Do Hard Things on Purpose: Strategies to Overcome Your Brain's Resistance and Achieve Success
Ask anyone how they’re feeling these days and chances are they’ll reply with some version of “exhausted.” We’re tired of operating amid uncertainty. We’re tired of balancing childcare, work, and increasing costs. We’re tired of staffing shortages and supply chain problems.
We’re just tired.
If you’re like me, you want to save some energy; especially mental energy when it comes to making decisions. We often do this by going with our gut and making our best guess.
The term for this is expediency bias (I had to look it up): doing the thing that feels right, or rushing to judgment, without properly considering all the variables. The brain does this because it’s much easier to process existing ideas than new ones, a principle in psychology called fluency (yep, I had to look up that one, too).
The result is that many of us are naturally inclined to do what simply feels right. The Hedonic principle also comes into play: We are wired to move toward things that make us feel good and away from things that make us feel uncomfortable.
Our brains tag effort as bad because it’s hard work. It doesn’t feel ‘right.’
And yet, we know hard actions can have tremendous benefits — ones that may not be visible right away. Think about starting a new training routine. Maybe there’s a thought — “If I exercise regularly, I’ll have more energy to play with my young kids” — that generates an impetus for action. Any number of motivations might pop up to stimulate action.
But a funny thing can happen. The first workout doesn’t feel good. Neither does the next one, or the one after that. Our muscles hurt. The training cuts into time we used to spend on other things. It compounds, continuing to signal all the reasons we should go back to the way it was before — when our muscles didn’t hurt; when we had a little bit of extra time.
Why, then, should we do hard things when our brains are constantly telling us to avoid effort?
Doing Hard Things Toughens You Up
First and foremost, doing hard things just toughens you up, plain and simple. When you take on difficult tasks you are showing not only yourself but also those around you that you can do it.
A steel blade doesn’t become tough until it is placed in the fire, pounded with a hammer, heated again, and pounded some more. Then it is ground to a sharp edge.
It is the purposeful act of difficulty that makes the steel sharp.
Plain and simple...tough work (or tasks) toughens you up.
Where There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress
This is a great quote from Frederick Douglass: “Where there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
We will struggle at things whether it’s a job, hiking, work, school, or even our marriages, but if we persist and work through it, progress results.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans...
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. – Romans 5:3-4 (Similar 1 Peter 1:6-7; James 1:2-4)
When we struggle, when we endure the tough things in life our perseverance is built up, our character is shaped, and we become better.
Doing Tough Things Makes The Easy Stuff Seem Easier
This one is pretty simple to understand. When you do hard things, especially on purpose, it makes the easier things in life seem that much easier.
Doing difficult things raises the bar in your own life. And the more difficult the task, the easier everything else seems to get. Which takes me to the next point.
Doing Tough Things Makes The Hard Times Not Seem So Hard
As that bar of difficulty continues to rise in your life, even what might be considered difficult for someone else now becomes easy for you. Why? It’s because you are doing hard things on purpose, and this even makes the hard things seem not so hard.
The Sense Of Accomplishment
Finally, when you accomplish difficult tasks regularly you gain a sense of accomplishment. You have overcome obstacles and situations that may have been meant to destroy you, but you came out on the other side…better.
How, then, can we do hard things when our brains are constantly telling us to avoid effort?
Overcoming the natural inclination to avoid effort and tackle hard tasks requires a combination of mindset, strategies, and habits. Here are some techniques specific to physical training that can help you do hard things when your brain is resisting effort:
Set Clear Goals
Define specific, measurable, and achievable goals. Knowing what you're working towards can provide motivation and a sense of purpose.
Create a Routine
Establish a regular training routine. Consistency helps build habits, making it easier for your brain to adapt to the effort required.
Find Intrinsic Motivation
Identify the reasons why you want to engage in physical training. Whether it's for health, personal development, or a specific achievement, connecting with your deeper motivations can boost your commitment.
Imagine yourself successfully completing your training or achieving your performance goals. Visualization can help create a positive mindset and reduce the perceived difficulty of the task.
Focus on Process, Not Just Results
Concentrate on the steps you need to take rather than solely on the result. Celebrate small victories along the way, reinforcing positive behavior.
Share your goals with a friend, workout partner, or coach. Being accountable to someone else can provide external motivation and support.
Change Your Perspective
Instead of thinking about the effort involved, focus on the benefits and the positive feelings you'll experience afterward. Shift your mindset from "I have to" to "I choose to."
Use Positive Self-Talk
Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Remind yourself of your capabilities and the progress you've made so far.
Mix It Up
Introduce variety into your training routine. This can prevent boredom and make the process more engaging, reducing the resistance to effort.
Listen to Your Body
Pay attention to your body and avoid pushing yourself to the point of burnout. It's important to find a balance between effort and recovery.
Learn to Embrace Discomfort
Understand that growth often comes from stepping outside your comfort zone. Embrace the discomfort as a sign that you're challenging yourself and moving forward.
All that said, whatever you do, choose to do hard things on purpose. You will thank me later. You have one life to live. You don’t want to live your whole life comfortably, with ease, and unscathed.
I will leave you with this quote from Dean Karnazes,
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention to arrive safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming: Wow!! What a ride!
Get out there and do hard things…on purpose.
Dedicated to your success,