Your brain is not designed to keep you happy, it is designed to keep you safe.
Failure is a big problem for the brain, because it makes you feel unsafe. It makes you feel stupid, afraid of the consequences, that you will lose respect. Because you feel unsafe your brain triggers your ‘fight or flight’ response, it treats a psychological and physical threat with the same vigour. This affects people in different ways, depending on their own identity and preferences.
Fighters – Become outwardly aggressive, blaming others. Their egos kick in and they can’t face taking responsibility.
Flighters – Retreat into themselves, blaming themselves mercilessly for every aspect of the failure. They take too much responsibility and the weight of the world comes down on their shoulders.
Whatever psychological responses (ego maniac or poor me syndrome) you default to, your brain has learned over time that this keeps you ‘safe’ in your identity. You’ve reacted this way in the past and you’re still alive, so this must be how to react going forward. But if you keep reinforcing this existing thinking pattern you’ll just deepen it and speed up your brain’s default reaction.
You need to show your brain that it is safe to react in a different way. You can start to retrain your mindset to think differently by following this three stage process.
1 – Reactions – be self-aware of your default mode
Do you fight or flight? Do you adopt aggressive self-aggrandisement or poor me syndrome? I’m a Fighter, I have a physiological reaction like my blood has caught fire. When that happens my chances of making the situation better by reacting in the moment are virtually non-existent. I’ll talk more, cut across people and become more forceful. To retrain my mind I’ve become more aware of what my body is doing and then I can take action to get control back.
Flighters tend to retreat, feeling morose and guilty. They’ll stop talking or making their point, they’ll catastrophise about the impact of the error, particularly when there are people’s feelings involved. That’s why we need step two…
2 – Reality check – what’s the real situation here?
Did anyone die? What mistake have you made in the past that, honestly, prevents you from doing what you want to do now? Nothing. Have I really lost everything now? No. You can handle the situation and there’s always a positive forward action, provided you follow step three…
3 – Responsibility – what do I want to do now?
By pushing the responsibility elsewhere you are simply reinforcing the thinking pattern that ‘I don’t make mistakes’. By doing that your behaviour is never going to change, you’ll be stuck in a loop. Take responsibility, own the situation and decide your follow up action. Who do you need to apologise to? What can you do to remedy the situation?
There is no quick fix here. Remember, your thinking patterns are hardwired at a biological level and the more intense the perceived ‘threat’ the faster your brain will push for an answer. I encourage you to simply start with self-awareness, when an error/failure/mistake happens, what do you think and how do you behave?
If you stick with the process you will be able to steadily improve and rewire those neurons to see the world differently. You will be able to gain faster control of your emotional responses in difficult situations, bringing the double benefit of building resilience as well as avoiding digging yourself into a deeper emotional hole.
If you practice this you will improve. You’ll build resilience to try more things, make more mistakes. You’ll learn faster and gain more perspective. You’ll take action with less fear and more enthusiasm.
That has to be worth the effort.
A moment of real revelation for me was that we all have the same amount of time.
What it actually comes down to is your priorities. That is really reinforced by the
group setting – saying you’re busy just doesn’t cut it. You’re seeing everyone else
make the time and put real effort into what they do. I think that’s the essence of
mindset – it’s not necessarily about changing yourself as a person but changing your
attitudes and thinking around key blockers.
– Karen Blanchette, Owner of Cup and String Communications