“We don’t grow when things are easy. We grow when we face challenges.” Many challenges in life are out of our control; they choose us, rather than us choosing them. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we don’t believe we can overcome. However, 99.9% of the time, we come through it for the better. You may learn something new from the experience and surprise yourself with the strength you show.
What about the challenges that we knowingly take on ourselves? How do we know that we’ve found a challenge that’s worthy of our time and effort? Also, how do we stick with our goals and ensure that we are making progress? This blog post will be all about finding a worthy challenge (one that’s “just right”), how to change your mindset about practice, and the power of reflection on goal setting and accomplishment.
What is the definition of a worthy challenge? Worth is defined, quite simply, as something of value. A challenge is a stimulating task or problem, or an invitation to compete in a contest of some kind. In my opinion, a worthy challenge is you improving yourself in a way that aligns with your core values.
Finding a Worthy Challenge
Find out what your core values are
Therefore, first you need to find out what your core values are; in other words, what energizes you and what you think is important. For me, helping others, fostering my relationships with others, being authentic to myself, being a lifelong learner, and being creative are my core values. I feel like a worthy challenge could still be about exercise and living a healthier lifestyle, even though that’s not an obvious goal that stems from my values. I do believe that the goals that align most closely with your core values will be the most motivating and “set your soul on fire,” so to speak. They also may be scary and threatening, because they are so close to your heart. It is far more frightening to fail at something you love, than something to which you are indifferent.
Here is an article that I’ve read to help discover my core values. In Anne Loehr’s “How to Live With Purpose,” she discusses what core values are, why it’s important to know what these are, and how to discover your core values. Next, she talks about how to put your values in action, checking in on them, and reminding yourself in different ways about your core values.
Reflect on how you can improve yourself
We should be happy with ourselves as we are, but there are always ways that we can improve ourselves. Maybe you want to exercise more, read more, spend more time with positive people in your life, or create more. It could be a financial, physical, emotional, or intellectual goal, or perhaps a personal project that has been a dream of yours.
|Financial Goal||Creating an emergency fund, paying off debt, planning for retirement, creating a monthly budget, saving a down payment for a house, creating a side business|
|Physical Goal||Creating a lifelong fitness routine, starting a healthy nutrition plan, keeping your vital stats under control (blood pressure, cholesterol), looking good in a bikini|
|Emotional Goal||Managing and lessening stress, learning new skills and knowledge, adopting a more positive mindset, laughing more, trying new experiences, being more patient, having more self-control|
|Intellectual Goal||Reading more books, going back to school to get an MBA, taking a writing workshop, learning more about bowling, learn a foreign language|
Next, be as specific as possible about how you want to improve, and plan backwards from your goal. Start with the broad goal, then come up with a milestone or date by which you wish to reach your goal. After that, create smaller goals that you will need to accomplish in order to reach your overall goal. Then, create targets that you need to master that can be described with a single action. The targets should be realistic, achievable, and specific goals. If you don’t plan out how you are going to reach your goal, you may not ever get to your goal. A specific plan helps to put you on the right track. Also, as you are reflecting on your progress, you can look back and see if you have achieved as much as you wanted to by a certain time frame.
Did you know that it takes at least 21 days to form a habit? Sometimes it takes up to 66 days for a habit to stick. Therefore, whatever your goal is, you should be doing something as often as possible towards your goal. Assess the challenge, and break it into chunks. You should have a yearly view of your goal, which you can break down into 3 months, 1 month, and even further into weekly and daily habits or actions.
Find Your Why
There will be times when you will lose motivation to complete your challenge. If you have a sense of purpose, you have something to fall back on that will bolster your motivation. You can create a one-sentence motto and think of it whenever your willpower fails. You can write it on a post-it note and stick it on your mirror to see every morning. Whatever works for you! Your why will ultimately be connected to those core values we talked about earlier.
Follow the Goldilocks principle
Remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? A worthy challenge is not too hard, not too easy, but just right. If a challenge is too difficult, you won’t learn anything and become uninterested, whereas, if a challenge is too easy, you’ll become bored. A challenge that is just right will keep you in the zone, highly motivated, and in a state of flow. According to Lev Vygotsky, that is our zone of proximal development. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and find yourself an accountability partner or more knowledgeable mentor to help you in your challenge. The best mentor will motivate you, expect the best from you, never give up on you, tell you the truth and offer criticism, help you brainstorm, and care about your success. Come to think of it, these are also attitudes and behaviors you should have and do, in order to achieve success.
Change Your Mindset About Practice
Practice does not make perfect. Instead, “Practice makes permanent.” Think about it. If you practice something correctly or incorrectly, it becomes hard-wired into your brain and difficult to change. Although practice is important, practicing correctly is the key to really building skills. You need to be critical of your progress towards your challenge and understand what is working or not working for you.
Anders Ericsson is a professor of psychology who was featured in Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I also had the privilege of seeing Ericsson speak at Angela Duckworth’s Character Lab. Ericsson studied the top performers in multiple fields and what made them the best. He found that all of these performers engaged in something called “deliberate practice.” Deliberate practice is consistently stepping outside of your comfort zone to reach slightly beyond your current capabilities. It’s not as simple as wanting to improve and (Voila!) achieving your goal. You need to have well-defined targets and a knowledgeable mentor or teacher. This teacher should be critical of your efforts and tell you how to improve. Eventually, you will internalize their critical feedback and be able to analyze your own errors. Discussions and feedback sessions are essential to improvement.
The area immediately outside of your comfort zone can be a scary place. Science shows that being outside of this zone can create an optimal level of anxiety that can actually help you to brainstorm and harness your creative energy. Consistently stepping outside of your comfort zone will help you to be more productive, better with change, and more capable of pushing boundaries in the future. Don’t be afraid of failure. Failure is just part of the learning process. The most important thing is that if you fail, you fail forward. You take what you have learned and become more efficient in achieving your goals.
The Power of Reflection
In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind.” We’ve discussed how important backwards planning is to goal setting, and how it makes challenges more manageable by splitting them into smaller chunks. We’re usually good at the start of a new challenge, but we can often falter or even give up as we go along. When you keep your end goal in mind and check in frequently, it can keep you honest about your progress.
Not only should you be critical of how consistent you are being in your daily habits, you should also consider how often you are engaging in deliberate practice. Consider using something as simple as a calendar to check off the days that you’ve stuck to your daily or weekly targets, so that you are checking in consistently. At the end of every month, you can think of the following in relation to your challenges and goals:
What are you most proud of this month?
How are you progressing on any daily or weekly habits?
Are the targets you set still aligned with your overall challenge? Does anything need to change?
What’s working well and what needs to be adjusted?
Are your current goals “just right,” or do you need to ramp them up?
What have you learned?
What do you still need to achieve your goals?
Reflecting on finding a worthy challenge has made me really think about what I want to accomplish in my life. Thus far, getting my Master’s Degree in Education and writing an undergraduate thesis have been my biggest achievements. It’s time to get specific and really put my efforts into another worthy challenge. I hope that you will feel inspired to do the same. Think about which challenges will help make you a better person or fill your heart with passion. I would love to hear what your current challenges are that you are working on. Good luck, and let me know how your challenges are going!
Until next time…