Adaptation Response

“Stress + Rest = Growth. It’s as simple and as hard as that.”

-Brad Stulberg, “The Equation That Will Make You Better at Everything.” Outside Magazine. July 26, 2019.

There’s a lot of advice on the internet. From the vague, live your best life, to the strangely specific, drink more water, everyone has a suggestion about changes we can make that is going to make our lives better. Most of it is harmless, even if it is baloney.

But, this idea about stress is good, if poorly articulated. The problem is that ‘Stress’ should be ‘Training.’

Stress is not necessarily good. Hate your job and find yourself wolfing down a whole Meat Lover’s Pizza from Domino’s Pizza every Friday night? That’s a maladaptive response to stress.

Training, on the other hand, implies a purpose. It also implies progression.

I read an article in Men’s Journal several years ago, called “Everything You Know About Fitness Is a Lie.” It covers a lot of territory, such as bad gyms, but the main idea is that if we want to be fit, we need to train to be strong. If you want to get strong, you should probably listen to Mark Rippetoe:

It is May 15, and you decide that this year you are going to get a suntan – a glorious, beautiful, tropical suntan. So you decide to go out in the back yard (to spare the neighbors and innocent passers-by) to lay out at lunchtime and catch a ray or two. You lie on your back for 15 minutes and flip over to lie on your belly for 15 minutes. Then you get up, come in and eat lunch, and go back to work. That night, your skin is a little pink, so the next day you just eat lunch, but the following day you’re back outside for your 15-minutes-per-side sunbath. You are faithful to your schedule, spending 30 minutes outside every day that week, because that’s the kind of disciplined, determined person you are. At the end of the week, you have turned a more pleasant shade of brown, and, heartened by your results, resolve to maintain your 30-minutes-per-day schedule for the rest of the month. So, here is the critical question: what color is your skin at the end of the month?”

-Mark Rippetoe, “The Biggest Training Fallacy of All.” StartingStrength.com. May 6, 2013.

The vast majority of people get this question wrong because they think a month long change of behavior is stress. The reality is that we have adapted to the new stress within a week. As Mark puts it:

“[A]daptation occurs in response to the stress, and specifically to that stress, because the stress is what causes the adaptation. This is why calluses form on the part of your hand where the bar rubs, and not on the other parts of the hand, or on your face, or all over your body. It can obviously be no other way.

Furthermore, the stress must be capable of being recovered from. Like the 2 hours of sun the first day or the 55 bench reps once a month, the stress must be appropriate for the trainee receiving it. So, if the stress is so overwhelming that it cannot be recovered from in time to apply more of it in a time frame which permits accumulated adaptation, it is useless as a beneficial tool that drives progress. And if this excessive stress is applied so infrequently that any adaptation to it has dispersed before you get around to it again 3 months later, no adaptation can accumulate.

An awareness of this central organizing principle of physiology as it applies to physical activity is essential to program design. Exercise and training are two different thingsExercise is physical activity for its own sake, a workout done for the effect it produces today, during the workout or right after you’re through. Training is physical activity done with a longer-term goal in mind, the constituent workouts of which are specifically designed to produce that goal. If a program of physical activity is not designed to get you stronger or faster or better conditioned by producing a specific stress to which a specific desirable adaptation can occur, you don’t get to call it training. It is just exercise…

-ibid.

You could replace stress for exercise in the preceding paragraph, and it would still be right. The adaptive response is a fact of life, whether we are talking about our careers, skills or relationships. But, how many of us are deliberately training ourselves toward goals by seeking out new challenges? The problem with advice like: “Stress + Rest = Growth” is that it’s like sitting out in the sun for 15 minutes a day and thinking it’s going to result in a tan. Having a goal is useless if the road you are walking on won’t take you there. In order to grow, we need to plan and progress toward it. Stress, by itself, isn’t going to do it.

What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self? | A Cup of Jo

“‘Date the one who makes you laugh. Who makes you think. Who introduces you to your favorite new things. Date the one who listens. Who makes you feel like you are home. And the first and foremost quality in a boyfriend or girlfriend is that he or she likes you back.’— Lisa Rubisch

—Caroline Donofrio, “What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self?cupofjo.com. May 7, 2019.

Ninety percent of your happiness is a function of who you spend your time with. Choose your romantic partners and friends wisely, and don’t give family a free pass. When it comes to people, you get what you tolerate.

A Deeper Dive: Reflections on a Four-Year Silent Meditation Retreat

“Wherever we may be in our practice, we’ve all at times asked ourselves: What would it be like if I sat a little longer? Perhaps after our first afternoon, or daylong silent retreat, we thought—’I was really able finally to settle in there and experience stillness. It was powerful, and some interesting thoughts arose. What would sitting two days be like? Or three? What if I did a full week of silent meditation? What deeper levels of insight and compassion might unfold then?’

Few have understood and heeded this call of the cushion quite like Bill and Susan Morgan. For years, this Boston couple, both of whom are meditation teachers and longtime meditators, had been coming to the Insight Meditation Society’s Forest Refuge to sit silent retreats for three months every year. Some years, they have sat for three months straight. For others, they’ve sat for two six-week periods. For several years in a row, they sat in silence for one week each month.

Then, one day in 2009, Susan said to Bill, “I think we should do a deeper dive. Let’s really step out, and go more deeply into the practice.” Her proposal? A two-year silent meditation retreat [that turned into four years].

Interview with Bill and Susan Morgan. “A Deeper Dive: Reflections on a Four-Year Silent Meditation Retreat.” Insight Meditation Society. February 15, 2019.

Living for four years in silent retreat is an experience most of us cannot even imagine. I found the discussion worth a listen. Recommended, particularly if you have any kind of meditation practice.

Sea Change, Rich & Strange

“Nothing of him that doth fade / but doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange.”

—Percy Shelley, The Tempest

Sea change, rich and strange. Swim in strange waters. Armed with beauty and circus, wage war on the monotony of life.

Designate time for what matters, and be a connoisseur of the free use of time. Live without dead time and without hindrance. Delight in life; give pleasure.

Choose again; begin again. Move and the way will open. Find your own happiness and paths to adventure. Follow the accident; fear the set plan.

Decide your own life. Don’t let another person run or rule you. Don’t run or rule others. Don’t go through life wanting to be liked.

How alive are you willing to be? What is the price of life? You must make your own determination and enforce it.

Hard times and oppression develop psychic muscles. Safety leads to stagnation.

Enlightenment consists in correctly grasping our essential needs. Wisdom values puzzles over facts. Avoid learning too many lessons. Pick up the battle and make it a better world, just where you are.

Trying is Lying

“‘I wish someone had told me when I was much younger that I didn’t have to have an airtight legal case for a breakup — all I had to have was a desire to no longer be in that relationship,’ she writes. ‘I would have saved myself a lot of time.'”

—Kelli María Korducki. “Leaving a Good Man Is Hard To Do.” Longreads.com. May 2018.

The test of every ethical choice is whether you’d want to be on the receiving end of it. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be with someone who no longer wanted to be in a relationship with me. So, I tend to think it is good advice.

But, at the same time, it would be real easy to use this way of thinking to cut and run every time a relationship gets hard, and every relationship worth having is going to get hard.

Joan Didion might have put it better in her essay on Self-Respect:

“…anything worth having has its price. People who respect themselves are willing to accept the risk that the Indians will be hostile, that the venture will go bankrupt, that the liaison may not turn out to be one in which every day is a holiday because you’re married to me.”