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3 Mental Strategies That Can Get You Past a Business Failure Fast

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In his book Fueled by Failure, entrepreneur and philanthropist shows readers how rebound and reprogram themselves after defeat and how to use the lessons from those failures to achieve winning results. In this edited excerpt, the author reveals the three tactics he uses to ignore self-defeating thoughts and get past any failures in order to work toward success.

In order to stay focused on your goals—even when you've experienced failure head on—you need to employ three mental points of focus: to keep your mind like a river, to live downstairs, and to focus on your skills. Here's how they work.

1. Mind like a river.

The concept of "mind like a river" was one I came up with continuing to make mistakes because I hadn't been able to get rid of a self-defeating thought that was trapped in my mind. One time when I was competing in a , a skier I didn't like was winning the , and if I didn't have a great run, he was going to win. All I could think about was him winning his first World Cup—and not wanting that to happen. As I approached the top jump, I was more focused on beating him than on what I needed to do to land the trick. I ended up landing on my back and finished last. Other times, I'd be in the starting gate and a thought would pop into my mind, such as: "I am going to crash," or "I didn't prepare well enough," or "My legs don't feel good," or "The score is too high to beat."

Self-defeating thoughts are very normal; almost everyone has them. They might come up just before a big business pitch, a company presentation, media interviews, or a critical meeting. You need to have a game plan for how you are going to deal with them.

That's why you need to make your mind like a river. It's a simple but powerful that you can visualize in your mind's eye. Here's how it works: Picture a fast-moving river flowing through the back of your head and out the front. No thought can stick in this fast-moving current. This will take a lot of practice and mastering—it won't happen overnight—but it may be one of the best mental skills you'll ever learn.

You could also imagine releasing a momentary disappointment or frustration into an imaginary balloon sailing off into the , so it simply blows away. Or visualize putting your self-defeating thoughts or emotions in a bottle and tossing it into the ocean. The point is, you need a strong visual image of something that will move the emotions away from you.

Using such mental imagery is also very successful when you need to react quickly. We don't always have 48 hours to come to terms with adversity. Consider a stockbroker making trades in the market. He simply can't let a drop in the market eat him up or he'll miss the opportunities to jump back in and make profitable trades—sometimes trades that need to be made moments after a big loss. They must regain focus quickly in order to be successful in their jobs.

2. Living downstairs.

The second skill it's important to master is a concept I created called "living downstairs." We all encounter distractions that we can't control, and many of them put enormous pressure on us—but only if we allow them to. In my athletic career, these outside pressures included knowing my parents were traveling halfway around the world to watch me compete, a nationally televised event, Sports Illustrated picking me to win, and more.

In business, these distractions often include fear of letting down your employees, noise from a competitor, or a naysayer trying to break your confidence. So when you really need to focus but are facing a lot of outside noise, simply close your eyes and picture yourself walking downstairs into a cold, windowless cellar where no outside thoughts can get in. And if those thoughts ever pierce the cellar of your mind, simply picture a fast-moving river carrying them away immediately.

Living downstairs means creating a space below the big-picture thoughts, pressures, and distractions. It provides a safe space. Or maybe for you, it's living upstairs above the grinding news of the day to day. Whatever it might be, create a mental space where there are no windows or doors so that once your mind is clear, you can focus on your tasks and goals.

3. Focus on your skills.

The third concept you should rely on is to "focus on your skills." This was a concept I learned from former U.S. Olympic Ski Team coach Cooper Schell, who successfully coached American Jonny Moseley to a gold medal at the 1998 Nagano . Schell taught me that no matter what situation I was in, I could always come back to my skills. I knew in my mind that I'd worked harder and longer than any of my competitors to master the skills necessary to be best in the world, so this idea gave me more confidence. In , that meant reminding myself that my skills would get me down the mountain 100 percent of the time.

We all go through periods in life where we feel a little lost. When you do, always come back to what you know and have the confidence to trust in your skills. In business, that could mean reminding yourself that your skills as a salesman will allow you to clinch a deal, or that your skills as a marketer will give you what you need to create a successful campaign, or that your financial acumen will allow you to budget just right every time. No matter what your skills are, focus on them to regain the confidence you need to succeed.

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