“Hard times create strong men,
Strong men create good times,
Good times create weak men,
Weak men create hard times.”
Look to the past to determine your future
The extraordinary historian Will Durant observed that nations often come to power embodying Stoic principles (self-reliance, pragmatism, grit) and collapse when they start to act like Epicureans (pleasure seeking, decadent, craving luxury). Dan Carlin calls this the ‘steel toe-capped boots/silk slippers’ theory of history.
I think we’re firmly in the ‘weak men/hard times’ part of the cycle.
One of my greatest beliefs is that we can learn about ourselves by examining the past and trying to apply its lessons. History proves that we stand the best chance of achieving all we want to achieve in this life by deliberately making things hard for ourselves.
Putting yourself in the furnace
That seems counter-intuitive. But we’ve got to try and forge ourselves somehow – and a soft, easy-going environment, where everything is available at the touch of a button, is never going to do that. Unfortunately, that’s the life most people (including myself) now lead. An easy life.
That’s not enough to fulfil us. We need adversity. We need challenge. We need heat. We need pressure. Otherwise we get soft and weak – incapable of getting things done, or making hard decisions.
Theodore Roosevelt threw himself into physical challenges, pushing further and further past his limits, to deal with emotional trauma – and strengthen his will. After losing his bid for a third term at the Presidency, he was plunged into a deep depression. He kicked it by trekking the Amazon, nearly dying in the process – but in a much better place mentally. (River of Doubt is an incredible piece of narrative non fiction, documenting this epic voyage).
Of course, you don’t need to go to the ends of the earth to make things harder for yourself. We’ve got the means to make ourselves stronger right at our fingertips.
Three ways to strengthen your resolve:
- Strenuous physical exercise. Get out of your mind and into your body. Choose your poison: you don’t need an expensive gym membership. Pull-ups, push-ups, burpees, hill sprints. Run when it’s cold, when it’s raining – just push a little harder. Write down your workouts, and try to do a little more each and every session. With every rep, you’ll grow stronger, physically and mentally. Exercise leaves no room for your excuses – as Henry Rollins says, ‘the iron never lies’.
- Take cold showers. This may sound like a bad idea. It probably sounds extremely uncomfortable to you. Good. That’s why we’re doing it. Resist the urge to turn the heat up, and slowly expose yourself to colder and colder water for longer. We shower pretty much every day – so this is a great way to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
- Set yourself a challenging quota – and never miss a deadline. The actual number doesn’t matter. Nor does the task. The important thing is attaching some quantifiable measure to whatever you’re trying to do. That way you’ll know when you’re done. Whether that’s 500 words a day, 30 minutes of guitar practice, 5 cold calls to try and generate new business, or anything else. It doesn’t matter how good it is – it matters that you get it done, no matter how you feel. You just need a box to tick or a stopwatch to work to. That’s what I’m trying to do by committing to a blog post a day. We’ve got to be harsh taskmasters for ourselves – nobody else will be.