Understanding what opportunity actually means could change your life forever.

So, if opportunities are around us constantly and available to all, why is it that most people just don’t see them? The right opportunity can change your life forever so it is time to break it down and open our eyes.

Warren Buffett’s quote… “When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble”, basically tells you to soak it up and take the opportunity offered. Wise words from the world’s richest investor. Why do so many people back away from opportunity instead of leaping towards them with open arms? This can basically be explained by what is happening in your brain at the time an opportunity presents.

If you are in the state of mind dominated by the limbic system then you are more likely to view opportunity with suspicion and fear and back away. However, if you are thinking from your pre-frontal cortex at the time it arrives, then you are more likely to view opportunity as the type of positive event that could change your life and you will step towards it. Understanding the different between these two systems in the brain is fundamental to understanding many of the events that occur in our lives.

The limbic system, made up of the hippocampus, hypothalamus and amygdala, is what Seth Godin calls the ‘lizard brain’. The primal part of the brain from early life on planet earth back at the start of the Cambrian explosion. A period of time in history 570 million years-ago when life started to flourish on land after 2-billion year in the prehistoric oceans. This was enabled when the ‘fins’ of fish evolved into basic limb-appendages that allowed the first land dwelling creatures to scramble from the mud to move around the earth. Over the next few hundred million years the variety of life exploded and survival of the fittest meant that when faced with perceived danger, the limbic system activates and responds with fear or aggression, resulting in what we now call the ‘fight or flight response’ – Walter Cannon. This is why when opportunity comes around it is perceived as danger and the stress response from the limbic system makes you back away and the opportunity is passed over.

The pre-frontal cortex, on the other hand deals with opportunity completely differently. This area of the brain controls personality expression, ambition, complex planning, goal setting and behaviour modification etc. Neuroscientists Joaquin Fuster and Patricia Goldman-Rakic talk about the ‘executive function’ of this part of the brain and the ability to use a ‘mental sketch pad’ that allows you to map out goal-directed future events. The type of happy and beneficial events you imagine yourself doing if you take the opportunity offered. The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for dopamine production that produces a happy creation, which is why you can become addicted to success by taking many of the opportunities offered in life. On a personal note I relate to this entirely being a success junky myself.

So, what are the different type of opportunity? There are two types.

  1. Those created by you yourself
  2. Those offered by others

By far the best type are the ones you create yourself from your own efforts and hard work. Hard work and portraying a positive outlook on life will always generate many opportunities and because you are more likely to operate from your pre-frontal cortex in this state of mind, you are more likely to become successful and give out positive signals to your team. They will feel a dopamine rush from your enthusiasm that will in turn reward you back. This cycle in your business culture continues.

The second type are the ones that come from other people and these again can be separated into two types:

  1. The type that fulfils someone else’s need. Someone else will only ever give you a great opportunity if it solves a problem for them i.e. a great career, financial or relationship opportunity because it satisfies the needs of the person making the offer.
  2. A ‘too good to be true’ opportunity. Offers that sound too good to be true and that appear suddenly with no back story or history to them, often fail to fulfil their promise. This will happen a lot in life and you learn to spot them.

So, this is what I recommend you do when opportunity come knocking:

  • Take every genuine opportunity seriously. Give yourself time and space to digest and think about the offer. If you are in a negative state of mind when the offer comes through wait until the mood changes, project positive thoughts e.g. happy thoughts about friends, family and holidays for example because this make you more mindful and bring you back into your pre-frontal cortex way of thinking.
  • Talk to a variety of peers and mentors both inside and outside the direct family. Often family can be the most negative. Ask an old teacher or colleague for an impartial opinion. Sometimes strangers can offer great advice because they don’t have an emotional relationship with you.
  • Listen to motivational podcasts, watch motivational videos and feel positive before making the decision.
  • Write a list of the pros and cons on a piece of paper and then number them in order of importance. If this basic metric yields positive results then go for it.

In summary, think best-case scenario and in abundance. Don’t let your ‘lizard brain’ ruin your life by stepping back from a great opportunity.


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