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In Uncertain Times, Prepare Yourself for New Opportunities

In Uncertain Times, Prepare Yourself for New Opportunities

Prepare Yourself for New Opportunities

    We live in uncertain times. Global financial collapse, rapid relocation of industries, emerging markets, political unrest, and just the fast pace of change in the Information Era in general all mea that things you take for granted today might be completely different tomorrow.

    Now is certainly not a time for rigidity. The career you’re working in this year might not even exist in 2010. And vice versa – the field you call home two years from now might not have even been thought up today. With financial markets so volatile and companies “hunkering down” for a long slog through a recession, there are few indicators of what’s coming up. Even strong companies are looking at cutbacks and layoffs to prepare themselves for whatever comes.

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    It’s a stressful time, and one in which long-term planning is becoming more and more difficult. It’s simply impossible to say whether you’ll have a job next month, whether your company will be able to get credit for expansion or even day-to-day expenses, whether your clientele will be able to afford you come January.

    Since you can’t possibly know what’s coming, it’s important that you keep your eyes open and be ready to grab hold of new opportunities. Or to create your own. And that means focusing on yourself, doubling up your own efforts to improve and promote yourself. Here are some ideas about how to do that.

    1. Take a professional inventory.

    “Know thyself” is always the first step towards improvement. Without adequate understanding of your own strengths (and weaknesses), you’re never going to be able to further your own development, let alone sell others on your positive qualities.

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    So it’s time to take a close look at where – and who – you are as a professional. Take some time to list your skills and talents. Add to that a list of your accomplishments and how each achievement made use of those skills and talents.

    Take your lead from copywriters and other marketing experts and list your “features” – the good things about you – and their “benefits”. For example, if one of your features is “writes well”, a benefit might be “helps minimize conflicts due to miscommunication”. The idea is twofold: one, you’re generating a list of positives you can draw on to describe yourself to potential employers, partners, or investors; two, you’re hopefully learning to see some of the unexplored potential you might be able to make use of as the world changes around you.

    2. Focus on relationship-building.

    Networking is always important, no matter what your field or goals, but now is the time to not only broaden your list of contacts but to deepen it – to strengthen the relationships you’ve established through networking. Start striking up conversations with people you get along with but have, so far, not really connected with. Share some of your specialized knowledge – or ask others to share some of theirs. Give people a chance to know you as a person, and get to know them the same way.

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    3. Level up.

    Make yourself more valuable – to yourself as well as to others – by investing in learning new skills or improving old ones. Look for areas where you have a strong-but-not-expert knowledge already and see how you can build yourself up in that area. Even if it’s not central to your current work, expanding your skill set will give you some flexibility to move beyond the boundaries of your existing field – and may offer a new perspective on the work you’re already doing.

    4. Ask lots of questions.

    Information is your most valuable asset right now, and asking questions, even painfully obvious ones, is the best way to get information. Also, asking questions is perhaps the most powerful tool in your relationship-building toolset – people like to talk about themselves and their work, and asking questions gives them the opportunity to do so. Make a point of asking at least one meaningful question in any interaction – you’d be surprised at what you can learn.

    5. Write your elevator pitch.

    An elevator pitch is a 2-3-minute speech summarizing a product, proposal, or project for a potential buyer or backer. The idea is that if you were in an elevator with someone, you could get the most important information about whatever you’re selling across to them in the couple of minutes before the elevator reaches their floor.

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    Right now, we’re thinking about marketing ourselves, and you should be able to explain to people who you are, what you do, and why you’re so darn good at it in a couple of minutes. So, write an elevator pitch pitching yourself and learn it, at least the tone and general thrust of it. Be ready to explain who you are at a moment’s notice – instead of fumbling for words when the opportunity of a lifetime comes within your grasp.

    6. Be creative.

    Once you have a good picture of who you are, be on the lookout for unusual ways that you can add value where you’d least have expected it. Economic downturns favor innovation – they present new problems, or at least problems that are new to most people, and those problems need solving. At the same time, old problems disappear or cease to seem so pressing – people and organizations left hawking solutions to old problems will rapidly find themselves extinct. Seek out those new problems, and set your mind free in search of new solutions.

    Nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen over the next year or so, but the least that’s going to happen is that things are going to get shaken up but good. At the least, being prepared for anything might put you at the forefront of the coming shakedown; but if the worst comes, it might become a matter of sheer survival. Make sure you’re ready, no matter what happens!

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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!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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