This obstacle in front of you —this frustrating, unfortunate, problematic, unexpected problem preventing you from doing what you want to do. How do you tackle it? What do you do?

Probably what most people would do, and what you are doing right now: nothing. Whatever our individual goals, most of us sit frozen before the many obstacles that lie ahead of us. But what blocks us? Systemic issues of rising unemployment, skyrocketing costs of education, and technological disruption? Or personal insecurities of being too old, too scared, too poor, too stressed, no access, no backers, no confidence? Really there is only one thing at fault: our attitude and approach.

We have a choice about how we respond to every difficult situation

We are often told that perception is critical. But what does that really mean? That we have a choice about how we respond to every difficult situation. We can either be blindly led by our primal feelings of fear, panic and worry. Or we can understand these feelings and learn to filter them. Discipline in perception lets you clearly see the proper course of action in every situation. We can see disaster rationally and see the opportunity in it, transforming a negative situation into the opportunity for gain, be it an education, a skill set or a fortune. Seen properly, everything from an economic crash to a personal tragedy provides a chance to move forward.

Let’s take an example from history - Rubin “Hurriance” Carter, a top contender for the middleweight title in 1966 who tragically died last month, was wrongly accused of triple homicide and was given three life sentences. Instead of breaking down – as many would have done in such a bleak situation – Carter refused to surrender the freedoms that were innately his: his attitude, his beliefs and his choices. He told the warden of the prison “I will not, under any circumstance be treated like a prisoner – because I am not and never will be powerless.”

He was angry, but he refused to rage. Instead, he devoted every waking minute to reading – law books, philosophy books, history books. His conviction was overturned 18 years later, and he left prison not only a free and innocent man, but a better and improved one. His mantra could have been ‘This can’t harm me – I might not have wanted it to happen, but I decide how it will affect me. No one else has the right.’

Carter’s life is one we can all learn from. If an unjust prison sentence can be not only salvaged but also transformative and beneficial, then for our purposes, nothing we’ll experience is likely to be without potential benefit.

No one can force us to give up or believe something that is untrue

Looking at Rubin Carter and other figures from history who refused to be limited by their position like Amelia Earhart, Ulysses S. Grant, Marcus Aurelius, Barack Obama, how can we mere mortals channel their strength and power into our own lives? By deciding what we will make of every situation. No one can force us to give up or believe something that is untrue (such as, that a situation is absolutely hopeless or impossible to improve).

Keeping these few things in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle will mean that you are never powerless in any situation:

Be objective 

Remember that situations by themselves cannot be inherently good or bad. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are adjectives that we, as human beings, bring to situations via our perceptions. “Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” as Shakespeare put it. To one person a situation may be negative. To another, say Rubin Carter for example, the same situation may be positive. Try to step outside of yourself and think what advice you would give if your best friend came to you with the same situation.

Control your emotions and keep an even keel 

Go ahead and feel your emotions, bottling them up is unhealthy. But so is associating a situation with these emotions in the same way we associate ‘good’ and ‘bad’ situations. The way to break this cycle is to defeat emotions with logic in the form of questions and statements as follows:

We lost money.

But aren’t losses a pretty common part of business?


Are these losses catastrophic?

Not necessarily.

So this was not totally unexpected, was it? How could that be so bad?

Try having that conversation with yourself and see how long these extreme emotions hold up.

Revert to the present moment 

You can take the trouble you’re dealing with and use it as an opportunity to focus on the present moment. There are many ways to pull yourself into the present: strenuous exercise, a walk in the park, meditation, getting a dog – they’re a constant reminder of how pleasant the present is.

Steady your nerves

There are always people out there looking to get at you. To intimidate you, to rattle you, pressure you into making decisions. They want you thinking and acting on their terms, not yours. The question is, are you going to let them? Nerve is a matter of acceptance: Well, I guess it’s on me then. I don’t have the luxury of being shaken up by this or replaying close calls in my head. I am too busy and this is too important.

Ignore what disturbs or limits others

FedEx, Walt Disney Company, Revlon, Hewlett-Packard, UPS, United Airline, Microsoft. Impressive, established and successful companies that all got their start in a depression or economic crisis. The founders of these companies were not scared off by the failings of their peers and neither should you be.

Focus on what can be controlled

This one is simple. Can you control it? Yes? Great, so do what you can to move forward. No? Then put it out of your mind and focus on what you can do.

Using these tools you will always be able to tackle what is in your way – not because you’re a gambler defying the odds but because you’ve calculated and boldly faced the risks.

After all, now that you’ve managed perceptions properly, what’s next but to act?

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