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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 January 21, 2020

Easily Distracted? Here’s How to Regain Your Focus

Easily Distracted? Here’s How to Regain Your Focus

Are you reading this article because you’re currently searching for a solution or method to help improve your focus? Trying to find a way to concentrate better so that you can get more done in your day? Or, do you feel like you spend a lot of time easily distracted on things other than what you’re meant to really be focusing on?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone! As our society becomes more and more advanced, there is much more information for us to digest and more opportunities to experience. This can definitely be overwhelming and distracting! Whether it’s a work proposal that you’re trying to focus on writing, or a goal in life that you’re striving for, distractions do get in the way of your focus towards those important things in your life. And, the distractions come in a wide variety!

For example, many of us are easily distracted by our mobile phones. Whether it’s the constant notifications popping up, or the need to scroll through your social media news feeds, these are all distractions that cost us time. There are also bigger distractions like wanting to go to a game on a beautiful day, or taking a weekend holiday even though you have a deadline due on Monday.

What are Distractions?

Let’s go deeper to break down and understand how distractions happen in the first place. Distractions are things that divert away your attention from the action that you’re trying to do. They make you lose focus and put you off track. The problem with distractions is that they not only cost time, they dilute your energy, too. Repeated interruptions of this sort can lead to demotivation, because you’ll feel like you’re overwhelmed… yet not getting anything done!

Contrary to popular belief, our brains perform best when we’re focused on one objective at a time. We’re generally not good at constantly switching our attention between different tasks. Multiple studies have shown that when we do this, the performance of each task suffers compared to if we focused on them one by one. So multitasking isn’t the best option when it comes to wanting to get more done quickly.

How Much Do Distractions Cost?

As I mentioned previously, in today’s society, we’re faced with so much information that it’s easy to be bombarded by distractions.

If you’re a typical working American, you’ll be distracted every 11 minutes; and, it will take you 25 minutes to settle down again to your task. Additionally, the more complicated your project, the longer it will take to regain your focus. This happens because your brain has to put in considerable effort when switching between complex objectives.

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Distractions have a huge cost on our focus and productivity. If you want to improve or increase your focus, you need to learn to deal with the distractions in your life.

Learn About Your Internal Distractions

When it comes to distractions, we tend to think of them as external occurrences: your phone starts ringing, someone talks to you and interrupts your train of thought when you were immersed in something important, or the sudden onset of construction noise when you’re in an important meeting.

It’s very easy to blame external distractions as the cause when you can’t focus. But, there’s actually a hidden type of distraction beneath the surface that is just as, if not more, responsible for taking away your focus. These are Internal Distractions.

The problem with internal distractions is, if you’re not acutely aware of them, you can be wasting both time and energy without even knowing it. So, before tackling external distractions effectively, you first have to take care of your internal distractions.

1. Priority Chaos

There are a few types of internal distractions, but let’s start with probably the most common one: the concept of Priority Chaos.

One of the most common distractions we encounter is that we have too many options on hand. This can cause priority chaos.

For example, some people may find it hard to focus at home because there are too many options to choose from. You can choose to feed your dog, read a book, watch TV, have a snack or take a nap.

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Besides the costs of distraction mentioned before, priority chaos is a big demotivator. When there are too many potentially attractive options, it’s hard to focus your energy and choose one of them – ideally the one you should be doing.

Priority chaos is also a demotivator because it makes you feel guilty. When you let your internal distractions overtake your focus, you’re the one who chooses to divert your own attention and energy away from your task. So when the task you wanted to complete doesn’t get done, you can’t blame an external factor. Whether you do it consciously or not, you’ll end up blaming yourself!

Why does priority chaos happen? Well, your brain subconsciously prioritizes tasks based on three factors:

  1. To fulfil an existing need. For example, you need to go to the bathroom urgently, so your brain is guaranteed to prioritize it.
  2. To achieve a certain feeling of satisfaction, such as the satisfaction of eating a delicious chocolate fudge cake.
  3. The perceived cost of achieving the benefit. What is the effort, energy or time required to complete this action?

The brain automatically take these 3 factors into account even when you’re not thinking about it.  

Unfortunately, unless you’re consciously making an effort, your brain is not always the best at making accurate judgement calls. It tends to have a bias towards short term benefits and short term costs.

As there are often many more options our brains link to short term benefits, when you’re trying to focus on a task that gives you a long term benefit, that task usually becomes low priority. This is the essence of Priority Chaos.

2. Long and Short Term Benefits

As explained earlier, our brains are not good at evaluating and comparing short term and long term benefits.

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Short term benefits usually have a relatively low cost and are concrete, allowing our brains to easily grasp them. We usually associate long term benefits with high cost, and these perceived costs are usually not as clear cut. The longer term it is, the more effort it takes to imagine the benefits. This automatically creates a mental barrier and resistance in our brains. As a result, we tend to trade long term gain for short term gains.

This is the reason why you might know that something is good for you in the long term, such as losing weight and exercising, but for some reason, you can’t force yourself to feel excited about it. On the other hand, you might know that something is bad for you, such as binge eating junk food. But, the anticipation of short term satisfaction overwhelms your conscious ability to resist it.

This is the next type of internal distraction that we face, and it is called Short & Long Term Mismatch. Thankfully, this can be tackled, too.

How to Overcome Internal Distraction

The good news is that it’s not so difficult to overcome these common internal distractions.

The first step that you can take is to identify what task needs the most focus to get accomplished. Once you have that figured out, simply break down the that task into smaller, bite-sized tasks. Each bite-sized task should have a very clear short term benefit (something that you can easily describe in one sentence), and a very clear short term cost (something that you can quantify, such as time spent).

For example, let’s say you have a grant proposal to write for an upcoming project at work. The first bite-sized task that you can accomplish is to outline the grant proposal and split it into 4 different categories. This will ensure that you cover everything that is needed, and allows you to focus on each section one at a time.

Also, set a time limit or duration for each bite sized task. The time limit should be short enough so that it’s a no-brainer to want to check it off. Remember, the brain has a bias towards short term benefits, so it’s likely you’ll find it hard to resist checking off a bite-sized task!

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The next step would be to evaluate your other options. Besides focusing on your grant proposal, what are all the possible things that you could be doing that would divert your attention away? Be realistic about what they are! Write them all down, and list out the benefits and the costs associated. You don’t have to write them down in detail, just a general description will do.

For instance, instead of writing your proposal, you could spend 20 minutes watching a comedy series on Netflix. The benefit is that you get entertained and have a good laugh. The cost is that you’ve just lost 20 minutes of your time, and that comedy series did nothing to help you with the grant proposal.

Once you have your list completed, start prioritizing them. You have a time limit, so you need to order your tasks by priority, starting with the focus task as your top priority. Then fit the others around it.

For any remaining tasks on the list that won’t fit within your allocated time, don’t worry. You don’t have to give them up. Just schedule them for another time.

If you want to improve your focus, check out our course Laser Focus with Purpose. Or you can take a look at these articles:

Featured photo credit: Erik Lucatero via unsplash.com

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