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Why We Crave Hardship: The Joy of Meaningful Goals

Some people pay hundreds of dollars to do a Navy Seal inspired training course, putting themselves through hours of rigorous training so they can experience an unimaginable challenge. Others complete 100-mile ultramarathons through mountains to prove to themselves that they can. On a smaller level, others go camping or backpacking in remote areas of the world to put themselves in tough survival situations. And what all this points to is not something wrong, but something innate that has been exacerbated by modernization and urbanization: people long to do hard things.

I’m not going to sit and tell you that life during the colonial era or the Industrial Revolution was better, but it did produce one thing that we don’t have as much of today: inconvenience. Growing up hundreds of years ago was naturally harder because we had to work for so many of the things that are now luxuries, whether it was washing clothes or growing our own food. Today, while of course there are challenges, the comfort and convenience of things make it so much easier. We can pull up directions to anywhere in the country on our phones in less than a minute, find a restaurant of our choice within driving distance, and purchase almost anything we want online. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but it does create a subculture of people who get fed up and search for something more. So fed up that they pay their own money to experience a simulated Navy Seal training.

It’s also why my wife and I did the 75 Hard Program, if you remember my blog post from a couple of months ago. We decided to do something outside of our comfort zone to build mental toughness and discipline, and it was 100% worth it. On Saturday we finished our 75th day, and yesterday felt very freeing to know that we were done. But I learned a lot from it, and through each phase of the program, I tried to jot down a couple of notes and lessons I took from the experience. This week, I thought I’d share a few of them as they may be helpful to others:

· Having a daily mission. Even when I had important tasks on my to-do list and a busy schedule, 75 Hard grounded me to know that there is a daily mission to be accomplished, such as drinking water throughout the day, keeping on a diet and working out. When you are consistently doing something that extends you physically and requires you to pay attention to achieving specific tasks mentally, it keeps you focused on the task at hand. You can't focus on tomorrow too much because there is much that needs to be accomplished today.

· The importance of doing inconvenient things. I had multiple times when people would learn about the program we were doing and say, “that seems really inconvenient.” To which I would respond, “that’s the point.” Everything about the program is designed for you to escape the easy, painless, and convenient aspects of our culture and push you to greater limits. There were many times I’d finish a run or workout at about 40 minutes and realized I needed to keep going. But it was also on many of these 45 minute walks that my wife and I had the opportunity to go into depth of conversation, which is harder to accomplish on limited time or 15 minute jogs around the corner.

· Cultivating automatic habits. This program reiterated the importance of disciplined momentum. After so many days into the program, I didn’t have to think about what I was doing as much - I would just wake up and do it. Whatever you are doing, the essence of building habits is finding ways to make them more automatic, which is a special skill when you find something that is important to you.

· Creating intentional self-resistance. It is invaluable to possess the ability to say no to things, especially when we know they are not best for us. The creator of 75 Hard Andy Frisella has often said, “if someone puts a drink in front of you and you can’t say no, you are letting an inanimate object control your life.” Specifically when it comes to alcohol, it’s a touchy subject, and going without it is harder for some. But the most important aspect of alcohol (and many other things) is being able to choose not to have it with complete self-control.

· Raising the baseline of your comfort zone. The last (and perhaps the most important) lesson to be learned from doing anything difficult is what it does to your comfort zone. When you do something hard, you discover it’s possible to do more. I love this quote from David Bangean that encapsulates doing harder things: "Your circle of discomfort contracts as you consistently do things that are uncomfortable, and eventually, they become easy to do."

Whatever you’re pursuing in your life, I hope that you found something encouraging to you in that list. Again, it doesn’t matter if you complete a specific program or not. What matters is choosing something meaningful to you and committing yourself to following through. For the more you put yourself into uncomfortable situations, the more you find that the uncomfortable is actually quite comfortable.

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