Do you want to experience fewer “problems” in your life? Great, keep reading.
I was talking with a couple recently, and they consistently used the word “problem” to describe many of the things happening around them. This situation was a problem, that person is a problem, etc. Their words sounded as though life was heavy and frustrating and they felt helpless and hopeless. As I listened, I was reminded of how the words we choose have such a powerful impact on how we think, feel, and respond to things that happen in our lives – especially things we perceive to be negative or difficult.
I said to the couple, “I want you to consider for a moment that what you have been describing are not really problems, but rather challenges. No one can avoid life’s challenges, but it is possible to keep them from becoming problems.” I believe the problems many people experience are in reality challenges that were poorly responded to.
I asked the couple, “What would change if you began to replace the word “problem” with the word “challenge” when describing these issues and individuals? After a moment of reflection, they said, “It would mean we are not helpless or powerless – and we don’t have to feel like were living under a black cloud of insurmountable, aggravating, and uncontrollable circumstances."
Pastor Chuck Swindoll tells a story of asking someone how they were doing, and the reply was, “Oh, pretty well, under the circumstances.” His response was something like, “What are you doing under your circumstances when you have the ability to rise above them?”
The word “challenge” inspires us to step up, face the issue and find ways to make a situation better before it escalates into an overwhelming problem. Here’s an example: Julie is upset because Josh’s parents often undermine the couple’s efforts to follow a healthy diet and regular bedtime for their children. When Grandma and Grandpa visit, they bring a whole bag of candy and pass it out to the kids without asking. Later, they insist in front of the children that they should be allowed to stay up to watch “one more movie” with them.
If Julie’s usual reaction is to seethe in anger during the visit and then as soon as the door closes, she unloads on Josh about his obnoxious family, that’s a problem. If Josh says he agrees with his parents and that Julie just needs to get over it, thus driving a wedge in their marriage, that’s a problem. Or if he yells at his parents while criticizing their behavior, that’s also a problem. If they both decide there’s nothing they can do and spend years agonizing over guilt and resentment because they feel as though they can’t do anything about his parent's actions, that’s a problem.
But what if they agree that they, as a family, are facing a challenge and that they need to resolve the issue for the good of everyone involved? That mindset is optimistic, hopeful, and empowering and reflects the beginning of a positive response. Here are three steps to help you meet the challenge effectively.
Identify the real issue accurately – It’s easy to fall into a pattern of defensiveness, judgment, and generalization – “Your parents are stupid, and they don’t care about the kids’ health.” Stop and think. If you want to win a challenge, you need to understand your opponent. So, it will be much more accurate and effective for Josh and Julie to discuss the situation at a time when they’re both calm and break it down into true statements. “My parents do love our children, but they have a way of showing it that doesn’t fit what we believe is best. So, what can we do differently in order to avoid more challenges?”
Envision what the “win” looks like – In this example, a win would be that future visits with Josh’s parents are respectful, fun, and relaxed. Mutual understanding grows and each person is valued. The grandparents become positive influences in the children’s lives. Whether they can fully realize that goal depends partly on Josh and Julie and partly on his parents, but the ideal goal is a win-win, not a win-lose scenario. So, how do you get there?
Set a course of purposeful action – They begin this process by identifying the principles, values and goals associated with their challenge. Principles - Josh and Julie need to agree on what boundaries to draw and what compromises they can make in order to develop a healthy relationship with his parents. Let’s say they agree that two pieces of candy per child would be okay and an extra half-hour before bed would be allowed, but it should be reading stories, not watching television. Values - The next step is communicating with Josh’s parents that their relationship with the children is a high priority, but it must be within the boundaries established. Together, they communicate, “We love you and want our children to grow up spending quality time with you. But it is our responsibility to raise them to the best of our ability and we feel very strongly that it is in their best interest to minimize sugary treats and get the sleep they need. If you want to express your love by bringing them something special, you are welcome to bring a new book, stickers, crayons, peanut butter crackers or sugarless gum. Goals - We would like their time with you to be special, so we have told them they get an extra 30 minutes with you tonight, and then we would love for you to help tuck them in at bedtime. Please respect these boundaries so we can all enjoy our time together.”
Your own situation may be something different from our fictional couple, but the principles remain the same. When you feel as though you are starting to have a problem, redefine it as a challenge and begin immediately to identify what the real issue is, what the win will look like, and what you need to do to try to make it happen by establishing principles, values, and goals. You can’t always be sure how other people will respond, but you can make a positive difference by meeting the challenge circumstances with wisdom and honesty.
Problem vs. Challenge: Just semantics? Maybe, but the message is powerful. Respond to your challenges well, and you will have a lot fewer problems!
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