Recently, I was out cycling and 15 minutes into the ride I got a flat tyre.
I was pretty frustrated, and ended up walking, pushing the bike to the nearest train station to make my way back home.
When I made it home (45 minutes later), I turned my bike upside, and given I hadn’t changed a tire for some time, watched a couple of Youtube tutorials on how to change the tyre.
I very quickly found myself becoming stuck, with the tyre refusing to go back into the frame. In turn, I also started becoming very angry with myself.
My wife came out to help, and despite her patience, over the next 15 minutes, I became angrier, more frustrated, and snappy. It eventually culminated in me becoming quite rude, and as this happened, it acted as a pattern interrupt.
I was shocked that I’d been so rude to my wife who was simply being kind and supportive.
I was also mortified that something as small as learning how to replace a flat tyre on a bike had caused me to become so angry and frustrated.
Has this ever happened to you where you’ve found yourself getting incredibly angry and frustrated with yourself for not being able to do something?
Upon reflection, I realised three things were going on for me 👇
Firstly, when I can’t learn something quickly I become very frustrated and have very little patience with myself. 😡
I’m used to learning things very quickly. I guess it’s a superpower I’ve developed over time to be able to learn and understand new things very quickly which my wife finds incredibly annoying.
So when I encounter something I can’t learn quickly (read: the first or second time I try it), my grit and patience are low.
I don’t understand why I can’t do it, and instead of viewing it as an interesting problem to sit with and learn from, I just get angry with myself.
The irony, of course, is that as an educator, I’m always encouraging others to keep on trying and to be patient, and kinder with themselves, and yet my own self-talk in these circumstances can be horrible.
Secondly, despite my love for learning, and improvement, I realised that I only love learning when I’m in charge. 🦸♂
When I get to choose what I want, when and how I want to learn, I love learning.
This is because it means that I can become successful quickly, and on reflection, I’ve realised that I’ve connected at an emotional level (through years of selective schooling and university) that learning is fun when I’m successful.
But as soon as I don’t have control over the learning experience, and something isn’t responding in the way I expect it to in the learning process, I become incredibly frustrated and angry.
The irony once again however is that we learn the most when things don’t work out how we expect or plan.
Finally, I realised that I actively try to avoid and run away from pain, anxiety, stress and challenges and this is a cap on my learning. 🎩
If a challenge occurs, or I’m feeling stressed, my immediate internal self-talk response is to wish that the pain or challenge will go away or be resolved as FAST as possible.
In these situations, even though it’s likely I could learn a lot from the challenge, my priority is to just minimise or avoid the challenge entirely. I don’t care about learning – I just want the pain to be over!
Ultimately, however, challenges, obstacles and pain are often our best teachers, and by actively trying to minimise or avoid them, I’ve been capping my ability to learn and grow.
As I’ve had these realisations I’ve been working through a 3-step process I’ve found helpful to better embrace challenges, obstacles and negative events in my life so I can grow as a person.
Step 1: Practise Greater Patience & Kindness with Myself 🙏
It’s often easier to be kind and patient with others than with ourselves.
As a result, the first step when I find myself not being able to learn something, overcome a problem, or solve a challenge immediately is to ask myself what would I say to someone else if they were in the same position. It helps to have a specific person in mind that you care about a lot – so this could be a partner, sibling, or child.
By externalising my self-talk using this Cognitive Behavioural Therapy technique, it helps remind me to be kinder to myself. That’s it’s OK to not understand or solve something the first time, and this, in turn, helps me become more patient with myself.
Step 2: Remember Amor Fati ❤️
Amor Fati is a Latin phrase popularized by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche that means ‘a love of one’s fate‘.
Nietzsche in Ecce Homo wrote:
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.
In short, Nietzsche was advocating that we should accept all that occurs in our life, the good and bad, with gratitude.
As I’ve encountered obstacles, challenges, and pain, I’ve been reminding myself of the idea of Amor fati.
Rather than try to avoid, run, or minimise the pain, this has been helping me approach challenges with greater acceptance. It’s reminded me I can’t control everything and just because I can’t control the situation, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad.
Step 3: Reframe the Challenge as a Unique, Personalised Training Experience 🗺
Reading the Daily Stoic, a quote from the ancient Stoic Cleanthes that builds on the idea of Amor Fati resonated with me:
Lead on God and Destiny,
To that Goal fixed for me long ago.
I will follow and not stumble;
even if my will is weak, I will soldier on
For me, this has been a powerful way to reframe challenges, obstacles, and situations I cannot control.
If you believe that a greater power (God, Destiny or something else – whatever it is) is in control, there’s no such thing as an event, challenge or obstacle that is not part of the plan for your life.
This means that everything that happens, every event, challenge, obstacle and problem was designed to happen – specifically for you.
In other words, life is a unique, personalised learning curriculum and training experience built exactly for you. Isn’t that an awesome and exciting way to look at the world?
I’ve found reframing challenges this way (regardless if it is true or not) to be such a powerful tool to not only accept the challenge or negative event but also then to persist and lean into it (instead of running away) to identify what I can learn and how I can grow from the experience.
All of this is of course not saying that we should accept bad things that happen to us and not make changes to improve our life, or stand up for what is right and what we believe in.
Standing up for what is right (justice) after all is one of the four core Stoic virtues, so although the Stoic’s wrote about the importance of accepting one’s fate, this was merely one tool in a much larger toolbox, to be selected when each one is most appropriate.
How do you deal with challenging events, obstacles and pain in your own life?
Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear and learn from you!