“I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not exist.”
“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”
“It is better to live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep.”
Deep down in the deserted places that you are not supposed to talk openly about anymore, you desire to live like a wild animal. You crave the passion, the beauty, the strength and the boldness of a leopard or tiger.
On those rare occasions, when you have a moment to yourself, when you’re not stuffing your day full of meaningless information and activities, your body and soul scream for more. Listen closely and you can hear your insides churning with the desire to thrive, not just survive. Where’s the gusto? Where’s the pizzazz? Where’s the wildness? We all ache for a robust life, not a reasonable one. So why do we repress these feelings? Why do some people feel guilty when they catch a glimpse of the explosive potential buried inside of them? The answer is that we have been taught to not upset the herd. The herd, or society, is terrified of the possibility that one of its members could break away, so it does everything within its power to keep each wild animal in check.
From birth, the herd inundates us with more and more rules, regulations, guidelines and recommendations. This is how to enjoy life…this is the balanced diet you should eat…these guidelines are the only ways to enjoy life…these are the rules you must abide by in order to graduate, get a job or get a promotion. In some cases, these regulations are helpful and even necessary. Police and military protection are indispensible, and there is no harm in different organizations expounding their own recommendations on healthy living. However, throughout your entire life, it is always a good idea to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” or “Why am I not doing that?” Think about the decisions you are making. Carefully consider why you are carrying out certain actions and not others. Are you working a 9-5 job, putting all your money in a 401K and paying a mortgage because you want to or because you are following the herd’s recommendation? Did you settle down and spend $27,800 on a wedding (average wedding cost in America) and have 2.4 babies because you were on fire to do it, or because it was what the herd celebrated? If you consciously chose the life you are living in complete self-awareness and you are enjoying life, excellent! If not, you may be headed toward frustration and emptiness.
At first, societal regulations and expectations are alluring. They crisscross around our lives, forming little boxes for our ideas and actions, creating a safety net that gives us structure and comfort. The problem is that human beings, like jungle cats, do not thrive in captivity. When asked how tigers handle being caged and fed routinely, San Diego Zoo groundskeepers responded by saying that the tigers love it. Instead of having to hunt for their food, live in harsh conditions and occasionally starve, the tigers are always full and comfortable. Sure, they sleep more than usual and walk around in a stupor when they are awake, but at least they are fat, happy and almost never angry. Does this sound familiar? How much of your life is a daily stupor of routine with highs consisting of a good meal or a few drinks and lows consisting of mild depression or an argument with your spouse? Do you ever wonder where the thrill is? Where is the adventure? Where is the chase through the jungle?
Society has dumped so many rules and guidelines on top of us that it is hard to imagine a life away from the herd. We either feel guilty for not being able to meet the herd’s expectations or we will feel empty and unfulfilled once we do meet its expectations. The most common response to these feelings of shame and emptiness is to draw closer to the herd…to return to safety. Eventually, most people stop trying to break away and resign to a life of apathy and mediocrity. The average person will color his life the best he can within unspoken lines and then, one day, when he is 78.1 years old, or in some cases 60, 50, 40 or even 30 years old, he will lie in a hospital bed thinking about the safe life he lived within the herd and ask, “What if?”.
Of course there is nothing wrong with being comfortable or using technological advancements to find new ways to enjoy life, but there is a thin line between being comfortable and too comfortable. The latter pushes a button inside of us that shuts down our passion. The key to avoiding this is to migrate off of the herd’s beaten path and live in a way that keeps you intensely connected to your desires. But how can you do this? How can you break away from the herd and live a robust and wild life? The answer is to increase your vitality.
Vitality is defined as exuberant physical strength and mental vigor. In other words, vitality is your healthiness and liveliness rolled into one. It is your body, mind and soul in an amplified state. Boosting your vitality is the key to living a full and exhilarating life because as your vitality increases, so does the quality and quantity of your life. Vitality is the platform from which enjoying life and gaining influence extends. Unfortunately, most people have forgotten what its like to wake up in the morning and feel invincible and vivacious. Either they cannot remember how to feel this way, or they have repressed their desires to feel this way due to fear and guilt. If there is some tiny thing inside of you telling you that you should feel good but not great, peppy but not vigorous, confident but not cocky, tough but not indestructible – kill it. The herd planted it there to keep you from breaking away. Try to understand that there is absolutely no room in the herd for a vivacious individual. There are reasons why eagles do not flock and tigers hunt alone.
The great thing about vitality is that you can enhance it in a matter of moments by manually manipulating your hormone and neurotransmitter (brain chemicals that communicate information) levels. You can keep your vitality in a heightened state through simple activities that will alter your body’s anatomy and biochemistry, and will lead to you enjoying life more. The following are 8 ways to amplify your vitality and live like a wild animal:
1. Act as if.
Vitality starts in the mind. Do you think a lion walks around the savannah pretending he is a koala bear or a baboon? No, he is a lion and he acts accordingly. The majority of human beings have become so accustomed to living in a heard that they have subconsciously started to embody the mentality of an antelope. Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, people stop imagining themselves as kings and queens of the jungle, and they start resigning themselves to practical dreams of keeping up with the herd. Shaking off this mentality is the very first step you must take in order to break away. Even if you are not where you want to be in life- pretend. Act as if. Fake it before you make it. Self-help books from Norman Vincent Peal’s The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) to Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret (2006) tout this principal because it works. Whatever you consistently focus on- you will get. Whoever you constantly see yourself as- you will become. The key is to take action towards getting the things you want and towards becoming the person that you want to be. So how does this apply to increasing your vitality? It’s simple- act as if you are the most vivacious person on the planet and you will be. Act as if you’re enjoying life and you will enjoy it. See yourself as a lion or lioness, and you will live like one.
Visualizing positive memories from your past or picturing future experiences in a positive light actually causes your brain to release dopamine (important for focus, drive and desire) and serotonin (important for mental balance and feelings of centeredness). Similarly, visualizing exciting activities causes your body to release hormones such as adrenaline and testosterone. All it takes is a simple shift in perspective to change the biochemistry in your body in a way that will increase your vitality. Every day, see yourself as a robust and hearty individual, exuding physical strength and mental vigor.
Once you have your mind right, move in a way that will amplify your vitality. Motion creates emotion. Numerous scientific studies have shown that movement can greatly influence a person’s mood by initiating the release of energizing hormones and neurotransmitters. Try one of the following to instantly put yourself in an excited and exuberant state: pace rapidly back and forth, puff out your chest, hold your breath in for several seconds and blow it out powerfully, raise you hands in the air high above your head, or dance. It sounds silly but these activities can rebalance hormone levels and create a perfect storm of feel good neurotransmitters in your brain in a matter of seconds.
2. Connect with the present.
An extremely important part of boosting your vitality is connecting to the present moment. A study by two Harvard psychologists, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, showed that the more a person is focusing on what he is currently doing, the more he is enjoying life. During the study, 2,250 volunteers were randomly contacted through their iPhones and asked to answer the following questions: “How are you feeling right now?”, which participants answered on a sliding scale from very bad (0) to very good (100); “What are you doing right now?”, which was answered by endorsing one or more of 22 activities; and “Are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing?”, which was answered with either a “no”, “yes- something pleasant”, “yes- something neutral” or “yes-something unpleasant”.
On the chart below (2010. Science. Killingsworth and Gilbert), the bottom horizontal line shows the sliding scale of enjoyment, from 35%-95%. Notice that most people only experienced a level of joy that is somewhere between 30-70% on a daily basis (not counting those who actually reported during sex). To quickly interpret this chart, ignore the size of the bubbles, which correlate to the number of people reporting each activity, and focus on which tasks were associated with the most enjoyment. People were enjoying life the most during the activities listed to the right of the vertical line and they were enjoying life the least during the activities listed to the left of the vertical line.
Engaging completely in the present moment will also give you incredible influence. People that are deeply connected to the present are intimidating- they seem larger than life. This is because all of their senses are responding to what is going on right now and, as a result, they are better able to direct what is happening. Being present allows you to initiate events, rather than merely react to them. This kind of vigorous awareness will dramatically enhance your vitality and help you find new ways to enjoy life. Day to day, practice the art of being present by imagining yourself connected to everything that is going on around you as it happens. Shut off the planning part of your brain and focus intensely on your five senses. What are you seeing? What are you hearing? What are you touching? Then, take it one step further. Magnify your presence. Imagine yourself, your essence, swelling larger than the space your body occupies. For example, visualize your presence stretching out and inhabiting every corner of the room that you are currently in. This may sound nutty but athletes and other performers routinely do this in order to radiate their existence. Bodybuilders are taught to imagine their muscles filling up the gym as they exercise. Public speakers are coached to picture themselves breathing in energy from a room and releasing it back onto their audience. Start taking up more space and really make your presence felt.
3. Drop the carbs.
Let’s cut to the chase- almost everything that has been passed down the pipeline over the last 60 years about proper nutrition is absolute crap. Currently, the USDA advocates that American’s follow the nutritional guidelines of My Plate, which can be summed up as a recommendation to get 75% of your daily nutrition from carbohydrate-heavy sources (~25% fruits, ~25% vegetables, ~25% grains). Yet, My Plate and previous USDA nutritional guidelines have been repeatedly debunked by science. The truth is that human beings are meant to run on fat and protein. Your body is very good at oxidizing fat and using it as fuel without storing it on your body. This is not the case with carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates disrupt your body’s proper hormone balance by increasing its secretion of cortisol (a stress hormone) and insulin (a hormone that promotes fat storage). In reality, your diet should be based on meat and healthy fats, and yes, saturated fat is healthy. Studies are now showing that diets high in saturated fat rapidly increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels, and, if they do increase LDL levels (classically called bad cholesterol), they increase fluffy LDL, which has been shown to have no affect on cardiovascular disease. In fact, the best indicator of heart disease is now a ratio of your triglycerides to your HDL levels (optimally 1:1). Many cultures thrive on diets that are extremely high in saturated fat, showing little or no signs of cardiovascular illness. These cultures include the Tokelau, whose diets consist of over 50% saturated fat, the Masai, who exclusively eat meat, blood, and milk, and the Inuit, whose ancestors ate a diet of mostly blubber. So why shouldn’t we eat saturated fat?
There are several nutritional regimens that recommend eating large amounts of protein and fat, including the Atkins diet, which has been around since the 1960’s, and the more recent Maker’s, Paleolithic, and Primal diets. All of these diets have one thing in common- very low carbohydrates. The Atkins diet allows you to eat absolutely anything you want as long as your carbohydrate intake is 20 grams or less (not easy to do) for the first two weeks and then 50 grams or less afterwards. The Maker’s, Paleolithic and Primal diets, on the other hand, suggest that you consume between 100-150 grams of carbohydrates daily (preferably from fruits and vegetables). These nutritional regimens rapidly increase your vitality because they drastically reduce the insulin, cortisol and triglyceride levels in your body (low carbs = low insulin and cortisol secretion = reduced triglyceride production) and they satiate you (broken down fat molecules bind to specific receptors in your gut that tell your body it is full).
4. Trigger testosterone surges.
Whether you are a man or a woman, you need testosterone flowing through your body in order to be at your best. Healthy testosterone levels are critical to enhancing your mood, sex drive and cognitive function. Symptoms of reduced testosterone levels in men include reduced facial or body hair, loss of muscle mass, low libido, small testicles, reduced sperm count, increased breast size, irritability, poor concentration, low energy, depression, and brittle bones. In women, testosterone deficiency impairs ovarian function, decreases bone strength, reduces libido, and causes mood fluctuations. Without testosterone, male and female vitality suffers greatly and enjoying life is nearly impossible. This does not mean you need to start injecting steroids or rubbing special creams on your delicates. You can increase your testosterone levels naturally by making a few key changes in your diet.
First, eat red meat. Consuming a few portions of steak or ground beef daily will skyrocket your testosterone back to healthy levels. When possible, eat beef from grass-fed sources, rather than grain-fed animals. Fat on grass-fed cows has the proper ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids (1:1 to 1:3), while fat on grain-fed cows has a ratio closer to 1:11. Second, eat whole eggs, especially before bed. Cholesterol is a precursor to testosterone and your body’s prime testosterone producing hours are in the middle of the night, peaking between the hours of 5-7 AM. Finally, eat 3-4 Brazil nuts every evening. Brazil nuts are loaded with selenium, another precursor to testosterone. These three dietary changes will produce dramatic changes to your mood and sex drive, so much so that you may want to try one at a time. Even a subtle boost in your testosterone levels will ignite something primal inside of you. You will feel stronger, sharper, more energetic, more engaged in life and more magnetic to the opposite sex.
5. Run really fast and lift heavy things.
Picture a tiger closing in on a wild boar in the jungle, or a lioness stalking a pack of zebra in the Serengeti. Suddenly, the predator sprints towards its prey, a heart-pounding chase ensues, and the giant cat wrestles the animal to the ground. The end. Done. That’s 99% of the predators’ physical exertion for the next 24-72 hours. The rest of the tiger or lioness’s day is filled with sleeping, eating, playing and walking around. Believe it or not, this is also how our bodies are designed to operate- with short periods of intense physical and mental effort, followed by longer periods of rest and relaxing activity. Seriously, can you think of a wild animal that runs back and forth for extended periods of time, expending energy without any purpose? No, lions do not jog. Instead, wild animals operate as if there is an on-off switch in their bodies. The “on” position being attack mode where the animal is operating at 90-100% intensity and the “off” switch being 0-10% intensity, almost complete relaxation. The problem with most human beings is that they train themselves to stay in between 30-70% intensity, or at 30-70% of their maximum stress levels, at all times. People run on a treadmill at 60% of their target heart rates, they do 8-12 repetitions of each exercise at the gym using 50% of their max weight, they work from 9-5 answering emails, going to meetings and “putting out fires”, and they obsess over their daily to-do lists. Rather than ever being fully in attack mode or relax mode, everyone is in preparation mode. The switch is stuck halfway between “on” and “off”. The solution is simple: live your life in short radical bursts followed by extended periods of rest and playfulness. Attack. Relax. Repeat.
Remember the following motto: intensity trumps extensity. This holds true in almost every area of your life. Vitality relies on rhythm. In order to increase your vitality, you need to practice ramping up your peaks and prolonging your valleys (a valley being a period of playful rest not a state of depression or complete inactivity). Consider metabolic conditioning (e.g. running, cycling, circuit training)- recent research has shown that your body burns more fat and increases its muscular endurance more rapidly through interval training at 90-100% of your maximum effort for short periods of time (20-30 second sprints, 4-6 intervals, 3x per week) than through classic cardio training at 60-70% effort (1-2 hours, 3x per week). Similarly, strength gains are most rapidly made by performing 1-5 repetitions of a full-body, multi-joint exercise (e.g. squat, deadlift, press) using 70-100% of your maximum weight. The greatest benefit of interval training and heavy strength training is that both dramatically spike your testosterone and HGH (human growth hormone) levels. HGH is responsible for repairing muscle, bone and collagen, and for controlling the regulation of fat metabolism. Intense physical activity is also the quickest way to release large amounts of endorphins in your body. Endorphins are peptides that resemble opiates and occur naturally in the brain, binding to pain receptors and raising your pain threshold.
6. Package productivity.
The theme of amplifying your intensity and reducing your extensity to increase your vitality also holds true outside of the gym. Consider your work productivity- research in the fields of motivational theory and business management have shown that your brain is most able to maintain an intensely focused state, where both creativity and productivity are peaking, for about 2-3 hours before a substantial break is needed. This rest period will vary for each individual but for most it lies somewhere between 1-2 hours. I can personally attest to the fact that an entire semester’s worth of material can be learned by operating under the above protocol for a day or two. Vitality, in this case mental vigor, relies on rhythm and engagement. The best way to maintain a healthy rhythm of ultimate productiveness and creativeness is by engaging in short bursts of intensely focused activity, followed by a couple hours of mental rest. The key is to make sure that you are completing purposeful tasks (mission critical items, not meaningless activities) during these short bursts and that you are not distracted (turn off cell phones, email alerts, etc.).
7. Wild out.
Herds are very predictable. They drink at the same watering holes, they migrate along beaten paths, they mirror each other’s behavior and they keep very consistent schedules. Which is why they are so easy to pick off. The only time members of the herd radically change their behavior is when they are forced to run for their lives from a predator. Likewise, most adults fill their lives with one routine activity after another until something comes along and wakes them from their daily stupor. In many cases, this something is the Grim Reaper. It has been said that no man really starts to live until he is faced with death for the first time. Unfortunately, too many people walk through life in a fog of obligation and routine until this confrontation occurs. A large part of living a full and vivacious life comes down to creating new, passionate experiences and then giving your body and mind time to recharge and fully incorporate these experiences. Think of it as an alternation between stretching yourself and then consolidating. This is precisely how new neural patterns are established in your brain.
First, create a pattern interrupt- do something spontaneous and fresh, bold and unpredictable. Try to take yourself beyond experimenting with different routes to work and singing karaoke on Wednesday nights. Plan an incredible party, start an annual event, prepare a speech and give it to anyone who will listen, create something and sell it on the internet, take a last minute trip to another country, sell everything you own, blow your savings, learn a second language, sign up for an extremely competitive athletic event, move into a different house or apartment, start a lifestyle blog, write a book, quit your job, start a new career, celebrate something all night. Wild out. Do something drastic (without harming yourself or others) and find out what really is the worse that can happen. This may sound a little crazy or self-destructive but drastic action has always been a great way to hit the reset button on your body and mind. Bold and spontaneous behavior engages you in the present moment and infuses you with adrenalin, norepinephrine and dopamine. All of which will provide you with a feelings of excitement, expectancy, release and growth.
Consolidate yourself. Take time to completely recharge your batteries. If you want to thrive in life, learn how to rest properly. The goal is to reload every chamber, not just the first two. The most important thing you can do to reload on a daily basis is to sleep like a champion. This is because even an hour less sleep one night can result in decreased levels of HGH and increased levels of cortisol and insulin. Additionally, mild to severe sleep deprivation can starve your brain of important neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which are critical to enjoying life. To prevent this, try to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night and try to keep your sleep and wake times as consistent as possible.
Meditation is another way to hit the reset button and prime your mind and body for vivacious activity. Studies have shown that those who meditate daily maintain considerably higher levels of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), which stabilizes the central nervous system and prevents anxiety, tension and insomnia. Also, certain types of music can help you rest and reset your mind. Classical and other types of relaxing music have been shown to induce alpha waves in your brain, which are responsible for keeping you in an awake but relaxed state. Alpha waves peak right as you fall asleep and right as you wake up naturally. If you have ever remembered something really important, or experienced an “Ah-ha!” moment as you fell asleep or woke up, then you’ve experienced the benefits of being in an alpha state of mind. Certain pieces of classical music, particularly those from Bach’s Cello Suites, have been shown to induce alpha waves in your brain. The music tempo of these pieces relaxes you and slows your brain down to the optimal frequency to achieve an alpha state. Sleeping, meditating and listening to relaxing music may not sound like ways to enjoy life with vivacity, but they make vivacious living possible. It is impossible to experience peak moments without a baseline to rise from.
Altogether, wake up every day determined not to sink into a state of monotony and mediocrity. Stop coasting. Stop reacting. Get out of the middle 30-70% of life. Amplify your vitality and break away from the herd. See yourself as a wild animal with a ravenous hunger for life. This attitude, and the actions that will flow from it, will turn each day into an exciting adventure and will expose new ways to enjoy life more.