For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed creating my own challenges. Generally, this means increasing the level of difficulty inherent in dull or overly simplistic situations by adding extra limits, or constraints, to either my behavior or my thinking. It is my feeling that self-imposed limits, or self-created challenges, can transform rote or mundane tasks into opportunities for creative and intellectual growth. They can also force you to improvise, shift strategies, or make quick decisions–that is, to adapt. In Finding the Challenge, I discuss some methods I’ve found helpful for combatting boredom, increasing creative output, and reframing my attitude under mundane circumstances. With this post, I am turning my attention to what I consider to be one of the most valuable benefits of limits, or constraints, including those we may place on ourselves: the ability to successfully adapt.
I would, of course, be lying if I said that I relished in all of life’s challenges. Quite to the contrary. What I do value, however (and quite highly), is the belief that I can navigate whatever challenges come my way. I put tremendous faith in my ability to adapt to and handle the obstacles present in new and changing environments. Sometimes, I welcome the stimulation that comes with being required to “think on my feet.” More often, though, I simply do what I must in order to make it through difficult circumstances.
I have observed that I rely very heavily not only my ability to adapt (when starting a new job, meeting new people, traveling, or dealing with difficult customers in my day job), but also–and more importantly–on my confidence in that capacity. I think adaptability, or the ability to effectively respond to changing and challenging circumstances is, in many ways, a matter of self-belief. I have found that self-doubt and my perceptions of my personal limitations constitute my greatest obstacles when forced to adapt to a new challenge. Here are some brief thoughts on becoming more adaptable and on increasing your confidence in navigating new and complex situations.
Quite simply, the more you do, the more you will know. Be open to new experiences. Try new things. Go new places. Meet new people. Challenge yourself. I know this comes more naturally to some of us than to others, but, regardless, broadening your range of experience will provide you with a great deal of perspective and a much-needed frame of reference for novel situations and situations that require a high degree of flexibility. Indeed, I find that having an ample frame of reference is essential to navigating unfamiliar terrain. It enables us too see more clearly the similarities between past and present experiences, between what we have already done and what we are about to do. And the unfamiliar often becomes a whole lot less intimidating when we can liken it to something we know. In addition, it’s much easier to have confidence in our ability to improvise and to move back-and-forth between multiple strategies when we have first-hand experience in using those techniques. And in using them competently.
“But, that’s not who I am!”
This one makes me a little bit sad. Over the years, I have developed a grave distaste for the phrases, “But, that’s not what I do!” and “That’s not who I am!” Do not let who you are–or who you think you are–dictate who you will become. Do it anyway.
It is tragic to observe the manifestations of this kind of thinking both in others and in oneself (if we’re honest with ourselves about it when we do it). Just because a certain behavior or activity doesn’t fit into your conception of who you are, or who you were, does not mean that it can’t be part of who you will be. If you limit yourself in this way, not only will you be less able to adapt (because you’ll be working within a very narrow and rigid definition of “who you are” and “what you can and should do” in a given set of circumstances), but you also will severely hamper your growth, enjoyment, and the richness of your experiences. Confidence often comes from taking risks, which leads me to my final thought…
Be who you aren’t.
I had a friend tell me just the other day that she wants to become a painter–and has wanted to for some time–but has yet to embark on this endeavor because it’s not something she does. Little does she know that the only thing one must do in order to become a painter is paint. The only thing you have to do to be a writer is write. Run to become a runner. Swim to transform yourself into a swimmer. Climb a mountain in order to become a mountain climber. Then, that is who you are. And you can move forward comfortable in the knowledge that you not only have those new-found skills at your disposal, but that you also have the ability to perform despite your trepidations and, perhaps, a high degree of uncertainty. That’s part of what being adaptable is about.