When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone and really pushed yourself to the limits? While this may sound a bit unnerving – and certainly tiring – taking on a personal challenge can be great for the mind, and the body. Even if you don’t manage to achieve your goal, setting out with a clear aim in mind could be all you need to discover more about yourself, learn new skills, and really see what you can do.
Credit: Jon Tyson
Why challenge yourself?
Challenging yourself can be seen as a natural progression of something you’ve probably been doing since childhood: risky play. As children, we’re encouraged to experience ‘risky play’; we learn and gain a sense of achievement through uncertainty and unpredictability, while still playing in a safe and familiar environment. Think about how children discover they can climb out of their crib, or whizz down a slide… it’s all risky play. As we get older, we choose not to put ourselves in these situations. Instead, we much prefer to play it safe – but staying within our safety bubble can prevent us from further developing our sense of self, and from understanding more of what we’re capable of, mentally and physically.
Of course, as adults we already know how to climb out of cribs and slide down slides, so challenging yourself is about finding new ways to enjoy risky play. For some people, this becomes a way of life. As British triathlete Alistair Brownlee says, ‘I’d rather have three or four cracking years of winning stuff than having 10 years of being average’. So why not challenge yourself to learn new talents?
Who’s doing it?
Who isn’t? Celebrities are certainly leading the way here and showing us just how it’s done. Davina McCall and Jo Brand have both put themselves through the paces in aid of Sport Relief (Davina swimming, running, and cycling 500 miles across the UK, and Jo making a very respectable attempt at walking 150 miles coast-to-coast), while Cheryl Cole has climbed Kilimanjaro in the name of Comic Relief.
Credit: Matt Cannon
At a time when more and more people are taking the easy route with high intensity interval training (HIIT), which claims you can give your body the workout it needs in as little as 3 minutes, it’s good to know that personal challenges which encourage people to push themselves further are still going strong. After all, exercise isn’t just about physical fitness; it’s about mental health, too. Experts say that physical activity causes chemical changes in the brain, reducing the risk of depression and anxiety, and boosting self esteem through the knowledge that you have the ability to rise to the challenge, whatever it may be.
Types of challenges
From walking and running to skydiving and bungee jumping, there are plenty of ways to challenge yourself and try something new. Pushing yourself in a more informal setting is easier today than ever before, thanks to technologies like fitness trackers that allow you to try and increase your step count each day, or meet a specific step goal. You could also choose to sign up to one of the country’s annual events, such as the London Marathon, the Three Peaks Challenge, or the Great North Swim.
If you want something more ‘official’, how about challenging yourself while also raising money for a charity or other good cause? If you decide to take on a charity challenge, you could be helping to transform lives by providing essential funding for new research, while also increasing awareness for these causes. At the same time, you’ll be having fun, meeting new people, and seeing what you can do!
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