Think about a gold wedding band. There are three distinct phases of that gold band. Phase 1 is the beginning of life for band, the mining and manufacturing of the band. Phase 2 is the longest period for the band, the time it is worn. And Phase 3 is when the band is melted down and changed to something else.
Gold is a relatively soft metal. So, during Phase 2 of the wedding band it may be nicked, dented, and bent fairly easily. But basic shape says the same. However, Phase 1 and Phase 3 takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of energy to mine and manufacture gold. And when it is time to reshape the gold it also takes a lot of energy.
So to with people. Small changes are relatively easy. But, big changes are hard and take a lot of energy. And, as with the gold wedding band, since changes can be totally destructive of the previous phase – changing the wedding band into earrings – we have to clearly see the advantages of the change before we even begin to think about expending the effort.
Now think about your own life and the experiences that made you what you are today. Are there any that changed your life. For me it was enlisting in the Army during the Viet Nam war.
The kind of experiences that changes people, generally:
- Challenges them to change how they think, act, or perform in new ways.
- Took significant energy and attention.
- Involved struggle and failure to get to the other side.
Change that has the most profound effect on individuals rarely comes easily.
Yet all too frequently, in a well-meaning effort to facilitate and enable change, we minimize the efforts. We chunk it down into digestible and doable bites. We strategize how to set people up for early wins and success each step of the way. We bake out the pain and struggle, intervening to remove the pressure and possible disappointment when the experience becomes too hard. What do they say, “No Pain, No Gain.”
I call this the “There is a Pill for that” world view. We want to find solutions that are like taking a pill. Want to loose weight? Take a pill! Want to control your modes? Take a Pill? Want to be more attentive? Take a Pill?
My mother-in-law says aging is not for wimps. Well, change is not for wimps either.
Easy instruction. Comfortable content. A leisurely pace. Fail-proof activities. They all lead to small growth steps. But genuinely difficult, challenging, mind-stretching (even sometimes frustrating) experiences generate great leaps and disproportionate forward momentum.
Challenge, struggle, failure and perseverance contribute to producing the grit and resilience required to welcome and mine these very building blocks for greater development.
But how can we — as individuals and parents — find the sweet spot and introduce that just right level of challenge into our lives and the lives of our children that inspires full engagement, optimal utilization of mental and other resources, and huge learning leaps forward? How do we push right up to — but not beyond — the unknown and outer limits of capacity? How do we enable a good, deep stretch but no breaks? How do we foster comfort with the uncomfortable?
Two key principles can help individuals embrace challenge as a vehicle for change and help parents support their families in doing so.
- Set audacious, personally relevant and meaningful goals. People are willing to do incredible things and endure tremendous discomfort when they know that these acts are in service of something significant. Connecting the dots between challenging conditions and what the anxiety (and even pain) may yield creates commitment to persevere.
- Cultivate mindfulness. Discomfort, anxiety and failure (or fear of it) can easily cause the mind to develop a mind of its own. When things get tough, it’s easy to begin down the ‘worst case scenario’ path, imagining outcomes that may or may not ever come to pass. As a result, it’s important to quickly interrupt those hijacked negative thoughts. Replace them with deliberate attention to what’s being learned and how it will help.
Beyond thoughts, it’s critical to also attend to language. How we label events and feelings frames our reality. Research suggests that when family members simply express their natural jitters as “excitement” rather than “‘nervousness,” their personal comfort and quality of the speech improve.
Apply the same principle to challenging change conditions.
- It’s not “impossible”; it’s a “stretch.”
- You’re not “overwhelmed”; you’re “enlivened.”
- It’s not “kicking your butt”; it’s “kicking you into gear.”
What begins as word play can quickly be absorbed by the mind, changing how you think and feel about the experience.
When it comes to change, understand that it will be “hard.” But, it is the “hard” that makes successful change rewarding.