“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone” – Henry David Thoreau
Practicing hardship marches in the face of what most of the “positive thinking” community tends to preach, but on AuthenticGrowth.com we like to practice a grounded, realistic approach towards self-improvement so occasionally I will write about practices that go against some trends in this market.
Voluntary hardship is the idea that you should add slightly less enjoyable things to your routine such as riding your bike to work or fasting half a day once a week, so that you can experience what it would be like if you actually had to go without the things you’re used to. The idea sounds counter-intuitive, but there are many benefits that come from practicing voluntary hardship, the most important in my mind being that it builds a solid foundation for character in a person.
I used to commute 14 miles a day round trip by car to work. I became interested in finding alternative ways to reduce daily costs in my life, and a lot of familiar blogs recommended riding my bike to work. I thought – sure, I can do that when the weather is nice out, but what about when it’s raining or snowing? That’s when things started to get interesting. I went out and bought a nice bike to replace my car for the majority of my commute and started riding it to work. As it got colder – I decided that instead of skipping the bike commute, I’d go out and purchase cold weather gear to make the commute in winter weather more enjoyable. In doing this, I voluntary decided that I was going to endure the cold weather on a bike, despite that I owned a car, because it was something I wanted to do in my life.
After three months of riding my bike in 15-20 degree weather I found that after I got to work – most of the things that came up in the day were a lot easier to handle. I had already voluntarily endured cold weather and some exercise to get myself to the office, there really wasn’t going to be much else worse than freezing myself for a little bit to get to the office. After several week of this, my willpower and fortitude started increasing and quite honestly things felt easier in the office. I, first of all, felt great when I’d arrive and I started looking forward to the energy boost I’d get from the refreshing ride home at the end of the day. Life became easier and I became more resilient.
What if you actually had to do without your car for a day – or if you didn’t have hot water in your shower for a morning while you waited for the repair person to fix your water heater?
One great way to practice voluntary hardship is by taking cold showers. Yes I said it, showers without warm water. I’ve done this before and it’s pretty much exactly how you’d expect it to be, except that most people forget those times when they were a little kid jumping into a freezing pool. The water is cold for the first five minutes, but afterwards your body adapts and you’re able to swim around without feeling like you’re freezing. Voluntary hardship practices such as this one prepare you for when times are actually tough, so that you don’t have a breakdown and are able to cope better with unexpected situations.
Right now if my water heater broke, I’d be perfectly fine hoping in the shower and getting ready for the day. Most other people you and I know would probably not shower, or use a wash cloth to try and mildly clean themselves. Some exceptional folks may even ask for the day off or call in sick because they need to get their water fixed (come on now!).
If they were practicing voluntary hardship a little bit more in their lives, building up fortitude for unexpected circumstances, they’d have one less thing that can derail them from their day to day activities.
Humans are hardwired to adapt, which has allowed us to progress evolutionary, but has the added downside that it makes the things that were once shiny and new – dull and old in a short amount of time. Practicing Voluntary Hardship is one way that you can learn to have a new appreciation for the things you own and the things you’re able to afford.
Remember the winter bike commuting example I mentioned earlier? After riding several weeks in the cold weather, I sure as hell started to appreciate a nice warm car on the occasion that I hop in one rather than bike. It’s gotten to the point where I call my 5 year old Toyota Camry, partly tongue and cheek, my “Luxury automobile”.
If you decide you want to fast for half a day or even a full day, it makes the next day’s foodmuch more enjoyable – and it increases your appreciation for the work that went into making that food. There are many people in this world that have much, much less than we do – Voluntary Hardship is one way we can learn to appreciate just how lucky we are.
Think you really need all of the things you own in your home? Think again. There is a new trend that tens of thousands of people are following called Minimalism, where you choose to live only with things that bring you joy and are necessary in your life. 100 different shirts in your closet? Not as a minimalist. Voluntary Hardship teaches you how to live with less, and consequently your life becomes less cluttered. You’re more free to think, move around, and enjoy your unencumbered thoughts when you reduce the amount of things that you have to tend to in your home.
Try it. Just the feeling you’ll get from donating three or four bags of clothes will be worth the time it takes to clear out your closet, let alone the extra space you gain. Try living with less – and in doing so you become more capable of actually living with less than other people, which in and of itself is a powerful character trait.
If the benefits above weren’t enough, lets talk about the two things that everyone is trying to improve. This goes hand in hand with the minimalism aspect as well as the note on voluntary hardship making other things in life easier. If you start practicing Voluntary Hardship and do things like riding your bike (or carpooling) and short fasting sessions – you will begin to notice changes where it matters the most.
Biking to work, for one thing, saves me on average around $7 or $8 dollars per day using the US government standard of around $.50 a mile for gas, maintenance, insurance, and depreciation. Eating cheaper food (eating out less and skipping out on the fancy steaks) or reducing your portion sizes has a proportional affect on your health as well as your wallet.
Take time to jot down a few areas in your life where you can voluntarily begin to build fortitude, so that if at some point in the future you had to live without those things – you’d have already trained yourself to do so. Once you’ve got your list ready, start today to design your life the way you want to live it. Work towards a better future now, so that as you age you find that the effort you put in has made all the difference for you.
-Anthony From AuthenticGrowth.com