The power of intentional, controlled discomfort and stress

You are destined to have heart disease.

Or cancer.

Or some other disease or sickness – simply because your parent had it.

At least, that’s what many medical “experts” would have you believe.

“Don’t worry,” they’ll tell you. “We have a drug for that.”

I remember the doctor telling me that high cholesterol “runs in my family” and so I would have to take a statin drug to control it. As such, I went on said statin for eight years.

My cholesterol went down, even though my health went to shit. I was sixty pounds heavier than I am now, having anxiety attacks, major back pain, and frequent stomach pain so bad it would drive me to the urgent care and/or to curl up in the fetal position on the bed.

So, of course, the doctor put me on more drugs.

Back in 2009, a funny thing happened: I decided to inflict intentional discomfort on myself.

Away went the pasta (severe discomfort for an Italian like me), the bread, the milk, and the beer.

My diet became heavy on animal fats and proteins. I ditched chronic cardio in favor of heavy strength training, a lot of slow, steady walking, and the occasional sprint day.

Away went the prescription drugs…

And the excess weight…

And the anxiety attacks…

And the stomach pains.

A few years ago, after about ten years on this “different” diet and exercise plan, a doctor told me I had the best HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio he’d ever seen in a male my age.

There’s an old song lyric (Google shows results across country, blues, and pop) that goes, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

These days, everybody wants to be healthy…but they’d rather take a drug than “dying” through cleaner eating and more exercise.

Because, despite the “experts” telling us that we’re prisoners of our genes — we can, in fact, free ourselves through what is called genetic expression (i.e., lifestyle, environment, and behavioral changes which modify how our genes are expressed.)

As cell biologist Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., explains, “medicine does miracles, but it’s limited to trauma. The AMA protocol is to regard our physical body like a machine, in the same way that an auto mechanic regards a car. When the parts break, you replace them—a transplant, synthetic joints, and so on—and those are medical miracles.”

“The problem is that while they have an understanding that the mechanism isn’t working, they’re blaming the vehicle for what went wrong. They believe that the vehicle, in this case our bodies, is controlled by genes,” said Lipton. “But guess what? They don’t take into consideration that there’s actually a driver in that car. The new science, epigenetics, reveals that the vehicles—or the genes—aren’t responsible for the breakdown. It’s the driver.”

You are the drive of your own car — your body.

In addition to genetic expression, there is also something called “hormetic stress,” which loosely translated means, “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

In other words, if you cause intentional, and small doses, of stress to your body on a regular basis, your body adapts and learns to deal with that stress. For example, the breathing and cold shower exercises popularized by Wim Hof are a form of hormetic stress — with experiments showing his techniques can bolster immune response and even teach your body to adapt to extreme weather conditions.

So, what’s the key theme here? Intentional, controlled discomfort causes your body to adapt, thrive, and grow.

If you try to skip the “dying” to go straight to “heaven” — you may provide yourself with short-term comfort, while leaving your mind and body weaker in the long run.

One of the reasons my family and I decided to sell almost all of our possessions and hit the road on a nomadic adventure this year (and into the future) was to cause some intentional, controlled discomfort that we feel will make us better suited for a weird and constantly-changing world. Our hope is that it will make our kids conditioned to change and adaptation, rather than programmed for scarcity and stagnation.

Having to pick up and move to a new location every month or so certainly causes some discomfort. But the more we do it, the more we adapt to it and feel like it’s normal (and it creates a certain amount of excitement and fun!)

A few months ago, while we were living in the mountains of north Georgia, I decided to do something that I never would’ve done before — a zip-line course above the trees in the Blue Ridge mountains. In fact, due to a lifelong, sometimes paralyzing fear of heights, I wasn’t certain I’d actually do it right up until I jumped off the first platform. But after the first “zip,” a funny thing happened. I wanted more. Then I relaxed. Then I had fun. And now I want to go back.

Intentional and controlled discomfort helped me adapt and get passed my fear.

A month later, I took a ride in a small “glider” above the Blue Ridge Mountains in Tennessee. For someone who is fearful of heights, there was a bit of a gasp when I pulled the cord to detach from our tow plane.

But once I got past that discomfort, I experienced 30 minutes of pure flow and bliss.

This Tuesday, I’m facilitating a live training in my Freedom Inner Circle called, “Adapt. Thrive. Grow.” We’ll discuss the power of hormetic stress and how you can use it to your advantage in these “interesting times.”

During the past ten months or so, we’ve seen people so afraid of discomfort that they’ve gone directly to the “freeze” response — robbing themselves of the ability to adapt and become stronger.

We’ve also seen people who move forward, and use the discomfort to adapt, thrive, grow and continue to create value for those around them, which in turns unleashes prosperity for themselves.

As Wim Hof likes to say, “your comfort is killing you.”

He may just be right.

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