Discipline and Voluntary Discomfort – Harden the Fuck Up

Australian comedian Ronnie Johns was on to something when he told Australians they need to harden the fuck up.  In modern culture it is more acceptable than ever to be a wimp, a whiner, or a complainer.  It’s easy to find things to complain about, or to find excuses for not doing things.  Some social situations even devolve into contests for who can complain the loudest or the most creatively.  We have to be so careful to say things that are politically correct so we don’t hurt someone’s feelings with a mean joke.  We have allowed ourselves to become stupid, soft, and weak by being a bunch of wimps.

Do you often postpone tasks and make excuses for not doing them? I did with my weekly blog post I neglected this weekend.  Do your coworkers complain about the tools or conditions at work, yet do nothing to improve them?  Are your neighbours bitterly lamenting Winter, despite choosing to live in a Northern country like Canada?  If you’re feeling unmotivated, or unhappy about life, maybe the reason things suck so much is that there’s a lot of complaining and choosing to be miserable, with very little disciplined work at improving things.  We all need to harden the fuck up!

Voluntary Discomfort

One Stoic technique for living a better life is voluntary discomfort.  Take opportunities to expose yourself to mildly unpleasant experiences when convenient.  It will do you good in several ways.  Firstly, it expands your comfort zone.  For example, even if you can afford better food, eat something simple like a bowl of mac & cheese for dinner on Fridays.  Or skip the beer with lunch with your coworkers.  Don’t forget what it’s like to live a simpler life.  If you can enjoy a simple meal regularly, you gain a greater appreciation for the much better food you enjoy other days.  It also frees you from worry that if hard times were to come, you wouldn’t be so unhappy without the bottle of wine or other luxuries you might enjoy during good times.

Secondly, intentionally and habitually pursuing voluntary discomfort can help you improve your skills and abilities.   Personally, I want to be in good shape, but I hate gyms.  Making time for physical exercise is a bit irritating, and the idea of paying fees to lift useless weights annoys me.  However, I do work on the 3rd floor of my office.  Most people take the elevator.  I counted 56 stairs to my floor, which I have an opportunity to walk four times per day (going up when I get in, down when I leave, and twice up and down at lunchtime).  That’s 224 stairs per day, or 1120 per five day work week.  If I work 250 days per year, that’s 56,000 stairs per year.  I’ve heard that some people pay for exercise classes that involve stair climbing so they can be healthier.  At my office it’s free.  I’ve even convinced a few coworkers to join me.

Physical exercise is so cheap and such a weak point in my own mental realm, I decided it’d be easy to add even more mildly uncomfortable physical activities to my life.  This summer I started running.  I’m a terrible runner.  I’m slow, I often make excuses for not going, and I’m easily distracted by wildlife.  But I started running anyway.  It only costs as much as a pair of shoes.  Progress is slow and erratic because I can’t keep a schedule, but every once and a while I go for a run.  I try to make up for my lack of discipline by treating it as stochastic exercise – random workouts of varying lengths and intensities.  If I’m angry I might go for a short fast run.  Last week I was sick.  I had been coughing for weeks and really wanted to get rid of it.  I joined my brother’s wife for a 10k run (she’s training for a marathon).  Even though I never trained to run that far, and it really sucked while doing it, I did okay.  Maybe people do a lot of believing what they think they can do, or what others think they can do, rather than just trying stuff to find out what they’re actually capable of.

I also dislike doing push-ups, so I joined a karate dojo with a friend.  It’s acceptably non-gym-like.  Any gym with a samurai sword earns some points with me regardless.  My friend and I keep each other motivated to go once a week.  Not exactly the fast track to black belt, but it forces me to do yet another thing I find mildly unpleasant, but like the results of.  When I started, doing 10 push-ups was quite difficult.  Barely two months later, just 10 classes, and now I can do 40 push-ups. My instructor claims that as a young man, he made a goal to do 1000 push-ups.  He did it after working toward the goal for two years. As a side note, he overdid it and wrecked his shoulder.  Don’t do 1000 push-ups.  There are safer, more reasonable goals.  Just remember that most achievements are feats of discipline, not genius, talent, or unnatural ability.  Anyone can learn discipline. Want to accomplish something? Harden the fuck up!


About Zeno

Zeno is an engineering graduate, currently working as software developer in Canada. The alias was adopted in honour of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoic philosophy in ancient Greece.
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