Turning Challenges into Opportunities
Updated: Oct 6, 2022
There are proven strategies which allow us to turn anxiety into action. Improving our mental wellbeing is a necesary first step. Interestingly, improving mental well-being can be achieved through utilizing our bodies through modalities like breathwork, meditation and somatic coaching. Breathwork, I have found is the most powerful! In times like these, we are all seemingly faced with challenges. Covid-19 has changed our perception of volatility and how we engage in business and life. No matter if we are a CEO, entrepreneur, professional, student, etc. all of us have been confronted with a reality that we never could have expected. That being said, most of our challenges (in business or life) we don't anticipate, so, is this time any different? And, what can we do about it?
That is a question I think we need to ask ourselves: is this time any different? Often, challenges, are nothing more than perceptions and feelings. Depending on our frame of mind, we can view and perceive an event or situation in different ways. This is a foundational idea in coaching, NLP, and modern neuroscience. Our brains only process a small amount of data from the world around us and what we think and believe acts as the filter to this information. One of the presuppositions of NLP is "The Map is Not The Territory" simply stating our perception of a situation is not the situation itself! In addition, our feeling about a situation also determines our perception of it. If we change our internal environment from a stressed and anxious state to relaxed and calm, we can much better navigate through it.
This is a profoundly liberating insight because we have the capacity to change, at will, our interpretation of a person, situation or experience in a way that can benefit us in the short term and the long term. This is especially useful when looking to lower stress, navigate 'problems' and improve our overall success. A definition of stress I learned while studying The Science of Happiness was: stress is the perception or belief that the resources we have are not sufficient to meet the demands we face. In short, this is a subjective assessment of our own self-efficacy and the feelings we have about a situation or person. Self-efficacy refers to an individual's belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments (Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1997). Self-efficacy reflects confidence in the ability to exert control over one's own motivation, behavior, and social environment. As you can imagine, if we have low self-efficacy, our evaluation on the quantity and magnitude of the challenges increases. So, the question remains, HOW do we shift our thinking so challenges become opportunities?
Reframing a Challenge
As mentioned above, the way we look at a situation determines how we feel about it and how we feel about it determines how we look at it. I have written about this when discussing failure. There is nothing inherently wrong with a challenge. However, if we hold the conviction that we don't have the resources (aptitude, emotional stability, network connections, learning opportunities) etc. than the 'challenge' will seem daunting and create stress. One of the things we do really well is make statements or ask close ended questions in our mind. In particular when we are under stress in the face of uncertainty or perceived challenges we can say things like:
"I don't think I can handle this."
"I don't have enough time to deal with this."
"Why doe this have to happen now?"
"What am I going to do?"
"I'm totally unprepared."
"I don't even know where to begin"
"How am I going to handle this?"
I am sure, if you are a human being, some of the above sound familiar. Of course, you are going to have your own statements and questions that arise in your mind during challenging times. As you are reading this, take a few minutes to pause and write down some of the self-limiting thoughts that come to your mind when you are dealing with a perceived challenge. Be thoughtful and introspective and see if you can write down the top ten.
Okay, are you done yet? Good! I will assume you did your homework. Now, we can go through a simple exercise that helps us to reframe the content of those limiting thoughts. For example, when Ronald Reagan was running for president of the United States of America (before I was born) he was challenged on the merit of his age. Some felt he was too elderly to assume the role as president. He could have internalized and believed this, but rather he reframed the content. In a historical statement Reagan replied in response to the challenge, "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I'm not going to exploit, for political purposes my opponents youth and inexperience". That was a brilliant example of a reframe which changes the whole meaning and perception of the 'problem' into something that is useful and encouraging. It is all the better, when making statements like the above, that we actually believe them. Sometimes, it is difficult to go from believing one thing to believing another, especially when fear and anxiety is involved. So, one thing I work on with my clients is reframing by questioning. Questioning in a healthy, curious way, helps to engage our neocortex and disengage our limbic brain and amygdala. When we are stressed, we can reframe the close ended statements and questions to help ground us. A few examples:
"I can't handle this." ----> "What part of this can I handle?"
"I don't have time to deal with this." ---->"If I had to make a bit of time, where could I make it?"
"I can't do this without help." ----> "Where can I find the right help to assist with this problem?"
"I have no idea what to do!" ----> "How would someone who did have an idea begin?"
You'll likely have noticed that these help us go from a reactive state of mind to a proactive state of mind, which implicitly assumes that there IS a way to approach the problem and hence find a solution. I have used this style of questioning more times than I can count to great effect!
Relaxing Our Body
As mentioned, our internal environment is a crucial component in determining how we percieve a situation. I often say, if we feel bad about it, then it is a 'problem'. If we don't bad about it then it's not a problem! Of course, this has it's limits but as a general rule our internal environment is a huge predictor in our ability to respond and not react to situations. Mindfulness & breathwork training and other somatic approaches are great ways to change your internal state to better equip yourselves to manage challenges. With that in mind, here is a breathing exercise to help relax you in a state of stress:
This is one of my favorites as a breathwork coach because it is SO effective and simple. All you need to do is inhale through the nose for 3 seconds, pause, then exhale through the mouth for 9 full seconds. That’s it! The key here is to take long inhales and extended exhales and repeat this for at least 6 times. Ideally, if your body and mind is in quite a stressed state, you can do this up to 20 times. This can be done anywhere, anytime and is also useful to help us sleep.
Defining a Challenge
As mentioned previously, we subjectively experience the world around us. So, a challenge is only as large (or a challenge at all) as the way we perceive it. A foundational presupposition of NLP is: 'You are in charge of your mind, therefore your results.' To this end, the practices above are useful. Beyond that we can actively reframe the context in which the challenge presents itself. For example, if I am faced with the task of rebranding my business, it can appear like a daunting under taking. The supposed 'end' (a better branded, more profitable business) is challenging, time consuming and not always 100% clear. If I see the problem in a linear way A ---> B then I risk resisting the whole process as all I really want is to reach the final destination.
Alternatively, I could look at the process as a valuable learning experience if I alter the context. I can do this by asking some questions:
"What additional, useful skills can I gain from this for my future?"
"How can I utilize this learning curve to help others?"
"What other opportunities can this create for my business and I?"
"How much money and pain will I save myself in the long run?"
Notice, none of these questions attempted to alter or redefine the initial challenge of rebranding; they just helped me frame it in a way that saw the big picture and benefits. This can be repeated for all kinds of challenges. Of course, a 'challenge' is only difficult if it is coupled to a feeling of stress or overwhelm. Recently, I was faced with a potential internet scam. Admittedly, it was stressful, scary and challenging. However, I quickly used reframing to ease the feelings of the problem and cultivate a proactive approach. I asked questions like:
"How can I protect myself now?"
"How can I protect myself in the future?"
"What are my current issues around digital security?"
"What strategies are available to help?"
Not only was I able to resolve the challenge in the short term but also put in mechanisms and practices to help safeguard me in the future. It sometimes helps if we learn to recognize our temporal bias (emphasis on short term outcomes & problems) and utilize temporal distancing; a cognitive exercise that helps us look at the big picture (both spatially and temporally).
Ground Ourselves in Our Known Competence
I like to operate with the belief that people have all the resources they need to achieve their outcomes (whether they realize it or not). In short, you are already enough! Of course, when our self-efficacy starts to increase so does our ability to handle new challenges. Once we 'solve' new problems, then it has a subsequent positive effect on our self-efficacy. This positive feedback loop I often refer to as the Confidence -- > Competence --> Credibility Loop
Forgive my crude graphics, however, I wanted to provide readers with visual illustration of this concept. What I like to do when coaching my clients in situations where they don't have the confidence to face the challenge is help them recall times in their life where they DID face and overcome challenges. It's an interesting emotional, narrative and cognitive feedback process that we go through and the end result is a feeling of confidence. We then utilize this internal momentum and apply it to whatever perceived challenge they are facing. We draw on tools, mindsets, strategies and resources they have (or may not realize they have) and thus augment their perception of their competence. Of course, when they actually engage with and persevere through the challenge they experience a palpable increase in their competence, which further augments their internal (end external credibility). It's a wonderful mix of coaching psychology, NLP, neuro-performance, behavior economics and a few other 'Brad Originals' but it really works well. So, when faced with a challenge, look inside. Recall a time when you succeeded through a struggle. What was your mindset? What internal resources did you draw from? How did you feel once you completed it?
Lots of angst is caused by the uncertainty of our ability to succeed. This is, 100% and internal state of being based on our belief system. with a few tweaks we can learn to empower ourselves to grow. Remember, you have all the resources they need to achieve their outcomes you just need to "Remember Your Deepest Potential."
Deepest gratitude for reading,