Why challenge equals happiness

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Do you long for an ‘easier’ life? Have you deliberately positioned yourself at times so that you avoid challenge, learning or stress?

For example:

When you have a couple of hours free at work do you a) aimlessly fill it with boring non-urgent admin, making tea for people or clearing out your desk? Or b) do you brainstorm potential solutions to problems your business/team/employer has been facing?

After a day at work when you arrive home do you a) collapse in front of the TV for most of the evening, watching shows that are only vaguely entertaining and scrolling through cat pictures on Facebook? Or do you b) spend time doing things you actively enjoy like lovingly preparing a meal that stretches your culinary skills, playing the piano, playing sport, learning a language or craft?

I’m sure you have worked out that option a’s were the passive, ‘energy saving’ options and option b’s were the more pro-active, potentially challenging or stressful options.

If option a is the one you’re leaning towards then I can completely relate. This was me for the majority of my legal career. As the work was demanding and volumes of it were often high, my instinct was to always pursue the easiest option in most other areas of my life. I often felt tired and drained and in my attempt to preserve energy I would try to keep myself as passive as possible the rest of the time. The problem was that despite my best efforts to preserve myself, these passive activities left my feeling drained, low and frustrated.

If we want flow, we need challenge

Even though slobbing on the sofa was what I thought I wanted, it was acting like junk food on my mental well-being. Now I know the reason – it was the complete opposite of a ‘flow’ state, one of the most deeply content states we can experience as human beings. When we’re in flow we feel alive, energised and time tends to completely disappear.

“Flow is a mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterised by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and success in the process of the activity” – Csikszentmihalyi, ‘Flow’

We achieve a deeper sense of enjoyment in our everyday life through flow experiences when our abilities and strengths are stretched just enough for whatever we’re doing to require our full energy and focus. It may not necessarily feel ‘pleasurable’ at the time, but because we’ve stretched ourselves we have often changed as a result of it, learned about ourselves and our confidence is boosted.

Here’s a question for you: If you were to look back on one of the most fulfilling or rewarding experiences of your life, was it easy? Or did it require you to push yourself, to learn something new or move outside your comfort zone?

Are you hiding from the joy of a flow-filled life?

It may be that you hold yourself back from the activities that fulfil and stretch you because (as I did) you feel like you can’t be bothered and that you’ve got enough stress and challenge in your life as it is. It might be that the thought of ‘challenge’ terrifies you because you don’t feel strong, confident or capable enough to do things that you know you love to do and light you up. If this is you, you’re not alone, I work regularly alongside my coaching clients in Manchester to help them overcome the very same fears.

My challenge to you: instead of watching TV this evening, what would you like to do that challenges and excites you? What if you could do that for just 10 minutes every evening for a week and see how you feel differently as a result?

If you have a niggle that you want something more from life, that you’re sick of feeling bored and frustrated with things are, then check out my new 3 month programme, ‘Flourish’. Flow is just one thing we’ll be exploring in your new adventure to a life of greater fun, creativity and fulfilment.

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