We all have naysayers in our lives. We all have people who immediately take the devil's advocate position. They claim to be helping us, but much of the time they're people who have tried and failed and therefore think that no one else can--or in extreme cases, should--ever succeed.

But the negative people in your life aren't the biggest problem. You can avoid and ignore people who always forecast doom and gloom.

But the voice in your head? That's a lot harder to get rid of.

But it can be done.

"The biggest thing holding most people back is the voice of judgment in our own heads," says Matthew May, author of the excellent Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking. (A few years ago I talked to Matthew about the power of subtraction.)

"All too often we self-censor our thoughts," Matthew says, "and we kill a good idea before it sees the light of day. Maybe we fear rejection, maybe we answered incorrectly in class, maybe because we were once called out by a manager for a mistake... self-censoring is the the biggest barrier to creative problem solving."

So how do you stop committing what Matthew calls "ideacide"?

1. Start with your idea.

Say you have an idea: for a new product, a new service, a new business, a different direction you want to take... but you're scared to voice it, much less try it.

Instead of acting on that idea, though, you back away. You let fear and hesitation stop you from acting. That's okay; try to move past that and...

2. Write down 3-4 reasons your idea might succeed.

Don't self-censor. Don't be your own devil's advocate. Be objective and write down reasons your idea might actually pan out.

The goal is to take yourself out of your past--out of memories of hesitation or rejection or failure--and into the present. The goal is to break out of your old patterns and become what Adam Smith called the "impartial spectator," better able to be objective about yourself. (After all, is there anything harder to be objective about than yourself?)

I did that after people asked me if my columns were available in book form. I kept thinking, "No way... no one wants to buy a book like that, especially not from me." But I forced myself to come up with positives: grouping columns by theme would be handy for readers, I have a reasonable audience, self publishing is inexpensive and easy...

Finding positives will be easier than you think. All you have to do is try.

3. Then write down 3-4 reasons your idea might fail (or be rejected.)

Finding negatives, though, will be easy. If you're like me you've been making lists like this all your life.

4. Then write down 3-4 good things that might result from failure or rejection.

Invariably, even if an idea fails or is rejected, good things result. (That's why most successful people have also failed--a lot.)

When I considered self-publishing my book, I was surprised by the potential positives I came up with even if no one bought a copy. Going back through my work would surely spark ideas for future columns. I would re-connect with some great people I had interviewed. I would learn more about self-publishing and marketing. I would force myself to overcome my fear of rejection.

My list of potential positives that could result even if I failed went on and on. And so will yours.

5. Voila! Now you're focused on the present and the future, not the past.

"The biggest reason we kill our own ideas is that we let the past dictate our future," Matthew says. By looking objectively at the positives, the negatives, and the positives that could result from potential failure, you've shifted your perspective.

You've gone from a subjective "My ideas never work" to a more objective "Here's why this is a good idea." (Plus, if naysayers do predict gloom and doom, it's okay because you've already thought about the downsides and you have ready answers for the upsides.)

"Your past experiences will try to trick you," Matthew says. "Your past experiences will tell you to avoid pain and discomfort, to avoid working too hard... and the only way to override those thoughts is to use your mind to become your own impartial observer. That's what good artists, good designers, good creatives do... they don't rely on their own bias and instead view things from that outside objective observer standpoint."

And now, you can too.

Published on: May 5, 2016
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