If you have been following the blog and/or podcast, we have hopefully made it clear that we do not have all of the answers. Strong Towers was birthed out of a desire for the three of us to come alongside each other, and bring along some friends as we make our way on this crazy journey called life. A journey Jon, Mike, and I are still very much in the middle of. Case in point, our men’s group recently took the chance to do an extended check-in, with each of the guys individually, across a variety of life categories. And if I’m being honest, my scores in each of the categories were abysmal. I hadn’t been doing a good job of taking care of myself physically, mentally, or emotionally. I was pretty down about my career, felt burdened by not doing enough for my family, and thought that I couldn’t afford what I know I see as the selfish luxury of “me time.” To top it off, regardless of the various ways in which I was trying to plug in, I also felt very disconnected spiritually. It was to the point where each column seemed to feed on the others, creating a death spiral that seemed impossible to get out of. I was not the only guy in the group that was struggling in a number of the categories we reported on. Maybe you can relate.
As we wrapped up Season 1 of the podcast in the spring, we spent a lot of time talking about the importance of challenge in our lives. Yes, we definitely encounter challenging situations and things that make life seem harder than it needs to be. But we also need to be challenged in order to stimulate growth and keep us moving onto the next chapter of our story. As Tony Robbins famously quipped - “If you’re not growing, you are dying.” In the episode on physical challenge, our friend Nathan Bramblett hit on the essence of why we need to challenge ourselves - to build character and perseverance and to train for the hard situations that will undoubtedly come up. (That was a great conversation, by the way find it here if you haven't listened to that episode yet!)
I had definitely been encountering any number of tough situations, and I relayed to the guys that it felt like I just needed to score a win, any win, to start experiencing something of a turn around. But at the same time, I really hadn’t been doing anything to challenge myself, to build up the “muscles” used in conquering tough situations. A bunch of opportunities have come up in the last month or so for me to do exactly that, and like we frequently mentioned in the Challenge episodes, it is unsurprising how they are all meshing together across different facets of my life.
So here is a little update on how I’ve been embracing the need for challenge. Hopefully this can re-inspire you to push forward into something more as well…
I finally started going to the gym again. Man, it’s been a long time! Years, actually. Sure, I did some races in between, but even the most recent of those was Ragnar a year ago. I injured myself training for and running in that race, and I had allowed that (and other things) to be an excuse to stay on the couch. Getting back into the gym has been a humbling experience (Jon likes to say its hard when the 38 year old brain remembers the feeling of what the 25 year old body could do), but at the same time it has been great. A few weeks in, and I can see improvements already, both in my workouts and in other areas of life. Big shoutout to the 0530 warriors at Adrenaline Bootcamp!
My son is also really chomping at the bit to get out and do some runs with his dad, so I am looking forward to the general improvement in my physical condition helping me to finish rehabbing my knee so we can enjoy doing that together.
One of the other things that has been nice about getting up early to hit the gym is that I have some time between finishing a workout and needing to be at the office. This “free” time has created space for me to focus on getting my quiet times, which has typically been a struggle for me. I’m reading through a year-long devotional and doing a topical Bible study, and I’m praying more. We have also just started a new discipleship curriculum at church, and I am looking forward to digging deep into that during my gym mornings. Since I’m already up and the blood is pumping after a workout, my urge to hit snooze and tell myself that “parents with young kids never get enough sleep” is (almost) entirely gone.
Another “challenge” that I have stepped into is something a mentor has dubbed the Positivity Game. The intent is to build a habit of positive self-talk in order to circumvent the repeated, and often loud, lies that we hear, say, and believe about ourselves by replacing them with truth. In our faith community, these would be specific things that God has called you or said about you. Take a list of about 10 truths and repeat it to yourself, out loud, four times each day. Standing in front of a mirror really helps with the hearing of the truth, not just the speaking of it. If you plan to do it before meals and before bed, you naturally get pretty consistent reminders to tell yourself the truth, even if you don’t feel like it. (I will admit that I am cheating a little bit, and set reminders on my phone as well). The goal is to be able to recite the list, 4 times a day, for 21 consecutive days. If you miss one repetition, the day count starts over. There is some evidence that 21 days is just about the amount of time it takes to create a new habit, or replace the negative self-talk with the positive. Which leads to...
This one is a little more subtle for me at the moment. It's not like I’ve picked up a new Soduko habit or something. But, there is a lot of overlap with the first two categories, since both are requiring me to work on my mental fortitude somewhat, and that is not an easy task. In previous seasons of getting back into a training regimen after an extended time off, it always seemed to me that my mental endurance was one of the last things to be built up. And I can very easily fall prey to the lowest common mental denominator - choosing to flip on the TV or scroll mindlessly through my phone, rather than engage in more mentally challenging activities.
There are two things I am doing to stimulate some dreaming and mental stretching, if not exertion. First, I finally picked up Timothy Ferriss’ book “The 4-Hour Workweek,” which is not new, but at least new to me. I’ll blame the past 13 years as a public school teacher for my lack of imagination on what “working” could really mean. While I may not be ready to pull the trigger on some of Ferriss’ ideas quite yet, the book has at least given me a lot to think and dream about in terms of what my occupational future could potentially look like. Second, I am considering building a wooden boat. I know that sounds ridiculous to a lot of people, but it’s not all that far-fetched given my experiences with boat building - like a degree and an apprenticeship. That mental challenge is more in the planning stages for now, but if it ever goes beyond that there will certainly be head-scratchers aplenty to keep my brain active and growing. Now to convince my wife that we need a boat…
I mentioned in the podcast last week that my wife an I are diving into some uncharted territory. We are actually in a very good place in our marriage, and I think it's stronger than it has ever been, in large part due the season that we have been through together over the last 18 months, in challenging some of the underlying realities in our lives. The irony is that the heights that we are at seem to be bringing into sharper focus some of the things that have been unhealthy in our relationship and have been hanging around for a really long time. Things that I did which hurt her, and her me, all the way back to high school. Things from before we were even together, where the way we each learned to do things (or protect ourselves) rub up against the hurt places in the other.
And even though things are mostly good most of the time, it seems to be the times that aren’t become the times that we zero in on. And in those instances, there are really two choices: push away or push in. And so we’re pushing in, even though it hurts and pushing away (or burying it) seems like the “safer” of the two choices. But we aren’t doing it in isolation either. We have both been very open with our group of friends about what we’re struggling with, and we have come together to seek wisdom and guidance from older couples with a few more miles to their relationship than we have. The upside is we know that even though things are good, they can be that much better. So we continue to make the decision to engage and grow.
Maybe that sounds like a lot. Maybe it is. To me, it has all happened kind of organically, and the pieces seem to fit together. It feels almost like a re-awakening, like my life has been reinvigorated. I know it will certainly not be all smooth sailing, because it wouldn’t be a challenge if it was easy. But there is a lot of growth that's happening (sometimes slowly and painfully) that I wouldn’t get to experience otherwise. And on the other side of it all, I will be that much more prepared for what comes next. That will be challenging in its own way too.
So take up the challenge, even if it is just in one area of your life. Where can you step out of the easy, the status quo, and chase after something more? I can pretty much guarantee that it won’t be a smooth path, but I can also guarantee it will be worth it.