Embrace difficulties to stay mentally fit and happy!

I just came by this old article from Ian Leslie in The Economist magazine, it’s about a thought: embrace difficulties when they arise, they force us to be more creative and bring more satisfaction when we overcome them.

There are two ideas intertwined here: the first one is that when things come too easy, we don’t savor them enough. In French I would say « Il faut de la pluie pour faire le beau temps ».

This article brought up a memory of my childhood: we had the means to eat good meat every day. Yes, you can argue that having meat every day is not healthy, but having been brought up in Argentina, well, meat (of any kind) was mandatory at the menu! The thing is that I remember a period we ate beef tenderloin, that is a very tender cut of beef meat. Obviously, we appreciated that cut, and for a long period, every dish at home containing beef meat was done with that cut.  On the oven, as a steak, or in a wok, it was always tenderloin.

Believe me, you can get tired of it!  After a while, whenever I went for dinner to friends and they had another cut, I really savored it, even if it was not so tender.

What about not having money limitations? Yes, I’m sure I would go for a ravaging shopping for a while… until I’ll end up having more than what I need, more than what I could wear on a season! And what after that?  Shopping will not taste the same ?

It’s the same on other levels. At work, if there is no challenge, we’d lose interest, emotion.

But not only that, here is the second idea: challenges force us to think, guide our imagination and help us to come up with innovative solutions. And after the exercise, we end up with a sense of satisfaction of having solved the problem that we would not have experienced without the problem in the first place. This sense of satisfaction for having stretched our brain muscle is equivalent to the endorphin’s after a physical exercise!

Our brains respond better to difficulty than we imagine. In schools, teachers and pupils alike often assume that if a concept has been easy to learn, then the lesson has been successful. But numerous studies have now found that when classroom material is made harder to absorb, pupils retain more of it over the long term, and understand it on a deeper level. Robert Bjork, of the University of California, coined the phrase “desirable difficulties” to describe the counter-intuitive notion that learning should be made harder by, for instance, spacing sessions further apart so that students have to make more effort to recall what they learnt last time. Psychologists at Princeton found that students remembered reading material better when it was printed in an ugly font.

So remember next time you encounter a pebble on your way : embrace the opportunity of some brain gymnastic and enjoy life!

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