My guest today is Michael Easter, author of THE COMFORT CRISIS and professor at UNLV. I listened to and read this book and was really excited to speak with him. Michael shares a comprehensive look with studies and data on how our very natural and healthy desire to be comfortable is in some ways crushing our overall sense of well-being, peace, and enjoyment. This is not a doomsday conversation, but a realistic approach to inserting conscious habits into our lives that help tip the scale in our favor. He shares how being cold, hungry, and bored in the Arctic was some of the greatest weeks of his life. I also appreciate Michael letting me learn more about the ways in which he achieved sobriety and how that perspective shift led to the path that he is on now. Can you imagine that most of us spend more than 90% of our time inside? Enjoy.
Listen to the episode here:
- Where it all Began [00:04:04]
- A New Approach [00:15:25]
- Boredom Reimagined [00:26:17]
- Screen Time Management [00:31:17]
- Fractals and Nature [00:40:56]
- Pushing Back [00:56:61]
- The Difference [01:14:35]
- Hopes for the Book [01:42:47]
Michael Easter – Digital Media and our Psychology
My guest is Michael Easter, the author of a new book called The Comfort Crisis. This is a great book. There are tons of information to support us and explain exactly what’s happening and how it’s natural but what we need to do to live in the world that we’ve created now and how our biology pushes us to be as comfortable as possible.
For example, we’re indoors about 90% of the time. That’s up almost 50% for anyone who was born after 1990. He’s saying, “It’s all-natural, seeking these comfortable things out.” How is this working against us and some ideas about what we can do to help us? In the end, that sense of well-being, that sense of appreciation and gratitude and enjoyment comes from figuring out ways to genuinely unplug. He gives us the science and data and he also shares his story to full sobriety and how that led him to some of these epiphanies. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Michael Easter, welcome to my house. I appreciate you coming. You live in Vegas. I always feel like I want to say baby after I say the word Vegas. I don’t know why.
It’s because of the movie Swingers. It’s embedded in everyone’s brains.
That’s good. Why are you in California? Getting out of the heat?
To come to talk to you and to get out of the heat. It was 118 Fahrenheit in Vegas, which is slightly spicy.
It’s like Oregon.
I like Oregon as well.
Did you drag your wife out of there too?
She’s there with the dogs suffering.
Is she on air conditioning?
Yes, she is.
I want to dive right in because there’s so much information in the Comfort Crisis. I read the book and listen to the book. You even talk about the difference between when you read something and how you retain it versus when you listen to it and such. That’s true. I have this observation about this and tell me what you think about this. A friend of mine is the one who turned me on to it and he said, “The book gets better and better.”
I had a thought when I listened to it that was different than when I read it. It felt like you were your old person when you were reading the part about your experience before getting sober and all these things. It almost sounded like when you were recounting that time in your life that you somehow were almost that guy. As you went on this journey, took on all these adventures, these uncomfortable situations, and had these learning experiences, we got to listen to you arrive at who you are now.
Has anyone said anything to you about that?
They haven’t. As a writer, what the reader observes and thinks is often right. If you are perceiving that, there’s probably something there.
It’s the audible part though. In reading it, it’s more of you giving us information. I don’t want to talk about that information now. In the audible, it’s almost like we get to hear you. I can hear the change in you. For what it’s worth, I know this because it’s a happy ending, you became more and more likable. You were in a different headspace. Before we talk about you having a cathartic experience, I want to talk a little bit about how you were raised that got you into that situation in the first place, that headspace.
I come from a single-parent household. It was always me and my mom. The reason for that is because my father, as well as most of the men in my family, we’re good at drinking. It tends to be a sport that we do. For my father, I don’t know him. I can only assume that but he has a pretty wild history as well as a lot of my uncles. He spent a lot of time behind bars.
Do you have mystery siblings in places?
I don’t know.
Good old 23andMe has put a lot of families on the spot.
I found myself living that same lifestyle. There were differences because if you looked at my life on paper, everything seemed great. I was working at Men’s Health Magazine as an editor. I had a house, a car, and all that stuff that we’re like, “American Dream.” Internally, things are a mess. The reason that I drank ultimately is it comforted me from life and the world.
[bctt tweet=”Alcohol becomes the solution for essentially the discomfort of living. That works until it doesn’t.”]
Have you ever felt uncomfortable? For me, if I had a drink, that fixes it pretty quick. If I don’t want to be in a social situation and I feel a little awkward, I’ll have a drink and I’ll be fine. If I’m stressed from work, have a drink, that’ll fix it. Alcohol becomes the solution for essentially the discomfort of living. That works until it doesn’t. Drinking is a combination of genetics and also environment like everything is. I remember the first time I drank alcohol, it was like, “That was great.”
Were you pretty young, a young teenager?
Yes. I was probably 15 or 16. It was around that area.
Did your mom flip out? If she saw the pattern with your dad, did she freak out?
Here’s the deal with that. My mom had to travel for work. She would be gone about 1/3 of the year. I had this rotating cast of nannies. They come in and out every year. I would only drink when she was out of town so she had no idea until I was 18 and got arrested for public intoxication and riding a scooter fast and being an idiot. I like to describe that my first drink was always the next one. When that’s the way you drink, things don’t tend to work out well in your personal life. The wheels were coming apart. I have tried to quit drinking tons and tons of times, more time than I can even count.
You get in trouble, you don’t feel good, you’re hungover, and things like that. Did you say, “I’m not going to drink anymore.” Something would come up, the stress, the boredom, the social disease, and you’d be like, “Well…”
You wake up the next day and it’s like, “I’m never doing that again.” Somehow, my mind finds a way to say, “It’ll be different this time,” despite hundreds of examples to the contrary. That’s how it works in my brain. I remember waking up one morning and I don’t remember why it was this morning but for whatever reason, it was a perspective shift. I could see that if I were to take the comfortable route, the way that I knew, I was probably going to die early.
This would be easier, to be honest. It sounds counterintuitive but I knew that my life was going to end earlier than it perhaps would if I were to take this second route, which was to face this discomfort of having to go through sobriety, which was the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever done. Physiologically, not only does your body have things kicking in but also, you have to relearn so much about life and how to live it.
It’s like, “What do you do if you’re at a party and someone asks you to drink? What do you do at a college reunion? What do you do at a wedding? What do you do when you get stressed?” It’s on and on. It’s this complete shift. By going through that and coming out the other side, my life improved across the board. Point to anything, it was better. Of course, I was healthier.
How long did you feel that you had some bearings? I want to talk about the gentleman who helped you who had his own thing going on through this. We experienced it differently with Laird. I grew up with a lot of people who drank in the Caribbean so I didn’t. Genetically, that may not be my thing. I’m sure I have other things. I use exercise probably as a way to do it, I try not to overdo it, control it, or whatever it is. We all have our little tricks to cope.
Laird, for the first eleven years we were together, drank Pinot Noir. It was interesting because no one can say, “You have to stop drinking.” I could have been like, “I’m going to leave if you don’t stop drinking.” That wouldn’t have gotten the results I was looking for. It’s an interesting thing when you’re part of it, whether you’re helping facilitate it like I did or you’re the person in it. The Pellegrino bottle replaced the Pinot Noir bottle. There were deserts a little more often because of the sugar.
Slowly, I watched him find his way. He didn’t go to meetings or anything. He stopped cold turkey. This is common and people beat themselves up for it and I’m like, “This is not a moral issue. This is incredibly common and good people get themselves into these situations.” It’s important to also de-stigmatize it where if you have to go to meetings, fine. If it seems like a struggle in 3 to 5 years, that’s okay too. What support do you put in place so you can be successful? You might lose some friends, that’s the other thing. You might have a whole group of people that you don’t get to see anymore.
That happened to me. I have friends who I’m still super tight with and I have friends where I’m like, “We have nothing in common anymore.” I’m trying to force it but I have to realize that it’s okay that you’re not on the same page anymore. You can send text and still be cool but there’s not much there anymore.
How long did you feel like, “I feel pretty good. I feel pretty strong in this.”
I’ll answer this in two ways. My take on it is I have to realize that the genes haven’t changed. I know that if I were to have one drink right this minute, despite being sober for nearly seven years, there would be many more after that because something kicks into my brain that’s like, “Oh no.” I can talk myself into it once I have a drink. I have to be cognizant of that all the time.
I would say that I started feeling that I didn’t feel the compulsion and it became easier, it probably took maybe six months to a year but even then, it’s been gradual. If you think about it, it’s like unpeeling an onion. You’ll want to peel a lot of layers pretty quick but then I’m still unpeeling but a little bit slower where you’re learning about yourself.
Besides the physiology, it’s also, what are the mechanisms that trigger wanting to drink? It’s like when you talked about peeling that onion. It’s also a fascinating thing how it’s a depressant so then you get in that wicked cycle. I watched this with Laird. There was a little bit of shame. He would get up even earlier and train even harder because it was almost a form of punishing himself.
What’s cool to see is when you see someone who feels good about themselves. I can see that he feels pretty proud that he’s present and he’s involved with the family. It’s an interesting cycle. You had someone who also had a similar experience but he was quite a bit older than you. Maybe you could share it. He was fighting his own good health fight at that time. I remember reading in the book someone who helped you during your quest for sobriety. I feel like he had cancer but you didn’t know it.
I had a guy who was probably in his early 60s. He had gotten sober about the same age that I was. He was 26 or 27 maybe. I got sober when I was 28. He was unbelievably helpful. When we started working together, he had stage four cancer. He didn’t even tell me until a month later. That blew my mind. It’s like, “Holy crap.” This guy is using this little time he has left to help me. I was like, “Whoa.” It’s powerful.
Sometimes we don’t realize if we can show if we’re a little further down the path on something. It doesn’t necessarily always mean age. It’s that kindness, we don’t know how that impacts someone in such a real way. Let’s fast forward. It’s not like, “I’m going to get sober and I’ll do my job.” You took a hard left as far as how you’re going to approach looking at yourself and approaching life. Why?
When everything changes, everything changes. What led to the book is that I ended up meeting this guy, Donnie Vincent. He’s this backcountry bowhunter filmmaker who goes into the world’s most remote places for months at a time and he makes hunting documentaries. You need to understand that these films are more Planet Earth but that happened to have hunting. He’s a trained wildlife biologist, a thoughtful, interesting, and captivating character.
He wasn’t raised that way, necessarily, right?
He wasn’t raised as a hunter, which is interesting. He’s talked about always being fascinated by it. The sense of adventure is what pulls him in and that gets expressed through his hunting. I was on staff at Men’s Health that time or maybe it was us. I can’t remember. Long story short, I ended up going on a hunt with him in the backcountry of Nevada. It wasn’t long, it was 5 or 6 days.
Have you ever been hunting?
Not really. I’d been on some hunts with people when I was a little guy, around 10 or something, but not like this. We hiked way back into this mountain range and we’re hunting elk. It was this total shift from what I was used to because we’re carrying everything we need to survive on our back. We don’t have enough food because food is heavy. It’s freezing cold the entire time. Everything we do takes effort. If we need water to cook food or to drink, we have to hike way down to the stream, get it, and carry it all the way back up to camp.
Hunting involves a lot of sitting and waiting as you’re looking for animals or waiting for them to come out into clearings. Depending on the species, they might sleep all day and go out and eat it at night so you’re waiting. You have no bars on your cell phone so all of a sudden, I’m bored again. It was like, “What is this?” People are never bored anymore. It was like, “This is wild.” Being in nature for that long, embedded in it and stuff that’s wild.
There are rules too. You’re not going to kill anything that comes out. You have to wait for something mature enough. That’s what people have to realize. There are rules around this that all of the hunters or a guy like Donnie is going to oblige beyond. The animal has to be mature. It’s all of it in play.
They generally hunt the oldest animal we can find in a herd. The reason for that is because often when you remove an old animal from a herd, it improves the overall health of the herd. The old ones tend to be bullies and can cause problems. Frankly, it was somewhat miserable the entire time because I was out of my comfort zone. It’s also interesting because I work for Men’s Health Magazine and they throw me into these extreme gyms all the time. I have to train with intense people like Laird. I could never keep up. Don’t get me wrong but I’m relatively fit for a dude who sits behind a desk and cranks out words.
You would go home that night, usually. You’re not going to be gone for 5 or 6 days hungry and cold.
I’d go back to the Marriott, I would call in some Thai food, and I would watch Netflix or whatever. This is different. When I got back, I felt changed and different. I felt things had slowed down and I realized that there’s something there. I felt healthier and felt better. How do you classify better? I just feel better. Donnie and I hit it off. We became friends. He called me up one day, a year later, and said, “I’m going to the Arctic for more than a month. Do you want to come along?”
He goes on to describe this trip. He’s like, “It’s going to be the most epic adventure of your life. We’re going to fly in and you’ll think, ‘This can’t be real.’ There are grizzly bears. We’re going to be hunting this caribou herd. We’re going to be up there and we’re going to be alone. We’re going to face blizzards and cross glacial streams.” Although there is that element of danger, he’s selling it. He’s like, “This is going to be amazing.” I’m like, “Let’s do it.”
He follows that up with, “Just so you know, this is going to be a lot more dangerous than the Nevada trip. You know that, right?” I’m like, “Yeah. How much more dangerous do you think?” He goes, “Twenty times.” I go, “I can handle twenty times. That seems reasonable.” He goes, “It could be 50, it could be 70, or it could be 90 times more dangerous.” But I was in. I couldn’t back out.
Also, what can get you up there doesn’t exist on the first trip.
There are a lot of grizzly bears up there. One of the biggest issues is how remote it is. You have to get flown out there in successively smaller airplanes. To get from Vegas to where we essentially started is five planes. You go from a 747 to a slightly smaller plane and a slightly smaller plane. Eventually, you are in a plane that is the size of a pack of gum more or less. It can only fit two people and the pilot is essentially sitting between your legs like it’s a bobsled ride and it lands in the middle of the tundra, 100 miles from anyone. It’s like, “See you later,” and you’re alone out there.
If something goes wrong, it’s going to be a while before that plane arrives. Not to mention, if the weather is the problem, the plane’s not coming out. Planes also have few places they can even land. Let’s say you break a leg or something. You might be a five-mile hobble from anywhere reasonable that a plane could land. Overall, the trip was like Nevada but amplified 50, 70, 90 times. We carried everything. It took some effort.
You already know that you’re going to be cold. He tells you straight up, “You’ll be hungry. You will lose weight.” You’re willingly heading towards what a lot of us would consider a swarm of misery. I have a friend who’s a big successful guy and I saw him right after he almost drowned. I go, “Are you okay?” He’s like, “I feel great. I feel alive.” Sometimes, especially those of us that are entrenched into deep comfort and distraction, you have to be willing to put yourself out there and figure out a way that there’s no way to prepare for something like that but to figure out how to get ready. It’s even like trying to figure out what clothes to buy to stay warm that isn’t too heavy.
It’s a process.
For guys like Donnie, there are things that are more intuitive. They know they’ve got their favorite whatever but you have to learn that. I’m saying that sometimes we move away from things that make us feel and we’re going to get into it. It’s an interesting thing where our nature is seeking comfort, security, safety, and abundance and there’s another exact part of us that the only time that we can spark up and thrive is when we are in some brutal environment sometimes. I don’t mean a bad relationship where you yell at each other. What I mean is discomfort. There are many interesting elements about that trip where you even talk about how we are never bored but ultimately, the amount of creativity and things that come from boredom.
Boredom is interesting. We’re essentially waiting for this caribou herd to come through. They don’t want to come so you’re sitting and waiting for nothing, more or less. My cell phone didn’t work. I didn’t bring a book, I didn’t bring a magazine, I surely didn’t bring an iPad. All of a sudden, I find myself bored. If you look at the research, people spend more than eleven hours a day engaging with digital media. That’s average so there are people who are higher than that. This is different from normal life at home.
I described in the book that boredom is this evolutionary discomfort that we evolved to face and it used to be good for us. Boredom is not necessarily either good or bad but what it does is tell you, “Do something. Do something else.” It tells us that whatever we’re doing with our time, the return on our time is worn thin.
Pretend that you are out hunting. You need food and you’re in a position like me where the animals aren’t coming through. You get bored and that would tell you that maybe you need to do something else to go get food. We’re going to go pick some potatoes or whatever it is. Nowadays, we have what one researcher described to me as junk food for the mind when we’re bored. It’s not just phones. People focus on phones because they’re always in their pockets and everyone spends way too much time on their phones.
Is that Mary Oliver? Who said it?
There’s a researcher that I talked to named James Danckert. He’s up in Canada. The problem with all this time we’re devoting over to screens is that your brain has to focus outwardly and that’s a lot of work for your brain to do. We have less time when we’re inward-focused and we don’t have long periods of time when we’re inward-focused, especially.
Number two, boredom is strongly associated with creativity. They’ve done interesting studies where they’ll take one group and they’ll let them use their phone or whatever to do whatever their time. They’ll take another group and they will bore the crap out of them and they give them creativity tests. The bored group always comes up with more creative answers, all the time.
Part of what’s going on is that it goes back to that attention and your brain being burned out. Let’s say, I’m scrolling Instagram. I’m thinking about someone else’s random ideas. I’m not having this inward time where I’m coming up with my own stuff. Sometimes when you’re bored, you do meaningless dumb stuff. I read the labels on my energy bars, I read the tags on my gear. I also did some pretty good stuff. I came up with seventeen story ideas for the magazines I write for. I wrote some of the books. For Christmas, I came up with the best list ever.
I’m arguing that there’s a lot of focus now on how we need to use our phones less and I 100% agree with that. It’s one of those things where I describe it as everyone knows it and no one can do it. We also need to focus on all the other media we consume because if I go, “My screen time is, say three hours and I want to get it down to two,” but then I take that freed up hour and I watch more Netflix or I spend more time on the computer. Your brain does not know the difference.
What we need is these times of complete disconnection to let our brains rest and to use it for introspection and not give our attention away to some random device and whatever is coming through it. I’m also not saying that everything that occurs on a phone or a screen is bad. There’s plenty of amazing stuff but we all know that a lot of it goes to meaningless stuff.
There’s so much data now showing what it does with dopamine and emotional wellness. We know this already. That’s the gazillion-dollar question. If you have students like yourself or I have children, what’s that look like? There are people reading this and even if it’s them for themselves. There’s another weird thing about it which a lot of us use it for work, you use it for work. Somehow we’re always getting tethered back to this. Do you personally have a system in place that you have a moat around it and you have figured out a way to put a system?
[bctt tweet=”People spend more than eleven hours a day engaging with digital media. That’s average so there are people who are higher than that.”]
I have a friend who’s an author and he puts it in a safe that won’t open and things like that. I’m like, “That’s fine.” I always say that my kids are in the experimental age, the younger two and not the older one. I feel like the parents who have younger children right now are more well informed so they’re going to be able to figure out how to put systems in place. It’s my group that their kids are the experiment, truly, because we didn’t know it was coming and we’re trying to play catch up. By the time you catch up to one thing, they’re on to another thing, and it’s always trying to figure that out. Do you have any actionable things? Also, you’ll be arm wrestling. In our house, I don’t even know what I would fight with my youngest daughter about if we weren’t talking about her telephone.
Do you know what her screen time is?
Yes. It’s about 5.5 hours.
I have students in my class who almost have gotten nine a day. Think about that. As I point in the book, all this stuff is brand new in the grand scheme of time and space.
“The last 100 years,” you said.
We went from nothing digital in our lives to it has become our lives almost. For me, it’s not completely shunning it, for sure, but it is figuring out, “How I can re-insert boredom in a way back into my life?” and I do that. Every day I’ll take a walk and I’ll leave the phone at home and I use that time to introspect, to come up with ideas, to be disconnected. That can be twenty minutes. Some days, I’m like, “Twenty minutes is up. We’re going way deeper into the desert today.” It’s rewarding.
You can feel it. It’s a muscle that if you practice, you start to get it. I see it with Laird. He’s able to bypass all that because of his relationship with nature. He didn’t break that relationship so he never got crushed by the device as much as most of us because he already understands his personal need to be out there.
You brought up a great point about nature. That is a great way to spend that boring time. We know from the research that time in nature is associated with less stress, more productivity, and more happiness. There’s this concept in the book I talked about called The Nature Pyramid. It’s like the food pyramid but instead of saying, “Eat this many grains and this much vegetables and fruit.” It tells you how long you should spend in different types of nature and how often. At the bottom, there are 20 minutes, 3 times a week, and the type of nature that you can find anywhere like a city park or whatever.
You call that Urban Nature, right?
To the drill down on it, that’s ridiculous. We can find 20 minutes, 3 times a week. You call it soft focus. Put everything away and when you take that walk, let’s say if you’re going to another meeting, or you’re walking home from work, it doesn’t mean you’re outside in the park on your device. It means to put it away.
All these benefits get canceled out if you’re on your device because you’re giving your attention over to a screen and it takes you out of this mode that we’re talking about. That twenty minutes is associated with less stress, more focus, and also the researchers I talked to are like, “Think about it as improving your productivity because you’re going to be less stressed as you go back into work, less burnout, if you were to take, say, twenty minutes around lunch or something.” You also come up with different better ideas because of the creativity element.
In the next level of the pyramid, it’s five hours a month in what I call Country Nature and it’s stuff that you might find at a state park. It’s pretty relatively easy to get to but it’s not Central Park. It’s like a trail that’s accessible. That’s associated with a lot more happiness, less depression, etc. At the top, and this is most interesting, there’s this concept called The Three Day Effect.
Alaska. I almost died seventeen times.
It shows that after three days in backcountry nature, this is stuff that is a little harder to access. This is a camping trip, a backpacking trip, your brain starts to ride what is called Alpha Waves. These are the same waves that are found in experienced meditators. In daily life, in the modern, hectic world, we ride what we called Beta Waves and they’re frenetic, “Go, go, go.” Once you get to that third day in nature, it tends to switch over to alpha waves. You feel more satisfied with life and feel better like I described.
They’re doing a lot of research now. Those are associated with a lot more creativity so there’s one study that found people’s creativity improved by 50% after three days in nature. There is also a movement of using extended time in nature to treat PTSD so they’re doing a lot of studies on vets. I’m telling you this and a lot of people go, “I can probably do that.” You can but people don’t realize we spend more than 90% of our time indoors now, something like 95% of our time.
I was born in 1970. What’s the difference from when I was growing up, let’s say between my age and a 40-year-old? When we were kids, they were like, “Go outside and come back by dark. Bye.” Do we know what we used to do? Smartphones are in 2007. Is that where we’re at?
Let’s say if you were born by ‘97, you were 10 by 2007. Let’s say all the groups prior, do we know how long they were outside?
There’s a 50% difference between the generations before 1990 so there’s a lot more time outside. In 1990, the reason things changed was there were some high-profile kidnappings. The kidnapping rate was not increasing in the United States. If anything, it was going down. There were some cases that got a lot of press and all of a sudden, parents were like, “I can’t let you go outside unwatched.” Helicopter parenting starts and kids are not allowed to go outside as often. There tends to be this trend where a lot of challenges were removed from their lives.
What’s next? My group is called the Snowplow. What do you guys call us?
It is interesting because we live part of the time in Hawaii and there’s not a lot to do there but do what nature provides for you. You ride a wave or you go on a hike. I love it when teenagers are like, “We’ll go on a hike,” and you’re like, “Really?” They get slammed in the shore break. Developmentally, you see the difference.
Even when they come into the house to say hi to you, if we’re here in California where kids are more hooked up to the thing and they and they have a bigger digital culture, the way they interact with us as adults, you have to be like, “Hi,” and they’re like, “Hi.” It’s hard. You can feel the island kids haven’t gotten that digital lockdown as much. It’s more robust. It’s a different situation but still, you can feel that by being outside and being integrated with old people and younger people in nature and things like that, you can feel it in their self-confidence.
You get forced into doing interesting things. You’re moving a lot more. You’re having to have faith to face interactions. Even things like the sights, smells, and sounds of nature are associated with being calmer, less stressed, and less focused on yourself more or less. You open up.
There was one thing I thought was interesting where you’re talking about fractals in nature. I love this. In nature, there are all these fractals and our brains enjoy that. I saw some paintings by Pollock. I forced my kids to go to the museum. It’s a yelling match to go to the museum. I’m like, “You’re going to look at stuff.” Parenting is watching yourself from the outside about what you’re yelling about and you’re like, “That is ridiculous.” It made me think about it because I read it and I was like, “It’s interesting.” Could you share that because it’s cool?
Fractals are these repeating patterns that you see that make up the universe. You think about something like a tree, it’s a big branch that goes to smaller branches that goes to smaller branches that goes eventually to leaves that look like smaller branches or a river system. Big river, little river, little river, little river. Because we evolved in environments where fractals made up everything, they seem to speak to us at a deep level and be calming. In the built environment, you don’t get fractals. It’s a lot of right angles, it’s plain colors. There are not as many.
Are there any architects that have tried to incorporate this notion of fractals in building at all?
I don’t know but now I want to know.
I’m curious. There was somebody talking about how they’re not in cities and I was like, “I wonder if there’s an architect who’s figured that out.”
There should be. I hope that person’s reading. Jackson Pollock’s paintings are made up of fractals so it’s a big splash, smaller splash to smaller splash. There was a study out of the University of Oregon where they think that that might be one reason why we love Jackson Pollock paintings.
Someone reading might think, “I’m going to use VR,” because you always hear this conversation. In fact, I know a lot of people like Steven Kotler who work in flow state and all these things. The beliefs that may be our brains won’t know the difference between a virtual and a VR experience versus doing it. Do you have any feelings about that?
I was talking to 1 or 2 researchers about this and I even did a VR nature thing. I almost threw up after because it was disorienting and it made me motion sick. From my experience, this was an expensive piece of equipment in a lab. We’re not quite there yet. Even if you come up with a VR thing and you’re getting the sights, in nature you’re also getting sounds and you’re also getting smells, and you’re also probably moving more.
It’s the contour too, I would imagine.
You’re getting fresh air. There is so much that would have to happen in that field for it to be equal. We’re not even close yet. At the same time, I realize that we should look into it because the reality is that not everyone can go into nature, especially older people, for example. That was the thinking behind a lot of the research. “If this has these benefits, is there a way that we can mimic that for people who simply cannot get out into nature?” It’s worth chasing but if you are a person who can get out into nature, you should go for the real thing.
It’s the contour too, I would imagine.
You’re getting fresh air. There is so much that would have to happen in that field for it to be equal. We’re not even close yet. At the same time, I realize that we should look into it because the reality is that not everyone can go into nature, especially older people, for example. That was the thinking behind a lot of the research. “If this has these benefits, is there a way that we can mimic that for people who simply cannot get out into nature?” It’s worth chasing but if you are a person who can get out into nature, you should go for the real thing.
I’ve had a lot of conversations on this podcast and in my training life. What comes up over and over is now we have to try to figure out how to systematize the things that we used to do as part of our everyday life. It’s fascinating. We have all this progress and within the progress, I can FaceTime you halfway across the world. I can put something and scan your body temperature and all these things but yet, we still have to figure out ways to do things that we used to do intuitively and automatically that was built into our lives. I always find that conflict curious.
I joke about when you told her grandma from somewhere, “We’re having bone broth.” She’d be like, “You’re an idiot. Do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to take a walk.” This is where we’re at. I wouldn’t have known except that I do have children and my children have friends and I watched them. We live in one remote place but we live also in a developed place that’s heightened. California has a heightened connection maybe like some other cities with their technology.
We’re talking about nature. Even 1,000 years ago, which is not a lot of time in the grand scheme of time and space. This is a fraction. It’s a fraction of a fraction to the twentieth power. People were outdoorsy in the sense that they live outside all the time. This is one thing that people have been like, “I could never go outside.” I’m not advocating anyone go up to Alaska. People are like, “I can’t go camping.” I’m like, “You can’t go camping because you were fortunate enough to be born now and be in this environment where you have the luxury of not going camping. If you were born 1,000 years ago, you would live outside. I promise you that you can do it.”
Camping was called living. Now we call it camping. I want to get into Marcus Elliot and talk about his misogi and things like that. Levari, the comfort creep, was a great way to encapsulate.
The short answer is this. He is waiting in line for security at the airport and he’s with this guy, Daniel Gilbert, who’s another famous Harvard psychologist. They noticed that the TSA treats a lot of non-threatening stuff like it’s super threatening. Some old woman is getting the full-body pat-down because she forgot hairspray in her purse or whatever.
They’re psychologists so they’re talking and they’re wondering and they’re like, “I wonder what these people would do if all of a sudden no one broke these rules. Everyone remembered the bottle of water and they never saw anything come up in the scanner. Would the TSA let everyone sail through?” They didn’t think so because these people’s job is to search for problems so they thought they’d start finding more problems.
Being psychologists, they set up a study to see if that happens. What they had people do is look at 800 different faces so people would look at these faces and they would determine if the face is threatening or non-threatening. You’re looking at a face and you go, “Threatening. Non-threatening,” on and on. What they did, and where the catch, is at the 200th face, they started showing the participants with fewer threatening faces. You would think if this was clearly a black and white thing, people would start seeing threatening less but that didn’t happen. What happened is the ratio stayed the same and people started calling non-threatening faces threatening. They did a similar thing with deeming whether research proposals were ethical or unethical.
What this tells us is that as people experience fewer and fewer problems, we don’t experience your problems. We redefine what a problem is. All of a sudden, our problems become more hollow over time. This applies to how we deal with comfort now. If you think about what the world was like 100 years ago, 1,000 years ago, 100,000 years ago, we have come unbelievably far. The average person wakes up in temperature control. Most people in the US have access to enough food.
To get our food, we work behind the desk, we don’t have to physically toil. We’re not challenged that much and we don’t look back and see this like, “We have it so great in the grand scheme of time and space.” Instead, we adapt to whatever level of comfort is new. When a new comfort comes in, we adapt to it, and the old one is unacceptable. Here’s an example. If you flew first class a few times and you went back into coach, you’re like, “This is terrible. This is awful.” Pretend that you’re someone from the 1800s and someone puts you in coach on a plane.
You have to do the wagon wheel. I got there in six hours and not in three brutal weeks.
Collectively, we can describe why we have “first world problems” because we don’t look back and say, “I have it pretty damn good.” We instead go, “My yoga class was canceled? This is unbelievably unfair. The world has come together to make this personally unfair to me.”
I feel like it’s ramped up. Chris Rock does a great skit about this when a woman’s with a man and he comes home and he’s like, “I lost my job.” Have you ever seen this?
No, I haven’t.
He goes, “A woman doesn’t go backward. She isn’t going to be downsizing her house, her car. She’s like, ‘That’s okay because I’m out.'” It’s almost like everything else where it’s a concerted effort and discipline to pay attention. I was watching a documentary on Andrew Wyeth, the painter. This guy sat in his two neighbors’ houses, one in Maine and one in Pennsylvania, for ten years noticing light and curtains.
They’re like, “There’s Andrew, sitting in the corner.” He wasn’t in Palatial Estates. These were pretty brutal. One lady, Christina, who’s crippled. This is a guy who’s paying attention. This is why your book is important. It is also a reminder that even in the times that you can’t put yourself in those environments, what can you be doing, sitting here to notice? If you have the discipline to pay attention to what’s good because it is a practice. Even neurologically, your nerve receptors will then look for good news over bad news. People don’t realize that they’re developing those muscles as well.
In certain ways, there may not be a way out of the comfort that we are and that our world seems to be pushing to and striving for more of but that each person has to keep paying attention. Also, practicing noticing all the small things that are going well and figuring out how they want to respond when they have the opportunity when it’s crappy or it goes the wrong way. That’s the moment you go, “Here’s my moment to respond the way I say I want to respond.”
[bctt tweet=”As people experience fewer and fewer problems, we redefine what a problem is.”]
A lot of times you go, “I want to look the other way or I want to be empathetic and all this.” It’s like, “Cool. Here’s your moment. Can you do it?” I’m saying this personally. It’s a constant exercise. You let your guard down and all of a sudden, you’re acting like a knucklehead. There’s someone who said to me once, “No crying on the yacht.” It sums it up. There’s no crying on the yacht. The mozzarella cheese is bad. It’s like, “Shut up.”
With our children, I always think modeling is better. I feel hopeful that they swing around. As individuals, you as a teacher, as a professor, there are things that we can do. It’s even like the guy who helped you. Maybe the impact isn’t right then. Maybe it’s in 3 years, maybe it’s in 5 years. You watch people and you go, “They seem like they figured something out and they seem a lot happier. What is that?” Versus someone who’s banging around in their life having temper tantrums.
This is why it’s important to do things that push back at you, to challenge you. Let’s go back to the plane example. To get from Vegas to Seattle, which was the first flight, I’m on a 747, I’m in coach, I’m in the fifth class. The seat is way too small, It is uncomfortable. The plane is way too hot. The screen in front of me has crappy movies, the worst movies ever.
Terrible movies up at 30,000 feet.
This is unfortunate. The coffee was terrible, etc. I go to Alaska where it is freezing cold the entire time. If I want water, I’ve got to hike down to get it. There’s never enough food. I am bored out of my mind. Every single thing is challenging. When I take the flight from Seattle to Vegas back home, that flight is the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever experienced. It was heaven. It’s like, “It’s warm in here.” I hadn’t sat in the normal chair for a month with cushioning. I can press a button and someone will bring me twenty packs of pretzels.
I’ve been so bored that now that movie that looked awful and probably was objectively awful in the grand scheme of movies was thrilling. It’s one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. The message here is not that you have to go to these crazy extremes but what can you do in your daily life to have something that pushes back at you a little bit?
I experienced this even on my handful day camping trip in Nevada. When I get back, all of a sudden, the food that I take for granted, I’m like, “This is delicious.” People who have done outdoor things, you experienced this. That first meal back, it’s like, “I appreciate this.” If you’re a person who’s like, “I’m never going outside,” that’s fine. There’s probably a lot of other ways to do this too. For example, I volunteer at a homeless shelter. Do you know what’ll make you pretty thankful for your car, for even having to pay a mortgage? Go do something like that.
Does it wear off?
It does over time. That’s why you need to constantly do things that reset that for you. The first month back from Alaska, I was on this pink cloud of, “Modern life is unbelievable. How could anyone ever complain?” By month two, someone cuts me off in traffic and I’m like, “That son of a…” It does fade over time because we adapt to our environments. Back to that idea of problem creep, it’s this low-level feature of the human brain that used to save us a lot of brainpower.
It takes more brainpower to think of every single example you’ve ever seen in your life and realize, “Comparatively, this is decent.” You think of the last one. It saves brainpower. In today’s world where everything is so great, it can lead us to be miserable. For example, objectively, if you look at us in the grand scheme of time and space, most people, especially in the US, are doing pretty well. When you poll people and ask, “Is life improving?” Only 6% of people say it is.
You have the mental health and the emotional health aspect which there’s so much talk around. In some ways, it’s a complicated problem. If we had better day-to-day habits and if these young people had the opportunity to develop their perspective before getting inundated by social media and everyone else’s opinion about their every word and move. They were allowed to make mistakes in front of 3 to 5 people, they’d have a chance. You wonder if that’s biological as well.
They’re getting hammered in a way that most individuals would respond. You’d have to have a real strong sense of self at 11, 12, or 13-years-old to be able to analyze what was happening and be like, “This isn’t even real. These people don’t even know me.” That’s the thing for me. It’s a fascinating thing. I wonder, as the adults, the Facebooks, the Instagrams, and the TikToks, it’s like, “I wonder what is the role.”
There’s commerce and you go, “They’re crushing it. They’ve got numbers. They’re the biggest businesses in the world.” There’s a social responsibility that you wonder, “are they going to collide?” We are and we’re talking about it. I find that interesting because the better it gets for all of us, the other side of it is tipping and people are more depressed, more anxious. There is more suicide. It’s an interesting shift.
Our lives have changed so much that we’ve removed ourselves from a lot of these things that do tend to be good for us. Think about physical activity. That is strongly associated with better mental health outcomes. It’s full stop. On average, only 20% of people today meet the government’s exercise guidelines. This is not the stuff that you and your husband are doing, the crazy stuff. Heavy gardening counts. It’s basic stuff and people don’t hit it. If you’re never challenging your body, you might have some mental health issues.
The human brain isn’t even fully developed until we’re 25 years old, especially the higher-level executive functioning. Handing kids over a cell phone with Instagram and a million people on this drive that everyone has to feel loved and influential 24/7, especially pair that with a brain that isn’t quite ready for that, I’m not surprised.
I talk about it because I fret about it myself. Right now, it’s my youngest. My other two have some handle on it. It’s the one that you just met. You go back to there’s rules but it’s a constant battle. If you talk to most parents, it’s number one. You’d almost be like, “I’d rather catch her drinking than be like, ‘Is that you on your phone?'” I’m kidding, but maybe I’m not at that point because that’s a natural rebellion. This is in every day.
Every day with white noise.
Let’s add some COVID-19 and homeschooling. They’re homeschooling but they’re on their phone. The three screens is my favorite. It’s the phone, the iPad, the TV or the computer, and you’re like, “Let’s call it.” There are days like that where Laird looks at me because he wants to take everything and throw it to the bottom of the sea or the pool. I’m like, “No, we have to figure out how to help them manage this stuff because they’re not going to get anything about it.” When you wrote this book, you came across Dr. Marcus Elliot who I know about because of P3 because it was training. You know what they’re doing and I know a lot of it is quiet. It’s like, “You’re going to do these feats.” He has all these professional athletes that are in Santa Barbara.
They have one there and one in Atlanta as well.
There’s not a lot probably a lot of standup paddling going on in Atlanta, but rock underwater. They train a lot of high-level athletes. Maybe you could share some of his philosophies because the misogi is something that certain people are like, “I’m going to do a Spartan Race this year.” It doesn’t necessarily have to be grand but if you could at least get a group of people together and be like, “We’re going to do this feat.”
Marcus is a super interesting guy because he revolutionized sports science. He added a lot of deep data and AI, and applied it to movement. He can do things like taking this video of how a person moves and be like, “You have a 60% chance of having a knee injury in the next season.” He works with a lot of NBA players, people from all sports and backgrounds. He’s this numbers, figures, and data nerd but he also realizes what improves athletes and the average person. You can always measure that stuff. Some people have a gear. It’s a gear some people have. What is that? How do we get to that? For that, he does this thing he calls it misogi. The idea is that once a year, we’re going to go out and do something hard.
Before you go into this, it is a beautiful story of how the misogi came about from the book, Kojiki.
The oldest living book in Japan. It’s essentially all these myths about how the island came to be and the culture. There’s a story in it about a guy named Izanagi and his wife dies. It is a myth, which you’ll get when I explain it. He decided he can’t live without his wife so he goes down into the depths of the underworld to try and rescue her. When he’s down there, he faces all this danger and peril. There are all these demons trying to grab him and essentially trying to kill him. He realizes, “I have to get out of here.”
He makes this break a way to go back up to his normal life and he almost fails. He thinks he’s not going to make it, but he digs deep, makes it out, and he realizes he’s capable of more than he ever thought possible. He ends up taking this waterproof purification that comes that washes him of the impurities of his former life. He’s more confident and more competent.
Marcus does this thing called misogi and the tale is called misogi. The idea is that once a year, you will do something hard where you have a high chance of failure as a way to wash yourself of the impurities of modern life. Also, to learn to get a new level of competence and confidence that you didn’t have before you did it. Essentially, how they define if something hard is that there should be a 50% chance of failure and then the second rule of it is that you can’t die, so don’t do anything dumb. They’ve done things like walking a boulder under the Santa Barbara Channel for five miles and standup paddleboarding across the Channel, which they’ve never paddleboarded before.
[bctt tweet=”If you’re never challenging your body, you might have some mental health issues.”]
You’re also talking about maybe not water athletes. This is also something people don’t realize. When you’re doing things and maybe you’re not uber comfortable in the water, I tell people all the time because we do a lot of pool training with dumbbells and things, “To be in or above water when you’re not comfortable is one of the bravest things anyone could do.”
The idea of one of them which is more of a guideline is that it should be something kooky and made up. The reason for that is you can’t compare what you’ve done to other people because a lot of times, nowadays, people go, “I’m going to do this crazy, hard, and epic thing. What should I do?” It’s like, “My neighbor ran a marathon in three hours. I’m going to try and do it in 2 hours, 59 minutes,” or whatever it is.
“My Oura Ring, here are my stats and my resting heart rate,” instead of like, “I made it.”
You’re doing this 100% for you and the point is to learn something about yourself because what tends to happen is that as people go out and if it’s truly challenging, then you’re going to hit a point where you’re like, “I can’t do this. There’s no way I can finish this. I’m going to have to quit a minute. I’m going to take a few more steps. I can see where my edge is.” You keep going past that. Then you get to a point where you can look back and see what you thought was your edge, but you’re beyond it, and then it’s like, “I’ve sold myself short in this thing. What else in my life am I selling myself short in?”
You can take that attitude into your normal life. You got the new gear that is going to help people. It also does a nice job reframing fear for people because all of a sudden, you were freaked out but you made it. That presentation that you have to give in front of your colleagues isn’t quite as scary once you’ve realized, “I can do a lot more than I thought I was capable of.”
For example, if you are a marathon runner, your misogi cannot be that you’re going to run 50 miles because your chances of completing it are greater, where if you’ve never run three miles, if you did a ten mile. People understand that it’s personal. He himself has done misogi that he failed, which I appreciate because if you’re going to be leading people, you need to take your own medicine. You can’t be like, “I’ve finished every single misogi.” That shows the real strength of somebody. I’m way more impressed with that sometimes than like, “Yeah, number one.” It’s like, “Amazing.” Let’s say somebody tries something and they don’t make it.
Still learn something about yourself. Guarantee someone went farther than I thought possible. Also, you didn’t die. You’re still alive. You learn something from that. It shows you that even today, when people in our past as we were evolving, we had to do hard challenging things in nature all the time that was physical in nature. This could be a big epic hunt. This could be moving from summer into wintering grounds. This could be a tiger lurking in the bushes. Each time we would make it through one of those things, we would learn something about ourselves. We would grow. Our fears would fade in a lot of ways.
Nowadays, we don’t have these challenges that we used to have that would naturally produce themselves in our life. We didn’t even train for this stuff either. One of the big elements here is you’re not training for it. You’re just going out and doing something hard. Because we don’t have those nowadays, we lose that element of something that is going to show us that we are more capable than we thought possible. You’re trying to mimic that with misogi.
Back to the training thing, if I decide for example, “I’m going to run a marathon,” and I train for it by doing a normal marathon training, that’s not a misogi because you know you’re going to finish that. What’s coming into your mind is, “What’s my time going to be? Can I finish this?” If the farthest you’ve run is ten miles and you’re like, “I’m going to sign up for a marathon, that’s tomorrow, and see if I can do it.” “I don’t think I can do it. Maybe I could do it. I don’t know.” Just try and do it because I guarantee you’ll at least make it farther than ten miles.
When you even explore the notion of optimum performance or health, what seems to boil down to the essence is being adaptable. It isn’t like, “I’m keto and I’m this, I’m that.” It’s, “My body will adapt.” You’re saying the same thing because it also creates not only some physical flexibility where you’re like, “I’m tired, I’m cold, I can press on,” but also getting that emotional gear of like, “I do want to quit, but I’m going to figure out the way within myself to try to press on.” We don’t have that so much. Who wants to seek that out?
On a Monday through a Sunday, it’s like, “Here we go.” Laird likes uncomfortable things because, for him, it makes sense. I’ve watched some people around him find their way naturally. They’re also medicating. The booze is out, so this is another form because it tempers you. That’s the thing, I’m not going to identify it as masculine and feminine, but testosterone, especially for a young male, what are you going to do with that? Are you going to stick that on a desk for twelve hours a day? That stuff has to go somewhere. People don’t realize that sometimes there’s that tempering. You’ve gone through all of this and you’ve written this book. What are the ways that you’re different?
The main one is that I’m more grateful and aware of how good we have it as I said before about the plane. If I can try and practice that in my daily life, that makes me slightly less of a jerk every day and that colors my every interaction with people around me. It makes their lives and my own life better. This total perspective shift has happened. I’m a lot more appreciative of everything and I realized that our time here is short so let’s figure out how we’re going to use this. I don’t get worked up as much about the little insignificant stuff. I’ve learned a lot about what tends to keep me in that mindset. Things like time outside and how I think about fitness have changed. I worked at men’s health for a lot of years. I have a different perspective on that.
You have six-pack abs. I love that. I always see pictures and I’m like, “That’s not fitness people.” “How much do you bench?”
I can confirm that because I used to sometimes have to go to those video shoots and you’d see a dude and you’re like, “He looks like the fittest guy ever.” If he give them basic exercise, he could not do it. It wasn’t coordinated.
I always joke with the bodybuilders at Gold’s, “Just run away.” “If the guy’s going to grab you, run.” I’m not bagging on that. It’s just that people have an idea about what works. Usually, what we have celebrated has been like, “This is fit.” That may not be the thing, but you have to be comfortable with knowing for ourselves, like, “I could do stuff. I’m in good health.” Especially guys with giant biceps and shoulders, that’s a lot of work to carry around. Unless you need it for a sport or some kind of activity, maybe that isn’t the sense of like, “That dude is buff.”
I’m not convinced that excess muscle is good for your health. It’s interesting because, in the past, no one was ever buff. We didn’t even have to lift anything that heavy. Not to mention there wasn’t enough food to be able to pack on a lot of mass.
Maybe we had some guys in Eastern Europe or they were farm guys who were lifting big things and they can deal with cold weather, and there was a reason. Sometimes when we get that space, that perspective, that lens can go on to a lot of things, like, “Do I need to go to that party with all those people? Do I care about that?” “Do I have to train that way to look like that?” “Can I find my lane on the things that push me but they also feel like me.” I’m always wanting to try to keep figuring that out and even look at that and other people. Is there anything still though that gets you where you’re like, “There it is.” Or surprises you or flip your switch a little and you’re still trying to work on that?
Probably with this book that’s come out, there’s more attention. Attention comes in the form of stuff like Instagram and emails. It’s great because I want the message to get out. The week the book came out, my screen time was gross. It’s trying to figure out how do you balance that? My mom put it to me this way, “Better nothing than crickets,” which is true.
It’s a window. You have to know that momentum is maybe for a few weeks or a few months and it also catapults the message, then you understand you have it in its box. You can say to your wife who’s your confidant, “I’m feeling a little under it or overwhelmed. I get it, but I also always think it’s important to express it and to get it out from here inside to outside.” If it’s a moment now where it was like, “For the next unknown period of time, your life is going to be psycho,” it’s sadness for a lot of people. They think, “I’m going to feel like this forever.” That’s when it becomes a problem.
It’s funny because Marcus texted me after the book came out, he was like, “Congrats.” He said something and I mentioned that, he goes, “I think of this as its little misogi. Just remember the next perfect stroke.” It was helpful.
Do you have any misogi planned coming up?
It’s funny that you mentioned that because back to that 50/50 rule, one way that I think about it is what genuinely scares you? Water. I live in the desert for a reason. I’m not a big water person, never have been. I grew up in the desert as well. I grew up north of Salt Lake City. I got to figure something out that involves water unfortunately for myself.
We can help you with that.
I’m sure you could. You guys would probably be the top on anyone’s list to figure out a water thing.
I have a real feeling. We finished an Experience. We do occasionally these 2.5-day Experiences. I’m tired after because I can see everyone when I put them in the pool. Laird doesn’t train the people in the pool. I do it with this other guy named Mark Roberts. In my house, I’m the weakest person in the pool even though I’m pretty good in the pool, so I know all the right ways to do it. Laird is like, “Just hold your breath longer,” or, “Muscle it.” I’m like, “No, look down. You’ll be more hydrodynamic, 7% easier.” I know all the ways because I’ve had to survive it, I’ve had to figure it out. I’m like, “I’m taking fourteen years and compressing it for you in 30 seconds. Take it.”
What’s fascinating is you can see everyone when they’re in there because it’s primal. You see when the moment when it’s going wrong and you go, “Here’s their moment. Are they going to freak out? Are they going to drop the weight? Are they going to make the right decision? What’s their go-to?” You can see it all and you feel it. When people hit that wall and they feel uncomfortable, you’re not going to drown. We’re all standing there. We’re not going to let you drown. It’s a real thing.
[bctt tweet=”Doing the harder thing in the short term leads to everything being easier in long term and feeling better.”]
The best is the dumbbells which are 20 to 25 pounds, maybe don’t swim to the top, maybe put the dumbbell on the bottom, and then swim up. You’ll see certain people start trying to swim with the dumbbell and they go opposite, and then you’ll see somebody unassuming. Maybe it’s some middle-aged lady. I’m watching her from the top of my pull deck and she’s looking up trying to figure out, “This isn’t working out. What should I do?”
Water is a beautiful element because it’s objective. I always tell people, “The idea for a lot of people who aren’t comfortable in the water is that it pulls you down but if we can switch it and also think it lifts you, it’s weightless, beautiful, and soft. There’s a moment that it’s hard. You can grab it.” It’s all these dynamics, so let me know. I would love to help you. When you put this book out there, besides the obvious reminders, “Everybody, let’s get outside and let’s get off our phones,” what was the thing that you were hoping for?
A couple of things. I’m hoping that it showed people how much our lives have changed over the last 100,000 years because they have, unbelievably. The real difference is that the world has become a lot more comfortable, easier, and less challenging. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Humans are wired to seek comfort because in these environments that we evolved in that were challenging and uncomfortable, that used to keep us alive but it no longer serves us anymore. We’ve engineered the world to be comfortable and effortless but we still have this drive to always seek comfort, so it’s backfiring. You see it in all the crazy data. I don’t think people realize how different it is.
We shouldn’t feel ashamed for things like wanting to eat an entire freaking pint of ice cream or not wanting to exercise because in the grand scheme of time, that behavior would have kept us alive. It’s wired into us. If you’re the type of person who can always say no to ice cream and always exercises all the time, you are the weird one.
You’re running from something. I always find it because I know a lot of people like that. I’m like, “What’s going on?” I always say about David Goggins, I’m like, “What’s he running from?” I’m joking. I love the guy, but you’re like, “What’s up? What’s going on?” The key that you’re saying, even having put these systems in place, like, “I’m going to walk. I’m going to put my phone away. I’m going to do a misogi,” it’s reminding people that this is the world we live in. How do we put things in place to support us?
When I get up in the morning, I’ve said this a million times, I’m not excited to exercise. I just understand. I have a system in place to keep me accountable to me hold me on the line. Believe me, I want to eat pizza and chocolate cake. I look at it and I’m like, “That looks good.” Do I have less of a craving because I don’t eat it so much? Of course. However, I make a different choice because I also know how I’m going to feel. I know the difference. It’s important for people. In a way, we have to be accountable, but then also be easy on ourselves like, “This is natural, but what am I going to do about it?”
Also realizing that doing the harder thing in the short term leads to everything being easier in long term and feeling better.
If someone’s reading and they’re fighting the good fight with alcohol, you put your arm around their shoulder and say, “If I was going to start on trying to put this aside,” what would you say?
I would tell them that you are not a bad person, you could be a sick person. Realizing that helped me a lot.
If you came in here coughing, I’m going to be like, “Michael had a cough.” For people, it’s a weird and hard thing.
It’s a disease and societally, we sometimes miss that. For me, I had to reach out and ask for help. That was huge for me, too. There are a lot of people who struggled with this and they’d probably be happy to talk to you. That helped me because you get some realizations that are helpful. For example, the guy we talked about. I’m all in my head when I first was getting sober and I had to go to social things where they would normally be alcoholic, work function, or whatever. “What do I do if someone asked me if I want to drink?” He looked at me and goes, “You say, ‘No thanks.'” That simple. It was like, “I never thought of that one.” Sometimes you just need someone to offer you advice who’s been there.
[bctt tweet=”Sometimes you just need someone to offer you advice who’s been there.”]
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about your practice, your eating, and your movement life. What does that look like?
I generally try and eat foods that have one ingredient. I don’t get too finicky over ratios of carbs to fats to protein, but I eat stuff like oatmeal for breakfast. I eat a lot of potatoes. I love potatoes. I don’t put cheese and bacon. Cheese was all over of course. I don’t need a ton of it and that’s partially from hunting. I got a newfound respect for meat, where it comes from, and what goes into it. That’s pretty simple. I find foods that aren’t too complicated and ultra-processed. They keep me fuller longer and keep me the way I want to be. At the same time, I will crush an ice cream cone every now and then. I’m like, “I survived.”
What about your training? Do you have a sport that you practice? Are you rock climbing or cycling?
I do quite a bit of trail running because I’m right out by the desert and I love running out there. I rock quite a bit. That’s always a thing that my wife and I do. Together, we’ll throw on a heavy pack and take the dogs out. It’s fun. I have gym stuff in my garage. That’s pretty basic and that usually does it for me. I try and go outside and do stuff.
I always laugh at people whose job is like, “I work at men’s fitness and stuff.” They’re like, “I do a little of this and a little of that.” You realize that you can’t do everything all the time at the same level, so it’s going in and out of it. Is there any type of training or any sport that you’re curious about besides the water stuff that you are eyeballing out inside your head that looks interesting to you?
I used to mountain bike a lot in college. That’s what I spent all my time doing, and then I moved to New York City for a while so there weren’t the bikes. I’d like to get back into that. In terms of other stuff, rock climbing would be good for me because I don’t like heights. I like the water thing. I should probably face that down.
I read the book and listened to it. I confessed to you when you got here that I listened to it while I was walking up and I was doing some hikes with the dog. When I got to the part, it was like, “Don’t be distracted.” Was reading the book hard? Because it’s hard reading books for the audible.
I thought it was going to be just like you waltz in there, you speak it into a microphone, and you’re done. It was a humbling experience. It’s challenging and funny that the studio where I recorded it is down in this sketchy part of Vegas and it’s unmarked. I’m not even sure if I’m in the right place. This guy comes to the door and I’m like, “Is this so and so studio?” He’s like, “Yeah, come in.” I go in and there are all these platinum albums on the wall like Kanye West and Kenny Chesney, all these platinum albums, and I’m like, “I had no idea this was here.” The guy goes, “That’s the point.”
How many days to read this?
It was four days and then there was a pickup day for the stuff that I messed upon. Turns out I pronounce a lot of words wrong.
Join the club. The Comfort Crisis, if anyone wants to, you have both options. Did I forget anything that felt important to you?
No, thank you.
This is the stuff that we all need to campfire it and keep sharing, reminding each other, and inspiring each other. I appreciate that you’re doing that with this book. Thank you.
Glad you enjoyed it.
Thanks so much for being here. If you’d like to rate, subscribe, and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.
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- Michael Easter
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- James Danckert
- Marcus Elliot
About Michael Easter
Michael Easter is a leading voice on how humans can integrate modern science and evolutionary wisdom for improved health, meaning, and performance in life and at work. He travels the globe to embed himself with brilliant thinkers and people living at the extremes. He then shares his findings and experiences in books, articles, and other media.
Michael’s investigations have taken him to meet with monks in ancient monasteries in Bhutan, lost tribes in the jungles of Bolivia, US Special Forces soldiers in undisclosed locations, gene scientists in Iceland, CEOs in Fortune-500 boardrooms, and more.