Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

church design zebras

As I’ve said before in a previous post, when we become stressed our physical causes us to be reactionary creatures. During times of great stress and anxiety we tend to throw out the thousands of years of evolution and upper level brain function, in order to succumb to reflexive hormones rushing through our brains. Our bodies take over, and it takes time for our minds to catch up to create the right response.

Dr. Robert Sapolsky from Stanford University has a very interesting BOOK in which he analyzes, “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.” Sapolsky is a professor of neuroscience at Stanford University, and has completed some rather fascinating studies in regards to how animals and humans respond to stress. In this study, he compares the emotional behavior of baboons and zebras regarding how they handle the stresses of their lives. You can watch a synopsis of his findings in the video below:

According to Sapolsky, humans are much like baboons as we are the main culprits for our own stress. Our lives have become easy, we do not spend much time foraging for food or avoiding predators, and we use this surplus time to let our minds wander and worry about things we cannot control. We have such an elaborate and amazing brain, but yet we put the same stress reactions we have for serious problems to even minor and insignificant problems.

The zebra never worries about stress, it has the potential to constantly be under attack, but can shed off these traumatic experiences with predators and return to a calm state rather quickly. Why? I would like to think (and I think Sapolsky would agree) it’s because their minds do not wander, they have brain function that allows them to better focus on the tasks at hand necessary for survival.

Think about how you have handled some of your most stressful moments. Did you yell at someone when you wish you hadn’t? Pushed or shoved to get someone out of your way? Did you flee from the situation when you wish you would have stayed and made things right? Maybe you just froze at that moment, and someone had to respond for you.

We all have these moments of clarity in hindsight, but it’s very difficult to maximize our emotions during these stressful “fight or flight” moments in our lives. Mindfulness is a reflective and clarifying process, that when exercised effectively, can allow you to have clear thoughts even during the most chaotic situations.

It’s been called many things. Michael Jordan and other athletes call it, “getting into the zone.” The moment when they don’t even notice the crowd around them, the ticking clock, or the stress of hitting a game winning shot, he simply felt the ball in his hand.


We have all experienced those moments, when our concentration is hitting on all cylinders, every decision we make is correct, and your timing is perfect. Was it just dumb luck? Or were you finally able to block out the stressors and distractors in your life and put the full power of your brain toward the situation? I strongly feel it’s the latter.

Since practicing mindfulness I have had significantly more of these “in the zone” moments. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced, but my stress has greatly diminished during difficult times, and I find myself more adept at selecting the right choice for the problems I face.

As a leader, couldn’t you use more “in the zone” moments throughout the day? Making the space necessary is only a short meditation away.

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