Starting a new venture demands every resource and advantage you can bring to bear to increase its likelihood of success—from a new career endeavor to a new business opportunity. One of those key resources is your mind. Your mindset can easily make or break your new endeavor. This article explores seven ways to protect, develop, and leverage your key resource—your mind.
Never Say Anything Negative About Yourself
We are consciously aware of around 10 percent of the comments, observations, signals, sounds, smells, and touches that we experience. Our minds register the remaining 90 percent without our even being aware of them. Some of these messages and signals, especially any which are repeated again and again, our minds accept as truths, which affect our self-confidence, attitudes, and behaviors.
The most dangerous messages are negative ones we repeat either aloud or to ourselves:
- I’m ill at ease socially.
- I’m forgetful.
- I’m not good at math.
- I have no sense of direction.
- I’m bad at sports.
- I’m a slow learner.
- No one listens to me.
- I can’t manage people.
Such messages can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Tell yourself you are socially inept, and you will become (or remain) socially inept. Constantly reinforce to your unconscious mind that you are bad at sports, and you will become (or remain) bad at sports. Don’t let messages like these become lodged in your mind as truths. Never say anything negative about yourself. If you must, use the past tense: This is the way I used to be.
To be very clear, this is not to avoid negatively impressing others. We are not concerned about what they think; we are concerned about what your unconscious mind thinks. Avoid negatively impressing your unconscious mind—your most important audience.
Similarly, do not dwell in your mind on the times you were socially inept or bad at sports. How do you avoid doing this? There is only one way: Think of something else.
For all the negative things you have recently said about yourself, or negative thoughts that have recently crept into your mind, make a list of the moments your behavior, performance, or actions—no matter how small—have demonstrated the opposite of those negative thoughts.
For example, I’m forgetful vs. I remembered where everything was filed. I’m no good at math vs. I did the math in my head. No sense of direction vs. I got us there without getting lost. I can’t manage people vs. My team did it under budget and on time.
Make your positive moments as detailed and graphical as possible with photos, videos, articles, awards, and other artifacts. The primary beneficiary of posting diplomas and trophies is you. Think of it as feeding your mind, just as you would feed your body, a nutritious diet.
Don’t Complain or Criticize Others
Who benefits when you complain or criticize others? You do. But not in a good way.
When we criticize others, endorphins flow to our brains, which for five seconds give us a sense of well-being and superiority. But at the end of five seconds, the endorphins go away, we go back to the way we were before, and the criticized individual or individuals are discouraged and demoralized. By any measure, the net outcome is negative.
I used to say that positive feedback should exceed negative feedback by a factor of 10:1. That is true. But over time, the optimal ratio to my mind has grown to 25:1 to 50:1 to 100:1 and beyond.
Many other approaches are better than complaining or criticizing. Ask questions that help others discover the implications of their behavior or actions. Factually articulate the consequences of the behavior or action you would like to change. Invite the other person to offer specific suggestions. Celebrate the good in what somebody else has done. Try these instead.
Look for and Find the Good in Others
We saw how reminding ourselves of our strengths makes us stronger. Similarly, reminding those around us of their strengths helps make them stronger. Even if we detect just a glimmer of courage, good judgment, or perseverance in someone, letting them know we see this (being as specific as possible) helps build those strengths in them. People are drawn to those who build them up. Practicing this attracts good people to you and elevates you to a position of leadership.
Think of a point on a carpet. Try to grab the carpet at that spot and lift it up. We can’t lift up that point very high unless all the other spots around it are lifted up, can we? We are all like the points on that carpet.
Short Term Becomes Long Term Very Rapidly
Long ago, in high school, I was klutzy and in the bottom 10 percent in physical fitness in high school. In flag football, I tagged the opposing team’s ball carrier only once. The handsome and charismatic cocaptain of the Jupiter High football team, Buddy Smallwood, was there and said it should not count. No one could have expected that I would tag someone.
That was in high school. Over the years I worked to get in shape and maintain a healthy diet. Not obsessively, just consistently. By my forties, I was in the top 10 percent of physical fitness for my age group. You can do the same. For most aspects of life—athletic, professional, scholarly, managerial, diplomatic, romantic—you can move from any starting point to any level that you wish simply by earnestly persisting.
As you do so, gauge your performance, gather and act on feedback, and refine your approach.
The same is true of entrepreneurship. Assuming you learn from each experience, every new venture that you start is more likely to succeed than the previous one. If you have passion and perseverance, the odds add up rapidly in your favor. Let’s say for example, that your first venture has only a 30 percent chance of success. Your second venture might have a 50 percent chance; your third venture, 70 percent; and your fourth venture, 85 percent. The probability that at least one of these four ventures is successful is over 98 percent.
Be Humble about Your “Original” Ideas
In my mid-twenties, I came up with a catchy melody for cello, wrote it out on music paper, and proudly played it for my teacher, Cheryl Fippen. She agreed that it was catchy but thought it sounded familiar.
Impossible, I insisted—this was an original creation, coming straight from my heart and soul.
A few months later, I was out driving and my song came on the radio! Not only was it exactly the same melody; the composer had the audacity to write it over a century before I was born! Turns out my theme was from Borodin’s Prince Igor overture, a popular piece of classical music I had surely heard but forgotten.
Similarly, the idea of doing surveys via email, which seemed so fresh in the early ’90s, was also no doubt originally inspired by a forgotten person or source. My point is that whenever you (think that you) have an original idea, be humble: You never know when another person or event may have smuggled it into your mind.
Find an Ancestor that You Admire
Everything I ever heard or learned about my father’s grandfather, Captain William Chisholm (1819–1903), was impressive. Born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Captain Chisholm was one of over a dozen children and became a master mariner and seaman. He visited nearly all the principal ports of the world, served as governor of a Pacific island and as officer on the Great Eastern, the ship that laid the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. He was physically imposing: My father’s mother said that his enormous hands hung at his sides like a couple of hams. And he was highly regarded in his community. His death was listed in a historical booklet as one of fourteen most significant events of 1903 in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Overall, my family tree is not particularly distinguished. My great-grandparents, Luigi Digiuni and Maria Beltrami, could neither read nor write, and I was the first male in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree. But everyone is related to someone accomplished or admirable—you just need to find that person. Captain William Chisholm provides a fine reputation for me to live up to. I’m proud to be his great-grandson and know that my genes are similar to his. Find one or more ancestors of yours in your family tree that you admire; know that you have much in common with them; and let them inspire you.
Connecting People: The Easiest Way to Make the World a Better Place
Think of a person who introduced you to your best friend, cofounder, significant other, or spouse. That person did you a great service, didn’t they? They made the world a better place. Probably you feel deeply grateful to that person. You can do the same thing for someone else.
If a week goes by that you or I haven’t introduced two people who share a common interest or passion, whether it’s a sport, hobby, industry, technology, book, skill, or academic interest, we’ve missed an opportunity to enrich people’s lives. Email makes it easy. If it is a professional introduction, my subject line will invariably be something like, “Mary, meet John Smith of XYZ; John, meet Mary Jones of ABC”; if it is personal, I omit the “of XYZ” and “of ABC.” Make certain to mention at least one common interest of the two people. Otherwise, they may not be motivated to meet.
The cost of making an introduction? Just your thoughtful support of their interests and passions. Priceless.
Now, an action item:
Think of two or three negative thoughts you might have had about yourself.
What are specific instances when you disproved and demolished the negativity that those thoughts represent?
What have you learned?
• If you genuinely cannot change some aspect of yourself, find a way to view it as an asset.
• Never say anything negative about yourself.
• Don’t criticize or complain.
• Look for and find the good in others.
• The short term becomes long term very rapidly.
• Be suspicious of your “original” ideas.
• Find an ancestor that you admire. Know that some of him or her is in you.
• Connect people; make the world a better place.
In the comments, let us know: What actions can you take to change your own mindset for the better?
He is president and chairman of the worldwide MIT Alumni Association, a trustee of MIT and of the Santa Fe Institute, and a contributor to Forbes. He holds bachelors and master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School. An avid mountain climber, he has summited Mounts Rainier, Shasta, Whitney, St. Helens and live volcanoes in Chile & Indonesia.
His new book, Unleash Your Inner Company: Use Passion and Perseverance to Build Your Ideal Business (October 2015), is available for purchase on Barnes and Noble, Amazon andother booksellers.