I know parents who have “yes” days with their kids—days when the kids can ask for just about anything (barring the hazardous, illegal, harmful or physically impossible) and the parents have agreed to go with it. While the idea assuredly raises some eyebrows and probably isn’t for every family or age/personality of child, I’ve observed that it’s rarely the Pandora’s Box most people would assume.
On the first round, kids might try to push the limits out of sheer curiosity to see how far they can ride that train—how far they can push the parental units. With time and steadiness on the parents’ parts, however, the kids generally settle into a happy but reasoned approach in which their requests end up reflecting their parents’ values to a startling degree. They plan a healthy picnic or cook a healthy, albeit strangely assembled meal together. They ask for an extended family activity or day trip that includes some hiking or biking or family sport. It becomes more about their self-determination and maybe some creative embellishments than flying in the face of the normal family guidelines, oddly even if they’re subject for regular complaint. Nonetheless, the fun factor just went through the roof. We adults can learn something from this….
What would it be like, for example, to have a “yes” day when it comes to Primal health?
I’m not talking about eating dessert for every meal of the day or lounging in front of the T.V. all day long. This isn’t about thumbing our noses at what reason and experience tell us is good for us and makes us feel good in a day. It’s about taking back the intention to live well from all the dismal commandment thinking we typically assign to it.
Think of all the “no” statements you’ve burdened yourself in the past—the “no this or that anymore,” the “I can’t have,” the “I have to,” the “Don’t do/eat/drink,” the “I need to,” the “Thou shalt not.” Seriously.
Can I ask the obvious here? How inspired do you feel day in and day out focusing on what you CAN’T do? (I can just hear the band of children’s responses.) Let me fill my mind with all I can’t eat, all I shouldn’t do, all I must now take on, all I will need to swear off for all eternity, all that I shall forsake. There’s a recipe for short-term motivation (or long-term misery).
So, how about letting go of the “no” fixation?
Imagine for a minute what it would be like to say YES? What would it mean for your commitment to health? (What would it mean for your life?) How could you reframe your own personal manifestation of the Primal Blueprint—your Primal living—with the power of YES?
Think of the dozens of food choices you make in a day—what to buy, what to leave on the shelf, what food sources/suggestions to pass by (e.g. fast food joints, office donuts), what foods to pack/prepare, what to defrost or plan for tomorrow, how to cook it, what to add to it not to mention how often and when to eat. Think of all the ways you could be sedentary but would need to say no to. Think of every poor sleep or stress choice you could make if it weren’t for the rule of “no” hanging over you. How many hundreds of crummy, self-defeating options would you be on the lookout for each day?
I don’t know about you, but it sounds like a lot of work put that way. How much more do you want to pile on in the name of proving your self-discipline?
But, wait, you might say. Isn’t healthy living about discipline after all? I think it’s all how you look at discipline. If continually testing your ability to say no a hundred times a day is the centerpiece of self-discipline in your mind, then I’d beg to differ. Research suggests overworking our self-discipline can majorly backfire—particularly at the end of the day when we’re decision-fatigued or when we’re going through stressful times.
If, however, designing a positive mindset around healthy living and putting effort into expanding and deepening your enjoyment of that lifestyle is self-discipline, then I think you’re absolutely right.
For me, it’s not about choosing a healthy life. It’s about building a healthy life.
I don’t want to visualize my life as a perpetual series of weighing tempting options—of starting over with each one of those dozens of choices I make each day. I purposely limit the number of choices I make in a day by wisely setting up my environment for that purpose. We only keep healthy food in the house. I more or less stick to a set schedule each day. I have a pretty consistent fitness/active leisure routine built into my day. I know where I like to shop. I have favorite meals, and I tend to make certain foods on a recurring basis. Keeping things simple this way conserves mental stamina which I can them put into other parts of my life.
Building a healthy life is all about where you put your energy.
If you perpetually spend your time skirting the “boundaries” between you and the forbidden lands (i.e. options), the “no” choices are always, ironically, front and center in our mind. You live suspended in a constant web of temptation and deprivation. You expend untold energy maintaining that “no” resistance. Forget the suffering and sacrifice. Face it: it gets tiring. Research shows that, while we may use our intellect to make a healthy plan, how we actually behave and choose in a day depends on our emotions.
If, however, your focus is building a healthy lifestyle one day at a time with all the things you enjoy the most, how much more pleasing and gratifying does that sound? Now we’re talking about what’s workable in the real world of human behavior.
Let’s do this. Let’s see how many positive statements about Primal living we can come up with.
A Primal choice I enjoy making for myself each morning is ______.
One of my favorite Primal pastimes is ______.
The way I like to move heavy things is ______.
The best part about making sure I get direct sun each day is ______.
My favorite Primal recipes are ______.
I look forward to ______ (Primal dish) each holiday.
The slow to moderate movement activities I most enjoy are ______.
I get so much out of these de-stressing choices ____________.
I can’t wait to get all the benefits (e.g. _____) of a good night’s sleep.
It’s great to be able to _____, _____, and _____ this weekend—all things I couldn’t do before going Primal.
I’m looking forward to my _____ for dinner tonight.
I love that I do _____, _____ and _____ for myself now—what I never would do for myself before.
Apply these now, and think of all you can say “yes” to—all you can lean into (rather than recoil from) in a day. Imagine all the choices you can truly relish and even celebrate in a day.
“Yes! I get to enjoy a hearty roast or juicy steak tonight!”
“Yes! I get to spend the evening walking around the park with my partner this evening.”
“Yes! I get to make that favorite Primal dish for Thanksgiving in a few weeks.”
“Yes! I get to enjoy my morning meditation time.”
“Yes! I get to feel the sun on me and take in the fresh air over my lunch hour walk.”
“Yes! I get to track my lifting progress at the gym tonight and see if I can top my personal best.
“Yes! I get to relish that afternoon nap!”
You get the point here, but the permutations are endless. Instead of engaging in yet another nagging internal battle around denial, we can turn the whole game on its head and ask ourselves what we are fortunate to enjoy that’s life-giving, healthful and happiness-inspiring. What are our favorite aspects of Primal living, and how are we looking forward to living them today?
What Primal choices and activities are you celebrating getting to do, feel, eat, achieve, enjoy, share today? And how does reframing it in YES mode make you feel differently about your selections each day? Share your thoughts, and thanks for reading, everyone. Enjoy your 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.