5 Ways Science Shows That Your Brain is Keeping You From Success
Your mind can be your best buddy or worst enemy. This brain expert helps you figure out when your brain is friend of foe.
Sometimes even talented, hardworking people believe that nothing will ever go their way. Do you ever stop, filled with frustration, and wonder why things are not working out exactly the way you want? Some respond by looking to external scapegoats for failures. Others reflect inward, but concentrate on personal deficiencies or a lack of skills as the root of the problem. Science shows there may be another, very specific culprit–your brain.
YPO member Sebastian Bailey, Co-Founder and President of the U.S. branch of Mind Gym, has spent his career uncovering how people’s minds hold them back, and what they can do to break free of limited thinking. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology with Cognitive Science from the University College of London and a PhD from the University of Bristol, where he studied organizational learning. He is also the co-author of four books, including Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently, a Wall Street Journal ebook bestseller.
These days, Bailey consults on the future of learning for global organizations. He works with companies like Microsoft, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines and Thomson Reuters to help them solve some of their most pressing people challenges, including:
• Performance management
• Management and leadership development
• Diversity and Inclusion
• The Human side of change
• Employee engagement
• Customer service
Bailey’s company, Mind Gym, transforms business performance by changing the way people think about life and work. He believes that anyone can turn the tables on bad luck or adversity by adjusting their mindset in any given situation. He offers five examples of common brain frustrations, and explains how to resolve them.
1. You think you can’t do better.
“Imagine this situation,” Bailey begins, “You’ve been given a task to do at work that you’ve never done before, or your friend has dragged you along to try out a new sport. You just can’t get your head, or feet around it.”
Do you respond by thinking?
A. This clearly isn’t for me. I obviously don’t have the gift for it.
B. I need to work harder at this. With some practice, I don’t see any reason why I can’t improve.
If you chose A, you may have a fixed mindset. You might believe that you are born with a certain ability such as intelligence, physical prowess and talent. You probably think that successful people were born different – and that their success was the result of their natural abilities.
If you chose B, you may have a growth mindset. You might believe that you can develop your abilities through hard work and practice. You realize that successful people have usually put a lot of time and effort into developing themselves.
“The research shows that when we switch to a growth mindset, we find a new drive to keep going when things get tough – safe in the knowledge that we can and will improve with a bit of extra effort,” Bailey explains.
2. You let your memory or desires trick you.
“Which are deadlier,” Bailey asks, “sharks or horses?”
If you answered “sharks,” you likely did what the majority of people do: search your story for memories of deaths caused by each animal. It is easy to recall information about shark attacks from news, but harder to think of many (if any) horse related deaths.
If you answered “horses,” you probably have knowledge most people don’t. There are in fact nearly 20 times more deaths by horses than by sharks.
Bailey clarifies the problem: “This mistake can be explained by something called the ‘availability heuristic,’ a mental shortcut which leads us to assume that things which are easier to remember occur more frequently. Because we read and hear about shark deaths more often, i.e. in the media, we think they happen more often. It is just one of many logical fallacies humans make. Confirmation biases and wishful thinking are others.
“Our brains need some shortcuts due to the abundance of complex information around us. We need them to make decisions quickly and generally effectively. However, they can lead us to make mistakes.”
Be conscious of tendencies your own tendencies to bias and actively seek out evidence that goes against your point of view. This will help you make the best decisions on your road to success.
3. You give up too quickly.
Bailey leads with another question: “What do you do when the going gets tough? Run away? Battle on?”
He goes on to point out that marathon runners, politicians and entrepreneurs share an ability to call on a particular strength when things get bleak. “It’s that scarce source of power that can make the difference in getting over the line. It has many names,” he says, “Being determined, driven, or downright stubborn. We call it Grit.”
Psychologist Angela Duckworth identifies grit as the hallmark of high achievers. To develop Grit, cultivate qualities such as the commitment to finish the things you start, the ability to bounce back when things go wrong and the desire to improve over time with sustained effort and practice. So next time you think about giving up on your goal, remember that today’s hard work will be tomorrow’s success.
4. You’re too easy on yourself.
Bailey suggests a moment of self-assessment: “Are you always calm at work? Do you never get stressed? Do you feel sorry for those people who are working hard against the clock to deliver results – day in, day out? Are you bored?”
If your consistent answer to those questions is yes, you might not actually be experiencing enough stress. “Stress can be measured on a scale between coasting and overstretched,” he explains. “The optimal state is called eustress, which lies somewhere in the middle. This positive stress changes perception of the things that might otherwise cause underperformace (‘obstacles’ become ‘challenges’) and perception of our own capability (‘I believe I can do this’). When we’re in a state of eustress we feel motivated, stretched and full of energy. The research shows that this results in us performing nearer the top of our game.”
Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and let eustress drive you to success.
5. You’re too hard on yourself
One last exercise from Bailey: “You have applied for a job you thought you would be perfect for. The interview went well and you left feeling good about it. A week later the call comes with bad news: they have offered the position to someone else. How do you react?”
A. “I’m clearly not as good as I thought! I’m never going to get a job. I just can’t get a break!”
B. “I need to work harder at this. With some practice, I don’t see any reason why I can’t improve.”
The responses in “A” common reactions, but Bailey say that they’re not going to help you. He suggests several means of switching to a more “B” mindset:
• Reframe the situation: As Hamlet proclaimed, ‘There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.’ Turn your negative feelings into positive ones–maybe the job wasn’t right for you. Now you have the opportunity to find something better suited.”
• Let time pass: We tend to overreact when we’re not expecting a setback. Check whether you are being realistic about the situation by imagining a year ahead. How much will this matter then?”
• Take the opportunity to learn: Say to yourself, ‘This has highlighted a gap in my CV. Once I’ve filled that gap, even better opportunities may become available to me.’ Then take action.”
By Kevin Daum
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