Optimal Challenges

Hello friends!

I hope you had a great weekend. Mine weekend was relatively relaxed, but that was just what I wanted. Once again, I slept in a little later than I intended to this morning, but it was quite a lovely change of pace from my typical 5:00 am rising hour.

I also got to see Jordan this “morning” for a quick workout which consisted of a Jillian Michaels’ video. (Granted, we didn’t actually finish the video, but ended up stopping it halfway through and sitting on the floor catching up instead… don’t tell Jillian.)

The rest of my day pretty much revolved around running 1,000 different errands that took about four times longer than necessary because I kept forgetting things left and right. (My wallet? My debit card? My life?). I have finally returned home and it is time for some reading and  the Oscars! The Handmaid’s Tale is proving to be infinitely easier reading than The Help was. I know what you’re thinking. Allow me to define MY idea of “easier reading.” The Help was a good book. It had engaging characters, an interesting story and was rich with sings of the times– the southern US at a time of serious unrest, change and history-in-the-making. Yet I still didn’t find it an easy read. It took me WEEKS longer than it should have to complete. It just wasn’t holding my interest. In my opinion, it was a lot longer than it needed to be and didn’t accomplish a ton. This book, on the other hand, is captivating. It is not the sort of book that I would ever, ever think that could capture my attention and hold it, but it is a page-turner! The frightening, dystopian environment in which the characters are living is chilling. Moreover, it is a challenging read. It keeps the brain cells jumping as you think about not only the characters and their situations, but also the implications of all of the concepts and the connections to today’s world. It’s an intellectual, scary, riveting read. 

So this novel, along with my recent venture into “the arts” and my new job have all got me thinking about positive challenges.

Back in my psychology days (hey, I took about 4,001 credits in social and clinical psychology. I might as well put it to use somehow!), we learned all about “flow” and optimal challenges. The Cliffsnotes’ version of that whole concept (/ what I remember) is that there is a certain level of challenge that is ideal. Somewhere in the middle of “Ohmygod this is so ridiculously difficult I will never, ever be able to solve this problem” and “This is so easy that I’m pretty sure my cat could do it…” there lies a happy medium. (Or the level of “optimal challenge.”) Tasks that lie within this part of the spectrum excite us, challenge our minds and give us a sense of accomplishment and self-worth when we complete them successfully. They are goals that are not entirely out of our reach, but take some effort and work to attain. When you’re immersed in these activities, you are in a mental state known as “flow,” which is when you are wholly immersed and invested in some activity. It’s fulfilling and you (willingly) offer all of your attention to it.

So what’s the point? The point is that post-graduation and pre-new job, I started to feel like I was losing something. It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to go back to school (at least not yet), but I DID want the challenge. I wanted to shake up my brain cells and feel like I was exercising my brain. It seemed that upon graduation, I had suddenly abandoned all of my intellectually stimulating hobbies and activities that I used to enjoy: reading, writing, learning random things. But it’s starting to all come back to me. The blog is forcing me to write and to write carefully. I am reading again and my job is so full of new tasks and challenges and environments that I feel like my brain is swinging on mental monkey bars 8+ hours each day!

So here is my challenge for you, find something to do that puts YOU in your “optimal challenge” zone. Read a challenging book, write something, learn how to knit, teach yourself 2 new words each day… It is a seriously rewarding place to be and that is how you grow and learn! The best part of all, is that you feel GOOD while you’re doing it.

And that’s about all I’ve got for you tonight! I hope that your week is off to a great start and I will talk to you all tomorrow!

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