The Remarkable Importance of the Goldilocks Zone
Deepak Chopra, M.D., Brian J. Fertig, M.D. and Jack A. Tuszynski, Ph.D., D.Sc.
In the search for life on other planets, a concept known as the Goldilocks zone is critical. This is the region, not too close to a star but also not too far away, that makes the development of life possible. The critical factor is heat, since being too close to a star, as Mercury and Venus are in our solar system, is intolerably hot while being too far away, as Saturn and Jupiter are, is intolerably cold. The Goldilocks zone makes sense, although there has to be a fudge factor, since large enough planets and moons can generate their own heat.
Yet simple as it sounds, the goldilocks zone determines in many ways how successful someone’s life will be and at the same time the likelihood of enjoying wellness to age 70 and beyond. The human Goldilocks zone begins with our physiology. The human body has a surprisingly narrow range of temperature for survival — it is life-threatening to have a fever over 105o F. or hypothermia below 95o F. for a sustained amount of time. Our Goldilocks zone for internal temperature is therefore only 10 degrees.
But your body has many overlapping Goldilocks zones. For example, it can be fatal to go without water for 3 days, without sleep for 11 days (the longest anyone has remained awake — sleep deprivation causes damage long before that), and without oxygen to the brain for 3 minutes. Then there are our Goldilocks zones that apply to psychology. If someone is lonely, depressed, anxious, grieving, or under stress beyond a certain limit, there is a point of no return that leads to a chronic condition, and the effects can spread to the body as well — the chronically depressed, for example, are at greater risk for disease and premature death.
Complex as this picture is — and we’ve barely scratched the surface — lifelong well-being seems to depend on something simple: Staying inside your Goldilocks zones. This small piece of advice actually links many phenomena that are well authenticated in medicine, psychology, and the social sciences. Here’s a partial list.
· Inflammation has been linked to a wide range of chronic disorders, including hypertension, heart disease, and probably cancer. It only takes a low level of chronic inflammation, not even noticeable to the patient, to throw off the body’s efficient distribution of heat. A cascading effect then begins, leading to cellular disturbances and eventually disease symptoms.
· Stress affects every system in the body as well as our emotions. The stress response evolved to deal with acute stress lasting a few minutes or hours, but a low level stress response that is triggered by constant pressures at work or in relationships, for example, initiates the negative side of the stress response. The first signs are psychological, typically beginning with dullness and lethargy, but over time they expand to the physical, affecting practically everything regulated by the nervous and endocrine (hormone) system.
· As part of our species’ need for survival, social bonds developed that are totally necessary for groups if they want to get enough food, ward off predators, and control the threat of violence internally. The Goldilocks zone in this case is about support and bonding. If you are isolated, lonely, and cut off from social support (particularly close friends and family), your chances for success and well-being are seriously diminished.
These critical zones are interlocked, which is why, for example, someone who has few or no support systems in his life is at higher risk for a heart attack and a slower recovery, or even death, if a heart attack occurs. It is fascinating to see how basic principles from physics apply to creatures as complicated as Homo sapiens. In physics subatomic particles are linked in a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement, while human beings have bodies in which every cell is entangled (interconnected) with every other, and we engage in relationships that bond us through emotional entanglement.
Nature is defined, in fact, as a hierarchy of connections, which is in keeping with an ancient axiom from India that can be roughly translated as “As is the great, so is the small. As is the atom, so is the universe.” Similarly, in the West the hermetic axiom states: “as above, so below”.
We threaten our lives at every level by venturing too far outside the Goldilocks zones. Sleep, water, and body temperature have already been mentioned, but to expand the picture, we need to resort to the “broken window theory” from sociology. To disrupt a neighborhood, the theory goes, you only need to have a few broken windows that go without repair. The sight of such small cracks in social coherence leads to more incoherence. The house with the broken window is subject to vandalism, for example, while the general appeal of the whole neighborhood is threatened and standards of upkeep begin to unravel.
The validity of the broken window theory is debatable when it comes to society but not when it comes to our bodies. A single malignant cell can develop into a tumor, the tumor into metastasized cancer, and the cancer into a life-ending decline. Speaking generally, at the moment of death more than 99% of your DNA is likely to be functioning normally. It takes the breakdown of only a single vital organ or system (such as the heart or the respiratory system) to be fatal.
The simplest lesson from the broken window metaphor is not to let a window get broken in the first place. In terms of everyday existence, the window gets broken in mysterious ways when it comes down to why a single cell becomes malignant or an arterial lining cracks, leading to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and conditions as pervasive as type 1 diabetes and chronic hypertension have obscure origins.
But the most essential factors across the board appear to be sleep, inflammation, and stress, always remembering that they are linked. Priority must be given to good, sound sleep every night and lowering everyday stress, which is apparently a trigger for inflammatory processes at the cellular level. Ironically, as sound as the research is on these lifestyle factors, good sleep and stress reduction tend to be the last things people really pay attention to.
More broadly, once you have attended to these factors, there is the positive side of being in the Goldilocks zone. If you are emotionally resilient, self-reliant, motivated by a larger purpose in life, and feel secure in the support you receive from others, you are actually respecting a different Goldilocks zone in each case. There is no more reliable guide when it comes to achieving lifelong wellness, success, and rewarding relationships.
DEEPAK CHOPRA™ MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential (Harmony Books), unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution and his latest book, Total Meditation (Harmony Books) will help to achieve new dimensions of stress-free living and joyful living. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” www.deepakchopra.com
Jack A. Tuszynski, Ph.D., D.Sc. Professor, Department of Physics, Adjunct Professor, Department of Oncology, Adjunct Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering
Member, The Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Brian J. Fertig, MD F.A.C.E. Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism, Associate Professor Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Chairman, Department of Diabetes & Endocrinology Hackensack Meridian Health at JFK University Medical Center, President Diabetes & Osteoporosis Center