Better Every Day Book Club: Sapiens

Reading (or listening to) a book is not enough to make a significant impact in your life. Two things have to happen concurrently.
1) It needs to speak to you using language that resonates with youA Brief History of Humankind
2) You need to be at a point in your life where you are ready to receive that message.

The 2nd point is something that is often overlooked. There are many fantastic books out there that people won’t fully absorb because they are simply not in a position to receive that information.

Recently I read, (and then immediately re-read) the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. This book has jumped to the top of my list for books you absolutely need to read at some point in your life.

1) History
I think it’s important to understand what got us to this point in history, but I don’t think you need to need to read 100 history textbooks–this is engaging and pertinent to humans

2) Fictional Reality
It unravels and identifies the various fictions that comprise our current reality (for example, democracy and capitalism are both completely fabricated by humans–they just happen to work pretty well for organizing very large groups of people)

3) Exercise
From an exercise standpoint, it gives a basis of what our lives were probably like, and what our bodies are naturally geared for. (It’s mainly walking, talking, and procreating–we were mostly scavengers and gatherers for a long time before we became very effective hunters.)

4) Interpersonal Comparison
One thing that our various fictions allowed us to do was to cooperate in very large groups. These unifying beliefs have allowed us to dominate the world as the most effective animals. However, it has also caused us to compare ourselves to not just those in our immediate locale–but to the top fraction of 1% globally.

Essentially, it makes no sense for me to compare the way I look to Brad Pitt or my finances to Bill Gates–but we all do it. Right now someone reading this is comparing their physique to something they saw on a magazine cover (another fictional reality) and lamenting over the fact that they only have a $50,000 car when their neighbor has a $100,000 car. This comparison is likely not going to do anyone any favors from a happiness or satisfaction standpoint.

Don’t compare what you have or who you are to others, it will not serve you.

Try this brain homework:
Think of all the things in your life that cause your stress or anxiety and see which of them are actually real things (rather than human fabrications).

I am hungry (that is a real concern, eat some food)

I gained a pound and now I want to have gastric bypass surgery and liposuction. (ask yourself, what is a pound? Why do we measure ourselves in pounds? What is it about the number of fictional units that carries an emotional weight. Would you be happier if you measured yourself in kilograms?

Let’s look at this with my current weight of 195 pounds (note: I am 10lbs heavier than a few years ago).
Does it feel better with a smaller number?
–>195 pounds = 88kg
–>195 pounds= 14 stone
14 of something seems reasonable right?
Would a bigger number be better?
–>195 pounds = 3120 ounces
That doesn’t seem too heavy does it?

One key takeaway here is that you get a deeper understanding of humanity, and maybe more importantly, of relativity. Understand that how much weight you lift, what food you eat, how much you weigh, are all just relative to everything else–and intrinsically they mean nothing.

I found this book to be extremely liberating, the stories to be both informative and engaging, and I can’t recommend this book enough. I wish I had read it when I was in high school, and again when I was in college, and again every 5 years.

I’m not alone in this recommendation, many of the top performers in the world in a wide variety of arts, sciences, and business have Sapiens as their #1 go-to.

Pick it up, apply the lessons, and deconstruct the fictional reality around you.

Better every day,

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5 thoughts on “Better Every Day Book Club: Sapiens

  • Bob Cabral

    Totally agree! So informative and written in a way that also entertains the mind. At the top of my must reads.

  • Chris Cox

    I’ll have to check this book out. Over the last few years I have come to similar conclusions as you mentioned here, that much of what we worry about is fictional things created by people to measure things. Money, job titles, the size of your house, the clothes you wear, even much of what we have learned is either made up along the way or the information changed by what is basically a game of telephone that eventually warps the initial information.

    About 6 years ago I started getting very serious about working out and outfitted my basement with old school fitness equipment. I was always so focused on the numbers in the beginning. I can clean 215 lbs., is that good? What do Olympic lifters my size clean? What does the average athlete who doesn’t focus as much on cleans lift? What about snatches? I can do 30 pull ups, now I know that’s good. I found a video on YouTube of a guy doing a 1 arm pull up and decided it was going to be my new goal. It was so impressive and I knew if I could do it it would make me a bad ass. So I worked on it for about a year doing weighted pull ups, 1 arm assisted pull ups, and rope climbing. I got very strong and eventually I could occasionally do a 1 arm pull up with my right arm. I felt so accomplished and kept working on it to do it all the time and not just occasionally, and to get it with my left. Then I started to get elbow pain. Not too bad at first, but with me so focused on achieving a one arm chin I kept pushing it, not wanting to take a break and lose my strength. The pain got worse but i was so close to getting my left hand that I kept pushing it. Finally I slowed down and tried to just maintain the strength until it healed. Five years later and backing off of pull ups a lot and abandoning the goal of doing one arm pull ups and I still have a little elbow pain now and then. I finally asked myself is it worth it? Why do I want to do a one arm chin up? It is bad ass for sure, but being able to lift a 30 pound box up without elbow pain is way more important. I found out the main reason I wanted to do a one arm chin was to impress other people, which is not a good reason to go through life with elbow pain that affects my life and my enjoyment. I also didn’t really like cleans or snatches but I did them, never really getting much better at them and then only programming then once every other week to maintain. I asked myself the same question, why do you do cleans and snatches? You don’t like them. Well crossfit people do them and if someone does crossfit they might ask me and I want to reply with impressive numbers. Again one of the worst reasons. I don’t compete in crossfit, I don’t compete in anything besides recreational volleyball. I don’t like doing Olympic lifts, I have no use for them, sure they work power but so do plyometric exercises. I used to think to myself I can’t wait until I’m 40 and I won’t need to impress anyone with what I can do or what weights I can lift and my workouts are gonna be everything I like to do and everything that makes me feel good. I’m going to focus way less on the weight and more on enjoying the process and keeping my joints health and feeling good. Then after romanticizing thoughts of my 40 year old workouts I thought to myself why the hell are you not doing that now. You don’t need to impress anyone now, and just being able to do the things I can do that I enjoy impresses people, although that is not the goal. By the way I am now 27 years old and it took me 8 years of lifting to come to this conclusion.

    Sorry for the long rant and I’m sure you have already came to similar conclusions so I hope I haven’t wasted your time. Thanks for the email and book reccomendation, I need a new book to read.

    All the best.

  • Brandon Cook

    Sounds like a very interesting and enlightening book! I went to Amazon and read all about it, plus ordered the unabridged MP3 version of the book. I’ve read a lot about human evolution, and the overall history of mankind… I definitely think we need to “deconstruct the fictional reality” that’s all around us. Thanks for the book recommendation.