December 18, 2021
[00:00:52] Podcast Sponsors
[00:04:23] Guest Introduction
[00:06:30] Impetus for Michael writing the book
[00:18:18] How perspective change when exposed to raw nature and discomfort
[00:25:34] The ancient Japanese practice to build championship
[00:32:36] Podcast Sponsors
[00:35:07] cont. The ancient Japanese practice to build championship athletes
[00:37:29] A nutrition expert who challenges conventional thinking about food
[00:44:41] How a trip to Bhutan changed Michael's view of death
[00:56:57] The relationship between boredom and discomfort
[01:02:48] Ways Michael has changed his life since writing the book
[01:10:33] Why we've tipped too far into the realm of comfort
[01:14:36] Closing the Podcast
[01:15:22] Legal Disclaimer
Ben: On this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast.
Michael: Being humble is realizing that you're not that damn important in the grand scheme of time and space.
Investigate all these forms of discomfort that we've lost over time from our lives that used to keep us relatively healthy.
Holy hell, this is the most cliché thing ever. This gangly western writer has come to see the guru. Appreciating that we live in an unbelievably amazing world right now. But if we always do the next easy thing, that's going to get us in trouble too.
Ben: Health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and much more. My name is Ben Greenfield, welcome to the show.
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Well, folks it's probably no secret that I kind of like to do hard shit sometimes like I was doing this morning sweating my butt off in a sauna and jumping in my little cold pool afterwards. And, of course, I exercise, I do things like intermittent fasting. I've talked about this whole concept of hormesis on the podcast and interviewed folks like Scott Carney about his book, “What Doesn't Kill You” or interviewed guys like Wim Hof about their hypoxia, hyperoxia breathwork and cold thermogenesis protocols. And, it seems like these days, a lot of us are kind of wandering around hunting down ways to almost like embrace discomfort to a certain extent. And, probably there's no better modern contemporary example of that in a very immersive journalistic type of sense as my guest who's here with me right now, Michael Easter. He wrote a book and it came out a little while ago. I actually want to interview him like close to when the book came out because I read it and I enjoyed it, and we've just had a hell of a time hooking up. But perhaps either procrastination or having to wait to do a podcast is also a form of hormesis.
So, we finally made it happen. If you don't know who Michael is, well, he writes books. He's a journalist, obviously, but he's kind of all over the map. You may have seen him on the Joe Rogan Experience talking about his embracing of discomfort. He's also a professor when he's not on the ground reporting in the Journalism Department at University of Nevada in Las Vegas where he also lives kind of on the edge of the desert out there or so I've heard. And, he also writes in a lot of different magazines like Men's Health, and Men's Journal, and Cosmopolitan, and VICE, and Esquire, and Scientific American, and Women's Health, and a whole lot of others. And, he gets a lot of respect for what he does. That book, “The Comfort Crisis” was actually a bestseller. And, man o man, it's crazy.
Michael, you went all over the place. You met with monks in ancient monasteries in Bhutan. You went to Bolivia to look into what the lost tribes in the jungles of Bolivia were doing. You hung out with US Special Forces soldiers. You hung out with gene scientists in Iceland, and CEOs, and Fortune 500 boardrooms. And, you just basically kind of pulled out all the stops. And, perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the book for me, and I'm sure we'll talk about some of these on the podcast, was this crazy 33-day remote Alaskan backcountry hunting expedition.
So, first of all, have you fully recovered from having written this book and wandered all over the globe doing all this crazy stuff?
Michael: I think so. I think I'm about there. My legs, the soreness is starting to dissipate from my legs from all the walking but yeah.
Ben: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I want to hear a little bit more about the hunting story for sure, but I also want to get into kind of your background of why you wrote this book in the first place because I think you say in the book that you were basically drinking yourself into oblivion with alcohol before you decided to go on this quest to I believe you described it as rewild yourself. So, was this your own personal desire to go and write a book like this? Or, is this one of those random assignments from a magazine that kind of wound up expanding and developing into a book?
Michael: Yeah, I think it was more the latter. I think it was magazine assignments and personal history. So, I read in the book that I come from this long line of men who just seem to hum on booze, bedlam, and bullshit, frankly. The Easter name is well-known in the Idaho jail system. And, I was sort of walking that same line. My life looked pretty good on paper. I was working on staff at Men's Health. I've been naming a lot of big magazines and stuff, but you give me one drink and I'm going to have more than one, no question. I always like to joke that my favorite drink has always been the next one. That works and it's fun until it's not. And, I reached this point in my life where things were kind of falling apart and I realized that if I continued drinking the way I did, I was going to end up dying early. And, I didn't know if I was going to die at 35, or 55, or 75, I just knew it would be earlier than it would be if I were to stop drinking.
Ben: Kind of depends on how genetically equipped your liver is. But yeah, it's one of those weird deals. I don't know if you even ran into this right in the book, man, but alcohol is kind of interesting because there's some evidence that back to this whole concept of “what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger” that microdosing with alcohol like drinking small amounts. They even show that a lot of these folks in the blue zones do is good for you, especially it seems when done in a social context. I think it's about an average of a couple of drinks a day for guys and a drink a day for girls, you get to the point where all the acetaldehyde and toxin build-up kind of starts to bite you in the butt. But it's really interesting that alcohol is good for you in very small amounts and then you run into, of course, all the issues that you ran into.
Michael: Yeah. And, I think for me, I mean my liver wasn't going to be the thing that kills me, it would be my brain when I was drinking because I'd be like, “You know what, I could probably drive right now. Let's see how fast this car can go.”
Ben: Oh, geez.
Michael: I mean, that's the kind of behavior it leads me into. And then, one morning, for whatever reason, I woke up and I could very clearly see that, like I said, this thing was going to end me early, or I could take this other path that was scary uncomfortable. I knew it was going to be hard and I could try and get sober. And so, I did that and I can tell you it was the hardest thing I've ever done, very uncomfortable.
Ben: Getting sober?
Michael: Yeah, yeah.
Ben: What'd you do?
Michael: For me, I had to relearn life and how to live it because alcohol was something I sort of leaned on for a lot of different situations. It was kind of a comfort blanket.
Ben: Did you go to one of these detox centers where you get locked away and, I don't know, putting a straight jacket or whatever happens with those things? Or, were you more of an AA guy?
Michael: I didn't go to a detox center now. I had a friend who had gotten sober, I called him, asked for advice, and then just leaned on people basically. But from that experience, I could kind of learn it was one of the raws experiences I had where it showed me that in order to improve your life, you often have to go through discomfort. And, this is something that I had thought about too working at Men's Health where everything I wrote about there whether it'd be fitness, weight loss, or even improving your mental health usually comes with having to go through some discomfort. If you want to get really fit, you're going to have to work out a lot. And, working out is uncomfortable.
Ben: Yeah, it can be. It seems like there's this new surge of devices that promise to make workouts a lot more simple or require no blood, sweat, and tears at all. That's the one thing that kind of annoys me not to get all negative in the biohacking sector is we're figuring out shortcuts now, ways to somehow get fit or pop a so-called exercise pill without actually experiencing the burn. And, I get some of that stuff. I've even talked about some of these things in my podcast like sitting in a sauna instead of actually going out and exercising to maintain muscle or getting on one of these. I just did an interview about this bike called the CAR.O.L. bike. It's a nine-minute workout that supposedly gives you all the benefits of hammering on a bike for a couple hours. And, the idea of consuming a supplement like ATP or oxaloacetate or something like that to shift the body into a biochemical scenario, similar to what you might experience from exercising. I don't know a lot of uber-fit people and especially athletes who use those approaches. Those are more things for people who just have almost no time at all and just want to dip in and get the minimum effective dose of exercise. But yeah, I mean, you have to, at some point, experience some of the discomfort of exercise, I think. And, that's what holds a lot of people back, right?
Michael: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I could see those type of things being useful for some. If it's like, “I'm not going to do anything or I'm going to do that–“
Ben: Right, yeah. They're like the icing on the cake.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. So, I had that basically and then I ended up getting commissioned by Men's Health to profile a dude whose name is Donnie Vincent and he goes into super remote areas and bow hunts like waging in the backcountry. He'll spend months out there.
Ben: And, he's very self-sustained. He just goes out on his own. And, that's what he's known for just like this solo hunter goes deep into these wilderness excursions, yeah.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. For a long time, he worked for fish and wildlife, and they would send him up, middle of nowhere Alaska to do salmon counts on a river up there. And, he'd be up there for six months living out of the tent. And, he'd see someone every four weeks when they would bring in food up or whatever. So, he's a unique dude. But from that too, it was like, I'd had this notion that like, “Oh, okay, you got to go through discomfort to improve your life.” And then, I go out and then we weren't even out there for that long. I was with him for five days. We're up in some mountains in Nevada that were pretty remote and high up.
Ben: Did you know him before that or did you get connected with him through your magazine editor or something like that?
Michael: I had seen some of his work and I just thought what he was doing was pretty intriguing. And so, I just reached out to him and we sort of became buddies and I pitched a story on him and got accepted. So then, I found myself up in the middle of nowhere, basically. And, yeah, it was interesting too because, all of a sudden, I get introduced to all these discomforts that we just don't face in modern life anymore. It's freezing cold up there the entire time. We're trying to pack as light as possible. So, food is at a premium. I'm starving the entire time. We're sitting on a hill glassing for elk most of the day. I'm bored out of my mind because I don't have my cell phone. Everything we did took effort. To get water, we'd have to hike way down this mountain and then hike it back up.
Ben: Had you been hunting before that experience?
Michael: Not seriously. No. I mean, I'd been with some guys but it was more dudes who wanted to just tip back whiskey in the woods and call it hunting. Yeah.
Ben: Right, spread corn on the ground and climb into a tree stand with a gun and wait.
Michael: Yes, precisely.
Michael: So then, from there, Donnie and I become friends basically and we keep in touch and the article comes out. We got a lot of good feedback. He calls me up maybe a year later and asks, “Hey, I'm going up to the Arctic for more than a month. Do you want to come with me?” I'm like, “Uh…” and before I can say no, he gets in on this sales pitch and he's like, “It's going to be the most epic thing you'll ever do in your life. We're going to fly in and you'll just think, ‘Oh, my god, the land is so big,' and we're going to see grizzly bears, we're going to afford glacial rivers” and on and on and on. He's Mr. Sales Pitch. And, I'm listening to this in my air-conditioned home in Las Vegas sitting on the couch going, “Yeah, I could do that.” So, I sign on.
And, from there, the book just kind of all came together in terms of like, “Oh, maybe there's a way to really investigate all these forms of discomfort that we've lost over time from our lives that used to keep us relatively healthy.” My month in the Arctic, it essentially serves as this overarching narrative for where I get into these different forms of discomfort that I think are still important for humans that we've lost.
Ben: Did you actually wind up getting an animal on that hunt with Donnie?
Michael: Yeah, caribou. So, we were hunting caribou. And, I had never killed anything before, so that was an intense experience but that taught me a ton about the life cycle and what it takes for the food that we eat to just sort of show up and appear. It definitely changed my relationship with food, that for sure.
Ben: How'd it go down after all that hunting? Wasn't it like 30 days or something like that that you were out there before you got anything?
Michael: Yeah, we were up there for more than a month. I ended up killing on probably week 2. And, we've just been glassing for animals all the time. We never get them because the tundra is totally wide open. There's nothing out there. It's just these undulating old mountains. And so, caribou are one of the fastest land animals. I mean they can truck it at 50 miles an hour. So, they can see you coming because there's nowhere to hide and they'll just bolt away. So, it's a tough hunt.
Michael: But one day, we got in a position where we had been glassing on this hill and these caribou come through because they're migrating at that time. And, we figured, if we could get to the other side of this knoll, they were eventually going to cross it and we might be in a good position to just be down on the ground and sort of pick them off from there. So, we get up and we truck over this gnome. We hit the ground, belly crawl, like hundreds of yards across the tundra. And, granted at that time, before I even got up there, I wasn't even sure if I was going to hunt because I'm a journalist. So, journalists don't participate in the story, they're not the story. We cover the story. And, I had kind of told Donnie as much and he told me, “Look, man, I think you're going to understand why I go out there and why hunting is important if you actually hunt.” So, I trusted him on that.
So now, here I am, rifle in hand, moving across like army crawling across the tundra, and just as Donnie predicted, these antlers pop up over this knoll. And, there's probably 30 different animals in the herd. We're watching them and they keep coming closer. And, I noticed that one of them, we noticed, has a limp. He's super old, so we're trying to hunt the oldest animal we can because that usually helps the health of the herd as a whole. Whereas, if you take a younger animal, it'll do the opposite. And, we see this one that is limping because he's been injured and he's got to be 12, 13 years old, which is the end of their life cycle. So, I decided I'm going to do it. Eventually, they keep moving in another herd, so it's really hard because one minute, you'll have the animal in the scope and then the next there's another animal in front of them, and it's hard to keep track of them. But eventually, the animals cleared and there's that one old bull, yeah, pulled the trigger. And, I'll tell you, right after that, I was a mess, dude. I'd never killed anything. My immediate reaction was 100% regret. I'm like, “What have you done?”
And, Donnie was a good person to go with because he gave me a few minutes just with the animals. Because we ditched all our gear, just left it back there. So, he went and got all that stuff. And, what really changed my mind was that we start breaking the animal down, and then all of a sudden, it's like, “Oh, this is meat. It just looks like meat.”
Ben: Kind of. It looks a little bit different if all you've gotten are the flash-frozen packed steaks at Costco or whatever. But yeah, it remotely resembles meat, I agree.
Michael: And so, then I had to ask like, “Look, you eat meat all the time, dude, and you never feel an iota of emotion. And so, why is it that all of a sudden you're all bent out of shape about this meat?” So, I think that it made me realize that it sort of inserted me in the life cycle and really made me realize like, “Look, for one thing to live on, another thing has to die.” And then, number two is that I'm not left out of that. So, it kind of gives you that understanding as well. One of the more important things in my life.
Ben: Wow. Did you wind up packing meat home or eating out there in the field? Or, what'd you do with the meat?
Michael: We packed everything back. So, we were about 5 miles from camp. And so, we break down the animal, we get everything we can use in our packs and they're probably weighing at this point like 110-ish pounds, I would say, each. And then, we have to hike it back to camp and it was, of course, all uphill. And, the tundra is, I don't know if you've ever been up there, but it is like the gnarliest thing you could ever walk on.
Michael: It's like half —
Ben: I've never done it. I've hunted Hawaiian lava fields and stuff like that where your boots get all torn up from the lava rock and actually had an Alaska 10-day hunt planned for last year and decided to delay it until my sons were old enough to come with me. Because I kind of decided, if I'm going to go up and do this, I want to take my sons with me. So, it's going to happen, but I've never actually even ever been to Alaska. It's totally on my bucket list to go on a fishing and hunting expedition up there, though.
Michael: You'll love it, man. I mean, it's really wild up there. You can be so remote in that state that it's just mind-blowing, but the ground in above the arctic circle is half frozen, covered in all these things called tundra tussocks which are these balls of grass that are basically half basketball. So, if you step on the frozen stuff, all your energy on each step gets sucked out.
Michael: If you step balls, you could roll an ankle. So, it's just 1 mile out there is like 10 on a paved road, it's just wild. So, that was one of the harder things I've ever had to do is rucking that insane load home across the crazy ground of the tundra.
Ben: Yeah. And so, you do this hunt. And, this hunt, did you say that was the kickoff for writing the book like the first hard thing that you did, or was that kind of in the midst of all these other hard things that you explored in writing the book?
Michael: That really encapsulated all of them for me. So, in the book, I'll talk about something that is happening to me up there. And then, I will get into other travels that I took around that same topic. So, for example, I have a section on exercise and how would you exercise now and how carrying weight is this form of exercise that we've kind of lost over time. So, as I'm carrying, for example, the book because I'm carrying the caribou back to camp, I sort of break out into a section where I travel to Harvard and also Jacksonville. So, I traveled to Harvard to talk to anthropologists who study why the human body is built the way it is. And then, to Jacksonville, to meet with some Special Forces soldiers who are trying to make rucking popular among average people. So, I'm sure all your listeners know what rucking is. But just in case, essentially carrying a weighted backpack walking with a weighted backpack and what its benefits are.
Ben: There's so many things that you did in the book. And, by the way, rucking, I am convinced, is one of the lowest hanging fruits for getting fit for people who just don't want to fuss around with the complexities of going to the gym or who want kind of something not simple to do but easy from a decision-making fatigue standpoint. I have a backpack that's always got anywhere from 60 to 80 pounds in it, just always in the garage so that if I decide I want to do a workout like a wrecking workout but I just don't want to mess around with the gym, or with kettlebells, or with bikes, or anything else like that, I just put on that backpack and walk and sometimes do the same thing with a weighted vest. So, I started doing that when I was training for the SEALFit, which would have been an interesting one for you to do in the book. They do the Navy Seal hell week for civilians. I did that about four years ago or so ago, I think. They call it Kokoro. And, all you're doing the whole freaking time is rucking. Rucking into the Murph, then you're rucking, then you're in the Pacific Ocean for six hours, then you're rucking and then doing a beat down on they called the grinder outside the CrossFit facility. And so, I did a ton of rucking.
And, it's kind of funny because they supply you with these cheap, cheap backpacks as soon as you arrive. If you've been training with an internal carbon frame that's comfortably set on the shoulders with the perfect waist pad and everything, they just basically toss that and put a whole bunch of sand in a backpack and hand this old crappy backpack that seems like it's 10 years old to you. And, that's your very uncomfortable chafing version of rucksack. But yeah, I think that rucking is often underemphasized in terms of its efficacy for training and I think would certainly fall into the category of something that can be uncomfortable especially if your pack isn't set up correctly.
There were some other things though aside from rucking that you did in the book that I just found fascinating. So, can I rapid-fire some stuff at you?
Michael: Yeah, dude. Send them my way.
Ben: Okay, okay.
So, the ancient Japanese practice to build championship athletes. I think it's called misogi or something like that. But tell me about that. I haven't really talked about this much before in the podcast but I think this is a cool one.
Michael: Okay. So, I meet this guy in my travels. His name is Marcus Elliott. Two things you need to know about this guy. One is that he is a seeker. So, he's been going to Burning Man since way back in the day, got himself through college by counting cards, lived out of a VW bus. Number two that you need to know about this guy is that he's brilliant. He got his MD from Harvard and he decides, “I don't want to be a doctor, I want to revolutionize sports science.” This is in the early 2000s. So, his first job that he took was with the Patriots and they had a hamstring injury rate of about 23 injuries per year. He starts applying all this movement science to the problem and he drops it to three a year. They start winning Super Bowls. Obviously, Tom Brady was helpful in that. But at the same time, if your entire team has injuries, that's not going to help either. So, he kind of does this.
He bounces around to different leagues but ultimately now, he owns this facility called P3. And, they do a lot of tracking of people's movement. So, they'll put these monitors on pro athletes. And, everyone in the NBA goes through P3 and have them go through all the motions they would do in a game. And so, then, they'll analyze all the data and it goes through this big cloud AI thing. And, it compares it to other players and past injuries. And so, they can see basically and try to predict like, “Okay, well, we see that your knee is caving in this much when you do this jump. Based on all the other players we've analyzed, you have a 60% chance of tearing an ACL this season,” or whatever it might be.
So, he's into numbers, data, figure, all that stuff. But he also in real life improves not only professional athletes but also everyday people. It can't always be measured. So, there's certain guys in sports or women who they're just aces at the end of the game. When the clock is low and you're tied, there are certain people you give the ball to because they just have something on board psychologically. So, to get to those sort of deeper psychological elements, he does this thing called misogi. And, it's based on this ancient Japanese–
Ben: M-I-S-O-G-I, right?
Michael: Yup, M-I-S-O-G-I. And, it is based on this ancient Japanese myth that is effectively a hero's journey, which you see Joseph Campbell did a lot of work around those. Basically, throughout time and space, you see all these different cultures have heroes' journeys of different forms in the form of myths. And, the arc is all the same though. It's basically the hero leaves the comfort of home, they go into this trying middle ground where they really struggle, they really suffer, they're not sure if they're going to make it out but they do make it out and they return home and they're a better person for it. They have more courage, they're more capable, they're more confident, et cetera.
So, to get to that, back to this misogi ideas, once a year, Marcus Elliott and just a handful of guys that he'll do it with, whoever, will do something really, really hard in nature. And, there's only two rules to misogi. One is that it has to be really hard and they define that by saying you should have a true 50/50 shot of finishing it. And then, number two is that you can't die, which is basically a tongue-in-cheek way of saying, don't be done with this. Be smart about it. But the idea is that when you choose something where you actually think that you could fail, you're going to get to a point in the process of whatever you choose, whether it'd be some really far run, you've never run that far of distance or some totally new thing you're going to throw yourself into. One year, they hadn't really stand up paddleboard and they decided they're going to stand up paddleboard across the Santa Barbara channel. But you're going to reach a point where you think you've hit your edge. You're like, “I'm at my edge, I got to quit, I can't do this anymore.” And, if you're able to go past that edge by putting one foot in front of the other making the next stroke on that paddleboard, you can then look back and say, “Wait a minute, I thought my edge was back there but I'm clearly past it, so I've sold myself short here. ” Which leads to the bigger question of, where else in my life am I selling myself short? So, it can lead to realizations like that.
And then, number two, I think, he talks about it has a lot of benefits of helping people get rid of fear because failure today is often you misspeak in front of your boss or you mess up a number on a spreadsheet, whatever. It's not the same failures that we used to face in our past where failure could often mean death. But we still fear these sort of modern failures like they are death. And, if you can engage in an environment with a high rate of failure, that can often show people that their fears, their modern fears are more unfounded.
Ben: So, what are some examples of some misogis that Marcus Elliott weaves into his training protocols?
Michael: So, one year, it was him, Kyle Korver who's an NBA guy. I think he might have retired, I'm not sure, recently. And, a couple other guys who are just kind of average people. One year, they decide they're going to get this 85-pound boulder and they're going to walk it, I think, 5 miles underneath the Santa Barbara channel. So, one guy would dive down, pick up the boulder, walk 10 yards or whatever it might be, drop it. The next guy would go down and rinse and repeat effectively for hours and hours until the boulder is at point B. I mean, they've also done simple things like pick the farthest peak we can see. And let's see if we can get there in a day, that kind of thing.
And, what he's really trying to do is mimic the challenges that we used to often face in the past as humans. So, in the past, it's like we used to have to do, I mean, frankly epic shit all the time. This could be we had some big hunt we were going on. This could be that we had to move our family over a past or whatever it might be. And, the consequences, if we failed, could be pretty bad. But, each time we would complete one of these challenges that the world would just naturally throw at us in the past, we would learn what our potential was.
And today, we often don't face these moments of having a high rate of failure being outside in nature and really having to struggle that used to teach us so much about ourselves. So, he's really effectively just trying to mimic those things that we used to face in the past.
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Did you actually do the one where you carry the rock underwater?
Michael: I did not do that with him, no. That was a while. I think that was maybe five or six years ago.
Ben: Yeah. I actually did a training session like that. I forget who I was with in Malibu. This guy invited me out to run up the dunes, kind of outside of Malibu, these sand dunes outside of Malibu. And, we did all our dune sprint workouts and then he brought us down to the water. And literally, we just took these big rocks out into the water. You carry the rock until you get to the point where you're deep enough to where you're under the water and then you just walk it for as long as you can and then kind of set the rock down on the bottom of the sand, at the bottom of the ocean and come up, take a breath and then dive back down, grab the rock, and keep walking. And, we were just doing 50-yard repeats and then turning around and going the other way. I mean, in terms of the slight panic from knowing that you're a little bit hypoxic and carrying something under the water to the strain of carrying something under the water, it was pretty difficult.
It reminded me a lot of another workout that's pretty popular in Malibu, the Laird Hamilton pool workout where you go up to lairds and you're doing everything from hops with the dumbbell from the bottom of the pool to the top and coming up for a breath to putting a dumbbell between your legs and doing almost a treading water motion, they call it a sea horse from one side of the pool to the other to getting out of the pool, and dropping into the sauna, and then into the ice bath, and getting back into the pool. But it kind of has a similar flavor as that underwater rock carrying that's part of the misogi.
And, I recommend anyone who decides to do that bring a partner. Proceed at your own risk, but it's actually a pretty cool way to train because you're getting the breathwork, you get in the cold, you're getting the resistance training. And, it actually doesn't beat up the body too much because there's not a lot of muscle fiber tearing that occurs just because you're in a lower gravity situation and under the water, but it's hopefully going to give people a little bit more, I guess, a readily available way to train than buying a plane ticket up to Alaska to hunt caribou. And so, the misogi is interesting.
And, by the way, I'll hunt down links to more information a lot of this stuff and to your book. If folks go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/ComfortCrisis, which is also the name of the book, of course.
So, you got this 33-day hunting expedition, you did the misogi stuff with Marcus Elliott. There was another guy you talked about in the book who I found super interesting. I hadn't heard of him before, but you seem to be a little bit not obsessed with this guy but very, very interested in him and kind of fill in a lot of details about him in the book. His name, I think, was Trevor. Trevor Kashey or Kashey or something like that.
Michael: Kashey, yup.
Ben: Yeah, tell me about him.
Michael: Yeah. So, first of all, I think he's in his late 20s. And look, working at Men's Health, and writing for Scientific American, and all these different publications, I talk to smart people a lot. I've talked to people who've won the Nobel Prize, that kind of thing. And, I've never talked to a dude who thinks like this guy. He just has an amazing ability to break down assumptions and get to the heart of things. So, his background is that I think he got his Ph.D. at about 23 years old, which is about seven years earlier than you should. But he's interesting too because he came from a little bit of a broken home as well.
So, at one point, he was dealing with the hell's angels and doing all this different crazy stuff with them, sort of being a real-life Walter White type character and then cleaned up his act. But today, he owns a company called Trevor Kashey Nutrition and they help people. Most of their clients are weight loss clients. They do have some performance clients. He's helped quite a few Olympic teams, also some champion powerlifters, and ultra-runners, and all these different folks. But I'd say their average client is a weight-loss client. And, it's mostly a person who's tried a lot of different things and it hasn't worked.
A lot of what he does is just based in psychology because his argument is effectively that he doesn't really care what you eat, he cares why you eat. So, most people know how to eat generally healthy, the question is, why aren't you eating generally healthy? So, a lot of it is him helping people unpeel their layers, also becoming aware of what they actually eat because most people tend to have no idea how much they eat in a day. You look at the research around that and especially people who tend to be overweight, they tend to have just a massive gap between the actual amount of calories that they eat and what they thought. Yeah, he's just a really fascinating dude who's able to put basic nutrition information and present it in a really sort of elegant compelling way. I mean, I just love talking to him about anything really. He's got interesting takes on everything.
Ben: So, when you say interesting takes, what are some examples of some stuff you learned from him that kind of either blew your mind or was new information?
Michael: I think for the average person, we think that processed food is bad. And, he talked about really opening up the question, he asked a lot of, well, why do we do this thing in the first place? And, with something like processed food, it's because it makes it safer, it makes it easier to transport and it makes it last longer. If we don't process food, all of a sudden we have a problem, we're all working on a farm because we have to come up with our own food because it's not going to last long. So, basically de-villainizing, I think, a lot of the arguments that you see in nutrition today. Most diets are set up in such a way where one food or component of food is the villain. And then, on the other side is the good guy. So, low carb is that carbs of the villain, low fat is the fat is the villain, and on and on and on. Mediterranean diet, foods that aren't from the Mediterranean are the villain. Where really when you look at it, most diets work if people follow them. So, what he's doing is trying to help getting people to actually follow them.
Ben: So, with this guy, Trevor, did you actually wind up changing your diet at all? Or, have you kind of, since writing the book, figured out a diet protocol that kind of fits into this whole category of the combination of hormesis and discomfort and some of the stuff you learn from Trevor?
Michael: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think the one commonality you see with most diets is that especially if a person needs to lose weight, there's going to be some discomfort in the form of hunger, right, because you're going to have to drop the number of calories you're eating. And, that's going to lead to hunger. And, if you can't deal with that, well then, you have a problem. I mean, I think this is one of the reasons why most average diets tend to fail people is that it works for five weeks, great. And then, your body responds by upping its hunger signals, and then all of a sudden it's like, “I can't really deal with this,” and then you're off the wagon.
So, for me, I was working at Men's Health, I had access to a lot of smart nutrition minds and had worked with a few of them, but he really just first had me figure out exactly what my habits were. And, this was just, dude, weigh your food for two weeks. And, that was a freaking eye-opener for me because I'm eating foods that I think the average person would consider healthy. I'm eating sweet potatoes, peanut butter, apples, protein shakes. For example, the first time I ever weigh what a serving of peanut butter actually is, holy hell, that is–
Ben: Yeah, not very much.
Michael: No, it's nothing. So, I thought I was eating a lunch that was 500 calories because it's like an apple, some peanut butter, and a protein shake. It was just something I could do at my desk really easy. This is when I was at Men's Health. And, the serving of peanut butter I had was 600 calories. So, it's like, “Oh, that's more calories than I would eat if I would have just gone down to Wendy's.” Once I became aware of my own behaviors around nutrition and had some actual data behind them, then it was easy to tweak that data and I lost a lot of weight. I wasn't even in the overweight category or anything. I'm 6'1 and I was maybe 189, pretty muscly but there was a layer there. And, once I started working with him, I mean I was down to 175 and just absolutely shredded to the gills and still eating foods I wanted to eat, I just had to work them in more intelligently.
Ben: Interesting. So, Trevor Kashey, what'd you say his website is again? I might have to go check out more what this guy does.
Michael: Yeah, check him out. It's trevorkasheynutrition.com. TKN, I think, is what–and they're on Instagram, they're on Facebook, and all these different places. Yeah, he worked with the 2016, I can't remember. it was one of the Eastern Bloc countries for a while with their combat sports team. And, they ended up winning a ton of medals. So, he definitely does work in the performance space as well. Yeah, fascinating cat.
Ben: Alright, cool. I'll look him up.
And so, in addition to some of the things that we've talked about already, were there any particularly intriguing or difficult adventures that you went on for the book that you think just rocked your world as far as the discomfort component or as far as it just being super unique or educational for you?
Michael: In terms of unique and educational, so I traveled to Bhutan. So, after I killed this caribou–
Michael: Yup, Bhutan.
Michael: And, after I killed the caribou, I started thinking about death a lot more, because it just slaps you in the face that like, “Hey, man, one day you're going to die too.” And, Bhutan is interesting because they view death a lot differently than we do in the United States.
So, in the United States, death is something we don't want to think about because it's an uncomfortable thought, and this extends that you see this in our funeral system where when someone dies, we make them look as alive as possible so we can look at them for an hour and then we send them in the ground and we're told, “Take your mind off it. Don't think about it.”
Ben: Right. Also in the mass economic shutdown based on the philosophy that no one ever should be able to die from a virus, nobody should be allowed to contribute to the buildup of herd immunity. Therefore, we do everything we can at all costs to hold death back without really giving much of a thought to considering honorable deaths and basically the way that humankind has functioned for a long time allowing some sickness to go through the population except the fact that some people are going to perish, particularly the older or the immunocompromised. I realize this might sound heartless, but it's also just kind of the way that the world has worked for a very long time. And instead, we simply hide away death or fear death or run away from death and have to deal with all the consequences as a result. But yeah, there is this weird, just fear of death, like clinging to life and you see that kind of arising at the same time as this transhumanistic emergence of just trying to live as long as possible. I realize that might sound a little bit hypocritical coming from a guy in the biohacking sector where a great, great deal of what we talk about is anti-aging and longevity. But you're right, death is no longer something considered honorable or the passage into another life or anything like that, it's just basically, yeah, hold it back at all costs, nobody should die ever. I don't think that's really a healthy way to think about death.
Michael: I agree. And, I mean to your point, I think it's 20 to 30% of health care spending is on people who I think their last week or two of life. And, it's clearly stuff that is not going to make them any better. We're just trying to keep them alive for a little bit longer.
Ben: Right, right. Lifespan without health span.
Michael: Yes, exactly. Exactly.
Michael: And, this is different than Bhutan, okay. So, I traveled there. And, Bhutan is interesting because they're very underdeveloped, their development ranking is in well into the hundreds. I think it's over 150. There's not a single stoplight in the country. They're surely not like Starbucks and fast food and all that kind of stuff. But interestingly enough, they consistently rank among the happiest countries in the world. And, there's a lot of reasons for that, but one of them, researchers think, is how they view and relate to death. So, in Bhutan, death is part of life effectively. When someone dies, their ashes are put in these little clay pyramids called tsa tsas, and they are placed all over the country. These things are everywhere. Every road bend, you'll see a hundred of them. Every windowsill in the city has them. They're everywhere. And, people are told to think about their death anywhere from one to three times every single day. And, I mean a lot of art, and plays, and cultural stuff centers around death. So, I went there to learn about this.
So, I met with a guy who studies death there. He's an economist who was trained in Oxford and he runs the Gross National Happiness Center, which is effectively sort of our state department or department of the interior. It's a department that studies happiness.
Another person I met with, and this was really fascinating is a monk who's super high up in the Buddhist faith. He's a Kempo. And, to get up to meet this dude, you have to have a driver in Bhutan it's part of the law if you're a tourist. And, my driver has got this smart car, basically. And, we have to drive up to this monastery that's on this cliff road that's all rutted out 4 by 4. And, this dude, man, he pushed that smart car to the brink. And, I was going to have to buy this dude a new car by the time this trip was over. But we make it. And so, then I hike into this monastery and this Kempo lives in this little shack kind of in the shadow of it. I get in there, the first room. There's nothing in this room, go through the next door and there's this really basic kitchen with, I don't even know if there's running water, to be honest. And then, finally, I pull back this drape for the third room and this dude is sitting there. And, the room's filled with incense smoke. There's this statue of the Buddha, and this light is filtering in through the room and catching the smoke and illuminating this dude's face. And, he's sitting in the lotus position and he just looks over at me and just goes, “Welcome.” And, it was just like, “Holy hell, this is the most cliche thing ever.” This gangly western writer has come to see the guru.
But I end up talking to this guy for a few hours and he told me to think about it like this because I want you to pretend that you are walking along the trail. At the end of the trail is a cliff. Well, the catch is that the cliff is death and you are walking that trail right now. And, he goes, “Don't you want to know that there is a cliff at the end of this trail?” Because if you know that, it might change how you walk the trail. You might take in the wilderness a little more. You might have different conversations with the people that you walk that trail with. But in the United States, we don't want to know about the cliff. And so, what happens by ignoring death and not taking death into your mind is that you lose out on something that can positively change your behavior. So, when you think about death, usually it has a way of aligning your priorities and making sort of the trivial things that we can get caught up in life sort of fall away. And, that ultimately is what can lead to happiness by having positive behavior shifts.
And, what's interesting is they've actually done studies on this in the United States where they've had one group think of something random and then another group think of their own death. And then, they'll track them over time. And, the people who think about their death report being happier because it helps them make better decisions in their life about how they want to spend a limited time that they have.
Ben: Interesting. And, Bhutan is ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world, right?
Michael: Yeah, consistently.
Ben: So, after going through that, do you have any, I guess, more practical takeaways for people as far as how to either experience death before death or think about death in a way that would allow them to actually attain that type of happiness?
Michael: Yeah. I think that it's just figuring out. The people I talked to there, all of them basically said, “Think about it in some capacity every day.” The guy, the happiness researcher, he told me, think about it every night before you go to bed. Just take five minutes. And, I mean, I can tell you having done this like some nights it's the most uncomfortable thing you could ever think about. It is freaking terrifying. But I found that because after going through that, that discomfort of realizing that what does it mean to not exist anymore? That's a deep question. You peel that on that onion enough. It's pretty wild. But because of that, it's helped me align how I spend my time and even how I'm going to treat people. Even the fact of doing it, I think. If I'm in traffic and someone cuts me off, I'm just not as agitated anymore. I'm just like, “Yeah, whatever.” I'm going to die, I'm not going to spend my time getting worked up over just some random person like yeah, maybe they're on their way to the hospital or something.
Ben: Yeah. It's interesting because you'll find that a lot of people dramatically change the way they live after having a near-death experience or even going through a plant medicine-based ego death or I forget what they call it, basically something that simulates the death experience. It seems to change people pretty dramatically like that constant awareness of one's own mortality. I think that even though it might seem a little bit of a far cry from death specifically, I personally find a great deal of value in my evening practice of self-examination since how we live our days is how we live our lives. And, I along with my family, at the end of each day, replay the entire day like a movie in my mind asking, what good have I done? What could I've done better? Where was I most connected to my life's purpose? And, to a certain extent, I actually feel I get from that a lot of the similar sensations I get when I think about my death bed, what I want to be known for, what I want people to say about me, how I want people to feel at my funeral, et cetera.
And, it'd be interesting honestly to think about how you could weave into something like a self-examination process. Some type of forward-thinking to one's deathbed like, what would I think about this day that I have lived today if I were on my deathbed? What would the regrets be? What would I be proud of? What would I have done differently if I knew I was going to be dead tomorrow? It might sound like kind of a depressive way of finishing one's day or polishing off one's evening with that type of practice? But it does seem to make sense. I'm even thinking as you're talking to me about potentially weaving that into my process this week just to see how it changes the way that I frame each day.
Michael: Yeah, yeah. And, I mean I think this hit me hard. And, it's so random how just things come into your life. But I was listening to some random podcasts and they started talking about the cosmic calendar. So, this puts all of the universe's time on a year-long scale.
And so, for example, big bang happens on January 1st, planets start forming. And, I'm making the months up at this point, but it's like in March or whatever, the Earth forms in say august. Well, I told you all that to basically tell you that all of human history would be December 31st. It would start at December 31st at 11:59 and 41 seconds. All of human history that we have recorded. I mean, that's how insignificant our time on Earth is in the grand scheme of the time in the universe, which is just, holy hell, that can kind of make you. For me, I think it has given me humility which a lot of people think, being humble is like, “Oh, yeah, not a big deal. I'm not taking credit for these things I did.”
Now, being humble is realizing that you're not that damn important in the grand scheme of time and space. And, for me, that also changes my behavior in such a way that I just don't take myself so damn seriously anymore. And, that makes me an easy person to be around. Oddly enough, you would think that that would hurt someone's work. No, it actually improves my work because I can write it with a more laid-back approach. I can be more playful with things. And, I think that tends to resonate more with people.
Ben: Also, in addition to happiness, you talk about boredom in the book. Why do you talk about boredom in a book about hormesis and discomfort?
Michael: Yeah. So, I started thinking about this when we're hunting because, I mean, we're sitting on these hills for hours and hours and hours waiting for caribou to come through and it's not happening. I didn't have any cell phone service up there enough for 100 miles. I didn't bring a book, didn't bring a magazine, didn't bring an iPad, all that kind of stuff. So, all of a sudden, I found myself bored again. And, to deal with the boredom, we did all kinds of weird stuff. We started reading all the labels on our energy bars. We started reading the tags in our jackets. I did more push-ups than I've done in a year. I came up with 17 different story ideas for–
Ben: You didn't think about bring a Kindle just like pre-loaded with a bunch of books just in case?
Michael: Nope, didn't bring a kindle.
Ben: Well, that's what I would have done.
Michael: That would have been some productive time.
Michael: So, I told you that to tell you this is that boredom is essentially this evolutionary discomfort that humans evolved the capacity for because it would tell us whenever we are doing something where our time, return on our time invested have worn thin, boredom kicks on and basically tells you, “Do something else.” It throws discomfort at you that makes you want to do something else.
Now, in our past, this was a good thing because if let's say you and I are hunting and we actually need food or we're going to starve, if we're not having a success, boredom kicks on and we're like, alright, let's go pick some berries or something. We got to do something here. So, boredom can be a good thing. It can push us into different ways to use our time that are productive. But our book that now whenever we feel a tinge of boredom, it's like, “What do we do?” We immediately pull out our cell phone. We have a million different screens. So, you look at the average person now spends more than 12 hours a day engaging with digital media. That's from cell phones. That's from TVs. That's from computers. That's from radio and on and on and on. So, we didn't have any of this shit in our life like even hundred years ago. Now, it's effectively become our life. So, we have these really easy effortless escapes from the discomfort of boredom. And, I would argue, they're not always pushing our life forward. I'm not saying that everything that happens on your cell phone is bad. Not at all, but I am saying it's this really easy effortless crutch that often doesn't improve your life.
And, what you find is that when people start to re-engage with boredom, it can improve your creativity. So, there's some really interesting studies where they'll take one group and they'll let them do whatever the hell they want which usually tends to be read a magazine or go on your cell phone usually. And then, they'll take another group and they will bore the heck out of the second group. And, they find that the second group consistently comes up with more and more creative answers than the non-bored group. And, that's because boredom gives your brain a little bit of a rest. You start to think of weird things.
And so, I'm not saying that boredom is always going to lead you into productivity, it could lead you into some bizarre thought that you're like, “Well, I don't know where the hell that came from.” But it can often lead to good ideas. This is why a lot of people say, yeah, “I have my best ideas in the shower,” because you're bored you're just sitting there and your mind's kind of going to these weird places. It's not engaged.
And so, in the book, I basically make the argument that you see all this messaging now that's like we need to use our cell phones less. Use yourself on less. Here's 57 different ways to use your cell phone less. And, it's like, yes, that is important, okay. But the problem becomes is like, if you take an hour off your cell phone screen time, great. But then people will go, “Oh well, what the hell do I do with my time?” And, they'll watch Netflix, they'll go on the computer. And, your brain doesn't know the difference between those things. So, I make the argument that we need to think more boredom.
Ben: Yeah, there's a lot of evidence too on the benefits of daydreaming, the benefits of having time carved out during the day where you're simply allowing the brain to free flow. There's even companies I think like Google, for example, that weave into the employee's workday sometime for not necessarily boredom but no actual assigned work to be able to work on free creative projects, which is kind of sort of a form of daydreaming. For my sons, we always keep Monday morning between the time that they wake up all the way up until noon, totally free of any activities. And, that's their chance to do art to walk around outside with their hands in their pockets, whatever they would choose to do. And, mom and I set a good example and there's downtime at our house. We aren't on our cell phones or watching television. Usually, we're engaged in something creative whether that's mom a lot of times, it's art or cooking, sometimes it's music or cooking or reading fiction, or sometimes writing but writing not for work but for fiction, or something more creative.
And, yeah, I think that you almost have to purposefully or intentionally weave times into the day or plan ahead to have a time where you're just not doing anything and then set the expectation for yourself that not doing anything preferably means not doing anything in the absence of technology. Because I think that's the thing that kind of holds one bat from being able to daydream or be bored and in an effective or a paradoxically a productive way. So yeah, it is interesting. The values of boredom and how hard it is to be bored these days truly bored just because we always have our beck and call a million websites, and podcasts, and audiobooks, and blogs to be able to listen to. But it is nice sometimes. Just go for a walk with your hands in your pockets just looking out into the trees or staring at the sky. And, I think we've lost connection to that to a certain extent. So, I'm glad that you wrote about it in the book.
Are there ways that you've changed your life since writing the book like intentional hard things? I'm just curious how you're living your life now if you're a sauna guy, if you're doing cold baths? Well, we've established you're not carrying rocks back and forth under the ocean, but how has your own life changed since writing this book, Michael?
Michael: It's definitely changed a lot. I mean I think for one thing, I'm a lot more grateful for how amazing the modern world is. I tell the story of I hate flying. And, the reason I hate flying is because the seats are cramped and it's always too hot and like the movies they show you they all suck and the food sucks, the coffee sucks, the bathrooms. Flying is freaking awful. Then, I go spend a month in the Arctic, I have to take this terrible flight to get up to the Arctic. But once I spend a month out there, I'm freezing cold the entire time, coffee, tough, I'm bored the entire time. If I want to get from point A to point B, I got to carry my heavy backpack somewhere. There's grizzlies out there. If I want to go to the bathroom, I got to walk off from the tundra and squat and take the rifle because of grizzlies. On and on and on. It's just uncomfortable in every way.
And so, when I get on that flight to go from Alaska back to Las Vegas where I live, what do you think my experience of that flight was? It was freaking amazing. I haven't sat in the chair within a month. I've been starved out of my mind the entire month. I ate an unbelievable amount of pretzels. Those movies that they showed that I used to think were terrible, they were the most entertaining thing I've ever seen in my life because I've been reading Clif Bar labels for a month.
And so, that's kind of a long way to explain that I think that all these amazing comforts that we have in our life, they are amazing, they're incredible, but we can easily take them for granted like how good the world is right now, we can take it for granted. We don't appreciate it. And so, for me, when I get back into civilization, now all of a sudden it's like, when hot running water comes out of the faucet, now I can occasionally think back to Alaska and be like, “Man, this thing that's happening right now is unbelievably amazing.” And, that makes me more grateful. I mean, being grateful is, I think, one of the most important things that a human can aim for. I mean, it's associated with all these amazing health outcomes. Don't get me wrong but more importantly, it just colors your everyday life in such a way that your life is more enjoyable, I think but beyond that into some more specifics. You just talked about walking outside. I do that a ton specifically to get bored and to be outside, so at least 20 minutes every day, I'll take a walk outside without my cell phone, without any headphones, without anything because it gets me bored and it also puts me out into nature.
And so, in the book, I also write about all the benefits of nature. I also am rucking a lot more for sure. I mean, I think back to what we were talking about, honestly, that's the thing that most people should be doing. It's sort of lifting for people who hate the gym and cardio for people who hate to run. And, it is unbelievably easy on your body so long as you don't go too heavy. The injury rate is super low. If you can walk, you can rock. If you walk your dog, just throw a little bit of weight in the pack and do it. It's so approachable and super low impact just amazing. So, I try and do that quite a bit.
What else am I doing? I'm thinking about death, nice and morbid over here, every month, every night, but I'm definitely better for it. Even things as simple as I look in the book about. I know you've talked at length about this on your podcast and know far more about it than I do, but even just like the benefits of being cold. We live at 72 degrees. So, in the winter, we never kick on the furnace because I'm in Las Vegas. So, the house will be 60 degrees. And, I talked to researchers who said 60 to 64 is kind of a sweet spot where you're not suffering but you're getting some of the health benefits of the cold.
I mean, my gym is in my garage, and that place will get up to 115 in the summer. I still train in there. It's kind of training in the sauna. Not taking the easy way out and going to the air-conditioned gym and just, I mean, on and on.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. And, one thing that came to mind as you're describing rucking is so many people I think just need to start walking first. I mean, that's something that a lot of people think they move, then you look at their step counts like 5,000 a day. I think at least just starting with a goal for yourself of 10,000 steps a day is a good way to start and then start adding the weight after that. But my rule for myself is I simply go through each day, and that process of self-examination that I described helps out quite a bit with this, asking myself if not necessarily via a formal exercise session per se, but has my body experienced some amount of discomfort both physically and mentally on any given day?
So, what I mean by that is I try not to let a day go by that I haven't either put an appreciable amount of lactic acid in the muscle, gotten hypoxic, gotten very hot, or gotten very cold, or loaded my muscles with something heavy. And, in the same way, I also try not to let a day go by that I haven't learned something new that slightly confuses my brain or done something that kind of makes smoke come out your ears like I'm trying to teach myself how to play piano right now. And, it's very odd because I'll do that right now before my dinner with the family. I pop up after I finished work and typically our family eats around 7:00, 7:30 pm or so. So, around 6:40, 6:45, I sit down on the piano for 15 or 20 minutes and dink around on that.
And, it's interesting because our family always plays games at night around the dinner table. And, I find I'm more sharp and my mental edge seems to be increased by stimulating some of that neuroplasticity and neurogenesis that comes from just attempting to learn a new musical instrument.
Other examples would be I'll read a book that's outside the scope of health, or fitness, or nutrition, or something I can easily understand. For me right now, I'm reading a lot of kind of dense theology books because it's pushing me outside my comfort zone as far as a new topic that I'm learning. Sometimes it's simply having a conversation with a guy like you and learning something new and needing to wrap my head around new concepts on a podcast. But I think really a good metric for people to start with aside from just walking more is identify one uncomfortable physical activity that you've engaged in during the day. And again, don't over-train, it doesn't have to be exercise, it can be heat, it can be cold, it could be hypoxia, what have you. And then, also, identify one thing that you've done that's mentally difficult.
And, if I could throw a third in there, I also make sure that I kind of train my spirit each day. Every single day, I'm either doing a devotional or doing a meditation session or sometimes fasting, sometimes engaging in more deeper sessions of prayer. But I think that idea of embracing the stoicism and the rigors of discomfort is something that I think people hear about and give a head nod to. But I really think the trick, Michael, is systematically weaving it into one's life because what gets measured, what gets managed–and really, I think that's the best thing that people could do. And, the biggest takeaway I'd give people besides encouraging them to go read your book from this chat with you is just make sure that you're actually intentionally and mindfully pushing yourself outside your comfort zone when we live in an era where comfort can be so difficult to attain.
I do have one last thing that I wanted to run by you. Sometimes we talk about the good old days like our caveman ancestors and the idea that ancient man did a lot of hard things and therefore was a stronger fitter, potentially even happier person, yet I tend to think that if you took the average caveman or heck, somebody living in medieval times or whatever and drop them into the context of our current scenario, they'd be living like kings of old. They'd be living like the wealthiest person on the planet with ample access to libraries of information on their smartphone, a host of nutrient-dense and calorie-dense foods, cars, air conditioning, heating, and they'd really step back and scratch their heads about all of us running around visiting a gym and sweating, or fasting intentionally, or jumping into a cold bath when we don't really have to because why would you burn those calories when you need them to survive, bro?
And so, it is kind of interesting for me because I think sometimes we hearken back to the good old days especially people in the paleo sector or the ancestral living sector without necessarily acknowledging the fact that–I mean, to a certain extent, we're quite lucky. And, it's not about necessarily forsaking or denying the benefit of all of our modern elements of comfort but just making sure that we don't let ourselves get too soft. Does that kind of make sense?
Michael: Yes. Yeah, you nailed it. I mean, I think that if I had written this book back then, it would be called “The Comfort Solution.” And, I'd be like, “Yo, we need to we need to invent Twix, bars. We need to invent M&Ms. We need to invent as much comfort food as we can. We need climate control. You know what I mean? You get the point that I'm making.
I think what has happened is that the balance has tip too far. We've tipped too far into comfort. It's like we know that these things that are uncomfortable. The reason we developed the capacity for discomfort in the first place is because it gave us a survival advantage. So, for all of time, it didn't make sense to move more than you needed to because you were born burning calories and calories were at a premium. So, this is why exercise still sucks today. It's why we have a propensity for laziness. It's why we want to avoid the elements at any and all costs like too hot and too cold. It's why we don't like boredom. Because if you didn't get bored in the past, you were probably going to die. But the balance is now tipped too far. Well, we can just lean into this drive that we have to be comfortable all the time and we're now living in a comfortable environment. So, it's a basic mismatch, right?
Michael: And so, I think really I'm not suggesting that people go live in a yurt, in the woods and never use tech again. Hell, no. But I do think that we need to figure out way–I think we need to analyze, are we overusing or over leaning into some of this stuff? And, in the book, I argue, yes. I mean, if you look at the U.S., the 12 hours that we spend in digital media, the fact that more than 70% of the country is overweight or obese, the fact that chronic diseases are just at an all-time high, mental health problems are at an all-time high. I think we are. And, I think that it is choosing the harder thing that can alleviate a lot of those problems, right?
Michael: Someone who is okay with hunger every now and then and works out is probably not going to be overweight or obese. Someone who is willing to go through discomfort and understands that there is something good for them at the other end is probably not going to have as many mental health problems. And, on and on and on. And so, I think it's really just finding the balance and appreciating it back to that story I told you about on the plane. It's appreciating that we live in an unbelievably amazing world right now. It is an amazing time to be alive. But if we always do the next easy thing in this easy world, that's going to get us in trouble too.
Ben: The name of the book is “The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Healthy, and Happy Self.” Michael wrote it, of course. And, I'll link to that book and also any of the other stuff that Michael and I talk about that I can hunt down like Trevor Kashey's website, or more information on these misogis, and so on and so forth. If you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/ComfortCrisis where you can also leave your questions for Michael and I if you have your own feedback or interesting information to add in because it's always fun to keep the discussion going over there.
Michael, thanks so much for coming on the show, man, and for writing the book.
Michael: Yeah. Ben, that was awesome. I really enjoyed chatting.
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In many ways, we’re more comfortable than ever before.
But could our sheltered, temperature-controlled, overfed, under-challenged lives actually be the leading cause of many of our most urgent physical and mental health issues?
In the book The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Healthy, Happy Self, award-winning journalist Michael Easter, my guest on this podcast, seeks out off-the-grid visionaries, disruptive genius researchers, and mind-body conditioning trailblazers who are unlocking the life-enhancing secrets of a counterintuitive solution: discomfort.
Michael Easter's journey to understand our evolutionary need to be challenged takes him to meet the NBA’s top exercise scientist, who uses an ancient Japanese practice to build championship athletes; to the mystical country of Bhutan, where an Oxford economist and Buddhist leader are showing the world what death can teach us about happiness; to the outdoor lab of a young neuroscientist who has found that nature tests our physical and mental endurance in ways that expand creativity while taming burnout and anxiety; to the remote Alaskan backcountry on a demanding 33-day hunting expedition to experience the rewilding secrets of one of the last rugged places on Earth; and more.
Along the way, Michael Easter uncovers a blueprint for leveraging the power of discomfort that will dramatically improve our health and happiness, and perhaps even help us understand what it means to be human. The Comfort Crisis is a bold call to break out of your comfort zone and explore the wild within yourself. Since publication, The Comfort Crisis has become a bestseller and has been adopted by Major League Baseball teams, top-ranked NCAA D1 football programs, top-tier universities and law programs, major corporations, tier-one military units, and more.
In this podcast, we take a deep dive into Michael's book, and you'll discover the mind and body benefits of living at the edges of your comfort zone and reconnecting with the wild. Michael 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.
His work shows that science has many answers. But it also shows that many aspects of the human experience and living well cannot be measured. To that end, he merges the statistical and mystical. Michael covers topics ranging from medicine and anthropology to theology and philosophy, along with case studies of everyday people doing extraordinary things.
Michael has a presence in over 60 countries, with his work being endorsed by directors of the CIA and Navy SEALs, gold medal-winning Olympians, leading physicians, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, Buddhist and environmental leaders, and more. It’s appeared in Men’s Health, where he’s a Contributing Editor, and Outside, Men’s Journal, Cosmopolitan, Vice, Esquire, Scientific American, Women’s Health, and others.
Michael has appeared on the world’s largest, most influential podcasts including The Joe Rogan Experience, Art of Manliness, Impact Theory, EconTalk, and more. When he’s not on the ground reporting, Michael is a professor in the journalism department at UNLV. He co-founded and co-directs the Public Communications Institute, a think tank at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV). He’s spoken to or consulted for various top-tier universities, medical schools, Fortune-500 companies, government agencies, and some of the country’s largest nonprofits.
Michael lives in Las Vegas on the edge of the desert with his wife and their two dogs, Stockton and Conway.
During this discussion, you'll discover:
- Podcast with Scott Carney:
- What Doesn't Kill Us by Scott Carney
-The impetus for Michael writing the book…06:50
- The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Healthy, Happy Self by Michael Easter
- “Booze, bedlam and bullshit” lifestyle; the favorite drink is the next one
- Realized the life he was living was doomed to end early
- The things worth pursuing are never comfortable
- Podcast with Ulrich Dempfle:
- Profiled Donnie Vincent for Men's Health magazine
- Donnie Vincent
- Was invited by Donnie a year later for another adventure
-How perspectives change when exposed to raw nature and discomfort…18:15
- Hunting changed Michael's relationship with food permanently
- Become aware of the life cycle; in order for me to live, something has to die
- Rucking is low-hanging fruit for getting and staying in shape
- 26 Mile Night Hikes, Surf Swim Torture, 450 Pound Giant Logs And More: What To Expect at SEALFit Kokoro Camp And 9 Ways To Get More Tough.
-The ancient Japanese practice to build championship athletes…25:44
- Marcus Elliott, pro sports trainer
- P3 – Peak Performance Project
- Certain people you give the ball to when the game is on the line
- Misogi, based on Japanese myth; a take on the Hero's Journey
- Sabbath Ramblings: You’re Not The Hero – The Dark Side Of The Hero’s Journey.
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
- “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
- Two rules of Misogi:
- Must be really hard, with a true 50/50 chance of success
- You can't die
- Failure today is very different from the past, where it often meant death
- Engaging in an environment where there's a high rate of failure changes the perspective of what it means to fail
- Laird Hamilton's program
- Anti-Aging, Homeschooling, Underwater Workouts, Pooping & More With Laird Hamilton & Gabby Reece
-A nutrition expert who challenges conventional thinking about food…37:38
- Trevor Kashey Nutrition
- Received Ph.D. at age 23
- Not what you eat, but why you eat
- Processed food may not be as bad as we make it out to be
- Any diet will have discomfort in the form of hunger; loss of calorie intake
-How a trip to Bhutan changed Michael's view of death…44:45
- Western civilization fears death; something to be avoided at all costs
- You lose the honorable nature of death with this mindset
- 20%-30% of healthcare spending is on people on their deathbed, simply keeping them alive a bit longer
- Lifespan without healthspan
- Bhutan is underdeveloped, but among the happiest nations on earth
- Death is part of life in Bhutan
- Ashes placed all over the country in small urns
- If you know about the cliff (death) at the end of the trail, it will change how you experience the trail
- Studies reveal thinking about death can enhance one's happiness
- Being humble is realizing that you're not that important in the grand scheme of things; not taking oneself so seriously
-The relationship between boredom and discomfort…56:57
- Boredom is an evolutionary discomfort
- Boredom tells us to “do something else”
- We turn to digital media when bored in the modern-day
- Studies show that boredom stimulates productivity in some ways
- Nowadays, it is truly hard to be bored
-Ways Michael has changed his life since writing the book…1:02:47
- A lot more grateful for the modern world
- Spending a month in the Arctic
- Make a point of being bored (i.e. a walk without a phone) throughout the day
- Aware of the benefits of being full, having ideal temps in the house, etc.
- Identify a discomfort in your life, one thing that's mentally difficult, train the spirit each day
-Why we've tipped too far into the realm of comfort…1:12:07
- The balance has tipped too far into the comfortable
- The reason we developed a capacity for discomfort is that it gave us a survival advantage
- It does not make sense to move more than you need to; exercise sucks; we have a propensity for laziness
- Someone who is okay with hunger now and then is not going to be obese
- Someone who is okay with discomfort is probably not going to have many mental health problems
-And much more…
- Keep up on Ben's LIVE appearances by following bengreenfieldfitness.com/calendar
Resources from this episode:
- The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Healthy, Happy Self
- Men’s Health
- Scientific American
- Women’s Health
- The Joe Rogan Experience
- Art of Manliness
- Impact Theory
- Public Communications Institute
– Podcasts And Articles:
- What Doesn’t Kill Us: Why Your Body Needs Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude & Environmental Conditioning, with Scott Carney
- How To Get the Benefits Of A 45-Minute Run In Under 9 Minutes (& A 12% VO2 Max Increase & 62% Lower Risk Of Diabetes): The New AI Bike That Is Taking The Fitness World By Storm with Ulrich Dempfle.
- 26 Mile Night Hikes, Surf Swim Torture, 450 Pound Giant Logs And More: What To Expect at SEALFit Kokoro Camp And 9 Ways To Get More Tough.
- Anti-Aging, Homeschooling, Underwater Workouts, Pooping & More With Laird Hamilton & Gabby Reece.
- Sabbath Ramblings: You’re Not The Hero – The Dark Side Of The Hero’s Journey.
– Other Resources:
- Donnie Vincent
- Marcus Elliott
- Joseph Campbell
- Laird Hamilton's Program
- Trevor Kashey Nutrition
–Kion Flex: The ultimate recovery formula, Kion Flex is a bioavailable blend to support joint comfort, mobility and flexibility, and bone health.
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