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How To Set Yourself A Challenge

How To Set Yourself A Challenge

I’ve always been very thin, and not very strong.

I remember being at a meeting of some kind, years ago. One of the organising ladies drafted me to move furniture, presumably because I was almost the only male under 50 in the room. But when she saw me struggling with a heavy table, she apologised and found someone else. That’s embarassing for a young guy, and I’ve never forgotten it.

So you wouldn’t expect me to set myself a challenge of being able to do 100 pushups, would you?

I’m doing that challenge right now, though.

I believe everyone should have a challenge to help them feel really alive. A challenge is different from stress, because you feel more in control. And in fact, it’s one of the things that helps you to deal with your stress in other areas of life.

Here are five steps towards taking on a challenge for yourself.

1. Have a desire for change

I want to be fitter and stronger. I’ve taken up kayaking, and I want to be able to paddle strongly and for a long period, and still be able to lift the boat onto the roof of the car when I finish. I also just want to feel better physically, to take up more residence in my body. I want those things enough that I’m willing to put some effort in to get them.

What’s your motivation for taking on a new challenge?

2. Believe you can change

I believe I can change. I believe I can rise to challenges. I believe this because I’ve done it before.

I’ve passed exams, learned languages, started businesses, built relationships. I’ve also done a similar challenge to the 100 Pushups, namely 200 Situps. I went from 26 situps to 200. I know it can be done and I know I can do it.

What’s more, I know that when I am successful at a challenge like this, it does more for me than just whatever I get out of the goal itself. When I complete the 100 Pushups challenge, I won’t just have stronger muscles. I’ll have greater mental strength, a sense of achievement – and further confirmation for myself that I can rise to challenges like this and complete them. Completing a challenge changes who you are in your own eyes. And each success you have builds your confidence.

What successes can you look back to in order to support your belief that you can take on a challenge?

3. Find a destination

A challenge, by definition, is a little bit above and beyond what you can do right now. It’s not more than you ever could do, though. I don’t have the body type to win a bodybuilding contest or a weightlifting competition (nor does that interest me, actually). But there’s a wide space in between “I can’t do this now” and “I can definitely never achieve this”. Wider than you think, sometimes.

Somewhere in that space – up towards the scary end – is your challenge. As the wonderful Catherine Caine says, “You should always try anything that makes you uncomfortable, and nothing that makes you uneasy.”

What is your challenge going to be? Can you double it?

4. Get a plan

Sometimes “get a plan” means “make your own plan”. Sometimes it means “find someone else with a plan and use theirs”. For exercise, because I’m no expert, I consult people who are experts and use their plans. The 100 Pushups challenge comes from a website ( It tells you, based on how many pushups you can do when you start, how many to do in each of five sets, in each of three exercise days per week, for six weeks. It builds you up gradually to the point where you are capable of 100 consecutive pushups.

That’s a great model for a plan. My fellow New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary didn’t suddenly get up one morning and climb Mt Everest. He built up to it over years of mountaineering.

Your plan needs to start where you are, end where you want to be, and fill in the middle with steps in which you improve achievably. This means the steps need to be close enough together that you can get to each one from the one before. It’s like stepping stones across a river – if they’re too far apart, you’ll get wet.

Who might be able to help you make a plan to meet your challenge?

5. Implement, implement, implement

Carrying out the plan is, in many ways, the hard part. I don’t enjoy middles nearly as much as beginnings or ends. You’re neither here nor there. You have the work, but you don’t yet have the triumph.

Yet this is where every person succeeded who ever succeeded in any challenge. As I’m huffing and puffing with sore arms, partway through set 3 of 5, I’m not just building my arm muscles. I’m building my perseverance muscles, my determination muscles. Between the exciting moment of taking on a challenge and the exhilirating moment of completing a challenge are the thousand unglamourous moments of deciding, again and again, to keep going.

And yet, looked at another way, each one of those moments is another small victory. Every time I keep going instead of stopping, every time I push past the resistance and focus on the goal, I’m winning.

How are you going to win moment by moment on your path to your goal?

Mike Reeves-McMillan blogs on health and personal development, stress and success, at Living Skillfully: Your Mind and Health. He plans to make 2011 a great year for challenges.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing.. I’ve just set my self a challenge to help 10,000 people over the next 5 years (by 2015)to start their own small business, and help them achieve financial freedom, or at least, start their journey towards achieving it.

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