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Are you your own worst enemy? How to reset your defeatist outlook

Here at Fingerprint for Success (F4S), we’ve spent twenty years studying how attitude is the cornerstone of your success as an entrepreneur. Recognizing and adjusting your attitudes about failure presents a huge opportunity for individuals to achieve success, whether they’re founding a startup, a member of an organization or starting a lifestyle business.

Attitudes towards failure may have far-reaching ramifications for overall success, so if you find yourself getting easily discouraged after setbacks, here are three steps to re-wiring a defeatist mindset:

1. Remember that you’re doing something hard

Entrepreneurs are the people who are creating new things, taking risks, imagining new worlds – that’s hard, and mistakes and stumbling blocks will happen. If it weren’t, everyone would be an entrepreneur. The key is to stop beating yourself up about it when a failure occurs.

Dr Kristin Neff, Associate Professor Human Development and Culture, Educational Psychology Department, University of Texas at Austin, who has conducted studies in self-compassion, says:

“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings”

Learning self-compassion is the first step to helping you move on from failure effectively.

2. Re-route your self-talk

Negative self-talk as a response to failure can be a major roadblock in overcoming setbacks – things like:

“I’m a failure”

“I’m such an idiot”

“This will never work”

“This is too hard”

Dr Jennice Vilhauer, Directory of the Outpatient Psychotherapy Treatment Program at Emory Healthcare, explains why this kind of talk spells bad news for people trying to achieve their goals:

“Because of the way our brain works, we all have an automatic selective filtering system that will look for evidence in our environment that matches up with whatever we believe to be true about ourselves. We will then disregard other evidence to the contrary.”

(For more on this, Dr Vilhauer’s TEDx talk goes into detail about how your expectations create your circumstances.)

This means we have a tendency to zero in on small mistakes and errors as proof that we’re stupid or that our dreams will never become reality. So how can we challenge negative self-talk? Ben Martin, Psy.D. shares four steps:

1. Reality testing
What is my evidence for and against my thinking?
2. Look for alternative explanations
If I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation?
3. Putting it in perspective
What is the worst thing that could happen? How likely is it?
4. Using goal-directed thinking

Is thinking this way helping me to feel good or to achieve my goals?

Getting out of a rut after experiencing a failure can be a challenge, but focusing on goals and motivations can help you get back on track and fuel a more productive, confident mindset.

Tricks to modify negative self-talk include avoiding all or nothing talk like ‘always’ or ‘never’. Rather than ‘I can’t’, try ‘I haven’t yet’. Instead of ‘I failed’, try ‘this approach didn’t work, I’ll try another’.

Oh, and by the way: repeating positive affirmations has been found recently to do more harm than good: if you already have a tendency towards low self-esteem, it only encourages negative self-talk rather than rewriting the script (more on how it happens here).

3. Embrace failure by identifying which emotions are holding you back

It’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason: learning to embrace ‘failure’, and taking an analytical rather than an emotional approach is a huge step in overcoming a defeatist mindset. Psychotherapist and business coach Melinda Fouts, PhD identifies the fact that:

“The emotions that arise during a failure and can hold you captive to defeat: embarrassment, frustration, anger, regret, nausea, fear of failure and judgment or feeling like you are inadequate.”

Fouts notes that the negative emotions that come from a feeling of failure or defeat can magnify or create other problems, making it difficult not to take failure personally. Her tips:

1. Adopt a positive, flexible and curious mindset rather than a fixed one: this attempt didn’t work, so I’ll try another approach that does (finding out your Fingerprint for Success motivation level for Alternatives is a good place to start honing this skill)

2. Recognize the negative emotions that arise from a failure so they don’t have such a powerful hold over you

3. Deal with past failure to improve self-esteem and confidence

4. Disassociate the idea of ‘failure’ from the idea of ‘defeat’: you haven’t failed, but rather, as the famous quote attributed to Thomas Edison goes, you’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.

So, to overcome a defeatist mindset, take a magnifying glass to what’s holding you back as well as what motivates you. Work on your grit and tenacity (it can be learned!) to focus on your long-term goals, and remember that entrepreneurs survive and thrive by being self-aware about what motivates them, and by cultivating an agile mindset.

To learn more about the benefits of a flexible mindset, join Fingerprint for Success today.

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