Ask any skilled professional in any industry about the secrets to their success and they’ll probably point to some level of mental aptitude and focus.
A pitcher may have the ability to throw a 100 mile per hour fastball, but throwing a strike requires focus. A doctor can physically perform the tasks at hand, but it’s secondary to being able to recall years of training and block out distractions in a split second.
Your performance isn’t always the physical skills you possess, or even the specialized training. While these generally play a role in how well you perform, they’re often secondary. Part of your job is to find ways to eliminate the mental mistakes that may be holding you back from your best work.
While everyone is different, there are a few mental mistakes that tend to be the most pervasive when it comes to creative work.
Spending Time With the Wrong People
When you were a kid, you were probably told to be careful about who you hung out with. Well, even as an adult, you still need to be cautious.
As motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Whether it’s friends, a significant other, family members, or coworkers, the people you surround yourself with influence who you become.
This is something renowned music instructor Tom Hess has seen first-hand. When discussing the top mistakes he sees musicians make when trying to get into the music business, he says one of the worst things you can do is surround yourself with “people who are negative, lazy, and lack ambition.”
It doesn’t matter if it’s the playground, music business industry, or marketing - spending time with the wrong people can hurt you. It’ll lead you down the wrong paths and zap your ambition and focus. On the contrary, spending time with the right people can inspire and motivate you, encouraging you to maximize your existing talents and skills.
Failing to Understand Your Brand
“The science of branding is about taking control of what your audiences think – and say – about your brand,” marketer Ida Cheinman says. “But before you can successfully influence your audiences’ perceptions, you have to get absolutely clear on what you want them to think and experience.”
Ask a marketer if they understand their brand and they’ll respond in the affirmative. But ask them to provide a clear and comprehensive explanation of their brand and many will have difficulty putting cohesive sentences together. This is a big problem.
When you’re unable to wrap your own brain around what your brand stands for, how do you expect your audience to comprehend it? A failure to understand your brand is one of the biggest - and most common - mental mistakes you can make.
It’s time to get past the surface level details. Dig deep. What makes your brand tick?
The values you uncover constitute your brand. Until you’re able to extract these core principles, you’ll be unable to realize your potential.
Overlooking the Value of Individual Interactions
How do you view your customers? What comes to mind when you sit down and think about them? In all likelihood, you view them as a collective group. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with this - they probably are a group of like-minded people - it’s a big mistake to see them as a monolith 100% of the time.
In today’s marketplace, customers want to be seen as individuals. They want businesses to interact with them on a one-on-one basis. They desire priority and status. They seek out appreciation.
Grumble all you want about shades of entitlement, but you’re here to serve your customers. As successful entrepreneur Sonia Thompson says, “View and treat your customers as individuals, rather than a transaction or a target that has the potential to line your pockets with money. See them as unique people, with real challenges you can help solve. It will make a difference in their experience with you for sure.”
There’s something to be said for brushing off a negative comment. If nothing else, this is good for your mental health. But constantly blocking out all criticism is a mistake for your career and your brand.
It’s never fun to see someone post a one-star review on your Facebook page or to receive a scathing email about something that went wrong with one of your products. The natural inclination is to ignore or delete. But constantly pushing critics to the side can do more harm than good. In doing so, you’re creating a fantasyland that doesn’t really exist.
When you sense negativity around your brand, confront it head on. Find out why it exists and tackle it. You’ll learn much more this way.
Let’s say someone posts a tough review for your product. Instead of suppressing the review, contact the customer and engage them. Not only will this uncover areas for improvement, but it’ll also help to heal the wounds the customer feels.
If you’re like a lot of people working with digital products and online storefronts, you’re always “on.” Even when you aren’t at work, you’re thinking about work. Thoughts about pitches and marketing campaigns and shipping materials race through your head when you’re in the shower, eating dinner, or trying to watch a movie with your family.
It’s imperative that you disconnect, or else you’ll eventually burn out. According to David Gelles, author of Mindful Work: How Mediation is Changing Business from the Inside Out, mindfulness is the answer. “Instead of obsessing about what we could have done better last time around, how we’re going to handle whatever comes up next, or who is on our nerves, mindfulness allows us to focus on what’s happening right here, right now,” Gelles points out. “For anyone who spends too much time in their own heads – or too much time online – that’s a valuable thing indeed.”
Take the Next Step
It’s easy to shift blame when something goes wrong. A marketing campaign fails and it’s because you were given bad advice. Conversion rates are low for a product page and there must be an error in the data. Something goes wrong with your content and the keyword research must have been faulty.
By recognizing these potential shortcomings - and making it a point to defeat them in a head-on fashion - you can set yourself on track to enjoy a much more liberating and successful career.
When you open your mind up to constructive criticism, your ceiling for growth goes higher and higher. Perhaps the best thing you can do is begin by documenting your experiences, thoughts, and processes, and start gathering feedback from those who are closest to you.
The fact that you’re reading this tells me you’re doing great - now, continue to be proactive in your search for self-improvement.
Anna Johansson is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, HuffPost.com, and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. You can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.