“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t, change your attitude.” –Maya Angelou

I’ve spent a whole part of my life fighting demons. Until one day, I realized that neither them nor I would give up. It was only then that I decided not just to become their best friend but to use them in my favor.

I could replace the word “demon” with “fear”, “what I think I’m not good at”, “external criticism”, “resources, skills /knowledge I lack”, etc. These limitations/ constraints, are external things that, like demons, get on our way to achieving our true potential.

Who Decides What Limits You Or Not?

“Limits like fears are often just an illusion” — Michael Jordan

I was amazed to learn that the Gold medalist of the 2016 Paralympic Games 1,500 meter race broke the world record: he ran faster than the American Matthew Centrowitz, the Gold medalist of the 2016 Rio Olympics. What’s even more surprising (rather disappointing, actually) is that Fouad Baka, who came forth at The 2016 Paralympic Games was not eligible for a medal, but still ran faster than the Gold Medalist at The Olympic Games..

Our society loves to put people in boxes. Good news is that, these boxes are external: not only we can overcome any limitation, but we can actually outsmart those who put us in a box.

At work, we’ve been wired that having more (resources, money, time, etc.) is what matters. It’s no surprise that the main complaint comes from people who always ask for more… budget, management support… (fill in the blanks). We fall in the trap of getting obsessed (and complain a lot) about what we are missing, instead of focusing in what we have or what we are good at.

This week, we were lucky enough to run another workshop during Chicago Ideas Week: “ How to turn Constraints into a Superpower”.

Over the course of three hours, we guided participants, through various exercises that experiment with real and self-imposed constraints, to understand how we typically struggle with limitations while exploring how new behaviors can help overcome these limitations. The main realization is that constraints are simply external: it’s on us to let them become an obstacle or not.

Stop being a Victim: Rewire Your brain.

Ray Charles lost his sight by the age of 7. He struggled, but that didn’t prevent him from becoming a successful singer, songwriter and musician. Scientific research shows that when one sense gets damaged, the corresponding brain region is recruited for other tasks. Rather than complaining for the things you lack, consider where you thrive. In other words, what skills of resources have gotten stronger (at a personal or professional level) because you are weak with others?

We don’t realize how emotionally entangled we get with daily constraints. Our mindset is critical to turn a limitation in our favor rather than surrendering to it. I invite you to be mindful –and adopt the right one- from these three possible mindsets:

Victim: “why is this happening to me?” –you ask to yourself- “This is unfair.” You let the constraint win, you complain more and more and you eventually give up.

Villain: “I’m not going to let you win” is your motto. You fight back as much as you can, trying to show the constraint that you are stronger. In the end, the best result you can get is neutralizing the limitation impact, but that’s it.

Superhero: this is the higher level. You become your constraint’s best friend. You don’t react to it, you don’t let your emotions take over, you become unbeatable: you turn a constraint into a superpower versus giving-up or fighting it back.

Gain a Superpower: Reframe Constraints as A Challenge

“The words we use shape our behaviors. The question is: who chooses the words we say to ourselves? “

We are taught to follow the obvious path. If you were to design a race car, what would you aim for? Probably, you would tell yourself to build the fastest car possible so that you can beat everyone. Ironically enough, Audi’s chief engineer took a different approach when developing this new car for the 24-hour Le Mans race. “How can we win at Le Mans if our car cannot go faster than anyone else’s?” — he challenged the team. By rephrasing a constraint, the design team came-up with a simple yet powerful solution: a fuel-efficient car. Fewer pit stops not only offset not being the fastest car but it also helped Audi win four years in a row.

That’s exactly our approach: we start by understanding how and when constraints manifest, we adopt a “superhero mindset” to finally reframe the constraint as a challenge. We use constraints as inspiration rather than seeing them as obstacles.

Turning Constraints Into A Superpower — Roadmap

I hope this piece inspires you to rewire your brain to worry less about what you don’t have and care more about your own specific “superhero” powers. The sum of everyone’s ordinary powers creates a superpower; or, better yet, a super powerful team.

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