The other day while standing in the checkout line at the local supermarket, I noticed a woman feverishly scratching one of those scratch-off lottery ticket thingies. I don't know what they're actually called, but I'm sure you've seen them.

Suddenly, it hit me: she's a scavenger.

There's a big difference, a very important difference, between hunters and scavengers.

Hunters are proactive–they actively seek out what they need in life and they aren't afraid to get their hands dirty in the process. Scavengers don't want to put in that kind of work. Instead, they hope to get lucky...they look for shortcuts, to find something under a rock or inside a pill, or the "perfect" training program.

And sometimes, they do. But it's a flawed strategy compared to hunting. When you're a hunter, YOU control what you bring home, what you get out of life. Scavengers however, are at the mercy of chance–they live their lives forever controlled by dismal odds. From a practical standpoint, it's important to understand that stress is not a function of the amount of difficulty you experience in life, but rather, the degree to which you have control over your choices and responses to those challenges.

Scavengers live their lives in conditions of high stress, bathed in a 24/7 cascade of catabolic hormones. Hunters enjoy regular "hits" of growth hormone, Testosterone and other anabolic hormones designed to optimize the organism for future hunting.

Happy Now, Sad Later...

When you make an immature decision–about food, sex, drugs, money, relationships, you may experience intense enjoyment, but it's short lived and it comes with a price. Think about the last time you chowed down on some pizza, ice cream, or whatever your favorite carb/fat meal is. It tasted great–really great, but the moment you finished that meal, the enjoyment instantly turned to regret.

Now let's compare that with the achievement of a worthy and challenging goal. While you were in the process of attaining that goal, you probably didn't have much fun at all–it most likely took a lot of blood, sweat and tears. BUT, once you achieved that goal, you experienced a deep feeling of contentment and satisfaction that might last months, even years.

Hunters realize that hard work, directed toward a worthy purpose, reaps massive rewards. Scavengers hope they can avoid the "work" part of the equation and just get lucky someday.

Mistakes As Teachers

Hunters quickly recognize and learn from their mistakes–they have to if they want to survive. Over the eons, great white sharks have gradually learned that quickly taking out their prey is a mistake–after all, even sharks can become injured or killed. Today, most sharks will instead take a single, massive bite out of their victim and then circle until the resultant blood loss has left them weak enough to easily and safely finish off.

Scavengers don't want to hear about their own shortcomings–the pain of self-realization is their deepest fear. Even the slightest, most well-meaning criticism is taken as an insult.

Hunters, however, don't wait for criticism–they actively seek it out, knowing that honest appraisals, especially from trusted friends, hold the key to self-improvement. When no constructive criticism is forthcoming, the hunter constantly and actively evaluates his own actions and behaviors, looking for flaws that can be corrected.

Think back to the last time you were criticized by someone: was your first instinct to attack the person, or to evaluate the criticism for possible validity? The answer to this question strongly hints at where you fall in the hunter-scavenger scale of things.

The Karate Kid Versus The Predator

I have a long martial arts background and I've also trained a number of combat athletes over my career. One of my closest colleagues, Tim Larkin, has devised what is probably the most sophisticated self-protection system known to man. And here's what's really noteworthy about the Target-Focus-Training system, compared to almost every other form of martial art: there are no defensive tactics at all! Every movement is designed to hurt, disable, confuse, or otherwise incapacitate the assailant.

With most other systems, you first block or parry the attack, then deliver your own counter attack. In Target-Focus-Training, you don't even step back or sidestep. Most of the time, you walk straight into the attacker as you deliver your own pre-emptive strike.

Now here's the corollary to my hunter-scavenger theme today: have you ever watched a predator fight an adversary in the wild? Does the lion first adopt his fighting stance (signaling his intent to do battle), wait for the other animal's first strike, block it, and then counter-attack? Of course, the question is rhetorical: without hesitation, the lion lunges straight forward, using his strongest weapon (his teeth) against the adversary's weakest body part–usually the throat.

Now we all know this of course, but why do all predators use this type of tactic? I think many of us are tempted to think, "What do animals know? They're not as intelligent as humans."

Remember this: an animal's basic instincts are the cumulative result of millenniums of trial and error, success and failure, survival of the fittest. Animals do what they do because it works. Sometimes, if they're lucky, humans have the luxury of doing stupid things and still surviving. We've got amazing technology and a wealthy society that permits the survival of the less fit among us.

Hunters Always Look For Teachers

Are you more of a talker or a listener? In conversation, are you more concerned with what you can add, or what you can learn? The answer to this question reveals your essential nature as a hunter or a scavenger. Hunters seek to learn not only from experts but also from less-obvious sources. A few years back, I watched a lecture by former Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates. Afterward, everyone was griping that they learned nothing new, and truthfully, there really was nothing groundbreaking about Dorian's presentation–it was 3 sets of 10 all the way.

In fact, Dorian began with some painfully pedestrian information about his own training ("Well, first I warm up with a light weight..."). But as I looked at Dorian's still massive physique, I couldn't help but think "Well, this is how this guy got that body, so I guess I should listen up!" I learned an important lesson from Dorian that day, so Mr. Yates, if you're reading this, thank you, it didn't fall on deaf ears.

Producers And Consumers: The Hunter-Entrepreneur

I'm a strong proponent of entrepreneurialism. As an entrepreneur, the onus is on ME to produce products and services that people will value enough to pay for. If my products and services don't make the cut, it's my fault. I become the hunter. I don't suffer from the sometimes-false sense of security that many employees do. I know all too well that I, and I alone am responsible for my outcomes in life. It's both scary and enormously satisfying...but never stressful, because I've got the control.

The definition of an entrepreneur is one who produces more than he consumes. Successful entrepreneurs know what lots of people want and need, and then produce whatever that is, often getting rich in the process– the ultimate in hunting.

Employees can become hunters by thinking like entrepreneurs. While most employees think like scavengers ("Hey boss, when can I get my raise?"), hunters find ways to make their bosses lots of money. In other words, hunter-employees act as if they owned the company. And when they do, big things start to happen.

When you think about it, being a hunter is what it really means to be an alpha male. Most people think of an alpha male as a Testosterone-soaked, arrogant, hyper-competitive sort of guy that does anything to gain the edge over his "competitors." But genuine alpha males are nothing like that. Instead, they realize that true greatness is always rewarded, no matter how many truly great people are out there. There are no competitors, only other great people that push you to greater levels of greatness.

I was a hunter once, in the literal sense of the word. I was taught to hunt and fish from an early age. Once I grew older, I went down a different path in life, but the lessons I learned have served me well all though my life.

Unlike my non-hunting peers, when I buy a nicely packaged steak at the supermarket, I am intimately aware that it came from a living, breathing animal that died for my sustenance. That knowledge is troubling sometimes, but at least I'm aware of it. And awareness, while sometimes painful, is truly rocket fuel for success.

Fill 'er up...

Charles Staley is an accomplished strength coach who specializes in helping older athletes reclaim their physicality and vitality. At age 56, Charles is leaner than ever, injury free, and in his lifetime best shape. His PRs include a 400-pound squat, 510-pound deadlift, and a 17 chin-up max. Follow Charles Staley on Facebook