I have a little challenge for you. Don’t worry; even a young child can do this one. Look at the picture below and tell me which direction the bus is traveling.
Did you figure it out? If not, think of yourself as a little kid about to get on the school bus for the first day of school. Did that help?
If it didn’t, don’t fret. In a test with under 10-year-olds, 80% got the right answer instantly, but not so with adults. Children under 12 perceive visual information differently from adults, according to research from University College London and Birkbeck. It also helps that children ride school buses more than adults, and they would look for the door that is only on one side.
Incidentally, the correct answer depends on whether you grew up with people driving on one side of the road over another. In the USA, the bus would be traveling left, because that door that you can’t see in the picture is on the other side of the bus. In the UK, it would be traveling right. OK, so there was a bit of a twist. The point of this little experiment was to see how you handle a challenge.
Everyone has challenging days. We may not have slept well the night before, found ourselves up to our eyeballs in work, or dealt with pain in the butt…I mean, demanding people. These experiences are typical, and we need to accept them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them.
Some days challenge us in ways we never expected, such as dealing with the loss of a relative or friend or finding ourselves in an emergency. We usually don’t have much control over moments like these, but how we deal with these situations is what matters most. One of the most effective ways to do that is by following these three rules—try not to panic, take it one step at a time, and don’t lose hope.
Sometimes we create our challenges on purpose. Maybe we want to earn a degree, run a marathon, or save some money for a rainy day. Again, don’t panic, take it one step at a time, and remain hopeful.
I decided to challenge myself this year by participating in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Participants attempt to write 50,000 words of a draft in thirty days. If that was all a person had to work on, it’s possible to succeed without too much effort, but most people have jobs, family, and other responsibilities that fill our days. Finding time to sit down and plug away at a new story is difficult. For me, my success depended on using the three rules.
Let me explain how they help with trials in life and with my writing.
If you are a Douglas Adams fan, you may recognize the saying from his book, The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It makes simple sense. The last thing we should do is panic when the going gets tough because it only makes the situation worse. Not only have we lost control, someone else will need to waste valuable time trying to calm us down.
When life gets difficult such as when we don’t feel prepared for a test, find ourselves short on cash, or in the case of Arthur Dent, are attacked by space aliens, we need to remain calm and think of a solution. Sometimes that means we need to get help or get to cover. This option is still better than panicking, which can cloud our judgment.
I certainly can’t write when in a panic. Creative juices don’t flow that well when adrenaline is coursing through the body. I don’t know if any studies linking the two exist, but from personal experience, panicking does not produce prose.
Take One Step At A Time
Except for possibly at the atomic level, everything takes multiple steps to complete. That’s because things don’t happen automatically. There is no such thing as instantaneous results.
Take blinking, for example. A lot is going on during that 40 to 200 milliseconds. Our eyes blink as a reflex to keep them moist and free of irritants that might damage them. There are distinctive eye movements that only happen when you blink to realign the eyeballs along the field of vision. There are also electrochemical signals traveling to and from the brain to process information.
Whenever we get stuck, it is best to think things through and have a plan. The success of that plan will most likely depend on us following a few steps. Even if things happened in the blink of an eye, there are steps to take that lead to success. Taking them one at a time ensures that we do things precisely. This process will slow us down, which may seem counter-intuitive depending on the situation, but prevents us from rushing and possibly panicking (see Don’t Panic).
With NaNoWriMo, taking steps isn’t very difficult at all. I simply break the task of 50,000 words into manageable amounts for each day of the month. If I do more one day, I don’t feel as pressured the next. As of today, I’m a third of the way there.
Having a positive outlook when challenges arise can take the edge off of the stress of dealing with them. It keeps a mental picture of success within reach. I suggest remembering that all growth that occurs from the challenge is a success in itself—and trust me, there is always some growth, even when we fail. When we accept that, there is no losing.
If you are having a difficult time envisioning the goal that gives you hope, I recommend making the completion of each step (see Take One Step At A Time) a visual goal. Then, you can have multiple victories.
The first day that I sat down to write, I made progress that wasn’t there before. My goal is 50,000, but I am already happy with the work that I have done. Every word helps me grow my story, and many times they have taken me in new and better directions than I imagined. Honestly, even if I don’t make the total count, I sat down and wrote, and for a busy writer, illustrator, and business owner, that is a success.
If there is one thing I learned over the years, it is that we can’t run away from our challenges. We can try, but we usually end up in a worse predicament. Although they may be difficult to deal with, we shouldn’t be afraid of challenges in our lives—little or big. Like a bodybuilder lifting weights, our trials and struggles form us into unique people and make us stronger. We should accept them as a booster shot for life. Only then will we be victorious.