Unless you're a fan of NBA basketball, you probably have no idea that Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors just completed the best regular season of any player.
Hyperbole? Nope. Curry averaged 30.1 points per game this season and won his first NBA scoring title. Granted, 33 other players have averaged over 30 points in a season in NBA history, but Curry did it while averaging less than 35 minutes per game -- something no other NBA player has done.
But even more impressive is the fact Curry hit 402 three-point shots this season, eclipsing his own record of 286. That's 40 percent better than the old record. In baseball terms that's like hitting 103 home runs in a season (the current record is 73, and that was set during the "steroids era.")
And before you think Curry set the record because he constantly jacked up threes, or because he's self-serving (see: Anthony, Carmelo), keep in mind the Golden State Warriors set a single-season record for wins with 73. Not only does he perform incredibly well -- his team also wins. (And yet somehow Nike let Curry slip away to sign with Under Armour.)
I know what you're thinking: "Interesting; but what does that have to do with me?"
Two words: Irrational optimism.
To be successful you must embrace belief, which means pushing aside all those self-doubts: Feeling you aren't smart enough, dedicated enough, adaptable enough, or simply that, in spite of your best intentions and efforts, you won't succeed.
Often other people make it even harder to maintain that belief. Family and friends tend to shoot multiple holes in your ideas, not because they want to bring you down but because they care about you and don't want to see you fail.
That's why people rarely say, "Hey, that's a great idea. You should go for it!" Most people aren't wired that way. Most people -- myself definitely included -- are a lot better at identifying and listing potential problems. We like to play devil's advocate because that makes us seem smart.
And that's why you need to be irrationally optimistic: Not because the odds are stacked against success, but because irrational optimism helps you succeed in ways capital, business plans, and marketing savvy can't.
Of course you can take irrational optimism too far -- but then again, maybe you can't.
Think about sports, the ultimate zero-sum game. Only one individual or one team can win, but great athletes still go into every game believing they will win -- because if they don't believe they can win, they've already lost.
Is complete self-belief irrational? Sure. Is it also a requirement for high-level athletic success? Absolutely. Great athletes push aside doubt and disbelief.
So do great entrepreneurs, as well as successful people in any field.
If you listen to the naysayers you'll never start a business, never expand, never work and struggle and overcome -- and never succeed. If you don't believe in yourself, however irrationally, you will not succeed.
Although no amount of self-belief is enough to ensure success, the smallest bit of doubt can ruin your chances.
In Bounce, Matthew Syed quotes Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, one of the most successful football (soccer) coaches in the English Premier League, on how athletes must approach competition:
"To perform to your maximum you have to teach yourself to believe with an intensity that goes way beyond logical justification. No top performer has lacked this capacity for irrational optimism; no sportsman has played to his potential without the ability to remove doubt from his mind."
The same is true for entrepreneurs -- and, really, for everyone. Be smart, be logical, be rational and calculating, and never stop trying to improve your skills. But most important, be irrationally optimistic.
Belief in yourself will take you to places no external forces ever can.
Plus you can gain a great side benefit from pushing your own limits: You'll unconsciously reset your internal limit on your output.
How? We all have this little voice inside us that says, "I've done enough," or, "I'm exhausted -- there's no way I can do any more," which makes us stop. But that little voice lies: with the right motivation, or under the right circumstances, we can always do more.
Stopping is a choice.
Succeeding beyond your usual peak automatically ratchets your internal limits to a higher level. And then you'll perform better every day, because you will have unconsciously quieted the voice that says you can't do more... and raised your own bar.
And isn't your own bar the only one that truly matters?