It’s easy to get sidetracked from your goals. When things get hard, complicated, or confusing, giving in to distractions protects us from feeling discomfort. Distractions come in several forms. It can be your friends and family telling you not to do something risky, even though it’s always been a life goal of yours. Or a job that’s so time-consuming that it keeps you from finishing a passion project.
But the most common form of distraction isn’t other people or things — it’s actually you. Here are the two biggest mental traps that hold people back from building resilience and confidence:
While blaming yourself can feel like you’re taking responsibility, it’s actually a subtle way of avoiding a goal that might seem challenging.
When we focus our attention and energy on what we don’t like about ourselves, rather than on what we can do differently, that self-criticism reinforces what we believe, as our minds go into overdrive looking for proof to override our objections.
Have a dialogue with yourself. Let’s say you want to be a more encouraging team leader, but you believe you can’t because you’re just grumpy by nature. Avoid thinking about how you’re the grumpiest person you know (e.g., “I get angry easily and can’t stand people most of the time.”). Instead, focus on the action of change. What would you do if you didn’t have this trait? If you could wave a magic wand and no longer be grumpy, lazy, or unmotivated — what would that look like?
You might come to a more encouraging solution: “When a team member comes to me with an idea that they haven’t fully formed, I could brainstorm with them rather than immediately shooting it down.” The “grumpy” label isn’t a path to a solution; it’s a distraction. Once neutralized, you can become oriented toward a new problem to solve: Developing a brainstorming habit to replace a criticism habit.
2. Fear that the Future Will Echo the Past
This is a sneaky mental trap that happens when people resign themselves to repeating their past, when they assume that their past performance immutably determines their future performance (e.g., “If I’ve always lost my temper in a given situation, then I always will.”).
These self-definitions arise when people define themselves rigidly and compare their actions to some “ideal” way to behave.
Imagine asking for a raise, or getting up 30 minutes early to exercise, or stepping up to lead a team project. Instead of fixating on how you’ve tried to do these things in the past but didn’t get them right, convince yourself that things are changeable. Think about the different outcomes that could happen. The key is to focus on outcomes that are positive, clear, and meaningful. This is how we find energy, excitement, and motivation.
More importantly, it helps us discover appealing destinations — like receiving a raise higher than what you asked for, or becoming more productive after your morning workout, or carrying through a project so well that you get a promotion.
Once you’ve picked an appealing destination, you can create milestones based on that destination and, ultimately, achieve goals that you once that were impossible.