This One Thing Defines the Limits of Your Self-Improvement

This One Thing Defines the Limits of Your Self-Improvement

This One Thing Defines the Limits of Your Self-Improvement

voluntary discomfort

You’re on a quest to become the best man you can be.

You read inspiring books and articles. You watch motivational videos. You listen to thought-provoking podcasts.

You’ve quit bad habits, formed new, positive ones, and set ambitious goals for yourself. Now you’re on track to change your life.

A week or two have passed. Perhaps you’re seeing the first results of your resolutions already. Things are going smoothly and you’re pumped up to continue and keep killing it.

Things will get better for you until… they won’t.

Why? Because there’s one element you’ve most likely missed that will eventually catch up with you. It defines the limits of your self-improvement, yet is rarely talked about or taken into account when setting goals.

Am I talking about persistence?


Do I have work ethic in mind?

Not exactly.

Is it self-discipline?


The key element that defines the limits of your self-improvement is the amount of discomfort you’re willing and able to tolerate over the long term, past the initial excitement.

Life’s Easy When You Live It the Hard Way…

…and hard if you try to live it the easy way.

Coined by Dave Kekich, author of Kekich Credo, it’s one of my favorite quotes and a game-changing perspective to look at the world.

If you adopt this quote as your life motto and embrace discomfort daily, you’ll be unstoppable. You’ll crush your limits and grow as a man every single day. But if you ignore this truth and rely on motivation alone, you’ll fail like thousands of men before you.

How come?

Consider this man about to embark on his own self-improvement journey…

To strengthen his soul, he comes up with a big mission to pursue. To take care of his body, he plans to join a local gym and eat healthy food. To keep his mind sharp, he vows to stay away from porn, video games, and other distractions, and study a new marketable skill.

The world will be his. The planning alone is so exciting. He’s so pumped up that his eyes have a brilliant spark, as if he were a comic superhero facing his nemesis.

The first week goes well. He’s so fueled by his newfound energy that it feels easy. New habits come naturally, old habits don’t tempt him. He’s a man on a mission. Distractions have no power over him.

The second week is… a little bit more challenging. But not a problem. It’s the last vestiges of his weak self that are talking. The man is slowly becoming a beast. He will soon show the world his true power that for so long has lurked deep inside. Of that, he has no doubt.

The third week comes and…

…the man is nowhere to be found.

After a little bit of searching, we find him in the basement, snacking on chips and playing his favorite video game. Used up tissues litter the dirty room. His gaze is zombie-like, his eyes bloodshot red and his stomach bulging out like never before.

He hasn’t left his post for the last 48 hours and doesn’t plan to do so in the foreseeable future. His goals? What goals? It was hell. There was no way he could live a terrible life like that, forcing himself to do such hard, unpleasant things and giving up his favorite pastimes.

What happened? Why a man so motivated to improve has failed so dramatically so fast?

Everyday reality has caught up with him. The moment his initial fire burned out, discomfort overpowered him. With the feel-good motivation replaced by daily struggles, he was unable to continue. His low tolerance of discomfort ended his self-improvement journey shortly after he started.

Everyone can feel great pursuing their goals when they’re fueled by initial excitement and things go well. But when motivation goes away and things go hard (as they inevitably always do), it’s only those who welcome discomfort who can succeed over the long term.

How Do You Train to Handle More Discomfort?

Just like a professional fighter can take a punch that would send an average Joe to the hospital, every man needs to learn how to take punches from life. We can achieve that through voluntarily experiencing adversity.

Think of the ability to withstand discomfort as a muscle, only it’s a muscle that affects your performance in every single aspect of your life.

How do you train this muscle? Here are five ideas to get you started:

1. The most accessible way to train to bear more discomfort is to push your physical limits. And no, I don’t mean merely going through the motions during your workout at the gym. I mean, hard, dedicated, grin-and-bear it kind of physical activity that will question why you’re doing it because it sucks so much. This includes things like: high-rep squats, hill sprints, grueling martial arts classes, or carrying a heavy sandbag as far as you can.

2. There’s no better way to prepare your mind for the challenges ahead than by taking a cold shower in the morning. It sucks, your entire being will hate it, and you’ll be tempted to turn the hot water handle the moment the cold water hits your body. That’s the moment where you train your discomfort muscle. Despite how unpleasant it is, don’t back away. Learn to be comfortable with the unpleasant sensation.

3. Abstain from food for at least a full day. Few men in the developed world have ever experienced true hunger. Not eating for at least 24 hours is not only a great way to train how to handle discomfort. It’ll also help you appreciate food more and realize that you aren’t “starving” just because you haven’t eaten for a few hours.

4. The ability to withstand discomfort isn’t limited to physical feats only. One of your duties as a man is to take ownership of difficult problems. Be aware when you shirk away from responsibility. Act despite your discomfort. For example, if you’re avoiding a friend who’s grieving because you don’t know what to say, here’s your chance to lean into the discomfort (and be a loyal friend instead of a fair-weather one).

5. Pick a difficult subject to study and keep trying to understand it no matter how frustrating it is. This will help you learn how to stay with a problem for as long as it takes to solve it.

If you keep improving your discomfort tolerance, you’ll never hit your limits of self-improvement. What’s the first uncomfortable thing you’re going to do today?

Did you enjoy this article?

Martin runs a weekly newsletter for men called Discomfort Club in which he discusses how men can use the power of voluntary discomfort to pursue personal excellence. Sign up for the newsletter at

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3 thoughts on “This One Thing Defines the Limits of Your Self-Improvement”

  1. these editions on Menprovement are great, I enjoyed browsing through other posts too!
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  2. I didn’t have any expectations concerning that title, but the more I was astonished. The author did a great job. I spent a few minutes reading and checking the facts. Everything is very clear and understandable. I like posts that fill in your knowledge gaps. This one is of the sort.


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