Friday, 12 December 2014

Please don't burn out.

Imagine for a moment that you're put in charge of about ten people temporarily and you really don't like these chaps, they're just horrible to work with. Let's say you decide to mess with them - how would you go about breaking their spirits? Personally, I think the most effective way would be to just relentlessly pile on with near-impossible deadlines, all the while raising expectations by showering them with praise. It'd only be a matter of time till they cracked and broke down crying.

If you think that's f**ked up, then what about the fact that most of us are exactly as cruel on a yearly basis... except that the mistreated employees here are the various bits of you that work to keep you healthy.

Loyal to a Fault

Sometimes I imagine my body like a dangerously loyal friend.
  • Need to stay awake all night to study for that exam tomorrow? No problem!
  • He's hungry and needs a sandwich but you just can't drag yourself away from your laptop? That's okay, he'll wait.
  • You're both really drunk but you need to ride home safely? No worries, he'll take responsibility; he's just always so confident!
But despite this weird selflessness, it's almost become fashionable nowadays to be mean to our bodies; think of the number of workaholics who wear sleep deprivation like a badge of honour! "I'm working so hard, look at me!"

Of course the problem is that nothing comes free. Sure, you can survive with only 5 hours of sleep a night, but you'll be measurably dumber the next day. Technically you could survive without exercise but you'll become progressively unhealthier and more susceptible to mental and physical illness. What we've lost sight of is the difference between mere surviving and actually thriving! Everyone seems to be walking around in this constant mental fog, with all those little aches and pains everywhere and we think it's normal when that's not how it's supposed to be! If you need proof, you find me a healthy child who needs to warm up for 20 minutes before playing for fear of pulling his hamstring.

The straw that broke the camel's back

But then, what happens if you end up pushing too far? In a way, the immense adaptability of the body is also it's biggest weakness. The body doesn't complain proportional to the amount of stress it's taking on. Which is kind of stupid also; if it was a proportional reaction then most of us would make lifestyle corrections waaaayy sooner than we usually do.

So what happens is that your body endures and endures and endures (with the situation deteriorating all the while) until something small finally tips the scale. It's around this stage that you get people in their 30's with heart attacks and the like. For example, cancerous cells occur naturally even in healthy people but are kept from flourishing if the immune system is functioning well. There's already a strong link established between lifestyle factors and cancer, maybe someday we'll be able to prevent cancer altogether with proper lifestyle adjustments.


So what can we do? How are we to reclaim a higher standard of existence where we actually start to flourish! Personally, I think that it might be a good strategy to just start with the basic, simple joys of life... get enough sleep, eat decently (whatever that means to you) and see what happens.

Also, and this is something I struggle with, but find a way to start at soon as possible without worrying about doing it perfectly.

Eventually just start some kind of movement / mindfulness practice - something like yoga that flexes both your body and mind. If you really really want to get into it you can also look into something called the "Quantified Self" movement, which might herald the next stage of human evolution; but that's a subject for another post.

Really though it's just shocking how much of a difference the little things make, like getting a decent amount of sleep; it'd be nice to finally actually wake up for once.