Primal Living: Getting in Touch with Your Ancestral Self
I think that humans do a great disservice to themselves by distancing themselves from their evolutionary past. By embracing primal living I have created a number of virtuous cycles in my life.
There seems to be an air of superiority among humans when they observe the natural world. That somehow we are above the primordial world from which we emerged. When it comes to our ability to reason and plan for the future, we most certainly are superior to all of the other animals out there.
But make no mistake, we are very much still rooted in our evolutionary history. We have brains and bodies that were evolved for the cave. Denying such a reality can lead to all sorts of problems in one’s life.
I am not advocating that we give up civilization and crawl back into the primordial ooze. In fact, I champion the benefits of modern society. I think it is absolutely mind-blowing what we as a species have accomplished.
However, we must respect and appreciate where we have come from. The last 10,000 years of civilization are a blip in the evolutionary history of our species.
So how can we address our primal needs without giving up the fruits of modern society? These are the principles I use in my quest for primal living in the modern world.
Keep Your Life Simple
I have a problem. I love being a consumer, especially in the age of eCommerce. However, I also like to keep my life as simple as possible.
So how do I square that circle?
It’s easier than it sounds. Rather than buying everything that I could possibly want I do extensive research. I identify what my need is currently then I go out to find the best product out there.
When I was in Thailand, I read a great quote. It said: “Buy expensive, cry once. Buy cheap, cry many times”.
This is how I approach my buying habits. I would prefer to buy a $100 pair of jeans made from high quality denim that will last forever than $25 jeans that I have to replace every couple of years.
A lot of proponents of minimalism are pennywise but dollardumb, in my opinion. They buy something because it is cheaper in the immediate future but do not consider the long term cost of continually having to purchase or replace that product.
If you are going to make your life simple, you would do better to limit your expenses to a handful of high quality items rather than buying a lot of cheap things.
Let’s look at an example: if you buy a bread maker from Amazon it is more expensive on the front end. In the long run, it is much cheaper because you can make a loaf of bread for about 25 cents. Compare that to the loaf of bread you buy every week in the super market. It doesn’t take long before the machine pays for itself.
Respecting your ancestral heritage
Civilization, in evolutionary terms, is an incredibly brief period in human history. Yet we like to think that it has civilized us and distanced us from our heritage.
Reality check: it hasn’t.
The forebrain, the part of the brain that makes us human, is only a small part of the entire mass of the brain. It is responsible for long-term planning and reason but those plans can be undermined by the other deep seated parts of the brain.
Most of our decisions are based on three things: sex, status and survival. Our forebrain provides the rationalizations for our actions but those three things are at the base of most of our decision making processes.
We need to respect the immense power of our brain. But just because it is powerful does not mean that we are a slave to the deeper aspects of our biology. We can harness those biological drives to spur our lives on to greater meaning and success rather than fighting them.
That is where the forebrain comes in. You can use it to create long-term plans and then tap those ancient biological drives to achieve your ends.
It takes some practice and introspection but it is much easier than fighting a losing battle with your subconscious mind.
High fat diet
There are two things which started our ancestors down the path of becoming modern humans: eating meat and mastering fire.
These two things combined allowed us to develop smaller guts as meat is more calorically dense than carbohydrate and cooking food meant that most of the digestion process had occurred before we even ate the food.
This was incredibly important to the development of human beings. The gut and the brain are the two most calorically demanding systems in the body. By shrinking the gut, there was now more calories available to grow the brain.
You can see this reflected in the cranial capacity of apes compared to humans as well as the overall size of the digestive tract.
This theory of human evolution is called the expensive tissue hypothesis. It posits that as a result of a more calorically dense diet and the use of fire, humans were able to free up calories to grow their brains.
Humans are designed to eat meat and fat. It is how we became human.
Constant low level movement
I don’t mean constantly moving but most of us have comfortable jobs where we are sitting all day. It is imperative to get up and move around as often as possible. Our bodies weren’t designed for sitting (at best we’re squatters).
At the end of every hour of work I do I get up and move for five minutes. I either squat, stretch, or go up and down the stairs a few times.
Additionally, I aim to get in about 2-5 hours of low level cardio (55-75% max heart rate) every week. I can cover this pretty easily on my morning walk but on the days that I don’t go to the gym I make it a goal to hit 10,000 steps.
We live in a society that is always on. You have a cellphone that interrupts you every five minutes with a new notification. Your brain is not equipped to deal with that constant prodding.
Each one of us needs to find a destress routine that works for us. Our primal brains and bodies aren’t used to the constant sitting, the attention grabbing nature of notifications or the dopamine rush when someone likes our post. Give yourself some distance from all of that.
The last hour that I am awake is quiet time for me. I shut off my cellphone, I journal and I read. If I had a really stressful day I’ll take a supplement to bring me down a bit.
Additionally, every weekend I make sure that I spend a day relaxing. Regardless of what needs to be done I schedule this time in. I have noticed large increases in my productivity because it gives me a day to recharge and refocus.
My day looks like this:
- I sleep in
- I walk to breakfast (I try to make it a 20 minute walk)
- I go buy my groceries
- I do all of my meal prep for the week
- I catch up on my TV shows
Find something that works for you and stick with it.
I know you think you’re good at multi-tasking. Every thinks they are. If you ask women, they’re smarter than men because they can multi-task ‘better’ than we can.
You want to know the truth? Everyone is shit at it. It ruins your focus and makes you incredibly unproductive.
It doesn’t matter if you’re doing two tasks simultaneously, switching from task to task or performing tasks in rapid succession. You are not performing those tasks well. In fact, all of the task switching can chew up 40% of your productive time in a day.
Another study found that multitasking drops your IQ by 15 points. Not only are you being unproductive when you multitask, you are literally dumber when you are doing it.
Correct this habit by focusing on one task at a time. I only answer emails two times a day but when I do I sit down and knock them all out.
Read my blog post on productivity to find out how I maintain my focus throughout the day.
Also, remember the Pareto principle. 20% of your work will get you 80% of your results. Focus on the tasks that will improve your life and move you forward. Ignore the minor things until you have your most productive work done.
Conclusion: Primal Living in a Modern Context
I hope you enjoyed reading this post. There is a lot that we can learn by reflecting on our ancestral heritage.
Personally, I am more relaxed and productive than I’ve ever been. My relationships are better. My health has improved.
The only downside is people laugh at me when they see me squat in public. I can deal with that though.
Is there anything that I listed above that you are going to implement in your life?