Even though many of us hope for a carefree life, it just will not happen. Challenges will always be on our path. Sometimes, it may seem as if the walls ahead are simply too high to surmount. Yet, overcoming challenges is a part of how we learn and grow. Indeed, obstacles give us an opportunity to become the best versions of ourselves.
History is filled with examples of people who learned how to trounce impediments and develop psychologically from the process. Take Demosthenes, for example. He is now recognised as the greatest of ancient Greek orators. Nonetheless, when he was young, he had a severe speech impediment. He overcame this barrier through a self-designed, disciplined practice.
Einstein is another famous example of how overcoming obstacles can result in greatness. Apart from not speaking until he was three, he constantly faced doubt and under-appreciation by adults throughout his childhood and youth. Still, he found a way to develop his talents and become one of the most recognised names in human history.
In this article I'll explain how you can perceive overcoming challenges as a means of psychological growth. I'll explain why we need to fight the obstacles we face — and why we need to do it adaptively. Finally, I'll give you eight science-based tips for overcoming obstacles in a way that helps you grow and become braver and more confident.
The examples from the introduction illustrate something that is called overcompensation in psychology. When we have an actual or perceived deficit of a sort, we will usually try to offset it by developing it into a particular forte. This strong point will then serve as a counterweight to the shortfall.
Overcompensation means going above and beyond what is necessary. Demosthenes could have merely fixed the speech impediment and lived an average life. But no. He became the greatest orator.
Examples of overcompensation reveal how overcoming challenges opens the path to psychological growth in life. Albeit going that far is not necessary for every obstacle we face, we must say that avoidance is usually maladaptive (or unhealthy).
When we face hurdles, we are presented with a choice. We can either commit to overcoming challenges — or to failing or stagnating. Here’s why.
When you avoid dealing with difficulties, you risk experiencing a range of adverse emotions. Some of the most common ones are anger (for your aspirations remaining unfulfilled), guilt (because you know that you did not try hard enough), or envy (when you witness others getting what they want).
Support from friends is a key factor in overcoming obstacles shutterstock/Viktoria Kurpas
You are also bound to become stressed because problems rarely just disappear. Avoidance of difficulties, research reveals, leads to a diminishing sense of control. In turn, your psychological well-being and mental health will decline. Ruminations are excessive, repetitive thoughts that make it impossible to think productively about anything else. Rumination is tied to avoiding dealing with different life issues.
Self-doubt, anxiety and depression could come as a result of continual failure to achieve goals. Even though it might feel good to rationalise the reasons why you did not realise your dreams at first, empirical findings reveal that this defence mechanism is associated with emotional disorders.
Therefore, even though overcoming challenges may feel scary at times, it is vital for your well-being. As you progress through hurdles on your path towards attaining goals, you are simultaneously growing as a person. You develop self-confidence, learn to move beyond self-indulgence, and develop adaptive responses to whatever life throws your way.
How we respond to complications is highly individualised. It could be affected by our past experiences, mental habits, as well as our personalities. Seeking and overcoming challenges seems embedded in some people’s temperament and personality structure.
Nonetheless, whether we are naturally geared towards adventure or not, we will hit an impediment here and there. Overcoming obstacles will be easier if you incorporate some of the following tips on productive coping with challenges.
It may seem obvious, but the first step to overcoming challenges without difficulty is understanding the problem ahead. Still, many of us fail to approach the issue analytically. You may be amazed by how often we succumb to apprehension, avoidance — or daydreaming and unsubstantiated optimism, on the other hand — instead of scrutinising the problem critically.
Therefore, examine where the problem truly lies. Is it a real or perceived obstacle? Which aspect is the most important one? In what order do you need to tackle the elements of the difficulty? What is it that you can and cannot impact? What resources do you need — new knowledge and skills, others’ help, time, or determination?
A common obstacle to successfully overcoming challenges is our mindset. I will be the first to admit that I'm not the type of person who goes about looking for challenges and adventures. Even more concretely, I used to feel threatened by any new and tricky situation. Still, what I found very useful is changing my perspective. What may not come naturally to you could be developed through practice.
“The first step to overcoming challenges without difficulty is understanding the problem ahead. Still, many of us fail to approach the issue analytically.”
Those who enjoy challenges — and thrive facing hitches — see every obstacle as an opportunity to become greater, better, different. You, too, can train your mind to think of hindrances as a chance to learn something new and evolve rather than to suffer.
Overcoming obstacles is often made more difficult by your own unhelpful thoughts, especially if you're used to avoiding facing challenges. When you look at your records and see but a few instances in which you fought a problem head-on, it's easy to succumb to self-doubt.
Doubting your abilities, or even loathing yourself for lack thereof, will get you nowhere. What you need to do is to examine and knock down your lack of faith in your skills. Where does it come from? What thought comes to your mind when you anticipate trouble? How does it make you feel? How realistic is such a belief? Could you think about the situation differently (hint — yes, you could)?
One helpful way to deal with self-doubt more effectively is to document one’s successes. Many people tend to overestimate their shortcomings. At the same time, they underestimate how well they can address problems. As a result, their self-perception gets distorted, making them blind to their abilities.
Make a CV of your past accomplishments. Do not hold back but praise yourself for everything you achieved. Remember the times when you overcame snags with triumph. What qualities did you need to mobilise to overcome challenges? Write them all down. And then, come to this “CV” whenever you feel a lack of confidence creeping on you.
Once you are clearer on where the problem lies, what unhelpful thoughts might be hindering your success, and which talents you can rally to help you in overcoming challenges, it's time to plan how to do it. In other words, you are highly unlikely to accomplish your goals if you do not combine a belief in yourself with a solid action plan.
Define the goal and communicate it to those who need to be involved. Make a step-by-step map of action that is clear and easy to follow. Make sure there are tangible steps and smaller objectives on the way to the final goal. Measure the results — and celebrate them, too.
Overcoming obstacles is much easier when you have someone to lean on. Social support has been confirmed to be one of the crucial factors in psychological well-being over and over again. Somehow, life problems tend to seem much bigger when you feel alone in dealing with them.
A helping hand from friends is essential for overcoming challenges
So, ask for support from the right people. Seek out those who will be supportive, accepting and realistic. Whether it is your friends and family, a support group, or a psychotherapist, an encouraging social environment can do wonders for your self-esteem. It will highlight and nurture your ability to overcome any issue ahead.
Meditation is a technique that can help you integrate the tips we have spoken about above. Meditative practice teaches you to calm your mind and free it from ruminative apprehensions and adverse emotions. It gives you the mental flexibility and physical tranquillity you need for overcoming obstacles with success. Finally, after meditation, you will notice greater clarity in understanding the problem ahead and how you can tackle it.
Let me be straight — overcoming challenges can be hard work. It's easy to disregard healthy habits when you are entangled with problems. This is why you should commit to a self-care practice and ensure you are well cared for.
Broadly speaking, all the tips in this article can be seen as a form of self-care. When you perceive a problem rationally, address unhelpful beliefs and develop a growth mindset and self-confidence, you care for yourself. The same goes for gathering support or meditating.
“Once you are clearer on where the problem lies, what unhelpful thoughts might be hindering your success, and which talents you can rally to help you in overcoming challenges, it's time to plan how to do it.”
However, what we have in mind here is more specific. It's a well-known set of recommendations to make sure you do not neglect to care for your mental and physical needs. Therefore, eat healthily and regularly. Set up a better sleep routine to ensure both the quality and quantity of sleep you need. Exercise to release some of the accumulated stress. Socialise with the right people and consume quality media content. Finally, pamper yourself and treat yourself to something pleasant and healthy, like a relaxing massage.
You will find your mental batteries charged as a result of such a self-care routine, and you will be much more willing to embrace the opportunity to grow from overcoming challenges.
It's perfectly natural to feel anxiety — dread, even — when facing a major challenges in our life. The more important the goal, the graver the fear of not attaining it. You may even feel totally paralyzed.
However, obstacles tend not to go away just because we look the other way. So, take the challenges life throws at you head-on. This will show you a doorway to an unbounded field for psychological growth.
Embrace the hurdles and snags. Be courageous and believe in yourself. Even though overcoming challenges may feel like you are in freefall at times, be at ease. There is a new 'you' that will catch you on the other side of the obstacle you are facing. •
Main image: Maridav
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Stanislava Puač Jovanović has a master’s degree in psychology and works as a freelance writer and researcher in this area. Her primary focus is on questions relating to mental health, stress-management, self-development and well-being.
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