I read an article this week in our local paper about a guy who challenged himself to take a photo of a bird each day for a full year. His real interest is photography but, although newly retired, he said “I have found that increasing the difficulty in life is a good thing to do because the end result is really beneficial.” So he chose to commit to finding a different bird to photograph each day— even though it would have been far easier to commit to just taking one picture per day. And yet when he strove to meet this challenge to himself, the results were remarkable.
I found myself stuck on that one sentence, though. Somehow his rather ponderous wording caught me where simply saying “I’ve found you have to challenge yourself in order to improve” would have made little impression. After all, it’s just common sense right? No pain, no gain. Practice makes perfect, etc…
Yet there is a subtle difference.
“Increasing the difficulty in life” goes beyond just doing something over and over. It would have been fairly easy to find something to take a picture of each day. So he challenged himself to do more, even if it was a little uncomfortable. This is the essence of deliberate practice, which is far more demanding than mere repetition of an activity.
How many of us make things challenging for ourselves in any area? Don’t we more often look for ways to make life easier on ourselves instead? We strive to park closer to the store, we stick to the exercise routine we’ve done forever, and foods we’re familiar with. We avoid risk, challenge—anything with a whiff of potential failure attached to it.
Too many of us, myself included, approach most of life like this:
Yes, there is a biological basis for this. And yes, genuine thrill seekers (Steve Irwin, I’m thinking of you, dear.) often don’t have long lives.
But what about balance? Isn’t there a happy medium between dulling safety and utter recklessness?
This kitten has found it. Certainly the branch in front of her holds a degree of challenge and even danger, but she trusts in her claws and sense of balance to protect her. Note that expression of determination and concentration. This is living fully in the moment. She’s instinctively increasing “the level of difficulty” in her life. Even though the limb ahead looks kinda scary, she’s still going for it.
That’s how I want to be too.
How about you?