This is a series on proven tools for a strong mindset, to improve your endurance through life’s challenges.

Last week we discussed Carol Dweck’s 40 years of research on Growth Mindset.

Today, we will elaborate more on what it really means to embrace obstacles—and allow them to transform you instead of crush you.

If you missed part one last week, go back and check it out.

People with a strong mindset handle obstacles in a very different way than other people. And how they handle obstacles depends mostly on how they think about obstacles.

The Big Idea—Successful people see obstacles and life problems as transformational opportunities—without which—they would never become who they need to be in order to be successful.

Problems are guaranteed

“In this world you will have trouble.” –Jesus of Nazareth (John 16:33)

I am ashamed to admit I am often quite surprised when I encounter problems in life.

I am shocked by them because my life is mostly very comfortable.

I have power and clean water every day. I have so many clothes I don’t wear most of them (especially since I can now wear a shirt and tie with gym shorts and flip flops). 

My fridge is stocked with some of the best food in the world, and the longest I have to wait for anything is 2 days—then it arrives on my doorstep.

I am very fortunate indeed.

But all this comfort has a downside—I semi-consciously expect everything to be easy. I forget that many people on the planet still struggle to survive.

I love watching the survival show Alone because the contestants constantly talk about what a great reminder it is that—not long ago—people spent most of their days figuring out how to get food.

We in the West live in a low-friction world.

The dangers of perfectionism

I recently came across a fantastic illustration of a champions mindset in Chris Hogan’s amazing book Everyday Millionaires (which I think everyone should read—I have no affiliation with him).

Hogan was interviewing a group of Navy Seals during a financial seminar and asked them how they learn to adapt so quickly when things go wrong.

They explained that things never really “go wrong” because they plan and train for everything, and when something does go wrong, they move on to the next plan.

One of the Seals went on to describe an incident in enemy waters when one of their boats sank.

Without hesitating for one moment, the Seals tossed all the unnecessary gear overboard and piled the additional men into another boat. This whole process happened in a matter of seconds.

As a recovering perfectionist and die-hard planner—I want things to go well the first time (and if I am honest—every time after that too).

I’ll be the first one to admit the mindset described by the Seals doesn’t come naturally to me.

Thankfully, working with a coach has helped me to identify where the strengths of perfectionism begin to hold me back from greater success.

I’ve had to work really hard over the last few years to change my thinking about obstacles and setbacks—to expect them and allow them to shape me into a stronger and more adaptable person. And it’s still a challenge for me.

“Blessed are the flexible for they will never be bent out of shape.” –Zen Proverb

An incredible historical example

On December 10th, 1914 a deafening explosion ripped through the silence of the early morning hours in West Orange, New Jersey.

Ten buildings at the Thomas Edison plant were engulfed in flames.

According to historical sources, Edison lost almost one million dollars (the equivalent of about $23 million dollars today).

But what was perhaps more devastating—the plant contained years of irreplaceable prototypes and vital records.

Insurance would cover only a third of the loss.

Historical accounts (The New York Times) indicate that Edison calmly approached the inferno with his son stating—“Although I am 67 years old, I will start all over again tomorrow.”

And he did just that.

Edison took out a loan from his good friend Henry Ford and went on to lead his team to a $10 million dollar year.

Edison also apparently passed this mindset on to his employees.

His general manager was quoted in the NY Times the following day—“There is only one thing to do, jump in and rebuild.”

Edison lived his philosophy, and his team followed his example.

Now that is great succession planning.

Edison was famous for an amazing mindset, but I bet he worked to strengthen this thinking every day.

When his critics ridiculed him for his lack of success with the electric light bulb, he famously said—“I haven’t failed, I have just discovered 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He saw that as great progress. You know the end of the story.

Whether we instill this thinking in ourselves, our children, or our teams—this mindset is essential for transforming obstacles into vehicles for future success.

Obstacles are not to be avoided, they are to be embraced as essential opportunities for growth—because we rarely grow when we are comfortable. 

Turn information into action

  1. Remind yourself that problems are to be expected. The Navy Seals are not surprised when problems occur. Why? Because their training tries to look at everything that might go wrong, and then what to do when they encounter something they didn’t train for. This is how we should train for life.
  2. Change your inner narrative about obstacles. We can’t grow from obstacles if we view them as a “bad” thing or a big setback (like I have most of my life). We must tell ourselves repeatedly that obstacles and problems draw things out of us that help us become the people we want to be. Without them, we might never develop into the people we long to become. They provide rich opportunities for learning that we would never get without a big challenge.
  3. Write down your learning every time. Writing is really important. It activates a different part of the brain, solidifies the learning, and ensures we actually remember what to do differently the next time. Einstein said that the definition of insanity was to do the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. Record your learning after each setback so you can adapt and experiment with different solutions.
  4. Trust that mistakes are the only way to get the information you need to be successful in the future. Imagine trying to know everything there was to know about swimming and never setting foot in the pool. Not possible. Getting into the experience and making some mistakes is often the best way to accelerate your learning because it gets you new information which generates new action.
  5. Take the long view. Taking a longer view of life and work success helps ease the pressure of doing things well early on. It gives us the freedom to experiment more, and helps us persist through challenging seasons of life.

 

Have a great weekend!

Parker

*If you have enjoyed Parker’s Blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast where Parker Co-hosts every other episode.

 

Suggested Resources

  1. Everyday Millionaires by Chris Hogan
  2. The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holliday
  3. Edison, A Biography by M Josephson

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a board-certified Organizational Psychologist and Leadership Performance Coach. His personal mission is to improve the way people live and work by helping them apply science-based strategies for personal, family, and workplace leadership—in that order. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
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