Success

The 10 Mental Traps on Your Road to Success

There are far too many real obstacles to success for you to waste time on what's in your head and nowhere else.
The 10 Mental Traps on Your Road to Success
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Author of A Paperboy's Fable: The 11 Principles of Success
9 min read
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There are times when our perception of reality is distorted. Our beliefs and the way we process situations can lead to skewed perceptions. We become prone to making errors and misjudging ourselves and others.

These mental traps can be toxic thought patterns or cognitive biases that warp our viewpoint and thinking. Our ability to succeed can easily be thwarted by these altered ways of thinking. Coming to terms with these internal thinking errors will allow you to take control of your life and boost your ability to achieve.

Expand your mind by understanding how these 10 mental traps warp your reality and hold you back from being successful.

1. Self-limiting beliefs.

Nothing limits your potential and your ability to succeed like self-doubt and other limiting beliefs. You tell yourself you can’t or you mustn’t. These self-limiting beliefs will derail you and convince you that you don’t have what it takes to be successful.

Often these beliefs are formed through negative experiences. If you allow self-limiting beliefs to take hold, they will become toxic to your ability to achieve and reach your full potential. Instead of telling yourself you can’t, ask “How would I…?”

Related: Stop Listening to These 5 Self-Limiting Beliefs Stunting Your Business

2. Obsession with perfectionism.

Self-improvement and seeking to be the best you can be is a good thing -- it can motivate you to continue to learn and grow. But you also have to accept that you aren’t perfect. In fact, no one is perfect -- that’s part of being human. If you are obsessed with perfectionism, or if you’re unable to be content unless every single detail is perfect, you are allowing perfectionism to hold you back.

The truth is, your perfectionism is fueled by fear. Fear of criticism. Fear of rejection. Fear that everyone will see your flaws and judge you for them. Allowing perfectionism to rule your life will keep you from crossing the finish line and will make you miss deadlines. It will alienate you from others. Ultimately, being obsessed with perfectionism may rob you of appreciating and celebrating your achievements, because nothing will ever be good enough.

3. Only seeing what you want.

Have you ever read a report and interpreted the facts one way, while a colleague analyzes it a completely different way? Part of the reason this happens is that we all see things through our own lens. As it turns out, our perspective can be a major bias that holds us back. This mental trap is linked to having a confirmation bias, which is the tendency to see things in a way that confirms our own beliefs.

We often seek to expose ourselves only to viewpoints that are consistent with our own. We don’t push ourselves to see other points of view. Instead, we interpret information so it agrees with our perspective. This is especially true for issues we are emotionally attached to or have deeply entrenched beliefs in. It’s not hard to see how this can lead to flawed decision-making that can have serious ramifications on our ability to be successful.

4. Fear of change.

The old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a direct reflection of our fear of change. Even if it’s not evident on the surface, many of us feel it’s safer and easier to keep things the same. After all, if it’s working, why mess with it? However, change is inevitable, whether we like it or not. Success comes from innovation and creative problem solving, which is a reflection of our ability to embrace change and foster growth.

Part of the reason we prefer to keep things the same is because we have a status quo bias. We see the status quo as the baseline we want to maintain. This kind of mindset is going to stymie your growth, make it hard to embrace innovation and make you resistant to implementing necessary adjustments. Left unchecked, a status quo bias can keep you from taking risks and seizing opportunities.

5. Hanging on too long.

How often do we hear about a CEO or business leader pouring time and money into projects that are obviously never going work? What may have started off as a good idea just isn’t going to pan out. Instead of walking away, they double down on the plan and keep pumping resources into it, hoping they can make it work.

This is the pitfall of the sunk-cost fallacy. Sunk costs are the investments we put into something that we can’t get back out. When you realize something is doomed to fail, it’s time to cut your losses, no matter what you put into the initial investment. Otherwise, you’re just throwing good money, time, energy and resources after bad.

You’re continuing to waste your capital, either because you don’t want to admit you made a mistake or because you don’t have an alternative plan to take its place. You must let go and reset your course. This will allow you to find new opportunities and create true success.

Related: 6 Common Decision-Making Blunders That Could Kill Your Business

6. Thinking you’re a fraud.

No matter how much we achieve, how successful we are or how much others look up to us, many of us suffer from a deep-seated belief that we’re really frauds. We feel like actors, playing a part we don’t really live up to.

This pattern of thinking is called imposter syndrome, when you doubt the validity of your own accomplishments and have a fear of being exposed as a fraud. It’s often triggered by a new accomplishment, like getting a new job or completing a milestone. You begin to feel that you don’t deserve or didn’t really earn this achievement.

Imposter syndrome can be linked to anxiety, depression and self-doubt. It can cause you to procrastinate or avoid taking risks, and can impact your career and success as you feel you must continually prove yourself.

Related: One Simple Tip to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

7. Black-and-white thinking.

We all have a tendency to simplify things as being all good or all bad. We are either for something or against it. We’re often uncomfortable with ambiguity, and it can be difficult to see the middle ground. This type of polarized, black-and-white thinking can limit us from seeing things as they truly are. Reality usually lies somewhere in the middle. Life is not an either/or situation.

When we polarize our thinking, we limit our ability to be flexible and unbiased. Most of the time, there’s not one right answer, but a variety of answers that may work. Once you put aside black-and-white thinking, you can see that the world is really a complex rainbow. You just need to open your mind to different possibilities. 

8. Jumping to conclusions.

Have you ever totally misread a person, believing the worst in them or thinking they were up to no good, when the reality turned out to be very different? Have you ever misjudged or misinterpreted a situation based on your own perception?

This is what happens when we make assumptions and jump to conclusions without having all the information. The smart thing to do is to remain objective and gather all the information and details before making a decision. But so often we make presumptions or overgeneralize a situation because we fail to distinguish between what we actually observed and what we inferred.

When we do this in business, or make flawed decisions based on assumptions, we open ourselves up to a whole host of problems and impacts. You may be creating major hurdles for yourself that are holding you back from success.

9. Blaming others.

It’s human nature to want to blame others for problems we face, or to believe that our issues are produced by external causes -- surely we aren’t to blame! But scapegoating, or unfairly blaming others, is a destructive mechanism that creates hostility, shame and a toxic, adversarial atmosphere.

Those who are unfairly targeted feel betrayed and bullied. Those who do the blaming create unnecessary drama and are incapable of clearly seeing a problem. They flounder, never learning from their mistakes, never taking responsibility for their own actions. When you constantly blame others, you look petty and unprofessional, and those around you will lose the respect for you.

Related: How to Stop Being A Control Freak

10. Trying to control everything.

If you want it done right, you’d better do it yourself. That’s what we tell ourselves to justify micromanaging everything. But if you believe you have to do it all and refuse to allow anyone in to help, chances are you’re a control freak and are setting yourself up for failure.

High standards aren’t bad, but if they’re so high that they’re unattainable, you need to rethink your requirements. If you’re constantly intervening in everything around you, you’re slowing down productivity.

Control freaks often try to exert control over others as a way of avoiding confronting their own vulnerabilities. They believe their level of perfection will avoid exposing themselves to outside risk. But the truth is, we simply can’t control everything. The trick is to recognize what you do have control over -- you’re behavior, your thoughts, your feelings. Take pride in your work and always do your best. But feel empowered and have enough confidence in yourself and others to know when to let go.

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