The dictionary defines challenge as “a difficult task or problem, something that is hard to do.”
In my job, I often talk with people about how they are handling the challenges of life. With my friends, with my clients. Life is pretty unpredictable. And life requires a lot of effort on our part. That’s for sure. Nobody knows that better than someone who is living with a chronic condition.
But I sometimes wonder if we don’t throw the word “challenge” around a little too much. I will speak for myself here. I am also thinking that I throw it around a little too much.
Let’s start by going back to the definition of challenge, and words like hard, difficult, and problem. Those are pretty negative words, right?
The point I am trying to make is that by painting so much of life with that broad brush of “challenge,” I am wondering if we don’t in the process label big parts of our life as hard. As if life was a serious of difficult problems.
The other concern I have with using the word challenge is that it can conjure up an image of life as this force that is trying to get us in some way. Has life challenged you to a duel? If so, all that charging and dodging can be exhausting.
A question: When we label something as a challenge, are we also setting ourselves up to view the challenge as insurmountable?
How about if we took a moment and thought about some words that we might use instead of the challenge? Here are three alternatives to consider:
Responsibility. Sure, our responsibilities aren’t always easy to manage. And we all have a lot of them that we would certainly like to get rid of. But here they are. We can view them as part of life. Not as something we chose, and not as something that has to overwhelm us. Just responsibilities. Something we do every day, maybe multiple times a day, because, well, that’s what we do.
Solution. You could call solution the opposite of challenge. It’s fixing something. So how about if you referred to some of your daily self-care tasks as solutions? For example, your medication regimen could be described as a daily solution for the symptoms of your condition, if not to prevent further progression of your condition. Exercise is a solution for inactivity. Sure, some effort is involved. Solutions are not necessarily miracles. A solution might not just swoop out of the sky and make a problem go away, and it might not be something you apply and then never have to think again. So how about identifying more of the solutions in your life?
Opportunity. You may have cringed when you read saw opportunity, especially if someone has lectured you on how you need to look at your challenges as opportunities (usually by someone who is not living with your chronic condition). But consider this: what you do to take care of yourself is an opportunity to do something that can help you to maintain your wellness and to feel at your best. Here’s an example: Dealing with the inconvenience and maybe the fear that can come along with a periodic check-up can feel like a challenge. But you can also view it as an opportunity to stay on top of your diagnosis and it’s treatment. That’s a good thing.
Here’s the bottom line: By choosing different words, we can help to shift our thinking from what’s difficult to what’s possible. And that can make life a whole lot less “challenging.”
Here are some ideas to help you update your vocabulary:
Resistance just leads to more resistance. Another vocabulary lesson: when we challenge something, we are expressing disbelief, or taking part in a contest or a duel. Hmmm… something to think about here. That sounds like resistance to me. So another question: Does thinking about your chronic condition as a constant challenge also mean that you are in a battle? Including battling the responsibilities that go along with taking good care of yourself?
When you resist, you are putting a lot of energy into a battle with yourself. You risk turning your life into one big challenge. That energy could do a whole lot of good if it was focused in a positive direction.
Focus on what you can control. A whole lot of what happens in life is out of our control. Living with a chronic condition can certainly teach us that. It’s only human nature to want to be in control of your life, but it’s also easy to slip into the mindset that if you grit your teeth and dig in, you can force your life to look the way you want it to look.
Instead, take a step back and look at what’s not in your control. As hard as that may be, once you are clear on the “givens” of life, you free yourself up to see what you do have control over. And that’s a lot. Think: attitude of acceptance.
Keep yourself motivated. The “everything’s a challenge” mindset walks hand in hand with “everything’s so hard.” Looking at life as a serious of hard knocks can wear you down after awhile.
So how about looking at how you can keep yourself motivated? Take a look at your self-talk. Start by changing up your language when you talk to yourself. Give yourself a pep talk: “Everything I do to take care of myself gives me a healthier life. Life is good.” Find fun ways to stay active. Give yourself rewards when you follow your self-care routine. Stay connected with people who can encourage you and help keep you accountable.
Have a vision. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of viewing your life as one long slog to “whatever.” Have goals in mind that you are working toward – relationships, experiences, accomplishments. Build something into your life every day, every week, and every year to look forward to. Small goals, big goals. Create a positive, realistic vision for your future.
You can choose to look at your life in a new way. It all starts with the words you use. Challenges? Sure! That’s life. But also responsibilities, solutions, and opportunities.