DECISION-MAKING

4 Ways Your Brain Can Ruin Your Chances for Success

Everything can be going along swimmingly--and then your pesky subconscious gets in the way. Don't let these four thought patterns trip you up.
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The statistics for startup success can be grim. Approximately 75 percent of all startups fail, and about 90 percent of all products fail. Yet every day, new entrepreneurs dream up products and services and jump into the startup fray.

What's really tripping up the ones who barely make it out of the starting gate? The economy, of course, doesn't make things easy. But perhaps there's something much closer to home that increases the challenge.

Our brains are powerful processing tools, but just like most technology, they can be buggy. Your subconscious thinking can negatively affect the outcome of your startup, causing you to make mistakes. It only takes a small error in judgment to kill a fledgling startup.

Here are four ways your subconscious thinking might be ruining your chances for success, and how to combat these tendencies:

You fall victim to confirmation bias.

A psychological study with 8,000 participants showed people are twice as likely to seek out information that confirms what they already believe--that's called confirmation bias. A 2009 study by Ohio State also showed people spent 36 percent more time reading information aligned with their point of view than that which challenged it.

Obviously, this can be a problem for startup founders. If you surround yourself with yes men, no one will be able to challenge your ideas and help you improve them. It's hard to understand your target audience or the actual reality of your industry if you only surround yourself with information backing up your "perfect" idea.

The Fix: Encourage those on your team to present alternative perspectives. Spend time thinking about the possibility of your venture failing, and ask yourself what could go wrong. By stepping outside of your bubble, you can anticipate problems before they actually arise.

You use the past to predict the future.

If you flip a coin and it keeps landing on heads, is it then more likely to land on tails on the next flip? If you keep buying lottery tickets, are you bound to win eventually? The gambler's fallacy, or the expectation that past events will have an impact on future outcomes, can be all too present in startup thinking.

For example, the success rate for first-time entrepreneurs is just 18 percent, but it only rises to 20 percent for entrepreneurs who have failed in the past. Just because you fell down once, doesn't mean you're destined to cross the finish line this time.

The Fix: Don't assume your company is due success. If your startup isn't gaining the traction you expected, don't sit back and wait for magic to happen. Instead, identify the barriers to success and start breaking them down. Make your team look at your product or service honestly, and figure out where the problem may lie.

You're hard-wired to procrastinate.

If you've ever spent an hour looking at baby animals instead of doing work, you probably understand procrastination. Yet this everyday time-wasting can really add up to big holes in your productivity. Plus, it can be a very, very hard habit to shake.

Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, has found as many as 20 percent of people may actually be chronic procrastinators. And as stress mounts, the siren lure of time-wasting can become deafening.

The Fix: Researchers Dan Ariely and Klaus Wertenbroch found "precommitment," or setting meaningful deadlines, can help procrastinators on follow-through. Though internal deadlines aren't as effective as external ones, they can help cut down on procrastinating behavior.

Another fix is simple forgiveness, which can allow you to let go of past mistakes and focus on the future. Tim Pychyl, a professor at Carleton University in Canada, found students who forgave themselves after procrastinating did better on their next exam. Let go of hard feelings, and refocus on hitting your startup's deadlines.

You measure your value against others.

Your day is going great until you hop on Facebook (see above tendency) and read about all of your friends' personal and professional successes. Suddenly, the small win your company had this morning doesn't seem so great.

People tend to compare themselves with others and judge the value of one option through comparison. Comparing yourself with big, established companies or other startups in your space can dishearten your team and ultimately spell disaster.

The Fix: It's good to know your competitors, but don't fixate. If you want to compare your startup, look instead for ways to improve on your industry or ways your company is presenting a unique idea.

The brain is an imperfect organ, so it's important to recognize and correct the subconscious thinking that can get your startup into trouble. If you do, you'll increase your odds of finding success.

What do you think? What are some thought processes getting in your way? Sound off in the comments!

Last updated: Apr 11, 2014




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