Challenges are life’s biggest paradox

Why life’s struggles are essential to our growth — and how to leverage positive & negative memories to push through them.

Juan Leal
Cookie Jar
6 min readDec 4, 2020


Photo by Ramon Kagie

If you’re struggling right now, you’re not alone.

In 2019, it was estimated that 20% of adults in the U.S. experienced mental health issues. Throw a global pandemic into the mix, and that number doubled to over 40% — about two in five people.

Life is difficult right now. We feel lonely. We’re tired. We want to give up. And while we cannot glorify what is unquestionably the worst year of our time, there is a silver lining to it: the challenges we are facing are making us more resilient, forcing us to grow, and pushing us forward. In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt:

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”

How our challenges make us stronger, not weaker

The challenging times that we face are definitely not the most enjoyable — but as much as they suck, the science shows that they are essential to our personal growth, and our lives in general.

Photo by Christopher Lemercier

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that adverse experiences promote resilience and adaptability, shaping us and how we deal with future challenges. Although not the most endearing term, researchers call this “post-traumatic growth.”

While these experiences inevitably cause pain, suffering and distress — they are also a powerful force for positive change.

In a 1989 study, Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun — two psychologists at the University of North Carolina — spoke to over 600 trauma survivors:

The majority said that ‘they had much greater inner strength, they were closer to friends and family members, life had more meaning, or they were reorienting their lives towards more fulfilling goals.’

The same astonishing results were shown by another paper published in Psychological Science — where 15,000 adults were surveyed, many of who cited having faced ‘discrimination, divorce, death of a spouse, illness or injury, and military combat, among other challenges.’ The results were astonishing: people who experienced and overcame these past hardships appreciated the good times more, increasing their overall life satisfaction.

But luckily, we don’t need to face extreme situations to become stronger — we can benefit from everyday struggles and challenges too.

The importance of developing mental toughness

So we know that experiencing hardships builds resilience and adaptability. But why is this important, and how does it push us towards our goals?

Photo by Alex Guillaume

Looking at the world’s most successful leaders, athletes, artists, and role models — it’s easy to think that they owe their success to:

  • Being naturally talented
  • Being inherently intelligent
  • Being born into wealth, or having the right connections
  • Getting good genes
  • Just getting lucky…

However, research shows that there is another factor at play here — one that has a more important role than any other factors for achieving your goals, and one that you can’t be born with:

In any area of life, it is mental toughness — or “grit”— and perseverance that predict your level of success more than anything else.

Let’s be honest: How many times have you skipped the gym because your mind — and not your body — told you that you were tired? How many times have you given in to playing video games, or watching Netflix, or scrolling through TikTok, when you could’ve been doing something more productive?

You will fail at achieving your goals if you have a weak mind.

We can look at our idols and think that they are just smarter and more talented than us — but a lot more goes on behind the scenes:

  • Oprah Winfrey survived a childhood of poverty, pain, and abuse before she became America’s first African-American billionaire.
  • In 2018, Elon Musk put in 120 hour work weeks and slept on Tesla’s factory floor — while suffering from strenuous mental health issues.
  • David Goggins — dubbed “The Toughest Man Alive” — faced a childhood similar to Oprah’s before he became a U.S. Navy SEAL, a Guinness World Record holder, and one of the best ultra-endurance athletes in the world.

Obstacles, setbacks, and losses are a part of life. Difficult times are crucial for our growth. And we can leverage our past struggles to develop grit and push towards success.

How David Goggins ran an ultra-marathon without any training

We’ve all experienced challenges in our lives — but it’s up to us to determine whether they’ll make us stronger and more resilient, or if we’ll get stuck and let them overpower us. And so, in comes the Cookie Jar method.

Photo by Pietro Rampazzo on Unsplash

David Goggins is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL, and an ultra-endurance athlete that has completed 60+ ultra-marathons, triathlons, and ultra-triathlons — regularly placing in the top five and setting new course records.

In 2018, Goggins set out to run his very first 24-hour, 100-mile ultra marathon — with absolutely no preparation or training. He made it to mile 70 before he was broken, destroyed, and couldn’t go any longer. However…

Goggins took a step back and remembered all of the challenges that he had previously overcome — realizing that it wasn’t the first time he took on an impossible task.

Tapping into all of the past struggles and obstacles that he had faced, Goggins gained the strength to keep going, and he completed the race.

And thus, the Cookie Jar concept was born: a space to remember all of the challenges you’ve overcome — and the successes that followed — to push you forward when your mind feels like giving up.

Tapping into your Cookie Jar to fuel your happiness

As humans, it’s not very difficult to think back to the challenges we’ve faced. After all, our brains are wired to remember negative events more accurately and vividly than positive ones — and it’s easy to get caught up in them.

But as shown by recent studies, harnessing the power of your positive memories and experiences is crucial for your well-being.

“Recalling happy memories can reduce the risk of anxiety and depression — conversely improving mental health.”

So while it is essential to recall and reframe past struggles to become stronger, it is just as important to leverage your happy memories in order to conquer your current struggles. This is where the Cookie Jar app comes in — giving you the ability to use the power of both negative & positive memories to make you a stronger and happier person!

Cookie Jar was inspired by Goggins’ personal story, but incorporates so many more features that will level up your self-reflection game. It is a space where you can upload photos and videos, attach music, add your own voice messages, write journal entries, and so much more!

By capturing these precious moments and being able to relive them at a later point, this app encourages you to learn, reflect, and grow from your own experiences. It’s a self-development tool made just for you.

I might be biased, but I’ve been using the beta version of the app for some time and I highly recommend it. It has not only made me more present and connected to my memories, but also more grateful for the little moments in life. If you want to give it a try, you can sign up here and access the beta app!

In Conclusion

There’s no doubt that we’re going through an incredibly difficult time, and it’s normal to feel low and beat down by life right now.

Nobody knows how to navigate a global pandemic, but I’ve found that digging into my Cookie Jar — using my past challenges to push forward & practicing gratitude by remembering my happiest moments — has helped me tremendously in coping with the current state of the world.

Either way, I think it’s most important to remember that — at some point — this too shall pass. And when it does, 2020 will forever live in all of our cookie jars, making us stronger, happier, and more resilient.



Juan Leal
Cookie Jar

Life-long learner. Born in Mexico, raised in Italy, based in New York.