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Embracing Strength and Adaptability

Do you know that feeling when you are reading a book or listening to a podcast and you can’t wait to share it with others, if only to solidify in your own mind what you have learned? Putting pen to paper on this topic was fun.

This morning I was listening to The Ready State Podcast and an interview with Brad Stulberg. The concept Brad shared about “Rugged Flexibility” is the seed planted for today’s Philosophical Friday. This concept has profound implications for our physical and mental health but also our life philosophies.

Rugged Flexibility is an interesting oxymoron. The words seem contradictory, but they are intricately connected in Stulberg's context. Here's the breakdown:

  • Ruggedness refers to strength, agency, and the ability to endure and face challenges head-on.

  • Flexibility stands for adaptability, letting go of resistance, avoiding rigidity, and refraining from being overly controlling.

These two characteristics can create a holistic approach to life, health, fitness, and mental well-being. It suggests that to truly thrive, one should have the tenacity to stand firm when necessary and the wisdom to be flexible (or be a Weeble as I like to say) when the situation demands it.

To fully grasp rugged flexibility, we must start by understanding two central biological concepts: Homeostasis and Allostasis. This brought me back to my love of Evolutionary Biology.

Homeostasis refers to the ability of an organism or system to maintain equilibrium or stability within its internal environment, even when external conditions change. Think of it as the body's natural set point. For example, our body regulates temperature, ensuring it remains at around 98.6°F (37°C) regardless of the external temperature.

Now, while homeostasis is about maintaining stability, allostasis is about achieving stability through change. It's the process our body undergoes to respond to external stresses and return to its baseline (most likely a new baseline) or homeostatic state. When we face a stressful event, our body reacts (think of the fight or flight response), but after the stress passes, it brings everything back to equilibrium. The total sum of these adaptive efforts is known as "allostatic load."

Now, let's connect the dots.

Ruggedness & Homeostasis: Having rugged characteristics means you possess the strength and agency to maintain your body's and mind's homeostatic state. When faced with physical challenges like a strenuous workout or mental challenges like work/life stress, a rugged individual will have the endurance and resilience to keep going, ensuring the internal balance isn't drastically disturbed.

Flexibility & Allostasis: Flexibility is all about adaptability. It represents the body's response to external changes. When there's a need to change or adapt, allostasis ensures you can do so without causing harm or lasting stress to the body or mind. When faced with unexpected situations, being flexible means you can pivot, adjust your approach, and find a new equilibrium.

The concept of rugged flexibility is a powerful reminder that in the journey of health and life, we need both strength and adaptability. Just as our bodies naturally balance between homeostasis and allostasis, we must strive to find a balance between ruggedness and flexibility in our actions, decisions, and philosophies. In embracing rugged flexibility, we empower ourselves to face challenges with tenacity while giving ourselves the grace to adapt, learn, and grow.

Rugged Flexibility. I will continue to ponder on this all weekend.

I enjoyed putting this together with all the other thoughts in my head during this morning’s run. It also ties back to my last post on controlling the controllables. As we all know, life does not always go according to plan. As you head into the weekend, ponder this concept, see where you can apply it in your life, and embrace the power of being both strong and adaptable.

Be well.



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