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A couple things we can learn from a Spartan Race

Are you aware of a Spartan Race? A Spartan race is a 5k or more race with series of obstacles in it. This kind of race is not particularly unusual for adventures in the great outdoors. The difference in a Spartan race is each obstacle that is missed requires each participant to do 30 burpees. Not just any burpee either. A full pushup burpee

I did a Spartan Race at Fort Carson Colorado a few years ago it was a 5 miles race with 25 military obstacles. I ended up doing 90 burpees because I couldn't chuck a spear, throw a dummy grenade in a barrel, or climb this silly rock wall looking thing. 

Why would I participate in a race that was the equivalent of a muddy butt kicking? No one made me do it. There was no grand prize for completing it. Plus, I had to pay a $100 to participate (I was late signing up). What gives?

Part of the answer can be explained in this video with author Steven Pressfield and the creator of the Spartan Race. What comes out in the video is the idea that creating something difficult is its own reward. Not difficulty by legislation, difficulty that is chosen. When the free will we have is exercised to overcome a challenge, we are changed over time. 

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about difficulty in his book David and Goliath as well. Researchers conducted an experiment to raise test scores on an already difficult test. Here is what the researchers found. By making the test a little harder, test scores went up. See a full excerpt of the story here.

How did the researchers make the test more difficult? They made the font a little more difficult to read. This caused students to focus more, to slow down, to take extra time concentrating on the problem. 

This is why Lent and some pilgrimages work so well. There are people that will make a pilgrimage on their knees in homage to a variety of Saints. We join together each Lent to sacrifice a good thing or take up a ritual as an observance. 

Do we really need to walk on our knees for a pilgrimage? Is there a "rule" or protocol for this experience? Do we have to give something up for Lent? Sure we have specific days for fasting but outside of those days is more required? No.

Why does this work? Just like a Spartan race or hard exam made a little harder, many times we choose out of free will to do difficult things. Because it is difficult comes the reward when crossing the finish line. Challenging mind body and spirit to over come what seems overwhelming is a huge reward in and of itself. When these events are a little harder we are required to focus more, concentrate and work harder. 

Like the race or Lent, these are group activities performed as part of a larger community. We have shared experience and a common language born out of the activities.

I've been pondering the idea that we Catholics are not challenged enough. Not challenged with red tape and layers of regulation designed to make folks who want the easy way out perform. No, a real challenge designed to tap into the spirit. To move free will from a sedentary state to one that is alive and vibrant. 

Perhaps it time to challenge the people in the pews into choosing a religious Spartan race of sorts. It works during Lent.

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