Change Within the Challenge

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you..”

..that’s the quote on a picture I bought recently for just $10 at Walmart… and it’s now hanging on my bedroom wall. I’m sure you’ve heard this quote before, or at least others similar to it, but despite such redundancy, there is something to be said about the intimately unique way a cliché can touch you… or in some cases, kick you. That’s what happened to me that day in yes, Walmart.

Now, for this simple, broad, and potentially played-out message to have an impact on me may come as a surprise to you. I suppose many would figure that as a therapist, I might have more advanced ways of explaining or looking at life and the many complex proponents needed for human growth. It’s certainly true that I’ve learned a lot about, experienced, and worked with the concept of change in multiple variations with vastly different people, but I do have to say that I’ve found the “challenge precursor” to be the common denominator in most, if not all, successful growth cases (including my own).

The problem? Not one of us likes challenge. Some may argue with this, as of course there’s enjoyment in self-improvement and accomplishment when it comes to tasks we take on and decisions we make, but I’m talking real challenge; the kind we can’t choose and are instead forced into… where resisting is our instinct, but resistance only makes it worse. Yep, that’s the kind alright. I’ve been there… and pretty sure I’m still there in many ways.

I’d congratulate you if you’ve never had to be subjected to such an obstacle in life and the extreme discomfort that comes with it, however, that wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing. Like I said, challenge is often the precursor to successful growth, so if you never have pressure to change, or refuse to embrace and react to this pressure, you won’t improve. This becomes a real bind for those who are feeling stuck in places they don’t want to be in… jobs, relationships, depression, etc., because it puts them in a situation where more discomfort is needed to relieve their existing discomfort. Go ahead and read that last sentence one more time.

A nightmare? Sure, we can easily call it that. Luckily, the consolation here is that, unlike a nightmare, we have more control over these situations than we think. This control, like most other things, first comes from a change in perspective: the acknowledgment and acceptance of any and all challenging moments as opportunities and life-shapers, not enemies and defeaters. This shift in mindset alone can help move us from fear to enthusiasm, from doom to hope, and from lost to motivated. This mindset comes from accepting life as challenging and expecting it to be.

Somewhere along the line, many of us have picked up the idea that life is supposed to flow smoothly and comfortably; that any bump in the road must mean there’s something wrong with us. This is why we see challenge and fall into the pattern of avoid, avoid, avoid, and when that’s no longer possible, we medicate, medicate, medicate. Too many of us skip right over FACE and COPE which, in reality, turns out to be much less work (believe it or not). This is what life and we are designed for.

The bottom line? I have now made it so that I wake up to this reminder on my wall each morning. When I open my eyes and once again read the words “If it doesn’t challenge you it won’t change you,” I set myself up to not necessarily look forward to challenge, but to welcome it. I set myself up to readily show what I’m made of and to earn progress rather than feel entitled to it. Lastly, I set myself up for forgiveness when I struggle and make mistakes because I can recognize my limits as a human being and feel proud of the successes I’ve already seen in spite of them.

I know that the discomfort from challenge is just the feeling of my body, heart, and mind adapting. I don’t have to enjoy it. The point is to no longer fear it, to no longer resist it, and to no longer believe that you can do without it.

Only then can we truly succeed, conquer, and grow.