A few days back I posted about the gift of putting oneself in a position to suffer (so as to learn, grow, and break through plateaus). For me, when thinking about struggle states, the next question revolves around how to get through that state of frustration and duress in a way that allows growth to occur and to get through in one piece.
Suffering stinks. It doesn’t feel good and it is not supposed to. From an evolutionary biology standpoint, pain serves a very specific focus: it forces us to provide effort and attention to an area that requires improvement or to cause a condition change.
Think about a time when you were motivated to accomplish a big task, example being passing a large test. You probably felt an intrinsic stress to study, learn, cram, and get it together to win the test. This distress most likely propelled you to surpass your expectation; without it you may not have accomplished your goal.
So what are some helpful ideas and tools to remain in that state while not being bowled over by the distress? Here are some that help me:
- Community – I try to stay connected and avoid isolation. Let’s make it clear – I am an introvert – and big groups of people can make me tired. However, even if I can stay in communication with a couple people who can support and uplift me – or who have been in a similar place and can provide opinions or advice – this helps me to remain confident that I will grow beyond the frustration state I am in.
- Reflection – I make time every day to meditate or simply stop what I am doing and reflect on existence. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What is the purpose and why does it matter? Keeping the big picture perspective in view allows me to know that my efforts can have significance and that intrinsically motivates me to push onward.
- Health – I choose to not allow any challenge compromise my own personal and physical health. Ensuring that I am eating well, sleeping well, and exercising allows my body to remain healthy – which allows my brain and conscience to make clear and smart decisions that support my efforts… and to hold a degree of optimism.
- Forgiveness – As leaders, we push ourselves to great lengths to be the best. Not being the best at something can be hard but internally berating ourselves when we’re not the best can be easy. Remember to stick it out and that your state of struggle is short-term, not permanent. Allow your max effort each day or time to be good enough for now.
An example of my own intentional struggle can be seen in the daily cross fit classes I attend. Last year, I became bored of standard gym-type exercising and I do not have any mountains around where I live any longer (so I am not able to hike like I used to [and deeply miss]). My goal around doing cross fit was to become stronger, happier, and healthier. Two months in, I am far from my strength goals. In fact, I’m firmly in last place in most classes. I won’t lie – I genuinely hate to see myself, a person used to being successful, struggling to just finish some workouts – and my hyper-competitive internal dialogue can have relentless, shameful, and unforgiving tendencies. But then I think about the above assistance points: I am surrounded by positive people who support me in this endeavor, regardless of what place I come in. I will be stronger long-term because of the pain and ridiculous effort I have to put in every day just to get through these workouts.
My arrow is pointing up and this state is temporary. I must remember that.
Someday I will not be in last place. I might even be good… and that is when the flow state will start to show itself a bit more. I will continue to weather the storm in the temporary to enjoy the future capacity growth and other benefits. I have faith that my hard work is creating ability and will lead to some degree of success, however that may look.
A fifth point not mentioned above is also worth mentioning: gratitude and appreciation. We leaders push ourselves to meet almost-impossible success standards. Don’t just focus on future happiness, but recognize the small moments of happiness and victory during this season. Life is too short to allow a relentless drive to manifest an ever-present sense of discontent. Don’t forget to notice on the happy and wonderful things around you. I actively choose to laugh and enjoy the daily struggle of cross fit – and to embrace the opportunity I’ve been given as joyously as possible, even when it’s remarkably hard, and it keeps me going back every day.
Humility is not fun… but conscious and proactive choices can make this state of being manageable. Because of our intentional struggle, we grow, accomplish, and become more than we can imagine. We further actualize our potential and increase our capacity to be amazing.
What are some struggles you intentionally put yourself through? What things you do to make struggle states more bearable? When have you struggled to eventually overcome a plateau?