When was the last time that you challenged yourself?
A challenge can be taken on in any area of your life including an area that is not a part of your usual routine. It can be trying something new for the first time, or pushing to the next level in something that you already do. I believe that challenges are not only healthy, but an absolute necessity for anybody to lead a fulfilling life.
We all have a routine – some weeks might have a unique social event or be busier at work or have other minor fluctuations, but generally, we have a pretty good idea of what every week is going to be like. If you never push beyond this then that is what will always continue to happen. We may slowly increase our skills in the things that we do all of the time, such as our jobs, but this is a gradual and predictable process. This means that without a challenge, you can pretty much predict what your life is going to be like 6 months from now, even 12 months and further down the track.
While a certain level of stability is desirable in order to be able to know that we will have roofs over our heads, and enough money to survive and prosper, complete predictability and monotony can lead to boredom and in some cases even depression. We are creatures that seek meaning in our lives, and this is something that we are responsible for the creation of. Novelty is exciting, and mastery is incredibly rewarding, but it is not an easy process.
Challenge Rule 1: It should feel like crap.
The name “challenge” implies that it should be a struggle. If it is not a stretch for you to achieve it, then it is not a challenge, it’s just an activity. For example, rock climbing is an activity, but for me it is a challenge every time because I am TERRIFIED of heights. I get more out of it than somebody who is not afraid of heights because AS WELL AS obtaining the training benefits of carrying out the activity as well as the social element of rock climbing and the fun of figuring out and completing climbs, I am constantly battling with my mind to overcome a fear and to be able to function in that fearful state every time my feet leave the ground.
So why is that uncomfortable state the end goal? Well if we only ever did what we are comfortable with, we would never get very far. Once upon a time when you were a child it was a challenge to learn to read. Had you never overcome that challenge, well you definitely wouldn’t be where you are. Obtaining the ability to walk, literacy, cooking, driving and other common activities that so many of us make use of constantly were originally challenges. Completing challenges broadens our skill set and improves upon the skills that we already have. This leads to new hobbies, new jobs, new friendships, and new possibility. But the struggle must come first.
Challenge Rule 2: You may need to put some other things you want on hold.
No one can do everything all at once, and if you are thinking of taking on a challenge that is going to push you beyond your usual limits then it is an unrealistic expectation to think that you will still be able to make all of the other commitments that you usually do. You may have less time, and you will definitely have less energy. Challenges drain you mentally and emotionally. Again, if they’re not a struggle then you will not grow. If you take something on and then still want to keep up all of your other extracurricular and social commitments then chances are that you will burn out, especially if you are attempting a challenge that takes a few weeks to complete.
So here I’m going to share with you what I have been working on, and why. I am a few hours away from completing the T Nation 10000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge. I have two reasons for this – one, is that I will be running a seminar at my gym in a few weeks’ time on challenging yourself and personal growth (which will extend on what is covered here) so I wanted to push myself to be in the right headspace for talking about this. Secondly, it had been a while since I had pushed and done something that I believed I might not be capable of completing. I still haven’t done it, but in a few hours from now it will be done. I’ll definitely be announcing it to the whole world on HERE the moment it’s done and can honestly say it has been a rough ride.
Challenge Rule 3: Even physical challenges are mostly mental training.
So my challenge is a physical one, but only on the surface. Yes it happens in the gym and yes I am completing a certain amount of repetitions of an exercise, but I am also battling my mind every day for the duration. The first week was DOMS week – that’s delayed onset muscle soreness for anybody who might not be familiar with the acronym. I was sore CONSTANTLY for nine days, and I had to train through that entire time. After that it eased off as my body became more accustomed to the high repetitions in the workouts (500 repetitions per workout, 5 workouts a week, 4 weeks). Then there was a week where it actually did not feel too bad, so I was merrily plodding along, ticking off a few thousand more repetitions, but knowing what was coming.
Eventually the enormity of the task caught up with my body and everything started to fall apart a bit. First my grip started to go in workouts. Then I started to get anxious in the lead-up to workouts, and then the tears started. Every workout has been incredibly difficult, don’t get me wrong. I sweat like crazy, my heart races and getting through the repetitions aches like crazy, but I have a lot of experience with difficult and high intensity training. The real problem started when the psychological fatigue started to kick in.
Eventually the daily onslaught became harder to cope with and I would suddenly find that I was in tears mid workout. Nothing is wrong emotionally in my life, I’m not injured or in more pain than I was a few weeks before – in fact I’m probably in less because my body has adapted. I am just exhausted and really ready for the end of this. So why have I pushed on? Because of the mental training that has been necessary to get me through.
Whenever we challenge ourselves and it is something truly difficult we do think about giving up, and this is normal. Resilience and having the ability to not give up is just a skill though, and therefore improves with practice; the more that you become used to not giving up when you want to, then the better that you will become at just pushing on. I didn’t need to complete this challenge, but I have now become more prepared for when I am next met with a challenge in my life.
At this point I would like to invite you to get connected up with my social media (look to the right) to stay up to date with the information on my upcoming seminar. If you are Sydney based then please organise to attend the seminar, which is scheduled for Monday June 23rd at 6pm. This will be free for all Fitness First members, and will be free after entry to all non-members.