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The Personal Challenge
Headshot 128 Ben, June 11, 2013
At least once a week, I'll find myself finishing up dinner when I notice a leftover cupcake or cookie and get a familiar twinge. Part of me will focus on how delicious the cookie sounds and how much I want to eat it. Another part will tug in the opposite direction, wanting to be healthy and fit, avoiding mid-week junk food. Standing there in the kitchen, I feel like it's a lose-lose situation. Skip the cookie and I feel like I don't let myself enjoy food. Eat it and I'm being unhealthy.

In these moments of weakness, I've found a simple trick that snaps me out of it and helps me avoid temptation: I turn it into a personal challenge. Instead of playing internal tug-o-war, I ask myself "Am I capable of resisting this temptation? Do I have it in me?" Actively saying those words in my head gives me an instant boost, and I'm usually able to avoid the temptation (let's be real though, sometimes I still eat the cookie, because cookies really are delicious).

In my opinion, the personal challenge trick works for a couple of reasons. First, it clearly assigns the onus of responsibility. We understand this instinctually and even craft our speech to exploit the concept. For example, imagine a boss who is pressing for an aggressive timetable on a project. His employee might externalize blame for not being able to make the timeline, saying "that timeline isn't realistic" or "it can't be done in that amount of time." He avoids saying "I can't get it done in time," because then there is no wiggle room in assigning blame for the failure. Vocalizing a problem as a personal challenge forces you to take responsibility, which provides motivation to be successful.

The second reason this trick works is that it taps into our naturally competitive spirit. For example, last year I co-founded a software development consultancy, Federis Group. By nature, I'm a left-brained code monkey who loves to solve problems with a computer. Being a salesman is not the most natural activity to me. But if I turn it into a personal challenge, my competitive streak kicks into gear. Do I have it in me to go sell our services? When phrased this way, the competitive side of me will always respond, "yes, if other people can do it, then I can do it."

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, I'd love to hear from you on twitter: @bcroesch
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