You’ve just closed the deal. It’s a new manufacturing account that you spent hours and hours researching and putting together. You’re happy. It’s time to enjoy the success and celebrate a little, right?
If you’re inclined towards optimism, that’s likely how you’ll feel. But if you’re prone to a pessimistic view, instead of happily enjoying the success, you might be telling yourself, “I just got lucky.” (It wasn’t my efforts – it was fate. This was the exception – things usually don’t work out well. It’s a winning streak – one that’s not going to last.)
A pretty miserable way to celebrate a win.
And if you’re prone to pessimistic views, instead of letting go and moving on when a sale doesn’t work out, you get stuck rethinking all the details, and seeing it as a failure that’s personal, pervasive and permanent.
In his book, Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman, former President of the American Psychological Association and founder of the Positive Psychology movement, writes about common patterns of thinking that can lead to a chronic sense of discouragement
When sales people and others get stuck in negative slumps, he explains, it’s because we are addicted to the wrong attitudes. When things go wrong, our minds interpret these events as failures.
We process our experiences by telling ourselves the negative results are due to 3 things:
- Whatever happened to us was personal – It was our fault and ours entirely.
- That the failure is pervasive – it wasn’t just that instance when things went wrong, it’s endemic, typical of our very being. We’re always messing up.
- That disappointments and problems are permanent – something that we’ll never shake off, never get rid of.
These patterns of negative self-referential thinking easily become entrenched habits that we’re not even aware of. Whenever things go wrong we sing the same song to ourselves: “It’s my fault. I’m always screwing up and I always will be.”
And worse yet, we don’t even realize how our minds are continually dressing up and coloring our experiences. We make these habitual assumptions almost instantly. It’s a feeling we have – we don’t say these things out loud, but we feel them.
Win or lose, we rely on the same explanatory style to support our largely unconscious tendencies towards pessimism. Seeing our explanatory style in action is the first important step to turning things around. Next time you experience a win or a loss, a success or a failure, pay attention to what you’re thinking and how it feels.
Once we get familiar with these patterns of thinking, we can ask ourselves if they’re true or not – and of course they’re not accurate assessments. It’s never all our fault. Neither success nor failure is all pervasive. And nothing is ever permanent.