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Have we been thinking about real toughness the wrong way? How can we reliably and practically build our resilience beyond “just pushing through” to overcome challenges? These are the questions Steve Hall explores in his latest book, Do Hard Things, and it’s what we talk about in this interview. 

This book is Steve’s attempt to help athletes, parents, business leaders, and everyone in between navigate life’s difficult moments. Gritting your teeth and pushing through the pain aren’t always the best approaches, and Steve has explored the science and psychology behind real resilience and shares it in this book. He provides a roadmap for dealing with life’s challenges and achieving high performance that makes us happier, more successful, and better people.

In case you’re not familiar with Steve, he’s a performance scientist and expert who coaches both Olympic athletes and executives. He’s also the author of many books, including Peak Performance (with Brad Stulberg), The Passion Paradox, and The Science of Running. All this is why he’s been on my podcast before, and why I was excited to have him back on.

In our discussion, we chat about . . .

  • Being creative, writing books, and boredom
  • Misattribution of physiological signals
  • How to change negative self talk and “create space”
  • Why you should do hard things to cultivate inner strength
  • Balancing doing hard things with recovery
  • And more . . .

So if you’re interested in flipping the script on what it means to be resilient, you don’t want to miss this interview!


0:00 – The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation:

4:35 – Do you like to work on one project at a time or several projects?

6:56 – What are your thoughts on doing creative work when you’re bored?

11:10 – What are some tips for getting into the creative mindset? 

16:47 – Why did you want to write a book on this topic?

20:30 – What are some of the tools to handle life’s challenges?

31:56 – Can you give us examples of how you can change negative self talk to positive?

40:42 – What are your thoughts on doing hard things and experiencing discomfort?

45:14 – What are your thoughts on balancing relaxation and doing hard things?

59:20 – Where can we find you and your work?  

Mentioned on the show: 

The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation is a bestselling fitness book that helps you overcome the mental blocks that are keeping you unmotivated, unhappy, and unhealthy:

Do Hard Things:

Steve’s Website:

Steve’s Twitter:

Steve’s Instagram:

What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


Mike: I am Mike Matthews, and this is muscle for life. Thank you for joining me today for a discussion about toughness, about resilience, grit, the ability to push through difficulties, overcome challenges and achieve goals. And my guest for today is Steve Magnus who explores these topics in his newest book, do hard things.

Now, this book is the result of Steve’s exploration of the science and practical psychology of navigating. Difficult moments and gritting your teeth and pushing through the pain is not always the best approach. Yes, sometimes that is what we have to do. Sometimes there is no other way, but often there are other strategies we can use to not only get better results, but get them at a lower personal cost.

I guess you could say. And in case you are not familiar. Steve. He is a performance scientist and expert who works with Olympic athletes and high level executives. And Steve is also the author of several books, including peak performance, which I reviewed some time ago here on the podcast. I really liked the book and shared it in a book club episode.

Steve has also written a book called the passion paradox as well as the science of running. And he’s been on the podcast before. And so I was excited to have him back on to talk about his newest book, do hard things and some of the material in the book, including how we sabotage ourselves by misinterpreting physiological signals and through negative self talk and what we can do to counter these unhealthy habits.

Steve also talks about cultivating inner strength. And how doing hard things the right way helps accomplish that. Steve and I also talk about the importance of balancing, doing hard things with recovering, and that applies to both the body and the mind and more. Before we get to it. If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast.

And if you wanna hear my usings on mastering the inner game of getting fit so you can reach your fitness goals faster. Check out my book, the little black book of workout, motivation in it. I share wisdom and insights from hundreds of scientific studies and scores of legendary artists, authors, entrepreneurs, philosophers, generals, and conquerors, as well as my own biggest aha moments that have helped me overcome the things that were most holding me back.

Here’s a little sneak peek of what you’ll find inside. The easiest way to instantly increase your willpower and self-control in any situation, no matter how you feel in the moment, three science based psychological tricks, you can use to stay strong. During moments of temptation, a simple 10 minute technique for beating procrastination and skyrocketing productivity.

How to stop telling yourself I’ll be happy when and find immediate joy and satisfaction, right? Where you are. The 40% rule that Navy seals use to dig deep and screw up their courage when they need it most and more. And all that is why I’ve sold over 60,000 copies of the little black book and why it has over 1004 and five star reviews on Amazon.

And you can find the little black book of workout motivation on all major online retailers like audible, Amazon iTunes, Cobo, and Google play. Hey Steve, thanks for taking your time to 

Steve: do this. Yeah, thanks a lot. I’m excited to have this conversation. 

Mike: Same. Yeah, that was, I was just saying offline. I really liked your previous book peak performance which you wrote with Brad Stolberg and I recently had Brad on the show to talk about his newest book.

And so I wanted to get you on to hear about your newest book, which you coauthored with Brad as well. 

Steve: So this one was actually solo. Oh, okay. 

Mike: What did I see wrong? I saw something wrong. 

Steve: I wouldn’t be surprised because we call each other, even though we do it solo, we work in tandem on all of these things.

So we consider both of our books, even though for the publishing’s sake, we just did ’em alone. Yeah. 

Mike: Yeah, no, I understand. I Just random question. Do you like to work on one project at a time or do you like to work on a couple of projects? 

Steve: Yeah, so what I would say is I have one major project at a time, but then I have a bunch of stuff in the background where.

I’m like dabbling, it serves as the break or the, especially in the writing process when you’re just like, I’ve read this page, like 25 times, I’m sick and tired of editing or writing more on it. I need a break. And that’s where I just go to other projects. Yeah. 

Mike: Yeah. I like to do the same thing.

There’s that point of editing fatigue, so to speak but then there’s also kind of topic fatigue, right? Where for me, after three or four hours of immersing myself in one thing, it’s just nice. Sure. We could just keep on grinding, but I find the quality of the work goes down and then you have more editing to do now.

So are you really getting ahead or is it actually more productive to put that work away and just go do something else? Anything else? And then come back to, the main project when you are reinvigorated to some degree. 

Steve: Absolutely. I’m so glad you brought that up because that resonates completely because the thing we often are told to do is just sit down and just grind through it until you’ve hit some number of pages or have done so much work.

But the reality is the quality suffers after a while. And it’s not just editing or writing, it is literally spending that amount of time with your brain focused on the singular topic. And I always know when it’s time to walk away because I’m like, you go from like clarity to just a bunch of mush, and it’s just I’ve gotta do something else. I gotta give some my brain something else to focus on that is completely different before I can, make sense of this again. I also think 

Mike: It’s. Good to do creative work when you are thoroughly bored okay you’ve started off with a lot of interest and you’ve worked on it.

You’ve worked on it. You’ve worked on it’s hours. Now I’ve gone by and you are just bored with it. And you, and I find that maybe it’s just a consequence of the English language and the amount of nuance and connotation that the emotional state you’re in. When you do creative work, when you write, it seems to manifest in subtle ways.

Don’t you 

Steve: think? Oh, absolutely. Like it’s 

Mike: hard to get people excited about something when you are just grinding through it and really not having a good time at all. 

Steve: Yeah, no, I agree completely. I think that’s where you have to separate out your creative work and almost create blocks for it. In my own writing, I write in the mornings especially because that is when I’m most fresh.

And for me personally, like it comes, 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the afternoon. If I try and write, it’s gonna be miserable. And if I’m having a miserable experience doing it, then the writing’s not gonna be of quality. And in like the reader can come across, like they pick that up. You can tell when an author is like excited about the work they’re doing versus just like trying to get through and fill that page and get to the.

Yeah, I’m 

Mike: the same way I like to do my creative work early earlier the better. And I’ve played around with different routines, something that I’ve found probably a little bit helpful. It’s hard to quantify exactly. But I believe in it enough to keep doing it is I like to also do so I do 30 minutes of just in cardio.

Every day I hop on the bike that’s behind me and I’ve done it at different times. And sometimes I’m like, okay, I have to make phone calls, work calls, personal calls. I can just do that on the bike, five or six out of 10 of intensity. But considering. The research the, that, that shows the kind of boosting creativity that, that many people experience after doing some exercise so long, it’s not like completely beating the shit out of you.

And then experiencing that first hand, I’m like, okay, I think that, so my little routine is, I’ll wake up, do my simple little stuff in the morning, make some coffee. And then there’s maybe 20 minutes of scheduling some social media stuff for the day where I drink my coffee and then I hop on my bike and then I’ll either make a call or read.

Cause I read out my phone and because I’m not doing high intensity stuff it’s a little bit obnoxious to read when, but I can still do it. And I’m gonna do it anyway. So get that done and then have a good, solid few hours to do my creative work. And I’ve tried different things and I’ve settled on that just seems to be.

For me a very productive 

Steve: routine. Y we’re like routine buddies here because mine is very similar. Although mine’s not on a bike, although sometimes I do the same on the bike, but I will go for about a 30 to 40 minute easy run. Eh, cuz I’m a runner is my background, but it does the same thing.

It gives me an I, I like to think it gives me a little enough blood flow and enough, like whatever, just good chemicals, just good chemicals floating around so that it’s oh, I’m energized, I’m ready and can sit down and do the work. And I think that’s important. I think there’s also something, I don’t know, just something about, it’s almost like your brain after a while, identifies the routine, predicts the routine as oh, like we’re gonna go on this bike rider or this run and it’s gonna wake us up and then we’re gonna dive into this creative stuff and it’s almost like you’re priming your body to, to get the work done.



Mike: I think that there’s almost certainly something to that. If you just look at the different types of entrainments even eating at certain times of the day, that habituates the body. So that would make a lot of sense. 

Steve: Yeah, exactly. It’s amazing what we can do with just almost again, priming our brain and body to, to get ready to do what it is.

I, I look at it as what state are you trying to get in? And then how do you get in that state? And it’s no different than an athlete. Who’s about to, lift some weights or go run a race or, play baseball or whatever. It’s what state you’d wanna be in. And I take that same approach for our, my creative work for whatever my writing.

And I think that’s important. Is there anything else 

Mike: that you like to use or do to get into the creative work state? 

Steve: Yeah. So I, it depends on the day, but a lot of times I’ll use music as well to get me in the, especially if I’m kinda low, if for whatever reason, I’m a little low on energy or physiological arousal, I’ll use music to just kinda get me in the spot.

Right spot. The other thing that I think is really important is I think your environment, when you’re doing the creative work can almost like prime and invite action. So my environment for writing is I’ll have my laptop that I use, obviously, but on the side, I’ll have a notebook for like ideas and a scratch piece of paper.

Or I have a in my office, I have a whiteboard on the wall where it’s just like things that invite that like creative environment of doing the work and I’ll try and put my phone elsewhere or leave it out of the room or turn it off, like something where it, I’m not invited towards that other thing.

Mike: Or you don’t even see it. That’s important. E 

Steve: exactly. 

Mike: Even if it’s in your peripheral vision, it can 

Steve: distract you. Exactly. It’s almost like it’s their calling, especially when 

Mike: things start to get difficult, you’re you’re trying to work something out mentally. That’s when there’s just something in us, that wants to rabbit. It just wants to go off to the phone, go off to social media. 

Steve: It exactly. And the other thing that I is increasingly difficult or increasingly important for me is even when I’m writing is I try and separate out maybe the outlining and researching. So I have it done because if I don’t, what happens if I try and do both at once, then I’ll be drawn to where do you research?

You go look at stuff online and, Google around and all that stuff. And I’ll be drawn to like social media. So I try and do it where okay, I don’t even have to open up my, my browser and I’m not tempted to go look at those tabs and all that good stuff. 

Mike: Yeah. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

I like to do that type of stuff later in the day. Some days I don’t get to it because I have other business things I have to, but I if I can have it my way and I’m doing a lot of the work I like to do the most honestly there’s the creative stuff. The actual creation of things in the morning, and then in the afternoon is when I like to do research process notes from books, things that, yeah, you have to be.

Mentally present, but it’s just not the same as having to synthesize and write 

Steve: exactly. No, I’m right there with you. It’s I think it’s important, but that, that, again comes down to the awareness, understand when you can do certain types of work and I’m similar is I’ll do that note taking or that like research and stuff in the afternoon as well, often because my brain can handle that.

It can’t handle the creative stuff at that time. So identifying what works for you is super important for whatever pursuit you’re trying to master. Yeah. 

Mike: Something I’ve also had to really become more disciplined about is if I haven’t slept well, I find that trying to grind through that even to do the morning, try to stick to that same routine that we just discussed.

I find that it’s just not nearly as productive because 10 years ago it, I could sleep five hours and be like, oh, I guess I’m a little bit, whatever, now? At 38, it’s not the same. And so what I’ll do then is I’ll maybe do some editing. I find like that I can do decently if I’m not entirely there, but trying to work, trying to create from scratch.

When when I just have that fog of being under rested again, I can make something happen, but it takes a lot more time than it should. And it’s really just not a great use of. Yeah, age 

Steve: is undefeated. I mean it all it’s you can get away with stuff when you’re in the twenties. I feel the same way when I it’s a hard, a rough sleep night, you don’t have that energy.

Yeah. And now it’s oh, my pillow is a little bit off. 

Mike: Oh I feel like I fell out of, 10 fell off the 10 roof 

Steve: of a 10 story building. I know it’s crazy, but the way I look at it is it’s similar to physical pursuits. If you got one hour or you got a couple hours of sleep or whatever, have you, are you gonna go out and try and do the hardest workout you can?

Of course not because you would, it would backfire, like you’d be fatigued, your performance would suck, et cetera. So what do you do when you’re in that kind of bad state, you switch to easier workout. And that’s how I approach this too is, some days, yeah, I might have a hard workout, quote, unquote, scheduled for writing or what have you, but if I didn’t get sleep or some super stressful event came in and I can’t, do the, do my normal stuff and I’m not recovered enough to do it, you gotta pivot and that’s just part.

It’s kind of, it’s like a life 

Mike: puritization right. Push hard when you feel good and back off when you don’t and that’s that, that probably summarizes a lot of at least the puritization plan, the training periodization plan that, that most people need. Most people don’t need much more than that.

Steve: exactly. No, keep it simple. I love that life. Puritization that’s what it. Yeah. 

Mike: Yeah. Alright, so let’s segue now and talk about your newest book, do hard things. Yeah. I’m curious. Why did you want to write this book? Because this is a perennial topic. There are a lot of books out there on it.

And as someone who has written a few books, I, I know that there, there was something about this where you’re like here’s a message I want to get out. And nobody has. Said it the way I wanna say it or put it together. I, the way I want to put it together. So I’m curious, what was that for you?

Steve: Yeah, you’re spot on. And really, it was a culmination of a couple different things. Mostly, all the books we write are deeply personal to us. Like they’re things we’re struggling with are wrestling with ourselves. And I think in this one, I was seeing a lot of athletes I was working with was watching a lot of coaches, et cetera, fall into these traps of what I’d call like old school toughness is, which is oh, put your head down, grind through everything.

And then particularly the coaching world, I’d see people, I’d see really good coaches and be talking to them and they’d see an athlete underperform, and they’d just be like, ah, they’re not tough enough. And then they’d be like, oh, they’re a head. And to me, whenever we label someone as that, it’s okay, maybe that’s true.

Maybe it isn’t, but then what’s the, so what, like how do you help them get through this spot? It’s not just shrugging our shoulders and being like, oh, you’re not tough enough. Like, how do you help develop that mental skill and that skill set. And that’s really, again I’m, my books are aimed at problem solving.

So I’m like what does that really mean? And do we have the right conceptualization of what it means to be tough, resilient, gritty, et cetera. And, that’s what, that’s why I started down this path is I wanted to explore that to a deeper level and also branch out where it’s yes, sport, but I want to venture out way farther than that.

How do we handle things in life? How do we ha people handle difficult challenges and get on the other side of them? 

Mike: And then of course, the reason you wrote the book is you concluded. All right. We’ve been thinking about toughness incorrectly or there are some myths out there that just won’t go away, right?

Steve: Yeah, exactly. And that’s what it is. Like any it’s anytime you see something that pops up over and you’re like, oh, this, these are these myths that are just ingrained in our society. And I think with toughness, again, a lot of it is almost I’d call it like this old school model, which I’d say is the analogy I’d use is it is giving everybody a hammer for every problem they encounter and saying, just use this will work.

And that hammer means like bulldoze through it, ignore the experience or just fake your way through the difficult thing. For coaches and leaders, it means leading by control power or being a nor authoritarian like a dictator. And that’s how you develop. Toughness. And those things might work sometimes in some situations, but what you often see and what the research backs up is that you need a diversity of tools in your toolkit in order to handle life’s challenges.

So instead of just saying, Hey, here’s the hammer, let’s go bulldoze through things or knock things down. Let’s give people and develop the skills to be able to handle challenges and adversity and to, do difficult things in their life. 

Mike: And what are some of those tools? Okay. The Hammer’s one of them and we’ve all probably used it now.

And then there’s something in us that that admires people who have a big hammer and maybe that’s even biological in nature and won’t change. But what are some of these other 

Steve: tools? Yeah, so some of it is as well as, instead of just using the hammer is like learning to sit with and embrace the feeling of discomfort.

Which is, instead of seeing it as something to resist, to fight back against, oftentimes you can almost navigate the stress better. If you learn to say, you know what, I’m just gonna experience this. And by experiencing it, you’re just taking the power away from it. Couple other tools that, I discussed in the book is not ignoring your emotions, but learning how to speak their language.

And the example I like to give here is one from athletics, which is in sport. We often are forced to understand the nuance of the feelings and emotions we experience. Think of pain or fatigue, right? When you first got started. And when you first start working with an athlete, often time they feel a little bit of pain and they think, oh my gosh, I’m injured or I’m hurt.

Or this soreness means that I shouldn’t train anymore. When in reality, you’re just like, no, this is just the part of the process of breaking down and getting better. They don’t have the understanding to split apart pain versus injury. As we get experience, we know this little pain means, oh, this is just fatigue, or this is something I should watch because it’s a little out of the ordinary, but not that concerning versus, oh no, this means if I keep training, like I’m gonna be out for weeks or months and I should call it, call it a day and quit now, no matter what I’m doing.

And the same thing applies for just about every emotion we are feeling we experience from happiness to sadness, to loneliness, to all of them is the research is very clear, is if we can split apart and understand the nuance, then we can deal with the thing better. So instead of again, old school model of play through the pain, forget about what you’re experiencing or feeling is sometimes you need to sit with it, understand it, and speak that language to know, Hey, do I listen to this thing?

Or is it something that I can let float on by? Because it’s not a big deal? 

Mike: That makes me think of in dieting, something that is as similar as just learning that it’s okay to be hungry. Now, if you’re dieting correctly, you shouldn’t be starving maybe ever. But you are going to be hungry from time to time.

That’s a reliable indicator that you are restricting your calories and you can do things to mitigate that. But if you have to lose any significant amount of weight, no matter how picture perfect your meal plan is and your compliance, you’re gonna be hungry now and then, and that’s okay. I know that’s a breakthrough for many people to understand like, oh, I don’t have to always eat food just 

Steve: because I’m hungry.

Y that’s a brilliant example and I’ve never thought about that, but it’s spot on because what’s happening there. You experience a little bit of hunger. And your brain maybe initially immediately jumps to, oh my gosh, I’ve gotta close this gap. I’ve gotta get rid of this feeling. How do I do this?

I’ve gotta eat right now when the reality is right. A little bit of hunger is just something that. Maybe doesn’t signal that you should eat. Maybe it’s just saying, you know what, in the next couple hours I’ll probably should have something, but it doesn’t, I don’t need to fill this right now. And I think often in all aspects of life, whether we’re looking at physical pursuits or thing, feelings like hunger or other, stressful anxiety in invoking emotions, what happens is we treat it like that person who isn’t comfortable with being hungry.

We feel a little bit of that. We mistake it for a larger alarm as if we’re starving, when it’s really not. And part of toughness is. To turn that alarm down, to understand, oh, this is just a little bit of hunger. I don’t need to flip out and react to it. I can just, again, sit with it for a while and I’ll address it when it’s actually time, but this isn’t, this, isn’t a signal that tells me, Hey, you need to eat or consume or fill this gap or closure with this alarm right now.

Mike: Yeah. Sometimes it’s just psychological nature too. Sometimes it’s just the desire to eat a little test that I’ll tell people to do is if they feel that hunger, imagine that there was a bowl of boiled beans in front of. Would you eat the beans? If you wouldn’t eat the beans?

Probably not physiological hunger, probably psychological. If you’d eat the beans, ravenously okay. There might be some physiological hunger there, but sometimes again, it’s just maybe it’s a moment of boredom. It’s a moment of sadness or something else that just triggers the desire for food. And it’s perceived as 

Steve: hunger.

Y again, I love that example too. I might borrow that one because it’s great because please do I borrowed it from a me Hensman 

Mike: so I’ll 

Steve: give him credit. Fantastic. Because what it does is it gets at the reality that. We really suck in our modern world at understanding our internal signals and some of them like, and almost most of them have some sort of physiological origin at some point, but we’ve layered on the psychological, baggage that often fools us and, in researching writing the book, actually, I talk about this in the book.

One of the most fascinating studies that I think I’ve seen that came across that demonstrated this is they took individuals, they put ’em on a, made, ’em walk across like this super high bridge a suspension bridge that is scary to walk across. And then at the end, this was a bunch of guys at the end.

They had an attractive female, who was in on it, talked to the people and, get their number or ask her number, all this stuff. And they, I forget most a part of it, but they come back and what happened is the. People who were standing on the very tall bridge and had this adrenaline flowing.

And this stress flowing from being in this, crazy environment, then misattributed to that as like attraction and interest to the female who was standing at the end. If they ran the same experiment on like a bridge that was, five feet off the ground. They didn’t have that, like physiological misattribution, not as many people were attracted or followed up trying to call this, lady at the end because they didn’t have the arousal with them.

And what you get there is this wonderful example, which as you, you showed in the hunger is what scientists call misattribution of arousal or misattribution of like our feeling and our internal signals where we feel something. And it might be, Hey, I’m just hungry, but it’s really just on board or it’s really just that, for most of my life, I’ve eaten at, 1230, in the afternoon.

So my mind is used to it, but the reality is there is no physiological driver behind it. And part of being quote unquote tough is separating those things out. So you pay attention when there is that physiological driver. But when there’s not, you say, you know what, this is a misattribution like this isn’t real.

This is just like Cy psychological for whatever reason. I don’t need to listen to this signal. That 

Mike: makes me think of something that was in peak performance. If I remember correctly. And I’m just paraphrasing what I remember, but it was basically you and Brad were explaining that elite athletes use positive self talk when they are training hard and okay.

It’s starting to hurt now. And to help them just control their response to the stimulus. Do you remember what I’m referring to? 

Steve: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s what you’re doing is actually the way you and I go deeper into that research and do hard things, which is your self taught can manipulate how you respond to whatever stressor or stimulus service.

Because it’s essentially your body’s way of communicating and then assigning attention and value to the thing, whatever it is. So let me as an example, if I’m out, playing golf for example, and I’m really stressed. If self talk is all around oh, you’re anxious, calm down, oh, don’t hit it.

Don’t hit the ball, in the water trap, you know what happens? You hit it in the water. Why? Because you’re literally, your self-talk is commanding your brain to pay attention to the stress, to pay attention to the water. So that’s where. Go. Okay. So your self talk is almost the way I like to think of it is what are you telling your body to pay attention to?

What are you telling your brain that is valuable and important in this moment? And too often, what we do is we let that like negative devil on our shoulder, pay attention to things that don’t help us in the moment. So it’s up to you to switch that back. And actually there’s some fascinating work led by Ethan Cross out at Michigan who has found that even if we change, the, how we refer to ourselves in our self talk, it gives us a little bit more space so that we can deal with the things.

So for example, if I use first person. It’s not as effective if, as if I use second or third person. So if I say, I got this. It’s not as good as, you got this or Steve’s got this as strange as that sounds. Why does that occur? Because it creates a little distance because think of it, it’s almost like a friend telling you what to pay attention to versus like yourself.

And if a friend says, Hey, Steve, do this, your brain latches onto it. A little more easier as oh, I guess I should pay attention to that. So just changing the verbiage matters a lot. Hey there. If 

Mike: you are hearing this, you are still listening, which is awesome. Thank you. And if you are enjoying this podcast, or if you just like my podcast in general and you are getting at least something out of it, would you mind sharing it with a friend or a loved one or I’m not so loved one, even who might want to learn something new word of mouth helps really bigly in growing the show.

So if you think of someone who might like this episode or another one, please do tell them about it. Could you give some specific examples of how somebody could change negative self talk to positive? 

Steve: Yeah. So again, I think it’s all about what you pay attention to. I’ll give you some examples from the book that came from the running world, which is my space, but for example, in the heat of running, what often happens, you’re in the middle of the race.

You’re halfway through it. It’s starting to suck lots of pain, lots of fatigue. Your mind almost always goes to, okay, how do I get out of this spot? How do I quit? So your mental, your self talk often goes oh, where’s the hole to step in? What if I stepped on this? This curb or whatever, I can fake this injury and get out.

And you talk to the world’s best runners, people winning Olympic medals and all that stuff. And they’ll tell you the same thoughts, go through their head. So how do you do that? You’ve gotta shift. It’s almost like what’s happened is. Your self talk. Your world has shifted to a very narrow field where it feels like life or death.

Okay. It feels oh, if I don’t quit, I’m going to die. Or this pain is gonna injure me in some way. So you’ve gotta zoom out. You can do that again through ways that I just talked about shifting yourself, talk from, Hey, I can get to the next mile to Steve, focus on X, Y, and Z, or Steve.

Get to the next turn, get to, 400 meters in and the next lap or whatever have you, because when you break it down and create distance, it focuses you not on, oh my gosh. I’m only halfway through. But, oh, I just have to make it to this next point. I have to make it to this next moment. The other thing that surprisingly works really well is again, if you create distance by a number of different ways, one, you can remind yourself that it’s not you alone out here, right?

Maybe you’ve got teammates in the race. Maybe you’ve got training partners. Maybe you’re doing this for something that is greater than you, right? Maybe you signed up for this race because you were raising money for some charity or what have you reminding yourself of that. And your self talk shifts you from the suffering narrow into the broader perspective as well.

And then the last thing that, that really works actually surprisingly well, or I’ll give you two more things is one you can also. Go from inner dialogue to outer dialogue. So talking to yourself out loud, surprisingly does actually has the same kind of distancing effect. And if you watch tennis, you often see tennis players do this before.

They’re about to serve, this’ll be muttering to themselves. And you’re like, what are they doing? Are they crazy? No, they’re calling upon this power. Wh why does this work? Because often external, externalizing stuff is a little bit more simplistic. It comes earlier in our development of like our dialogue.

It’s why, if you watch toddlers, they’re often like, Saying words out loud of what they’re gonna do, like ball, chase ball. Why do they do that? Cause it’s more simplistic. They don’t, they haven’t developed that internal dialogue that we all have to the fullest extent. So anyways, saying stuff out loud can often jolt you out of the narrow moment and bring perspective.

And then the last thing that works really well, it also is thinking about the future or talking to yourself as if like you finish this thing and are looking back. Because again, it creates some perspective. I had a world class runner once tell me is I was really struggling in the middle of the race.

And then I just started visualizing in my head and almost having a conversation with myself as if I was at the starting or at the finish line and looking back, and this was almost like a replay. And I was like narrating what I was doing. And it sounds crazy, but all of these different tactics just create just a little bit of space and perspective, which dampens down that emotional response and gets it at us out of that life or death kind of survival mode.

Those are great tips. I 

Mike: really like all of those and I guess I, and I think to my own, it’s mostly just work and workouts, nothing too grueling, really but have instinctively come across or just read about for example I’ve always liked that point of just focusing on take writing a book, just focusing on getting those next a thousand words down or getting that next chapter edited. And and so like for the first half of the book, I try not to think about how much work is still left. It’s just, let’s just get through today’s chunk of work. Let’s do a good job on it. And also sometimes reflecting on how far I’ve come.

So like, all right, look, I’ve I’m working on a book right now that I’m about halfway through. And so it’s been nice to just, again, ignore how much is left, but look at all right. Cool. I’m you know, 190 pages are done or when it was only 50 pages like, Hey, 50 pages are done and today I’m gonna get through the next two or three or whatever.

And then as I get closer to the completion, then I find it. And this is to this point almost of, envisioning the completed being at the finish line. But then it’s more motivating to think about, all right, I’ve only got 50 pages left, like I’ve already, done 300 pages.

I’m almost there 

Steve: E exactly. I use the same tactics in my writing. And I see it as you have to, whenever you start a project you’re really excited, really enthused. And then you get in that low and you have to bridge that gap between that initial excitement and that point where you’re talking about where I call it you could smell the finish line and you’re just like, oh, I can see it.

I can conceptualize it. And that middle part is that messy kinda lull where. We’re so far in, we’ve lost some of that excitement. So it really is that middle part where if you can chunk it and break it down into manageable pieces, then what does that do? That a makes you able to manage it, but B you also get this nice, like little hit of motivation.

If you hit the small markers on the way, if you’re just like, oh man, I got another ch I got a chapter done today. Oh, look, I’ve got a hundred pages done. That gives you just a little bit of boost so that you can sustain it until you get to that point where you can smell the finish line. Yeah.

Yeah. And I’ve 

Mike: also found that it makes the process a little bit more enjoyable, which I do think makes the work better. Even though at this point, I would say I know myself and you’re probably the same way. You’re an endurance athlete, so you’re definitely the same way. I’m not an endurance athlete myself, but I, a guy who works to me actually used to do a lot of that and he jokes that it’s basically, he’s like the people who are the best are the ones who can suffer the most.

They just never quit. And I know myself and I’m sure the same way. Once we decide to do something, we’re gonna get it done unless there’s some really good reason to not do it anymore, but so long as that’s not the case it’s gonna get done, but it is worth. Trying to make it a little bit more enjoyable, again, particularly with the creative work, because the amount of enjoyment that we have in creating that book is going to com be it’s going to be perceived to some degree by our readers.

Steve: A absolutely. And I think that’s like anyone who writes a book will tell you that, you’re gonna go through those moments, those phases, where you’re just like, oh, this sucks. Like, why am I writing this? And it’s just you’re gonna get through it. But if you live in that space for too long it you’re writing suffers and the reader can sense it often.

So to me, it is, it’s like even during the difficult moments, how do we find that joy in that process? And often it’s those little things and the small things that, that can bring back a little bit of joy where you’re just like, okay. And then a little bit of that curiosity, because what also happens is you lose a little bit of that.

Halfway through sometimes you’re like, why did I write this again? Why did I sign up to do this? And you have to like, remind yourself and get a little bit of that back because that’s the fuel that propels you and also makes your work hopefully interesting and exciting for others to read and consume.

Yeah, I 

Mike: totally agree. Shifting back to, to do hard things. So given the title, obviously a part of the premises the book is that we should do hard things and that it’s important to experience discomfort. And you’ve said that here and there, but I’d curious to hear more of your thoughts on that and how.

People might go about that practically speaking. Of course exercise is one thing, but I’m just curious as to, 

Steve: to your thoughts. Yeah. I, I think it’s vital. I think what I’m trying to, it’s almost with this book, I’m trying to find this middle way, this middle path, and I’m saying, Hey, the hammer bulldoze approach, isn’t the only way.

So we should have all these other tools, but at the same time, like you have to actually do the difficult things, it’s not oh, just create some space and some distance and navigate through things. You’ve gotta do the thing. And again the analogy I like to use is if you don’t, you are like the person who gets off the couch and hasn’t exercised in a while.

The easy seems like it’s life or death, in terms of the difficult your brain goes from zero to a hundred and sounds alarm. Exercise physical stuff is the simplest way. And that’s why I believe that’s the easiest route into that, because whether you’re looking at, if you like speed, power and strength, great.

If you like endurance stuff, great. If you like team stuff great, there’s so many avenues. So I think that is important, but I think it also applies to other avenues. And that’s in fact, there’s some fascinating research behind this. So I’ll give the research. And then some examples is actually recently there was a paper that came out that studied people who did difficult, what I’d call psychological things.

One of them that I remember is they made people, or they had people with different opposing political views, talk to each other. Okay. Which we all know is like actually challenging nowadays. And what they did is they told some, they told, some people half the group and they said, you know what?

Go try and talk to this person and be friendly and all this stuff. Our typical approach, try to be nice. And then the other half, they said, you know what? This is gonna be a really difficult conversation, but I want you to embrace the discomfort of it. Embrace that. It’s not gonna be easy conversation that you guys will disagree and maybe vehemently just embrace it.

And that’s what they told. The two groups will the group that they told to embrace the conversation or embrace the discomfort. Guess what? They had a better conversation. They didn’t agree on everything, but they got a little bit of understanding on the other person and they were able to have civil dialogue and.

Come out of it being like, oh yeah, that person we might disagree on a bunch of stuff and have different views, but they’re an okay person. Like I could get along with them. So even something as simple as having difficult conversations is a avenue where we can almost flex and train this mental muscle of toughness.

So the way I like to think of it. Okay. What does that mean? Should I just have difficult conversations? No. I want you to think of anything that brings a little bit of discomfort. That brings a little bit of anxiety that brings that urge to say, you know what? I don’t wanna do this. I wanna do something else.

That’s a moment where you can train this ability and you should go towards this discomfort, even as something as simple, I’ll give you another very practical example using your phone. So what happens when, I don’t know, maybe we’re standing in line at the airport waiting to go through security. Even if we’re standing with someone else, do we turn to them and talk to them to fill that boredom?

Or do we reach for our pocket and pull out our phone? Most of us solve that boredom, that little bit of discomfort of oh my gosh, I’m alone in my head. We solve that by picking out our phone. Instead of doing that, don’t reach for the phone, figure out how to navigate that urge or sit with that boredom and be like, you know what, I’m gonna be alone in my head, or I’m gonna talk to this other person and fill this space instead of giving on to, to, picking up my phone.


Mike: what are your thoughts on balancing, doing hard things and cuz there are many opportunities now I’m sure people listening can think of really that they could fill their days with difficult things. We all can if we wanted to. And what are your thoughts on balancing that with the need for recovery?

So to speak or relaxation or times when maybe we should stop forcing ourselves to do difficult things and maybe we should do something that’s easy. 

Steve: Exactly. No, this is where again, in this topic of space around toughness resilience, I really was hoping to get across this nuance because often what you say you see is like people say, okay, we’re gonna do difficult things.

I’m gonna go suffer and everything in my life is gonna be a challenge. And that’s that one extreme, but what happens there is mindless suffering. Isn’t what we’re after. We’re after like productive discomfort. And what happens is if you just say, oh, I’m gonna embrace all these difficult things. Eventually you’re gonna run out of energy or you’re gonna, you’re gonna default towards survival mode, which is oh, I’m just gonna get through this.

Almost like writing a book. We talked about this a lot. Sure. I could plow ahead and say the difficult thing is to keep writing until I’m done. But what happens to the quality of that? It plummets. So in this case, the quote unquote tough thing is often to say, you know what? My quality is plummeting.

I’m not getting out of this difficult thing, what I need to, so I’m gonna recover rest, do something easy. So that then I can later come back to the difficult thing and do it very well. And that’s where it’s, one of the key things and you see this in athletes, you see this and people have handled challenging things, is the key attribute.

One of the key attributes to being tough is that self-awareness, it’s not, I’m gonna persist no matter what, it’s the self-awareness to know. When should I persist? When should I quit and do something easier, momentarily quit. When should I take a break and being able to say, this is the right thing to do because for my performance, my productivity, this is gonna help a lot more than just putting my head down and grinding through it.

Mike: To use a training analogy that many people listening can relate to it. It’s when I’ll say in strength training, we’re going for adaptation, not annihilation, right? A lot of people who are into strength, training, or body building, they can try to punish themselves with so much volume and intensity that eventually the wheels fall off.

And coming back to what you’ve said multiple times, that’s the hammer. And it’s good to be able to do that but ultimately that’s not productive. And I’ve had to learn this lesson to some degree over the years where it actually in a funny way, it takes more discipline, quote, unquote, for me to do my D load as planned than not to, because I like training hard.

I do. But the harder thing actually is to go. Now dude, just do your deload. That this is better this way and I could give you five reasons why this is a good idea. So just go and do it. Yes. It’s boring. Just go and do it. And in the past I would be like, eh, I can go another week. I can go another week until, everything is hurting or maybe I get sick.

That was like in the past I would, that would be my deload is, I wouldn’t get sick often, but maybe it’s every four, six months or something and all right, fine. I have to get outta the gym. And so just to your point, sometimes the hard thing to do is just slow down and let your body and your mind 

Steve: recover a little bit spot on.

And, I would argue that often for, people like yourself or me or people often in athletics is we’re pushers. The easy thing to do is go in and work out again. And often it’s no, the difficult thing is to step back. When, whenever I’ve worked with elite athletes, often I tell them my job is to make sure you don’t do something stupid to hold you back when you need to be held back, because you’ve done this long enough, you know how to train, how to perform.

But often in that moment, because we’re driven we’re pushers, we just keep doing the thing. When the smart thing, the hard thing is actually, okay, step back for a minute. Deload take a recovery week or whatever have you, because in terms of adaptation and performance, this is gonna help a heck of a lot more than just continuing.

Yeah. Yeah. 

Mike: And something else that that I think of just in the context of this discussion is I can just think of examples personally, oftentimes in life difficult situations that that I’ve gone through or problems were mostly because of something that I didn’t want to face that I didn’t really want to deal with, that I of wanted to dance around.

And so just another example of the difficult thing sometimes is to just. What needs to be faced? I just give a simple example is the I’ve said this many times that the work that I enjoy the most is I like writing. I like researching. I like doing stuff like this. I like creating content for the most part.

And I have a sports attrition business that does quite well and is growing and requires a fair amount of my time. And my natural, my interest in growing a business that game is just not as fun as it was seven or eight years ago. I’m not a very money motivated person. So I don’t get very excited over just making more money or the potential of having a lot of money in the future.

And I, in over time filled up my days with what felt like chores. A lot of the stuff I had to do was just chores. And in time, that just kinda wore on me because you can only sweep and mop. The floor so many times until you’re like, I just don’t wanna sweep and mop this floor anymore. And so this is something I’ve had to come to grips with a little bit and over the last six months or so, and start to work out what I can delegate.

Who else can we hire? It’s not a great idea for me to just keep doing the chores every day, all day when emotionally, I’m ranging between antagonism and boredom, like just not a great way to live. You know what I mean? Even though some people could say you’re so ungrateful, your business is doing so well, money da.

That, no, it just doesn’t work for me. And so random anecdote, but just 

Steve: popped in my mind. No, I think that’s spot on. And then it comes down to even your motivation, you gotta know what makes you tick and what fills your bucket. Because of course, we’re gonna have to do things that, drag us down or take away from us.

But if we don’t have enough of the things that fill our bucket to like, make us feel alive, it’s that experience of fun or joy or what have you, you have to have those moments. And if you don’t like, you’re, it’s a recipe for burnout or long term disaster. So that’s important. And that, and the other thing that I think is important here that you mentioned, and I’d agree with this completely is those things or our tolerance for the chores will change over.

Right when we’re young or early on often, it’s okay, I’m just gonna hustle and do all these things. And it’s not a big deal and all that stuff. But if you’ve been doing that for 5, 6, 7 years, like the enjoyment of that process starts to fade and your interest and curiosities are elsewhere.

So we have to shift our workload and our priorities often as we age and develop, or as our interests shift as well. And 

Mike: sometimes that is hard to do or there’s just resistance because it’s easier to just keep doing what we’ve always done. At least I’ve experienced that for a long time. It was easier to just keep doing the chores and deal with the emotional baggage or ignore it or whatever.

But I, it occurred to me eventually, like all. This is probably not a great way to live. It’s probably not a great setup for me to basically have no fun in my work or very little fun because of all the chores that I’m doing every day. And that negativity starts to feed on itself. And I probably should do something about this.

Steve: Yeah. And that actually gets to one of the important things I talk about in the book on toughness, which I’ve mentioned, but it’s like sometimes the toughest thing as we talked about is to quit doing things because you just get stuck. Like it’s easy, 

Mike: It’s working, you 

Steve: can just keep doing it.

Exactly. It’s Hey, I’m successful at this. Hey, the outer world is telling me you’re really good at this. Or this is what I’m known for, or this is what my business is, has always been around. So the hard decision sometimes in that moment is to quit doing that thing or to lower its priority. But often, as I said, if that’s what reflects your interests, your values, your curiosities, your path forward, then that might be the tough but smart thing to do.

So it’s really having that self-awareness to kinda wrestle with and reflect on that instead of just being like, this is the way it’s always been, this is the way I’ve always done it. I’m just gonna keep, putting my head down and doing the same. Or porting 

Mike: it off, just kicking the can down the road, right?

 I can go for another week or month or a year and worry about this later. Sometimes that’s appropriate and it depends on the circumstances, but again, just speaking to myself and my circumstances, I did that for some time. And eventually again, I was like, all right, it’s time to actually come to a real resolution because I would really like to have more of the experience that I.

In the beginning. But in the beginning, just to your point, it was new. The business was growing very quickly and just that alone was fun, cuz it was a new experience. And, but in time the logistics of just running and building a business became maybe it’s just ionic adaptation or whatever, but maybe it’s also my personality.

You’re probably similar in that. This is probably one of the reasons why you write books is you get very interested in certain things and you go all in on it. And then eventually though you’ve had your fill and it’s time to move on to something else 

Steve: spot on. That describes me to a tee. That’s why I write books.

So because it, some people love doing the same thing for 30 years and I get it. I understand it completely, for me it’s I wanna go. And then I wanna go do something else. So again, it comes back to that awareness. What, what makes you tick? What motivates you? And, I think so often we get motivation wrong because we think of the things like, oh is it the money or the external rewards or drivers?

And it, that’s not what it’s about to me. It’s about what are the internal drivers and knowing yourself and what brings you some of that joy or that excitement in your life or the things that make you feel alive when you do them or complete them. And, for me, it’s exploring ideas.

So that means, every couple years I’m gonna change topics or change ideas and that’s fine. That’s just something that I enjoy versus spending again, 30, 40 years going deep on, on one, one topic. Yeah. 

Mike: Yeah. I’m the same way. And it’s actually taken discipline for me to just stay in the boundaries of health and fitness, because as much as I like this stuff, I do have many other interests and I would like to pursue them, but I’m keeping myself in my lane, so to speak for now for various reasons.

But I definitely plan in the future to not step away from health of fitness, but I really wouldn’t. I really would like to be able to take a portion of time and explore. Things that I’m interested in and would love to research and write about, but I’m delaying my gratification there for now. 

Steve: I love it.

No, I, the way I like to look at it is like you go through phases of exploration and deep dives and how you structure that. There’s actually some fascinating research behind that too, that often finds that breakthroughs are when people cycle through this kind of explore deep dive, explore, deep dive instead of just like always deep dive specialization, et cetera, et cetera.

Yeah. Yeah. 

Mike: That makes sense just from even the perspective of synthesis, and being able to make connections that other people ha haven’t made and from there can come breakthroughs 

Steve: exactly. Spot. 

Mike: This was this was a great interview. I really enjoyed it. And is there anything that you have still kicking around your head that we haven’t covered yet that you think we should touch on before we 

Steve: wrap up?

No, this was fascinating. I loved I love it because it was a natural conversation where almost each of us have just talked about, we were able to kind like dabble and explore and bounce around and that made it a lot of. Yeah. Yeah. I 

Mike: really enjoyed it as well. And so then why don’t we just wrap up and let’s let people know where they can find you and find your work?

Of course the book do hard. Things is available everywhere wherever you like to buy books. But if there’s anything else you want people to know about let’s tell them that too. 

Steve: Yeah, you can find me on social media at Steve Magnus and then my website, Steve Great. 

Mike: And awesome.

Thanks again for doing this. And maybe when you’re on to your next project, we could line up another interview. That’d 

Steve: be fun. That sounds fantastic. This is a lot of fun. Thanks a lot, Mike. I 

Mike: hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful. And if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes and it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.

And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share, shoot me an email Mike muscle for, muscle F or And let me know what I could do better or just what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.

I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode. And I hope to hear from you soon.

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