Haley Baird Riemer
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Challenge is the root of change. If you're not changing, you're not learning from your mistakes, pushing your boundaries or growing. We've all developed habits and routines that keep our lives and daily practices well within our comfort zones, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Comfort zones are aptly named — we feel confident and capable living and working within them.

There is a particular value, though, in pushing the boundaries you've set for yourself, whether they're conscious or not. It can be scary and difficult, especially as you get older and more settled into your way of living and doing things. That said, challenging yourself is always rewarding in the long run. You can learn things about yourself, your skills, your outlook on life or your professional goals. You could even discover a new career path, or consider a process you would have never given a second thought to. You never know where the challenge, and the change that comes from it, can lead you, and if you never stop growing and evolving, the possibilities are limitless.

Why challenge yourself?

Challenging yourself, both personally and professionally, can open you up for opportunities you may not have seen or been available to before. Taking on challenges can improve your quality of life, because it means you're constantly learning about yourself and the world around you and adjusting your perspective. It can also bring variety and growth to your workplace. 

When we stop learning, we stop engaging actively with our circumstances. We might even get bored. Maybe you've reached a routine at work that has become so second-nature that you realize the work you got into for passion isn't exciting anymore. Perhaps there's a pattern you've noticed in your relationships that you're trying to change. Challenging yourself in different ways can help. Seeking out things that make us nervous, hesitant or some other uncomfortable emotion is a way of exercising power over our circumstances and deliberately pushing ourselves to change. Challenges simply make us more well-rounded humans.

5 ways to challenge yourself.

Challenges simply make us more well-rounded humans. There are countless ways you can push yourself in different aspects of your life, and you'll continue to find more as you go. 

Here are just five things to try to kickstart your self-improvement. 

1. Immerse yourself in something that scares you.

Our fears hold us back from things. Say you're a public figure, or you're promoted to a management position, and you have a fear of public speaking. If you're expected to deliver a speech or conduct a meeting, and you're going to have a problem. One of the most daunting challenges is facing a fear. Whether it's a full-on phobia or something that makes you sweat, it's a difficult thing to do. We're hardwired to avoid situations that make us feel fear, and overcoming that avoidance takes conscious work. 

Start small. Take just a few minutes a day, or one day a week, and do something related to the thing you're afraid of. If it's public speaking, for example, practice developing your interpersonal skills. Become conscious of maintaining eye contact in conversations and ordering confidently at restaurants. Put yourself in group settings and get comfortable being in a space with a lot of people listening to you. From there, build up your tolerance. Maybe sign up for an open mic night, tell a poem at a reading, or take a public speaking class. Continue pushing yourself, and take every amount of progress on the way as a huge step forward.

2. Develop healthy habits.

Chances are, when life and work and everything in between get hectic, your health falls to the wayside. Some people are better at keeping up healthy habits than others, but the majority of us are pretty quick to skip the gym or cut a couple of hours of sleep when things get rough. Our physical and mental health have an enormous influence on our ability to function as humans who go to work, have relationships and get places on time. 

No matter what your self-care routine looks like, you probably have some areas you want to improve on. Pick one, and focus on developing it over the course of a month. Create a healthy habit, and stick with it. Again, you can start small. If you've been wanting to try meditation to improve your mental health and awareness, start meditating for just 3-5 minutes a day. Download an app to help you keep on track. If you're trying to get back into an exercise regimen, block off an hour one or two times a week to go to the gym or play a sport. Build the rhythm of a routine into your life, and be patient with yourself. 

3. Start writing.

Whether you're in a creative career or in a field that's on the technical side, writing is a great skill to practice. Even if you're just writing about your week in a journal, the act of putting your thoughts into written words engages different parts of your brain and makes you think about things in new ways. If you are a writer, or you're in a job that requires you to write a lot, try writing in a different medium or about a different topic. If you aren't, write about whatever you want. Written communication skills are valuable in almost every career and relevant to many aspects of life, so chances are you'll be able to apply these skills practically. Who knows, you could even discover you have a particular skill for crafting stories or writing poetry that you want to pursue in some way; or you might find it's just a good way to clear your head. 

Writing about yourself is particularly challenging for a lot of people, but it can be an exercise in owning your experiences and finding some kind of voice for yourself. You might feel silly and that's fine. You can throw away the paper when you're done. Just committing to the act of creating something and refusing to judge it is an accomplishment in itself.

4. Try one new thing each week.

We spend the first 18 years of our lives (at least) in a structured learning environment. In school, it's easy to learn new things; it's probably built into the syllabus. Out in the "real world." without this kind of structure, it's easy to get behind on your self-education. You probably have a lot of things you want to do that you've never done before, like hobbies you want to get into, a topic that keeps coming up that you wish you knew more about, a language you want to start learning. Whatever it is, pick one new thing each week to do. Take a roller-blading class. Volunteer at a pet clinic. Go to a part of your city you've never been to before. 

Trying new things gets us into the habit of saying yes, welcoming possibilities outside of the ordinary. Not only does this make your life more dynamic and exciting, but it opens your mind up to paths you may not have considered before, in any area of your life. It could change how you function in your workplace or in a relationship you have with someone. 

5. Welcome feedback and different perspectives.

A huge part of the resistance to change is mental. We get caught up in our own perspective and how we see the world and ourselves and how things should be done. Maybe you're the natural leader at work, and you usually call the shots in a group setting and put forth most of the ideas. Maybe you're in a management position, and you have a higher level of authority than others. It's valuable to step back occasionally and welcome other voices and perspective into your delegation or decision-making process. Set a goal for yourself to consider all ideas fully before resorting to your own, or take initiative in inviting other minds and voices into the leadership team to make it collaborative. Practice welcoming and incorporating feedback from other people into the way you do things, particularly if they're coming from different backgrounds, demographics, or departments.

Outside of work, welcome feedback from those in your life whose opinions you trust and care about. Constructive criticism is often hard to take, but it fuels us in the long run.

However you choose to challenge yourself, never stop moving forward in your personal and professional growth. There's a lot of value in discipline in setting goals to purposefully push yourself outside of your comfort zone

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