Those (negative) thoughts…

Imagine you are driving your car on a road for hours and haven’t seen any car for hours and your GPS, or whatever app you use, shows the nearest gas station is several driving hours far in any direction – you are literally in the middle of nowhere. Then you get a flat Tyre. You stop and open your trunk. You don’t have a jack.

Sunset is approaching quickly, you lock your car and start walking. After around 2 hours, you spot a house. Walking towards the house you start thinking – how should I approach the house? do they have a hostile dog? What if the people living there are not friendly? Will they help me or attack me? All those doubts and negative thoughts keep hammering your head; you feel uneasy and scared, but you carry on.

You get to the house, knock on the door. Someone opens the door with a surprising but very sweet smile. You explain what happened and the person not only has a jack but invite you for a bowl of soup, drives you back, helps you changing the tyre and you follow your journey…

Does it resonate with you? These are the negative thoughts which come to drain confidence, create doubts and prevent you from reaching your goals!

I am working with young professionals as part of a project I engaged one year ago with two universities in Brazil and also helping a colleague on his personal project. A recurring takeaway from our talks (not only with them though but other interactions I’ve had with different ‘coachees’) is the insecurity to present new ideas or new initiatives linked to negative self-talks. Many people have negative talks, but it should not freeze or prevent anyone from getting into action.

It can be anything. A project, an idea, a speech or presentation etc. If you allow negative thoughts to get into your mind it will mine confidence, cloud your thinking and probably prevent you from getting into action. And to me, that is fear of failure. We apparently born with two fears. Fear of height and loud sound. The rest we develop in life and such fears drain confidence and one of them is the fear of failure.

I tend to agree that fear of failure (or of being wrong) is developed and that has a great contribution to negative thoughts. But, in what stage of our lives do people develop that? why is it more evident in one than others? Is it developed at school, Culture or how we are raised?

In most of the cases, negative thoughts are generated by past experiences. A clear evidence that fear of failure is developed through life is toddlers spontaneously behavior. Have you come across the confidence and sincerity of a child? Sometimes too sincere and blunt – they have a though, they share it. They want something, they go for it. Go to a kindergarten and you will see it. Kids are very honest and genuine. In general, always eager to share their ideas and thoughts – no filter and move into action (I have shared I few in this blog from my kids).

In the book, ‘The Element’, Sir Ken Robinson, tells the story of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was 6, and she was in the back, drawing. The teacher said this little girl hardly ever paid attention. In this drawing lesson, she did. And the teacher was fascinated. She went over to her, and she said, what are you drawing? And the girl said, I’m drawing a picture of God. And the teacher said that nobody knows what God looks like, and the girl said, they will in a minute. (quite confident, isn’t it? I find this an amazing story.)

Sir Ken presents this context to creativity at schools. And below is the excerpt as to how he concludes the thought…

Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original if you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost the capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.

Frightened of being wrong or fear of failure limit opportunities. Imagine how many great ideas were not executed just because was not presented or insight never shared. In which stage of our lives we become ‘afraid of failure’?  in which stage of our lives have we stopped raising our hands to share our thoughts without fear of being judged of being wrong?

If it is indeed learned, how do we ‘unlearn’ it? You cannot run or hide from your thoughts but you can program yourself to be mindful and work on them. Reflecting about the topic, I would offer the following options.

  1. Stop creating stories in your head: In my last post, I wrote about setback and that ‘every failure brings a seed of success’. If negative thoughts kick-in, change your perspective. A great example in history is Thomas Edison and the 1000 times he tried to create the incandescent bulb. In one of the experiments there was an explosion. He didn’t succeed in making the bulb work in that event but learned 999 times it didn’t work and could do something different. That explosion became part of another project and experiment.
  2. Find a coach, mentor or even a sparring partner: I take a lot of pleasure discussing ideas with different people and listening to their perspective. I have my go-to for different things and they always bring something great to the table that broadens my sight and perspective to a different (and most of the time) more effective approach.
  3. Create the habit or a mechanism to think-forward & revisit/reflect on the past: In project management (six-sigma) there is a very interesting tool called FMEA (Failure mode effects analysis) which you can use to quantify and prioritize risk within a process, product, or system and then track actions to mitigate that risk. And to reflect, LARA mode (available in this webpage and to me, one of the most powerful tool from Trevor’s material). I would combine both in a single exercise – it can be quite powerful.

Overall, it is fine to make mistakes and fail!  Every failure brings a seed of success and ‘if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.’ Don’t let negative thoughts dominate your will and actions.

What do you do when negative thoughts kick-in? share with us….


Picture: You may ask – what does this picture has to do with the topic? Well, not much. But thought it was worth sharing the beautiful view I had this morning from where I wrote / finalized this post. This is my hometown – Sao Francisco do Sul – SC – Brazil where I am currently spending some holidays.

What am I reading? ‘SMART collaborators  – How professionals and their firms succeed by breaking down silos’ by Heidi K. Gardner. Strongly recommend. Had the privilege to be invited to an event organized by Harvard Business School in which Heidi presented her ideas and answered questions raised by the public/group participating in the event.

What am I listening? ‘I am the king’ – Six Def.

What discussions am I having? How to use the time effectively – everybody’s day has 24 hours. Some use it smartly others not. Something I have been practicing for years is to split it into 3.

8h to work; 8-rest and 8 for pleasure, exercise, my mind/intellect, learn something new and spirituality.

Questions I am asking myself? I have been asking myself several questions lately. But one is recurrent. How can we help someone who seems not wanting to be helped?