Within my why statement, ‘I translate the complexity of human biology into the essential ‘big rocks’ of health and wellbeing, so that people can increase their energy and capacity for living a better life’ I give a nod to a few key ideas that have influenced how I think about health, well-being, and life in general. The ‘complexity of human biology’ is a nod toward our evolutionary biology and the perspectives which can be brought by viewing our modern life through such a lens. My thoughts on ‘energy’ are very heavily influenced by the work of Tony Schwartz and The Energy Project. I take my cues regarding the development of capacity from the world of strength training. The whole ‘why’ statement is influenced by Simon Sinek’s ‘It Starts With Why’.
I consider myself an essentialist in the approach and advice I give. Certainly, in our day and age of biohacking, proprietary blends, and various guru specialists, I see very few people doing the essential basics consistently well for months, years, decades. We all want our Insta-Fix so we can give off the air of being Paleo™, Plant-Based™, Bikini-Fit™, or whatever in vogue tribe on social media we are kidding ourselves we are a part of, without it actually requiring major structural change to our lives and routines. Hence, my somewhat dull approach is to bang the drum for the essential foundations/fortifications of sleep, protein-based real food meals, building physical strength, and spending time in the physical company of those with whom you hold trust, value, and deep emotional connection with. These form, in my mind, the essential big rocks of healthy living. Put those rocks in place, routinely direct your energy toward their upkeep and maintenance for a few decades, and there’s a good chance you’ll be rewarded with a good life.
My use of the word essential is deliberate here, pointing toward the influence of Greg McKeown’s ‘Essentialism‘:
The central theme of McKeown’s book is that many of us are caught up in the undisciplined pursuit of more. We want more things. More stuff. More likes. More follows. More downloads. Almost every single thing you can think of in our modern existences are measured in more. “I’ve achieved a million steps.” “My video has had a million views.” “Oh, Em, Gee, I’ve hit one million follows.”
What happens when everyone hits the current definition of more? That more loses its status, so a new more takes it place. Two million will become the new one million. And we will all get swept up in the new undisciplined pursuit of more, forgetting that what really counts is not more, but less.
The undisciplined pursuit of more brings me to the big rocks. Many readers will be familiar with the big rocks in the jar story, seemingly made famous in a contemporary context by Steven Covey of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame (though I am sure this story has much deep origins than that). For a refresher;
As much as I appreciate the general message of this analogy – that filling your days and life in pursuit of meaningless grains of sand is distracting and draws precious energy away from our ability to fit in and tend to the big meaningful rocks – I see a big problem with it.
No matter which version of this analogy you watch, everyone always squashes everything into the ‘time jar’, claiming that it is all just a matter of reordering your priorities. Do the big stuff first and you can still have your grains of sand. Not once does anybody take the approach that perhaps your life might be better by actually not stuffing it so full of meaningless dust, even if you have tended to a few of the big rocks as a priority. There is never any mention of the trade offs, which, in the real world, almost always need to be made.
If the jar represents our capacity, one way or another, be it with pebbles and sand (to the exclusion of the big rocks), or big rocks, pebbles, then sand, that capacity is still at its limit. When making the suggestion that time is our key capacity, once that jar is full, we cannot make the jar bigger if something more pops up that we simply must pursue – and it invariably always does. The only way to fit more in, is to tip something out. Oftentimes it’s one (or more) of our rocks we let fall out, believing that it’s only temporary and we’ll be able to squeeze them back in somewhere soon.
In the year 2018, those grains of sand are generally backed by unfathomably powerful algorithms, each coming with its own unique form of notification asking you to give them your time and attention (energy) – space in your jar. Do you seriously think they are happy with you making them such a low priority? Happy to be something you might tend to on a rainy day when you haven’t much else going on? Not a chance. They know how to mess with your brain chemistry to ensure you always leave space in the jar for them.
With our jars so tightly packed, there is no capacity left to move some of the rocks & stones into better positions should something unexpected occur (certainly, once the water is added, everything is truly sunk anyway). I would make the argument, too, that the true insight and utility we derive from the essential rocks comes not from the rocks themselves, but from the spaces between the rocks and the stones. Certainly, my own experience tells me that it is often in the unscheduled, seemingly unproductive spaces in my jar, that my eureka moments occur, and it is in those spaces when I can truly appreciate the multiplier effect of good sleep, eating well, being strong, and having robust real-world interactions with people I love and admire
So here is to the notion of the disciplined pursuit of less, where we decide we are going to give our energy to a few essential rocks in our jars, deal with the necessary stones of life, but recognise that we cannot squash everything in, no matter what the promise, without the rocks themselves eventually being ground to dust.