Do Hard Things

(or Why Does Rice Play Texas?)

Why would you do anything that challenges you unnecessarily?  On the surface it seems illogical. We shouldn’t seek out hardship, that’s foolish.

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

– John F. Kenedy

Well, according to Daniel Pink in his book “Drive: The Surprising Science of Motivation” there are two main views of human capabilities:

1) Entity Theory: We have a certain amount of each skill and it cannot be gained or lost. Thus, we should seek out activities that appear to be challenging to others but that we naturally do well at. That way, we will appear to have more skills without truly testing them.

2) Incremental Theory: Cognitive science suggests that skills can be increased with effort. With concerted effort we can master a skill that we previously could not. Effort, therefore, is the key to unlocking our performance potential.

If we subscribe to the Incremental Theory and understand that skills can be developed through effort then we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to push ourselves toward growth.

And when we pause to think about it, isn’t there something inside of us that yearns for a good challenge.  Why does anyone climb Everest, hike the AT, or train for a marathon? According to Carol Dweck, effort generates passion:

Effort is one of the things that gives meaning to life. Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you and you are willing to work for it. It would be an impoverished existence if you were not willing to value things and commit yourself to working toward them.

Finally, doing hard things brings out the collective best in society:

Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

– John F. Kennedy

Personally, I get excited about a good challenge. It energizes and motivates me. It gets me fired up. What about you?

Have you ever taken on a challenge just to test your ability? Have you ever tried something difficult precisely because it was so hard? Do you know what you could accomplish if you did?