What would it take to be a highly successful hunter-gatherer? Brawn? Speed? And good aim? Stamina? Carving skills? A sharp eye or memory? Of course. But what about those less obvious attributes like creativity, empathy, intuition, even-temper, mettle, compassion, coolheadedness? After all, all the strength in the world won’t match a good weapon in many situations. A lone wolf will always be more vulnerable on the savanna than his connected counterparts. An easygoing perspective can make living with others easier. Equanimity keeps emotional responses in check and critical focus in the present. Grit can mean the difference between life and death. If the hard knocks of evolutionary history cultivated these kinds of pivotal traits in our ancestors, how do we reconnect with – and benefit from – them today? What better (and even fun) self-development project can there be, after all, than fostering the habits of highly successful hunter-gatherers?
In addition to reconnecting with our natural environments, rhythms, and biomechanics, it’s impossible to discount the relevance of these more cognitive elements. Sure, it’s the stuff that can’t be nailed down. When it comes to our ancestors’ neurological trajectories, we have the likes of skull proportions and tool complexity to compare. Beyond that, the specifics get dicey. Grok and his kin left no diaries or personal blogs. The more intimate details of their lives will never be known, as much as we might like to imagine their stories. Nonetheless, we can extrapolate from the conditions in which we theorize our ancestors lived and then target what skills and perspectives those environments would’ve required or at least favored for survival. (The observations of traditional societies living today add to this picture in their own partial way, but that’s fodder for another discussion.)
The idea here isn’t an academic model. Yet, it’s not tongue-in-cheek either. What we’re after, of course, is a practical point of reference for the everyday person who wants to enjoy life for all the fulfillment, happiness, and peace that he or she can find in it. There’s something to speculating about Grok’s angle on life and what we can safely assume was a striking contrast to the modern mindset that too often breeds stress, disengagement, and impatience. What’s to be gained from the perspective of Grok, our resident highly successful hunter-gatherer? Consider his evolutionary context a touchstone we can use in life to gauge our own sense of balance. It’s a reminder to question cultural scripts in pursuit of something more timeless and fundamentally sensical. As a touchstone, it can help us imagine – design for ourselves really – an ancestrally-informed point of homeostasis we endeavor to thrive within each day.
This is the Primal purpose of the very first chapter of The Primal Connection. For those of you waiting for your copy to arrive (and for those who haven’t snagged a copy yet), consider it a brief taste for all that’s covered in chapter one.
Our ancestors depended upon a tight knit social circle. Their survival hinged upon it in fact. The band community of 25-50 people was forged within a sense of mutuality – action for the good of the group. It was more than simple transaction, larger than familial connection (not everyone was related). You became kin by being kin and sharing in the menial work, the ongoing stories, and the meaningful celebrations of the band.
In this day and age, we live in proximity to numbers that would’ve stunned our ancestors. We count our social media “friends” into the hundreds, but we often miss a sense of close, continual connection. Exposure doesn’t fill our social wells. Neither do status updates.
These days we can even go through our adult lives with few, if any, intimate relationships – the kind of connections that feel like kin – our own tribe. You’ve seen each other through transitions, successes, and disappointments. You have history and your own stories. The fact is, we haven’t outgrown or out-evolved the need for kin, however. We live with the same genes that benefited from social connection and the same biochemistry that rewards it. With frequent relocations and busy lives, connecting gets complicated. Too many of us end up socially adrift.
If you find yourself at this point in your life without a core group, build one. Don’t make the excuse that you just missed the boat. It’s just too important. You’ll be glad you didn’t later. Feed this “highly successful” habit by first deepening the relationships you already have. When you begin seeing your partner, family members, kids, and closer friends as your tribe, you gain a whole new level of appreciation for the role they play in your life. Reconnect with old friends, and test the waters to see if there’s potential there to become close again. Get out into the world, meet people, and make an invitation. Invite a coworker for lunch. Join a book group or basketball league. Start a volunteer team at your house of worship or place of work. Create a Meetup group. Host an open house for the neighbors. Over time, cultivate the relationships that seem most genuine and promising. Cultivate that mutuality in small but significant ways. Bring your best to the friendship and expect the same in return.
We can all do a self-inventory now of the attention we give our phones or other technological devices. We can confess to ourselves how much we let residual work infiltrate our personal lives. Don’t forget what I think is one of our biggest trip-ups in modern living: the penchant for mental chatter. Truth be told, how much time do we spend caught up in replaying a conversation from the previous evening, imagining multiple stressful scenarios that might take place when we confront a certain person about x, y, and z, worrying about what other people think of our outfit or hair today? Let’s face it, our modern disconnect is rampant distraction.
Can you imagine if Grok walked across the savanna perpetually lost in thought about his latest wardrobe experiment? (As if he ever saw his reflection anyway…) He wouldn’t last long enough for it to matter. For our ancestors, life was an exercise in continual hypervigilance. Not every second, but close. It wasn’t just the risk of becoming another creature’s dinner either. Attentiveness also meant watching for weather, catching migratory patterns, and deciphering water sources – just to name a few examples.
The Primal Connection is to be found in giving the moment your full attention. It’s about minding the difference between thoughtful deliberation or reflection and so-called monkey brain. It’s about throwing off the strangling self-absorption we trap ourselves in every day standing in line with our phones or with our self-chatter. See the people, places, and possibilities in front of you. Feed this “highly successful” habit by observing your loved ones – all the changes and uniqueness that’s right there to be appreciated. Go on a walk with the goal of finding at least a dozen things you’ve never noticed. Use mindfulness check-ins to remind yourself to come down from the mental busyness and come back to center throughout the day.
As Michael E. McCullough, author of Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct, explains, the ability to forgive is as much a result of natural selection as the impulse for revenge. Forgiveness, he suggests, likely evolved as a means of social cooperation. For our ancestors, life was about conservation – of energy, of resources, of good will. In a cost-benefit analysis, nursing an unrelenting grudge would’ve been a major liability. If you couldn’t get along with the group, eventually you likely wouldn’t have been welcome anymore. Be upset, sure. But once it starts eroding the group dynamic, you’d better find yourself another band. The risk wasn’t worth the emotional indulgence.
Although stewing ad nauseum today usually doesn’t present the critical threat of banishment, we still wallow to our own detriment. How much of ourselves do we tie up in the binds of past offenses or travails? How long will we allow ourselves to be stuck, and what are we missing out on in that time? At what point is it not even about the original sin anymore but our own circuitous, self-sustaining grief? The fact is, each day we let a past hurt, disappointment, or mistake determine our wellbeing, is a day we miss living full measure of ourselves and our potential for happiness.
A highly successful Grok type can do the (albeit modern) cost-benefit analysis and learn to let it go. What are the annoyances and resentments that we can simply release for more peace of mind? Feed the “highly successful habit” by cleaning the slate of past negativity. Use some kind of ritual if you feel it would be helpful to create a more genuine emotional closure. Keep an uncluttered emotional canvas by avoiding the minor, inconsequential conflicts that can build up for no good reason at home, among friends and family, or in the office. Learn to stop yourself when you go down that road of downer self-chatter. Cut the impending hormonal cascade in its tracks, and redirect your thoughts.
These are among the habits I call our inner dialogue – the assumptions, patterns, and narratives we can create or accept for ourselves. That dialogue has the power to limit or expand our lives. It will influence our potential to connect with the world and those around us. It will ultimately determine how successfully we live as modern hunter-gatherers but most importantly whether or not we will live the full measure of our Primal selves in this lifetime. Let me know your thoughts on living as a successful hunter-gatherer – and what you’ve gained from the other seven habits if you’re already delving into the book.
Thanks for reading today, everyone. If you haven’t picked up your copy of The Primal Connection, order yours today to learn the other seven habits of highly successful hunter-gatherers and take advantage of the release offer while it lasts!
Order The Primal Connection by Jan. 10 and Get Free Gifts!
The Primal Connection, the long-awaited sequel to The Primal Blueprint, is finally here! As friends and colleagues within the ancestral movement have so generously described, The Primal Connection offers the first really new dimension in the paleo/Primal space in years.
Like The Primal Blueprint, The Primal Connection is both a culmination and expansion of principles I’ve first introduced here on MDA. It picks up where The Primal Blueprint left off, by extending the primal theme beyond the diet and exercise basics. In it I present a comprehensive plan to overcome the flawed mentality and hectic pace of high-tech, modern life and reprogram your genes to become joyful, care-free, and at peace with the present. The central premise of The Primal Connection is that we can use the model of our ancestors to create not just a healthier physical existence but also a more balanced and fulfilling life. My hope is that upon reading it you’ll emerge with a renewed appreciation for the simple pleasures of life and our most precious gifts of time, health, and love.
Just as I like to do for all of my book releases, I have something special put together for devoted Mark’s Daily Apple readers. I’m offering you some fantastic free gifts when you buy one or more copies by Thursday, Jan. 10, 11:59 pm PST. Read all the details here.