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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.

Blog

Fallacy of Control

Falling

We like to believe that we are in control and have some sort of say in the way things will turn out on a day-to-day basis. Many of us get frustrated when things do not go our way and we do whatever we can to try and change the situation to produce the outcome we were hoping for. I have come to realize that the more I add in my life the more control I need to relinquish to an external source or sources. Though I will mention God in this post know that I am not pushing that on anybody. We all believe in some source of energy or power that gives us strength, for me that is Jesus Christ.

With my work, I have realized that there are things that I am good at and things that would be better handled by someone who is either better at it than I am or enjoys doing the type of task more than I. I have relinquished control in some areas of my personal life as well. For example, I know how to change the oil in my truck, but it’s not the best use of my time, so I take it somewhere that will do it a fraction of the time for a fee. I believe that life should be a healthy balance of control and the relinquishing of control. The problem is that I am kind of bad at relinquishing control.

I remember being told to “focus on the things you can control,” which basically means don’t mess with things that are too hard. While there is some truth to the statement in certain situations, it can not be a hard rule for life. There are some things that may seem uncontrollable that you will need to take control of. You can’t walk away from everything.

When it comes to rising up and controlling external situations, I am pretty good at that. I can run meetings, give talks to groups of people, organize teams, and just about anything else that is external. I have been learning that I am not that great at controlling myself, especially when it comes to my mind. From the outside looking in, most people would probably say that I look like I am relatively in control of my life, but I am not. I am learning that I have actually been losing control over the course of my life, hanging on by a few threads.

I have a busy mind. I mean we all do right? When are we not thinking about something that we have to do or something that someone else needs? Especially after we become parents. There just isn’t time for it. We spend all of our mental energy keeping everything else external alive and neglect ourselves in the process. The world has also given us countless outlets we can use to medicate ourselves with rather than spending that leftover time with ourselves. Do we ever have to be alone with ourselves? Not really, there is an app for that.

I have always led myself to believe that I had relinquished control over most things. I would tell myself that I would do my best and that the rest was up to God. Hard work and faith was my mantra. When I would have a couple of tough months financially and then get a big job, I would thank the Lord, but inside I also knew it was because I had done the work to get me to that point and it was only a matter of time before I would get new work.

I have always kept myself busy. Even when I was a kid, I always had to be doing something, even if I was by myself. As I grew older, I actually felt good about the fact that I was ok being by myself. I worked well by myself. I liked to read. I even traveled by myself. I was fine around people and I was fine by myself. I was “fine” until recent months when I started digging into myself a bit more. I may get into why I started digging into myself in the first place in another post, but it was bound to happen anyway. Getting married, having my first child, and turning thirty all in a two-year span definitely changed me. Now that I am closer to forty and am a year away from celebrating ten years of marriage, I have been looking inward a bit.

This last week I realized that I don’t actually like to be by myself. The more I looked at every situation where I was by myself I realized that every moment of that alone time was filled with a distraction of some sort. I recalled situations where I was home alone while my family was gone and I would just binge watch a show on Netflix. In the moment I would justify it as finally having time to watch a show I was interested in but I knew my wife wouldn’t be. I also fill just about every other time with something. Escaping from myself ranges from listening to loud music to consuming an entire season of a tv show. It’s not often that I have the kind of time to consume a season of a show, but it has happened a few times since Netflix Streaming became a thing.

I realized that I also tend to avoid groups of people as well. I don’t do well at mixers and social events unless I know people outside of that situation. I will fight through it and have a few conversations, but I usually dip out early. When I travel for work, I look forward to some alone time but quickly change course to wishing I was back home with my wife and children. You are probably starting to see the pattern here. I don’t have much control in this area of my life.

When the stakes are high, I can quiet my mind and focus extremely well on the task at hand. The problem is that the stakes usually have to be high. I perform well under the intensity of the situation. It’s when things are idle that I have a problem. When there is money in the bank and none of my clients have immediate needs, that is when I have issues focusing. This is when I decide that I don’t like my phone and perhaps I should go buy a new one. Maybe my laptop just frustrated me so it’s probably a good time to switch platforms from Apple to Microsoft. My downtime has to be consumed with something, and it’s not a healthy way to exist.

I also find myself filtering what is happening around me. I often focus on the immediate needs and filter out everything else. I will admit that I self-correct quite quickly in this area. I tend to be more self-aware in this area and can see when I have gone too far down a rabbit hole.

I overgeneralize things often by taking a single fact and making the entire situation revolve around that single fact. Sometimes I am right in focusing on that individual item, but other times it is to my own demise. I also can overgeneralize my weaknesses and put too much emphasis on a single flaw rather than looking at the bigger picture. This is why I am often all in, or nothing at all with most things. If I can’t be all about it, I’m not about it at all.

I am also good at magnifying and minimizing things often blowing something out of proportion or giving something else too little consideration.

I take things personally. Even though I have a thick skin from years of putting myself out there in the business world and on the internet, I still initially take things as a personal attack. Sometimes things are a personal attack, such as a troll in a YouTube comment trying to hurt my feelings. Other times I take a simple criticism as if I was just told my entire life has been done wrong.

Besides having a false sense of control I also allow myself to believe that there are external situations controlling me and keeping me from what I really want. Internally, and sometimes externally, I blame my inability to achieve certain goals on having to work to pay the bills and keep everything above water. These frustrations usually come out of me being frustrated over some overgeneralization I made about some other aspect of my life (If you are confused by all of this, try being in my head).

Most of us have a picture we have painted of the kind of person we want to be. Some of us are very good at seeing every detail of that picture and can visualize how each brush stroke relates to their life. They know just how each aspect of this painting will come to life and the kind of fruit every detail will produce. I, on the other hand, see myself as an 8-bit image these days. I know that there is a shape there that I want to resemble, but I can’t see the details clearly.

As a man, I am good at compartmentalizing things. Everything has its own box and stuff goes in those boxes. Boxes are easy to go between, but it’s hard to see from one box into another without leaving it. This way of dealing with things may have taken root at an early age for me because there are habits I have that are deeply rooted and are at the core foundation of some of these boxes.

Control is an interesting thing and I am learning more about what I should control and what I should not within the context of what is healthy. The majority of available information out there tells you that you need to change the way you think. It makes you feel like everything you have been doing up until the moment you decided to buy this book was a mistake. Our world vilifies people without knowing the full story. It’s scary to be open and honest about our shortfalls. With that said, I wanted to make it known that I am on a path to having a healthier balance of control in my life. It’s going to start with the core, which is me. I can’t better manage the things external to me until I learn to better manage the core of me. I can’t rely on the false sense of control that I have given myself the majority of my life. I can’t just accept things as they are without looking into them enough to assure I’m not just giving up.

It’s going to take more than me. I know that I can not do this alone. I have always been kind of closed off when it comes to certain aspects of my life. I may seem very open to some because I have been blogging for ages and share a lot on social media, but it has often been surface level stuff that doesn’t go too deep. Most of us are ok with sharing surface level stuff. It’s when it comes to the deep parts of our being that we get afraid and keep the rest of the world at arms distance. There is a lot more to this, and I have a lot more on my mind in regards to this subject. I think that becoming aware of the situation is the biggest step to correcting something. It’s when we are in denial that we have a false sense of control.

For those of you still reading, what has been your methods for overcoming the noise in life? What do you do to be alone and be fine with being alone? I am very interested to hear what you have to say about control, self-control, and generally being ok. Share your thoughts in the comments section, or send me an email through my contact form if it is too private to post here.

Blog

45 Days without Facebook

I'm Logging out of Facebook

A month and a half ago I decided to logout of Facebook. You can read more about my original reasons here. Now that it has been over 45 days since I have scrolled Facebook looking for interesting posts from my friends and acquaintances I realized how little our Facebook posts really matter.

When we post something on Facebook it is usually to either update our friends on something or to seek sympathy. That seems to be about 95% of what I see posted on Facebook. I would say that the majority of the posting to Facebook is done because people want comments on their posts. People desire that affirmation that they don’t get from people these days due to the fact that we have fewer face to face conversations than we used to. Being that we can share something out to our average of 450 online contacts makes it even more desirable. However, I feel that we have actually created apathy in our abilities to hold conversations with people.

When I would scroll Facebook, and I know others are just like me because I watch them while in public. We scroll down the Facebook newsfeed looking for something that sticks out the same way we rapidly turn pages in a magazine looking for something interesting. Whatever gets us to stop scrolling has to be interesting or at least intriguing. Most of the time these days it is some sort of drama or meme photo. The only people we stop to see on purpose are those who we are truly interested in.

The people who we are truly interested in is what I wanted to focus on. I noticed that I would look at the updates of the people whom I care about most and then take no action. Occasionally I would comment or like the post but most of the time I would just read the post or view the image posted. That is not the way I should be communicating with the people that matter the most to me. Those people deserve face to face communication or at the very least, phone calls.

So what about voyeurism? I think that Facebook has turned us all into voyeurists. You could also call it, “keeping up with the Jones on steroids.” We find enjoyment out of watching the lives of others with out them knowing it. We occasionally interject with our own comment or let them know we saw their post by liking it but for the most part, we just watch or maybe even stalk. It’s not really healthy at all. I am friends with other photographers, business people and a few people who just seem to have very appealing lives to me and I realized that all I did was watch their lives or their work. The problem with voyeurism is that your own mind is what puts context to every post you see and all most people post to Facebook is their highlight reels of life. Not many people are real and post the ups and downs of life.

I have had a few people ask me if staying away from Facebook has caused me to have closer relationships. The answer is yes and no. As I mentioned in my last post about being logged out of Facebook, I converse with my wife much more than before because I don’t see her Facebook updates. I prefer to listen to her recap her day. She posts a lot of photos of our kids to Facebook throughout the week and I prefer to have her show me them when I get home so she can explain them. You know what you don’t see when you read posts on Facebook? The expression of joy, excitement, sadness or any other facial expressions at all. You lose so much by communicating through Facebook, or other forms of nonlinear communications.

I haven’t stopped text messaging, posting tweets to Twitter or uploading photos to Instagram, but part of me wants to. I first got hooked on communicating with people through text when I dialed into a BBS through a dialup modem and was able to make posts and read posts from other people. Since then, I have loved being able to communicate through text. I love sending emails and sometimes I prefer emailing someone over a phone call.

The death of the personal relationship

All of my life I have only had a few close friends. I was never that guy who had a ton of friends and always jumped around between different groups of people. I am a social person but I am also very introverted when it comes with others. I am better in one on one situations than I am in group settings unless I know everybody in the group. What Facebook has done is allowed me to keep tabs on the close friends I have without actually spending any real time with them. I think many of us can relate that we often spend less time with some people because of social media. This has to change for me because I could probably be a person who lived on his own island by himself so long as I had an internet connection.

It’s not Facebook’s fault

I did not logout because I can’t stand Facebook as a platform. I still manage my business pages on Facebook because they are tools I like to use to market and keep those who care to follow my ventures up to date. I actually just revised all of the content for my Facebook Pages Course for Businesses that is on Udemy. The course has over 18,000 students so you would think that I am a pretty big fan of social media and have definitely taught some people how to use the platform.

The truth is, I received a lot of confused emails and comments from people when I said I was going to logout of Facebook. At the time of logging out I had over 4500 friends on Facebook. Many people only know me through Facebook. For many, I was the social media poster child. Once I explained to these people my reasons for leaving, they understood. I think all of us know deep down that we would be better off without personal Facebook accounts, but most could never let it go.

Facebook is like the news

I used to listen to the news when I was driving. That would give me about 15 minutes of news each direction to and from work and some midday news whenever I was out and about. The problem with the news is that it’s horrible. News is bad. Nothing good ever gets talked about on the news. Our world is a horrible place and the news just rubs it into your face and it’s hard to do anything but think about the negative. This is what Facebook was doing to me. I would read some of the stuff that people were going through and it would make me feel bad. Most of this was coming from people who I don’t even know in real life and don’t really communicate with at all anyway. Yes there have been times I have felt prompted to pray for people who post something tough they are going through and for this I am thankful. I have even helped fund some situations that people posted to GoFundMe that I would not have seen had I not scrolled past it on Facebook. The problem is that the bad outweighs the good and you have to cut the fat sometimes in order to be more focused and positive.

There is nothing wrong with posting about life to Facebook. As I mentioned before, since joining Facebook I got married and had three kids. There are countless aspects about my life that have been shared through Facebook. I don’t want to lose that of leave that behind.

Will I ever come back to Facebook?

I have been considering what to do. I have not posted anything other than links to these recap posts since logging out (my website automatically posts them to Facebook). I have considered turning my Facebook profile into a page but then I would not get to view the newsfeed. I also also realize that most people are probably ok with being my friend on Facebook but may not want to “like” my page. That used to be called being a “fan,” which made it sound even more weird. I have also considered converting my current profile to a page and then creating a new personal profile that will only be accessible to close friends and family.

It’s hard to figure out what to do. I think I will continue to wait until the 60 day mark. I do not feel that I have missed much by being logged out of Facebook. Most of the content I consumed through Facebook does not really matter at the end of the day. Most likely, I will spend the time on my personal Facebook profile to create a newsfeed list of just those who’s updates I want to see so I will see more of their updates and less of the stuff I don’t care about. In the meanwhile, I will continue to post to my blog and to Twitter as I have been doing. I am glad that I am posting more to my blog, especially in the photos section, because my blog can go with me even after Facebook is long gone. It saddens me to know that everything I have posted to Facebook will one day be gone. There was a lot of time invested in all of that posting. If I had just posted to my blog instead, all of that content would be somewhere I had total control. Even thinking back to the days of Myspace, my blog could have been a fantastic timeline in and of itself.

I realize that this post could make it sound like I don’t care about people. That is furthest from the truth. I do care and anybody who has taken even a moment to see what I am about knows this. The problem with social media is the lack of context and personal connection. I miss the personal connection that should be a part of every story. Maybe the answer is that all of our posts should be video instead of text. I think that is where it is going as video blogs on platforms such as Youtube continue to permeate our culture. I have tried video blogging or Vlogging a couple of times and have a hard time getting into it. I already know that it is the video content I have created that has done the most good for me and for others. My online courses on Udemy have over 70,000 students taking them. People have said that they enjoy the video format instead of reading books or tutorial papers.

As I write this I am on a Virgin America flight to Boston for a couple of days to photograph and film for a company I often work with that organizes conferences for online marketers. It’s interesting stuff to me and the people who attend are definitely social media people. I also realize that maybe updates like this should be done in video. Maybe my next challenge should be to do all of my updates in video rather than text. That would definitely make my dumb jokes and comments I post to Twitter more interesting, or maybe more annoying…

What do you think about what I have had to say. Is there anything you agree or disagree with? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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