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The Costs of Fake Toughness and Macho Masculinity

August 16, 2018


Interesting Thought: Fitness, Adaptability, and the Evolving Self


Adaptability is the most important kind of general fitness. You want to be strong AND flexible. Not just your body—all of you. This sounds easy but it’s actually one of the hardest practices in the world. 

tweeted the above out earlier in the week and have been thinking about it ever since.

If you're never willing to bend you can become so rigid that you end up fragile. Any change in circumstance can completely throw you off. But if all you do is bend then you'll constantly be in a state of flux. Eventually, you may not even know who you are or what you stand for.

What to do? How do we find the elusive middle ground that is the definition of "general fitness?"

I'm not positive. I'm writing this for myself as much as anyone. I'm trying to figure it out just like you. However, I think what makes sense is to have a few non-negotiables. At the highest-level these are core values and at a more micro level these are daily practices (though daily practices should ladder up to core values). These are the areas on which you remain strong no matter what, or at least just about no matter what.

For example:

  • A core-value might be health and your daily practice might be at least 45 minutes of exercise.

  • A core value might be love or presence (one and the same) and the daily practice might be at least 20 minutes of meditation.

  • A core value might be family and that could mean at least 45-minutes of intimate, screen-free time with your loved one(s).

  • At a more micro level, let's say your training for a marathon. A core value could be strength and the "daily practice" could be ensuring that regardless of what phase of training you're in, you never leave hill workouts behind.

If you stick to these practices over time they become habits. Once they become habits they become you. Think of this as the stuff that makes you strong and rooted in the face of a storm. 

Outside of your non-negotiables, work on cultivating the skill of being adaptable. Round yourself out at the periphery so when things change you can change with them. This is about being able to sway in the wind when the wind is strong. 

Sticking to your core even when it seems impossible no less or no more important than evolving and adapting when the circumstances change. Just practicing one or the other isn't a good long-term solution. You've got to be both. 

This is a way of thinking that has broad applications. As you've probably gleamed by now, it's every bit as relevant for how you train for a marathon as it is for how you live your life. 


Coaching Corner: What to Do When It All Goes Wrong


Another year, another story involving coaches screaming obscenities, ridiculous treatment of students' health, and punishment workouts to send a message. Don't know what I'm talking about? At Maryland, one player was "forced to overeat to the point of vomiting" by a coach because the player wasn't packing on the pounds that they wanted him to.

Presumably these coaches aren't bad people. They truly believe that this is the best way to get the most out of their athletes and win games. Unfortunately, they appear to be stuck in a mindset that prevailed decades ago. That "toughness" is about gritting one's teeth, going until you puke, and proving your "manhood." This mindset relies upon breaking people down.

It's time for a cultural shift in sports.

No, not of 'softening' up or babying athletes.

But rather of asking what message are we really trying to send to our athletes? What values and habits are we trying to ingrain? Does belittling young adults really accomplish what we want it to? Is there a better way to develop these characteristics?

At the heart of this old school mentality is the creation of two things: discipline and toughness. When we rely on punishment for discipline, we ingrain the idea that the only reason an individual should show up on time or complete a workout is because of fear. They don't want to be punished, so they show up. They will only be disciplined as long as someone is in their face screaming at them to complete the last rep. How is this productive over the long haul? What lesson does that teach an 18-year old?

And when it comes to toughness...well, we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it is...


Toughness isn’t about gritting your teeth and powering through an obstacle. It’s not about mud runs and silly things that look difficult but aren’t. Toughness is about making the right decisions under stress and fatigue. It’s about having the ability and wherewithal to slow the world down, make the right decisions, or choose the correct coping strategy.


When we are racing, it’s about choosing to push on and cover the surge versus slowing down when we hit halfway in the mile. In football, it’s about having the capacity to stay calm and run your precise route as a receiver with full attention despite being exhausted and beat down. It’s about running it at max speed instead of half-assing your way through the next play because you are tired. Toughness is getting it right when stress, fatigue, and pressure are high. It’s about handling uncertainty and being able to adjust to whatever is thrown at you.


There is a secret that the meathead athlete doesn’t want you to know: oftentimes the toughest athletes are the quietest and physically unimpressive. They go about their business and turn on their perseverance when they need to.


Fake toughness, on the other hand, is all about creating the appearance of being tough without actually being tough. It’s about looking tough in controlled environments. About appearing strong and powerful in conditions that are certain.

What are you trying to create? Leaders at any level in any domain, we can do better.

To read more on my view of toughness,
read this article.


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