I was sitting in Sacrament meeting when a rest hymn was announced, and I heard a young voice behind me whisper, “I got it! I turned right to it!” I smiled. How many of us have tried to open the book exactly to the right hymn number on our first try?
One of our sons has an entire obstacle course he follows as he drives to our home. There’s a certain line he likes to hit, a bump he likes to avoid, and an automatic garage door with a little rope hanging down that he can touch with the car if he times it right. It’s a game he’s designed to challenge himself, the same way we all try to pull perfectly into a parking spot, hit all the green lights going to work, or toss a crumpled paper across the room into a waste basket.
We see if we can beat our time when getting ready. We feel satisfaction when we get all our shopping done and virtually walk through the check-out without missing a step. Even pouring exactly the right amount of milk onto our cereal is a little victory. Throughout our day, most of us set these tiny goals and feel a zing, a mini-thrill when we “win.”
Why do we do this? Isn’t life hard enough? Nope. Human beings crave challenges. Experts have discovered that these little tests actually bring us satisfaction, happiness, calmness and self-confidence. Some say these contests give us the feeling of flying.
Little triumphs bring us personal growth, and the knowledge that we can solve problems. Our stress levels drop. We become more willing to try other, more difficult challenges. We overcome personal fears and learn new skills. Our comfort zone expands.
Experts also say that such challenges even help us to relax. Without occasional trials, we become bored and restless. This is one of the reasons people pursue games on their cell phones, or gather together around a table to play board games.
Our callings can offer the same satisfaction when we know we’ve done our best. In this church of constant change in assignments, we all find ourselves novices with new duties and the opportunity to stretch our wings again and again. Each time we’re thrust into another unfamiliar spot, we add skills and maturity along with other virtues we need. And we’re reminded that we’re resilient; we can cope with the stress of change.
Setting goals in ministering to others can become a victory, too. What if we decided we were going to give ourselves a specific challenge for just one month? Really minister right for that month. Make it to all our meetings on time. Get to the temple for sure. Give away one copy of the Book of Mormon a month. We can decide how big a challenge we’d like, and it can become one of those boosts in our morale that we always seem to be seeking.
President Russell M. Nelson has said, “Now is the time to align our goals with God’s goals.” How about working on whatever you’ve been putting off? Scripture study? Family History? Overcoming bad habits? Honoring the Sabbath? We all know where we’re weakest. We could make it a game to set even a small goal, and achieve it. Instead of looking at the task as unpleasant and insurmountable, see it as another little challenge you can set for yourself. Have fun with it, maybe even give yourself points for each success.
Experts have finally recognized how needed these little victories are. But could it be that this is an inborn trait to help us strive for Heaven? Are we actually wired to improve all the time so we can keep progressing and make home to live with our Heavenly Father? Could these small triumphs mean we can also survive life’s hardest setbacks? Maybe it’s a way we can remind ourselves that nothing is set in stone; we can overcome whatever is holding us back. And that’s pretty joyous news, isn’t it?
Hilton teaches Seminary. She is also an award-winning playwright, and the author of many best-selling Latter-day Saint books. Those, her humor blog, and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website.