I remember hearing a very successful entrepreneur once say, "Successful people just think differently." The more I have marinated on that statement the more it is apparent that successful (and happy) people think differently specifically about problems or obstacles. In a book I read a few years ago called "The Obstacle is the Way," it explains simply that what stands in the way becomes the way. It explains that overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps: how we look at our specific problems, our attitude or approach; then the energy and creativity with which we actively break them down and turn them into opportunities; finally, the cultivation and maintenance of an inner will that allows us to handle defeat and difficulty.
Here are 5 ways to train ourselves and others to see obstacles as opportunities for growth:
1. Embrace emotions.
How we feel can teach us a lot about ourselves. What rises up in us when we encounter challenges? Fear? A sense of helplessness? When we encounter obstacles, identify how they feel and try to process those emotions. Then work to develop concrete ideas for taking the next step.
2. Be quick to listen, slow to speak.
For us to be capable of seeing obstacles as opportunities, we need to give ourselves (and others) the space to problem-solve. This means we need to hold back when we want to jump in and give answers. The key here is to become good at asking questions and at allowing ourselves and others the space to sort it out as much as possible before we offer advice or create a plan. Unless the obstacle requires an immediate response, sometimes the best response is to calm our emotions, assess the situation, and formulate a plan.
3. Celebrate grit, not accomplishment.
If we are convinced that what we have to do to succeed is win, then seeing obstacles as opportunities will be increasingly difficult. Instead, obstacles will look like threats. And when we are threatened, we tend to avoid or run rather than engage. But if we can learn to celebrate grit—the effort a person puts into a task—rather than the outcome, we can free up ourselves with much greater certainty that it will turn out just fine.
4. Model healthy risk-taking.
We’ve all heard the saying “Do as I say, not as I do.” Of course, the reality is the exact opposite. Others are far more likely to copy our behaviors than our instructions. If that’s the case, we need to model healthy risk-taking. It might be as simple as introducing yourself to the new neighbor or talking through the process of taking a new job. It doesn’t have to be skydiving or investing in bitcoin. Seeing obstacles as opportunities is possible in everyday activities.
5. Debrief after success and failure.
Sometimes we will conquer obstacles and other times we won’t. Debrief after the experience. Write down what you’re learning, why you think you failed (or succeeded), and what, if anything, you would do differently next time. Debriefing after failures or successes is a key tool in your arsenal to help interpret your experience and learn from them. In closing, we forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given. The only way you’ll do something spectacular is by using it all to your advantage. Have a great week!