One Deadly Mistake People Do to Inhibit Their Own Success

one deadly mistake people do to inhibit their own success

All eyes were on me and I had just realized it. The other team had made a careless pass and I was all over it. 

The synthetic leather felt tight in my hands. The clock was running, but the only thought that crossed my mind was:

“You better not fuck up.”

It was if my body was attacking me from the inside and the only the thing I had to do to stop it was to get rid of the ball. That was the magic potion, the cure to my pounding heart palpitations. 

I passed the ball. Relief.

And then shock. I had turned it over. I was young then and I learned a very important lesson that I never forgot, best summed up by Kobe Bryant:

If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail.

Why is it?

When [scarcity tactics] are employed properly, our first line of defense against foolish behavior – a thoughtful analysis of the situation – becomes less likely. — Robert Cialdini, Principles of Influence

Fear of failure is indicative of a scarcity mindset. What is a scarcity mindset?

Scarcity is one of Robert Cialdini’s principle’s of influence — psychological triggers that may be used to get us to act against our own self-interest.

Black Friday, for instance, where people are ready to trample over others in a race to take advantage of the limited amount of items on sale, is perhaps the greatest example of scarcity at play.

It is so destructive because scarcity narrows your focus and instead of thinking rationally, you hone in one thing and one thing only, getting what you want. 

But sometimes what you want in the moment isn’t the same as what you want.

What do I mean by that?

It looks like:

  • Black Friday shoppers trampling over others for deals.
  • People who hang out with toxic friends or stay in dead relationships. 
  • People who stay in dead end jobs or are scared to pursue their dreams.

It’s called scarcity because, in the above situations, you wouldn’t choose those options out of your own volition had you had an abundance of options. (or maybe you would, I wouldn’t know)

No one is immune

The idea of potential loss plays a large role in human decision-making. — Robert Cialdini, Principles of Influence

Nobody is immune. Everybody is infected from the big bosses to the every man.

Even Warren Buffet, famed investor, acted from a place of scarcity during the financial crisis of 2008.

He admits he made many “dumb mistakes” that he otherwise wouldn’t have made had the economic climate been better.

There’s no better story, however, than the story of 1973 The Poseidon Adventure fiasco.

What is the The Poseidon Adventure fiasco? Read on.

The Poseidon Adventure

The Poseidon Adventure was the most expensive one-time showing of a movie for its time, exceeding the previous title owner by over 1 million dollars. It was so expensive, ABC — the television network that bought the rights, stood to lose $1 million on the showing.

But the price tag had nothing to do with the quality of the movie nor had it had anything to do with the business intelligence of the man making the deal.

The deal was executed by Barry Dillar, VP for prime-time programming at the American Broadcasting Company. He has since been labeled the “miracle mogul” by Time magazine for his successes at Paramount Pictures and at Fox Television Network.

One must only look at the comments of Diller’s rival, Robert Wood, who had failed to secure the deal to see how something like this transpired.

We were very rational at the start. We priced the movie out, in terms of what it could bring in for us, then allowed a certain value on top of that for exploitation. But then the bidding started. ABC opened with two million. I came back with two point four. ABC went to two point eight. And the fever of the thing caught us. Like a guy who had lost his mind, I kept bidding. Finally, I went to three point two; and there came a moment when I said to myself, “Good grief, if I get it, what the heck am I going to do with it?” When ABC finally topped me, my main feeling was relief. It’s been very educational.

It’s because scarcity or the fear of losing is so mentally taxing that it inhibits our ability to make crisp clear quality decisions.

Playing not to lose

Scarcity and playing not to lose comes from the same place. Black Friday shoppers care more about not losing the deal to other shoppers than actually experiencing the item on sale.

People stay around toxic friends because they care more about losing their friends than experiencing them

Dead end jobs, relationships that go on for too long, etc, all the same.

Playing not to lose is not the same as playing to win. Playing to win is proactive. Even when you’re pushed to react, you do so only so you can move forward.

Playing not lose is completely reactive, like bidding at an auction.

There has been recent research in neuroscience and psychology documenting the effect of playing not to lose has on athletes. They sifted through past results of penalty kick shootouts in knockout competitions (win or go home) competitions.

They looked, in particular, at the final shot. At situations where the player could bring home the win or lose in a devastating manner.

The possible scenarios looked like:

  • The player had to make the goal to win the shootout; if they miss, the game is tied
  • The player had to make the goal to tie the shootout; if they miss, the team loses

The effects were astounding.

When the players felt like they had something to lose, they shot 30% worse. Same shot, same distance. And of course, the same skill level. These were world class athletes who had been training nearly their entire lives. Through this training, they had developed a mental fortitude many of us can only dream of.

If even they are affected, the common man, then, should be no different. It is hidden within all of us, a seed that may sprout at anytime.

Playing not to lose is not a joke and yet it is full of irony.

The irony

we have very limited cognitive space and bandwidth…as you devote more and more to dealing with scarcity you have less and less for other things in your life, some of which are very important for dealing with scarcity. — Eldar Shafir Ph.D

Ironically, my fear of making mistakes in it of itself was a mistake.

But I wasn’t able to see it because when you act out of scarcity you stop thinking long-term and instead focus on the short-term.

Take the payday loan for example. With the egregious rates attached to those loans, they are the quintessential act of scarcity. You only resort to them when you have no other options. They are short-term solutions to what are hopefully, short-term problems.

You take out payday loans to help you deal with a scarcity of money in the short-term, but taking that loan leaves you in a position where you are more scarce in the long-term.

It’s like texting while driving. Another classic short-term solution. As you devote more and more attention to texting, you have less and less attention available for driving, attention critical for any long-term texting goals.

Now apply this to the situations above:

  • Hanging out with toxic friends or being in dead relationships takes away time from finding and creating solid relationships
  • Staying in a dead end job that you hate or not pursuing your dream means less time at a job that you love and more time wondering ‘what if’ 

These are all payday loans that you pay in payments of future happiness. They prioritize short-term comfort over long-term satisfaction.

In this way, when we shift our focus on avoiding failure, we increase the chances that we fail.

The Solution

The only solution, then, is to do the opposite, to act from a place of abundance. When you act from a place of abundance, you’re able to think clearly and make the best decision.

Actions that stem from a place of abundance are confident actions. They place you in the driver’s seat firmly in control because they focus on the actions and opinions you choose.

Here are some ways you can act out of abundance:

  • Adopt the mindset. One of the biggest differences between unsuccessful people and successful people is mindset. Without the proper mindset, unsuccessful people can never make the jump over to the promised land. Same thing with scarcity. Whenever you feel that twang of anxiety as you make a decision, slow down and collect yourself. Think it through and adopt the mentality of person of abundance. Ask yourself this: If I had a lot of options or if I was in a better position, what would I do? This isn’t foolproof. Sometimes you got to do what you got to do so you don’t live on the streets. But for everything else this is solid.
  • Relax. Actions that stem out of a place of scarcity are stressful movements. Whenever you make these actions your shoulders are hunched up and your back is tight. These actions are rushed and impulsive. Actions from a place of abundance are relaxed. They are careful and thought out.
  • Gratitude. It’s easy to act from a place of abundance when you feel like your life is full of abundance. So take time everyday to be thankful for what you have. 
  • Focus on success. Don’t think of a pink elephant. What did you think of? A pink elephant. When you think about failure, you give it credence. Failure is now something that you must avoid. This takes you off the path to success because playing not to lose is not the same as playing to win. When you’re faced with a task, focus on success. Picture what success looks like and what you have to do to get there. You’re still mindful of possible outcomes, but this method allows to focus your mental capacities on what really matters.
    • Another way to do this is to pose your problem as a challenge. Had I said to myself “This is my time to prove myself,” I would have came out much better. It’s a similar tactic that NBA players and other high level achievers use to overcome fear of failure

Wrapping it all up

Acting from a place of abundance is a long run strategy. Sometimes you take some losses. Maybe you’ll feel lonely as you cut the toxic people out of your life. Maybe you will have to live below your means as you chase your dream. It’ll hurt in the short-term, but in the long-run you’re better off pursuing the life you want to live. 

When you act out of a place of abundance, you’ll consistently be in healthier emotional and mental state that’ll allow you to use the maximum allowed mental capacity to make quality decisions.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if you are acting out of scarcity. Meaning you can be at a job you love and act out of scarcity and you can also be at a job you hate and act out of abundance.

If you’re a job you love and you act in such a way that you’re scared of losing it (eg. compromising yourself and your values) then you’re acting out of scarcity.

If you’re a job you hate and you act in such a way that benefits you in the future (eg. using the job as a short-term solution for cash) then you’re acting out of abundance.

An easy way to tell whether you’re acting out of abundance is how relaxed and clear-headed you are. Scarcity is primitive and impulsive. When you begin to tighten up, remember to breathe and give yourself room to fail by focusing on success.

You’ll find that, ironically, allowing yourself to fail helps you find success.

How have you battled a scarcity mindset in the past? Leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.


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