“It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence. In days of peace the soldier performs manoeuvres, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by gratuitous toil, in order that he may be equal to unavoidable toil” – Seneca the Younger
How do you handle adversity? When real hardships come up in your life, do you feel like you can remain calm, cool, and collected, or do you typically hit the panic button? If you’re anything like me, your first instinct is likely to drop everything, freak out, and then curl up in a ball and feel sorry for yourself for a few days.
This type of reaction can manifest itself as anxiety, over-thinking, lack of action, etc. It turned into a huge problem, and anytime something got remotely difficult in my life, I was unable to effectively respond.
It seems that this pattern of negative thinking has become a social epidemic. Part of the reason being that, quite simply, life is too easy these days. We aren’t hunting/growing our own food, we aren’t outrunning predators on a daily basis, we aren’t struggling to build and hide in our own shelters. Almost all of us go to the grocery store to buy food, drive it back to our houses in a car, then curl up in bed with the heat on and sleep soundly through the night. Our biggest daily difficulties begin and end with cell phone batteries dying when the charger is on the other side of the room.
Lacking a daily practice of dealing with real difficult situations renders us virtually incapable of dealing with real hardships when they actually hit. We are ill-prepared, out of practice, and essentially useless when something actually brutal falls into our laps.
To combat this, a practice of some form of “voluntary hardship” can help prepare us for trying times. Here are the three most important forms of voluntary hardships I try to practice regularly.
- Intermittent Fasting
- Cold Therapy
- Hard Training
Intermittent Fasting –
Along with a host of physical benefits, the mental benefit of withstanding hunger goes a long way. There are many protocols for intermittent fasting, but my favorite way to optimize both physical and mental benefits is a single 24 hour fast once per week.
I generally try to do this from 6PM Saturdays to 6PM Sundays but frequently push it to mid-week because life intervenes. As long as I accomplish one long fast weekly, I am content.
This fast helps mitigate the “pain” of hunger when meals are spread out during work days or otherwise. Knowing I can regularly last 24 hours without food helps make those 8 hour gaps between meals less of a problem. One small step toward improved resiliency.
Cold Therapy –
Again, this practice is loaded with physical benefits such as increased testosterone, greater recovery from workouts, and elevated serotonin levels, but those are not the focus of this post. Cold exposure is a great way to start building resiliency, where improvements can be seen nearly instantly.
Like intermittent fasting, there are many potential protocols for this. If you have a bathtub, filling it full of ice and cold water works really well. I only have a shower, so I turn my shower on as cold as it will go. I do this for at least five minutes per day. Sometimes I wake up chilled, and do not want to get into a cold shower… those are the most important times to do it.
Cold therapy is a cool one (pun intended), because it sucks IMMEDIATELY. The second you touch the water, you regret your decision. Three to four minutes into the shower, you want nothing more than for it to end. By the time you get out, and your core temperature is still low, you wish you had never done it. Ten minutes later, you feel amazing. Energy, mood, and productivity are all improved by cold showers.
You also start to see improvements at a rapid pace. Within a short window, you will notice your tolerance for cold improving well beyond its baseline. If at first you can only handle 2-3 minutes of cold at the end of a hot shower, in less than a month of practice you will be able to withstand a 5 minutes strictly cold shower without too much difficulty.
Hard Training –
This one should be obvious. Pushing your body to its limits in very difficult bouts of training is certainly not fun. Assuming, of course, that you’re being safe and not putting yourself in real risk from a workout due to a medical condition or something of that nature, you can absolutely train your mind while training your body.
The perceived difficulty of a workout is often a myth. When you think you are fatigued and have nothing left in the tank, your body has the ability to keep going for much longer than you think. This can manifest itself in many ways; for some a long run will accomplish this best, for others a prolonged HIIT circuit, or intense bouts of training for a sport like boxing. The specific type of training does not matter as much as pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.
In the hours and days following the completion of a particularly difficult workout, I go through my day with an increased sense of invincibility. Any obstacles that may come up pale in comparison to the vigor of the workout I put myself through earlier. That ability to see challenges as opportunities for growth as opposed to looming roadblocks is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life.
. . .
There are plenty of ways you can start integrating planned, practiced, controlled difficult situations into your daily life to avoid getting comfortable with all that is merely ephemeral. When real hardships strike, you will have learned how to face them head-on, and not cower from and prolong them.
Obviously, this is a practice that takes time and patience. It’s uncomfortable to stretch yourself out of your daily habits and purposely suffer in small doses. But stretching your comfort zone is an amazing opportunity for daily growth. And if we aren’t growing, we’re dying.