Being soft

I reckon this country of mine is getting to be a bit soft. The amount of effort people put in to avoid a bit of physical discomfort is getting beyond the pale. Here’s news for you powder puffs – Australia is a friggin’ hot place! It’s going to be hot in summer, hot in the first part of Autumn and even late spring gets to be stinky warm. Instead of attempting to acclimatise we run around looking for the best air conditioning and bemoan that the house is still 30C! Come on people – live a little and get used to the environment as it is. Embrace the concept of voluntary discomfort and find out how tough you can be!

Here’s an example of embracing discomfort to get the job done: In recent weeks it has been blackberry spraying season and depending on how big your property is, this can be a horrible and time consuming job. Even with a relatively small place it’s still a multi hour exercise and there is a heat limit – over 36C and it’s pointless. 30 to 35C is the happy spot so this is when you’re out and about spraying accursed berries. It pays to wear a big hat, long sleeve shirt and long pants while you’re out doing it to – there are brambles and sunburn to contend with, not withstanding the blackberries themselves with their devilish thorns. There are plenty of people who quail, or even nearly melt at the thought of being so heavily dressed and out in that heat, especially as it often requires climbing hills while dragging a hose, or worse, having a 30L back pack full of chemicals and dragging that around to spray.

We should embrace this – it’s character building and after spending several afternoons out in the heat doing this, drinking lots of water and electrolytes, the heat of the day lessens as we get more used to it. Habituation is a wonderful characteristic of the human race and we don’t let ourselves do it enough. We can cope with hot weather, or cold weather or whatever is thrown at us because we are, as a species, surprisingly adaptable to these conditions. It’s a way of building resilience with people – yes it’s hot but you can survive and thrive through it! I am concerned at the softness of our kids as we wrap them in cotton wool and prevent them from discovering this inbuilt strength and adaptability! As kids we had to help around the garden shovelling manure, or pine bark, mowing lawns in the heat and helping with the watering afterwards. Now we don’t get the kids out to do this unless its absolutely necessary. I think it’s of great importance to have kids involved in hard work outside. In my experience it has taught sun smarts – the importance of sun screen, drinking plenty of water and covering up (even when the clothes make you hotter). In the cold weather you learn quickly about keeping warm etc, learning life skills from mum and dad while building tough kids.

Hardship builds strength and while there are plenty of opportunities to avoid difficult things, it’s important to still embrace our inner awesomeness. Yes it’s hot, but we are still capable of a 2km walk with a hat and long sleeves on. You will sweat, but still survive!

I’m writing this because the air con in our office has died and my particular office is very warm – warm enough I sweat as I sit here writing this. I have a bit of a fan blowing on me – that’s nice and keeps me cool. I don’t find my productivity to have been affected because I’ve adapted to the heat. The heat is bearable so on with the job! I can think of instances at other places I’ve worked where staff have been sent home under similar circumstances and I reckon it’s a bit soft. A cool shower when I get home and a couple of litres of water and I’m right as rain. Even now, I’m smashing the water down and getting along fine. I do know old farmers out there that will get through the heat of the day on a tractor in faded jeans, long shirt and a baseball cap, coping with heat that makes the tractor stall and the metal too hot to touch. I’m not claiming that level of adaptation – I’ve seen the same guys in winter wearing the same thing and not being bothered for an instant and I can’t handle that at the moment. What it comes down to is our attitude towards discomfort. The Stoics wrote about that and about taking on discomfort to prove to themselves they could survive it and there is nothing to be overly concerned about. This ability to ignore hedonistic adaptation and get back to an uncomfortable state is very powerful and freeing. Hedonistic adaptation is the state where we habituate to climate control, to fancy things and labour saving devices like a car instead of walking. It’s the reason we find it so hard to cope with physical circumstances that are outside our norms.

There is an article here: that speaks to this practice of voluntary discomfort. Here is another great article about it: It’s not just for you and me. I believe we should encourage our kids to practice a little voluntary discomfort, to get used to things a bit harder – because those things then become easier over time, and builds strength of character and resilience in them. Camping is a great way to start with this – the Girl Guides here in Australia teach them a much more bare bones way to camp than I practice – with a tarp and a thin tent (no glamping for them!) and the delightful outcome for me is my daughter is far more ready to come camping. We don’t have a fancy set up, but it’s better than the bare bones one and hence to her mind it’s easier and more fun! What a life hack for a kid! And kids need this type of hardship to really thrive. It’s a controlled hardship, so risk can be managed and they’re not going to get hurt, but still experience a broader spectrum of life.

In summary, we need to embrace some hardship, spend some time in the heat out of our comfort zone and get tougher. Make sure you look after yourself – that’s critical, but be uncomfortable and you’ll be amazed at how much better you cope with things going forward.


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