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Last Updated on May 3, 2019

Stuck in a Rut? Find the Hidden Opportunity

Stuck in a Rut? Find the Hidden Opportunity

When was the last time you felt stuck in a situation, where you didn’t know how to get out of it, and almost felt hopeless?

It may have been a personal relationship that wasn’t going well, a job that you weren’t happy in, or life in general not giving you the sense of fulfillment that you’d like…

Often, when we’re faced with a setback, it’s easy for us to look only on the negatives and dwell on the bad. Everything suddenly seems bleak and it’s hard to see that silver lining.

But, here’s what separates the successful from the average… they are always able to recognize and dig deep within these setbacks, to find hidden opportunities–opportunities can allow them to get back on their feet, and out of their rut.

So how do they do that?

They start by looking at the positives.

First, Focus on the Positive

No matter the situation, positive thinking has been related to so many healthy benefits like increased life span, lower rates of depression, better psychological and physical well-being, and better coping skills during hardships.

We need to accept that suffering is a part of life; it’s inevitable! But, how you decide to come out from each moment of suffering determines the rest of your life journey. So, it’s important to train your brain to find opportunities over limitations.

These obstacles that you face can be turning points for break throughs no matter what role you’re in – a stay home mom, a retiree, a working professional, etc. So if you’re currently feeling somewhat stuck in a certain aspect of your life, why not find one or two positive thoughts that you can think of from that situation?

The Beauty of a Blocker

Another reason why it’s so important to look for the positives in something bad, is because it helps you to shift your mindset towards seeing negatives as something good. This is otherwise known as ‘Post-traumatic growth’, and happens when a person experiences positive changes resulting from a major life crisis.

According to research by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, post-traumatic growth goes beyond resilience; by actively searching for the good in something terrible, a person can use adversity as a catalyst for advancing to a higher level of psychological functioning.[1]

Finding the beauty in something bad encourages personal strength and boosts self confidence. Once you overcome past challenges, you feel empowered, and you’re more likely to feel confident in taking charge of future challenges.

Besides being a part of life, setbacks also shift our perspective and help us to recognize the good things in life, allowing us to see the value of not suffering, and increases our empathy. This allows us to see the importance of making the most of our lives.

We can also empathize better with those who have also endured hardship, giving us the distinct advantage of seeing circumstances from a new and different perspective, which is ultimately the root of creativity.

Whether bonding on a deeper level with friends and family or feeling connected to strangers who have gone through similar difficulties, suffering can bring people closer together. Social support is especially important for healing; discussing and processing hardships with other people assists with meaning-making.

What’s Stopping You Should Be Your Main Focus (For Now)

Now that you’ve seen the importance of looking at the positives in a bad situation, let’s go back to your current obstacle, whatever it may be. Use this instance as your main opportunity, and not a setback.

This will help you see what to focus on first before tackling other aspects of your goals. I’ll share an example:

My friend Sarah was recently given a new job opportunity. Sarah was given a golden opportunity to take up a leadership position at a new regional office in Seoul (S. Korea), but one of the key job requirements is to facilitate communication between local partners.

So even though Sarah’s got over 10 years of experience in her field, has a strong set of skills that fits the job and is the leading candidate by a large margin, Sarah doesn’t speak Korean. Which means Sarah faces a pretty significant obstacle with the language difference, as her promotion is conditional given she can prove that she’s able to fulfill the job role despite her limitations.

Instead of focusing on the negative aspect of this job offer, Sarah chose to turn this setback into an opportunity – an opportunity to prove beyond doubt that she’s the person for this role by gaining working fluency in the Korean language.

Despite knowing that a large part of her job involves constant interaction with local partners, Sarah is still confident that she has what it takes, and believes that her little understanding of Korean will not get in the way.

So, what did Sarah do to conquer her obstacle?

She started off by hiring an assistant who was able to converse in fluent Korean, so that the assistant could act as her translator for the first few months while Sarah was learning the Korean language.

She also dedicated 1 hour each night to working with a Korean language tutor, and 1 hour each weekend to watching Korean dramas.

Six months later, Sarah is able to speak simple conversational Korean with her colleagues, and she can even hold meetings in Korean with little help from her assistant. Of course, there was a lot of goal setting and focus put in by Sarah in order for her to achieve this accomplishment. But the key is that she didn’t let her initial obstacle of not being able to speak Korean get in the way of an amazing career progression.

Focus is the way in which you deliberately target your energy to push progress in something you care about. In this case, Sarah found her focus in wanting to excel in her career.

Because of this, she was able to visualize and set focus objectives that she could work on to reach her goal of speaking Korean to excel in her job.

So, once you get past your blocker and find your focus, you’ll be well prepared to start checking off other tasks to get you closer to your goal. This is how an obstacle can become a hidden opportunity!

Get Moving to Get Unstuck

In order to get unstuck, you have to move. You have to do something that can allow yourself to come out of the rut, and that’s why you need to create a new goal that can give you focus and motivation to make progress again.

In Sarah’s case, she could have stayed stuck in her current job, without taking on the new opportunity if she let the obstacle of not being able to speak Korean get the better of her.

Don’t let your limitations keep you constrained inside a loop as they keep you stuck facing the same problems, having the same choices, and taking the same actions over and over, and over again. Start by getting the right focus.

Try using these guiding statements to help you get moving, and finding your hidden opportunity:

  1. I’m limited by… (obstacle/constraint) because… (why it’s a limitation)
  2. It stops me from…(the thing you want to do)

Once you’ve identified your limitation, you can work on finding the turning point and really assess the possibilities. A turning point is a key obstacle that, if overcome, would open new opportunities that weren’t available before. 

So use the statement:
If only i could… (achievement) then I’d be able to… (the new possibility).

And, with that, you can create your opportunity statement:
I have an opportunity to… (new possibility) by… (the achievement).

Once you’ve found your hidden opportunity, it’s time to get started on pursuing your new goals, and having the right kind of motivation is key to sustaining this progress, in particular, Intrinsic MotivationIntrinsic Motivation involves engaging in a behavior because it is personally rewarding.

In this case, you’re now doing something for your own sake rather than the desire for some external reward or factor. You’ll be more likely to carry through with your goals as a result of that!

Featured photo credit: Adi Goldstein via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun: Post-traumatic growth: conceptual foundations and empirical evidence

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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