Challenge Yourself Every Time You Do It

When I was in monastic training, I regularly had to cook meals for the whole monastery. When I first started my training, I was scared to cook for twenty or more people. Would I be able to cook enough food with the limited time available? Would the people like my food?

I was good at cooking something that I found delicious – but cooking a lot of food for a lot of people that they all found nutritious, healthy, delicious, and meeting the various requirements and constraints was hard.

Honestly, it stressed me out. I didn’t like cooking. It wasn’t fun for me.

But I found ways to make it fun.

Of course, one way was to bring my mindfulness practice to the cooking. Feel the vegetables as I cut them. Cut or stir or walk with the rhythm of my breath, the inhale and the exhale. Notice the mood or state of my mind. Cultivate loving kindness towards myself, anyone I was cooking with, and the people I was preparing the food for. These were some of the techniques I would try or use when cooking.

But there was another way I made cooking fun: to challenge myself to learn or try something new every time I cooked.

To cook a new recipe, like chickpea bread or a new pudding. To try a new seasoning for the soup. To try chopping the vegetables in a new or more efficient way. To learn how a kitchen appliance I hadn’t used before worked.

Trying something new every time meant that I was always learning – and it made cooking fun. It was easy for cooking to feel like a chore, but trying something new every time made cooking fun and interesting and novel rather than a stressful obligation.

I’ve since adapted this mindset to other things that I do. Take my podcast for example. At the time of this writing, I’ve recorded and published thirty six episodes of my podcast. I loosely hold the intention to learn or try something new with every podcast, whether about the technical recording + production, or about the podcast conversation itself.

Here are some of the technical things I’ve learned from doing my podcast:

  • How to use ffmpeg (a command line tool) to convert video and audio files to different formats
  • How to use youtube-dl (a command line tool) to download multiple videos from YouTube at the same time, from a YouTube playlist
  • How to use timestamps on YouTube videos to mark specific portions of the conversation

Conversationally, I’ve practiced:

  • Noticing when a guest shares context that a listener might not have – ask them about it, to explain further and give context
  • Interrupting people if they’re going on too long or I’m more interested in something else
  • Using my body language to express my thoughts or feelings while a guest is speaking (often when I listen attentively, my body language is muted and hard to read)

Or I’m doing 100 Drawings. So far, I’ve done twenty drawings. Here are some of the technical things I’ve learned so far about how to draw in Procreate on the iPad:

  • How to create my own color palettes
  • How to fill a region of a drawing with a color
  • How to use one layer as a stencil for another layer
  • How to use Gaussian Blur to blur the colors in the background

You may not have to regularly cook breakfast or lunch for twenty or thirty people at a monastery, but there are certainly things you have to do repeatedly.

These could be ordinary chores, like doing the dishes, or ordinary aspects of life, like calling your friends or family on the phone. Or they could be things that are unique to your life specifically.

If you’re doing something repeatedly, you might as well look for ways to improve or shake it up. It makes it more fun, and it can also make you better and better at doing the thing you’re already doing.

See if there’s a way you can grow every time, by trying something new or learning something you didn’t know beforehand.

It doesn’t even have to be something “important.” You probably tie your shoes frequently – could you try a new shoelace knot? It might not be the most useful thing you could improve at, but it might be fun or interesting! That’s all that matters.

It could be something important, too, though. Your guitar hobby, or the poems you write in a secret notebook. A meeting that you regularly host at work, or an event at a social group you’re part of.

You don’t have to be strict about it. If you do the thing without learning anything new at all, that’s okay. If nine times out of ten, you try something new and learn something from it, that’s going to result in massive improvements or some kind of interesting change or lesson.

Challenges and novelty make anything fun and interesting, even if the thing itself is not fun or interesting. And if it’s important to you, challenging yourself to learn something new or try something new every time you do it will help you improve faster.

If you’re doing something repeatedly, you can improve at it every time you do it.

Challenge yourself to try something new every time you do it.

Challenge yourself to learn something new every time you do it.

It doesn’t matter what *it* is. It could be anything at all, big or small, important or totally unimportant.

Every time you sweep the floor or put the dishes away, see if you can do it a little faster.

Every time you talk to your parents or friends on the phone, see if you can find new ways to listen a little better, to pay more attention and have a better conversation.

Every time you write an email, or do a search on the internet.

Every time you work out.

Every time you practice your instrument.

If it’s important to you, or making it more fun and interesting would be valuable, then try it out – challenge yourself every time you do it. Whatever it is.