I enjoyed it a lot.
To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time
My gut told me that the one thing that would save Sherman—the one thing he needed more than petting, or shelter, or even Banamine—was movement.
Movement is big medicine; it’s the signal to every cell in our bodies that no matter what kind of damage we’ve suffered, we’re ready to rebuild and move away from death and back toward life. Rest too long after an injury and your system powers down, preparing you for a peaceful exit. Fight your way back to your feet, however, and you trigger that magical ON switch that speeds healing hormones to everything you need to get stronger: your bones, brain, organs, ligaments, immune system, even the digestive bacteria in your belly, all get a molecular upgrade from exercise.
Toward the end of his career, Jimmy Stewart made Johnny Carson tear up on The Tonight Show by unfolding a sheet of paper from his pocket and reading a poem he carried around about his dead dog, Beau:
Sometimes I’d feel him sigh and I think I know the reason why.
He would wake up at nigh
And he would have this fear
Of the dark, of life, of lots of things,
And he’d be glad to have me near.
Sound & animals
“Sound sometimes carries emotions across species,” points out Carl Safina, the renowned animal behaviourist. “Our shared capacity to perceive it is part of our deep inheritance. Whether the ears belong to a human, a dog, or a horse, several short upward calls cause increased excitement, long descending calls are calming, and a single short abrupt sound can pause a misbehaving dog or a child with a hand in the cookie jar.”
Dogs & comfort
Dogs are even more comforting than your guy, at least at night; in 2018, animal behaviourists at Canisius College researched the sleeping habits of people who shared their beds with a pet and found that out of nearly 1,000 women, the majority had “better, more restful sleep” when they cuddled with a dog rather than with their husbands. And not just because the pups are better about sharing the good pillow and turning off their phones: “Their dogs were less disruptive than their human partners,” the study found,” and were associated with stronger feelings of comfort and security.”
“Raising his children rich wasn’t fair to them,” Sam explained.
And right there, in the moment that Sam’s uncle closed up shop, you can find the secret to Amish success. Sam’s uncle knew that happiness, health, and security come from devoting yourself to two things—your family and your friends—and anything that doesn’t bring you closer to both is pulling you in the wrong direction. Distance and envy are two poisons that can destroy any community, and that’s why the Amish have a problem with cars, fashion, and even electricity: they let you travel too far, show off too much, and stare at screens instead of faces.
Animals, kindness, patience
It’s no coincidence, I realised, that the only Americans who don’t need cops, fists, or therapists to settle their differences are also the only ones who haven’t abandoned their business partnerships with animals.
Patience and kindness don’t show up on demand; they’re disciplines that require constant practice, and there is no better boot camp for learning those skills than hitching your survival to your ability to your discern—and respect—the needs of another creature.
My Old Order neighbours understood that horses are less about transportation and more about education; for every hour they devoted to training their animals, their animals were quietly returning the favour.
Amos, our closest neighbour over the hill, dropped in one evening while friends were over for dinner. “this is win?” he asked, never having seen it before. “Can I try?” Before I could reach for the bottle, he’d filled a water glass to the brim. He drank it off like it was lemonade, then set off to walk tipsily home in the dark. “Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be having that again,” Amos told me the next day. “Not enough evenings in life to spoil another one.” The Amish aren’t closed to the world, he’s saying; they’re just a little more goal-oriented about how much of it to let in.
Running, for a dancer.
My wife, Mika, was home, but she’s a passionate African and Hawaiian dancer who never really understood why anyone would voluntarily spend an hour of their life repeating the same movement over and over in a straight line without at least a bare-chested drummer along to liven things up.
Runners like to boast that “our sport is your sport’s punishment,” and Mika couldn’t agree more.
The chapter on dopamine & endorphin addiction in elite athletes, and the withdrawal effects when they stop.
“… we did two five hundreds, two one thousands, and two miles”—nearly four miles of swimming for a kid who was still in middle school.
“Ashling and Zeke were both swimmers, so they were used to these endorphins. This high,” Andrea recalls. “And then suddenly, it stops.”
When you work out, the pleasure centers in your brain are flooded with endorphins and dopamine, the “happy hormones” that make you feel the way Dwayne Johnson always looks: relaxed, strong, confident, intelligent. Brain opioids are so powerful that if you exercise, you can lower your “mental health burden” by nearly 25 percent and enjoy a much higher ratio of positive mental health days—a whopping 43 percent—than non-exercisers experience. Let that sink in for a second: just by goofing around a little on your bike, you can nearly _double) your happiness. For free. If you put results like that in a pull, it would outsell ice cream.
But any drug with that much firepower, Andrea knew, even a drug produced by your own body, has just as much capacity to lay you out.
… when she combined her knowledge of narcotics and her own experience with exercise, she had to wonder: If you spend half your life getting a daily superdose of dopamine, what happens when you suddenly quit? Do you go through withdrawal, like anyone else kicking a chemical habit?
That hypothesis could explain why competitive athletes, who work out more than anybody else, may be nearly twice as vulnerable to depression as non-athletes.
… the most perilous moment is when athletes face “injuries, career termination, decline in performance, or a catastrophic performance.” There’s always been a dim awareness of a post-glory-days slump, but it was written off as nothing more than an ego bruise, an overdose of humble pie for sports heroes now facing life as mere mortals. Instead, it could be something far deadlier: a dangerous chemical imbalance caused by a sudden drop in dopamine.
And the most at-risk population? “Solo athletes”.
Michael Phelps isn’t surprised. “The world knows me as twenty-eight-time medalist. But for me, sometimes my greatest accomplishment was getting out of bed,” Phelps has said. “When depression hits, it can become debilitating and feel like nothing really matters.” Sometimes he just lay in the dark, longing to die. “For me, getting to an all-time low where I didn’t want to be alive anymore, that’s scary as hell,” Phelps said.
I knew he was eleven years old and “neurodiverse,” a term Hal prefers to “autistic” because it “opens the possibilities,” as Hal puts it, “and sets aside stereotypes.”
Autism and animals
People like Rowan and her, Temple explains, think visually. So do animals. That’s why “animals, especially for autistic kids, can often be the connecting point between the autistic and the ‘normal’ human world.”
“The horse weighs easily a thousand or more pounds,” the researchers point out in their study of adolescent equine psychotherapy, and the animals’ sheer size provides “opportunities for riders to explore issues related to vulnerability, power, and control.”
When you’re working with a force of nature that is extraordinarily sensitive to human cues and will act up if approached by someone who is feeling angry or tense, you learn pretty quickly that you’d best keep an eye on your moods and maintain total attention to the moment.
That sense of well-being from animal contact became so firmly encoded in our DNA that, today, we’re still instinctively soothed by the sight if whiskers and the feel of a warm pelt.
“Pack burro racing was my training for fatherhood,” Hal said frankly. There’s no way you’re going to alpha-male a burro into doing what you want, so Hal had to take a step back and recondition himself to accept, adapt, and improvise.
The burros were leading him to insights he might have never discovered on his own. Like:
- The only thing you need to do in the thing you’re doing.
You have to have more time than they do. If you rush, you lose.
- Lead from the rear
You have to make it seem like it’s their idea.
- If they do something wrong, it’s because you didn’t do something right
Their instincts don’t always line up with your intentions. When they like you, they’ll do everything short of open the gate and jump in the trailer.
- What, you thins Atticus had it easy?
“I wanted you to see what real courage is. It’s when you know you’ve been licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
Amish approach to problems
…this was the way Amish farmers dealt with tough breaks: As son as they see a problem, they attack it. What other choice did they have? If you don’t have the luxury of tapping a few numbers on a phone to save your ass when you’ve ignored the drip under the sink or forgotten to ship for dinner, you learn you can’t put things off and hope they magically get better on their own. You’ve got to square up to the facts…
Talkers aren’t listeners, and Barb had seen too many first-timers who acted like ugly Americans abroad, thinking all they had to do was shout louder instead of learning the language.
Hills in ultra marathons
Hills are the universal equaliser; that’s why even in races, shrewd ultrarunners will hike any terrain that makes them lift their heads. Sure, a runner will beat a hiker to the peak, but not by much—and not for long. Three or four climbs into a 50K, a runner’s legs will be trashed, while the hill hiker still has enough energy on tap to break away on the downhills and flats. Hills are more a test of shrewdness than stamina; you’ve got to have the experience to realise that your best climbing speed isn’t much faster than anyone else’s and the humility to accept it.
Super-oxygenating your blood not only warms you up, but calms you down; and because a clear head helps you survive in dire straits, your brain quickly releases soothing hormones to help you chill out.
… three steps of Wim Hof’s breathing drills:
- thirty to forty power breaths;
- deep exhale and hold;
- deep inhale and hold;
- repeat for three more rounds.
He wasn’t sure if this would work for the long term (dips in icy pond). But short term, he’d certainly learned that your mind can’t dwell on dark thoughts when it’s screaming for you to get the hell out of this meat locker.
Skirt and a smile
- Smile from gun to tape.
- Make someone else smile.
- Race like a demon
We were stronger than Mika, and faster—and when things got rough, we fell harder. We were more afraid of looking soft than we were of falling short, so instead of following her lead and playing it shrewd, we insisted on brute-forcing our way into trouble.
… testosterone ain’t smart.
On basketball as cross training for runners
Lateral movement, explosive power, short bursts of speed, upper-body work…
“Animals don’t do things out of spite. They’re not trying to teach you a lesson. That’s the biggest mistake people make with animals, getting this idea that what the do has something to do with you. You gotta get yourself out of the picture, and then you’ll understand what’s really going on.“
Donkeys may not look like ballroom dancers, but if you watch closely, everything they do has a tempo. They trot and breathe to the beat of a waltz, and that’s what allows them to keep going, lightly and easily, for miles across sun-scorched canyons.