In Relentless, Tim Grover writes, “Few people know what they’re truly able to accomplish, and even fewer want to find out.”
We’re happy being comfortable. As we age, we want to explore less. We shy away from struggle. We seek comfort and sameness and not testing our limits. We stop learning, growing, exploring, and become stagnant and subject to the forces of entropy. This reflects the status quo bias.
Seeing what you are capable of and trying to become better as a lifelong battle whether physically or mentally is one of life’s greatest satisfactions. Improvement is inspiring. Improvement is engaging. Improvement and the struggle for it is what makes living worthwhile.
To combat this complacency and craving for comfort, create and confront a challenge of your own choosing once a year.
This idea came from reading Michael Easter’s book, The Comfort Crisis. Easter introduces readers to Marcus Elliott a Harvard educated sports scientist that runs a business, P3, that caters to professional athletes across sports. His work began with NFL athletes, branched into baseball, and in recent years specializes in supporting basketball players. More than half of NBA athletes have spent time being evaluated at Elliott’s facilities. Elliott’s system collects over 5,000 data points across various movements of athletes. From this massive collection of data personalized training programs are prepared. However, a differentiating factor in his business lies beyond the data and in the art of pushing individual limits. Elliott has embraced the Japanese idea of Misogi and is incorporating it as the secret sauce to complement data driven decisions.
In Japan, the concept of Misogi has a history of almost 3,000 years. Kojiki is, apparently, one of the oldest documents in Japan which is a book that contains myths and legends. One story involved the travel of a God into the depths of the underworld to find his lost wife. Our traveler endured hazard after hazard only to find that the destination was even more dangerous than he had thought. He had to escape struggling to evade more potential disasters. He did so and immersed himself under a freezing waterfall once escaping the underworld. This purified our adventurer and restored his mental state to a new level of clarity. He became a new, tougher, version of himself. The tradition of exposing oneself to cold water of various kinds as a form of cleansing and developing mental toughness continued in the culture. It continues more as a form of cold-water exposure to train the mind. According to Wikipedia, a misogi is both a form of meditation and purification from the cold water exposure. Participants test their ability to endure the discomfort while working to control their mind.
Misogi has been adopted and morphed into Western countries by people like Elliott where it has become a form of testing oneself. Easter writes, “modern misogis offer a hard brain, body, and spirit reboot. They help their practitioners smash previous limits and deliver the mindful, centering confidence and competence the Japanese aikido followers were also seeking.” The idea is to chase a challenge with the goal of finding and exploring our personal potential. We have capacities inside of us of which we aren’t fully aware. Former Navy Seal turned endurance athlete, David Goggins, expresses the goal of a misogi when he writes in Can’t Hurt Me, “I’ve learned that it’s only when I push beyond pain and suffering, past my perceived limitations, that I’m capable of accomplishing more, physically and mentally—in endurance races but also in life as a whole. And I believe the same is true for you.” This is the point of a personal misogi. You’re seeking to test yourself. To expand the edges of your abilities. Find a way to stretch yourself in one area of your life and it will transfer into a confidence to push further in other areas of your life.
The idea of a misogi is similar to the Finnish word of Sisu which Wikipedia defines as “extraordinary determination in the face of extreme adversity, and courage that is presented typically in situations where success is unlikely. It expresses itself in taking action against the odds and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity; in other words, deciding on a course of action, and then adhering to it even if repeated failures ensue.” Whether we’re calling our challenge a misogi, seeking Sisu, or performing a rite of passage like the Okugake done by the Yamabushi monks of Japan, the goal remains the same which is to face a fear by seeking struggle.
Only by testing ourselves by exposing ourselves to experiences outside our existing range of experience can we find those edges. Instead, most of us aren’t even thinking about our edges, we’re retreating closer and closer to our soft and squishy comfort center. We’re missing much of the joy and vigor that life offers because of shrinking from struggle. What are you willing to subject yourself to to try to become a better version of yourself? Easter quotes Elliott expressing the benefits of a misogi where Elliott notes, “trying really hard shit is purifying and life enhancing.” Elliott tells Easter that “Misogis can show you that you had this latent potential you didn’t realize, and that you can go further than you ever believed.” The purpose of the practice is to raise your own roof as to what’s possible. Whether we succeed or not in our endeavor is secondary to expanding our concept of capability. We develop a stronger sense of self-belief and build our persistence by pursuing personal challenges. Jesse Itzler, part owner of the Atlanta Hawks, and also an adopter of misogis suggests, “Put one big thing on the calendar that scares you, that you never thought you could do, and go out and do it.”
So, what kind of struggle are we after? The primary criterion is that it needs to be a struggle, a stretch for you. Proponents of the practice suggest the odds of success should be in the neighborhood of 50%. There should be uncertainty as to whether you can accomplish the objective. It should be something that you’ll be tempted to quit as you encounter discomfort in pursuit of it. The other rule which acts as a guardrail from embracing reckless decisions is to pick a challenge that won’t result in death. Outside of these two guidelines, the playing field for your misogi is wide open. Remember, it’s an idea. There’s no rules or regulations to follow. You decide what it means for you. You can do alone or with others. It can be physical, mental, or both. It can be gruelling or gentle. It can be endurance based or extreme. It can involve action, adventure, and travel, or it can be done in your own home. You can go to the edges and seek extreme experiences, or you can seek to shock your own system. The goal is to push your boundaries. To step outside of your comfort zone. Not recklessly jumping into the deep end without knowing how to swim, we’re seeking struggle not stupidity.
Some examples that I’ve come across include, running 4km each hour for 25 hours with some friends for a total of 100km of running. Run four miles every four hours for 48 hours courtesy of David Goggins, the 4 x 4 x 48 challenge. Running a personal marathon solo around a high school track. Hiking a mountain. Paddleboarding a great distance (twenty miles) with limited experience. Going on a hunting adventure. Doing physical work underwater. For example, seeking to move a boulder from a to b over the course of several hours with friends while one either moves the boulder underwater or treads water waiting for their turn. Doing a distance run at night. Giving a speech in front of a large audience for the first time. Many of these are physical challenges. However, your challenge need not be. Choosing to expose yourself to a stressful experience is what is essential. This is what is happening with our public speaking example. You could sign up for dance lessons or commit to dancing in public if this type of thing scares you silly. Sure, we can look to others for suggestions, even inspiration, but we’re not obliged to pursue their path. Their challenge is their challenge. It’s up to you to define one for yourself. It can be a creative effort. It could be a home improvement project. It should be some kind of do-it-yourself activity. The tendency is to suggest an annual misogi. Again, the timeframe isn’t set in stone. You could do a monthly misogi or less frequently as desired.
The goal is to lean in, learn, and live life to its fullest. Challenge yourself like the stoics did. They would fast for a day or two. Sleep on the floor regularly. Go outside in uncomfortable weather with minimal clothing. Struggle because you can. Learn to tolerate discomfort so that you will be able to handle real problems as they arise. The idea of tolerating tough physical conditions to toughen the mind on a regular basis is something we should work towards instead of sinking in constant craving for comfort. You’re crafting your own chapter of Joseph Campbell’s journey of a hero. You leave comfort for challenge. You’re tested on many levels. You struggle, and with great difficulty, surmount the challenge to return home with a greater sense of your capabilities and a newfound earned confidence. You’re creating your own rite of passage which is and has been embraced by cultures throughout the world over centuries. The idea of choosing a challenge is at the heart of what W2D WOW is all about. Seeking struggle is not what most are after. Pursuing problems, accepting awkwardness, and welcoming work puts you in the bullseye of being Willing to Do What Others Won’t.
See misogi as My Individual Struggle Over Grand Impediments.
- To combat this complacency and craving for comfort, create and confront a challenge of your own choosing once a year.
- The idea is to chase a challenge with the goal of finding and exploring our personal potential.
- Only by testing ourselves by exposing ourselves to experiences outside our existing range of experience can we find those edges.
- The primary criterion is that it needs to be a struggle, a stretch for you. Proponents of the practice suggest the odds of success should be in the neighborhood of 50%.
- The goal is to lean in, learn, and live life to its fullest.
- You’re creating your own rite of passage which is and has been embraced by cultures throughout the world over centuries.