BY Nick Jankel

Author, Leadership Futurist, Philosopher, Transformation Catalyst

Uniting the Physical and the Spiritual: Transformation Through Physical Personality Challenges

Running a marathon, climbing up a steep rocky face or riding a mountain bike might seem like purely physical experiences – but they are also ways to thrive up by tapping into a powerful sense of flow. Personal challenges with a sense of flow give you a healthy, clean high and can be – dare I say it – almost spiritual experiences. Who says you have to meditate on a cushion or do yoga to be spiritual? Any time that you and the moment unite, and you feel free of your limiting mind-chatter, can be transformative and lead to lasting changes in your life as you stretch yourself and find your personal power.

Test Yourself Against your Limits with Rock Climbing, Marathon Running & Mountain Biking

If you’re brave enough to take on rock climbing, marathon running, mountain biking and other personal challenges, your sense of awareness and self knowledge will rocket as you continually test yourself against the limits – and these are qualities that will benefit you in any area of your life. Personal challenges can increase your self-esteem and give you ongoing feelings of accomplishment – and also help connect you to others and to the outdoors. It’s all about entering into the state of flow – where you’re totally immersed in the moment, or ‘in the zone’. Instead of thinking about something and then doing it, you are right there with your intention and the moment united. Powerful stuff. As well as being exciting and challenging, these activities gives a sense of freedom from everyday stress as you’re totally absorbed in the moment – but first you have to endure and learn to overcome some pretty gruelling conditions, and develop your body’s strength and stamina. It’s worth it though! Personal challenges like rock climbing, marathon running, mountain biking and river rafting give you a chance to have what’s called a peak experience: basically like ecstasy without the drugs – a hugely meaningful, joyful and self-fulfilling wave that comes as you enter into the moment and achieve something important to you. Your personal power increases as a result – which is always a good thing.

Flow & Peak Experiences: Finding Serenity and Ecstasy Through Personal Challenges

The concept of flow is part of something called positive psychology and was proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1990. Flow is completely focused motivation and is the ultimate in using your emotions to learn and perform at your best. If you’re in flow, you’re in a state of joy while doing the activity – and you’re focusing on only the activity itself, for its own sake, using your skills to the max and involving all of you. It feels timeless – so if you lose track of time while engaging in your personal challenge, that’s a good sign. In flow, you are able to switch your focus away from physical discomfort and feel like you could go on forever. Flow is a bit different from hyperfocus – that’s where you get so locked into the Xbox or your favourite show, that you can’t switch off – or you find it difficult to finish off all the projects you start. You can enter into flow in lots of different ways – writing, painting, or playing sport. But personal challenges like rock climbing, marathon running and mountain biking have the added elements of mastering fear and/or stretching your bodily as well as mental limits. And by entering into flow, you actually increase your performance. Physical personal challenges also deliver what psychologist Abraham Maslow called peak experiences – which he reckoned we need to fully ‘actualize’ ourselves as human beings – to live our full potential. Peak experiences are similar to the concept of flow. When training for a marathon, you can also get yourself a lot of hours of solitude and silence, often in nature – with the rhythm of your steadily pounding feet providing a meditative beat. Running gives you a chance to settle into your body and into the moment, letting go of worries and stress – and might even open up the bigger questions of life (there’s that spiritual aspect again). And all self-set personal challenges need you to practice the same kind of long-term discipline that a spiritual life requires. Whether or not you set a new record or win a race, you can beat your own personal record – and break out of your limited ideas of yourself and your abilities.

The Learning Curve: Where to Get Started with Rock Climbing, Marathon Training & Mountain Biking

Check out ‘The Rock Warrior Way‘ to prepare yourself mentally for the challenge of rock climbing, and learn all about how to harness your attention so that you don’t fall into fear. This article has more on how to get started with rock climbing including what gear to get. Find a climbing wall near you to practice on, and get the full low-down at a rock climbing course. If you want to start training for a marathon, make sure you read up about it as much as you can, and don’t overlook the importance of choosing the right shoes! Cross-training activities are also an important part of marathon training. Here’s an article on learning to achieve a state of flow in your running practice. And to get into mountain biking, check out this article. Make sure you have a look at some buyer’s guides to mountain bikes before you choose one, and read up on things like how to deal with trail obstacles so you can shorten your learning curve. Or, of course, do a mountain biking training course to get some skills training under your belt.

History: Outdoor Education, Monks & Marathons

Us humans have always liked to stretch ourselves and find out just what our bodies can do – exposing ourselves to risk and danger has been a big part of that too, not least because it delivers such euphoria. It’s been known for some time that outdoor education programmes with youth, including activities like rock climbing, have transformative effects, increasing confidence and the ability to tackle challenges in the real world. But it’s only in recent decades that the psychology behind this has been examined, through positive psychology and Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The Japanese Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei are an amazing example of the synthesis of spirituality and personal physical challenge: 1000 days of marathons – running interspersed by prayer – form part of their training in Tendai Buddhism.

Why is it Ripe and Ready? 

Personal challenges with a sense of flow help us transform our fear into ecstasy, and deliver us to our highest self: present, aware, and enjoying the hell out of life.

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