Many of us believe that to achieve something great we have to struggle. Along my entrepreneurial journey I became immersed in this paradigm. Everyone was talking about how hard it is to build a business (or achieve any big dream). I was always hearing stories of immense struggle, grind and ‘no pain no gain’. Many motivational speeches are based on this premise.
I started to believe that my struggles were a non-negotiable part of the path I had chosen. I was feeling overwhelmed, confused, exhausted, anxious, insecure and frankly, unhappy. But, apparently everyone feels these things on the path to success. It’s normal and you just have to keep going, right?
The dangerous misconception
In the normalisation and even glamorisation of ‘struggle’, the loose use of this word is risky. It can send people down an unhealthy path. People often aren’t aware of, or at least aren’t articulating the difference between ‘struggle’ and ‘challenge’. These words are used interchangeably but, the difference between them is the difference between a person breaking through or breaking down.
Struggle: ‘to make forceful efforts to get free of restraint’
Imagine a ball and chain on your ankle. You struggle for days, maybe even weeks and months trying to get free of it. How does that make you feel? Do you enjoy it? Does it make you inspired and energised, excited and powerful? Or, do you feel desperate, exhausted and powerless? The latter is how I was feeling on my journey. I was in a state of chronic stress caused by the belief that I had to struggle in order to achieve.
Stress evokes the flight, fight or freeze mode in our brains. It also shuts down the brain’s executive centre which helps us do things like think of ideas, make plans and solve problems. In such a state we are rendered very ineffective and long term, it is bad for our health and wellbeing.
So, how can struggle lead to success when the stress it causes actually shuts of the parts of our brain that are needed to succeed?
It is not struggle that we want, but challenge.
Challenge: ‘to face a difficult task or a test’
I am facing a challenge writing this blog. Is it hard? Yes. Am I feeling the mental stretch? Yes. But, is it exhausting me? No. Is it making me unhappy, overwhelmed and stressed? No.
I’ve had many tough challenges in my life and I’ve handled them all. This is because challenge activates the executive centre of the brain rather than shutting it down like struggle does. Our brain is in flow during challenge, we have access to our full mental resources. We’re stretched enough to grow, but not enough to snap. Challenges often excite and inspire us, not only can we enjoy the process but we usually get much better results, too.
Challenge leads to success.
Signs that you are struggling
I was so bought in to the story of struggle that it took me months to realise that I was involved in a painful and damaging misconception. I finally stopped to check in with myself and realised the following:
1. Challenge temporarily tires your mind and body and rest usually resolves this. But, struggle drains and exhausts you to your core, even without overexertion. No amount of rest seems to recuperate you.
2. Challenge gives a sense of expansion, growth and strength. Struggle makes you feel constricted, weak and small.
3. Challenge is fulfilling and you often enjoy at least parts of the process. Struggle is rarely enjoyable or satisfying at any point.
4. Challenge feels like inspired flow, struggle feels like un-inspired force.
5. Challenge usually equates to working on your strengths, doing things you enjoy and value. Struggle is more frequently associated with doing things you don’t care for at all.
One person’s challenge is another person’s struggle and vice versa. So, don’t just listen to what other people say, become self-aware and trust yourself. Be honest about what makes you struggle.
Finally, if you have a choice, stop the struggle and choose the challenge. Don’t break down, break through.
About the author: To find out more about Pinky Jangra, please click here.