How would you rate yourself when it comes to taking chances? I don’t mean silly chances, like walking through the woods sampling every mushroom you may find, but considered growth opportunities. The concept of intentionally and willingly taking on challenges in your life that will afford growth opportunities. This is the topic I would like to examine today.
I subscribe to the theory that we are placed on earth in order to learn and grow, to develop our ability to learn tolerance, compassion, love and understanding. I would describe these learning opportunities as mandatory: life always seems to be bringing them to us, large or small, sad or funny, welcomed or unwelcomed. I suspect that to whatever extent we resist these opportunities life responds by pressing them on us. I don’t mean to ascribe a punitive quality to life, but am referencing more of a calculated indifference similar to the way in which the weather responds to your picnicking plans.
I propose that we may be able to alter the type and severity of lessons life tosses at us by adopting a positive attitude and willingness to accept challenges as unavoidable and even desirable. We can accomplish this in two ways: first, by being open to challenges and not trying to duck them, we can forestall minor issues from accumulating into a major blow. In welcoming challenges, we also become more skilled and confident at taking them on and are therefore better prepared to handle potentially serious situations when they occur.
Let me try to make an analogy with maintaining our physical health. We all understand, if not incorporate into our daily lives, the health benefits of occasional physical workouts, being moderate in our appetites, getting the proper rest and employing avocations to reduce stress. These things all help to make us healthier and happier as we move through life. They force us to use our muscles, employ moderate self-discipline, make short-term sacrifices for the long-term good, etc. Consciously deciding to take on challenges in life helps accomplish the same healthy effect on the emotional/psychological level. When we face a challenge, we meet with failure until we learn to adapt and cope with the challenging novel situation. We are provided a road map to our areas of weakness until (combined with a healthy appreciation for the concept of perseverance) we gradually learn what we need to do to succeed.
Taking on voluntary chances need not be a daunting task. It can be anything, from developing an exercise program, losing weight, learning to make scrapbooks, bowling, or bonsai gardening all the way up to more complex, intelligent and sophisticated activities such as fishing. The important thing is that the task be both challenging yet achievable. As you work toward your goal, whatever it may be, you will learn valuable things about yourself. You will encounter failure and in doing so will have a priceless opportunity to see how you react, and, more importantly, how you respond. You will see what makes you want to give up, how you do it and how you work to overcome obstacles. You can gain some very valuable information about yourself, if you are paying attention to the right things.
And this is the lasting value. You gain confidence in your ability to handle various situations in life and your sense of self-esteem is bolstered. And even when life throws you a big curve ball, you are in a much stronger position to respond quickly and more constructively than you would be if you normally tend to shrink from taking chances.
I know we are all busy and I know we all think we already have too much on our plates as it is, but I want you to think about something. Are you challenging yourself sufficiently or are you looking for ways to avoid being challenged any more than you already imagine you are. I suspect we all harbor a completely or partially hidden attitude that we really don’t want to be challenged any further. If so, the best way to approach it is to voluntarily and willingly take something on.
As I mentioned before, it doesn’t have to be onerous. It can be something valuable that you may feel is lacking in your life, such as experiencing more joy, having more and deeper friendships or feeling closer to your loved ones. If you don’t know where to begin, Google happiness, peace or joy or speak with someone you admire to obtain some ideas on how they view life. There is sure to be sufficient information on hand to get you started, if you have a commitment to the goal.
One viable alternative is to join a service organization in your community such as Rotary and interact with other people who are interested to giving service to those in need. The research on happiness points unequivocally to the value of engaging with something larger than yourself as being a key to happiness. It’s a wonderful way to connect with like-minded individuals and rest secure in the knowledge that you are making yourself an instrument of spreading peace and understanding throughout the world (which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is sorely in need of it.)
Or you can just ask yourself How can I be more loving to my family or friends? There’s a worthy challenge! You’ll find that to the extent you accept and even seek out worthwhile challenges in your life, the happier you will be and the better you will feel. Try it on a small scale for a few weeks as a demonstration project and find out for yourself.