A Coaching Power Tool Created by Ulla Willner
(Business and Personal Strategy Coach, LUXEMBOURG)
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. Winston S. Churchill
Nothing is predestined. The obstacles of your past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings. ― Ralph Blum
In our lives, we will occasionally face issues that seemingly are blocking the path to our goals, for instance relating to the desired career, financial situation or health. It can be easy to fall into resentment, negativity and focus all energy on that perceived obstacle that is preventing us to reach our goal. We might use this as an excuse to stop trying and become bitter.
Emotions such as sadness, anger, concern, jealousy, fright and self-doubt are all understandable initial reactions when we experience failure, rejection or loss. While it’s important to accept and acknowledge that these emotions will occur and are part of our human nature, our longer-term well-being and success however greatly depend on what perspective we choose to take next. Going forward, will it serve us better to regard something as an obstacle or as an opportunity? How should we prioritize and divide our focus and energy between them? What difference will it make?
Perceiving from different perspectives
The concepts of perception and perspectives are central to this power tool.
Perception is traditionally defined as The way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted (Oxford dictionary). It is basically our mental impression and central in how we regard and interpret ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses as well as what we experience. How a person interprets stimuli into something meaningful to him or her are often based on prior experiences. What an individual interprets or perceives may, however, be substantially different from reality (Pickens, 2005).
A perspective, in turn, is defined as A particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view(Oxford dictionary). Our perspective can, therefore, be seen as the angle or lens that we look at something through, and this affects how we perceive it. Therefore, to shift from perceiving something as an obstacle to an opportunity requires a change of perspective and learning to look at something from a different angle, with a different focus.
Your reality is as you perceive it to be. So, it is true, that by altering this perception we can alter our reality. – William Constantine
Obstacle: A thing that blocks one’s way or prevents or hinders progress. (Oxford dictionary)
Not getting hired for the dream job, not getting approved for the loan, getting fired, not getting published or getting rejected are all events that naturally result in negative emotions. A challenge or task in front of us might also be perceived as too intimidating or frightening to take on and it may feel easier to give up than to try due to fear of failure, perhaps fueled by bad experiences in the past.
Will you remain with the perspective that this is an inevitable obstacle on your path and accept that it was not meant to be? Will you give up on a career, business project, love or happiness because you experienced failure or setback in the connection? Or is there a perspective that will serve you better by moving you forwards? A different aspect or learning that you can focus on building your next steps? Though problems need to be acknowledged and understood, the essence of this is that you will not move forward or feel particularly happy if you focus more energy on digging into the problem than on the potential solutions. A motto used by actor Chris Burke is ‘Obstacles are what you see when you take your eye off the goal’, and this relates to choosing to focus on what you can do instead of on what you cannot. Do not let obstacles get in the way of your goals.
Opportunity: A time or set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something (Oxford dictionary)
The benefits of viewing an obstacle as an opportunity is that helps us to focus energy in a more constructive way by giving back control and moving you into action; Did the situation or perceived failure teach you something valuable about yourself and your actual preferences that may be an advantage on your further path? Something you perhaps is even better off knowing? Where can you go from here and how can you make use of your learnings?
To shift our perspectives to view an obstacle as an opportunity requires some strength, reassessment as well as a positive take. The key is to look at the obstacle from a different angle. This may require some positive self-talk and determination. And determination requires clear goals, but goals need to be realistic and not just focused on one path. Sometimes it’s necessary to reassess a goal. If this goal is true and clear, it may be the initially chosen path to this goal that needs changing. When facing an obstacle, use your energy to identify and focus on what you can do to achieve what you need instead of investing energy on what you don’t have the power to change.
In the case of redundancy, you may initially and understandably feel shocked, hurt and financial concern. Yet you may after that choose to view this as an opportunity to start something new, try out what you really would want to do since you no longer are bound to the sense of obligation of staying with the safety of a fixed salary. It invites you to think differently around your career and explore different opportunities. It opens up your life for new opportunities and elements of surprise.
Working under a terrible boss may immediately seem like an obstacle to the promotion or career development you initially were hoping for. And while nobody voluntarily would choose to work for such a person, taking the perspective of a learning experience of how not to do things (while simultaneously looking for other, better options) may ultimately serve you well and certainly better than remain upset and blame lack of future attempts for development on this. The experience of working under a bad manager might actually inspire you to one day become a good manager yourself due to a greater understanding of the impact of bad management.
Having a physical or learning disability may prompt you to discover and train another sense or ability and motivate you to really exceed with this, perhaps reaching the success you would not otherwise have. Blind people may have lost their vision, but this leaves a larger brain capacity for processing the information from other senses, which explains why blind are often outperform people with sight in these. Sir Richard Branson, internationally successful businessman and entrepreneur, have openly spoken about the advantages of being dyslectic:
Don’t let it hold you back – use it in your favour. It can help you focus on the things you do excel at, keep messaging clear and simple, and also fine-tune your delegation skills. Plus, if you do have dyslexia, remember that the likes of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and even Albert Einstein did too. You are in good company! (Sir Richard Branson, Virgin.com).
* Use your shortcomings to discover and highlight your strengths instead of excuses not to excel.
In the case of illness, loss or other tragedy, moving into a perspective of opportunity may naturally feel more difficult, complex or even wrong. However, the need is even greater and the outcome more rewarding when achieved. Finding surprising sources of strength within you or discovering true friendships in communities may be some of the opportunities that the seeker may find. A health scare or illness can be regarded as an opportunity to discover and focus on what is truly important in life or change your habits for better or healthier options that will benefit you. Living through a truly challenging time gives you the opportunity to demonstrate strength under struggle, make you grow stronger and wiser. You did not choose or wish for the situation, but you took ownership of how you dealt with it and your life became an experience and wisdom richer because of it. Using this learning in the future may benefit yourself and others and will help you appreciate what you actually have even more.
The feeling and experience of loss are a painful but at the same time a reminder of having experienced love, and an opportunity for assessing whether we are living our life to the fullest. Some of the most beautiful art and music have been created in times of devastating crisis. Some of the funniest satire has emerged under the ugliest political regimes. Obstacles and opportunities will always be around, but it is up to us which side of the coin we wish to nurture and focus our energy on in any given situation. This is an empowering feeling.
Lastly, having a sense of humour will even at your darkest hour help to perceive any obstacles in a more favourable manner;
Always look on the bright side of life. ― Graham Chapman, The Life Of Brian: Screenplay
Questions for a coach to ask when trying to help a client to change perspectives on a perceived obstacle:
- What are your key learnings from this situation?
- Can you identify three positive aspects that have come out of this?
- If you were watching this situation from a distance, what can you see?
- If you would tell somebody about this challenge/situation 20 years from now – how would you describe it?
- Can you visualize yourself describing what helped you to get through this situation/challenge? What comes up for you?
- How will these learnings help you on your onward journey?
- What is your main goal?
- What are your options?
- What will you be doing differently onwards?
- What frightens you most about this?
- What makes you happy?
- What motivates you?
- What would you say to somebody in your situation?
- What can you say to yourself?
- Which are your main strengths?
- How can you rely on these strengths going onwards?
- What sort of support would you need?
- Is there anybody who can support you?
*the author of this power tool is “suffering” the pro’s and con of both dyslexia and dyscalculia
Oxford online dictionary (2019)
Pickens, 2005 http://healthadmin.jbpub.com/borkowski/chapter3.pdf