At any given time there is progress or regress. Time doesn’t come to a stop. Like a river, life keeps on moving.
I’ve learned over time that there are things I can control and things that I can’t. After a few hits and misses I learned (the hard way!) that personal progress is based on being able to identify what problems are under my control, and then taking action to solve them based on seeing where I went wrong, getting to work, and moving on.
The main aspect of this revelation has been my discovery of two roads I’ve faced in life when confronted by problems. Both are hard, but very different.
Road 1: The Path of Least Resistance
Like I lot of people I went to a college that was easy to get into, took courses I sort of liked, dropped grades due to a lack of focus and motivation, and just “coasted” through it.
I know a lot of people that had similar experiences and it didn’t happen because we’re stupid. We’re actually pretty smart because it takes a lot of intelligence to pull off a university degree with such little effort!
But like any easy target to hit, it doesn’t win us anything big.
Low-value games = low-value rewards
After school I got a job. And then another job. Lots of entry-level jobs like warehouse-picking, hospitality, floor-walking…the list goes on.
Life became predictable and while I was having a good time, things got boring and that in itself became painful.
I realized I wanted more. WAY more.
I was missing that excitement that came with the unknown, having exciting things to talk about with friends with family, and just being psyched to get up in the morning!
Before I go on I want to mention that I think all our experiences are valuable and that they are a part of the training that comes with life. Everything leads to something new and that something new depends on an accurate assessment of those experiences and their consequences.
So no regrets. Ever.
It’s a part of the process.
But for me at that time, my issue was stagnation.
Stagnation meant I wasn’t taking challenges. I was in my comfort zone. I wanted more out of life, to buy better things and upgrade my lifestyle. When I couldn’t get the things I wanted I realized it was because I wasn’t growing and developing new skills to create value and make more money.
Road 2: Embracing Challenge
In light of these revelations I realized that I was being challenged, and with that came problems I needed to solve.
I learned there’s nothing wrong with problems. Embracing the challenge that comes with solving them increased my mental capacity and that made my mind work better over time.
Most people’s problem is that they think they shouldn’t have any.Tony Robbins
The reason this happens is easy to understand. There’s a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. It houses the mechanism that differentiates humans from all other species, and is the center of critical thinking and problem-solving.
Solving problems is exercising that part of the brain.
The more you use it, the stronger you get.
And the stronger you get, the more challenges you face because your needs change.
It’s like adding weight to your lifts at the gym. You have to keep adding weight week after week in order to progress and get stronger.
It’s a never-ending cycle, and with those challenges come rewards. Lots of them.
I then made a choice between two roads: the one where I was comfortable and the one where I would go past my limits into uncertainty and actually try without fear of failure.
The mindset that changed everything
I turned 180 degrees out of my comfort zone and went in the opposite direction. I pushed harder, grew from the highs and lows and continued taking on new challenges.
I would go past my limits into uncertainty and actually try without fear of failure
It started with a few years of starting to learn new skills and then expanding myself mentally to the point where I was trying stuff like firewalking, cliff jumping and stand up comedy.
I ventured into new business ideas, career paths and projects. I tried things out of interest like giving a business pitch, a public talk and engaging in challenging intellectual conversations with really smart people.
Making commitments and paying it forward
Going “deep” into something new really pushed me. I would jump in and commit to a point where pulling out wasn’t easy, like managing 4 full-service apartments in a 4-week window and then moving on once that business settled.
If I took them on one-by-one it would have been different because the commitment to systemize and leverage would have been less intense. I jumped into that project, developed momentum, moved fast, and got great results.
Learning to love the challenge
These days I interpret that anxious feeling as excitement. It still happens and probably always will.
Learning to love challenge, embracing opportunity, stepping up, and making a commitment to learning something new has expanded me mentally and physically.
Remember what I said earlier about the prefrontal cortex? Challenging it is like working a muscle at the gym. In order to progress and get stronger, you have to keep adding weight.
Choosing between the two hard roads
I think everyone knows this deep down. I’m here to remind you of what you already know, that things in life can get hard for one of two reasons: our willingness to deal with complacency or our failure to embrace challenge.
So my question to you is this: Which “hard” do you want? I know what I would pick.
It’s the road less travelled. The difficult one where the terrain is rough and uncertainty lies around the corner. Because I know there’s fewer people on it and more rewards at the end.