We're all soft.
Well, most of us are soft. Softer than we were designed to be. There is that rare breed out there that jumps off mountain cliffs, drives cars 200+ mph, or is in the military and is facing or has faced actual, live-fire combat. Those people have fight-or-flight responses that are calibrated properly.
That system was designed in humans to help us react to seriously, stressful situations. Things, you know, like you're walking through the forest, walk past a big rock, and there's a mountain lion standing there waiting to pounce on you.
Or something like you're hungry and the only food is 60 feet up in a tree and you have to climb up the tree and safety harnesses are still thousands of years away from being invented and if you fall...you die.
Fight. Or flight. It's a stress response that we all have. Our fight-or-flight response was designed to deal with life and death situations. Most of us are not faced with life or death situations much anymore so our fight-or-flight response doesn't just go away, it just retracts to whatever the next lowest stressor is. And it just keeps defaulting back to the next lowest thing until you eventually start getting all nervous and fidgety when you want to go ask a girl on a date, or tell your boss what you're really thinking, or your car stalls on the freeway.
To someone whose fight-or-flight response is calibrated to life and death situations -- those things are a walk in the park.
Life or death situations are what our genes were preparing us for when they developed that system. But things have changed.
Today our society has allowed most people to not have to worry about life and death -- big disclaimer here: MOST people (if you live on the streets, I'm not talking to you because 1) you're fight-or-flight response is probably in good shape and 2) the last thing you're worried about is finding a computer and reading some stupid article on a dumb guy's website).
The most stressful situation in MOST people's daily lives is traffic. Or a job interview. Or which deli they're going to go for lunch. Or the gas pump not working at the gas station and you have to start your car and move to the NEXT pump -- seriously!!?? (that just happened to me). Or you have a flat tire. Or McDonald's is OUT OF ICE CREAM? What? How is that EVEN POSSIBLE, McDONALD'S?! CRIMINY!!!!!
Beginning to see the point?
Let's look at it another way.
Let's take a man who was born and raised in man's natural habitat. A "wild" man if you will. A man who's never seen a car, a TV, or put a hashtag in front of anything. It's unrealistic, I know, but just go with me here...
That man has to find his food every day, and if he has a family he has to find food for them, too. In order to get food he has to go get it -- and the best, most sustaining food is the most dangerous and physically demanding to get. He sleeps outside year round. He has to fight off disease and infections without modern medicine. He's a total stud.
Let's take that man and drop him into a job interview
Or put him in rush hour traffic in an air-conditioned car. What would his response be? He would probably be totally calm and collected (after he was done freaking out about seeing a car for the first time). And if you told him that most people in American now totally freak out and get SUPER stressed out in a traffic jam or on the road at all -- he would die laughing (not literally of course).
Can you see him asking, "you think THIS is stressful? You're going to get worked up over THIS? HAHAHAHAHAHA." And he would grab his club and go running back into the woods to kill a wild boar with his teeth.
So that's what I mean when I say most of us in the West today are "soft." I include myself in that. It's not an insult -- just an observation relative to the kinds of things we were designed to survive. Anyone in the military is not soft. Anyone who does competitive martial arts or plays competitive sports or skydives regularly is not "soft." Why?
Because those people's fight-or-flight mechanisms are more accurately calibrated to actual, real stress. Someone who skydives for a living probably doesn't freak out when they're team doesn't win on Sunday -- not that stressful to that person.
I'll take our aforementioned "wild" man, anyone in the military, an Ice Road Trucker, or a shark diver to react more favorably in any hypothetical stressful situation than an average Westerner.
Stuff like being thrown out of boat, dropped into a burning building, or at the scene of a tragic accident. The person who is going to react the best from a survival standpoint is the person who is used to dealing with stressful situations. And isn't that the most important thing in life and death situations? Survival? It's not intellect or mathematics or engineering. it's surviving. And don't get me wrong, I don't think it's OK to be stressed all the time. That's not healthy.
What I'm saying is that the lion who wakes up and has to go hunt his food everyday isn't in a constant state of worry and stress about that -- he just does it. He's a stud. His fight-or-flight system is running on all cylinders.
So how can we, the soft, squishy Westerners recalibrate our stress mechanism? And if you hunt hogs with your bare hands or go paint-balling in nothing but mesh shorts or scuba dive in shark-infested waters -- I'm not talking to you.
To recalibrate your fight-or-flight system, you need to put yourself in stressful/uncomfortable situations. Doing things that are uncomfortable allows you to deal with every day life with a better perspective and mindset.
I think that's one of the reasons Crossfit has become so popular in recent years. It's some crazy stuff you do in those boxes. You get through doing "Murph" and you think, "Hey. I can do anything. Walking up stairs? Ppppff! Computer crashes? Yeah, I've dealt with worse this week."
Same goes for Parkour running or training for endurance events or having a baby (any ladies who've pushed a baby out tend to see life differently after their experience -- they're all freaking studs). To a degree, those kinds of things make you a stronger person and equip you to deal with every day life and not get so stressed out about everything. Being uncomfortable teaches you to deal with stressful, uncomfortable things and not just try to avoid them. And I think we can all agree that a life of purely avoiding things out of your comfort zone is a life not worth living.
You train for and complete an Ironman triathlon and suddenly the trivial things that used to be a big deal to you -- aren't such a big deal anymore.
"OK, Mark, but I don't have time to train for an Ironman and I don't think that's healthy. And Parkour running is a great way for me to end up with a broken leg. And I'm not going to have a baby -- I'm a man."
Yeah yeah yeah -- I hear you. But there are other things you can do to face that uncomfortable/stressful monster and put him back in his place -- doesn't have to be a gun fight but it has to be something out of your comfort zone.
Something like taking a cold shower. Say whaaaaaat??!!
Yeah. Take all your clothes off. Stand under the shower head. Take a deep breath and turn that cold faucet on full blast. It works best when it's in the winter and all the water in the pipes is near frozen.
I do it everyday and not a day goes by that I don't hear a little voice that says "you know, you don't HAVE to do this. You can just hop out, get the water nice and steamy, and hop back in." And sometimes I do that -- but more often than not, I tell that voice to shut his face, and I turn the knob.
It's something I started out doing for physiological reasons but now do for psychological ones.
It's my way of training myself to deal with stress -- a way to get me out of my comfort zone. It's not much, but it's something.
Talking to strangers is another good thing you can do. ANYTHING that you think about doing that your little voice says, "you know, it'd be a lot easier to just stay right where you are and keep eating your pickle," is probably worth doing. If it wasn't worth doing, it wouldn't elicit that kind of resistance. Unless of course that voice is saying, "hey, uh, that cross walk says stop so if you try to cross now you'll die." May want to listen to that one.
I'll wrap up by going back to our lion friend and compare him to a close cousin of his. This is an idea that was posed to me in Julien Smith's The Flinch which I highly recommend. The lion in the wild wakes up and has no idea what he's eating that day. He has a pretty good idea it will be something that has four legs and hooves, but he doesn't know, and it's not going to just magically appear in front of him. He has to get up and go fight for it.
His cousin lives in the zoo. But a big difference is that he DOES know what he's eating. That guy in the funny, brown outfit is going to bring him something three times a day. He's comfortable. He's cozy.
Both of those animals are lions -- but only one is a king.
Become uncomfortable to become more human.