For many, life has felt difficult in various ways for more than a year, so it may seem odd to question whether things have been challenging enough. However, I’m not being facetious. This is a serious question, and one meant to look beyond the current times we are living in. As much as some people may be feeling challenged by lockdowns or worse, others are dealing with a more sedentary lifestyle, boredom, a lack of interaction with others, and a sense of lost time as they miss out on birthdays and other typical celebrations. Put in context with other difficult periods of history, I wonder if these situations are really that challenging or if we just got accustomed to a very comfortable life?
This has caused me to think of the ways our modern convenience and comfortable way of living may be causing us to become less resilient. Prolific author Nassim Taleb writes in his book Antifragile: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.” American social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, points out that overly protective parenting has made adults who grew up coddled by overly protective parents very fragile and susceptible to depression and anxiety. What does this say about our modern obsession with safety, security and convenience?
Did you know that exercise increases the size of a part of the brain called the hippocampus? Meanwhile, research shows those suffering from depression have a smaller hippocampus. It is no surprise then that increasingly those suffering from depression are prescribed exercise as part of their therapy. Our lifestyles, however, are becoming more and more sedentary. Studies show that less than 3% of people take the stairs when there is the option of taking the escalator. Where I live in Germany, there is an explosion in the number of electric-powered bicycles. Without the ability to go to the gym or play basketball since November, I am grateful for any opportunity to get some exercise, which the stairs or my conventional bicycle provide. Where I do struggle is my memory. I used to know at least fifty phone numbers by memory, and now I could only tell you five without looking at the contacts in my phone. My spelling is also much worse now that I rely on spell check and Grammarly to correct all of my errors.
There are different ways you can challenge yourself that will help your resilience. With a lack of travel, I decided to do two things last year. I signed up for several online courses rather than signing up for Netflix, and I started fostering dogs. Continuing to learn is great for my mind, and the dogs get me out on long walks, which is great. More than anything, however, bringing a frightened and perhaps traumatised dog into my home has at times proven to be more challenging than I thought. Not only can it be frustrating dealing with unusual fear-induced behaviours, but just as you see them make progress and develop a bond, it’s time to give them up to their new adoptive caretakers. These are emotional challenges that I have come to embrace.
If we take away peoples ability to struggle or at least experience some mental and physical challenges, will they ever become more than they are now? As a coach, I try to help people go beyond their comfort zone. This is part of what it means to help people find their own highest potential. What are you doing to achieve your potential? Without challenges, it is difficult to grow, but more importantly, it will lead to decline. So ask yourself: Is your life challenging enough?