3 Ways to Turn Your Challenges into Opportunities

challenges into opportunities

How much difference can you create in your life with a subtle little shift in perception? Sometimes the difference between a happy, successful outcome and a dismal failure, is only a slight shift in perception. How we represent things to ourselves determines how we will respond to any given situation. In turn, our response will help determine the outcome.

When life hands you  challenges, how do you feel about it? What is your initial internal response on an emotional level? What is your external response as seen through your body language and verbal expressions? Why does it even matter?

What does your responses to challenges reveal about you?

How we respond to any situation reveals a lot about our attitude and perception. So, when we see challenges as opportunities, what does that reveal about our personal vantage point? Likely it means that we have a healthy degree of optimism, self-confidence and openness, along with an adventurous spirit. It would indicate that we enjoy life and look forward to whatever comes next.

On the other hand, what does it say about us when we greet new challenges with feelings like: “Oh no, I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” Well obviously, this would indicate that we are running low on resources. It might also reveal a pessimistic, closed, and somewhat fearful perception of the world around us. This type of limiting attitude can only attract more of the same. Fear and negativity cannot possibly create a life of joy and prosperity.

The surprising thing is that there is often only a small degree of difference between a positive, optimistic perception, and a negative, pessimistic one. Even though these two attitudes are polar opposites, they both often start with the same challenges.

One degree of difference

Our immediate response to any situation sets up a corresponding chain of neurological events. If we can control our immediate response, we can change the outcome of those events. Allow me to illustrate.

When a golfer takes a swing at a ball, one degree of difference can determine whether he comes in under par, or sinks one in the lake. When a jet takes off from LA international, headed toward London, one degree of difference can determine whether he lands in Greenland or Africa. Okay, I admit that I didn’t plot this one on a map, but you get the idea.

What’s the application?

Correspondingly, if our first response to any given situation is negative, it makes a positive outcome much more difficult to achieve. That initial negative response to new challenges triggers a negative response patterns, and we will begin to follow the ingrained neurological pathway established by previous negative experiences. In essence, we will switch over to autopilot in the wrong direction.

Here’s the important point: training ourselves to respond positively, or at least neutrally, will have the opposite effect. An optimistic response to new challenges will trigger a completely different set of established response patterns. Our subconscious will look for similarities between this situation and our initial response to positive experiences from our past. This will initiate a neurological chain reaction that will help move us in the right direction. Now we will be operating from a much more resourceful state.

So how do we train ourselves to control our initial response to challenges so they feel like opportunities? Let’s look at…

3 Ways to Turn Challenges into Opportunities

1) Liberate yourself – Accept responsibility! The first step is to recognize that we are in control. We need to accept responsibility for our responses, and recognize that they assert a powerful influence on our life. How many times have you heard someone say, “That’s just how I am, I can’t help it.” Until we accept responsibility we won’t have any reason to change.

Accepting responsibility is a wonderfully liberating experience. It puts you in the driver’s seat of our own life. That means that you are in control, not the circumstances. It is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself.

Some people shy away from responsibility because it brings with it accountability. So let me ask you this, is it more empowering to be accountable for your own actions and attitudes, or be a helpless victim of circumstances? You see, when we give away accountability we create a state of helplessness. So I encourage you, liberate yourself – accept responsibility.

2) Use leverage. Leverage means that you exert the greatest amount of control with the least amount of effort. The time to do this is during the first few moments whenever you are faced with new challenges. Once you start down a negative road, it is much more difficult to reverse your course. If you control your first step, you start out in the right direction, and it is much easier to maintain that direction.

This is true in all aspects of our lives. If you are a cookie monster (like me) and you’re trying to exercise control over your cravings, where is the best place to do that? If you said, “at the store,” then you are absolutely right. If you don’t bring the cookies home, you won’t be tempted to eat them. If you don’t take them off the shelf and put them in your cart, you won’t be tempted to buy them. So, the simple act of leaving them on the shelf gives you the greatest leverage for controlling your cravings.

In the same way, weighing a situation before we respond to it gives us the greatest leverage in determining the outcome. In other words, when challenges come up leave the negative response on the shelf.

3) Turn it into a game. When we take life too seriously, it’s easy to overreact to situations. Why not turn it into a game instead? If you tend to react negatively to challenges, try imitating somebody who always reacts positively. Make a game out of it, put yourself in character, play the role until you establish a new response pattern.

Role-playing makes it much easier to break ingrained habits then trying to tackle them head-on. It also makes the whole process more fun. You might feel self-conscious imitating somebody else, but trust me, no one will notice. What they will notice is how you respond positively to the challenges you face. In return, they will respond to you in a positive way, and everybody feels better.

Look, you are surrounded by opportunities!

Now you have three powerful ways to control your initial response to challenges and unplanned situations. Like most of the life skills I write about, these are simple steps that can help you to quickly transform the quality of your life. If you are interested in a step-by-step program for producing unprecedented personal growth, have a look at Find Your TRUE SELF.

Do you have a favorite tip for seeing opportunities in your challenges?
Have you found opportunities  hidden in a challenges?
The lines are open!

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  1. Frank Jovine May 28, 2010 Reply


    I really enjoyed the “One degree of difference” piece as it is so true that if we deviate slightly we can end up some where else or even off our game.

    • Jonathan May 28, 2010 Reply

      Hi Frank, the realization that only a slight deviation from our current path can bring us to a whole new destination is really powerful. All of a sudden challenges that looked huge before become very manageable. Thank you my friend.

  2. Steven Aitchison May 28, 2010 Reply

    What a great post Jonathan. I loved the concept of ‘One degree of difference’ and controlling the first step before going down the road to negativity.

    Our reality really is controlled by our perception of the world, if we can change that perception by one degree imagine how much of a difference that could make. Now, if we can keep moving it one degree at a time until our life is just the way we want it and then start to help others shift by one degree at a time – Wow!

    Great stuff Jonathan

    • Jonathan May 28, 2010 Reply

      Hi Steve, when I think of making one degree adjustments in direction, I usually think of a boat crossing the ocean. The skipper needs to make regular corrections because of the influence of winds and currents. In the short run, those adjustments don’t seem like much. But over the long haul they make all the difference in the world. Life is a lot like that.

  3. Sandra Hendricks May 28, 2010 Reply

    Hey Jonathan, this is a great piece! When I worked in a drug rehabilitation facility, I learned something about habits. It takes three weeks (21days) hence the Movie, starring Sandra Bullock, to create or break a habit. Therefore, if you leave the “cookies” on the shelf for twenty-one days, you are well on your way.

    • Jonathan May 28, 2010 Reply

      That’s funny Sandra. Truth is, I have no problem resisting store bought cookies. It’s when my wife starts baling that my resistance goes out the window. We only allow ourselves one treat day a week, so we get to enjoy our favorites without getting carried away. Thanks for bringing up the 21 day thing. There are some interesting studies around that whole subject.

      • Sandra Hendricks May 28, 2010 Reply

        Sorry I misunderstood the “cookies” I think. LOL If we will make a conscious effort for 21 days perhaps we will be closer to breaking the habit of negative thinking. :)

  4. Karen May 28, 2010 Reply

    Great article, and one that was very thought-provoking.

    One thing I would add is that you have to have your eyes opened to actually see the opportunity. If you are closed-minded you may be surrounded by wonderful opportunities that you are not taking advantage of.

    Being able to overcome our challenges provides us with the courage and confidence to believe that we can overcome anything that comes our way.


    • Jonathan May 28, 2010 Reply

      Hi Karen, that’s an excellent point about being alert to opportunity. There’s a saying: “The reason most people don’t recognize opportunity is because it often comes disguised as hard work.”

  5. Leisa Watkins May 28, 2010 Reply

    I believe that one of the most effective tips for me is to simply make a conscious effort to develop some preplanned responses I can select from that will make that 1 degree difference, and often times even more.

    For example, if feel overwhelmed by a new situation or request for assistance I know that there are three basic steps I can do that usually work for me.

    First step – Deep breathing to calm my mind.

    2nd step – Asking myself the question, “Is this (fill in the blank) in keeping with my mission and goals?”

    3rd Step – Naturally it depends on the answer to the 2nd step. If the answer is no I simply let it go and without guilt. If the answer is yes I use further questions to determine if my response would really be the best thing for me and those I serve.

    • Jonathan May 28, 2010 Reply

      Hi Leisa, that’s a great approach. When we run through possible scenarios like that, we actually introduce a new response pattern into our nervous system. Our imagined response is as good as a real experience to our mind. Play it over a few times and it begins to get ingrained. Thank you so much for sharing your technique with us.

  6. Jarrod May 28, 2010 Reply

    I love this article, it helps me tremendously! Instead of running when life presents me with challenges or uncomfortable situations, I’m going to start viewing them as opportunities. I will view them as a chance to execute dealing with it on a much calmer level. I’ll view it as an opportunity to excel and become a better me! Thanks for sharing!!

    • Jonathan May 28, 2010 Reply

      Hi Jarrod, that’s an excellent response. A friend of mine likes to say: “First comes the fear, then the blessing.” Once we reframe how we view challenges, it’s amazing how many new opportunities will present themselves.

  7. Ryan Jenkins May 28, 2010 Reply

    If you squeeze an orange what happens? What’s in it comes out.

    Just like you wrote, it’s so crucial to know how we react when we are squeezed. People’s character is revealed real fast when their back is against the wall.

    Love the one degree – so true. Self talk helps me deal with challenge. I will talk out loud about the blessings I have or I will try to laugh at the challenge b/c most of the time it’s not a big deal.

    Way to be Jonathan!

    • Jonathan May 28, 2010 Reply

      Thanks Ryan, one of the little games we can play is to describe (out loud) every challenge in terms of an opportunity. The more we do it the natural it becomes.

  8. Dia May 28, 2010 Reply

    Thanks Jonathan,

    Turning it over a game is one of the best things we can do. Otherwise, doubt would come in and we would react negatively to situations.

    • Jonathan May 28, 2010 Reply

      Hey Dia. I find the more stuff I can turn into a game the less serious I take it. When it’s all a game I tend to have more fun and less stress.

  9. Lance May 29, 2010 Reply

    I’m with several other folks here – that “one degree of difference” idea is really powerful!

    Along the lines of this whole concept, I’ve been recently working to consciously make choices in my attitude that support more positivity. I was out biking a couple of days ago, and realized quickly that there was going to be a pretty good headwind I’d be going into. My first reaction was: “just what I don’t want – a tough ride today”. As soon as I caught myself doing that – I stopped that thought and changed it to “this is an opportunity to challenge myself more”. With just that little shift in attitude, the ride was much more enjoyable!

    Anyway, I’m really working at this right now – and so all that you’ve shared here is just really pertinent to where I’m at. Big thanks!!!

    • Jonathan May 29, 2010 Reply

      Well done Lance. I’m thinking that you probably enjoyed the tail wind on your way home as well. Thanks for giving us a practical example here!

  10. Sibyl Chavis May 29, 2010 Reply

    Jonathan: I thought this was a great post and it really shows that changing the way we perceive things is not as challenging as we may think. It is definitely an achievable goal and we just have to commit to continually training our minds to respond in this way. I particularly thought recommendation #3 was great. I know I am guilty of sometimes taking things too seriously and once you really do lighten up a little, what once seemed so huge and challenging can be manageable. Great post and great tips.

    • Jonathan May 31, 2010 Reply

      Hi Sibyl, I think we all have a tendency to take things too seriously sometimes. When I slip into that mode I like to ask: “Will this really matter a week from now, a year from now, or five years from now?” Then I usually laugh at myself and move on. Thanks for joining the conversation!

  11. Nea May 30, 2010 Reply

    I really like the role playing idea. It seems like a fun way to create a new habit, or get rid of an old habit by taking some of the seriousness out of it.

    • Jonathan May 31, 2010 Reply

      Greetings Nea! Role playing does funny things to our nervous system. It allows us to step outside of our normal “box” and act or think in uncharacteristic ways. When we do that we gain a brand new perspective of the situation, which open up new possibilities. And, it’s just plain fun!

      If a situation feels especially heavy try turning it into a cartoon. You can visualize mean or angry people as only three feet tall with big clown feet and squeaky little voices. That will take the seriousness out of it in a big hurry.

  12. Steve June 1, 2010 Reply

    It’s definitely the way we interpret adversity that either helps or hinders us. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work on leave negative and anxious attitudes on the shelf and to work on writing things down in a problem solving manner. I like what you said about making it a game, and role playing a positive response. I’m going to keep that in mind as I continue to proceed through whatever challenges lie ahead.

    I also like what Anthony Robbins said: we need to choose metaphors that help us. We can look at life as a dreaded series of events, or as a fun adventure. I choose to see the later as my course!

    • Jonathan June 8, 2010 Reply

      Hi Steve, for some reason I have always viewed life as an adventure (although, the have been moments). What I like about the adventure mindset is that it allows us to look forward to surprise changes and unanticipated situations with a positive frame of reference. After, isn’t the “unknown” part of makes an adventure exciting? That’s how I like to view life.

  13. Stephen June 1, 2010 Reply

    Jonathan, I really, really liked this article of yours. So practical. In order to make it fit, I slightly paraphrased you and quoted you on twitter today with this:

    “When we give away accountability we create a state of helplessness. Liberate yourself – accept responsibility.”

    That whole section on responsibility really hit me as very convincing.

    Very well done my friend!

    • Jonathan June 8, 2010 Reply

      Hi Stephen, I like your condensed version. You summed those thoughts up very nicely.

  14. Marko June 1, 2010 Reply

    This is great! I have nothing to add, this article provides practical, applicable knowledge…

    I love the way you present ideas and tips, continue the good work!

    • Jonathan June 8, 2010 Reply

      Thanks so much Marko, I really appreciate your support and input.

  15. may May 29, 2011 Reply

    Challenges make people persevere and that’s part of what makes them successful. On the other hand, challenges can also cause people to feel like they are doomed in to chaos forever. It is how we perceive things and how we respond to them that can turn a challenge into an opportunity. There are a lot of things that can be an opportunity instead of being an obstacle. Sometimes or most of the times, people do not see the opportunity, it just comes and goes without being noticed. And there’s the real challenge, seeing possibilities in your challenges in life and using them in a positive way.

  16. Jonathan May 31, 2011 Reply

    Hi May, perception always defines our outlook. Is the glass half full or half empty? Is this challenge an opportunity or an insurmountable obstacle? If we see it as an insurmountable obstacle we will never notice the opportunity.

  17. Steve Ward October 18, 2012 Reply

    This is an excellent post! Thank you for the insight and hard work. I will continue to follow your blog, as I can’t get enough of your material.

    Best of Wishes.

  18. Odoyo Collins November 19, 2012 Reply

    Nice article. I have gone through all the posted article and have found all quite relevant recipe for success

  19. Denise T January 8, 2013 Reply

    Thank you for this great post!

  20. Anne January 10, 2013 Reply

    A great post. I like ‘ accepting responsibility’ because it makes a lot of sense. However, we have to also keep in mind that some things only God is responsible for and we can’t take that on our shoulders. With this in mind, we should definitely and positively shoulder our responsibilities, being wise to the fact that we’re not in control of everything.

    Each day I identify what I’m thankful for and recognise my opportunities. It’s amazing what you see when you’re looking.

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