We've grown to believe that the world is a tough place. There is no victory without battle, no gain without pain. In fact, if I don't feel like I'm suffering, it must mean I'm not really doing anything, and I'm certainly not going to achieve anything at all. Life is a struggle. You're either in for it, or you're out.
There's a problem with this worldview. Actually, there are many. But the first that comes to mind is, it doesn't work.
I've seen some people achieve a few things through stress and struggle, working harder than needed at every step, never feeling good, never really feeling much at all. But the life we create — how we feel when we get where we're going — comes 100 percent from how we feel along the way of getting there. When it's all stress and struggle, we don't really like where we end up, no matter what it looks like. We just know stress and struggle. We might know success in one place and loss everywhere else. We know really well how to be stressed and how to feel not good. It doesn't work for our health. Our family. Or for anything. It doesn't even get us anywhere near as far as our potential. Not even close.
We can change this. You can change it by changing what you believe. Believe that you can feel good every step along the way of getting where you want to go and that you can achieve far more from feeling good. Sounds nuts, at first. But there's good news. Your body — your biology — is a very strong supporter on this new path.
Your body is extremely smart. And it assumes that you are also very smart. You know what you need. So your body listens, very carefully, to what you do. All day, every day, it's listening to you. And as it listens, your body is in each moment supporting you, to get you where you need to go. This is happening every instant, in a very real way, on the level of your chemistry.
Let's talk about endorphins, a group of hormones that masks pain and makes us feel near-euphoric when we're under stress. Imagine that both your ankles are shattered, with a herd of marauding elephants bearing down upon you. Your sprint to safety is possible only because your body drops these wonderful chemicals into your system, just enough that you delight in the chase and manage a narrow escape. Ankles can heal later. So there's your body, supporting you to get where you absolutely need to go, right now.
But there's something our bodies didn't plan. In all their incredible supportive design, our bodies never anticipated that we would choose to live this way. That we would become addicted to our own stress response. They never knew that we'd put stress and strain into our work, our exercise, the ways we pick to have fun, even our yoga. So we are living under attack. And our bodies keep supporting this, continually releasing a cocktail of stress hormones, all day, every day.
This takes us outside our design. And here, things begin to go wrong. It might be good for evading angry elephants, or rescuing babies from car accidents, but living under attack puts us on a declining performance curve. In this moment, we are chemically programmed to survive but not to live. And rather than shake off the stress response, we keep stringing these chemical moments together, all day long. Our field of vision is narrowed — no need to see the daisies when running from an irate giraffe. We become less healthy. Stress leads to 80 percent of hospital visits and is a primary cause of obesity, diabetes, chronic illness and pain, sleep and sex disorders, heart disease, cancer, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. We become less able to see and respond creatively to the world around us and less able to feel good.
We are living under this enormous weight. We need to learn how to take the weight off. We need to learn how to go easy on ourselves as the doorway to accomplishing so much more.