Building Real-World Toughness by Heading Outside (Steve Magness, Human Performance Expert and Author)

Jump To section

Steve Magness Humans Outside Podcast

So you want to learn how to handle tough challenges in life, both those you encounter while playing outside and those you find just going about your day-to-day, indoor life and job. But how do you make it happen?

Steve Magness, a world-famous coach, human performance expert and author of the new book Do Hard Thing: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness says part of the reason toughness against life’s challenges is so create is that we are going about it wrong.

In this episode, Steve walks us through what the research shows about building a lifestyle around getting and staying tough, why that matters and what heading outside has to do with it.

Some of the good stuff:

[2:52] Steve Magness’s favorite outdoor space

[3:48] How Steve became someone who likes to go outside

[6:00] Why going outside is so important to him now

[9:18] What’s the difference between toughness and resilience?

[10:41] Examples of awareness

[15:28] What’s wrong with how we tend to think about toughness

[18:06] How do you build toughness?

[21:40] The difference between thoughtful response and reaction

[28:10] How this applies to everyday life

[29:35] Creating a strong why — and why it matters

[35:41] What this has to do with setting incremental goals

[38:07] Why the Humans Outside 365 challenge is great for this

[41:48] Is toughness a muscle you have to maintain or something you only have to learn once?

[46:44] Steve’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

Listen to this episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast.

Amy Bushatz: No matter who you are or where you go heading outside is always worth it. Welcome to Humans Outside where we’re using the Humans Outside 365 Challenge to build a life around spending time in nature while learning from fascinating outdoor minded guests. I’m Amy Bushatz. I’ve let curiosity be my guide as a journalist for 18 years, but life, including my husband’s war injuries had burnt us out.

So we moved sight unseen to Alaska to see if a change of scenery and new focus on outdoors. Was just the shift we needed since September, 2017, I’ve spent at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day, no matter what, to explore how nature can change my life. Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature.

Just a part of who they are while we work to do the same. Let’s go.

If you have been listening to Humans Outside for any length of time, you might have picked up on the fact that I am a runner. Endurance events, like running, are my favorite way to test myself outside. How far can I go? How high, how long? But one of the things I’ve noticed over my more than five years of spending time outside every day, trying many, many new things, some of which were very fun and pleasant and some of which were not so pleasant, is that the whole experiment has helped me become more mentally tough from a regular whole life perspective.

But what is toughness really? And how do you best foster it and how can outside toughness be used in our everyday inside lives? That’s something author and track coach Steve Magness is here to talk to us about today. Steve’s most recent book. Do Hard Things lays out a framework for building that toughness.

He’s coached elite athletes, including Olympians and written for, or appeared in a slew of magazines and newspapers nationwide talking about performance and toughness. And today he’s gonna help us learn about what it takes to get tough and how to chase a framework for making it happen. Steve, welcome to Humans Outside.

Steve Magness: Thanks so much for having me. I’m really looking forward to the convers.

Amy Bushatz: Well, I really appreciate your time. Like we were talking about right before we started recording, I have been listening to your book while I run in various forms of toughness in that moment. So inspirational.

Steve Magness: I love it. That’s when my world’s collide when people are runners and listening to the stuff that I write. So I couldn’t ask for a better.

Amy Bushatz: Perfect. All right. So we always start our conversations with our guests here, imagining ourselves in our favorite outdoor space. Maybe doing something we love out there or just hanging out and having a chat. So were that true? Where are we with you today?

Steve Magness: Oh gosh. So my favorite outdoor space is actually a mile away from my house. Maybe because it’s like comfortable, but there’s this local park called Burrows Park where I’ve done so many runs. I probably know every inch of the park. You know, I walk my dog there, my wife and I every day. But it’s just got these amazing trails that are just kind of my second home where wherever I’m, you know, whenever I’m kind of down or, or what have you I, I just go to the park. So that’s where we would.

Amy Bushatz: Awesome. All right, so we’re hanging out in the park. So let’s talk about toughness. You have a background in running, obviously. And for most of us who run, that’s something that’s done outside, but I’m wondering if you can give us a little additional background. How did you become someone who likes to spend time outside and is that something that resonates you for you outside of the running activity or world?

Steve Magness: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve always been an outdoors person. Particularly growing up in sport is I was the, I was the kid who my parents just. You know, I’d come home from school and then I’d be like out the door as fast as I , possibly could to either go ride bikes or play baseball or football or whatever have you. So being outside has always been kind of central to who I am and I think outside of a running context, you know, early on in my kind of career as an athlete, it was like, oh, I’m gonna go participate in the sport. But as I’ve kind of grown and developed, it’s not just running or sport, it’s getting outside in nature. Which really kind of makes me feel live, but also provides this kind of calming presence and perspective so that I make sure, you know, no matter what my wife is the same way that we’re getting outside and in nature and spending time again in the trails or walking around local lakes. And unfortunately we, we live in Houston Texas so there are no mountains to climb here, but we find our way outside is as much as possible.

And actually maybe the tie it to something non-athletic for your readers or listeners is being outside is a central component of writing. So my, my secret to like writer’s block or whenever I’m get, I get stuck is I just put the computer down my notebooks away and I go for a walk.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah.

Steve Magness: And of often it’s like, you get done with the walk and it’s, your mind is clear and you have this clarity and you’re able to, you know, do the work that, that you need or finish that chapter or whatever.

Amy Bushatz: Absolutely. It’s funny because you know, as people who obviously like endurance outside and maybe have a penchant for that lack of oxygen feeling, that you have when you’re really working hard, to hear us both say that slowing down is important and being present outside in a way that does not involve hard work um, that’s interesting.

Steve Magness: Yeah, it is. And you know, I think if you told 18 year old, Steve he’d be like, what are you talking about? Right. But a as you kind of grow and develop and hopefully get some wisdom, I think again, there’s, and there’s research behind this, that being outside in nature is restorative. And we now more than ever, where we have a busy kind of chaotic life and we spend way too much time online. It’s almost even more imperative now that you have again, some time where you’re spending it outside in nature. And, And to me, it’s also, I know sometimes I like listening to audio books or podcasts on walks, but I also make it, like almost a rule where it’s like, no, I need time where there’s no devices, no electronics. It’s just like me, you know, hiking through the woods. And again that it, it’s just that kind of refreshing and almost resets my brain and gets it away from kind of like that internet brain that, that we all have that is kind of like my dog chasing squirrels, where it just kind of bounces all over the place.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. The perpetual scroll, right? Perpetual scroll brain, where you’re just like constantly moving through content and never having the presence to stop and pause on one thing. In fact, how often do we, I mean, just literally on the internet or on our phones, scroll through things so fast. You’re like, oh wait, what was that? And then you can’t find it. I feel like that happens in my brain too, that I’m moving so fast that I almost literally scroll past some a thought in my mind and I’m oh, no, what happened to that? And can’t go back and find it, but when I’m outside and I have that presence and that intentionality, that doesn’t seem to happen as much

Steve Magness: E exactly. And then, you know, to me, it comes back to. Well, what are we training our brain to do? Well,, and the, the everyday life where we’re just kind of on that endless scroll and I’m as guilty as anybody. Like our brain’s lying, being like, oh, this is the food that we eat, which is like, scroll, scroll, scroll candy.

And I, I see outside as like, That is my nutritious, like real food. Like if I don’t eat that, then my teeth are gonna rot. And in this sense, it’s like, if I don’t get that, then my brain’s gonna think the only way to experience life is through this kind of scroll mode. And that’s why I think it’s again, more important now than ever to be very intentional and deliberate on that.

And I’m not saying like, go live out in the woods and never use technology. I’m saying, you know, technology is now a, a part of life. And, you know, for many of us as a author, I have to promote things on social media. If, If I don’t, I don’t have a job. So it’s a part of life and work as well. So I just need to acknowledge that and then do things like, again, spending time in nature, taking my dog to on walks, like getting disconnected while I’m doing that. Like that is the antidote to make sure that I, my brain doesn’t, you know, lose itself on the online world.

Amy Bushatz: Absolutely. I think one thing that the endless scroll does not facilitate is building toughness because of course, tough things don’t scroll by. Right. They are sort of are sort of present.

So you’ve written a lot about toughness. Obviously your new book is specifically about that. Do Hard Things. So maybe start by telling us what is toughness? What is resilience? And how are they different?

Steve Magness: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I’ll start with this: resilience is essentially, if you look at the definition in the research, it is going through something stressful. and then bouncing back to that normal place. Okay. So it’s coming back out. Toughness to me is kind of this kind of nebulous holistic term that we just kind of throw around and say like, oh, people are tough. So I kind of tried to frame it in almost like a dis decision making framework. Where I’m saying toughness is about the decisions you make. So it’s feeling some sort of stress, anxiety, discomfort. And then instead of jumping straight from, I feel this stress to like, what’s the easiest answer there, easiest escape. It’s creating that space so that you can navigate and make a thoughtful decision. So in many ways, you know, I know we, we kind of harped on this, but the phones provide a great example because is it your phone buzzes and beeps and you feel that anxiety of like, oh gosh, I got a notification. I should check it and start scrolling? Or do you have that space and that presence of mind to be like, you know what my phone isn’t the answer right now that can wait. I’m going to focus and shift my attention to the thing that actually matters and, you know, pay attention to the phone, my phone, when it is important to me and when I choose to do that.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. So I’m just, you know, poor phone. We’re real I think I’m really gonna beat up on this guy today. And like you, I am on social media. It’s part of my job. And as part of my Humans Outside 365 challenge where we go outside every day and encourage that we actually loop in social media for that and post a photo a day. Just sort of as a log almost in part, because when I first started to do this, I it’s been a while since I talked about this, but when I first started to do this experiment in 2017, I wanted a way for me to log what I’d been doing. And I knew that I would never sit down and journal this every day, please.

That ain’t happening. But Instagram provided an ideal journal for me so that I could personally for me look back at what I had done on this day last year. Again, I’m like making this scrolling motion while I’m talking to you. Um, it’s like such a part of who we are now. Um, But so we loop that in. Right. But when I am outside and I’m doing something hard I’m, I’m envisioning myself hiking up this particular um, peak we have it’s called Lazy Mountain, biggest misnomer ever.

There’s a annual mountain race that goes up at that. I do. And when we’re training on that, I mean, this sucker is straight up. Okay. And how many times have I been like, oh, look at this beautiful vista, I must take a picture, as an excuse to stop moving. Like need a break. Handy excuse, taking, looking at the scenery.

And I’ve started to realize that this is the same tell of my friends that if they’re having a hard time, they’re like, oh, look at that beautiful view. My goodness. It’s just cuz we’re tired. Right. But having, knowing that that’s happening and that I’m. Looking for distraction is what I’m trying to say. I can push through that and say, okay, like, I know that I’m looking for a reason to stop hiking right now or stop running. So maybe I step back what I’m doing and be present and just move through it.

Steve Magness: I love that example because if you look at again, the research, the best performers is what it shows is they have that presence in of mind and that ability to read their signals, right because it’s like, you, what you’re doing there is you’re saying, oh, this is why I want to stop. And this is why I do this. You’re you have this awareness, which then allows you to make that decision.

Amy Bushatz: Right.

Steve Magness: Right. It allows you to say, you know what? This is why I’m, I’m, I’m deciding to stop. It’s not because I actually maybe want to, you know, stop and take this view it’s because like, it gives me this break to do, and sometimes, you know, it might be the right decision to stop, but sometimes the decision is no, like let’s keep going and push push through. And that to me is about, you know, what toughness really is about is like having that awareness and developing that awareness and that skill so that we are actively making that choice and like aware that we are doing so, so that we can, again, that choice aligns with maybe our goals or values or the purpose of that hike or whatever difficult thing that you’re doing.

Amy Bushatz: Exactly. It’s being, it’s having the presence to understand why you’re making a decision. Not necessarily saying a decision is good, or bad. It’s just knowing why you’re doing it.

Steve Magness: E exactly. And I think this is the, the point that a lot of people struggle. Uh, Unfortunately in society and as humans, we tend to simplify things into good or bad and want that dichotomy. But the reality is in the moment, like you have no idea, like, I don’t necessarily know what a good or bad decision is. To use the running example, like, I could drop out of a race and it could be a bad decision because it was like, oh, I didn’t meet my goal. Or it could have been the best decision because maybe in the next, you know, a hundred meters, I was gonna get hurt or something like that, or step in a hole, but I have no idea. So I think the judgment often comes after the fact and what we just wanna make sure that we’re doing is that we’re aware of the decisions that we’re making and that we’re consciously choosing that and okay with it, given the feedback and the situation that we’re in.

Amy Bushatz: So I think that’s a great pivot into one of my other questions, which is what do we get wrong about toughness? About making ourselves tough, but also about making our kids tough? Because I mean, behold, the number of times that I have taken my children on a hike and that said something to like stop whining or just walk faster. I have one child who I swear to God was hiking backwards, he was so slow. Like we have not just not only progressed on the trail, we have descend while trying to ascend. So , but like we view that in this framework of you have to be tough, you have to push through. So what are we getting wrong about this concept of toughness when we look at it that way?

Steve Magness: Yeah. So what we get wrong is the nuance. And, And the nuance around it is this is we often encapsulate toughness. Is this idea of like, no matter what persevere push through, like put your head down, grit your way through it, forget everything else you’re feeling just like get to the goal. And the problem is a, that’s not what life is. And then B looking at kind of that decision making framework we talked about is toughness is about like having the space to create and find and have the awareness to make that choice. So when we just say persevere, persevere, persevere, essentially what we’re doing is we’re handing people a hammer. And we’re saying this will solve all of your problems. Like whenever you’re in a difficult moment, just use the hammer and bulldoze through. And the problem is, as we all know, like that tool isn’t for everything, right? Sometimes we need to use a different tool to solve the difficult moment. And I love that you ask the question on parenting because the research in the parenting world makes this very clear to, to me.

And it’s fascinating. And essentially it says that a lot of times in parenting we mistake and we think that to create tough, resilient, disciplined kids, we need a high level of what they call demandingness , which is, you know, that strict disciplinarian set high expectations. But the, what the research says, if you just have that on your own, it actually backfires.

Because kids don’t learn the skills to navigate that thing. They just re realize like, oh, mom and dad are yelling at me or telling me I’m gonna be punished. So I’m just gonna try my best to like survive this situation instead of figuring out how to navigate it. And, and the research is again, very clear where it says it’s not necessarily that you can’t have high expectations that you shouldn’t like push your kids to take on challenges it’s that you need to accompany that with a high level of support or responsiveness. Meaning that you are creating the environment where kids can take risks and sometimes fail, but that’s where they learn and grow. You, you’re creating the environment where kids know that they can explore because like mom or dad is gonna like fulfill their basic needs and not abandon them or not like push them off punish them and forget about them.

So it really is kind of marrying those two and finding that nuance in that middle ground where the kind of magic happens.

Amy Bushatz: Mm-hmm. So in your book, you’ve set out three pillars for toughness. Can you describe, like, walk us what through, through the, what those are, give us this framework. How do you build toughness?

Steve Magness: Yeah. So the first one, the first pillar, I call it a “ditch the facade embrace reality”, which is essentially what we often think of toughness is we think, oh, we need to be confident, which is absolutely true to kind of tackle difficult things, but we go about it the wrong way. We kind of developed this kind of, or think we should have like this external confidence that is based on bravado and telling ourselves I’ve got this no problem, but what the research and best practices a performer shows us is that it’s really about embracing reality.

So having a clear eyed vision on what is the task at hand or the challenge I’m facing and what am I capable of? Like what tools do I have? What practice have I done to prepare me for this moment? It’s not confidence isn’t saying I’m gonna win this or conquer this, no matter what it’s saying, you know what? I’ve prepared. I have some tools to be able to take this thing on. Let’s go explore and find out. So that’s kind of number one.

The second pillar that I think is really important is when I hinted at which is listening to your body which is often again in this kind of old school model of toughness, we kind of tell people, you know, ignore your feelings, emotions, or like, you know, no crying in baseball whatever you want to use as your kind of example.

And again, the experience and research shows us that often, if we understand our inner world and kind of the signals it’s sending. Then we’re able to navigate it no different than the example you used earlier, where you’re like, oh, this is why I’m stopping it’s because my brain is trying to convince me that, you know, I need to stop because I’m tired. It’s not because I’m actually in danger. So you were able to read those signals and decide, Hey. You know, in this case, this is a false alarm. I should, I should let this one float on by like, you know, your crazy aunt or uncle ranting on Facebook. Like just let it go. Don’t comment.

Amy Bushatz: Well, to, to be clear, I do periodically actually stop for the photo. Like, you know what we’re doing this now. right. And I don’t let it float by all the time.

Steve Magness: Yeah. But, and no, and I think that’s important because that’s what it is. It’s like listening to your body. Whenever I tell people, they’re like, oh, I should pay attention to all my feelings. No, you decide, you get to say this is feedback.

Like sometimes I’m gonna listen to it. Sometimes I’m not. And like, again it’s that decision making, it’s not pushing it away, ignoring it. So the example here is if you were tired and you just said, you know what, no matter what I’m gonna just push through ignore, ignore, ignore. Well, sometimes maybe that signal that is telling you to stop is like one that is actually, you know, you should listen to in the sense that it’s saying, Hey, you’re pushing too far and you’re not gonna be able to make your goal unless you slow down. Or you need to stop and take a break and drink some water or eat a banana or whatever, because like you need the fuel and we’re running on a low on fuel and we’re telling you this and you’re, you’re not listening. So that listening is, is really important.

And then the third pillar that I talk about is respond instead of react, which is essentially often in these situations of discomfort we get into reactive mode , which is like, what’s the easiest, like simplest solution to the, the anxiety, the stress, the discomfort we’re feeling.

We again, we reach for the candy instead of the vegetables and what I’m trying to tell people is like, Hey, in those moments, don’t just get caught reacting, like practice slowing the world down a little bit, creating some space. So you can thoughtfully respond to the problem instead of just again, going for the easy, quick solution,

Amy Bushatz: Which admittedly gets harder when you’re tired. I mean, for me, that’s the, that’s the big thing, exhaustion. I, I mean like all humans also enjoy not being hungry, but I, as you’re talking, I am having this flashback to this admittedly for most people, crazy thing I attempted last year. So, uh, I attempted this 100 mile race last year. Okay. And it started at 3:00 PM. It goes over a mountain pass, it gains 10,000 feet. And it has no aid stations with the exception of your husband meeting you at the parking lot at mile 43.

Okay. And so this is admittedly a very tough race and I at about mile mmm 60 decided that I was all done and how that manifested was I did a lot of crying and walking, so now it, I’ve been up all night, which I had never done before and I was tired. Right. And what I did was exactly what you just described.

I reacted. I just, I reacted, I didn’t stop to say, okay, what’s going on here? How can you respond? I purely was like, I’m tired. Now I’m two years old. Now I’m just going to walk and cry. Which is precisely what I did. And so, And so I actually dropped there’s a turnaround spot at the um, 70 mile mark and like, Another parking lot loop.

And I was like, hi friends, I’m done. But I said that while crying , and then I cried in my van for a little while. So, all that to say that is, I think exactly what you’re talking about this reaction. Now, obviously like I was under a lot of stress. I was very tired. Like there’s lots and lots of reasons to react. Right. Perfectly legitimate reasons. But if I had learned prior to this moment, what you’re saying about responding versus reacting, I would’ve maybe maybe had the presence of mind to do that instead of just go to the easiest thing when you’re exhausted and apparently a toddler, which is to, you know, cry. So ,

Steve Magness: Yeah, you know, I love that example and you explaining it as a toddler because that’s kind of what happens. So not to go too far in the weeds, but if you look at, at, at what happens under extreme fatigue of stress in the brain, it is like our emotional reactive parts of the brain just like take over our kind of rational executive function, just plummets and goes down.

So of course we kind of act like a toddler, right? Because like, that’s what our brain is kind of commanding us to do. And the brilliant part is I’m not offering any, you know, wonderful one size fit all, all, you know, solution. But what we can do is get a little bit back, you know, a little bit more control and kind of get that rational brain back online.

So there’s a lot of, again, some tactics and tools that you can use in that moment where it’s like, okay, I’m clearly reacting, but like, how do I, how do I get a little bit of space to, to get through this spot? And you see this in ultra distance running all the time, because like you’ve gotta go through those ebbs and flows.

So even things as simple as like, well, my, my inner dialogue is spiraling and how I’m talking to myself is all negative. Like, how do I get another voice in here? Or like, how do I remind myself why I signed up for this thing in the first place? And it is a battle, but like, there are small moments where you’re just looking for that, that, that end, where you’re just like, okay, how do I, how do I get my rational brain back online and let my toddler like, stop crying and, and throwing a tantrum a little bit and, and, and, and getting a little bit of quiet. So I can think again,

Amy Bushatz: Oh 100%. And, you know, obviously I’ve done a lot of thinking about this in the last year, because that’s what we do, but I don’t know that well, two things, I am certain that that experience has made me perhaps more tougher and more resilient right. In the, like, now that now I know that happens. And now I know due to thinking about it a lot, what I might be able to do about that in the moment. The second thing is I don’t know that I could feel that way today without having gone through it then. And I know for a fact that people sort of warned me that that might happen and oh, you have to have a why.

I remember having a phone call with a friend who just finished Leadville. And she explained how she does, you know, she has her why. And I heard that, but I did not hear that. And so in that moment, I didn’t have that exactly what you’re describing that ability to step in and insert some non toddler talk here to walk myself back off the edge.

And by the time I realized I had gone off the ledge. Um, I no longer cared. You know, I, I had decided that this is who we are now, and this is how it’s gonna be. And I, by the way, I think that my friend’s husband was, and son were like, oh, whoa, like what, who, what is happening here? They were legitimately concerned about me and my poor husband who’s probably seen that side of me before cannot confirm or deny was probably like, oh great. You know,

Steve Magness: Yeah, that’s hilarious. Looking back, I’m sure. Not in the moment, but you know, you’re spot on is sometimes we have to experience this for ourselves to conceptualize it and like, it really take it in it’s one thing, reading or listening or hearing it from a friend, but that’s why I think it’s important to like put yourself in these situations and sometimes fail because like, those are the moments that are gonna push you to seek okay. I really gotta figure this out and like, oh, this is what I was missing, or this is what I was wrong. But the other thing that I’d, you know, love to comment there on is that why that purpose is one of the best performance enhancers we have where it, it does this great thing where it almost in your brain, it says like, oh, like I know we’re suffering.

I know this is really difficult, but remember, we signed up for this for a reason. Remember, we’re doing this, not just because we like suffering or, you know, for whatever reason to get some accolade, but it, because it has some deeper meaning for us. And that is going to, you know, free us up to perform a little bit, as well as give us some perspective in those moments where everything is just kind of spiraling around us.

Amy Bushatz: And the thing I love about that is you and I are talking about this in the context of this admittedly a little crazy thing that I decided to do. Okay. But you don’t have to be facing something crazy, like trying to go a hundred miles, to use that tool. You don’t have to be out there summiting Everest to have a why. And to use that, to push through discomforts big or small.

So we talk a lot here about building this habit of going outside every day. Well, sometimes that’s not so easy. You know, here in Alaska, we have times that I jokingly ex explain is providing free sandblasting to your face. So it’s 60 mile an hour winds. It is subzero temperatures. It’s all happening at the same time and you have to want to go outside every day and you best have a why. Because otherwise you’re not gonna have the desire even to put on the all jacket, find all your layers and go out and do that anywhere in the country has unpleasant weather sometimes.

And there will always be things in your life that make you want to stay inside or not do something. And so having that why like this is why I’m doing this. This is why I’m building this habit. This is why I have this habit. This is why I’ve kept this habit, can help you go and do that stuff even when it gets hard.

So this does not have to apply to doing crazy things. It can just be everyday life.

Steve Magness: E exactly. I’m so glad you brought up that point because um, there’s actually some fascinating psychology behind this that shows even in our everyday work. So for example, I remember reading a research study on hospital janitor workers, where instead of, you know, often janitors are kind of low status, lower pay, et cetera.

And I remember they, you know, the researchers came in with the hospital and they said, listen, you guys are so vital to this. Like, if you don’t do your job disease spreads in this hospital and people literally die. And what they found is when they changed their titles, when they reframed their job those cleaning crews, what happened is their job satisfaction went up.

Their level of burnout went down and they it, it actually enjoyed and found some meaning in the work that they were doing because they, you know, changed their mindset on like, oh, okay, you’re right. Like there’s data on this. Like, people could die if like we don’t clean things up because germs spread in hospitals.

And I think that again, kind of gets at this idea. If you could make it you know, where you’re, where the thing that you’re doing has a purpose beyond just kind of your kind of self. It often provides that performance booster that we need and love.

And the other thing that is interesting is that reminders work really well in this. So it’s not just having it in your head. So again, there was a study in the workplace looking at burnout that showed that people who had pictures of their kids or family on their desk had lower rates of burnout and higher performance. Why? Because everyone’s job sucks at some point, but those pictures, you know, served as a reminder of like, oh, I am working partly because I’m providing for my family and my kids and giving them a better life and all these things.

And it allows us to kind of tolerate those difficult moments. So what I often tell people is like, think of ways where you can create creative reminders, you know, even for athletes, I always tell them like, you know, wear some sort of wristband or bracelet or whatever write it on your hand where it’s like, you remember why you’re doing this.

And often it’s, it’s, it’s not just why you’re doing this, but that you’re not only in this on your own. You have other people who are supporting you during these challenges. And uh, and it’s not just you alone out on that, that a hundred miler, even though it might feel like it, and that can help you know, handle these difficult moments as well.

Amy Bushatz: Hey humans did you know, you can officially join the Humans Outside 365 challenge and score some really cool and exclusive challenge swag, including a finisher, medal and decal on You’ll also get an outdoor challenge guide written by me for you. An exclusive challenge tracker, and insider info, all year long.

You don’t want to be left out of this. There is never a wrong time to join the Humans Outside 365 challenge. So get going, join it today. Go to Humans to learn more now. Now back to the show.

So two things jumped to mind. My friend Lisa Hallett who just did Leadville, had an inspiration wall of photos in the Airbnb they were staying at before and immediately after the race. And I imagine she’s using that exactly what you’re saying, right. But the other thing that jumped to mind is that if folks go back and listen to the first episode of season six of this podcast, you can hear an episode with uh, Dr. Cassie Holmes who’s a happiness researcher and she talks about something very similar that understanding the things you like about your job so it’s a very similar idea to your pictures on your desk. Like I’m doing this for my family, that helps you persevere. She’s saying you increase your happiness by focusing on the things you like about your job to push through the things you don’t and perhaps when organizing your time working to pair those things with each other.

Uh, So I actually have on my whiteboard for my full-time job right now, a list of a part of this exercise she had readers do of things I like about my job and sort of these core guiding enjoyment so that when I’m like, oh my God, this is drudgery. I can because every job has drudgery right. I can look over and be like, oh yeah, I do really like that.

Steve Magness: I, I love that idea because it’s so true. And it’s like part of the human mind, especially when you’re going through those moments of drudgery to, to kind of like grasp onto the negative. And what happens is when we grasp onto the negative, we often like ruminate on it. We let it grow and it spirals and all of a sudden it’s like, this is the worst job ever.

But those subtle, simple reminders, what they do is they help pull you out of it. They help pull you back to reality, which is. You know what every job has these things, but look at all these great, you know, things and reasons that I do this that I’m not thinking about because I’m so focused on that negative piece.

So I think again, whether it’s in the workplace, whether it’s in our personal life, whether it’s in our outdoor pursuits, is having those reminders in your life that, that allow you to realize that no I chose to do this for a reason. Like I get enjoyment out of this for a reason, even if this seems miserable and I’m asking myself, why did I sign up for this race? Or why did I choose this job? Or what, or whatever it is. But having, you know, being intentional in your life to set those reminders up can be incredibly helpful.

Amy Bushatz: So. When it comes to building toughness with, you know, that’s a valuable skill to have, are you setting incremental goals for yourself and putting yourselves in, in situations that you know will be challenging for you and then using the framework you describe to tackle each of those things and sort of move the goal post on being tough a little bit each day? Is that the idea?

Steve Magness: Yeah, that’s the idea. And it kind of works like this is, I like to think of it as your mind is a muscle. And when we think of toughness, we can also think of it as your brain has an alarm where it essentially freaks out. If you go into anything challenging or anything like stress inducing..

And what you’re trying to do over over time is kind of just, just gradually inoculate yourself to that. So that alarm gets little quieter, a little quieter. It doesn’t always go, it doesn’t go away, but it kind of comes back to the, the realistic part where it’s like, okay, you know, this isn’t life or death.

So I don’t need the alarm blaring to, you know, a 10, it can stay at a three or four and you can manage it better. So I think when it comes to putting yourself in these situations, I’m all about like, consistent small bites that are maybe just manageable. So just pushing your limits a little bit, but that you can take on and often get through and sometimes fail, but often get through, which is like challenging yourself consistently over the long haul.

And then the other thing that I think is really important when we talk about setting those goals. there are also challenges or things that resonate and feel authentic to you. So we’ve talked a lot about running because for us, for whatever reason, like, you know, running is authentic to us, it resonates.

If you’re listening on this podcast and you’re going, I don’t wanna do that sport. That’s fine. Like find something else and it, it can be a physical challenge, but it also can’t be. You know, I, I have people all the time who I, I talk to about this stuff where it’s just like, well, you know, I’m really introverted, and my challenge is like going up and introducing myself to people are, are getting on stage in front of my company and, and talking to, you know, giving the talk or presentation and I’m like, that’s great. Like, you know, slowly, gradually put yourself in those situations or volunteer for those spots where you can, again, kind of push your boundaries a little bit. So you can turn that a alarm down and develop that mental muscle.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. This is one of the reasons I love this for, for me, love this challenge of going outside every day. Because the way it builds toughness is all you’re doing is saying I’m open to having whatever experience I have when I go and do whatever outside it is that I like to do.

So some days that could be sitting on the, on the porch some days for me, that’s going for a run. It’s also become many other types of activities. So you’re saying I’m open to having this. And then you’re also saying I’m open to facing whatever’s outside of my control, which 99.9% of the time describes the weather , which unfortunately is not in my control, or it would be beautiful and 65 degrees all the time. But because I cannot control that. And because I’m dedicated to having this habit, I’m actually accepting incremental challenges from the weather by going outside every day, no matter what. So I’m saying I am going to tackle this regardless of what comes. It is a small bite.

I’m only going to do it for 20 minutes, if that’s what I can manage and that, so that’s my standard. No less than 20 minutes. I’m only gonna do it for 20 minutes. I’m gonna go out. I’m gonna take whatever comes. And then if at 20 minutes I’m like, whew, we good. I’m going to retreat rapidly into my house where it is warm. And that’s in, in the wintertime. That’s true. Or if it’s blowing or whatever, right? I’m gonna come back inside where it’s not raining. I’m gonna come back in into a safe space in , you know, when you’re going outside, that safe space is literally physical, right. But if you were tackling a different kind of challenge, that safe space could be mental. I’m gonna go back to somewhere that feels okay to me. And I’m going to do this every day and I’m going to see what happens. And I’m just gonna take it one day at a time 20 minutes set at a time.

Steve Magness: I’m in a hundred percent agreement. And I love how you’ve conceptualized that because what you’ve essentially done is taken some, something that add a high level of uncertainty, which thanks to the weather as being outside and often uncertainty causes us to spiral, to freak out, to come up with excuses for like, oh yeah, the weather is horrible, so I’m gonna, I’m not gonna go do it.

But what you’ve also done in that. And I think this is also clear and very important in what we get wrong about toughness is we often think toughness is like doing the big challenge, you know, but it’s often it’s the small ones consistently over time. So you’ve lowered the bar where it is essentially no matter what the weather is. I know I can get out for whatever it is, like 20 minutes. And if that means sitting outside, that’s sitting outside, that’s okay. And when you lower that bar, it allows us to have that consistency where we’re building that muscle over time. Instead of thinking like I’m gonna wait until the weather is the worst, and then I’m gonna build this toughness.

Well, you’ve missed all these other opportunities. To build that habit and that consistency over time. So to me, it’s again, and I use the same kind of example when I talk to people about, well, how do you develop exercising habit? I say, well, rule number one is just get out the door every day.

And some, and sometimes that could mean I’m gonna go jog a mile. Sometimes it could mean way further. Sometimes it could mean I’m just gonna go out and walk because that’s all I can manage today. But if you get that consistency of just get out the door, get out the door, get out the door over time, again. If we think of it, like I said, in toughness that alarm goes down that kind of activation to do it kind of becomes a little bit easier. And it becomes this thing that is just kind of part of who you are and part of your life and benefits of us over the long haul.

Amy Bushatz: Now you mentioned that this is a muscle, so I’m wondering if like a muscle you can lose it. So if I were to say, I’m good, I’m tough. Now I’m not gonna practice this anymore. I’m not gonna do more tough stuff just because I’m trying to be more tough. You know, Netflix for me. Okay. Is this something that you can lose? Is this a muscle that you have to continually work or is this something that is you create it and you know, it lasts a lifetime.

Steve Magness: So there’s two answers. I’ll give you the nuanced answer first. Is that the skills that you develop for navigating these things, maybe that inner talk, that purpose, those can last a lifetime, right? Because you have these skills you’ve developed. It you’ve figured out how to cope or manage or like get through it.

But in the other way, that kind of alarm that we talked about, that acts just like a muscle. So the easiest example I can give is for listeners again, this has happened to me is maybe I got injured running and I didn’t run for a while and just said, oh, I’m not gonna exercise. Well, the moment I get out the door and I say, okay, I’m gonna go try and run again, that alarm goes off very quickly because my brain is like, what are you doing? You’ve been on the couch. Like you haven’t, haven’t done this in a while. Like, you’re breathing really hard. Sound alarm stop stop, stop. So it does detrain for a little bit. So that’s where I think it’s very important again, to make this part of your life and it, and make it a, a thing that is a practice.

And again, it doesn’t have to be physical. It can be psychological, mental, it could be whatever you want. But these moments where it’s, you’re like, you know what, I’m gonna challenge myself just a little bit to remind myself what it feels like so that my brain can kind of maintain that because I like to say it’s a lot easier to maintain something than to build it up, takes a lot more work to kind of build that.

So at if you’ve developed this habit, let’s say of getting outside every day for the last six months. Well, the best thing you can do is again, keep it simple and just like keep getting outside and maintaining that versus like letting that go and saying, oh, in a year I’ll pick it back up because it’s gotta be not as difficult, but almost as difficult as when you started that habit, the first go round because your brain has kind of adjusted and adapted and said, you know what? I don’t need the skill. I’m gonna turn that, that sensitive alarm back up and we’ll just kind of live in panic mode.

Amy Bushatz: Well, this is why moderation is so hard for people and by people. I mean, me, I am much have a much easier time doing things all the way. So I always joke that cold turkey’s the only turkey I can have.

I don’t have a moderation button that I’ve developed, honestly, I can do something all the way. So, let’s use like a diet, for example, right? I eat can eat no sugar. I have no problem cutting sugar, completely outta my life. But as soon as I start eating, you know, oh, I’ll just, you it’s like a bowl ice cream, but just after dinner, all of a sudden we’re also having pre ice dinner, ice cream or something. Right. It’s it, I don’t have that. Have it not practiced that ability to have that moderation. And so what I hear you saying is that this is that’s part of toughness too, is like practicing the ability to hear what your internal monologue maybe is saying um, address that and act accordingly.

Steve Magness: Yeah. You know, I love the diet example because. I, if you look at it, people who are successful, kind of find what works and then stick with that kind of whatever constraints they’ve, they’ve created and stick with that sustainably over the long haul. The people who often fail in diets are the ones who like maybe take too big of a chunk and saying, I’m not just cutting out sugar, I’m cutting out this, and this and everything. And they like can’t handle that everything. So they start saying, oh, I’m gonna allow this and this back in. And inevitably it, it falls apart. So it really is, you know, the same kind of example is like, choose something that, that is just beyond maybe your difficulty or, or challenge point at this point, but you, that you can handle over the long haul. And if you do that consistently over time, you’re gonna have that mental muscle and it’s gonna be a little bit easier over, over the long haul.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Well, Steve, thanks so much for this advice today. Um, As a final thing, maybe you could walk us out. Um, You know, we’re having our chat with you in your park. Uh I think you and I have done this while running, although I’m probably way behind you. Um So you’re shouting at me over your shoulder. Uh, Maybe walk us out, describing your a favorite outdoor moment. Like we’re just hanging out somewhere that you hearken back to or something that you remember very fondly.

Steve Magness: Oh, gosh, my favorite outdoor moment. So my wife and I love to travel to the national parks. So one of my favorite was just, we were out on this hike in Yosemite and it just starts like pouring for a minute. So we’re like getting soaked. And at first your reaction is like, oh gosh, we’re getting soaked. This kind of sucks. But then you just kind of look around and you’re just. This is awesome because like you’re in nature, there’s like mountains and trees all around and you’re just kind of experiencing it. And when there was no lightning, we weren’t in any, any danger.

And you’re just like, this is, it makes you feel alive and a part of something much bigger. So I often think back to not just that hike, but other, other hikes, my wife and I have done. And, And it, it, it, again, it really kind of energizes me and rejuvenates me.

Amy Bushatz: And now you’re tougher when you might get wet.

Steve Magness: There you go. Exactly.

Amy Bushatz: Steve, thank you so much for joining us on Humans Outside today. It’s been a pleasure.

Steve Magness: Thanks for having me.

Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Humans Outside. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, give us a little love and leave a rating and review to make it easier for others to find the podcast too. What you say matters. It really truly does make a difference. And until next time we’ll see you out there.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Jump To section



Humans Outside Instagram

How does spending at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day since Sept. 1, 2017 change your life? 

We’re on a mission to find out.

[instagram-feed feed=1]

JOIN Us Today


Keep up with the latest podcast episodes, resources and announcements