By Rob Shaul
Let’s say you were out of shape and asked me for a fitness plan. And let’s say my answer was to run for 60 minutes, every other day.
At first, you managed just 4 miles in the 60 minutes. Then, six months and 20-pounds less later, you were running for the entire 60 minutes and managing 6+ miles. Then, at 12 months, you were running even faster, and managing 9+ miles in the same 60 minute time period.
At some point, you’d reach your genetic potential, and progress would stop. You’d plateau in terms of how fast and far you could run in the 60 minutes.
In strength and conditioning terms, this is called “accommodation.” The programming challenges the body physically, and the body responds by “accommodating” to that challenge. But, if the challenge is not changed, or increased, progress plateaus. “Everything works,” strength coaches say, “but nothing works forever.”
Accommodation also extends beyond our fitness lives to all areas of our lives – work, where we live, our relationships. We’ve all experienced this.
You get a new job – your dream job, are challenged and love it at first. Then, 1-2 two years later you find yourself searching for other job opportunities.
You move to a new city, and are excited and love it …. at first. Then, 1-2 years later you find yourself searching real estate listings in other locations.
You begin into a new romantic relationship, and are head over heels over this person … at first. Then, 1-2 years later, you find yourself doubting its future and begin searching for other people to date.
In these examples the job, location, other person didn’t change. You did. You “accommodated” and now things which just a short time ago made you happy, are stale.
The “blessing” of accommodation in life is it can push us to continued growth in our careers, hobbies, relationships, etc.
The “curse” is we seemingly can never be content for long, and unlike the gym, changing jobs, locations and relationships are not easy and can lead to disruptive pain for yourself and others.
I’ve pondered accommodation much lately, and have recently life coached others dealing with accommodation in work, location or love.
The one thing I do know is ignoring accommodation leads to bitterness and discontent. The job doesn’t grow un-stale on its own. The location doesn’t change on its own. The relationship doesn’t improve on its own. Ignoring accommodation will cause you to eventually blame others for your state. Resentment and bitterness will follow.
In the fitness world, a small change can address accommodation and continue to challenge the athlete. In the example above, instead of totally changing the programming, I could simply have you run with a 15-pound weight vest – and again you’d be challenged.
Often, when people facing accommodation at work, location or relationships ask me for advice, they can only see the drastic change – quit the job, re-locate, end the relationship. They are blinded to smaller, less drastic changes, which can increase the challenge, address accommodation and re-kindle happiness.
At work, asking for more responsibility, or a different position at the same company can address accommodation without the disruption of quitting.
In location, learning more about the city/town, or taking up a new outdoor sport which can be done where you live can also address accommodation without the disruption of moving. In Wyoming, I see this mostly with winter sports. People who hate the cold take up alpine or nordic skiing, or ice fishing, and it changes the way they think about the long Wyoming winters and what they think about living in Jackson dramatically.
Relationships are tougher, of course, and I’m hardly a relationship expert. And all I can offer is as people change, the relationship must change as well. Working for and being open to a change in the relationship can address accommodation without the pain and disruption of a breakup.
Some argue that we can address accommodation with a change in attitude, or by being more grateful.
Your job grew stale? Suck it up and be grateful that you have one.
Your city lost its luster? Suck it up, be grateful, and know it could be much worse.
Your relationship in the doldrums? Suck it up, and be grateful you’ve got someone.
Gratitude can certainly sharpen one’s attention to what’s important, but I’ve found gratitude doesn’t cure accommodation. Gratitude can patch over accommodation for a spell, but eventually, dissatisfaction resurfaces, and if not addressed by some change, will lead to dark discontent.
So what does all this say about happiness, and contentment? Is it true we can never be happy for long, no matter how good we have it?
My own experience is both yes and no. I’ve found accommodation more powerful than a typical definition of happiness. Accommodation will grow in strength, and no matter the situation, eventually push happiness aside.
But this assumes a typical definition of happiness which is some finite-state – a perfect job, city, or partner.
In my own life, I’ve finally matured to the point where I know accommodation is coming and am not surprised when it arrives. I’m careful not to become so myopic that I don’t see the small changes short of total disruption that can address it. And I’ve come to welcome, and even “enjoy” the challenge of addressing accommodation – which really means looking for change, and being open to it.
In a surprising way, embracing accommodation has made me happier – as I’ve learned to enjoy the challenge of change. Like all good things in life, you have to work to attain happiness and work to maintain it. The final job, location or partner isn’t what makes you happy.
It’s the work and the journey along the way that brings fulfillment.
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