Houston, We Have a Challenge
"Houston, we have a challenge."
For anyone familiar with the 1970 Apollo 13 mission and the original words of Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert, or more recently, the words of Tom Hanks in the 1995 movie Apollo 13, the use of "challenge" in place of the now infamous "problem," certainly does not have the same effect. And for good reason, as Hanks delivered the line perfectly, and injected into the viewer a sense of fear and suspense in the way we would expect a seasoned Hollywood star to do. Something was wrong, and his delivery let the audience know that they were in for an emotional whirlwind of action as the Apollo story unfolded before them.
The word problem has taken on a cultural meaning in the United States that differs somewhat from its official definition, and the success of the movie has even shifted the line into mainstream culture. My goal today is not to get into the specifics of precise definitions, more so it is to examine the use of the word "problem" in everyday modern language. I believe I have a better option, and my hope is to inspire you to change your thought process and in turn your language, with the ultimate goal of changing your subconscious programming, and the programming of those with whom you interact. This concept is one of the "Tips and Tricks" I teach our women here at Liberty, and I have succeeded if they take the subsequent advice and apply it to their everyday life, while swimming here at LU and in the real world beyond.
Imagine a different scenario than a blockbuster movie, where a good friend mentions to you:
"I have a problem."
What is your first gut instinct? What is your initial reaction?
Now consider the same friend, in a similar context:
"I have a challenge."
How does your emotional response differ? Tell me about your initial gut reaction - are you stressed? Energized? Emboldened? How would you guess your subconscious mind reacts?
If you are like the majority of Americans, the difference could not be clearer. A problem is nearly always taken as a negative, invoking a negative stress response from the body and the associated feelings of anxiety, fear, and perhaps even hopelessness. The cultural uses are so plentiful they are perhaps engrained into our collective American psyche. We have math problems for homework that need our attention. Friends and family members have health problems. We have gun problems, drug problems, behavior problems, relationship problems, and problems at work that demand our attention. I am dating myself here, but think back to the 1990 comedy "Problem Child" for yet another example of how the word has rooted itself as a negative into the collective groupthink of our culture. And the list goes on and on. Watch an hour of prime-time news on a weekday night and count the number of problems you encounter; problems are everywhere, and again almost always carry a negative connotation.
A challenge on the other hand (for most people), invokes an entirely different response altogether. A challenge is something we take on, tackle, and subconsciously frame in the positive. Try the aforementioned problem vs. challenge experiment on an unsuspecting family member or friend to see for yourself. Pay careful attention to the nonverbal cues and communication as you deliver the two lines. If you are skilled in the art of reading nonverbal communication you will see it right away; framing as a problem brings a negative response, reframing as a challenge elicits a positive response from the brain and nervous system.
And so it is, here at Liberty I teach our women that we do not have problems, we simply have challenges to overcome. I am sure they get tired of my antics, but every time I hear the word problem on the pool deck, I correct it to challenge, then ask them to reframe the topic or question to challenge form. My hope is that with enough repetition and conscious thought it will stick with our team deep within their subconscious minds, throughout their time in our program and beyond. As we know, the subconscious is quite powerful indeed, and by reframing problems as challenges, we free our minds to attack the challenge and drum up solutions, operating below the level of conscious thought where elegant solutions lie waiting for discovery.
Imagine for a second the implications a simple reframing of problems to challenges could have on our society as a whole. Imagine the effect on education, sport, health, raising children, and even politics. Suppose every teacher and professor, all of them, throughout the entire country, suddenly stopped giving homework problems, and in every subject. No more problems, ever, only challenges to conquer outside of normal class time. How many coaches over the years have told athletes they have a problem? A problem with their technique, a problem with their mental approach, perhaps a problem with their fitness or strength levels? Now imagine if said coaches reframed those statements into challenge form? It is not that Suzy has a problem with her flexibility, no, her challenge is simply to become more flexible in the specific range of motion the coach desires.
And of politics. Ah yes, politics. I do not discuss politics on this blog (and for good reason; I'll lose 90% of my readers), but since we are electing a President in less than two months I'll do my best to get into the Holiday spirit: The left will say the problem with the right is this; the right will say the problem with the left is that. Perhaps if we were serious about converting open minds to our point of view, we would refrain from framing their views as problems, for again we know the response taking this route will have. Consider the two examples below:
Political Expert A:
"The problem with that belief is that history has shown it seldom works."
Political Expert B:
"The challenge is that history has shown that belief seldom works."
With which political expert would you rather debate? Expert B, while not attacking you, is sly in that she is speaking directly to your subconscious mind, forcing you to see your belief as a challenge that you must attack...perhaps then you would rather debate Expert A, as B might cause you to actually have to think!
I always reframe problems to challenges, and I teach our women here at Liberty to do the same. I will raise my son in a similar manner. Perhaps we start a cultural revolution: all coaches, educators, leaders, managers...all of us, no matter our profession, we all start to reframe problems as challenges. It might make for a different evening news experience, but I believe our country would be far better off. Imagine the creative cognitive capacity of our collective subconscious unleashed, mulling over challenges in everyday life vs. problems we might have.
Spread the word. It starts with one; it starts with you. There are no problems, simply challenges to overcome!