“That coach just runs those girls to death.” I overheard a customer say this while I was waiting tables. I had to laugh a little, because I was one of “those girls.” Our basketball coach was a local legend. His grueling physical training was par for the course when you played ball for him. (FYI, in his 30 years of coaching, no girls actually died. Although, there were days when it felt highly probable.)

When moderation seems like the most prudent thing, why do some people make things unnecessarily difficult? Why take things to an extreme? Why not just take a more balanced and reasonable approach to saving and paying down debt?

Reasonable is rarely life changing. 

Here are 3 benefits of choosing to make a few things unnecessarily difficult.

1. You learn 3x as fast

One of the reasons I am a fan of the unreasonable is that it stretches us. If you want to pay off debt, while investing, while giving, it will be 3x as hard. You will have to learn 3x as much information. Develop 3x the frugal skills. Work 3x as hard to increase your income.

It’s in challenge and struggle that we become more creative. We have to learn faster and learn more.

I did a 12 month shopping ban right after 9 months of pregnancy. This presents unreasonable challenges. First off,  I hadn’t bought any non-maternity clothes in a year prior to starting this shopping ban. Then, after having a baby and while breastfeeding, hardly anything fit properly. 

During this shopping ban, I owned 1 pair of blue jeans. Of course, they developed 2 holes in them. Not in a convenient spot. After a month of just leggings and dresses, I figured out I could wear leggings under my jeans. I figured out a creative solution because of an unnecessarily difficult  “no buying clothes” rule.

I mentioned how ill timed this shopping ban was to a friend. Naturally she said, “Well, of course you adjusted this crazy plan.” Ah, I just smiled. Nope. I’ll learn a lot more about myself, my relationship to clothes shopping and creative solutions from my ill planned resolution than I ever would from something more “reasonable.”

2. Lessons from the end of your rope

There are some things you can only learn under extreme trial. When you are pushed to very end of your rope in this unnecessarily hard thing, you learn something about yourself.

There was always a distinct difference between freshman ball players and seniors. And not just in their height or skill. After four years training with this coach, you knew you would live. You knew when you hit the end of your rope, there was still more you could give. You knew how fast you could run a drill after throwing up. There were less tears.

When you are physically and mentally pushed to tears, you learn something about yourself. You have more to give, if asked for more. You learn it a little the first time. You understand it even more by the 5th time you have thrown up and broken down in tears, and then still run 3 more timed sets. By the 12th time, you don’t cry. It still sucks. But you know you have what it takes. There are no more tears of fear, hopelessness or desperation. You might throw up, but you can still run.

You learned something from the end of your rope.

3. You are prepared for Real Difficult things

Sometimes life is legit hard. Parents pass away. Our children might pass away. Friends get cancer. We get laid off or fired from a job. We adopt special needs kids with challenging behaviors. Our spouse walks out on us. We end up with $50,000 of debt. Legitimately hard stuff happens.

If we have done unnecessarily difficult things, we have learned a pattern.

You throw up, you feel hopeless, desperate, and full of fear, you cry, and you keep running.

Just like you have done 100 times before.

I remember being on a long car ride a few months after our son passed away. I felt like I had been hit by a truck, everything in me hurt. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. Staring out at the beautiful Montana landscape, on the verge of tears and despair, this thought popped into my head: “This feels an awful lot like waking up in bed that first week of practice. Every part of my body was in excruciating pain. I had no idea how I would stand up and walk, let alone run for 3 hours that morning, and another 3 hours in the afternoon. There was a mix of feelings: overwhelm, fear and the nagging questions, “Can I even do this? Do I really have a choice?”

As we drove through the mountains and tall pines, I thought about how that first week of training did make us stronger and faster. But before the strength came, it felt like we could barely stand up. Even a flight of stairs was difficult and painful to manage. Remembering that gave me a spark of hope. Despite feeling completely crushed in that moment, I hoped that one day I could walk again, and even run. Maybe in years to come, I could be stronger for having walked through this difficult season. Nothing could have made the experience of losing my son easier, but doing unnecessarily difficult things gave me hope that it wouldn’t always be as crushing as it was that day. 

In basketball, we never stopped training when the girls starting throwing up and crying.

Because we wouldn’t have learned how much more was really in us after we hit that breaking point. Knowing how much more you have to give after you hit that breaking point is what wins games in the 4th quarter. When the other team is exhausted, doubled over, in pain, and a little scared, we can have that smirk that says, “This? Oh, we are just getting started! I have 6 more quarters in me if that is what it takes to win this game.”


We live in a culture that fears or despises hard things.

“Why try to pay off your debt that fast?”

“It’s crazy to try to pay cash for a house!”

“Why would you save 50% of your income!?

“You should really rethink this shopping ban.”

“Why save all that money to reach FI?”

“Be more reasonable. Don’t make things unnecessarily hard. Take your time. Be more balanced.”

 I say: Do one unnecessarily difficult thing! Find your limits, then keep digging. Because this well could be much deeper than you think. And your best work might come long after you wanted to quit.

Instead of saving a 5% down payment, save a 50% down payment.

Instead of taking 30 years to pay off your house, do it in 9.

Instead of barely having enough to retire at 65, have enough by 50.

Instead of paying off your student loans over 10 years, eat rice and beans while working an extra job and pay it off in 2 years.

Just because it hurts, is overwhelming, or pushes you to your limit doesn’t mean your doing anything wrong.

In fact, you might be on exactly the right path.

Random suggestions:

Physical challenges, like training for a half marathon or a 50 mile hike

Fasting 1 day a week for a year (I did this and it was HARD)

If you write, write 10,000 words in a weekend.

A shopping or spending ban

If you are an introvert, try striking up conversations with 5 strangers a day for a week

Camp in a pop up camper with 5 little kids for 6 weeks…oh wait. That was fun. =)


Because of that coach, I knew I could do all sorts of things. Difficult things. I could learn advanced chemistry between 8pm-midnight. I could leave our small town. I could adopt kids with challenging needs. I could move overseas. I could travel on my own. I could pay cash for a house. I could learn how to renovate from You Tube.

The more difficult things I do, real or unnecessarily difficult, the more confidence I have in my grit. I know how deep the well is. And when I come to the end of my rope: overwhelmed by fear, hopelessness, and doubt, I know I have more in me. I might just have to throw up and have a good cry first.

For conversation:

Ever done a sport or hobby with “that” coach?

Any unnecessarily difficult things you are trying to do?

Has the unnecessarily difficult things ever help in other areas of your life? Do you have more grit because of it?