Extreme is not one of those words that confuses us in its definition…
Extreme is the:
‘furthest from the centre or a given point’.
Sure, there are a few variations on that, such as:
- reaching a high or the highest degree; very great.
- a very severe or serious measure.
- either of two abstract things that are as different from each other as possible.
The usual positive and negative spins… But for the most part, we’re pretty much on the same page about what the word Extreme means.
In some places, it’s an essential and incredibly meaningful part of the vernacular… Penguins who choose to survive in lands of ice and storms, or whole countries, cultures and peoples that live with TWO sunrises and sunsets every 24 hour period. In science data sets, geography, weather disasters, and human atrocities, the word extreme is almost the only way to make sense of these experiences… Something so far away from Me that I don’t need to find a way to integrate it into my understanding of the world.
And I don’t know about you, but locked in my home, watching black smoky skies and men dying in wars on the other side of the globe where their own families don’t know the real story and support the cause, I seem to be referencing extreme events as often as I notice an interest rate hike (which, by the way, for all our grumbling, is not extreme yet… another nayinthelife).
But where this word has captured our attention here at NITL is it’s relevance and use in our day to day. Extreme sports, extreme wealth, extreme behaviour… can anything universally be called extreme anymore? Do extremes just mean two ends of a very normal spectrum, rather than something so far away from normal you need to point it out?
Let’s think about this…
One thing that’s changed is our access to resources – that large parts of the world have more money and opportunity, and climbing Mount Everest, changing the way your face or body look, or having a colour coded shoe wardrobe is possible for much more of the population than before. So what was previously an irrational and very occasional behaviour is now available to many “normal” people.
Another thing that dilutes our perception of things being extreme is communication and media – primarily thanks to the internet. Not only because we can see things on social media (and some of those actually are still incredibly extreme, and irrational), but because information can be shared from distant places immediately – stories from Africa, Hong Kong and the Ukraine show us that millions of people are experiencing something that we’d like to consider star like data points - light years from our existence… but they’re not. Back in the day when something had to be sent by post, much less on a ship to get to another country, ideas from stories of travellers were much easier to label extreme, because there was one person’s account of something that happened to them many days or weeks ago. Now, that story is streamed via the internet on a daily basis, and at some point, it’s both real, ongoing and affecting a lot of people… much less extreme than we’d like it to be.
The other thing that makes it hard to Extreme-ify things is how technology has changed the way we live our lives. Imagine a time traveller from the 70’s landing in your living room. Sure, we aren’t going to the corner shop on hoverboards, but
· we do trust a teenager earning some pocket money to choose our fruit and vegetables and drive them to our door.
· We create relationships by putting self-selected information on a screen and swiping right if a picture convinces us this person may be a good human for us…
· we press a few buttons and a stranger comes to our home, and we put our lives in their hands as we jump in their vehicle, while they trust that they will receive a fee from us without money ever changing hands.
Definitely extreme by hippy standards 50 years ago.
And if I admit that I have never used a dating app, and prefer taxi cabs to Uber, I am pretty sure I end up on the extreme end of a socially acceptable spectrum with very few others holding on with me to a way of living that only a few years ago was the normal centre. I know my non-online banking parents frustrate me with their extreme lack of trust… right?
At what point does it stop being extreme and just sit along a normal-ish spectrum? Are the polar ends of that spectrum even extreme or could we just call them different? And why does this matter?
The thing about a word is that it takes on a connotation – and Extreme comes with a crazy combination of glamour, a lot of work, and risk. Therefore, anything that we label as extreme becomes potentially bewitching, tiring or damaging.
So when we start to call things extreme in life, as we do, busy or messy personal issues become “my life is so extreme at the moment”, we engage with one of two responses – We see things as incredibly hard and difficult or we get the adrenaline rush of being on the extreme. And either is not sustainable.
This becomes a problem when
· the things we are labelling extreme are actually likely to be ongoing, and we feel overwhelmed but stuck.
· we feel like we need to accept extreme things because we can’t change them, but this dulls our radar to other extreme behaviour.
· we get caught up in the addiction of the extreme and find regular days dull, and lose sight of the enjoyment of the “normal”.
While I don’t deny the extreme-ness of many things in life, including the speed with which things change and the adaptability and evolution required to live in the world today, thinking about it in this way inevitably leads to burnout. We are not born to “be extreme” all the time.
So it’s important sometimes to Re-
· Reframe some of the ongoing things as a new normal, and find ways to respond to them, so it’s not a challenge every time.
· Recognise some of the extreme things have lost their shine, so we don’t expend huge amounts of energy chasing things that aren’t that special after all.
· Remove some of the extreme things that don’t improve life because the work involved is not worth the outcome.
· Reset our expectations so that the daily good stuff can be extremely enjoyable without having to create a significant stress response.
We can’t always evolve though. When we are running ourselves, minds and bodies at an extreme pace, there may not be space to say, “well, I guess this is the new normal, better get used to it”… or to realise ‘hey, I can’t make this a normal part of my life, so I won’t’. Sometimes that extreme environment is just going to take over for a while… the main thing is to find that light at the end of the tunnel, and remind yourself that you want to come out the other side, and lie down in the field of normal, and breathe.
Cos your time-travelling hippy friend will remind you to stop and smell the roses… even if they are now a genetically scent enhanced app on your phone 😊