A while ago I was speaking with a friend and he said something along the lines of, “Life has always been easy for me. I know it’s not like that for everybody, but it is for me. So I have to do things specifically to make it challenging.”
It took me aback a little, because I’m somewhat opposite.
Life has always been difficult for me. Aspects of life have been easy, but life in general hasn’t been. Most people would probably call this some form of depression because it’s easy to put things in a box and label them.
I think depression is the wrong word.
It’s difficult to explain because in many ways I’ve been very privileged and things seem to come easily.
Even so, as long as I can remember I’ve always challenged myself to make certain things more difficult. Considering what I just stated a few sentences ago I’m not sure why I’ve felt compelled to do that.
You might call it goal setting, but it’s different. A goal is tangible. For example, you might set a goal to start a business that you can run from your home so you can spend more time with your children. You can grasp the why.
A challenge is different than a goal in that a challenge is a goal with no end game. There is no why.
For example, from the 3rd of August until the 2nd of September I took cold showers every morning. And by cold I mean all the way cold from beginning to end. No halfway cold or not all the way hot. Freezing, holy-crap-I-can’t-breathe, cold.
I’ll write more about cold showers another time, but what I got out of it was all mental. There was nothing particularly tangible about the challenge. It was a bit hellish and made life unpleasant for 5 minutes every day. It was a challenge for the sake of the challenge.
Most of the successful high achieving people I know do things like this. Yes, they set specific goals about finances, health, and relationships, but they also set challenges. Things they don’t really need to do that don’t seem to accomplish anything of substance.
A recent challenge I started on the 15th of September is to ride my bike at least 10km per day for 50 days straight. (I’ve actually been riding over 20km a day. There’s fun psychology behind that.) There’s no real point to this except I decided I wanted to ride a total of 1,000 miles (1,610 kilometers) this year and I was only about halfway there.
The average high temperature has been about 15C/59F lately and it also rained for most of the first week of the challenge. Again, it’s not supposed to be easy. (Though for some people this challenge is easy, because 15C/59F isn’t cold.)
This particular challenge was inspired by my friend Matt Frazier and his Lessons Learned from 50 Days of Running.
My favorite part of the article is the first two sentences:
Back in May, after two months of almost no exercise, I decided it was time to start running again. I didn’t have a goal, but I knew I had to get back out there.
Matt, as you can probably guess, is a high achieving individual. Maybe it’s a coincidence that he sets challenges for no other reason than, “I knew I had to.” But I think it’s possible that Matt, like many others, is a high achiever because he does stuff like this.
Another challenge Matt completed not long ago: he ran a 100 mile ultramarathon (no sleep, running for 28 hour 40 minutes). It’s something not a lot of people can do. Hell, it’s not something a lot of people want to do, because it makes life difficult for a period of time.
And recently (today, if you’re reading this the day I posted it), Matt published a great book. I preordered my copy last month and it’s a book I think you should read.
More than just read it, I’d like to see you use this book as a catalyst for change. A springboard for challenges. Make life a little bit difficult for yourself.
Matt’s book is called No Meat Athlete: Run on Plants and Discover Your Fittest, Fastest, Happiest Self.
No Meat Athlete is part practical how-to and part cook book and not at all preachy like you might expect from a veg*n book. And it’s not just for runners or for veg*ns.
It’s a book many vegetarian and vegan athletes (and non-athletes) will buy. But I’d like to see the “What?! Nope, I need me some bacon” people to give it a chance. Not forever. Just long enough to prove to yourself that you can.
I know most people will never go veg*n for life. But it would be outstanding if more people set challenges like, “I’m gonna go vegan for 30 days even though I’m pretty sure I can’t live without cheese.”
I think you’ll see once you start doing challenges for no reason than to do them the benefits will permeate to other aspects of your life. So OK, you caught me, I guess I lied about there being no end game behind challenges.
When you do something like, “Go vegan for 30 days” or “Take freezing cold showers for 31 days,” it builds confidence. “Well, that wasn’t easy, but I know I can accomplish things I didn’t think I’d be able to.”
You learn a little more about what you’re made of and what you can handle.
It just feels good.
P.S. I actually paid for my paperback copy of No Meat Athlete though Matt did send me a digital copy to preview last week. Even if you don’t buy the book I hope you start setting challenges to show yourself what you’re made of.
P.P.S. If this has inspired you to set a difficult challenge, whether it’s to go vegan for 30 days or something else, let me know below.