To illustrate how challenging ourselves can result in a sense of well-being, Boardman explains a study from the University of Richmond, which she dubs the “Froot Loop experiment.”
Here’s the gist: The researchers wanted to train rats to drive tiny, lab-made cars. So every time they steered or navigated the car to various locations, they earned a Froot Loop. (“Apparently it’s their favorite [food] in the world,” says Boardman.)
However, the researchers separated the rats into two groups before their driving tests: One group lived in a complex, enriched environment filled with dynamic challenges (tall structures, climbing ladders, and the like—things rats might consider as challenges, anyway). The other group was housed in a standard (read: boring) lab setting, no obstacles in sight.
When it was time for the driving test, the researchers found that the rats who lived in the more dynamic, enriching environment were more resilient to the challenges they faced while navigating the car. They kept at it until they finally reached their Froot Loop; the rats who lived in lab housing, however, were more likely to give up when faced with driving challenges, Froot Loop be damned.
OK, but how does this research relate to our human experience? Well, says Boardman, you can surround yourself with dynamic challenges in other areas of your life so that if you are tasked with an obstacle that requires some grit, you’re more well equipped to keep at it. “When we create desirable difficulty, when we’re challenged in a way that we feel we have the resources to meet that challenge, it actually feels really good,” she says. “There’s self-efficacy that is engaged in that, and that’s where we build resilience.”