Challenge Yourself

I have a friend who loves to hike. She lives in an area surrounded by the kind of scenery most of us only read about in books, and every few weeks I see her post about her latest hike on Facebook. It fills me with envy. I may live in one of the most beautiful states in the country, but I feel far-removed from the kind of scenery that you see in the Pure Michigan calendars. So I’m not as inspired as she is to go for a hike. But from my spot in a comfy armchair, the idea of tromping around outdoors for hours at a time actually sounds like a lot of fun. (I’m not sure I’d find it so fun if I was actually doing it though.) However, if you were to ask her, she’d probably tell you that she doesn’t hike for the scenery. It’s just a bonus. She hikes because she loves the challenge. She loves the feel of the wind on her face, her lungs and legs burning from exertion, and that moment when she reaches the top of the hill, looks back at the path she just took and feels like she really accomplished something. That exhilaration is enough to drive her legs all the way back down.

In taking those hikes, in conquering mountains and trails, my friend has discovered something that many of us may have considered, but few of us embrace. She has realized that you and I¬†weren’t made to sit still. We were created to challenge ourselves and grow.

I know what some of you may be thinking, because I’ve thought it myself. The day-to-day of life is already enough of a challenge. I get it. In fact, there are days when I wish life was a little bit less of a challenge. When my to-do list extends off the page and people keep adding to it, I long for a quiet afternoon, a good book and a comfy couch. And after my fifth doctor’s appointment in a single month, I start dreaming of a hot bath, candles, and some soothing music. And while I often find it incredibly hard to relax (especially with the aforementioned to-do list looming over me), I do understand that relaxing is integral to our survival.

I also understand that we can’t relax our way to happiness. An afternoon of doing nothing may be a blessing after a busy week, but if we sit too long, we stagnate. Like a pond with no outlet, if we don’t introduce new experiences and growth into our lives, we become murky and muddy and unhealthy. That’s because we were made to change and grow. We were made to explore and learn and pursue purpose.

Do you ever feel like a hamster running on its wheel, constantly going but getting nowhere? That’s the kind of culture our modern world has cultivated. There are a million things for us to do (and post about on Facebook) every day, but few of these actually feed our souls and leave us feeling the sense of accomplishment that inspires continued growth. Yet, if you’re anything like me, most days we’re caught up in running on our wheels to nowhere and we continue a cycle that leaves us feeling empty, unhappy and like we’re missing something.

That’s because we are missing something. We are a stagnating pond, wondering why our lives stink. And without an outlet, without fresh, flowing water, nothing moves, nothing changes, and we become murky, muddy, and unhappy.

If doing what you’ve always done isn’t making you happy, perhaps it’s time to challenge yourself to do something new. We have a wide open world of opportunities for challenge and change, we just have to open our eyes to what’s right in front of us. You don’t have to hike through the mountains or start a new business or run a marathon to challenge yourself. There are so many options, big and small, to introduce the kind of life-giving challenge you’ve been missing.

Some little things you can do:

  • Read a news story about a subject you know nothing about. It may open your eyes to something new and challenge you to learn more.
  • Turn off your phone and take a walk through your neighborhood every night. Not only are you doing something to improve your health, you might meet new neighbors or get acquainted with old ones.
  • Learn a new word every day. Flip through a dictionary (or visit dictionary.com, which has a handy “word of the day” feature), and memorize a new word and its meaning, then try to use it at least once that day.
  • Do something nice for a total stranger every day for a week, expecting nothing in return.
  • Find a recipe online and make it, from scratch. (And if you bake a sugar-free cake, send a slice my way!)

Bigger challenges that take a little more effort:

  • Write down a list of your hopes and dreams and then make at least one of them into a goal. Create a plan, including detailed steps for how you can achieve that goal, then start pursuing it.
  • Learn a new language.
  • Start saving up for that trip you’ve always wanted to take or that guitar you’ve always wanted to learn how to play.
  • Take up a new hobby – biking, knitting, scrapbooking, running, baking… the options are endless.
  • Find a DIY project and then actually do it. I recently painted a coffee table and I get a smile on my face every time I pass it, knowing that I took something old and turned it into something new.
  • Take a class. Whether you want to hone a skill you already have or learn something completely new, it’s easier than ever to learn. You can enroll in an online course or just explore the massive library of how-to videos on YouTube to improve your skills or learn new ones.

There are so many benefits to learning and challenging yourself. As you grow, you’ll find increased confidence, less boredom and dissatisfaction, more¬†motivation and even improved relationships. You may even find your passion and purpose along the way.

“The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” (Proverbs 18:15)

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