The Allure of the Challenge

If there’s one thing I find myself getting wrapped up in a bit too often, it’s a challenge. I don’t mean doing something especially difficult, I’m talking about the sort of challenge that you might find on a blog, or in a magazine, or some other website. The kind of challenge that’s meant to help you get out of a rut and change your life in some way, either big or small.

Sometimes I worry that I might be addicted to challenges, although I’m not entirely sure where the addiction comes from. I feel compelled to start every single one I see, but I’m rarely able to keep it up and see the whole thing through to the end. Why is that?

For whatever reason, I grew up with the idea that I needed to change many things about myself. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at determining what doesn’t actually need to change (either because I actually like it, or because it would be foolish to try to alter it in some way), and working on the things that could use some adjusting. In spite of my many (and well-documented) struggles, I’m pretty happy with the person I am today. But then I come across something like, “The 30-Day No-Shampoo Challenge!” (as an example) and I think “Oh, wow, I really have to try that!” It’s not so much that things aren’t good enough the way they are, it’s more like I’m convinced that they could, somehow, be even better.

The challenge holds within itself untold promise and potential. It’s exciting; it’s shiny; it’s new. It could be the gateway to an entirely new life! Or it could just introduce a little variety into your daily routine, help you adopt a healthier habit, or shake things up in some way that you didn’t even know you needed. I think that’s where the appeal comes from, and how the addiction develops. The funny thing is, though, that in my case at least, that appeal isn’t enough to sustain the momentum and enthusiasm I have when I start the challenge for more than a few days. And I’m guessing that I’m not alone when it comes to that particular behavior, because when you get right down to it, a challenge is like a New Year’s Resolution for all seasons. And we all know how successful those end up being.

Lately I’ve been more drawn to challenges than usual. I feel like I’m in a bit of a rut, somewhat adrift in the sea of life (or possibly on the sea of life. The preposition eludes me). It’s been weird adjusting to the idea that I’m not running a marathon this fall, the change in seasons has got my running schedule all mixed up (why does it have to get dark so early?), and so many other things in life just seem so hard to pin down. And so I’m casting about, trying to get a sense of what’s around me. It’s good, in a way–challenges are like a buffet in the sense that you can try a little bit of something to see if you like it, with no obligation to commit to a large portion just in case you don’t. But I can’t help but wonder if, ultimately, the challenge just serves to delay the inevitable settling down and accepting things the way they are (however they happen to be).

When it’s all said and done, does a challenge bring about real, lasting change? Or does that have to come from somewhere deeper inside, a place that can’t be accessed simply by finding and/or trying an interesting activity for an arbitrary number of days?

By Emilie

Runner, yogini, knitter, Manhattanite in spite of myself. Also blogging at

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