The Formula for Doing Hard Things

One thing we can infinitely agree on is that you have to commit to doing the hard things for a period of time in your life. It doesn’t matter who you are; you will get to a point where you will have to do something hard.

You have to learn the how, somehow, even if you don’t want to. 

But let’s be honest. How well do we like doing the hard things in life? The answer is, usually, no. We are humans. We love safe things, safe spaces, and security. 

For instance, I will be a super confident programmer if I write codes every day for, say, five years. But even the thought of that makes me winch in pain.

It’s so hard.

So, doing the hard things, what’s the formula for that? 

The Formula For Doing The Hard Things

1. Interest (or necessity)

The first thing you need in doing the hard things is an interest.

You need to love what you will get once you accomplish the goal or project, or the process has to give some kind of joy. 

When I am on the court, it is like my life depends on it.

— Serena Williams

You have a desirable outcome at the other end – a medal, a job, a vacation, a car, a lover, a child, something you want or like. The reward can be something others don’t get. For example, I developed an interest in literature because I just love literature. The reward is just the satisfaction. Is it literature hard? Not really for some, it is.

Another thing that makes people push hard to do hard things is ‘necessity.’ When you have a sick daughter who’s down with illness, you may go to any length and develop an interest in maybe a few hard things to get money. That’s not an ordinary interest in hard things but one born out of necessity.

So, necessity. When you have no other choice or the choices are so limited, you have to develop an interest in something hard —- out of necessity, not because you would do it if things were a little bit different. 

However, this ‘necessity’ has to be filed under ‘interest’ because if the person doesn’t have enough interest in something that is hard, they will run away once they experience setbacks. 

Interest (or necessity) is the first part of our formula.

2. Work 

The second element in our formula for doing hard things is ‘work.’ 

Bill Gates, for example, was among the smartest people in business in his era, but he was also among the hardest working. “I never took a day off in my twenties,” he said. “Not one.” It was similar with Lionel Messi. He had great natural ability, but when his youth coaches talk about him, what they remember is not his talent but his dedication and his desire to win. P. G. Wodehouse would probably get my vote for best English writer of the 20th century, if I had to choose. Certainly no one ever made it look easier. But no one ever worked harder.

Paul Graham, How to Work Hard

You need to work at the hard things, but before you begin this hard part of the whole thing, you need to develop interest. Imagine Bill Gates working hard at football and Lionel Messi as a business genius. 

Without a big interest in the work, you will not get too far. 

3. Time 

This is the third and usually most difficult part of doing hard things. If you can develop an interest in what you want to achieve and you work hard at it, how long can you do that? 

Usually, the answer varies from one person to another. Some can persevere for years, and others can’t. But it often ties back to the first requirement of the whole equation: interest.

How well do you like this subject? How do you feel if you don’t write a story or train for football for a week? If you have an interest in something, it should feel like you’re dying, or there is a pain in your chest or some sickness if you don’t that something for a while. 

Of course, there are exceptions. Not all hard things require a long, persistent level of interest. You just have to be interested enough for the duration of the time and work you have to see the project or goal through. In school, for instance, most of us had to study hard for exams, but once it’s over, it’s over. Not once in four years after graduation have I thought, ‘Oh, I missed studying for exams, the sleeplessness night and morning anxiety of the exam day.’ No, it doesn’t come that way. This kind of hard thing is a product of ‘necessity.’ For most of the papers, I had to do it, so I showed up (worked). I forced myself to be interested in it for a period of time

Time. That’s the last piece of the puzzle, but not always. You need time.

But how much time do you need? 

That’s hard to determine.

It depends on the hard thing said.

Writing a good article is hard, but it will take less time (interest and work) than being the greatest musician in the world. 

So, time is relative. Sometimes, the hard thing can be overcome in a few minutes, like performing first-aid to someone who needs it when you have never done that before or jumping into a burning house to save a child.

Sometimes, the hard things last a lifetime, such as living with an illness or becoming the greatest footballer of all time.

So far, the formula looks like this:

Interest + work + time = achievement.

Interest, work, and time are three main parts of the formula, but there is usually another silent one. 

4. Positive results 

It’s hard to persist in doing the hard thing for years if you are not constantly seeing results. Even if it’s a little win, you need it to continue. 

This is what makes people give up too fast. You have interest; you have put in the work over a long period, but you’ve nothing to show for it.

Let’s use starting a business as an example. How long will you keep doing the business if you do not make any sales? At all? 

I can’t count the number of times when receiving compliments about my writing has been the major reason I kept doing the work. Randomly, a stranger will buy two copies of my book at a time, and that would make me nod and tell myself, ‘Maybe people do like the fiction I wrote.’ And I am saying this despite all the years I have spent ghostwriting fiction and getting loads of positive feedbacks.

In university, how long will you be allowed to continue if you keep failing all the tests and assignments? 

If it’s a difficult skill, how long will it take to master it?

So, remember, whenever you are about to stop doing the hard things required to get to your dream, try to seek positive results. It replenishes interest, motivates you to work, and encourages you to keep going for a longer time

For those momentary hard things, saving a child in a burning house, the positive results are usually few. The risks are high. You need a high level of dopamine to be interested in such a mission.

Experience, Ethusiasm, and You

This post won’t do justice to the topic if I don’t discuss the other nature of hard things.


You are the most important part of this formula, after all. You are the constant factor here – who needs time, interest and work, and positive results. Who are you? Who is hard for you?

What’s your definition of hard things? It’s anything you struggle to do at any given time or an extended period of time. But that definition is imperfect without talking about one other parameter — the person doing the task.

For instance, I write often. Telling some people to write an article or an essay is a hard thing. In summary, what you find hard is someone else’s bread and butter. You sweat at it, but they on the other hand sweat and smile and laugh and jump in excitement while at it.

If I see a burning house, I run. When a fire fighter sees a burning house, work mode will be activated. So, when we talk about hard things, we should mention that different people consider different things as hard.

So, what is hard thing to you. Or the most important question: WHAT DO OTHER PEOPLE SEE AS HARD BUT YOU DON’T SEE AS THAT HARD. That’s your area of interest, the area where you can be sure that the formula (interest + time + work + positive results = achievements) will work for you.

Naval Ravilant’s quote…


Doing the hard things can be easier with experience. You can count on it that if you do one hard thing, you have helped yourself become better at doing it again. A veteran soldier can say it’s hard work defending his country against terrorism. The task is also harder for amateurs. So, in this case, one person can count on experience while the other might struggle a lot more in the beginning. This applies to almost every other profession.


We all have to do hard things, but some do it with more enthusiasm than others. And this ties back to the explanation about interest, but a little deeper. Enthusiasm will make your stay arrive at training earlier and setback when others leave. People can smell enthusiasm from afar. Your eyes lit up. You forget other things. This is like saying “‘interest but raise to the power of 10.’

But is it needed? Well, not really. It all depends on if the hard thing you want to do is what you really like, something you want to be remembered for. So, maybe a little more enthusiasm – your special kind of enthusiasm – can be a major difference between you and the other average guy in the game.

What about ‘courage’?

It’s a bit complicated to include in this formula because for many of the hard things, ‘interest’ and ‘work’ can substitute courage. It’s too momentary of all things. You need it, but not as much as you need to be interested and ready to work. Interest will make you love writing. Work will make you write the book. Courage will make you publish it. With a level of interest (enthusiasm, and, or necessity) and work, ‘courage’ comes almost as a gift.

Good luck with doing the hard things in your life.

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