Habits in the face of hardship


The inevitable reality is that life will offer all of us hardship and tragedy. There is no escaping this. Our ability to cope will adapt to demand, this is the brilliance of our human design.

Life will be hard, a friend of mine and I were recently discussing the death of his wife, it was unexpected and tragic in nature. He said to me that he had wished it was him, every day offers reminders of the wife he lost, and the life that they lived together.  

Along with the major task of the administration that goes along with death, he is managing embittered in-laws, all the while trying to parent three teenage kids that are all coping in various ways, which includes a certain amount of acting out. He told me he has lost friends, some simply don’t know how to hold space, others can’t deal with the heaviness of the situation, and others have simply stopped calling.  

As someone that has dealt with major change and ambiguity, he told me that this had floored him, every day is like stepping into a new person’s body, with no pre-existing wisdom to help guide him through the whirlwind of emotional pain and fatigue he is feeling. He wants to give up, but he knows he can’t. 

The inevitable reality is that life will offer all of us hardship and tragedy. There is no escaping this. Our ability to cope will adapt to demand, this is the brilliance of our human design. The quality of our adaptation and ability to cope will depend on a few things such as support, mindset, meaning-making, resilience and habits.  

The latter, our habits are what we will do in the face of extreme hardship, they are ultimately the micro-actions that will compound for the better or worse towards greener pastures or further into the abyss.  

In the face of extreme hardship, it is more important than ever to create and maintain structures and guardrails around us that help to usher us forward, these structures and guardrails in the form of habits will ensure that we trudge forward despite how crappy we feel. This is ground zero, it’s where the rubber meets the road, and everything we think we are is stripped back, and in this place, we must take one step at a time, one day at a time. We won’t move through this process unscathed or without trauma, but solid habits will help us get to the other side.  


Complete avoidance of the situation will simply not allow us to feel. Acceptance is a verb, its something that we will need to practice, “where we are is are where we are,” and nothing will change that, it’s going to be hard, accepting this wholesale, and making the decision to walk through it, or even crawl through it is key. I find in my work in personal transformations, most people don’t get through the initial period of pain, it’s because they haven’t become at one with the fact that it’s going to be hard, and as a result, they give up. What they don’t realise is that the “truth” and what they are hiding from will come to meet them at some point, and it’s up to them to do it on their terms. Acceptance is the first courageous act in the face of extreme hardship.  

Narrowed Focus  

It’s extremely important to narrow your focus when moving through hardship, this means focusing on what’s in front of you and engaging in activities that you know are good for you, not necessarily those that always make you feel good. Part of the reason that we need to narrow our vision is that we live in a world of polarities, opinions, and false positivity. When we are feeling at our worst, things like social media can lead us into a sense of isolation, kind of like we are the only ones that aren’t happy. In a personal rebuild, we want to be centred on real relationships that foster healthy dialogue and support.  


Rest, food, and exercise. This coupled with real support is crucial. Falling apart with bouts of extreme self-pity is ok and may be needed as part of the process, but having the right structures in place with accountability will ensure that we back up the next day and we don’t go off the rails. Isolation is a real risk, and with isolation, we are almost always bound to reach for bad habits. Catching up with friends, going to the gym, meeting with your therapist, and setting a plan with your nutritionist, are all ways that we keep on track.  


Through resilience and previous hardships, we know that we can get through hard times, and whilst your current situation may trump all others in terms of difficulty, our internal process of resilience is scalable. It can and will adapt to support us to meet anything, we just need to allow ourselves to move through the process, solid habits are the key to this. Trust isn’t hope, rather, it’s the knowledge that things will get better, and they will as a function of your commitment and courage to show up in the face of extreme hardship and put one foot in front of another with the proper habits to support.  

Life can be amazingly joyful and profoundly painful, all in a day. There are going to be days or periods in our lives where our willingness to meet the day waivers, and all we want to do is crawl into a ball or flop on the couch. For most of us, this isn’t possible long term. Ultimately our salvation and way out when we are in this place will be based on what we do, not what we feel or think. This is where the quality of our habits will help us trudge forward.  

RJ Singh is a corporate and ultra-endurance athlete and the creator of Ultrahabits. Find out more at Peak Performance with RJ Singh: Ultra Habits for Ultra Performance

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