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Mental Models - Hormesis 💪
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche might have been alluding to this week’s mental model when he said:
That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.
This week we are homing in on hormesis. It’s a captivating concept that comes from the discipline of biology and medicine, but is hugely useful to recognize more broadly too! 💪
What is Hormesis?
An adaptive response of cells and organisms to a moderate (usually intermittent) stress.
What does that mean?
A good simple example of hormesis is exercise. When you exercise you're putting your body under a moderate amount of stress - you're actually doing a small amount of (temporary) damage to your body. If you hit the gym to lift some weights or go out for a long walk or run you are creating micro trauma - such as tiny tears in your muscles. When you get some rest later, interesting things start to happen - your body adapts to the stress of the exercise and it actually overcompensates by making you stronger and fitter. This is hormesis in action.
Another good example is diet. It's fascinating to note that one of the reasons all these so called "superfoods" are good for us is actually because they contain substances that are mildly toxic! They activate pathways in the body that strengthen your immune system and reduce inflammation. Hormesis again.
Other examples you might think of are vaccinations, sunlight, intermittent fasting, saunas, cold showers and so on. These things are all beneficial in the right moderate dose.
A Swiss chemist called Paracelsus was probably onto hormesis a long time ago. Back in the 16th century he wrote:
All things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.
Why is this interesting?
The real power of a mental model comes when you internalize it - when you learn about it and incorporate it into your internal "latticework" of mental models.
Here's a few things to ponder in order to internalize the idea of hormesis:
Can you identify any small doses of stressors that have a hormetic effect in your own life?
Maybe simply just your own eating and exercise habits?
Or more broadly - at work? Maybe overcoming challenges as part of a team?
Or in personal relationships?
Keep an eye out for hormesis as you go about your week!
Want to go deeper?
🔬 This is a great write up if you want to dive deeper into the science.
I'm loving hearing your thoughts and reflections by both email - 📧 just hit reply - and by twitter 🐦@juliaclavien!
Wishing you moderate doses of stressors to make you stronger this week dear Mental Modelers. 🙇