Want to Grow? Embrace the Challenge

I was burning through a fitness blender recently followed by blistering 4:30 minute half mile intervals (ha ha) and it occurred to me,  I don’t want things to be easy. When I frame things up within an “embrace the challenge” mindset not only can I change most habits, but I actually enjoy the experience more, even if they are hard.

Or, maybe especially if they are challenging.

Fully Engaged

There is a tremendous pleasure in taking on a really difficult project and seeing it to completion. 

Most people have heard of the concept of Flow, but not as many have read the wonderful book Finding Flow, by psychologist Csichzentmihalyi.

embrace the challenge

In this book he alerts us to the remarkable finding that people self report that they are happiest while in the midst of working purposefully. Later, however, when the same people are asked to report what activities they believe will make them happy, they say they prefer to sit and watch something, or hang out and relax.

But, they don’t actually report the same level of satisfaction while in the real-time leisure activity.

It makes sense, right?

We are happiest when fully engaged.  When our intentions, goals and motivations are aligned and we are focused.

But we are sold this idea that we need to be relaxing.

Who sells this idea? Everyone who can make money if you choose to watch cable, drink beer, or make Netflix binge watching the destination.

Every now and again that’s a fun thing to do because it’s a contrast to a purposeful life.

(Coincidentally right now I am hanging out at the beach and it’s lovely, but it’s just one day and I read a great book.)

I’m working on getting fitter right now. There is no focus on weight or even health, although that’s good, but on my actual fitness.

Why?  Well, of course I want to be healthier and skinnier, but I also want to specifically to be fitter and to be working hard in a purposeful manner. To be going for something and achieving something that requires deep, consistent, sometimes difficult commitment.

Working hard is wonderful, while I’m working and immediately after. I may dread it just before, or give life to the idea that working is to be avoided, but the truth is there’s satisfaction in the midst of it.

It would be a win if I were to increase my capacity to train hard at this point in my life.

Recently I read the book by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness called Peak Perfomance.

The important nugget in the book is their growth equation:


Throughout the book they redefine stress and rest and growth for us. 

As a result I have redefined them for myself as well.

What is stress?

Reframe stress as a challenge. There is value in stress if managed well.

Put yourself out at the edge of your ability and work on getting better.

Embrace the challenge.

When I chug around the block at a 4:30 minute half mile pace that is a challenge for me especially by the third interval. I hope in the near future that I’ll be discussing a 4 minute pace, but I’m not right now.

When I hit publish on a blog post that is stress for me right now. What will people think? Did I write it well enough? Tell too much? Too little? Add anything of value to what people are thinking?

This is where I have to dig deep into my Stephen Pressfield mindset and hit publish. (Of course he also says people don’t want to read your shit….)

What is rest?

embrace the challenge

Well, it’s not just sitting on my butt.  (Of course it can be at times) I like the example in the book of the Norwegian cross country skiers.  On their rest days they ski. Very slowly.  I’ve started to adopt this for myself.  On my rest days I go for slow contemplative walks in the woods.

I get a lot of steps on my fitbit, but at a super slow pace.

You can take this philosophy and apply it beyond sports. I am thinking about this now in terms of work.

The book covers much more ground than this when discussing rest. It definitely expanded my perspective on stress and changed the term to a neutral and not a negative one.

What is growth?

This is such a good question. We know objectively what growth is in many ways. If you hit a personal best or your team wins a championship that is an obvious sign of growth.

But what if it leads to burn out? Or can’t be sustained?

What if you never win, but the actual effort is satisfying? Is that growth?

What if it leads to excellence in something else, or deep insight? What if you win, but the joy has dissipated?

These are all important questions. In the book the authors are trying to help us reach higher levels without burning out. That is an incredibly valuable task and important for each of us professionals and amateurs alike.

There are also natural endings or ascensions in life. Sometimes we are just done with one adventure and ready for the next one.

This is also growth and requires of us the wisdom to move forward.

embrace the challenge

Related Reads

Are we trading our happiness for modern comforts? (The Atlantic)