Canadian Running

Do Hard Things

Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness

- By Steve Magness HarperOne, 2022 Madeleine Kelly, who lives in Hamilton, is a two-time national champion in the 800m. She competed in the event at the Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 World Athletics Championsh­ips.

“If it were easy, everyone would do it.” That adage reminds us that it takes a lot to perform a difficult task—whether that be running a marathon or speaking in public. Or any other activity that requires us to be tough. Steve Magness’s latest book, Do Hard Things, however, asserts that we should relearn the traditiona­l view of toughness.

Through stories of combative sports coaches, athletes, the wisdom of psychology and research studies, Magness shows how the “old” view of toughness (overcoming obstacles through self-discipline and stoicism and making quitting taboo) is damaging to humans, both physically and mentally. He goes on to explain that, to become truly tough, we need tools and skills to navigate adversity.

Do Hard Things is an entertaini­ng read. The introducti­on explains why the traditiona­l approach is all wrong; Magness then presents four pillars of toughness, discussing each in turn: embracing our reality, listening to our bodies, responding instead of reaching and transcendi­ng discomfort. He includes exercises and visualizat­ions throughout to help us relearn what it means to be tough.

He uses numerous running examples, but asserts that relearning toughness isn’t just for athletes. Whether you’re a runner, a chef or a CEO, you’ll learn something about overcoming adversity from this book. “Being tough … is attainable to all.”— Brooke Smith my form got sloppy and aggravated the hip impingemen­t I’ve had on-and-off this build. At halfway it was hurting, and by 16 [miles] it was clear there was no way I could keep running without really injuring myself. So I made the decision to drop out.” No one would call this woman weak—this is a great example of a smart decision by an experience­d athlete (and very gutsy racer) with a focus on consistenc­y and longevity.

When things begin to feel challengin­g during a run or workout, focus on what you can control: drop your shoulders, release the tension in your body, observe your breath and remind yourself that heavy legs are expected and not to be feared.

Finally, make your training schedule work with your life. Not a morning person? Don’t force yourself to become one; run after work instead. Do you prefer training when it’s a social activity? Find a running group or buddy to work out with. Even if this person runs at a different pace than you, having a scheduled date and a partner, even if only for a few minutes, can make a world of difference to your motivation.

“Knowing in the moment if you’re being tough or stupid is one of the biggest challenges in training”

You are at your toughest when it’s quiet and you’re able to make a decision that feels right

Mind and body work together

“You are at your toughest when your mind and body are working together,” says Magness. So make that synergy a priority. Prioritizi­ng mental well-being can seem antithetic­al to our notion of toughness, but when it’s reframed as focus, it makes more sense. Toughness in a classical sense can lead people to push things down, block things out. But its strongest applicatio­n, through sound mind and body, involves listening and paying attention. You are at your toughest when it’s quiet and you’re able to make a decision that feels right. This is true in a running race, but also for any difficult life decision. Toughness isn’t achieved by barrelling through; it’s found with focus, considerat­ion and, to some extent, intuition.

For years I felt like I was short on toughness—like it was a gene that others had, but that I couldn’t develop. What I’ve learned is that I had plenty of toughness; what I lacked was focus. Toughness is found by focusing on what your mind and body are feeling, and allowing them to work in harmony, rather than in opposition.

Toughness has nothing to do with blood, sweat, tears and broken bones. It turns out we’re toughest when we’re clear-headed and calm. (And sometimes, depending on the circumstan­ces, a little sweaty.)

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