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How to Challenge Yourself: 5 Strategies to Step Up Your Game


Did you grow up rolling your eyes at motivational posters that said things like “challenge yourself” next to some inspirational outdoor scenery? Yeah, me too. But once I got past the cheesy delivery, I came to realize that the outdated poster was actually giving me a piece of timeless life advice.

Challenging yourself is one of the best ways to grow as an individual and truly be able to live up to your full potential. If you don’t seek out challenges, life can quickly become boring and you may find yourself living with a sense of regret about what could have been.

This article will help you stop rolling your eyes at the cheesy “challenge yourself” poster and show you steps you can take today to put that motivational quote into action.

This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!

Why challenge in life is important

Can you imagine what life would be like if you decided to never change anything about the way you lived or how you think? It sounds awfully boring to me.

For me, challenging has become a critical value in my life because challenges keep life exciting. I get jazzed about taking on each day instead of living in existential dread because I’m working towards something meaningful to me.

Sometimes the challenge is seeing if I can get through the day on just one cup of coffee. But on a serious note, as a physical therapist, I try to always challenge myself to think outside the box and not always treat a particular diagnosis the exact same way because that’s how I’ve always done it.

And challenging yourself might be the key to taking care of your mental health. Research shows that when you challenge yourself, you activate portions of your brain that will help prevent anxiety and depression.

So if you want to feel alive each day and fight off mental despair, starting to challenge yourself just might be your ticket. 

How taking on challenges helps you succeed

If you want to experience success of any kind in life, you have to seek out challenges and develop the growth mindset that is necessary for challenging yourself.

  • You can’t grow in your career if you never try to improve yourself.
  • You can’t deepen your bond with your significant other or family members if you don’t challenge yourself to be vulnerable.
  • You can’t succeed financially if you don’t challenge yourself to understand the financial industry.

All forms of success demand that you take on a growth mindset and ditch the easy flat, predictable path.

A study in 2020 demonstrated this point as college students in science and engineering-based majors were more likely to succeed in their studies if they cultivated a growth mindset and became comfortable with the idea of being challenged.

And when you continue to challenge yourself, you start to crave the self-growth that accompanies the challenge. This creates a positive feedback loop that helps you to continually grow and develop into the person you know deep down you want to be.

5 ways to challenge yourself

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to challenging yourself, I’d first encourage you to really reflect on where you feel you are falling short because that often lends itself to some of the best actionable steps. But in the meantime, these 5 tips will help you jump-start your journey to becoming a challenge-loving enthusiast.

1. Ask for honest feedback

Dishonest feedback is usually far more pleasant for the ears. But it’s rare that when someone tells me what I want to hear it actually helps me grow as a human.

I find this one particularly helpful when it comes to my relationships and my career.

I will ask my husband where he feels like I could improve in our relationship. Sometimes I really don’t want to know the answer, but I ask the question anyway.

Getting honest feedback from people helps you identify exactly how you can improve as an individual. And it often needs to be a continual process, not just a one-time feedback extravaganza type of event.

Becoming open and seeking out feedback at home and at work has helped me challenge myself to become a better wife and a better co-worker, which just makes everyone a whole heck of a lot happier.

2. Set scary big goals

Do you want to be a billionaire? Do you want to open your own cookie shop that specializes in making cookies with glitter frosting instead of waking up and going into your 9-5?

If you’re like me, you typically respond to those types of questions by saying that you’d love that, but it’s not realistic. But why isn’t it realistic?

The reality is we limit ourselves by not ever taking the time to challenge ourselves with big goals.

I remember one year I set a goal to run a half marathon because I have always told myself the narrative that I’m not a runner. Now keep in mind at this point in my life, I had never run more than a mile or so.

I was able to meet that goal and picked up a running addiction in the process. But what was more important was the realization that I don’t challenge myself with goals that are large enough because I buy the lie that I’m not capable of achieving great things.

Maybe your big goal isn’t being a billionaire or having a cookie shop full of glitter-frosted cookies. But if you really want to challenge yourself, set goals that scare you and watch who you become in the process.

Here’s a great article that will help you keep on track with your goals.

3. Don’t settle for what you already know

We live in a world that is constantly changing and what you thought you knew yesterday may not be true today. But that’s what makes things fun and spicy.

Learning and cultivating an attitude of curiosity about all things is an excellent way to challenge yourself.

I am constantly trying to learn new things in the field of physical therapy because what I learned in grad school is already outdated. It’s uncomfortable to learn new things sometimes because I’m comfortable with my old techniques and familiar clinical decisions. But that’s not fair to my patients.

Even outside of the workplace, I am constantly trying to better understand the world and recently geopolitics. There are so many things I really don’t know.

But I want to be an active participant in my life and be constantly challenging myself to learn more so I can be the best Ashley possible at the end of the day.

4. Take a break from social media  

If this one makes you cringe, don’t worry. I’m not asking you to break up with social media forever.

But I am asking you to take a break from it because if you’re like me, you lose the ability to use social media intentionally. And this results in coming home from work and endlessly scrolling until your mind is numb and you have a strange pain in your thumb.

So while taking a break from social media may feel like the way that you are challenging yourself, I’m actually asking you to do this so that you can reconnect with yourself to identify how you can be better.

When you give yourself the headspace to think your own thoughts and not constantly be influenced by external sources, you can revive some of your passions and realize you have more time than you think to pursue that challenge that you’ve been putting off.

5. Get good at expressing your needs

I am so good at putting on a poker face it’s not even funny. So the idea of expressing my personal needs and feelings is not exactly easy for me.

But sometimes challenging yourself looks like advocating for what you need and expressing your feelings, so you can stop pretending that you’re doing fine when you’re not.

A few years back, I hit a really rough patch in my life where I lost my pizazz and sense of hope. And what was wild is that those closest to me had no clue because I was so good at hiding it.

When I finally expressed my real emotions and concerns, I was able to get the counseling I desperately needed and I realized that you have to be willing to communicate with others to get your needs met.

Being vulnerable like that is beyond challenging for me. But it’s a challenge worth taking because it’s necessary for helping our relationships with ourselves and others thrive. 

Here’s an article on how to be more open and let people in if you want to get a headstart.

Wrapping up

At the end of the day, you don’t have to appreciate the cheesy challenge-based motivational posters if you don’t want to. But if you want to experience all that life has to offer and avoid mental despair, you might be wise to heed their advice. Because when you challenge yourself, you come to realize that challenges are kind of addicting and you’re never too old to level up.

What’s your favorite way to challenge yourself? What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome recently? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Ashley Bunting portrait

Ashley Kaiser

Writer

Physical therapist, writer, and outdoor enthusiast from Arizona. Self-proclaimed dark chocolate addict and full-time adrenaline junkie. Obsessed with my dog and depending on the day my husband, too.


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