Improvising is a habit like exercising and planning, and it takes time and practice to make it a habit. The ability to improvise is not a talent that you’re born with; it’s a mindset that you create for yourself. WARNING: This mindset is not a natural attitude; the instinct for most people when presented with an obstacle is to accept it as a limitation and stop all progress. Improvising to overcome obstacles means more work. It means accepting multiple failures before succeeding. It means doing things differently. Improvising is not normal, but neither is succeeding. Few people succeed at going after their dreams. Those who do succeed do so by willingly taking a different path to get there. You will not find success by doing what everyone else does.

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The scary thing about some improvising is that you have no idea how your idea will turn out. That’s okay; no one does. But if you don’t try to improvise, your results are guaranteed: nothing. Some of the best advice I received as a SEAL came from my second commanding officer at SEAL Delivery Team TWO. He pulled me aside just before deploying for a special projects mission and said, “Lieutenant Mills, always remember, no matter what happens, make a decision and take action. If it’s the wrong decision, you’ll know quickly and you can make a better decision. But whatever you do, make a decision — not taking action kills people.”

“Obstacles are there to stop the other people who don’t have the courage or the willingness to improvise around them.”

I’ve never forgotten those words, nor have I forgotten that officer — he was a truly remarkable leader. To improvise is to take action. You won’t know if it’s the right action until you’ve ventured down the path of your decision. If it wasn’t right, don’t allow yourself to get wrapped up in it; just smile to yourself and say, “Okay, I just learned another way NOT to do something,” and move on. I’ve failed many more times than I’ve succeeded, but those failures have been my building blocks for success. Each failure and subsequent success started with improvising. The key to building an improvising mindset is to create a habit of asking yourself, “Is there a better way to do this?” Seeking a better way, no matter what challenge you face, will lead you to success. Don’t wait to ask this question when you’re already stuck in a corner. Ask it anytime during your journey that you run across someone making a decision. This could be in a newspaper story, a magazine, a book, the classroom, on a sports field, or on the Internet.

Improvising to Overcome Obstacles

The point is that building an improvising mindset happens right now, not just when you need it. Like anything you practice, the more you do it the better you’ll get. I’m certain you can find a better way whatever you decide to focus on. Lots of people will come up with a better way to do something, but what will separate you from everyone else is that you’re going to take action on your ideas. When an obstacle comes between you and your goal, smile confidently and know that the obstacle is there to stop the other people who don’t have the courage or the willingness to improvise around it. You are not like everyone else; you enjoy a good obstacle because conquering obstacles makes you stronger. Not only that, you’re prepared because you know the secret to overcoming the obstacle — improvise!

Improvise means to Implement, Adapt and Overcome — Implement an action, adapt to the result, and repeat until you’ve overcome the obstacle. Be like a river and find your path over, under, around, or through — always keep trying and don’t stop flowing. Your success will come from your ability to keep trying.

Mills, Alden M. Be Unstoppable: The 8 Essential Actions to Succeed at Anything (Second Edition). Tilbury House Publishers.

Improvising to Overcome Obstacles and Find Success
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