You Must Acquire a Taste for the Difficult

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Photo via Gary Crawford

There is a reason you don’t get much done. It’s not that you don’t have time. It’s not that you can’t manage the time you have. It’s not even that you are easily distracted. These all might seem to be the case, but they aren’t really the problem, not the ultimate problem at least.

Your ultimate problem is this: getting things done is hard, and you just don’t like doing hard things. I know it’s true for you because it’s true for me. It’s true for everybody. No man alive doesn’t struggle with the temptation to lie down on the couch and just stay there.

Do you think the guys who climb mountains, win championships, or get rich don’t?

Of course they do.

But, over time, they have beaten the “lay around and waste your life” part of them into submission. They have cultivated the habit of doing the hard thing.

Difficulty is an acquired taste, and you aren’t going to achieve much until you get used to it. Wishing this weren’t the case doesn’t make it so. If you want to achieve anything, whether that means building a business or a family, you must learn to tolerate the bitter fruit of discipline. It’s not easy, but in the end it yields the harvest of reward you’re after.

Whether you accept this reality or not shapes the person you will be. Someone devoted to comfort and ease above all else will grow slothful and self-centered. As he discovers the dream of perpetual pleasure in this world is an illusion, he will grow bitter. The very core of his person will be irreparably bent.

Assuming you don’t want that to happen to you, I offer these few suggestions for coping with the fact that life is hard.

Stop living in a dream world.

Nothing comes as easily as you think it should. Start telling yourself every day when you get up that you are going to encounter resistance. Often, you encounter this resistance before you even get up. That impulse to pull the covers up tight around your chin and snuggle in for a couple more hours? That’s the resistance.

Tell yourself constantly that even though there will be resistance you will push forward. Learn to be grateful for even minor progress. Rejoice in knowing each night when you lie down that no matter how tough the resistance was that day, you pushed back a little, then sleep with no shame.

Get used to feeling afraid a lot of the time.

I’m not talking cowering-in-the-corner type terror, but a sense of apprehensiveness is a constant in life. You might think you can escape it by staying in, by taking no risks, by living a virtual life of video games and online porn, but you can’t. Stay in, and you’ll constantly be pushing down your fear of missing out, of not maximizing your potential. Might as well go out and try some stuff.

Get used to is being terrible at almost everything.

When you go out and start trying stuff, you’re mostly going to suck. Don’t let your fragile ego make you stop. Accept that nothing is easy, and learn to be satisfied with small incremental improvements. That’s they way to build a satisfying life.

Build hard things into your routine.

Start your day by doing something tough. Whatever you are most dreading in your day, do that first. This is easier if you understand the distinction between doing things that are hard, and doing things you hate.

If you find yourself doing things you hate: working a job that doesn’t work for you, dragging yourself through relationships that sap your strength, find a way to quit. Many people do things they hate for years because they don’t want to do the hard work of figuring out a new way.

The difference between doing something difficult and something you hate is that the difficult thing holds out the promise of a meaningful reward. You don’t hate another day sitting in your cubicle at work because it’s hard, but because it means nothing to you and offers little benefit.

And rewards are what matter. Nobody gets them without acquiring a taste for the difficult. Those who willingly accept that everything is hard and just press on, earn the satisfaction of achievement. Those who don’t disappear back into ease, passivity and resentment. Of course, what they find, in the end, is that a life spent trying to avoid tough stuff is itself hard. Your choices are between a hard life of comfort seeking and a hard life of chasing productive goals. Choose wisely. Your soul is at stake.

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4 responses

  1. A timely post, Dean. I printed it out and hung it up above my desk.

    This post makes me think of a quote from Richard S. Taylor:
    “Many a young person would like to become a doctor or a top-flight scientist but never will, simply because he will not buckle down to the demanding years of hard study. Many young people would like to achieve artistry and mastery in music but they never will, simply because they will not face the long hours of monotonous practice year after year. They may through natural talent become singers or or pianists of a sort, but they will not pay the extra price for true excellence. …The world is full of naturally brilliant people who never rise above mediocrity because they will not make the sacrifice which superiority requires.” – The Disciplined Life, page 23.

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