“The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.” --Voltaire

Lana Calloway is president of Exhibit Resources, a company that does design, construction, and installation of trade show exhibits. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Lana and many of her clients were forced to cut staff. She notied that coordinating details for trade shows was overwhelming for many clients who had slashed their marketing budgets. So Lana’s company began offering turn-key trade show project management services and her business has since boomed. Her story is the perfect example of how in every crisis lies an opportunity.

That attitude can be hard for some of us because we’re focused on the problem, not the potential. Take me, for instance. I come from the school of “dwell on your worries obsessively and they won’t happen or at least they won’t be as bad as when you ignore them.” Sound familiar? Over the past dozen years or so, I’ve been working on changing that thought pattern because it doesn’t seem to produce anything but more anxiety, which I can do without. Still, when change scares me, I find my mind going straight to all that I don’t want to happen, rather than what I do.

I was reminded once again about the danger of this behavior while reading The Unthinkable. In it, Ripley describes a phenomenon called “potholism”: “the more drivers stare at potholes, the more likely they are to drive into them.” Rather than concentrating on avoiding a pothole, says Ronn Langford of driving school MasterDrive, you should focus on the whole road so you can see where to drive.

What a message for us all! Focusing on the problems or anticipated problems of change will cause us to drive right toward them. Rather, we should expand our vision so that we are seeing the whole situation and focus on what we want out of the new situation, not what we don’t. One of the reasons this lesson is so important is that under fear, our senses narrow—we get tunnel vision, hearing, and feeling. It’s part of that old fight or flight mechanism. Our perceptions narrow so that we focus only on the danger. But as Langford’s driving research shows, this can be dangerous in and of itself, causing us to head toward the problem rather than away from it. When we widen our focus and expand our periphery, we tell that primitive part of our brains there’s no danger and it turns off, leaving us more able to think fully about the situation.

Tune in next time when I’ll share how to focus on what you want.

Author's Bio: 

A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her clients include Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hewitt Associates, and Frito Lay. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.