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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 18 2014

8 Strategies for Cultivating a Vitality Mindset

By Mark Sisson
36 Comments

VitalityWhen people say their goal is “to get healthy,” most of the time they mean implementing a few diet and exercise strategies to get a particular targeted result. They’re referring to a practical, circumscribed process. They may recognize that they’ll have to keep up some of the efforts long after the number on the scale registers their goal or their biceps look a certain way, but there’s not much of an expansive vision. I’m all for pragmatism, but I feel it can be rather constrictive. Even the word “health” itself has been watered down practically speaking. Health, too often, is used as some relative term more descriptive of an absence of obvious ill symptoms than the kind of well-being I’m after. It smacks of problem-solving rather than growth. Vitality, on the other hand, ups the ante considerably. It suggests living from a different, more energetic, more fulfilling place. To achieve it, however, requires a bigger, deeper commitment than achieving a lukewarm sense of health. It has the power to change us on deeper, further-reaching levels. It’s more challenging and less easily contained, but the rewards are much more considerable. Reaching for vitality is as much about mind as it is matter. What does fostering a vitality mindset, however, look like? What strategies get at the heart of the endeavor?

Decide what vitality means for you (and be willing to continually upgrade that definition).

Vitality is, of course, a different and, I think, much higher standard than longevity. It’s maximizing the activity and actualization levels of all our years by making a healthy lifestyle our lifelong commitment. While longevity is about achieving a higher age, putting the emphasis on our future, vitality fixes our focus on the here and now. What would it mean to experience vitality today?

In keeping with that idea, ask yourself what you’re willing to commit to today. Be honest, but don’t shirk all sense of self-challenge. Vitality will be nothing but a pipe dream if you don’t invest yourself in it – invest your time, your energy and (yes, to some degree) invest your money. Ask yourself what you want out of this investment. What do you want to see happen? How do you ultimately want to live? The answer is likely different for everyone.

That said, I think people all too often grossly underestimate what’s possible for them. They can envision improvements that would make life slightly better than it is today – not getting winded walking up stairs, being able to keep up with their children or grandchildren, completing a 5K. These are great goals. Just be prepared to outgrow them. Allow yourself to define your own vision of vitality, but commit to revisiting that vision periodically – accepting and anticipating more for yourself as you grow into the process. This leads me to…

Do the personal work around deserving.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here: our stories are too often our greatest barrier. Over the course of our lifetimes we’ve absorbed the claims, words and assumptions of other people. We’ve used them as our mirrors.

To accept genuine change into our lives, we have to be willing to deserve it. We have to feel it’s our birthright – and it is! I’m not trying to sound romantic or biblical here. It really is pretty simple actually. People will rise to the level of their own expectations for themselves. Sure, you might have an incredible trainer who builds you up for six months, but if you don’t have the self-esteem to support the changes that happen, chances are you’ll descend back to a level of health/fitness/weight/well-being that your unconfident self is comfortable with once you’re not paying that trainer anymore. You won’t be able to live with the incongruence between the success you see in the mirror and the success you feel you deserve.

Recognize that genuine well-being is a personal value.

Don’t shortchange this process. Going on a diet is a strategy for a particular end. Choosing a vitality mindset (and healthy, vibrant life) is a personal value. Your daily decisions and logistical strategies will help you put that value into action. I’d consider this a critical distinction.

We don’t identify with strategies. They’re tools, tricks we use for utilitarian purposes. Values (e.g. dedication to family, strong work ethic) are part of our substance. We see them as part of our identities and even integrity. Cultivating a vitality mindset means accepting that health is more than an interest. It’s part of our inner fabric. Compromising our health means compromising who we are and what we hold dear.

With that thought in mind, we learn to realign the logistics of our lives to favor our vitality. We make choices (both major and minor) that feed our vitality. We become open to new solutions and approaches to facets of everyday living. We recognize that many things – even “big” things in life – are worth sacrificing before our health. Our well-being is the base from which we build our lives and foster what we have to offer others. To learn to make decisions based on that fundamental value.

Accept the countercultural dimension of life going forward.

From a young age, we’re taught to go after what’s popular, and the message permeates into adulthood. The most obvious caricature of this pattern we see in the throngs of people lining up at 3:00 a.m. to stampede through the doors on Black Friday, unconcerned about trampling or otherwise maiming other people – for the latest this or that. More subtle but still distorting versions come out in how much of our lives we’ll sacrifice to hold jobs that give us the bigger, “better” possessions, the nagging insecurity that fuels decisions to keep up with the neighbors and the instinct to fit in by participating in the the choices and activities that others set up during social interactions and events.

The more developed and personalized your sense of vitality is, the more easily you’ll distinguish what is your desire versus what is social influence. Learn to live with the social discomfort and step out with your priorities as much as you desire. (No need to be the Primal poster child if you just want to enjoy your lunch in peace and quiet.) Tell people tactfully why you’re not partaking of certain foods or activities as often as you want. Let it go when you want to do that. You get to choose your life and values. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.

Choose an abundance mentality.

In any life situation, we can see the cup as half full or half empty. We might anticipate missing x, y or z in going Primal. We can fixate on it if we truly want to, in fact. We can tell ourselves we’re making a huge sacrifice and kick up a dust cloud of stress and resentment. At the end of the day, we’ll have given our energy to a sense of lack and missed the chance to see what’s available to us.

Alternatively, we can relish the options and conditions that a Primal life offers. We can gather a new collection of cookbooks. We can pride ourselves in developing new capacities at the gym. We can recognize that we’ve never slept better or felt more emotional equanimity. We can be grateful for the changes we’re seeing in ourselves when we’re willing to bring awareness to them. We can understand that prioritizing our well-being opens us to more extensive realizations around accepting personal pleasure and health indulgence into our lives. We can ascertain the rewards of our good choices and allow ourselves some 80/20 slack when it will truly offer the most gratification.

Celebrate and surround yourself with change-affirming inputs.

We all approach this process – journey, if you will – with varying needs and preferences. Some of us need more structure. Others need to take things more slowly. I think it’s safe to say we all do well with ample positive feedback. Some of this can come from others (see below), but we can and should be our own supportive witnesses to change.

Record your process. Shamelessly honor it. It’s your effort after all. Modesty is overrated. Take pictures – lots of them. Take photos of you at various stages of your physical and personal transformation. Take photos of you doing things you never thought you could do – or just things you’ve learned to enjoy. What’s a visual representation of vitality in your life as you’re living it now? Capture it not just for posterity sake – but for affirmation sake.

Journal, scrapbook, whatever. The point isn’t the specific medium you use you to record your expanding experience of life or your burgeoning sense of vitality. It’s the appreciation you allow yourself to feel and mark. The fact is, you’ve chosen something both challenging and meaningful in deciding to take up a new lifestyle and cultivate vitality. While I’m not suggesting anyone lose themselves in narcissistic pride, appreciate that you have a right to celebrate your path and the accomplishments along the way.

Cultivate relationships that support your commitment.

The fact is, your social circles have very real influence over you – tangible, measurable impact. Their practices and attitudes rub off in often unconscious ways. Maybe they’re not guilt-tripping you about skipping happy hour or making fun of your lunch, but perhaps they make it that much easier to make choices you wouldn’t if you were on your own.

It’s not about dumping your family and/or friends. It’s about recognizing that you shouldn’t have to live life on the defense. You deserve support and affirmation for your choices. Be bold enough to create that for yourself – in the flesh, online, with a mix of both. We all benefit from having people who share our basic values in life, and vitality is a core one.

Give yourself the chance to be enriched by supportive connections. You don’t have to do this alone.

Unshackle yourself from the idea that your best years are behind you.

If there was ever an excuse that kept people down… Personally, I don’t think much about my age, but I consciously make it public because I know it can speak to some people. I feel great, and I’m going to share that. If I listened to the conventional wisdom in this country that told me what I should “expect” at my age, I’d be living a much, much smaller life. I reject that.

Contrarian that I am, I relish the chance to be a continuing visionary for my own life. I think this is crucial for cultivating a vitality mindset. Reject outright any cultural or social message that tells you what you’re capable of. Don’t lose sight of the chance to craft your own life. Vitality becomes a deepening understanding and experience. With time, we sense dimensions we never would’ve anticipated. Later decades bring more life experience and self-knowledge to bear on this process. No matter when in life we pick up Primal ways, we’re gaining the chance to push boundaries and lead a bigger, more vital life than we have at any other time.

Thanks for reading, everyone. What strategies would you add for cultivating a vitality mindset? Do you think you’re there? Is it something you’ve committed to? Share your thoughts, and enjoy your end to the week.

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36 thoughts on “8 Strategies for Cultivating a Vitality Mindset”

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    1. Once you become… um… educated?… enlightened?… a believer?… I dunno. But once you become… it… you pretty much ditch the status quo…

      I love our family.

      Grok on!

        1. Julian… my cousin… lol… hope you are doing well on your journey!

  1. Yup, ageing is actually fantastic (when you feel awesome). I would never want to go back and do the 30’s/40’s again.

  2. Vitality for me is a 3 legged approach of mind, body and spirit. It started for me in August of 2013, choosing to become single at 58 yrs. old after 33 years of serial relationships (married for 23 of those years). My son was off to college and all of the sudden the only person I had to think about was ME!

    I have always been pretty active, healthy, ate organic foods, but consistently 10-20 lbs. overweight that I could never get off no matter what “diet” I tried. I decided to go to Zumba class and immediately became hooked. I never thought of myself as a dancer, even though I’ve always loved to dance. I mostly went for the work-out and got to have fun at the same time.

    3 months later after doing Zumba 4 days a week and active on the other days I still wasn’t loosing weight. I have a good friend who had amazing results with the Primal Blueprint so I went on the Primal 21 Day Transformation at the beginning of Jan. 2014. Fast forward 10 months later after losing 25 pounds almost effortlessly – I can now say I feel as vital and alive and healthier than I was in my 20’s.

    Each day I give thanks for the the 3 practices I follow that are the keys to my growing vitality: The Primal Blueprint, Zumba (I call it my “Happy Hour”), and my spiritual practices of meditation and the Compassion Key (the art of giving ourselves compassion). All 3 nourish my body, mind and spirit to different degrees at different times. The result is I feel like I have discovered the proverbial “fountain of youth”! Thank you Mark. Going Primal was the missing link and this blog is a wonderful resource for support and education.

  3. Wow, what an awesome post. Mark is one of few people who sees and focuses on the Big Picture which ultimately drives what we do.

  4. I just started working with a trainer for the first time. He asked me, “What are your going to do to stick with the program after our 90 day challenge? Thank you Mark for answering that question for me today.

  5. 2nd time I’ve heard a writer discuss the abundance mentality. Need to start digging more into this concept.

  6. Wow, thank you Mark. This is one of the most open and honest posts I’ve read and encompasses the way we should approach all aspects of life. Easier said than done, but I’m up for the challenge!

  7. I like the distinction between vitality and longevity. With modern medicine, we are better than ever at keeping someone alive, however, it’s nutrition, exercise, and healthy living that brings us vitality.

    1. This reminds me of a great quote I heard somewhere. (Don’t remember the source.) “We’re not living longer; we’re *dying* longer.”

  8. My strategy: I can’t think my way to vitality, I have to act my way to vitality. Out of my head and into the world. It’s never too late.

    1. Totally agree with this – one of the things that resonated with me was Mark’s comment about the personal trainer who builds you up and motivates you for 6 months while you pay him. But the motivation has to come from within and you can’t pay for that!

  9. What a fantastic post, Mark. It is about so much more than ‘merely’ cultivating a vitality mindset. You have listed 8 strategies for achieving personal growth on all levels – physical, emotional, mental and thanks to them spiritual, too.

    You are a phenomenal writer and, thanks to your own self-work, an enlightened man. Thank you for eloquently sharing precious wisdom gained through many years of never ending self-development.

  10. And maybe try reading “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by art professor Betty Edwards. A fascinating book that’s stood the test of time… even if you are not interested in art. Learn to switch from the dominant busybody left side (which is a bit of a bully) to the right side for deep insight and inspiration.

  11. Thank you for your inspiring words. I appreciate that you see that healthy living is a lifestyle, not just a quick fix. What are some practical ways that this can be implemented in someone’s life?

  12. Was it The World’s Most Interesting Man that said “Live vicariously through yourself”? Regardless, the quote seems to fit well with this article. Great post.

  13. Mark, what great and inspiring writing. So intimate and to the point. You make a difference in my life. Thank you!

  14. I come from a mixed cultural and ethnic background, so I couldn’t “fit in” even if I tried. I just do my own thing, raising a few eyebrows and ruffling a few feathers along the way.

  15. A subject near and dear to my heart! Since adhering to the Primal Blueprint guidelines I have enjoyed the best years of my life. As a 35 year old, (100-65=35) I look forward to my next birthday at which time I will turn 34! GROK ON!

  16. Mark! You hit home with me. I have spent the last year realizing that my family dynamic growing up polluted my own self worth and feelings of deserving anything good and worth while. I walked away from a 24 year career in construction that was literally killing me after I started some counseling. The one thing that repeatedly comes up is that I have never felt as though I am deserving of anything good in this life. Self sabotage has gone unexplained for so long. I am on the mend though and taking small steps to love myself and discover my self worth. Vitality and self worth sure beat self loathing. I have signed of for the challenge of a lifetime for me after talking about it for 5 years. Arizona Ironman 2015. Your post brings understanding of the lack of drive I have been experiencing for decades. Thank you for continuing to inspire and help others find clarity and purpose.

  17. I think I’m lucky in that so many things make me happy. I’m passionate about my job, hobbies and life in general. It’s just how I am and due to fortunate circumstances. That makes vitality easier compared to someone who, say, suffers depression or-shifting to the middle of that spectrum- just isn’t “up” as often. I’ve also had enough health adversity to appreciate what I have. Those factors make it easier to make the right choices every day that will help keep me vital tomorrow. I love life too much to waste any of it, if I can help it. Certainly it’s easy to be vital in one’s 20s. As the decades elapse, one must take more care. Luckily I’m learning more as I age (MDA helps!) Anytime I don’t feel that bounce in my step as I go up the stairs-if it feels like effort-I know something is wrong and I’ll analyze it and make a course correction.

  18. Thanks for the inspirational post Mark! I think what you have accomplished with your Primal lifestyle is awesome. Grok on!

  19. The most important part in anything you do is consistency. That’s why I don’t believe in diets because they’re quick fixes that don’t make any long lasting change. If you want vitality you need to pick a program and stick with it. Its all about consistency.

  20. I printed this post so I can carry it around with me and think about it. I’m working my way upward.

    I believe that I’m already in my best years. I’m 55, went back to school 5 years ago, earned my AA and BA, and am now a graduate student. I’m a biocultural archaeologist. I love what I’m doing! I love my classes, my assignments, and the framework I’m developing for my own research. This is much more fun than fun ever was. I expect another 40 years at least of life, and there’s every reason to believe they’ll be good ones. I have niggling chronic stuff (fatigue, migraine), but less than 3% lifetime chance of diabetes or CVD, and all my precancer screenings come back clean.

    Cultivate relationships: I’m so much older than the other students that, frankly, there’s too little commonality. I could easily be their mother. My professors tend to become my friends once I’m out of their classes! The marvels of email and Skype empower me to keep in touch with my daughter (South Africa) and my sister (England). I do have a fair-sized cheering committee, mostly through electronic media. I’d like to have more people in actual physical presence for hanging out, and playing with.

    Celebrate myself: yup, I started doing this! I shamelessly hung my honors cords, sashes, and medal above my desk. I need to somehow make room for my diplomas and citation, and graduation photographs. Then all I need is a set of strobe lights and a recording of the Chariots of Fire theme…I think I’ll change all my passwords to bragful boasting ones, like Mr. Toad of Toad Hall.

    Abundance mentality: Just being alive and having all these resources with which I’m blessed is abundance. I worked hard for years, sometimes at jobs I hated but that paid well, to build up a rainy day fund. Well, this is my time of sunshine, and that money is supporting me. At first I was terrified – after all, this is a fair chunk of my retirement money – but I’ve come to believe everything will be okay.

    Counter-cultural: I’ve always been that way. Never gave a dam for the material status stuff. No recalibration necessary.

    Genuine well-being as a personal value: Yes. I choose what I eat and much of what I do because it supports my health and my values. I don’t identify as Primal. I use some of the Primal tools because they work for me and ignore the rest. Same with everything else – take what works, leave the rest. So I hang out on several sites: Jack Norris’s vegan site, Andrew Weil’s ovolactovegetarian, Melissa McEwen’s omnivore, Chris Kresser’s Paleo. Everybody has blind spots (what, even moi?), and everybody’s expertise and personal agendas turn up valuable information that I would never think to look for. I got a lot of great stuff from Michael Klaper’s report on his vegan health study, though in general I prefer Norris.

    Deserving: this was tough, and is ongoing. I’ve done a lot of personal work here, much of it extremely painful, but the tentacles go so deep and are so entwined that I still keep uncovering new ones and having to tease them out.

    Personal vision of vitality: this is the toughest one of the lot. My vision of vitality keeps getting corrupted with notions of bright-eyed racing about, flashing a sixpack, and hollering with delight. That is just not me! I just plain don’t want to and just plain don’t like to do planks and pullups, while stuff like burpees might well cripple me – I’ve seen the X-rays of my lower back… I don’t care whether I look hot. I think that, for me, vitality is about joy in living, a high level of everyday happiness, peace and a sense of security in my own skin. I love to play in the sea and swim in pools when the sea’s not a possibility, kayak gently, take walks of exploration, sit and watch the wind blowing through the grass. My body has some irreversible damage that must be respected, as must my chronic conditions. Therein lies the rub. My sense of personal unworthiness drives me to constantly justify myself by pushing past my limits, as I did recently when I doubled the number of laps I was swimming and precipitated a major chronic fatigue relapse. I still tend to beat myself up when I drift off the path to perfection, instead of accepting that constant falling-off might be due to being on the wrong path rather than my own moral failings. I’m not clear yet on my vision for personal vitality, but I’ll be ruminating on it.

  21. I enjoyed reading this; because even after almost 30 years of being involved in sports and interested in nutrition and how our bodies function, I continue to discover new ways to add to my vitality and enjoyment of life. At almost 46, I can honestly say I feel better now than 2 decades ago.

    The biggest challenge that I face(which another reader mentioned),and a question I’d like to put out there to anyone reading this blog(including Mark) is the following:

    How do you meet people in the flesh that share the same values and the primal lifestyle?

    I live in Vancouver, Canada(previously in San Francisco) and have never had any problem meeting new people; yet, when it comes down to spending time with
    like minded individuals who share the same values and lifestyle, I seem to run into a wall, always needing to explain myself about my choices.

    I realize I am not alone in this situation; otherwise blogs like the MDA and its followers wouldn’t exist; any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you

  22. Fantastic article, I need to read this again in the morning. We create our own realities, that’s it. Not always what you want to hear but it’s truth. I’m ready to get motivated and break through the paradigm of work and consume.