For most of my life I have erred on the side of trying to be tough. Even though I would fail at times, usually I would push myself to do the hard thing.
But as I get older I have realized that the hard thing is not always the better thing.
This is especially true when it comes to achieving your goals and striking a balance with the rest of your life and the people in it.
It is true that life is hard. This is a hard planet to live on.
It is also true that you must work hard in order to achieve something great.
Finally, it also appears to be true (at least for the vast majority of us) that life will consist of a great deal of suffering.
The first distinction between tough and foolish is that the notion of being tough does not have to include unnecessary suffering. Suffering is merely a likely byproduct of your pursuits.
Suffering in and of itself is not sufficient to make great things happen in your life. You need not seek out suffering, as it will almost inevitably accompany any great thing you try to achieve. So instead, simply seek to achieve something great and then push past the pain in order to achieve it.
This is where the phrase “no pain, no gain” comes from. And there is certainly a lot of truth to this phrase.
However, pain alone will not get you what you want in life. But rather having the ability to pursue what you want regardless of the pain that is involved.
The second distinction between tough and foolish has to do with being conscious of the long-term effects of your actions.
We see this all the time with young, strong men who do incredibly difficult (and/or stupid) things that are stressful for their bodies. Then, as they get older, they end up having physical problems as a result of their being “tough.”
Another example of this is not taking care of your body when you are sick, thinking that your body will just take care of it.
Many times this is not so. Often when you’re exposed to multiple instances of viruses/bacteria, your body becomes incredibly stressed. When you mix this with your ordinary habits (eating processed food, drinking lots of coffee, staying up late, etc.) then you’re basically having your body work in overdrive.
And, although your body can work in overdrive, it cannot do it on a long-term, sustained basis. In order to get well, you must take care of yourself by getting rest, drinking water, and eating vitamin-rich, whole foods. Otherwise you’re abusing yourself.
The problem is that many people have jobs that they have to go to every day in order to support their lifestyle.
It’s unfathomable to me that so many people find themselves at the mercy of a boss or a company. This ends up forcing them to be “tough,” thus inevitably crossing them over the line of foolish.
The third distinction between tough and foolish is that often times, they are not completely distinct from each other. There is often a large grey area between the two, and you won’t always know which is which.
It is for this reason that I recommend experimenting.
Sometimes what seems like the “hard thing” is simply the most comfortable thing and that doing something much easier, like spending time with family or treating yourself to a vacation, can actually be much harder for you to do.
So if your natural tendency is to work 100 hours per week, then you might consider that this has become comfortable and that forcing yourself to work only 60 hours would actually be much better for you to experiment with which strategy actually moves you closer to your goals. And for this you would need to consider the sum total of your goals, not just in one area such as business.
For example, if you work yourself so hard that you die at age 50, then perhaps if you had attempted to strike a more reasonable work-life balance, then you would possibly have another 20-30 years more on the planet. And people can achieve a lot in that amount of time.
Always continue to experiment with pushing yourself just a little bit out of your comfort zone and then observe the results. If the results are unknown, try it again. Continue to test and experiment with the duration and degree of your tests.
I’ll give you an example.
One time I had come down with the flu and during this time I was under my commitment to myself to do 50 push-ups per day.
My first reaction was to do the push-ups anyway, and power through them.
I ended up doing them harder and more intensely than I had done even when my body was healthy. This led me to violate the first distinction, and possibly the second, in this article. My deliberate attempt to seek out pain was rather foolish.
The result of this is that I ended up further weakening my already ill body and so it ended up taking me a greater time than usual to recover.
By paying close attention to how my body felt both before and after the workout, I was able to deduce that it is perhaps better to allow your body to rest before pushing it to also build muscle.
So, after having done this, I have realized what happens at the other end of the spectrum. By allowing your body to rest, you do recover faster…but in the meantime you also end up losing a great deal of discipline and motivation, causing you to give up on your goals.
What I have found is that the best combination is to keep your commitment in the healthiest way possible. This might mean doing 25 push-ups per day. Or doing 50 push-ups, but only five at a time throughout the day.
There are a lot of ways to still meet your goal in some capacity while also allowing your body to recover.
When it comes to momentum, sometimes anything is better than nothing.
And this, my friends, is where true toughness comes in. Being tough is not about just being physically tough, it is also being mentally and emotionally tough.
Being tough means being smart.
Anybody can jump out of an airplane with no parachute one time. But this would be stupid.
Toughness usually ends up being a long-term approach, whereas foolishness is usually something done in a very short amount of time.
Foolishness does not account for the long haul. It usually seeks to act in the moment to elicit a favorable response from others.
Toughness, however, means being okay with going out of one’s comfort zone of immediate gratification. Being tough means doing what you believe in despite the responses from others.
When you are truly tough, you are always goal-focused. You don’t do things that might hamper your goal or your progress. You cooperate with your goal and the circumstances that surround it.
If you’re sick, you rest. If your mind is fatigued, you relax.
But then again, it is quite easy to become accustomed to this mentality and thus end up weakening yourself. This is where toughness shape shifts a bit and now means that you can once again experiment with pushing your mind and body out of their comfort zones.
And I’ll end this article with a simple phrase that seems to tie everything together.
At the end of the day, life seems to be a never-ending act of balance.