Why Do We Do Hard Things?


Talitha Vogt on Dakota Ridge

From the beginning, humans have evolved to avoid situations that can cause harm, pain and discomfort. We have, over millions of years, evolved to seek comfort and minimize challenge.


But, deep down, we are wired for struggle, to survive and beat the odds. That’s how we have come to exist on the top of the proverbial “food chain”. If we fast forward to modern society, where in most cases we have created a world of safety and security, where do those inner survival traits get put into practice? How do we get to practice those deep inner survival traits and exercise those urges to thrive after we’ve experienced struggle?


Most of the time we can’t and don’t. In fact, nowadays, we can literally push a button to get almost anything we want, delivered to us, by 4 p.m. Typically, the biggest threat in a day in the modern world usually involves someone stealing our place in the line at the grocery store and dealing with the subsequent frustrated feelings that follow. Most of the time, instances in which we have to actually put our survival skills to the test are pretty rare.


In a world where the vast majority of people choose to avoid challenge, what makes some choose to do the opposite? Who are these people and what separates them from others?


Our “Whys” are as Diverse as We Are

As an endurance coach, I’ve heard all kinds of things. I’ve worked with women in their 60’s who hadn’t yet challenged themselves and wanted to live their life to the fullest. I’ve worked with women in their 20’s who are just starting out in life and want to test their grit and see what they are capable of achieving. I’ve seen people work through loss, process their own mortality, and pursue higher goals as a means to self-actualization and greater life fulfillment.


And I’ve seen something as simple as curiosity about one’s own abilities turn into a life-changing course through the pursuit of epic endurance events. At the very least, almost everyone ends up with a better understanding of themselves.


While yes, it definitely can be argued that the “mindset place” a person is coming from when pursuing something makes all of the difference for that person (see article on that topic here), I also find it difficult as a coach to question anything that makes a person choose movement over a sedentary lifestyle. After all, many people are dealing with chronic insidious mental and physical illnesses, both of which can be offset with active lifestyle habits.


Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation refers to influential factors that we inherently feel on the inside and are more related to something we can gain that no one else can necessarily detect. It is through tapping into these types of influences that gets us through when the process becomes more difficult, such as when dealing with an unexpected adversity during an already more difficult than expected endurance event. Our intrinsic influences work best when our relationship with ourselves is solid.


Examples of intrinsic motivators:


  • Testing Our Grit

  • Personal Challenge

  • Deep Curiosity

  • Pure Enjoyment of Pursuit or Challenge

  • Utilization of our Freedoms

  • Pursuit of Self-Actualization

  • Deeper Exploration of our Character


Extrinsic motivation refers to influential factors that come from outside circumstances that can often be perceived externally and are related to our place in the world, or relationships we have with others.


Examples of extrinsic motivators:


  • Recognition

  • Status

  • Financial Gain

  • Respect

  • Attention


But Humans Are Complicated

It should definitely be mentioned that the lines can get blurred a little when it comes to motivations, because we can have an extrinsic reason for competing that is related to something we feel on the inside and vice versa. For instance, someone wants to compete to achieve recognition to validate themselves or “make something right” that happened in the past, sometimes related to approval or disapproval at another time in their life. They might be pursuing recognition on the outside but on the inside, they inevitably end up exploring themselves deeper, which works out for the best over the long haul anyway.


You Have to Have More than One Reason

Research shows us that our best successes come through a unique set of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that are specific to you and your situation. In order to be successful with endurance challenges, each person has to develop their own set of reasons; collectively, their “why” that come from both intrinsic and extrinsic sources. In addition, it should be noted that it is often through exploring our endurance goals with our (maybe not so healthy) motivations that we eventually come to understand, and develop a stronger relationship with, that which constitutes our more pure, authentic and genuine reasons.


Let's work together to tap into and explore your personal motivations and get after your goals!


Talitha Vogt is a certified endurance and behavior change coach with an elite racing background. She has 22 years of experience as a mountain biker, including 13 total years of racing and other endurance events including Xterra triathlons, innumerable cyclocross races, a little dabbling in road racing, and even some trail running. She provides custom-tailored, accommodating coaching locally in the front range of Colorado and online internationally.

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