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Maximizing your life by minimizing your challenges



Life's challenges

Challenges were getting a lot of attention in the last few years, and it risked ruining another perfectly good word.  The dictionary defines a challenge as: 1) A call to engage in a contest. 2) A demand for explanation or identification. 3) A test of one’s abilities or 4) A formal objection.  The internet defines them as “a popular phenomenon, in which individuals record themselves performing specific actions or tasks, often daring others to do the same”.  The “challenges” became a significant part of internet culture, with many gaining widespread attention and popularity.  Remember the ghost pepper challenge, the cinnamon challenge or, the epitome of stupid, the tide-pod challenge?  Word association like that made me want to strike the word from my vocabulary.  But not all challenges are bad.  Not so long-ago, Robin and I hosted a couple of water challenges on Facebook to encourage healthy habits regarding water intake.  We noticed that water challenges are always successful. So those are some examples of good and bad challenges; but what about the challenges life throws at us? IE tests of our abilities to handle life's little surprise problems (or works little surprise problems). Sometimes when life starts throwing challenges at us, it feels like they're coming all at once and can seem overwhelming or at least border on overwhelming.  It's those kinds of challenges that I want to address and hopefully give you some tools to help deal with them.

First things first. You must define, for you, what your current or expected challenges are. Doing that is important for a couple of reasons. First, from a time management standpoint you can't effectively deal with your problems if you don't know what they are and prioritize them, 2nd if left unattended to, problems tend to worsen, imagine one of your problems as if it were a leak under the sink and you ignored it, eventually a small leak will rot wood and require major repairs to more than the pipe that would have been the end of it had it been addressed right away, on top of that your mental state will deteriorate while the demands of your time and energy are building up and the challenges become more challenging.😮  The negative effects to your psyche can include loss of energy or lethargy, sleeplessness, loss or lack of confidence, restlessness, irritability and turning to food, alcohol or other temporary reliefs.  All of those things increase our output of stress hormones and, as you know, running around with your stress hormones always on will create physical health problems for us.  So defining your challenges is the first step - Maybe you can have a geriatric pet that requires more frequent cleaning up after, or the kids start practice gets out Every day at 5:00, but you have an important meeting that you have to stay late for once a week at work. Maybe you’re in the middle of refinancing your house and the bank has a new request every couple of days requiring you to dig up obscure paperwork from several years ago.  Or you could be the lucky 1, with none of those surprises popping up dash some people view the quiet times as an opportunity to take on some goals that they would like to accomplish. The best way to get a handle on everything and prevent them from snowballing is to get organized, so that you can methodically take them on, or know that they've been handled as much as they can be for now, so that you can move on to the next task.


Overthinking challenges

What now? Experts from various fields all agree that you should spend some time evaluating everything on your list and writing down what having or doing that will do for your life and happiness.  Really dig in and find which ones will have the biggest impact.  Then, when you know what each thing will do for you, you can prioritize the list so you know where to start (most important/biggest impact). If you're like me, it might be tempting to tackle some of the easier but less important tasks first.  I have found though, that procrastinating some of those bigger tasks usually comes down to fear. Why?  Or What?  Everyone's reasons will be different, but could be fear of failure, like not getting the result you want; Fear of success - if I do this, then I'll have to start on the next thing and that could be scary or hard or I could fail at that; Fear of what others will think, or of being told no. The possibilities are endless, so one of the keys after listing and prioritizing your challenges or goals is to recognize any possible fear, hesitancy or trepidation. Recognizing that will come in handy for the next part.

Next is the key to making this work:  Understanding why you want to do this. It's usually easier to stick with something when we know why we're doing it or what our long term benefit will be if we do stick with it.  In Life and Health Coaching we sometimes call this the big motivating factor or Big MOFA. Self-improvement gurus, other life coaches and habit change books and courses call it the ‘Why behind the why’.  In root cause analysis we talk about or practice ’Five whys’ and I've seen that in coaching and self-help literature as well.  When you have a situation, failure, or in this case a challenge or goal, you ask why to the most obvious thing facing you; and when you have the answer to that, you ask why about the answer. After five whys, you should have reached the root cause or the big MOFA - what’s really driving someone. 

List making, part two.  You’ve identified your challenges, prioritized them and found your real motivation for doing them. Easy and time to get to it. Right?  Not so fast.  We are wired to be creatures of habit and doing things from habit frees up our brain for other tasks that are aren't automated.  It also frees up our minds to wander.  A 2010 study found that, on average, the 2200 people tracked were ‘Off-task’ for more than 50% of their waking day.  So how do we stay on task for newly prioritized challenges?  There are myriad ways to plan your days or weeks, but one of my and Robin's favorites comes from success mentor Darren Hardy and he calls it his Sunday planner. Essentially, pick out some time every Sunday (we chose evenings, after dinner) and review what you have coming up for the week ahead and plan out each day, making sure to list all the major things.  For some people it helps to list everything that has to be done every day so it's like a daily schedule. Others get by with a weekly schedule that shows just the big things or every once in a while, kind of tasks so they have a reminder only trial and error and knowing your own habits and excuses will show what works best for you. Once you have your weekend days planned out it takes, less willpower and self-discipline to put your plan into action than if you didn't have a plan, as a side note to that you can increase your chances of success by pre staging as much of your material as possible, if everything is all laid out ahead of time you can spend the entire time on the task instead of spending it getting ready.

You've picked your challenges or goals, identified your Big MOFAs, prioritized and planned them into your days and weeks ahead, started on one or more of them and -Bam! Sidetracked or derailed by life and you didn't make any progress for several days, a week or even more. What now?

How about an accountability partner?  First, avoid the temptation to talk badly to yourself or about yourself, (to you or anyone else). Remember we talked briefly about procrastination?  Now would be the time to look into why you may have put off doing what you already identified as important to you. There may be some self-sabotage at work.  It's more common than you would think for people with goals to set themselves up for setbacks or failures so that they don't reach their goals.  Similar to procrastination with a lot in common but it (self-sabotage) is more pronounced than just procrastinating. Some of the ways we self-sabotage are: 1) The reward for having done well - this cookie or day off from exercising or skipping studying ‘one time’.  That reward usually leads to more and breaks down the good habit we were developing.  It also breaks down our will power, making it harder to say no next time.  2) Preferring to stay stuck in whatever area we wanted to improve. – this goes right back to fear reasons for procrastinating, it just shows up differently.  We could fear getting that extra degree or certification because along with the status could come work that we don’t know if we are ready for, or if we lose weight we wont have any excuses to stay away from the dating scene or going to the beach.  Our critter brains can always find an excuse!  So how do you avoid the trap of listening to that little voice telling you that you don’t have to follow through? One tried and true method is an accountability partner.  People that set goals like going to the gym, or losing weight that make the commitment with a friend generally have more success with their goals than people who try to go it alone. People who quit smoking and use a support group also have more success than those who don’t.  It’s easy to trick or fib to ourselves, not as easy to do to a friend or partner that we’ve made a commitment with.  You could also enlist a Life or Health Coach, they make excellent accountability partners and can help with planning and finding YOUR Big Mofa.

Life is full of challenges and always will be.  If we’re willing to face them and give it our best we CAN handle them and come out on the other side smelling like roses and better off for having done it.  It just takes a little self-knowledge, courage, desire and planning.

 

To your health and happiness,

Doug and Robin



Success!

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