The benefits of challenge

building resilience

There are many benefits of challenge.

When it comes to our physical bodies, most of us have accepted and known about the benefits of challenge.  Take running for example. When we go running for the first time, it’s really tough but improves and gets easier with time and persistence. When we want to develop muscle mass, we have to lift heavy weights, to break down the muscle so that it’s rebuilt bigger and stronger.

Both of these examples demonstrate the benefits of stressing our bodies in the interests of development and growth. Recent scientific studies have shown that this works at a cellular level too. We have seen that exposure to a degree of hunger (e.g. intermittent fasting) and extreme cold (e.g whole body cryotherapy undertaken by some athletes) makes our bodies work harder and can keep our cells more vital, more effective and better able to promote healing.

Our minds are no different. We also know that if we fear something, not facing it not only keeps us in the state of fear and sometimes near ‘paralysis’. This is more like an existence within that fear as opposed to living and engaging. More importantly, facing the fear helps us to overcome it and feel triumphant and this does wonders for our mental health.  How does this work?  We know our brains have plasticity. They can change and adapt and when we become ‘stuck’ in a thinking habit our neural pathways become our ‘norm’. We often use the analogy of a well-used ski slope.

However, when we challenge ourselves and face our fears, we create brand new neural pathways – the virgin snow slope. It’s hard work. It takes lots of effort, but with time and regular use, it too can become our ‘well-used norm’.  So if we face our fears, we see that the outcome is generally nowhere near as bad as the original perception. And we begin to create our own lived experiential evidence. This gives us a little of the power back against our fear.  So, we continue to do it and do it until eventually the fear subsides altogether.

What does this tells us? It tells us that adversity is good for us. When we challenge ourselves, we grow, we develop, and our resilience naturally increases in the process.  When we want to achieve change for ourselves, in most cases it’s possible with commitment. Not easy but possible.

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