I’ve been reading a book for work this week called Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. I was surprised to find a chapter about body chemicals that helped me understand why we do what we do as hikers.
The first hormone that plays into hiking is all about what keeps us putting one foot in front of the other to reach that ultimate destination.
As Simon puts it in his chapter called Endorphins: The Runner’s High
The experience of a “runner’s high”, the feeling of euphoria many athletes experience during or after a hard workout, is in fact the endorphin chemical surging through their veins. This is one of the reasons runners and other endurance athletes continue to push their bodies harder and harder. It is not simply because they have the discipline to do so; they do it because it actually feels good. They love and sometimes crave the amazing high they can achieve from a hard workout.
Because of endorphins, humans have a remarkable capacity for physical endurance.
The second hormone of hiking is what we feel when we reach that ultimate destination.
Simon’s summarizes this in another chapter called Dopamine: An Incentive for Progress
Dopamine is the reason for the good feeling we get when we find something we’re looking for or do something that needs to get done. It is responsible for the feeling of satisfaction after we’ve accomplished an important task, completed a project, reached a goal or even reached one of the markers on our way to a bigger goal.
It is dopamine that makes us a goal-oriented species with a bias for progress. When we are given a task to complete, a metric to reach, as long as we can see it or clearly imagine it in our mind’s eye, we will get a little burst of dopamine to get us on our way.
As we get closer to our goals, the metrics tell us we’re making progress and we get another little hit to keep us going. Then finally, when we reach our goal, the intense feeling of “got it” is a big hit of dopamine, our biological reward for all that hard work.
Like a marathon runner who passes each mile marker towards the finish line, our bodies reward us with dopamine so that we will keep going, working even harder to reach that huge pot of dopamine, that intense feeling of accomplishment at the end.
Our ability to work hard and muscle through hard labor is thanks to endorphins.
Our ability to set goals, focus and get things done comes from the incentivizing powers of dopamine.
That’s how these feel-good chemicals drive us to pound out mile after mile while our bucket lists grow longer and longer!