We all have moments in our lives where everything seems to be going well. Our relationships with our family are great, our health is no problem, finances are doing good, etc.
Then disaster can strike like a lion out of a cage. Unforeseen occurrences can take our jobs away, or maybe we’re diagnosed with a hereditary disease, or tragedy befalls our love ones.
All these things can make life miserable, or to put in simply, just plain SUCK.
But this feeling of “Suck” isn’t exclusive to sudden tragic life changes. There are lots of other major areas that it can apply to.
And it might seem intuitive and logical at first to avoid these situations at all cause. And we definitely should. I mean, who wants any of those things to happen to them?
But when those things do happen to us, how do we react? I’m not a pessimist by any means, but most if not all of us have had or will have to face similar situations at one point or another in our lives.
Get ready, because we’re gonna talk about how these situations can affect us, what other areas of life we will also encounter a similar “Suck” feeling, and what reasons we have for embracing that suck.
But first, let’s talk about what the “Suck” really is.
What Is The Suck?
The phrase “Embrace The Suck” was first coined in the US military (most references point to the Navy but some say it originated from the Marines). Throughout the years, this phrase has been used countless times during military training.
In the case of training for combat, the term “Suck” is use to describe the situation we’re in.
Imagine doing hard physical training for over 24 hours with no sleep, and then the commanding officer gives the order to march up a mountain with a 45 lb ruck on our backs for who knows how long. That’s the suck that military personnel are familiar with.
In combat, soldiers have to be able to withstand this suck in all its forms. The tiredness experienced during training sessions like that is nothing compared to some things they experience on the battlefield.
For those of us not in the military, the suck can be anything that puts us in a “more than just uncomfortable” situation. Those examples I gave in the previous section would certainly qualify.
How It Affects Us
So when we go through these experiences, how does it affect us? Besides just feeling like crap and sad and all these other negative emotions, there’s something more going on here.
When we go through all this suck, we’re breaking down little by little. Matter of fact, it’s because we’re being broken down that we experience the suck feeling. That feeling is telling us we’re going through this process.
Whether it’s emotionally, mentally, physically, or spiritually, going through the suck can challenge us to our very core in every one of those areas. It can really take its toll.
And they don’t usually just hit on one aspect alone. If we have a family to support and lose our main source of income, it’s both
emotionally and mentally draining. We’re thinking of ways to make ends meet (mental) and we feel responsible and sad if our family is suffering because of it (emotional).
Or if we’re stricken with a rare disease (physical) and our religious leaders tells us it’s the will of the god we believe in for us to have this happen, we might struggle to believe that (spiritual).
Again, how a certain situation affects me might not be the same for you, or the next guy. The recurring theme of this site is knowing ourselves and how we respond to different things. In this case, what I consider to be the suck might just be another day for someone else.
But whatever it is that each of us qualify as the suck, it all breaks us down little by little.
More Than One Area Of Life
As we already got a glimpse of, the suck encompasses all areas of life. It’s ANY situation where we’re being chipped away at on a physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual level.
The example situations I gave earlier were pretty general in nature, and they could have varying degrees of “suckiness” (nope, it’s not a word). And like I said, each of us deal with them differently depending on our personality, current circumstance, upbringing, etc.
Let’s see some specific examples of how the suck can manifest itself in our lives. We’ll consider 3 main examples: in sports/physical training, our diets, and then the other aspects of our lives.
In the realm of sports or training, the suck can come in a lot of different forms. When we didn’t do as well as we’d like in competition, that feeling can suck. In general when we lose, that can suck too.
Or more notably, if we’re involved in a sport that requires us to be in physically grueling situations like swimming long distance, closing the gap in the last 100 meters of a 400 meter event, or anything similar, we’re well familiar with that suck feeling.
Long endurance events will put us in that suck zone for a while, but the degree of suck isn’t at its max. Take an event like the 400 meters dash as mentioned. Sprinting the last 100 meters may only take a little over 10 or 11 seconds for elite athletes. But the degree of suck is at its absolutely max.
I personally can’t think of any other event where the physical feeling is worse than an athlete pushing himself to the limits on that last stretch.
And if done right, training for these sports involve a lot of this suck as well. If you recall my HIIT articles Part 1 and Part 2, HIIT training is meant to suck on the highest level. But that’s also part of the reason why we get such great results from it.
When it comes to our diet, the obvious time when the suck rears its ugly head is when we’re tempted with foods we REALLY want, but know we shouldn’t have.
Glazed donuts, cookies n’ creme milkshakes (my personal favorite), barbecue chicken pizza. These types of foods have no shortage of its regular consumers.
But for most of us, we KNOW, or at least have a general idea of what’s healthy and not healthy for us. As much as we try to eat the healthy stuff, the bad stuff like the pizzas and milkshakes makes it hard to stick to our eating plan.
And that sucks doesn’t it?
The social pressure doesn’t help in this regard either. When we’re out with the boys or the girls and everyone else is going to town on all kinds of junk food, but this is not one of those times when we can say: “I haven’t had this in a while so it’s okay.” because we just had it 2 or 3 days ago.
The discipline needed to fight the suck in that situation is compounded with the social aspect of it on top of the fact that we REALLY REALLY like the taste of the food.
Life In General
We’ve already went over some instances outside of sports and diet where we’d encounter the suck. Those situations were on the extreme side of things, but unfortunately, they still happen to most of us.
But life is full of little moments of suck as well. Maybe we’re late to work and the car has a flat tire. That extra time it took to change the tire put us in the morning traffic that we usually wouldn’t be in, which results in us being late for the morning meeting.
That doesn’t bode very well doesn’t it?
Or if our credit card information got compromised and we found out a little bit too late. We talk to the credit company to try to get it fixed and the process is taking longer than we’d like. Meanwhile, our charges is aren’t cleared and our credit score is down the drain.
These types of scenarios are nowhere near as extreme as the ones we mentioned at the outset of this article. But they are much more common and can easily happen to anyone of us.
And yes, they suck a lot too.
Reasons To Embrace It
Now that we’re all full of examples of suck in our lives, we can forever have a negative outlook on life right?
It might seem that way up to now, but knowing the potential worst case actually can give us encouragement to keep going and look to the future with confidence.
Yes, this is true. Only if we learn to manage these situations of suck. Or better yet, as we had talked about, we need to embrace the suck.
This doesn’t mean that we have to learn to love suffering (unless you’re one of the few Crossfitters that claims they do). I don’t think anyone here really enjoys going through any of the examples we discussed. Nor do we plan to.
With that being said, let’s see why we want to embrace the suck, and more importantly, how we can do it.
How To Embrace The Suck
In one sports study, Professor Samuele Marcora from the University of Kent had a group of cyclist ride on stationary bikes at a fixed pace for a s long as they possibly can. A screen was mounted in front of each of the bikes.
Subliminal messages were being flashed on all the screens for 1/16th of a second every second during the entire duration of the study. Half the group were exposed to images of sad faces, the other half saw happy faces.
As you can probably guess, the group exposed to the happy faces rode for 3 minutes longer than the sad faces group, and they reported less perceived exhaustion¹.
It has long been known that the mind is what stops us from physical exerting ourselves past our physical limits. It actually stops us WAY before we’re close to injuring our bodies.
That’s why the phrase “Mind over matter” is so common when it comes to pain tolerance. It really is how the pain and all other associated feelings are perceived that limits what we can do.
This is not just all airy fairy and woo woo stuff. Here’s some scientific data to back it up.
The fatigue that we perceive is mostly coming from our brains. It’s the mental fatigue that stops us from doing whatever we want to do, whether it’s mental or physical.
The chemical responsible for this is called adenosine. Whenever we force our bodies to keep going in the face of mental and/or physical exhaustion, adenosine builds up in our brains.
This chemical increases our perception of effort, meaning we’d feel like we ran a marathon although we may only be have way through a 5K.
That’s why caffeine is often used by endurance athletes. Caffeine blocks adenosine while it’s in our system.
And ANY mentally draining task will produce this substance, anything from working on mundane computer stuff to running at a steady pace for hours on end.
Benefits Of Doing So
We slightly touched on how learning to embrace the suck can benefit us. In addition to “priming” ourselves to potentially awful situations, we’re constantly braced for impact so to speak.
And when we work on embracing the suck, it carries over to other areas of our lives. The 3 areas we went over: sports, diet, and life are all interconnected. Improving our ability to withstand the suck in any one of those automatically carries over to the others.
Wouldn’t you want to learn to improve your life? Who doesn’t want to be confident enough to face any potential situation that life has to throw at them, knowing full well that we can get through it regardless of how tough it may get?
So here’s the strategy that I personally use to learn to embrace the suck, and hopefully you can benefit from using it as well.
Strategy I Use
When it comes to training for an event, a competition, or potential life changes, I’m a fan of replicating in my training what I’ll be going through.
What I’m NOT a fan of though, is replicating those extreme situations we’ve talked about. I don’t think any of us are.
But remember how we mentioned that improving in one area of life has the carry over effect to the other areas? That’s what I like to take advantage of.
Physical training and our eating habits are all perfectly within our control. They are great tests of our willpower and in turn, our ability to embrace the suck.
How hard we are willing to push ourselves during training is a clear indication of how much we can embrace the suck in other areas of life.
When our lungs are burning, our heart feels like it’s beating out of our chest, our muscles are on fire, that’s when the improvements are made. That’s why I push so hard during my personal HIIT workouts.
That fiery feeling we get inside our bodies, I think of that as my desire to get better. I imagine that as the fire of passion inside me that drives me to improve. So the more of that burning sensation I get, the more drive I have, which gives me motivation to keep pushing.
I’ve found doing HIIT workouts after a long days work is especially effective. Usually I’m at least a bit mentally tired. I wouldn’t mind going home, taking a shower, and relax on the couch.
But training when we’re mentally fatigue has shown to have greater improvements than if we’re training fresh.
Although our performance might not be the best, but as far as endurance goes, the results are undeniable.
The same professor mentioned in the previous study had two group of soldiers ride on a stationary bike at a fixed pace until exhaustion. This training went one for 12 weeks and the control groups’ time to exhaustion improved by 42%.
Not bad right?
The other group, however, improved their time to exhaustion by 115%! What was it they did differently?
They simply performed a mentally fatiguing task alongside their physical training sessions.
So by simply both mentally and physically draining ourselves during training, we can expect a much better improvement in our endurance. This is something that ALL of us can take advantage of.
I personally do this by fasting for most of the day, which means at the end of the day, I’m doing my HIIT workouts in a fasted state. The mental side of not eating can be tough or easy, depending on how our bodies are feeling that day. But fasting has a lot of physical and mental benefits besides just training our willpower to embrace the suck.
This may sound like it will only benefit our athletic performance and our adherence to our eating plans. But this embrace of the suck carries over to ALL areas of our life.
It becomes easier to not get stressed over things that would’ve done us in before. We don’t get bogged down with the same types of worries as we used to.
Embracing the suck teaches to to do all of that.
So how do you embrace the suck? Share with us your thoughts in the comments!