“I have often thought it would be a blessing if each human being were stricken blind and deaf for a few days at some time during his early adult life. Darkness would make him more appreciative of sight; silence would teach him the joys of sound.” – Helen Keller, Three Days to See
We are all seeking happiness.
But, so many have been hoodwinked into looking in the wrong places.
In the above quote, Helen Keller suggests that much of happiness comes from gratitude.
Imagine the ultimate happiness that Helen Keller might have experienced if she regained her sight. What about us?
Would we empathize with Keller and the blind if we challenged ourselves to survive for three hours without our eyesight?
Would we gain gratitude and glean a speck of that ultimate happiness?
I believe we would.
No, I am not promoting Sadism. Rather, I’m promoting discipline, delayed gratification, control, fear-mastery, and mind-body unity.
Voluntary hardship is the practice of opting for growth over comfort by choosing to overcome avoidable adversities. It cultivates an appreciation for life and fortifies our willpower and character.
Change your Lens, Change your Life
Too many adults I know are stuck in a rut. They’ve dug themselves a narrow, comfortable routine and with every passing year they become further entrenched.
We take the same exact commuting paths day in and day out, for years. We become numb to it all, not really seeing. Sometimes, we don’t even realize that we’ve arrived.
Below is a list of challenges; some you can sample and try for a day or two, others that you might adopt as a new life rhythm.
It might sound strange… but I guarantee that if you start doing these things – any of these things – you will reinvigorate your life and establish new levels of fulfillment and happiness.
“Your level of success will seldom exceed your level of personal development, because success is something you attract by the person you become.” -Jim Rohn
Challenges to Transform your Life
“Those who only do what they feel like… don’t do much. To be successful at anything you must take action even when you don’t feel like it, knowing that the action itself will produce the motivation you need to follow through.” – Hal Elrod
The merits of Voluntary Hardship was made clear to me when I listened to a podcast by Tim Ferris and Mr. Money Mustache. Their interview which was largely based on frugality and personal growth inspired me to begin biking to my carpool location and do a 3-day fast.
Are you convinced? Are you willing to give up ease, comfort, and indulgences for fulfillment, pride, purpose, and satisfaction?
If so, start incorporating a few of these Voluntary Hardships into your life. I picked these challenges either because I have done or want to do them.
- $ Financial
- ♥ Health/Appearance
- ⍟ Volunteer/Make A Difference
- ƒ Family/Relationships
- © Career/Business
- † Personal Growth
Aspects: ♥ †
The Challenge: Do a 2-day fast where the only thing you can consume is water. (Annually)
I recently finished Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. In the book, there is a boy with no possessions.During a job interview, he is asked what he has to offer, and he responds: “I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”
When questioned on what good fasting is, the boy responds:
“It is very good, sir. When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the smartest thing he could do. When, for example, Siddhartha hadn’t learned to fast, he would have to accept any kind of service before this day is up, whether it may be with you or wherever, because hunger would force him to do so. But like this, Siddhartha can wait calmly, he knows no impatience, he knows no emergency, for a long time, he can allow hunger to besiege him and can laugh about it. This, sir, is what fasting is good for.”
When my wife and I were first getting to know each other, we did a 7-day fast— nothing but water and toothpaste paste. It was an eye-opening experience and one that we both value and look back on fondly.
While I wouldn’t recommend a 7-day fast for everyone, I think everyone at one point or another should try a 1-day fast, and those who really want to challenge themselves try a 2-day fast!
2. Launch a Cellular Blackout
Aspects: ƒ, †, ©
The Challenge: Keep your phone in airplane mode for a whole day. (Monthly)
I did this one fairly recently, and it became fun once we had to drive somewhere… NO GPS! I find it really sad how reliant I am on GPS. I do not even know the names of the streets two blocks away from me.
Another suggestion for this challenge is to keep your phone off your person when you are at home. Create a designated spot when you walk in the door to place your phone and free yourself from the distraction of every buzz and ding. I especially recommend this one for parents.
One last additional challenge is to put your smartphone in grayscale mode, this makes media and notifications less distracting and your phone more utilitarian.
3. Take Cold Showers
Aspects: ♥, †
The Challenge: Take a cold shower. (Weekly)
I started researching the “Wim Hof Method” at the suggestion of a few friends. Wim Hof holds the record for the longest Ice Bath(2 hours). He also ran a marathon in the Arctic Circle and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in just his shorts. His main practice involves learning how to breathe so your body fills with oxygen and submitting oneself to the cold.
I’ve been doing a cold-shower for a month now and, man, it’s intense! It instantly invigorates your body and you do feel pretty giddy afterward. I just broke 2-minutes! And believe me, that’s hard. The breathing exercises really help.
4. Eliminate TV
Aspects: ♥, ©, ƒ
The Challenge: Limit your TV watching to no more than an hour a day. (Daily)
This one is a game-changer and probably the hardest for most people to contemplate. According to a Nielsen report, US-American Adults are watching over 5 hours of television every day!
Imagine what you could do if you instead used that time to invest in yourself? Start a side hustle, fulfill your dreams, improve your relationships – the possibilities are endless.
We do not own a TV. Back when we were living with my parents, our toddler would pass by the TV and point at it, wanting to watch something. It became too easy a temptation for us as parents to use as a digital babysitter. So, when we moved into a place of our own, we decided not to buy a TV.
5. Join a Carpool
Aspects: $, ƒ
The Challenge: Gather some nearby co-workers and join a vanpool. (Daily)
This one sounds difficult but it is actually awesome! Sure, you deal with other people’s schedules, a meet-up location, and not always having your own car at work. Still, the benefits are worth it! Here are some benefits:
- Nap your way to and from work – I love coming home to my family after a nice rejuvenating nap.
- Save money – gas and wear and tear.
- Talk freely with co-workers outside of work – The tips and insights gained from co-workers have been invaluable.
6. Wake up at Sunrise
Aspects: ♥, ©, ƒ, †
The Challenge: Wake up one hour earlier than you have to. (Daily)
“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” – Benjamin Franklin
I’m in the middle of reading The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. It’s all about the revolutionary way your life changes just by voluntarily waking up an hour before you have to and following a morning routine.
7. Bike to Work:
Aspects: $, ♥
The Challenge: Use your bike to commute rather than a car. (Daily)
Although I live 40 miles away from work, I bike 2 miles each way to my carpool location. I am not hardcore about this, I am more of a fair-weather biker.Still, the feeling of getting up in the morning and hopping on the bike is invigorating.
8. Create a Blackout:
The Challenge: Go to your electrical panel, and shut-off your electricity for 4 hours. (Weekly)
Although blackouts are inconvenient, I always remember a magical sense of excitement would come over me whenever one would happen. You’d fish for flashlights and candles. You’d break out the board games or eat all the ice cream. It was a perfect opportunity to do things you wouldn’t normally do.
Why not make it a weekly tradition?
9. Run Barefoot
The Challenge: Run a quarter mile completely barefoot. (Lifetime)
I started running barefoot over 5 years ago now and it completely changed the way I run and honestly my whole outlook on life.
I undertook the voluntary Hardship to ditch the nice cushy protective shoes after reading Born to Run. Why? How?
When you wear mittens, you lose finger dexterity and sensitivity.
Shoes do the same thing. Once I started barefoot running, my body showed me how nature intended us to run. Front strike first, and rocking to the heel with bent knees.
My foot started developing muscles and instead of just being in a cast was allowed to work as the complex system it is. My feet actually shrunk a whole shoes size after barefoot running for a while.
Cushioned shoes mask pain and give allowance for bad form, which can cause serious long-term injury.
I don’t always run barefoot, but I always run with minimalist footwear. I encourage all runners to run a quarter mile barefoot so that nature can teach you how you should be running.
10. Maintain Eye Contact
This one I picked up from Tim Ferriss in the 4-hour workweek. Essentially the challenge is to not break eye contact when passing others in the hall or anywhere.
11. Drink Only water
Challenge: Drink only water, drink at least a gallon a day. (Daily)
Some people buy coffee every day. At $3/day, that’s more than $1000/year! This doesn’t even consider all the drinks people buy at convenience stores, and restaurants.
I only drink water, and I always carry around a 1-liter Nalgene with me, averaging more than 2 gallons a day.
12. Park Far, Take the Stairs
By parking far you don’t have to wait for spots. You will also be less stressed when others take your precious spot, you will be happy to go for a nice walk. The best part is you will be saving it for someone who might really need it.
13. Sit on an Exercise Ball / Get a Stand-up Desk
Since January(10 months ago) I’ve been sitting on an exercise ball at work. It promotes good posture, burns extra calories, relieves back pain, provides more opportunites to stretch and tones core muscles.
If your work doesn’t allow it, then I suggest scooting up in your chair, so that you do not use the chair’s backrest.
14. Blindfold Yourself
The Challenge: For 3 hours, wear a blindfold. (Annually)
I am very excited to do this challenge. My excuse for not doing it yet is that I typically do not like to do challenges that will inconvenience my family. But, I think this one will be an “eye-opener” to many things that we take for granted.
15. Sleep on the Floor
Aspects: ♥, †, $
The Challenge: Get rid of the bed, sleep on the floor with just a rug or mat between you and the floor. (Daily)
Since I have a Japanese mom, I grew up often sleeping with a simple mat between me and the floor. So, I have no qualms about sleeping in other’s living rooms, etc. I am a very low maintenance guest. Give me a sleeping bag and I am more than happy.
16. Contact Someone Everyday
Aspects: ƒ, †, ⍟, ©
The Challenge: Call or Message someone you’d like to get to know better or have lost touch with. (Daily)
I am confident that if I took on this challenge, it could significantly change my world. By calling someone new or someone you’ve lost touch with, you could better maintain a relationship or give guidance. If you’re not into calling someone, writing out letters is also just as powerful.
17. Volunteer (Live for the Sake of Others)
Aspects:♥, ©, ƒ, †,⍟,$
The Challenge: Volunteer for the worst chores or tasks.
To me, a hero is someone who lives for the sake of others. You don’t need superpowers, you just need to do things that everyone has the ability to do, but not the selflessness to do.
18. Don’t use Heat or A/C
Aspects:♥, †, $
The Challenge: For a week try going without heat or a/c in your car.
Growing up, my Father being frugal would rarely put the thermostat above 65 degrees. I feel this grew my literal comfort zone, and I was more resilient because of it.
19. Try Public Speaking
Aspects: ©, †,⍟
The Challenge: Seek out public speaking roles, and whenever asked, just say yes! Join a local Toastmaster Chapter.
Did you know that public fear is the most common fear?
In my 8th grade yearbook, I was awarded the title of shyest kid.
I dreaded public speaking, especially because my hands and feet would literally shake and my voice would quiver. Recently though, I’ve challenged myself to accept every public speaking role requested of me: this includes attending a Toastmaster session and participating in podcasts, some with over 100,000 listeners per episode.
20. Join Big Brother Big Sister
Aspects: ⍟, ƒ, †
The Challenge: Volunteer to be a role-model/mentor to a youth.
This one is huge, I was impressed when I found out my brother had enrolled in the Big Brother, Big Sister program. The program matches a child with a caring adult role model. My Brother would meet with his “little brother” and take him out to the park, help him with homework, things like that. If you really want some positive change and growth in your life, mentoring someone else and making an impact on their lives will do it.
21. Survive on a Minimal Budget
Aspects: ♥, †, $
The Challenge: Set a monthly out-of-pocket budget, take that amount out in cash, and only spend that amount for the month.
This is the basics of creating wealth: living below your means. It’s a difficult choice, but it will definitely lead to a peaceful life. To find out what that amount should be, and still be able to save towards your goals, I would use this spreadsheet.
Concluding with the Amish
Last month, we took a joint family trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, known by many as Amish Country. For those that do not know, the Amish are an entire society who have voluntary decided to do without a lot of the conveniences of modern living.
The Amish follow the Ordnung. The Ordnung is a set of behavioral rules that the Amish follow, which includes:
- No motorized vehicles are to be owned or driven. Taxis may be hired.
- May not travel by airplane.
- Full-Length mirrors are forbidden.
- Jewelry is not to be worn.
- Electricity is not allowed in the home.
- Telephones are forbidden.
- Belts are not allowed only suspenders.
- Unmarried men must be shaven.
- Females must keep their head covered, usually with a bonnet.
- Schooling ends by the 8th grade.
Although this is not a life many of us would choose to live, it fascinates me that the Amish – in this modern day – decided as a community to live a simple life of hard work, modesty, and voluntary hardship.
Some interesting statistics came from an 8-year study on the Amish relating to cancer. A researcher found that the Amish in Ohio had a 40% lower cancer rate than the rest of the surrounding population. In another study, the Amish were 6 times less likely to have allergies than the standard population. It is widely known that farm living reduces the risk of allergies and asthma. The Amish also have close to a 50% lower suicide rate than there non-Amish neighbors.
What’s also interesting is that even in the modern era with all its conveniences, when adolescent Amish are of age and given the choice (Rumspringa) of whether they will accept the Amish lifestyle – 90% of the time they say yes and lead a life of voluntary hardship.
It’s not just the Amish, the Catholics have Lent (40 days to give up something). The Jewish Faith has the Sabbath (No work, telephones, cars, or fires on Saturday). The Muslims fast (30 days where no food or liquid is consumed from dawn to dusk) during Ramadan. Then there’s vegetarians, vegans, and pescatarians as well.
I am not exemplifying the Amish as the ideal. However, there are advantages to placing restrictions on yourselves. Shortcuts and convenience don’t necessarily make you a happier human being.
Everyone dislikes hardship, but what many fail to understand is that there are two types of hardship: the hardship of self-discipline and the hardship of regret. We tend to try and avoid self-discipline but this often leads to the most profound disappointment – regret.
Successful people challenge themselves to conquer their fears. They know that comfort does not equal happiness and fortify themselves by voluntarily going through avoidable hardships. They realize the pain of self-discipline is trivial when compared with the limitless potential for growth.
I hope that every reader takes on at least one of these challenges. I would love to hear how the experience changes you, so please comment below. If you have your own challenges to share, let me know, I am always looking to grow. Thanks for reading. Good luck, and Godspeed!