The 2016 Round-Up: Biggest Takeaways From A Year of Challenges

It’s that time of the year again!

It’s the end of the year, and that means it’s time to step back and reflect back on 2016’s Challenge List. This is where I take a step back to review the list and go over what went awesome, what didn’t go so great, and what was learned as a result.

So let’s take a look at total amount of challenges completed for 2016:

18/25

In total, I managed to complete 72% of all challenges on my list. Some of the more notable tasks included:

  • Running a Spartan Race
  • Publishing an Android App
  • Tripling my distance record for swimming
  • Taking a trip out of the country
  • Building and shooting an arrow from scratch
  • and many more

While this was a year for new experiences, it also had one of the most pivotal moments that changed how I view productivity. With many successes came many learning experiences. With these learning experiences I plan on taking on 2017 with these ideas in mind:

Better to Be SMART Instead of Busy

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If I had to pinpoint my biggest mistake for 2016 it would have to be doing my 20 Things A Month experiment. You see, back in early February I had an idea that would push me to get things done. In order to motivate me to focus on my yearly challenges, I would select several tasks each month and then draw them up on a list of 20 things to complete at the end of the month.

My initial thought was that if  I broke it down like this I can chip at each tasks little by little and complete almost all of it by the end of the year.

Instead, I ended up finding myself pulling out my hair each day constantly doing work but barely making any significant progress towards my Challenge List goals.

It wasn’t until I listened to a podcast interview of Smarter, Faster Better‘s author Charles Durhigg that I realized what I was doing.

I crafted my To-Do lists to make me busy, not productive. Sure I would be spending 15 hours a day, working my brain and body to mush, but all of that was pointless because I was tackling small, insignificant tasks on my list in attempt to cross more items off.

I was experiencing, what is known as a False Authentic Pride, where you working towards  feelings of the little dopamine effects you get from doing small accomplishments  instead of working towards the much grander feeling of accomplishing something worthwhile.

Now I’ll be tackling on my tasks with SMART Goals in order to handle the bigger, more difficult tasks on my list and get much more done.

After learning this it led to another way I need to tackle my goals

Work Towards The Long-Term Goals

As Steve Kamb said in his book, Level Up Your Life:
Think of each big quest on your list as a series of tiny, incremental quests. If we can create 10 steps to a mastery of a skill, then we can focus our energy on simply putting one foot in front of the other and the process will take of itself
After hearing reading this it sparked something in my mind: There are very different feelings between how I feel accomplishing each challenge.

Each challenge I’ve completed thus far has been no stroll in the park. If I wasn’t pushing myself to go beyond my physical and mental limits, I was pushing myself to do things that went beyond my comfortable zone.

The problem is, I found that the challenges that ended up going towards my overall goals(i.e. My Impossible List) were far more satisfying than those I wanted to do because I thought it would be “fun” or “look cool”.

This caused my focus to shift towards my long-term goals instead of short-term, spontaneous goals. As a result, I didn’t really work towards some of these items as hard as others. My energy and focus went towards my long term goals, and each one I crossed off ended up giving me a more deserved feeling of accomplishment as well as put me that much closer to being who I want to be.

With that being said, there is one last thing I will be doing for 2017

Do A Lot in A Little, Not A Little in A Lot

Probably the biggest thing I’ve been debating about these last two years has been the number of items I’ve used on my list. I’ve done 25 challenges for 2 years now and each year I only get close to finishing 20 of them. Each item I work on typically takes a long time and a lot of focus to complete, so trying to do an average of over 2 per month starts to look less realistic.

If I really want to buckle down and finish off my goals I need to shorten my list so I can give it my all. But than that begs the question, how many challenges do I do? 20 challenges, 15 challenges, 10 challenges?

Well… That’s still up to debate. Right now I have quite a few items already sorted out for 2017’s list.

The idea I’m leaning on most is to cap the limit on 20  items and attempt to do 5 extra if I finish my list with a lot of time to spare. There would be something more definitive in my post for 2017’s Challenge List.

All and all though, I have to say that this year proved to be a great year for experimentation and learning. I am looking forward to this upcoming year and cannot wait to see what’s to come.

For all of you out there, I hope you had a great 2016, and shoot hard for an even better 2017. Train hard, and I’ll see you next year!
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Lessons Learned After Becoming A Spartan

Back in September of 2015 I ran a 5k Obstacle Course Race called a Rugged Maniac. Prior to this race I had felt a slump in my workout that made it really difficult to find the motivation I needed to train.

Running this Obstacle Course Race(OCR) ended up being just the rejuvenation I needed to push myself back into Parkour and Endurance Sports. Immediately after I ran my Rugged Maniac I thought to myself, “This felt pretty easy, I bet a Spartan Race wouldn’t be so hard”.

This led me to signing up for a Spartan Sprint, which ended up being a whole another ball game than a Rugged Maniac. At the end of my Spartan Run I was bleeding, dirty, sweaty, and bruised. But more than anything, I felt a sense of accomplishment that is unparalleled to anything I’ve done before.

You see, running a Spartan Sprint not only gave me a much better idea of my physical self, it also taught me 5 very important lessons I will be taking with me for both future races and towards my own self-growth.

Lesson 1: Be Positive

When you are putting yourself in a situation that demands you to go beyond your limits, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve trained beforehand or how much energy your body has. All of this can be useless if you do not face the obstacle with a positive mindset.

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During my race I was faced with a seemingly easy obstacle known as The Z-Wall. I’ve done much more difficult rock climbing routes a thousand times before so I thought this would be a piece of cake. Halfway through the Z-Wall I found I had to really stretch out my leg to get my foot placement onto the next block. My leg ended up cramping up on me, shocking the pain through the rest of my body. I lost my grip on the wall and went down like a ton of bricks.

Despite the pain I gave myself a moment of rest before limping to the Peanlty Zone to do my 30 Burpees. This was a set-back but by no means was this going to send me down a Downward Spiral. Instead I looked at this optimistically, “I can still stand on my feet, and it’s only 30 burpees”. I knocked out the burpees then continued the race with a smile on my face.

This positive attitude is just not something you should do for yourself, but for others. My start time had many of the racers run in 90% humidity and 90 degree weather. It was miserably sunny out and many people weren’t running at their ideal performance.

At mile 2 I saw a team of two trying to hoff it up the hill. At one point one of the runners sat down in the shade and told his buddy, “I just can’t do it”.

His friend knelt down next to him looked him dead in the eyes and said, “Yes you can. You’ve already made it farther than you thought you could. You can keep going”.

Meanwhile, a passing runner past by the two, flashed a big smile to the first guy and told him “You’re doing great!”. I didn’t see these two guys again until mile 4, both of them running downhill with smiles across their faces. Seeing these two inspired me to give positive energy to my fellow racers as well.

Some of us are going to hit our limits and something as simple as a “Good job”can be all we need to keep pushing.

Lesson 2: Don’t Underestimate The Course

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Initially when I signed up for the course I didn’t think of it as a big deal. I thought, “It’s only 5 miles, that’s just another light run but with a few obstacles in between”.

Because I didn’t go at it with the same mindset I normally do with my races I ended up committing several runner’s sins:

  • No Carb Loading
  • Improper Warm-Up
  • Didn’t Tapper Prior To Race

All of this resulted in me performing at my worst throughout the race. By mile 3 I was already half an hour into the race and I already drained the energy in my body. I was hungry, weak, and all I thought about was how good pancakes would be right now. If I just spent the time to properly carb load I know I would’ve been at a much better physical state throughout the race.

For my warm-ups I did essentially the same routine I do before I do my regular runs. I did no research on the average time it takes to finish a Sparta race so I shot for 10 minutes slower than my usual 5-mile runs. My expected finish time and my actual finish time ended up being vastly different:

Expected Finish Time: 50 min
Actual Finish Time: 2 hours, 28 minutes

If I planned my race a bit smarter and did more research on how long it takes to complete a Spartan Race, I would have definitely spent more time warming up. I also wouldn’t have put in 15 hours of working out the week of the race.

I’m not sure what would’ve happened if I took this race more seriously and treated it like my other races, but I guarantee I would’ve ran that race far less fatigued, sore, and hungry. It may have also avoided some cramping the occurred throughout some of the obstacles.

Lesson 3: Remember To Pace

Along with the 3 runner sins mentioned in Lesson 2, there’s another big mistake I ended up committing during my Spartan race: Being impatient.

Taking away from my experience running my Marathon last year, I made sure not to push myself to run faster when I’m already doing well. Although, one mistake I did end up repeating was trying to compete in a race I wasn’t initially planning on being competitive in.

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When I started my Spartan Race all I cared about was finishing. All I wanted to do was see if I could complete a Spartan Race and learn just what my body can do. If I didn’t reach my expected finish time, that was perfectly okay.

With that being said, I experienced Deja Vu during my race. Much like my marathon I got to the race a bit late. At this point, many of the runners who started earlier than me are well off into the course. Remembering to keep it slow, I ran at my normal pace.

After mile 1 I started passing racers who started a little earlier than me. Eventually I started passing racers who started a good 1-2 hours before I did. At this point, I grew a big head that nearly ruined me for the rest of the race.

Instead of just finishing it I was thinking of ways I can finish it faster. If there was an obstacle that had too many people ahead of me, I would just skip it and take the penalty burpees. Even if I was drenched in sweat from the blaring hot sun I would not stop to rest by the water station but instead drink 1 cup and move on.

Then by mile 3 my body hit that point where I struggled to do obstacles I know I could do easily. I was exhausted, sore, and was losing stride. At this point I realized I needed to just slow down, a decision I was grateful to have made. While I took my time going through the obstacles there were some people who seemed to have the same idea as I did and rush through the course.

These same guys trying to rush through were soon found either collapsed on the ground or slowly limping along. Meanwhile, other racers taking a slower pace were briskly passing by them.

Lesson 4: Adapt to Anything

One of the things that makes a Spartan Race so challenging is that it has you use your body in ways you aren’t normally use to doing at a gym. Sure carrying a 50lb object may be easy enough for most athletes out there. Heck, some of you are probably hitting higher weights for your regular workouts. However, 50lbs becomes a whole different story when that object is in the form of a 5 gallon bucket, filled with rocks, and needs to be carried up and down a steep hill.

When I looked into some of the obstacles typical in a Spartan Race it seemed like I would be working my body in some unusual ways. At first I was fine with this. Being from a Parkour background, adaptability is what I strive for. Although, while I was able to make it up the walls and across the monkey bars with ease, I was not prepared for some of the more awkward obstacles out there like the atlas ball.

flooded

The atlas ball has been estimated to be 100lb for the guys, and about 60lb for the women. At first, this didn’t seem like a problem. When I went to the gym with my friend I spent some time lifting and carry 100lb weights until I was confident enough for the course. Then when race day came, I bent over and reached for the ball and… I couldn’t lift it. The ball was too smooth and slippery from the mud making it difficult to get the grip I needed to lift it.

Other racers around me seemed to be in the same boat. When we couldn’t lift the ball we asked some of those around us if they can help us grip it just so we can lift the damn thing.

Then there is the infamous Spear Throw obstacle. This obstacle is known as the Burpee Maker. Not only is it difficult to stick a spear 20 feet away, but you only get one shot to do it. Most racers aren’t going in it with a degree in spear throwing so you can imagine the number of people in the Penalty Zone.

When I first learned of this obstacle I decided I was not going to be one of the many who fall victim to this obstacle. So, a month before the race, I crafted a spear using a stick, some rope, and a pocket knife. I then spent a good 3 hours throwing it at a wooden board in my backyard. It took quite a while until I was able to stick the spear consistently, but when race day came I successfully stuck that spear on my first try.

The point I want to drive home is that if you are going to run a Spartan Race, look at the obstacles you’ll likely be doing, then train for them in a simulated environment. If you can do pull-ups, work on different grip strengths by changing your hand position or using a towel hanging from the bar. If you’ve never carried 50lb bag over long distances before, make your own then spend some time walking with it.

Keep in mind that your body is going to be doing things it may have never done before.

Lesson 5: No Such Thing As Quitting

Unless you are one of the Elite Spartan Runners, you’ll probably not running a Spartan Race for competitive reasons. You are doing it to see if you can do it.

"The hardest part is showing up. 40% don’t. Don’t be part of that 40%" 
-Tony Matesi, Spartan Race Director

By being at that starting line you have already past the first and most difficult obstacle, just being there. Remember that the human body has always been capable of doing the impossible. Before Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, researchers were convinced it was not physically possible for humans to do.

Marathons are often thought as the most ultimate feats of endurance, but then we learn there are Indigenous tribes out there who can run 200 miles non-stop.

 

Runners don’t cross that finish line because they ran until they started feeling tired. At some point it no longer becomes a test of the body, but a test of the mind. If you want to complete this race you need to remove the word quit from your vocabulary and think that the only stopping point is at that end.

Remember that once you are out there is just you against you.

Conclusion

If there’s anything you should take away from this it is that you should plan smart, train smart, and keep your will strong. There is no telling what you are going to be able to do until you do it.

"Only those who endure the hardships of training can attain glory" 
-Hiroshi Yamanka, Gash Bell

 

At the end of my race I was well past my exhaustion point. My fingers were cut up, my shoes were torn to shreds, and I had bruises throughout my body. My girlfriend asked me, Was it worth it?

To which I responded:

Not only was it worth it, I am already waiting for registration to open up for next year.

 

Goal 29 Accomplished: Do Not Say “I” For An Entire Day

“Have you ever noticed how often we use the word “I” in a conversation. Whenever we do talk to someone it’s not difficult to accidentally make the conversation about ourselves.”

When I first heard this quote it made me more aware of how often I used the word “I” in a conversation. It was common for me start a conversation or chat with someone for a period of time and use the word “I” at some point. It got to the point where it was difficult to try not to use that word in my vocabulary whenever making conversation.

So in the start of 2016, I chose to challenge myself to completely remove the word “I” from my vocabulary for an entire day. This challenge would not only require me not to say “I”, but words that utilize “I” in abbreviation like, “I’m, I’ll, and I’d”. This challenge was not just limited to conversations spoken orally, but also through different forms of communication such texting, e-mailing, and IM’ing. To make sure there wasn’t a way to cheat this challenge, like staying quiet for the entire day, I made it required to be able to do this challenge only on days where I’m doing my regular duties. These were days where I was the most talkative whether it was when I worked, doing extracurricular activities, blogging, socializing, or other activities that required a lot of communication.

This challenge ended up being quite different than some of the others on my list. Instead of it being an accumulation of activities or one activity happening on a specific day/event, this was something that could be done every single day. This challenge meant there was a lot more room for failure throughout the year. So, when the year started I decided to take up this challenge right on January 1st. At first, I thought this challenge would be a bit difficult but possible after a handful of failures. However, despite being actively aware of not using the word “I”, it ended up taking me 114 consecutive days before successfully completing this challenge.

Doing this challenge ended up becoming quite the experience. When “I” was removed from my vocabulary it largely influenced the way I conversed with others. Trying to be aware of not using the word “I” ended up making me talk slower than usual, often making me think about what to say for a good 1-2 seconds before actually speaking. This ended up causing me to put a lot more thought into what to say order to convey a concise but meaningful message.

Although the most interesting aspect of not saying “I” was how much it shifted what to say during a conversation. Removing the word “I” from all conversations also removed most topics related to myself. This shifted about 95% of my conversation to either be more general or about the other person/people I was conversing with. This helped me realize how much people tend to like to talk about themselves.It felt like one of the easiest ways to make someone happy was to make the discussion about them. When they are talking about themselves they seem to be a lot more open towards sharing things about themselves and enjoyed my company more. Whenever I conversed with different strangers it was far quicker for them to be friendlier towards me than prior to when I started this challenge.

Even though this challenge is completed, the habit of trying not to say “I” still has stuck with me. Many of my conversations have now shifted to rarely talking about myself to instead making talking more about other person. I still have an awareness for speaking with others and find how little the word “I” is used. Not sure if this has became a temporary habit influenced by this challenge or if the result is more long term. Whatever the case, this challenge proved to be extremely difficult yet fun to do.

2016 Challenge List
29 Do not say “I” for an entire day

Goal 45 Accomplished: Take a Yoga Class

If you had been following my blog back in November you may have noticed that I participated in this 16-month challenge called “Buff Buddies”. This challenge ended up being the push I needed to get back into serious training by working out every single day. Out of the seven days of working out I had dedicated one of these days to be a “rest day” to stretch out and do light exercises for muscle recovery.

One of the most influential workouts I took up since putting in rest days has been Yoga. I’ll be the first to admit that, while I have done Yoga following Youtube videos, I am still a total newbie at the practice. I felt that the only way to truly understand the power of Yoga would to at least be to consult an expert in the field. Since Buff Buddies was coincidentally occurring before 2016, I thought what better way to get into the sport than to put it in as a Challenge item.

When I went into the Spirit of the Lake Yoga I thought it was like stepping into a different world. The office was filled with a lots of herbal tea bags, natural oils, and prayer beads. I was greeted by a very eccentric, tan-skinned, instructor who had very little body fat.I signed up for the drop-in Beginner’s class then took my place on a mat in a room filled with two very fit twenty year-old dudes and about five middle-aged women. The atmosphere definitely felt slow and calming, a complete opposite from my usual environment training at the Parkour academy where you’ll find muscle-bound guys doing flips to the sound of Dubstep.

When I initially thought Yoga I thought of it as just doing a lot of stretching. To my surprise, there was a lot of meditative techniques that mixed into the class. We started the class by reviewing the seven chakras in yoga. We were going over the Fire Chakra, which basically came down to a lot of heavy breathing and a lot of positions meant to raise our body’s temperature. I found that a lot of the different sort of poses we had to hold wasn’t so difficult to do, but when it came to maintaining a rapid breath while being in a one legged plank, it ended being quite the feat.

After one hour of being put in different positions and doing rapid breathing we ended our session lying on the floor working on slow breathing techniques. Now that I was able to gather my thoughts I came to the realization that my body was stretched, hot, and dehydrated. I didn’t feel like Yoga was as excessive as the workouts I usually do, but my entire mind felt exhausted while my body felt awake. My sore muscles also felt a lot more relaxed by the end of class..

I felt very renewed afterwards. During the entire workout I was able to release my mind and decompress. The workout ended up being a calming experience that benefited me more mentally than it did physically. I personally am not a spiritual kind of guy, but I did feel like doing Yoga allowed me to be more grounded to the earth.

Spirit of the Lake Yoga felt like an extremely welcoming place that gave me a pleasurable experience different than what I’m use to in my workouts. If you are ever in the Minnetonka-Excelsior area I would highly recommend signing up for one of their classes. I am looking forward to coming back for one of their later workshops, Yoga for the Runner.

2016 Challenge List:
45 Take a Yoga Class

Goal 47 Accomplished: Go Snowboarding

Back in middle school I took a field trip to a ski resort where I learned to ski for the first time in my life. After a few hours of lessons I took onto the bunny slope to begin my Olympic Skiing career. In one hour, my short dream of being a professional skier was shattered when I found myself repeatedly falling face first into snow. I chose to hang up my skis for the rest of that day and spent my remaining lunch money trying to get the high score in Pac-Man.

Every once in awhile I like to reflect back to these sort of moments and compare them to where I am now. While I may have never fulfilled my short-term dream of being an Olympic Skier I did manage to become insanely good at Pac-Man. As I got into college I made friends with a lot of people who love to hit the slopes every winter. I was invited every so often to join them, but I told them I wasn’t too much of a fan of skiing. One of them suggested that instead of going to the slopes to Ski, I give snowboarding a shot. Being a lover of physical activities and new challenges, I thought I’ll give it a go.

I saved up my paychecks to book a hotel room with a couple of mates over in St. Cloud for a weekend. After we got settled in our hotel, my friends and I packed in the car and headed to Powder Ridge Lodge.I booked a private 1 hour lesson with a snowboarding instructor to learn everything from ground up. Since my snowboarding lesson wasn’t for a few hours I took the time to go snow tubing with a couple of friends.It felt like quite the adrenaline rush to start off my Slope experience by going 20MPH in an inflatable tube.

After a few hours of tubing I went to my snowboarding lesson to meet my instructor. My instructor took things slow by drilling a few basic techniques down. When I got comfortable with that it was off to the Bunny Hill. Being the impulsive “dare devil” that I am I went to the very top of the slope and found myself frequently falling on my arse. Eventually my hour was up but I was still falling down the slopes every so often. However, rather than hang the board up to play Pac-Man, I told myself to keep going for it. After a few more hours I was finally able to go down the slope without once falling on my butt. I kept at it well after dusk just to make myself consistent. I then rewarded myself with a sore bottom and a cup of hot cocoa.

The entire experience was definitely rewarding. I may not go professional in the future, but I now know a new skill which I can continue to improve on. When I reflect on this moment, I feel proud that I didn’t stray away from this skill because I wasn’t good at it. It made me realize that the only way to ever be good at something new is to work it out while taking in the bumps and bruises along the way .It’s best for me to keep in mind that the road to success will always be a rough one and I just need to learn how to drive on it.

2016 Challenge List
47 Go Snowboarding ACCOMPLISHED

2016: Continuing the List

One year ago I made a list of 25 things I told myself I had to complete by the end of 2015. I called this list “The Challenge List“, in which I would took up 25 challenges to help improve myself throughout the year. I figured by instead of referring to them as goals I would like to get done, they would instead be thought of as challenges I must complete. By the end of it all I ended up accomplishing a large chunk of my challenges and pushed myself towards boundaries I never thought possible.

The list ended up becoming so beneficial towards self-improvement that I decided to do it again for 2016. This year I gave myself 25 new things I am challenging myself to complete by the end of the year. Like last year, I am not going to think of these as 25 things I want to complete this year, but 25 things I must complete.

2016 Challenges

Progress: 18/25

  1. Go to an Escape Room
  2. Visit a China Town ACCOMPLISHED(8.27.2016)
  3. Swim a full mile(1650 Yards)ACCOMPLISHED(7.26.2016)
  4. Do not say “I” for an entire day ACCOMPLISHED(4.23.2016)
  5. Finish a Spartan Race ACCOMPLISHED(6.25.2016)
  6. Go to the Wisconsin Strawberry festival ACCOMPLISHED(6.26.2016)
  7. Get a Full-Body Wax ACCOMPLISHED(11.11.2016)
  8. Rock climb Taylor Falls, Minnesota ACCOMPLISHED(9.10.16)
  9. Do 10 Footbag kicks
  10. Publish a mobile app ACCOMPLISHED(7.29.2016)
  11. Make a flash drive
  12. Road Trip to Canada ACCOMPLISHED(10.22.2016)
  13. Winter Cabin Trip Up North ACCOMPLISHED(12.11.2016)
  14. Hike up Timms Hill, WisconsinACCOMPLISHED(6.29.2016)
  15. Visit the Minnesota Eagle Reserve ACCOMPLISHED(7.1.2016)
  16. Create a Video Game ACCOMPLISHED(8.20.2016)
  17. Build an Arcade Machine
  18. Achieve Level 100 on Habitica ACCOMPLISHED(10.17.2016)
  19. Get accepted into Advanced level Parkour classes
  20. Take a Yoga Class ACCOMPLISHED(3.25.2016)
  21. Run a 5-minute Mile
  22. Go SnowBoarding ACCOMPLISHED(1.9.2016)
  23. Start a Fire with a Fire Bow
  24. Craft and Shoot my own Arrows ACCOMPLISHED(8.7.2016)
  25. Win a T-Shirt in Marines Pull-Up Challenge(25 Pull ups) MAX REP: 18, (9.1.2016)