10 Best Strategies for How to Challenge Yourself at Work

No matter your phase of life, the desire to challenge yourself is an admirable quality. Because challenges aren’t easy and even small changes in our habits or work can be difficult to sustain. 

So, you’re already halfway done by recognizing your need for challenge. Challenges lead to new opportunities, personal growth, intellectual stimulation, new ideas, and much more. 

But knowing how to challenge yourself is a different skill entirely. This article walks through 10 strategies to help you in challenging yourself at work, with tips for challenging yourself outside of work, too.

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10 Strategies to Challenge Yourself

Why do I want to challenge myself?

Challenges come in different shapes and sizes for everyone because all our “comfort zones” are unique to who we are and where we are in life. But despite how a challenge might look for you or your neighbor, why would either of you want to challenge yourself?

I want to challenge myself because I enjoy the intellectual stimulation of a good challenge. For me, challenges keep things interesting. They keep me on my toes and push me to think in new and creative ways. 

I also want to challenge myself because I surprise myself every time with how I respond to the challenge and with the things I achieve. None of that would have been possible without a push out of my comfort zone. This brings us to the 10 strategies to challenge yourself.

1. Find Your Comfort Zone (and Leave It)

When you imagine your dream job, what do you think of? Do you imagine yourself doing something easy, maybe something you’ve done for 10 years or so and know like the back of your hand? 

Or do you picture yourself doing something that’s hard, but interesting? Demanding, but stimulating at the same time? Something that keeps you on your toes and allows you to think critically and creatively?

As someone who has had the first type of job, I definitely crave the second type of job. The difference between the two jobs comes down to one thing: one of them is in your comfort zone and one of them is not.

A comfort zone is the easy way to walk through life. It’s a safe space where we’re most comfortable in our everyday life and likely relaxed. Spending time in our comfort zone can revitalize us or help us destress and relax.

Having a comfort zone is not a problem. But on the flip side, it’s hard to picture welcoming new experiences or accepting new challenges from our comfort zone.

 That’s why if you’re looking to challenge yourself, the first step is to find your comfort zone. Not so you can get more comfortable. But so you can get out of there and into new things!

2. Make “Uncomfortable” Your End Goal

What does it mean to challenge yourself?

To challenge yourself means to not get too comfortable where you are. It’s about pushing yourself to be the best version of yourself, learn new skills, adapt to changing situations, and do things that are…well, hard things.

In a roundtable discussion at work, one of the panelists encouraged professionals to take positions and roles that forced them to think outside the box and that stretched them intellectually and professionally. He said:

 “If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re not being challenged enough.”

So before I ask, are you being challenged, I must first post another question. Are you uncomfortable and growing where you are?

3. Embrace Change to Grow

In order to challenge yourself, you must be willing to get out of your comfort zone and embrace change. Working as a change management consultant for three years, I learned the secret of change. 

Change is a people-centric-endeavor. 

You can change technology, change processes, and do a reorganization every quarter if you want to. But if people aren’t at the center of the change, then the whole endeavor will be a failure. The people must be prepared for the change and equipped to succeed throughout the change.

In the same way, put yourself at the center of your intention to challenge yourself and sketch out a plan. 

  1. Start by answering questions about challenging yourself.
    1. What do you want to see in your personal development? 
    2. What are the new goals or new routines that would cultivate that change? 
    3. What is an example of change that you’d like to see in yourself?
  1. Next, write down specific SMART goals that are in line with your desire for change.
    1. Remember that SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
    2. Here are examples of personal goals for work.
  2. Make your SMART goals even smaller and brainstorm small challenges you can take on that will contribute to this goal. Weekly goals are perfect for this.
  3. Lastly, build up to your weekly goals and SMART goals with creating new habits (or breaking bad habits) that make the change part of your morning routines or day-to-day routines. Before you know it, it won’t even feel like a change anymore!

4. Anticipate Mental Barriers to Challenging Yourself

Consulting in change management also taught me about many of the barriers that exist when it comes to personal growth and embracing change. No matter how excited or motivated you may be about challenging things, you should also anticipate some pushback from others and even yourself.

For ourselves, the biggest mental barriers are from negative emotions that pop up when we contemplate a new challenge. We frame new goals in our mind, and suddenly our heart beats fast in fear.

I’ve turned down many challenges due to uncertainty and fear of failure. Instead of addressing my fear, I stay inside my comfort zone where I know I can always achieve the same, consistent marks and goals. As a result, I miss out on my potential, new interests, and sometimes even new passions.

We often sell ourselves short, thinking that we are capable of less, or that we can’t do something simply because we’ve never tried. That’s why knowing how to challenge yourself is so important. 

Challenging yourself forces you to let go of fear! Because you will never know your limits until you reach them. 

You may often hear that a true challenge pushes you to your limits. Well, I’d like to add something to that. Challenging yourself is a great way to reach your limits. 

Note: it’s important not to push past your limits though. Maintain proper care of your mental health and be diligent in unwinding and relaxing after work.

5. Accept the Happenstance New Experiences

In the rest of this article, I will discuss ways to seek out a true challenge. However, sometimes challenges happen to fall in our laps.

For example, I enrolled my freshman year of college in Beginner’s Mandarin Chinese due to an academic advisor’s incorrect advice. I thought learning a new language was required for my degree though I found out midway through the semester it most certainly was not! 

I could have dropped the class at that point with no effect on my GPA, but I didn’t. Instead, I finished the class strong and then I proceeded to take four more semesters of Mandarin Chinese. Ni hao. :] 

Why did I take extra semesters of Chinese, you may ask. (Or perhaps “Are you crazy?) 

When it came to writing Mandarin Chinese characters, it was difficult to say the least. Learning to speak the language in the correct tones was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. 

And yet, it was one of the classes that I thrived in at university because it forced me to be my best, and I rose to the challenge!

I experienced firsthand that challenges truly bring out the best in us and pave the way for personal growth.

So for the challenges that drop into your lap, are you willing to take them on?

6. Seek Opportunities for Challenges at Work

Why do I like challenges at work?

While studying Mandarin Chinese for 2 and a half years was a good way to challenge myself, I also appreciate having challenges at work. 

We spend 40 hours (or more) a week in our office buildings, home offices, classrooms, or other location dedicated to work. I hope not only that those forty hours are productive but have some challenges as well. 

While challenges at work may be scary, I like how they break up the mundane, administrative work. They also allow me to flex my creative muscles and build problem-solving skills.

But the importance of challenging yourself is only half the story. The other is knowing how to challenge yourself. 

How do you challenge yourself at work?

You have to be intentional and purposeful in looking for challenges and new opportunities in your professional life. 

That may involve applying for a new job, going to a networking event in a different industry, signing up for a volunteer opportunity, asking to lead a meeting or project, or other new opportunities at work. 

All these examples require you to take the small step of initiating the challenge.

For example, during my first few months in my corporate job, I had the opposite of challenging work. My days were filled with a lot of administrative work and repetitive tasks I did not enjoy.

Though that work did fit into the grand scheme of my project, I couldn’t see the big picture and found myself getting frustrated and impatient. I had to remind myself that for a  young professional in an early career position, I can’t expect to have a corner office on day one. 

Still, I strived to be challenged at work. I used the downtime at the beginning of my first assignment to build new skills, hone networking skills, and learn everything I could about my project. 

Sometimes being challenged at work means bringing the challenge to yourself.

7. Consider Different Ways to Challenge Yourself at Work

Sometimes challenges at work come from the nature of the job. Particularly if it’s a position, company, or industry that’s brand new to you, you may be putting yourself in an “uncomfortable” position that’s naturally challenging. 

If that’s the case for you, kudos for embracing big changes! You’ve already stretched yourself by taking a position that’s sure to give you many new opportunities to grow and learn. 

If that’s not the case for you, then no worries. Climbing the corporate ladder isn’t the only way to progress in your early career. Careers are no longer linear.

Nowadays, corporate progression can happen by switching departments, changing industries, working on cross functional teams, and taking on new roles with the same team or project. 

So even though a new challenge may come your way that isn’t related directly to your role or headed straight up the corporate ladder, consider accepting it anyway. 

You open the door for new opportunities for promotion and advancement in the new department. You may also develop new skills, gain new knowledge, or even discover new ways to do tasks from your previous role.

Are you open to challenging yourself in unconventional ways?

8.  Ask Others for Help Find New Challenges

While looking for existing challenges in your work or daily routines is a great starting point, sometimes, challenges don’t come knocking on your door. 

That was the case when I was an English Teaching Assistant in Andorra. I wasn’t given a lot of responsibilities and thus was wondering how to challenge myself at work. The answer was looking for new challenges and opportunities, and sometimes that required asking my host family or my coworkers for ideas.

I ended up taking Catalan classes and teaching more creative English lessons. I sought out these personal challenges to use my existing skills in new, creative ways and develop new skills.

Ironically, some of my fondest memories of being a teaching assistant come from those two challenges because I was pushed to my limits and developed skills as a result. Learning a new language was also a big bonus!

In the same way, you will need to seek out opportunities from others to challenge yourself at work and in your personal life.

For example, if you’re looking for new challenges and opportunities at work, start by asking your manager or your mentor. Let them know if there is a certain skill or competency you’d like to develop. Chances are they will know of an opportunity or initiative that you can get involved in.

Secondly, let your coworkers know that you are open to taking on more responsibilities and are ready to help. Coming in as a young professional, you’ll be surprised how much experience you can gain from senior professionals just by helping them with their day-to-day tasks. And chances are, if you impress them, they may even take that responsibility from their plate and give it to you.

9. Small Challenges are Still a Win 

Before I set you loose on the job with a mindset to hunt down new challenges, here’s a bit of fine print.

You must be selective in the challenges that you tackle. Be realistic with how you challenge yourself.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew as that will only lead to poor performance and disappointment. Use common sense to determine if a challenge is in line with your goals or if it will benefit your personal development before committing. Find a mentor or coach to ask about it if you’re unsure.

Another strategy to build up to higher levels of challenge is to use small challenges as a starting point. In other words, take on small challenges at first. That way, you’ll have a firm foundation and skillset to help you succeed in the next level challenge. 

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10. Nurture a Growth Mindset to Challenge Yourself

The key to challenging yourself is a growth mindset. 

Having a growth mindset means that you are resilient to change, willing and ready to learn, and appreciative of challenges because they contribute to your personal and professional development. 

Growth mindsets take time and intention to cultivate. Being resistant to change is easier and more natural for most of us. See more about how to step outside your comfort zone. Yet, we miss out on many great things in the long run by staying in our comfort zones. 

I am certainly included in that “We” as I’m often tempted to stay in my comfort zone. But this blog is an example of what happens when you attempt a challenge.

How do you challenge yourself as a writer and blogger?

Aside from staggering word counts, I also challenge myself as a writer by writing in new genres, trying to write in different points of view, and exploring new types of writing, like essays, short stories, flash fiction, and articles.

This blog, Kara J Lovett Co., is also a challenge for me. I started it with an idea to write for Christians Abroad and an empty page. I didn’t know anything about Blog AvatarsAffiliate Marketing, or Search Engine Optimization (SEO) until I took these helpful courses by Kingdom Bloggers Academy

Now I’m writing about Navigating the Adulting Struggle with over 100 blog posts and counting, and you somehow found this article through the internet. If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would have a blog, I would’ve never believed you.

Challenging yourself will always surprise you. It may even have a significant impact you never would have anticipated! 

That’s why I’m honored to help you find new ways to challenge yourself on a regular basis. Don’t let fear keep you from reaching your limits and trying new things. Who knows what you’ll discover outside your comfort zone?

What will you do to challenge yourself today?

Leave me a comment below!

Don’t miss this! More posts about Working and the Young Professional Lifestyle:

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