October 3, 2022

Mental & Emotional Health

#225 ‒ The comfort crisis, doing hard things, rucking, and more | Michael Easter, MA

Dancing on the edge of failure, you can realize that it's not that big of a deal.” —Michael Easter

Read Time 46 minutes

Michael Easter is the author of the bestseller, The Comfort Crisis. He’s also a journalist, Professor of Journalism at UNLV, and a leading voice on how humans can integrate modern science and evolutionary wisdom for improved health, meaning, and performance in life and at work. In this episode, Michael first talks about his upbringing, including his parents’ struggle with alcoholism, his father leaving when he was young, and how these things impacted Michael’s own struggle with alcoholism. He explains what led to his realization that we are in a “crisis of comfort” and how the removal of many of life’s discomforts through advancements in modern society may actually be a leading contributor to many of our most urgent physical and mental health issues. He explains the benefits of challenging oneself and the immense positive carryover which can come from doing things we find difficult. He describes the consequences of technology like smartphones, which have effectively eliminated boredom—a discomfort that comes with many benefits. He tells the story of a profound experience at an elk hunt that changed Michael’s thoughts around life and death, how happiness can thrive in places without all of the modern comforts of the West, and why we’re hardwired for stress and what to do about it. They conclude with a conversation around rucking, an activity with many physical and mental benefits.

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We discuss:

  • The value in doing something difficult [2:30];
  • Michael’s upbringing with a single parent and alcoholism [5:45];
  • Michael’s battle with alcoholism and his experience with quitting drinking [10:00];
  • Origin of the idea that we are in a crisis of comfort [20:30];
  • The death of boredom in modern society [28:45];
  • The benefits of boredom [36:00];
  • The value of disconnecting and being in nature [39:15]; 
  • Changing the dynamic of how we think about food and the story of Peter’s daughter’s first hunt [43:45];
  • How a profound experience at an elk hunt changed Michael’s thoughts about life and death [49:15];
  • How happiness can thrive in places without all of the modern comforts of the West [57:15];
  • Why we’re hardwired for stress, and the responsibility that comes with our level of comfort [1:05:30]; 
  • How perspective on the timescale of our lives in relation to history can impart positive changes [1:14:00];
  • The benefit of challenging oneself and the positive carryover it can have [1:19:45];
  • The many benefits of rucking [1:28:45]; 
  • Tips for rucking: ideal load, type of pack, and other considerations [1:38:00];
  • Parting thoughts on the downside of comfort and benefits of difficult things [1:43:00]; and
  • More.

§

The value in doing something difficult [2:30]

Peter’s obsession with rucking

  • You may have heard Peter talk about Michael’s book on previous podcasts or allude to his obsession with rucking 
  • Peter’s daughter just got back from her first sleepaway camp in Colorado and Wyoming
    • She’s 13
    • The camp was 2 weeks
    • They deliberately sent her to a hard camp
    • They work and take care of animals
    • There are no electronics
  • In preparation for her camp Peter asked her to ruck with him but she didn’t really want to
    • The idea of carrying a heavy-weighted backpack for a walk with your dad in the 5 o’clock sweltering Austin heat is not that appealing
  • The kids get 1, 10-minute phone call in the middle of their time at camp
    • The first thing she said was, “Dad, I’m the fastest hiker here. All that rucking totally paid off.
    • The camp is at 10-12,000 feet, at altitude
    • He had her walking with 25-30 lbs in her pack
    • They have a lot of hills

The importance of introducing kids to difficult tasks 

  • Michael loves that Peter sent his daughter to a camp where she’s doing hard things outside
    • That is so valuable for kids today
    • It’s a theme that runs through his book
  • At UNLV where Michael teaches, he sees a lot of students psychologically embedded in their digital worlds and in their own head
    • For them things that most would consider minor inconveniences can easily be blown up
    • The antidote to that is introducing kids to hard things when they are younger

 

Michael’s upbringing with a single parent and alcoholism [5:45]

Where did Michael grow up?

  • Northern Utah, a little town called Banfield, just outside of Salt Lake city
  • Snowboarding got him into college
  • He was not a great student in high school
    • He liked to go out and party
    • He was into girls and cars
  • But Park City Mountain Resort would sell a season pass for $99 if you got on the honor roll
    • This is the only thing that incentivized him
    • It got him into college

Michael’s parent’s struggle with sobriety  

  • They split when his mother was 5 months pregnant
  • His dad was always a heavy drinker and drug user
  • When his parents met, his mom was into that lifestyle too
  • His parents were married and his dad went into rehab before he was born
  • As part of rehab they gave his mom a book to read to explain what her husband was going through
    • As his mom explains it, “I’m sitting in the tub one night and I’m drinking a gin and tonic. I get to this line in this book and it says, ‘Try to drink and stop. Try it twice.’ And she goes, ‘Oh, yeah, I couldn’t do that.’” 
    • This is when his mom realizes she has a problem too 
  • She manages to get sober
  • His dad stayed sober for a little bit, just long for her to get pregnant
  • Once she was pregnant, his drinking buddy was gone and the fun was over
  • Maybe he wasn’t ready for that; he took off
  • Michael’s always been raised by a single parent
  • He doesn’t have a relationship with his dad
    • He hasn’t heard from him since he was about 8 years old

When you were in high school, did you know the history of your parents drinking? 

  • He knew his mom didn’t drink and the reason why
  • She was always respectful of his dad and didn’t give any details
  • He was left to assume the reason he was not in Michael’s life was because he never stopped drinking 

What was his mom’s advice to him in high school when most kids are experimenting with alcohol? 

  • His plan was to never drink because he could have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism
  • He read books instead; he was a nerdy kid
  • But as you turn into a teenager, your brain starts changing and you look for excitement and risk
  • And all of a sudden, the pull of social things become so much more rewarding than it ever was
    • This is when he began to drink
  • The town he grew up in was all Mormon
  • They weren’t Mormon, and his mom was a single parent
    • They were a bit of an outcast in that sense
  • Drinking made this uncomfortable feeling go away and it became a learned thing that he associated with good experiences
    • All of the sudden, he could talk to anyone, girls 
    • He could say funnier things
    • He was more clever
  • Eventually this stopped working so today he’s sober

 

Michael’s battle with alcoholism and his experience with quitting drinking [10:00]

The realization that drinking wasn’t working 

{end of show notes preview}

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Michael Easter

Michael Easter earned his B.A. at Wheaton College and M.A. in Health Journalism at New York University.  

Michael Easter teaches journalism, with a special emphasis on health media at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  Michael hosts Nevada Health, a weekly health radio show on KUNV, and his writing appears in Men’s Health, Outside, Vice, Cosmopolitan, Scientific American, Men’s Journal, and FiveThirtyEight.  Michael authored The Comfort Crisis, a best seller.  His book has been translated into 10 different languages and adopted by Major League Baseball teams, top-ranked NCAA D1 football programs, top-tier universities and law programs, major corporations, and tier-one military units. 

Michael’s work and ideas have appeared in over 60 countries. They’ve been endorsed by directors of the CIA and Navy SEALs, gold medal-winning Olympians, leading physicians, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, Buddhist and environmental leaders, and more. His writing has appeared in Men’s Health, where he’s a Contributing Editor, and Outside, Men’s Journal, Cosmopolitan, Vice, Esquire, Scientific American, FiveThirtyEight, and Women’s Health. He’s also talked about his work and ideas on the world’s largest, most influential podcasts, like The Joe Rogan Experience, Art of Manliness, Impact Theory, NPR, EconTalk, and more. 

When he’s not on the ground reporting, Michael is a professor in the journalism department at UNLV. He co-founded and co-directs the Public Communications Institute, a think tank at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV). [UNLV and eastermichael.com]

Michael’s website: ME

Michael’s newsletter: The 2 Percent Newsletter

Instagram: michael_easter

Twitter: @Michael_Easter

Facebook: Michael Easter

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this blog or materials linked from this blog is at the user's own risk. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have, and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions.
  1. “Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman–a rope over an abyss. A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an OVER-GOING and a DOWN-GOING. -Nietzsche’s Zarathustra

  2. A MARVELOUS LISTEN. I’VE BEEN A RUNNER SINCE JUNE 1976. AND 24 MARATHONS LATER, AS WELL AS MULTIPLE RACES, AND LONG DISTANCE TRAINING, RUNNING HAS ALWAYS SERVED ME WELL. NO KNEE ISSUES EVER. FINGERS CROSSED. AS I WOULD RUN DAILY, MY MIND WOULD WORK SO WELL WITH CREATIVE THINKING.
    TAKE AN ICE COLD SHOWER EVER MORNING. THE DAILY COLD SHOWER ADDS TO THE MENU OF FITNESS. OH, BEGIN YOUR DAY WITH A BAREFOOT WALK IN THE GRASS, TOO.
    THANK YOU.

  3. I cannot wait for a GoRuck subscriber discount. I’ve known about rucking and goruck for months since reading the book and been intrigued but cost has held me back.

    Please reach out to GoRuck and see if they’d be willing to do something like this. I and so many others would undoubtedly benefit

  4. The old 4-H programs where kids are taught animal husbandry, how to raise a domestic farm raised animal from birth to humane slaughter is another really more practical way to introduce all meat eaters to the realities of diet, health and a responsible existence on planet earth and exposure to the reality that every life requires death and killing for them to continue to live.

  5. Peter –
    Great podcast. Just joined my wife on a 1-hour hike and slapped on my 30-lb. weight vest. Looks like Go Ruck is sold out of many of their Rucker series packs. Hope to order when back in stock.

    Do you wear their boots? I wore a pair of trail running shoes on my maiden voyage. Feet were a little sore at the end.
    I think I’m hooked on the ruck as a way to support my tennis and skiing addictions.

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