The Hormetic Effect

Contrary to popular opinion we should not aim to reduce stress completely in our lives. We need a certain degree of it to stand up-right and motivate us to get food, resources or to take action. We benefit from intentional stress, imagine lifting weights to get stronger or having to drive defensively while loud noises are happening.

Hormesis is the body’s strengthening response to the administration of low doses of stress. This is also what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls ‘Antifragility’ or “things that gain from disorder.” A certain degree of stress creates more robust plants. In coaching kid’s jiujitsu competitions I tried to share the age old bit of wisdom ‘it’s not losing, either you win or you learn.’

One of my first jobs out of high school was giving surveys in the middle of the mall, most of the time it was trying to get people to share their most precious resource with me, their time. “Hello, would you like to take a survey?” – I was that guy and boy did people say nasty things to me. Sometimes it made me feel awkward and made me want to give up, but eventually…it started affecting me less and less. I was getting desensitized to rejection. At the time I would not have known what a gift I was giving myself.

A man which I would call a modern Stoic, Jocko Willink discusses the mindset necessary to grow under pressure. Of course he is not alone in this mindset, you will find this pearl of wisdom repeated through out history. “You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.”- Epicurius

When you need to draw deep down into your reserves of courage, it helps to remember moments in your past when you were courageous. Give yourself something to draw from by searching out appropriate challenges for yourself. It is important to do challenging things, be it standing up for ourselves at work, completing challenging workouts, taking cold baths or going a hundred days without alcohol, it is important to give yourself challenges which are somewhat uncomfortable.

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