The Primal Laws: 7 More Honorable Mentions

A couple months back, I gave you a list of Primal Laws that didn’t quite make the cut, either because they weren’t “big” enough or didn’t apply to enough people. Turns out I was probably wrong: the response was huge and many of you were on the same wavelength. You even offered up some of your own ideas for honorable mentions. So today, I’m giving you 7 more honorable mentions that almost deserved a spot on the final list of Primal Laws. Read the post, take what resonates with you and discard what doesn’t. But give the article a fair shake and really consider how adopting these laws could improve your life.

First, here are the 10 main laws from The Primal Blueprint:

  1. Eat lots of animals, insects, and plants.
  2. Move around a lot at a slow pace.
  3. Lift heavy things.
  4. Run really fast once in a while.
  5. Get lots of sleep.
  6. Play.
  7. Get some sunlight every day.
  8. Avoid trauma.
  9. Avoid poisonous things.
  10. Use your mind.

And these are the 8 honorable mentions:

  1.  Hang out with dogs.
  2.  Gaze at the stars whenever you can.
  3.  Go frequently to a green place.
  4.  Consort with natural water.
  5.  Direct your gaze toward distant objects and sights.
  6.  Consume stories.
  7.  Sit around a fire.
  8.  Make yourself useful.

(And just for good measure, here are the 10 Habits of Highly Successful Hunter Gatherers from The Primal Connection.)

What are the next 7?

1. Go barefoot whenever possible.

You’ve probably grown tired of barefooters waxing poetic about the foot having more muscles, nerve endings, and connective tissue than any similarly sized piece of real estate on the human body and about how sticking our feet in overly protective, stiff-soled shoes atrophies those muscles, blunts those nerve endings, and weakens that connective tissue. All that’s true, though, and being barefoot whenever possible is an important part of my primal life. It should also be part of yours.

Notice I didn’t say “training while barefoot.” Training while barefoot isn’t necessary. That can be fun and it makes running healthier and more efficient (so long as you do it correctly), but it’s the walking, the ambling around, the going about your daily life in a barefoot state that really pays off.

Oh, and it’s usually possible. Going barefoot in strange places requires a little gumption. When it’s not, minimalist shoes (zero heel drop, or as close to it as you can handle; minimal padding, so as to feel the ground) do the trick.

When isn’t it possible? When you’ve spent your entire life wearing shoes and your feet have weakened to the point of decrepitude, you can’t just “go barefoot.” You have to pick and choose selectively. You have to work your way up to a barefoot dominant lifestyle.

2. Don’t get too comfortable.

The world has been made comfortable, safe, and sterile. Modern life shields us from the acute stressors — ambient temperature extremes, the shock of cold water on our bodies, the immediate threat of death and dismemberment. That’s great for infant mortality and GDP and other admittedly legitimate and objective markers of progress, but it might be making us weak or even fat. To be healthy, happy, well-adjusted humans I’d argue that we need exposure to acute stressors, particularly if we want to be better equipped to handle the chronic stressors life heaps upon our shoulders.

Don’t be foolish. There’s no need to face death. Some people get their fix by jumping off bridges and rappelling down cliff faces (or climbing them). Others do cold plunges into rivers in the dead of winter, or expose their bodies to extremely high temperatures in saunas. Still others are making themselves uncomfortable by turning the heat off during winter or making a point to walk around outside in cold weather in minimal clothing. Evidence is emerging that these encounters with uncomfortable situations make us stronger, healthier, and happier. They fortify us. They help us appreciate the mundane creature comforts of life. There’s nothing like the hot shower after a week spent backpacking through the tundra.

Whatever you choose, know that you’ll have to choose. Given the nature of the world we’ve constructed, you must willingly submit yourself to intensely unpleasant experiences. They’re too easy to avoid otherwise.

3. Get plenty of leisure time.

Money isn’t the only measure of wealth. Free time — to relax, to read, to play with your kids, to cook a great dinner with friends, to develop a skill, to play — is another one. And though hunter-gatherers weren’t materially wealthy by the standards of this era, they were replete in leisure time. Modern examples of hunter gatherers (who by and large make do with marginal lands) work about three to five hours a day (and their commutes are shorter, more active, and more interesting than ours).

And far more important than simply getting the leisure time is to accept it, enjoy it, and savor it. For if you spend your free time worrying about being productive or mentally going over your to-do list, you’re squandering what should be sacred and inviolable: the grand and proud human tradition of doing absolutely nothing and loving it. Allow yourself to enjoy yourself. Be okay with doing nothing.

4. Go hungry sometimes.

This is a specific example of an acute stressor, perhaps the most stressful of all: going without food. Hunger is a powerful spice and like other spices, this one’s got health benefits. It improves fat oxidation rates. It can burn body fat. It can up-regulate the enzymes responsible for cellular upkeep and pruning of damaged cellular components. And yes, it makes food taste really, really good. Perhaps more importantly, it makes your meals more satisfying when you’re actually hungry and not just bored or tempted by your brain reward circuitry going haywire.

Going hungry doesn’t have to mean intermittent fasting. Not everyone does well with that. It can also mean letting yourself get truly hungry between meals, which you should be able to handle without losing your mind, getting crabby, or fumbling through the pantry for snacks (getting fat-adapted will help with that, of course).

5. Explore new areas on foot.

As I’ve made clear before, our human ancestors were explorers. And for the bulk of human history, they did it atop their own two feet. They ambled, meandered, wandered, walked. Sometimes it was to far off places, like across the Bering Strait or through the Levantine Corridor. Other times it was just over the nearest hill or mountain to just see what’s out there, beyond. But even when modern hunter gatherers are relegated to a fairy limited swath of land, they still walk an average of 15 kilometers a day. That’s a lot of exploration, and it was pretty consistent and constant.

But Sisson, you say, the world’s been conquered (except for the ocean and some remote areas of jungle)! There’s nowhere left to explore. We’ve done it all. We? The species has done it. What about you, yourself? Have you hiked one of the world’s scariest trails? Have you gone backpacking through the wilderness? Have you even walked to the next neighborhood over or explored your own city on foot?

It’s a weird thing to travel around in protected boxes with wheels. That’s why you see so many people picking noses, reading the paper, Tweeting, or shouting obscenities and making inflammatory hand gestures as they drive: they feel insulated and separated from the world around them. So get out of your comfort zone, be willing to move a lot slower than you might be used to moving, and start exploring.

6. Create.

Create anything. A life, a business, a book, a bird feeder, a climbing wall for your toddler, a photograph, a song. Use your mind, your hands, or both.

Humans are at their most alive when they’re creating things out of thin air. When you create something, you become personally invested in it. You have skin in the game. You’re more likely to be engaged with life when one of your own creations is part of it. It’s not even necessary to display it proudly to the world, or at all. A journal that you write solely for yourself, a drum that you bang on in the quiet darkness when no one’s around, a sand castle that high tide erases.

7. Be spiritual.

Before people jump to shout this one down, allow me to explain. Some people talk to God at Sunday service. Some (including many traditional native cultures) use psychedelic plants to transcend everyday reality. Some people spend decades sweeping up around the ashram and sitting in silent meditation in an attempt to reach that place. Modern biohackers attach electrodes to their skulls and track brainwave activity to get there. Still others find spiritual meaning in a sunset, a long hike, doing the dishes, or even a game of pickup basketball. Spirituality doesn’t require religion, drugs, meditation, or anything supernatural. It can be anything as long as it helps you reach that mental sphere where normal everyday experience gives way to transcendence and you perceive the present moment as it actually is — a thing of sublime beauty.

That’s about it for this week, folks. Now let’s hear from you:

Which of these suggestions resonate with you? Which will you start exploring? Which ones do you already live?

Thanks for reading!

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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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76 thoughts on “The Primal Laws: 7 More Honorable Mentions”

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  1. 7. Be spiritual.
    Before people jump to shout this one down, allow me to explain.

    Pretty sad you have to put a disclaimer on this one. Not a religious person, but pretty absurd society’s hostility toward religious people.

    1. TOTALLY AGREE. For me, “being spiritual” is about connecting with a power greater than myself. It’s that simple.

      1. I frequently think about what the pastor of our church once said: Your existence is like a rope that goes on forever and your life on this planet is like the 1st inch of it. I pray you all make the right choice of what you have faith in.

    2. To me, ‘gaze at the stars’ directly connects to being spiritual. Don’t you think?

      1. “gaze at the stars”
        needs a disclaimer too:

        “Does not apply to the sun”

    3. It sounds like the ‘spiritual’ primal law Mark is talking about – the sense of being fully present in the moment – could be described with less controversy as, “Achieve States of Flow.”

      And now all the sensitive folks can get back to bickering about religion.

      Carl: “I say it’s the angel of peace, you idiot!”
      Lenny; “I say it’s the angel of mercy, you jerk!”

    4. I know right! I dare anyone to name one bad thing ever connected to religion! I mean seriously people, c’mon!!

  2. Agree witht he first poster about having to be so PC! As a pastor I just speak my heart and let others take it or leave it.

    However Mark, I just spent 4 days hiking, fishing, sitting around a roaring campfire, relaxing, looking deep into natural wonders and green things–even a bear! Totally unplugged from anything electronic–no cell phone, no computer, no TV–just the deafening silence of the outdoors.

    I must say it was not just spiritual–but very theraputic. I just need to not wait too long before going back!

    1. I’ve always felt that simply appreciating the wonders of nature is the very best form of spirituality. How can we not be in awe of all God has created?

      1. I could not agree more. There is no way the beauty of it all just spontaneously happens. Thank God for all.

    2. So, Pastor Dave, what plants were you ingesting that you saw a green bear?

      1. ROTFL– wow, I should have edited my post! Nice catch– the only plant I did ingest was a green zucchini cooked over a wood fire.
        Shades of Carlos Castenada!

  3. do not agree with second number one 🙂 Hang out with cats is as good as with dogs, haha…

    1. I agree! Cat’s are so interesting and what great hunters they are!

      1. Agreed. We had one cat who understood English, would actually look out the window when I told him to because there was bird out there. When we started to learn Spanish and practice it would make him mad, he’d stomp off after giving us “the look” of disdain. He would even play fetch. I still miss that guy.

        1. I’ve read that most dogs have a vocabulary of about 600 words. Cats probably do too. The more we interact with our pets, the more they will understand what we are saying.

        1. True, hunting cats often mistake the hunter for….. oh, say ….. Prey.

      2. There’s a reason the ancient Egyptians (who knew a thing or two)worshipped cats as sacred and celebrated the cat-goddess, Bastet, protector of women. Cats are “aloof”, yes, but only to those who do not love and respect them. Many famous writers have admired cats. (Hang out with both dogs AND cats!!)

    2. Even better, hang out with both! Cats and dogs are so different in attitude but both give great joy and a ton of love! I can’t imagine our lives without either one of them in it!

  4. Get plenty of leisure time!
    I really can connect to this. The past few years have been all about work and growing the business to provide for the family. Whilst I have enjoyed it, I do feel that there has been little time available for leisure so I will do my utmost to make this part of my lifestyle.
    Thanks for another great article!

  5. On the barefoot thing, I’ve usually found that taking my shoes off and just wearing (black) socks around the office is pretty acceptable. Once in a while someone comments in a joking way, but no one seems to mind.
    Wearing just socks maybe doesn’t have all the benefits of going barefoot, but it I would say it has most of them!

  6. Now we have 25 great laws. I’m going to create a document with all of them on one page that I can review every day.

  7. Great list Mark. Although I’ve committed to not eating animal protein, the
    vast majority of the Paleo lifestyle resonates still. Adventure for the sake of
    adventure as the great novel Don Quixote portrays is the human beings greatest personal calling.

  8. I love every one of these and was most happy to find that I also do all of these. Not as much on some of them as I should but I am working to change that. Seems all I was missing was how to feed my body properly and how to exercise the right way. I am now looking forward to not only a longer life but a far healthier and happier life! Now, i just need to get the rest of the family on board.

  9. It’s on a different list – from the “Don’t just sit there” post: wear comfortable, non restrictive clothing. You’re going to move more if your clothes are cooperative. I’ve begun incorporating that into my wardrobe requirements. I have to dress ‘business’, but I make sure there is some stretch, wiggle and bend room.
    I wish I could go barefoot at work, other than surrepticiously.

    1. I have been wearing black vibram VI-B shoes to work this summer. They look like lace ballet flats. Once in a while people notice them, but in general, they go quite nicely with office attire.

  10. Somewhat related to being uncomfortable is something I noticed yesterday during my commute. The last few days have seen cooler temps around here and it’s been glorious! It was in the upper 70’s on my way home and I had my windows down enjoying the breeze as I was driving. I looked around and the overwhelming majority of cars had their windows up! I can understand having the windows up on the dead of summer when the heat index is insane but on a beautiful day like yesterday? Everybody is so accustomed to their climate controlled boxes on wheels that they can’t even appreciate gorgeous days outside.

    1. ahahahahaha, you don’t live around me or you’d see me with the windows down in the blistering heat! I have a “freezing cold office” (around 71 to 73) and when I get out in the warm air I just can’t turn on more AC….. I love to drive with the windows down, (not during the dust storms but we don’t have them in Oregon where I live.)

  11. Here’s an addition to “explore new areas on foot” – walk off trail.

    So many of us are conditioned to explore nature from the confines of the trail. While Grok and his pals no doubt have trails and followed them, they did a lot more walking in the freedom of nature away from trails. Doing so awakens latent navigational skills and creative route finding in unfamiliar terrain, a core part of ancient survival skills.

    This can easily be done in a local park or area that you think you know pretty well the trail but have never probably explored off trail.

    Please note that I am not saying you should cut switchbacks or walk off trail in sensitive areas or anything stupid like that, just to step away from the confines of the line in front of you and notice how your brain starts to turn on in a completely new way. And of course, this combines with several other Paleo skills, such as moving slowly for a long time, walking barefoot, etc.

    1. Haha, I have absolutely no latent navigational skills! Can hardly read a map!
      I have a theory that there’s a difference in the male and female brains:
      Men (hunters) have always needed to observe and understand big spaces, distances, plains. Hence their capacity for understanding a football field.
      Women have always focused on the details, seeds, roots, stitches. Hence their capacity for observing and understanding small spaces.
      Give a woman a map and she’ll need to turn it around and upside down to locate the street corner she’s standing on.
      Give a man a small cupboard and he’ll say, ‘Darl, where’s the coconut milk?’

      1. Don’t agree with the women/map thing. I’m a woman and I’m great at map reading as well as details.

      2. Don’t agree either, at all. I’m great with maps. Better than my husband for sure.
        We’re just pretty good at the detail stuff too 🙂

        1. Oh, you girls are lucky! Maybe my sisters and I are weird exceptions to the rule 🙁 Can I come wilderness camping with you? Can’t read maps but I can light fires and cook with a camp oven! 😀

  12. Go Hungry Sometimes. THIS! We’ve been conditioned to think we will die if we don’t have constant access to food. The same with water/beverage of choice. I’m all for staying hydrated, but when did we all decide that we MUST tote around a quart of liquid at all times?

  13. Really appreciate your writing style, Mark. Your use of citation hyperlinks (hypercitation) adds so much to the reading experience. Today I discovered and bookmarked Petro Dobromylskyj’s Hyperlipid blog. Not sure how you find some of these sources, but thanks for sharing.

    1. I completely agree. It’s so wonderful how Mark links all this extra stuff in for us to explore.

  14. 2. Don’t get too comfortable.

    This definitely a good one! I always wonder how many people could have survived Katrina had they been in better shape/condition? Even the massive wild fires we have here in N CA right now have thrown people right out of their comfort zones where they have run for their lives and find their homes completely gone. Back on August 29th a woman survived 9 days in the wilderness with 2 broken legs crawling.

  15. I have been really working point number 2 – not getting too comfortable. I completely switched from hot showers to cold showers in the morning. they are amazingly refreshing and after the initial shock, I can feel my body kick in to maintain body temperature. I’ve also taken to plunges in the pacific ocean weekly after beach sprints. The cold salt water does wonders for my skin and I it helps my muscle recovery after a week of workouts. I’ll also put myself in a sauna for 20-30 minutes weekly for full body sweating. I can’t remember the last time I got sick and I think these practices help in that regard – immune system support, etc.

  16. “Be spiritual” shouldn’t be on the honorable mentions– it should have been on the 10 Main Laws. History, anthropology, and archaeology show that “spirituality” has always been a main part of what it means to be human. It has never NOT been part of daily life. But of course that doesn’t fit the modern narrative as well as “Play” does.

  17. I’d go as far as to say some of these honorables are actually as good or better than the Primal Laws themselves.

  18. I agree with the going barefoot idea. I had been wearing minimalist footwear for years now but just recently started going Barefoot. Going to minimalist footwear really helped with Plantar fasciitis. I had recurring bouts of this till I got rid of all the very supportive running shoes with orthotics. (take it slow tho).

    BUT, since going barefoot this past summer as much as possible I have been struggling with a Plantars wart for over thirty years. I have tried everything (even surgery) to get rid of this and am now finally seeing some progress. It has shrunk to next nothing now and is almost gone.
    I wonder if the exposure to microbes in the soil or more open air contact is helping with this. Or both, hmmmmmm.

    1. I once killed a wart with clear fingernail polish and it didn’t come back. That was in the 70’s. These days I would be trying some good quality oregano oil. I’ve had excellent results on various skin issues, such as a bad mole…that went from triple size and bleeding and very dark to very small and light brown. I think that maybe took a couple weeks. And occasionally I give it a dab, just to make sure it stays away. I now have a few friends trying this out for their problems and reporting back. Things are going well.

  19. The closer we get to being a natural human the closer we are to Who oneself is, I think.
    I mean, who doesn’t feel connected to the higher self, the greater One, and or The oneness of it all, when: We have gone all day doing something we love to do in a place physical or head, exploring new places physical or head that are green,finding flow in working walking playing, forget to eat, and find our selves at the end of the day, bare foot around the fire, after a good meal, look up at the stars, while petting the dog, feeling the chill of the air. Did I get them all?
    Really, no sarcasm here. My better days are in this space, or I work to get in that space, that is good too.

  20. Mark:

    One of my favorite posts you have done. Not just a snapshot of Primal Laws for health and wellness, but good laws for a GREAT LIFE!!!


  21. These 7 “laws” top the other lists for making us realize we are more than our bodies. We are happiest when we are active, yes, but we’re also creative, curious and reverent beings no matter what we eat, how much we lift and how fast we run.

  22. Thanks Mark – your style is so refreshing. NO ONE (except possibly Butter Bob) speaks so kindly to all.

  23. Right now I am enjoying “Il dolce far niente” – the sweetness of doing nothing.

  24. Where’s “breathe fresh air”? “Open windows?” Stop breathing in off-gassing from everything in your house as well as the weird stuff you sprayed around to clean with? And what about the hours at work breathing in who knows what? And what about car and bus fumes? My mother thought fresh air and sunshine was the cure to everything (well, and a cup of tea, of course).

  25. “Gaze at the stars” is particularly important for us urban dwellers, as it remind us that we really aren’t as important as we sometimes think we are.

  26. I was just thinking about this – have been thinking about this – since your last Honorable Mention list. I agree with others here – that Being Spiritual’, however you want to phrase it, is and always has been part of our DNA. Perhaps ‘Seeking Connection’ could be a way of defining it: with nature, with others, with self, with the All Is, whatever it is. Spirituality overlaps with so many other aspects of a healthy life. ‘Doing nothing’ – with no distractions, no tv, no books, no music – just doing nothing but observing and appreciating the doing nothingness: this is Zen. Contemplation has deep, primal rewards.

    There are a few things I’d up to Category status, instead of being grouped under ‘Create’.

    1) Dance: every now and again, at home, put on some funky tunes and wiggle!
    2) Sing: when you’re out walking (alone!), find some Frank Sinatra lyrics on your phone, open your throat and roar!
    3) Beat Drums or Sticks, or let your feet pound the floor when a really, really good percussionist struts his stuff.

    All spiritual stuff, and deeply rooted in our DNA, I’m sure.

  27. I can’t agree more with walking around bare feet! I love the feel of the grass most of all, but also the carpet too. You never really think about it, but keeping your feet all locked up in socks and shoes all day just isn’t natural – they can’t breath, and can make you walk unnaturally.

    There is also the possible benefit of ‘earthing’ when you are outside – sounds a bit kooky, but people say it works wonders. You can read more about it here:

  28. Love it! Agree with them all! Did most of them this summer! Feels great! Just yesterday, I hung out on the patio with the chipmunks while I was creating a costume for my horse. The sun was shining, and I could hear the faint monastic din of someone’s wind chimes, so spiritual. And occasionally an unfamiliar crunch coming from the woods … Yikes, could be the bear!

  29. Nice list…again.

    I know it’s partially covered in eating animals and plants, but with a lot of new focus and research on gut biome, I wonder whether a “Look after your gut flora” isn’t worth a separate honourable mention? Maybe the next list…

  30. Some items of the list can be found in martial arts training. There you will all of a sudden find yourself in a stressing, uncomfortable situation. You will fight others with bare hands or weapons. Depending on how you go at it, it can be anything from play to a near-death-experience. And it simulates a situation that was normal for most of our evolution.

  31. 2. Don’t get too comfortable.
    Should mention the Three Types of Fun in that section. 1) Fun that’s fun to plan, to do and and fun to talk about later. 2) Fun that’s fun to plan, involves a little suffering and is fun to talk about later. 3) Fun that looks iffy during planning, risks death or dismemberment, is no fun while it’s happening but rewards you for the rest of your life. I think most people need a lot more of number 2 and at least one number 3 sometime in their lives.

    6. Create.
    Not just drumming alone when nobody’s watching. Join a jam session and play actual music with others just for fun! Some types of music do not care if you are not a virtuoso.

    7. Be spiritual.
    Could have linked the words “wash the dishes” in that section to the Zen concept of being mindful and in the present while washing dishes.

  32. Choosing to stretch beyond our sphere of comfort (in physical and non-physical ways)

    Stepping away from the “busy is good” cult and into intentional, fully present leisure time

    Embracing and cultivating our creativity

    Engaging in spiritual practice or remembrance—as in, remembering that which is beyond and bigger than our little selves…

    All these resonate strongly for me…and all are places of ongoing exploration and practice.

  33. I love the Primal Blueprint and 10 Rules, but politely comment that it seems something important is MISSING: hugging, kissing, making love — physically connecting with other humans. This makes us really happy and able to face the day. To embrace others and love them….try to do that too. I’m guessing Grok found some time for that!

  34. What about something related to communing with others. We are not meant to be solo beings and studies show that people with meaningful relationships live longer. So I would add another honorable mention to be something along the lines of “foster meaningful relationships”‘ or “spend time with people you love to be with”.

  35. That is a really meaningful blog. We need more like you around

  36. Don’t get too comfortable. For instance, I started feeling sluggish while couch surfing inbetween jobs (and getting QUITE comfortable) after moving my vehicle out of town. I realized I had become dependent on my truck to go from point A to point B even in this small town. So I borrowed a friend’s bike while she was gone and made myself bike everywhere, moving all my stuff from house to house, even 50+ lbs on my back, getting cold or soaked if it rained.. and sure enough a couple days of that seemed to boost my metabolism and gave me more energy. I also don’t stay in one place for more than a few months, and often explore new places on foot/bus/bike. I am surprised at how many of these ideas I already follow!!

  37. Also, how about unplugging from electronics for a whole day or two? Also, hunting animals with a spear or setting traps (and eating them, of course).