Primal, and I do it more often than not because, well, it feels good!

      But those days when I throw caution to the wind (Christmas, Easter, my birthday – brownies are a weakness, still) I am paying more and more because I’ve become more sensitive after a year being Primal.

      Sometimes, it’s almost as if I forget how good I feel because I normally behave. The occasional suffering reminds me to BEHAVE AND BEHAPPY! And it works!

      Nicole wrote on April 2nd, 2013
      • Nicole: How cool to read what you’ve written, because I feel precisely the same thing – that awful tummy feeling the next day (and sometimes right away) after eating whatever non-Primal thing we’ve made an exception for (like, for example, my daughter’s birthday cake a few weeks ago). Ugh.

        Thank you for coining the term “negative micro-mastery.” It serves as very useful feedback and instruction on how we DON’T want to feel.

        Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
        • This was a very interesting post, Susan. I have been very interested in your work for a while.

          I recently had this negative mastery experience when I tested my blood sugar after a tiny (seemed to me!) piece of cake. The punch-in-the-gut feeling that I felt as I confronted in cold, hard numbers what I was unnecessarily forcing my body to undertake was shocking and led to me eschewing the final few sugars in my diet and found me even losing weight over the holidays.

          Constant observation of our behaviors and results along with the growth mindset you mention in the beginning are fundamental to our ability to change, IMO.

          Alison Golden wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  5. Susan,

    I really enjoyed this and will be passing it onto a client who I think it will hit home well with. Micro mastery will be a term I will be throwing around!

    I think in terms of the goal being to “find the path to success and walking it, rather than the actual endpoint.”

    Micro mastery will help define that much clearer.

    Luke DePron wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Luke:

      I replied earlier but it looks like what I wrote got lost. So I’ll try again ….

      How good that you’ll pass along this post. I’ve found that once people know about micro-mastery, they start looking for it and using it as the powerful self-made motivator that it is.

      I’d love to know if it helps your client – and what your experiences are with it – so I hope you’ll come back and write some more at some point.

      You’re right about path vs. endpoint. As Sean wrote in his success story (quoted in the post): “The Primal life is not a diet to me and has no ultimate finish line.”

      Looks like this continuous, evolutionary approach is inherently Primal. Makes sense, you know? It stands in stark contrast with “diets” – so many of which are perceived as having a beginning and an end (hence all the undoing we see outside the PB).

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  6. My self-change mantra is “I floss twice a day now. I can make any change I need to make.” Just hearing that this mantra encapsulates so many of the motivational principles you’ve outlined makes me love it so much more. And you know, I do get a good emotional feeling of cleanliness and accomplishment after flossing! I absolutely hate to run of floss and miss this feeling, so I usually buy two boxes at a time to be sure I always have at least one backup on hand.

    So, Susan, this post has given me a big old AHA! moment of micro-mastery in how to continue to motivate myself with regard to my primal goals. I am going to work much harder to feel these moments more often and recognize them for the powerful motivational elements they are.

    Thank you so much for writing this for us!!

    Rhonda the Red wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thanks, Rhonda. As your comment shows, one can get to micro-mastery from just about anything. It’s a micro-feeling from micro-evidence that we’re evolving in some way. It doesn’t matter if anyone else notices. All that matters is that we feel it.

      I know first-hand that micro-mastery can deliver much-needed motivation for all things Primal. I consciously use it every day, for (a) doing things that are consistent with how I want to be feel; and (b) NOT doing things that aren’t consistent.

      I actually used micro-mastery to stop my very addictive afternoon habit of drinking decadent hot chocolate. See It was like pulling motivation out of thin air. When I made that change, I didn’t really want to make it. I just decided to do it anyway – using micro-mastery as a self-evolutionary crowbar. And all of a sudden, after one day, I was free of something that had been killing my energy.

      An awesome result. I hope it helps you as well and that you’ll come back here and update us.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Flossing twice a day…no strings attached.

      Nocona wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  7. Great post, Susan! I really like what you said about tracking what is important to you as I have found that that has evolved over time. The first year I needed the metrics of weight, measurements, calories, macronutrients, etc. These days how I feel is what keeps me honest. I choose not to feel less well.

    Myra wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thanks so much, Myra. I agree. Tracking is hugely powerful. I do it all the time, with Fitday and my own Moleskine journal. When I don’t, I feel disoriented. It’s hard to describe – I just have an odd sense of not knowing where I am with respect to macronutrients, calories, and exercise.

      Also, when I know I’m going to have to log things in/write things down, it has a beautiful way of guiding my decisions. Do you find that’s true?

      As you point out, tracking also keeps us honest. Numbers and notations impact us more than vague memory (which we can alter to please ourselves – a dangerous thing for sure).

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  8. Thanks, Luke. How good that you’ll pass this post along. Micro-mastery is a very useful term. Actually thinking about it can change how we approach just about everything (especially the really difficult things). And it can determine whether we stick with what we start.

    Whenever I’m trying something new, I consciously tell myself that I just need some micro-mastery to kick in to transform the process (whatever it is) into something I can endure (and want to endure). It makes a huge difference.

    I hope you’ll give it a try and post something here on how it works for you.

    Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  9. Interesting post, but I was a little disappointed by the abuse of the concept of “evolution”. The basic misconception that gives evolutionary theory so much flack is that there is some intentionality to it; but the beauty of evolution is the pure randomness behind it.

    Aside from that, I’d like to speak up for those of is who PB in a more laid back manner, with little to know specific tracking…we just grasp the general flow of the thing and profit. Those stories don’t make the impressive “look what I accomplished!” rank, but our lives are still headed on a better trajectory for it.

    SayMoi wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thanks. One of the things that makes the PB work so well for so many is that there are so many ways to approach it. There’s the laid back way and the structured way, and everything in between.

      The PB is something we can customize to ourselves and still coexist with those who go about it differently, sometimes very differently. I saw that at PrimalCon. The point of this community, I suppose, is to learn from Mark and each other.

      I think it’s fine to think of the PB in evolutionary and non-evolutionary terms. Whatever makes sense for the individual. It sounds like you’ve found a groove that works for you. That’s awesome. Carry on!

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • *eye roll*
      Evolution is a word that means ‘change over time.’ It is not an abuse of a word to use it correctly. Just because you are obsessed with a particular theory that uses the word in it’s title doesn’t mean that the word is a trademark.

      anon wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  10. Susan,

    What a fantastic explanation of the principles involved in not only making change but making change Primal style!

    I love the idea of Micro-Mastery. I’ve never really thought about those tiny little feelings when you first accomplish something you’ve been working to accomplish – even if it is the smallest of achievements.

    But those small feelings are so important. I think they may be something worth adding to the “tracking” piece of your app.

    That way, as we are moving forward in our personal health evolution or really anything we are trying to achieve, we can look for clues – like what gave me that mental boost that enabled me to keep going even though it was really hard?

    As for my own personal Primal story – MDA was the beginning on my “ancestral” health journey and continues to big a big piece of that journey.

    I still pull up the BodPod tests I got a couple years ago and it still shocks me how I was able to drop 8lbs of fat and gain 2lbs of muscle in 60 days after going Primal….even though I did lots of things wrong!!

    But as you mentioned, that’s OK and it’s part of the process. We will continue to make adjustments and fine tune along the way.

    As long as we utilize a tool like App4Mind to keep us moving forward – we continue to evolve.

    And as you stated – that’s what we’re all going for :)

    Kick ass article here Susan – Thank You!

    Tim Murphy wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thanks so much for all you’ve written here. I like your idea of tracking micro-mastery. The last two “M” words of app4Mind (mastery and measurement) do have some overlap, as they’re both forms of feedback. Mastery is feedback via feeling, and measurement is feedback via numbers, data, and whatever else is relevant – including the feeling of mastery. So if one chooses to journal or otherwise record whatever’s relevant, feelings of mastery are indeed a relevant inclusion.

      Yep, doing things wrong, making adjustments, and fine tuning along the way. That’s how to best go about the PB. The cool thing about the success stories is that people seemed to adopt that approach without being told to do it. They all got started and evolved themselves during the process (continuing forward like that).

      I love that you have BodPod data to look back at. I’d like to know more about that.

      One last thing: Micro-mastery is a key thing to lead our children to, in all that they’re learning, from bike riding to math to making friends. Like us, once they feel it, they’ll keep coming back to feel it again – because it’s so likable. See the great book, The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, by Edward Hallowell, MD.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  11. “’The way I am now is not the way I always have to be.’ This belief is known as the growth mindset.” I have lived with this mindset most of my life, without knowing how beneficial it has been for me to be able to think this way.

    I have bogged down in the “try” part of the cycle, though. In the past, if I couldn’t learn something right away, then I gave up. As I age, I realize that it’s unrealistic to be able to do something perfectly the first time. Apparently I figured out the motion loop on my own and how to rework my attitude, although it’s gratifying to see this process explained and to know how it works.

    I especially enjoy the feeling of micro-mastery, even when what I want is total mastery. I’ve also been a compulsive “tracker” and find regular journaling to be most helpful in the process of changing. Reading success stories is motivational too along. I believe it’s important to have a support system in place as well when trying to change.

    Excellent post, Susan! You always make me think.

    Loran Hills wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thanks so much, Loran. You seem to have a good bit in common with the Success Story writers – as you all seem to have followed the principles of self-change without even knowing it.

      The growth mindset is super powerful, isn’t it? It segues right into the motion loop. Which makes perfect sense, because when we believe we can grow and develop over time, then we expect growth and development to do just that, i.e. happen over time (not right away, on the first try).

      I’d love to know some specifics about how you go about tracking. There are as many ways to track as there are efforts being made out there. So there’s much we can learn from each other. Are you familiar with the Quantified Self movement? If not, Google it. You may be able to find a Meetup group near you (or start one!).

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Wow – almost like I wrote this one! Also what’s great about this post is the fact that it really applies to anything – your job/ work, how you parent, strength/ fitness, etc. I also appreciate the concrete advice for people to go from fixed to growth mindsets.

      Katie wrote on April 5th, 2013
      • (wrote Loran’s response, not the post)

        Katie wrote on April 5th, 2013
  12. Thanks for the post Susan – I’m going to start forcing myself to have a growth mindset to enable myself to adopt all the good behaviours that I want, even though it’s sometimes difficult to keep the focus. I’m off to read some success stories!

    Grokesque wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thanks so much. The nice thing about the growth mindset is that you can just have one – all of us can. It takes knowing about the two mindsets. Once you do, you can “catch” yourself in fixed mindset thoughts, and transform them into growth mindset thoughts. After a while, fixed mindset thoughts don’t come so much anymore, so it doesn’t take a lot of conscious effort to be in a growth mindset.

      I think you’d like Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset. It’s a quick read and a super powerful one. Chances are your mindset will be changed well before you’re done reading.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
      • I completely had that experience reading the book. I started out thinking that this person wasn’t going to tell me anything I don’t already know (I’m a perpetual learner and self-described optimist) but soon found that, in certain situations or parts of my life, I completely had a fixed mindset (it’s in my family, that’s just the way I am, etc). Once I was about half way through I was able to easily recognize when I had these thoughts and instantly change them to a growth mindset.

        The thing I liked best about the book is all the real-life examples. It makes it real, and shows us that the fixed/growth mindsets are found in all sorts of people; but it’s also a choice we have to be in one mindset or the other.

        I could go on, but just go read the book. You won’t regret it!

        Stacie wrote on April 2nd, 2013
        • Thanks, Stacie. Yes, Dweck’s research shows that it’s possible to be fixed mindset in certain parts of our lives and growth mindset in others. Both mindsets are powerful, for sure. Just knowing about them can help you change to all growth mindset – and it certainly can illuminate why certain things in our lives are so difficult and others not so.

          I liked the examples in the book too (including the hilarious observations about John McEnroe).

          I agree – Mindset (the book) is a great read for just about everyone.

          Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
      • I’ll give it a try – thanks for the tip x

        Grokesque wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  13. Thanks, Susan. You are spot on with this. The feeling that comes as a result of micro-mastery is very powerful… addictive even. My own journey has shown that it causes a snowball effect. So many wonderful things happen with a little self-confidence.

    Maynard wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Maynard: I agree. Micro-mastery is super powerful … addictive, even. It can lead to some great snowballing. More and more good, all wrapped up together and perpetuating itself. We see quite a lot of it here on MDA, you know?

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
      • I have a weakness for smart, sexy women. You’re brilliant and smokin’.

        My gf is the same age as you. I am 18 years younger than her. She has always asked me to get her in shape. So, when I started getting fit 5 months ago, I tried to get her to do some simple exercises like girl pushups and air squats. She cussed me two days later and is completely turned off now. She thinks her shape is because of age and genetics. Of course, I can’t offer anything to change her mind.

        Maynard wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  14. Interesting post. Charts, diaries and apps work for some; others just wake up one morning and decide they will start doing this and do it, or stop doing that and stop it.

    Really, the simplest way to change is to replace one behaviour with another. Full stop.

    Helga wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Interesting comment, Helga. You’re right about replacing one behavior with another. It’s exactly what has to happen for us to start doing something different from what we’re currently doing. There’s actually a neurological reason for this: Everything we do is a skill (even the not-so-good stuff we might do, like overeat). When we build skill, we build neural circuity for that skill. Once the circuitry is there, it stays there, and there’s no way to un-build it. So we have to build new skill (with its own neural circuitry) to eclipse the old (like eating Primally, in a way that sustains and satisfied us).

      This phenomenon is nicely explained in Daniel Coyle’s great book, The Talent Code, which I wrote about in a post called: How To Learn Anything (Practicing Like Jackson Pollock).

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  15. Nail on head Susan, and very well done!

    kate wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  16. I think the Micromastery carries an element of confirmation. That is, you take a little leap of faith and try something, it works a little bit, and you get this a-ha moment when you realize that “Hey, this works! These people are right after all!”

    oxide wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Yes, that’s exactly it. The feeling of micro-mastery comes from micro-evidence that we can do whatever it is we’re trying to do. Not perfectly – and usually far from perfectly – but just enough to keep us in the game. Long term, thankfully, because the more we try, the more we get to micro-mastery. Since we keep wanting to keep feeling it, again and again, we keep on going, improving more and more over time. It’s how we eventually get good at things we weren’t at all good at when we started.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  17. It seems that the biggest issue I’ve come across when describing the Primal lifestyle to people is your section on a fixed mindset. I think the hardest thing to do is convince people that a fixed mindset is a self destructive one in which people are unable to adapt to their social situations. Like you said this would put them in a position in which their lifestyles are stagnant. Any thoughts?

    Dalton K. wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Dalton: You’re right. A fixed mindset can indeed lead to a stagnant lifestyle. It’s easy to see why. If a person believes he can’t grow and change throughout life, then he’ll likely believe that he can’t change the way he eats or exercises or does anything else. To fixed mindset people, change isn’t not worth trying. It’s exactly why we hear people say things like, “I could never do that” when we tell them about the PB.

      In reading through the Success Stories, I did come across some people who seemed somewhat fixed mindset at the outset. One person had flat out concluded that she’d always be overweight because that’s just how she was. Another person said there was no way he could give up bread. But then something happened – they both made a leap of faith and tried the PB anyway. Not committing long-term, of course. But just enough to give it a fair try. And low and behold, they liked what they felt and saw happening (aka they got to micro-mastery). So they stuck with it.

      In other words, what actually happened once they tried had the good effect of refuting their own fixed mindset thoughts. They saw through their own first-hand experience that they CAN change.

      So that’s the beginning of the answer with fixed mindset people. They can get started with change before they’ve fully changed their mindsets – as long as they’re willing to take that leap of faith.

      I don’t think too many of us are trying to convert the whole fixed mindset contingent out there, but when it comes to someone we really care about, we might try to get them to give the PB a try. Mark’s 21 Day Transformation book is a good start. Some may be more open to trying in a small group.

      I hope I’ve shed some light on what you asked about. I’d love to know your thoughts.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  18. This is such an awesome distillation for those who read the Friday posts intermittently and wish they had a story of their own to share.

    For me, the big win for me has been the self-experimentation and data collection. Having results to inform my choices on a weekly basis keeps the journey fresh, and allows me to evolve continually.

    Thank you for a fun literature review of these transformations.

    Brent wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thanks so much, Brent. The way you describe your self-experimentation and data collection shows that you work in a motion loop. It’s not only in the Success Stories that we see awesome self evolution going on. It runs through the comments as well. Yours is a nice example.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  19. Excellent piece, thank you. Only today a friend and I lamented at the apparent ‘incomprehensible’ behaviour of another who professes to want change but never stays the course (any course). I really like your point about needing a mindset change before the rest flows; I guess that’s a little like the phrase ‘when the student is ready a teacher appears’.

    I’ll keep on sending her way all manner of links and ideas in the hope that one may just motivate her enough to begin. Because as you point out once the positive feedback loop is in place … the sky is (may be not) the limit :-)!

    Kelda wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thank you, Kelda. As I wrote in my reply to Dalton’s comment (above), sometimes it’s a matter of getting started. Sometimes a fixed mindset person will take the leap of faith and just try something anyway – even when they think it won’t work. Then, as you say, the positive feedback loop emerges and they stay in the process.

      I’ve thought a lot about this. How can we get ourselves (or someone else) to try something in the first place, when there’s a good deal of hesitance? Should we just wait until the hesitance miraculously subsides? Or motivation miraculously appears?

      I think not. I explored this topic in a recent post called, “How To Get Started Doing Something You Don’t Want To Do.”

      You might have a look at it. I’d love to know your thoughts.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
      • I will go and have a read!

        I too have pondered long and blogged pieces over the last few years wondering why we (as humans) often don’t do what we know works, do do what we know doesn’t! Mark of course has covered it here recently with pieces about akrasia.

        I’m coming to the realization that many people whilst professing (even passionately) a desire for change actually sub-consciously have much invested in the status quo and it’s only when the ‘why’ behind that can be exposed (and it’s often truly emotionally painful or even totally devastating to the ego) that true progress and a growth mindset can be released.

        The process of ‘what do I gain from being x, y, z?’ is often useful but takes courage and/or very skilled and sensitive questioner.

        I’m seriously considering moving into some form of psychotherapy to bring the whole evolutionary perspective to mental/emotional health. It’s rarely, in my opinion, a question of just finding the right psychiatric drug!


        Kelda wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  20. This post really spoke to me. And…a mind app. So cool.

    Jey wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  21. It seems like it is difficult for a lot of people that have that fixed mindset, such as the, “I could never give up the grains” attitude. But I still think it’s so easy, a caveman (cavewoman) could do it.

    Nocona wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • You’re exactly right, Nacona. So often, what we think will be difficult turns out to be easy. What we think we “can’t” do, we actually can.

      We think we’re such great predictors, but we really aren’t. We humans are so good at being wrong about what we think we are or aren’t going to like, and about what we think is or isn’t going to work.

      Which is why it’s a good idea to give things a try – just for the sake of trying. Once we’re doing, we have way more information at hand than we did before we got started. Doing is how we learn and discover – not by just thinking about it.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
      • +1

        Nocona wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  22. sweet! thank you.

    tina wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  23. Love love love this post. I read Mindset a couple years back at the request of my volleyball coach…he thought it would help our team get better at our sport, and it really did help me. I never thought about using that lens to look at my primal journey. I’m going to reread the book this summer thinking about being primal as opposed to my athletic ability alone. Looking forward to how it changes my perspective and gets me refocused on my primal journey.

    Thanks for the post. I love psychology…and I love nerding out. Win win!

    Stacie wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thanks, Stacie. You sound so beautifully open to things. So glad you’ll reread Mindset. I have, a couple of times. I find something new in each reread. It’s a great lens for just about all we do, the PB included for sure.

      I’m a psychology geek too. It’s nice to be in good company.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  24. I loved this article, very good points and well-written :) I definitely recognize some aspects mentioned in myself. Beautiful and helpful!

    Kaylee wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thanks for weighing in, Kaylee. So glad you liked the post and that you saw yourself in it a bit. (I think we’re all in there somewhere.)

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  25. Fantastic post! Great way to deconstruct the friday success stories and help me analyze them better!

    bjjcaveman wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thanks so much. So glad you like the post and that it’s helped you.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  26. Wow- what a great post! Thank you, Susan and Mark, for putting this all together for us to read in one place in very clear language! What really resonated for me is how this applies to music. I’m a musician and that micro-mastery thing is a huge part of why I play music. It’s SUCH a rush to learn a new tune or song and feel it become part of you and then another huge rush to share it with our audience. The neat thing about music is you are never, ever done learning that tune or song. No matter how many times you play it, practice it, think about it or perform it we always learn something new and fresh from the piece.

    I first got into questioning what I was eating because of getting a parrot. Keeping him healthy and happy was a HUGE learning curve and an enormous part of it was learning about food. We changed so much in our lives in the first few days we had him (threw out our teflon pans, stopped using any “fragrances,” etc.) and felt so much better ourselves that the questioning, learning and changing never stopped. Then I stopped eating grains and rice because it was associated with IBS and that led to paleo-style eating and we just never looked back.

    I have to say that having a partner-husband who is also addicted to micro-mastery makes all the difference. I don’t think I could have done this with anyone who wasn’t of the same mindset.

    Anyway, I love MDA and the whole paleo thing. It’s been just great! Now that I’m finally getting past hypo-thyroid, adrenal exhaustion and potentially terminal depression and able to get out and MOVE again I look forward to the best health of my life. At 55 that’s a great feeling to have, you bet!

    Thanks again for the great article. I’ve already posted this to Facebook and plan on sending it to a number of friends. I’m sure it will make for interesting discussions!

    Felicia wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Felicia: Thank you so much for your thoughtful, thorough comment. You’re right about micro-mastery having a huge place in music. I’m wondering if you’ve read The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. It’s a great book about learning skill (of all kinds), with many music examples.

      I must say that I’ve never thought about micro-mastery in connection with raising a parrot :-) but you make some very good points. The care and feeding of another living being can lead to some self reflection, as we see in your case. I’ve felt it too in raising my daughter.

      You and I have some of the same maladies. It takes some serious self-experimentation(aka motion looping) to find what works – has that been your experience? The nice thing is that it leads to some micro-mastery, and thus, perseverance.

      I admire your openness to trying new things, as well as your efforts in healing yourself. It’s not an easy thing. Way to go!

      Thank you so much for sharing the post. I’m very grateful for your interest.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  27. So nice to see our stories can really be a motivating force in people’s lives. (From the Katie of the no-migraine fame)

    katieCHI wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • You are indeed a motivating force, Katie. Love your pie charts!

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  28. I read somewhere that happiness only occurs when our actions match out thinking. (Can’t remember who said it.)

    Those moments of micro-mastery are when we successfully live out our ideology (whatever that may be). Love it!

    Recommitted! wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • All good thoughts. Thank you so much for reading and weighing in.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  29. Mico-mastering is a great way to put it. It’s that time when that little light goes on in your head “bing”. When I was an instructor I loved it when I see it in the eyes of my students that they got this “bing” and then they wanted more. Great way to put it all together.

    Tomas Barreto wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thank you, Tomas. It’s great to feel micro-mastery ourselves and to see it in others, especially those we teach. You’re right. It’s a “bing.” :-)

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  30. I have never written my own primal story because I never thought of myself as a success. I guess I have always assumed that “success” indicates a finish line of some sort, or at least some clear indication of what is “successful” versus “not there yet”. But I can definately relate to all of your takeaways – I love change, I’m always trying to improve on things, I’ve definately achieved micro-mastery with many aspects of my Primal life, and I still journal and blog about it. I didn’t realize I already have a success story! :)

    Emily wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Emily: Thank you for sharing. These words really stand out: “I love change, I’m always trying to improve on things ….” With a thought process like that in place, of course you’re a success story!

      Way to go with journaling and blogging. They big enablers. No need to ever “get there” or finish. None of us here ever will. It’s not the point. How great is that?

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  31. I’m glad to see so many success stories……I at times have negative attitudes toward apps/programs/etc.. I feel that many of these programs are so simple and people should just “make the change” and move on.

    However, many people have years, or sometimes decades, of of habits and behaviors that they need to undo/change. So, often they need as much help as they can get in getting their health in order. In addition, for some, this is such a radical change that if they didn’t monitor and track their change and progress they may not stick with the program.

    Socrates did say “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being”, maybe that holds true here. Congrats to those that have started, stuck with, or succeeded, wherever you are in that continuum.

    Jim wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Jim: I love that Socrates quote. I agree – congrats to all who are somewhere in this process.

      You’re right about the problem at hand for many – years and sometimes decades of built up behaviors that must be eclipsed by new ones. It takes some doing. What I’ve found is that most people don’t know how to go about this eclipsing. In other words, most people don’t know how to change their behavior.

      Which is why I created a “mind app” comprised of essential principles of change. It takes TMI about the basic process and makes it understandable and actionable. :-)

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  32. Really loved this stuff, understanding how we grow is one way to start growing! I have a question on this topic though.

    Lets say someone progresses and evolves from the standard westerner (diet: sugar, processed, industrial, exercise: walking from the couch to the car, spirituality: worshipping the ‘sacred screen’ every night) to a primal or fulfilled lifestyle. They have had the ‘growth mindset’, and have now grown beyond their original self.

    However, their current evolved state might become entrenched in their current lifestyle, and close up again into the ‘fixed mindset’. Once you’ve embraced a principle, and live by it (such as PB), how do you evolve beyond that?

    Barnaby wrote on April 2nd, 2013
    • Thanks, Barnaby. Good point. I think there’s always a danger of getting set in our ways, even when we’re in a growth mindset.

      As for the PB, I think the key is to view it as something we’ll never be finished learning and implementing. This is very much the approach of the Success Story writers, e.g. Sean (“The Primal life is not a diet to me and has no ultimate finish line”) and Dave (“Learning is something I will do forever and this way is a great place to learn … to live … to experiment …”).

      We can all take a lesson. When we start thinking we have it all nailed, it’s good to remind ourselves that we don’t. What we’re doing now likely has room for improvement. Even if it’s close to perfect, it’s not reasonable to expect it to always work – because our needs change over time.

      In short, to keep evolving, we need to stay cognizant of the motion loop, and keep running our efforts through it. No one’s an exception. :-)

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  33. Loved the article, great read. It encouraged me to think in ways I had never thought of before. I am a frequent reader of the success stories as I find them motivational and inspirational, and while I had noticed some common threads, having these grouped together is a great way to learn. Maybe this could be a future book for Mark to undertake, drawing together the experiences, success stories, challenges, obstacles, motivations, and journeys of your readers to put together a “primal blueprint” based on user experiences, after all, the premise of the PB is to learn from our ancestors and their way of life for health, happiness, longevity etc. Maybe a project like this would complement that as we learn from each other and share tools etc. for success…. just a thought.

    Keith wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Great thought, Keith. Thank you. A book on this stuff – yes, what an awesome idea. :-) The Success Stories are a hugely valuable resource, because they show us **what’s actually happened in real life** for many people in wide ranging circumstances.

      The Success Stories are quite different from the various studies out there on diet and exercise. They might provide useful information – but they’re controlled studies – so they’re different and less reflective of reality. And, with studies, we usually we just get the results (pounds lost, etc.). We don’t get what people actually did and said and felt. As we see from your comment and the many others here, that’s the part of the picture that resonates with people.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  34. One of the problems I find with getting older is that as my body becomes more and more inflexible, my mind is doing the same thing! We get locked into patterns of behavior that are formed over lifetime and those habits can be hard to kick. Those middle-aged and elderly people who seem to be “young at heart” seems to have retained a youthful outlook on life that suggests that they haven’t become locked in to certain ways of doing things or thinking. And if you think/believe that life is all about change rather than repetitive actions, then I suspect you too will be open to changing your outlook and habits. Being young at heart might actually be a good survival skill!

    Greg Sandhurst wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Thanks, Greg. I find those things too. I try to tell myself every day to just be as flexible and open to change as growth as possible, every moment (physically, emotionally, and intellectually). I’ve found a lot of solace in Eckhart Tolle’s work – do you know it? You might want to have a look at his books: A New Earth and The Power Of Now.

      You’re right about getting set in our ways. It’s tempting sometimes, isn’t it? It’s certainly the easy thing to do. The great thing about the PB is that it’s so beautifully tweak-able. There’s always more to learn and implement, so we’re never done. (We could think we’re done, but we’d be wrong). Keeping the motion loop going in the PB just might keep us in the motion loop in other things we do.

      Change in one area of our lives can lead to change in other areas. The Success Stories bear this out. I’ve seen it in my own life as well. Have you?

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  35. Great post. Especially the inclusion of concepts from Hallowell, someone who in our family, affected by ADHD, we respect greatly.

    The Try, Learn and Rework mindset, especially shown as a circle, has so much meaning. “Methods are many and Principles are few” (Bruce Lee quote – I think) applies here as well. There are principles which provide the key direction. Principles are immutable. However, the methods to progress are akin to the trying, learning and tweaking (reworking) activities that affect progress toward the principles. The methods are changeable. As a circle, learning does not end – and it never should end.

    Recognizing progress is the key – even the small steps that head you in the proper direction can be stimulating and motivating. If the change seems of-path, you still have learned and can act – empowering!

    Jim wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Thanks, Jim. Yes, Bruce Lee, I think. And there is indeed much to learn from Hallowell. I agree that recognizing progress is key. It can be easy to miss, because setbacks tend to be way more noticeable.

      I’m hoping people will keep the motion loop (try learn rework) in their minds as they go forward in the changes and processes they choose. It’s so helpful to me, and I’ve long wanted to share it. Visualizing it has everything to do with sticking with things over time, so I’ve found.

      Thanks so much for weighing in.

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  36. I’ve been practicing “micro-mastery” for many years, albeit without the name. I’m a great believer in all of life being a journey through which we grow, learn, make mistakes, fall down, get up, fail, and excel. This is true in PB and in life. No one accomplishes any goal by jumping from the start to the end. There are many small steps in between that we must strive to reach and work through. It’s life. Thanks for the post Susan, it was right on.

    Ara wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Thanks so much, Ara. Much of the reason people give up is the simple misunderstanding about how learning and progress work. A common expectation is that one will nail it (whatever “it” is) on the first try. When that doesn’t happen, the belief is that there’s no inherent talent/gift/DNA/whatever, so there’s no use trying again. The perception is that “failure” has occurred, so the endeavor ends.

      As you wrote, “No one accomplishes any goal by jumping from the start to the end. There are many small steps in between that we must strive to reach and work through. It’s life.”

      Yes, that about sums it up. :-)

      Susan Alexander wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  37. I was wondering how many of you and who is keeping a blog of their personal Primal journey? Please reply with your blog url thanks!

    Essie wrote on April 3rd, 2013

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