It’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.