No human being on the planet is immune from negative thoughts springing to mind. What often separates those who achieve success from those who don’t is what they do with those thoughts when they occur.
I wanted to help you (and I) better navigate these waters so I conducted a thorough analysis to identify the most common debilitating thoughts that high-achievers just steamroll over. I bring these up so you can put them down, quickly.
1. “I failed at this so I’m a failure.”
I speak, write, teach, and coach about this topic and still I occasionally get trapped in it myself. It’s so utterly human to feel this. The problem is that fear of failure engages our brain in the wrong conversation. We’ll see one failure as a descriptor of who we are rather than seeing it for what it really is–an event. A one-time event.
The most common piece of advice I offer here is to remember there are really only three ways to fail: when you quit, don’t improve, or never try. Which leads us to No. 2.
2. “Why try? It probably won’t work.”
Go into any Hallmark store and you’ll find a coffee cup with some type of cheesy slogan written on it to encourage you to go for it. But that kind of stuff exists for a reason–this is a two-headed monster. Not only does our negativity forecast a gloomy outcome before we even get started, we feel justified in that conclusion based on other unrelated setbacks we’ve experienced. It creates a learned inertia that no action is better than action doomed to fail.
Per the above point, failing after trying isn’t failing–not trying is.
3. “I’m not ________ enough.”
Fill in the blank, or just go with “I’m not enough” in general. I’ve had a lot to say about this of late because it keeps resurfacing in my research, with coaching clients, and with people who seek me out after keynotes. We’re at a crisis of “enoughness.” You must believe that your differences make you greater than, not lesser than. You must believe that you have a baseline of inherent value that will never be compromised. You must believe that your enough is enough.
Here’s the cheat code for this: Compare only to who you were yesterday, not to anyone else. And try this trick–ask yourself if you’re doing enough to improve, not if you are enough.
4. “I tried. I don’t think I’ll ever ________.”
This is about the hopelessness we can feel after facing a setback; not a setback that spells failure but one that makes it feel like you’re far from victory. Science isn’t on our side on this one.
Research by psychologists at the University of Toronto showed that the human tendency is to throw in the towel after missing an interim goal instead of adopting an acceptance and recovery mindset.
The key is to remember that the progress you’ve made to date has moved you much further forward than the setback has moved you back.
I joke with coaching clients that I’m going to slap the “should” out of them. But seriously, you should strike the word “should” from your vocabulary–while planners may love it, winners see it as useless wishfulness.
Using the word “should” is like granting a license for perpetual revisiting and remorse. “I should do X and Y” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “I did X and Y.” Period.
6. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
For my book Make It Matter, I interviewed one particularly successful CEO who told me that in his first days as head of the company, he constantly fought the inner monologue that was telling him he was in over his head. He told me how often he would counter the self-doubt by saying to himself, “I simply haven’t achieved success, yet.“
It’s that one word, yet, that made all the difference in the world. It gave him permission to know that he couldn’t possibly know everything he needed to all at once, and it spoke of the possibilities still to come.
If you don’t liberally use the word “yet” yet, please do.
7. “This is a disaster.”
This is a placeholder for when we catastrophize and convince ourselves that a situation is an absolute disaster. First, none other than Mark Twain lends a hand by saying, “I’ve suffered a great many catastrophes in my life. Most of them never happened.”
So very true.
The truth is, mentally strong people are especially strong in the face of adversity. They keep the situation in proper perspective and don’t distort the true intensity of the negative impact.
So don’t beat yourself up when any of these thoughts surface–just beat the thoughts back.