Your thoughts are in charge of everything. It’s rather overwhelming to think that we actually have control of that tickertape in our heads that never seems to stop. But when was the last time you thought something would go wrong and inevitably it did. If you are positive your boss won’t like the idea, it’s not likely they will. When an obstacle comes along you say to yourself, “That’s it, there’s no way I can overcome this”. In author Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle is the Way, he proves through many historic figures like John D. Rockefeller and Lawrence of Arabia, that the obstacle is actually showing you the way. Usually the obstacle is the best way. Sometimes the obstacle is telling you to zig instead of zag.
Reframing the way the way you see (more importantly think about) obstacles can be empowering actually. Some of my best work has come from obstacles. Whether it’s a new slant on a recipe because I forgot to buy ground beef and used spicy Italian sausage (in a lasagna, trust me it’s awesome) or when I couldn’t use PowerPoint at a training I was facilitating and had to use good old fashioned flip charts (best interactive training ever). How you face and think about the obstacle is the key to moving forward, if not sideways or three steps backwards; suddenly you are on an even better, more awesome path.
So here are the ways to reengineer your head:
1. Calm. Stay calm and carry on. Panic is mental suicide. Unless there is a fire or an earthquake or an actual bear staring you in the face, take a deep breath. Actually try “calming” breaths. Inhale slowly through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 2 seconds and then SLOWLY exhale for 4 seconds. Please do this slowly or you will hyperventilate which is completely counterproductive. Folks who meditate or practice yoga know all about staying calm and focusing on your breath. If you breathe calmly for a few minutes, the disaster in front of you won’t seem so bad. All the chemicals in your brain will be diverted to glands that produced them. Practice being calm.
2. Don’t catalog. Sitting around cataloging all the reasons why you “can’t” and pointing the finger at all those who have done you wrong is only going to make the obstacle that much bigger and insurmountable. This is completely unproductive and will make you more fearful, full of anxiety and immobile. This is what your inner critic wants you to do. Stuff a sock in their mouth. Think about the present moment. Is your dog sleeping soundly looking completely peaceful (mine is)? Is there a slight breeze outside? Is the glass of water cool and thirst quenching? See you’ve forgotten all about your catalog of woes.
3. Perception. We get to decide our perception of events. Your thoughts interpret the meaning. If your spouse doesn’t say “Good Morning”, it doesn’t mean she is angry at you. If the potential client doesn’t return the phone call, it doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. If you ask for feedback on a project and they haven’t responded, it doesn’t mean that they don’t like it. You get to choose. Imagine it was all in a foreign language and you needed a translator app to figure out the meaning. Your perception dictates its meaning.
4. “I”. Ryan Holiday suggests eliminating the “I” in front of statements. Things like “I can’t sing” or “I hate Mondays” or “I am stupid”. Suddenly your interpretation is personal. It becomes very difficult to back away and reframe a statement that starts with “I”. Choose not to put the “I” in front and leave it objective. At arm’s length instead of owning it. It keeps distance between what your mind is telling you and reality. If you trip on the side walk, there is no implication. It is what it is. No need to infer that “I am a klutz”. Keep your distance by eliminating “I”.
5. One off. Each obstacle is a one off. There is no exact moment or situation that ever repeats. Just because you lost that client doesn’t mean you will lose all your clients. Just because no one bought the product today doesn’t mean it’s a bad product. Don’t assume that one rejection or unanswered email is a trend. The beginning of the end. As Richard Branson says “Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.” Get past the disappointment or let down and move on. It’s just a one off.
6. Opportunity. View an obstacle as an opportunity. How can you grow from this? How can you capitalize on the set back? Is there a new path you should be going down? One of the most painful events of my life was shutting down a restaurant I owned and had put my heart and soul into. I learned a lot about myself and my ability to move on. The funny thing is that if I had not shut down that restaurant and it had been a huge success, I never would have learned about my abilities to be a great coach and facilitator. I would have been stuck on the same path and entrenched in my belief that I could only manage restaurants. One door closes and another one opens. Move on. Look on it as an opportunity.
7. Reframe. Try and reframe. Think about the possible upside to this set back. Is there another way of looking at this? The upside of closing my restaurant was I had a ton of free time and could see things from a new perspective. I had to take stock and find a new door to open. I couldn’t have done that if I melted into depression and had given up. So if you didn’t pass the exam, maybe it’s not for you, maybe you need to work harder, maybe everyone failed the exam, maybe it was graded incorrectly. Reframe and move on.
I hope I’ve given you a new way to look at obstacles in your life so that they don’t carry the same weight. Don’t be burdened by your own thoughts. I’m not suggesting that the tickertape in your head ever shuts down but putting them in the right context and not letting them have power is liberating.