It’s a fundamental truth that sometimes the greatest barrier to your success is yourself. Not that you don’t try, aren’t talented, or don’t have the resources to succeed–you do. It’s just that a self-limiting mindset can creep into your worldview without you realizing it, keeping achievement of your goals forever on an unreachable horizon.
Science can help.
Specifically, cognitive psychologist Amanda Crowell, who offers awareness of what she calls “defensive failure,” which is what happens when you want to achieve something, think about it constantly, but you just don’t do it. It’s not just because you’re lazy or lack willpower, but is often instead from, as Crowell says, “three powerful mindset blocks keeping you locked in a cycle of defensive failure.”
Here’s Crowell’s TEDx talk on the topic.
What follows are the three mental blocks Crowell identifies and how to overcome them.
1. “I just don’t think I can do this.”
Visualizing success has been proven to help achieve success–and the opposite holds true too. If you believe you can’t do it, it’s far more likely that you can’t, won’t, or won’t even try. And the only way you can actually fail is when you quit, don’t improve, or never try.
The belief that you can’t do something often involves incorrect assumptions or limiting scenarios that exist only in your head. As Crowell illuminates: “You think that some people have the talent or the genetics to do this thing, and you don’t. If you believe that at the core of success is talent and genetics, then this rookie mistake matters a lot; it’s the proof you need that you didn’t have what it takes.”
And that’s where you get hopelessly off-track; when you finally find the proof (you didn’t consciously know you were searching for) that you…just…can’t do it.
Crowell says in order to overcome this mental block, know that mistakes are not proof that you never should have tried. They’re merely setbacks intended to help you learn and grow.
I like to remind myself that any failure I experience happens for me, not to me. You can also draw on what I call the “reality reservoir”–think of other things you’ve accomplished that you originally didn’t believe you could do. That will embolden you.
Finally, tell yourself that any setbacks you might encounter will pale in comparison to the progress you’ll have already made.
2. “People like me aren’t good at this.”
I fell into this mental block when I first became an entrepreneur. It took me a while to get started building my social following and designing a downloadable course because I was convinced that people like me (non-tech savvy) would never be good at this stuff. I also assumed I’d suck at selling myself as a speaker/writer/coach and didn’t relish the thought of trying.
Crowell says the solve here is surprisingly easy (and she’s right, it worked for me). Find others who are like you, doing what you want to do, and talk to them.
I reached out to fellow professional speakers and learned that selling yourself can be done in many palatable ways if I’d “just get over myself.” Likewise, the same people are thriving on social and have video courses, despite starting out with zero tech know-how.
Finding people like this gave me the confidence to get going, and now I have a substantive social following and offer an online course on inspirational leadership, developed in a video studio I built myself.
3. “I feel like I have to do this thing, but I don’t really want to.”
As Crowell puts it, “Secretly, you don’t want to do it; you just think you should want to do it. You value it for the wrong reasons.”
I’ve coached many past this mental block; they were chasing someone else’s dream, living someone’s else’s story, trying to achieve things they were expected to (versus what they really wanted to).
Deep down, if you don’t really want to do something, you won’t (or at least will do so with agony and inefficiency). If faced with a choice to a) take a step towards achieving that thing you don’t really want, or b) do anything else you want to do, the latter will win every time because the urge for the former isn’t strong enough. All of this makes you feel like you’re a procrastinator or a failure or worse. A vicious cycle.
The solve here requires getting honest with yourself about what it is that you really want to accomplish, and why. Find the intrinsic reason behind the why and then, as Crowell suggests, use it as a personal energy source to keep you moving towards realization of that goal.
So use the advice here to turn those mental blocks into building blocks of your future success.