Article by Jennice Vilhauer, Ph.D.
“The secret of success is to be ready when your opportunity comes.” –Benjamin Disraeli
Opportunities to achieve what you want in life are coming to you more often than you realize. The reason those opportunities don’t always turn into the experiences you hoped for often has to do with whether or not you are ready for them. Most people live ready for what they expect in life, not what they want. You might want a better job or a new relationship but if you don’t really expect to get one, then it is likely you won’t put forth the effort to make it happen. For example, if you want a great partner but never expect to meet anyone, then chances are that half the time when you leave the house, you never think twice about what you look like. If, however, you expected to meet your great new partner any moment, you would probably pay more attention to your appearance even when just going out for a gallon of milk. If you felt great about yourself every time you left the house, you would be more likely to give off great energy and also more likely to talk to others, which would greatly increase the chances of meeting someone. Expectation leads to action, which creates experience.
People often make the mistake of believing that if the good things in their lives would just show up, then they could be happy, and everything would change. If I had a job, I would have a reason to stop watching TV all day. The problem with this line of thinking is that if you are sitting on the couch all day, the job you want will never show up. We get things in life that we “match up” with. While there are always exceptions to the rule, most people who have great jobs showed up ready for the job. It is likely he/she worked hard, identified the skills that were needed, gained experience, built their resumes, polished their interview skills, paid careful attention to how they were being perceived, and gave the potential employer exactly what they were looking for. It didn’t just happen; they weren’t just lucky. They wanted it and were ready for the opportunity when it arrived.
So how can you learn to be more prepared for the opportunities that are coming your way?
1. Be clear about what you want.
When you don’t really know what you want it is hard to know when an opportunity for something better has arrived. Clarity gives you focus and direction, vagueness is like driving around in a dark cloud with no idea where you are going. Finding your clarity starts with tuning in to your emotions. A lack of clarity often comes from not trusting your own feelings. When you are weighing various options in your mind, ask yourself how one option compares to the other in terms of your emotions. If an option feels interesting and exciting then do some homework and find out more about it, as you gather information about that option see if your enthusiasm grows or diminishes.
If you are really stuck sometimes it helps to first identify what you don’t want in a certain situation. For example, if you don’t know what type of job you are interested in looking for, it can be helpful to fold a sheet of paper in half lengthwise and then write down everything you don’t want in a job on one side. Then open the paper and next to every item you don’t want, write down what it is you would like instead. If you don’t want to work a rigid 9-5 M-F work schedule, perhaps what you really want is a job with a lot of flexibility. Once you are done with writing out the inverse of what it is you don’t want, you should have a nice long list of what it is you do want on the subject. Use this to begin to build clarity. What kind of jobs might fit these criteria? If the answer is–not many, then identify which areas you are willing to be flexible on and which areas are absolute must haves. When you are clear about what you are looking for, it creates a selective filter that causes you to see more opportunities that match and to disregard other opportunities that are really just distractions.
2. Know what steps are necessary to achieve it.
This step is often a stumbling block for many people. They know what they want but they don’t know what to do to achieve it, so they don’t try. Identifying the necessary steps is a key part of the process that may require investigating, studying, and learning lots of new information. Luckily, we live in an age where information is readily accessible, we just have to be willing to put forth the effort to figure it out. Google is your best friend when you don’t know how to do something. If you are stuck, start there. Look for books, websites, classes, organizations, or people who might be able to provide you with information. If you’d like to start a new business, there are many groups and organizations that support first time entrepreneurs. They often offer mentorship to help guide newcomers through the process. The knowledge is out there but you have to be willing to look for it and ask for help. Doing this creates opportunities by engaging with others, and it increases your positive expectations about your ability to achieve what you want because you have the knowledge to create an action plan.
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3. Behave as if what you want is about to show up.
Now that you know what you want and how to accomplish it, the most important part is to act as if what you want is coming at any moment. There are two huge benefits to living ready for what you want. First, when you live as if what you want is coming, your belief that it will occur starts to grow very rapidly and you start to engage in more and more actions likely to make it happen. This leads to the second benefit, which is that when an opportunity shows up, because you have been in action mode, you are ready to take advantage of it. To start this process, take your list from step number two and just start doing. If you want to start a business but are worried about not having any customers, you can’t wait until you have customers to get started. You have to build the business and create the services that you will be ready to deliver on when your first customers show up.
The thought that trips many people up on this step is–What if it’s not worth the effort? To conserve energy and resources people are inherently programmed to not want to take action unless there is some return on the investment. What if I build my business and no customers show up? What if I fail? Won’t that be a total waste of my time, money, and energy? Worrying about what you don’t want can stop you from taking action toward what you do want. Instead, focus your energy on how to make what you do want happen. Know that if it doesn’t work out, you don’t have to globalize the failure to mean that you will never succeed, or personalize it to mean that you don’t deserve to succeed. By taking the action you create the opportunity to learn something new and isn’t that the most important opportunity you can take advantage of?
1. Jennice Vilhauer. 2014. Think Forward to Thrive: How to Use The Mind’s Power of Anticipation to Transcend Your Past and Transform Your Life. New World Library. Novato, CA