The man I prefer to be needs less than he thinks

By Evan Mann, contributing writer

This summer, I spent 28 days in voluntary exile from the demands of, and connections to, my outside life. No cell phone, no sleeping bag, and for the first five days, no food—I ate what I found, slept where I made shelter, and learned to live with the land in the wilderness of southern Utah.  

My life at 28 was marrowless and rudderless. I had an income, a home, and eight pairs of khakis, but I had never been more miserable. So when I learned about Boulder Outdoor Survival School, which promises “better people through adversity,” it felt like a program that might offer what I needed. 

I knew I needed a change, but four weeks surviving in the desert and mountains changed everything I knew about what I needed.

First, I realized that—when it comes to choice—less is more. Experiencing true hunger for the first time in the Utah desert, I was as happy to bite into the unpalatable-yet-edible leaf of a yucca plant as I’d ever been cutting into a filet mignon and watching the juices spread onto the plate. Rather than dispiriting me, the meager rations I lived on were invigorating. The lack of choice was liberating. It’s a proven fact: When presented with more options, not only do we spend more time weighing decisions, but we end up less satisfied with the decisions we make. When options were limited, I never felt like I was “missing out” on something better. Quite the opposite—I was flourishing. Mmm: Yucca!

A world away

This was quite the contrast to my previous life: A barrage of nonstop text messages, alerts, and emails that assailed me from the moment I woke up. A mad dash of inputs, decisions, and attempts to keep up with everything and everyone who was competing for my attention until I passed out at night. And no matter how many tasks I crossed off my to-do list, it was never done. 

In the wilderness, the imperatives were simple and limited: 

Find food. 

Find water. 

Make shelter. 

The end. 

So when I laid my head down at the end of every day in the wild, I felt accomplished. 

Yes, life was hard, but it was good. Alone with my thoughts and no phone calls to return, I realized how unnecessary my busy-ness had been, and vowed to restore simplicity to my life.

So when I returned to civilization, I made some changes to simplify my life. I automated my mornings by cutting back the number of decisions I made. I now wake at the same time (5 a.m.) every day. I eat the same breakfast of oatmeal, cinnamon, chia seeds, and berries. I write in my journal, and practice yoga before work. I set limits on my screen time, and silence my phone at bedtime until 9 a.m. to further protect my mornings.  

In short, I minimize the external stimulation to focus on myself, as I did for those four weeks away from home. I climbed mountains, forded streams, hiked 400 miles, slept among breathtaking and unforgiving terrain, and discovered the truth of the change I needed:  

When I get by on less, I become so much more.

Evan Mann is a marketing professional and entrepreneur currently living in Memphis. For more about him, visit For more about Boulder Outdoor Survival School, visit

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