The Challenge Mindset

“A life without challenge, a life without hardship, a life without purpose, seems pale and pointless. With challenge come perseverance and gumption. With hardship come resilience and resolve. With purpose come strength and understanding.”

Terry Fallis

I love a good challenge.

It’s what drew me to triathlon.
It’s what keeps me in triathlon.
It’s what gets me out of bed and through the toughest days and turns the downright daunting to exciting.

Three weeks ago, I completed a challenge I set myself 6 weeks before, to ride 200km. No monster cycle as they go (I’ve seen people doing 300, and even 400km rides as Covid challenges, not to mention Everesting…) but a challenge nonetheless. I needed something to work towards, something to look forward to, something to chase in the absence of a race.

It worked, the excitement of the prospect of doing something I hadn’t before and the sense of a looming adventure as the 200km was also a loop that I’d wanted to do for quite some time, bled through into all the other aspects of my training, and then through to the rest of my life. I regained a bit of purpose after having everything I had looked towards for 2020 splattered against the wall.

From next to no motivation to train at all I found myself eager for the next day’s training. For the build, for the challenge. The kilometers I was banking up were stepping stones towards a goal.

The 200km was epic, and I loved every moment. It was long, very long, but not for a second did I question myself why. If I’d just been told to go out and ride that far, there’s a chance I probably would. (Then again going adventuring on my bike is pretty much my all-time favourite thing to do so I’d probably jump at it, but we’ll stick with questioning for the sake of my point here…). Because it was a challenge I’d set myself, it was something I’d chosen to do. I’d worked up to it, I’d looked forward to it, I even felt a touch nervous about it the day before! I had the biggest, stupidist, cheesiest grin on my face all the way. Even when I lost feeling in my fingers because the temperature dropped as I headed out west. Even when I started to feel a bit shaky around the 120km mark. Even when I hit a headwind riding uphill to Uralla. Because I was completing my challenge.

Now not all challenges are as pleasant as others; some you eagerly seek out, some are thrust upon you.

During this time I was faced with swimming in an ever colder dam.
When the lock-down began in March I headed home to Armidale, and commenced swimming in Dumaresq Dam. The water temperature was a balmy 18 degrees but winter was on it’s way and I really had no idea how long I would be able to last swimming in the dam. My original estimate was about a month or so; I thought I’d be doing well if I made it through until May.

The first month was fine, pleasant even (except for the aforementioned lack of motivation) but then the first frosts hit and it was starting to get a bit nippy. I got a neoprene skullcap, some gloves, and some booties, and just kept swimming. The longer I kept at it, the more it became another challenge to me. It wasn’t always pleasant, sometimes it was wicked, like the morning it snowed and was blowing 30kmph winds, some days I even thought myself mad!

The thermos and the hotwater bottle started becoming necessities in the car to combat the “afterdrop” of my body temperature after I got out of the water. The pools started to open up in QLD, but only outdoor pools in NSW.
With only a week left before the indoor pools were set to open I came so close to calling it and telling my coach it was just too cold. I’d pretty much made it through the whole lockdown without stopping swimming, I was close enough that really one week or so out of the water would be neither here nor there once I got back in the pool. I couldn’t sell myself short though, the challenge had kept me going, and by this point, had well and truly sucked me in. Each day that week I just got into the water, not knowing if I’d get through the whole prescribed 3km, but of course I did, because I just couldn’t not.

In my final week of swimming in the dam, we took out a thermometer to measure the temperature. A chilling 10.8°C. Now, depending on whether you are from sunny QLD or, if swim glove reviews on Wiggle are anything to go by, Scotland (or you’re my younger sister (who would incidentally like to think she’s at least a little bit Scottish anyway)), you’ll either think that’s bonkers-barmy-mad or not even wetsuit worthy. For me, it was a significant mental and physical challenge towards the end. It’s funny though, the fact that it had become a challenge both made it easier for me to find the motivation to do it, as well as giving me a little bit of purpose in each day, and more than the usual amount of satisfaction for having ticked off another swim. On top of all of that, having a daily challenge as well as the 200km cycle to work towards, very much kept me sane.

A mindset of challenge is also a great way to get more out of yourself than you think you’re capable of, or of getting you going when you really don’t feel like it.

A great mental ah-ha! moment for me was when I realised how much easier and enjoyable (and effective!!!) hard training sessions are when you face them with an attitude of challenge rather than seeing them as hard (a threat). Doing sub race pace 1km reps on the track, or swimming best possible average 100s in the pool can be daunting at the best of times. You know it’s going to be both mentally and physically hard, you know it’s going to hurt. Sometimes it can be difficult not to go in with a mindset of dread, or even worse, defeat particularly when you are feeling fatigued. But that mindset doesn’t make it easier, it doesn’t make it hurt any less, it just makes you feel miserable and holds you back from producing your best. By deciding to see it as a challenge instead you flip it on it’s head. “How can I possibly…?” becomes “What can I possibly…?”. “This is going to hurt” becomes “How good will it feel if I hit the times?”. A threat becomes and opportunity. The thought of challenge even adds some fun! Some days the “deciding” will be more difficult than others, but rest assured the more you consciously adopt this attitude, the more it will become your default mindset.

The more you embrace one challenge with a positive mindset, the more you will embrace all the others in your life.

Solo sessions are the hardest but can also be some of the most rewarding with a challenge mindset

Just a little food for thought that challenge is not a dirty word. It is an opportunity not a threat.

Embrace the challenge.
Revel in the challenge.
Actively seek it out.


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