Three mindsets that are stopping you from reaching your full potential

At a recent event I hosted with cognitive psychologist Amanda Crowell, we discussed the default mindsets that can hold us back as entrepreneurs.

As an entrepreneur, you are faced with a twofold challenge: 1) Running a business; and 2) Deepening your expertise in your field. You could be the world’s most incredible pointillist or project manager, but if you can’t close sales or keep up with invoicing, your business suffers.

At a recent event we hosted with a small group of startup founders, cognitive psychologist Amanda Crowell discussed the three mindsets that could be holding you back and how to overcome them using brain science.

  1. Getting comfortable with “productive failure”

There are two kinds of failure: one is productive, the other destructive. “Productive failure is when you try something new and you suck at it,” explained Crowell. “But then you do it a little better the next time, and over time you become the person people come to for advice about that thing.”

Crowell says she spends half of her time as a coach for entrepreneurs helping them to engage with productive failure — minus the drama. But a willingness to fail and learn is key. The brain is an efficiency machine: it will not let you engage in activities where failure is more likely than success.

This means you actively sideline yourself when it comes to things that aren’t your forte — it can manifest as procrastination or self-sabotage, such as postponing a much-dreaded sales call until 5:15pm when you know your potential customer just left the office.

2. “I don’t think I can do this.”

Soon after infancy, we are parsed by our teachers and caregivers into either the “left-brain” or “right-brain” camp, thereby grooming us to believe we are either number crunchers with a deftness for organization or creatives with emotional intelligence. In psychology, this is called an “entity view,” said Crowell, whereby your sense of your own limitations and capabilities determines what you are and are not willing to try. Unsurprisingly, you are unlikely to try things you won’t be good at. But these preconceptions of innate ability (or ineptitude) are disproven by brain science.

“We know from brain science that if any normal person is doing it, you can do it, too,” Crowell said. Obvious outliers like Einstein can be explained by an abnormally large occipital lobe, but for the rest of us, mastery of any task is possible if you are willing to lean into failure.

“If you understand the process of improvement (I failed at this versus I am a failure), then your brain behaves differently.”

Instead of shutting down when you fail at the task, your brain “lights up like the 4th of July.” You then start evaluating the failure: how did this happen? What worked? What didn’t work?

How to overcome it: “You start by taking the smallest possible step and celebrating it,” Crowell said. If you set yourself a goal of reaching $250,000 in revenue over the next two years, you might spend the first month simply practicing your sales conversation with people you know, and the second month identifying leads. In this scenario, tunnel vision is desirable: “You just have to take your next smallest possible step and trust that you are competent and capable and good at what you do,” said Crowell.

“It has been my experience that this is the fast way to transform your life in whatever way you want.”

3. “I don’t value this.”

Your to-do list is likely split between things you want to do (intrinsic value) and those you have to do (extrinsic value). “Intrinsic value is when you are interested or curious and you want that thing for yourself because it connects to your larger goals,” explained Crowell. Conversely, extrinsic value can come from society’s expectations or, say, your bottom line taking a turn for the worse.

Common shoulds:

“I should want to grow my business.”

“I should want to make these sales calls.”

“I should figure out a better system for my invoicing.”

Secretly, however, you don’t want to do any of these things. “This could be because deep in your heart you know it’s a bunch of nonsense and that you should let it go,” said Crowell.

For example, plenty of business owners spend copious amounts of time and money on becoming social media influencers when they should be focused on improving their financial reporting or networking at industry events.

But if your impact in business hinges on the thing you don’t want to do, such as negotiating with suppliers, you can’t simply overcome your brain with willpower.

“You have to find a way to build intrinsic interest and let go of extrinsic interest,” Crowell said.

How to overcome it: “Start getting curious about why people are intrinsically interested in this thing,” said Crowell. For instance, if finance bores you to tears, go on a lunch date with an accountant. “You’ll discover that there are interesting ways to do the thing you’re doing and by understanding how people get interested in this thing, it will carry you through those times when you just don’t want to do it.”

Ramona Cedeno is the founder of Fibrick Financial Services. She is a CPA/CGMA with over 15 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies.