Today we conclude our series on Optimal Wellness. Whether it has to do with nutrition, fitness, or the things that make life worth living, we can learn much from studying the practices and patterns of our original human ancestors. The lives of these people were not, as some have suggested, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (apart from infectious disease and injuries). They were rather good lives that are still in our genes and in our bones today. That’s why it’s worth getting to know these people, and this Provision • one last time • will reintroduce you to them.
I have often said that I write Provisions not to share what I know but to share what I am learning on the trek of life. By engaging in this weekly discipline I not only learn from the research and writing, I also learn from you, our readers, who generously share replies and wisdom along the way. It has been this way for more than nine years now, and I feel deep gratitude for the continuing opportunity.
This particular series on Optimal Wellness began, incredibly enough, just after the fourth of July in 2006. That’s when I wrote the first Provision in this series. But it really began, at least for me, ten years ago: that’s when I left pastoral ministry, lost 65 pounds, became a runner, and started LifeTrek Coaching International. It was truly a year of Changing for Good.
One reason the changes stuck was because I made the shift to coaching. It’s not enough to do things only in our own self-interest. That only goes so far and lasts so long. When we do things both for ourselves and for others, however, the world aligns to make it so. By sharing my journey with others, in open and positive ways, wonderful things have happened to keep me motivated and moving forward. Many of those things I could not have predicted ten years ago, but I did know and trust that life has a way of working out for those who remain its students.
So that’s what I’ve sought to be for lo these many years. When, by the fall of 1998, I had lost my weight and run my first marathon in more than 15 years, I did not think of myself as having reached my goal or arrived at my destination. Instead, I became a coach in order to keep learning and to share the learning process with others. I never would have sustained the change with any other attitude.
My understanding of Optimal Wellness is a case in point. Five years after I had lost my weight and run 20 more marathons, one might think that I would have had this Optimal Wellness thing all figured out. By then I was a successful coach who had made wellness one of his specialties, assisting others to lose weight, get in shape, and develop healthy rhythms in life and work. I had even written my first booklet on the subject before getting introduced, in the summer of 2004, to a body of knowledge known as evolutionary wellness.
Talk about mind boggling! S. Boyd Eaton, MD, from Emory University in Atlanta, gave a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution titled, “Stone Agers in the Fast Lane: Health Promotion in the 50th Millennium.” I happened to hear that lecture and, over time, it proceeded to totally change my approach to Optimal Wellness. The evolutionary principle that Eaton articulated was simple and convincing: by learning about the diet and lifestyle of our original ancestors, we can learn about the diet and lifestyle that best suits human beings today and in the future.
Why would our original diet and lifestyle be so prescriptive? Because we ate and lived that way for most of our existence as a species. Only recently, in evolutionary terms, have we made dramatic changes to our diets and lifestyles (through the agricultural, industrial, and now informational revolutions). Although those revolutions have generated some wonderful things, including civilization as we know it today, they have also generated chronic disease and stress in unprecedented proportions. That’s why Eaton and many others now argue persuasively that the original diet and lifestyle, from the Paleolithic period, is worth emulating (in so far as that is possible) for those seeking to optimize their own health and well-being.
So nearly four years ago my diet and lifestyle went through yet another transformation, a transformation that is still ongoing. I have been sharing that transformation with you, for more than a year and half, through the pages of LifeTrek Provisions:
- Evolutionary Nutrition. Prior to 10,000 years ago, no human being on the planet was eating grains, dairy products, or beans. These products of agriculture had not been invented yet. Prior to 100 years ago, no human being on the planet was eating foods that had been grown and fertilized with the byproducts of fossil fuels. The power to fix nitrogen, by combining nitrogen and hydrogen gases under immense heat and pressure in the presence of a catalyst, had not been invented yet. As a result, the human population was smaller and far less developed.But it was also healthier from the standpoint of chronic disease and stress. Many people are surprised to learn that; I know I was. I assumed that the lives of our original ancestors, to quote Thomas Hobbes in 1651, were “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Nothing, it turns out, could be further from the truth. Without wanting to exaggerate or ignore the very real challenges of their existence, it is safe to say that our original ancestors lived relatively long, enjoyable, and active lives in supportive communities. Their diet, as hunters and gatherers, included primarily wild game, birds, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Those are the foods, grown organically, along with plenty of clean water, that still make for optimal nutrition today.
- Evolutionary Fitness. Prior to 10,000 years ago, no human being on the planet lived in permanent shelters, let alone in urban areas, with foods delivered practically to their doors. Civilization, as we know it, had not been invented yet. Prior to 200 years ago, no human being on the planet was moving around with the help of fossil fuels. The internal combustion engine had not been invented yet. As a result, the human population was parochial and far less mobile.But it was also far more active and fit. It takes a lot of work to hunt and gather food without gunpowder and metal. It also takes a lot of planning and ingenuity. All that contributed not only to the development of big brains but also to fit bodies. The two go hand in hand. The more we use our brains and bodies, the better we will feel and live. Inactivity and lack of exercise contradict human nature and undermine human health.
In this area, too, I had a big surprise. It’s not hard to imagine that hunters and gatherers had more activity and exercise than modern office workers. I did not realize, however, that they also had more rest and relaxation. No one worked straight through from 9 to 5, let alone from 5 to 9. They rather developed healthy rhythms between exertion and recovery, both day to day and season to season. Much was dependent upon weather and light. Day to day, our original ancestors took naps and slept far more often than we do today. They built their fitness on a solid foundation of self-care that we would do well to emulate.
- Evolutionary Goodness. And it wasn’t all about self-care; they were also far more attentive to and supportive of each other’s needs than we are today. There’s really no other way to survive in the wild. For a description, I turn it back to Dr. Eaton in his 1988 book, The Paleolithic Prescription:Our original ancestors “were much like us • experiencing most of the same hopes, doubts, desires, pleasures, challenges, disappointments, and conflicts. But they experienced them together. Social isolation, with its now established threat to mental and physical health, was unknown to them. Stresses were numerous, but they arose out of the realities of life, not from clock watching, traffic jams, or class consciousness.”
“Their lives were spent working, playing, eating, sleeping, entertaining, and worshipping • with a close-knit group of people who, as much as they might complain, cared for one another. When tensions arose that couldn’t be resolved, they were free to move off and join other friends and relatives in a different band for varying lengths of time. Their children grew up in that same context of closeness, nurturance, and love.”
In other words, benevolence! Only in supportive communities and environments could people survive and thrive. Banishment meant certain death. Mutual aid meant life. “This was the way of life,” Eaton concludes, “that characterized every generation of human beings on our planet for most of the course of human evolution.” It’s in our genes and in our bones to care and to make life more wonderful for others.
So that’s the pattern we have followed in developing the Optimal Wellness Prototype. It’s called a prototype not because I happen to like this way of eating, exercising, and existing. Indeed, I was a vegetarian eating lots of grain and dairy products before stumbling upon evolutionary wellness. It’s called a prototype, which literally means “the original or model on which something is based or formed,” because it follows directly from the patterns of behavior that got us to where we are today. And I intend to stay with the one who brought me to the dance.
It’s interesting that I’ve had more health challenges over the past year, while writing about optimal wellness, than I’ve had at other times in my life. As I look back on those challenges now, none of which involve chronic disease, I see them as being primarily related to stress. Even though the Optimal Wellness Prototype puts sleep, rest, relaxation, and recovery at the base of the fitness pyramid, I have not been getting enough of those myself.
So this represents my growing edge in the year ahead. I have become much more faithful, since the start of the year, in taking a mid-afternoon break for meditation and in lying back down when I wake up early in the morning. Both practices seem to be having their desired effects. Other changes are in the works. That’s because I want my practices, communities, and environments to conspire for optimal wellness, in every possible way.
To that end, I’ll now be taking a six-month break from writing Provisions. I need more ease as well as more space for other important projects. During that time, we’ll be sending out Provisions from several years ago, which feature interviews with LifeTrek Coaching clients. For new readers, who never saw them in the first place, it will be fresh material. For longtime readers, who may only vaguely remember them, it will serve to bring back fond memories. For all readers, it will answer the questions as to why and how coaching works.
Whether it comes to wellness or work, leadership or life, creativity or resilience, LifeTrek Coaching can assist you to find your own answers on the journey. We hope to hear from you soon.
Coaching Inquiries: What actions could you take that would make your life more wonderful? How could you move closer in your manner of living to the wisdom gleaned from evolutionary wellness? What changes would you like to make in your diet and lifestyle? How could your communities and support networks conspire to make it so? Who could you talk with this week, about the possibilities?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Thought you might enjoy this… http://thesecret.tv/optimists-creed. (Ed. Note: I did! Thanks.)
I discovered this quote from a national pastor who was later martyred in Zimbabwe almost a year ago, and it really challenged my life! So I thought I would pass it on as a challenge for others. I hope you choose to reprint it.
“I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed! I have the Holy Spirit’s power! The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I’m finished with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals. I no longer need preeminence, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, depend on God’s presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and labor with power. That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.” (Ed. Note: One does not need to be a Christian to appreciate the energy and enjoy the passion of this man. Thanks.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
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