I stood on the top and looked down. It was so steep that I couldn’t see the end of the ski slope. For a couple of minutes I mustered up the courage and then I headed downhill. I zigzagged down at increasing speed. Suddenly, I fell over and landed on my back, sliding off the piste. I thought “Soon I’ll crash into a tree and break my spine”.
I was in Ramundberget, a ski resort in Härjedalen, Sweden, with my family. After a few days of skiing, I wanted to tackle the steepest slope, Svarte Petter (“Black Peter”). It was truly a challenge that I didn’t know if I could handle or not. After this attempt, I did not try again. I understood that I would need a lot more practice before I could succeed in something similar.
Two kinds of challenges
When I think of the word challenge, two variants pop into my head. One of them is the one I’m facing right now as I’m writing this blog post – trying to accomplish something while having limited time. This afternoon I’m going to a training course. I will be out in nature for a week without contact with the outside world. So I need to finish writing this blog post and do a few other things before I head out. This is truly a challenge that, at the time of writing, I don’t know if I will be able to cope with.
The other type of challenge I think of is more connected to a human need of ours. It’s the challenge of creating, achieving or learning something new. I want to grow and develop, I want to try things that I have never tried before or do something that seems really huge and almost unreachable. In order to do this I really need to challenge myself.
Moving out of the comfort zone
When I carry out my daily tasks, most things are predictable. I know that I have the ability to cope with the tasks I take on. It’s a comfortable and restful place to be, even if it can involve hard work. In this place I won’t learn much new. I am in the comfort zone. It is not challenging or demanding, rather safe and secure.
To develop, I need to move outside my comfort zone. I need to step into the unknown, into a place where I don’t know what the end result will be. In this zone I will expose myself to stress of various kinds. I might fail or make a fool out of myself. Others may have judgments about me (but that they will have regardless of what I do or don’t do). I will also be exposed to my self-judgments and inner critical thoughts.
Our evolutionary mind
There is something paradoxical about the way our brain works. Through evolution, we humans have developed our incredible ability to adapt. Like few other animals, we can live in the most diverse environments and temperature conditions. We have developed a vast variety of ways of living. Our mind helps us with ingenuity and creativity to cope with the most complicated life circumstances we face.
At the same time, our brain is incredibly lazy. It is an organ that consumes large amounts of the body’s energy. By making our life habitual and familiar, the brain saves energy. In our modern age, we can live relatively comfortably. We don’t need to put ourselves through hardships to survive. If we want to develop, we often need to take on challenges consciously.
Cultivate a capacity for challenges
As NVC practitioners, we are used to being exposed to challenges. I think we can meet the need for challenge more easily if we adopt a certain mindset. We can expect that we make mistakes, that we will be insecure, that we will not appear as superior beings in the eyes of others. At the same time, we can expect others not to do as we want, to resist, to withdraw and avoid us and do all sorts of crazy stuff.
If we can accept the state of being and that we are not in control of most things in our life, I think we can approach challenges in a different way. It will be sweaty, dirty, noisy and awkward. Sometimes we will wonder why we got into it in the first place. But it will also be incredibly enriching and meaningful. Something we don’t want to live without.
What attitude to challenges do you have?
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Joachim Berggren (CNVC Certified Trainer)
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On 7 September at 19:00-19:45 CEST, you can participate in a Zoom Talk with me and Iris Bawidamann. We will talk about the need for challenge.
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