When was the last time you challenged yourself to do something difficult? Something that made you question your skills, courage, or endurance? If it’s been a while since you tapped into the discomfort, adrenaline, or sweat of a new challenge, I highly recommend you set your sights on a big one as soon as you can!
I was thinking about why it feels good to do hard things (thanks, Glennon Doyle!) just last night as I muscled my way through a six-minute plank. Why was I holding this pose long enough to boil an egg? Because my current physical and mental challenge is training for the Death Ride, a 103-mile bike ride over six mountain passes with 14,000 feet of climbing. I’m participating in this grueling event on July 17th to raise money for www.tripsforkidsmarin.org, an organization that helps underserved kids experience the freedom and independence of learning to ride and care for a bike. I’m thrilled to support this amazing program!
Stepping stones and big-picture goals
My prolonged plank was one small milestone in my ongoing training journey. Others include summiting a nearly-4000-foot peak in pavement-melting heat and hiking 54 miles in a rim-to-rim-to-rim trek in the Grand Canyon (file that under very hot cross-training).
Along the way, I’ve learned that creating smaller, “stepping stone” achievements is key to achieving any goal, be it personal or professional. Achieving smaller feats provides the fuel and dopamine rush that’s needed to rise to the next challenge. Each mini triumph is a confidence boost that increases the chance for success.
Another strategy for staying on track? Keep the big goal top of mind. Reminding yourself of the large mission helps you get through the difficult moments that inevitably happen. This strategy was crucial as my brain and my body took turns protesting as I planked.
This hurts! Whose idea was this? No one will know if you quit!
All those things were true. Yet, I ignored the discouraging thoughts by focusing on my greater purpose: raising money so kids could experience the joy and confidence that comes from biking. (Another valuable reminder: It’s much easier to do hard things when your efforts help other people!)
Step outside your comfort zone
I talk about all these things when I take leaders and teams on outdoor experiences designed to push them (safely, of course) outside their comfort zones. Every time I’ve led corporate groups kayaking, hiking, snowshoeing, or rock climbing, transformation happens. Whether they’re seasoned athletes, weekend warriors, or endorphin newbies, participants always say that pushing themselves to conquer a challenge makes them feel confident, focused, and energized.
Many times, folks tell me they leave the experience with a whole new appreciation for who they are and what they’re capable of doing. I also hear about the carry-over effect of doing hard things. Back at work, teams collaborate better and reach goals quicker. They say they feel more inspired and creative, too.
The pure joy of trying
I can’t say I was feeling particularly creative when the timer finally dinged and I lowered myself out of plank to the floor. My body was shaking like Jell-O. Yet, I felt victorious. Preparing myself mentally and physically for a huge challenge was empowering. In fact, as my quivering muscles recovered, I realized that completing the Death Ride isn’t my ultimate goal.
I might complete the ride — or I might not. (I’ll find out in a month!) The real reward was committing to doing something hard in the first place. In that regard, it doesn’t matter whether or not I cross the finish line on July 17th. I’ve already done what I set out to do.
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Candra Canning is the founder of Live Bright Now. She’s been coaching corporate leaders + teams to brighten their performance for 20 years. Candra believes a bright company culture creates bright individuals + bright communities — even a brighter world.