Evolutionary Diversity of Activities, Getting Out of Your Rut, and Cow Manure

I don’t know about you, but I had a good day yesterday. The weather was great, I was hanging out with a good friend, and the day left me mentally recovered and refreshed. It was a true day of mental rest, and it happened to be a Sunday, though I don’t particularly follow the rules of the Sabbath or other religious “day of rest” guidelines. However, while I might not be in line with those who have a strict and official day of rest I do believe that there’s something to having a day that is largely based on rest and recovery each week. Yesterday was one of those days for me.

While it was a good recovery day, that’s not to say that I was just camped out on the couch lazing around. My recovery day was spent working my ass off helping a buddy set up his various garden patches for the season. And working my ass off it was. My buddy has some of the worst gardening lands I’ve ever seen. Seriously, it’s glacial, clear-cut, and full of rocks, clay, and dead sand. Simply digging a hole is a tour through the halls of frustration and self-punishment. There’s literally nothing that seems to thrive in his ground except scrub trees and brambles. We’re in the process of slowly building and improving the soil in order to produce a high-quality garden for him. So with this as the goal most of the day was spent lugging manure, tilling ground (both with a tiller and by hand), and moving all kinds of stuff all around his property.

All this stuff is very hard work, but there’s a certain amount of satisfaction that comes with doing it. Even when (or perhaps especially when) you’re frustrated by the task there’s an element of overcoming and success. When you’re performing physical work to help out a friend then at the end of the day you know that your toil has produced or improved something. It’s very similar to a great workout in the gym. It’s hard, and at times painful work but you know that when you leave, upon giving it your all, that you are better than when you entered. There should be some satisfaction and sense of achievement taken from that.

While I was shoveling manure I had some time to ruminate on a few things (other than being elbow deep in cow shit), and one of which is the value of what I was doing. I haven’t been doing much farm work lately and I realized that it was very different from my normal day to day activities and that is why it was so refreshing to me. In addition to the satisfaction and fitness that comes of hard, physical work the work itself provided the opportunity to stimulate my mind and body from broader avenues.

One of the things I see that concerns me in our society today is that we’ve become a culture of specialists. While this isn’t all bad, as I’m a specialist in strength and performance myself, the attitude of specialization has overtaken all aspects of our lives. This is concerning to me as that’s not how we’re wired to operate. Think about how we’ve developed as organisms for a second. We’re not specialists. Human beings are some of the most adaptable organisms on the planet. We’re omnivores, so we can eat all sorts of things as they’re presented. We’re warm-blooded, so we handle temperature variations better than most species do. We have a large brain and opposable thumbs which has enabled us to further adapt and handle new situations. We have a strong sense of individuality to go with our desire for group contact that allows us to survive as a group but put our own organism first. Most species go much more toward one direction or the other when it comes to individualist or group function. We certainly are pack creatures but retain a strong sense of individuality within our pack or tribe.

We, humans, are meant to thrive when performing a variety of tasks. That’s not what we’ve been doing with our culture, though. While, as I said above, specialization in one’s vocation isn’t necessarily bad it does not mean that life specialization is the way to go. Too many people have no interests or hobbies outside of work, or if they do it’s just one or two things (usually reality TV and eating, it seems). Screw that! There’s a whole life out there waiting to be discovered. If you’re not taking advantage of that you’re not only missing out but you’re setting yourself up for boredom, depression, and mental or physical overuse injuries.

That’s why I think it’s so important to do something different with your life as a means of recovering and restoring your mental state and feeding your soul if you will. We as humans have evolved to be terrific generalists and just as in order to be successful in our strength and fitness program we are best served to play to our evolutionary design so should our mental focus be. Take a look at the great people of history and very, very rarely will you find someone who is one dimensional. Leonardo Da Vinci was the iconic “Renaissance Man”. Theodore Roosevelt was a great leader, athlete, and outdoorsman. Aristotle used to push all of his students and charges to maintain a competitive and physically active lifestyle, all while seeking new and diverse areas of thought and research. Throughout history, you’ll find that most great men and women have a variety of interests, diverse hobbies, and are physically active.

The take-home lesson here is to take a long, hard look at how you run your life and spend your discretionary time. If your life is way out of balance you only have so long before you run into trouble. As a telling example, check out office workers who sit on their asses all of the time. Before long they suffer from tight hips, inefficient glutes, and eventually back pain to the point where they can no longer sit comfortably. Combine that with the likelihood of weight gain and frequent illnesses and you’ll see that the whole system is affected and they can’t even do what they’re adapting toward (sitting) well!

The fix for them is to start doing things that don’t involve sitting. By moving more, and moving constructively, they soon drop weight, feel better, suffer less pain and illnesses, and are more productive when they’re sitting on the job. By working on yourself as a whole person you’ll find that it will have a synergistic effect and you will improve in ALL areas of your life. If you are finding that you’re run down, stuck in a rut, or just don’t feel that you’re hitting on all cylinders then here are my recommendations for you: Find a new hobby. Take a break from work. Spend some time on yourself. The more you expand your horizons the better prepared you’ll be for the tasks at hand.