Why Taking On Hard Challenges Matters To Your Success

Set A Bold VisionFrankly, I’m not a history buff. So, anniversaries of historic events often get by me unnoticed. Yet, I did notice that this July marks 45 years since Apollo 11’s historic mission to the moon. It made me recall watching the television broadcast totally mesmerized!

Yet, on some level, I think what marks this achievement as one of the most significant in history, is less about what happened in 1969, but what happened seven years earlier. That is, President John F. Kennedy’s “moon speech,” delivered in an address at Rice University, September 12 1962.  Here’s what he said:

“… But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?”

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

When you read this speech in it’s entirety, you see JFK’s clear and specific vision for one of the greatest adventures in history.

So, why do I bring this up?

Bold Vision And Determination

Make no mistake, Kennedy’s speech also provided a clear statement of determination, and framed the necessary execution to achieve the mission. And the biggest take away, I believe, is this: We become more successful when we set a bold vision and take on and accomplish hard challenges. [Tweet this]

Sure, I realize we tend to regard the tasks we face, whether at home, at the office, or at the gym as tough. Yet, for most of us, these situations are more often like a walk in the park. Sure, uncertainty can create some anxiety. Yet, there is in most of what we do a degree of safety. After all, what’s the worse that can happen?

So, let me ask you, when was the last time you took on something that was hard? So hard you wanted to just quit. But didn’t! Now, think about it. By digging deep didn’t you learn some great things about yourself, and your capabilities? And wasn’t that accomplishment worth savoring more than others?

Still, rarely do we push ourselves so far beyond our comfort zone that we end up feeling totally spent. [Tweet this] Maybe it’s time we did that more!

Learning To Embrace The Suck

Let me put this in the context of physical achievement.

In the culture of CrossFit, one popular phrase is “embrace the suck.” As you might guess, this phrase emerged not because workouts are easy but because they’re hard. These workouts go way beyond 30 minutes on an elliptical! Typical CrossFit workouts are structured to totally wipe you out!  In short, they suck. And that’s really the point. This is high intensity training that’s designed to provide maximum aerobic and strength conditioning.

It may seem like this is an extreme way to go about fitness. And certainly CrossFit is not without critics who point to its good, bad, and ugly aspects. Nonetheless, I believe this fitness phenomenon contains lessons that go beyond the workout to apply more broadly to success.

Turns out, there’s even more.

What Neuroscience Shows

J. C. Herz, author of Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness, also points out that CrossFit’s “constantly varied functional movement, executed at high intensity, across broad time and modal domains” has benefits that go beyond physical training. Push Your LimitsIn particular, workouts engage the attention association area of the brain. This is what controls complex movements, like coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance. What’s more, Herz explains, it “…  is also the source of human will, goal-setting behavior, and purposeful organization of thought.”

More specifically:

“…the part of your brain that enables you to do pull-ups and squats – but isn’t engaged for a bicep curl or leg extension – is what gives you the discipline to study instead of watch TV, or to budget vs. rack up debt on a credit card. High-intensity functional movement requires will power, in no small part because will power itself is what’s being built in the nervous system during the workout, through the movements themselves. Every time you snatch a barbell from ground to overhead, the complexity of the movement reinforces the circuitry you need to formulate a goal.”

CrossFit, in other words, is built on the attributes of fitness that connect brain and body. [Tweet this]

How You Do Things

There is an inscription above one of the doors at the CrossFit gym at Reebok World Headquarters that reflects a part of their corporate philosophy:

“How you do anything is how you do everything.” [Tweet this]

It is a statement of moral excellence and leadership that reflects dedication to technique and execution. It about heroic effort in taking on things that are “crazy” hard. Sure, CrossFit may not be for you, but the discipline and courage that drives it can be harnessed to meet other challenges.

We live, today, in a turbulent time where success often requires becoming comfortable being uncomfortable. [Tweet this] And while success may be achieved in a series of steps, it nearly always starts with a larger vision. In fact, setting a bold and specific vision for accomplishing great things, you set in motion a process of personal development and achievement, even if you need work to master discomfort.

So, challenge yourself in a big way. After all, why the moon?


What bold challenges are you taking on? How do expect these challenges to change you and lead to greater success? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.


  1. says

    Walter- Great post my friend. I remember watching Armstrong’s first step on black and white TV. Successful people push themselves to do what others don’t think is possible. Thanks for the reminder. Raising the bar starting this weekend!

    • says

      Hey Mitch!!

      Thanks for your inspiring comment! Yes, I too watched in utter amazement as Neil Armstrong took that first step. Realizing we were celebrating 45 years since the Apollo 11 mission turned out to be the impetus for writing about taking on hard things.

      I’ve certainly experienced this at CrossFit, but frankly was astonished by the science behind it. More generally, I think making a commitment to bold vision becomes an organizing force in our lives and communities! Yes, it’s what successful people do!

      By all means, raise that bar, my friend!!

  2. says

    Wow,Walter! I really enjoyed this post! Explains how to get past the tough, short-term aspects that make up a long-term challenge you really want to accomplish. Excellent piece!!

    • says

      Thanks, Lisa!! I’m happy you enjoyed this one!!

      It was fun to write!! In fact, before I even started, I knew I wanted to write about taking on tough challenges. But wasn’t sure what approach to take. Then, when I realized we were at 45 years since Apollo 11, it all clicked!!

      I do believe that a bold and specific vision is the way to drive big achievements. It seems to cement commitment and then unlock the chain of activities that make it all happen.

      What I love about CrossFit is that it asks for a big commitment before every workout, most of which are really hard. And in the process not only does it support fitness but it also shapes character.

  3. says

    Hell yes. I have a couple of goals that I’ve been putting off for years, and just a few months ago I finally determined to spend at least fifteen hours a week working on them, and achieve them no matter what. Sometimes you just have to draw a line in the sand- making a public commitment, like Kennedy did and like Crossfitters do, also helps a lot. Come to think of it, all my best fitness gains have had public commitments attached to them.

  4. says

    Awesome, John! Not just “yes” but “hell yes!” Love it!

    There is a lot to be said for commitment and determination! Both are key supports to achieving great things. Even beforehand, however, drawing that line and making a public commitment builds in accountability. And not just the public commitment, but also the chance to collaborate with like-minded people who want the same results!!

    And yet, I also believe audacious goals have their own special magic. Not only do we choose them because they’re hard, but because they take us so far beyond the anchors of our comfort zone that we are compelled to move forward.

    For example, starting on September 1, I took on a nutritional challenge called “The Whole 30.” I had considered and rejected it several times before. Yet, given the opportunity to join others, I made a public commitment to do it! In taking me well beyond my traditional beliefs about meal plans and nutrition, it made me examine what is and is not possible for me in making a big change. Not only did I do it, but have dramatically altered my approach to healthy eating!

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