You Can Do Hard Things 💪


In this episode we dive deeper into one of my favorite mantras, “I Can Do Hard Things” to explain how to shift your mindset to embrace challenges in running and life.

You Can Do Hard Things!

I started hearing versions of the message “you can do hard things” just over a year ago and it’s really something that has impacted my life. I think it started with reading David Goggin’s book Can’t Hurt Me last summer.

Before that hard things seemed like an unnecessary evil, like something to be avoided or complained about if they were unavoidable. But we cause ourselves so much stress trying to avoid hard things and hard emotions and that reduces the amount of resilience that we have.

Here are some ways that you can start embracing the notion that you can do hard things.

1. Choose the right kind of hard

There is so much hard stuff in life that we don’t choose so maybe it seems masochistic to embrace optional hard things. But research shows that too many comforts can actually make us less healthy.

Here are some examples of the good kind of hard:

  • It’s hard to get in shape and exercise regularly. Also hard: to be stuck in an out of shape body that doesn’t function or perform well for you.
  • It’s hard to pursue running goals. But it’s also hard to feel like you’re not challenging yourself and living up to your potential.
  • It’s hard to make healthy eating a priority given how many highly processed and taste enhanced foods there are. But it’s also hard to eat junk most of the time and suffer from low energy and poor body composition.
  • It’s hard to clear clutter and organize your space. But it’s also hard to live in a messy, disorganized area.
  • It’s hard to set boundaries and have difficult conversations. But it’s hard to live with inauthentic relationships that suck the life out of you.
  • It’s hard to get on a budget and pay off debt. But it’s also hard to feel the weight of imbalanced finances.
  • It’s hard to get outside your comfort zone. But it’s also hard to ignore the voice that tells you that you were meant for something more.

Pro runner Gabe Grunewald, who died from a rare form of cancer at age 32, said,

“Sometimes you get to choose your battles and sometimes they choose you.”

When it comes time to choose hard things, choose the hard things that will make you stronger and braver.

2. Build up tolerance for discomfort

By purposefully doing hard things, things that take you outside your comfort zone, you can train your body and mind to be more resilient. This doesn’t mean that you ignore hard things or purposely make a mess of things to feel more discomfort.

Maybe this means going for that run when you don’t feel motivated. It could involve pushing yourself to get stronger by lifting weights regularly. It could involve taking cold showers to better tone your parasympathetic nervous system. It could be running in the heat and humidity. It could be pushing yourself to get faster even though you don’t know if it will pay off.

When we’re in the midst of discomfort the brain is going to be trying to get you to reverse course, to get back to comfort and homeostasis. It’s like the Central Governor Theory that Dr. Tim Noakes talks about. Your mind may be coming up with all kinds of negativity from the banal “this is boring” to the catastrophic “you’re going to die.”

To build resilience and tolerance for discomfort you can stop that stream of consciousness when you recognize it. You can say, “Yes, this is tough. But I’m getting stronger and can handle this hill.”

If you do this enough over time you may even start to enjoy running hills or at least look forward to the challenge. With running there’s a big mental component (believing you can do it) to go with the physical effort (being able to tolerate discomfort). 

3. Remember that failure is part of the path to success and goal achievement

Everyone who has ever accomplished anything significant has had to deal with self doubt and failure. But it’s easy just to focus on the wins and not realize how tough the path to success was.

One of my favorite quotes is by the American president Teddy Rosevelt called Man in the Arena,

“ . . . and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

We have that quote hanging in the hallway of our home, as a reminder that to fail is a good indication that we’re trying. In our social media driven world it’s far easier to be a critic and tear down other people’s accomplishments rather than walking a mile in their shoes.

I also love this quote by Jocko Willink, a former Navy SEAL, who is also an author, speaker, and business owner. It’s a bit lengthy but very well said.

4. Courage is contagious

When you’re choosing hard things, building up tolerance for discomfort, and not quitting when you fail people will notice. In her book Rising Strong Brene Brown says,

“Rising strong changes not only you but also the people around you. To bear witness to the human potential for transformation through vulnerability, courage and tenacity can be either a clarion call for more daring or a painful mirror for those of us stuck in the aftermath of the fall, unwilling or unable to own our stories. Your experience can profoundly affect the people around you, whether you’re aware of it or not.”

I like to read memoirs of people who share the ups and downs on the road to success. There are some great books and podcasts out there about courageous people. Some of my favorites include:

Gaining resilience and courage is not about making ourselves miserable and uncomfortable 24/7. Instead it’s about increasing the range of our stress tolerance. When we gain more control over our responses and emotions we can become calmer and more centered people.

Musician Morgan Harper Nichols says, “Bravery is the audacity to be unhindered by failures, and to walk with freedom, strength, and hope, in the face of the things unknown.”

There are a lot of unknowns in our world right now. But we can be mindfully working to become stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate people.

YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS! 💪

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2 Responses to You Can Do Hard Things 💪

  1. Deanna July 18, 2020 at 8:08 am #

    I have been a long time listener of your podcast and enjoy your banter, resources and encouragement. 1 year ago I started a run streak goal for a minimum 1 mile a day. I am proud today to say after a failed attempt I completed this goal with 807 miles run in the last year. The day before I met this goal your most recent podcast “you can do hard things” was released at the most perfect time. I related so much to Angie talking about running hills. I recently moved to a new area where hill repeats an everyday inconvenience. Until today, I have given in to the hard thoughts going up the “mother of all hills” behind my house, however, your podcast and in “celebration” of the 1 year run streak I ran the entire .5 mile with 400 feet of elevation gain mile to the top of the hill using the mantra “I can do hard things”. Keep up the great work. Thank you Angie and Trevor!

    • Angie Spencer July 18, 2020 at 12:07 pm #

      Hi Deanna, Thanks for being a long time listener! Congratulations on finishing out your year long running streak by conquering that monster hill. I’m sure that was a huge boost both mentally and physically. Keep up the awesome work 🙂

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