Do Hard Things by Steve Magness

Subtitle: Redefining Toughness (Introductory Mini-Blog)

Posted on August 27th, 2022

By Olivia Baker

What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of toughness? Is it the big screen action hero from your generation—maybe Chuck Norris, Vin Diesel, or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson? Perhaps it's your favorite star of a high contact sport—Mike Tyson, Ronda Rousey, Aaron Donald? Could it be a fictional superhero (or villain)—The Hulk, Superman, Thor? The image of all of these people and characters that exists in the public eye perpetuates a definition of toughness that revolves around brute strength, fearing nothing, showing little emotional reaction, and hiding all signs of vulnerability and is overwhelmingly tied to masculinity and machismo as well. However, in his introduction, Magness claims that we have it all wrong and that this definition confuses the appearance of toughness with the actual possession of it (pg#22). In his view, real toughness involves leaning into discomfort and all that comes with it and creating space to take thoughtful action (pg#28).

In the same way that reimagining the definition of words like "grit" and "outlier" throughout the course of this year has given us a new perspective and made us think twice about the way we view the world; I think that this book has the potential to do the same with our definition of "toughness". Plus, Steve Magness is an author who has may ties to the track and field world both as an athlete (formerly) and as a coach (currently) of collegiate and Olympic level athletes, so I expect many of his anecdotes to be relatable to the running community. In all, I chose this book because I believe that the perspective shared here will be fascinating but also challenge the viewpoint of most readers in some regard leaving us with a scintillating discussion and practical take home advice to accomplish our greatest ambitions.

Discussion Questions:

1. What is the first image that comes to your mind when you think of "toughness" (be honest!)?

2. As you read the introduction and reflect on what toughness means to you beyond that initial image, who comes to mind?



Subtitle: On Confidence, Mini-blog #1

Posted on September 6th, 2022

By Olivia Baker

From where do you derive your confidence? I asked myself this question a lot in 2021 as I struggled through one of the worst years of my professional running career. The answer certainly wasn't in my performances. I had been running a solid 3 seconds slower than I needed to be running to make the US team at best. By the time the Olympic Trials rolled around, I had decided to fall back on an old piece of advice that I had once known as old reliable, "Fake it till you make it." I believed that I belonged with the best in the United States at 800m and though my fitness wasn't showing it at the time, I decided to pretend that it was. In the first round I ran out to the front of the field, leading the greater part of the race through 500m and exuding confidence I didn't possess. However, shortly thereafter, the reality of my lacking fitness set in and I struggled across the finish line in 2nd to last place, missing out on advancing to the next round and going home devastated.

When we talk a big game and never address our insecurities or doubts, it's all about the appearance of belief and when push comes to shove, this external variety of confidence fails. True confidence has to be founded in reality (pg#96, paraphrased). This is the argument regarding confidence, and ultimately toughness that Magness makes in Part 1 of his book: Ditch the Façade, Embrace Reality. Wherever our confidence comes from, it must ultimately be rooted in the reality of the situation. Now when I step to the line for a race, rather than "fake it till you make it", I tell myself "Run your best with the fitness you have". Perhaps not as catchy of a line, but repeating it forces me to assess where I am in my fitness and encourages me to gauge my effort properly and get the most out of myself on the given day regardless of who I'm lining up against. As a result, I've been one of the most consistent 800m runners in the world this season, logging 8 races under 2 minutes so far this year. So this week, let's all do a reality check and prepare ourselves to place our confidence in the right places for our upcoming tasks.

Discussion Questions:

1. What is the motto you tell yourself before a performance to give yourself confidence?

2. Outside of maximal performance, in what other ways can having a firm grip on reality help you accomplish a task?



Subtitle: The Good Nerves, Mini-blog #2

Posted on September 15th, 2022

By Olivia Baker

The worst part of competitive running is the 2 hours right before a race begins. I can't eat anything because my stomach is filled with butterflies. I stand up then sit down then stand up again and repeat before my warm-up even begins because I can't keep still. My fingers tingle, my hands shake, my mind is unable to focus on anything outside of the multitude of outcomes possible in the upcoming race, and every time I happen to touch my face my jaw is subconsciously clenched with tension. I cycle through feeling really anxious and then feeling exhausted by that anxiety to the point at which by the time I reach the starting line, I could just as easily both lay down and nap as run a race. My body is filled with a range of conflicting signals that leave me in a general state of discomfort but yet are all somehow necessary for me to perform at my best when the gun goes off. We've all known some variation of this uncomfortable feeling at some point. It is the body's interoceptive response to environments that make us nervous.

As Magness describes in part 2 of his book, the interoceptive system provides an overview of the homeostatic function of the entire body by using feelings and sensations to communicate the data of our internal status to our conscious self (pg# 172, paraphrased). The traditional view of toughness would tell us to ignore these feelings and push forward no matter what, but Magness suggests a more nuanced approach. An ability to read and discern our inner world [interoceptive system] gives us flexibility to respond in a more productive manner [than just pushing through] (pg#188-189). Part of taking my running from the collegiate to professional level has involved working with a sports psychologist to learn how to read the signals my interoceptive system sends and assign them in productive ways. While I am still a work in progress, nowadays when I feel the butterflies in my stomach, fingers tingling, and adrenaline rushing through my veins, I call them "the good nerves" that will propel me to perform better in race situations than I ever have in practice. When my mind starts to fill with race outcomes, I block them out and redirect them from the future to the present which is in my control. And as I stand on the line, squirming with unease, I think about it as all the passion I have for this sport fueling me and I'm grateful to have something I care about so deeply that drives me in this way. Next time you feel nervous or anxious, I encourage you to take a moment to articulate what you are feeling and then try to reframe it to your benefit.

Discussion Questions:

1. What are the life situations that make you most nervous? How do you cope with those nerves?

2. What nervous responses would you most like to reframe?


Subtitle: Embrace Your Inner Voice, Mini-blog #3

Posted on September 22nd, 2022

By Olivia Baker

In one of the more shocking (pun intended) research studies in this book—and there are quite a few of them that involve the use of shocks—when given the option to sit at a table for 15 minutes or painfully shock themselves to pass the time, 25% of women and 67% of men chose to inflict physical pain upon themselves rather than sit with their thoughts (pg#256). Gender differences aside, it is unfathomable to think that people would rather feel physical pain to distract themselves than sit with their thoughts for 15 minutes. However, in a world where we are immersed in the constant presence of screens and software is designed to serve bite sized pieces of entertainment to us whenever we want it, it's no wonder we prefer distractions, even physical pain, to sitting with an inner voice that grows more foreign to us by the day. We rarely spend time inside our head unless we are forced to do so under stress and even then, the traditional view of toughness teaches us to ignore those thoughts and emotions and power through the task at hand. The fact of the matter is that most of us are unprepared to cope with those inner thoughts in stressful situations yet doing just that is vital to high performance.

When confronted with pain, grief, stress, pressure, etc. the voices in our head are amplified and the likelihood of emotionally spiraling increases. Fortunately, by simply embracing boredom as Magness says, we can begin to become more attuned to this voice. We can start by noticing (pg# 262) the thoughts and feelings we have as we sit in a space with minimal distractions. Then we can progress to turning the dial (pg#263), deliberately increasing or decreasing the volume of the voices we hear when we are not under stress. Finally, we can practice having a calm conversation (pg#269) with ourselves to actively direct us towards thoughts that are productive to our response to the situation and ignore those that aren't. By embracing our inner voice in times of calm, we can be prepared to respond rather than react under stress to perform at our best. So this week, when you are in line at a store, waiting for the bus, out taking a walk, or just passing some time, resist the urge to pick up your phone. Spend more time looking up than looking down and getting to know that inner voice.

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you think you would have shocked yourself (even just out of curiosity) in the aforementioned experiment?

2. What are some points in the day in which you could spend some time getting acquainted with your inner voice?


Subtitle: Revisiting Traditional Toughness (Mini-Blog #4)

Posted on September 29th, 2022

By Olivia Baker

I've mentioned toughness here and there throughout my blogs to this point, but I think it's about time I address it directly. The book is called Do Hard Things but it very well could have had a title surrounding around what it truly means to be tough as Magness addresses accomplishing hard feats through the lens of embracing the reality of toughness rather than the traditional image of it. So as we wrap up this book, here are a few of the ways that a newer understanding of toughness shifts us away from that traditional view and can benefit us in our most difficult pursuits.

Toughness is NOT…

Toughness is…

· Associated with an external image. Often times, we link toughness with people who are physically strong, exude confidence, and show little emotional response or vulnerability. These people may or may not be tough.

· On the inside. It has no external shape, size, or color. Rather, it is defined primarily by an ability to read and respond to one's internal state and adapt it to the reality of a given situation.

· Powering through no matter the cost. When it comes to striving for success, we often focus all our energy on the persistence part of the equation (pg#335), but such a strategy creates an all-or-nothing pursuit of our goals.

· Knowing when to push and when to redirect to another goal. Tough people are capable of both persistence and reengagement. When it's not their day at the competition, they are able to shift to other goals that would help them get the most out of their performance on the day.

· Ignoring feelings and emotions. Bulldozing our emotions and grinding through is an avoidance strategy that is at best not very smart and at worst can put us in physical danger by missing the body's warning signs.

· Responding to feelings and emotions. Real toughness is experiencing discomfort, leaning in, and creating space to take thoughtful action (pg#28).

· Extrinsic motivation. Money, fame, and even good performances only motivate in the short term and aren't relatively strong motivators at that.

· Intrinsic motivation. PURPOSE is the fuel that allows you to be tough (pg#370) and nothing can take that away from you.


All that being said, it is clear that the majority of an individual's toughness exists internally. Motivation, persistence, emotional intelligence, self-efficacy—these are all things that we experience internally. Certainly, external rewards like money and strong performances can motivate us and give us confidence along the way, but only in the short term. In order to have long term success—and part of toughness involves enduring for the long haul—we have to spend time caring for and working to strengthen our inner environment. For as much time as we spend physically preparing for that next big task, let us take just as much time to embrace reality, listen to our bodies, learn to respond rather than react, and find purpose in our tasks to truly become tough.

Discussion Questions:

1. What is your biggest takeaway from this book?

2. What other ways has your definition of toughness changed since reading Do Hard Things?

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