Today we are building on last week’s post. In it, we spoke about a reason to be healthy strong enough that you can’t justify not prioritizing physical health.
You were convinced, right?
As you are reading this you’ve spent an entire week doing more for your physical health than you did in the last decade. You are going outside in the morning to get daylight in your eyes. You are taking walks after meals. You are sleeping longer.
All the things we’ve been talking about for months, right?
You now understand that to move up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs you need a foundation of good physical health. Remember, dopamine controls our subconscious position in the hierarchy.
Dopamine function regulates where energy can go. Physical health has the largest impact on dopamine function. To say that it is important for us is an understatement.
Health is not about implementing healthy habits. What? It isn’t? Well, it is, but it also isn’t. Avoiding unhealthy habits is much more important than implementing healthy ones.
Think about it, why do experts regardless of domain always tell us that the fundamentals are the most important?
It might be because they are right. Let’s try to understand why. To do this we are going to talk about monks in monasteries.
Again, I keep repeating myself but soon it will be engrained in your mind – you are both the animal living in the zoo and the designer of the zoo.
Monks Knew About Dopamine All Along
In a remote corner of the world, nestled high in the misty peaks of the Himalayas, there existed a network of ancient monasteries. These sanctuaries were places of spiritual contemplation.
They were also laboratories of wisdom where the principles of energy allocation were applied. Applied in a way that facilitated upward mobility in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
The monks understood the essence of energy allocation, and they revered dopamine as a key player in this intricate dance. They saw the world through the lens of energy, and they believed that one’s relationship with dopamine could chart a path to self-fulfilment.
In these monasteries, monks embarked on a lifelong journey to ascend the hierarchy. They designed their environment to ensure that their internal and external worlds aligned with their pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.
Living in monasteries perched on serene mountaintops, surrounded by lush forests and flowing rivers. Everything was carefully designed to signal “good times”.
They tended sacred libraries and dedicated themselves to art and philosophy. They believed that by nourishing their physical, emotional, and intellectual selves, they could climb toward self-actualization.
The monasteries were a living embodiment of Maslow’s hierarchy, with each tier woven into the fabric of daily life. The monks were acutely aware of dopamine’s role as the subconscious regulator of their position within the hierarchy.
Their daily routine was in service of increasing their dopamine levels. This encouraged them to explore the higher, more abstract needs.
The impact of their way of life was profound. The monks were exemplars of health and well-being, exuding a sense of serenity and vitality that transcended the ordinary.
Their understanding of dopamine allowed them to cultivate a dopaminergic state, one that led them toward a perpetual state of exploration, internally and externally. They had cracked the code to maintaining health and spiritual ascension.
In the remote monasteries of the Himalayas, the ancient principles of energy allocation and the delicate balance of dopamine were not just a philosophy but a way of life. It allowed them to transcend the mundane and reach the peaks of human potential, one mindful step at a time.
You Are A Monk Too
Of course, the monks didn’t use the link between dopamine function or Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to design their environment. However, they have been designing their environment to facilitate self-actualization for thousands of years.
So, what can we learn from the monasteries?
First of all, good health is not about good health in and of itself. It’s about the facilitation of upward mobility in the hierarchy of needs.
Good physical health is how we increase the pool of energy. It’s how we increase the options of where that energy can flow. It’s how we change our motivational state so that we start doing what we know we should.
Secondly, and more importantly, good health comes from the defence against attacks on our health. If you recall, physical health comes down to energy production. Anything that interferes with energy production can be seen as attacks.
These attacks are coming from all angles, but let’s put them into two categories, direct and indirect.
Direct attacks are things directly interfering with our ability to produce energy production. You can think of them as anything coming from the environment.
In ancestral times the direct attacks were usually from bacteria or viruses. The advance of medicine has made these culprits weak.
Today, we need to worry about other things. Things like air pollution, light pollution, and visual pollution. The main category is toxins – any chemical or molecule interfering with our health.
They’re in our food, our water, and the clothes we wear. They’re in the chemicals we put in our dishwasher, our washing machines, and our hygiene products. They are everywhere.
Indirect attacks come from any deviation from what is optimal. We need a certain amount of water, sunlight, and sleep. We need macro- and micro-nutrients in sufficient amounts. We need a certain amount of exercise.
If we get too much or too little of any of these we deviate from what is optimal. The amount of deviation is the size of the attack. The more important the aspect is, the more impact a deviation has.
The monks have designed their environment to minimize attacks to maximize upward mobility in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As you’ll see we can and should do the same.
The Abstract Mountain We All Climb
Imagine that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a mountain. At the base, there is an easy path to walk. After a while, you get to the first hard part. It’s a physical rock climb. If you succeed you get to move on to the next need.
If your physical health isn’t good enough you will fail and keep failing. You will remain at the base of the mountain until your physical health is good enough to get past the difficult part.
As you get past the first hard section new challenges arise. To move up to the new checkpoint there’s always a physical section. Physical health is what allows you to climb and keep climbing.
The attacks on your health are boulders rolling down the mountain. If you get hit you will drop down. The harder the hit, the harder (and longer) you fall.
You can sidestep step many of the boulders, but some will eventually hit. Your job then is to build a robust barrier (stress resilience) so that when you eventually get hit you can handle the impact without falling.
This is what the monks of the world have done for millennia. They have removed as many direct attacks as possible by carefully designing their environment.
The monks have also minimized indirect attacks by maintaining a strict diet and routine. They move sufficiently, they spend time in nature every day, and they sleep and wake at the same time each day.
You are playing the same game the monks are. But, instead of improving your physical health, you are actively standing in the way of boulders letting them hit you.
You are playing the game regardless if you want to or not. How well you play the game determines your well-being, your future, and your impact on the world.
Why not live in service of reaching your potential?
Avoid Boulders, Build Resilience
You get it now, anything that interferes with your ability to produce energy (stress) are boulders rolling down that you have to either dodge or withstand.
As I said, good health is more about avoiding unhealthy things than implementing what is healthy. Now you understand why right?
Your health is determined by your position on an abstract mountain. It is the summation of three integrated aspects of your being; physical, psychological, and ultimately spiritual health.
From now on I’d like you to view health as your position in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Your physical health is what allows upward mobility and effort is what moves you.
The importance of avoiding what is unhealthy comes down to the size of the boulder. It is much easier to avoid a large boulder than to build enough resilience that you can withstand it.
Eating a superfood is not going to do much if you keep getting hit by the big boulder called insufficient sleep. It is not as if doing something “healthy” teleports you up the mountain.
Every time you do something unhealthy you get hit by a boulder and (potentially) fall down the mountain. After the impact, it will take some time to recover enough strength to start moving again. Not only that, you have to make the trek again.
This is the reason I find justified treats after hard work distasteful. You’ve just done a hard workout and so you use that to justify eating a bag of chips. To reap the benefits from the hard work you need rest and good nutrition.
It takes more time and energy to climb the mountain than it does to fall down. Doing a healthy thing after doing something unhealthy does not cancel out the effects.
Become a Modern Monk
I am not telling you that living in any way different from the monks is sinful. What I am telling you is that you need to become aware of the mountain you are climbing and the boulders that might hit you.
You get to choose what boulders you want to take head-on. But, take that choice with much consideration. And, in the meantime build up enough resilience so that it doesn’t knock you down the mountain too far.
All I want you to understand is that your position on that mountain determines your well-being. You need to fight to maintain your position and fight even harder to keep moving up.
The monks carefully designed their environment to one day reach the top of the mountain. You might not want to live like the monks but you can take some important lessons from them.
Do the fundamentals and experiment with the details. Your health, happiness, and fulfilment depend on it. It is up to you to figure out what large boulders you constantly get hit by and how to avoid them. Again, I’ve written about many of them in the past.
Climb the mountain and get as high up as you can. Make it a priority to either move up or at least maintain your position. Now I will leave you with one question that you need to answer.
What will you do today to move up the mountain one step at a time (& avoid getting hit)?
Until next Sunday, do what makes your future self proud.