Iron Rule #6: Successful managers and entrepreneurs dwell not on their failures, but rather their successes.
May 20, 1997 12:00 PM, Ron Davis
So many of the people I meet are so consumed by dealing with failures that they haven't had time to think about success. One of the most bewildering conundrums we face is the question of how we deal with failure when we're trying to be successful. This is going to be a bit motivational, and I hope that doesn't turn you off. I'll try to give you some good, practical ideas.
Perhaps a working definition of success is in order. Earl Nightingale, the author and radio commentator, once defined success as "the progressive realization of a worthwhile, predetermined goal." In other words, he thought, as did so many other philosophers and motivational thinkers, that success was a journey, not a destination. I agree.
People who fail are consumed by their failures. They dwell on them. They think about them. They contemplate when the next one will occur. They are consumed by the concept of failure, and because that's what they think about most of the time, they become failures.
Conversely, successful people have some common denominators setting them apart from the rest of us. They do things ordinary people don't usually do. They work longer hours because they want to, not because they have to. They take risks. They express opinions. They try things. They are constantly on the cutting edge, learning what's necessary in their businesses. And the most important thing about them is that when they fail, and all of them do, the failure lasts a relatively short period of time and is left behind them. When it's over, it's over.
Winners? Losers? Life is not that simple; pure winners or pure losers are rare. However, successful people dwell on their successes, learn from and accept their failures, then put them out of their minds. Then they go on in pursuit of their goals.
Successful people also have things in common that are perhaps a little more subtle. Successful people look different. They walk differently. They talk differently. They have a sparkle in their eyes that's just a little bitbrighter. And when you ask them a question, they look at it from the positive side rather than the negative side. They follow the old adage about seeing the glass half full rather than half empty.
Does it work? Well, think about this: The human mind can only hold one thought at a time. Think about that for a second. Try to think of two things simultaneously. You may be able to jump back and forth very quickly, but it is impossible to hold two separate thoughts at the same time. That's the way the mind works, and the mind once programmed will take action through the body.
Why not program your mind with positive thoughts? Why not deal just with the successes you have rather than focus on the failures? When you think about the answer to those questions, you have to come to the conclusion that many, if not all, successful people seem to exude an air of positive expectancy even when they're in the midst of a crisis or a failure.
I said at the beginning of this column that I'd give you some practical applications as to how this works. Here's one for you to think about: You've just lost a major sale. It's one that you've counted on. In fact, mentally, you've already spent the money. There is no way to get the sale back; nothing you can do will bring it back to you. How do you handle it?
A typical tendency would be to sit behind your desk, bemoan your fate, dwell on what happened and try to rationalize all the reasons the failure occurred. However, a successful person acknowledges that the failure happened, tries to think of why it occurred, then forgets about it.
That's right, he puts it behind him. He doesn't dwell on it. He doesn't waste time. He goes out to try to create another sale as quickly as he can in order to avoid any other difficulties that may result from a temporary cessation of cash flow. Usually, customers want to deal with people who have a successful, positive attitude. If you go in to see a prospective customer with an "I've-just-had-a-recent-failure" attitude, it shows through. If you forgot the failure and walk in with an attitude of "I run the most successful business in the industry," then that, too, comes through to the customer. That's important. And that could lead to another sale, one perhaps bigger and more profitable.
By definition, winners succeed more often than losers. The single most important element in winning is your attitude toward your work. What attitude do you project? What do your customers see? Your employees? Your suppliers? And if you don't like what you think they see, the beauty of this concept is you can change it instantly. After everything is said and done, it's an attitude. You can be a success or a failure; all it takes is for you to change your mind.