Your Hunch About Text Neck Is Right

What do Jordan B. Peterson, Dr. Peter Attia, Body Language, Archery, and the Rhomboids have in common?

“Attend carefully to your posture. Quit drooping and hunching around.” — Jordan Peterson

Let’s explore the obsession that Dr. Peter Attia and Dr. Jordan Peterson don’t know they have in common. That obsession? The small muscle found between your shoulder blades called The Rhomboids.

This story investigates the following claim: Could something as simple as the rhomboid muscles be the mythical secret of success?

Admittedly, the rhomboids are not the first thing you’d guess anyone could get obsessed about — let alone two stars of podcast culture. But after analyzing the work of both doctors, we find an oddly profound story about body language and importance of good posture.

Today, we’ll look at examples where Attia and Peterson flex their rhomboids in their work. We’ll cover body langauge, archery, text neck, the Greek word for ‘sin,’ and the metaphysics of success.

Ready? Let’s aim for the center of the bullseye!

It’s worth noting that both Peterson and Attia are social media stars.

Both men were already respected doctors, who skyrocketed into the public arena thanks to the narrow bandwidth of podcast culture.

They’ve appeared numerous times on the same well known podcasts (like Joe Rogan, Sam Harris, and Jocko Willink) and have successful podcasts of their own.

And although they’ve never spoken, Attia and Peterson have essentially been talking about the same thing for years: The rhomboids.

I’m not sure the exact moment it dawned on me that their interests overlapped at the rhomboids — but that realization was staggering, and useful. Allow me to explain.

Unsurprisingly, Peter Attia’s obsession with the rhomboids is physical — an offshoot of his archery obsession. In other words, thanks to Attia waxing poetic about the joy of shooting arrows, we know the rhomboids are THE back muscle at the crux of perfect archery form.

Meanwhile, Peterson’s obsession with the rhomboids can be summarized by the title of Chapter 1 from his book, 12 Rules For Life — “Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back.” Peterson has an entire metaphysics of posture— which he might describe as the metaphorical images spoken by our body language.

That said, is it noteworthy when two all-star doctor podcasters are obsessed with the same remote body part? —But for different reasons?

I think it is — especially when you consider the increasing pandemic spanning the globe. No not COVID-19. The pandemic of Text Neck.

First, a pandemic is defined as an epidemic that spans the entire world. An epidemic isn’t limited to just disease. According to Google Dictionary, an epidemic is, “a sudden widespread occurrence of a particular undesirable phenomenon.”

Thus, by that definition, text neck is certainly pandemic in nature.

You can immediately picture it. The hunched posture known colloquially as text neck, is distinct and unique to the smartphone era.

Rolled shoulders, chin jutted forward, face inches from your screen. Perhaps you just straightened up as you read these words?

We know what text neck looks like.

Text neck? Rhomboids? This might seem like a small concern, considering everything else going on around the world.

But as we’ll see, beating text neck might be the simplest, biggest key to individual lifetime success. And like Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” So if we fix this in ourselves, perhaps it will be good for the world.

Let’s meet Attia and Peterson, two guys attempting to be the change they wish to see in the world.

Peter Attia is a man of action.

Dr. Peter Attia, is a medical doctor at Johns Hopkins University, specializing in human longevity and health. He’s an accomplished dietician, triathlete, archer, and race car driver.

Attia introduced Tim Ferriss to both Jocko Willink and the Ketogenic Diet. After doing so, both Keto and Jocko became worldwide phenomenons before long.

Thus Attia proved his chops as he positioned himself in the media as a trustworthy voice and health expert.

Peter Attia at TED-Med

I think Attia sorta resembles something of a real-life Marvel superhero. Haters might say Attia is a bit dry or clinical — but he’s still the smartest guy in the room at any given time.

Jordan Peterson is a man of controversy.

Dr. Jordan Peterson is a psychologist, professor, and best-selling author who shot to internet fame starting in 2018 riding a wave of controversial topics regarding identity politics and the psychology of ancient texts like the Bible.

Jordan Peterson during his 12 Rules For Life lecture series

Over the last few years, Peterson has gone on a worldwide lecture tour, podcasted extensively, written a best-seller, and retreated from the public eye with health problems, only to return with a new book.

As such, The New York Times called him, “The most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.”

I’ve listened to a lot of his podcasts, read his book, “12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos,” and went to one of his lectures in Des Moines, IA.

I find Peterson’s ideas interesting, nuanced, yet clarifying; his take on personal responsibility, meaningful.

Subsequently, I think of Peterson as a ballast for our chaotic times.

Briefly, let’s define the pareto distribution (also know as the 80/20 rule, or Matthew principle). In short, the pareto distribution is the oft-cited principle stating the universal tendency for, “80% of the effects to come from 20% of the causes.”

In archery, rhomboid strength satisfies the 80/20 rule of “back tension.” Back-tension in archery defines the proper squeeze one feels between the shoulder blades when they are using the correct shooting form.

In short, back-tension and the rhomboid-squeeze is shorthand for perfect posture.

As such, Attia identified back-tension as the biggest key to firing accurate arrows. And because they play the biggest role in proper back-tension, Attia became obsessed with the rhomboids.

The rhomboids. courtesy of istockphoto

On the other hand, lack of proper back tension leads to inaccurate arrows, inconsistent aim, and increased chance of injury.

The opposite is true when you have good back tension. Attia would say the greatest ROI in archery is achieved from good rhomboid strength.

Attia has never made the connection publicly, but the same ROI, 80/20 rule, and success principle of rhomboid strength is also true when your apply it to text neck.

That said, if all this obsession-talk about text neck and rhomboids sounds a bit niche-y (or Nietzsche), bear with me, I’ll provide you a why.

As mentioned, Jordan Peterson feels so strongly about posture, that he titled chapter one of his book 12 Rules For Life, “Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back.

Peterson defends the need to stand up straight with your shoulders back by citing evolutionary biology, the neurochemistry of defeat and victory, and the pareto distribution itself. This is the part where he talks about Lobsters.

To summarize, Peterson states that Lobsters prove hierarchies have existed for at least 350 Million years. Also, it’s always been the Lobster that stands up straightest that has been the fittest to survive. The same is true in humans:

“If your posture is poor — if you slump, shoulders forward and rounded, chest tucked in, head down, looking small, defeated and ineffectual (protected, in theory, against attack from behind) — then you will feel small, defeated and ineffectual. The reactions of others will amplify that. People, like Lobsters size each other up, partly in consequence of stance. If you present yourself as defeated, then people will react to you as if you are losing. If you start to straighten up, then people will look at and treat you differently.”

We’ll get to why people treat you differently based on your posture in a moment (call that the 20%). But first let’s cover the 80% of this.

Peterson, never mentions the rhomboids. But Attia preaches all day long about the rhomboids.

Thus when we combine the work of Peterson and Attia, we simplify the message — which is every 80/20-biohacker’s dream anyway, right?

In short, Peterson’s first rule for life could technically be distilled down to this — “Strengthen your rhomboids.

Jordan Peterson sees posture through an evolutionary lens over the course of eons. Peter Attia sees posture through the lens of archery and the perfect moment of alignment. But what about rhomboid health and its effect on a single lifetime?

If your rhomboid strength isn’t on point, your posture will suffer. And to paraphrase Peterson, the world will see this — and provide you with continued reasons for suffering.

We’re still working on the 80% of why rhomboid strength matters here, so let me try to spell this out in a simple listicle:

  1. Rhomboid Strength plays a huge role in Archery yes, but the relative strength of your rhomboids play an even bigger role in non-verbal human communication. This is because the rhomboids are your “posture muscle.”
  2. Slumped posture increases cortisol levels and decreases testosterone. This combination leads to feelings of stress, depression, and general lack of confidence.
  3. The opposite is true of good posture.
  4. In addition, for every extra inch of forward-head posture, your neck must support an additional ten pounds. Over time, bearing the weight of your own head can severely diminish quality of life (how’s that for a metaphor).
  5. Forward-head posture leads to chronic body pain (not just back), pinched nerves, numbness in the extremities, and constricted breathing (don’t need more of that in the time of Covid do we).
  6. To be sure, text neck causes reduced athleticism, because your spinal stack is inefficient — thus resulting in the gradual failure to achieve your athletic potential.
  7. Weak (let’s say misused) rhomboids = bad posture = lack of confidence.
  8. Strong rhomboids = good posture = self-fulfilling confidence.
Turns out the head is not meant to cantilever.

Unfortunately, text neck is collateral damage of the smartphone era. It’s not good that we all naturally assume text neck posture when a screen is near our face. But further, I worry Gen Z and the generations that follow them will grow up emulating text neck as the cool stance of their culture — much the way kids of the past grew up idolizing cigarette smokers.

In short, this a warning — that we all must do exactly like Wu-Tang told us! “Protect Yo Neck.”

Getting Metaphysical and Hitting the Center of the Bulls-Eye

Undeniably, Attia and Peterson’s work overlaps on the topic of archery.

Surprisingly, Jordan Peterson’s metaphor for “standing up straight with your shoulders back” goes deeper than even he might realize.

Specifically, what I mean is that although Peterson has a lecture about archery — he doesn’t correlate it to Chapter 1 of his book.

Look at what Peterson says about archery:

“That’s actually a relevant detail: the fact that Ishmael (Abraham’s son) became an archer … The word ‘sin’ is derived from a Greek word, ‘hamartia, even though it sounds nothing like that word. Hamartia is actually an archery term. It means to miss the bullseye.

That’s a lovely metaphor for sin, I think, because it’s associated so tightly with the idea of goal, direction, and aim. There’s a metaphorical idea that’s embedded in that image, and that is that a human being is something that specifies a target … We are aiming creatures. It’s built right into our body. We’re built on a hunting platform. We’re aiming creatures. We do that cognitively, as well as behaviorally. We’ve been doing that for who knows how long — millions of years, really.

So the fact that Ishmael becomes an archer means that he’s someone who can take aim at the center of the bullseye and hit it precisely. That’s an indication that he’s a good man.” — from The Great Sacrifice: Abraham and Isaac

To paraphrase Peterson:

  • When you stand up straight, you indicate to the world you have what it takes to hit the bullseye, be a good archer, and aiming creature.
  • That fact indicates you are a good person, with the right goals and direction.
  • Thus, when you have strong rhomboids (and use them) it conveys this non-verbal message to the world.
  • That is why rhomboids are the success muscle.

So it’s as simple as standing up straight, squeezing your rhomboids, and via the 80/20 rule — the world will treat you as if you’re a deserving, good person. Yes and no.

It’s one thing to indicate to the world that you’re a good person. And if you want 80% of the benefits, it appears you can bio-hack the system.

But on the other hand, it’s something else entirely to actually strive to be a good person. Anyway, the last 20% always takes 80% of the effort.

Posture influences not just the way others perceive you, but how you perceive yourself — your own effectiveness at life.

Consider Peterson again from Chapter One of 12 Rules:

“Standing up straight with your shoulders back is not something that is only physical, because you’re not only a body. You’re a spirit, so to speak — a psyche — as well. Standing up physically also implies and invokes and demands standing up metaphysically.

Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of Being. Your nervous system responds in an entirely different manner when you face the demands of life voluntarily. You respond to a challenge, instead of bracing for a catastrophe.”

What he’s describing sounds similar to the famous Smile Study. The Smile Study found that people become happier through the physical act of smiling alone. The effect doubles when you smile at others, thus creating a positive feedback loop.

In summary, the Smile Study, like Rhomboid strength, supports two feedback loops. One is internal. One is external. But both loops start with a choice.

It’s up to each of us to use good posture and choose a feedback loop that is as positive as possible.

Because ultimately, standing up straight isn’t just a physical posture — it’s a metaphysical posture, a mindset, and a worldview of success.

Rhomboids support a lot.

In closing, Peterson’s tenth rule for life is, “Be precise in your speech.” And now, going forward — we know that precise speech must also include our body language.

Protect your neck.

Pattern recognition is the task of the Artist. This is the pattern recognition you’re looking for.

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