Your Definition of Toughness Doesn’t Serve You

What comes to your mind when you hear the word toughness? The stereotypical guy who wears leather jackets, rides a motorcycle, eats meat, and drinks beer? If that’s so, you define the word tough as “prone to violence.”

Needless to say, that definition won’t help you much in today’s society. If you think you’re tough, you’ll be aggressive toward others, even if you don’t get physical.

With that attitude, you might think you’re “getting things done,” but in reality, you’ll be alienating people, and from time to time, you’ll get in real trouble.

Both Ends of That Definition Is Problematic

You might think that you aren’t tough, because you’re a civilized person. In that case, you’ll be nice to everybody, all the time, no matter what they do, and no matter what the conditions are.

Both attitudes are inadequate in today’s society, and both stem from your definition of the word tough as “prone to violence.”

How are we going to solve this problem then? Yes, you’ve guessed it right. We’re going to adopt a different definition of the word tough.

Tough: to be able to endure hardship or pain.

That definition is much more useful in today’s society if you’re living in a Western democracy or in a society that resembles it. Now, what comes to your mind when you adopt that definition? A woman who gives birth to a child naturally comes to my mind.

The Virtues Included in Toughness

With that definition, you don’t need to be aggressive toward others, get into trouble, and alienate people to be tough.

That definition involves the perseverance to keep working toward your goals when the going gets tough. It entails having the self-discipline to stick to your commitments no matter how hard they become.

It requires cultivating the courage to face your scariest fears. All of that sounds more meaningful and useful to me than “being prone to violence.”

How to Develop Toughness

If we define toughness as “the ability to endure hardship or pain,” how can we develop it? No, you don’t need to become a masochist, but some fitness training might help. The first thing that comes to mind is weight training.

Weight training could improve your toughness, but in my experience, jogging works better. When lifting weights, the hard part is over after a few repetitions, and I can rest. With jogging, I’m subject to an extended period of demanding, low-intensity physical activity.

Lifting Weights vs. Jogging

When lifting weights, my body is in pain, but my mind enjoys the process. When I first started jogging, my body didn’t like it, but my mind hated it. It lacked the stimulation of lifting weights and induced unbearable boredom.

Nowadays, I’m getting used to jogging and even starting to enjoy the process. Perhaps, it works, and I’m getting tougher.

The Wim Hof Method

There’s another method I’m trying nowadays. That’s the Wim Hof Method. It’s a combination of a breathing method and cold showers.

You might think that I wouldn’t mind the breathing but hate the cold showers, but it’s the other way around.

After 45 seconds of deep breathing, my body gets used to the cold shower, and it’s like swimming in the sea. But that breathing feels so boring.

Find Your Own Practice

What I find uncomfortable and what you find uncomfortable can be different. The bottom line is to develop toughness, find something that you find uncomfortable and do it. In other words, love the pain.

1% Improvements

You don’t need to take the hardest challenge in your first attempt when developing toughness. All you have to do is to get out of your comfort zone 1% every day. Those 1% improvements add up over time.

For example, you don’t need to take a cold shower on your first attempt. At the end of your regular shower, turn the water as cold as you can endure, and spend one minute under it.

Turn the water colder every day until you reach the coldest position. When you reach that level, increase the duration by 15 seconds every day. Needless to say, don’t do cold showers if you have any health conditions to avoid fainting and injury.

Use Inversion

The second way of developing toughness is to use the inversion method. That is eliminating everything that weakens you. That might be an internet addiction, recreational drugs, including alcohol and coffee, or gaming addiction.

Cultivate Compassion

The third method is cultivating compassion. It’s hard to develop compassion toward a person when you’re immersed in anger.

It requires stepping into their shoes and looking at the world from their point of view. And it’s a rewarding skill in the real world.


If you define toughness as “being prone to violence,” you’ll either embrace it or discard it. Neither option is beneficial in the long run.

If you define toughness as “the ability to handle hardship and pain,” and work on cultivating it, you’ll increase your chances of success in the real world.

There are several ways of developing toughness, physical activity, eliminating the habits that weaken you, and cultivating compassion.

And don’t forget, it’s a process. You can develop world-class toughness by improving your self-discipline, courage, and perseverance by 1% every day.