The right challenge is the yin to your yang. I don’t know about you, but I’m not enjoying life if I don’t have something challenging that I’m working towards. When my goals push me to the limits, I know that I’m not selling myself short. Anything less than that, and it’s hard to be sure that I’m getting the most out of life, or at least trying to.
You fail when it’s easy and succeed when it’s hard because you want to:
(a) make a unique contribution to the world, and you can only do that if you sincerely push yourself.
(b) You want to enjoy the moment, and the right challenge helps you do just that. On the other hand, it’s boring to take the easy route. When you’re bored, you aren’t as engaged, and you pay less attention to detail.
In other words, you get the biggest payoff when you go big, and are the most prone to failure when you play it safe.
Why Challenging Yourself is Instantly Rewarding
Flow State is a concept that Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed in 1975 that eventually became his seminal book, Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience. According to Mihaly, Flow is the secret to happiness. It revolves around the concept of superfluidity: a highly focused mental state where you’re able to block out all distractions.
Flow state is the experience of being challenged in a way that pushes you to your limits without making you discouraged. According to studies, people aren’t happier because of having more money (at least so long as they’re above the poverty line). They’re happier because of the percentage of time they spend in Flow.
When I was working in the ambulance as an EMT, I was on the clock for 12 hours until 4:30 in the morning. I loathed the slow nights because I knew I’d be bored out of my mind and not learn a thing. Busy nights, however, I loved. They’d go by in a flash, and it was fun to push myself to make fast decisions and help the people who needed it. Plus, I could feel myself improving and getting stronger in my medical knowledge.
When you’re forced to dig deep and use your full set of skills, you feel empowered to do even greater things. Regardless of the goals that you think you have, the real trophy is to spend as much time being happy as possible before you die. That’s what flow state has to offer.
When you’re using your expertise to push yourself, you feel invigorated, and that motivates you to focus intensely on the task at hand. This is when you have the opportunity to do your best work. Imagine that you’re playing catch. What’s more fun? To stand 10 ft in front of your friend and make easy passes? Or to run, jump, and slide as your partner leads you from 30 yards away? I could do the second all day long.
The bottom line?
A challenge makes you feel alive and primes you to crush your goals, so if you want to enjoy life as much as you can, the answer is clear: PUSH YOURSELF.
You Want to Leave a Legacy
Enjoying the moment is fine and dandy, but where’s the proof that you’ve lived a great life? That’s the thought that lingers in the back of your head as the years pass on by, and it’s the reason why many of us feel the need to accomplish great things. Your ego plays some role in you wanting to feel significant, but you also might just want to make the world a better place. Improving your community you can be part of your legacy. Either way, you prefer that you do more than just tread lightly and die.
Making an impact means affecting the people around you. Those people are then more likely to miss you when you’re gone, and let’s face it; you want to be missed. We all want to be missed. It’s part of human nature.
I get anxious whenever too many days go by without making progress towards my big goals. When I do nothing but errands for 3-days straight, I get antsy to get back to the grind.
It’s good to feel better when you’re pushing yourself. At the very least, you know that you’re not wasting time and letting life pass you by (bonus points if you’re having a positive impact on the people around you).
The future is always uncertain, but the present doesn’t have to be as long as you’re working hard and enjoying yourself. Nothing’s more fun than setting a goal, developing a skill, and pushing yourself to leave a mark on the world. Being surrounded by so many luxuries these days, it’s easy to confuse comfort with satisfaction, but it isn’t in your genes to just kick back and relax your whole life. You exist because your ancestors were willing to fight for their survival. Today, your struggle is less harsh. When you work hard, your basic needs are taken care of pretty easily, and the majority of your effort can go into having fun and helping others. So take advantage of it! Once you’re immersed in flow state with something you care about, there’ll be no turning back.
- Investigating the activities and job characteristics that predict flow states at work.
- Brain activity during the flow experience: a functional near-infrared spectroscopy study.