Our Unnatural Burden

Treat Thompson



This is a republishing of The Steady Fella Newsletter. Every week readers use the timeless insights on passion, productivity, philosophy, and happiness from this newsletter to build towards the life they want.

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In last week's newsletter, I talked about how we were born during a time we're not built for. I said we have stone age requirements that aren't being met.

As a result, chronic disease is widespread and accepted as commonplace. You can read it here.

This week's newsletter, part 2, is about how our mental health is affected by our mismatched life.

I shared this image last week, but I'm sharing it again so it's fresh in your mind:

It's the guiding force of the topic. It shows that for over 99.5% of human existence, we lived as hunter-gatherers.

We were outdoors, we physically worked for natural food, we had strong social groups, and we were always on the move. We spent 84,000 generations in this lifestyle.

Life changed suddenly with the agricultural revolution. We went from hunter-gatherers to farmers, to manufacturers, and then to office workers within the short span of 350 generations.

In that time, we've become overstressed, anxious, and worried. We're in the modern world running on stone-age hardware.

Stressful Environment

In our hunter-gatherer days, we lived in something called an immediate-return environment. It's when your actions deliver clear and immediate outcomes.

  • When you're hungry, you go find food.
  • When you're threatened, you fight or flee.
  • When you're cold, you build a fire.

In today's world, it's flipped. Now we live in something called a delayed-return environment. It's when your actions deliver outcomes in the future.

  • You work today and get paid in a few weeks.
  • We save money to invest later. Then we reap those benefits further in the future.
  • We study in school for a degree/diploma years later.

The majority of our stress is rooted in the fact that we evolved with immediate solutions and results. In modern society that is rarely the case. When a stressor appears in our lives it usually needs time to be resolved.

Our problems are too complex for our stone-age hardware.

  • You wonder if you'll have enough money to pay the bills next month.
  • You have an important presentation in a few weeks.
  • You want to get in shape because you're self-conscious about your appearance.

None of these problems can be solved in the present. So we live our lives bearing the weight of these tenacious issues.

This leads to chronic stress and anxiety in so many of us today.

What to do about it

The source of the problem is uncertainty. We have a worry that can't be put to rest until days/weeks/months/ years later.

James Clear suggests doing two things:

Measure Something

You can't be certain you'll get a job after graduation, but you can track how often you apply.

Measuring something won't remove your stress entirely, but it gives you a variable you can have some certainty of.

Shift Your Worry

Shift your worry from the long-term problem to a daily routine that solves the problem. This gives you an immediate return and contributes to your long-term issue.

Instead of worrying about losing weight by the summer, focus on eating healthy meals and exercising today.

This weeks quote

Be happy with what you have, while you work for what you want - Helen Keller

The essence of this quote is don't put off happiness until a future date or event.

It's easy to fall into the habit of making your happiness conditional:

  • "When I reach this weight I'll be happy."
  • "If I made this much money I'd be happy."

We should allow ourselves to live happily while striving to achieve our goals.

This weeks question

Do you actively try to reduce the stress in your life or do you just accept it as commonplace?

My answer:

Up until mid-2019 I just accepted stress as a regular part of life.

But when it became a heavy burden and turned into anxiety I started to be proactive about managing it. I did online research, read a book, and talked to family to figure out how I should go about dealing with it.

My stress now is markedly lower than it was before taking action.

(Thanks to resources like this newsletter 😄)