Becoming Your Greatest Self Can Only Happen Inside the Arena

It is easy—almost inevitable really—to eventually get stuck in a rut. It is simple to quit, to give up, to admit defeat. It takes no Herculean will or brave conviction to cut corners, to give something less than 100%. What’s wrong with easing one’s foot off the pedal a little? Partial effort is still more than nothing, after all.

And then you wonder where the results are.

Where’s my return on investment, you ask. To generate a return, first you have to invest. And that means challenging yourself.

Here’s why, and here’s how.

Why You Should EMBRACE ChallengeS

One reason to self-challenge is to learn more about you, of course. Who are you—no, really? What are you capable of, actually, when you push excuses aside? Above all, what can you become?

More than you think, that much we guarantee.

Only when you approach your true limits can you understand yourself; the search for these boundaries can be any combination of riveting, enlightening, and terrifying. Seeking challenge means facing the demand from your body to quit—the legs beg to stop spinning, the hands to stop punching, you can’t possibly run another step—and either ignoring the plea or outright denouncing it: “You will keep moving, body, and that is final.”

Amazingly, you keep going. A well-challenged mind knows that the body will always underestimate its capacity for suffering. The body cannot be trusted to determine failure; the mind must dictate what is in fact impossible.

Which is hardly anything at all.

“It sometimes feels like we have nothing left to give,” writes Angela Duckworth, a renowned psychology professor and researcher, in her masterpiece Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. “And yet, in those dark and desperate moments, we find that if we just keep putting one foot in front of the other, there is a way to accomplish what all reason seems to argue against.”

It is human nature to limit our own ambition, for within the realm of possibilities lie an overwhelming amount of paths to take, and no shortage of uncharted territory to trail-blaze through, either. The easy path—one which is soft and gentle and familiar—may offer a comfortable and predictable journey, but it will not provide a satisfactory destination. In fact it is a common, self-chosen doom.

Lest we forget the wise words of William Wallace, who cut to the heart of the matter in observing that “every man dies but not every man really lives.” Are we really here now, apex predators at the pinnacle of our planet’s civilization, to half-ass things? Did our ancient ancestors endure tremendous struggle just so we might die of boredom among creature comforts?

The rewards of pushing your limits are rich. They come in many forms: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and even financial. Almost none of these rewards are apt to appear in meaningful quantities as a consequence of laziness or lethargy. The opposite is more likely—a sullen, sinking and perhaps even crippling feeling of wasted time, lost opportunities, and unrealized potential.

As for the risks? Former American president Teddy Roosevelt has pointed out with eloquence that the true risk lies in avoiding challenge. Those who challenge their own capabilities “at best know the trump of high achievement, and who at worst fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with this cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Without risk, no reward. No effort, no reward. No investment, no return. Get it yet? We all know this… but somehow we forget it, or maybe we simply push the concept aside when convenient.

In the words of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” You shoot, you score. Or maybe not, but how else can you know? Just because a goaltender is minding the net, doesn’t mean you don’t try. Play the sport. And when you do, go for the win.

Veering outside of comfort zones is an effective method to discover the possibilities of yourself. Again, no one else can do that for you. Finish a workout with a completely empty tank. Go to bed with absolutely nothing left on the table. Then wake up ready to do it all again—only better.

How long can you last? What may come of it?

One day, a new human looks back at you in the mirror. A better, truer you. Stronger, inside and out—a layer of grit, a shield of confidence, and a mind that hungers for more: “What’s next?”

First Start. Then Finish.

If you find yourself thinking that something is too hard and are tempted to quit, you “might enter a vicious cycle that reinforces giving up,” according to Duckworth. In Grit, she warns that you “might learn to give up one thing after another, each time missing the opportunity to enter the virtuous cycle of struggle, followed by process, followed by confidence to try something even harder.”

So, first: find a challenge. Complete it at all costs—do not quit. Then find another.

You already know what you’re good at; the challenge there has passed. Therefore begin with a weakness. What do you suck at? Be honest.

Better yet, what have you failed at—what have you quit before that you can return to and conquer with a new mindset? Perception is a salient component of reality. Adjust your lens and you can alter your own reality.

Place yourself in a situation where failure has stakes. Succeed and realms of possibility open up. Overcoming obstacles you didn’t think you could at first is like a “trust fall” exercise for your own command of life. Handle the risk to reap the reward as deserved.

Do not sit on the sideline of your own life and negatively judge the look of difficult paths. Are you not capable? Do you not want what is at the end of the path, what glory is rightfully yours should you only summon the courage to claim it?

As Roosevelt noted, it is not the critic who counts: “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”

Step into the arena.

We look forward to seeing you, champion.