Adam Carolla, Loveline host turned podcaster, said something years ago that stuck with me.
He was talking about having kids. Someone asked him if it was fun having kids. He paused, thought for a minute and then said, “No, it’s not fun. It’s better than fun.”
Fun describes things like watching a movie, going to dinner with friends, or jumping on a trampoline. Fun is in-the-moment joy that dissipates quickly.
Being a parent requires so much work, commitment, and emotional resources it’s not really fun. It’s fulfilling and meaningful and satisfying and worthwhile, but fun doesn’t even come close to describing the experience.
Think of your proudest accomplishments. They might include earning a degree, an achievement at work, running a marathon, or raising a child who becomes a happy, well-adjusted adult.
Whatever these accomplishments are, I’m sure each one took work. Hours and days and most likely years of hard work, but all that time added up to something infinitely more rewarding than most “fun” activities.
Committing to the Whole Life Challenge falls into the “better than fun” category. When you commit to a challenge, you’re after something more. It won’t be easy — but it will be worth it.
The Problem with “Hard” Things
Think about something in your life you want, but haven’t yet achieved. Not a wild, out-of-your-hands dream, but something that’s realistic and under your control. It could be better eating habits, a regular workout routine, a job, a project, or even a state of mind.
How does it feel not working toward that goal? Each day you put off working out, choose fast food instead of a home-cooked meal, or find yourself overwhelmed by stress, the goal feels more impossible.
The problem with these hard things in our lives is that it’s often difficult to stay focused and motivated, to keep working toward the larger goal. Doing something that’s hard, for a long period of time, take serious commitment.
When I put off a task I know is important, I can feel it weighing on me, getting under my skin. Eventually, the feeling of avoiding this thing becomes more painful than the task itself. That’s when I shake my head, set my shoulders, and make a plan.
We know the difficult things are those that are most worth doing, but it can be hard to get started. Often the biggest challenge is going from paralyzed inactivity to action. Here are some tips to get you going, to start working on those “better than fun” things in your life.
1. Make a Financial Commitment
It’s incredibly difficult to make progress when you’re only accountable to yourself. With no consequences in place, most of us find it easier to take the familiar, well-worn path. Luckily, it’s relatively easy to set up consequences for avoiding action.
The first, most obvious technique is to make a financial commitment. If the Whole Life Challenge were free, it would be easier to drop out and give up. It’s like gambling — once actual money gets involved, people get serious very quickly.
There is a limit to this principle, and it can be observed in bedrooms and basements across the world where treadmills and stair climbers sit, covered in clothes. Throwing money at a problem does not automatically lead to a solution. Buying fancy workout clothes and filling your fridge with vegetables is not enough. Which leads me to the second tip…
2. Commitment Loves Company
If you know a friend is expecting you — whether at a party or at the gym— you’re much more likely to show up. It’s easy to backslide on a new healthy eating program if you’re only accountable to yourself. Add in a watchful friend, preferably one you see or interact with regularly, and you’ll find it easier to stay committed. If you want to go running every morning, find a friend who will go with you. When the alarm goes off at 5:30am, you either have to get out of bed and lace up your shoes or tell your friend she’s running alone.
This is why you play the Whole Life Challenge as a member of a team — either as part of a group in the “real world” or on a virtual team of people from around the world. Your teammates provide both support and accountability throughout this endeavor.
This strategy actually works for any kind of habit or skill you’d like to cultivate. Want to write more? Make a weekly coffee-shop-writing date with a friend. Having trouble finding time to meditate? Tell a friend you’ll text each other every day once the meditation session is complete.
3. Don’t Do Something You Hate
Pursuits that fall in the “better than fun” category are not things you hate doing. I had kids because I wanted them, not because I thought it would be a meaningful experience. There should be some sense of joy or satisfaction in your task.
I happily spent hours in a boxing ring, taking punches to the face, but after many attempts I’ve realized I dislike cycling of any kind. I often find surfing frustrating and even terrifying, but the thrill of riding a wave compensates for all the difficult moments. The writer Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” No matter how painful the process, you must enjoy some aspect of the experience.
4. Enjoy the Process
Most things in life have no finish line. You’re never done eating healthy foods or moving your body. Even if you run a marathon and literally cross a finish line, there are always new challenges ahead, new avenues to explore, and habits to maintain.
Milestones and accomplishments are important to keep you motivated, but the magic is in the day-to-day effort. Make an effort to settle in and enjoy the hours of dedication that lead you to your goal, instead of obsessing about the end state.
How to Start Today
Don’t wait for the perfect time to take on a challenge — it will never come. And definitely don’t wait until something “easy” comes along. Pick one new habit or goal, spend some money, call a friend, and get started. (And if you’d like our support and coaching when it comes to these sort of things, sign up for the next Whole Life Challenge.)
Fun has a time and a place, and you should always leave room for moments of transitory joy. But a whole, satisfying, healthy life is built on a foundation of work and struggle, on the things that are better than fun.