It was the country’s most popular TV show dedicated to discovering new singing talent. Tushar was sure of getting selected for the next level of the competition since the judges were shouting: Once more! Once more!
Tushar could guess what was going to happen next—the judges were going to ask him his four secrets of success:
• Last year’s winner was his source of inspiration.
• He followed the smartest shortcut to success he had discovered in an international bestseller by visualising himself becoming the best singer.
• He followed the advice of a famous motivational speaker on a YouTube channel by avoiding those negative people who would question his unshakable confidence in himself.
• He received encouragement in the form of a rich dose of praise, every day, from his family and friends.
Unfortunately, no one asked him his secrets. It took some time before the truth finally dawned on Tushar and when it did, he could scarcely believe it—he was being asked to sing again and again only because judges were entertaining themselves at his cost. The way Tushar sang had left the judges in peals of laughter—and so was the case with the viewers, too.
The four popular secrets of success Tushar practised could indeed benefit him had he known the fifth secret too—these four success secrets guarantee failure. Let us examine why it is so:
Inspiration: Let me share a quote from Dr Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University: “We humans seem to be extremely good at generating ideas, theories and explanations that have the ring of plausibility. We may be relatively deficient, however, in evaluating and testing our ideas once they are formed.”
While watching the finals, last year, Tushar found the idea of becoming the next champion so inspiring that he got carried away by the very excitement that accompanied it. He neither cared to check if there was any credible evidence to support his belief in such a possibility, nor did he ask himself if he was willing to do all that it takes to be the winner. In fact, a belief is not verified as much by an evidence that we may find to support it as by its ability to survive our sincere efforts to define and examine all pieces of evidence that would really contradict it.
Positive visualisation: Tushar’s positive visualisation was not about seeing himself working harder, persisting against obstacles, developing a resolve to give his best or seeing himself practising and getting better, progressively; it was about receiving the standing ovation for achieving his goal. Researchers Heather Kappes and Gabriele Oettingen at New York University have conducted several experiments to check if positive visualisation helps people achieve their goals. Their findings contradict this widely prevalent belief. Constantly visualising the achievement of our end goal reduces, at the unconscious level, the perceived gap between where we are and where we want to be. Consequently, this drains the needed energy out of our ambition.
Ignoring negative people and possibilities: Tushar never sought or received an honest feedback. In fact, when Keshav, his colleague, advised Tushar to sing for his own joy in the bathroom and nowhere else, Tushar began to perceive him as a negative person he was supposed to stay away from. Gary Klein, a decision researcher, teaches people ‘premortem’—a technique that asks us to retrace our path back from a visualised failure to the present moment to discover what all can go wrong on the way so that we could plan and prepare for these, proactively. Such a mental preparation, according to Dr Jean Phillips, a professor at Penn State University, acts as a “vaccination” against the usual obstacles and disappointments that a journey to success is often fraught with.
Encouragement from friends and the family: People often confuse encouragement with praise or flattery. Tushar had closed all doors through which any honest feedback could ever enter to wake him up from his complacency. He would regularly post the audio recording of his songs on WhatsApp only with the intention to receive appreciation. Not surprisingly, he never received anything but flattering comments, in response.
As per the Stanford researcher Dr Carol Dweck, praise should not be about inherent qualities but about the effort—the way one is stretching oneself to reach his goals. Praise for inherent qualities such as intelligence or talent can make people averse to any risk to their reputation. Hence, they may begin to avoid the challenges that could make them grow further and become better.
The key lesson we can learn from these researches is the need for us to focus on our duties (performance goals) instead of shortcuts and rewards (the identified end goal). This is also the key teaching we have inherited from our ancient rishis.
Anil Bhatnagar is a corporate trainer, motivational speaker and the author of Success 24x7 and several other books. email@example.com