Meet Mark

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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December 06 2016

How the Grok Narrative Motivates Me

By Mark Sisson
27 Comments

thinking_of_grok copyThe Primal Blueprint is more than just a health and nutrition blog. You can find thousands of health and nutrition tips online, many of them quite sound. You can read well-researched and cited articles telling you what to eat, what not to eat, how to exercise, how not to exercise—and following their advice will give you good results. The Primal Blueprint does not enjoy a monopoly on results.

A big reason why the Primal Blueprint resonates with so many people is that it’s not only couched in hard science and useful information. It tells a story to which all of us can relate on a deep and meaningful level.

Back when I started this blog, I didn’t think the idea of Grok would take off. He was just a method for me to “storify” the dietary and lifestyle habits of our ancient ancestors. It made writing easier and more enjoyable. I even worried that people would find it trite, that it might detract from my message.

In time, it became apparent that people really dug the Grok narrative.

I understand why now. I’ve always been a big fan of fiction. I read non-fiction too, of course, but many people are surprised when they hear I probably prefer a good novel to the latest treatise on the genome. Novels don’t relay facts. They reveal deeper truths about the human experience. They distill the desires we share, the trials we face, the existential questions we ask. They engage us emotionally. That’s the power of story, and that is what the PB offers in addition to the actionable, well-researched information about health, fitness, and nutrition: the human story.

How do I connect to the Grok narrative? Apart from providing a unique approach to writing about health and fitness, what does it mean and how does it impact my life and my decisions?

Grok’s Relationship to “Exercise”

If Grok were whisked away in a DeLorean DMC-12 going 88 MPH and dropped off in a present-day CrossFit box or big box gym, he’d marvel at the sheer stupidity of modern exercise.

To you, it’s normal. You’re steeped in it. But try to look at exercise from an ancient perspective. How would a paleolithic hunter-gatherer react to the things we do in the gym?

“Why are those people squatting down and standing back up over and over again? Why are they getting parallel with the ground, supporting their weight on the hands and feet, then lowering themselves until their faces touch the floor and raising back up? Why are they walking on a moving floor? Hey, why’s the floor moving?”

I mean, just writing those descriptions was incredibly difficult. Exercise moves are ridiculous when you stop and think about them. They’re unnatural.

Now, imagine you take the DeLorean back 50,000 years. The things people then were doing would look pretty natural. They might even look like a lot of fun.

They’d be:

  • Walking everywhere, often carrying a load.
  • Climbing trees, rocks, cliffs for honey, bird’s eggs, and other delicacies.
  • Digging for tubers and to bury loved ones.
  • Lifting heavy things, probably an animal carcass.
  • Throwing things.
  • Running really fast for short bursts.
  • Running really slowly for extended pursuits and treks.
  • Playing, wrestling, fighting, dancing.
  • Lounging around, talking story whenever possible.
  • Squatting around the campfire while making tools or just hanging out.

In short, physical work was integrated into Grok’s life. He lifted an antelope carcass because he needed to feed his people, not a barbell because someone on the Internet told him he needed to train his posterior chain. He ran really fast to escape a predator or to race his buddy, not because he wanted to deplete glycogen stores and increase insulin sensitivity. He walked everywhere because that’s how people got around, not because he needed to hit 10,000 steps. He did these things because there wasn’t any other way to live. He didn’t have any other options.

Judging from the health of the few remaining people who “exercise” anything like Grok—extant hunter-gatherers like the Hadza—this type of physical activity is very effective. Despite never touching a barbell, treadmill, or pullup bar, the Hadza are extremely lean, fit, and have excellent metabolic health. Furthermore, modern research shows how beneficial taking a break from training can be, even for your physical fitness.

Whenever I start to stress over skipping a workout, I think about how Grok didn’t really exercise. How he and his people worked hard when they had to but took it easy when they could.

And I feel a lot better.

That’s sort of “reverse motivation.” It motivates me not to get out there and bust my ass in the gym, but to be okay with taking a break—which is more important than people realize.

The MultiGrokverse

People like to use the fact that paleolithic humans lived and ate in dozens of different environments featuring totally different climates, ecosystems, environmental inputs, and sources of edible plants and animals as an argument against the “paleo diet.” Arctic tundra Grok ate and lived very differently from tropical Grok, who ate and lived completely differently than Mediterranean Grok. This was the crux of the paleofantasy criticism: there wasn’t just one paleo diet, so Cheetos and McNuggets are totally fine.

I see it differently. Humans are the ultimate adaptive animal. We can make almost any environment work. Heck, we can thrive in a place as stark and severe as the Arctic and make it home. Thanks to our big brains and our capacity to respond to and overcome the slings and arrows of life, protracted exposure to difficult environments actually selects for a better, stronger, fitter genome. Our time spent in diverse ancestral environments made us who we are today.

That makes me even more gung-ho about heeding the lessons of our evolutionary history. This reality of our past—the multiGrokverse—actually motivates me.

Using “What would Grok do?” as Choice Winnower

I’m a big fan of freedom, liberty, and choice. All that’s great. But modern life presents us with too many choices.

When I’m in decision-making limbo, paralyzed by the overabundance of options, a quick “What would Grok do?” shifts my frame of mind. It doesn’t provide an answer in the moment, but it does break the mental loop of indecision to drill down deep into the essence of the choice. What are my true motivations? What do I hope to get out of this decision? What’s at stake?

Of course, your average paleolithic human wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of the ridiculous things we lose sleep over, like picking a new big screen TV or plotting the next step along our career path. But as a mental exercise, asking the question is helpful. Grok didn’t concern himself with the superfluous because, for the most part, it wasn’t an option. His focus was food, shelter, friends, family, love, beauty, the weather, water, wild animals and enemies. We have a tougher job of discerning the essentials, but they haven’t changed much. And if you’re honest with yourself, most of your concerns come down to those basics.

But what if the Grok narrative is completely wrong?

Human history is a living document. 20000 years ago, the sea level was over 300 feet lower than it is today—given that humans tend to cluster around the coasts, who knows what the sea swallowed up? Our knowledge is only as good as the last discovery, and genetic anthropologists and archaeologists are making new discoveries constantly. So much of what I’ve written about the ancestral environment could change as new information surfaces.

That’s okay, though. Remember what I said about story? Its power lies not in the objective accuracy of the details but in the emotions and lessons conveyed. If a story gets the details wrong but conveys a truth about human nature, relays a moral lesson, or helps the reader become a better person, it has value. 

Every day, I try to relay useful information. Whether I tell a story, make a new product, analyze a study, answer a reader question, or dig deep into a controversial subject, I’m trying to be useful to you guys.

I hope I’m succeeding.

That’s it for me, guys. What about you? How does the Grok narrative resonate most with you and your life? How do you use it to improve your health, fitness, and happiness?

Thanks for reading. Take care.

TAGS:  Grok

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27 thoughts on “How the Grok Narrative Motivates Me”

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  1. The Grok narrative resonates most with me regarding movement. When I was younger I enjoyed the gym environment, and maybe I will again one day. But I’m really much more into functional movement these days. Katy Bowman’s work really makes sense to me. I like to walk with a purpose, and simply stay active throughout the day. I love to sit on the floor when I am reading or have my morning “quiet time” and then challenge myself to get up without using my hands or putting my knees on the ground. Although I don’t like the cold, I definitely feel best moving my body outdoors…I’m getting vitamin D and way more stimulation than I would being inside.

  2. “20000 years ago, the sea level was over 300 feet higher than it is today”

    Sea level was over 300 feet LOWER than it is today.

    1. Mark, thanks for pointing out the mix-up in wording. Indeed, sea levels were at historic lows during the height of the glacial period.

      1. “Its power lies not in the objective accuracy of the details but in the emotions and lessons conveyed.” Check.

  3. I’m one of those who finds the Grok narrative a bit hokey. What resonates more for me is thinking of Primal as the way my grandparents lived when they came to America 100 years ago and lived on a farm. (And heck, even pretty close to how I lived as a kid in the 1970s.)

    Both sets of grandparents lived well into their 80s or 90s and all were highly active and mentally sharp until the end. That’s much more meaningful to me than a fictional Grok guy who lived in a world so different from mine.

    1. So you should change your avatar from Grok to “American Gothic” by Grant Wood.

    2. Margaret, while I get a kick out the Grok narrative, I think of things that way too. My grandmother grew a garden, raised sheep and made her own yogurt. She had way more modern conveniences than Grok, but she was fit and active and ate real food. Other than yoga, she didn’t work out but could turn multiple cartwheels until she turned 70. At that point she stopped…not because she couldn’t do them any more, but because she said it wasn’t dignified for a 70 year old to turn cartwheels. (Apparently it’s only appropriate until age 69. Go figure!)

    3. I too had grandparents who lived close to the land their whole lives. Through my extended family, we provided just about everything we needed regarding food. I cherish the way I was raised because it has kept me close to and appreciative of the natural world. As a result, finding my way to the primal or paleo template was not a reach for me.
      As a child, I was fascinated with Native American cultures. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, we learned about their cultural ways of life and their interactions with and utilization of nature (before trade brought them in contact with Western influences, but I didn’t have to face that reality until much later). The Grok narrative is often an extension of that fascination I had as a kid.

    4. I like the Grok narrative but agree that it’s a little too far in the distant past to be very useful–if you take it literally. As a tongue-in-cheek mascot for the back-to-basics movement, Grok does work.

      My grandparents and parents all lived closer to nature than what is common today. They cooked everything from scratch with real ingredients. My grandparents kept a dairy cow for the fresh milk and to make yogurt, cheese, sour cream, etc. My father planted a huge vegetable garden every spring, and they obtained most of the meat we ate from local farm sources. As others have stated here, going Primal/Paleo was a completely natural thing for me to do because it’s how I grew up. I’ve tried, as much as possible, to follow in that tradition for my own kids as well.

  4. “People like to use the fact that paleolithic humans lived and ate in dozens of different environments featuring totally different climates, ecosystems, environmental inputs, and sources of edible plants and animals as an argument against the “paleo diet.” Arctic tundra Grok ate and lived very differently from tropical Grok, who ate and lived completely differently than Mediterranean Grok. This was the crux of the paleofantasy criticism: there wasn’t just one paleo diet, so Cheetos and McNuggets are totally fine.”

    This really details the crux of the whole paleo lifestyle, in my opinion. Yes, there were many cultures all over the world who lived completely different lifestyles, but what did they all have in common? They ate whole, natural foods straight from their local environment and were more physically active than most modern people are. The critics often lose sight of this fact or blatantly ignore it so their criticisms seem valid.

    Different activities and different foods, sure, but the same underlying themes.

  5. Perhaps like others who’ve found themselves prowling the perimeter of civilization, when I first heard of Grok I had this uncanny feeling that I actually was Grok. Admittedly I’m a little extreme, teaching stories and the theory of story in places like Princeton and Duke and then throwing that whole life over to go live in the woods, etc. Not getting my own internet till January of 2015 and typing in, “what’s the healthiest food?” and being a little stunned that it wasn’t, you know, grasses of all sorts and beans. Three decades as a vegetarian and then going to a butcher and saying I’ve been in the woods developing this idea called “paleo-plausible” and he says off-handedly “oh yeah there’s a whole movement called paleo.” My butcher can lift four hundred pounds, and that’s not even irrelevant. Suddenly standing there in the butcher shop in Janurary 2015 I’m remembering this irritating kid very visible on the internet whose sight/site I’m always avoiding because he can’t seem to find his shirt and finding out, jeez, he’s five years older than me. You know who that is. And so to Mark, and so to Grok, and so, perhaps, to my truest self. And yes, I’m faster, stronger, maybe even smarter, but you might have guessed that, the way this story is going.

  6. The Grok narrative has to be right… If it is not then we can throw out most of the theory of evolution.

    Possibly our psychology has shifted a little over the time of civilisation but the big picture is basically unchanged.

    When growing up I lived in a mixture of the city and country, spent some time hunting and fishing with interests in various eastern arts both martial and esoteric. Much of the primal blueprint is obvious if you have this background. Try eating raw cereal grain (can be dangerous but I did it unwittingly)… it is pretty convinicing that it is basically inedible without a lot of fiddling and processing. Then that dry grain is only available at harvest time for a few weeks of the year. To keep it you need storage arrangements. Anyway, what is nicer a steak cooked on fire or bread. The NATURAL food preferences of humans are never considered in such discussions. Yet, the evidence is that humanity preferred steaks, fruit and veggies over grains and dairy until some point after we stopped moving around … in other words… we ate it cause we had no other choice.

    Grok’s strong pont is a lens through which to view the world that can add substantial clarity on may fronts.
    cheers ob

  7. Meh, on the whole Grok on thing. There are so many variables on trying model modern life with so many missing pieces on ancient humans it just kind of falls apart for me. I do love the scientific and investigative inquiry that Mark engages in. That’s what I come for.

    1. So essentially you have no interest in archaeology, anthropology or evolution.

  8. The Grok narrative is a brilliant integrator of all these pieces of Primal living. The continuity of evolution is abstract; the image of a tribe learning to thrive by use of body, mind, and cooperation is so much more concrete. At 5 years living primal, I don’t think of myself as Grok-ish as I did early on, but your ‘WWGD” reminder, Mark, is a way to keep that story alive.

  9. Mark, you are useful. The information you provide is an example of how the grok narrative motivates you. It allows you to share information in a well written style. One way the narrative has helped me is to move more when not doing a formal workout. I was one who felt workout time met my quota for the day. Now I have incorporated more movement throughout the day…and this was before the research that it’s what we do outside the gym can make the difference in our overall health. Respectfully said,”grok on.” P.s. A good book is worth its weight in bone broth.

  10. I’m reading the Blue Zones book at the moment and the Grok narrative reminds me of the centenarians in there: they complete active tasks because they do so they can, and they are often puzzled by people who don’t. A friend said to me the other day ’70s is nursing home time’ while also telling me about the ‘Tough, wiry’ German migrant who tamed the bush (where she now lives) and turned it into a dairy farm in the 50s, then subdivided it to sell off but was ‘…still planting an orchard and cutting down trees in his 80s. He worked from sun up to sun down…’. On a personal note, my Grandfather was still climbing out of first storey windows onto the garage roof to do maintenance when he was in his 90s. My Mum worried, but I thought it was great that he still could, and pointed out that he could because he did. That German migrant and my Grandad were close to Grok, but just didn’t really think about it and, like the Blue Zones centenarians, would have been puzzled by people who weren’t.

    Continued thanks for the blog Mark. It always adds to a positive start to my day as it is now part of my morning ritual: I read it while I eat my scrambled eggs and smoked salmon breakfast 🙂

  11. The research article on the Hadza linked to above was very interesting. They do 75 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity E.V.E.R.Y.D.A.Y.! They have low levels of cardio vascular disease, are very fit with low levels of body fat and lots of muscle. Some might think 75 minutes per day is chronic cardio but it’s not all cardio. It’s everyday activities that our ancestors did 50,000 years ago to hone our genes and give us the gift of what we’ve evolved to today. Don’t waste that gift. Cherish it, earn it, and pay it forward to future generations.

  12. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but, to me, it makes more sense to ask “What would Grok need to do?”. I think Grok would binge on Pringles and spend hours watching TV if he were transported to the present time.

    I think a lot health can be gained and maintained by having to deal with some of the restrictions of Grok’s life. Such as having to walk places; having to consume fiber, vitamins and minerals along with the carbs (or risk getting stung); having to wait longer or put in an effort to have something interesting happen (no YouTube); and having to go periods without eating (no supermarkets).

  13. The Grok narrative speaks to me in breaking down the walls between fitness and life. We aren’t compartmentalized robots. We’re full human beings!

  14. Mark, that was a fun read. It is fascinating trying to picture life back then. What hit home the most for me was the piece about taking time off and resting. I need to be more mindful of this, especially when my body is telling me something, like a scratchy throat from a cold setting in.

  15. I think the Grok narrative useful like many mental shortcuts are useful. You can read very dense and sophisticated books on ethics and morals, debate endlessly on how we developed our sense of right and wrong from an evolutionary perspective, or you can ask yourself “would I be ok with what I’m doing if someone was doing the same thing to me”. Do unto others as you’d would have done unto you will solve 99% of your moral questions. Just like “what would Grok eats” answers nearly all your dietary questions.

  16. I’ve often entertained the idea of ‘foraging’ like Grok for food – i.e. walking to Trader Joes (3 miles round trip) every time I needed food. I feel like so much of my eating is proximity-based – if there’s chips in the house I eat the chips, if there’s no chips in the house, no chips are eaten. 🙂

  17. I find the Grok narrative resonates very deeply with me.

    This way of thinking is to me an internal core path, to the point of knowing just what to do at certain times because I “just know”, even if it’s something not done for a very long time.

    Maybe our brains (and bodies) inherit old memories beyond our lifespans. Occasionally these could trigger as dreams about old instincts, rehearsing responses to prime us for action, or to balance something in our lifestyles.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream_interpretation#Primitive_instinct_rehearsal_theory_of_dreaming

    Grokette lives through me.

    To me, this way of life is not something to just swallow and follow, like a religion, but of self-discovery and trusting myself deeply.

    Thanks Mark, you help so many people like me bring their deepest selves to the surface where we can use them productively now.

  18. The whole exercising less and moving more has been such a huge change in my life. I have written here before as a 12+year personal trainer I can tell you in short I have gone from 2 hour workouts 5 days a week to 3 -25 minute workouts 3 days a week. I have gone from trying to do “cardio” every day to just noticing how much I am on my feet everyday (8-10 hours at work alone) and getting in lots of walks (I walk to work). I do sprints once a week if it feels right and right now I am taking a break from lifting to heal a shoulder but am doing extra Pilates and still staying in shape. It has been truly life changing to embrace these concepts.