Are your reasons 'why' holding you back?
It's human nature that when something doesn't go well (and sometimes when it does) we consider the reasons 'why?'. Think about your last job interview, that important presentation or the contract that was lost. What were the reasons for your success or failure? Were you unsuccessful because the questions were unreasonably hard, or were you just unlucky that one of the other candidates was more experienced than you? The explanations that we give are more powerful than you might think. They affect the way we feel, our confidence and motivation, and ultimately predict our future behaviour and the likelihood of us being successful next time around.
Let's look at an example...
If you didn't get the promotion that you went for, you might come to the conclusion that your boss doesn’t see your potential, or that you were just 'unlucky' on this occasion. This pattern of reasoning has a purpose. It protects your self-esteem by placing blame elsewhere - i.e. 'it wasn't my fault and there's nothing more I could have done'. However, if this were true then how can you have any influence over this in the future? Psychologists suggest that it might be more beneficial to look for reasons that you have more personal control over. For example, was there something that you could have done differently to show your boss that you were ready to step up, or to make sure that you stood out against the other candidates? This can leave you feeling more positive, motivated and confident next time.
Let's look at one more example...
A client of mine had an important presentation coming up that he was really nervous about, so we spent a session working on this. The presentation went incredibly well, and next time we met we discussed why. Although he was able to identify that this was partly due to his preparation, he also said that he had never been any good at presentations, and that therefore this was probably a 'one off'. By thinking about his success in this way, he was effectively giving away control of the situation. If this explanation had gone unchallenged, then there would be no reason for this client to go in to the next presentation feeling more positive and less nervous.
Following success, it is unhelpful for us give reasons such as luck or the task being easier than expected. This can result in us taking little pride in our achievements, and therefore not feeling particularly good about ourselves. After all, we might not be so lucky next time! It's much more beneficial for us to think about how well we prepared or how hard we worked. This will foster pride, confidence and motivation in the future.
Similarly, seeing failure as not being our fault is not helpful in the long term. This might make us feel better in the short term, but if we really believe that it wasn't our fault and there's nothing we can do about it, then why would we try? It's much more useful to consider what we could have done differently as this can help us to move forward and improve.
The good news is that there is evidence that we can retrain these patterns of thinking. By listening to the reasons that we give for our successes and failures, and then challenging these when we notice them, we can help ourselves to take control and feel more confident and motivated in the future.
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