When an upcoming life change seems scary, there are two keys to making it amazing: be intentional and anticipate growth.
Recently, someone very close to me accepted a job offer to work for a new company in a new industry. The position will require him to move by himself to a new state. It’s a tremendous opportunity for him, and from the outside looking in I can see only positives. However from my own experiences on the inside, I know how daunting the prospect of so much change at once can seem.
Often the fear of uncertainty or change becomes so strong that it forces us to shrink from the challenge. Motivational speaker and author Brian Tracy has said that “everything you do is either triggered by an emotion of desire or fear.” I like to think of it this way: passion and fear can’t exist in the same place at the same time in the same proportions. One or the other will always be in control. The key is to find a way to make the more productive emotion dominate.
When the job offer was extended, I’m sure my loved one was motivated by desire. The desire to learn and grow in a new and exciting area probably elicited a passion and excitement in him. But from my own experience I know that as the time to move draws closer fear takes a more active role in the mind and can even drown out the original desire. Keeping that desire at the forefront is the real challenge. The things that motivated the desire are still there. The opportunity remains, along with all the benefits that come with it. So, in order to maximize the desire to follow through, I’ve come up with a couple of helpful things to help keep the passion going and make the most out of an upcoming life change or experience.
First of all, it’s important to go about the change in an intentional way. All experiences can be for our benefit if we’re willing to learn from them. There is an old proverb that says “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Often, the teacher comes in the form of an experience or life change. So, as you embark on a new chapter in life, in order to be intentional about it ask yourself these questions:
The key is to create the experience rather than simply expecting it to happen to you.
Second, you must anticipate the personal growth that stems from the experience. In other words, go into the experience planning for self-improvement. John Wooden once said “When opportunity presents itself, it’s too late to prepare.” Consider the upcoming experience as your opportunity to prepare for something even bigger and treat it as such. You’re being groomed for an opportunity that you haven’t yet seen nor thought of. To keep your enthusiasm going as you anticipate growth, you need to consider the application of what you’ll learn by asking yourself:
Another name for the fear that crops up after our initial passion is “resistance.” Resistance is a sinister force that pushes us backwards. In order to get where we need to be, we must press forward, through the resistance. Resistance serves as a compass pointing us in the direction we need to go to experience significant growth if we’re intentional about it. Fear doesn’t need to rule us. Make this experience your moment. This is your time to learn and grow. It’s an opportunity to stretch yourself and become even closer to the person you want to be. It won’t be easy. Nothing significant ever is. But it will be worth it.
Sometimes the best way to solve a nagging problem is to slow down, take a close look at it and try a different approach.
Not far from my home in Washington State is an incredible volcanic formation known as the Ape Caves. The Ape Caves are stunning lava tubes that hikers visit in droves every summer (sorry, despite the name there are no apes residing there). Because they’re underground, the tubes have a consistently cool temperature regardless of the air temperature outside. They’re also fantastically dark. Visitors won’t get far without a light source of some kind. And even with a flashlight or lantern, odds are high that they’ll stumble over the uneven surface. Some even take a fall.
I imagine those who are most prone to stumbling and falling are the folks without sufficient light, along with those who are moving the fastest, eager to reach the end of the tunnels. In either case an adjustment, either slowing down or breaking out that extra flashlight will usually correct the problem. It doesn’t eliminate the obstacles, it just makes them easier to navigate. Those who fail to adjust are the ones who will most likely suffer repeated stumbles and falls.
The old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results has become cliché, yet the idea remains true. We’ll repeatedly make the same mistake when a simple adjustment could fix it.
I struggled for years trying to play certain tunes on the guitar. When I practiced, I always attempted to play the songs I was learning at the same speed as the musicians who wrote them. Only when I slowed down the tempo did I learn to pluck each note properly and create the right melody. Once I had the fingering right I could increase my speed until I reached the tempo of the original song. It was a small fix that improved my guitar playing in a big way.
What are areas that you’re struggling in? What small adjustments could be made to turn those struggles into victories? Sometimes it helps to slow down and shine a little light on the problem. It may take sincere reflection; an act that often takes the form of asking yourself the right questions and giving careful thought to the answers. Here’s a few questions that may help you turn your struggles into victories:
Mistakes are a part of life, and if we’re doing things right we’ll learn from them and return to our problems with better approaches. That’s what growth is. Fail, learn, improve, repeat. Slow down, shine a little light on things and change your approach. It’s either that or continue stumbling.
Respect the process of achieving a goal and you'll notice how everything you do takes you one step closer.
I’m a barbecue fanatic. I love the method, the art and especially the final product. A well smoked, melt in your mouth brisket is my idea of not just a perfect meal but a perfect end to the hours long process of bringing that meal into being. A beef brisket is a tough chunk of meat; producing a tender and juicy final product involves what barbecue enthusiasts call “low and slow” cooking.
A properly smoked brisket can take up to 14 hours to produce. The key is to let the heat and smoke do their work; the pit-master’s chief job is to constantly monitor the temperature and provide just enough wood to the fire to keep that temperature as stable as possible. It can be a tough job, but with a bit of hard work to go along with the ambitious goal of a perfect brisket, the result is both delicious and satisfying.
The low and slow formula is basically this:
Hard Work + Goals + Ambition = Satisfaction
The pitmaster’s goal to produce the perfect piece of meat is brought to fruition through ambition and hard work over many hours. If he cooks it too quickly, the meat will toughen up. Low and slow is the only way to produce the desired outcome.
The same is true for everything in life. To reach our goals we must respect the process and take things one day at a time. When you feel like each day brings you incrementally closer to your goal, you can feel excited about the day itself. It’s true that most jobs are uninspiring on their own. But if each day in that job takes you a bit closer to your goal, doesn’t that make it worth waking up and going to work in the morning? The minimum wage job will lead to something slightly better which will serve as the next stepping stone toward your goal. The goal is the target. Your ambition and your work ethic make up the fuel that takes you there.
It applies everywhere
Raising a family involves more hard work than anything I’ve ever done. For me, the goal fueled by ambition is to hold my family close to me and raise children that grow into happy and generous adults. That is a satisfying end for me. Each step along the way takes my family and me a bit closer to the goal. Each minute spent fishing with my sons. Each chore I teach them to accomplish without complaint and every talk or I love you I offer to my daughters takes us a bit closer. But the formula applies to much more; building a business enterprise, growing a career, crafting a piece of art or any other process oriented effort. You’re limited by the loftiness of your goal and the amount of work and ambition you put into achieving it.
Remember to take it one day at a time, low and slow. The perfect brisket isn’t crafted on a 500 degree skillet. It’s made in a 250 degree smoker, one minute at a time, hour after hour. As problems arise and the temperature rises and falls, make the necessary adjustments but take heart in the fact that you’re a little bit closer to an end that’s personally invigorating for you. Press forward. You got this.
We have to look for traits and actions that confirm our value, not a negative self-image.
I have a friend who has an irrational belief that cars with license plates from a certain state are all operated by terrible drivers. Over the course of a day, he’ll see hundreds of vehicles equipped with the offensive plates and each time he sees one make a bad driving decision, it validates his opinion of all drivers from the state. Of course, the huge majority of the vehicles he sees with these plates are driving safely and courteously. But those are ignored. They don’t validate his opinion. Only the tiny minority of poor drivers are considered. This is confirmation bias at work.
Of course, it’s easy to see how such thinking is illogical and irrational. But most of us do it all the time. For example, in a marriage, one partner may insist that they do the dishes all the time and the other insists that isn’t true. When the first does a load of dishes it confirms their belief. When the other sees a sink full of dirty dishes it confirms their belief. The second doesn’t recognize when the sink is empty and the first may not being do the dishes all that often.
Confirmation bias can be even more sinister when we use it to undermine our ability or achievement and reinforce a negative self-image. I can accomplish a lot of things over the course of a day, but if I don’t do something that I considered very important, I sometimes consider myself lazy or useless. How backwards!
In my case, I should consider the day a success. I just have a little work leftover for tomorrow. The same is true for you. You failed, you aren’t a failure. You answered a question wrong, you’re not dumb. You made a bad decision, you’re not incapable of making good decisions. Often, people will consider the small errors as confirmation of their negative self-image.
When pressed, my friend will acknowledge the ridiculousness of his opinion. When he drives, if he makes a conscious effort to recognize the good drivers his opinion changes. Drivers from that certain state are just as capable and efficient as drivers from his own state. We have to go through the same exercise.
Recognizing the reality of things and changing a negative self-image takes effort. You have to step back and take stock of your victories, no matter how small they are. Don’t blind yourself to them; don’t let just the failures, the missed opportunities or the bad choices confirm an illogical, irrational self-image. You must consciously look for the good.
The opinion you have of yourself is what will make the difference between achieving success as you define it, or ultimate failure. When you catch yourself exercising a negative confirmation bias about yourself, make a concerted effort to consider a few actions or traits that confirm the opposite. You have value, even if it doesn’t immediately jump to the surface of your consciousness. Sometimes, it just takes a little thought to convince yourself of it. Just like seeing the good drivers, over time that effort will help reinforce a positive self-image.