One of the most delightful things about being human is our ability to take a challenge and turn it into a treasure.
Overcoming challenges not only helps us grow, but it helps us fly, and feel alive like no amount of comfort or security ever could.
Here’s a short story to illustrate.
A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. He took the cocoon home, envisioning the joy of watching the butterfly emerge.
One day a small opening appeared in the cocoon. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole.
Then, the butterfly seemed to stop making any further progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further. The poor butterfly, thought the man, it’s exhausted itself and it will never leave the cocoon!
So the man decided to help the butterfly.
He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.
The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.
What the man, in his kindness and haste, did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.
While on some level all of us desire comfort, security and ease, if there is no challenge, we simply stagnate. We become bored and listless, and life loses meaning.
Here’s a way to feel safe – so that constant stress doesn’t take over – while at the same time challenging yourself to grow.
1. Spend more time imagining possibilities. Your imagination is absolutely boundless. In your imagination, you can overcome anything and be, do and have anything you want. What good is this, you might ask, when you have real problems to solve and real days to get through?
Well, when you imagine something that feels interesting, like it could be a lot of fun or result in a much nicer life… and you let that little caterpillar grow inside the protective cocoon of your imagination (where anything is possible)… eventually you will start to believe that this dream is possible, and you’ll start acting like it is.
You’ll acquire the skills you need, find the resources and help to support your dream, and the dream will become a driving force and give meaning your life.
2. Spend more time imagining what could go right. Most of our stress comes from ruminating on what could go wrong, even if there is no proof that it will. Refuse to entertain those thoughts. Think about what could go right, and you will strengthen your wings – or your abilities to figure things out – as your brain becomes attuned to the many ways of achieving the solution that you might never have considered.
3. Spend more time imagining what is working, than what isn’t working. Build on your strengths and your successes rather than dis-empowering yourself by remembering your failures and weaknesses.
When you’re faced with a problem, or there’s a challenge you’re contemplating but kind of scared to take on… do this in meditation: focus your attention on the ideal situation, and repeat the mantra, “I am figuring it out.” Stimulate your immense creative power!
4. Remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. So what, if it takes more time and/or effort than you first envisioned? If you’re using your time wisely – to learn, and to grow – then it’s time well spent, whether or not you’ve already achieved your goal.
Challenges don’t have to be huge, to make you feel like you’re alive and flying!
You can start with something small, like a cooking class; or you can find new hobbies and interests and immerse yourself in them. Build your confidence to handle smaller challenges before moving on to big goals.
As much as you can, use the imagination exercises above to force yourself out of the boredom and stagnation of the comfort zone– for a life of joyful freedom!