The Importance of Exposure
Have you noticed how more and more of your life is managed, and managed by someone or something else? Managed spaces, managed social networks, managed fun, ‘risk-free’ work and play environments; organised, standardised experiences of every kind. Massive over-precautions are taken in almost every walk of life now, usually as a result of a mass media system that focuses almost exclusively on, thus distorting, rare and highly unusual tragic events.
Most statistics show that this point in world history is, overall, by far the safest time to be a human being to date; yet the TV, the newspapers, the law-makers all encourage you to think that danger is around every corner and just over every horizon.
What’s the outcome? The more our lives are reduced to manageable, compartmentalised sections the less we are exposed to positive stressors. And that’s bad. Very bad.
It may not seem bad – on the contrary, it may seem to be a good thing: more comfortable, easier, less effort, less willpower required. Get in the car, drive to the gym, work out, shower and drive home. Why not live in the comfort zone? But as with all things human there’s a general ‘use it or lose it’ principle in effect: stop testing yourself and you grow weaker. Stop adapting and you start dying.
Easy times are the enemy, they put us to sleep. Adversity is our greatest friend, it wakes us up.
– Dalai Lama
The immune system, for example, only gets strong through exposure to dirt, bacteria, toxins – as long as these are kept to manageable levels, the body will adapt to them, learn to overcome them and so become stronger. Muscle fibres strengthen as a result of being torn. Fears and phobia are best dealt with through regular exposure to the cause of the fear.
It’s a general rule that applies throughout – manageable stress increases our resilience and general capability, with the added benefit that our coping mechanism strengthens across the board: become physically fitter and your ability to deal with psychologically stressful situations also improves, for example.
Complex systems are weakened, even killed, when deprived of stressors.
– Nassim Taleb
So expose yourself to adversity in your training and in your life. Seek out those things that make you afraid. Face the cold, embrace the wind and the rain. Keep moving and you’ll stay warm enough and, guess what – you’re also waterproof. Moreover, you’ll find yourself energised by the elements; braving and mastering them instills a confidence and sense of personal capability that you will never develop within a gym. Train outdoors, even in cold or wet weather. Adapt to it. Regularly undertake challenges that you are not sure you can complete – failure isn’t a problem, it’s failing to even try that’s the problem.
Reduce your comforts from time to time, deprive yourself of food, rest, warmth, medicine. You will grow fitter and sharper as a result. Shift your thinking just enough to see adversity as opportunity – opportunity to grow, to strip away the useless, to strengthen every attribute. You won’t regret it, you’ll survive it, and you’ll learn some incredibly valuable truths about yourself and your potential as a result – truths that, honestly, you can’t learn in any other way.
The world is full of risks: these are yours to navigate.
The world is full of dangers: these are yours to face.
The world is full of challenges: these are yours to overcome.
Don’t let the fear-ridden façade that society can present rob you of these challenges, which are yours by right. Don’t let it convince you that you can’t handle difficulty, risk and fear. Don’t be lulled to sleep by the sterilised mediocrity of what you see on your television screen. You can take risks and learn to benefit from them. In fact not just ‘can’ – you’re meant to.
Expose yourself to as much as possible. And do not fear adversity – it’s the quickest way to become stronger, fitter, more capable all round. Once you start taking responsibility for every challenge and every outcome in your life, you will begin to take a kind of mental ownership of adversity and even begin to enjoy it, to seek it out: you’ll see that it’s coming through these challenging moments that gives real meaning and value to your life. These are experiences that will shape you and memories you will treasure until the end of your days.
And one thing’s for sure: you will have lived.