Think you could never take on our OYNB challenge? Psychology says otherwise…
From running a marathon, to climbing Mount Everest, to giving up alcohol – challenges endlessly fascinate us. There’s something so appealing about taking on something that’s difficult to do. Defined as ‘something that needs great mental or physical effort in order to be done successfully and therefore test a person’s ability’, often, the royal jelly of any challenge is about the day to day training, the mental stamina to keep on track, or the steps it takes to get to the top of that mountain – we’ve all heard the phrase ‘A marathon is 100’s of miles, the finish is just the last 26.22’. So what does it take to succeed in a challenge?
1 – See your challenge as an opportunity. There is joy, pride, glory and respect to be found in taking on a challenge. Inevitably, as per it’s definition, the challenges we set ourselves will at some point see us face adversity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi from Claremont Graduate University says in his study Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, ‘No trait is more useful, more essential for survival or more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.’
Seeing our challenges as enjoyable opportunities can give us the motivation we need to complete them. Myself, I’ve found it helpful to focus on long-term gratification over the short-term – sending my attention to how I’ll feel or what I’ll get in return in the future for the adversity I face now. In an alcohol-free lifestyle that’s meant taking my awareness from the wanting of a glass of bubbles as everyone else celebrates at Christmas, to that feeling in January; knowing my mind is clear, I’ve invested in my health, and been good to my body. Plus, the awe-inspired faces of friends and family as they realise I’ve achieved a difficult challenge helps too…
Those of us who can find a joyful challenge when faced with difficulty ‘are not focused on satisfying their needs’ says Csikszentmihalyi. ‘They are alert, constantly processing information from the surroundings. Instead of becoming internally focused, they stay in touch with what is going on. So new possibilities and new responses emerge.’ Challenges are also a great opportunity to learn about yourself – what you can achieve, how resilient you are, how you handle difficulty. It can increase a sense of self-worth and meaning in life. What’s not to love about that?
2 – Use your mind to think yourself to success. Research suggests our thoughts are capable of either limiting or enhancing our cognitive and physical boundaries. In other words, thinking that we can’t do something is enough to stop us from being able to do it. But equally, thinking we can do something, can help us achieve it. Research* has found that the difficult part of a challenge lives inside our minds. Want to use your mind to succeed? Those of us who face challenges head on ‘have unconscious self-assurance’ says Csikszentmihalyi. ‘They believe destiny is in their hands. They are self-assured but not self-centered. They do not doubt that their own resources would be sufficient to determine their fate.’ I thought about taking on the challenge of going alcohol-free long before I actually did. The only thing that stopped me from starting? Not believing I could make it a part of my life. The thing that sparked me to start? Believing there was a chance I could live this way, and all of the benefits it could provide me for a better life.
3 – Use past challenges to help you achieve future ones. Whether you are just starting out on your OYNB challenge, or you’ve already got a few weeks, months or years under your belt, looking back to past challenges you’ve faced, successful or not, can help you succeed with future challenges. By looking at past lessons learnt, what worked before, what didn’t, and building on resilience we’ve cultivated in our lives already, we can use all of this experience to help guide us through the next challenge at hand. At a simple level, just knowing we have previously set our mind to something and worked towards it to achieve it, can be huge for motivation. For me, having given up meat and going veggie a few years ago allowed me to fall back on that experience to help me cut alcohol from my diet too. For a friend, in moving to Dubai she had cultivated resilience she never knew she had that have helped her find the confidence to believe she could go alcohol free.
And the most exciting thing? The confidence that your OYNB challenge can give you can sparks ideas and the conviction to achieve new challenges. From Spartan races to being one of the fittest people on the planet, from starting businesses to training to be a yoga teacher (my 2018 challenge) and even climbing the foothills of the Himalayas (my personal challenge next year), it seems that something as small, and yet so huge as cutting alcohol from your life could be the first step towards challenges you never thought you could achieve.
Helen Keller said “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” So, what challenge will you take on in the New Year?
Take the OYNB challenge and change your life today… it’s changed mine! Click: www.oneyearnobeer.com/takethechallenge
* Ulrich W. Weger & Stephen Loughnan (2013) Mobilizing unused resources: Using the placebo concept to enhance cognitive performance, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology