From Whom Did You Learn To Challenge Yourself?

Recently this question was posed/emailed to me by my friend Todd:

“From whom did you learn to challenge yourself?”

First, What is challenge?

Check the definition over at Challenge

I believe that “challenging yourself” is different than “being challenged”

There is a difference between internal vs external when it comes to the inner monologue.

Let’s break down the question here: “from whom” (an external person) and “challenge yourself” (an internal declaration)

The short answer:

  • The mirror

Why the mirror?

In the martial art that I study(Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu – The Boston Martial Arts Center) there is a mirror that stands on the Kamiza.

(“The kagami mirror symbolizes a stainless heart, pure in its reflection of “what is” “- From the website of Stephen K Hayes)

The mirror is out of reach and takes some effort to look into (unless you are really tall, but it’s out of reach on purpose, you must raise yourself to look in it).

One thing I heard over and over again in the dojo was, and I am paraphrasing a bit, is that one “must polish the mirror constantly”.

I paid it no mind in the beginning mainly because I was young and didn’t understand what it meant.

Looking back I realize that I didn’t have anything to “polish”.

  • No real confidence
  • No sense of self worth
  • No direction for the future
  • Nothing to give back to the world. I was only taking and felt it was my right to do so.

I was hanging onto the coat tails of others. Afraid to make my own way in the world and desperately wanted to be swept away with others successes because I didn’t know how to make my own. I had no real guides in my life, or rather I refused to see them or surround myself with the right guides.

I refused to challenge myself.

Why? I have only excuses. I was bullied, I didn’t get into the college of my choice, I didn’t get the athletic scholarship I dreamed about, I didn’t get the girl of my dreams, I chickened out of joining the military, I was not as smart as my friends, I was not as strong as my friends. The list goes on.

It becomes a domino effect, one refusal of a challenge turns into another and another until there’s no reason to even try anymore.

Why even go into these excuses at all?

These were the things the mirror showed me when I looked into it. There were a lot of things I wanted but didn’t do anything to get them. I never committed to a course of action. I left it up to the universe to provide to me.

The bigger the list the farther away from that mirror you want to be.

The only answer to banish these demons is get closer to the mirror. To challenge your fear of yourself.

That’s what I did, I got closer to the mirror and looked myself in the eyes and I didn’t like a lot of what I saw.

What did I learn?

Since I learned how to challenge myself from myself then what did I have to teach myself and what did I learn?

Here are some things:

  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable – Change is hard. In order to escape a comfortable orbit you need to generate a ton of force. Start with small things.
  • Be decisive – Make a choice! I suffer from paralysis of analysis I made progress by limiting myself to a timeline of making choices. If I can’t make up my mind in 30 seconds I probably am not going in the right direction
  • Actively choose your path in life – don’t be the cork in the storm but the captain directing the ship.
  • If it scares you to do it you are going in the right direction – The bigger the challenge, the bigger the fear, and the bigger the respect you will gain for yourself.
  • Engage in only activities that bring you in the direction you want to go – sometimes the path isn’t straight but keeping a goal on the horizon will help straighten it out.
  • Surround yourself with people that offer encouragement – many may offer encouragement only a few will actually believe with their heart what you are doing, hold onto them, they will brighten the darkness when it comes.
  • Speak positively and avoid gossip – Negativity and gossip have a way of creating doubt and creating cracks in your “mirror”. Avoid both at all costs. Shut up and train. Bring others up and let your actions speak for you.
  • Exercise the Body and mind – Work out consistently to get strong and read a lot. A strong body will lead you to a strong sense of confidence. There is nothing like pulling 3x your body weight off the floor using the deadlift to prove to yourself that you are a bad MoFo. You need to prove to yourself that you are strong. I also find when things are tough thats when I need to read the most. A trick I learned from Zack even-Esh. One thing I started to do was read biographies. I started with Ben Franklin. New problems are always old problems. Learn from those that came before you.

These were some things I gathered through my travels.

They were mainly influenced through my experiences in the dojo and lots and lots of reading and experimenting with myself and my attitude around others.

This blog was also born from me challenging myself. I asked myself “who am I to be a full time trainer”? Who am I to put my thoughts onto paper and onto the internet?

The answer I gave myself was “Who am I not to do these things?” It was important to me to Create something to give back to others. A quote from the dojo that helped me gain perspective with process was, and I am paraphrasing again with my own words: “we are given a seed, you can keep that seed in your pocket and admire it or you can plant it, nurture it and grow something”

Things I do everyday to maintain my challenge?

Upon waking up look in the mirror – It’s too easy to just start our routine and forget about ourselves. Start with you.

Read an affirmation – I make sure I read an affirmation twice a day to remind myself of where I am going. You can write your own (Arnold Schwarzenegger was famous for doing this) or borrow one like me.

I personally read Musashi’s 9 rules from the Book of Five Rings Upon waking and before sleeping.  My wife made it into a poster for me years ago.

It’s mainly number 9 that gets me everyday and helps me create my challenge for the day:

1. Do not think dishonestly.

2. The Way is in training.

3. Become acquainted with every art.

4. Know the Ways of all professions.

5. Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.

6. Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything.

7. Perceive those things which cannot be seen.

8. Pay attention even to trifles.

9. Do nothing which is of no use.

I also ask myself some questions through out the day when making choices:

Is what I am doing moving me closer to my goal?

Am I doing something that scares me?

Recently I also came across a new question from the Art of Manliness Blog:

The 10-Year Rule

“The 10-year rule is a simple algorithm for determining what you should do when you’re seeking out adventure. Basically, whenever you are presented with a choice, ask yourself which option you would prefer to have taken in ten years.”

This is a new question for me to ponder. I am currently using this one in relation to my business and evaluating the answers I give to it. We will see where it brings me.

What about You?

Are you asking yourself these questions?

What are some of your own questions?

What are your answers?

Are you challenging yourself or being challenged by others?

Let me know in the comments.

P.S. This blog post is unfinished as are my thoughts on many of these subjects. My goal on writing blog posts is not to self edit them. Life and our perspectives change constantly. Do not let yourself get stuck on words. Go out and experience the world.

Further inspiration:


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