When you contemplate the idea of toughness, what comes to mind? The existing model that has become ubiquitous in today’s world is this notion of pushing through adversities of extremes—forcing ourselves to endure pain and hardships. As a result, we achieve thick skin; calluses that form into resiliency to endure life’s other hardships. It’s this idea of bravado and masochism persevering; someone that exudes bombastic energy with bold self-confidence.
In Steve Magness’ new book, Do Hard Things, he deduces that this old, time-worn model of toughness hasn’t worked; that our model for existing toughness or what Steve describes as, “bulldozing through” oftentimes, “leads to a worse outcome.” Do Hard Things tasks us with re-thinking the ingrained ideas we have about the traditional model of toughness, while at the same time, providing us with the mental tools to develop real toughness. What I mean by real toughness is the confidence that will equip us to not only do hard things that challenge us and help us grow, but to enjoy the process of engaging in difficult projects, athletic challenges, or conversations, all of which will help us become better, happier people.
Magness argues toughness is:
[about] making the pull for closure amid uncertainty work for you, not against you. It’s training the mind to handle uncertainty long enough so that you can nudge or guide your response in the right direction. To create space so that you don’t jump straight from unease to the quickest possible solution, but to the [correct] one.
Before we dive into the review, I want to digress for a moment and preface that I’ve been a fan of Steve Magness’ work for ~3 years now (alongside co-author Brad Stulberg). In 2019 when I was training for the NYC marathon, my coach and elite runner Kate Gustafson recommended that I read The Passion Paradox and sign up for the Peak Performance newsletter (which is now called The Growth Equation). She simply said, “read this book and subscribe to this newsletter—it’s a good one.” I’m so glad I followed her advice and did both. Ever since then, you could say I’ve become a frequent flier—I’ve devoured almost every piece of content that Steve and Brad have released including their books, blog posts, podcasts, and interviews. I even joined their Patreon community to get early access to their content and of course, to support their work. My own writing and training principles have been highly influenced by both Steve and Brad. In a way, they’ve both been mentors to me.
With that in mind, I of course had high expectations going into this book and spoiler alert: Do Hard Things far exceeded my expectations.
Structure & Style
After a brief preface of the old model of toughness—where we went wrong, and why it hasn’t been effective in developing real resiliency—Magness breaks out what he calls the “four pillars of toughness.” Each chapter is devoted to a specific pillar in the cycle of toughness. His four pillars are broken out as follows:
- Pillar 1- Ditch the Façade, Embrace Reality
- Pillar 2- Listen to Your Body
- Pillar 3- Respond, Instead of React
- Pillar 4- Transcend Discomfort
Each chapter is chocked-full of interesting anecdotes (some personal, in-the-trenches experience), and the latest scientific discourse packaged in an engaging and digestible way. The structure is easy to follow and highly practical. Magness includes “toughness maxims” smattered throughout the book–short aphoristic-style phrases that pack a punch and resonate deeply. Magness uses a combination of his own experience as a running coach, interviews with elite athletes, and interesting scientific studies to provide a cohesive narrative and strong argument on what real toughness is and how each one of us can harness the tools to Do Hard Things.
We all face adversity in our lives—some more than others. Some of us are born into privilege and some not. However, the roadmap we were given to overcome life’s challenges and tribulations is oftentimes not grounded in reality. In Do Hard Things, Magness not only argues why the old model is broken, but also presents us with a new roadmap; a guide to develop real resiliency, real confidence, and to live a healthier, happier life.
These principles are perennial—we can return to the strategies in this book over and over again. This isn’t a book to be inhaled or “sped read.” Do Hard Things is something to be enjoyed slowly. Bestselling author and professor, Adam Grant writes, “Speed reading is a way to consume more content while gaining less insight. The faster you digest, the less you grasp. A great book should be savored like a gourmet meal, not inhaled like fast food.” Do Hard Things is, indeed, a gourmet meal. Read slow, and enjoy 🙂
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