#111: Have Humans Become Too Soft? – The Comfort Crisis Author Michael Easter (Sandlot Jax & GORUCK Games 2023 Series)

Saturday July 22, 2023

Have humans become too soft? Has our constant innovation and ingenuity created a society that chooses comfort over the hard work needed to grow to become our best selves?  In this episode, Michael Easter joins Fran Racioppi live from the 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games to discuss the perils of the The Comfort Crisis, Michael’s groundbreaking book that confronts one of society’s most pressing challenges head-on. 

Wearing his 2% hat, Michael shares how we can enhance our mental and physical strength 2% at a time to make small incremental changes that will compound over time without requiring a complex formula of restrictions and activities. Fran and Michael break down the importance of doing hard things, focusing on solving the root causes of our need for comfort and why we have to love the process of discomfort to grow. 

Fran also presses Michael on the state of journalism today, the negative impact of internet click bait and how Michael’s focus on normalcy and accuracy is bringing sanity back to journalism today. 

Learn more about Michael Easter on the web or follow him on social media. Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. Watch the full video version on YouTube.

Listen to the podcast here

Have Humans Become Too Soft – The Comfort Crisis Author Michael Easter (Sandlot Jax & GORUCK Games 2023 Series)

Michael, welcome to The Jedburgh Podcast.

Thanks for having me.

Thanks for taking some time. You have been MCing the Fit Talks, but you popped out of here. You came in. We are going to compete with the band a little bit, but that is okay because that is what we are here for. It is a live environment.Author of The Comfort Crisis Michael Easter joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

It is good to escape the building where the Fit Talks are. They have been awesome, but it is good to get outside and overheat a little bit.

You are not sweating yet. You are the only one around here not soaked in sweat.

I’m the only one who still smells good this entire freaking event.

It is super fitting for the conversation that we can have because you are the author of Comfort Crisis. It is an amazing book. You are wearing a 2% hat, but it is addressing one of the biggest challenges that we have in society here. We talk about it a lot on the show with a lot of our guests, but it is this concept that we become soft as a society. What does that mean now and for our future?

I think about it in terms of these large timescales where in the past, for millions of years, doing the next easiest, most comfortable thing served and kept us alive. Our environments change quickly to those that are a lot more comfortable. If you think about the things that most impact people’s daily lives now, they are all new. They are all less than 100 years old. They are all designed to make your life more comfortable and easier. If you put a species that is wired to do the next most comfortable thing in that environment, you are going to start to have some problems. We are seeing them now. We are in the stages where they are accumulating enough that I’m hoping we are starting to realize, “We got to make some changes here.”Author of The Comfort Crisis Michael Easter joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

You bring up this evolution that we have gone over in society, but one of the things that you drill into is the fact that we would lose tremendously to the cavemen.

In the past, you had to be very fit in a lot of different ways. Our ancestors exercised fourteen times more than us when scientists tried and figure this out. They are not “exercising.” They are doing what they need to do to survive. They have to be physically active. Nowadays, you can take 1,000 steps a day and be fine. You would live on. You would start to get some long-term problems, but you could survive. It never happened in the past.

The life that they lived was different. You are talking about fighting for food, fighting for survival, and running from animals. We live in a society where so much now is given to us. There is this conversation of perspective. You talk about doing hard shit. That is one of the things that GORUCK talks about. There is a lot of collaboration that happens between you and GORUCK around doing hard shit.

We have talked about this with Gevvie Stone, an Olympic rower. She won the silver medal in the 2016 games. She says, “You build bonds with people by doing hard things together.” We live in a society where everyone is shying away from doing hard things, where we are talking about, “How do we live an easier life? How do we take our phones and be consumed in there so we don’t have to get off of our couch?” Talk about this concept of reprogramming and getting ourselves focused on the fact that not only do we have to do hard shit, but we need to go seek it out.

Author of The Comfort Crisis Michael Easter joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

The key is you need to seek it out. I don’t even know if people want things to be easier as it is that we innovate. The innovations that take off tend to make our lives easier in some way. We default to them. It is this thing that happens over time, and you don’t realize it is happening until you realize people are becoming obese because our food system is set up in such a way that we favor calorie-dense food. It is everywhere, and we are removing movement.

Don’t get me wrong. That’s a good problem to have in the grand scheme of time and space. How amazing modern life is, but the fact that you don’t have to freaking run 15 miles a day, you are not hungry all damn day. If you don’t do things to offset that, that is going to lead to some long-term problems.Author of The Comfort Crisis Michael Easter joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

When you think about what it takes to get someone to realize that, some people are going to do it naturally. Some people are going to come to it where they have a realization that something is wrong in their life, and they are not sure what it is. They try to exercise and get outside more, and it takes because we are geared to need a certain amount of physical activity to be healthy. I don’t necessarily see exercise improving our health, so much as I see not exercise making you unhealthy.

It is more normal to have a high level of physical activity. It is almost like inactivity is poison. Once people start to do that, even though it is hard in the short term, a lot of what I talk about is living well means that you have to embrace short-term comfort to get long-term gain. If you want to improve your fitness, you are going to have to exercise. It is hard and uncomfortable in the short term, but you get these long-term benefits like weight loss. You are going to be hungry in the short term, but you are going to improve your health in the long term on and on.Author of The Comfort Crisis Michael Easter joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

The problem is, to your point about how things are framed as easy, we try and frame solutions as easy. If it is easy, it is not going to work. It doesn’t work that way. Even having the message and getting people to realize this is going to be a challenge, but you are going to be fine. It is going to burn for a little bit. It was like, “I was uncomfortable for an hour as I exercised, but I felt better for the other 23 hours of the day.” It is a decent bargain.

When I hear you speak and read what you write, it reminds me of this concept of love the process. We get fixated many times on the goal. Whether that is an athletic goal, a weight loss goal, or building a business as an entrepreneur, we often look at the goal. We say selection for Special Forces. I know you have worked with Special Operations.

We always talk about one day at a time, one evolution at a time, or one event at a time. If you think about, “How am I going to get through 21 days? How am I going to get through a year and a half of training?” You are never going to make it, but you got to embrace that process, which means you have to love the burn to an extent. You have to love that you are not going to eat crap now. How do you get people to instill that mindset in their own head, accept it, and be okay with it versus shying away?

Author of The Comfort Crisis Michael Easter joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

It is interesting because when people look back on things, they tend to reflect on loving the process of a lot of other things in their life, not the goal. They think, “I don’t have kids. I may not be the perfect person to speak on this.” People who have kids were like, “What is the goal of having kids? Is it to raise them to be a lawyer?” When you look back, you are going to remember all this time of the process of teaching your kids these important things that led them to become whoever they become. The whole point of life is to go through this process of living. What is the goal of life? There is no goal.

[bctt tweet=”The whole point of life is to go through this process of living. What is the goal of life? There is no goal.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Goals can be good, and people learn something along the way as they try to reach them, but if you have no plan beyond the goal to continue the behavior, you are going to be screwed. If your thing is like, “I’m going to eat this crazy diet for six weeks so I can have this specific body weight for this specific vacation.” What the hell are you going to do after the vacation? If you can’t picture yourself doing that for the rest of your life, you look good on vacation for a little bit, but you are back to square one, and you haven’t learned anything.

Author of The Comfort Crisis Michael Easter joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh PodcastYou haven’t changed your behavior for longevity to affect the actual sustainable process in your life. You talked about goals. We talk about mission all the time. What is our mission? What is our goal? Where do we want to get there? Oftentimes, people will create work. I have this mission versus being busy versus being effective.

When we commit to doing hardship, changing our diet, changing the way that we exercise, changing the way we interact with other people, and setting that goal out there, how do we differentiate? How do you create effectiveness in your process? How do you measure that versus throwing a whole bunch of tasks out and saying, “I’m doing a bunch of things?”

Throwing a bunch of tasks out thing is a real thing. It doesn’t even matter what it is. It is a thing for all organizations, whether it is a fitness goal, a nutrition goal, an operational goal, or a business goal. Anytime you are trying to introduce a new thing, you need to ask yourself, “What problem am I trying to solve by introducing this thing?” You ask why enough times, and you can start to understand, “Why am I doing this in the first place?” People will pile on a bunch of shiny new things. If you still have this one bad behavior, it is like having your foot on the brake and adding more gas. You are still not going to go anywhere. When you have a goal, you are like, “What problem is this going to solve in my life?”

[bctt tweet=”If you still have this one bad behavior, it is like having your foot on the brake and adding more gas. You are still not going to go anywhere.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Let’s say you are trying to be more productive at work. People are like, “I’m going to start this crazy day planner system that I learned about. It is color-coded.” It’s like, “What problem are you trying to solve with that?” “I don’t get enough done in the morning.” “Why don’t you get enough done in the morning?” It’s like, “I spend a lot of time on my cell phone as I’m trying to work, and I get distracted.” It’s like, “Let’s deal with the fucking distraction. Not just throw a planner in, and now you do your planner and your cellphone.” What is causing the underlying problem? It is a more effective way to deal with a lot of places you are trying to get yourself in life.

I want to ask you about your process. How do you approach your fitness and nutrition that brings in this 2% concept for yourself?Author of The Comfort Crisis Michael Easter joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

It comes from a study that found that only 2% of people take the stairs when there is an escalator available. That tells you how wired we are to do the next easiest thing. One hundred percent of those people knew that taking the stairs would give them a long-term benefit and would enhance their health, yet 98% of them didn’t do it.

It is easy to add movement to your daily life. You don’t have to do these heroic crazy things. If you try and move a little more, try and make the everyday things you do harder, you are going to rack up so much incidental movement that it leads to these massive changes. Things start changing. You are like, “Where the hell did that come from?” It is because you started taking these phone calls while out with a twenty-pound rock on your back because that is a little bit harder. You started taking the stairs every damn time. You started carrying your groceries. You started parking in the Siberia parking lot at Walmart. This adds up.

That is a great first step for most people. It doesn’t matter how fit you are. Adding that concept in can be useful. I do dedicated training sessions. I try and tick all the boxes. I’m not trying to be the strongest guy. I’m not trying to be the guy who is going to go the farthest. I’m not trying to be the fastest guy. I’m not trying to be the most mobile guy. Because of my job as a journalist, if you throw me in any random situation I might find myself in, I’m going to be fine.Author of The Comfort Crisis Michael Easter joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

What about nutrition?

We overcomplicate the shit out of nutrition. Everyone knows what is healthy for them. The government has known what is generally healthy food forever. Foods that have one ingredient, like fruits and vegetables. Some meat, but let’s not have a freaking 24-ounce steak that got a ton of fat hanging off. It is not that complicated but somehow we have overcomplicated it. The bottom line is if you are overweight, you eat too much damn food in some way.

Most people are gonna be better off if they eat more foods that have one ingredient. At the same time, I’m not one of those people that thinks if you go to McDonald’s every now and you smash a big Mac, fries, and a shake, you are going to die or poison yourself. We live in such an amazing time that part of living well is knowing how to manage the amazing things that we have in modern life, like a freaking Big Mac.

We tend to beat ourselves up when we commit to goals. We do a good job with it. You eat fruits and vegetables. You eat protein at every meal. It was like, “It is Sunday and I ate a pizza.” That is okay. Later this week, do you have pizza again? Maybe you only have two pieces. You don’t have the whole thing. Grab the apple for lunch and offset it. We do that a lot. We get involved with these bad diets. You were talking about the person who says, “I got to do this to go on this vacation.” You could do 75% of that but do it for the rest of your life. You are going to achieve the same result for a longer duration.

There is value in trying stuff because you learn along the way what works and what doesn’t work. It is an art rather than a science to me. Try some stuff and figure out what works for you. You are going to pull a lot of ideas from different things and eventually land on something that gets you where you want to be. The reality is you might decide, “I’m okay being 10 pounds heavier than I want because I love M&Ms. If I wouldn’t be as fulfilled in life and if I couldn’t sit down and have a couple of M&Ms at night, that is okay. You don’t get to be perfect.”

[bctt tweet=”There is value in trying stuff because you learn along the way what works and what doesn’t work. It is an art rather than a science.” username=”talentwargroup”]

I got to ask you a question. I have been fortunate to sit down with a lot of journalists. I studied Journalism at Boston University. I wanted to be the next Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. They were my heroes. 9/11 was my junior year. I had to make the decision, “Do I go to Iowa or Idaho and be a weatherman, a traffic reporter and build my reel, or do I go make the news?” I chose the latter and spent several years in the Army and primarily in ten Special Forces groups. I said, “If I want to be a reporter and journalist, I can do it later.” Hence the return, I started the show two months before I finished paying the last bill.Author of The Comfort Crisis Michael Easter joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

We have seen journalism change a lot over the last several years. We have seen this move towards more commentary. We have seen objective journalism go to the back burner. We don’t even know where to find it in a lot of ways. We have seen the rise of social media. We have that seen print media is almost gone in many ways. Everybody is consuming their information with, first, 32-second videos, and now it is 25-second videos. Someone told me, “You need to have a seven-second video.”

I’m like, “I got an hour-and-a-half show. How am I going to give you seven seconds for someone to say, ‘I want to listen to that thing?’” A question I’m getting to is, you talk about society, comfort, and where we are going. As you look back, as a journalist, over your career and where we have gone to take drilling everything down to a microcosm of topics and expecting people to solve complex problems through a seven-second video that they watch on Instagram, where are we going?

Advertising has always influenced journalism, but once we go over to the internet, we can track clicks, and we know what people will click. You start to see things like clickbait rise. Journalism made a poor decision not to charge for online content when the internet was invented. Clicks start to become currency. You can track them. We start to go, “If clicks are currency, we need to write shit that we know people will click.” You start writing things in such a way that is going to grab attention. What grabs attention? It is stuff that is lurid and shocking. It is all the shit you see in the world.

You lose a lot of nuances because when you need as many clicks as possible, you have to up your content. You need to make it cheaper to create. Journalists start doing hot takes. Hot takes become the key, and the nuance goes out the window. It is unfortunate. It is in a bad place. One of my big projects now is on my newsletter because I will do three of those a week, but I will spend time. I will do some actual original reporting. I will call multiple sources, read studies, and travel places. This is what journalism used to be like before major media.Author of The Comfort Crisis Michael Easter joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

Even in the health space, people have two choices. You have this clickbait from major media outlets that are not useful at all, or you have a seven-hour podcast where you can’t understand half of it. The takeaway is you leave with a two-hour morning routine. It was like, “Who the hell has time for that shit?” Trying to restore some sanity, normalcy, and accuracy to journalism is my charge now.

I got to wrap up with you because I got to get you back over to the next series of Fit Talk. Jessie Graff is going to be talking. I’m going to go in there in a few minutes after you, but before we close out, I want to ask you. The Jedburghs in World War II had to do three things every day to be successful, core foundational tasks and habits. They had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate. If they did these three things with the utmost precision, they could focus their attention on more complex challenges because they didn’t have to worry about the basics. What are the three things that you do every day to set the conditions for success in your world?

Author of The Comfort Crisis Michael Easter joins Fran Racioppi on The Jedburgh Podcast

I write first thing in the morning for a few hours. I am active every single day. I either do a workout. I can’t remember the last time I got under 10,000 steps, generally. I have to laugh with people. That is usually my wife because she is the funniest human being ever.

Write, be active, and laugh. I love all three of those. I love what you are doing. I follow you. I have been watching it. I continue to be inspired by the work that you are doing. You are bringing real journalism into society. That is something I ascribe to, and I appreciate taking some time to stay.

Thanks a lot for having me.

Thanks a lot.


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