How to embrace the suck and develop mental toughness

To radically transform your body, sometimes you have to do stuff that isn’t fun.  You have to do workouts you’d rather just bail on.  You have to eat healthy food that usually tastes good, but not as good as the pizza you’d like to be eating.  You have to go to bed on time when you’d rather stay up late and rewatch Brotherhood of the Wolf.

In the military, there’s this concept called “embrace the suck,” which is defined as To consciously accept or appreciate something that is extremely unpleasant but unavoidable.  The term has seeped into common usage lately, which is great because it’s an awesome attitude to have and really helpful for any kind of self-improvement. But I’ve never seen anyone offer up a simple method for actually adopting that attitude; mostly the advice boils down to just do it.

But there actually is a method, and it’s shockingly simple.

The simple body language hack for embracing the suck

There’s another common piece of advice that you’ve probably heard of, which is to adopt the body language that corresponds to the attitude you want to adopt.  Stand up straighter to be more confident.  Lean back to relax. If you’re not familiar with it, this TED talk by Amy Cuddy explains it better than I ever could.

Long story short, this is good advice and it works, but I would also add voice tone to that strategy- adopt both the body language and voice tone that correspond to the attitude you want to adopt.

What I’ve learned is that there is a very specific demeanor that’s associated with embracing the suck, and it is this: verbally complain, but with tonality and body language that convey positivity and totally contradict the negativity of your words.

What that means, for instance, is saying “God this is brutal!” or “Man this sucks!” while smiling, laughing, standing up straight, and generally looking, sounding and acting happy.  You say the situation sucks, but your voice and body language say you’re still having fun, or at least staying positive.  In my experience, this is almost always how people act when they’re embracing the suck.

An important point here- you might think that the verbal complaining is optional- it’s not.  It is not merely allowed, but required.  The idea here is not to deny that a situation is tough or even downright unpleasant.  If you’re doing a set of squats to failure, or running your first marathon, you shouldn’t be trying to pretend that it feels good.

This isn’t an exercise in Pollyanna-like denial.  It’s about acknowledging the difficulty and unpleasantness you’re going through, and embracing it anyway.

Fitness and self-improvement require doing a lot of things that aren’t fun.  The best way to get through them is to acknowledge that they aren’t fun, but stay positive anyway.

Keep your head held high.  Complain.  Smile.  Embrace the suck. 


Also published on Medium.