Find Your Tribe, Find Your Health?

Humans are a tribal species. We form alliances, align ourselves along ethnic, familial, religious, and cultural lines. Still, for the vast majority of people, “tribal” carries a negative connotation. Bitter partisan politics, ethnic genocides, religious wars, and the long history of bigotry make that connotation almost unavoidable. But I don’t think tribal in its true essence is all bad. The basic instinct to form and belong to groups is a simple fact of human physiology. It’s how we work, so we’d better make it work for us.

Remember, I err on the side of evolution. If human evolution has produced and maintained a characteristic or behavior, there’s probably a reason for it. And maybe that reason doesn’t make sense in the modern world. It gets distorted or magnified. Tribalism certainly can. But it can be equally detrimental to ignore that characteristic, to brush it off and discard it. We don’t have to perform hard physical labor to procure food anymore—but exercise is still vital for our health. My guess is the same holds true for our predilection toward tribalism. And it doesn’t have to look like you think it might….

Research shows that one kind of tribe—diehard sports fans— see physiological benefits when their teams compete, such as boosts to testosterone and increased empathy. Sports fans even have a higher-than-average sense of meaning in their lives, something many modern humans lack. Sure, you might say “pro sports don’t matter in the long run,” but who cares? The point is that sports fandom is a healthy, safe, and decidedly non-genocidal mode of tribalism that appears to confer health benefits to those who participate.

Imagine the potential benefits of leveraging your tribal leanings toward a truly healthy, meaningful endeavor?

CrossFit is the perfect example.

It doesn’t have to be CrossFit exactly, but one of those special kinds of gyms whose inhabitants aren’t headphone-wearing individuals doing their own thing, in their own world. CrossFit struck such a chord not only because it offered a great workout, but because it offered a tribe.

You didn’t just show up to a CrossFit box and “train back and biceps” with your headphones on. You and your tribe battled the clock, the iron, yourselves. You entered a place where motivation drips from the ceiling. Where a lot of the stuff I talked about in this article—having rules that remove decision-making from the equation, competing against others (and yourself), achieving intrinsic rewards—comes baked into the experience. Where you don’t have to muster the willpower to start and complete a workout because your tribe is there doing it and ushering you on to join in and give it your all. You get swept away by the pull of your CrossFit tribe—and you’re better off for it.

There’s actual research to back this up, not just conjecture.

A recent study found that CrossFit participants experience more intrinsic motivation related to group affiliation, personal challenge, and outright enjoyment of the activity—and that this experience can increase adherence compared to other types of resistance training.

In perhaps the only systematic review and meta-analysis of CrossFit research to date, researchers concluded that “CrossFit practice is associated with higher levels of community, satisfaction, and motivation.” They have a tribe and don’t want to let them down.

Fitness, in general, benefits from the tribal effect.

The solitary yogi doing impossible stretches with serene countenance as the sun rises is a romantic ideal, but who actually does that? Yoga isn’t exactly pleasant. It’s hard. It can hurt. It’s tough to get yourself motivated to do a full session at home. Get yourself in a legit yoga studio and suddenly you’re on the mat and it’s 98° and before you know it you’re downward dogging your way to nirvana.

Or the Tough Mudder/Mud Run/Spartan Race genre of extreme athletic event. Running barefoot across electrified barbed wire, plunging headfirst into a trough of mud and urine, getting frostbite, ruining your clothes, and paying a couple hundred bucks for the opportunity doesn’t sound very appealing on paper. But allow participants to form teams with their friends and compete against other teams, and the event sells out.

Don’t forget that some of the most traditional forms of fitness practice around—team sports—are entirely based on tribalism. You have a “team.” You’re competing against another group of individuals who’ve also coalesced around a similar concept of organization. You have uniforms, team colors, team slogans, special chants and cheers. You run plays, tactical maneuvers designed to overcome the defenses your opponents have laid out. You function as a unit. For the 60 minutes or so of game time, the tribe takes precedence over the individual. Joining an adult sports league might be a great way to add value, meaning, and fitness to your life.

Dietary affiliations are tribal, too. Primal is absolutely a tribe. Keto is a tribe. Vegetarianism and veganism are absolutely tribes.

This can easily go awry. If you get locked into the dogma of your particular dietary tribe, you may tune out dissenting evidence from other tribes, however valuable and applicable. That’s why I’ve always emphasized open mindedness and the importance of reading outside sources and maintaining the willingness to change your mind in the face of new information. That quality comes baked into the Primal way of living, eating, and thinking. It’s part of our “dogma.”

Whatever dietary tribe you belong to, consider incorporating that feature into your ideology. I highly recommend it.

And if you’re interested specifically in becoming closer to the Primal tribe, there are plenty of ways.

The Facebook Groups

Facebook can be the place where you argue with friends and family about things that don’t even matter, or it can be the place where you find your Primal tribe.

In all these groups, the beauty is that each member is a real person with a real name, and everyone is supportive. So rather than bother all the other people in your life with chatter about ideal sun exposure times and cauliflower carb counts and “180 minus age,” you can connect with people who get it, and get you.

Come To an Event

If you haven’t made it to a Paleo f(x), you have to do it. First of all, it’s in Austin, one of the best (and most paleo/Primal-friendly) cities in the country. The BBQ is out of this world, if nothing else. Second, it’s a meeting of the top thought leaders in ancestral health, both established and upcoming. Great place to hear about new ideas and new angles on old ones. Third, you’ll be with your people. Your tribe.

If you do go, come say hi, cause I’ll definitely be there.

Become a Primal Health Coach

The ultimate way to find a tribe is to become the leader of one and create your own. There’s no better path to leadership in the Primal arena than becoming a legitimate expert, someone who can help others build better lifestyles and construct diets and training regimens. It’s amazing how little most people understand about health, diet, and fitness. If you know what you’re talking about and throw yourself into the business of health and fitness, you’d be surprised at the incredible changes you can effect in your clients—and how close you’ll become with them.

How a tribe helped your quest for better health? Or are you looking for one? (Post-challenge is the perfect time to tap into supports that keep you going….) What does the perfect health tribe look like to you?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care!

TAGS:  mental health

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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26 thoughts on “Find Your Tribe, Find Your Health?”

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  1. Is there anyone who would like to try to make a ‘tribe” happen online? I’m 71, disabled, but trying to get back to Primal–food is good, and yet, I know I’m missing so much of the good part. meli.

    1. Meli sounds like you should join Mark’s Daily Apple FB group per the link provided in the article.

  2. I resonate with this idea for sure. Similar to Sebastian Junger’s book, Tribe. Very difficult, though to be a carnivore/zc/no-plant-food ashtanga yoga practitioner. People have some very specific ideas of what ahimsa is/is not.
    My husband, who happens to be a certified Primal Health Coach, is currently all the tribe I have/need. 🙂

    1. Hi Christine, I am in the same boat.
      I have been a Buddhist now for seven years, but I cannot be vegetarian for health reasons; being extremely insulin resistant, when I have a high carb / low meat diet (or no meat diet) I get weaker than I already am, my brain goes to mush and I want tot sleep all the time (I have even fallen asleep behind the wheel and this terrified me).
      I have learnt not to talk about food at my Buddhist Centre unless directly asked, and then I won’t lie but I will change the conversation as quickly as possible.
      My Buddhist friends know I am Paleo for health reasons, and being proper Buddhists they accept it as my path to walk.
      It IS a conflict of interest for me, but I take the “do not harm” edict to INCLUDE me as well as everyone/animal else, and I am mindful and grateful to the animals I have to eat to be healthy.

  3. Most of us already have a tribe that consists of family, both immediate and extended. They are the people that make up my tribe, even though I don’t see all of them every day.

    There are a lot of groups out there that can make up a tribe. It’s just a matter of finding one that suits your needs. For me, connecting in person with flesh-and-blood people that I actually know is much more satisfactory than reading words on a website.

    1. I agree with you, however, only 3 of my many family members/friends are on the same page as me – so I truly enjoy the forum I’m on with like-minded people online.

  4. My Monday coffee group is my tribe and, in fact, that’s what we call this group of about 8 women ages 65 to 90. There’s a lot of wisdom around that table as well as laughter and, occasionally, tears. We’re of varying sizes and levels of activity and nutrition, but we support each other, which is what it’s all about IMHO.

  5. tribes good? yea, maybe. a sense of belonging helps with morale.

    people that worship spectator sports generally lack a sense of purpose to begin with. something like sports can bring that sense of purpose, and therefore “improve” their life. sure, they’re better off than they would be without sports because they’re boring people.

    since we are playing the relativity game, they would be relatively better off reading a book, building a bench, talking with their children, improving their focus, advancing their career, sharing ideas or generally doing something cooperative rather than competitive.

    gosh, i hope that wasn’t too abrasive… ;P

    1. Well color me boring, I’m a lifelong Buckeye fan, and I love playing and watching tennis. Tennis is a sport that requires strategy, flexibility, endurance, strength, explosiveness and intellect, a great way to get your HIIT in, keep the neurons firing, and make life-long friendships. Watching my alma mater in the stadium or on TV with family and friends is another way to bond. Also, a team works cooperatively to accomplish a goal. Should it take precedent over all else, of course not. So … guess what my answer would be to your closing question.

      1. playing sports is different than being a lifelong spectator. i was only referring to those that spectate. participating is much more useful and much healthier. true passion for any sport is worn on one’s sleeve. it isn’t an excuse to take sunday off and drink beer.

        watching sports with someone is a very shallow form of bonding. neither of you is engaged as you would be in a real conversation.

  6. Mud and urine…head first? I started reading you around 1.5 years ago. There was good advice for all. Now you seem to be holding onto some youth you have outlived? Good luck in FL . I will stick to the solid advice you used to tout . Don’t need the promotions and “young is best” stuff you are pushing now

  7. Don’t forget Jiu Jitsu…

    Nothing more tribal than a group of people who get together a few times a week to grapple and try to impose their will on one another via body locks and chokes! Sparring rounds usually end with a smile and a “thank you” to your training partner.

  8. I live in Buenos Aires anb I belong to what I may consider as a tribe : I practice Karate-Do in the Shorin Ryu Kuidokan Higa Te style from Okinawa island , Whose leader is the 11° dan Oscar Mayato Higa, an Okinawa man born in Argentina , whose granfather was a real Samurai ruled by de Kobudo priciples.¿ Is´nt this a real tribe ?

  9. Tribe is what I’ve been missing… Until this article I forgot the importance of it. I haven’t had a friend in so long. I haven’t hung out with a friend since before I found out I was pregnant with my first child (4 years ago). I hardly talk to anyone outside of my family. And I have struggled with feeling lonely & going through a lot of bullshit. I need to find my tribe. I would love to find other primal parents in the NC area.

  10. Big yes to finding your tribe at Paleo f(x)…I have gone the last two years and plan to make it an annual event. And to the Primal Health Coach program…it’s amazing. I used to shy away from social media, but you can find some pretty cool tribes in private FB groups. And I’ve been creating my own tribe on Instagram, which has been really cool.
    When it comes to my day to day personal life, I have a very small tribe that really gets me. We support each other but also call each other out when it’s needed.

  11. Very well said Mark. If we find a good companion then life is very easy to live. But if we find tribe companion then we also getting similar to them gradually. So we should live among generous people and live a healthy life.

  12. Tennis is where we always find our tribe. It’s easy to get involved in a community through a local tennis club, no matter what your level! Great way to exercise AND have fun!

  13. Dear Mark~
    Your open mindedness is the reason MDA is my most trusted source. Thank you for inspiring this attitude!

  14. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a paleo/Primal club in the small Iowa city I live in. Always afraid this place is too close-minded/set in their ways and that it wouldn’t take off. But then I tell myself that I need to try and that, ultimately, I myself would get to start the first Primal club in this city! Obviously I believe in it and these folks would benefit!
    “If you build it, they will come.”

  15. I started Crossfit at the beginning of the year – prior to that just ran, did yoga and biked to and from work. Biking to the Crossfit in the morning before work (currently winter in the Southern Hemisphere) in the cold and dark, I always wonder what on earth I am doing and have a mild panic attack. Then when I see what we have to do I think I can’t do that, it’s insane. But when you start and the music is playing (I have no idea what the music is…) I manage to get through it. Would never be able to do it if it was just myself. Also, at least one person gave up his personal trainer as he does far more in a crossfit class than with his personal trainer.
    Best thing is that each day (well only go three days a week) is different so that you don’t get complacent/body getting used to the exercise. The first couple of months though were brutal as later in the day would feel like I had been hit by a truck, but that feeling goes and I’m the fittest I’ve been in my life and I’m closer to 50 than 40.

  16. I agree with the majority of the specific content of the article, however I would like to comment on a couple points. The power and adrenaline build up of a group dynamic is overwhelmingly evident and present, however as you briefly mentioned, the POSITIVE direction of this group mentality is paramount in order to sustain healthy societies and individuals for that matter. It can all too easily stray from the path of motivation and personal satisfaction towards a much grimmer goal or outlook, to the “mob mentality” if you will– people continuing on the path simply for the comradery and sense of approval they get from the group, no matter the direction it’s headed. I would argue that tribal leanings simply for the sake of tribal leanings should not necessarily be promoted without directly taking into account what the tribe is specifically leaning towards.
    Secondly, your comments on solitary yoga and, I imagine, all other solitary activities by extension are slightly misguided. I, in no way am against group yoga or other exercise groups, however just because something is “hard” doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort. And in response to your question “who actually does that?” in regards to solitary yoga, the answer is many people. Solitary activities such as yoga, meditation, hiking, even working out can have a highly positive effect on the doer including psychological, mental and physical health benefits. Simply because something is done in solitude does not make it subpar to a tribal based group activity, and usually will have its own set of benefits as well.
    My bottom line is that people need to think for themselves. Equating a specific exercise regime or diet plan to a your specific ideology and using the fellow members as a team building, self-boosting mechanism isn’t a problem in and of itself. The problem comes when people begin to identify their ego with those ideologies and become so attached to them that nothing else matters. This is a classic psychological problem when talking about tribal mentality and identification in general and should be taken into account. Over dependence on such tribal membership is also a concern. People can easily lose (or never find) their inner strength, self-confidence or ability to reason properly if they are not aware of the risks and become too dependent and identified with one group. This has been the cause of countless unnecessary tragedies throughout history. Balance and awareness are crucial.

  17. I think its very important to belong to a group or tribe that is supportive. The church I go to is a very caring loving group and I have many friends there. They are my church family and are there for me or any other member when one needs them. The other tribe I belong to is my craft group. We all share a love of various mainly textile based crafts and support each other – again several good friends there. Then I have my family who I don’t see a lot of because of their work and distance from me.

  18. Yes to tribe! I started my own little tribal group of women on Facebook interested in diet, exercise and good health 8+ years ago, and it’s still going strong. We do regular ‘challenges’ (in fact, doing a keto one right now), where we share our goals and daily struggles and successes. We post articles about the latest health information. Having friends in the same boat is comforting and motivational.
    I belong to all 3 MDA Facebook groups as well, and especially love Keto Reset. Plus, my (once weekly now) Zumba class is as tribal as it gets – we dance joyfully to rousing music together.
    Great article, thanks for all you do!