A while back I read an article by University of Houston professor Brene Brown about being happier in life. Coincidentally I read it on the same morning that a friend and colleague of mine Nicole Brigandi talked to me about realising that she was in charge of her own life decisions at the same time as having a big grin on her face. An hour later I then had an email from my amazing wife saying she was feeling sad about missing a day on a 100 day challenge she is doing and felt she'd failed. They made me think.
Do we risk missing out on being happy when we strive for goals but hit challenges on the way?
I'm no stranger to challenges both mental and physical (though I'd argue that most challenges end up involving both anyway) and I've definitely achieved some things I thought I wasn't going to; and conversely haven't even started some things as I thought I'd fail. I've aimed for some challenges and given up halfway through; and yet others I've been able to push through the difficult parts and achieve the goal.
Over time though what I am learning, and this comes back to the question above, is to enjoy and make the most of the moments as they happen. We can often get so caught up in achieving the end goal that we forget to make the most of the journey there. This means that when something goes wrong we see it as evidence that we may not achieve the end goal and potentially catastrophise. If we though enjoy the journey and deal with the things right in front of us, we break things down to more manageable parts and see them as challenges to overcome rather than part of a failure to achieve the big goal.
Let me give an example using what I responded back to my wife with when she emailed me. For context she signed up to run 2 miles for 100 days to raise money for the PC Nicola Hughes Memorial Fund who provide opportunities for children who have lost a close family member through violent crimes. In my wife's own words:
"I am not a runner - I am a person who curls up on the sofa with a book. I trip up when I walk never mind run, and I get red faced and hot just putting my gym kit on."
Yesterday she struggled to fit in her run at lunch time partly because she doesn't get much of a break; and because she has OCD which affects how she thinks and copes particularly when anxious. She emailed me saying she was feeling really sad that she'd failed to achieve the 100 days running on day 6.
Coming back to my musings above she'd lost sight of the journey and was focussing on the all-or-nothing goal of 100 days of running. In other words back to my point she'd lost being happy due to the focus on the end goal.
Below is my reply:
"It’s not a failure. This is a challenge. Challenges are challenges because the are difficult and stretch us in all ways possible. Challenges are challenges because they aren’t simple or easy to do. They are challenges because ultimately there will be moments during the process that we give in, that we have to stop and take stock, recharge our mental process and start again with renewed vigour. For a hundred day challenge like this I would expect myself to “fail” at least 10-15 times. These aren’t failures they are reality.
For you in your challenge, the challenge is committing to completing 100 days of as many 2 miles as you can with the time and head that you have. The fact that you’ve committed to it and feeling guilty for missing a day tells me that it’s the right challenge for you as it’s tough enough but not too tough as I know you’ll always do your best. The key is to find a way for you to cope with the missed days. Do you accept the skip and move on, or do you make up for the skip in some other way either by adding the distance on to following days or some other way.
I’m really proud of you for doing the challenge. I’m really proud of you for missing a day. I’m really proud of you for being determined to try again."
Do you challenge yourself and by doing so are you still happy? If you are then great. If not, let me reframe the question.