“GOOD” Hard versus “BAD” Hard

Feb 13, 2023

Follow the show

Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Everywhere Else

Not everything that’s hard to do is necessarily bad for us. We know hard work, for example, is rewarding. Right? But it’s also true that not everything that’s hard to do is good for us either. Each has an underlying impact. Yet how do we differentiate between things that are hard but good, and things that are hard and bad? And why does it matter?

As physicians, we encounter countless opportunities to steer our patients, as well as ourselves, toward “good” hard and away from “bad”. We do it regularly. It pours forth from who we are as healers. Because of this, I believe it is powerful to examine the characteristics of each type of “hard” more in depth, equipping us to help people even more. So let’s talk about “good” hard versus “bad” hard.

“Good hard is something that even though it’s hard, even though it’s difficult, even though it’s challenging, the result is worth it.” – Dr. Sara Dill

What You’ll Learn

  • Characteristics of “good” hard
  • Characteristics of “bad” hard
  • Endurance and effort
  • Worth it or not
  • Nourished versus depleted
  • Drop the bad, choose the good

Contact Info and Recommended Resources

Podcast Episodes that pair well with this one:

Connect with Sara Dill, MD, The Doctor’s Coach

I read all my own emails and would love to hear from you. Feel free to ask me questions or make topic suggestions for the podcast. Email me at [email protected].

Website: saradill.com

Work with me: saradill.com/coaching

I offer FREE consultations. Get scheduled on my calendar: saradill.com/schedule. I look forward to talking to you.

My book: The Doctor Dilemma: How to Quit Being Miserable Without Quitting Medicine




I'm Dr. Sara Dill, and this is the Stress Less Physician Podcast, episode number 53.
Welcome to the Stress Less Physician Podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Sara Dill, MD. Using my unique combination of coaching and mindfulness tools, I will teach you practical ways to reduce your stress level, feel happier at work, and create a better balance between your medical career and personal life. If you are a busy practicing physician who wants to design a life and medical career that feel good to you, you are in the right place.
Hey everyone, welcome back to the podcast. Happy Monday. Happy February. This should be released, I think on February 13th, so the day before Valentine's Day, at least here in the United States. And I just realized that episode 53 means I have been doing this for just over a year. So, I have to say I'm proud of myself, and this ties in very nicely to today's topic.
Which, I was thinking about today, as well as I went on a brief jog. I was gonna call it a run, but it was more of a jog, and I hadn't been running in years, really. And so, the run that I did this morning, while brief, was hard for me. And I will say that recording a weekly podcast for over a year consistently has also been hard. And both of these are what I would call good hard, at least by my definition. And that's what I wanted to talk to you all about today, and again, this idea I've been thinking about. But it really gelled for me this morning again as I was going on my brief, yet challenging run.
And it's this idea of good hard versus bad hard. I would just have you think about this as in quotations, right? So "good" versus "bad". So "good hard" versus "bad hard". And I wanted to talk to you about this because I think that we spend a lot of effort and a lot of our stress and unhappiness, and a lot of the clients and physicians that I coach are sometimes trying to figure out how to make "bad hard" work when what I would say is let's figure out the difference and drop the things that are "bad hard" for you and include more "good hard" in your life.
And so as always, I like to go to the dictionary and look up the word hard, first of all. So the definition I found, there's actually a couple and they're all slightly different, and I liked all of them so hard is defined as either requiring a great deal of endurance or effort. Hard is also defined as difficult to understand, or do, or experience, or deal with. I like that. So difficult to do or deal with. And then another definition of hard is needing or using a lot of physical or mental effort. Hard, in other words, is something that's challenging. I think that's another word we could use.
And I know I wrote about this in my book and I've talked about it before on the podcast, is that often we're very good as physicians, and as people who have gone through a lot of education and training, at doing hard things. We're very good at rising to challenges.
And the question though, and what I would look at is whether the challenges that you are rising to, whether the hard that you are doing, that you're good at, is something that is worthwhile for you in the long run. Or is it just a habit of when given something challenging, you just take it on?
I think a lot of us do that and are used to having hard things, working hard at them. So I would start to define "good hard" work as, good is something that's encouraging or exciting and maybe a normal part of the challenges of medicine versus "bad hard" right or "bad hard work" is something that, in some sense, is harmful to one's work or reputation or sanity or your personal wellbeing.
And so I think sometimes it may be easier to fine tune this or understand it. If we look at it when we start with physical endeavors, physical things. And so "good hard" in the way I wanna define it can be something like a tough physical workout, like maybe my running for 12 minutes today when I haven't run for years. And I would say jogging, right? In that case, maybe "good hard" is a yoga pose or a stretch that has, as my teacher likes to say, intense sensations that accompany it. Not pain, but a lot of intense or challenging sensations.
So jogging for me today, it was hard, but it wasn't terrible. It wasn't awful. It wasn't painful. It was just uncomfortable. I didn't push myself to the point of where I would define "bad hard", which would be physical pain, physical injury, exceeding voluntary discomfort and moving into actual physical harm to myself in the pursuit of doing hard things, in the pursuit of challenging physical endeavors.
So, "bad hard" in the sense of physical activity might be pushing yourself physically to the point of pain, and injury, self-injury. "Good hard" might just be a tough physical workout that, while uncomfortable, is still not physically injurious to you either now or in the future.
And sometimes it can be hard to tell. A lot of us, I think, have had the experience of maybe overestimating our abilities. I'll speak for myself here and maybe engaging in physical activity that was too intense for me. And the way you learn that is through physical sensations and pain. So there is a fine line there between intense sensations and then crossing over into an area where I would say injury is more likely, right? And that's where I would define "good hard" versus "bad hard" in terms of physical activity.
Bringing it back to the rest of our life, in terms of work, and maybe relationships, and maybe our life in general, as physicians, we have all done hard things, right? Getting into medical school, getting through medical school, getting into and through residency. And I would say likely, our day-to-day work, taking care of patients, taking care of sick or injured or ill people, is hard, right? Patients are often scared and maybe not at their best. We often have to deal with illness, mortality, morbidity, bad outcomes. I would say all of that is challenging. That definition of hard.
A lot of the time, our day-to-day in medicine is hard. Maybe not all of it, right? We have bread and butter stuff as we work through training and our practice and get more expertise. Things that were once hard become easier for us. But we still need mental effort.
Looking back at the definition of hard, a lot of what we do requires endurance or effort. Often we need to go back and figure things out. Sometimes our work can be difficult to understand or do well. We all have patients that may be difficult to deal with. And outside of work, or for anyone who's not a physician, this is true of life in general, right? Look at Covid, even outside medicine, outside seeing patients COVID has been hard in a lot of ways. And so often life will present us with situations that we may personally find challenging or hard based on our own experience or our own abilities. But then I would like to look at what are our responses to it? Are we saying, "No, thank you"? Are we disengaging from things that may not be "good hard" for us, the "bad hard" things.
So again, I would say "good hard" is something that even though it's hard, even though it's difficult, even though it's challenging, the result is worth it for you, for me. And often, I'll know this, and you might know this because you might feel excited or enthusiastic about it, even when it is hard and scary or difficult or even terrifying. There's maybe fear, but some excitement, right? There's the uncertainty, there's the challenge, there's the difficulty. You might even feel a little overwhelmed sometimes, but underneath that all, there's a sense of purpose, of value, and the ultimate goal towards which you're striving is worth it, and I would also say is in some sense, doable. It may not seem totally doable, but it is.
So "good hard" has this sense of value and meaning, and the result is worth the difficulty for you in the end, even if you're in a part of it now, where it's mostly hard work and maybe it's not day-to-day exciting or valuable is the big picture, is the big goal worth it? So just like with physically hard things, there's the discomfort that's part of getting stronger and better, and it's not at the expense of your personal wellbeing long-term or even short-term for a long period of time.
I would say "bad hard" something, work or a relationship or some sort of situation in which you find yourself, that is hard and challenging and not particularly worth it. The end result is not worth it to you, right? So maybe it's a dead end situation or a job in which, in spite of your best efforts, nothing really has changed or seems like it is going to change. You might notice you're just coping. You're just surviving. You're not growing, you're not thriving. Maybe you're just making the best of a bad situation. "Good hard" may leave you feeling tired or even exhausted, but it's this good, tired feeling, right?
I don't know if you've ever experienced it after, for me, like, a long hike or even a day spent outside. When I was in Costa Rica doing jungle hikes and everything, it was challenging. I was tired at the end of the day, but it was a good tired. I felt tapped out, but in a very satisfied way. You wanna get back out there and do it some more, in some sense, at least once you're recovered and rested.
So the same can be true of hard work, right? I remember in medical school I was really excited. I was tired. I looked forward to going home. When you were told to go, you always went. But I was excited to go back. I was excited to keep learning and doing hard things, even if I was scared. And sometimes it felt a little bit too much and a little too intense.
"Good hard" is something you can thrive on. So even if it's difficult, even if it's challenging, even if it's tiring, it nourishes you in some way. The doing of it and the results. So the result you're working on nourishes you or the actual work in the day-to-day. "Bad hard" leaves you feeling exhausted and tired and stressed out and depleted. It maybe feels never ending or hopeless. It can feel soul sucking. I think when people describe soul sucking jobs, that's "bad hard".
"Good hard" is one that's really challenging. Maybe it's right at the edge of your max, but in some sense it is energizing. It doesn't deplete you completely. So "bad hard" maybe has this hopelessness. This like, just, making it work, hoping it might eventually get better, but you don't really believe it will.
It's sort of like the myth of Sisyphus and the boulder. So Sisyphus received this punishment in the afterlife for I think going against the gods. And so what he did was roll a giant boulder up a hill all day, only for it to roll back down once he reached the top. Does something in your life feel like that? Does it feel like an endless repeating of the same grueling task,with no end insight for all of eternity? That might be a sign of "bad hard".
I would say, "good hard" builds your confidence in your own abilities and broadens and deepens your skills over time. You get stronger and more resilient and more capable through being challenged in the ways that you're being challenged. "Bad hard" ends up undermining your self-confidence, right? It leaves you depleted and weaker. It leaves you less resilient. "Good hard" is something we find at least ultimately rewarding. "Bad hard" is something we find unrewarding both now and in the future. There's really no upside.
I know sometimes I have talked about choosing the easier way or letting things be easy. Again, I think as physicians, and at least for me personally, I always had this sense that somehow there was value in choosing the hard way intentionally, right? When given the same thing that could be hard or easy, with the same result. Somehow that was more value in hard.
And I think sometimes to course correct, I like the idea of can you let it be easy? What would easy look like? And this is what I mean, that whatever you're engaged in, maybe hard, but it's a "good hard". It feels good in some deep inner way. So even as you're perhaps being pushed and stretched and made uncomfortable, we might experience those intense sensations, but in the end, we're better because of it, and that can be easier than continuing to engage in what I would call "bad hard".
So maybe drop the "bad hard". That might look like negotiating changes in your current job. Is there some part of your job or your daily tasks that you dread? That's always a good sign. Is there something that you feel like you just are going through the motions that isn't getting any better, and that even if you were to accomplish what you're trying to accomplish, you aren't very engaged in that ultimate outcome.
Maybe dropping the "bad hard" looks like quitting your current job or spending less time with some people, or no time with some people. Maybe it looks like shaking things up. Can you keep choosing the "good hard", and can you let it be easy, when it is easy for you? I would say, choose easy when it's something exciting and interesting. And often those things that we are excited about and interested in are easier for us. That's where the "good hard" is taking you to expertise and to more ease.
Is there some part of your life in which you need to break up with so-called "bad hard"? This will often make room for more good in your life, whether that's "good hard", or just more good, more pleasure, more enjoyment, more engagement, more wellbeing for you.
As physicians, I think we are so used to just making it work. I'd like to offer you an invitation to step back and look at your life as a whole. Look at your work. Look at your relationships. Look at your choices. Look at whatever's happening, and ask yourself, is there something that you're making work? And do you wanna keep making X, Y, or Z work? Is it meaningful and valuable for you? Is it feeding and nurturing something important to you and in you? Is it creating value for you and for the world? Is it something you feel passionate about? I would say keep that. Maybe get support, figure out how to make sure you are in good shape.
Or are you just coping and getting by and yet nothing really changes? Are you making it work at your own expense? That is something to drop. That is something to look at. That is something to try to change. Is there one thing, one change that you can start to make right now that will start shifting you into more goodness? Maybe it's more "good hard", or maybe it's just shifting you away from "bad hard". What would that look like?
This is something I'm thinking about personally just with my practice seeing patients. Again, as with many of you, we've really been struggling with staffing and all sorts of things, and the question for me is, what is "good hard"? Where do I wanna keep engaging? Where do I wanna keep putting my time, effort, and energy? And what are some areas where we've been making it work and it's not really working or it's not work that I wanna continue to engage in?
This is something that you're gonna negotiate with and navigate all the time. Because life isn't stagnant. Things are always changing. We're always being presented with different situations. So can you start to notice early on, oh, is this just me making things work? Is this just me taking on hard stuff? Is this something I really want to continue to engage in? Or is this something I need to quit early?
I am gonna talk about quitting, I think in the next episode or two. I think that quitting is a skill that we need to embrace and get good at, and I think that this is something that sometimes is misunderstood. And I think it's so important to talk about, so stay tuned for that.
This was so fun. I hope this was useful for you today. Please reach out with any questions or comments. Again, I answer all my own emails, [email protected]. Id love to hear from you. Have a wonderful week and I will talk to you soon. Bye.
If you are a busy practicing physician ready to start feeling less stressed, enjoy work more, and learn how to create a more balanced and sustainable medical practice and life, sign up for a consult call with me at saradill.com. It would be my privilege and pleasure to work with you.

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive my weekly tips to create a happier life.