How do you define success and failure?

Success or failure - both depend on your thoughts and definitions.There are many ways to be your own worst enemy.  One common way is to fall prey to counterproductive thinking in which your definitions of circumstances and situations steal away your energy and personal power.  Here are some distorted definitions that can leave you feeling helpless and hopeless.

Should-ing on yourself and others is rampant in today’s society.  Should-ing involves creating a list of behavioral rules which you and those around you are expected to follow.  (If you want to engage in an eye-opening experiment, keep a tally of how many times you use the phrases “I should” or “he/she/they should” in a typical day.  Ouch.)

This thought habit is damaging in several ways.  When directed toward another, it implicitly puts them in the wrong and creates an element of strain in future interactions. It also makes it distressingly easy to get on your high horse and risk saying things that will come back to haunt you later.  Directed at yourself, it creates a feeling of pressure and/or failure because you’re not living up to expectations (whether or not those expectations really serve you well).  It can also lead to feeling resentful, since you feel obliged to meet someone else’s standards rather than reach your own objectives.

That’s the bad news.  The good news is that there are specific steps you can take immediately to stop should-ing on yourself.

  1. Monitor your speech for the word should, then replace it with could, will, or won’t.
  2. Evaluate how differently you feel when you use any of these alternatives. Notice how could implicitly gives you options; will and won’t reflect a consciously made decision; and all three reinforce your right and your power to choose your own actions.

Dichotomous thinking (also called either/or thinking) instantly puts you in a precarious position.  It derails your creative problem solving skills; creates interpersonal conflict by implicitly defining one person (usually yourself) as right and the other as wrong; and sets you up for failure by limiting your options of how to move forward.  It’s often accompanied by the phrase, “Yes, but…”

How can you shift from thinking in black and white to thinking in Technicolor?  Here are three powerful ways:

  1. Actively look for opportunities to shift an either/or situation to both/and.  Say you’ve got several packages of services.  Rather than assume and act as if your only choices are to sell a prospect one of those existing packages or lose her entirely, think of how you can meet her needs and your own.  If she thinks the price is too high, you might consider eliminating some of the services in the original package; this would allow you to charge a lower price in exchange for a lower level of service.  She gets something that fits her budget, and you get some revenue without downgrading the value of your service.
  2. Think in terms of “Yes, and…”.  This is one of my favorites because it works so well.  It keeps your creative juices flowing and prevents you from getting stuck in your entrenched position.  “Yes, and…” is a powerful tool for finding ways to work with what’s in front of you.
  3. Use the power of “What if?”.  Asking yourself, “What if there were a way for everyone to get what they want?” is another powerful way of unleashing your creative problem-solving skills.  It is, in fact, another way of creating a positive self-fulfilling prophecy, because you’re allowing yourself to consider that there is another option besides just black or white.  (See my earlier blog post for a recap of self-fulfilling prophecies, also known as the Pygmalion effect.)

Success and failure both depend on your thoughts.

Catastrophizing is the third crazy-making thought habit that results from a distortion of definition.  A person who catastrophizes is highly skilled at making mountains out of molehills.  This means that, when faced with a genuine mountain, she’s at great risk of just curling up in a corner and sucking her thumb.

There’s an element of drama as well as gloom-and-doom in this particular counterproductive thought habit.  Just think of how many times you hear yourself saying something like “I hated that movie.”  You hated it?  Really?  Sounds like a pretty over-the-top reaction to something that’s actually trivial in the big scope of things.

Once again, there are very straightforward ways to release this habit and adopt a new way of thinking that serves you much better.

  1. Challenge your labeling of events or circumstances.  Sometimes I’ll hear myself saying “I hate when this happens!”  When I do, I challenge myself by saying out loud, “Do I really hate this?  No.”   This goes hand-in-hand with the second technique.
  2. Use language that’s accurate.  Once I’ve acknowledged that I’m not dealing with a truly horrendous situation, I’ll tell myself, “I’m annoyed and irritated by it, but I don’t hate it.”  That really helps to keep the molehills in their proper perspective.  This technique, in turn, makes it easier to apply the third tool.
  3. Take the huge emotion out of the assessment.  Rarely do any of us experience a true, complete disaster.  Far more often, it’s simply a matter of experiencing outcomes that were less than we’d hoped for.  Using accurate, non-inflammatory language enables you to realize many aspects of the situation were very positive, with only a few areas that need work.
  4. Apply “Yes, and” thinking.  You’ll decrease your stress and maintain your self-esteem if you switch “I completely screwed up that presentation” to “Yes, there are some things I know I can do better next time, and I overall did a fine job.”

So what’s your situation?  Are you already doing a great job of defining circumstances and events appropriately?  Or do you have a sneaking suspicion that your definitions are more than a bit counterproductive?  Let me know what thought habits you’ve let go of and which you’ve developed to propel your success forward!

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One Response to How do you define success and failure?

  1. Pingback: Your results are largely a choice. Do you choose success? | Stepping Into Big

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