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The Comfort Crisis

I kept reading books and articles about solitude and discomfort and boredom.
This Michael Easter book covers all of it, succinctly in the frame of a journey to the Alaskan wilderness.
Worth a read.
Highlights from the book follow …


“When our ancestors weren’t searching for food or getting pummeled by mastodons, they had long moments of downtime, lounging around for hours a day. They had to make something out of their boredom.

These people allowed their minds to wander and had to get creative and rely on one another for entertainment. As my beautifully blunt then-girlfriend, now-wife put it when we went camping early in our relationship: “We ran out of things to talk about in three hours and had a whole day left.” It wasn’t until the 1920s, when radio was broadcast to the masses, that there was a full-time, brainless escape from boredom. Then came Big TV in the 1950s. Finally, on June 29, 2007, boredom was pronounced dead, thanks to the iPhone. And so our imaginations and deep social connections went with it”


“how he determines if something is hard enough.

“We’re generally guided by the idea that you should have a fifty percent chance of success—if you do everything right,” he said. “So if you decided you wanted to run a twenty-five-mile trail, and you’re preparing by working up to a twenty-mile training run and doing thirty-five or forty miles a week of running…that’s not a misogi. Your chance of failure is too low. But if you’ve never run more than ten miles, think you could probably run fifteen, but are iffy on whether you could run twenty…then that twenty-five miles is probably a misogi.”

This rule also renders misogi a moving target. One person’s 50 percent is often not the same as another’s. “If someone has never run more than a couple miles, then a 10K could be a misogi,” said Elliott. Modern humans may have an unmet need to do what’s truly difficult for us. New research shows that depression, anxiety, and feeling like you don’t belong can be linked to being untested.

“So you must fail about half the time?” I asked.

“I’ve actually failed my last couple misogis, …”


“there are only two rules,” said Elliott. “Rule number one is that it has to be really fucking hard. Rule number two is that you can’t die.”

“the human brain hates this construct. The brain wants nothing to do with failure. Especially if you execute perfectly on your side.”


“Failure even a hundred years ago could mean that you die,” said Elliott. “But people vastly overestimate the consequences of failure today. Failure now is that you fuck up a PowerPoint presentation and your boss gives you a bad look.”


“two: Don’t advertise misogi. It’s OK to talk about misogi with friends and family.
But you don’t Tweet, Instagram, Facebook, or boast about misogi.”


“In a perfectly designed misogi, you give it everything you have and you just finish it. Or maybe you just barely fail,” Elliott told me. “To finish it with a lot left is not really doing it right. You want to explore what your potential is out on the edges.”


“Unfocused mode occurs when we’re not paying attention. It’s inward mind-wandering, a rest state that restores and rebuilds the resources needed to work better and more efficiently in the focused state. Time in unfocused mode is critical to get shit done, tap into creativity, process complicated information, and more.

The 11 hours and 6 minutes of attention we’re handing over to digital media isn’t free. It’s all spent in focused mode. Think of this focused state like lifting a weight, and the unfocused state like resting. When we kill boredom by burying our minds in a phone, TV, or computer, our brain is putting forth a shocking amount of effort. Like trying to do rep after rep after rep of an exercise, our attention eventually tires when we overwork it. Modern life overworks the hell out of our brains.”


“Tolstoy had this great quote in Anna Karenina that says boredom is a ‘desire for desires,’ ” said Danckert. “So boredom is a motivational state.”


“now people want to say that boredom makes you more creative,” said Danckert. “I call bullshit on that. Boredom doesn’t make you more creative. It just tells you ‘do something!’ ” And when that “something” is letting our mind revive unfocused mode—or sitting down to write a screenplay—rather than blanketing it with the exact same media that everyone else is consuming, we begin to think, quite literally, on a different wavelength. That’s what creativity requires.”


“So I found myself bored again. Again the game is waiting; waiting for caribou to move into view. Donnie once spent 42 ten-hour days waiting in the North Dakota woods for a single white-tailed deer”


“John Muir in 1901 put it this way: “Nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”

Three or more days in the wild is like a meditation retreat. Except talking is allowed and the experience is free of costs and gurus.”


“Famed biologist E. O. Wilson developed a theory, called the biophilia hypothesis, which says we have an ingrained call to be in nature that’s in competition with our evolutionary desire to control our environment.
The thinking goes like this: We evolved in nature, and therefore have programmed within our genes a need to be in and connect with nature and living things. If we don’t, we go a little haywire, as if we’re missing a necessary nutrient for our body, mind, and sense of self.”


“We were walking past 100-foot-tall maple and spruce trees planted in the late 1800s, and she was telling me about her research. In 2016, she led a study that found something as painless as a 20-minute stroll through a city park, like the one we’re in right now, can cause profound changes in the neurological structure of our brains. This leaves us feeling calmer and with sharper and more productive, creative minds. “But,” she said, “we found that people who used their cellphone on the walk saw none of those benefits.”


“There’s a little magic in 20 minutes. That was confirmed by Hopman’s colleagues at the University of Michigan. They discovered that 20 minutes outside, three times a week, is the dose of nature that most efficiently dropped people’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The catch to that study, of course, was that the participants couldn’t take their phones outside with them.”


“People are busy,” said Hopman. “I get it.” Some days you’ll have a pile of work. A walk through a park seems unfeasible. Any time away from the grind feels like too much time away from the grind. “I tell busy people about the productivity and creativity benefits of nature,” she said. Think of that short walk outside like a high-return investment in yourself. Those 20 minutes in the park may cause you to pump out, say, 20 widgets instead of the 18 you would have done had you tried to power through the day in burnout mode. And perhaps those widgets would be more creatively designed”


“Any time in nature is beneficial,” said Hopman as we reached the crest of the trail. “But spending more time in wilder spaces does seem to give you more benefits.” Time in this semiwild stuff comprises level two of the nature pyramid. Research, in part thanks to Finland, says we should spend a total of about five hours in it a month.”


“There could be a lot of reasons why nature—wilder spaces in particular—has these effects on the mind and body. It could be that in nature you are engulfed in fractals, complex patterns that repeat over and over in different sizes and scales and make up the design of the universe. Think trees (big branch to smaller branch to smaller branch and so on), river systems (little river to bigger river to bigger river and so on), mountain ranges, clouds, seashells. “Cities don’t have fractals,” said Hopman. “Think of a typical building. It’s usually flat, with right angles. It’s painted some dull color.” Fractals are organized chaos, which our brains apparently dig.”


“it turns out that what’s enchanted my brain there is a certifiable scientific phenomenon. It even has a catchy name, “the three-day effect.” To experience this level requires “backcountry nature.” A trip into the wild places that begin where dirt roads end. Places characterized by spotty cell reception, wild animals, and a lack of bathrooms and other humans.”


“the message is clear: Time in nature is a hell of a way to calm the turbulent sea inside our minds.”


“programming two “hungry days” per week where we eat around 500 calories delivers benefits”

“Another option is to string together five “hungry days” in a row, once a month, eating just 700 total calories”


“In misogi you’ll reach this edge where you are convinced you have nothing left,” he said. “But you’ll keep going anyway. And then you’ll look back and you’ll be way out beyond what you were certain was your edge. You won’t forget that.” The human brain may hate failure, but it hates exercise equally so.

Humans over millennia developed a complex network of physical discomforts and psychological “governors” to dissuade us from effort, because effort requires energy, or calories, which in the past was precious. This is why we seemingly have an ingrained call to laziness.”


“exercise-induced fatigue is predominantly a protective emotion. It’s a psychological state that has little to do with a person’s physical limits.”


“Doing physically hard things is an enormous life hack. Do hard things and the rest of life gets easier and you appreciate it all the more,”


“This idea was echoed to me recently by one of my best friends, William Allen, a former major in the US Marines and co-founder of Harpoon Ventures, a fast-rising defense-focused venture capital firm. “If you can consciously put yourself through physical discomfort and understand the higher purpose of it, the ‘why,’ the mental calluses that come along with that create what is called the Well of Fortitude,” he said. “My business partner, who happens to be a prior service US Navy SEAL, and I were able to successfully build a legitimate venture capital fund from the ground up. Not because we were special, supersmart, or had access to family money. But rather, we knew our higher purpose and were able to draw on the Well of Fortitude we built on challenging missions in the military to buffer stress, work harder, and simply endure.”


“Research suggests that smoking takes 10 years off a person’s life, while the combined effects of being unfit may take as many as 23.”



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