The challenge is the goal you set for yourself or your child. Because of the link between biological and psychological actions, I recommend a physical goal. But you want to plan an activity that can be done daily, instead of only at special times. Your child might choose to perfect a yoga workout, complete a ten-mile run, establish a weight-lifting regimen, or undertake some sort of Outward Bound challenge, depending on preferences and means. Whatever challenge is selected, make sure it requires strenuous effort in order to produce the special brain hormones that are necessary to bring about a shift in mind states.
Action Plan for the Positive Stress Challenge
It is not necessary to have an exact plan to begin, because most of the critical components will evolve naturally. As the challenges are accepted and success is seen, there will be a natural tendency to want to achieve additional goals because of the increased sense of accomplishment. The exercises will become more individualized according to what your child enjoys and the results he experiences.
The critical thing is to get started. Being the slowest member of the football team when I was fifteen, I was "encouraged" to go out for track. The first day the track coach looked at me and said, "You are going to run with the cross-country team. They run about five miles, so take off. If you can't keep up, walk fast."
My reaction was, I will be running until midnight! I thought of myself as a football player, not a long-distance runner. I did what I was told and decided that I would run the whole distance. And I discovered that I was a much better runner than I thought I could be. I did not become the fastest cross-country runner, but I was successful in my mind because I met the challenge and succeeded. From that point on, I found joy in running.
Stress accompanies any fresh challenge. But stress is not bad if you can learn to use it to your benefit. Consider how you feel when you are presented with a task that you know is not a real challenge to your true abilities. You may feel angry that someone has so little faith in the capacities that you know you have. I remember when an ex-girlfriend congratulated me so effusively at my high school graduation that I felt insulted. I wondered if she thought that this was a major achievement for me and that I could do no better than just skim along to the point of getting out of school.
Imagine how it feels when a teacher lowers the expectations in reading lessons for the child with ADD. The message is clear: "You are too disabled to perform normal reading tasks." That is not the right challenge. That is definitely not the right message.
Positive stresses must encourage optimism, and at the same time they have to be demanding and represent a real accomplishment. These positive stresses, if properly chosen, can promote hope and encouragement for anyone who says, "I can and I will take on that challenge."
Lou was a small-framed boy in the seventh grade, and his size was only an additional detriment to the symptoms of ADD. He felt like an outcast. Not only did he feel inadequate to perform at the same level as his peers, but he had no unique talents or skills to identify himself as an individual, much less as a special person. He felt that he was invisible, and maybe he was. His classmates hardly knew his name.
I took a special interest in this boy because I knew that regardless of how much he could achieve, he would never find the self-assurance to see any progress. He needed to know he could achieve some success. So, as odd as it may seem, I sent him to the boxing coach as a candidate for the Golden Gloves competition. Boxing is done in weight divisions, so I figured the kid had a chance because he'd be pitted against someone of similar stature. He certainly had enough pent-up anger to learn to channel in a positive manner. I was not interested in him learning to be aggressive and violent, but I wanted him to find something in which he could have pride.
With reassurance from me and some counseling for his mother, Lou took on the challenge. He discovered that he could do ten push-ups, then fifteen, and then twenty-five! His progress was impressive and he called me regularly to report it with enthusiasm. As he began to muscle up he also directed more energy toward his schoolwork and improved his concentration. The boxing coach was one of those brilliant people who knew how to bring out the best in a kid. He felt Lou had real potential as a boxer. And he was right. In only his second year of competition, Lou won the state championship in his weight class.
I can't say for certain that Lou's success in improving his schoolwork came from his athletic training. The real factor was his dedication to his own success.