41 Primal Action Items and Individual Experiments for Success in 2017

Inline_AdobeStock_102944144Not every challenge has to be massive. Not every action item needs to take you to the promised land of optimal health and body composition. Sometimes, you just want a writer you trust to devise a list of potential little mini-challenges, short self-experiments, and approachable action items.

This is that list. Browse it. Jump around. See what resonates. Then get moving, and make them happen. I’m partial to 1, 5, 9, 13, 19, 20, 22, 26, and 30. But I’m sure whichever you choose will help you succeed this year.

  1. Take a 15 minute walk after every meal. There’s a good reason many traditional cultures recommend walks after eating—it reduces blood glucose and improves the overall metabolic response to the meal.
  2. Do 100 squats a day. Air squats are plenty, unless it gets too easy. Then add a little weight. Not all in a row (unless you’re a glutton for punishment). Pepper them throughout the day. If squats aren’t working for you, try something else.
  3. Do burpees (or their alternatives) after every meal. Somewhere in the range of 10-20.
  4. Try some lentils. Instead of your normal carb source, eat some black, green, red, or French lentils. Remember from the legume post, lentils go a long way. They’re surprisingly low in digestible carbs and high in micronutrients and protein (not enough to be your main source of protein, you plant-based readers you).
  5. Go for a hike on a rainy day. Not drizzly. Not sprinkling. Raining. A downpour is even better. Get wet. Take your shoes off for a portion. Bonus mindfulness exercise: hike with hands outstretched, palms facing up, and focus on the rain drops hitting your hands. Nice, right?
  6. If you’re really into training (think CrossFit), try carb cycling. Eat higher carb, lower fat on training days with most of your carbs coming post-workout, and higher-fat, lower carb on rest days. Keep protein fairly constant. Many hard-training folks find this way of eating speeds fat loss while retaining performance.
  7. Learn and master one new recipe each week. Get to the point that you can make it in your sleep without measuring. Have people over for dinner to test it out.
  8. Go volunteer. It needn’t be through an official agency. Offer to walk your elderly neighbor’s dog or mow their lawn. Maybe you just spend a day at the beach or park picking up any bit of trash you see.
  9. Go to your favorite cafe, grab a cup of coffee, and spend half an hour brainstorming. Business ideas, 5-year life plans, book ideas, trips around the world. Anything. Just think (relatively) big, write down what you come up with, and see where it takes you. Tea is permissible.
  10. Pick up an instrument. If you’ve got the time, take a class.
  11. Plumb your life for the things you know aren’t working out. Pick one of them—a food you eat but always regret, a workout you never quite get to, that elusive 11 PM bedtime—and make it right.
  12. Stop consuming the news for two weeks. Spending energy and time on events that are outside of your direct control is wasteful, stressful, and counterproductive.
  13. Read fiction before bed. Bedtime stories are the best part of being a kid, and it’s probably one of the things I miss most. Reading fiction gets you into the right state of mind for dreamland. One I’ve liked lately is Twain’s Innocents Abroad (more of a travel memoir).
  14. Sincerely compliment someone. Don’t pick just anyone. And don’t come up with something you kinda sorta admire about them. Do it for real.
  15. Take 30 slow, deep breaths first thing in the morning for two weeks.
  16. Dance every day. It’s better with partners, but not necessary. Even better: dance naked. Betterer: dance naked with naked partners.
  17. Smile as you eat. Yes, you may look a little demented sitting there grinning into your Big Ass salad. That’s okay. Just try it.
  18. Walk the silliest way you can. Preferably in public. Check the ministry for ideas.
  19. Each time you go for a walk, duck walk for a portion of it. Go as long as you can.
  20. Swap out plain water for mineral water for a month and see how you feel. I’m a fan of Gerolsteiner (as I’ve said many times before), and I’m convinced we’re adapted to obtaining a decent portion of our minerals through our water.
  21. If you normally sleep 6.5 hours or less, add an hour. If you normally sleep 8.5 or more, try sleeping slightly less. Notice anything?
  22. Do max rep pushups and/or pullups every hour on the hour. If that maximum number of reps declines throughout the day, that’s fine and totally normal. It means you’re working hard.
  23. Carry something moderately heavy around with you all day. 32-pound kettlebell, sandbag, sack of cat litter. Yeah, it’ll look a little weird. But it’s just a day. It’ll pass.
  24. Get 10,000 steps a day for the duration of the challenge. Pace the room if you have to. Just get your steps.
  25. Roughhouse. Playful and intense physical encounters are good for you, but, as adults, we don’t get many chances to do it. Find a friend or loved one willing to go toe to toe with you—without getting angry. Wrestle. If you’ve been thinking about starting a martial art, now’s your chance.
  26. Visit nature at least every other day for an hour for the duration of the challenge. Forest, beach, desert, city park. Get into a green space. How’s your stress?
  27. Go swimming, wading, or bathing (minimum 5 minutes) in uncomfortably cold water twice a week. Not ice water. Not cold river water, necessarily. But cold enough that you give a sharp exhale upon entry.
  28. Try a sauna, steam room, or other heat self-therapy twice a week. Notice any benefits? Bonus points if you mix it with the cold plunges.
  29. Start learning a new skill. It could be physical—the clean and jerk, skateboarding, juggling—or it could be mental—a new language, an instrument, something from Coursera.
  30. Sprint. I say it again and again. Sprinting—it doesn’t have to be running full out on a flat track, or running at all—is essential. You have to move your body extremely quickly from time to time. Just once a week is all it takes.
  31. Switch to candles and firelight after dark (or the high-tech adjustable hue bulb equivalents). This eliminates blue light and introduces calming orange/yellow/red light. Plus, everyone likes a good fire. Fire is in our DNA.
  32. Refrain from browsing your phone when nothing else is going on for the duration of the challenge. Waiting in line? Commercial break? At a stop light? Be present in the moment. Be okay with “boredom.” Okay, okay: do try it for a week at least.
  33. Let yourself get hungry before every meal. Not fasting, necessarily. But feel real hunger pangs. Eat because you’re truly hungry, not because it’s “time” or you’re bored.
  34. Only wear shoes if you have to. Wear shoes in stores and while traversing those mythical city sidewalks strewn with syringes, glass shards, and steaming piles of dog poop. Job interview, wedding? Wear shoes. Other than that, go barefoot.
  35. Go for a long, slow, easy run. Not every endurance session turns into chronic cardio, but many people fear it’s what happens when you run longer than a mile. When I say “easy” I mean easy. You should be comfortable. You should enjoy yourself.
  36. Immerse yourself in a movement medium you’re uncomfortable with and work toward getting comfortable. Maybe you’re not a good swimmer. Maybe you’ve never really tried the rower, or ridden a bike for more than a mile. Maybe the weight room intimidates you. Move toward your anxieties. You may not master them, but you can reduce the discomfort.
  37. Start eating more collagen. Make bone broth, or buy it. Add gelatin to pan sauces. Try the new sea salt macadamia nut collagen bars. Just get some into your diet, especially if you’re dealing with any joint issues.
  38. Organize a regular dinner party. There’s nothing quite so special, intimate, and Primal as a dinner party with close friends.
  39. Do a squat challenge. Accumulate 20-30 minutes of sitting in a full squat each day. Time yourself.
  40. Do a hang challenge. Like the squat challenge, accumulate 5-10 minutes of hanging from an overhead bar or ledge each day.
  41. Plan a trip. It can be somewhere close, a weekend getaway. It could be a month in Southeast Asia or through Europe. Whatever it is, planning ahead of time increases your enjoyment. You get to anticipate the trip. You get to experience the trip. Then you get to bask in the fond memories for the rest of your life.

Do one, do several, do as many as you feel up to doing (you probably don’t want to try them all at once). Let me know which one(s) you chose, how they work out for you, and whether I should add any quick and dirty action items to the list.

Thanks for reading, and Grok on!

Primal Kitchen Ketchup

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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42 thoughts on “41 Primal Action Items and Individual Experiments for Success in 2017”

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  1. These are absolutely brilliant Mark! It’s awesome that you’re encouraging folks to get out of their comfort zones, while exercising their fundamental human right to self-possession/exploration. Love this community.

  2. This is so great and so timely! I just started doing 100 squats a day (along with 50 crunches and 25 pushups). I’ve done this before and it’s amazing how great it feels and how easy it is to fit into the day. I’m going to try number 4, lentils, again. I was really into soaked and sprouted lentils back in my vegan days. Kind of miss them. Lentil soup with bone broth would be awesome. I’ve pretty much done number 12 which is stop watching news. I try not to look when it’s on social media. Some people think I am putting my head in the sand but I look at it as trying to focus on the positive and work on improving things where I can. I’ve been doing 10,000 plus steps a day pretty much forever…there’s definitely something to it. Number 37 is a no brainer for me, and everyone who reads my blog knows about it. I’m pretty much obsessed with collagen for it’s skin benefits. (I know it’s good for lots of other things too!) So the one item on this list that I want to push myself to do in some form is sprints. From everything I am hearing here on MDA it could push me to a new level of fitness. Thanks for the great inspiration Mark!

    1. Oh my, 100 squats a a day? I used to get close but need to heal a bit to get back to it but YOU GO GIRL!

    2. Elizabeth I wouldn’t do 50 crunches daily, better to do planks (various forms for variety) and do crunches once or twice a week, preferably with an ab ball. Crunches can be tough on the lower spine and also shorten your psoa muscles.

    3. What you’re doing is great Elizabeth and encourages me. Although at 73 years old I won’t be up to 100 squats for a while! HaHa

    4. I have seen many sites and trainers saying to dump the crunches, bad for the lower back. Better is planks in various ways. Try getting on your hands and knees then lift the knees off the ground and hold for 1 minute. I also use the exercise ball. Kneel in front of the ball with your forearms on it and roll out and back. You will feel the burn in the lower abdominal.

      1. I’ve researched whether the straight arm or forearm plank is better, and it appears that they are both good depending on what muscles you wish to work on. The abs get worked with either.

        My solution is to do one of each for a minute (I’m planning on working up, but a minute is all I can do right now.) I do Pilates and find that while my abs/core is definitely engaged, the other muscles are what are limiting me to 1 minute.

  3. Love this list! So many great things to try and this makes it feel simple. I need to work on sprints, get myself back in the pool, and switch to some fiction in the evening. I’m also super fortunate to live in Colorado and have access to several natural hot mineral springs….my excuse for weekly soak sessions!

  4. Re #5: I started 2017 by getting up before dawn on New Year’s day and hiking in a torrential downpour on my favorite mountain trail. Saw only one other person the whole time. Got back to my car where a steaming cup of green tea was waiting. Glorious.

  5. If you see someone with a dead buck on his shoulders walking the neighborhood while naked and barefoot in zero degree weather and playing an accordion…it could be me! At the police station I’m gonna blame Sisson.

    1. Do you live in Portland OR and play flaming bagpipes while riding a unicycle? Sounds about right for around here. ?

      1. I’m in portland too and when I read this comment I thought the same thing!! 🙂 I love it. I really enjoy it when our neighbors walk their pet goats down our sidewalk – their names are Bert and Ernie 🙂

  6. “Try the new sea salt macadamia nut collagen bars.”

    Just got some in, they are really good and will definitely order more. OK, one down and forty to go. These stupid 8 – 10 hour work days get in the way of my ideal life design LOL.

  7. “Pick up an instrument” needs more discussion. Playing an instrument helps to grow your brain, improve coordination and rhythm, and it’s a great escape – it’s hard to do much else when you are playing. I started taking drum lessons 2 1/2 years ago and it has been an absolute joy; plus it’s much better when you are an adult with patience and persistence. The only downside is that there aren’t many bands who need a 43-year-old mom who can only practice between the hours of 9am and 2pm as a drummer, but I can jam away to my 80s rock and whatnot by myself.

    1. Yes! I learned the banjo at 50! But can’t find folks to jam with during the day…..I figure I have 35 years at least to get good.

  8. Hi Mark
    re: “… I’m convinced we’re adapted to obtaining a decent portion of our minerals through our water”.
    A look at mineral depleted town water versus natural mineral springs water composition particularly for magnesium makes it pretty clear that you are right on this point. While both town and mineral waters vary substantially in their composition the trend is for the natural waters to have 5-10x times magnesium in them – some less common mineral waters have significant quantities of other minerals such as lithium in them. Out here in Australia, in Victoria we have a plethora of natural mineral springs (eg google Dalesford) and there is one in that town that is very high in lithium The mineral content influences the taste of the water and interestingly that lithium one tastes less good (to my palate, anyway) than some of the other ones local to Dalesford – flavor may help result in avoiding any excessive doses of minerals. From memory Gerolsteiner has a healthy dose of magnesium in it. If you google around their are also recipes to manufacture mineral laden waters from town tap water. The easiest solution is to supplement a small amount of chelated magnesium – next to vitamin D and fish oil – magnesium is the only other supplement I take a few times a week as I found the manufacture of mineral water a bit fiddly and sourcing economical supplies of a reasonably high mineral water down under was difficult and costly.
    When I had a look a few years ago I formed the impression that there seemed to be more clay and soil eating. reports in areas with lower mineral waters than those with ample minerals. Herbivores are known to prefer and source higher mineral grasses. Elephants are known to have dug caves to source mineral (conventional explannation relates to sodium). So humans living closer to the ancestral pattern could be eating clay\soil etc for a similar reason ie not getting enough minerals from depleted foods and water. However, the literature on the topic has a range of hypotheses put forward on why pica occurs..
    Anyway, water composition is an interesting point that someone in the Paleo world preferably with a background in geology and human biology should have a really good look at. The water composition reflects the mineral in the rock around it and so the geology will help with understanding that. Until then your solution with the Gerolsteiner, manufactured waters reflecting typical mineral composition or modest magnesium suupplementation are not bad ways to go.
    Owen B

  9. AWESOME LIST ! Great Ideas! Definitley going to implement several! Thank you

  10. I love this list! I was just thinking the other day that I really want to pick my guitar back up. I was never good, it was always challenging but I could play a few songs.

  11. I like the sprint once a week comment. Did that yesterday on my lunch walk.

    It’s easy to walk in the rain in Oregon, we have that a lot this time of year, get that done on the way to and from the car.

    Dance naked? Do that after my shower (no cold water for me tho) in low light so it looks graceful. Or…… better?

    May have to get that guitar off the wall and work on building callluses on my fingers.

    Good list Mark.

  12. I am a big bone broth consumer for 9 years now. I never noticed it helping my hip pain, until I stopped eating nightshades, esp fresh tomatoes and potatoes. So, it’s not always what you emphasize, but what you avoid. Meanwhile, I commit to.more barefoot walking and cold plunges….off to craigslist to look for a used porcelain bathtub for the patio.

  13. Great List – who else checked out 1, 5, 9, 13, 19, 20, 22, 26, and 30 before the rest!

  14. #16 has to be on everyone’s list!!

    Can I suggest something? Give Blood. Studies show it has health benefits for the donar, but more importantly you get to save people’s lives for not a lot of effort!! Has to be the ultimate win win!!

  15. “Whatever it is, planning ahead of time increases your enjoyment. You get to anticipate the trip. You get to experience the trip. Then you get to bask in the fond memories for the rest of your life.” I was advocating this at work. Now they call me the ‘reflective experience guy.’ Which, if nothing else. is a pretty awkward nickname.

  16. Burpees after a meal? I’d wait a couple hours at least, don’t want to be forcing the semi-solids against the internal organs…

  17. Walked with my kids and the dog today and carried a rock for 3 miles 🙂 I love all these ideas – will definitely implement some new ones.

  18. After reading this post yesterday, I sprinted outside today while it was super windy and drizzly. It felt AMAZING. I am so refreshed and I usually dont run- ever haha Thanks for the inspiration to get my butt moving.

  19. You’re on a fabulous roll this week! I love this experimental approach. Just try it. See what you see. See what else it makes you want to try… (I think this is right in the sweet-spot intersection of Science + Free Spirit, as you loosely organized things yesterday, and I think that might be my natural hometown.)

    1. Sara, I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts this week. I’m a big fan of switching up vantage points, and I appreciate the feedback – especially when I try something different on the blog. Grok on!

  20. Love all your suggestions Mark and some of them made me laugh out loud!! 🙂 The dancing naked with a naked partner is the one my partner would appreciate most! Haha ?

  21. #18 and #19 clearly sounds great combined. Had seen that sketch several times and still almost choked to death on my meal watching it! Trying to catch a Norwegian Blue would be a nice workout too!

  22. So I decided yesterday to try my hand at hanging in the hotel fitness room. The bar I used had a rubber covering, so I thought that would be helpful for my tender hands.

    I lasted all of about 20 seconds. My hands felt like they were being ripped apart.

    Do I need to work on grip strength? I didn’t have high expectations about being able to do it for long, but thought it would be my muscles giving out.

  23. I know ai’m late commenting but do improv! Really helps to change your thinking and get outside the box.

  24. There’s something about this article. I re-read this over and over. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s like mini-missions that can lead to breakthroughs. I have injured my wrist and my knee. I basically can’t do anything right now. But I can do 30 breaths every morning (or in the middle of the day). I can compliment a friend. I can read a good book in bed while I have my knee elevated. I can brainstorm on my notebook, again with knee elevated. I can master new recipes..
    Thanks Mark

    1. Julie, thanks for your comment. I’m glad the list speaks to you and to where you’re at now. “Mini-missions” are exactly it – and well said. There’s a lot of power in a string of “small” actions. That’s how big change happens. Best to you, Mark