A Coaching Power Tool Created by Ovidiu Mihai
(Business Coach, ROMANIA)
Every obstacle is unique to each of us. But the responses they elicit are the same: Fear, Frustration, Confusion, Helplessness, Depression, Anger.
The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition. (from an old Zen story)
All great victories, be they in politics, business, art, or seduction, involved resolving vexing problems with a potent cocktail of creativity, focus, and daring. When you have a goal, obstacles are teaching you how to get where you want to go, carving you a path. Benjamin Franklin wrote
The things which hurt, instruct.
Most of our obstacles are inside our minds, not outside of us. Since World War II, there are fewer real armies to face, fewer fatal diseases, and far more safety nets. But despite all this, we rarely do exactly what we want. Instead of opposing enemies, we have internal tension, professional frustration, unmet expectations, learned helplessness and we still have the same overwhelming emotions humans have always had: grief, pain, loss.
We can overcome obstacles following three independent and interconnected steps: Perception, Action, and Will.
Perception is how we see and understand what occurs around us and what we decide those events will mean. Our perception can be a source of strength or of great weakness and that’s why if we are emotional and subjective, we only add this to our troubles. To prevent becoming overwhelmed by the events around us, we must learn how to bat away the pests of bad perceptions, to separate the reliable signals from the deceptive ones, to filter out prejudice, expectation, and fear.
Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been. (Marcus Aurelius)
The idea is to defeat emotions with logic, meaning questions and statements, to get to root causes, which are always easier to deal with.
Client: I lost money.
Coach: But aren’t losses a pretty common part of the business?
Client: Yes, it is true…
Coach: Are these losses catastrophic?
Client: Not necessary.
Coach: So, this is not totally unexpected. Then, how useful for you is to work up over something that is at least occasionally supposed to happen?
We choose how we’ll look at things. We retain the ability to inject perspective into a situation. But we can’t change the obstacles themselves, that part of the equation is set, but the power of perspective can change how the obstacles appear. How we approach, view, and contextualize an obstacle and what we tell ourselves it means how daunting and trying it will be to overcome.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference. (Serenity Prayer)
Behind these inspiring words are two frameworks: What is up to us – our emotions, judgments, creativity, attitude, desires, decisions and determination; and what is not up to us – everything else, the weather, the economy, circumstances, other people’s emotions or judgments, trends, disasters, and other similar things. If what’s up to us is the playing field, then what is not up to us are the rules and conditions of the game. To argue, to complain, or worse, to just give up, these are choices, that more often than not, do nothing to get us across the finish line.
Action requires courage, not brashness, creative application, and not brute force, and step by step will dismantle the obstacles in front of us. With persistence and flexibility, we’ll act in the best interest of our goals.
In Silicon Valley, start-ups don’t launch with polished, finished businesses. Instead, they release their “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP) – the most basic version of their core idea with only one or two essential features. The point is to immediately see how customers respond. And, if that response is poor, to be able to fail cheaply and quickly. To avoid making or investing in a product that customers do not want. They are saying “failure is a feature”. Failure really can be an asset if what you’re trying to do is improve, learn, or do something new. It’s the preceding feature of nearly all successes and is nothing shameful about being wrong, about changing course. Each time it happens we have new options and the problems become opportunities.
In a world where we increasingly work for ourselves, are responsible for ourselves, it makes sense to view ourselves as a start-up. And that means changing the relationship with failure, it means iterating, failing, and improving. Our capacity to try is directly linked with our ability and tolerance to failure.
On the path to successful actions, we will fail, possibly many times. And that’s okay, and it can be a good thing, even. Action and failure are two sides of the same coin, one doesn’t come without the other. That breaks this critical connection down is when people stop acting – because they’ve taken failure the wrong way or simply put, they haven’t accepted it.
- What went wrong?
- What can be improved?
- What am I missing?
We can ask these questions when failure does come. This helps birth alternative ways of doing what needs to be done, ways that are often much better than what we started with. Failure puts us in corners we must think our way out of. It is a source of a breakthrough.
Well, why would I want to fail? It hurts. Yes, is true. But we can acknowledge that anticipated, temporary failure certainly hurts less than catastrophic, permanent failure. Like in any good school, learning from failure isn’t free, the tuition is paid in discomfort or loss and having to start over. We should be glad to pay the cost because it will be no better teacher for the career or for a new venture.
The will is our internal power/fuel, which can never be affected by the outside world. If action is what we do when we still have some control over our situation, the will is what we depend on when control has all but disappeared. Placed in some situation that seems unchangeable and undeniably negative, we can turn it into a learning experience, a humbling experience, a chance to provide comfort to others. That is the will power and it needs to be cultivated.
If the Perception and Action were the disciplines of the mind and the body, then Will is the discipline of the heart and soul. At the same time, the Will is the one thing we can control completely, in any situation. Whereas we can try to mitigate harmful perceptions and give full energy to actions, those attempts can be inhibited. The will is different because it is within us. Will is fortitude and wisdom, not just about specific obstacles but about life itself and where the obstacle we are facing fit within it, giving us ultimate strength.
It is very common in the coaching sessions, to discover clients with some unclear limitations to achieve their goals. One of the key attributes of the coach is to create the proper context for the client, to acknowledge what limits his true potential, to create awareness regarding the nature of the possible obstacles, to design with him, in the right perspective, the way to transform them into opportunities, understanding the right way to observe the situation, what are the learnings from it and what is the best next step to accomplish the desired objective.
- What obstacle means for you?
- What have you learned from past experiences when you exceeded a mental obstacle? What was the opportunity in that situation?
- How can you describe your will to succeed after the perspective was reframed?
- What is the best thing that can happen to you when you find an obstacle in your way?
Holiday, Ryan. The Obstacle Is The Way, London, 2015
Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations: A New Translation (Modern Library). New York, 2002
Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning, New York, 1984