Tagged ‘opportunity‘

Good News, Bad News

Your heart is pounding, your palms are sweaty, you’re short of breath and you’d like to either scream or jump up and down.  Bad news: your company just announced another wave of lay-offs and you wonder if you’re about to lose your job.

Your heart is pounding, your palms are sweaty, you’re short of breath and you’d like to either scream or jump up and down.  Good news: you’re strapped into your seat, having a great time spinning through the air on the Zipper carnival ride at the Sonoma County Fair.

Wait a minute.  How can your body respond in almost exactly the same way to two very dissimilar situations?  How can the sensations aroused by two distinctly different emotions feel so much the same?

The two distinctly different emotions I’m talking about are anxiety and excitement.  In her recent Psychology Today article, “Make Your Own Luck”, (which I’ve been blogging about recently), author Rebecca Webber makes five suggestions for making the most of the unexpected, fortuitous events that cross our life-paths.  To start off her discussion about point #3, “Say Yes”, Webber makes the observation that anxiety and excitement, or intrigue, are connected.

When a “juicy” opportunity comes along, Webber states, we can be “immediately besieged by two competing emotions: intrigue and anxiety.”  “You’re curious about that job opening,” she continues, “but you can think of a hundred reasons why you should stick with your current gig.”

When we encounter something new, each of us instinctively responds in similar ways.  Since the new person, place, event, or idea could possibly be either good news or bad news, our minds and bodies go on alert in order to assess the situation.  The phone rings; the caller ID is unfamiliar.  We say hello cautiously and hear the voice of an old friend we haven’t heard from for awhile.  We relax; all is well – very good in fact.

Or, the caller on the other end of the line is a bill collector, threatening to repossess our car.  Our initial alert status goes into fully-armored protection mode.  We need all our wits and defenses instantly operational to respond to this attack.

One of the consequences of unresolved painful issues in life – past trauma that has not healed – is that our ability to accurately “read” possibly threatening situations gets damaged.  Opportunities and fortunate events can look like danger to avoid, and, conversely, dangerous situations can masquerade as harmless and benign.  Trauma damages our emotional “radar” such that we have trouble seeing reality the way it really is.

But we can make an effort to counteract our overly fearful or cautious tendencies if we are aware of them.  Can we prime ourselves to be more open to serendipity – to fortuitous chance?  Webber points out in her article that “serendipitous people are more fearless about trying something new.  Instead of giving in to worry about what could go wrong, they think, ‘Isn’t that interesting?  I’d like to give that a try.'”

I agree strongly with her next statement: “Good outcomes increase self-efficacy, or the belief that you are capable of accomplishing whatever you set out to do; they also fuel an appetite for future risk.”  I would translate this by saying that every time you challenge yourself to take a promising risk, and are able to make it work out well for you, it will get easier to tackle the next attractive opportunity.

I see this happen all the time with my patients: the ones who improve their lives and relationships are the ones who motivate themselves to move through their fear and anxiety to discover excitement and joy.  Sometimes they stumble, sometimes they misread situations, but they also make incredible strides forward into the lives they’ve always dreamed of living.

So, the next time a heart-pounding, sweaty-palm moment comes your way, ask yourself, “Am I anxious, or excited?  Which response does this new situation call for?”  Is it good news or bad news?  If there’s any way it could be good news, take the risk.  Step out.  Don’t wait to feel comfortable.  Faced with the new, the exciting, or the unexpected, waiting to feel comfortable is a dead end.  Stay on track, don’t get stuck, and embrace our unpredictable, uncontrollable, but infinitely wonderful world.

The Virtues of Being a Slacker

No, it’s not a misprint, and no, I haven’t gone off the deep end.  Could there be any redeeming value in slacking off, in not always conscientiously following through on what needs to get done?  Right now, your “to-do-conscientiously” list may be a mile long.  Whether it concerns your job, your finances, or your relationships – with your spouse, kids, parents, friends, or co-workers – keeping your life on track may pose a real challenge for you during these very difficult times.

In her recent Psychology Today article, “Make Your Own Luck”, author Rebecca Webber states that “conscientiousness is no friend to serendipity”, or fortuitous chance.  She quotes University of Utah psychology professor Carol Sansone’s definition of conscientiousness to mean “you do what you’re supposed to do, and you stick with it”.  What could be wrong with that?  Isn’t being a quitter a sure road to ruin?

The problem happens, Webber maintains, when we persistently pursue a task even if the reason to continue is gone, or our goals or priorities have changed.  I agree; it really is possible to “try too hard”.  Remaining absorbed in an effort that may no longer be promising – just because you think you should stick with it – could lead you to miss a more likely solution or path to your goal.

So, give yourself permission to get distracted.  What might seem like aimless mind-wandering could instead be your creative side making fruitful leaps of inspiration.  Creativity arises in our right brain function; linear, logical thinking originates in our left brain.  We live in balance when we can draw on the resources of both sides of our brains – using our reason and our imagination in partnership to find new solutions to the sticky problems in our lives.

“Allow yourself to stray off-task sometimes,” Webber continues.  “We need to be loose to become aware of hidden opportunities.”  What would this look like?

When you’re reading something with new ideas, or serious content, do you find you want to stop and drift off?  Maybe an important concept – just the insight you’ve been hoping to find – is right before your eyes, but your mind needs some time to take it in, to wrap itself around this new perspective.  Indulging in a little “drift time” allows your mind the opportunity to make intuitive connections that can bring the whole picture into focus.

Or, when you need to make an important decision and have been intensely studying and analyzing all the various choices and their ramifications, do you feel a sudden urge to go clean the kitchen, or detail your car?  Sometimes thinking leads to over-thinking leads to brain freeze.  A little physical activity can often free you from the anxiety, self-questioning, and possible second-guessing that can leave you stuck and stumped for an answer.

So whether you indulge in a little daydreaming, or a radical spring cleaning, take an occasional break from rigid management of your time.  Following a seemingly aimless train of thought, or surfing a semi-random chain of websites, can lead to “ah-ha!” moments arising from the somewhat unfathomable processes and truly remarkable capacities of our own minds.

Maybe mental wandering looks suspiciously too much like play to us, especially as we grow older and the pressures and stresses pile up.  “I can’t take time off, now”, we tell ourselves.  “I’ve got to keep working!”  Today’s lesson: You deserve a break today (and I don’t mean going to McDonald’s – remember their old ads?).  Slack off a little, take off the blinders, let your mind drift, ease up on yourself a little – and give leaps of inspiration and imagination a chance to happen.

Let me warn you: if you live life strictly by the clock, all that ticking may drown out the sound of opportunity knocking.

Do You Feel Lucky?

Are you a Dirty Harry fan?  The iconic Inspector Harry Callahan used a signature phrase in each installment of the San Francisco-based police thriller movies.  “A man’s got to know his limitations” was one.  Good advice, actually.  Another standout phrase was “Do you feel lucky?”  Harry added a derogatory epithet at the end that I won’t repeat.  So, do you feel lucky?

Luck and chance are related concepts.  In a recent article in Psychology Today, entitled “Make Your Own Luck”, author Rebecca Webber makes an important connection between luck, chance, and opportunities.  She lists five suggestions for making the most of the unpredictable, based in part on The Luck Factor, by University of Hertfordshire psychologist Richard Wiseman.

Her first point: See serendipity everywhere.  People who “take advantage of happenstance have competence, self-confidence, and the ability to take risks,” she observes.  Spontaneous, extroverted people are more likely to encounter what I’d call “random acts of fortune”.  Living in a rut, either in our daily habits, our thought patterns, or our relationships, rather than confidently embracing the unfamiliar, reduces the chances for “chance” to enter our lives, with the potential for a happy outcome.

Webber’s second point, “Prime yourself for chance”, makes the related observation that while successful people set goals, they often stay flexible about how to achieve them.  Think of this in terms of a GPS device.  You know where you are.  You know where you’d like to be.  How many different routes can you take?  The number is probably infinite.

So you give your GPS some guidelines.  Maybe you want the shortest route by mileage, or by time.  Maybe you want to stay off the freeway, or out of certain neighborhoods.  Programming your GPS can be a big help in finding the best path.  But what happens when the road specified just happens to be closed for construction (and your GPS doesn’t know it)?  What if an accident has traffic backed up for miles?  Good GPS units can redirect you to alternate routes.

Does your “internal GPS” do that?  How do you feel when your master plan hits a road block on the way to your goal?  Can you change your route, be willing to try what looks like a less promising “side street”, or do you tend to stay stuck behind someone wearing a hard hat and holding a stop sign?  Staying flexible about how you reach your goal gives you a much better chance of arriving more quickly at your destination than when you pick one route and rigidly stick to it regardless of whether it’s working for you or not.

Also, having to take a personal detour may lead to an encounter with people and places you’ve never seen before.  New people and places can mean new ideas and opportunities.  Chance turns into opportunity which can mean you get “lucky”.  Always living in the “usual” leaves no room for the “unusual” break that you just might be looking for.

Try to maintain a large network of all kinds of friends and acquaintances.  Try new methods in your line of work.  Read books or magazines you wouldn’t normally pick up.  Take a different road into town, vary your exercise time, talk to someone from another generation or culture, go to Peet’s instead of Starbuck’s.  “Breaking behavioral habits can lever changes in mental habits that have kept you from success so far,” Webber maintains.

And stay positive.  A new route or a new suit won’t help if you’re fearful or skeptical or just plain feeling hopeless.  Don’t turn left instead of right tomorrow only feeling sure you’ll come home with nothing changed, and justified in saying, “I told you so.”

Serendipity, chance, opportunity – a shake-up in routine can transform your life, if you let it.  I’m telling you so.  What do you have to lose?

Do you feel lucky?  You can be.