When 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 vitality, 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…
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.
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.
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.