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Many people think the difference between success and failure is a combination of natural talent, luck and resources. However, experts say that is far from the truth. “Gone are the days when you are either born with talent or remain untalented for life,” says Krishna Pendylala, life coach and founder of ChoiceLadder Institute in Pittsburgh. It turns out, success depends much more on our complex brain processes and how we harness them. Magnetic resonance imaging and brain mapping give us the ability to see exactly how the brain’s filters process information, including our thoughts, opinions, beliefs and attitudes. Where doubt is concerned, “these filters create medical, electro-chemical and bio-physical self-fulfilling prophecies. We put the limits on our own potential,” says Andrew Wittman, a mental toughness and leadership expert.
Research in science, psychology and education shows that self-doubt and fear—powerful impediments to progress---can be overcome with focus, careful practice and knowledge of brain chemistry. Doubt is one of many normal human emotions we have running through our brains. By learning how to manage and transcend any negative feelings, we can overcome doubt. Paul Baard, an organizational psychologist at Fordham University in New York, said self-motivation is characterized by persistence in the face of inevitable obstacles and setbacks. He believes all humans of all levels of intelligence and ability are naturally wired to pursue goals, and that this inclination “energizes” the drive for achievement. Therefore, overcoming doubt for positive change is best addressed by focusing on a goal. Negative thoughts are merely perceptions, and we can play an active role in how we interpret those thoughts. “Thinking of new ways and trying new things builds new strengths that will increase confidence and progressively, over time, replace self-doubt with confidence,” says leadership expert Brian Braudis. “You can begin to put this science into practice by noticing, intercepting and challenging your negative or limiting thoughts. Don’t allow these thoughts to turn into beliefs.”
When you have goals in mind, psychology research emphasizes the importance your mindset can play in your potential for achievement. “A growth mindset assumes that one can learn, grow and develop over time,” says workplace psychologist Karissa Thacker. “Start out assuming that you are not going to be great at it at first, but that you are going to grow and learn every day.” According to Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, mindsets frame the running account of what’s going on in our heads. The internal monologue of a fixed mindset is focused on self-judgement, while a growth mindset is more likely to apply positive and negative information to learning and constructive action. Joel Ingersoll, psychologist and founder of Take On College, adds, “Become familiar with these negative personal thinking ‘traps’ and develop a routine through inspirational reading or meditation to immerse yourself in positive thinking and self-reflection every day.” Ingersoll also encourages people to continually challenge themselves “to seek opportunities for personal growth in adverse situations.”
As IBM founder Thomas Watson once said, “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” While a fear of failure can keep us from progressing and achieving goals, with a growth mindset, this fear is actually a healthy path to success. A common trait of successful people “is the resilience they exhibit when things don’t go their way,” says Timothy Bono, an assistant dean and lecturer in psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “Instead of allowing setbacks to paralyze them or provide justification to call it quits, they reflect on what they could have done differently and they use that to motivate future success.” Just as students progress through school and exercise their thinking to build on new concepts and gain expertise, learning to overcome doubt and think constructively is also a brain exercise that improves over time. Krishna Pendylala also says that “increasing your awareness of your beliefs, conditioning and drives is a fundamental step to enhancing achievement while curbing doubt.” So while there are times you may think “I can’t,” you actually can. And with a healthy growth mindset, achievement is truly possible for everyone, including you.