Some who know me personally probably read that title, smirked, and thought, “Yeah, we know.” (Smarta$$!) So, maybe I have issues. That’s not the point of this post. Today I’m talking about the differences between challenges and problems as defined by me. Yep, this is all about connotation – but the distinction between the two is important. So let’s start with some definitions.
According to the always popular Dictionary.com, we get the following definitions for these words (along with my subjective take on them):
- Challenge: 5. difficulty in a job or undertaking that is stimulating to one engaged in it. (This is something we relish facing, something that allows us to grow, pushing the boundaries of personal accomplishment)
- Problem: 1. any question or matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty. (I take this a step further; problems are not just difficult, but we judge them too hard to handle)
Here’s the interesting thing: Neither of the definitions has much to do with facts. They both have everything to do with our interpretation of the facts. Therefore, in my book, all my problems are in my head.
Your Viewpoint Determines Your Reality
Facts are funny things. Take a conversation between a mother and daughter, for example. Both say certain words. They speak at varying decibel levels and rates of speed. They stand in certain positions in respect to each other. We can quantify those facts and describe them in minute technical detail. Yet as incontrovertible as they are, you’ll often find the parent and daughter interpret those facts in vastly different ways. The mom feels the child is disrespectful and refuses to listen to her counsel, which she gives lovingly but insistently because she doesn’t want her daughter to suffer the pain sure to result from continuing in a wrong course. On the other hand, the daughter feels her mom just ‘doesn’t get it.’ Instead of listening, her mom is yelling, telling her what to do instead of trying to understand her point of view. The facts previously mentioned remain the same. The interpretation of those facts widely differs from mother to daughter.
The same is true when it comes to circumstances we face in life. Certainly, people go through difficult circumstances. Some suffer financial reversals, failing health, career setbacks, and the loss of loved ones. I’m not minimizing the gravity of the situations people face. Yet, given a particular set of circumstances, we can all think of some people who succumbed to and others that rose above the situations they faced. What made the difference? It was their viewpoint (or attitude). Some chose to view their situation with positive expectancy and sought to overcome the obstacles. They viewed the circumstances as a challenge. Others gave in to despair and let the obstacles overwhelm them. They saw the situation as a problem.
The trick, then, is to look at obstacles in our life as challenges, not problems. That’s a simple solution. However, as we all know, simple aint always easy.
Getting Our Minds Right
We can’t physically go in our own heads and change the structure of our brain (some may debate this point, but in general let’s take radical neurosurgery off the table). So if we want to get our minds right, we need to work on the software, not the hardware. We need to change the way we think. For all our advances in science and technology, the process we humans go through is reminiscent of a very old system – keypunch cards.
In order to compile and execute a program, people typed a line of code on a card with holes punched in that corresponded to the appropriate binary equivalent of each letter in the instruction. With all the cards assembled in the appropriate order, you feed the entire stack into a reader which then converted the instructions into binary, allowing the computer to execute the commands. Then a programmer would test the results to see if there were errors. If there were, the programmer would take a printout of the program, identify the trouble spots, make corrections, and adjust the appropriate cards to reflect the changes. Then it was back to feeding the updated program into the reader and testing the results again. It was painstakingly slow.
To change our programming, we have to do the same. If we only see problems in life, then we know our program isn’t working. So we have to identify areas that need changing. Then we work at changing those items, often one at a time. Slowly, through a process of repeatedly implementing changes, we get our program to work the way we want. There’s an excellent wikiHow article on how to do this, and I encourage you to read it. I personally break the process down into three general steps:
- Make positive connections. You are the sum of the people with whom you most closely associate. So form attachments with people who have a positive outlook on life, people who see challenges rather than problems. While you can’t completely avoid all negative thinkers, you likely can reduce the amount of face time you have with the Debby and Danny Downers of this world.
- Take in positive ideas. Just as you are what you eat, your mind is what you read, watch, and listen to. Feeding your mind positive thoughts requires diligent effort. We see, hear, and read so much negativity from the news media that we don’t even recognize it as being negative. I’m not encouraging you to live under a rock. I am saying you need to offset that influx of negativity with a steady flow of positive thoughts. So make positive mental input a part of your daily routine.
- Do positive things. Nothing trumps good activity. When coupled with the preceding steps, doing things for others, or even doing good things with others (like making the most of your down time) can have an amazing, galvanizing effect on your state of mind – which has a direct positive effect on your viewpoint.
I’ve written previously about my battle with the “Big D” – Depression. It’s an ongoing battle, and generally I’m on the winning side. I’ve had relapses, but I manage to keep going. My biggest defense is keeping my mind focused on positive things. I genuinely love the work that I do, which is a huge benefit. I also take in positive thoughts through reading the Bible and Bible-based literature, listening to upbeat music, and catching up on authors I admire and respect (currently I’m reading Kathy Caprino’s Breakdown, Breakthrough). I also engage in volunteer work, and make sure to spend time with friends. If you need to make over your mind, you’ll find your own list of worthwhile things to consider (Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:8). By focusing on those things and keeping busy with worthwhile activities, you’ll find yourself feeling better and thinking better. When that happens, the situations in life will no longer seem like impassable mountains but simply hills waiting for you to climb them.
Have you managed to change your programming? Do you now see things as challenges rather than problems? What helped you to make the adjustment? Tell us in the Comments!