Build Resilience Through Exposure to Hardship

A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon an article that read “You May Be Strong … But Are You Tough?“. That’s when Khaled Allen, author of the Warrior Spirit blog, showed me the difference between strength and toughness. For years I had made no distinction between the two, somehow I thought they were the same thing. Whenever I’d meet a really strong person I’d think of them as some kind of demi-god that could do anything, but after reading Khaled’s article my perception started to change.

Yes, these people might be very strong in their specific fields, but when put in different circumstances their weaknesses easily show. I’ve met people who could squat 200kg but couldn’t stand in a horse stance for 2 minutes. I’ve met people who appear extremely confident, but get upset when they get the slightest negative comment. Through 13 years of training parkour, I’ve become accustomed to doing stuff that can end in severe injury, but I’m afraid of swimming in deep water. Hell, even a cold shower makes people scream like children. Yes, we all have our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, but we also know instinctively know that we can do something about them. There’s a bunch of ways to overcome fear and difficulty.

One thing is to be aware that doing something difficult will make that thing less difficult. This becomes obvious in something like strength training – doing your very first muscle up is extremely hard, but after a while, you’re doing a set of 5 as a warm-up. And this principle can be applied to all facets of life! When taking your very first cold shower you will be gasping for breath, but after one week of exposure, you know it’s just kind of uncomfortable so it becomes relatively easy. Walking up to a guy or a girl you fancy and starting a conversation is damn hard – until you’ve tried it 20 times.

And it get’s even better than that, doing many difficult things will make everything less difficult. If you are used to walking in bare feet when it’s -5º, your body will adapt to the cold and you will get sick less easy. If you have the mental strength to stick to a healthy diet, your energy levels will increase. If you practice intermittent fasting, suddenly being hungry isn’t all that bad. If you are you used to working out every day those grocery bags suddenly get less heavy. If you’ve had martial arts training, you’re suddenly less scared in the dark. And the list goes on and on and on.

The ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism has taught me a second, but very important lesson: we may not always have control over the events affecting us, but we can have control over how we approach things. Instead of despairing when something difficult is in front of you, you can actively choose to change the way you look at it. That’s why I started having conversations with myself. Now every time I feel something is difficult, I find a way of telling myself it’s not actually as hard as my mind wants me to think it is.  One example is that I’ve started doing short barefoot walks in the snow. Yes, it’s cold as fuck. Damn my feet will be freezing. Holy shit this is uncomfortable. What the fuck are people thinking when they look at me … But what are those 10 minutes of my life? If I can’t even deal with such a short period of “pain”, then how will I cope with the loss of a loved one? And if someone looks at me weird, why not smile at them and wish them a great day?

And that’s how everything in life becomes easier. Expose yourself to difficult things every day and convince yourself they’re not actually that hard.

For more in-depth reading on self-empowering mindsets, I recommend reading the following books: Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Tao Te Ching by Lao Tze and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

 

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