Flagellation Foibles - The 7 Biggest Lies About Success And How To Overcome Them

11 December, 2009

I was running a corporate training recently which was all about how to achieve more success in the workplace. It got me thinking. I started doing some general research on the trusted internet. I wanted to see what highly successful, well known business people had to say on the subject. I came across one of Donald Trump's websites. There was a list of things that he wanted to teach aspiring business people about becoming highly successful. One of them was "Dealing With Failure". I got to thinking, what is "failure" exactly and how do we deal with it - in a way that moves us forward?

Firstly, let me tell you how people don't deal with it well, and the patterns they get into as a result, and where these patterns came from. I am speaking from a professional experience from working with hundreds of clients, and from personal experience as well, as what I am about to share with you has taken me some time to change within myself and has been quite a journey let me tell you!

The 7 Biggest Lies About Success

1) There is a "right" and "correct" way of doing something. Someone else has the authority on this.

2) There is also by definition, a "wrong" way. You will be judged on getting it wrong.

3) Doing it "wrong" means failure. And failure is bad: very, very bad.

4) Perfectionism and getting things "perfect" equals success.

5) Having high expectations and high standards are the only way to succeed.

6) If you don't meet the above (either yours or someone else's) you have failed. Which is very bad.

7) If you fail you have to beat yourself royally, and this helps you succeed next time.


Am I saying that you should not high standards and goals for yourself? No! Indeed not. I am all for success and achievement of goals - it is what my life is based on! I am saying, that to be consistently and succeeding and achieving your goals in a fun enjoyable way, these lies need to be dispelled and the truth needs to be told right now.

To demonstrate, let me tell the story of Ingrid. Ingrid is a fictional character and if she bears any resemblance to you or anyone you know, that is because many people you know are like this, or indeed have been in the past. I am simplifying this story and leaving out the details. The purpose of telling the story is to demonstrate the patterns people get into when they base their success on the 7 Lies above:

Ingrid comes from a family of four siblings. She is the youngest of these four with a bit of an age gap between her and the other three. Her siblings are all fairly close in age. Her parents were hard working folk and believe that you have to work hard to be able to succeed. They expected a lot from Ingrid. Ingrid went to a school where they expected a lot from her. She did her best to meet these expectations: she worked hard and diligently, and always got reasonably high grades. As her father always said, she needed to work a lot harder though. She agreed with him: why was it that she only got 90% in some of her school assignments and not 100%? She knew she could be lazy sometimes and get distracted by her friends.

Her siblings, being close in age, could tease her and make her the subject of their jokes. She went a long with this with a smile outside. Inside, unconsciously, she never felt quite good enough for her parents or her brothers and sisters. It seemed like whatever she did was met with a joke and a criticism. She developed a pattern of having to prove herself and and her worth to them. She wasn't aware of this until much later though, when, successful in a high achieving important job, she wondered why she wasn't quite happy, and why, having achieved many of life's significant things (lovely husband, lovely kids, good job, lovely house and cars, able to go on holiday twice a year) she was having problems managing her life. She wondered why she wasn't quite happy yet?

She went through cycles of burn out: working frantically to achieve deadlines, and then collapsing in stress and spending all weekend in bed sometimes. She started having trouble sleeping: lying awake going over and over in her head what she needed to get done the next day and worrying about what it would be like if it went wrong. Sometimes she would wake up in a state of panic - heart rate going like mad, just with the anxiety and adrenaline of what will it be like tomorrow?

There were also things that happened that day - damn! She was embarrassed about them - how could she have forgotten to say that important point in her presentation? That totally threw the whole thing off course! They looked confused for a while, I know what they were thinking of me... how embarrassing! I really should know these things after all this time! How could I NOT? I really needed to get that right this time....I can't believe I missed such an opportunity! My boss must think I am a total idiot... ! It's OK, I can schedule a meeting with her tomorrow and just get a bit of feedback. In fact, I'll just get out of bed and write that down now, just in case I forget...Oh God..I hope it doesn't look too bad! I screwed up this time but my boss knows what I am capable of, surely? I can get it right next time, I know I can. Next time I will go through it in more detail, and then it will go more smoothly...yes, that is what I will do. I know my boss will understand. It was an important meeting though. It's OK, tomorrow will be fine. I have that report to do, and I will be able to impress her with that. Yes...so there was the review, and then I will put the paragraph in about innovative culture..and then.. What if I can't get it right, though? It needs to be perfect this time....

After taking two week's stress leave as signed off by her GP (her husband was worried about her), she was mortified. What a public display of incompetence! It's OK though, she will be able to prove her competence when she got back. In fact, perhaps she should try and clear some of those emails now? A couple of hours work won't hurt, and then she will be able relax. "No, I promise, let me just do this and then I will get out for that walk... Yes.. I do remember what the doctor said..I will be fine, I have a whole two weeks to rest..."

The Real Cost Of These Patterns And Where They Come From

These 7 Lies create patterns of thinking and feeling and behaving that don't sound like much fun, do they?

Who says there is a right and a wrong way? Who sets the standards? How many of them are real standards or perceived by ourselves? Are they realistic? What is realistic anyway? Are they a sustainable way of living? What do we do when we don't meet a standard? How do we cope when we get it wrong?

Great news. These kind of patterns are not even yours! So, you can give them back, if you like...!

Here's the real deal:

    These standards and expectations and come from school and our parents and caregivers. Our early influencers. When we grow up, they become our own measure of the standards we "should' be meeting. They are often therefore, made up, and imposed upon ourselves. At school we have an authority on what is right and wrong, and we get assessed continuously on whether our work was done in the right way. We get high marks for doing it right, and low marks for doing it wrong. We therefore believe there is a right and wrong and we will get judged for doing things "wrong". We are perfectionists because we are trying to prove ourselves and our worth to the people that were around early in our life: teachers, parents, caregivers, siblings, school friends.Not being able to meet a high standard means we have failed. We view "failure" as bad because we are trying to get it "right" - the right according to our teachers, parents, caregivers, siblings.We beat ourselves up with the purpose of doing better next time. The actual internal voice we use in our head to do this beat up is very likely to come from our teachers, parents, caregivers, siblings. This causes negative cycles of thinking which make us depressed.This causes an increase in stressful emotions that will damage your body and will make you physically sick later in life. These negative cycles also damage your confidence and self-esteem and self-image. These patterns do provide a shorter term motivational drive and push to succeed, and can be very very effective in achieving. This does have more costs than rewards in the bigger picture (see above).To be consistently achieving and moving forward in a way that is achieving success AND is fun and enjoyable at the same time - you need to change these patterns of thinking and behaving and DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

The Solution

It is fun in life to be pushing yourself and seeing what you're capable of - to be setting goals and achieving things consistently. It stretches your comfort zone, feeds into your confidence and self-esteem and a positive self-image. It expands your identity and your self-belief and makes you a well-rounded, interesting person. You will live a well-rounded life AND enjoy it.

So, how do we do it in a FUN way, in a way that creates ENERGY - not drains us of it?

From recent research, we know there are some very important differences in the way truly successful people view "failure" - or what I am now going to term "when things don't go as smoothly as you would have preferred".

Successful people are actually realistic optimists. When they achieve success i.e. "when things go well" they have a positive mindset and view it as:

    Personal - they did something that caused their successPermanent - because happened this time it will happen consistently Pervasive - it happened in this situation and will therefore happen in all other situations

(The Three Ps).

When things don't go as smoothly as they would have preferred they have a positive mindset again and view it as:

    Impersonal -it may not be solely down to them and other factors may be involvedTemporary - it happened this time and won't happen every timeIsolated to that one event - it was just this one time. Next time will be different

People who are not achieving consistently in a fun way, have a pessimistic mindset. When things go well they view it as:

    Impersonal -it may not be solely down to them and other factors may be involvedTemporary - it happened this time and won't happen every timeIsolated to that one event - it was just this one time. Next time will be different

When things don't go as smoothly as they would have preferred they have a pessimistic mindset and view it as:

    Personal - they did something that caused their failurePermanent - because happened this time it will happen consistently Pervasive - it happened in this situation and will therefore happen in all other situations

From this research we know that people who are consistently acheiving are realistic optimists - those who think positively and not so much so that they can't recognise "mistakes" or "where things went wrong". They are the ones that allow themselves to LEARN from these "mistakes" and therefore create something different next time. They do not see the value in spending time in self-flagellation, as that isn't learning and moving forward.

Other research that came out just five weeks ago demonstrates this strongly: quite simply, no mistakes, no learning. If you don't make a "mistake" or are not allowed to make a mistake, you simply don't learn anything. Simple as that. So, not only are things supposed to "not go as well as you preferred" AND you are designed to LEARN from them AND that this is where the BEST learning comes from! So, in this sense, everything is working PERFECTLY - in its imperfection.

Five Top Tips In How To Be Successful AND Have Fun!

1) Embrace "failure" and try to fail quickly

Not everything is going to go well every single time and that is awesome. It is not only a realistic way to live your life it is also a massive opportunity to learn. When things don't go as you would have preferred - ask yourself very earnestly "what can I really learn from this?". Failing quickly allows you to move on and get on with doing something better next time.

2) Recognise your internal self-talk is not even yours

Always remember - if you are telling yourself something negative you are slowing yourself down. You weren't born beating yourself up! That means you learnt it from someone in your life. It ain't even yours brothers and sisters! Keep a very close eye (or internal ear) on that negative self-talk and choose to turn it off. Please see earlier blogs for advice about how to do this!

3) Become good at Imperfectionism to succeed more quickly

If you are trying to get things right and be perfect at everything you do before you start you WILL DISABLE YOURSELF and you WILL NOT move forward. Well, you might, but it is going to take a bloody long time and be really, really stressful. If you are wanting to give life to stuff and move forward and have fun along the way - it is NOT USEFUL.


Ask yourself: "what is the best I can do with the time and the resources I have available?".

Tell yourself: " It may not be quite as I want it right now AND I have permission to be learning along the way".

And just get on with it.

4) Be committed and consistent to move forward more quickly

Part of a tried and tested success pattern is being committed to what you are wanting to achieve and being consistent in your efforts in achieving it - NOT being perfect at it.

Think of an important project you are working on, personal or work related. Identify the goal (what it is I want to achieve at the end of this project?). Then, knowing why it is important to you, commit to spending some time on it each day - preferably first before anything else. Load up the files and resources needed for the project and ONLY these, and spend time on it BEFORE you open emails and other files which can distract you and drain your energy. Even if it is just 15 minutes one day instead of the preferred hour, you will still be moving it forward consistently and will prove your commitment to yourself this way.

5) Care very much about how you FEEL

Bottom line - if you are running out of steam and drained of energy, or even burning yourself out to the point of collapse - something is simply not right. You are labouring under a misapprehension (I love that phrase!). You are doing one of either two things, or both:

    Putting your energy into something that is not right for you, and is not aligned with what is really important to you, orUsing your energy in the wrong way - i.e. running yourself ragged trying to prove yourself to others as oppose to doing something because you love it and see the worth and value in it.

When you are aligned with what is really important to you, and you use your energy in this purposeful way, you mobilise energy in your body. You feel energised by doing tasks, not drained by them. You find them fun and that increases your energy levels.

This last one is pretty significant, isn't it?. For some of you reading it you might be thinking - how do I find out what I love? Or, does that mean my job is not right for me? Or, how do I find out what is really important to me?

These are important questions this last tip may have raised for you. They can all be answered by my previous blogs or by contracting a coach or therapist for a re-evaluation of what is important in your life. For now, I will leave you with a beautiful quote:

"Whatever you love you are gifted at."

- Barbara Sher

Babara Sher is the famous author of I Could Do Anything If Only I knew What It Was: Discover What You Really Want And How To Get It.

How you feel is everything. Life is too short to feel bad. If you don't feel great every day, please, do something about it.

With love and positive thoughts,


NB: I would like to acknowledge Lawrence Lewis Green in all his purpose wisdom, who, without knowing it at the time, significantly contributed to this blog post. Thank you LLG!

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