8 Life Lessons From a Primal Elder to Younger Groks

Last week, speaking as an elder of physical culture, I wrote a list of ten fitness tips for younger readers: the things that every young to middle-aged man or woman should know about training. Some were things I learned along the way. Some were mistakes I made. And some were big wins I figured out early. At any rate, people found it helpful, and quite a few asked for a follow-up—this time around general life advice.

Note: I’m no life coach. But I do have a nice life, one I figured out on my own through trial and error and with a good deal of hard work. I speak just for myself, but maybe some insights will resonate. (And I hope you’ll share your own hard-won wisdom below.)

What should you keep in mind as you look forward to a long, well-lived life?

1) “Prioritize Sleep Above Everything.”

Don’t get romantically involved with someone who wants to stay up until 2 A.M., whether it’s watching Netflix or partying.

Don’t sign up for the 5 A.M. CrossFit class (unless—big maybe—you’re a natural early riser anyway).

Don’t relax with late night T.V. after a long day.

This isn’t easy. It’s not. It’s harder for people coming up now than it was for me. I didn’t have digital devices vying for my every waking moment or corporations whose expressly stated purpose was to compete with your sleep. That sucks, but it’s also reality, so you have to make it a huge priority—the biggest in your life.

The older you get, the more precious sleep gets. Your cognitive function, your memory, your physical preparedness, your metabolic health, your mental state, your emotional resiliency—everything depends on you getting a good night’s sleep. When you’re young, you believe you can skip sleep and feel okay. Don’t believe it. The damage is accumulating.

2) “Don’t Worry If You Don’t Know What To Be When You Grow Up—But Never Stop Looking.”

I didn’t figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was 40. And I changed my mind about it ten years later. Before that, I bounced around from gig to gig, career to career, consistently thinking I had found the thing, throwing myself wholeheartedly into it, and then having my hopes dashed when it didn’t work. But I didn’t give up. And I always learned something from my forays. I always picked up a skill, made a connection, or figured out what I wasn’t good at. It all paid off when I threw myself into the Primal Blueprint, Mark’s Daily Apple, and, later, Primal Kitchen®.

Having a life purpose is one of the biggest predictors of longevity. Sure, there are dozens of longevity biomarkers you could look at, but one of my favorite (and one of the more malleable) positive predictors is having a life purpose.

3) “If You Want To Have Kids At Some Point (and You Have a Suitable Partner or Incredible Support System), Have Them.”

This dovetails with the last one, actually. Kids are kinda like “insta-purpose.” That said, they’re not for everyone. I’m not saying everyone should or has to have kids. But if you want them, you should have them. It gives you purpose. It gives you a lifelong project. And no matter what people say, it’s fun, awesome, and incredibly rewarding.

It also doesn’t get easier the older you get. Some aspects might. Financially, perhaps, you’ll probably be better equipped as an older person to pay for kids. But as far as energy goes, probably not. Hence, the importance of an all-in partner—or barring that—a committed support system you can genuinely count on for the little things…and the long haul.

4) “Deal With Your Stress.”

I don’t care who you are: Humans aren’t built to handle unending stress. It breaks us down, ruins our sleep, destroys our relationships, and kills our health. It also makes life very unpleasant. It snuffs out fun. It colors every interaction, every waking moment.

Find a way to deal with your stress that works. Doesn’t have to be a 10-day silent meditation retreat. It just has to work, and be something you’re willing to do consistently.

5) “The Sprinting/Chronic Cardio Dichotomy Applies to Everything, Especially Work.”

Whenever possible, work like a sprinter.

Do: You go hard for a week or two, doing long intense hours as needed to knock out that project, get your product launched, complete your to-do list, or whatever else needs doing. Then deload. Take a rest. Go camping, go hiking, read some fiction, watch a movie.

Don’t: You procrastinate, letting the project linger and languish for weeks on end. It haunts your days and nights, sitting in the back of your mind rapping on the window, never giving you a moment’s true rest.

Do: When the day begins, you get moving, do a solid 2-4 hours of deep work right away, then take a walking break and leisurely lunch. Come back for another 2-4 hours, then break. Go home.

Don’t: You never really get going, never spend more than five uninterrupted minutes working hard throughout the day. You avoid deep work, instead flipping back and forth between social media, your phone, and your work. You skip lunch because you’re never caught up, and you end up taking your work home with you where, again, you limp through it with half-focus. You just spent 14 hours “working” without much to show for it.

Apply everywhere as needed.

6) “Listen to Your Gut.”

This doesn’t just apply to those physiological warnings we get when an injury is about to occur in the gym, the ones I spoke about last week. It also applies to matters of life, business, personal growth, and love. Just know that there’s another wrinkle to this: the second voice that arises and says “don’t trust your gut, it’s more complex than that.” Life, business, and love are often more complicated than training, so take it on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes the gut is misguided, but it’s always got an insight.

Don’t always trust your gut unquestioningly. Always listen to it, however.

7) “Invest in Yourself.”

Anytime you’re making a decision, whether it be large or small, ask if the outcome will contribute to your growth and development. Will it give a valuable skill? Will it help you make interesting connections? What will you learn?

That’s how I’ve always approached business. I left a comfortable and well-paying job to start Primal Nutrition in 1997. At the time, I had a wife and two small children, and no money in the bank—but I had a vision of how I wanted to live my life. I wanted to be on the cutting edge of a health movement about which I was incredibly passionate. While some might have said that it was a risky move given my circumstances (and it was), I knew deep down that it was what I needed to do to feel fulfilled. I also knew deep down that it would succeed eventually on some level if I stuck with it. I knew it was a good investment.

Exercising regularly is an investment into your future self’s ability to stand up from the chair and chase youngsters around. Eating a healthy diet is an investment into how much health care you’ll be consuming thirty years from now. Putting profits back into the business instead of paying yourself a big salary is an investment in future profits. Regular date nights are investments into your relationship.

Whenever you can, make the good investments.

8) “Be Serious, But Don’t Take Life Too Seriously.”

This is one of those truths that looks like a paradox if you think too hard about it but works quite elegantly in real life.

Be serious about the things you care about: your work, your relationships, your family, your passions, your free time, your food, your exercise. These all matter. These are all sacred artifacts of a life well-lived, to be treasured and cared for.

But don’t take things too seriously. Don’t flip out because your kid spilled some paint or your partner left socks on the kitchen floor. Don’t develop an inability to laugh at yourself. Don’t beat yourself up because you ate a French fry.

Those are the 8 life lessons I wish I knew from the start. Well, maybe not from the start—learning these lessons from experience is far more powerful than having them handed to you. But maybe these will give you a head start—or some food for thought along the way.

Take care, everyone. What would you tell your younger self about life, love, business, and everything else? Thanks for reading.

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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47 thoughts on “8 Life Lessons From a Primal Elder to Younger Groks”

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  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head! Being a senior and successful with diet and health, makes you worth listening too. There’s lots of young “experts” out there, but hey they would probably be healthy no matter what they did. Keep up the good work and keep the information coming. While you’re at it, please write some helpful information for IBS sufferers.

    1. If you are still eating gluten containing grains, then get tested for Coeliac disease. A lot of people who have IBS are undiagnosed Coeliacs. Unfortunately the test only works if you are eating gluten containing grains. Otherwise, its probally a food you are eating which upsets your guts.

    2. Check out Dr. Peter Osborne’s videos on youtube and his website. He’s all about gluten and you will learn where it hides besides the usual offenders: wheat, barley, rye, etc.

  2. Mark, thank you for your wisdom. These make sense to me, intrinsically, even if they aren’t always easy.

  3. Listen to how you talk to yourself. Are you as supportive of yourself as you are of your friends?

    1. I second the how-you-talk-to-yourself insight. Another 2 questions to meditate on: How is your thought process for analizing (or taking care of) your emotions? What do you do to handle them?

  4. Thanks Mark! I always look forward to your insightful emails!!

  5. Mark I love this post! I’m in my late 40s and feel like I’ve got most of what you said down. For point #4 about stress, I started daily meditation almost 2 years ago after a long struggle with anxiety. I never thought I could do it but it’s super easy with the free Apps that are out there. Of course I also eat healthy and exercise regularly even if it’s just a daily walk with my dog (getting out in nature is so good for us). I used to be much more hard core about my fitness (2 hours in the gym doing cardio and weights and/or running), but now enjoy a more varied routine of walking, tennis, and regular strength training. IMO playing a sport where you socialize and have to “think” is fantastic for your physical and mental health.

  6. Adopt kids, or find a mate who already has some! There is no single worse thing one can do for planet at this late date than produce children. Like plastics penetrating everything in the biosphere, over fishing, and toxic ocean algae blooms wiping out ecosystems bottom to top, this is one of those head-shaking subjects MDA promotes/ignores as if our impacts don’t matter – or occur in a vacuum.

    1. The world isn’t that simple. There are countries (Japan for example) that are looking at serious issues in the future from a lack of sufficient people, not from too many.

      Even many cultures which have traditionally had some of the largest population increases have seen birth rates drop precipitously in the last 10 years. Guess why? It seems to be nothing more than educating the women.

      To say having kids is the single worse thing one can do for the planet is, in my mind, way oversimplifying things.

    2. The world isn’t that simple.

      There are countries (Japan for example) which are facing serious issues in the next few decades because of too few people, not too many. And a large number of countries which just a couple decades ago had very high birth rates have seen precipitous decreases in their rates in the last few decades. Guess why? It seems to be due to nothing more complicated than educating the women in those countries.

      To say that having children is the worst thing we can do for the planet is, in my mind, way oversimplifying the complex world we live in.

    3. I do not want kids. I have never wanted kids. I will never want kids. I even got a vasectomy when I was 27 after having zero kids.

      With all that being said, I could not agree more. I have always said “if you’re gonna have kids, adopt” for that exact reason (among others).

      1. Okay, buddy. Great! You and Chris have fun journaling, going to brunch, doing Yoga, and all those other “meaningful” activities that fill up your lives. And when you die alone in a nursing home, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you had a low carbon footprint.

        But please stop with your dumb propaganda and leave those of us who want to pass on our genetics alone. I don’t want somebody else’s kids, and there are very Grokkish reasons for that. If you can’t understand that, then what are you even doing on this site?

    4. Dear Chris, adoption or finding a mate who already has children is a fine option to finding a purpose in life but I couldn’t disagree with you more about your statement, “There is no single worse thing one can do for the planet at this late date than produce children”.
      We can do better for our environment but we also cannot be Chicken Little crying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Particularly, because there is more disagreement in the scientific community about the how much human control we even have over our environment than environmental activists, who currently have the largest bullhorn, would have you believe. There are many credentialed scientists who do not agree with the current alarmist, doomsday claims but their voices/
      papers/ studies either don’t receive funding or their ideas aren’t put forth because their views don’t fit the agenda of the current “The world will end in 12 years” claims.
      No one is for extinction so let’s be reasoned and examine other points of view, while retaining a certain amount of skepticism, (even cynicism) for both sides, while remembering the old adage, “Everything can be boiled down to economics.” Then apply that observation into human nature before allowing the huge power-economic-grab these end-of-the world theorists are proposing. Who are the few who will stand to gain financially; who will the few in power who will be in control and able to dictate literally every aspect of our day to day lives? It will be the politicians; the politicians are on this bandwagon. Do you think politicians, (either side) have been good at running anything?
      Yes, life as we know it may certainly be forever changed, (But not in the way we imagined.) if we allow this, as yet, unsubstantiated environmental crisis, (possibly manufactured and using fear as a motivator.) to rush us into giving up our personal autonomy, the choices we make on how we’ll live without giving equal consideration to another side then this may become the single largest, greatest coup, (takeover) of human rights and way of life ever perpetuated.
      As to your comment that bringing children into this world is the worse single idea for our planet: I believe that Children are our future”… (to recite part of the lyrics to an old, popular song); I believe that they are our hope for a better life on this earth. Our progeny will tackle and invent new ways to handle our problems. There will be sons and daughters who will create solutions for a better world that we cannot even dream about.
      Yes, I believe that one day the world may end, (meteors, pestilence, black holes, etc.) but I also believe that we won’t have much as a ‘heads up’ about it nor have the ability to do much either. Whether you agree or not I respectfully thank you for reading my comments.

      1. I learned from the bleeding heart liberal professor while sitting in a classroom in Portland in 2002 that by 2015 the coasts would be underwater, but by 2020 it would be pretty much over for everyone. This performance was emotionally and dramatically delivered the first 15 minutes of every class three days a week with absolute assurance because whatever this liberal had read or heard was absolutely correct…you know, because it came from scientists.

      2. I respectively enjoyed reading your comments as I hope you enjoy reading mine.
        Wow, you should probably read the classic book, “Collapse” about the several societies from the past that had ruined their environments and totally collapsed as a result, and disappeared off the face of the earth… As it’s been said in the past by far brighter minds than my own, humans are the most dangerous thing on the planet by far. We are a virus. Unstoppable. If you think children are going to be our future, well, uh-oh. Nothing, and I mean nothing, has been remotely revealed that humans can control their greed on a world-wide basis.
        Now, if we had 8 billion Greta Thunberg’s, we may have a miniscule chance to get out of this environmental destruction of everything and everyone. Humankind is gready and will always want more. It’s never enough.

      3. Well said, Suzanne. the world is not a zero sum game , and the future will hold incredible means to solve problems, A global solution is not the answer, but millions of inquiring, creative minds, each seeking to make the world a better, cleaner, more prosperous place, will.

      4. Suzanne, the vast majority of credible climate scientists, about 97% (go to skeptical science dot com as just one of many sources) believe that the climate crisis is man-made and our window for correcting is very small. It is FAR from unsubstantiated, quite the opposite, the data and metrics are irrefutable. You have this conspiracy theory notion that people are manufacturing this crisis so what … we have green energy, clean air and water, prevent the sea from rising, droughts and massive forest fires, stop the polar ice caps from melting … and they somehow will profit from that?

        1. The “97% Consensus” is the love child of brilliant marketing and a political cudgel- but even if it weren’t the 97% part is enough to set off my BS detector. That level of “agreement” is so improbable as to be implausible.

          I’m sure a whopping majority of nutritionists and physicians – scientists- recommend high carb low fat whole grain based diets, and yet here we all are.

          1. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry … none are so blind as those who won’t see … the evidence is real time, you must have your head buried in the sand.

      5. LOL. Looking for a spouse that already has children is a great option for an aspiring cuckold, who is looking for a way to lose all of his money. I can’t believe someone is actually promoting this as a desirable course of action.

  7. Great article, Mark! I think all of these tips are really good advice.

  8. This list is pure gold, I’m definitely going to bookmark this, quite profound and really resonates with me. Each of us could probably add a couple more “laws” to make it a top ten for us, whatever that might be for you, “visualize your best self each day”, “live each day with purpose, honor and integrity” … etc.

  9. Hi Mark,

    These things certainly aren’t unlike things you’ve posted before and unlike things I know to be true, but as a stand-alone post, it comes at a great time.

    I’m doing so much to change my life right now… at age 40 lol. You have no idea how much I wish I was just slightly better positioned to become a Primal Health Coach *right now*. I’ve even been in touch with your team. It is something I am committed to doing. I had already gotten involved in two programs; 1) a program that also teaches how to market yourself and leverage knowledge or share the knowledge you have and 2) a separate real estate investing course.

    Eventually, I hope the real estate provides a good foundation for escaping debt, for financial freedom, and for retirement…but the freedom will give me the time to become part of the PHC community and I’m sure your materials (through PHCI) will help me market myself, as will the other materials I’ve got.

    I want so badly to blaze through all of the self-education I’m involved in and make it all happen now. But right there at the top…the one thing a person will always fight themselves on, especially when they’re passionate…sleep. I know it’s number one. All the rest matter as well of course, hence the post, but…sleep.

    I will do everything I can to make the start of my PHC journey within the next 12 months and to meet you soon enough thereafter!

    Thanks for growing up as you did, I appreciate you.

  10. This one was awesome to read – thanks Mark!!

    As a millennial with many, varied passions in life, I so appreciate hearing a successful persom such as yourself describe your winding career path and advise to not worry if I dont know exactly what my career might look like yet, but never stop pursuing my passions and looking for those opportunities! I get a tangible sense of relief from this kind of advise, and ik sure others in my age group relate!

    Also love your description of the periocity and seasonality of how you recommend working (sprint and rest) this method is exactly how I work best. It stuns me to me to see fellow PhD students putting in kong hours every day, yet achieving little output due to wasting time and lack of focus on what moves the dial.

    Thanks again!

  11. Really enjoyed this one! My boyfriend stays up til 2 or 3 am and I have had to stop sleeping over his house because he wants me to stay up late! Not sure we can ever live together because of his shitty sleep habits!

  12. Wow Mark. Thanks for this. I can really relate to most of this, and I appreciate having it all laid out in one shot. Wise words to live by for sure. Especially about getting enough sleep.

  13. I’m 64 Mark and certainly agree with your comments on sleep. I NEED a bit more now.

    I’m also glad you commented on taking life too seriously. I always have. A huge weakness as if I could solve all the world’s issues. It’s a work in progress.

    Many thanks!

  14. I really enjoyed this post as well. And I am actually really happy you placed sleep as number one and really stressed its importance. “When you’re young, you believe you can skip sleep and feel okay. Don’t believe it. The damage is accumulating.” As a teenager I developed the worst sleep schedule, I was staying up all night but sleeping 12-14 hours a day and struggling with an addiction to energy drinks. I guess I was sleeping a lot but I don’t know how good the quality was. I really started to sleep on a good schedule when I had my first child, that kinda forces you to change your sleep habits. 🙂 I’m still dialing it in, it IS really hard to not want to use my only free time (after dark) to look at screens, but I know the few times I’ve tried it my mood was way better and I got to sleep sooner.

  15. Mark, IMHO all with perhaps exception #3 are apropos for anyone (myself 63), even #2 given I’m re-creating myself once again. What truly differentiates The Primal Blueprint (under your guidance) is the relentless focus on it being a wholistic lifestyle. This makes all the difference. And btw…these new email/blogs/comments are so incredibly useful to those of us lacking time to hit forums. Thank you!! Kirk

  16. Excellent advice from a admired mentor. I couldn’t agree more with your life suggestions Mark! I’m turning 65 this January and I believe you’ve spoken for the majority of our age group. Thanks for your insights.

  17. Thank you for posting this, Mark! Just a few seconds after starting to read this post, the first point resonated deeply with me – prioritize sleep. I know how important this is, yet have been struggling with it basically always. So many distractions – smartphone, friends, work. Just a few days ago I realized I feel sluggish and just bad, and everything is in place except sleep. It really seems strange that getting enough sleep is hard. But it really is in today’s world – at least for me.

  18. Good job, Mark! I am a 73-year-old Primal fan (10 years, now) and appreciate all your posts so much. This one, however, I will hand this out to the youngsters in my life. I am one of your biggest supporters and preach your message to everyone around me. Keep on trucking’! Thanks! Jude

  19. Practice empathy and kindness knowing that our connectedness to others is the most essential thing about being human. Contribute to making the moment with others better. Stand up for others who are being treated unfairly. You have to be kind and love yourself in the ways Mark has outlined here in order to be capable of shining that light outward. Teach your children empathy and tolerance by example and by not expecting perfection from them.

  20. There is no human activity more primal than raising a child. It is the best thing in life if you are not a selfish person. Kids don’t get this message but I let them know. I have 1. I recommend no more than 2 for many reasons, including overpopulation. Truly gives the most joy in life but agreed need a partner for best experience.

  21. What are your thoughts on legumes in your diet? I appreciate your common sense approach to diet.

  22. Heavy lifting such as CrossFit and weightlifting should be done in the afternoon. Blood is thinner during that part of the day

  23. Thank you, Mark. The only thing I’d add is this:

    Don’t let anyone else make decisions about your health. That is your responsibility, so own it.

    Trust your gut first, then research, research, research.

    That’s how I arrived here at MDA. And stayed.

  24. I’m 55, married to my high school sweetheart for 35 years, with eleven children. I’d tell my younger self that 99% of the things I worried about never came to pass and the ones that did I don’t even remember. And being successful isn’t as important as being loved.