Diamonds in the Rough: 3 steps to unlock your true potential in awful situations

You spilled coffee on your brand new shirt.

Your computer crashed.

You have ten more pages of a report due.

And it’s only 9:30 AM.

There’s no doubt about it — life is chock full of situations where you feel completely in over your head. I’ve been there before (actually, a lot more times than I care to count) through the process of climbing the corporate ladder, and there have been plenty of moments where it sounded a lot easier to just throw in the towel instead of power through an impossible task.
 
 I learned pretty quickly that waving the white flag when the going gets tough not only gets you nowhere except back on the street throwing your resume at everyone who walks by, but it limits your potential for true growth.

Bernie Sanders has been quoted as saying “Difficult times bring out the best in people”, and politics aside, that’s just a plain and simple truth.

This may sound like a tall order, but there are some (fairly) easy ways to unlock your potential when everything is haywire:

Use constraints to make you more innovative
 
Theodor Geisel — better known as Dr. Seuss — wrote “Green Eggs & Ham” after betting that he couldn’t produce a story using less than 50 words. He produced a timeless classic, and research shows that he was onto something more than just a lifetime of royalty checks.

In fact, far away from the world of green eggs, O.C. Tanner studied the award winning work of 1.7 million people, and what they found was pretty surprising:

“Awards are frequently given because people performed Great Work within their constraints. They solved problems. They overcame hurdles. And, they made a difference that someone loved.”

We’ve all had deadlines, a boss with unrealistic expectations, and just plain not enough of anything to get what we want done.

When this awful situation arises, it’s natural to take the path of least resistance: to try to find a way to avoid that limitation next time, or to get that difficult thing done as hastily as possible and focus your efforts elsewhere.

But successful people don’t shy away from limitations; they think of constraints as a starting point.

So instead of thinking “I’m limited to ___” and producing the bare minimum, think of this as a puzzle to create something innovative. Remember, stale concepts emerge from the “that’s how we’ve always done things” mentality, so forbid yourself from going there.

You may not welcome this concept at first, but it will keep you off the path of least resistance and force those innovative groundbreaking ideas that wouldn’t come otherwise.

Don’t treat tough times like a test
 
During tough situations, we often place the same expectations on ourselves that we do during any other situation. When the going gets tough, it’s too easy expect perfect results and let the fear of failure take hold.

That would be like acing a basic algebra quiz, and then expecting the same score on an advanced calculus exam the next day.

Look no further than Mark Cuban — he didn’t start off making million dollar deals and appearing as an expert entrepreneur on national TV. Like the rest of us, he had some slip-ups along the way.

“I wouldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t fail… a lot. The good, the bad, it’s all part of the success equation,” he said.

Quite simply, you have to acknowledge that along with the challenges there will be some bumps in the road. If you’re taking on a challenge, it won’t get far if you can’t have a slip-up or two.

By redefining failure, you can start to see a tough time as a learning opportunity, an opportunity to grow, and even a place to make a few mistakes, and you’ll remove that nagging self-doubt in your head. Instead of shying away from a problem because you can’t completely overcome it, you’ll see a difficulty as a stepping stone on your journey.

Be grateful for problems (trust me on this one)

“Every problem is a gift — without problems we would not grow.” — Tony Robbins

People who feel gratitude aren’t just constantly aware of the little things that are going right in their life: they also see tough times as an opportunity to expand their success even further.

The truth is that being grateful is not a byproduct of success, it’s an exercise that makes you successful. If you treat each tough day as an opportunity to reach new heights, you won’t only become more successful, but it will come to you much easier.

In case you’re still giving this advice the side eye, there’s a pretty big slew of science backing up how gratitude can help success:

· Yale studies say practicing gratitude will result in higher alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy.

· Stanford offers an intense class that had gratitude journals, which made students 27% less stressed.

· Harvard studies indicate gratitude improves health and strengthens relationships.

· UC-Berkeley research indicates practicing gratitude improves sleep and decreases illness.

· Columbia research says gratitude improves the immune system, while reducing anxiety and/or depression.

Beyond this, treating each problem as a gift will allow you to constantly seek out and tackle new ones.

You can start this today. When you’re riding the subway to work, crushed between four sweaty people who have a nodding acquaintance at best with the concept of bathing, think of the fact that you have transportation. You can get to your job, where being on time can lead to a promotion, and a promotion can get you noticed by HR, and so on.

And if it doesn’t, something better could still come along.

Become a diamond in the rough

To put it simply, just like a diamond emerges from a piece of coal and some intense pressure, humans require opposition in order to grow into something great. If we aren’t challenged and pushed past our comfort zone, there will never be a reason for us to reach a new level of potential (or even get up out of bed in the morning). 
 
 Remember, refusing to give up when the going gets rough is the first step towards giving yourself the opportunity to reach new levels of success and put that nagging self-doubt to rest.
 
 Trial by fire can be a very positive thing. I truly believe that people will step up to the plate when thrown into a tough situation, and more often than not, I witness them exceeding beyond what they ever thought possible.
 
 There’s great potential in all of us — sometimes we just need a little nudge (or more of a gentle shove…) to take the leap of faith of believing in it.

If you enjoyed this article, you can read more of my thoughts in my column for Inc. as well as at Love The Hustle.