Prosilience #5: Mapping Your Challenges
The first step in building sustainable energy is understanding the challenges you face.
Some of the material in this post comes from Prosilience: Building Your Resilience for a Turbulent World.
A challenge is anything you encounter that has the potential to create stress, discomfort, or disruption. Challenges can be large or small, exciting or scary, voluntary or involuntary, and momentary or enduring. What they all have in common is that they call on us to use our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy to move toward greater well-being and effectiveness.
The Challenge Map
I developed a tool called the Challenge Map to help people evaluate their personal “challenge landscape” more clearly, so they can develop strategies for how to apply their energy most effectively. This tool is used by coaches and many others to begin the conversation about resilience. You can download a printable version here.
Mapping a Challenge
There are three elements to consider in placing your challenge on the map.
Source: Where did it come from?
Look at the bottom of the map. Moving from left to right, there are six categories:
Consciously Chosen—these are challenges we take on voluntarily, sometimes because they are challenging. Running a marathon, choosing a difficult career, tackling important social issues, and pursuing advanced education are a few examples.
Side Effect—sometimes our choices bring challenges with them, whether we like them or not. Adding a child to the family, traveling to a foreign country, adopting a pet, and texting while driving are a few examples.
Part of Life—natural processes that happen in the world bring challenges with them that are often predictable. Aging, weather, and relationships are a few examples.
Stuff Happens—many challenges seem to come out of nowhere; they are unplanned and often unpredictable. Traffic jams, accidents, serious illnesses, and natural disasters are a few examples.
Others’ Actions—sometimes other people do things that create challenges for us, although they did not actively intend harm. Loud neighbors, inattentive drivers, and job layoffs are a few examples.1
Bad Intentions—some challenges come from harmful intent. Bullies, abusers, scammers, and other “evil actors” create challenges that can be devastating in their impact.
Challenges don’t always neatly fall into one of these categories, and different people may categorize the same situation in different ways. However, thinking about the source of a challenge can help you better understand how to approach it.
Duration: How long will it last?
The left side of the map shows a range of time frames that can be used to describe a challenge. Some challenges come and go very quickly, while others last for a long time or recur periodically over time. This element is important because the most critical elements of resilience2 to draw on shift as we move from shorter to longer challenges.
Moments/Hours—sometimes a challenge comes quickly, you respond to it, and it’s gone. Its effects may last for a little while, but eventually you can see that you are on the other side of it. For these challenges, your ability to manage your own physiology and emotions is a particularly important ingredient. Self-regulation through breathing and other strategies, and keeping your reactions from moving into a negative spiral, are key resilience strategies to apply.
Days/Weeks/Months—some challenges stretch out over time, but have a “finish line” that we can usually see and work toward. We feel the impact on our energy during this time, but that impact recedes as the challenge ends. For these challenges, some additional resilience tools are needed. Often we have to adjust our thoughts and actions, solve problems, and figure out how to operate in a different environment. This is where our “resilience muscles” become particularly important3, along with our ability to choose effective strategies for action.
Years/Decades/Lifetime—some challenges endure for quite a long time, either as a constant draw on our energy or as a series of recurring episodes of challenge that call on our resources. All of the previous elements of resilience are important here too, but perhaps the biggest predictor of our well-being and effectiveness in the face of these long-term challenges is our ability to manage our energy over time. Taking steps to protect, build, and replenish our energy helps us live with long-term challenges.4
Impact: How much energy will it take?
Some challenges pose only minor disruptions, while others swamp us with huge demands. The circles at the upper right of the map indicate the degree of impact. A number of things influence impact. Here are some of the major ones5:
Expectations—when we see a challenge coming, and can predict how it will unfold, it uses less energy than when we are surprised, caught off-guard, or have made wrong predictions.
Capability—when we see ourselves as having what it takes to deal with a challenge, we experience less impact than when we have no idea what to do or don’t think we have what it takes.
Threat—when we see a challenge as posing a danger to us or others, it has greater impact than when the stakes are lower. Part of the reason this is true is that our brains operate differently when we perceive threat, and it takes more energy for us to think clearly.
Impact is important because affects the amount of energy we need to use to deal with a challenge.
We usually have more than one challenge going on at a time. However, we only have one supply of energy. When the combined impact of multiple challenges exceeds the energy we have available, we become less effective in our actions and our well-being declines.
One helpful strategy for looking at multiple challenges is to create a combined picture to help you understand what you’re facing. You can use the Challenge Map as a canvas to create this picture. This exercise can help you:
Recognize the challenges creating the biggest energy drains, and the combined impact on your energy.
Prioritize your challenges for action.
Identify any challenges you might be able to resolve and remove from the map.
Motivate yourself to take time for energy replenishment.
Please feel free to share this exercise and tool with others with appropriate credit to the source.
If you’d like a little more information, here’s a video I recorded a while ago that summarizes some of my thinking about challenges and how to prepare for them.
Thanks for reading this edition of the Prosilience newsletter! See you again in 2 weeks.
One of the things I hope to focus more attention on in the future is how unconscious biases, structural inequities, and other systemic issues affect the “challenge landscape” for individuals and groups.
In a future post I’ll describe the four “building blocks” in the Prosilience model and how each of them plays a role in working through challenges.
I focus on seven resilience muscles and three action strategies in my own work; each of them plays a role in helping us use our energy more effectively as we move through challenges.
As I think about the coronavirus pandemic, it seems to me that early on we saw this as a “weeks/months” challenge, and have had to shift our own strategies to the “years/decades” zone over time.
The source and duration factors also affect impact—challenges toward the upper right area of the map tend to be higher in impact than those at the lower left.