I love problems. My goal is that by the time you finish this article, you’re going to get excited about whatever problems you are facing right now. Because when you see problems for what they really are — opportunities — you will start welcoming them rather than avoiding them.
I wasn’t always excited about problems. I used to dream of the day when I would finally “arrive,” and all problems would magically disappear. Sounds silly, but unless you have already reprogrammed your brain to love problems, you too may think that people you look up to never face them at all.
Social media, which I live, breathe and bleed professionally, is much to blame. Even the most transparent of entrepreneurs and public figures don’t put all their problems on social media — nor should they. However, this selective sharing suggests to onlookers that once they reach this level of success, problems disappear. When they realize that the problems only get bigger, a feeling of panic or failure often arises.
Understanding Your Brain
Before we can retrain the brain to love problems, we must first understand why the brain fears them. It’s not just society that teaches us to avoid problems. It’s already programmed in our brain; the amygdala, to be exact. This small, almond-shaped part of the brain is responsible for the fear we experience when, say, a client expresses that they don’t like our work.
Even a mildly worded dislike to the tune of “I don’t like the colors you used” puts us in a “fight or flight” response. We either want to battle them on the subject — or run away and never see that client again. That can snowball into being deathly afraid of opening your emails, or dealing with clients ever again. Both responses are as unreasonable as the initial fear they cause. But the amygdala doesn’t know that an email from an unhappy client is not a roaring lion chasing after us. To this ancient lizard brain, the two incidents are equal.
Keep in mind that the amygdala plays a crucial part in our survival. It helps us never put our hands on the hot stove — because we did it once and we know it hurts a lot. It helps us stay away from toothy, aggressive animals — because Betty the dog bit us when we were five, and we know it hurts a lot. While those are useful, the amygdala also “remembers” the sting of rejection, the discomfort of confrontation, etc. And it doesn’t categorize the level of danger. Therefore, a confrontation with your boss or client is the same to the amygdala as the confrontation with Betty, the toothy dog.
This unreasonable fear makes problems seem undesirable. But by retraining your brain, you can turn problems into progress.
The Brain Doesn’t Know It All
Left to its own devices, the brain is a reactive machine. You give it a stimulus and it reacts to it. Hot stove — jerk hand back. Angry client — must fight (or run away). But as intelligent business babes, we know that responding to stimuli is significantly more effective than reacting to them. We must manually reprogram our brains to respond, which we will start to do in the next section.
One of the hardest aspects to reprogram is the practice of welcoming problems rather than fearing them. This is largely because we will always be surrounded by prophetic apocalyptics. The news will continue to tell us that another economic crash is coming, and how scary that is. Your friends and family will continue to tell you how risky your business idea is, and that you should get a “stable” job.
You can’t change them. You can only control yourself.
Ironically, the fear that we create by spreading these types of news stories is, in part, what makes the economic crashes worse than they have to be. This fear makes people react; it makes them panic, sell their shares and the market tanks. Ultimately, it creates opportunities for people who respond, rather than react. The level-headed investor waits for these moments to buy shares, real estate and any market-effected assets at dirt cheap prices.
On a bigger scale, market crashes (a problem) also create opportunities for new economies, like the laptop entrepreneur movement, to arise (progress). Problems, big or small, present an opportunity for us to evolve. And evolution, or progress, makes us happy. Therefore: mo’ problems, mo’ happiness.
Problems are best tackled when we are excited about solving them, rather than fearing their impending doom. To get excited about our problems, we must first retrain our brains.
How to Retrain Your Brain
While we cannot go back in time and change those life-defining experiences, we can retrain the amygdala. Like a mother showing her child that airplanes are nothing to be afraid of — even when she dislikes flying — we must be brave and show the amygdala that the client won’t bite.
- Get comfortable with F.E.A.R.
One of my favorite acronyms for fear is “False Emotions Appearing Real.” Unless your life is in physical danger, the fear you feel is just your lizard brain thinking you’re being chased by a lion. Anytime I feel that way, I like to thank my amygdala for trying to protect me and ask myself: what am I really afraid of? Pinpointing a past experience and its outcome allows us to realize two things: (1) Something similar happened before and I lived to tell the tale and (2) I am older, wiser and I can now resolve this better than before.
- Learn to breathe.
Another thing our bodies do automatically is breathe — but they don’t always do it optimally! Many of us are shallow breathers. Mix that with a dash of anxiety and a splash of overthinking, and you have yourself a recipe for a panic attack. I am a shallow breather myself, so I’ve learned to breathe through my problems. As soon as I feel any anxiety or fear coming on, I breathe in on a slow count of 6 and exhale fully on a slow count of 8. I like to think of the exhale as expelling any fear I have over the problem at hand. In with the good, out with the bad.
As you are breathing, remember to relax into circumstances. Even though you may not want to be in that situation, you are in it and you are faced with a problem or an opportunity — it all depends how you approach it!
- Get excited about your problems.
There is no trick to this one and it will feel awkward at first. But trust me: it will change your life. Any time a problem comes up, our natural reaction is something to the tune of, “Oh fudge! What now? Why me?” We need to change it to, “Heck yeah! This is my opportunity to learn and move up in life. Let’s get this solved!”
Making this transformation requires deliberate choices. Every time you face a problem and are about to have your natural reaction, you must deliberately switch it to the one you’re learning — excitement about the problem at hand! As I said, it will be awkward, but you must persist. It’s important that you do this every time as it requires compound effect to really work. The ‘compound effect’ dictates that if you do a small step consistently, it will equal big results. For instance, if you work out every day for 90 days, you will see much better results than going once a week for 90 days.
- Be patient with yourself.
Your brain has been in “freak out” mode for however many years you have been alive. You will not retrain it in one day. You will slip up, you will get scared, and most importantly — you will succeed. But the latter will only happen if you keep working on it and give yourself a pat on the back every time you try.
Now get out there and face your problems with joy. You’ve got this.