hormetic stress

I’m a big fan of hormetic stress, its closely related (or identical) to anti-fragility.  Entrepreneurs either have this or build it along their journey.

Along with Placebo, hormetic stress is the engine room of growth, it’s the grit in the oyster that makes the pearl.

Because this stress adjacent to our everyday experience and consciousness, hormesis is underestimated – in truth hormesis is the environmental edge or envelope we push on with our Embodied or Meaning abilities to grow.

Hormetic boundaries are moveable  even though most mortals shy away from them – a fictitious limit mostly created inside the mind.

A general form of hormetic stress is called Eustress or positive stress or beneficial stress. and leads to enhancement of the organism (i.e human, you etc). All excellence comes from Eustress and western civilisation has become sybaritic and much innovation attempts to avoid discomfort.

Examples of Eustress  are:

  • Activities like cold immersion and Sauna – see heat and impact on heat shock proteins, cold and impact on cold shock proteins (hormesis)
  • exercise (weights, endurance, yoga) (biological)
  • heart rate (HIIT) (biological)
  • Vipassana meditation (neural pathways)
  • Stoic exercises (“view from above”, “negative visualisation” etc)
  • Opponent processing (originally discovered why we can’t neurologically see certain colours, but also explains other biological phenomena such as “chasing the dragon” in addiction and motivation)**.
  • Its possible to argue that any form of training or solving problem can qualify:
    • puzzles (neural pathways)
    • comedy (neural pathways)
    • learning a musical instrument

If this is too abstract, you’re not doing it.

Stoics have an ethos/exercise of “voluntary hardship” to build resilience and opponent processing, hormesis and anti-fragility are all in concordance with this view. So be grateful for adversity 😌.

** In Episode 30 of John Vervaeke’s “Awakening from the meaning crisis” he argues that the brain uses opponent processing in a multi-scalar way in order to regulate bioeconomy constantly optimising your cognitive interactional fitted-ness to the environment. This is quite reminiscent*** of Iain McGilchrist’s proposition his book “The Master and His Emissary” that left and right hemispheres are active in most situations but assess the situation in profoundly different ways (left is focussing/narrowing/certainty, right is open/possibilities/potential/re-framing).

Related to this: when I attended an unconscious biases in the workplace workshop, the leader showed us that biases arise from the brain optimising for energy preservation. These survival adaptations are strong-wired (possibly also hard-wired). This relates somehow to opponent processing as multiple heuristics would run in parallel.

Here is a quote I think was from the workshop’s site: “A Cognitive Bias is the outcome of mental shortcuts the brain naturally uses in order to simplify and make sense of the world around us. These shortcuts are known as heuristics, and the result of these heuristics is the bias. These heuristics help us make decisions very quickly and easily. Over tens of thousands of years, our brains have evolved to be as efficient as possible. Energy was the most important commodity to the human body for millennia. Food was scarce and so energy conservation equalled survival. Rapidly deciding what to do in the event of stumbling upon a predator or other human was also critical to survival.”


*** although Vervaeke did not appear to know McGilchrist’s work until 2020 when he started reading the book prior to a discussion organized by Rebel Wisdom.