Our mind is a supercomputer unlike any other. For all our immediate elation from the latest phone or gadget, we completely fail to appreciate the one piece of technology that has given us the ultimate evolutionary advantage over all other living creatures.
The high achievers of today look towards to the latest tools and hacks to help them come out on top. They range from obscene amounts of energy drinks to getting more degrees and academic honors to distinguish them from their peers.
I have found that what keeps the high achievers from becoming truly amazing is not a lack of ambition or resources, but a lack of understanding how their greatest asset works: their mind.
If our mind is the hardware, our thought process can be considered the software we choose to run on it. Any tech savvy person will tell you that the most advanced piece of hardware will do very little for you if the software running on it is subpar.
As high achieving individuals, our software runs ok for the most part. But occasionally, every software gets the occasional glitch or virus, which in the world of psychology can be equated to ‘Cognitive Distortions.’
A cognitive distortion is simply a fancy way of saying the thought processes in our mind have gone haywire. While they come in a variety of forms, there are 5 in particular that high achievers tend to suffer from more than others:
Thinking in extremes
“If I don’t get the promotion, my career is over.” “I didn’t graduate valedictorian, so I’m a complete failure.” It sounds silly when we read it here, but we are guilty of thinking like this frequently. Often, it is the result of a burning desire to always be number one and ahead of everyone else. But a perfect track record in everything is next to impossible. There will be setbacks. Sometimes, you have to come in 2nd place or 3rd or even last place in order to learn from the experience so as to excel at it next time.
Another way to think about this is that it’s just never enough. Someone praises your work and you think, “well they’re just being nice.” Or you get the promotion and think to yourself, “it’s not really a big deal. A lot of people got promoted this year.” It is the result of chasing so many carrots that when you do finally catch one, you cannot even appreciate it. You discount it in your mind and move onto the next carrot. Which begs the question, when will it be enough?
Jumping to Conclusions
“He totally has it out for me!” Really, based on what? “Oh I don’t know, just the way he looked at me the other day.” Would you pick your stocks with that line of reasoning? I do hope not. Overanalyzing a particular situation without sufficient evidence is a guaranteed way to set yourself up for an unforeseeable disaster.
When someone starts a sentence with “I should be doing…” or “I really must…” it is really just them justifying something that they inherently do not want to do. How often has someone told you to go to grad school or take some ‘resume building’ job and you try to justify it to yourself despite it not holding true to your own values and goals? It just brings unnecessary guilt and strain on the mind. If you really wanted to do something, you wouldn’t be trying to convince yourself of it. You would just do it. So don’t torture yourself with “I should…” Replace it with “I want…” and then go get it.
Discounting others / Labeling
Someone does not act according to how you expected them to act. Perhaps, they said something really silly in a meeting. It’s easy to write them off as ‘careless’ or an ‘idiot.’ But if you are a high achiever, the likelihood is that you are in an environment of people who are intelligent and ambitious. Slip-ups happen all the time. Even from you. Writing someone off as a fool or blaming a failure on them does very little to further your own success. There might be a short-term benefit to just blaming or scapegoating (even if it seems justified), but longer term that will work against your reputation. Empathy is a better route.
How many of these do you recognize in yourself? There are many other distortions that could be mentioned. These are the few that I recognize the most when consulting or advising young ambitious individuals. The prescription for reducing these distortions in the mind is to begin by becoming aware of them as they occur. If you can recognize them as they occur, then you can begin to understand what is causing them and ultimately, avoiding them.