Do the Unnecessarily Difficult Things

“That coach just runs those girls to death.” I overheard a customer say this while I was waiting tables. I had to laugh a little, because I was one of “those girls.” Our basketball coach was a local legend. His grueling physical training was par for the course when you played ball for him. (FYI, in his 30 years of coaching, no girls actually died. Although, there were days when it felt highly probable.)

Do unnecessarily Difficult things

When moderation seems like the most prudent thing, why do some people make things unnecessarily difficult? Why take things to an extreme? Why not just take a more balanced and reasonable approach to saving and paying down debt?

Reasonable is rarely life changing. 

Here are 3 benefits of choosing to make a few things unnecessarily difficult.

1. You learn 3x as fast

One of the reasons I am a fan of the unreasonable is that it stretches us. If you want to pay off debt, while investing, while giving, it will be 3x as hard. You will have to learn 3x as much information. Develop 3x the frugal skills. Work 3x as hard to increase your income.

It’s in challenge and struggle that we become more creative. We have to learn faster and learn more.

I did a 12 month shopping ban right after 9 months of pregnancy. This presents unreasonable challenges. First off,  I hadn’t bought any non-maternity clothes in a year prior to starting this shopping ban. Then, after having a baby and while breastfeeding, hardly anything fit properly. 

During this shopping ban, I owned 1 pair of blue jeans. Of course, they developed 2 holes in them. Not in a convenient spot. After a month of just leggings and dresses, I figured out I could wear leggings under my jeans. I figured out a creative solution because of an unnecessarily difficult  “no buying clothes” rule.

I mentioned how ill timed this shopping ban was to a friend. Naturally she said, “Well, of course you adjusted this crazy plan.” Ah, I just smiled. Nope. I’ll learn a lot more about myself, my relationship to clothes shopping and creative solutions from my ill planned resolution than I ever would from something more “reasonable.”

2. Lessons from the end of your rope

There are some things you can only learn under extreme trial. When you are pushed to very end of your rope in this unnecessarily hard thing, you learn something about yourself.

There was always a distinct difference between freshman ball players and seniors. And not just in their height or skill. After four years training with this coach, you knew you would live. You knew when you hit the end of your rope, there was still more you could give. You knew how fast you could run a drill after throwing up. There were less tears.

When you are physically and mentally pushed to tears, you learn something about yourself. You have more to give, if asked for more. You learn it a little the first time. You understand it even more by the 5th time you have thrown up and broken down in tears, and then still run 3 more timed sets. By the 12th time, you don’t cry. It still sucks. But you know you have what it takes. There are no more tears of fear, hopelessness or desperation. You might throw up, but you can still run.

You learned something from the end of your rope.

3. You are prepared for Real Difficult things

Sometimes life is legit hard. Parents pass away. Our children might pass away. Friends get cancer. We get laid off or fired from a job. We adopt special needs kids with challenging behaviors. Our spouse walks out on us. We end up with $50,000 of debt. Legitimately hard stuff happens.

If we have done unnecessarily difficult things, we have learned a pattern.

You throw up, you feel hopeless, desperate, and full of fear, you cry, and you keep running.

Just like you have done 100 times before.

I remember being on a long car ride a few months after our son passed away. I felt like I had been hit by a truck, everything in me hurt. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. Staring out at the beautiful Montana landscape, on the verge of tears and despair, this thought popped into my head: “This feels an awful lot like waking up in bed that first week of practice. Every part of my body was in excruciating pain. I had no idea how I would stand up and walk, let alone run for 3 hours that morning, and another 3 hours in the afternoon. There was a mix of feelings: overwhelm, fear and the nagging questions, “Can I even do this? Do I really have a choice?”

As we drove through the mountains and tall pines, I thought about how that first week of training did make us stronger and faster. But before the strength came, it felt like we could barely stand up. Even a flight of stairs was difficult and painful to manage. Remembering that gave me a spark of hope. Despite feeling completely crushed in that moment, I hoped that one day I could walk again, and even run. Maybe in years to come, I could be stronger for having walked through this difficult season. Nothing could have made the experience of losing my son easier, but doing unnecessarily difficult things gave me hope that it wouldn’t always be as crushing as it was that day. 

In basketball, we never stopped training when the girls starting throwing up and crying.

Because we wouldn’t have learned how much more was really in us after we hit that breaking point. Knowing how much more you have to give after you hit that breaking point is what wins games in the 4th quarter. When the other team is exhausted, doubled over, in pain, and a little scared, we can have that smirk that says, “This? Oh, we are just getting started! I have 6 more quarters in me if that is what it takes to win this game.”


We live in a culture that fears or despises hard things.

“Why try to pay off your debt that fast?”

“It’s crazy to try to pay cash for a house!”

“Why would you save 50% of your income!?

“You should really rethink this shopping ban.”

“Why save all that money to reach FI?”

“Be more reasonable. Don’t make things unnecessarily hard. Take your time. Be more balanced.”

 I say: Do one unnecessarily difficult thing! Find your limits, then keep digging. Because this well could be much deeper than you think. And your best work might come long after you wanted to quit.

Instead of saving a 5% down payment, save a 50% down payment.

Instead of taking 30 years to pay off your house, do it in 9.

Instead of barely having enough to retire at 65, have enough by 50.

Instead of paying off your student loans over 10 years, eat rice and beans while working an extra job and pay it off in 2 years.

Just because it hurts, is overwhelming, or pushes you to your limit doesn’t mean your doing anything wrong.

In fact, you might be on exactly the right path.

Random suggestions:

Physical challenges, like training for a half marathon or a 50 mile hike

Fasting 1 day a week for a year (I did this and it was HARD)

If you write, write 10,000 words in a weekend.

A shopping or spending ban

If you are an introvert, try striking up conversations with 5 strangers a day for a week

Camp in a pop up camper with 5 little kids for 6 weeks…oh wait. That was fun. =)


Because of that coach, I knew I could do all sorts of things. Difficult things. I could learn advanced chemistry between 8pm-midnight. I could leave our small town. I could adopt kids with challenging needs. I could move overseas. I could travel on my own. I could pay cash for a house. I could learn how to renovate from You Tube.

The more difficult things I do, real or unnecessarily difficult, the more confidence I have in my grit. I know how deep the well is. And when I come to the end of my rope: overwhelmed by fear, hopelessness, and doubt, I know I have more in me. I might just have to throw up and have a good cry first.

For conversation:

Ever done a sport or hobby with “that” coach?

Any unnecessarily difficult things you are trying to do?

Has the unnecessarily difficult things ever help in other areas of your life? Do you have more grit because of it?



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32 thoughts on “Do the Unnecessarily Difficult Things

  1. Does making a human count?! 😉 I think our life would have been simpler if we stayed DINKs. And that’s not a knock on that choice. I’m really impressed with my friends who have chosen to not have kids and aren’t giving into pressure to make a choice that isn’t right for them. That might be even more unnecessarily difficult!

    Also, extra mortgage payments, side hustling, basically everything I blog about. It’s easy to be the norm.

    • It is easy to be the norm. I think that is one of the great things about pf blogs: people to cheer you on while doing crazy difficult things because they are important to you. Like all those extra mortgage payments you guys make! If we only listened to people who said, “Why don’t you just slow down and enjoy xyz a bit more.” It can be hard to stay focused on the things that are important to you. I love how supportive the blog community is of taking on the unnecessarily difficult things!

    • This was an awesome post.

      And I would say making a human completely counts. Just like I feel strongly for birthing them with no extras. Just o’natural . Birthing a child with no pain killers in this day and age is choosing to do something unnecessarily hard.

      The norm now is why put yourself through the pain with the invention of an epidural.

      I say why not. Your body was made to do the job.

  2. Wow! I loved your message! Tony Robbins always says the way to feel fulfilled in life is to continue growing, and that challenges are the catalyst for growth. Finding a super difficult challenge to tackle will lead to super growth!

    • I find that when I can develop grit in one area it serves me well in other areas too. Even if they don’t seem related. Like the fasting one day a week is a great practice in consistency and tenacity even when you aren’t “feeling it.” The growth from that habit has helped with my writing routine. Just showing up each day and getting my words down, even when I’m not super excited about the idea. Now, they might be crap, and I might delete every single one, but I did what I planned to do.

  3. Mmmhmm absolutely had that coach. In all my sports, actually. We always had to train the hard way so that when we mastered the skill, any other way would be easy. And it was true, we had better stamina, better form, and better discipline doing it that way. But I gotta tell you, “ten more!” after you’re dropping and about to throw up didn’t feel QUITE so virtuous in the moment 😉

    Luckily I was convinced of the efficacy long before I started doing sports and remain convinced of it well after. Thus, if we’re going to retire early, I’m aiming for an unnecessarily high number in assets because if we can achieve it ethically, what could it hurt to aim high? Even if we “fail” at 50%, that’s a lot higher than failing at 50% of a much lower goal.

    I never understood people who’d say: “Why don’t you just slow down and enjoy xyz a bit more.

    What makes you think I don’t enjoy a challenge? I love it. I may not love it right this second but overall, the growth is amazing and I can be proud of my financial choices so much more than I could have if I hadn’t pushed myself.

    • I also love a challenge and feeling like I accomplished something significant. I think that everyone who played for that coach is proud of the time and work they put into the game and the wins that came from it.

  4. Rewind almost 2 decades ago and I was a wrestler. That meant three hours a day five pound loss practices. Similarly I went to what can affectionately be called a weed out school for my undergrad (us news flagged it as the school with the least happy students the year I was there for related reasons). Everything in my life since those two points has seemed easy. I do follow and espouse the path of moderation these days, but only in the wake of remembering the path through fire I had to get here. I.e. It’s part of appreciating how good you have it when you bust your butt for a week as opposed to four years. I also think most people’s financial turn around has come in the face of dark times of some sort, whether it be their own making or others like me from my parents. So I guess I agree in some regards, though better early on then when your in your thirties and exercising for three hours a day sounds like torture.

  5. Awesome life mantra, Ms. Montana! You have to push the envelope to grow and develop. We all need to have grit. They talk about how we need to teach our kids how to develop grit, well we should never grow out of it. We all need to keep developing grit because life isn’t always easy.

    • I love the idea of never growing out of it! And the funny thing is, if we constantly take on one hard thing, everything else gets a little easier. That grit we develop can serve us well in so many areas.

  6. You just summed up perfectly how I’ve been feeling the last couple month. I had heard this podcast once where this guy was saying one of the reasons we are all dissatisfied is because truly, in this time in history, things really haven’t been that hard. Everything is fast, easy, and pretty much readily available. We never really built that resilience muscle. Now many have to some degree, like you losing your son (I’m so very sorry) or surviving a long time without a job, or an illness, etc. That makes us really stronger. I see a lot of people around me complaining about the smallest things, and it drives me crazy! Great post!

    • I think one of the differences is when things get challenging, folks who have developed some grit and resilience know their best work is yet to come. Where others see things being challenging as the sign to quite. It makes me a little sad to see people get so bogged down by small inconveniences. It’s hard to do great things and overcome the bigger challenges that come with that if we get hung up on little problems.

  7. This one’s tough to wrap my head around. I’ve had some truly painful and cruel life experiences, but they’ve made me who I am today. Would I change them if I could? YES! and no? I don’t know. I like who I am, but there are some things that no one should have to endure and I would never want my (hypothetical) kids to go through.

    On the other hand, there were other experiences that were in a group, and while it truly sucked for all of us, at least we were in it together and that somehow made it better. Stay up for 48 hours and work for over 30 hours in a row? No problem. No day off in 21 days? Bring it on. Be cursed at, spit at, and treated like scum by patients and your superiors and sit there with a smile? Thank you, Sir, may I please have another?

    I don’t know what the right answers are. As long as the experiences are in the rearview mirror, they’re okay, but I wouldn’t volunteer for them ahead of time even knowing they’d be good for me.

    • I can get having mixed feelings. Personally I would have skipped every legit hard thing. Every friend that passed away. Everyone I cared about that got cancer. All the experienced trauma and abuse my adopted kids have gone through. I would have skipped it for myself and for everyone else if I could have. Instead we could have hiked Kilimanjaro, or ran a half marathon. Camped in the snow. Or paid off our mortgages fast. Filled life up with fun, unnecessarily difficult things and skipped all the legit sucky stuff. =)

  8. Yes! I have one person in my life that always asks me “why do you do this to yourself” because I do tend to push myself to do things that are unnecessarily difficult. I guess, I’d rather try it than not. And when I fall, I’d rather get back up rather than give up.

    One example is getting my black belt as a not-so-athletic almost 40 year old. This changed my confidence and outlook on life. It helped me see that I’m capable of more than I thought. Through injuries, bruises and black eyes…I survived.

    • Oh my gosh, getting a black belt is the perfect example! I’m sure you had people think or even say, “Amanda, why don’t you just do 20 minutes on the elliptical 3x a week and a spin class once a month like the rest of us.” But having done that, you know exactly why that unnecessarily difficult thing was 100x different. Way to go!

  9. I’m terrible at doing unnecessary difficult things. I enjoy my comfortable life and will only do the really difficult things if it’s the last option. It’d be good to build up some grit for both the kid and me. We are such softies.
    Striking up conversations is extremely difficult for me. I had to put on my extrovert face when I went to FinCon last year and it was exhausting. It was only a few days, though.

    • I’m such an introvert too! I have this theory that most writers and speakers are strong introverts. People often think I’m extroverted because I really like people and enjoy writing and public speaking. But standing in front of a large crowd and talking at them or an hour is very different than making small talk for an hour with strangers. =) The first being fun, the second being torture.

  10. Funny that you mention basketball… We had a coach that made us do court runs and free throws until – as a team we would have 20 in a row… Does not sound much, at first. One miss, the count starts again at 0. Amazing how fast you can find focus and dont miss…

    The introvert idea is quite challenging for me… What if I try to speak to everyone on the Belgian/Holland Meetup next weekend?

  11. I had a baseball coach that was the worst. We collectively hated him and I think that was actually his goal. He thought if we could rally around our hatred of him to do great things in spite of him that we would come out on top. Funny thing was he was right. He would berate us and say that we weren’t good enough which would push us even further to prove him wrong. It’s interesting how reverse psychology can really work at times.

  12. These are fighting words Ms. Montana! Sometimes that’s what you need more than anything. So motivating and inspiring as always…

  13. What an awesome post! Makes me want to do one of those all-nighters I used to do in college. Maybe make it a once a month thing.

    Your bball story reminds me of the days I used to swim. We had “bump and taper” weeks before regionals. 2 “bump” weeks of excruciating practices followed by a week of “taper”, some of the easiest practices all season. By the end of the taper week, you felt like you could fly through the water and destroyed all your personal best times.

    As long as you have that taper built in, the bump is super effective (Of course, we were still active and in the pool) Otherwise, I think there’s a good chance of burnout.

    Again. Great post!

    • Wowza. Sometimes just reading about other peoples physical training turns my stomach just a bit. 😉 I think it’s great to throw a few challenging things in now and then, just to keep us sharp.

  14. It wasn’t necessarily the coach but more the sport. I was a distance swimmer in college, and as much as I hated those 6AM practices, never-ending dryland sessions, and the occasional 2-a-days, I learned I could do much more than I ever expected because I was pushed hard. My coach knew how to keep me motivated without yelling, but he also expected a lot out of his team. We respected our coach because he helped us get results. We always swam our personal best times at big meets, and we were able to achieve goals we never even thought were possible.

    When I hit roadblocks in life, I try to remind myself of the horrible practices, and I tell myself that if I can get through a 5 mile swim practice, I can get through whatever else life throws at me.

    • That is awesome! I find myself saying the same thing, “If I could do that, I can handle this!” I will be forever grateful to that coach. He helped build a grit that has served me well ever since. =)