COVID-19 has hit everyone hard in the disastrous year that is 2020. Looking back on my own experience and those closest to me, I realize the devil in the details is all the uncertainty. Things that used to be unshakable realities are crumbling before our very eyes, leaving us with a million difficult and painful questions.

“Where is my next job coming from?”

“How long until I no longer have a place to live?”

“What if that was my last chance to say goodbye?”

If this isn’t bad enough, now we have a government teetering between extremes in an already divided country. We argue about morality and decency down to details such as whether lives or livelihood are more important. In the midst of a swirling whirlwind of entropic distortion, the pressure and stress can be overwhelming.

How do you find peace and stability? More importantly, how do you not feel so helpless?

You Threw Off My Groove!

Freedom. It is the number one word guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings of every American whose blood pumps red, white, and blue. We are quick to jump to our rights and privileges and willing to take up arms and lawsuits against anyone who trespasses against us. We want to be able to do what we want, how we want when we want.

Unfortunately, this type of life is impossible. Even if we did live in such an idyllic utopia, living with no constraints is not healthy for us.

Believing that constraints, restrictions, or limits are unbearable injustices is the same as believing that cars would be better without brakes. Brakes are restrictive, after all. They are stopping cars from achieving their true capabilities! Just imagine how fast a car could go if no one stopped it! You know, before it spectacularly crashed in a spray of sparks and glinting glass.

The truth is that cars are able to go fast because they have breaks. It is the ability to stop that allows for control, direction, and purpose. Curves can now be executed effortlessly, going downhill is as safe as uphill, and the car can go further than ever before because it can actually stop at a gas station. Brakes are a vital part of any competent car, and a potent metaphor: people need limits in order to achieve what they couldn’t otherwise.

Mother Necessity

Restrictions are the birthplace of motivation. While it is true that they can be discouraging, they are also the beginnings of greatness. No one feels they’ve accomplished something by overcoming a weak opponent. The higher the hurdle, the greater the sense of self-worth and joy when it is overcome.

Limits also foster creativity. If someone were to hand me a blank canvas along with every possible brush, paint, pastel, pencil, charcoal, crayon, or marker and ask me to draw anything… I think I would be paralyzed. I could create anything at all, and that is precisely why I would never begin.

When there are too many options, it’s hard to discern any clear decision or path amongst the whole throng of them. If everything is available, I can just take what’s there with no effort. It’s only when there are restrictions on which option or path I can choose that I begin to feel my mind sharpening. Nothing makes me more creative than when there are obstacles trying to stop me from my getting what I want.

Constraints are also necessary for growth. We can only go so far before we come up against things we cannot handle. If we want to overcome them, we need to gain what we currently lack. The best way to do this is by taking a hard look at what is holding us back. Sometimes, following the constraint instead of fighting it is what allows for it to be overcome. Trying to get a heavy plane filled with dozens of passengers 10,000 feet into the air for days at a time seemed impossible. By studying the laws of the very force keeping us down, we were able to soar to new heights. By confronting and at times even complying with constraints, we are able to grow beyond our own limitations.

Character and Capability

Restrictions are a positive thing that motivates innovation, creativity, and growth. Excellent. But how do I know which constraints are healthy?

When looking for limitations to listen to, the world is brimming with options. For millennia people have written down which lifestyles, philosophies, or religions will help us grow. I have found that listening to both my mind and my heart is a good way to start. If I logically know something will be good for me and if it feels right, I’ll go for it!

It is important to step back and note, however, that while I often get excited about becoming better, it’s not a good idea to take on too much at once. In his book Principle-Centered Leadership, Steven R. Covey explains why:

We think that we know who we are, but in reality, we actually think of ourselves as who we would like to become. The gap between who we think we are and who we actually are (as laid out in Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most) can be earth-shattering when it is revealed to us. The only way to overcome this gap is to be brutally honest about who we actually are, right now. That is how we begin building trust.

Trust is made up of both character and competency. We wouldn’t trust someone with our money no matter how skilled they are at investing if we know they have a bad reputation. Similarly, we wouldn’t trust someone to carry the dishes if they always trip, no matter how wonderful of a person they are. Strong character and competency are both necessary for trust to exist. We build trust by making and keeping promises with ourselves, but there is a risk.

If we aren’t honest about who we are, we will overestimate our own abilities, setting ourselves up for failure. When we fail to keep our promise to ourselves, our self-worth plummets. It’s even worse when we make a small goal, like flossing once a day, but still cannot manage to keep it. Making a promise with ourselves, especially small ones, is a significant undertaking.

Remember: if you want to grow, you have to be all-in.

The results are 100% worth it. If you are able to finally start achieving real growth in your life, on your terms, the feelings of helplessness will ebb away. Thoughts typical of imposter syndrome will become an identifiable fake. The more centered we are, the more effectively we can handle whatever comes our way. We begin to find peace from within ourselves rather than from outside sources.

In a time of unbelievable amounts of uncertainty, our ability to grow and improve becomes a rock-steady certainty.

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