How Caring Less Can Help You Accomplish More

How Caring Less Can Help You Accomplish More in-lineIt’s been a concept I’ve been focusing on the last few years now—applying it to my life and contemplating how it fits with (and indeed underscores) the Primal Blueprint philosophy. The fact is, I’ve never wanted to see the PB as only a means to a smaller waistline and more defined musculature. I’ve ultimately hoped for it to evolve into a guide for what I’d consider the good life. And what do we think of when we think of the “good life”? Beyond any personal material whims, the crux of most people’s answers usually hover around ideas of ease, balance and happiness. Compare that with the images we’re often shown to illustrate accomplishment (health or otherwise): razor focus, dogged effort, staunch insistence. Anyone else see the disconnect here? Do we really need to throw ourselves into exacting standards and maniacal will to achieve anything of substance? I think not. So let me say a few words on behalf of caring less.

It seems so counterintuitive: choose to be less concerned about something, experience more success with it as a result. But I’ve seen it play out time and again. Over the years I’ve met many people who badly wanted to lose weight, get fit, look a certain way, change careers, win friends or stress less. These people often couldn’t stop thinking about what they wanted—they applied the objective to every endeavor and had grand visions of what it would be like to finally get what they dreamed of. But they were sometimes the least likely people to achieve their goals.

On the other hand, I’ve met industrious folks who approached their goals with less mental effort and ended up attaining (and maintaining) the most success.

You see, the question of investment can be key, and it can be more complex than we might imagine. There’s practical investment of course. But in getting healthy (for instance), we transition to new logistical practices in our diets, exercise and lifestyle. We go to sleep earlier. We take supplements, get outside each day, make sure we get sun, etc. It’s the footwork. It might take us a while to implement things in a way that works for us, but getting the basics of Primal health isn’t overly complicated.

Then there’s emotional investment, which can encompass everything from our general motivation level, to our willingness to change, to our expectations once we’ve achieved our goal. For instance, if we’re looking to lose weight, we commit to making choices that will keep us on track toward our goal. We prioritize that commitment, knowing we’ll need to give up or modify some elements of our daily schedule, social life or family meals. We consider what compromises would be helpful and where consistency will matter most for our success.

But sometimes thoughtful, measured investment can move into less productive territory. Our practical decisions to shift our diets can demand unreasonable amounts of thinking and planning. We can restrict ourselves again and again to a more and more narrow selection of food. We can lengthen or regiment our workouts with an obsessive insistence on exacting, precise efficiency. We may be run by the clock to achieve just the right bedtime or other preordained activity.

Likewise, we can move beyond prioritizing our health to making it our singular fixation. We continually surrender more time and events with people or activities we enjoy to feed the vision we have for our health. We put our goals on a high pedestal, envisioning that, once we achieve them, life will finally be what we always wanted. We will no longer be plagued by self-doubt or have to tolerate our perceived physical flaws anymore.

I’ve met plenty of people who have become so practically and emotionally invested in their goal that they literally believe they can’t be happy until then. They can’t feel settled or good about themselves, they don’t have time to invest in other elements of life until that moment when they cross their self-appointed finish line. Life is on hold until that golden day of achievement.

Alternatively, I’ve met people who aren’t necessarily shooting for any significant change but who are so wrapped up in the precarious, stringent maintenance of their current health that, ironically enough, they undermine their overall well-being.

It’s true that to be successful in a health (or any other) endeavor you have to want it a lot, but obsession can easily push us past the bounds of emotional reason and even the body’s own logic. Stress exacts a deep toll, and deprivation is never an enriching principle for life, let alone something that promises a successful long-term strategy.

Living with a mind stuck in perpetual critique mode exhausts a good deal of mental bandwidth. It’s an energy suck (not to mention killjoy) that can lock us into a heightened and continual state of discontent. In squeezing the life out of our goals—and the happiness out of ourselves—we lose the distinction between discipline and desperation.

The answer is to loosen our grip on the goal, to learn to surrender perfectionism, to let go of exact outcomes, to place our endeavors once again against the larger backdrop of a life well spent. Caring less, after all, doesn’t equate to apathy. It simply obliges detachment and perspective. Some of us might naturally be more ambitious than others, but we can all consider the difference between working toward a goal and identifying with it.

Caring less can mean not standing outside ourselves as a judge anymore. It can mean moving as Grok did with more intuition and less structure. Caring less can entail letting ourselves focus more on enjoying a day and making the most of it than checking off a list of health-driven practices. Caring less may mean engaging the 80/20 principle to celebrate with friends or enjoy a seasonal favorite—or to skip a workout to walk (or sit) with a grieving friend by the lake. Caring less calls us to live a good life rather than an advisable agenda.

And what happens when we do this? What outcomes does detachment enhance or introduce? For each of us, the answers may vary. Maybe we’ll simply (but significantly) feel like we’ve gotten more freedom and flexibility to our life again. We may lose the mental stress of food obsession and gain the creativity to expand our diets in more beneficial ways. We may lose the physical stress of chronic cardio, or we may gain more from our strength training with additional recovery.

We may not go to bed at the exact time each night, but we’ll hit the sheets feeling more rested, more fulfilled, more content and thereby sleep better. Having given up the regimentation, we may know less about what the next day will hold, but we may feel we have more to look forward to. We may not spend as long working certain muscles, but we may be more athletically balanced, more mentally vital, and more present to our physical needs rather than simply to a health agenda. We may spend less time at the gym but more time in flow with our hobbies or on a mountain trail. Finally, we may learn to see how happiness is as much a part of our optimum Primal set point as any particular health consideration. Caring less in these (and plenty of other ways) can ultimately mean succeeding by enjoying more.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Has this principle been true for you? How has loosening your grip helped you succeed? Share your thoughts, and have a good end to the week.

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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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35 thoughts on “How Caring Less Can Help You Accomplish More”

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  1. I think this methodical approach helps a person find a balance in all aspects of life. Setting gradual goals may make any objective more enjoyable and less stressful. Having an environment of positive energy helps as well. I am grateful to have optimist family and friends who support all my accomplishments and struggles.

  2. If you are obsessed with perfection, body image, following rules, etc. then backing off is good strategy. But the real issue is being faithful to your hierarchy of values. Comforting a grieving friend is simply more important than getting a workout in.

  3. I think your wisdom is astounding but sometimes seems to go against your values your preaching if that’s the right word to use.

    1. Heh, I had this impression at first as well, but then I realized that Mark, as far as I can tell, never preaches and merely offers tips and suggestions, often using phrases similar to “maybe this would be right for you.” He often makes it pretty clear that one doesn’t need to be a hard-liner, that one can be open to compromise and that one should be in touch with the hierarchy of one’s own values when making any decision, and also that every individual has separate needs.

  4. very insightful. there is a fine line between prioritizing health, putting a value on continuous improvement, staying current with research, etc. & letting it dominate your thought processes & decisions to where your health is actually being negatively impacted. in my experience, it takes a lot of practice to figure out where that line is, & learn how to stay on the right side of it.

  5. A fine line indeed. Balancing the difference between healthy determination and detrimental obsession has been a key for me most of my life. I got into health and fitness to feel better, but eventually I cared more about the means (the health and fitness routine) than the end (me and my happiness). Funny thing is, you don’t see it until you climb out of that place to get a new perspective!

    Sometimes I also wonder if that’s just a necessary stage in the process of making a life change…perhaps we all have to go through the detrimental obsession stage until we get to healthy integration and back to the reason we started, which is just living a good, happy life.

    Definitely a cool thought for the day and a good reminder. Thanks for that!

    1. very well said. i have struggled with finding that same balance too, as i am sure many of those on here have, knowing that if you are even reading this you are likely very health coverage conscious.

      ironic that sometimes all the practices in which you engage in order to improve your life can end up worsening it.

  6. What a great post! It can become an obsession, I feel so much happier with PB and being about the “work in progress”, no comparing myself to others (about anything) and just enjoying the process.

  7. Its not about caring less. Its caring less about the outcome.

    But caring more about the day-to-day details and action you are taking and focusing your efforts on the steps that will take you to your desired outcome.

  8. As someone addicted to perfectionism, this has been an important place of practice – specifically, practicing purposeful imperfection…and being imperfect but NOT sloppy (the difference having to do with mindfulness and care).

    So I’m working with this right now…and asking what it’s okay to be imperfect around. At the same time, I’m resting into my anchors of quality and simplicity and asking: Where can I make this easier?

  9. Very timely post. I’ve been trying to juggle so many different projects and tasks along with my own training, and it’s been taking its toll. I’ve been chasing this idea that I can do everything and do it well. Not the case. I’m learning to let some things ride; I’ll get to them when and if I can. I’ll focus on 1 or 2 tasks at a time and I’m finding that I’m not nearly as stressed and I’m able to perform better at those tasks. Thank you for the post.

  10. I receive a daily quote in my inbox and this was today’s:

    “As soon as you stop wanting something you get it. I’ve found that to be absolutely axiomatic.”

    — Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again

  11. For me it’s realizing that I can’t be great at everything at the same time. Sometimes fitness takes a backseat to a creative project. I acknowledge that and am ok with it. I accept that I will just do my best to maintain the status quo in one area if I’m working really hard in another.

    1. I side with this strongly! Finding your personal level of good enough is crucial! Love your perspectives…is it legal to creep on forums?

  12. This may be your best article, yet. Such liberating truth and insight. Thank you and bless you for stewarding your voice well and sharing it with the world.

  13. it’s like that one time where I refused to eat the cake my wife bought for my birthday in the name of self discipline… definitely not advisable.. lol

  14. How do you care less though? I feel like this is a function of personality type more than anything. If I care less about one thing, it probably means I’m hyperfocused on something else.

  15. A wise man once used the phrase “divine indifference” to describe a healthy attitude toward the many problems that can seem to beset oneself and the world. Another phrase I’ve found worth contemplating is “forget about your problems and they will go away.” This seems ludicrous, but the fact is that many of our problems ARE problems only because we endlessly fuel them with focused attention. No attention, no problem.

  16. Agree wholeheartedly. Detachment creates space. Clinging to rigid goals is the surest way for them to cause stress. We live in a world which rarely values slowing down and breathing. Living for the moment like animals and kids do brings happiness.

  17. Great article. There is an idea in sports psychology of “giving up control to gain control” – that is, giving more attention to the process and not the outcome. I think that ties in very well with the ideas here.

    A good example is golf where children play the game with a refreshing freedom and with little care or concern for the outcome. As they get older and become adults they become conditioned to care about the result, often with negative consequences for performance. Dr Bob Rotella has written extensively about how to step out of the results oriented mindset. In doing so and in stopping placing such emphasis on an outcome, many players see dramatic improvement i.e. giving up control to gain control.

  18. Caring less does seem to create less stress on one’s life. I took 2 semesters of abnormal psychology and the thing that interested me the most was the study of psychopaths. Psychopaths are generally stress free and have a complete lack of fear. Most people think of serial killers when they think of psychopaths, but in reality, that’s just the picture Hollywood tries to sell you of a psychopath. 99.99% of psychopaths aren’t your Hannibal Lecture type. They’re your surgeons, chefs, clergy, journalists, and CEOs. It really begs one to question is Psychopathy a disability or a enhancement when compared to empathetic people. Our ancestors didn’t have much empathy, sure they learned to work together for survival, but compassion doesn’t suit predatory creatures. All this said, I’m certainly not an advocate of violent behavior towards your fellow peer, but caring less, having less fear, that might be the next step in human evolution.

  19. Thanks Mark. This post would have been so beneficial if it had found me a few years back in the midst of my serious health obsession. My routine around food and fitness was so regimented – I definitely missed out on some of the fun and meaningful experiences in which I would have otherwise participated. I sacrificed so much relationship-building and recovery time in the name of my addiction to control. I don’t know what I thought would happen if I missed one workout or ate one cookie, but it terrified me!
    Another very insightful post. I will be sharing this with friends and family members I suspect are undergoing similar stressful, wellness-obsessed periods.

  20. Love this post! The idea of “not being happy until your reach a certain goal” really resonates with me.

  21. I agree that balance is important when setting fitness related goals, as it can be a slippery slope to perfectionism and overly strict behaviors. This can lead to a lot of stress, which is counterproductive when trying to reach a fitness or weight loss goal. My favorite strategy for achieving health and fitness goals is to make them habits. As such, they become “mindless” without being overly stressful. For example, if I adopt a habit of going to the gym every morning, it becomes a natural part of my life without needing to drain a great deal of my mental energy.

  22. I’ve always been a “good enough” kind of girl. Watching perfectionists stress and spin is enough to drive a person crazy. Let go, let flow. Let go, let God. This type of lifestyle is a daily practice. Mindfulness, live in the present moment, set your goals, make your plans, let go of the outcome. Then live and practice living this lifestyle. For me it’s not about caring less, it’s about living in the moment and the art of being, not doing. But, as always I love your take on things. Nicely done.

  23. By far, the most success I have enjoyed at my primary occupation has occurred within the past 3 years and has been the direct result of approaching work as a game. I work hard and hold my responsibilities with high regard, but the outcomes, results, and other people’s workplace drama are all approached with lightheartedness.

    I used to take an almost manic and ferocious care into my work day. That kind of drive got me to a certain point, but there were diminishing returns on my overall quality of life as a result.

    I loosened up, become more effective at work, and happier at home.

    1. How would you have this pan out in a work atmosphere. I work in a high stress office and always been a rule follower and I tend to put that stress on myself. I feel like if I work hard I’ll get a promotion but I’ve been working hard for 3 years sans promotion. Tips for taking the stress of the day with a light heart?

  24. Sometimes I enjoy life more when I neglect to GAF. Well, at least about a lot of balderdash rubbish.

  25. One of my marketing friends used this to make $300k in a single month and referred to it as “the island effect”. As soon as he was vacationing on the islands and caring less about the results rather than the process, he was golden.

    I think the mistake people make is confusing “care” and the meaning of that word. It might be more accurate to say “how being unattached can help you accomplish more”. It’s not caring per se, but attachment.