Human Evolution. It’s a lengthy, multi-million-year process that looks deceivingly brief when viewed through the lens of Darwin’s time-lapsed Theory of Evolution chart. You know that iconic image: a handful of hunched-over monkeys, dutifully marching through time, in line, and ultimately morphing into a modern, upright–walking Man! VOILÀ.
But new studies by evolutionary biologists have now proven that evolution is happening at a much faster pace than was previously thought. And the acceleration is linked to … stress?
The studies focused on flora and fauna that have set up camp in urban sprawls vs. rural forests. With urban centers carrying a higher degree of stress, they found that City Mice carry genes for heavy metal tolerance (since urban soil contains more lead and chromium), City Birds have a capacity to sing at a higher pitch (to be heard over the din of traffic), and even City Grass is acquiring a shorter stature due to the relentless regime of the lawn mower.
And our Inner Evolution? You know, emotional and spiritual maturity, living a life of purpose, releasing outdated beliefs and fears, expanding one’s capacity to experience more gratitude and love … do the same rules of stress apply here?
I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but I vote yes.
Every perceived hardship falls somewhere on the Intensity Spectrum, from a simple work deadline (ugh) to, say, a divorce (ARRGGHH!!). Stressors raise the bar by applying pressure. Stressors ask us–or sometimes force us–to relinquish aggrandized notions of our capabilities.
Herein lies the great paradox. While a fiery circumstance may initially contract us, the end result is that we step into a more expanded self-identity. We learn that we are way more resilient and courageous than we previously thought. And ultimately, our tiny, crawling, inner-monkey evolves into an Upright-Super-Hero-Hanuman-Monkey. Welcome to your New Normal.
This Theory of Evolution equation applies equally to non-humans.
For example, the Summer Olympics in Rio were plagued with controversy from the get-go which continued right up to the opening ceremony and beyond. And while there are still problems in the aftermath, the stress of the deadline and sheer scope of the event served as powerful catalysts for urban revitalization and improvements that might have taken another 20 to 30 years to realize.
A wonderful life coach named Gay Hendricks talks about how our happiness hinges upon moving through different zones: from our Zone of Competence (Meh!) to our Zone of Excellence (Better!) and, finally, our Zone of Genius (Wow!). Liberating and expressing our natural genius is the ultimate life expression. It makes our hearts sing at a pitch that rivals a City Bird.
But there is one zone that we must leave behind in order to evolve into the others, and that’s the COMFORT Zone. Stepping outside of that zone often requires a fire under the ass, and it beckons us to lean into the sharper edges of discomfort.
Fire + Edges = Evolution Accelerators
You may feel that you’ve bumped up against your upper and outer limits, that there couldn’t possibly be any more evolution left in your future because you’re tired of the fire and edges. But stress will always reappear and challenge you to reexamine what your limits are.
And, as any record-breaking, gold medal Olympic athlete will testify, limits are entirely negotiable.