Imagine a time of which you had to overcome a significant challenge in your life. It could be a career change, personal loss, or even something small like choosing which route to take to work. With every challenge comes a consequence; and with every consequence comes an opportunity to learn, whether it is from a negative or positive outcome.

One of the most gratifying experiences about my job is hearing about the challenges faced by veterans recovering from injury. The most common type of injuries are cognitive based (e.g., brain trauma), but other injuries include personal loss or bodily injury. Regardless of the type of injury, each poses their own unique set of challenges.  With this in mind, I have come to learn that the preparatory and application approach applied to a challenge ultimately that may make the difference between overcoming a challenge or falling short of expectations. Furthermore, the preparatory and application approach may assist in defining our character, assist or inhibit personal recovery, and/or set the foundation for how one allows or does not allow the challenge to govern our decision making. After spending time with veterans from the United States’ two longest conflicts in US military history, I have gained a unique perspective about how to embraces challenges as an opportunity rather than an intimidating obstacle.

Through observation and application, those approaching a challenge in a manner consistent with the betterment of one’s personal health will ultimately yield the most significant and beneficial results. In other words, taking ownership of the situation will enable oneself to approach a situation in a manner that is both achievable and, more importantly, approachable. One of the most impactful instances of this is when I witnessed veterans learning to walk again. The road to recovery for these veteran’s is both long and intimidating, but the one’s that chose to accept the situation, empathize with others, and lead their own recovery, ultimately had the most success.

Below are several common elements that I have gathered based on the testimony of others in similar situations:

  1. Approach a challenge as an opportunity to try new things. The approach to a challenge is not a ‘one size fits all approach’. Each challenge poses what are called sub-challenges and are based on the situation as much as the individual. For example, positive thinking is a common element that is preached to athletes. However, some individuals may be hindered by this, and may need to think more critically in order to be successful. Until you try something that differs from the masses, you may never know what make you successful in your own unique way.
  2. Just because it works for one challenge, may not mean it works for another challenge. As in the previous example, just because you found success in one strategy, may not mean it works for every challenge you face. Take a challenge as an opportunity to try new things (as above).
  3. Do not be afraid to fail. Failure is inevitable. One of the most impactful phrases I have heard on the job is that “those who (never) failed at some point in their life never took the risk to reach their fullest potential.” Be a leader and embrace failure as an opportunity to adapt your strategy for future challenges.
  4. Just because I overcame a challenge doesn’t mean it won’t come back. Mistakes are bound to happen at some point in life. In order to eliminate the potential of making multiple and/or repetitive mistakes, visualize a problem you my face before it occurs. Prepare for the unexpected and welcome mistakes during these hypothetical situations as an opportunity to strengthen your adaptability and problem solving skills.
  5. Just because it isn’t realistic, doesn’t mean it is impossible. Contrary to many life coaches of whom I have collaborated with, goals and expectations do not have to be realistic in order to become possible (granted, it helps). With enough drive and determination, accompanied by guidance and motivation, anyone can achieve anything. This is not to say that these goals will come easy, but it is to say that one can take small stumbles, learn from them, and achieve something great.

In the end, these elements are strictly observational in nature. They do not possess some of the hard ‘empirical’ support of elements of which is normally sought after. However, for someone looking to begin goal setting, these are a good place to start. Approach a challenge as an opportunity, embrace mistakes as a learning experience, learn to adapt through hardship, and never be afraid to come up short.