Do hard things. We are all trying to do things to make life easy and comfortable. That is fine but in order to do that we also have to do things along the way that are not easy or not comfortable. The problem is modern society is all about ease and comfort. We are not wired for that. Our bodies and minds are designed to respond to and overcome stress. We are designed to move. We are designed to think. Stress comes in many forms and really successful people get that way because they handle it better. An Olympic athlete gets there because they have trained their body to get faster and stronger by stressing their muscles through their sport. The CEO gets there because they proved they can handle the stress of making decisions involving millions of dollars and the lives of their customers and employees. The Navy SEAL gets there because they are willing to put their mind and body through the most intense physical and mental stress imaginable. None of these people get there or stay there by accident.
You have to intentionally put yourself in these situations. Like anything else the more you do it the better you get at it. If you want to get more fit you exercise harder. If you want to make better decisions under pressure then put yourself in situations that force you to make decisions. I have a few favorite challenges (don’t worry, calling your ex or volunteering for an IRS audit are not on my list) that I do with the intention of getting out of my comfort zone and being in situations I would rather avoid.
My favorite is exposing myself to cold. I am a skinny guy, I get cold really easy and I really really hate it. One of my favorite challenges is to take cold showers and baths. There are some valid reasons from an physiologic standpoint for ice baths but that is not really the point here. I do it because it forces me to do something I really hate. Making a practice of that makes you mentally resilient. Cold showers are good, ice baths are better. If I can force myself to stand under a cold shower for 60 seconds then the next time I have to do a VO2 max interval session or a heavy 5×5 dead lift workout it does not seem as nasty.
Another great challenge is something I use with my personal training students and use for myself as well. This is not something you should do every day, save this for special occasions. Pick a simple exercise and do it as long as you can. My personal favorite is the kettlebell swing. Just pick it up and start swinging until you can’t swing anymore. Go to absolute failure. With my training students the first time they do this I have them count their reps and they almost always stop on a number that ends with a zero or a five. When they stop I ask them if that was the most they could possibly do. They always say yes. But a bit more digging and they all admit that at some point they started thinking about stopping and started the bargaining process in their head.”OK if I hit 80 that is good enough…”. They put a limit on what they could do. They next time we do it I tell them not to count but to go until they can’t. They always do more reps and they rarely stop on a 5 or 0. Don’t put limits on what you can do.
Wear a weight vest or carry around a heavy back pack for no real reason for a day each week. This is a fun challenge that will make you stronger without doing anything other than what you normally do in a day. The added weight will make you more aware of your posture and you will automatically sit up straighter and stand taller. Your Mom will be so proud!
I will frequently wear a weight vest under my hoodie when training students. That way when I demonstrate an exercise I am getting more load and more accumulated work during the day. I wear it around the house a lot much to the amusement of my fiancée (my dogs don’t say anything but I can tell they are snickering behind my back). I am lucky given the fact I can wear a weight vest at work (the gym) and not look like (much) of a tool. Those of you with office jobs may want to just add a heavy back pack to your day.
Walk more and take the stairs. This one is something that everyone can do and is super effective if combined with #3. When you go to the store park in the furthest space from the door, especially if the weather is cold or bad. This will help you HTFU a bit and it will also free up a closer spot for someone who may really need it.
I try to avoid elevators, escalators, and moving sidewalks as much as possible. Don’t even get me started on hover boards! Take the stairs and be glad that you are able. Leave the lifts for the lazy or the frail.
Train in bad weather. Is it raining out, snowing? Great, kit up and get out there! One of my first students was an old friend of mine who struggled with her weight for years. I saw her start and quit dozens of programs over the years and actually gaining weight after each one. She wanted to train outside at a local park because she was ashamed to show up at a gym. It was already late fall and I knew she was likely going to use bad weather as an excuse to stop after a few sessions and further cement her “nothing ever works for me” mentality. I told her I would be stoked to train her at the park but she had to commit to training through the winter. I told her I would show up for every session no matter the weather. I made her pre-pay for 6 months with the deal that if I showed up and she didn’t then we were done training together forever, no refunds. We trained in sub-zero temps, blizzards, and ice storms. We continued through triple digit heat in the summer and more than a few rain storms. The first time we trained in a blizzard she showed up and was surprised to see me there (actually I was surprised she showed up too). We trained with kettlebells and battle ropes that day. As we were walking back to our cars a guy walking his dog told us he had watched her training and said she was a bad ass. She later told me that after she finished that workout and realized it didn’t kill her that she could finish anything I (or anyone) threw at her. She never missed a session due to weather. After 18 months she had lost 179 pounds.
These are just examples that through trial and error work well for me. Feel free to come up with your own challenges. I would strongly encourage everyone to try the cold shower challenge, just finish your regular shower with 30 seconds of cold. It is really amazing how good you feel after. Intentionally adding some difficulty in your day will make you more resilient and make you more appreciative for how good you really have it.