Top 5 Benefits of Challenges

Oct 24, 2010 by

Top 5 Benefits of Challenges

Challenges seem to abound these days. Looking over my 101 Things to Do list, I see several sprinkled through. The Complaint Free Challenge. The 100 Push-Up Challenge. The 200 Sit-Up Challenge. The Gratitude Challenge. The list itself is a challenge of sort.

Day 1’s task for the Gratitude Challenge was to sign the Gratitude Pledge and to express why I accepted this challenge and what I hope to achieve from it. Basically, it involves promising to do all of the challenges, and count my blessings and look for things that are good in my life.

To be honest, I made the latter part of this pledge to myself a while ago, after reading Marci Schimoff’s Happy For No Reason, and having her words hit home to me (in a way, of course, my mother’s wisdom never quite sunk in) that happiness really is a choice, and that being grateful is one of the first steps toward making that choice.

So why the challenge? Sometimes I lose sight of it, even now. The challenge is a way to kick myself in the pants, to remember the things I already know, to remind myself in this time of upheaval and transition of how wonderful life really is, to reach out and touch people in general–saying “thank you” a little more often to those around me, and to life itself.

Having to state why this challenge, though, got me thinking about why challenges in general. I mean, I have my workouts–in them I do crunches and push-ups, so why bother with a challenge? Is the Complaint Free challenge really even worth it at this point?  Has anyone managed to go 21 days without a single complaint?

Does it matter?

Why do challenges? Why sign up for them again and again? I think it boils down to 5 major reasons and benefits which challenges offer:

1.  It’s a preset, measurable and attainable goal

One reason so many goals fail is because they aren’t measurable. “I want to lose 15 pounds” is far more easy to achieve than just “I need to lose weight.” “I want to be able to run a 5K” is better than “I should start running every week.”

Likewise, many goals fail because they aren’t practical. Yes, losing 100 pounds is perfectly doable. But losing it in 3 months isn’t. Training for a marathon, when you’ve never run a 5K, is similarly too grandiose. When you set goals like these, more often than not, you set yourself up for failure. The task seems too monumental, the goal too far away.

When you have something specific to aim for, it keeps you focused. You know what you are working toward, what the end is. When it’s a big goal, it helps when you can break it down into smaller, definable steps, which fitness challenges are especially good at.

The Couch-to-5K and Push-Up and Sit-Up programs, for instance, give you weekly workouts you should be doing. How much to run, how many push-ups, how many sit-ups–follow their plan, and you will reach the goal. For those who cannot afford a personal trainer, it’s a great way to achieve something finite, and that finite accomplishment leaves you with a sense of accomplishment once you’ve achieved it.

You can then take that achievement and roll it into something bigger, pushing on to the next challenge and the next goal until you’ve reached the larger one that seemed out of reach at first.

2.  A measurable amount of time

Like #1, knowing something is lasting a finite amount of time makes it more doable, as well. Even if you hate doing sit-ups, you can do them three days a week, for ten minutes a day, for six weeks, with the pay off of being able to do 200 of them, right? You’ll come out of it a lot stronger.

Celestine Chua recently ran a 30 Day Live a Better Life Challenge. It required quite a bit of work, actually–anywhere from 1-2 hours of work a day just for the challenge activities, nevermind any specific goals the participants set in addition to the challenge itself. But it was only 30 days, with the possibility of revamping your entire life. Anyone could commit to an hour a day for just 30 days for such a payoff, right?

The Gratitude Challenge runs 21 days. If being thankful doesn’t really sit well with you, well, you only have to try it for 21 days. Then you can go back to however you were living before.

Part of the appeal in challenges are that measurable results in measurable amounts of time. It’s a chance to give something a try for just a little while, and then, if it doesn’t work, move on, which brings me to #3.

3.  A great way to try something new

Steve Pavlina of Personal Development for Smart People has blogged extensively about his 30-Day trials.  It’s well-established that it takes 21 days to establish the neural pathways to form a new habit or break an old one. Whatever time span you choose to try something new for 21 days to try and establish a habit, or for a full 30 days, you’re making a commitment you can keep.

On my 101 Things to Do list, I have a lot of things that I have said I’ll do “for a month” that are based on this concept: give up caffeine, do yoga every day, exercise every day (as opposed to 3-4 days a week), eat vegan, give up soda. Some of these are things I would like to turn into habits. Others I’d like to break a habit for–like sodas and caffeine–so they can be occasional indulgences instead of habits. Some of them I’d just like to try to see how they work.

Challenges and trials allow us to try on something new, to see what it might be like to add it to our identity. Unlike New Year’s Resolutions when we swear we’re going to change this about ourselves, we aren’t committing to forever. We’re speed dating, not saying I do. If the practice doesn’t suit us, doesn’t make us feel better, we are free to toss it aside, no guilt, no recrimination.

4.  A sense of community

Challenges often have forums devoted to them, or other places you can find people participating in them. In addition, sometimes you can convince friends to join in a challenge with you. Knowing other people are working on the same thing you are brings a sense of community to the endeavor.

While some might prefer to do things on their own, it’s always nice to know you have other people to turn to: for advice, for support, for someone just to share stories with who will understand what you’re going through.

People with a support system almost always do better at nearly any task, because we as human beings need that sense of connection. Participating in a challenge, beyond just setting a goal, often comes with that built in support system. Which leads to #5.

5.  Accountability

Working through a challenge with a partner or a community gives you a built in accountability feature. Even announcing that you are doing a challenge, and committing to blogging about it, or posting updates on your progress on Twitter or Facebook, is a form of accountability.

While there has been some debate about the usefulness of stating goals and being held accountable, I think that for the purposes of a challenge it can do nothing but good. For the Gratitude Challenge, I have daily tasks I am supposed to accomplish. By saying I’m participating in it, everyone can see what they are, follow along if they wish, and I know people are waiting to see what I do for each.

Being accountable even to one person raises the chances that you will do something. No one likes to report in that they have failed to do what they said they would. Challenges which have some sort of accountability built in give you extra incentive to complete them. If you’re doing a challenge without that, I encourage you to find someone to do it with you, and be accountability partners as you go through the weeks of the challenge. You’ll find it both a lot more rewarding and fun, and a lot more successful!

Challenges can be a great way to try something new, to break an old habit or develop a new one.  They can push you to see the world in a different way, or make you take a step back and appreciate the life that you have. Whatever you’re looking for in your life, these days there is likely a challenge you can find to meet it.  If not, you can craft one for yourself in the form of a 21 or 30 Day Trial.

So, what challenge are you willing to take on in your life today?

[Photo credit: lululemon athletica ]

Related Posts


Share This

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge