Daily at the gym.
That was my pattern. Every morning. Crack of dawn. It was either a cardio-machine for a half hour or a weight circuit, which also took about a half hour. (I don't want to be there for more than a half hour.)
Lifting heavy things is an interesting process. Turns out, these soft, fleshy bodies made of meat and bone and sinew can lift heavier weights than we think we can.
I was giving myself gradual increases, week by week; lifting slightly heavier weights. Until I talked to a personal trainer who told me to try upping my weight by 30-50% and doing fewer reps.
I was skeptical. I figured these frail bones wouldn't be able to handle that. But, they did handle it. And then some. Amazing.
We are capable of way more than we give ourselves credit for. Whether through self-doubt, or simple laziness, our tendency is to self-sabotage.
The same can be true in our professional lives.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's research on the concept of flow helps to understand how we can operate at an optimal level, both in the gym and in the office.
Or do I need to increase my challenge level?
It's easy to increase challenge level at the gym. Add more weight. Simple. It's a little trickier with professional life. We don't always have a self-determined path. Sometimes a job is a job is a job - and a necessary job, at that. (And work is noble and sacred. That's important to remember.) But, if we fall on the bored side of Csikszentmihalyi's "flow channel," it can become a life or death imperative to increase challenge. Lest we wither away into a zombie-like state of mindless meaninglessness.
We can do more than we think.
Become a “linchpin”
Seth Godin adeptly says, "The job is not the work." His linchpin theory is that whatever position we may hold, it's possible to become indispensable.
Be creative. Figure out what makes you indispensable where you are. It might not be in the same sphere of your day-to-day. But learn what it means to be a linchpin. Where you are. Right now. That challenge can lead you to a path a deep satisfaction. (Read Seth Godin's Book, "Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?")
Explore a hobby
This is a great way to increase challenge without jumping your career/job ship. Hobbies are a low-risk way to explore passions, desires, and whims. Whether it's writing a blog, making YouTube videos, gardening, or model trains - a hobby forces you to learn, research, create, and grow. It increases the challenge in your life. And sometimes a hobby can become more than a hobby, should you choose to go that route. Expertise in any area (even if it's just a hobby) can also turn you into a linchpin.
Take on a side hustle
The "side hustle" revolution is already on. The boon of a side hustle is not just the challenge of doing a thing (making jewelry, writing web copy, gathering edible wild plants). A successful (and profitable) side-hustle will be a process of learning marketing skills, understanding business plans, finance and accounting, and more. This may be more than many want to take on - but the rewards of a side hustle can be more satisfying than financial ones.
Look for a new career path
Sometimes this is where one must land. I hesitate even including this option because it's easy to spend a lot of time in the land of "if only then."
"If only I could (fill in the blank with your dream career), then I'd find satisfaction in what I do and life would be good."
It's not that simple.
But there are times when a new career path is the needed challenge. It's just not without cost. A new career path will often catapult you from the boredom side of flow over to the anxiety corner. New skills become necessary to move you back into a place of flow. But, it's possible. Especially in "The Land of the Free." So, this could be worth considering.
Whether you need to increase your challenge level, or add to your skill set, take the time to figure it out.
You don't know where this flow channel might take you.