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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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September 11 2018

12 Daily Habits for Primal Well-Being

By Mark Sisson
25 Comments

Most longtime readers of this blog could probably rattle off a dozen daily habits based on the inviolable Primal Laws. That’s not exciting, though.

Let’s consider the basics just that: basics you should already have a handle on. These are practices that you’ve already integrated—eat whole foods, avoid unnecessary carbs, stop fearing fat and animal protein, lift heavy things, and such—and don’t require any more cajoling or prodding. It’s more helpful to develop some daily habits that you probably hadn’t considered.

What are some daily habits for better Primal health?

Share a Meal

Humans are social beings. On a historical scale, food has been an extremely social activity. Hunting and gathering was a group effort. Meal prep was a group effort. So was eating.

Most of us no longer hunt or participate in large scale cooking projects on a regular basis. But all of us eat, and most of us have someone with whom we can eat. We sh

There’s considerable evidence that people who eat alone are less healthy than people who eat with others, though they can’t establish causality. There’s a good chance that people who eat alone have more pre-existing health conditions.

But man, if you have access to a family or friends, you need to take advantage of that as often as possible. Meet a friend for lunch. Join a co-worker in the cafeteria. Sit down for breakfast or dinner with the family. Plan a dinner party for the weekend.

Make it actually social. Keep the smartphone away from the table and truly break (keto) bread with the humans sitting at the table.

Learn For an Hour, Create For an Hour, Move For an Hour

This is the golden ratio. My ideal breakdown is write for an hour, read for an hour, and standup paddle for an hour. I consider reading good fiction “learning,” mind you. And my writing usually extends past the hour mark. But sticking to this format keeps me productive, engaged, and always moving forward and improving myself.

It’s open-ended for a reason. We all have different predispositions, predilections, and urges. I create through writing and by growing my business; I learn through reading and experimenting; I move on my board, in the gym, on the Ultimate Frisbee field, on the trail. You might create with a paintbrush, with a chef’s knife, or with redwood lumber. Learn through watching videos or taking classes. Move with CrossFit WODs, martial arts classes, pickup games at the park. If you stick to the 1/1/1 format, good things will happen.

Give Thanks

When you express gratitude, you kill a ton of birds. Assuming you’re thanking another human directly, you’re making that person happy. You’re increasing the chance of that person doing someone nice for you again at a later date. You’re drawing your own attention to the gift. Oftentimes, giving thanks for something we were taking for granted changes our relationship to it, helping us become more aware of how good we have it. When you express gratitude, you’re more likely to appreciate the thing that aroused the sentiment. All these effects lead to a better life and better outcomes.

I suspect this is one of the major benefits of religious observance. You always have someone to shower with gratitude, so you’re constantly aware of the good parts of your life.

For a nice trick, try giving thanks for the “bad” things that happen to you, too. Can’t ignore them that way. Tragedy is often the best teacher, if you’re willing to listen.

Touch the Four Elements

Every single day, interact with each of the four elements.

Fire: Cook something delicious, grill outdoors, sit around a fire, get some sun exposure, hop in the sauna.

Earth: Garden, walk barefoot through the park, run on the beach, nap under a tree.

Water: Go swimming, take a hot bath with a good book, drink Gerolsteiner or Topo Chico, find a natural spring near you, hike in the rain.

Air: Jump as high as you can, climb a tree, leave city limits, go outside, cruise with the windows down no matter the weather.

Come up with your own.

Making Walking a Ritual

Sure, we all walk. Primal folks aren’t likely the ones looking  for the closes parking spot. But consider assigning it meaning beyond your step counter. Elevate it into a daily ritual.

There are many ways to incorporate walking into your daily practice, all of them beneficial.

Morning walks in the sunshine are a great way to start the day and establish a good circadian rhythm. In the afternoon (depending on the climate), they’re a good way to get some sun exposure.

Short (10 minute) walks after meals reduce the blood sugar response.

Anecdotally, brisk fasted walks enhance fat loss.

But those details aren’t even the whole point. Walking is the foundation of human movement and, therefore, health. We have the obligation to use our bipedalism, to move around on our two legs, scanning the horizon with our stereoscopic vision, our upright posture, propensity to sweat, and access to clothing mitigating the sun’s rays. We are made for long walks. To stay sedentary is to abdicate our birthright.

Walk as much as you can, but go further and make one walk a day something sacred. A time you bond with a friend, partner or child. A time when you consciously connect with the natural world. A time you brainstorm creatively. A time you infuse a spiritual practice. Whatever works for you.

Insert Novelty

Time appears to speed up the older we get. We fall into comfortable, predictable patterns of behavior that our conscious brains can safely ignore. You’re going to do the same thing today you did yesterday, and the day before that, and the one before that—why divert brain power to it? Life blurs. Weeks, months, and years pass without us noticing. If we do something novel, like take a different route to work or visit a different part of the city, our brain pays attention. Time slows down. We effectively live longer.

Insert enough novelty that you avoid the blurring.

Do Something That Makes You Uncomfortable

The world’s more comfortable than ever, but discomfort is still out there. You have to find it, because facing discomfort makes you stronger and embracing comfort without healthy interruption makes you weaker.

Many things qualify as uncomfortable.

Do a cold plunge, take an ice bath, or blast the cold water for the last few minutes of your shower.

Do a hard workout. Nothing quite so terrible (but ultimately rewarding) as high-rep heavy-ish squats.

Assent to your 6- and 8-year-olds’ request that you carry them “like you used to,” even though they collectively weigh over 100 pounds and it’s all uphill back to the car.

Ask for that raise.

Take the stairs.

If that first voice in your head says “Don’t do it, that’s gonna suck,” maybe you should do it. Many uncomfortable things improve your physical health, by making you stronger, fitter, faster, and they can improve your mental health, by honing resilience and training discipline.

Note: by “embrace the uncomfortable,” I don’t mean “injure yourself” or “get yourself killed.”

Feel Hunger

I’m not saying you have to fast, or even follow a condensed eating window. But everyone should feel real hunger before they eat, every day.

This is hard for many people. If you’re a sugar-burner whose mitochondria are bad at utilizing fat for energy, you may not be able to hold out for long. The glucose gods demand frequent sacrifices. They don’t wait for you to liberate and burn stored body fat. They want that easy energy.

Getting fat-adapted by cutting out unnecessary carbohydrates or even going keto will help you tolerate hunger. Your mitochondria will become better at utilizing fat. If you’re fat-adapted, your hunger is a helpful physiological signal that you should probably eat. If you’re not, hunger is an emergency.

It’s the best spice, too. True hunger makes things taste bette than expected.

Eat Something Colorful

Of all the “superfoods,” the ones imbued with rich hues appear to have the most effect. Hues are never “just” colors in nature. They are bioactive compounds with often beneficial effects.

My personal go-to favorites are the Wild Boreal Blueberries from Trader Joe’s. They’re frozen and do not use pesticides (despite not being organic). The mouth stain they provide is incredible, an indication of polyphenol content.

Another is wild sockeye salmon. I scour the butcher case or frozen aisle for the salmon filet with the deepest red, which indicates high astaxanthin content. Sockeye is the absolute reddest.

Other options include purple sweet potatoes, most other berries, turmeric, and beets.

Crawl Around For Five Minutes

In babies, crawling develops and supports the musculature and connective tissues around the shoulder. It sets the stage for upright walking by establishing the neural pathways involved in contralateral movement (left arm swinging, right leg moving). Even though we can walk, even though we should be past this, many of us are so broken that it’d be a great idea to return to the source and shore up that most fundamental of movement patterns.

I know several high end strength athletes who rehabbed a bum shoulder by crawling for a few minutes each day.

There are good general health effects, too. It trains balance, trunk stability, and overall upper body mobility and strength.

Crawling in different directions and at different speeds will provide the broadest range of stimuli.

Find Your Meditation

We’re normally a swirling ball of doubts, emotions, memories, anxieties, and thought loops. Worst of all, we’re reactive to them all, letting each and every one commandeer our attention and our emotional energy. When you meditate, you declutter your brain. The thoughts and doubts and stuff remain, but you don’t really notice them, or give them any particular legitimacy. They just are.

Many people like the Headspace app, which provides short guided meditations that only take about ten minutes to complete. Ten minutes in the morning? You can do that.

Many people find their meditative state outside of the yoga mat, the smartphone app, the mantra. They reach it doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, riding the board, rolling or sparring with an opponent, doing deadlifts, walking through nature, reaching the creative flow state. I gave my recommendations for meditation alternatives, if you want some specific ideas.

Do the Project You’ve Dreamed About

All the optimalizationizing (just made up a word) won’t get you anywhere if you fail to simply take action. Marcel Proust stayed in bed until the late afternoon, hotboxed his bedroom with opium fumes, lived off coffee, boiled milk, and croissants, occasionally went out to eat huge late night meals, and took caffeine pills to stay up and write by his circadian-disrupting green lit lamp. He did everything wrong but ended up a world famous writer because he made time to write.

I don’t suggest following his routine in lockstep, but put an end to the wistful longings. Do what you feel you’re on this earth to do—even if you have just 15 minutes a day at first.

So, isn’t this too much? Can any one person actually do all these daily habits?

The point of a habit is to remove the guesswork and willpower from the equation. When you do something enough, it becomes part of you, second-nature. Habits disappear into you so you don’t have to think about them.

You can absolutely do it.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I hope this post helped you discover a few new healthy habits to include in your days. What about you? What daily habits do you practice?

References:

Tani Y, Kondo N, Takagi D, et al. Combined effects of eating alone and living alone on unhealthy dietary behaviors, obesity and underweight in older Japanese adults: Results of the JAGES. Appetite. 2015;95:1-8.

Terman JS, Terman M, Lo ES, Cooper TB. Circadian time of morning light administration and therapeutic response in winter depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2001;58(1):69-75.

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25 thoughts on “12 Daily Habits for Primal Well-Being”

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  1. Oh my goodness, this is so lovely! This is what I love about the Primal lifestyle: it is so much more than a “diet”. It incorporates all the best things in life.I felt so happy reading these twelve daily habits, because they are all important to me and contribute greatly to my love of life. I have found, with myself and clients, that when the toxins are removed from one’s nutrition there is an increase in energy that that is redirected to lifestyle habits like the ones listed here. When our brains and bodies are constantly fighting the anti-nutrients in the SAD lifestyle we don’t really have the energy for these glorious habits. But when one achieves food freedom all that energy naturally directs to improving other aspects of life. It’s so beautiful!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post. My favorite part comes in the subsection of “Touch the Four Elements”. This is a very practical way to live our lives, and is proven to improve our emotional well being, as well as our physical health. As someone who wants to join the military, I find a direct parallel with the sub section of “Do Something That Makes You Feel Uncomfortable” with the values that the military holds. As an athlete, I am easily exposed to activities that test my mental fortitude, and I definitely think you grow on many levels when you implement this part of habits into your life.

    1. I loved that one, too! I added two more; I know it’s not one of the four basics, but I think it’s important–to experience plants (probably combined with the Earth in gardening, etc, but I mean, touching them, or smelling flowers…just taking a second to delight in them) and experiencing an animal. Either petting a dog, or just stopping and paying attention to that bird song. A little nod to the “living nature” vs. the four elements.

  3. Wonderful post. I love that living primal is about more than food.

    And by the way, thanks for saying “I consider reading good fiction ‘learning’.” For me all the arts are essential conduits for various kinds of knowing, and I mean that literally. I can’t imagine who I’d be or how I’d endure without curiosity and imagination.

  4. The koala bear once had a full-fledged brain that occupied the full innards of that cranium. Then, the koala discovered eucalyptus trees which provided massive 24/7 comforts… protection from prey and an endless buffet. As a species, the koala hasn’t had to really struggle for anything, for a very long time. As a consequence, they (the modern day koalas) now enjoy the smallest relative brain size of all such furry creatures and the relative intelligence of a snow globe. Does this story sound familiar… well, it should… because it’s happening to us Sapiens.

    Struggle develops strength which is why “Do Something That Makes You Uncomfortable” is my favorite habit, and perhaps the most important, on this list. Thanks for another insightful post!

    1. Interesting! Maybe that’s another reason why the human brain has been shrinking since the dawn of agriculture!?

      1. Living in the same place in crowded conditions makes disease resistance more important that brains, especially under agriculture.

        Besides the rulers dislike people who think for themselves. Thinking for yourself is heresy.

  5. Daily reader, first comment. I have to say this is really, really great stuff. I already do some of it (daily cold showers, condensed eating window) but will be crawling around much more to try and heal my bum shoulder. Will also try and make a habit of going on after dinner walks with the family in an open space/nature preserve near our house. Grateful to you for putting this out!

  6. This might be my favorite post ever! So much great stuff! Sipping bright yellow turmeric tea as I read it, so I’m definitely consuming something colorful. Love the learn/create/move idea. Establishing a regular gratitude practice (that is constantly changing and evolving) is one of the most life changing things I have ever done. And giant yes to getting uncomfortable…that’s really the only way to continue to grow. And the more you face it head on, the better life gets. I was already having a great day…this post just made it even better!

  7. Awesome list, this definitely should go into The Sisson Book of Wisdom! 🙂

  8. Yes to all of it! I am living the dream and embrace all of the above…and time really does slow down, even when you’re in your 60’s! My husband and I are in the second week of a 3 month bicycle tour (no, not e-bikes!!!!) in Europe and having a blast! And I am cycling with my yoga mat! Although today we will,take a day off(the sitz bones, yes that is the ‘uncomfortable’ part) and do some hiking! What a wonderful world we live in!

  9. I think this might be my favorite post as well! I’ve been meaning to write my primal success story for a while now and a lot of it is centered around the primal lifestyle being so incredibly much more than a diet and how reading Mark’s daily apple literally transformed my life. I love the ‘do something with the 4 elements’ suggestion too – as someone who follows a nature-focused spiritual practice it’s such a lovely tie-in to my beliefs. Primal really does enhance body, mind and spirit for me!

    1. starmice, I’m glad you and others enjoyed the post. I haven’t done as many of these lately, and I forget sometimes how much I like doing them. I’d love to read your story of applying the Primal Blueprint to your life, and I’m glad this post maybe moved you a little closer to sharing it. Best – M

  10. I’m in. Trying to get though a journey with zombie cells (cancer). Your suggestions follow the recommendations of most of my health care providers. So yes, I’m doing it.
    Nothing like taking a walk, or riding bike early morning, birds singing, sun or rain shining n ones face, being grateful for been alive.
    Yes, my urologist doesn’t get it about exercise and diet, but provides me with unpleasant things that are beneficial to my well being. Nuff said that.
    My wife and I enjoy gardening and cooking together. She also helps take my mind off my worries.
    Everything in life for me now is so precious. I think that view point, of making Everything in ones life precious is invaluable, even the crappie stuff.

    1. Mark N – good luck with your treatment course. Primal folks are rooting for you. And, yes, it’s amazing how those hard stretches of life take us to a higher appreciation. A gift in the midst of it all. Best to you – M

  11. I think the warm-to-cold shower is an underestimated activity! The length of time and amount of cold varies daily but I always feel so amazing afterward. If it’s in the morning, I get this boost of energy like I drank a cup of coffee. And if I do it in the evening, and crawl into bed, it has the opposite effect where I want to just cuddle and sleep. The endorphin high is pretty great too.

  12. Excellent advice, I already do some of the above mentioned, I lift heavy, eat animal protein and fats- NOT transfats or industrial veg oils- and I walk 20 minutes to the train station every day, people are amazed that I walk 20 mins- I see their amazement as an indictment on our lazy and unhealthy society!

  13. This is one of my favorite posts. I love to live the primal life more than food. I enjoyed this post while reading. Thanks for sharing this awesome list to keep yourself healthy and fit.

  14. Your article is very helpful. It reinforces and reminds me that it is all for naught without action. Fair winds and following seas.