The Comfort Crisis

Title: The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self

Author: Michael Easter

Completed: June 2021

Overview: Heard an interview with the author on the Art of Manliness podcast. The interview spent a significant amount of time on the idea of a misogi as a personal challenge. I very much enjoyed the sections of this book that talked about those, particularly chapter 6 which covered the two rules: you must survive, and if everything goes right, you should have a 50% chance of success. The other section I really enjoyed was about running and rucking in Part 5. Some of the middle sections telling me to use my phone less were not as interesting.


  • Thanks to modern medicine the average person is, yes, living longer than ever. But the data shows that the majority of us are living a greater proportion of our years in ill health, propped up by medications and machines. Life span might be up. But health span is down.
  • The first is separation. The person exits the society in which they live and ventures into the wild. The second is transition. The person enters a challenging middle ground, where they battle with nature and their mind telling them to quit. The third is incorporation. The person completes the challenge and reenters their normal life an improved person. It’s an exploration and expansion of the edge of a person’s comfort zone. Misogi, Elliott said, is the same. “Misogis are an emotional, spiritual, and psychological challenge that masquerades as a physical challenge.”
  • Preventing kids from exploring their edges is largely thought to be the cause of the abnormally high and growing rates of anxiety and depression in young people. A study found that anxiety and depression rates in college students rose roughly 80 percent in the generation just after helicopter parenting began.
  • Leaving the modern, sterile world and exposing ourselves to new stressors can help us develop the toughness that Seery is so passionate about. “Confronting risk, fear or danger produces optimal stress and discomfort, which in turn promotes outcomes such as improved self-esteem, character building, and psychological resilience,” they wrote. The desire in some of us to get out and test ourselves, one researcher believes, is “a sign of the times in which people are looking for a new way to…escape from an increasingly regulated and sanitized way of living.” And something like a misogi might stoke something deep inside, because they incite stresses similar to the ones that men and women dealt with before all this comfort came at us, the researchers theorized.
  • scientists also believe that an outdoor test like a backcountry hunt or summiting a mountain can be better than more “contrived” challenges, like organized urban marathons or team sports.
  • “If I develop fitness by swimming, I’m still going to be fit when I run,” he continued. “I may not be a top-form runner, but the cardiovascular endurance will be there. Likewise with this toughening process. It should give me this internal capacity that leaves me better able to deal with many things.”
  • According to scientists at the University of Oregon, people who exercised in a 100-degree room for ten days, for example, increased their fitness performance markers significantly more than a group who did the exact same workout in an air-conditioned room. The hot exercise caused “inexplicable changes to the heart’s left ventricle.” This can improve the heart’s health and efficiency. Hot exercise also activates “heat shock proteins” and “BDNF.” The former are inflammation fighters linked to living longer, while the latter is a chemical that promotes the survival and growth of neurons. BDNF might be protective against depression and Alzheimer’s, according to the NIH.
  • Researchers at the University of Michigan, for example, found that dementia significantly dropped in people who dedicated more of their lives to learning. The fascinating part about that study was that dementia went down in the learners even though their rate of diabetes, a condition that increases the odds of developing dementia, went up. Which basically suggests that dedicating ourselves to learning new things could help offset some of our poor habits.
  • Our collective lack of boredom may be causing us to reach near-crisis levels of mental fatigue. Research shows that the onslaught of screen-based media has created Americans who are “increasingly picky, impatient, distracted, and demanding,” as one media analyst put it. These terms fall under the umbrella of “insufferable.” And overworked, undermaintained minds are linked to depression, life dissatisfaction, the perception that life goes by quicker, and increasingly missing the beauty of life that only presents itself when we allow our mind to wander and be aware of something other than a screen.
  • Each time we reflexively take out our phone or turn on a computer or TV to kill boredom, it attaches another tiny anchor to our stress tolerance, dragging it lower. Scientists at Oregon State University found that daily stressors like lines and waits can improve our resistance to some brain diseases if we simply suffer through them and shrug them off. More of these everyday stressors are actually better for our brain.
  • In 1958 he developed the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, and it’s since become the gold standard for gauging creativity. Torrance had a large group of children in the Minnesota public school system take the exam. It includes exercises like showing a kid a toy and asking her, “How would you improve this toy to make it more fun?” Torrance analyzed all the kids’ scores. He then tracked every accomplishment the kids earned across their lives, until he died in 2003, when his colleagues took on the job. If one of the kids wrote a book, he’d mark it. Kid founded a business? Mark it. Kid submitted a patent? Mark it. Every achievement was logged. What he found raises big questions about how we judge intelligence. The kids who came up with more, better ideas in the initial test were the ones who became the most accomplished adults. They were successful inventors and architects, CEOs and college presidents, authors and diplomats, and so on. Torrance testing, in fact, smokes IQ testing. A recent study of the kids in Torrance’s study found that creativity was a threefold better predictor of much of the students’ accomplishments compared to their IQ scores.
  • Humans have long considered nature something of an organic Xanax. The Egyptians around 1550 BC, for example, had a complex network of “pleasure gardens” designed for the purpose of destressing. Cyrus the Great around 500 BC commissioned gardens for the crowded urban capital of Persia (present-day Iran) to improve his citizens’ health and increase the sense of “calm” in his city. And nearly every civilization since has had parks and gardens, places where humankind gets some sort of joy from spending time and effort toiling in the dirt just for the sake of looking at plants later on.
  • If this brand of present-moment awareness sounds a lot like something yogis chase, that’s because it basically is. Brain scans show that soft fascination is a lot like meditation. Hopman described it as a mindfulness-like state that restores and builds the resources we need to think, create, process information, and execute tasks. It’s mindfulness without the meditation. A short, daily nature walk is a great option for people who aren’t keen on sitting and focusing on their breath. Of course, a walk in the woods only becomes mind medicine so long as the phone is away and also not beaming information into our ears.
  • The rewilding of our body and brain usually goes something like this: On the first day stress and health markers improve, but we are still adjusting to the discomfort of nature. We’re thinking about how it sucks to be cold, missing our phone, and still focusing on the anxieties we left behind—what’s happening at work and whether we closed the garage door. By day two our mind is settling and awareness is heightening. We’re caring less about what we left behind and are beginning to notice the sights, smells, and sounds around us. Then day three hits. Now our senses are completely dialed in and we can reach a fully meditative mode of feeling connected to nature. The discomfort isn’t so bad. It has, in fact, shifted to a welcome sensation that signals a calmness and feeling of life satisfaction.
  • my stellar sleep pattern also has to do with the darkness and silence, according to Chris Winter, MD, a neurologist and sleep researcher. A third of Americans regularly sleep less than seven hours a night. Winter says most modern sleep problems are caused by the fact that we are rarely in adequate darkness and silence—two nighttime qualities that humans evolved to sleep in. The fact that we rarely physically exhaust ourselves also factors in.
  • Hearing the natural sounds we evolved in seems to strike a calming note within us. Scientists in the UK, for example, found that people who listened to nature sounds like water and wind reduced their stress levels significantly more than those who listened to artificial noises.
  • research found that two minutes of silence led to the bigger drops in measures of relaxation like blood pressure and heart and breathing rate compared to a handful of other relaxation techniques. Yes, silence is more relaxing than most of the “relaxing” products marketers try to sell us.
  • Food’s always been available and I usually ate it because it was time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Or because I was stressed or bored. Or because it was just…there. The Japanese call this kuchisabishii, which literally means “lonely mouth” and describes our constant mindless eating.
  • Researchers associated with the Mayo Clinic recently testified that our recall of what we ate “bear[s] little relation” to what we actually ate. But overweight people’s miscalculations are, on average, 300 percent greater than thin people’s. One analysis discovered that people who are at a healthy weight underestimate their daily calorie intake by 281 calories, while obese people underestimate by 717, the equivalent of a Taco Bell combo meal.
  • NIH team recently found that obesity began to skyrocket in 1978, when Americans added an average of 218 extra calories per day (mostly because we snacked more and moved less). That figure alone—the equivalent of 13 tortilla chips—they believe, is enough to explain the boom in obesity.
  • The least filling food was croissants, while the most filling was plain white potatoes. The USDA reports that a small croissant and a medium potato both have about 170 calories. This study suggests you’d have to eat about seven croissants, 1,190 calories, to experience the same fullness you’d get from a single potato. The key quality that made a food filling: how heavy its 240-calorie serving size was.
  • A person should mostly be eating unprocessed whole grains*7 and tubers, fruits and vegetables, and lowish-fat animal protein.” These foods lead us to the sweet spot where we find a healthy weight and keep meal satisfaction high, he said. “An average plate could be a quarter animal protein, a quarter whole grains or tubers, and half vegetables or fruit. Highly active people might want to do half whole grains or tubers and a quarter vegetables or fruit.” (A number of Kashey’s clients said they’ll also add calorie-light foods like cabbage or spinach to their meals, to make them even more filling.)
  • I was hungry, of course, but I implemented Kashey’s methods. And eventually the hunger faded. Not only do the body’s hunger chemicals normalize after the internal shock of the initial weight loss, but we also expand our comfort zone and realize hunger isn’t an emergency. “Real hunger is seldom the real issue compared to the desire to eat,” said Kashey.
  • We fully metabolize our last meal after 12 to 16 hours, depending on how much we ate. That’s when our body releases testosterone, adrenaline, and cortisol: a symphony of hormones that act as signals to burn stored tissues for energy. But we don’t burn our finest tissues. “We get rid of a lot of dead and damaged cells,” said Panda.
  • Other research shows that people who stop eating a few hours before bed sleep better, said Panda. “So if you sleep longer and deeper, you’re likely to be more focused the next day.”
  • Other research shows that programming two “hungry days” per week where we eat around 500 calories delivers benefits. A study in the International Journal of Obesity found that six months of this method led to more than 10 pounds of weight loss and health improvements in obese people. The catch is that a person can’t go crazy and pound food on their regular eating days. Another option is to string together five “hungry days” in a row, once a month, eating just 700 total calories. A study in Cell Metabolism found that approach helped rejuvenate aging organs and increase the health span of mice. And researchers at Harvard report that occasional 24-hour stints without food can help reduce our appetite during our normal eating hours. This decreases average levels of insulin, a hormone that may determine the body’s “set weight.” The researchers also say these longer fasts may better stimulate cleaning out our old cells.
  • But there isn’t much long-term difference in the well-being one gets from, say, living in a modest home versus a McMansion or commuting in a base-model Mazda versus a Maserati. The researchers, in fact, found a paradox: being overly materialistic leads to unhappiness.
  • all burrowed too deeply in our own respective pain caves and trying to silence our brains, which are screaming at us to stop, slow down, take a seat, quit.
  • research shows that the awkwardly shaped objects our ancestors lifted worked far more muscles compared to the balanced weights we lift at the gym.
  • “I think the balance of evidence is that humans have undergone intense selection for endurance and aerobic activity and that strength is not as important in humans as it is in some other species.” Male chimpanzees, for example, are far smaller yet twice as strong as even the most buff humans. Athletically pathetic, indeed.
  • Our most radical strength feats were muscling loads great distances over rough ground. Humans are, in fact, “extreme” in their ability to move items from point A to B, wrote researchers in a study in the journal PLOS One. And natural selection over time seems to have picked humans who were the best, most efficient carriers, found a study in the Journal of Anatomy. Carrying, the research suggests, is a driving force behind why we became apex predators. The more we ran down prey, carried it long distances back home, then feasted, the more we were shaped into who we are today. The majority of the adaptations that help us run far in the heat also helped us carry far. Our legs, for example, became comparatively longer while our torsos became shorter and stronger, better to locomote while loaded down. And the reason we can “lock” our hand bones into our wrist bones and generate abnormally strong forces with our middle finger is so we can grab heavy stuff and hoof it.
  • Fifty pounds is the heaviest load that allows soldiers to fight like hell, become physically bulletproof, and forge elite strength and endurance.