In today’s world addicted to convenience and ease, more and more men lose the ability to withstand discomfort. Because nobody sympathizes with men who are physically strong and mentally tough, it’s often more appealing to play the victim and skip the hard work of expanding your comfort zone.
But men who do that only end up hurting themselves. Pursuing toughness is a hard, difficult path, no doubt. But despite that, the truth is that there are only positives in learning how to be tough. And strong man doesn’t equal jerk as many men like to think, so please don’t use it as an excuse to stay soft, either.
A tough, strong man is desirable because he’s a resource, not a burden. He’s capable of facing whatever life throws at him. He remains calm when others are panicking. He solves problems instead of complaining about them. He helps others instead of shirking his responsibilities.
In this article I’m going to provide an empowering definition of toughness for men. I’ll show you how you can become tough—in a real way, and not just on a superficial level. I’ll also answer several common questions.
I’m Not Your Stereotypical Tough Guy But I Think I Can Help You Nonetheless
Before we start, to make things clear, I’m not some kind of a super tough and strong man. Far from it. David Goggins I am not. But I’ve gotten much tougher and stronger over the years. I used to be insecure, weak, and anxious (particularly around women).
These days, I step out of my comfort zone daily and am a huge believer in the power of voluntary discomfort.
Many of my interests—MMA, freediving, open water swimming, learning foreign languages, entrepreneurship—are motivated by my obsession with developing mental and physical toughness.
I seek challenges because as uncomfortable as they are, I know how powerful they are in helping me become a better man. I also hope that through my example I’ll inspire others to pursue hard, rewarding goals.
If that younger, shy version of me asked the current me for advice, this is the article I’d write to help him.
What Does It Mean to Be a Tough Guy? It’s Something Different Than You Think
If you asked an average person on the street what it means to be a tough guy, you’d probably get some of the following answers:
- Tough guys are big, muscular, and mean.
- A tough guy is a dominating jerk with a big ego.
- Tough guys are obsessed with lifting weights and/or self-defense skills.
- Tough guys decide for others and boss everyone around.
- Tough guys are often criminals because they’re violent and are always looking to pick a fight.
- Tough guys don’t feel fear and pain, and they don’t show any emotions.
In other words, you’d get answers defining a tough guy as a stereotypical “alpha male.” Society often defines such men with pejorative terms: they’re bad boys, playboys, and criminals (in contrast to nice guys who are always goody two-shoes).
The Real Purpose of Becoming a Tough Man
I don’t agree with these negative definitions. Let me introduce you to an empowering alternative definition of toughness. In his book Tough, actor Terry Crews defines the purpose of being tough the following way:
The purpose of being tough is not to attack, but to protect. The purpose of being strong is not to dominate, but to support. The purpose of having power is not to rule, but to serve. What I’ve learned is that to be a true man is to be the ultimate servant. With any talent or advantage that life has given you, whether by birth or by circumstance, your duty is to use that advantage in the service of others.
I like this definition because it goes beyond superficial aspects of toughness you may find in your average article on how to become a tough guy. It focuses on the deepest levels of personal development for men: growth and contribution.
Ultimately, becoming tough isn’t about you. It’s about serving others.
This is how you can go past the fakers and join the ranks of real men: seek to be valuable and not just create a superficial image.
I wish I understood this distinction when I was younger and craved to become one of the tough guys. It would have saved me a lot of anguish, pretending to be someone who I wasn’t.
The Difference Between Fake Tough Guys and Real Tough Guys
Here are some examples portraying how fake tough men differ from real tough men:
- A fake tough man lifts weights merely to look good. A man of value lifts weights to be strong and useful. He does it to take care of his health. He wants to set a good example for other guys. He wants to be hard to kill to live as long as possible and provide for his family, friends, or community.
- A fake tough man trains martial arts to dominate others. A man of value trains martial arts because he wants to be able to protect himself and his loved ones. He wants to be able to remain calm in stressful situations. He practices the sport to develop relationships with other men.
- A fake tough man cultivates his image to be considered cool and attract female attention. A man of value is interested in developing more confidence, strength, and resilience, all so that he can grow as a person and be more useful to others.
Note that “a man of value” is a term I use to define an ideal to pursue. It’s not a finish line: there’s always more that you can do to develop even more value.
This Is Where Your Journey to Become a Tough Guy Starts
So now that we have this definition, you may be disappointed. That’s it? I’m just going to help others and I’ll be a tough guy?
Hold your horses. That’s our starting point to begin your metamorphosis.
You see, if you aim to become a tough man at all costs, you’ll fixate on the superficial things. Perhaps you’ll decide to lift weights, grow a beard, start wearing “cool” clothes, join a football team if you’re in college, or engage in some bad habits like smoking or drinking alcohol that are considered to be cool. They may change how others look at you. But by themselves, they’re unlikely to change how you look at yourself.
For that, you need a deeper, lasting and unconditional transformation, not temporary crutches. This shift starts with understanding that toughness comes from becoming a man of value.
It’s the result of honest, arduous self-improvement. It’s not about some gimmicks that have no substance behind it. I’d even venture to say that toughness is a mere side effect of personal growth, and not a goal in itself. This brings us to the core of this article…
Focus on Extreme Personal Growth. Toughness Will Be a Side Effect
Real toughness comes from the inside and not from the external appearances. If you fixate on the latter, maybe others will consider you strong and tough but deep down you’ll know you’re a fake.
So the only option to become confident and mentally tough is to focus on the former: on the inside. And that inside—your mind—can only change through one thing: a relentless pursuit of extreme personal growth.
In my view, self-improvement comes down to one, vital for every man concept that’s behind the entire philosophy of the Discomfort Club…
To Become a Hard Man, Do Hard Things
By definition, if something is hard for you, doing it will make you stronger and tougher.
Because it’s beyond the edges of your current abilities. If it scares you, makes you uncomfortable, or you find it otherwise difficult, doing it will help you develop more mental toughness. And if it’s a physical pursuit, it’ll also make you more physically tough.
Each time you achieve something hard, you prove to yourself that you can do more than you think. This way, you develop self-efficacy, which is the belief in your own abilities. This, in turn, boosts your mental resilience as you’re becoming more and more capable of dealing with adversity.
Push Your Limits and You’ll Get Stronger
The more often you do hard things, the faster you’ll grow. It’s impossible NOT to become a tough man if you keep pushing your limits. As I write on the About page:
As men, we excel when we’re exploring the limits. Too much comfort makes us apathetic. Challenges make life exciting and fulfilling.
Voluntary discomfort is the antidote to our lives becoming devoid of growth and stimulation. The benefits of getting out of your comfort zone can be life-changing.
Our bodies grow stronger, more resilient, and more capable when we exercise strenuously and push our physical limits (in a sustainable way, not to break ourselves down).
Our minds expand and sharpen when we study difficult topics, open ourselves to new ideas, and control our emotions.
Moreover, practicing voluntary discomfort makes us better prepared when we face unwelcome adversity. Because we’re accustomed to the feeling, we don’t panic and despair. This makes us more resilient and more capable as leaders.
This is exactly what we discussed in the opening paragraphs of this article. Voluntary discomfort is how you build real, lasting mental toughness and useful physical strength.
I don’t want you to build false confidence on wobbly fundamentals. The only way to avoid falling into the trap of fake toughness is to build confidence through repeated exposure to what scares you most. It’s ugly, it’s frightening, it’s stressful, but it works.
What Kind of Hard Things Can You Do?
Becoming physically and/or mentally tough through challenges is simple. Pick something that does any of the following:
- It scares you or makes you anxious. If you have social anxiety around women, pick a goal that will force you to interact with women. This can be taking up dance classes, yoga classes or art classes. It’s the simplest way to develop the ability to talk with any woman and stop being anxious around them.
- It makes you uncomfortable, in a physical or mental way. If you can’t stand low temperatures, practicing cold exposure may be a valuable activity to push your mental and physical limits.
- It’s extremely hard but possible to achieve with enough self-discipline and determination. You may not be afraid of running but the thought of being able to run a marathon is ridiculous. So set a goal to achieve exactly that.
- It’ll lead to a holistic transformation due to a mix of personal and mental challenges. Many men credit practicing BJJ (Brazilian jiu-jitsu) with helping them not only become stronger but also more confident and mentally tough. Sparring provokes the fight or flight response and teaches you how to stay in control in stressful situations.
30 Ways to Help You Become a Tougher Guy
If you don’t have any ideas, here’s a list of some things you can do to begin your self-improvement journey (the order is random):
- Quit your worst vices (alcohol, caffeine, fast food, smoking, porn, video games, binge watching TV shows, social media) and replace them with empowering habits.
- Learn rock climbing.
- Train to complete muscle failure (in a safe exercise where you can maintain proper form).
- Take cold showers and try ice baths or winter swimming (with a safety buddy).
- Learn a foreign language.
- Run long distances.
- Start waking up early.
- Develop water skills—learn how to swim, surf, freedive, and/or scuba dive.
- Train martial arts (most recommended: MMA, BJJ, muay thai, kickboxing, boxing, wrestling).
- Practice stretching or yoga.
- Engage in meditative practices like mindfulness or do a session in a float tank.
- Lose weight or build muscle to get your ideal body.
- Learn how to eat and cook healthy food.
- Do hard interval training (try EMOM).
- Face your deepest fears (try skydiving, public speaking, chat up an attractive stranger).
- Train hill sprints.
- Practice intermittent fasting.
- Train strongman exercises such as suitcase carry, sandbag carry, or farmer’s walks.
- Get into rucking (put on a heavy backpack and walk long distances like soldiers do).
- Learn something difficult and/or frustrating for you (like singing, playing the guitar, or dancing tango).
- Train your grip strength (exercises like passive hangs, active hangs, etc.).
- Ask for a discount when buying coffee or anything else.
- Go on a multi-day hike and camp in the wilderness.
- Have a difficult conversation with a family member or friend that you’ve been putting off for ages.
- Go on a negativity fast for a week or two—whenever you catch yourself engaging in a negative thought, you need to restart your challenge.
- Read a difficult book on a subject you don’t know anything about.
- Study philosophy and contemplate death.
- Learn emergency first response skills and become a volunteer.
- Improve your social circle or grow your professional network: identify what kind of friends/contacts you’d want to have and start hanging out where they’re likely to be.
- Become an entrepreneur.
Do something from that list (or anything else that pushes your limits) as often as you can. Ideally, take on at least small challenges daily and every week test yourself with more difficult activities.
And again, it doesn’t matter what it is: pick the first thing that appeals to you. Don’t expect it to change you magically overnight, though. This is about sustainable, consistent growth.
If You Want to Learn From Tough Guys, Study Their Stories
I’ve explained that if you want to become mentally tough and strong, you need to prioritize personal growth. Yet, when you look at admirable men, you may still be tempted to copy what you see on the outside.
For example, you may obsess about wearing a specific kind of a t-shirt your role model wears. Or you may force yourself to engage in the same sport as he does just because he does it. Or you may copy his appearance (say, shave your head), thinking it will turn you into a hard man.
When I think of a stereotypical tough, strong guy, I imagine a man like David Goggins. His autobiography, Can’t Hurt Me, is a must-read because it proves exactly what I’m explaining in this article.
People told David that he would never amount to anything. Worse, he even did it to himself. Fear, anxiety, doubt, and complacency ruled his life. Yet, through consistent work and a lot of pain, he became a symbol of toughness and relentless self-improvement.
If you didn’t know David’s story you might assume that he’s tough just because he’s muscular, runs long distances, lifts heavy weights, and curses a lot. You may copy these behaviors and think that now you’re a tough guy. And you’d completely miss the point.
Yes, his physical prowess has had an impact on who he is today. But he’s mentally tough because of the mental battles he had to fight, not merely because of a couple of activities he engages in these days.
His ability to withstand adversity is legendary because he’s faced it all: domestic abuse, racism, obesity, tough military training, life-threatening health conditions, extremely challenging ultra-marathons, and more.
This is why it’s so important to study tough men beyond watching motivational videos. I’ve created a long list of the best books for men where you’ll also find many powerful autobiographies that will further drive the point of this article home.
Common Questions Related to Becoming a Tough Guy
To round out the article and help you even more, here are a few common questions and my answers on the topic.
How Can a Man Look Tough?
I explained in the first part of the article why you shouldn’t obsess about looking tough and instead focus on building substance. The appearance will follow.
But I’ll humor this common question anyway and give you some suggestions on how you can look stereotypically tough (just don’t confuse it with being tough for real):
- Build a muscular body. The most common methods are through weightlifting, calisthenics, or sports that engage your entire body (such as rock climbing or martial arts).
- Give yourself sharp facial features. If you’re overweight, losing some fat will help you get a more chiseled look. Certain exercises may help improve the shape of your face.
- Take care of your hair (or shave it). Consult a professional hair stylist to figure out the best haircut for you. If you don’t have much hair, don’t be afraid to shave your head. Many tough guys from Hollywood successfully sport that look.
- Consider growing a beard or facial hair. Consult a professional barber to figure out what would make you look most masculine.
- Practice good posture. Stand tall. Be aware of your body when walking and sitting. Train your core and your back to help maintain a natural straight spine.
- Wear timeless pieces that fit properly. Tough men usually don’t dress in garish clothes. Instead, they wear classic pieces that always look good. Make sure that your clothes fit you. Baggy looks sloppy and doesn’t command respect.
- Talk slowly. If you speak too fast, you create an impression that you’re a nervous, insecure guy. Tough, strong men take their time when speaking.
- Be healthy. Last but not least, if you want to look tough, you need to be healthy. You won’t project much strength if you’re in pain, if your skin is blemished, or if you eat food that constantly leaves you bloated.
How to Be Tough But Still Be a Nice Guy?
We’ve already covered this in the first part of the article but let me reiterate it: yes, you can be a good guy and still be tough.
Toughness isn’t defined by how big of a dick you are. Quite the contrary. A tough man knows his worth. He knows he doesn’t have to demonstrate it with aggression.
Remember that true toughness comes from bettering yourself. It takes more effort to treat other people kindly and with respect than to be a bad-mannered jerk. You lose nothing but being a good person.
There’s only one caveat.
Be careful about being a stereotypical nice guy. There’s a powerful book titled No More Mr. Nice Guy written by Dr. Robert Glover that goes into the dangers of this syndrome (and teaches how to stop being a nice guy without becoming a jerk).
Will Becoming a Tough Man Make Me More Respected?
When you focus on personal development, you’ll build more self-esteem. This will make you respect yourself more—and that’s the most important concern.
Will other people respect you more for becoming a tough guy? They probably will because you’ll be a more useful human being. But don’t use it as your motivation. Do it to feel good with yourself, not to feed your ego.
Can I Focus on Physical Toughness Alone?
In the section about doing hard things I offered many suggestions that are physical in nature: lifting weights, practicing martial arts, running, and so on. After all, that’s what all stereotypical tough guys engage in.
Don’t get me wrong. None of these are “bad things” you shouldn’t do. Quite the contrary. They’re a great start for your self-improvement journey. Some of them may even produce a huge metamorphosis. But don’t obsess exclusively about physical fitness at the expense of your internal growth. There’s more to life than just being muscular. You also want to take care of your health, relationships, finances, education, spirituality, etc.
For this reason, pick at least one physical and one mental challenge. For example, aim to learn Spanish and start training BJJ. Or balance “hard” physical challenges like powerlifting with more mental physical challenges like yoga. Or study entrepreneurship as you go on your runs.
Balance physical strength with mental toughness. Again, we’re coming back to the main theme of this article: you want holistic personal growth that drives deep, personal transformation and not just the change of your external appearance.
You Too Can Become a Tough and a Strong Man
Regardless of where you are now, you can always make changes to develop more physical and mental toughness.
It doesn’t matter if you’re tall or short, if you have clear skin or acne, if you’re underweight or overweight, if you’re extroverted or introverted. None of it matters. What matters is your willingness to change yourself.
There’s only one caveat: it’s not about reading as many how-tos as you can. Change means taking action. Pick one actionable step from this guide and act on it today.
If this article helped you and you need some accountability or more advice on how to be tough, sign up for a free weekly Discomfort Club newsletter. Enter your email address below: