Using The Challenge Response To Fuel Your Back-to-Work Drive

by | Oct 12, 2021 | Personal Sustainability

When Dan Jansen collapsed in the 1988 Calgary Olympics, not once, but twice, he thought his dream of capturing gold was over.   

Although he entered as a heavy favorite, he received news of his sister’s death just hours before his 500-meter speed skating event.   

Brutal falls in both his events seemed likely to crush his dreams. After all, making it to the Olympics once is a feat only a select few ever reach. Jansen spent the next several years in an ongoing and seemingly futile chase for redemption.   

When the 1994 games arrived, he funneled these experiences, along with years of training and effort, to win the gold medal, set a world record, and bear the U.S. flag at the closing ceremonies.   

How many of us are equipped to get up from a fall, whether literal or physical, and to respond in the face of a challenge?   

This challenge response isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. Instead, it’s a learnable skill, one you can acquire with practice and intention and one that will serve you well in the modern work era. How do you make yourself fit to respond when a challenge arises?  

1. Shift your mindset.  

Adversity will strike. It always does. The question is… how will you respond?   

The challenge response means hanging on to that bull, mobilizing, firing up, and forging ahead when others are retreating. It means seeing the situation you’re faced with as changeable and yourself as the person with the power to change it.   

A growth mindset fuels the challenge response, increasing your capacity to face challenges and respond, rather than blindly accepting whatever life has to offer.   

You’ve probably experienced this mindset shift this past year. When you first moved to working at home, how did it feel? Many people were fearful, unprepared for the responsibility of being full-time workers and full-time parents and uncertain about the economy and their overall prospects.   

We can’t change our circumstances and from this perspective, it doesn’t matter what happens. Focusing on what happens next is what cultivates and fuels your challenge response. 

2. Restore your energy.  

When you’re physically, emotionally, or mentally fatigued (often a combination of several), you lack the capability to respond mindfully to the challenges around you.   

When talking with clients, I often discuss the difference in competence and capacity. Competence is the skill and ability to complete a task, while capacity is your bandwidth.   

If you’re stretched and stressed to the max, what happens when you need that extra energy to respond to the challenges life throws at you?   

Your capacity is depleted. Instead of rising to the challenge, your natural reaction is just that – a reaction, instead of a measured, thought-driven response.   

As you hone your competence, consider whether you’re giving yourself the proper time and space to renew your capacity. You may do this through meditation, physical activity, sufficient sleep, diffuse thinking, or spending time in nature.

3. Take control of your narrative.  

Why does Dan Jansen’s speedskating story resonate with us? It’s a classic comeback.   

The comeback story is one of the most enduring myths of our time, and it’s also why we can always improve our life conditions, regardless of what we face. In a comeback narrative, every hindrance and pressure moves you closer to a goal.   

We’ve experienced quite a few setbacks over the past year as we’ve learned to navigate what people are calling “the new normal.” Many of us have seen career paths falter or been overwhelmed by ever-burgeoning responsibilities.  

To manage a comeback from the life situations that have impacted us, fuel your challenge response with a different narrative, a mantra that focuses on both where you’re coming from and where you’re going. Considering your “to” can give you an even stronger drive to face challenges.  

4. Lead in a way that makes your people ready to move mountains.

Right now, there’s probably a significant opportunity for the challenge response to fuel your success, and that’s in the back to work transition. As companies bring their people back to the office, you have the opportunity to create new norms and to expand your team and organization’s capacity.  

Evoking the challenge response starts with alignment of purpose and ensuring your team shares a vision. From there, how can you work together to ensure success?   

  • Providing clear feedback and guidance. Feedback conversations that focus on future actions are more productive, giving people a chance to assimilate the new information and apply it when challenges arise.  
  • Structuring your efforts to uses team members’ individual strengths. Team members who feel valued and have high workplace belonging demonstrate a 56 percent increase in job performance, which engenders a desire to do more and be more resourceful.   
  • Removing toxic influences. Toxic managers are demoralizing and costly to a business’s bottom line. When team members suffer under a bad manager, they lose motivation, become alienated and burn out, none of which fuel greatness in the face of challenge.   

The challenge response is a gamechanger, where next steps may feel unclear and where people are feeling drained from the converging pressures of work and life. Rather than drive your efforts on fear and despair, you can fuel your actions with resourcefulness, spirit, and a profound sense of calm and confidence.   

Pressure and challenges then become stimulating, not threatening.   

At this point, the combination of capacity and competence plays out beautifully – that’s how Sully landed a plane on the river and saved hundreds of lives. That’s how Isaiah Austin swiftly found an open door after his dream slammed shut on him just days before the NBA draft.   

It’s amazing when we see a challenge response unfold in real time. What we don’t always recognize is this is a skill and it’s been cultivated over months and years.   

The challenge response is within reach for all of us. It just requires awareness and intention, knowing that getting knocked down will happen and ensuring you have trained for the ability to get back up.   

Head back to work with the challenge response at your side. Pave the road to a future you desire, lead your teams with enthusiasm toward a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to return to work, and come back even stronger.  

This article was originally published on where Andrew Deutscher is an expert contributor.



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