How to Live Like a Polar Bear

Did you know that polar bear fur isn’t white?

Polar bears actually have transparent fur with black skin underneath. Their transparent hairs are also hollow, meaning that light passes through the outside and scatters inside to create the white appearance. This is the same reason that clouds and snow appear white! Think of polar bears as large carnivorous snowballs.

Speaking of carnivorous, did you know that polar bears are the largest land carnivore? It’s true. They can grow to 8 feet tall and weigh up to 1,750 pounds! They have a stealthy predatory style, not unlike lions. In contrast to lions, however, polar bears live mostly solitary lives and might be good at meditating.

Most of us will never see a polar bear in the wild. That’s too bad because they’re so cute good, because they’re the most aggressive bear species. I’ve seen them in zoos, but the wild ones live in the Arctic, and I’ve never been there. My jacket isn’t warm enough. 

Can we learn anything from this incredible animal? More than you might think!

Minimize Your Weaknesses to Reach Your Goals

If you have anxiety, the seal is probably your spirit animal.

Unlike other bears, polar bears hunt seals almost exclusively. Have you ever seen video footage of a seal in the arctic? They look really paranoid. It’s probably because their friends told them about a scary white monster. 

Paranoid prey is among the most difficult to capture; adding to that, seals swim faster than polar bears. When it comes to other arctic prey, polar bears can either be outrun or outlasted, as they overheat quickly. These are distinct disadvantages for a supposed superhunter.

That’s where stealth comes in. They have a variety of stealth techniques to catch prey off guard. If a seal is on a piece of sea ice, the polar bear will often approach from the water and lunge at it from below. When it comes to land hunting, their white as snow appearance helps them get close to prey without being noticed. In these situations, the polar bears’ tendency to overheat or be outrun are minimized while their natural strengths of stealth and power and maximized. 

A polar bear feeds on an Arctic Carrot Seal, a very rare and slender species of seal. (Polar bears will eat almost anything.)

I went to college, hoping to get a regular job. But I quickly found that I didn’t fit in with corporate culture. I hated networking. I hated interviews. After trying to force it for too long, I found a job that suited my natural strengths of analyzing everything to death and being a lone wolf polar bear—writing.

What are your natural strengths? Are you maximizing their role in your life?

What are your weaknesses? Be honest with yourself. We all have them, and it’s fine to have them. If you make fun of a polar bear for having weaknesses, it will eat you. Whatever weaknesses you have, figure out ways to minimize their negative impact in your work or life. If the polar bear can do it, so can you. Humans are smarter than polar bears (another one of their weaknesses).

Rely on Easy Wins

This polar bear was looking for the nearest McDonald’s.

Polar bears live in one of the harshest environments on earth. Can you imagine living in sub-zero temperatures and seeing nothing but ice all the way to the horizon? Finding and securing food—basic survival stuff—can be difficult for the polar bear.

With the polar bear’s great might, you would think that they’d attack massive whales in the water or gargantuan walruses on land. But their preferred meal is the ringed seal. Such seals weight up to 150 pounds and are absolutely no match or threat to the polar bear. Walruses (and their three foot tusks), however, are a big meal, but not an easy meal, and most polar bears avoid them unless they are already vulnerable (small, injured, etc). It would take enormous energy for a polar bear to fight a large walrus, and it might not end in victory.

Studies find that humans tend to be overconfident in what they can accomplish. This leads us to take on overly ambitious goals that we ultimately fail at. On one hand, you might say it doesn’t hurt to try, but it does hurt for three reasons.

Why Large Objectives Are Dangerous

They can damage your self-efficacy. Your belief in your ability to influence an outcome is called “self-efficacy.” It’s not a term you ever hear, and yet it’s one of the most important things in your life. Any time you set a goal and fail to reach it, you’ve given yourself evidence that you can’t do it. You’ve shown yourself evidence that it doesn’t matter if you set a goal or not, because you won’t be able to reach it.

Many people confuse this with “failing forward,” but there’s a key difference. Failing a goal is not quite like Edison’s lightbulb failures, which were constructive experiments. When you try something unknown and fail like Edison, then you can try again later in a different way. When you set a clear goal with objectively obtainable outcomes and fail at that, the only thing that failed was you. See the difference? Edison didn’t fail, his experiment failed. When you set a goal, and don’t come through, you are the component that failed, and there’s no positive there.

They carry huge opportunity cost. If you set a goal, it’s at the cost of all the other goals you could have set. Setting dumb goals wastes your time and energy, which could be spent on smart goals. A polar bear rarely pursues a massive walrus because he knows his time is better spent looking for a seal to eat.

When I switched to easier goals, starting with one push-up, I started making huge progress. That progress wasn’t possible before because my time was taken by overly ambitious goals.

They pretend to be the only way to big wins. The biggest accomplishments of my life have been done through small steps. Large objectives do not mean large results, just as small objectives don’t mean small results. I’ve found the reverse is true. Very small objectives have been breadcrumbs to massive treasures while large objectives have been roadblocks. The polar bear likes the easy wins, as they take less energy and are a better bet for a meal. And who knows, with the strength gained from easier meals, perhaps the bear will be able to take on a walrus.

Persist Through Life’s Treacheries

Polar bears will fast for up to several months when the sea is unfrozen. When the sea freezes over, the bears traverse it and begin to hunt. But the wait between meals can be long.

I know their makeup is different than humans, but I still feel for any creature that has to go months between meals. (I get cranky if I miss one meal.)

The polar bear’s life is a good example of persistence. No part of this bear’s life seems easy, and yet, they persist. They continue to eat, mate, swim, and bat around ice like a kitten bats a ball of yarn (seriously, they do this).

Most apex predators have little to fear, but starvation is a constant threat to the polar bear. In our lives, we face periods of famine at times. It may not be a famine of food. It may be a famine of health, love, money, emotional support, or general hope. When you encounter these famines, I encourage you to be like the polar bear. Continue to hunt, swim, and play with ice. Continue to traverse the cold, harsh landscape of life with eager eyes. There could be a seal just behind that icy peak. But even if there isn’t, there’s something peaceful about accepting where you are, not in a passive way, but in a “I’ll do my best with what I’ve got right now” kind of way.

The polar bear couldn’t even live in another climate if it wanted to, so it does the best it can where it is. And when there’s food around, polar bears thrive in their home! Wherever you are, your only job is to do your best.

But you have much more freedom than the polar bear. If you’re unhappy in the desert, maybe you need the jungle or tundra or New York City. Or maybe you belong in the Arctic with the polar bears (unlikely, but people do live there!). There’s something to be said about making a home of where you are, but there’s also the counterpoint that maybe you haven’t found your home yet. I’m currently debating this one myself, but until I figure it out, I’m going to make the most of it.

That’s how you live like a polar bear. Use your strengths, get easy wins, and persist no matter what life throws at you.

The live like animals series: LionShark | Eagle | Jellyfish | Snake | Anglerfish | Fox

(Photos by emrank, San Diego Shooter, foilistpeter, Bering Land, jomilo75)

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