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SuperBetter: The Threat vs. Challenge Mindset

I would describe myself as a rational pessimist; I believe the worst will happen because it often does.  A case in point, I worried about whether we had done enough prior to the election, and look where we are now despite Nate Silver’s polls.  This is not to say that all my fears come true, but I’m not basing my pessimism willy-nilly on a gut feeling.  No, I am a rational pessimist who has examined the facts and thought: “Yes, whenever possible, things go tits up.”

According to SuperBetter, this mindset is not working for me.

On page 132, Jane McGonigal distinguishes between the way we look at problems: do we see them as a threat or a challenge?  If you see your problems as a threat — something that is making your life difficult or that you need to endure or overcome — you will be stuck fighting an exhausting, possibly unwinnable fight, especially in situations where after a certain amount of work, the rest is left to chance.

Whereas if you look at your problems as a challenge — something that is testing your endurance and will show you what you are made out of — then you can approach your problems with a different energy.  You’re not fighting against; you’re fighting for.

Okay, a lot of this is easier said than done for a self-proclaimed rational pessimist.

McGonigal describes the two mindsets on page 137:

In a threat mindset, you focus on the potential for risk, danger, harm, or loss.  You feel pressured to prevent a negative outcome rather than to achieve a positive outcome … In a challenge mindset, you focus on the opportunity for growth and positive outcomes.  Even though you acknowledge that you may face risk, harm, or loss, you feel realistically optimistic that you can develop useful skills or strategies to achieve the best possible outcome.

In other words, view your problems “as a challenge you’re capable of meeting, rather than as a threat that will overwhelm or harm you” (p. 137).

Some of the work comes from something that McGonigal calls cognitive reappraisal (on page 135), which is changing the way you look at a situation.  Her example involves turning anxiety into excitement, since the emotions mirror one another in terms of your body’s response.  In both cases, your heart starts racing, your stomach may hurt, or you may feel light-headed.

Which means that it’s easier to convince yourself that your nervousness is excitement (since your body will be feeling the same thing) vs. convincing yourself that your nervousness is calm (since your body will be feeling opposite sensations).  Instead of telling yourself, “I’m calm,” tell yourself, “I’m excited!” even when you’re actually really nervous.  It can change the way you approach tackling the situation.

Wait, but don’t work against yourself by reminding yourself that you’re lying.  Simply say these words, “I’m excited, I’m excited, I’m excited” as you bounce up and down.

Once you have done that, you will open your mind to the possibilities ahead of you vs. the stress that you’re in right now.

So take something that is stressing you out and state it as a threat, and then pause for a moment, and rewrite it as a challenge.  Go!

I’m writing about SuperBetter the app as well as SuperBetter the book because… well… I learned about them via a podcast and now I want to talk about everything I’m learning on them.  If you want to talk about them, too, join along.  If not, skip the posts marked SuperBetter.


1 Beth { 12.21.16 at 8:58 am }

This is interesting. I’m like you, a rational pessimist and I definitely look at problems at threats. I don’t like change or a disruption in my life and problems would count as both. However I was just recently talking to a friend who is at the very beginning of her infertility journey. I was telling her that I knew she would be ok (whatever that means) because dealing with infertility is all about making things happen, never giving up, always moving forward. And I realized reading your post this morning that when confronted with my own diagnosis 7 years ago, I immediately viewed it as a challenge I would overcome. It’s interesting this morning as I wonder why that was different than any other problem in my life, when arguably it’s the biggest “threat” I’ve ever encountered – and yet it became the biggest challenge instead. No answers but lots to think about.

2 em | 35jupiterdrive { 12.21.16 at 9:46 am }

I am a rational optimist. I say prepare for the worst & hope for the best, and I honestly believe the best is within our grasp, but for heaven’s sake, let’s not be stupid. I’m not going to hope that someone’s better self somehow emerges if they’re standing in front of me screaming their worst self at me.

I am the challenge/lesson mindset and I can honestly say it helps me survive life.

Nervous excitement reminds me of something a music teacher told me a long long (really long) time ago. He said that as a singer, I could decide whether it was fear or excitement and excitement would help my performance. Found he was right. (I always suffered stagefright and it was always worth it.)

3 em | 35jupiterdrive { 12.21.16 at 12:11 pm }

PS: If you don’t already know about this, I have a little present for you:
jkrowling.com – her new site. I subscribed & am a happy Ravenclaw.

4 nicoleandmaggie { 12.21.16 at 12:53 pm }

It is all of our responsibility to become more politically active in order to minimize the damage that is done in the next 2-4 years.

Though I’m not sure actual research would agree with the suggestions in that book– people are a lot more motivated by potential losses than they are by potential gains.

So I’m also fighting because if I don’t, really terrible things will happen to people and to our country and to the world.


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