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There is a quote that resonated with me the first time I heard it: “Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it’s a small price to pay for living a dream.”
This was originally said by Peter McWilliams, a best-selling self-help author who advocated for the use of medical marijuana. It helped me when I first graduated from college and was going through some periods of pretty tough anxiety.
In hindsight, while my issues seemed huge to me at the time, what I was experiencing was minor compared to those who enlist in the military. While I can’t speak from personal experience, I don’t think anyone goes into the military expecting it to be a cakewalk. I’m sure everyone realizes that their time serving our country is going to be physically and psychologically draining–and if they don’t know that in the beginning, it probably doesn’t take them long to figure it out.
In the military, there’s a saying that is very similar to the one I originally mentioned that urges people to “embrace the suck”. In military jargon, this means To consciously accept or appreciate something that is extremely unpleasant but unavoidable. This Operation Iraqi Freedom phrase is both a military order and a well-advised concept that anyone can use in their daily life disguised as a witty remark.
In this video, David Goggins, a former Navy SEAL turned motivational speaker, explains how he applied this mantra to his everyday experiences going through Navy SEAL training (warning: explicit language).
While Goggins’ struggles are very unique to him, we all experience hardships in our lives that suck to us. Because of this, this term has grown to be used by everyday people and can be applied to your life to help you get through those difficult times.
Knowing this mindset is valuable because it’s a helpful mantra to build self-improvement and gain mental toughness.
In this article, we are going to talk about how you can apply this mantra to your life when you’re facing adversity. Then, I will give you a few lessons that you can take away from this common military saying.
How to Apply This Mantra to Your Life
Think about something tough that you have to deal with on a regular basis. It can be as major or as seemingly minor as you want. You don’t have to come up with something that is comparable to going through Navy SEAL training–just something that negatively impacts your life.
Here are some examples to consider:
Now think about your attitude when you’re facing this situation.
That feeling that you have toward your “thing” probably seeps a bit further into your life than simply during the time you’re engaging in the activity. You probably experience some feelings of dread beforehand and you may even mope around a bit when this activity is on the horizon. You end up dealing with this constant sense of hate surrounding this activity.
Let’s say you’re in a job that really makes you resent five out of the seven days of the week. However, you find yourself rationalizing staying in this job because the commute is easy, you’re already settled in, you don’t want to start over, etc.
The thing is, the more you try to rationalize remaining miserable, the stronger your feelings of discontent will become. If you don’t face your unhappiness, you will simply prolong the misery.
I think many people are in this situation when it comes to their jobs, but why?
The answer is: habit, familiarity, and ease.
Even though in the long run you would be happier if you developed a new routine in a new job, right now it’s easier to sacrifice these long-term goals and the possibility of actually finding a job that you would enjoy because doing so would require you to reboot your current familiar habits.
The alternative requires moving into the unknown, which is often scarier and seemingly more uncomfortable than simply dealing with “the suck,” so we just remain content with being miserable.
Taking the easy way out here is causing you to waste a lot of really important time in your life. Your career gives you an opportunity to feel a sense of fulfillment and do something you enjoy while also earning a living wage. In this case, it’s best to embrace a different type of suck by job hunting, interviewing, and finding a new normal for your life that will ultimately benefit you.
In any of these situations–or anything personal that you can think of that applies to your own life–you can embrace the suck to get through it. There are many ways in which this saying can help you, including urging you to:
To understand a bit more about how “embracing the suck” can apply to your life, let’s look at some lessons that you can take away from this attitude.
8 Lessons to Take Away For Your Own Life
1. You Have to Figure It Out
No matter what is in front of you, you have to figure out a way to overcome it in order to make any kind of progression.
I remember in 7th grade when I was on the soccer team, some of the other girls got in trouble for messing around so our coach made the whole team run…a lot. I remember thinking to myself, “I could either complain about this or I can just accept it–either way, I still have to run.”
This shift in attitude made the running just a bit easier, as I was no longer reminding myself just how miserable I was.
So whatever task you’re struggling with or whatever is making you really miserable–but you can’t avoid doing it for whatever reason–remember that you have control over your attitude, and you can choose to make the situation either worse for yourself or even just a bit more positive by adjusting your thought process.
When you’re doing something that you don’t want to do, it’s easy to think, “Why am I putting myself through this?”
Another personal example, when I used to get up at 4:40 every morning to go for a run (pre-kids), I remember the freezing cold air hugging my body as I gripped my frigid steering wheel and slid through ice (while still half asleep) just to drive a few miles to the running trails. There were many mornings that from the second my alarm went off all the way until I was about a mile in on my run, I asked myself…”Why did I choose this option over my warm bed?”
But I knew that the outcome was worth the struggle. Sure, I could easily turn my alarm off and avoid being shocked by the subzero temperatures the second I walked out the door. But all of those feelings were temporary and I knew that I was ultimately achieving the greater good by enduring the struggle every morning.
And, I’m not going to lie, getting into work knowing that I had already done that as I saw other people roaming the halls half-asleep made me feel pretty badass.
Whatever you’re dealing with right now, think about how persevering through that struggle will benefit you once you come out on the other side. Ask yourself how you can get through this. Instead of looking for escape routes, start building a wall around all of the possible ways out.
Instead of reminding yourself how hard this is, simply ask yourself how you can get through this. Doing so will increase your mental strength and alter your focus from the problem to a solution, putting you in the position to solve seemingly unreasonable problems.
3. You Can Create Mental Toughness
There is a theme that often arises when people talk about “embracing the suck” that suggests dealing with–and creating–friction in your life will help you build this sense of mental toughness that will get you through anything.
What happens to the places on your hands and feet that endure a lot of friction? You develop calluses, right? Those areas of skin get tough as they build protection from future agitation. This same concept applies to your attitude.
In my last example, I was definitely giving some pushback to the elements– the early morning fatigue, the cold air, that first mile when I felt like I wasn’t even awake yet. I had this friction that I was working against, but would always come out on top. And the more I did it, the easier it became. I got so used to spending my mornings like this, I never gave it a second thought.
What kind of friction can you create in your life to help you build a sense of acceptance for challenges? If purposefully adding friction to your life sounds harsh, you have to learn to love the feeling of success–because after sacrificing comfort, you’ll find the rewards to be every bit worth of the effort.
If you only focus on your strengths, you’re taking the easy way out. In order to grow, you need to engage in some activities that are completely new to you that make you (at least a bit) uncomfortable. These activities need to be those where your strengths won’t help you make it through, so you can construct new ways to survive these circumstances. Doing so will help you build a sense of mental toughness that will later help you embrace uncharted territories.
4. Practice Enduring the Struggles
Have you ever noticed that it’s on the days that you feel your best that you decide to go above and beyond? These are the days that you decide to get started on a project that isn’t due for weeks.
We often excel on these days when everything is seemingly falling into place in our lives.
However, if this is the only time that you practice doing things that you normally wouldn’t really want to do, you won’t be prepared when you have to do these tasks in less-than-optimal conditions. Because of this, it’s a good idea to practice doing the things that you really dread when the conditions aren’t optimal. Doing so will help you be prepared for when you have to face these challenges under less-than-desirable circumstances.
5. Engage With the Sucky Work
Is there a tedious task you have to do at home on a regular basis, or perhaps you find your weekly team meeting at work to be a complete waste of time? These things suck, but they’re unavoidable. This is a good instance in which you can choose to adjust your attitude to make the situation seem a bit better.
Engage in the pointless meeting. Bring up some issues or concerns that aren’t pointless and see how others respond. If you’re constantly disengaged during this process, your teammates will know. It will be clear through your body language. But by simply adjusting how you’re sitting and the look on your face, you can become more engaged, because the truth is,your body language has a big impact on how you think and feel.
Your body language and your mentality are connected. This means that if you’re disengaged mentally, your physical state is triggered as well. This also works in reverse. If you display body language and eye contact that makes you appear to be engaged, your attitude about the formerly sucky situation will improve, allowing you to embrace the suck and become engaged in the work.
6. Accept Personal Responsibility for Your Feelings
If you’re doing something that you really dislike, ask yourself, “How would my best self get through this situation?”
Let’s take the example of being in a job interview. While some people may find job interviews to be extremely exciting and in no way uncomfortable, I’m willing to bet that most of us don’t fall into that category.
Job interviews can seriously suck. Especially if they take an unexpected downward turn. In this moment (and as you’re preparing for the interview), take a step back from your dread or nerves and ask yourself how you would tackle this challenge if you were in the mindset of your best self.
If this doesn’t trigger any inspiration, think about someone you know who is confident and charismatic. How would they handle the situation? Consider some ways to emulate that during your (possibly dreaded) interview. Accept personal responsibility for your attitude and your feelings about the upcoming situation by choosing to be your best self.
7. Build a Routine
If you’re embracing the suck, it means that you’re engaging with it on a regular basis, right? If you get into the routine of persevering through things you don’t want to do, it will keep you going in the right direction because doing whatever it is that you need to do will become automatic.
If you know that you’re getting up long before the sun rises to go for a run, your body will begin to get into this groove and even start to crave those endorphins each morning when it’s time to go. If you turn the action at hand into a habit, it will become second nature and much easier than it initially was.
Set a routine. This way, when things become tough, your mind and body will already be prepared to face the elements.
8. Exceed Expectations
Goggins makes a really good point about people’s attitude toward life and work. He said, “We live in a world where mediocrity is often rewarded. These men up here detest mediocrity.”
Think about your job, your outside responsibilities, your family life, etc. Are you satisfied with the status quo? Or are you a self-starter who routinely rises to new challenges and exhibits a high level of self-motivation? If not, how can you engage yourself more and make a bigger commitment to going “all in”? How can you do more in your life to “embrace the suck” and build your mental strength?
What do you do to get through physically and emotionally miserable situations? It’s beneficial to learn how to make a conscious decision to embrace the fact that this hardship is your new normal–albeit, hopefully it’s temporary. Once you’re able to accept the fact that things are going to be this way for the time being, you can commit yourself to excellence in this undesirable environment in order to make the best of it.
Final Thoughts on Embracing the Suck
If you haven’t developed mental toughness and you frequently find yourself ready to quit when things get hard, your body will willingly jump on that bandwagon. However, when you expect the suck, you’re able to accept it, embrace it, and lean into it. You won't let it conquer you, and you make yourself push through it.
“Embracing the suck” will look different for everyone, depending upon your circumstances and where you are in life. But for whatever undesirable position you’re in, fake it until you make it. And, with the mental toughness you will be building as you embrace the circumstances, you will eventually make it.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.