“WhAt DoEsNt KiLl YoU MaKeS YoU StRoNgEr”

How to get stronger without the pain

Posted By: TeamTKN

Today we’re going to take a closer look at the popular and tyrannical maxim:

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 


In case you weren’t sure, this axiom did NOT originate with Kelly Clarkson in 2011.  


It actually dates back to the late nineteenth century to German philosopher Fredrich Nitchze. 


In his book of aphorisms, Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche wrote: 

Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens.—Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker,


In English?

Out of life’s school of war—what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.


Since this first appeared in a list of aphorisms, there was no immediate context to Nietzche’s meaning.  That’s probably what has made it so easy to twist. The English translation is often repeated as a haphazard nod at resilience, but how does this maxim hold up to scrutiny?


We have certainly heard inspiring stories of people who have overcome hardships and count themselves stronger for them. 


*The author who was rejected 30 times before being published

*The child who overcame learning challenges to become a brilliant leader

*The prisoner of war who endured and used his experience to benefit others


An inspiring story and pithy aphorism. What more do you need?


But what about all the other stories?

*The exhausted mother who drowns in a pool of resentment 

*The soldier who returns from war but never recovers

*The victim of abuse who spends a lifetime just trying to cope


Our culture has used “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” to romanticize suffering. 


But here’s a hot take:

Pain for the sake of pain is dumb.

Living with the belief that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger leads to frivolous amounts of pain and shame and guilt. Afterall, if surviving hardship in and of itself makes you tough, then you should never have to recover from any traumatic experience.


Hardship and Reality

That kind of belief system sets a perfectionist standard that demands that you suppress reality.


How else can you cope when you find that the hardship has actually weakened you? 


In this instance, you must either deny the reality of your weakened state. Otherwise, you would be forced to confront the guilt and shame of being somehow defective. The thing that was supposed to make you stronger has depleted you.


Or you can defer reality, and place yourself in a holding pattern: waiting for the promised resilience to be bestowed upon you by the gods of hardship. 


And we all know the pain that comes from a major mismatch between our expectations and reality


Looking to hardship in and of itself as a source of strength also increases thoughts of victimhood. With this perspective, it is the hardship’s responsibility to rescue you and bestow resilience upon you. And when hardship fails to come through:

Poor you. 

It’s not your fault. 

You did your part in actively making yourself miserable.


But what about all of those inspiring stories?

Surely all of our painful experiences aren’t doomed to defeat.

What actually Makes you Stronger

It is not the hardship that makes a person stronger. 


It is the attitude and perspective of the person enduring the hardship that gives it meaning.


It is that meaning that affords you the opportunity to learn and grow. 


And this growth fosters your resilience response.


So let us reiterate: 



Taking a punch just to take a punch doesn’t make you better at anything except being a punching bag.


Surviving hardship does not inherently make you better. 

So how has this aphorism survived for as long as it has?

Why does it resonate?


Well, it does have a tinge of truth:

You DO have to experience challenging things to hone your resilience response.

Let me tell you what this DOES NOT look like

I used to be really bad at making decisions. 


So, when confronted with life’s diverging paths, I would often choose THE OPTION THAT I DISLIKED THE MOST. 


Why would I do that?


I figured it was the best path to making me a better person.


It didn’t kill me. But it sure as heck didn’t make me stronger. 


I succeeded in making myself a road weary, shell of a person. Resentful, frustrated and so very tired.

Bottom line: 

  • Making your life more difficult on purpose, usually just makes your life more difficult. 
  • And as a bonus, you deplete your stores of energy and diminish your ability to overcome obstacles.
  • When legitimate challenges do arise, your mental and physical faculties are all but tapped out.

You may survive, but the end result is the strengthening of a behavior loop you’d rather weaken and the weakening of a behavior loop you’d rather strengthen. You become less capable of an effective resilience reaponae. 


Tell me: are your feelings, thoughts and actions in a state of depletion constructive or destructive?

How to Harness Strength Through Adversity

Haphazardly throwing yourself into hardships in the misguided belief that you are helping yourself is NOT your best bet.


So what is?

Purposeful and graded exposure.


Think of your immune system. High exposure to a deadly disease could destroy you. Purposeful and graded exposure gives you a fighting chance.


Here is some good news: 


While so much of what we need in life is in short supply, hardship is readily available. No need to go searching for a bed of coals to walk on, or a porcupine to dance with. 


You already have a deep well of everyday adversity.

  • It might be a suffocating financial hardship
  • It might be a challenging conversation with your boss
  • It might be the dishes (for real)


All of these are legitimate. If you can approach these everyday problems with a new set of tools and an attitude adjustment, then you have everything you need to build resilience.

Adversity makes you stronger when:

  1. Your thought and action limiters are removed (You take your foot off the break)
  2. Attitude is adjusted
  3. You align your actions and attitude (You push down the gas pedal)

An exercise for achieving Purposeful and graded exposure:

  • List the Sucky Stuff

Make a comprehensive list of everything you procrastinate or put off indefinitely because you think they suck. 

(They probably suck.)

  • Rank the Sucky Stuff

Rearrange your list from least sucky to most sucky.

  • Do the Sucky Stuff

Intentionally do the stuff on your list, in order, beginning with the least sucky.


Doing the sucky stuff on purpose WITH PURPOSE makes you stronger.

Dr. Kashey explains What doesn't kill you makes you stronger

Doing sucky stuff on purpose with purpose makes you stronger.

How to Harness Strength Through Adversity

Adversity makes you stronger when:

  1. Your thought and action limiters are removed (You take your foot off the break)
  2. Attitude is adjusted
  3. You align your actions and attitude (You push down the gas pedal)

About Jacquelyn Laporte

Jacquelyn LaPorte has had the privilege of working with TKN since 2018. The journey has been a wild one, but it has ushered her into the driver’s seat of her own life. She learned how to ask questions, answer them honestly and act on the answers. She has used this process to become a better parent to her 3 kids, a better wife, a better boss, a better learner, a better human. She believes that no experience is wasted, (not even majoring in a dead language with no career plan😊 or starting a business with 0 entrepreneurial spirit). Each experience gives the gift of new eyes. Perfect choices are not required, and that makes her free to choose.


“There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, and every one of them sufficient.”

-Marilynne Robinson-

Trevor Kashey Nutrition

Team TKN

Team TKN cultivates, curates and shares Dr. Trevor Kasheys’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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