432: Toughest Task

What’s the toughest thing you’re glad you did?

Full episode script

In a 2015 Spartan Up! Podcast episode, Dr. Xander van Tulleken, who practices medicine in some of the harshest conditions in the world, talked about his perception of what being tough really means. Quote:

“Doing hard things doesn’t make you tougher, it just makes you not like doing hard things. You know how bad they’re going to be. But the thing you get out of doing hard things is that you find out you can do very, very much more than you think you can. So you get a bit of knowledge. With me, whether it’s climbing in the Himalayas, or long expeditions in the north of Canada or working in the Arctic, whatever it is, I just have that same feeling of ‘Oh, here we go, this is going to be horrible.’ But there’s also knowing that I can get through something.”

It’s an interesting perspective, especially given that challenging and difficult things can hav a higher perceived value. It’s the same concept as the fact that a more expensive bottle of wine tastes better, even if the price is the only differentiator. (And yes, studies prove that even wine experts have this particular perception). The amount of energy, effort, or resources we put into something increases the value of that thing.

As Mr. Money Mustache wrote on his blog about a summer road trip that was largely unstructured:

“The anticipation of this return, to my loved ones but also to a peaceful fluffy bed, the clean countertops and hot showers and plentiful salads, is a rich experience. Yet if I had stayed home all year and tried none of these things, the experience would have been flat and unmemorable. The year would have whizzed by with plenty of comfort and peace, but nothing to broaden my experience of what it means to be alive. I learned some worthwhile stuff about myself, too.”

And really, doing something difficult doesn’t have to mean going off to a remote area of the world or taking off on a months-long road trip. Doing something difficult can be very tiny. The thing about comfort zones is that they’re different for everyone, and measuring how difficult something is on anyone’s scale but your own is a sure way to end up measuring nothing but what you think about others. Try measuring difficulty or toughness, instead, on your emotional investment, and therefore the rewards you may get out of it.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.