As entrepreneurs, we'd like to believe that we are in control. We desire predictability so that we can build our business based on pre-determined outcomes. If only it were that simple. Instead, we are faced with much more uncertain circumstances on a regular basis. In short, things don't go according to our plan nearly as much as we'd like. While we can't control what happens to us and our company, we can control how we respond.

Better or Bitter?
When your business hits a major setback, it's easy to become bitter. Your internal critic loves to jump in and take over to fill your head with fears, uncertainty and doubt. Being bitter is about responding to negative situations with a sense of unworthiness. Your inner critic is constantly looking for proof that you're not good enough. The trick is to recognize when these triggers are set off and your mind takes you down an unproductive mental path. Dwelling on the negative rarely surfaces valuable insights.

By contrast, being better is about taking the same setback and using it constructively to learn how to do things differently and to grow from the pain. Intellectually, this makes all the sense in the world, but the act of staying positive and learning from your failures is a lot harder to do in the moment.

Controlling How You Respond
The trick is not to wait until you have a major setback to respond appropriately. Instead, it's incredibly helpful to get to know your inner critics ahead of time--well before they take a negative situation and blow it out of proportion and use it as evidence toward your own insecurities. But that's a lot easier said than done. Thankfully, there are free tools out there that help you recognize which of your inner critics are showing up on a regular basis so that you can become more aware and disrupt your own negative thoughts before they make you bitter.

Shirzad Chamine wrote a fantastic book on this subject called Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential AND HOW YOU CAN ACHIEVE YOURS. In addition, he created a fantastic Saboteur Assessment tool right on his homepage of PositiveIntelligence.com. The assessment takes about 5 minutes to complete and immediately identifies "which of the 10 mental Saboteurs limits your success and happiness." Upon the completion of the survey, he sends you a 20-page document that is customized to your responses. It's extremely insightful and I highly recommend it as a tool to identify how, when and why those negative voices show up in an effort to beat yourself up mentally.

Taking control of how you respond to any given situation starts with having a positive intelligence that allows you to identify your inner critic as well as what Shirzad calls your Sage--the voice of wisdom that helps you become better as you learn from life's many lessons.

Going Beyond Knowing
While the assessment tools is incredibly insightful, it's not enough just to identify the inner critics. The real work comes with disrupting the patterns that we are all susceptible to falling into. When something bad happens, we need to be self-aware enough to identify what typically happens next and develop strategies to combat our negative thoughts. Why is this so important? As Albert Einstein once said, "Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny."

Said another way, your thoughts ultimately determine your outcome. If you want to be different, you need to think differently. As we all strive to be better (not bitter), it begins with taking control of our thoughts. If we can stay positive in our thinking, we can better our words, actions, habits, character and ultimately, our destiny.

So the next time you hit a major setback in your company, you will be better for it and not bitter because of it. As Thomas Edison said, "I didn't fail. I just found 2,000 ways not to make a light bulb; I only needed to find one way to make it work."

Published on: May 29, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.