I’m forty six miles in and my legs are burning. I left Glasgow more than 2 hours ago and this hill seems be never ending. Finally I reach the summit and begin to descend slowly, catching my breath.
I’m a mere 5 miles from my destination of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh after taking on the annual ‘Pedal for Scotland’ charity time trial. The last time I cycled anywhere close to this distance I was 9. And it took me all day.
Now, more than twenty years later, I’m rushing down the final descent before the long finish at Edinburgh International Airport. I’m exhausted but elated.
The Value in Challenge
I love a challenge, especially a physical one. Over the years I’ve completed trail runs, parachute jumps, hill races, solo hikes and (now) a cross country bike ride.
But why take part in a challenge? Is it not just a waste of time and energy?
Imagine a life where you were never challenged. Ever. What would that life look like? Would you feel fulfilled?
Would you have much to live for? Would you be any good at anything?
Would you know what it takes to keep pushing forward even when your whole body was telling you to stop?
It’s through challenges that we become resilient – able to withstand hardship and discomfort. To come out the other side and say ‘I have overcome.’
Do you know what that feels like? If not, why not? Is it fear that is holding you back? Have you reached Fatherhood and somehow lost the desire for a challenge? Instead you’re stuck in the daily grind of:
Work your butt off
Pay off your debts/mortgage
Life is good, but is it missing something? That thrill, that rush you used to get when you pushed yourself just a little bit.
I’ve taken my body to the absolute physical limit. I’ve been so exhausted that my vision and hearing started to go. Another time I was so physically drained, I didn’t know where or who I was. Military training will do that to you.
But when you come out of that environment, where do you go for that experience? Can you truly recapture that feeling.
Challenge Yourself Regularly
Why do a charity bike time trial? I don’t have anything to prove.
Because it’s a challenge. Because I woke up one morning and said ‘I’m going to do that – it will be tough but I’ll feel great at the end. And maybe I’ll want to do more after it’.
Because regular challenges are part of my system. They aren’t goals.
‘Wait, if you set a challenge then it’s a goal, isn’t it?’
Really? Think about it this way: If you are in a perpetual state of failure until you hit a goal (as Scott Adams says in his book), then is a challenge really the same thing?
Or is a challenge something else entirely? The whole point with a challenge is that you might not succeed. In fact, there’s every chance you might fail.
But you go into it knowing that if you do succeed, the payoff will be incredible. Invaluable.
I’ve succeeded in challenges, but I’ve also failed. I’ve tasted the bitterest of failures. But it taught me perseverance and when I faced that challenge again, guess what happened?
I made it my bitch.
If you don’t challenge yourself regularly, how can you expect to grow? Giving that little bit extra in the gym, at your spin class, on the BJJ floor is what separates your from the rest.
Those who are happy with ‘enough’.
I’m good enough. I’ve done enough.
I’ve had enough…
How to Have System of Challenging Yourself
You’re probably familiar with the Kaizen Principle – a Japanese philosophy of continuous personal improvement. It’s a popular concept in our time. James Altucher develops something similar in his Daily Practice of small, incremental improvements.
Even Dutch superhuman Wim Hof focuses on the gradual improvement of the mind and body in harmony.
These methods and practices are important and I’ve bought fully into them since reading Gorilla Mindset set me on this path.
But if you consider these gradual improvements to be steps along the road to personal improvement, a challenge represents a potentially giant leap.
Even if you fail, imagine how much you will learn. And be able to come back stronger.
When I did the Jim Wendler 100 Rep Challenge, it was brutal. I was unprepared for how tough it would be. But working through the pain and discomfort taught me the value of pushing myself to new limits.
You don’t have do to a fitness challenge though. There are plenty of options if you need a metaphorical boot up the backside.
Here’s how to incorporate challenges into life:
1. Challenge yourself to do something you’re already good at or know how to do. Do you write? Challenge yourself to write every day or finish a book. Do you swim? Enter an open water race.
2. Surround yourself with other like minded men. How many guys do you know who talk a good game? They’re always ‘up for’ the next big challenge or fitness event.
But when it comes time to pay or book the trip, they’re busy. Or broke. Instead, be around other Dads who relish a challenge.
My good friend Tom Gold once walked through Scotland carrying a boat on his back.
He’s crazy and an inspiration for the part of me that wants to do crazy stuff too.
3. Talk yourself into a systems approach to challenges. If crazy challenges and feats are what you do then they aren’t goals.
Because you do them all the time.
Why? Because you know the benefits, even if you fail, are priceless. Too many men talk themselves out of a challenge. You talk yourself into it.
My Greatest Challenge is Yet to Come
Think about it: if your greatest challenge is behind you, you’ve already peaked. You’re done. You’re now in the slow decline to the grave.
Switch that negative thought round and tell yourself this: My greatest challenge is yet to come.
This is true for me. What’s my greatest challenge going to be? I’m not sure, but I’ve got an idea of what my next big one will be. Watch this space – if it happens, you’ll know about it.
Like the law of attraction where positivity brings opportunity, an openness to challenge brings more opportunities to be challenged.
So go out there, be inspired, challenge yourself and inspire others to do the same. And if you succeed or fail, I want to know about it in the comments section.
P.S. You know what isn’t a challenge? Reading my emails – they’re funny, informative and highlight my best posts. Sign up for them here.