Book Review: Do Hard Things by Steve Magness

The subtitle of this book is “Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness”. Throughout this book Magness is trying to redefine the stereotypical view of toughness.  The author is a performance expert and an elite coach, and in this book, he is showing us that the old model of toughness that was based on fear and hiding weakness is not the model we should be using anymore. ook Review: Do Hard Things by Steve Magness

The introduction of the book uses stories to remind us of the definition of toughness that many of us have been brought up to believe.  But Magness then redefines toughness in this way, “Real toughness is experiencing discomfort, or distress, leaning in, paying attention and creating space to take thoughtful action. It’s navigating discomfort to make the best decision you can.”  To illustrate this idea, he uses stories of Bobby Knight the tough coach from Indiana who was famous for the way he berated his players, to stories of Pete Carroll who has made a name for himself as a coach who refuses to use intimidation to motivate his players. 

Magness breaks the book into four core pillars that we should be utilizing to find our inner strength. 

Pillar One: Ditch the Facade, Embrace Reality 

In this section, Magness reminds us that we need to be realistic about our goals.  He spends time reminding the reader that there are dangers in setting your expectations too low or too high. In each section of the book there are “Toughness Maxim’s”, which are the quotes that you could use to summarize the sections. I liked this Toughness Maxim for this section, “Embrace reality. Accurate appraisal of demands + accurate appraisal of our abilities.” He then goes on to discuss ways to develop inner confidence. This passage really stuck with me, “…the key to true confidence. Acknowledging the good and bad, our weaknesses and strengths. Living with and dealing with reality instead of putting on a front. Setting our own standards.”

Pillar Two: Listen to Your Body

This section of the book deals with learning to know when and how to push through certain situations. Throughout the book Magness discusses not only dealing with physical pain and barriers but with mental barriers to performance.  Things like self-doubt and anxiety.  In this section he gives some concrete ways to change our self-talk to help us push through those mental barriers.

Pillar Three: Respond, Instead of React

Creating space between stimulus and response is the focus of this section.  There is quite a bit of research on brain responses in this book.  This section focuses on training our brain to create space so that when we encounter difficult situations we can stay in the present and focus on what is really happening and not respond to an exaggerated perception of reality.  He gives some steps on how to do this and the first one is my favorite.  “Create Space: Spend Time Alone in Your Head”. This is something that most people never do.  We tend to spend our lives with some form of background noise.  I plan to revisit this section of the book and work on spending more time alone in my head.  This section has a lot of good insight into having different ways to respond to situations and knowing which response is appropriate for which situation.

Pillar Four: Transcend Discomfort 

This section examines a person’s inner drive and how that is a much better motivator than control. It also discusses how satisfying our basic needs allows us to fulfill our potential. Magness even references Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in this section, and as someone who spent most of their career dealing with Maslow, it made this former teacher’s heart smile. This was not the final Toughness Maxim in the book but like the first one that I quoted this one really summed everything up for me, “Purpose is the fuel that allows you to be tough.”

This is an excellent book.  Magness uses stories and research to illustrate his points, many of them are not new ideas but he puts them together to help us see a new definition of toughness that can help us get through hard things if we try.  The author’s experience is in sports so there are a lot of sports stories in the book, but he also uses stories from many aspects of life to illustrate his ideas.  While sports or training is a main theme in this book, the ideas that Magness writes about are things that can be useful when dealing with any potential struggles that you might be dealing with. This is not what I would call a quick read and this review only hits a few highlights that Magness has about toughness and how to work through hard things.   There are several parts of his book that I marked that I would like to go back to and spend more time with so that I can fully appreciate all the insights this book has to offer. 

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