Balancing challenge and support is one of the critical skills I practice in my coaching work. This skill is also necessary in other areas of my life, as a friend, a father, and a husband. Too much challenge becomes a vexation to people, and too much support becomes coddling. Neither extreme will succeed in helping us to be better versions of ourselves, nor will they bring about the happiness and tranquility we desire in our relationships with others.
Challenge is necessary. We must be challenged or we do not grow. By attempting things that are just outside of our current abilities, we push ourselves to adapt, learn, and improve. One example is the push-up: if you can only do 1, do sets of 1 as often as you can–soon you will challenge yourself to do 2, then 3 in a set. This is not only physical, as in the push-up example, but the same thing can be said for mental and spiritual challenges. Stretching the mind to consider new perspectives, or learning a new set of reasoning tools are ready examples.
Challenge can also be too much. A challenge we are not able to meet will soon become a defeat. Some unmet challenges can lead to devastating failure and even death. So, I’m not saying that constant challenge is always the way, or that challenge should be maximized. I’m saying that challenge is important, within reason. The level of challenge you take on for yourself–or the challenges you put on others–must be reasonable and achievable, and they must also be balanced by support.
Support is a form of care. Aid, assistance, encouragement, these are some of the various shapes that support takes. In coaching, I must support people to believe in themselves, and to go easy on themselves when they fall short of their own expectations, or mine. I need to give them the tools to set them up for success with the challenges they’ve taken on. These are the necessary form of support, without overdoing it.
On the other hand, there can be such a thing as too much support. If I never expect any more of them than what they already are, then I am babying them. Even that infant baby reaches a point when they must be challenged to learn skills of independence. So, how could I expect any less of my clients? Support cannot go so far that it becomes counseling (not in my scope of practice), or enabling of bad behaviors, or a dependency situation. Support is only enough to fill the person with confidence in what they themselves can do, as they are being challenged to do it.
Again, I’m talking about balance. This is a consistent theme. There are many things that are beneficial to our lives (such as challenge and support), but as my wife says, too much of anything is poison. If the point of my work is to challenge people to aspire and achieve what it takes to be better versions of themselves, then I must also remember the counterpoint: to support people to believe in themselves and do the hard work with confidence.
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