Do Hard Things
Forget The New Year Resolutions
I've never been a fan of New Year's resolutions but I understand the mentality of them. If you go to a public gym, you are well aware that within a few weeks the new crowd will disappear along with the vast majority of every resolution embarked on. You may be in the 5% that accomplish a resolution and I support that but for most, I have different advice.
I gave up the cliche of a new year's resolution years ago and began focusing on ways to be better each and every day. For me, the last day of the year is the most important because it is then you can look back and determine if you are better than you were a year ago.
That approach does come with a bit of caution if you’ve been doing anything for a while, including leadership. It is hard to get better.
I've lived long enough to understand that the natural default of most humans is "status quo." Whether as a leader, police officer, father, mother or in relationships, it's always easier to just get by. That inclination is exactly why Jocko Willink or David Goggins have become so popular. Their work ethic and attitude is fascinating to so many because we see them as an oddity in a world that seems to encourage the exact opposite.
I am no different. My default is absolute laziness.
I’ve been in my law enforcement career for close to 30 years and after 26 in a supervisor and management role, I’ve pretty much “been there and done that.” I set out 20 years ago to become one of the top speakers and trainers in the business and I’ve dialed that in to a level that has rivaled any success I ever imagined. My personal life and family relationships are great and all of this scares me…..
It scares me because it would be very easy to just sit back and stop.
Stop providing new material and courses.
Stop pushing for greatness at my agency (the ole’ retired on duty approach)
Stop developing a fresh approach with my wife and kids
It would be easy to just stop working and ride this out
And that is a dangerous place to be if you want to be a Courageous Leader.
If you can commit to doing hard things, it will radically change your life for the better. Each person reading this will have different needs and goals but maybe it will help if I tell you how I do "hard things."
If you try to do hard things in every aspect of your life, you will likely end up doing nothing. You only have 24 hours in a day and a significant amount of that is taken up with sleep and prior commitments so start off small, with realistic goals, and commit to never stopping.
In fact, my challenge to you on this first day of 2023, it to commit to doing one new hard thing and don’t stop. The beauty of doing hard things is that unless you are the absolute best in the world at what you want to improve on, you can tackle the issue. Even if you are the best, you must keep doing hard things to remain the best.
The key is figuring out what you want to get better at and while it's natural to run away from things you are terrible at, that could be a great place to start. I’ve noticed in my career that struggles give individuals two distinct decisions.
They either lean in to the struggle and work hard to get better or they run from the struggle and stay bad at it.
I've been involved in training for most of my career and I've noticed a trend that if people are not very good at something, they tend to stay away from that skill. Meanwhile, if they are above average, they are attracted to getting better at that skill. My agency offers various courses throughout the year and what I've noticed for close to thirty years is that those that show up at the firearm or driving range on a volunteer basis are typically those that need it the least. Whether it's ego or not, as you assess what you need to get better at, evaluate yourself with honesty and reject that internal voice that tells you that it may be too difficult or too embarrassing to participate in something.
Indeed, if you are bad or good at something, your default will be to not get better but that just may be the area(s) for you to do hard things in.
Career & Personal
I always try to do hard things in both my career and my personal life. Once again, you will default to your comfort zone so fight through that and select an area in both places. It took me a long time to understand the importance of a proper balance of work and personal life.
If you have ever looked in the mirror and thought it was lying to you, then you will recognize our natural inclination to suck at self awareness. If you are going to do hard things, you can't trust yourself to hold yourself accountable. Find someone that will tell you the truth, tell them your goals and ask them to hold your feet to the fire.
In 2017, I decided to write a book but writing a book was hard. A year later, I had barely touched it along with a wide array of thoughts that made little to no sense. I had every excuse you can think of. Work was busy, family was busy and life just happened. It wasn't until I called a friend and told him what I wanted to do that it got done. I gave him permission to keep me on a schedule and if I failed, he needed to rip into me. When I started on my Doctoral Degree in 2018, I did the same thing with another friend. It worked and I will be defending that degree in a few months.
Get Better & Like It
I was struggling a few days ago at the gym and the pain must have been apparent on my face. A friend walked up to me and said, “did you get better today…just commit to being better today than yesterday and you have accomplished something.” I joked with him and told him if I wanted a motivational speech, I would go to YouTube but what he said was true. So many times we focus on the best of the best and get frustrated if we can’t do everything they can but they didn’t start as the best.
They started with the mentality that every day is an opportunity to get a little better.
So make a decision to do something hard and to get just a little better each day. Last January I decided I wanted to play the guitar. As much as I'd like to be the next Eric Clapton, I have to be realistic in my goal. That goal was to get a little better each time I opened that app to learn and it has been hard. If my fingers could talk, they would have screamed in agony many times over the last year but I’m better today than last week and definitely better than last year. The guitar will continue and a few months ago, I started the next hard thing.
After a struggle with a 110 pound female (spider clone) that should not have taken as long as it did, I walked into a Jiu Jitsu Gym for the first time. For those that have done it, you know exactly what my body feels like right now.
If I thought the guitar was humbling, they need to invent another word for what I’m experiencing at the moment.
And it’s awesome.
It’s awesome to be doing things at a high level, get some praise for it, and then start something that literally a 12 year old could beat me in (and has!).
None of what I just said is automatic. Everything around you is telling you to ignore doing hard things. You can sit in front of any digital device and watch anything you want at anytime. You can scroll on your phone for hours and wonder where the day went. You are told that when things don't go your way, it's always the fault of someone else. We have turned into society that gave everyone a participation trophy to telling everyone they are super important and don’t think that couldn’t rub off on you.
There are days, I have to will my self to walk into that gym or open that guitar app. Performing those tasks remind me that I have so far to go, I may not live long enough to play one song or attain one belt and that is exactly the place anyone seeking Courageous Leadership needs to be in.
I challenge you to try it out and let me know below what your Hard Thing will be.
Lead on & Stay Courageous!
Dr. Travis Yates is a commander with a large municipal police department and author of “The Courageous Police Leader: A Survival Guide for Combating Cowards, Chaos & Lies.” His risk management and leadership seminars have been taught to thousands of professionals across the world. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy with a Doctorate Degree in Strategic Leadership.