Rising to the Challenge and Defining Yourself

A challenge is serious business. It brings to the surface your values and identities and asks you one of life’s most important questions: Are you who you say you are? And, if so, prove it.

Rising to the Challenge and Defining Yourself

In 1434, the knight Suero de Quiñones created the Passo Honroso when he and his friends issued an all-comers challenge at the bridge over the river Órbigo. They camped out, blocking the bridge, vowing to break 300 lances before lifting the pas d’armes. Literally a “passage of arms,” such challenges marked the waning days of the middle ages when knights were experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. Having been the dominant force on the battlefield, the elite, mounted warriors found themselves more and more relegated to organizational and leadership roles. Longbows and crossbows wreaked havoc from a distance, and pike formations could break the mighty cavalry charge, forcing changes to the weapons, tactics, and strategies of warfare. The invincible knight-errant and chivalric code became medieval literary tropes, solidified in Le Morte d’Arthur, and turned upside down a few centuries later in Don Quixote. Challenges like the Passo Honroso helped uphold the knights’ chivalric tradition and preserve their identity as warriors.

A challenge calls into question a person’s identity. The word challenge means to demand proof. Its Latin root, calumniari, also lends meaning to the English word calumniate, meaning to make maliciously false statements about someone. Old French versions of the word (“chalone” and “chalengier”), meaning an accusation, claim, or dispute, had morphed by Suero’s time to “a calling to fight.” These fights were issued with an accusation—something along the lines of “you aren’t knightly enough to face me.” Any knight who refused the pas d’armes would be proven false and have had to leave his spurs in disgrace. To answer a challenge means choosing to meet your accuser, putting your identity at risk in doing so.

Sculpture from the 16th-century sarcophagus of Suero de Quiñones. CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0).

From July 10th to August 9th, Suero de Quiñones and his companions fought 166 battles, quitting only when they were too injured and battered to continue holding the bridge. They would have asked John II of Castile for permission to hold the bridge and issued a written challenge, detailing the rules of combat and inviting any would-be challengers to show up to the Órbigo for a joust. That is to say, the challenge was a formal affair. Its rules established the circumstances of proof-of-chivalry. Suero’s act was so bold because he and his friends set an indefinite time and outrageous goal. The Passo Honroso would make Suero famous enough to be memorialized in Don Quixote.

Accepting a Challenge

People respond to challenges. We’ve posted about the modern idea of gamification for intrinsic motivation, tapping into something hardwired into us. “You do not have what it takes” are fighting words to our psyches. Accepting a challenge means agreeing to someone else’s terms of proving yourself. Instead of a joust, duel by pistols, or poisoned sausages (look it up), we will usually challenge ourselves to something that coincides with a goal.

A challenge is serious business. It brings to the surface your values and identities and asks you one of life’s most important questions: Are you who you say you are? And, if so, prove it.

Not all challenges are created equal, of course. The most valuable challenges are those that line up with how we see ourselves. If we value strength, then the challenge to work hard in the gym or meet some lifting goal can help motivate us to better performance. A good challenge also builds self-efficacy.  Unfortunately, many fitness-related challenges come with a goal but not the habit-forming practices that help us in the long run.

As an example, we have an ongoing nutrition challenge called the Take Charge with 10. It is not for everyone. It is neither easy nor directed at hyper-specific nutrition goals. It’s not designed for either significant weight loss or weight gain. Better—at least we think so—it is designed around self-efficacy.

The goal of the challenge is to build the competence and confidence to define your relationship with food. There is no counting calories or macros. Instead, Coach Gillian created this challenge to show you the power of certain basic practices: drink water, eat veggies, build balanced meals, pay attention. Doing so, she gives a peek into her own mastery of nutrition.

If these types of changes will help you reach your goals, click here to take the challenge. It’s free, but it will cost you the commitment of doing something in line with who you are or who you want to be.

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