Homeostasis: How to Enable Big Changes in Your Life

What’s the temperature where you are right now?

Most likely, it’s not precisely 98.6 ºF (37.0 ºC).

Still, your body temperature is probably very close to that value.

In fact, if your core body temperature doesn’t stay within a narrow range — from about 95 ºF (35.0 ºC) to 107 ºF (41.7 ºC) — the results can be dangerous or even deadly.

So, as you’re reading this, every cell in your body and brain are working to maintain a sense of stability.

Not just in your core body temperature, but also in blood pressure, heart rate, pH balance, blood glucose levels, and many other factors critical to your survival.

This tendency maintain internal stability — this resistance to change — is called homeostasis, and the human body is just one example of where it takes place.

Homeostasis is Universal

In his book, Mastery, George Leonard writes:

“[Homeostasis] characterizes all self-regulating systems, from a bacterium to a frog to a human individual to a family to an organization to an entire culture—and it applies to psychological states and behavior as well as to physical functioning.”

Psychologically, we maintain homeostasis through mental patterns like the status quo bias — our tendency to prefer that things stay as they already are.

Socially, we remain stable through forces like conformity — our propensity to maintain attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors congruent with the group.

Here’s an Example

Imagine that for the last ten years or so, you’ve been almost entirely sedentary.

But then, one day, you decide to go for a run.

The first few steps are enjoyable, but that quickly changes.

After a couple of minutes, you feel lightheaded.

Moments later, you feel sick to your stomach.

And if you keep going, soon enough, you’ll feel like if you don’t stop, you might just drop dead.

These symptoms are essentially homeostatic alarm signals.

Your body has detected changes in respiration, heart rate, and metabolism that are way outside the normal range.

To bring them back, your body screams at you:

“Warning! Warning! Whatever you’re doing, stop it immediately, or you’re going to die!”

And that’s just one way that homeostasis gets in the way of your new fitness goal.

On a psychological level, you’ll probably experience resistance every time you think about putting on your running shoes.

And on a social level, your sedentary friends might not welcome your new exercise habit.

Leveraging Homeostasis

Needless to say, homeostasis makes it difficult to create change.

It’s a powerful force that often results in backsliding.

But the good news is that if you keep pushing, homeostasis will eventually adapt to the new load and create a new set point.

If you keep showing up at the trail, your body will eventually get used to the running, and even begin to crave it.

Being a runner will become part of your self-image, and you’ll experience resistance if you don’t go running.

And, with time, your friends will get used to this crazy habit of yours — and some of them might even join you.

So, whenever you make a decision that requires a big change, expect homeostasis to kick in.

Know that there will be backsliding, and keep on pushing.

Eventually, homeostasis will adapt and start working for you.

And from that point forward, it will become much easier.