Continuous Improvement

You thought this was just a diet. Oh…throw in some weights.

But what if "Paleo" is really a way of life writ modern; ’cause, face it folks, nobody’s going back. We’re stuck with agriculture’s follies. But neither are we dumb, nor lost. We’re hunters, right? So hunt. Hunt for Continuous Improvement in your life. Mistakes can cover decades but it’s never to late to improve your standing, from where you stand.

No, it’s not a search for primitivity or hardship or anything like that. I suppose the greens, tree huggers, and veggies of all sorts deserve some credit for being onto something; and since I’m giving them some credit, I suppose I oughtn’t be disingenuous about it. They groked that something was wrong. Terribly wrong. But apart from being woefully wrong in so many ways, they nonetheless established a certain style. I don’t really know what to call it — paleo wise — ’cause it’s not austerity, nor ought it be. That’s what so many of the former practice, especially nutritionally, but that’s only because they haven’t zeroed in correctly on what really bugs the fucking shit out of them.

Listen: as much shit as I deal them, much is simply style. …Because, it’s kinda funny to me that so many can be so right in spirit, so lost in application.

…It would be cool if everyone in the world tooled around in private jets. Ridiculous. But here’s what I think: if one can, why not everyone? Instead of butchering the best to make cannibal stew for the least, how about some context? You think the difference between the private jet setter and the back braker in the barrio is privilege? Shallow. Rags to riches to rags in…what is it…two, or is it three generations? Whatever it is, privilege is just another way of expressing luck. …Lottery millions…

It’s about living within the reasonable, conservative bounds of your own means and continuously improving, expanding your means. Or, the main reason I don’t galavant in a private jet is less about not having the financial means to do so than it’s not in the contextual scale of my life — yet. That’s why lottery winners constantly blow their millions. They followed the money, rather than the other way around

It’s not just about money. Most think it is but it really isn’t. It’s about improving your life so that what was before unthinkable becomes plausible, then possible — and then finally, real. Money helps, but most misuse it when it din’t follow personal improvement. While I do well financially, for example, I also understand that both a lot less or a lot more money fast would potentially destroy me.

Too obtuse? Don’t make money your goal. Make being really good your goal. If you find that you’re the best but nobody gives a shit then, well, you’re not going to get rich. but at least you know how to get good. Move forward. Scrap "the best buggy whips in the world" and move on. Improvement is by its very nature, dynamic. If you’re "into" improvement, you’re no longer into it if you stop. So, thinking "continuous" helps so you don’t forget.

Wrapping up in a more specific paleo context, this is what is so thriling generally about this community. We all come frm so many different places but is not the overriding theme in all of this nothing more fundamental than the endless search for continuous improvement?

Never, ever ending.

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  1. Organic Gabe on September 11, 2010 at 07:18

    Good post, Richard. Many very good points.

  2. Eegah! on September 11, 2010 at 01:03

    “Improvement is by its very nature, dynamic. If you’re “into” improvement, you’re no longer into it if you stop.”

    Maybe this is why our species are the only apes that have got to the Moon. Ok, some chimps got into space, but they needed us to get them there. As for gorillas, well, they’re still sitting on their arses, being stared at by tourists or (unfortunately) poachers.

    Good post as ever, personal improvement is really the only way to go.

  3. Sharkus on September 11, 2010 at 02:21

    “That’s why lottery winners constantly blow their millions. They followed the money, rather than the other way around”

    Really good point here and a point that many people are missing perhaps a bit like Arthur Devany’s phrase of “There is no failure, only feedback”

    Perhaps many of us are living lives that are too focused on outcomes rather than focused on the Path itself to achieve or goals. I know all of the above is wisdom that has been around for a long time but there is a difference of hearing it and living it.

    From my personal experience, after 4 years of immersion into ideas of the paleo communities and finally regaining my energy and my will to live I feel blessed to have found a path that really feels viable for continous improvement. I have tried the vegan lifestyle too but had to mostly negative experiences on my health.

    My income is very modest so I dont have any hopes on becoming rich but ont the other hand Being really Alive for the first time in 15 years (im 37 years old) is enough of a blessing i guess. One funny thing I have noticed however is that since regaining my energy I also have regained better control of my economy, as if improved physical and mental capacity spills over into economic capacity.

  4. michael on September 11, 2010 at 04:07

    Good Morning Richard,
    Really an interesting post. This is one I have to reread a few times to fully digest. You made some really good insights that I really like. Please do more of these type posts. So many times it’s too easy to forget that money is not the goal.
    “It’s not just about money. Most think it is but it really isn’t. It’s about improving your life so that what was before unthinkable becomes plausible, then possible — and then finally, real.”

    That is such an inspirational message.

  5. Marc on September 11, 2010 at 04:45

    “True nobility is not trying to be better than anyone else….it’s being better than you used to be”

    Excellent post Richard!


  6. Jim Arkus on September 11, 2010 at 06:15

    Fantastic post, one of my favorites of yours. I was actually talking about this very same thing with a coworker yesterday, just not in a paleo context.

  7. Madroxxx on September 11, 2010 at 07:06

    I was thinking the other day, in my life I continue to improve. I have been addicted to cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, and sugar. Now I am non of those. It is still a daily battle to be the man, husband, and father I want to be, but I am miles ahead of the man I used to be.

    • Matthew on September 11, 2010 at 10:22

      If it’s not too personal a question Madroxxx, of those 4 addictions, which did you find hardest to quit?

      Or did they all go away together?

      • Madroxx on September 11, 2010 at 11:13

        Cigarettes was probably the hardest, I made many failed attempts over the years. My father dying of lung cancer finally sealed the deal though.
        I might be exaggerating when I say I was addicted to drugs. I did plenty of them for many years but never felt addicted. I eventually just started doing them less and less and finally just quit of natural accord.
        Sugar was tough but only for about a week or two. This one was a surprise, I didn’t actually know I was addicted until I gave it up. The withdrawals felt real enough though.
        Alcohol is my most recent. When I finally set my mind to it, giving it up wasn’t too terribly difficult, but coming to the realization that I needed to give it up took a long time and created many regrets.

  8. bob r on September 11, 2010 at 10:28

    CANI: Constant And Never ending Improvement. From Tony Robbins by way of “Kaizen” in Japanese which originated with Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s ideas for improving production.

  9. Paul C on September 11, 2010 at 11:48

    I feel those of us that have the ability to continually improve are obligated to do so, and obligated to help others onto that track.

  10. Coach Weight Loss » Blog Archive » The? Ph? And Dra? Ph? Ephedrine to lose weight and continuous improvement of athletic performance: the efficiency? Clinical and side effects on September 11, 2010 at 12:52

    […] Continuous Improvement | Free The Animal […]

  11. David brown on September 11, 2010 at 21:33

    Speaking of improvement, I like to improve dirt. Did any of you happen to read a September 5 Washington Post article entitled “Scientists find evidence discrediting theory Amazon was virtually unlivable.” For me, the interesting part of the article was this:

    To the untrained eye, all evidence here in the heart of the Amazon signals virgin forest, untouched by man for time immemorial…Archaeologists, many of them Americans, say the opposite is true: This patch of forest, and many others across the Amazon, was instead home to an advanced, even spectacular civilization that managed the forest and enriched infertile soil to feed thousands.

    “There is a gigantic footprint in the forest,” said Augusto Oyuela-Caycedo, 49, a Colombian-born professor at the University of Florida who is working this swath in northeast Peru.

    Stooping over a man-made Indian mound on a recent day, he picked up shards of ceramics and dark, nutrient-rich earth made fertile hundreds of years ago by human hands. “All you can see is an artifact of the past,” he said. “It’s a product of human actions,” he said.

    Outside Manaus, Brazil, Eduardo Neves, a renowned Brazilian archaeologist, and American scientists have found huge swaths of “terra preta,” so-called Indian dark earth, land made fertile by mixing charcoal, human waste and other organic matter with soil. In 15 years of work they have also found vast orchards of semi-domesticated fruit trees, though they appear like forest untrammeled by man.

    On a recent morning, using a soil coring device, Oyuela-Caycedo extracted a heavy, black dirt in a spot he calls Salvavidas, or Lifesaver. It was terra preta, black, nutrient-rich, as good for agriculture as the soil in Iowa

    “It is the best soil that you can find in the Amazon,” said Oyuela-Caycedo, who wore netting over his face to protect him from mosquitoes. “You don’t find it in natural form.”

    Three feet deep here, and stretching nearly 100 acres, this terra preta could have fed at least 5,000 people. The forests here were also carefully managed in other ways, Oyuela-Caycedo believes, with the Indians planting semi-domesticated trees that bore all manner of fruit, such as macambo, sapote and jungle avocados.

    Bits of colorful ceramics – matching that found elsewhere in the Amazon – seem to show that those who lived here were the Omaguas, the same people Gaspar de Carvajal encountered nearly 500 years before

    There is no doubt, Oyuela-Caycedo said, that the Omaguas faced hardship: insects, poisonous snakes, poor soil. But their environment had vast potential, he said, and the Omaguas exploited it before their civilization was brought to heel by disease.

    Those forgotten civilizations really knew how to improve soil. Imagine an acre of ground fertile enough to grow food for 50 people. Talk about productivity! The potential for endless improvement is one of the things I like most about gardening.

    • John Troll on September 13, 2010 at 15:53

      If you like this you might want to read The Lost City of Z and River of Doubt.

  12. Michael on September 12, 2010 at 07:45

    Not really sure what this post is about, and it does rather meander around. But “veggies” being “on to something”? I really don’t think so. I don’t think they’re on to anything at all. And quite honestly I don’t really care for prigs of any sort going around, so to speak, “seeking out sin” in natural, time honoured, and essentially innocent activities. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a form of decadence – likely one of several phenomena we see when we have a society that’s largely urbanized and disconnected from Nature. Also, of course, when we have many people who who are basically secure and comfortable enough and with enough time on their hands – unlike many people throughout history – to indulge themselves in gestures. And on top of all that you have the collapse of religious belief in the West, which leaves people looking for religion-substitutes – looking for emotional intensity wherever they can plausibly find it, if it’s only over not eating meat.

    Possibly it’s also not something merely cultural but something to be expected in a time in which people’s levels of free-floating anxiety and rootless guilt are looking for problems to make for themselves and others, on account their seratonin levels are too high from lack of sleep and too much carbohydrate.

    • Sami on September 12, 2010 at 10:39

      I think they are on to something. They may be misguided because they don’t eat animal products but they have realised for example that factory farming is not the way we should be getting our animal products and they also try and obtain high quality fruit, vegetables and other food they eat.

  13. Dr. Frankie on September 14, 2010 at 06:19

    In the meantime, we have to look at, analyze and possibly debunk (if possible) studies like this one:
    in the Health section of the NYT.

    “Nutrition: Risky Additions to a Low-Carb Diet

    Atkins-style low-carbohydrate diets help people lose weight, but people who simply replace the bread and pasta with calories from animal protein and animal fat may face an increased risk of early death from cancer and heart disease, a new study reports.

    The study found that the death rate among people who adhered most closely to a low-carb regimen was 12 percent higher over about two decades than with those who consumed diets higher in carbohydrates.

    But death rates varied, depending on the sources of protein and fat used to displace carbohydrates. Low-carb eaters who drew more protein and fat from vegetable sources like beans and nuts were 20 percent less likely to die over the period than people who ate a high-carbohydrate diet.

    But low-carb dieters who got most of their protein and fat from animal sources like red and processed meats were 14 percent more likely to die of heart disease and 28 percent more likely to die of cancer, the analysis found.

    The study, ) published Sept. 7 in Annals of Internal Medicine, analyzed data from more than 85,000 healthy women aged 34 to 59 who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study, and almost 45,000 men aged 40 to 75 who took part in the Health Professionals’ Follow-Up Study. Participants filled out questionnaires every four years.

    “If people want to follow a low-carb diet, this provides some guidance,” said the paper’s lead author, Teresa T. Fung, an associate professor of nutrition at Simmons College in Boston. “They should probably eat less meats.”

    Thing is, it’s a pretty big observational study. I wonder how much power it really has.

  14. Primal Toad on September 13, 2010 at 18:09

    We are all after one thing – happiness. Many people think money creates happiness or buying expensive things bring happiness. It may, for a bit, but its not the ultimate answer. One needs to find out what truly makes them happy and then follow that.

    Taking a long walk around my neighborhood brings me happiness amongst many other things. Having money may make a life easier but it does not lead to happiness.

    You got it right Richard – one needs to continue improve oneself in life.

    • Richard Nikoley on September 13, 2010 at 19:31


      No references handy but I recall reading an article by some sociologists a few years back wherein they claimed that money does buy happiness, but only to a level, ie, a bare subsistence level.

      Intuitive. If you live in a sewer and money can get you into a studio apartment, Id think you pretty weird if that didn’t really make you more happy. But beyond that, hard to say and very inidividuaistic.

    • Aaron Curl on September 14, 2010 at 04:29

      I have read three books in the last couple months about “enlightenment” and/or the path to reach it, plus my years of martial arts training which lead me to the path of “enlightenment”. One of the books used the term “unreasonable happiness”. This term has stuck with me as I can relate very well to it. I believe if we have to search for something to make us happy we have missed the point. People walk through life saying to themselves, “I’ll be happy when ________”. That way of living leads to a lot of wanting and for the most part dissapointment. I am not saying we can’t be happy with things outside ourselves, it’s only when we live for these dreams that the truth gets skewed.

  15. Ned Kock on September 14, 2010 at 09:27

    Hi Richard and fellow commenters.

    A question: Does anybody know if there is anything about rice that could make it cardio-protective?

    The reason I’m asking is that I ‘ve done some analyses on the China Study II data. The main dependent variable I used was mortality from all cardiovascular diseases. In the first analysis below, I combined two measures which yielded good validity/reliability coefficients through a factor analysis. In the second, I used mortality from all cardiovascular diseases after age 35, which should exclude things like rheumatic heart disease.

    The findings are very consistent with Denise’s, even though we are using different data, variables, analysis methods, and statistical software tools. (I am using data on males and females separately, and controlling for the effect of sex.)

    One thing that is a bit different, but not in a major way: My analyses suggest that rice has a protective effect. And that is not entirely due to rice displacing wheat (or vice-versa), but certainly is in large part due to that. Also, too much rice doesn’t seem very good either.

    That is interesting; it may or may not be due to interaction effects.

    Byron found a study suggesting an interesting connection between rice and angiotensin proposed by some folks at Temple and Wakayama universities:

  16. James on September 13, 2010 at 21:16

    When you hear Paleo, or hunter gatherer diets you hear a lot about how we are not hunting for our food and agriculture has destroyed human health. However you pointed something I have never seen before your post. To hunt for continuous improvement in life. I like your spin on this. Keep up your posts, they are great.

  17. OB on September 13, 2010 at 22:35

    Diet, exercise, hydration, sun, sleep, mental atarexis (mental relaxation), supplements (VitD, omega3, ??) & what else….. ??? These are all part of the paleo\primal thing and there is a need to identify other areas where we can mimic core paleo components and improve both quality & quantity of living.

    Exercise is a funny one. In paleo days they did not “exercise”. They had to survive, procreate, get shelter, find\kill dinner and thats how they got their activity. they didnt sit round much either (unlike many modern people)- they were to busy moving and doing stuff. I think they would not understand modern man running or using treadmills etc.
    Keep up the good work. OB

  18. Dr. Frankie on September 14, 2010 at 06:30

    As a follow up to my previous post, one can find a comprehensive assessment of the limits of this study by Sean C. Lucan, MD, MPH, MS, Family Physician/Public-Health Researcher at the Montefiore Medical Center / Albert Einstein College of Medicine:

    ” I applaud the authors for evaluating overall dietary patterns rather than individual food components. After all, people eat foods (in the context of other foods), not food components (in isolation from each other).

    Yet while dietary patterns are important, understanding possible mechanisms is also important, as is appreciating heterogeneity within broader food categories. The categorization proposed by Fung et al (“animal-based” vs. “plant-based”) is a decided step forward from other studies that have examined the diet-mortality question(4, 5). Unfortunately, not all plant-derived foods and animal-derived foods are created equal though, and it is likely that critical differences are lost using even this more-specific categorization.

    For instance, do low-carb eaters who choose salmon (lower saturated fat, higher omega-3s) live longer than those who choose beef ? Among beef eaters, do consumers of “pastured” (potentially higher omega-3s, lower antibiotics and hormones) outlive those who eat industrially-raised beef from factory farms? For produce, does “organic” (fewer synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, potentially higher vitamins) promote longevity more than “conventional”? Do people who boil (losing water-soluble nutrients) do worse than those who steam; and do people who grill (coating their meat in heterocyclic amines) die earlier than those who bake? If people eat broccoli with their steak, does one food undo the effects of the other? What if young “mostly-steak eaters” convert to “mostly- broccoli eaters” later in life? … and then convert back? Many questions remain.”

    That is what I would call a balanced assessment; Yet, we won’t (of course) find this posted in the NYT.


  19. Walter on September 14, 2010 at 20:01

    Great site. Keep it up!
    Only like to add the push for continuous improvement should be constant but the results are usually discontinuous. One of the main reasons people give up.
    The happiness point of no marginal improvement is around 50 to 70K I believe.

    • Richard Nikoley on September 21, 2010 at 16:54

      That is the most crucial point of all, Walter. I don’t mean persevere forever at something that’s just not working, but long enough to be good, even if things aren’t working.

  20. Simon on September 15, 2010 at 16:04

    I just wanted to say I really enjoyed both this post and the one you posted after Movnat. I think when you move from the confines of the Paleo approach and expand it to something wider, a tentative philosophy for living I think you reallly tap into the potential of re-examining many of the assumptions we’ ve made in the modern world about life, and what makes a life fulfilling. Paleo teaches you to question assumptions. Keep that questioning attitude alive.

    • Richard Nikoley on September 15, 2010 at 17:03

      Stay tuned, Simon, for the post Im working on now.

      I question the idea of planning and scheduling. Probably up in a couple of hours.

  21. Jordan on September 18, 2010 at 15:01

    I am a long time reader of this site, but have never posted. Being a teacher I regularly interact with parents and students that have varying income levels. Some of the happiest and most grateful children and parents are the ones with little means. This is just an anecdotal observation, but I think there is no correlation between money and happiness, unless the money was a by-product of self improvement like you say.

    Thanks for all of the inspiring posts!


    • Richard Nikoley on September 18, 2010 at 15:40

      Yea, Jordan, I think that money can buy happiness to some extent, but only out of total poverty. From then on you need to be good, whether the money follows or not, and I think you have a better shot at true happiness, money or not.

  22. Caleb on September 19, 2010 at 09:10

    Aristotle nailed happiness as “The continual exercise and expansion of one’s powers.”

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