The Short Story
The Long Story
“They Tried to Bury Us, They Didn’t Know We Were Seeds“
“There’s nothing better when something comes and hits you and you think ‘YES’!”
Final Fantasy VII hit the shelves in November 1997. I had been waiting for that video game for months, and it did not disappoint. That game was crystalized perfection. I made sure never to play it again since then. I didn’t want to taint its glorious memory. To this day, I hadn’t encountered any work of fiction that made me more emotional than when Sephiroth killed Aerith. I was in such shock at that time as it came out of nowhere; if my memory serves me right, it took me a solid five minutes until I mustered enough composure to insert the second compact disc into my vintage Sony PlayStation One. After all, I needed to continue the path of light and eventually gather enough skills to bestow complete retribution upon the murderer. To this day, 23 years later, even hearing some of the original soundtrack pieces that made it into the pop culture takes me back to that jovial time of video gaming adventures and digital camaraderie. It was a magnificent piece of work through and through. Final Fantasy VII is one of those old-school role-playing games (RPG). Gameplay centered around, as most RPGs do, completing adventures, gaining experience, learning skills, and developing your character. I’m probably doing a miserable job at remembering the mechanics of the game, but it doesn’t matter. Characters in RPGs have a series of attributes that you want to increase. Since that game was a couple of tiers before the advent of online social gaming — think World of Warcraft, where you develop highly specialized characters, it was mostly geared toward building a balanced character. The latter was neither excellent nor mediocre at any particular skill but shined by its great overall balance. There is a game-like quality to life.
Constructing Jason Bourne
“A gap in skills and abilities reveals a golden opportunity!“
We’re not here to talk about video games, however. We’re here to talk about the conscious choice of stopping to be a partial human being. When you think about it, nothing is stopping you from being impossibly athletic, extravagantly well-read, ridiculously eloquent in many languages, decent at dancing, able to land a small aircraft, reckless enough to perform wheelies on motorbikes, fair at riding horses, excellent at not making them kick you, able to break a jaw in a bar fight, and generally good at a series of other life skills. Overall, nothing is stopping you from being good at a great many things.
One of my life goals, besides living to 130 — more on that at later stages, is to be the Swiss army knife of life. Or, as I put it somewhat less presumptuously: to get fairly average at every meaningful activity, from growing tomatoes to coding in Swift through piloting helicopters. If you’re thinking, why would you content yourself with being average when you can pursue excellence? There’s a phrase from the biohacking subculture that comes to mind: “perfect is the enemy of the good.” The phrase is attributed to Voltaire, as far as we know. Biohackers hastily incorporated it into their ethos since it fits quite well with their extremely developed awareness of opportunity costs.
Primarily, if you work in a corporate environment, where specialized skills are highly appreciated, you probably disagree vehemently with my generalist approach. I don’t blame you. It’s understandable. Maybe I can do a decent job at laying down an alternative way of thinking, though. Perhaps not; I’ll make it entertaining, however.
Before you google how much a Cessna 172 costs — about the price of a Ferrari F8, let me reassure you; you don’t need to go for some kind of arbitrary full completion. Piloting airplanes is only relevant if it’s one of your life goals. Besides, helicopters are probably more useful. When you think about it, helicopters are the ultimate screw-you-guys-I’ m-going-home, to put it in the ever-poetic and inspirational words of the great Bill Burr mixed with the obnoxious Eric Cartman.
Some things are nice-to-have. Some other things are must-haves. Let’s talk about the starting block, the bare minimum, for being a complete human first.
As a short aside before going on here, click the following for a short and sweet list of valuable life skills you can earn while getting paid.
Must Be This High to Ride
“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.“
As far as I know, physicality is still a massive part of life. Physical fitness is the foundation upon which everything else rests. Far too often, you see people who simply ignore it. Maybe because of society, perhaps because they’ve always been mediocre at sports and they just wrote it off in some sort of viciously destructive feedback loop.
Modern society plays a substantial detrimental role in this, as well. Somehow, it seems to imply that the mind trades off with the body. When we see a muscular man, we immediately tend to associate him with lesser cognitive capacity. When we see a thin man, we will quickly associate him with artistic pursuits and higher intellectual capacity. Our human brains love simplicity and speed. There’s nothing wrong with that. The very mechanism that allows us to judge fast is the same mechanism that allowed us to survive in times when a split-second decision between friend or foe could be a matter of life or death. However, we need to be able to overrule antiquated thinking paths to progress on both the human evolution ladder and the somewhat shorter personal development ladder.
I don’t know exactly where the idea that mind and body trade-off arose. Maybe it came from times when being tanned and strong was the plight of the peasants. As they were working their hands to the bone in the fields, the nobility was indoors engaging toward scholarly pursuits. As a result, nobles became quite pale and frail. Those times, when nobles became so light that you could see their veins through their almost translucid sun-deprived skin, also gave us the term Sangre azul in Spanish, which then was translated into the English phrase blue blood. But I digress again.
In reality, fit people can be quite literate and overall accomplished at a great many things. The reverse is also true. I have no reason to believe that out of shape, or even obese people have some magical superior cognitive skills. The opposite might be right. With all the things we know about the adverse effects of caloric excess and obesity, how smart can you be if you chose to ignore the body? Also, the arbitrary split between intellectual and physical pursuits makes no sense. Your mind is your body, and your body is your mind. If it’s a great sin to be dull in a well-kept body, it’s equally as high a sin to have a beautiful soul trapped in a frame made of pure dogshit.
Let’s take a look at professional rugby players, for example. Some people would argue that none of those people is going to end up winning a spelling bee contest any time soon. I would be careful with that kind of premade thinking. First, anything mainstream is wrong. Especially nowadays: everything has to fit a four-second attention span of the likes of “anabolic steroids are bad” or “red meat is unhealthy.” Anabolic steroids are, on the one hand, medical drugs used in the treatment of a great many viral or degenerative diseases. On the other hand, they are performance-enhancing drugs that can give male bodybuilders the ability to breastfeed, when used massively. They’re not just one thing. The same applies to red meat. It stands to reason that eating organic grass-fed liver — one of the most nutrient-dense foods — is vastly different from eating a factory-farmed sausage made out of 13 different antibiotic-loaded pig buttholes — different things.
Let’s take a second to get back to our example of the ruby player. Running at maximum speed while delicately smashing your elbow against another gentleman’s face and gracefully catching an oval ball — of all the shapes it had to be oval — with your free hand is an excellent display of a fantastic, magnificently functional, nervous system. Every single synaptic connection has to be working in perfect unison — a grand synaptic symphony — for those giant men to be able to perform those formidable athletic feats. It’s, by all means, a sign of high cognition and a perfectly functioning mind.
You might feel that I’m focusing heavily on the body. You’re right. In the information age, I don’t need to explain to you that acquiring, processing, retaining, and retrieving information are primordial life skills. For instance, Marco’s Grounds, as I’m sure you know, specializes in making dietary supplements that support cognitive functions (also called nootropics or smart drugs). We make Maximum Mind to help hone those skills and push them further. However, choosing to ignore physicality entirely will always result in a miserable life, at any rate. Being impossibly out of shape is no way to go through life. Assuming happiness is a life goal — it’s a reasonably safe assumption as I haven’t met anyone who wants to be actively unhappy, there’s no way to reach it while being out of shape.
Further, even if maximizing only the mind is your goal. It’s a fool’s errand if you ask me, but let’s play with that thought. Regular exercise, regular movement, help tame our monkey minds, and focus better. For instance, have you ever talked on the phone, and when the conversation became somewhat intense, you stood up and started pacing back and forth, because it helped you process the conversation more effectively? That’s the soothing and mental processing boost of physical movement at play. Ernest Hemingway used to write at a standing desk, as he stated, it helped his creativity.
I’m sure you’ve heard people, as I have, say things of the likes of “physicality is not that important; I’d rather focus on less shallow intellectual pursuits.” It’s a ridiculous statement, faintly veiling profound underlying laziness and revealing creative thinking only geared toward justifying that laziness. Anyone who knows anything about brain processing capacity knows that, among others, ketones — the result of ketosis — increase mental acuity, roughly speaking, and that regular exercise increases mental resilience and focus.
I might be sounding a bit harsh. It comes from a place of love, rest assured. Also, I’m writing this for you as much as I’m writing this for myself. I need to keep me in check, too. I need to stop rationalizing away exercise and fitness, as well. It’s not about vanity, like most people, I included, would retort, in a pointless, lazy effort to discard it. It’s about a complete life. It’s about total wellbeing. It’s about finally having that peaceful and serene rest because you got all the things done and have no glaring weaknesses anymore.
“By discovering nature, you discover yourself.“
Taller is always better than shorter, and fitter is always better than fatter. There’s nothing you can do about height. But you can surely get reasonably fit. It’s not witchcraft. You don’t need to keep being out of shape because you’ve always been that way. What most people seem to think is that you need to look like a fitness model to be in shape. That’s nonsense. Being that impossibly ripped is just the other side of the same useless coin. Also, since that kind of look is unattainable for most people, they get discouraged and don’t bother starting their path toward physical fitness, which let me remind you, is just the bare minimum for constructing your own Jason Bourne.
First, everyone should meet a couple of fitness models. Meeting those people is, more often than not, extremely underwhelming. Second, what those people are to real human fitness is what a steroid ridden pit bull is to a wolf. You kind of see features of the real deal in there, but you also somewhat know it’s not the real deal. The pit bull is ridiculously massive, docile, and tame. You can make it do little tricks, and it obeys you. It needs you to live. It can’t even run for more than a couple of minutes without getting utterly exhausted. There’s zero chance it would survive in the wild. Not only because it’s unable to get enough food to sustain its inflated body, but also because more adapted predators would tear through it like a warm knife through butter. Wolves have been routinely observed eating dogs, for instance.
A wolf, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal. It’s a highly evolved apex predators perfectly adapted to dominate its environment. There’s no such thing as taming wolves. A wolf either agrees with you or it doesn’t. It also doesn’t pack the most impressive of looks. Yet, it can run for kilometers and kilometers after preys without seeming bothered and has a jaw that can pulverize a bull’s femur: a wolf’s bite is five to six times stronger than the hardest of dog bites. Just imagine what one bite would do to a human arm, and there’s never only one bite or only one wolf. It’s similar to you biting in a chicken wing. You notice the bone is there, but all you need to do is ever so slightly close your mouth, and it snaps. Long story short: one is all show the other is all go.
I cannot put my finger exactly on it. But I know nature has a way to recognize and ridicule artificiality. Much like the analogy of the pitbull and the wolf, if you were to compare the looks of, for example, a Charles Branson in movies like Chato’s Land or Hard Times with a current-day fitness model or bodybuilder you would probably come to the same conclusion. One looks like the rugged and hardened real deal, shaped and molded by nature — the other looks like an inflated mimic with a mild addiction to baby oil and a selfie-sticks.
I love bodybuilders, though. There’s so much to learn from them. They are masterful artists of adding muscle and subtracting fat while using their bodies as a canvas to paint the limits of the human body. But there also is a considerable difference between bodybuilding and real capable human bodies.
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.“
My idea of physical fitness is simple: human fitness is attained by doing what our species naturally evolved to do in our natural habitat. Humans are endurance hunters with humongous brains. You might not know this, but we used to run after prey for so long as it took for them to collapse of overheating. It was a remarkably effective hunting strategy for millions of years — compared to the five to six millennia of agricultural civilization in our shared history. Human beings are one of a kind in the animal kingdom. Not only because of our fantastic brain but also because we have nature’s best cooling system. It makes us able to run longer and further than any other mammal on the planet. The loss of fur might have helped.
If you were to ask yourself what’s perfect physical fitness, you would come to an answer along the following lines. Great physicality is functional. It displays both adequate endurances to hunt animals, or chop wood for a long time and enough strength and speed to, for example, effectively run after children to keep them out of harm’s way. It certainly has no tolerance for unnecessary weight, be it muscle mass or adipose tissue. It also displays cues of good health and hints at a long and healthy life. High fitness is also the consequence of a beautiful mind. It shows, among others, pronounced consciousness, discipline, and empathy.
This description of an able body capable of both good endurance and good explosivity might seem arbitrary to you at this point. After all, how would it look like in the information age? My argument rests on a little trickster of evolution called female choice. Female choice is the evolutionary biology phenomenon by which women chose the traits they want to see more in future generations by choosing those traits in their mates, i.e., men. If you don’t understand how that works, I recommend spending more time at night on the internet. By doing so, women replicate those desirable traits down further generations. It would result that the DNA of women who wanted the most useful characteristics would be more likely to live on and thrive, while the DNA of women who chose fewer valuable traits would be less likely to survive. It is believed that while most human females pass on their genes, only about half of human males have done so. I guess the other half simply had undesirable DNA swimming around in their testicles. If evolutionary biology, trait selection, and the likes strike your fancy, consider reading the early 2000’s classic that is The Mating Mind by the great and hauntingly eloquent Geoffrey Miller.
Since female choice is what shaped the human male throughout evolution, it would stand to reason that the purest form of evolutionary fitness — fitness in the Darwinian sense of the term and not in the gym rat sense, are the physical traits that human females come to like. After all, those shapes sustained the harsh trial of nature and time with its constant conflict and resolution. According to a study published in the American Journal of Human Biology, the physical traits women like the most on average throughout their ovulatory cycle are crystallized into something close to the shape of a male swimmer, i.e., reasonably lean, a bit of muscle mass, a bit of fat .
It’s kind of amusing to note that the shapes women like are quite different from the shapes men think women like, i.e., extraordinarily muscular and freakishly lean. When you account for a bit of variation, i.e., in my view, what women say they want the most on average and what they end up doing are different things. To be fair, the same applies to men. Human brains, in general, have a fantastic capacity at fooling themselves. In my anecdotal experience, when women are at peak fertility and the concentration of luteinizing hormone (LH) — I jokingly call LH the hormone of horniness — rushing through their bloodstream is overriding the decision-making process, things are a bit different. At that time of the month, women tend to like men slightly more muscular — emphasizing slightly, displaying cues of aggression, i.e., square jaw, stern look, less agreeable, and marginally hairier. If I need to explain to you why that is, I prescribe, similarly to above: talking to your parents and spending more time watching television or on the internet. A lean and robust body represents the promise of decent work outputs without getting tired too fast by excess muscle or fat. A lean and healthy body makes it possible to adequately protect children, hunt mammals, gather plants, perform social activities, make her come, etc.
I’m using women’s preferences in men to extrapolate what constitutes perfect male fitness. You might disagree with my argument. It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, if it’s slightly more muscular or slightly less, it’s irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. What matters is leanness and strength. That is excellent news for everyone. When we remove all the noise from the anabolic steroid gluttons on Instagram — both male and female — or broadly on the general internet, all we need is functionality, a bit of muscle, and be reasonably lean. Those are easily attainable goals. It’s definitely within your grasp with just a couple of minutes a day.
Cutting Through the Superfluous
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.“
Nearly 130 years ago, Vilfredo Pareto demonstrated it in his work Cours d’ Économie Politique (original one on Amazon for $6000) by showing that 20% of landlords in Italy owned 80% of the land. You can see this principle roughly in different aspects of life. In academia, approximately 20% of researchers produce 80% of the peer-reviewed published literature. In fundraising, for example, roughly 20% of donors amount to 80% of amounts raised. In learning a language, it gets even better. For instance, in Spanish, 6000 words, or 1% of Spanish words, repeat themselves continuously in around 86% of conversations. You get the idea.
―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
If you apply the 80/20 principle to your life completeness goals, starting with getting and staying fit is ridiculously simple. If you use the 80/20 principle to your overall life, you could ask yourself this question: what are the 20% of things in your life that give you 80% of dissatisfaction? You could also ask yourself the reversal of that question: what are the 80% of things I do that just bring me 20% of satisfaction? I’m legendary for my laziness. I would work on those fronts first, thus applying the maximum effect for minimum effort.
There are diminishing returns to everything. Once you’re generating $ 100’000 yearly income, $ 10’000 more won’t matter as much as when you’re earning $ 30’000. The same applies to fitness or any other aspect of life, for that matter. When it comes to fitness, it’s undoubtedly more satisfying and easy to go from out of shape, out of breath after walking up a single flight of stairs to fit than it is to go from six-pack to eight-pack abs, genetics willing. In your quest to refuse to be a partial human being, you just need to work on your most significant most obvious shortcomings firsts. If you’re already fit, as described above, i.e., reasonably lean and functional. Then obviously, you can cross the fitness topic off the to-do list and pursue other goals. If you’re not fit, work on it first. The body doesn’t make the man. The mind makes the man. But great minds also maintain great bodies. There just seems to be something with being healthy, feeling powerful and in control, that makes us humans so annoyingly happy. I cannot recommend it enough.
You do need a bit of patience, however, if you’re extraordinarily unfit or even obese. After all, that weight didn’t come all at once. It won’t go away all at once, either. However, you can achieve reasonable fitness in as little as 10 minutes a day without spending any money on supplements or gym memberships. You cannot become the best or even great at anything in 10 minutes a day. Let’s keep it real. However, you can get healthier, leaner, and stronger in that time. Just be mindful of the superlatives.
Sweetening the Pot
“Diversification is protection against ignorance. It makes little sense if you know what you are doing.“
You can achieve reasonable fitness with one jumping rope, one kettlebell, one pull-up bar, and two resistance bands. There’s no need for fancy exercises or spiritual breakthroughs — chopping wood still does wonder to the abs and the mind. All those things together, aside from the kettlebell, cost less than $40. Kettlebells get expensive if you are superhumanly strong. For most men, a 24 kilograms kettlebell — 12 kilograms for women — is all it takes to achieve functional fitness. Have a look at Marco’s Kettlebell Minimalism. It’s the most straightforward, leanest fitness program under the sun. It will get most people to reasonable levels of fitness at minimal time or money investments. The icing on the cake: you can do it at home if you decide to get or make a kettlebell. When you know what you’re doing, exercise doesn’t need to be complicated. Add to the kettlebell work a couple of 10-minute sessions of jumping rope while watching your favorite show on Netflix, and you’ll even get leaner faster.
Even if you don’t read any of those, doing the following will almost certainly yield results;
- reduce sugars and artificial sweeteners intake;
- pay more attention to sleep hygiene; and
- do a bit more exercise.
There are also plenty of great resources on YouTube. They all work, aside from the ridiculous ones. Just don’t spend too much time splitting hairs and trying to dig out the ultimate one. You could be doing air squats and pushups in that time.
When it comes to fitness, almost anything works for at least a particular time. Also, if you never worked with a professional trainer, I would highly recommend doing so. They will teach you basic form, give you primers into basic nutrition science, and last but not least, they will hold you accountable. If you’re unsure, professional trainers will make your pursuit toward becoming a complete human safer. You also don’t need to spend all your life with a personal trainer. A couple of sessions are enough.
Just remember that most men tend to think more muscle is necessary while every reliable observation points to the contrary. Also, keep in mind that in your quest for a great many life skills, extremes are the enemy. While being a large fat beast hurts you the most — both physically and socially, being ridiculously fit with deep cut abs also hurts you. The first one projects self-hatred, low consciousness, and little discipline. The other one hints at narcissistic obsession and unresolved insecurities.
To some extent, both are annoying addictions. Going to the gym six days a week is mental laziness — unless it’s your actual profession — just as much as doing nothing is physical laziness. When you’re already good at something, it’s time to start something new. There’s no point in polishing your already acquired medals. You could keep your vanity in check, achieve a reasonable level of real human fitness while pursuing other activities with all the free time. Aside from your ego, nobody cares about a one percent body fat drop or four veins on your abs instead of two. While physical fitness is of tremendous importance, overdoing it might be as great a sin as not doing it at all.
It’s within your grasp to make it happen and to refuse to become that fat middle-aged guy in the red BWM convertible who wakes up sweaty and in panic in the middle of the night, wondering which arms is the wrong one to be sensing a tingling pain in. You can refuse to be a partial human being. The hardest part is coming to that realization.
- Dixson, B. J., Dixson, A. F., Li, B., & Anderson, M. J. (2007). Studies of human physique and sexual attractiveness: Sexual preferences of men and women. American Journal of Human Biology, 19(1), 88–95.