There's one particular four-word phrase that I believe causes a lot of paralysis in business. I'm referring to the phrase "My situation is different."

No doubt this instinctive conclusion helped our ancestors survive millions of years ago. We might have witnessed the family in the next cave becoming dinner for a lion, but we weren't about to let that happen to us. After all, our cave was different. We were bigger and stronger than the guy next door, so it was worth putting up a fight.

The problem in the 21st century is that those words are usually justification for a lack of action or success. A software entrepreneur might say to himself that it was easy for Bill Gates to become a billionaire because he started Microsoft when the software business was just being born and it's much harder now to make money in software.

There was a stage in my life when my own instinct sounded similar. I told myself it was easy for other kids to go to college, but my situation was different: I was a 17-year-old paralyzed, alcoholic gang member. That's a pretty good justification, you have to admit. It also happened to be true.

I later formulated other variations. It was easy for other businesses to get financing, but my situation was different -- we were collecting on defaulted credit-card accounts. It was crazy to think someone would lend us money. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending: We got our financing.

To make a long story short, I have isolated three principles that may help you shift your own mindset:

  1. Catch yourself in the act. Once you become aware of the "my situation is different" syndrome, you'll encounter it multiple times a day -- both in yourself and in others. Awareness is half the battle.
  2. Acknowledge the differences and then move beyond them. All of us are different, and so are our experiences. But you don't let that become an excuse for inaction. Yes, the software world is different than when Bill Gates entered it. Some opportunities have narrowed, but others are just appearing. 
  3. Replace "My situation is different" with "What if…" Where one phrase represents limitation, the other represents possibility. When you set your brain working in a particular direction, it wants to keep going in that direction with a form of mental momentum. So I began asking myself what if. What if we could document our collection processes to demonstrate that the results could be replicated? What if we could then convince the rating agencies to give us a bond rating? The "what if" mentality was magnetic and attracted ideas. Making the excuse that my situation was different repelled ideas. 

The next time you hear the story of a close competitor or even an entrepreneur in a distant industry, I challenge you not to look for differences in your situation, but to look for footholds in your climb toward success.