What’s one thing you did in 2020 that was memorable? How about 2019 and 2018?

I recently heard Jesse Itzler talking about the concept of a Misogi Challenge on a podcast. For reference, Jesse is a successful entrepreneur, brand incubator, author, former rapper, and the husband of Sara Blakely, who founded Spanx. As he shared, “The notion around the misogi is you do something so hard one time a year that it has an impact the other 364 days of the year.” He continued, “Put one big thing on the calendar that scares you, that you never thought you could do, and go out and do it.”  

In other words, once a year, do something memorable. Itzler’s words made me pause the podcast. I grabbed a pen and paper and started running through the past years in my mind. There were a few significant milestone events that stuck out to me:

2006 – The twins are born

2012 – Start a business

2015 – Run a marathon

2016 – Get married

2018 – Launch a blog

Some epic things on that list – life events that defined each of those years in a big way! Some were physically demanding, and some were emotionally challenging. All of them scared me, and I learned amazing things about myself in the process of taking on each challenge.

Learning a little bit more about the origins of misogi, it began as an annual Japanese purification process for both the body and the mind. The word misogi translates to “water cleansing” and is generally done by standing under an icy waterfall while winter waters pour over the body. Researching this, I found that Nat Geo had explored traditional misogi in Japan. As the writer shared in their article, standing under the waterfall was like “pressing Control-Alt-Delete on your body.”

Jesse Itzler’s take on the misogi is a bit different. It’s not tied to any spiritual experience, although I would argue that taking on a challenge like this does require some spiritual element. Itzler’s version, the Misogi Challenge, is designed to help us uncover what we’re capable of as individuals and to tap into possibilities we don’t see in the moment. Once we complete the challenge, it’s a reminder that we are stronger than we believe and that more is possible than we can imagine. Misogi is an opportunity to reset the machine for the year to come.

Looking back on the list I created above, I was struck by how vividly I could remember the years where I did something bold. Running that first marathon is something I’ll never forget. I feel the same about the memories I have of marrying Cristina and meeting my children for the first time. I vividly recall publishing my first writing – it sent shivers down my spine. Looking back, I love everything those experiences represent and all I learned about myself through each one.

I’m also struck by how the years between those significant events seem to have slipped past me without any strong memories. They came, and they went, and I moved on. Those years remind me of a mist in the air that appears for a second and disappears just as quickly. 

Thinking about the Misogi Challenge, I want more of those life-changing memories and less of the mist. I want my life to be filled with meaningful events so that if I’m blessed to become an old man, I have memories to enjoy. And, if my life is taken more quickly than I would like, I want to know I packed it full and did something with it.

That’s another topic Itzler talks about. We live our lives making plans for the next ten years, and beyond that, twenty and thirty. It rarely occurs to us that those years aren’t promised and that even next year isn’t guaranteed. If we did have that mindset, that time is short and it is valuable, our approach would be different. We wouldn’t waste time, and we wouldn’t keep saying, “Tomorrow.”

So here I am, trying to figure out what my misogi for this year will be. I haven’t answered that for myself yet, but here are three things that are helping guide my decision…

  1. Misogi should push the limit. I’ve seen it said in multiple places that whatever your misogi goal is, there should be a 50/50 chance that you will succeed. It shouldn’t be easy enough that you can fully expect to be successful. You need to enter the misogi with a sense of adventure, knowing that you may fail. There needs to be some risk involved. The whole point is to stretch yourself to tap into something you didn’t know for sure you were capable of. 
  2. Misogi should scare you a little bit. Tied to pushing your limits, whatever you choose for your misogi should create a little bit of fear. It should make you uncomfortable, and the thought of it should rattle your nerves a bit. From starting a business to getting married for a second time to running a marathon, each of those things created some unease and anxiety. The beauty is this… in each case, that fear broke down over time – once I chose to take the leap.
  3. Misogi is for you, not anyone else. The whole point of the misogi experience is to learn something about yourself. The same as it was a traditional way to purify the mind and body in Japanese culture, which was very personal, the Misogi Challenge is an endeavor for you alone. Even if you do it alone with someone else or a group, the experience is still very private. If you’re doing it for someone else, you’ll miss the point.

Here’s a new addition to this Misogi Challenge concept, one I am just working through. If it’s possible to define your year with one big challenge, can you define your months with smaller Mini Misogi challenges? I believe it is, and I am using this year to explore that as well…

The Takeaway

Reading this, think back on your last 5-10 years. What memories can you attach to specific years? As you look back, can you pinpoint those moments where you stretched yourself and allowed yourself to get highly uncomfortable in order to grow? Think about one thing you can do this year to make it memorable. Learn Spanish, run a marathon, try dating again, climb a mountain, start a business… Whatever you choose, lock in your focus and start planning to make a memory this year that you’ll enjoy remembering later. 

As always, thank you for taking the time to dive in with me! Join me here, and I’ll do my best to help you stretch yourself, grow, and go deep in life.

Ready for more?

If you liked this, you’ll also get massive value out of the Grit Meets Growth podcast that I share with Chris Cathers. It’s for people who want more out of life… at work, at home, in their relationships, and in their health and wellness. Find it here or on your favorite podcast platform! – John



Thank you to Jesse Itzler for turning me on to the Misogi Challenge. If you’re interested in learning more about Jesse, he has two great books:

Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet: https://amzn.to/3cmsaR0

Living with the Monks: What Turning Off My Phone Taught Me about Happiness, Gratitude, and Focus: https://amzn.to/3lcuSfN