“you may choose to embrace being, and work for its furtherance and improvement. Thus strengthened, you may be able to stand, even during the illness of a loved one, even during the death of a parent, and allow others to find strength alongside you when they would otherwise be overwhelmed with despair.. Then the meaning of your life may be sufficient to keep the corrupting influence of mortal despair at bay. Then you may be able to accept the terrible burden of the world and find joy. Look for your inspiration to the victorious lobster, with its 350 million years of practical wisdom. Stand up straight, with your shoulders back.”
The first chapter in Jordan Peterson’s book ’12 rules for life’ outlines the idea of hierarchy and how lobsters have had them for over 350 million years. This got me thinking of how it’s circular structure sets the playing field for modern western human life.
Now, you may be thinking how on earth this relates to a physical practice or training, but bare with me! No, I’m not going to suggest to start ‘moving like a lobster’.. This goes deeper than you may think.
Step 1 – Lets attempt to outline what the book says and the circular structure idea.
Without going into too much detail with regards to the book, of the key points the first chapter contains, I’d like to discuss the one, which is the Lobster hierarchy and the circular structure I have noticed in our human world.
JP suggests that studies show how Serotonin dictates the dominance hierarchy of lobsters, and has done for ever 350 million years, thus proving that hierarchies are not simply socio-cultural constructs. So much for being oppressed by capitalism.. So, how exactly does this chemical impact a Lobster hierarchy? Well, to have a better chance of survival, which is of primary concern, a lobster wants to have the most access and opportunity to the best mates, food and shelter from prey. Before you ask, no I don’t mean mates to watch the footy with, I’m afraid it’s not coming home. I’m talking of procreation, of spreading the seed. In the world of a lobster, variables such as competency do not come into the equation. Being good at your job isn’t even on the radar.
Here comes the interesting part. The chemical serotonin dictates the posture of the lobster; the bigger and more upright lobsters are more attractive, more dominant and therefore awarded pride of place in all three regards, so more serotonin means an exponentially greater chance of survival. This becomes even more interesting when you can directly influence the position in the dominance hierarchy by giving a lobster more serotonin. Even if the lobster has just lost a dominance battle, giving it more serotonin will make it fight again!
This becomes very interesting in the world of us humans, as we have many other variables that can/will/should dictate any given hierarchy, for example as I suggested before, competency in the relevant tasks relating to the hierarchy. However, applying the rule from the lobsters gives us an interesting circular structure, due to the interactions and presuppositions of other humans. Being the self conscious individuals we are, pre-judgements and comparisons are a daily occurrence.
Imagine an individual who carries themselves with a slumped posture, forever looking into the floor, carrying themselves with a set of actions suggesting emotions as sadness, loneliness or shyness. Not traits that will necessarily attract a potential mate? Well aside from the survival aspect, we are in a position (at least in the ‘modern western world’) that we don’t need to strive for survival each and every day, so therefore the game changes slightly. We are now vying for positions such as jobs & friendships.
Now picture a second individual, who carries themselves with an upright, open posture. In ancient times this could have been seen to be vulnerable, with your vital organs exposed. In modern times, it exudes a level of confidence, or happiness. Pride, maybe?
Now compare the two individuals, and think about which would be most applicable when vying for a potential job or friendship..
We can go deeper. The general day to day interactions play a huge role on an individuals mental state. Picture the difference in likely day to day interactions between the two individuals, and now imagine the feelings after them. It could be said that the first individual would have far fewer interactions if any at all, whereas the second has far more potential due to the openness of their posture. These very interactions will then go onto dictate the future posture (both physical and mental) of the individuals, which in turn influences the nature of the future interactions etc. etc. Hence, we have a circular structure, working it’s way up or down. Something that could lead interestingly to the phenomenon called Pareto’s law, or even the Mattew principle “for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”
Step 2 – How is this relevant to a physical practice and training?
Aesthetics (physicality/posture) directly relate to how you are treated by others, their presuppositions of you and potentially your success in the social game, just as the lobster hierarchies show. There has been a huge shift in the fitness industry in recent years, arguably mainly due to Ido Portal and the ‘Movement Culture’. The ideas such as ‘What muscles you have? No, Bro what patterns you have?’ and ‘Aesthetics is Reverse Engineering the body’ (the idea that training simply for aesthetic purposes does not fulfil the full potential of the human body, and in fact could potentially hinder it) really drew some attention.
However, as we have discussed, aesthetics could be this in built system of judgement both of self and others, coming from millions of years of evolution.. Could this modern day movement argument encapsulate the whole picture? Or is it important to also create an aesthetic bias with your physical training? Can our new knowledge of hierarchies and ‘standing up straight’ help us decipher it for ourselves?
I’d like to outline just a few ideas of my own, and let you as the reader form an opinion of your own. (As previously stated, there are far more variables to a human hierarchy than a lobster one..)
Lets begin with the idea of comparison and resentment, something i’m sure each of you have felt at some point. Which, is a shame, because most likely, that suggests you have been treated unfairly. Or – not. You could also have a jealous mindset and outlook; and extremely important factor to distinguish for yourself. However, we will go with the former right now. ‘Body image’ is a hot topic, more openly for females but definitely also with regard to males. With your new knowledge of its direct correlation to how others treat you and then the circular structure of emotion/feelings and how you carry yourself, it’s no surprise we care. Evidently a pro argument for aesthetic training?
Well, what about the other end of the spectrum, those of us who are less inclined to be physically active and therefore have an aesthetic that is akin the to Vitruvian Man, or woman for that matter? Well, here is the complexity in such a low resolution idea. To compare yourself to others is a slippery slope to evil, in which resentment often comes quickly. However, we need to compare to something in order to see progress, so what shall we do? Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not someone else today. (More on this in Rule 4) It is up to you, as the individual you ARE, to decipher your own dreams and goals, whether they be aesthetic of skill oriented, and strive toward them step by step. Wasting time and energy drawing comparisons to others who have a completely opposing life story to yourself will only hinder your growth.
The next idea i’d like to bring up, is the brain. There is a fascinating study in which potential new London taxi drivers had a brain scan both before and after the notoriously difficult testing phase. The test includes many complex parts, including insane mental imagery capacity where the individual has to picture the London map in their brain and suggest multiple routes to a given destination. Already unfathomable to us mere mortals, who struggle to remember our daily commute on the underground, which has been unchanged for the past 3 years.. The findings showed grey matter dramatically increasing in certain key parts of the brain. To be able to increase physical brain matter throughout life is quite amazing, showing that just like muscles, the brain can be trained too! Proving the ‘old dog, new trick’ analogy to be utterly false! This is an exciting prospect when looking at potential life destroying diseases moving on into later life. Avoiding diseases such as Alzheimer’s, which I have personal experience of its destruction, is obviously a concern to many. With the empowering knowledge of being able to train the brain, this could be a vital point of encouragement and motivation to many otherwise avoiding physical activity.
But Wil, why psychical activity? Why not download a few brain training apps on my smart phone? Granted, that is an option, but will likely only give a small variety of training, and when it comes to the unfathomable brain, variety and ever increasing complexity is key. Games that challenge both the brain and body, and their connection most importantly, are a necessity. And not simply for the physiological effects either, think of the psychological effects of learning a new skill, especially to said ‘old dogs’.. The power of co-ordination, rhythm, body manipulation etc. are highly underestimated.
The third idea i’d like to bring to the fore, is related to idea number 2, however with a very different meaning, quite literally. To take pride in your work, and apply processes in order to learn new and previously chaotic skills is evidently a difficult and time consuming endeavour. However, the freedom it brings both mentally and physically (not to mention the idea of ‘staying young’) make it all worth while. I have come to notice that momentum, not motivation is the underlying principle for long term success and consistency. Therefore, the initial effort (inertia) it takes to begin is always the hardest. I have experienced this first hand, both with my own training post injury, and also in family and loved ones. But, once the first step has been made and the effort has been invested, once the direction has been set and the goal broken down into clear manageable chunks, then we can start to move forward and build momentum. This momentum feeds our motivation, and the universe conspires to help us achieve our personal legend (to quote The Alchemist).
Even skills that seem so unimportant can provide a beautiful lesson, a chance to grow. Take for example juggling, something my 55 year old mother would have never of dreamed of attempting, let alone being useful lesson for her day to day life. Yet, after a little (ok, A LOT) of initial encouragement and guidance, the confusion started to shift into clarity, with a process limiting the chaos and giving manageable goals creating order along the way, she has begun to juggle. It may not be something that Cirque du Soleil would employ, but it’s bloody powerful in her world. Why? Because she turned something seemingly impossible into something very possible indeed, with her BARE HANDS! Nothing short of Jesus turning water to wine, in her world. And, that’s the key! In your individual world, what can you do to improve it? Because changing our own little bubble, will in turn change the whole landscape of the world us individuals populate together. (More on this in Rule 6)
The final idea, is something that JP talks about in one of his YouTube videos. He explains his research for the first chapter of the book, including the finding that Rats laugh ultrasonically if you tickle them with the end of the pencil. Odd. Why would anyone spend their time tickling rats with a pencil? In a talk explaining the book, JP discusses the finding, and how critical it is, as it shows that mammals have an inbuilt play circuit, meaning there is a psycho-biological basis for rough and tumble play. So, maybe after all, training in isolation for aesthetics is missing out on the rough and tumble that is so intertwined with our very existence..
Thank you sooooo much if you managed to get to the end of this, the first in a series of blogs attempting to relate ’12 Rules for Life’ and cultivating a physical practice. It’s a useful and enjoyable way to test my writing skills, so any and all feedback is much appreciated! I hope you enjoyed Rule #1.