I have to be honest. I lack discipline. I’ve never been good at doing the day to day things I’m supposed to. Cleaning up my room as a kid. Filling out expense reports as an adult. But I’ve always thrived on learning something new or taking on a new project. Let’s face it – I LOVE a challenge! I never gave that much thought until recently. Read about the benefits and ask yourself – what’s on your challenge list?
A couple of weeks ago, I read an article about the benefits of stepping outside your comfort zone in retirement. I was busy with other things and filed it away. Ten days later, I was doing just that – stepping outside my comfort zone – riding three of the Georgia Gaps.
The Georgia Gaps are iconic bike climbs in the North Georgia mountains known simply as the “Gaps.” There are six gaps on a grueling century ride – 11,000 feet of climbing! I’ve never ridden the Gaps. Honestly, I’ve never had the confidence that I was in good enough shape to ride them. But my training group was headed out to ride three of them and I decided to join in the fun.
The night before, I kept waking up thinking about the Gaps. Just under the surface was that little sense of fear. You may be thinking, you just rode 2,600 miles! Why are you nervous? Simple. Every time I try something new physically, whether riding the Gaps or kayaking or anything in between, I freak out on some level.
When I arrived in North Georgia, the only riders there were all faster than me. I thought about bailing before we started. I hated to think of them all waiting on me for hours at the top of every climb. But I decided to start. As we started the first and longest climb (more than eight miles), I was behind everyone and it felt harder than the average elevation grade would indicate. And I had the steepest climb to go! I considered turning back at the top of the first climb. But, again, I simply decided to start the next climb. It was a little over three miles, and a lot steeper. While it seemed to go on forever, soon enough I was to the top. And the third one ended up being a piece of cake.
I was ecstatic as we descended to the start! I had done it! And despite all the concern and worry along the way, I was glad I had!
What’s So Good About a Challenge?
I came back home and decided to re-read that article about the benefits of taking on challenges. Chief among the benefits to retirees were improvements in cognitive functioning – a challenge helps that brain of yours! A study found that the adults who were productively engaged in learning new skills showed improvements in memory compared to those who engaged in social activities or non-demanding mental activities at home like listening to music. They found it was important to do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging.
But on a more fundamental level, Ran Zilca, author of the Ride of Your Life, believes that challenge and risk are essential to inner peace and happiness. He believes meeting challenges:
- builds inner strength, allowing you to face greater challenges in the future.
- Makes you fully present and takes all of your focus, allowing you to let go, at least for a time, of the past and future.
- Makes for a smaller ego and brings humility in realizing that there are some things that we still need to learn.
- Helps you learn to take responsibility instead of looking to others as a source of blame or help.
He also believes the confidence and pride of accomplishing difficult tasks free up one’s mind and spirit to be kind, thoughtful, and generous to others. That’s a lot to be gained! Just ask any of these over 50 athletes!
What’s On Your Challenge List?
A couple of months ago, I listened to a podcast with Joel Runyon, founder of Impossible HQTM. He talked about creating an “impossible listTM” – a list of all the things he thought he couldn’t do because it was “impossible.” The list includes fitness items, like running a marathon or participating in a triathlon, places he wants to visit, events he wants to see, things he wants to learn, and projects he wants to complete. From sitting in in his parent’s basement down in the dumps, creating and executing his impossible list gave Joel a whole new life!
I realized I had been creating my own impossible list for years!
So what should you put on your challenge list? The sky’s the limit!
Always wanted to hike the Grand Canyon? Put it on your list. Think it would be fun to learn a new language? Yup. That’s a great one for your list. Want to travel solo but afraid to do it? On the list it goes.
The first thing I put on my fitness challenge list ten years ago was a 10k road race – 6.2 miles. It was daunting! Scary! Eventually, a half marathon (13.1 miles). Then a marathon. I couldn’t even envision putting a marathon on my list when I started to get fit.
It is incredibly empowering to take the step of putting something on your challenge list! Write it down and feel yourself change. All of a sudden, the challenge becomes more real. And you move from a simple dream to making a plan.
So let’s get started! Write your challenge list today!