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Voluntary Hardship

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But neither a bull nor a noble-spirited man comes to be what he is all at once; he must undertake hard winter training, and prepare himself, and not propel himself rashly into what is not appropriate to him. – Epictetus

We have an epidemic of comfort in our society today (especially in the US)…we have become focused on the avoidance of any and all discomfort, be it through medication, mindlessly watching media, or avoidance of any and all things challenging.

We are all guilty of finding easier ways to get through our day and meet the needs of our families and professions.  Do not mistake what is being said here, I do not believe that all the comforts we have created for ourselves are inherently bad. There are certainly a number of conveniences and comforts that I enjoy on a regular basis and have no intention of giving up (sleeping in a bed, for instance).  The problem arises when that avoidance of discomfort seeps into all aspects of our days and our lives.

We all know an inspirational story of someone or a group of someone’s overcoming a daunting hardship to rise from the ashes not only safe but better for the experience.  We all fundamentally understand that the truly defining moments of growth in our lives are those associated with some sort of hardship, struggle and sacrifice.  Yet despite knowing this many of us choose to actively avoid things that are difficult, scary or new…ahh the human condition, we are a very peculiar animal.

Consider the following…are there areas in your life that you are avoiding the difficult actions/behaviors that would ultimately result in positive change?  Perhaps starting that new exercise program or focusing on your nutrition, taking steps to reduce your stress/anxiety, having those difficult conversations with someone you love…you name it there are a plethora of situations and actions that we avoid because they seem difficult or even unattainable.

Relating this to physical activity, many people fail to understand why someone would choose to do CrossFit or climb a dangerous mountain or run a marathon.  Any of you who have taken part in anything that has truly challenged you physically can understand why you did it with some simple reflection…you are proud of achieving something difficult and you have grown as a person in some way as a result.  Although these choices may seem counterintuitive to others in your life, the experience itself proves its value through the struggle, you chose voluntary hardship in those moments, and are better for it.

We live in a world that is full of creature comforts, we no longer have to “fight” for very much in our lives, in terms of basic survival.  This means that we need to challenge ourselves to take on hardship by choice many times, and doing so can yield tremendous results in resiliency, self confidence and a unique ability to handle stress.

There are a number of ways to practice this idea of voluntary hardship or discomfort, choosing a challenging physical task to commit to is one, but so is choosing to meditate every day for 10-20 minutes with the latter being more difficult to commit to for many.  Choosing to fast or to go without certain material comforts for periods of time can help to build appreciation for what we have and cultivate reductions in fear and anxiety about what is to come.

You can really dig into some profoundly life changing and fascinating approaches in order to accomplish growth through voluntary hardship.  Tim Ferriss has some great podcast episodes highlighting strategies he and others use, things like living in as meager a way as possible for a set period of time (a week) every 1-3 months. In addition, I highly suggest looking into Stoicism or Hormetism, the website www.gettingstronger.org has some compelling articles and the Tao of Seneca is a great book that I believe is available on audible as well as hardcopy.

For now my challenge to you is to pick two things in your life, one being an action or commitment that you know you need to make to better yourself, your relationships, your job, whatever…the second something that you can go without, this could be fasting, purging your closet the following website has an interesting challenge (https://bemorewithless.com/project-333/) , or removing some sort of unnecessary creature comfort from you life even if only for brief periods.

Never stop growing, learning and challenging yourself.”