My time training, both myself and other people, has shown me how impressive the human body is. Further examples prove that the word ‘impressive’ doesn’t come close to describing our ability to endure physical chaos. Spend any amount of time researching Wim Hof, the Ice Man, and you will see this in one of the most spectacular examples of a person’s ability to adapt and overcome. Wim Hof has climbed Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro in nothing but shorts and shoes, completely immersed himself in ice for an hour and 44 minutes (one of his 26 world records in related feats), and warded off illness (as further demonstrated under medical observation) through mindfulness and breathing techniques, as well as an uncanny mastery over his physiological systems. Most impressive yet, he has been wildly successful in teaching others his methods, allowing them to complete many of the endeavors he has undertaken himself, proving further that this ability to adapt, overcome, and embrace environmental conditions conventionally thought to be impossible, isn’t just a genetic mutation, but a learnable skill.
This is often hard to accept due to the self-satisfying mindset that there are limitations to our existence and a misunderstanding of the role comfort plays in life. The reality of our potential is often obscured by a population of increasingly sedentary beings creating the allusion that the average person is the ‘normal person’, and those few extraordinary people, the ones climbing mountains and running hundreds of miles, are merely outliers; genetic mutations in a population unable to touch their own toes. Take any group of 1000 random people and only a small percentage of them can lift twice their own bodyweight off the ground, run 20 miles, perform a proper bodyweight squat, execute a pull-up, things that are all reasonably achievable, but seem impossible to many who cannot.
I use Wim Hof to demonstrate a dramatic example of human adaptation, but what is it that makes his adaptations so dramatic? After all, his most impressive ability is not his physical achievements, but his success in preparing others for similar feats. Wim Hof has merely embraced a potential we all possess, but typically reserve unless chaotic circumstances force our hand. Stories of perseverance through physical extremes are prolific, but seem impossible when the consequences are less dire. On a smaller scale, when I have new clients and they are presented with workouts, many admit to me afterward that they wanted to quit several times, but the fear of embarrassment/failure/judgment pushed them through to the finish, replacing that fear with a level of confidence they use as motivation the next time around. So why do so many people live in a decaying physical state when there is so much untapped potential lingering in our D.N.A.? Why do excuses and temporary comfort take precedent over a long and healthy life?
It’s easy to forget the truth of our existence; that we are animals. We may have disposed of our more primitive features, but we have not lost the ability to adapt and overcome stimuli, no matter how much comfort causes us to avoid it. This incredible adaptation, however, is a double edged sword. In the same way that a runner can adjust their bodies to the discomfort of running, teaching their body to adapt to the cardiovascular and endurance requirements, a cubicle dwelling office worker can adapt to the comfort of sitting all day, sheltered from fresh air and sunlight. Our bodies want to adapt to our environment. It’s why the notion of ‘practice’ is so prevalent in skill acquisition. We get better at the skills we practice, which, unfortunately, doesn’t just apply to the ‘good skills’. If you sit for long periods of time indoors, your skin will pale, your muscles will atrophy and your brain will allocate chemical production to the process of sedentary living to best suit you for your current environment. We get better at what we do most.
Without good stressors, the physical and mental events that challenge us, we are unlikely to continue towards growth. This is true of everything. Even within the exercise world, there is a constant need to assess and change programs to prevent the plateau effect that one mode of training will create. It’s not uncommon to see a chubby marathon runner, whose body has adapted to the sport and no longer needs as much caloric intake to fuel the movement. Therefore, in order to break the plateau, we must embrace the Delta in our lives and continue on the journey of health and happiness.
The Delta is the change, the journey between each destination. It’s where the feet hit the road and the work gets done. It’s the uncomfortable journey through untraveled land that takes us to the next beautiful landmark, so we can then regroup and embark on the next uncomfortable journey, increasing our capacity for happiness through the struggle of the unfamiliar. Learning new skills, breaking standard modes of operating (in a healthy way), are necessary in engaging the mind and the body, inspiring new adaptation when our bodies have adjusted to our old habits. A full, healthy life means embracing the Delta, never getting complacent with comfort, and, in doing so, finding a reason to get up each morning, a challenge to meet head on with each moment. And the beautiful part about embracing the Delta, is it never has to end. There will always be something new to learn, a new path to clear, and a new way to stimulate that complex organ in our skulls, so it doesn’t fall prey to the same atrophy that so often befalls the body when absent of a challenge.