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The Value of Challenging Yourself

The Value of Challenging Yourself

Over the past few months, I have been challenging myself in different ways. I believe that we grow the most when we feel challenged. When we have a lack of challenge in our lives, we find ourselves deep in a comfort zone. It takes a constant level of difficulty to keep us sharp and feeling motivated.

There are many different methods for challenging ourselves. I try to challenge myself in ways that stretch me both personally and professionally. Some of life’s challenges will come naturally, such as when you get married or have a child. Other challenges we must force ourselves to take on such as losing weight or working to get a promotion.

I like this concept of challenging myself because it keeps me moving towards something. It is easy to get comfortable in situations you would rather be growing in. It’s easy to let things go when it comes to parenting your kids. It’s easy to eat that extra thing instead of throwing it away. The easy road is the most comfortable until it’s not anymore.

In this post, I am going to identify four different areas in which we can challenge ourselves. There are a lot more, but for me, these were where I started.

Common Types of Personal Challenges

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Relational
  • Occupational

These four personal challenge categories are all very difficult topics for me. I have struggled big time in each of these categories. Perhaps I will go deeper into that in a later blog post or podcast episode.

Physical Challenges

I used to be very physically fit. It was easy in my late teens and early twenties. I worked out a lot, was pretty active, and ate whatever I wanted. Pretty simple… Until it wasn’t that simple anymore. Responsibilities took most of my time and soon I was not going to the gym. My diet changed as well. I was not unhealthy, but I was overweight. I was giving my body more than it needed and it was storing that for me. I had to challenge myself to eat better and be more active.

Mental Challenges

Life would happen and I would just deal with it. That used to work for me. Handle it or forget about it. Those were the silos I put everything in until they were overflowing and everything came spilling out. I realized that if you don’t take care of your past you are carrying it with you. It was too heavy and I needed to get a handle on it.

Relational

I have never been good at maintaining relationships. I don’t have many friends and even fewer close friends. I was always too busy and didn’t want to spend time with people who had nothing better to talk about than sports facts. That made it hard for me to fit in with groups and I eventually developed some social anxiety. I have been challenging myself to make and maintain more friendships in hopes that some of them become deeper friendships.

Occupational

The problem with working for yourself is that there are often only two motivators: Money and Clients. You need money so you get clients. Clients want the work done or you don’t get money. If the clients are happy and my bills are paid on time, it is easy to feel safe. Feeling safe for too long leads to a lack of growth both in my business but also in myself professionally. I have had to find new ways to challenge myself to grow while at the same time not killing off what is still working.

Why Do We Need Challenges?

We need challenges to help us grow and get outside of our comfort zone. Without them, we stay comfortable until we get taken out by someone who’s challenge was to get ahead. It happens at work and in our personal lives. If I am not getting outside of my comfort zone then I’m not growing. I am finding ways to avoid frustration and avoid the change that I want in my life. That means I am saying no to opportunities that could be really interesting but might take some extra work and I am saying yes to relaxing and taking the easy route.

If we are ever going to progress, we need to expand beyond our current understanding. You might be a professional in your industry but there is always someone with more experience. My kids often feel like they know everything about a subject until I ask them to go up against someone with more experience than them. Whether it be a video game or their jiu-jitsu class, they need to seek out challenges to help them grow.

It is very important to put yourself up against others, even if they don’t know you are doing it. Sometimes my kids have a great jiu-jitsu session, other times, they get owned by some other kid. That is how life works. Sometimes we win and sometimes we get owned. You can have all of the techniques and lose in endurance. It happens. My kids have been in jiu-jitsu for over a year now and some days feel like they just started last week.

Challenges give us opportunities to learn more about ourselves. You don’t learn much about yourself from the couch. If you sit in your office all day and never bring that new idea to the table, you never learn whether or not your idea would fly. Sometimes we learn that showing up is what it takes and as long as we keep showing up, we keep winning. That is the case for me with my challenge to get back in shape. I just keep showing up. I’m not looking for perfection each time I go to the gym, I just get up and go.

Fear is also overcome when we challenge ourselves. You beat fear regardless of when you take on a new challenge. Fear is what stops you from even starting. Fear is what keeps you in bed at 4AM instead of getting up to go to the gym. Fear is what keeps me from blogging, recording a podcast, sending an email to thousands of people, or talking to my kids about something tough. The more you avoid fear, the easier it gets to stay somewhere safe.

My Challenges

I have been challenging myself to get to the gym first thing in the morning at least four days of the week. My goal is that I never skip more than two days in a row. For the most part, I have been able to stick to that. I have to get up early to get to the gym because that is the only time I can make it. Once the day starts, it’s too late. The demands of my family and work are priorities of mine so I can’t take off for an hour or two in the middle of them. I would prefer to sleep in, but I go to bed early so I can get up really early to work out. I feel great for the rest of the day when I keep that challenge to myself.

Another recent challenge has been to start sending a weekly newsletter to those who have given me their email address over the years through one of my websites. I had a list of over 22,000 emails and I was doing nothing with them. That’s 22,000 people who wanted to hear from me but didn’t. I have also wanted to get back into podcasting. I love podcasting and have been doing it off and on for about 20 years now. I would start and stop, because of fear. I know that I need to challenge myself to send something weekly by email and publish at least one podcast. This challenge is in line with the goals that I have for myself that fit into all four of the categories mentioned above.

My Challenge For You

What fear is blocking you from taking on a new challenge? It could be the opinion of someone else, or just a voice inside you telling you you’re not good enough. If you would be so brave as to share that with me in the comments section below, I would appreciate that. If not, please subscribe to my newsletter and reply to Issue #2 when it comes out. I will be making a similar ask at the end of this week’s email newsletter.

What can you do today to start challenging yourself? For my fitness challenge, sometimes it is just getting out of bed when the alarm goes off. If I get out of bed and head out the door, I will arrive at the gym and workouts will happen. The first step is getting out of bed. If that doesn’t happen, the rest of the plan is over before it even started. What is your first step?

Final Thoughts

Your challenge doesn’t have to be big. I know that on social media everybody looks like they are making these giant leaps ahead, but that is the problem with social media, it’s a highlight reel. We see the before and after pictures posted at the same time and we don’t get the story that includes all of the challenges they had to overcome to get there. Your challenge can be small. Small challenges add up to big change.

It also doesn’t have to be public. Often the first thing we do when we decide to do something is post about it. That does two things. It puts the pressure of other’s expectations on us and it gives people an opportunity to give us excuses as to why we can’t or shouldn’t challenge ourselves. I prefer to challenge myself in private as often as possible because sometimes I don’t know if what I want will benefit me or not in the way I hope it will. If I make it public, I then have to back down in public.

With other challenges, I have to give myself time to work them into my life. Lately, I have been giving myself 30-day challenges so I can measure the results and see if this is really what I want. If it is, I keep at it and hopefully, it will soon become an aspect of my life.

Sometimes we think that involving others whether it be friends, loved ones, or social media followers will help keep us accountable. I have found that people are actually more likely to give you excuses than to help you achieve your goals. When I would decide to stop working towards something I really wanted people would say, “well, you have four kids, you are busy enough,” or something like that. They are not trying to keep me from being the best version of me, they are just trying to help me feel better. But I don’t want to feel better, I want to feel challenged, so I keep it to myself at the beginning.

Whether you want to grow physically, mentally, relationally, occupationally, or all of the above, I hope that you decide to start challenging yourself today.

Thanks for reading! I ask that you would please subscribe to my Weekly Email Newsletter and if you like listening to audio, Subscribe to my Podcast.

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Let’s Talk About Making Change Happen Now

Wow, ok… So much. So much to talk about that it’s actually caused apathy. I have this problem that I think many people have where there is just so much that I can’t decide where to start. I just kind of spin my wheels whenever I try to start. It’s not that I do nothing instead. It’s quite the contrary. My mind is always working, always processing. It’s just that I can often get derailed because I can’t just get started.

What’s happening is called procrastination. It gets a bad rap because it’s usually associated with doing nothing at all. My procrastination is actually quite productive, it’s just not focused on what I should be doing, what I know I need to be doing.

Procrastination is a form of stress relief. It feels good to procrastinate, until it doesn’t. When that deadline approaches or someone calls you because you forgot something, that is when it doesn’t feel good. I consider myself a high-level procrastinator, kind of like those high-functioning alcoholics you hear about. You would never know I was drunk on procrastination because I look busy and productive.

With that out of the way, lets talk about change. Change in the form of making adjustments in your life that you only dream about. There are probably a few things in your life that you would love to change only if… We all have them. I know I have spent my life telling myself, if only this, I could do that. Well it’s time for that to stop. That is what this year has been about for me so far and I hope you can start to make that change too. Let me give you some context.

Last year, I made the decision to close down my office to work on creating a new daily routine for myself and to free up some overhead costs. I wasn’t closing my business, I was just getting rid of some overhead expenses because I can work from anywhere. It was tough, I kind of went kicking and screaming. I held on to some of it and didn’t really let go completely. When it got tough working from home because I didn’t get a good routine at home going I started working from the office again from time to time. I was one foot in on change and one foot still in the past.

I knew that the only way I could make change was to take myself out of the environment altogether. I also wanted to make some change happen in my household. I didn’t want my family to just sit around all summer. Modesto summers are hot. It’s been 100+ degrees outside. Unless you have a watermark in your back yard, you don’t want to go outside unless you have to. That led to the decision to travel all summer in our RV Travel Trailer. We completed that trip and got back home to Modesto a little over a week ago.

I learned a lot two months on the road in an RV Travel Trailer as a family of six, and I plan to share about that soon. What it opened me up to was how easy it really is to make change if you just do it. It is hard though, which is why I wanted to talk about it today.

How To Make Lasting Change

The key to making lasting change is to remove the comfort aspect from whatever is keeping you stuck. Why are you stuck? Because it’s not painful enough to make change. The thing you want to change is actually providing you a level of comfort and control even though you seem to be uncomfortable. It’s really easy to stay stuck when it doesn’t really hurt that bad, or at least we don’t think it hurts that bad. But a dull pain always gets worse, doesn’t it?

We do this in our lives in so many ways. We stay at that job because the pay is decent but it is slowly sucking the soul out of us. I have had clients like that in the past and had to get rid of them somehow. The money isn’t always worth it. Sacrificing a little bit of your soul for financial gain just leads to selling more of your soul later for more financial gain. It never stops unless you stop giving yourself away like that forever.

We do this in our home as well. We don’t like the fact that our kids are stuck in the house and spend too much time on technology. We know it is slowly ruining them and that is not the way we wanted to raise them, yet we don’t make any change because it requires some discomfort on our part as parents. Changing this aspect of our household is not an easy task. It would almost be a full time job until everyone is used to existing with less tv and technology time.

We do this with our bodies knowing full well that we need to eat better and be more active. We get a gym membership only to abandon it. We buy healthy food only to go back to convenient packaged foods because it’s easier. We are busy and life can get frustrating. The last thing I want to do is take the time to make a healthy meal when a cheeseburger is waiting for me at a nearby drive through window.

It’s hard to make lasting change. Anyone who makes change and says it is easy is a complete fool and charlatan. Social media gives us that false presumption that people all around us are making change and living their best lives. That simply is not the fact. There are a few outliers who are doing it, but 99.9% of the rest of what you scroll past is marketing. If it’s not a company marketing their product it’s an old friend from high school marketing their perfect life to you. Spoiler Alert: It’s not a perfect life, it’s a curated highlight reel… Marketing! Whether we mean to or not, we mostly share the highlights of our lives because who wants to follow someone who’s falling apart?

I’m not immune to it. Just look at what I shared from our two month long full time travels all over the Northwestern United States. It kind of looks like a magazine. It doesn’t represent the challenges we had on this trip. The photos I posted don’t represent the day I spent in bed because I was too depressed to move or the times I so frustrated with my kids that I just had to step outside. Happy photos get likes.

Nothing worth doing is easy, or even pretty at first. It is usually hard. But isn’t life going to be hard anyway? We know that life is going to be hard, so why don’t we choose what gets to be hard and avoid the rest? That is a question I have been asking myself often this year. How can I better choose what gets to be hard in my life?

That sounds kind of new age guru annoying, but it’s actually kind of possible. Of course we can’t avoid everything and choose only what we want. The world will throw us some curveballs we didn’t see coming, but for the most part, we can control what gets to be hard in our lives, so let’s talk about that.

Choose What Get’s to be Hard in Your Life

Choosing what gets to be a challenge really comes down to getting as many of the typical life decisions we have to make into our control in a healthy way. There are a few things that will make that near impossible so I wanted to touch on those really quick.

  1. Money: Finances are the main thing that take control of our lives. We have to make money to exist and have a few nice things, which means we have to trade our time for money. For most, this means getting a job. Some of us are lucky enough to get to do something we enjoy for work, most are not. The reason most are stuck trading time for money doing something they don’t enjoy is that the pain has not become strong enough to make change. There is a level of comfort there still. We talked about this earlier in this post. If your expenses are close or equal to what you make, you are kind of stuck. The only option you may see is to find another job that pays the same amount doing something else you would enjoy more, but that may be hard to find. You have to make change in your financial situation which will likely mean sacrificing some things so you can save more or take a job you would enjoy more even it it meant you are paid less.
  2. Relationships: The people you surround yourself with can make it hard for you to make the change you want to in your life. If you want to make change but your partner doesn’t, that creates friction that will keep you stuck. If you surround yourself with agreeable friends who make excuses for you rather than challenge you, it is likely you will remain stuck.
  3. Patterns & Addictions: If you have certain patterns and/or addictions that run contrary to the change you want to make, you will often be stuck in those ruts and find it hard to get out of them until you get help from someone who has been there before. If you think making change is hard simply based on the pain vs comfort aspect we talked about earlier in this post, an unhealthy pattern and/or addiction will multiply the likelihood you remain stuck tenfold.
  4. This list could go on forever, but I think you get the point.

There are many things that keep us stuck and not moving towards the change we want. If it was easy, we would all be making awesome change and killing it in life. The hard things to get past are found in the comforts that we have grown accustomed to. I say that they are comforts that we have grown accustomed to because if you actually take a step back, they aren’t really that comfortable. We just deal by adjusting our level of discomfort so we can remain in control. Even by not taking control of a situation we are still exercising a form of control. Everything is a decision, even choosing not to make one.

Now I’m not going to paint you a perfect picture of life and tell you that if you simply run to it you can have it. I am a bit more of a realist than that. I have known plenty of people who left one situation only to take their issues right into the next one. Things are going to be tough no matter where we go and with who we go there with, life promises us that. But we can choose the things that are going to be tough, we’re actually doing it already.

If your finances are tough, that’s because you took on too much debt. If your relationship is tough, that’s because you aligned yourself with someone who doesn’t agree with the same things you do. If your health is suffering, chances are you had a hand in that too, although I do understand that some health situations are out of our control to begin with.

We make choices every day. We make a choice to get up and go to work at a job we don’t like. We make a choice to let our kids run our lives. We make a choice to live where we live. Everything is a choice, whether its good or bad, most of us don’t have a loaded gun pointed at our head even if at times we act like we do.

So why not choose things that we can enjoy even if at times they still get tough? Choose a job that challenges us but is also very fulfilling. Choose to improve our relationships, which will be tough work. Make uncomfortable choices for our kids sometimes because we know it will be better for them in the long run. Choose to turn off a few of the monthly subscription services because we could use the extra money in the bank and the time they took from our lives.

Making change happen now starts with making the right next decision now. You don’t have to have it all planned out in advance, you just have to start taking steps towards it. Big change starts one step at a time.

Make Uncomfortably Tough Decisions

Chances are some of the choices you will have to make will be uncomfortable. Whether the choice have to do with work, relationships, food, kids, where you live, or anything else, it’s probably going to require some sacrifice. You need to become a pro at sacrificing yourself daily to get to where you want to go.

I went to lunch with my dad today and had the most bogus salad. I was at a Mexican Food Restaurant and would have given my left kidney for a grilled steak super burrito, but I got a chicken salad with no dressing at all because none of their dressings were going to work for me.

Multiple times I have taken my family out to dinner at a restaurant where I could have easily ordered a giant burger and fries but instead I ordered a bland salad or on a few occasions, nothing at all for myself. Do I deserve to eat out with my family especially if I am the one paying the bill? Yes! But my family is not on the same path as I am with food so it is not fair for me to try and force them to eat the way I want to eat.

I used to like having an office outside of the home. It was my own space that my wife and kids had no jurisdiction over. I don’t have that space in my home so I deserved to have that office, but I had to make the decision to get rid of it because I wanted to save money and it was the easiest thing for our family to sacrifice.

I took my family on the road in our RV Travel Trailer for two months knowing fully in advance that it was going to be very tough for all of us to be in close quarters like that for so long. I knew that it wouldn’t be convenient for me at all to work from the road and to constantly have to be breaking up little fights between my kids due to the close proximity, but I made the sacrifice so we could travel the Northwestern United States and experience all of it’s beauty.

Being able to make uncomfortable decisions is the only way to move forward in life. Most people are going to make decisions based on what results in maintaining the level of comfort they have or obtaining more of it, and at any cost. That is not how you have a fulfilling life.

Never Stop Dreaming

You kind of have to be a dreamer to want a better life. If you have made it this far through this post, you probably are at some level, a dreamer. Dreamers often spend time thinking about the possibilities of what life would be like if they could make change. I know that I am a dreamer, but in the past I often looked at the things mentioned above as obstacles.

I felt stuck in Modesto because I had built my business here and all of my family lives here. I thought that the only way I would ever be able to move or travel long term would be to places like Modesto or larger. Never until I made some sacrifices did I think I could spend long periods of time in the mountains away from big cities. I stopped believing I couldn’t do it and just did it this summer and it was the best thing our family has done to date.

I felt defeated when it came to the food I consume because my wife and kids would never get on board with a diet that would lead to a more healthy body and mental clarity. My wife and I didn’t really eat that unhealthy to begin with, but I realized that if I was going to make the change I wanted for my own body, I would have to make big changes, and I would have to do it alone. That doesn’t mean I can’t have a burger and fries. It just means I am only going to to that once a month. I never stopped dreaming of being healthier, but I was in my own way. Once I got out of my own way, I started losing weight. I’m down 25lbs at the time of writing this.

I have been very passive in my marriage doing everything I can to not make waves while at the same time inadvertently causing most of the problems in my marriage subsequently. I don’t want to get into my own childhood in this post, but there are traumas from my childhood that resulted in how I handle my relationships today. These issues range from how I was talked to as a child to abandonment issues. I carried all of this trauma into my marriage and they have also influenced how I parent my own children. It has been very uncomfortable to drill down into my life to better understand where everything within me has come from. It will actually require a lifetime of discomfort, but it’s worth it. I am working on improving the way I communicate to and treat my family so that that don’t have to feel nervous around me or always wonder if they are doing something wrong like I did growing up.

You need to be a dreamer so you have ambitions to grow into something better than you were yesterday. You have to put in the hard work in order to make change. It is going to be uncomfortable so you need to learn to enjoy the discomfort that comes with hard work. It doesn’t mean that you have to constantly fall on your own sword to make other people happy. This is not about making them happy, it is about making yourself happy through making healthy choices that are right for you and the people in your life. That will result in a win for everybody involved. My family wins when I am happy and healthy. They lose when I isolate and withdraw from my dreams.

Where to go from here

I just read what I wrote and it’s a lot. It’s a lot to take in and it’s a lot to think about. I am feeling apathetic just having spent a moment thinking about the work I still have ahead. I am nowhere near out of the dust yet. I am constantly blowing things up in order to prevent tripping over them again. I try new things so I can be open to something better than what I am used to, even if it’s challenging.

You need to do this too. You need to delete Netflix off of your phone even if it means you will have to figure out something to do with yourself for multiple hours each evening or do whatever you need to do to get wasted time back. You need to throw away all of the unhealthy food you spent perfectly good money on because if you wait to start eating better until it’s gone, you will just buy more. I know because that is me. Whatever it is for you, you need to do it.

Making change is going to require you look inward. Depending on how much time you avoid looking inward, this could suck, but it’s necessary. You have to choose to see and love the potential you have, not what you are currently see yourself as. You have to flip the script. I like the phrase “flip the script” because a script is a story that contains a beginning, middle, and end. Right now, you are in the middle. You need to understand the beginning so you can rewrite the middle and live your best end.

What do you need to do to make change? What are you doing in your life to maintain a false sense of comfort? I hope my sharing helped you. In turn, your sharing will help me. Feel free to use up that comment section below this post. I read every comment and reply to them when I can.