Are You Challenging Yourself Enough?


There’s a very fine line between boredom and having burnout.

Conventional wisdom says that you should jump outside your comfort zone to reach the ‘magic.’ I never understood that saying. What magic are we talking about? Unicorns? Men from Mars? An orgasm? What? I don’t know.

Here’s the thing: I’ve tried leaping out of my comfort zone, and it didn’t work out for me. However, I’ve also tried to take things very slowly. That also didn’t work out for me. I’ve found that you need a balance between challenge and comfort. And that’s a very, very, difficult thing to do.

The reason is that doing challenging things requires skill (see drawing above). The more challenging the task, the more skill you need. The problem with taking huge leaps is that you don’t have the skills to address the challenge.

It’s a concept I learned from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal book on the way we work, Flow. After studying the relationship between challenge and boredom, he found that a combination of both factors leads to personal growth.

Csikszentmihalyi says:

“One cannot enjoy doing the same thing at the same level for long. We grow either bored or frustrated; and then the desire to enjoy ourselves again pushes us to stretch our skills, or discover new opportunities for using them.”

It sounds like common sense, right? Instead of taking big steps, take smaller, and more controlled steps. But never get too comfortable because that’s boring. And once you get bored, you stop growing. But life is about forwarding motion—that’s what ultimately helps us grow.

To illustrate this concept, let’s do a little exercise.

Which one of the following three statements describes your situation best?

  • A) I’m bored.
  • B) I’m stretched too thin.
  • C) I feel like I’m challenging myself without going insane.

Do this if you answer A (I’m bored)

Get out your bubble and do something new. Discover new things in life. Pick up a new sport. Find a different job. Take on different projects. You need a challenge.

But also remember this: Don’t get addicted to novelty. Learn to love learning. When you hop from one thing to the next, you never get good at anything. Again, it’s about balance.

Do this if you answered B (I’m stretched too thin)

Take a step back. Give up. Quit. Say, “Screw you guys! I’m going home!” You need to accept that it’s okay if something is too much. Things are too much for a reason. Find out what that is. Then, address that problem so it doesn’t happen again in the future. Learn from your past experiences.

Do this if you answered C (I feel like I’m challenging myself without going insane)

Just keep it up.

Read Next: