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The Prequel to Acute Stress vs. Chronic Stress


Ah, from the mouth of babes. Inspiration comes in strange places, indeed.

This time from my daughter, Abbey and nephew Spencer, although in separate conversations, they both unwittingly revealed a similar intuitive truth. This post should have preceded all the others we have posted thus far on the value of stress. But like a Star Wars writer who doesn’t know where to start or finish and prequels are in fashion…

Let’s go!

This summer we have been exploring ways to use short-term acute stress to make us stronger, more resilient, and encourage more vitality in our everyday lives. We have also been exploring ways to avoid long-term chronic stress because it will ultimately leave us depleted, sick, injured, and maybe dead. Seems like a pretty easy choice doesn’t it?

So back to Abbey and Spencer: What did they reveal?

That even more foundational than the TYPE of stress we choose to employ, whether in the weight room, on a bike, around the dinner table (or not), the WAY we choose to employ it matters greatly and I should have introduced this series with this concept, but alas, two teenagers were the bearers of wisdom. And maybe when the student is ready (me), the teacher appears (them).

The truth is that we can choose how much or how little we suffer when we employ short-term stress. If we choose to go easy on ourselves, then smaller benefits will accrue. If we choose to suffer greatly, the benefits become exponential. Pretty simple.

So last week I am hiking with Abbey. We try to hustle up Table Rock at least once a week during the summer. We take the shortest way up, and consequently most painful, and the longer more leisurely way down. This past week Abbey announces that she will be moving more slowly due to necessary recovery from other recreation pursuits, such as water-skiing. Of course, I rolled my eyes and just went with it. We poked up the hill for a while. If you have ever been up Table Rock you know the last half mile or so and then last quarter of mile will put a little challenge in you. Well I could not stand to be passed by others and my competitive juices got going so I split and attempted to catch other hikers before the summit. I caught a pretty good rhythm, made the summit, was going to turn around and go back down to meet Abbey, and well, no need, she was right on my heels.

What just happened?

She later told me she could not stand to be passed by other hikers going up and CHOSE to suffer.

Great Choice. Many benefits accrue. The most important benefit is that suffering is not going to kill you. You can push through and train your brain to stay calm and not quit. That, my friends, will produce vitality, strength, resilience.

My nephew Spencer is an accomplished runner, cross-country and track, and in my opinion trains way too hard. (He already knows I think that!) He told me recently that he is willing to suffer when he trains. Talent will only get you so far, you have to be willing to suffer. No small wonder the kid idolizes Steve Prefontaine, who could endure a ton. No wonder they call it endurance! Spence was very clear. He makes the choice to suffer. Regularly. (And if you dare to read this Spence, too often! Good luck in college BTW!)

So friends we have a choice when we approach our health and well-being and part of that choice includes the willingness to suffer.

Please remember that this is the choice to suffer for short amounts of time. Suffering for the long term, willingly, puts us into harm’s way. Bad choice. We don’t need to suffer for a week of fasting to get results. 24 hours works better anyway.

Suffering acutely is good medicine. Use it wisely in all your endeavors and reap rich rewards.

And a child shall lead them.




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