Athletes, among others, know that systematically challenging oneself to take on what’s difficult is essential to making progress. Annie Highwater reflects on how that same approach can help us make progress in many aspects of our lives, including our closest relationships. Even small challenges, she notes, can be important steps in moving toward larger, longer-term growth.
One of my personal strategies that I’ve found especially helpful (whether in the midst of the mundane or when dealing with struggle) has been the constant effort to learn, make progress, and improve as a human. Like showering or gardening, self-examination and tending to any aspects of ourselves that need work, growth, healing, or progress is not a once-and-done kind of thing!
Focusing on the work I need to do for progress in my own life versus what I or anyone else is telling me I should be doing (that’s where I usually get in trouble!) has been profoundly healthy for me. I have found that with introspection and focus, alongside consistency and discipline, we can greatly improve and help heal our lives.
One of the best ways to develop determination and discipline, I have found, is to do uncomfortable, challenging things every day. Create some personal struggle and discomfort. Things like:
- Ending your shower on cold for 30-60 seconds
- Standing outside barefoot when it’s raining or chilly.
- Pushing yourself through a workout. Do 50 jumping jacks a few times throughout the day, or go for a spontaneous run, hike, or bike ride.
Even social things like apologizing to someone you’ve wronged, offended or slighted in some way, or having lunch alone in a café, can help develop and increase our inner strength.
It’s the moments of braving through struggle and discomfort, when we could easily shrink back and lay down in a bed of warm pillows, that build a fire inside. Those things develop grit within us.
It doesn’t have to be painful, huge, or monumental, and it doesn’t have to take long. It’s the concept of doing something regularly, embracing some type of struggle or discomfort, that renovates us and can, brick by brick, build us up.
(Note: In times of intense struggle, sorrow, grief, intensity, and pain, adding further challenges is not necessarily something we need. There are times that call more for warmth, comfort, and support. Creating discomfort and personal challenge in order to grow and feel strong is similar to joining a new gym, taking a class, or opting into a social event that could potentially be stressful. We should always approach such challenges with self-compassion and mindful regard for what we can handle.)
But if you are feeling strong enough, give it a try! This process actually starts being fun after you do it a time or two, and what’s interesting is that when unplanned discomfort and difficulties happen, you’ll begin feeling stronger to face and manage your way through them because you’ve already practiced navigating challenges.
I’ve personally found this to be one of the best ways to get to know myself, as well as build self-respect and confidence.
When you face yourself regularly—when you turn away from the mundane or even from drama and frustration to work on yourself, to go for hard things, to consider and accomplish challenging tasks—you can’t help but grow stronger and more confident.
And the stronger we become, the better able we are to function in our interpersonal relationships, especially the most tender of them.
Wishing you growth, strength, courage and confidence,