Second in a series of posts about getting superbetter
Picture your worst enemy standing directly in your path just ahead.
Your heart starts to pound and your breath quickens. Your pulse races and your muscles tense. Your thoughts focus like a laser on the threat.
Your body readies you for one of two responses: FIGHT or FLIGHT. Either face the threat and fight it head on, or turn and run away.
When you notice those bodily sensations of anxiety or agitation — racing pulse, pounding heart, quickening breath, tensing muscles — rather than feeling fearful, you find yourself starting to feel excited, exhilarated at the prospect of overcoming this difficulty, and empowered to meet and beat the challenge ahead.
Threat or challenge — it’s up to you, and therein lies the first rule of the SuperBetter gameful approach to “playing your life”: choose to see difficulty as a challenge, rather than a threat.
As noted above, the bodily sensations experienced in reaction to either a challenge or a threat are remarkably similar. When we perceive a threat, our body activates the sympathetic nervous system, enabling our basic fight or flight survival response. However, if we perceive a challenge, our parasympathetic nervous system — key to cooperation and caring — gets activated, preparing us to confront the challenge with a sense of realistic optimism. Taking this challenge mindset boosts our ability to meet any challenge.
The difference comes down to how we think about the situation. Psychologists refer to this as cognitive reappraisal, a thought process that allows us to shift our thinking sufficiently to change what we thought was a threat to a challenge. Jane McGonigal describes a simple technique to take advantage of your ability to shift your mindset in one of the many “mini-quests” she presents throughout the book.
When your body is gearing up in a threat reaction, at the very point you can identify the physical sensations of rising feelings of “fight or flight,” simply say out loud, “I’m excited!” or “Get excited!”
Repeat this two or three times and it’s enough to nudge your mind over from threat mindset to challenge mindset.
You can practice this just by visualizing a great difficulty you face until you begin to feel anxious, and now say aloud, “Get excited! Get excited! I’m excited!” — so powerful, it’s almost like a Jedi mind trick, really!
Once you’ve shifted into a challenge mindset, you’re better prepared to meet and beat that challenge.
Throughout the book, SuperBetter, McGonigal presents these mini-quests to guide the reader (that’s me and you!) into taking on the challenge mindset more fully, especially in any effort at “getting superbetter.”
So, she supplies you with various checklists derived from psychological inventories, including one to rate your threat-challenge mindset by reacting to a list of 20 statements expressing either a threat or challenge mindset. As with all exercises within SuperBetter, this is intended for self-reflection and self-improvement. A suggested follow-up is to post several of the “Challenge” statements where you can see and review them daily in order to strengthen your resolve to challenge yourself.
The statements I’ve currently posted for myself include:
- I am eager to tackle this obstacle.
- I get fired up when I think about tackling his obstacle.
- This obstacle gives me a chance to find out why I’m really made of.
- There is someone I can turn to for help with this obstacle if I need it.
- I get excited when I think about the possible outcomes of tackling this obstacle.
- I don’t mind struggling with this obstacle, even failing, because the outcome matters to me.
The first step in getting super better — challenge yourself!