You and I are swimming in a vast ocean of opportunities and possibilities. With your subconscious resources only perceiving a tiny fraction of our environment and our conscious resources processing even less, chances are you barely even notice these opportunities that brushing past you. Yet, you may feel your life has become boring, routine and predictable. You may feel that you haven’t encountered a truly great opportunity in years. Sound familiar?
Despite popular opinion, your true problem in finding and utilizing great opportunities isn’t that they don’t exist. No, opportunities are constantly flying around you, it is simply that most people wouldn’t recognize a great opportunity if it slapped them in the face. The problem isn’t a lack of opportunities, but your failure to perceive them. So the real question is how can you utilize all the opportunities in your environment in the most effective way?
If you are trying to work on your lateral growth , then improving your ability to utilize opportunities is right at the core. For those who are new to my rantings, lateral growth is simply the kind of growth that requires exploring new things and expanding your perception as opposed to hard work, discipline and focused goals. If you are highly adept at quickly snatching and utilizing opportunities that pass your way, then you are probably also highly matured in your lateral growth.
How do you utilize opportunities? Well I think it would be best to first define exactly what I mean when I say opportunity. Opportunities are any potential avenues of thought or action that could lead to a greater reward than cost AND opportunities lie outside your realm of direct experience. If you already had experience with a particular opportunity, you would quickly recognize and utilize it, so by opportunities we are specifically referring to those events, situations or actions that can lead to a reward but it may not be immediately clear how or what.
As an example, let’s say you are walking down a hall and you briefly notice a poster advertising for a local Toastmasters club. Now you have never been to Toastmasters before, so you cannot be precisely sure whether this is a hidden opportunity or just a waste of time. Furthermore, if you don’t feel particularly comfortable speaking in public, your mind may see this event as potentially painful and not as an opportunity for growth.
So how can you use these hidden opportunities? In short, being able to find, recognize and use opportunities requires three skills: curiosity, spontaneity and courage.
Curiosity is basically your own internal motivation to discover, explore and find opportunities. Without a strong drive to break outside your comfort zone, you cannot hope to utilize even a small fraction of the opportunities available. This curiosity should be innate as well. In other words, your motivation for discovery should be purely from your curiosity to explore not because you predict a certain reward at the end.
At first it may seem illogical that the best tool to utilize hidden opportunities requires you stop thinking about the reward. Why would you pursue the opportunity in the first place if you didn’t think it had a pot of gold at the end? The problem is that the rewards at the end of most opportunities are impossible to perceive in the beginning. A curious attitude says that even if there isn’t a final reward, the act of exploration and discovery is a reward in itself.
I assume that most people reading this website are fairly curious people. If you weren’t curious then I doubt you would spend much time trying to change or improve your life in any way. What may have happened, however, is that fear, over-rationalizing or discouragement may have taken your natural curiosity and dulled it considerably. By improving the other two skills, spontaneity and courage, you will likely find your curiosity piqued as well.
The second skill necessary to utilize hidden opportunities is spontaneity. Most opportunities are slippery. They will swim by you giving you only a few seconds of time to grab hold before they move away. If you spend too much time debating which opportunities to pursue, you will likely miss more than you catch.
Spontaneity requires you to build up your ability to make good decisions quickly. If you struggle to make even basic decisions like what to eat or what to talk about in less than a minute or two, your ability to be spontaneous will be severely limited. Although carefully weighing out pro’s and con’s and thinking through decisions on a logical basis may make sense when there are only a few variables involved, most of our decisions have far too many factors to make that approach useful.
To improve your quick decision making skills, start using a timer to make any decision. For most decisions you should make them in under a minute especially for such trivial ones as what you plan on eating for lunch. Some opportunities, like whether to talk to the stranger waiting in line, may need to be acted upon in only a couple seconds. The less your hesitation the more spontaneous you can be.
Another factor that contributes to spontaneity is your flexibility with time. Many people’s lives are so rigid that it is very difficult to insert new opportunities, their productivity simply won’t allow it. In these cases I suggest one of two approaches. The first and easiest approach is to simply toggle between cycles of focus and flexibility so that you can have periods of more productivity and periods of greater experimentation and discovery.
The second approach which is more difficult, but ultimately superior is to develop your ability to make quick decisions on whether to follow your schedule or break it based on opportunities that come by. This is hard to develop as it is often hard to perceive the value of an opportunity in a short period of time.
Any hidden opportunity will have risk involved. The sense of unknown that comes whenever we are exploring possibilities outside our comfort zone is what creates fear. The ability to manage that fear and act in spite of it is called courage. I already wrote about how you can overcome fear , so I will instead focus on how you can use courage when finding those hidden opportunities.
Fear is an excellent indicator of where you lack experience. Whatever you fear, chances are you are in need of a lot of growth in that area. Courage can allow you to venture as deep as possible into your fears without drowning in them. As you build up your courage, your ability to find opportunities will naturally be reflected because you can venture out deeper and deeper.
Opportunities are coming at you all the time. Unfortunately a lot of the best opportunities are completely hidden from view and it is up to us to recognize and utilize them. Taking advantage of these situations allows you to grow and expand your life. So go out and find those opportunities. Whether to talk to that stranger who could become a lifelong friend, try a new activity which could become a passion or work on an idea that can change your life.