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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 [1], 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 [2] from The Primal Blueprint [3]:

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

And these are the 8 honorable mentions [1]:

  1.  Hang out with dogs [8].
  2.  Gaze at the stars whenever you can.
  3.  Go frequently to a green place [9].
  4.  Consort with natural water [10].
  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 [11] from The Primal Connection [12].)

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 [13] (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 [14] (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 [15].” You have to pick and choose selectively. You have to work your way up to a barefoot dominant lifestyle [16].

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 [17]. To be healthy, happy, well-adjusted humans I’d argue that we need exposure to acute stressors [18], 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 [19] into rivers in the dead of winter, or expose their bodies to extremely high temperatures in saunas [20]. 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 [21]. 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 [22] are shorter, more active [23], 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 [24], this one’s got health benefits [25]. It improves fat oxidation rates. It can burn body fat [26]. It can up-regulate the enzymes responsible for cellular upkeep and pruning of damaged cellular components [27]. And yes, it makes food taste really, really good [28]. 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 [29].

Going hungry doesn’t have to mean intermittent fasting. Not everyone does well with that [30]. 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 [31] will help with that, of course).

5. Explore new areas on foot.

As I’ve made clear before, our human ancestors were explorers [32]. 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 [33] 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 [34], 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 [35], doing the dishes, or even a game of pickup basketball [36]. Spirituality doesn’t require religion, drugs, meditation [37], 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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