Wellness Wednesday: Challenge Yourself

October 31st, 2007

November seems to be a big month for personal challenges. I'm aware of people challenging themselves not to complain, someone else is writing a book in 90 days, there's Nanowrimo and Nanoblomo and NanuNanu (just kidding on that last one!), and there's my Art Every Day Month Challenge and the ongoing challenges of sites like Illustration Friday and Inspire Me Thursday. Should be a wild and wooly, creative and productive time! I'm predicting a lot of messy houses around the blogosphere. :-)

Every once in awhile I feel the need to push myself. I'm not talking all the time. That would be exhausting. But when the waters get stagnant and you need a boost, finding something you're passionate about or even just somewhat interested in and then making a commitment to it, is a powerful exercise. Here are a few tips for personal challenges that have helped me along the way:

1. Tell other people what you're doing: There's nothing like having told other people what you've committed to do, to keep you on the path. Saying it out loud, writing it down, and/or sharing it can be key. It works wonders for me. There are loads of online groups where you can make commitments of this kind and plenty of face-to-face options. Show others what you're working on. And if you can, join with a group doing the same thing. It's so helpful to have the support of others and you'll find yourself feeding off the energy around you. Amazing things happen in groups.

2. Give it a beginning and end: Sometimes a personal challenge can seem way too daunting if it's never ending...like a diet. I'm not a fan of dieting or rigid rules that can't be broken, so it helps me if I know my challenge has a start and end date. Knowing there's an end in sight, helps me stay focused.

3. Push the boundaries of what you think is possible: One of the best things about challenging yourself is that almost always you are far more powerful, creative, strong, resourceful, and capable than you think you are and challenges often push us past what we think our edge is. Why is it that we set our sights so low? Could be a fear of failure or of rejection or perhaps we were told once too often that we weren't good enough. Whatever the reason, a challenge allows you to truly go for it. If you don't cross the finish line, you can be proud of yourself for trying. You can't reach those dreams if you never give it a go, right?

I had a dream of running a marathon back in my 20's. You might think, "Are you crazy?!" or "Oh, I'd like to do that." But the thing was, I wasn't a runner. In fact, in elementary school I *hated* running. But in college I had started exercising and I liked working out alone and the idea of running a marathon for charity gave me chills. So, I went for it.  I had to tell everyone I knew what I was doing as I raised money for the Leukemia Society (friends and family thought I was nuts) and I also knew that I was running in honor of a little girl from my state with the disease. Talk about motivating! I started from scratch...running a quarter of a mile, then half, then a whole, then 2, then 3. I had some set-backs. I twisted my ankle while training on a slushy day and thought maybe I was out. But I let it heal and did other things and was able to continue. I ran in rain, in snow, at 5 in the morning. I didn't drink alcohol before a long run. I dove into the challenge headfirst. And I still wasn't a great runner, mind you. I was slow, but I had stamina and my long runs were getting longer and longer. On the day of the race, the start time was delayed and other issues on the course made things a bit more challenging; around 16 miles in I got a wicked cramp that I just couldn't get rid of and I wondered if I could make it to the end. A tall man, a former marine, (running for the same charity) limped up to me and told me how to get rid of the cramp. He had injured himself in the race and couldn't run at his normal speed (otherwise he would have been at least an hour ahead of me most likely). He had decided to speed-walk the rest of the way and with his long stride (and my short one), his power walk was a lot like my slow jog.  So, we kept going and going. I was starting to feel fried towards the end and this kind stranger told me funny stories to make me laugh and then in the end he told me to go ahead and run the last bit out hard. What a wonderful experience that was to run those miles with such a kind person. Which leads to...

4. Support often appears when you need it most: and it often comes wrapped in a package you weren't expecting. Now, this long tale of running a marathon is a little extreme perhaps, but so is writing a book in a month, right? The thing is, with big personal challenges, they'll often kick your butt, challenge you in ways you weren't expecting, and end up being one of the more rewarding experiences in your life. I know I felt like I could do anything after I ran that marathon. It expanded my idea of what was possible in my life. When I started Art Every Day Month 5 years ago, I had challenged myself to create a piece of art every day for the month of November. I thought it would keep me honest to post my art on my blog and it did. But it also provided me with amazing support and encouragement. And in the following years when others joined in, the group support has been simply amazing.

5. Celebrate your successes and don't beat yourself up over your weaknesses: After the marathon, I felt like my time was much slower than it could have been, but I chose not to focus on that. I had accomplished something huge! The same could be done for any personal challenge. You can always pick apart the things you could have done better, but for what purpose? Take some time to revel in whatever success you have, even if it seems super tiny. Give yourself kudos. Do something nice for yourself. Focusing on the negative instead of enjoying your success isn't good for anyone, including you!

6. Commit but don't over-do it: Sometimes a lot of options come up and you may want to do them all. I fall into this trap a lot. So, be careful not to get so excited over-challenge yourself. Sometimes, one challenge at a time is plenty. :-)

Happy Wellness Wednesday!

6 Responses

What an inspiring post, Leah – thanks! I needed that encouragement tonight (and the laugh – Nanu Nanu, heehee:)

Thanks for the great words Leah! I am so excited to participate in AEDM. Congrats on running the marathon! And yes, I agree the support of a kindred spirit is simply priceless and memorable.

Nanu, nanu to you, too! What a wonderful, inspiring post! I honestly feel like I can do anything!
I *did* start a blog! After I’ve got a few posts under my belt, I’ll give you the link. And I’ve got my art plans for the next few days… knowing they can shift and transform along the way. I feel giddy!

you are so right. i’m excited to see what you do here.

This is a GREAT list. I am going to bookmark it for a project I am launching in 2008….such wonderful words of wisdom. Thank you!

How did I miss this post? I LOVE IT! So much great info in it!!!

“Sometimes a lot of options come up and you may want to do them all.”

I fall into this trap A LOT too! It is easy to want to do it all but hard sometimes to follow through with it all.

As for not trying things in life, remember…

“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”

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