I was burning through a fitness blender recently followed by blistering 4:30 minute half mile intervals (ha ha) and it occurred to me that I don’t want things to be easy. When I frame things up within an “embrace the challenge” mindset not only can I change most habits, but I actually enjoy the experience more.

Specifically for me at this juncture I recognized that I am just not happy when it’s too easy. I don’t want to just hang out at the beach.

Fully Engaged

There is a tremendous pleasure in taking on a really difficult project and seeing it to completion.  Most people have heard of the concept of Flow, but not as many have read the wonderful book Finding Flow, by psychologist Csichzentmihalyi.

embrace the challengeIn this book he alerts us to the remarkable finding that people self report that they are happiest while in the midst of work. Later, however, when asked to report what activities they believe will make them happy, they say they prefer to sit and watch something, or hang out and relax.

But, they don’t actually report the same level of satisfaction while in the real-time leisure activity.

It makes sense, right?

We are happiest when fully engaged.  When our intentions, goals and motivations are aligned and we are focused.

But we are sold this idea that we need to be relaxing.

Who sells this idea? Everyone who can make money if you choose to watch cable, drink beer, or make Netflix binge watching the destination.

Every now and again that’s a fun thing to do because it’s a contrast to a purposeful life.

(Coincidentally right now I am hanging out at the beach and it’s lovely, but it’s just one day and I read a great book.)

I’m working on getting fitter right now. There is no focus on weight or even health, although that’s good, but actual fitness.

Why?  Working hard is wonderful, while I’m working and immediately after. I may dread it just before, or mimic the idea that working is to be avoided, but the truth is I tend to embrace this challenge.

It would be great to increase my capacity to train hard at this point in my life.

Recently I read the book by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness called Peak Perfomance.

The important nugget in the book is their growth equation:


Throughout the book they redefine stress and rest and growth for us.  As a result I have redefined them for myself as well.

What is stress?

Reframe stress as a challenge. Challenges are good for us physically as well as mentally.

Put yourself out at the edge of your ability and work on getting better. Embrace the challenge. When I chug around the block at a 4:30 minute half mile pace that is a challenge for me especially by the third interval. I hope in the near future that I’ll be discussing a 4 minute pace, but I’m not right now.

When I hit publish on a blog post that is stress for me right now. What will people think? Did I write it well enough? Tell too much? Too little?

This is where I have to dig deep into my Stephen Pressfield mindset and hit publish. (Of course he also says people don’t want to read your shit….)

What is rest?

embrace the challengeWell, it’s not just sitting on my butt.  (Of course it can be at times) I like the example in the book of the Norwegian cross country skiers.  On their rest days they ski. Very slowly.  I’ve started to adopt this for myself.  On my rest days I go for slow contemplative walks in the woods.

I get a lot of steps on my fitbit, but at a super slow pace.

You can take this philosophy and apply it beyond sports. I am thinking about this now in terms of work.

The book covers much more ground than this when discussing rest.

What is growth?

This is such a good question. We know objectively what growth is in many ways. If you hit a personal best or your team wins a championship that is an obvious sign of growth. But what if it leads to burn out? Or can’t be sustained?

What if you never win, but the actual effort is satisfying? Is that growth?

What if it leads to excellence in something else, or deep insight? What if you win, but the joy has dissipated?

These are all important questions. In the book the authors are trying to help us reach higher levels without burning out. That is an incredibly valuable taks and important for each of us professionals and amateurs alike.

There are also natural endings or ascensions in life. Sometimes we are just done with an activity and ready for the next one.

This is also growth and requires of us the wisdom to move forward.


embrace the challenge
Marcia McDermott

Marcia McDermott

Former college and national team athlete who made a career coaching college, pro and international level. Now I coach the coach and am committed to coaches and leaders building high performance teams.