All of the growth and spiritual development we’ve experienced in life is due to “real challenge”. A real challenge is one that makes you get out of your comfort zone, stretch your skills, talents and abilities. It’s when you see a problem and you think “I don’t know how to solve this“. It’s where your brain says “I might not know how to solve this, but I am going to do my best to learn and give it a shot.”
Challenges can be imposed by us or by our environment. Each time we go through a challenge, we grow our will, strength and courage. We know the challenges are meaningful to us when we lose track of time, or lose our sense of awareness of the things around us and find ourselves so immersed in the moment that nothing else seems to exist.
That type of immersive, fulfilling challenge is what makes you grow the most, and when it actually matters to you, you grow exponentially because you invest more.
Distinguish Goals From Challenges
Goals are a result, an outcome; a challenge is the journey you embark on to reach that outcome. Lots of people set goals, create checklists or to-do lists to accomplish them and then look really busy doing it.
But remember, being busy is not the same as being challenged! We all have to-do lists and daily mundane tasks, but just having a bunch of those is not a real challenge. Those things are the normal demands of life. They do not make us grow like a real challenge.
5 Characteristics of a Good Challenge
Challenge is a pathway to engagement and progress in our lives. Some challenges make us feel alive, engaged, connected and fulfilled. Others simply overwhelm us. Knowing how to pick a good challenge will help ensure that you are successful and satisfied going through it – not burdened by it.
1. Singularity of focus – They should be a grand enough event that they require our undivided attention. Things like painting a picture, writing a book, designing a website, teaching your kids math, these all require you to focus. You cannot do them while distracted.
In order for a challenge to demand your full attention, it must be something you care about. It must be important to you, tied to your purpose.
2. Breaches your comfort zone – A truly good challenge is one that is just above your current skill level. It’s one that you can’t look at and say, “I’m confident I will succeed on my first try.“
Think about playing against opponents who are better than you in a sport – it’s the only way you will get better. Playing against people who are less skilled than you will make you feel good for the moment, but it won’t satisfy you and help you grow in the long run.
3. Can be measured – You need to be able to self-assess how well you are doing, or have someone give you feedback. Build progress checks into your challenge. Ask yourself how you are doing and be honest with yourself.
4. Offer a sense of completion – build milestones into your challenges so you can see that you are making progress. Good challenges have points where you can look back and say “we finished that” or “we’re succeeding!” because you have delivered tangible progress. Like a checkpoint in a videogame, once you reach it, you know you’ve come to a point where you’ve accomplished something.
5. Can be shared with someone – the best challenges are done with someone. Whether an individual or a team, it’s great to share the experience with someone else.
Imagine climbing to the top of the mountain and looking down at the beautiful view you just conquered, doesn’t that feel awesome?! Now, imagine that same scenario, but at the top as you look around to enjoy the view, you look to your friend next to you and hug and cheer about what you just accomplished.
That feeling of sharing the victory is something that makes a challenge a good one. It dumps wonderful chemicals into our brain and fills us with a sense of accomplishment that doing it alone wouldn’t equal.
Focus on the Journey, and Don’t Fear Rejection
There are two things that cause people to stumble when chasing big dreams: unmet expectations and the fear of rejection. Think about a project you worked tirelessly at and struggled with only to have it fail to show the results you expected, or get cancelled all together!
Most of the things that drive us to work hard and do something with ourselves are extrinsic motivators. We learn the alphabet to get the gold star, we study hard to get a good report card, to get accepted to a good college, to get a good job, to get paid well, to buy a nice house or car.
The problem is that none of these things are going to satisfy us. They move the needle of happiness up until you reach the average income of your country, and then they stop motivating you altogether.
What we really need to focus on to fulfill us is the moment we are in, the journey we are on. Live for that instead of the results and you will always feel a sense of happiness as you go through life – even in the tough times. It’s about the journey, not the destination.