By Leo Babauta
Is it strange that many of us these days feel hyperconnected and yet disconnected?
This is what Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple explores in his new book, The Primal Connection: Follow Your Genetic Blueprint to Health and Happiness. It’s a fascinating look at what we need as humans, what we lack in this age of distractions and speed.
Mark published The Primal Blueprint a couple years ago, and this new book looks like it builds on top of that. In this interview, Mark answers some key questions about what we lack in a hyperconnected world.
Q: How is The Primal Connection different from The Primal Blueprint?
Mark: The Primal Blueprint focused almost entirely on the evolutionary underpinnings of proper human nutrition and exercise. In short, as animals, we function best eating the diet and doing the exercises that humans evolved eating and doing, so an evolutionarily concordant diet and exercise plan is a good place to start a healthy lifestyle.
The Primal Connection is about all the other environmental and social factors that shaped who we are today as a species. It’s about how sun exposure and proper sleeping patterns are absolutely critical for optimal health. It’s about the importance of real social contact with other humans, face to face – not through words on a screen. It’s about adopting and adapting all the other behaviors of our ancestors that made them healthy, because it all shaped our evolution – just as the ancestral diet and exercise habits did. In short, if The Primal Blueprint was primarily concerned with the body as a meat vessel requiring certain dietary inputs, The Primal Connection explores the body as a mind and emotion meat vessel requiring certain social, environmental, sensual, and sensory inputs for optimal functioning.
Q: What’s the most glaring deficit in the modern human psyche?
Mark: A lack of mindfulness. It’s ironic, because we’re inundated with information, data, and knowledge that purports to fill our brains. Everything you could ever want to know about anything is right there at our fingertips.
But what’s really going on? What are you missing with your face buried in that smartphone?
We’re so focused on devouring the latest gadget or article or Tweet and moving on to the next one that we’re never really “here.” We’re like the NFL receiver who starts his fake-out move before he catches the ball and ends up dropping it. Before we’ve even perceived, noted, appreciated, and fully experienced the sensory and emotional input that make up everyday experiences, we’re moving on to the next thing.
The present is, by definition, extremely fleeting – here in an instant, gone in a second. But it’s also all we truly have. The future is “out there” and the past is “back there”; the present is right here. If we want to experience the present in any meaningful way, we have to be mindful of it. We have to consciously and diligently (at least at first, until it becomes second nature) stop, smell the roses, and then ruminate on what we’re smelling.
Q: What’s the most glaring deficit in the modern human body?
Mark: A lack of physical touch. Humans are social animals, as people often like to say. Social contact between humans should not be sterile and stand-offish. Most social animals spend much of their days touching other members of their group. They sleep together, groom each other, wrestle with each other, and sniff each other. They need constant physical touch, and, because they’re not beholden to social norms, they get to satisfy that need.
Humans are also social animals who need physical touch, but social contact between humans tends to be sterile and stand-offish. It’s too bad, because physical touch has immense physical and mental benefits. Quite literally, the welcome touch of another person – a hug, a kiss, a massage – enacts beneficial changes in gene expression at the molecular level, changes that reduce stress, release oxytocin, and lower inflammation. Babies who experience “touch deficit” have disrupted growth hormone, stress hormone, and bonding hormone secretion.
When you see your friends, hug them. Dads, hug your children. Pet owners, pet your dog and scratch your cat behind the ears. After all, you’re their family, and they may not have another outlet for touch.
Oh, and people: have sex. Often, and with someone you care about. Sex feels good, strengthens bonds, improves our immune system, and may even boost growth in the neurocampus.
Q: What is one quick tip that anyone can do to better align the expectations of their genes with the realities of modern life?
Mark: Make the effort to really disconnect from electronic stimulation at least twice a day. No phones, no computers, no Facebook, no email, no television. This sounds scary and hard, but there are a few simple ways to go about doing this.
Go for a walk on your lunch break and leave the smartphone at the desk. Just walk, preferably through a place with some greenspace.
Set a tech cut-off time before bed. Shoot for at least an hour before you go to sleep, but strive to extend that period to two hours.
Turn your phone off when you’re with people. It used to be that only old couples who’d been together for fifty years would be out to breakfast with their noses buried in their respective newspapers, but now everyone’s doing it. The oldsters earned the right, because they’ve lived life, but the 22 year old out with his buddies? I think it’s a shame that he can’t find anything more interesting than his phone.
Q: What don’t we get enough of, and why is it such a problem?
Mark: Play. People don’t play enough.
It’s funny, because when I talk to people, I find that playing is the hardest hurdle to overcome. How’s that? Play is, by definition, fun. Why wouldn’t you love to do more of it?
Play isn’t fun when you feel guilty or self-conscious about it. It’s not play if you’re holding back and looking around to see who’s pointing and laughing at you. Play must be carefree. For it to really “count,” play must be free. You have to commit to it. You can’t go out and begrudgingly toss the Frisbee around. Your body knows the difference; it can’t be tricked that easily. You have to really play. You have to give yourself over to the moment (remember, be here now).
The people you’re with also know the difference. If you’re outdoors tossing a ball with your kid (or even your dog) and you can’t help but gaze into the soulful eyes of your iPhone every minute, whomever you’re with will know that you’re not really playing with them. That you’re not really engaged in the activity. And that’s not playing. That’s acting.
Be a kid again. A kid who pays the bills, takes care of responsibilities and duties, and knows when to buckle down and do the things that matter, but a kid nonetheless.
Mark Sisson’s new book The Primal Connection was released today. Visit MarksDailyApple.com to see how you can get a bunch of free gifts for ordering a copy today.