Challenges.
They’re hard, eh?

When I visited my folks’ the weekend before last, I went to church with them. The sermon was about the challenge of giving things up for Lent. Since it is also Ramadan, I got to thinking about all the people who are in the midst of working to deepen their relationships with a higher being by creating a meaningful challenge for themselves for a certain period of time. 

I am working on a challenge myself, something I don’t normally do. I typically have difficulty adhering to challenges. Because challenges are hard.

I’ll let you in on a bit of this challenge – I’m not drinking alcohol. I have had a not-so-healthy relationship with alcohol over the past fifteen years, so this is not easy for me. 

The Journey

We are such a results-focused society, so we spend a lot of time thinking about results. Whether it’s weight loss, improved organization or more books read, we get excited about the end result. And this is great! “Begin with the end in mind,” is the 7th of Steven Covey’s habits of highly effective people.

The journey to get to that end result is less sexy. It’s all the moments along the way where we think we can’t possibly continue. In her sermon, the priest mentioned how often she had “flunked Lent.” Times when she just couldn’t.

I’m working on leaning into the difficulty lately. Instead of just trying to fly through whatever is difficult in order to get back to the easy or familiar, I’m trying hard to sit in discomfort more often. There is a lot of exploration that can be done during times of difficulty. 

The Messy Middle

Change simply cannot happen without some discomfort. Whether it’s losing weight (you might have to feel hungry sometimes) or healing your relationship with alcohol (you might be the only one not drinking at a party), you just can’t get to the end without going through the middle. The messy middle.

When you’re in the middle, how do you handle it? Do you quickly try to move on? Do you grit your teeth and put your head down? 

Do you ever just quiet your mind and get curious? Take a deep breath and think about why it’s hard? Lean into the difficulty? Take time to really feel it?

We’re not trained to do that. We’re tested on how fast we can regurgitate math facts in school and then at work we race against the clock to get as much stuff done as possible to maximize our output and profitability and NOT WASTE ANY TIME.

Thinking Through Challenges

Here’s another challenge for all of us. For those of us who have an alarm feature on our phone or watch, let’s set it for 4 different times per day. When it goes off, we’ll stop whatever we’re doing and take five deep breaths to shift our central nervous systems from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest” mode. Our breathing and heart rates will slow, making it easier for us to think clearly.

We will then be able to think our way more easily through the challenging times, understanding that it will be over soon, and we will be better for it.*

Remember that any change looks messy in the middle, and it’s going to feel like we’re “flunking” as we stumble along through our challenges. But the results and the self-learning are so worth it!

*Some challenges last longer than others, obviously, and some challenges (such as those that harm us or others) should be avoided at all costs. If you are experiencing a mental health challenge or abuse, for example, please get help. One great resource we have in our community is the United Way of Olmsted County’s 211 service. Dial 211 for help with mental health, safety, housing, food and other concerns.

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