Why Problems Help Us Develop Our Greatest Strengths

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

“The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Problems exist because we haven’t yet experienced the growth to overcome them. Personal growth is about widening our comfort zone, so we develop resiliency and growth to overcome them. It requires being exposed to what we’ve never done before. This can be terrifying at first but if we reframe our thoughts, we are likely to change how we approach the problem. I recall a coaching client I worked with named Joe, who played soccer and experienced problems relating to his rehabilitation. After repeated physical setbacks lasting twelve months, he was despondent with his recovery during soccer training. His setbacks arose because he had an expectation of fully recovering after twelve months.

Through regular coaching, I invited Joe to set aside his frustration and accept that when he pushed his physical limitations, difficulties would arise. I asked him to consider the hurdles with curiosity instead of a potential problem. A curious mind helps to improve learning and memory. It is an open mind, or as Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck calls it, having a Growth mindset. In his earlier rehabilitation by himself, Joe was dejected about not having fully recovered. In our coaching sessions, I asked him to consider his frustration as a sign of pushing past his comfort zone, where he is likely to experience discomfort. In effect, I was inviting him to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Can you relate to this? Have you experienced something similar where you despondent when it came to stepping out of your comfort zone?

Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone

“Every problem is a gift – without problems we would not grow.” – Anthony Robbins

We won’t know how strong we are until we are tested, because under normal circumstances we are not likely to challenge ourselves until it matters. When life is pleasant why would we want to step out of our comfort zone? We will remain comfortable until motivation calls us to take action. We might experience inner turmoil because we are not accustomed to the discomfort that accompanies it. The Navy Seals are accustomed to stepping out of their comfort zone because their job requires them to work in danger zones. If they are comfortable, it is unlikely they will engage the enemy when it matters.

Closer to home, most of us needn’t get out of our comfort zone often. So, when problems emerge, we don’t have the coping skills to deal with it. You might have read books that promote stepping out of your comfort zone daily, yet how many people follow the advice? To further illustrate this view, late last year I was out shopping for groceries and heard a cry for help from a young girl. As a first aid responder, I ran over to discover her colleague having an epileptic seizure on the floor. My first reaction was to stay calm and assess the situation, otherwise I am of no use to the injured person. What took place in the moments that followed was an example of people coming together to reveal their best selves.

Passers-by who were out shopping stopped to offer aid. Some called the ambulance; others were on the phone to her mother and creating a makeshift barrier to keep her comfortable so she didn’t injure herself during the seizure. After the ambulance arrived and took her to hospital, I walked away feeling confident that when it matters, people bring their best selves to the moment. This reinforces the point that greatness shows up in the moment of the decision to act. Maybe you’ve witnessed something similar in your own life where people acted out of the goodness of their heart?

Let Go Of What You Can’t Control

“Sometimes problems don’t require a solution to solve them; instead they require maturity to outgrow them.” – Steve Maraboli

It is difficult to step out of our comfort zone and the reason why we must do it often. Greatness resides within us and can be summoned when needed. The adage use it or lose it highlights the need to engage our greatest self to reinforce our motivation muscle. We can overcome any problem, while feeling confident we are in control. This involves rising above our initial struggle and having an effective strategy to confront it. Have you noticed in the hours or days after a problem, it seems smaller in scale? This is because we are less emotionally invested. The key is to bring this same composure when we next experience a problem.

We want to control what is in our power and let go of what we cannot control. It is no use beating ourselves up over something we have little control over. Drawing on my earlier example of my client Joe, it is beyond his power to control the rate at which his body heals. However, he can do the right things such as manage his rehabilitation, nutrition, rest, sleep and hope it is enough to completely recover. This way, he works within the limits of his healing instead of trying to push things faster, otherwise further damage will occur. For example, it would be foolish of him to think he can run within 2—4 weeks following an ACL tear. His frustration and anger do little to speed up the healing process, it only delays it.

When you next face a problem too big, ask yourself the question in the title of the article: What if all my problems were developing my greatest strengths?

  1. How would I move forward?
  2. What would I do differently?
  3. How would I act?
  4. Who do I need to become to overcome the problem?

After all, we must experience our problems with an expanded awareness, instead of a distorted lens which only keeps us stuck longer than need be.

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