Friday, 4 April 2014

Are You Up For A Challenge?

With the London Marathon coming up I wondered, “Are you up for a challenge?” Are you someone who likes to test their body with marathons or mountains? Do you like to challenge your mental abilities with complex puzzles? Or maybe you want a new job to test your capabilities in the professional sphere? In short, are you a bring-it-on type of person?

All those things we see as healthy, positive challenges. We seek them out and to a large extent we enjoy them. Our attitude to them is good, positive. We see how we develop and grow and have fun by having moved out of the legendary comfort zone. Therefore challenging yourself is good, right?

So what is so different about the huge opportunities we have to challenge ourselves in our everyday life? Do you know the kind of thing I mean? Can’t we see our relationship with our boss, or the fact that we’re being made redundant, or that things aren’t great at home, or that we can’t communicate with our teenage son as challenges in the same way as we would if we were climbing a new mountain?

The truth is that we see the everyday life challenges as stuff that gets done to us. Let’s face it, we’d rather not deal with it. We wish our spouse, our boss, the government, our children, our company, our customers would just stop doing stuff to us. But these are first order challenges. They might be stuff but they are the stuff of life. How we respond to them defines our lives.

When stuff happens to us, we very often feel that the situation is out of our control because it’s the other person or the economy or the company which has control over what’s happening to us. But (make sure no-one’s reading this because it’s one of the world’s best kept secrets) what would happen if you could take back control over whatever is happening to you? Of course, you can’t control whether you lose your job but what about it can you control?

I had the good fortune to make this discovery for myself. I have bouts of an illness called M.E. or Chronic Fatigue. The worst one I went through lasted four years. For a time I was bed-bound and had only the energy to watch the clouds go by. It was a tough time. One day in the depths of despair I cried buckets at my desperate situation. However, fed up of feeling sorry for myself, I pulled myself out of it and asked myself probably the most important question of my life - “What can I do about it?” I reached for a pen and paper to make a list of things I could do to improve my situation. There was an immediate transformation in my mood. I felt energized and empowered. I had ideas for ways I could improve my quality of life. From that day forward I was in control of my illness.

Taking some measure of control works even in the most unimaginably awful situations. Viktor Frankl describes how, in the midst of the horrors of the concentrations camps, he learned that there was one thing he could control - his attitude to what was happening all around him. 

  “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Viktor E. Frankl,
Man's Search for Meaning 

If he could do that in those circumstances, what could we do in ours?

So, whether London Marathon or not, what is there about what’s happening to you that you can take control of? Ask yourself “what can I do about it?” and feel the power return. Enjoy the challenge.

 photo credit: <a href="">Kris Krug</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>
 photo credit: <a href=""></a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

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