The reason most people get stuck in mediocrity is because they refuse to fail. The reason people refuse to fail is because they associate failure with defeat. Their fear of defeat paralyzes them to the point that they won’t move forward.
People are not finished when they’re defeated; they’re finished when they quit.
People equate failure with rejection but adversity is required if we want to succeed. We’re conditioned at a young age to be afraid of failure so we tiptoe into the world with the backbone of a wimp.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all–in which case, you fail by default”—J.K. Rowling
It can take a strong mind to move through failure and obstacles. Are you mentally tough? Take this evidence-based, FREE Mental Toughness Assessment
Let’s take a look at the real reason most people get stuck in mediocrity:
1. Suppress, Ignore, or Avoid Negative Emotions
When we make a mistake or experience a setback, we second-guess ourselves and question our abilities. As a result, we become afraid of failure and settle for mediocrity.
“The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities”—Benjamin E. May
Modern culture tells us we should find ways to suppress or avoid negative emotions so we’ve become experts on how to push discomfort away. If you’re like most people, you’ve gone to great lengths to suppress negative emotions like anger, jealousy, and fear. It’s not that you don’t feel them; you’ve learned how to ignore them and pretend they don’t exist.
Recent research from the University of Texas has found that when we avoid emotions, it actually makes them stronger.
Emotions are meant to activate our bodies and propel us into action. When we decide to bury, ignore, or suppress our emotions, even negative ones, we put physical stress on our body.
How To Make It Work For You: While you need to acknowledge your negative emotions, you shouldn’t experience them all at once. It creates too much confusion in your brain. When you acknowledge your emotions one at a time, it makes them much easier to handle. Your amygdala, the emotional center of your brain, gets stuck when you suppress an emotion. When you acknowledge what bothers you, your frontal lobes get work. That is the region of the brain that solves problems and finds solutions.
2. Never Prepare For The Worst That Can Happen
There may be a few twinkle toes who skip through life on the sheer power of optimism, but smarter (and successful) people understand that unless we prepare for the obstacles and roadblocks that will be thrown into our path, we’ll continue to wallow in mediocrity.
“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness”—Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius was not a pessimist; he was a realist who prepared himself for any outcome. He was a stoic who did not want to be surprised and caught off guard at what might happen during his day. He knew how it felt to fall flat on his face when confronted with the unknown or unexpected.
Positive thinking is a cornerstone of mental toughness. The ability to look at your day in a realistic way and remind yourself of what could go wrong is not pessimism. It’s being smart. You will encounter rude bosses, conniving colleagues, and pain-in-the-ass customers. Why not prepare for them?
FBI agents do not prepare for arrests by assuming everything will turn out OK. They will conduct a pre-mortem so they can anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong and prepare for it.
People who get stuck in mediocrity are more likely to get frustrated and blow a deal or lose control during a tense negotiation. They’ve not had the foresight to imagine every conceivable setback and obstacle and find ways to cope and overcome the adversity before it becomes a reality.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy suggests spending time thinking about the potential downside of a conversation or event in advance can help you avoid an “oh shit” moment.
How To Make It Work For You: Take the time to think through the worst that could happen and allow yourself to feel the negative stuff. When you do, you’ll be able to manage the unproductive drama that these emotions can produce.
3. Live Without Good Values
Let’s face it—most people settle for mediocrity because they’re clueless about their values. I mean real values, not the shitty ones that are measured by money, sex, or power. Shitty values are generated by greed and glamorized by the media. You know, the ones that promise white teeth, perfect hair, and a life of happiness.
Good values devolve when society coddles people to protect them from pain and suffering. Pain and suffering are the points because they teach us what to pay attention to when we’re young and learn how the world works. They teach us to differentiate between good and bad.
Good problems often produce failure, pain, and suffering; they are also the problems that will shape our values. Mediocrity rears its ugly head when we value the wrong things and expect them to make us happy.
Good values have certain criteria:
- Within our control and not dependent on outside events to make them happen.
- Bring a sense of meaning to our life.
- Allow us to feel as though we’ve made a contribution to society.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why” — Mark Twain
How To Make It Work For You: Spend time to discover what is important to you. Talk to people you admire or read biographies of a person you’d like to emulate. Why you pursue something is just as important as what you pursue. Find something greater than yourself and expect to encounter questions that will make you uncomfortable in the short term.
4. Over-Reliance On Talent
Success lures us into thinking that our talents are enough. We don’t take into consideration external factors or random events that could have played a hand.
Just because we made the right call once before does not mean we’ll be as lucky the next time. If you’ve led a team that’s produced great numbers, it’s tempting to call yourself a genius and take credit for the achievement.
But, what if your genius turns out to be a stroke of good luck or the result of a competitor’s problems? Sugar can turn to shit overnight and you could find yourself fighting for scraps in the bloated middle that’s filled with one-hit wonders and everyone else sucked into the pull of mediocrity.
The way in which you deal with failure determines how you will achieve success.
A smart person will create a plan for success but it’s a mistake to create one and never change it. No matter how smart or talented you are, you will need to constantly revise your approach so you can measure and adjust as you go.
It’s just as essential to understand why you succeed as it is to understand why you fail.
How To Make It Work For You: Toast your success! Then conduct a post-mortem on how, and why, it happened. Take a look at all the pressure points along the way, those times when a decision or action made a significant difference in the outcome. Examine your thought process as you made each decision. What made the difference? Did you listen to your gut or make the choice based on facts? It’s not that there’s a right way to do things but it is important to understand how you make your decisions and what factors have input into them.
5. Unwilling To Fail
“Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure”—Napoleon Hill
People get stuck in mediocrity because they tire of the constant battle to always win. They fail to understand that life is not all about winning and losing.
Entrepreneurs and successful startup companies fail, recover, rebuild, take a risk, and fail again. At some point it’s about something more important than success or failure; it’s about what they learned from the experience.
Failure is not fun but there is no one formula for success. It’s always a trial and error process where we choose whether or not to learn from our experiences.
You’re only stupid if you fail to learn from your failure.
How To Make It Work For You: Remember that when we fail, get up and try again, we build muscles. In the same way, let failure be a powerful learning tool to help you in the future.
© 2019 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.
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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths”
What a fascinating topic LaRae! I haven’t looked at mediocrity as a fall back strategy but it makes perfect sense. I really connect with your point about “over reliance on talent”. I love your idea of conducting a post-mortem of why things happen. When we take the time to understand our successes it’s not usually about luck but rather about all the hard work we put into something. We begin to realize what strengths and critical decisions contributed to our successful outcome.
Love this post, so much great insight. The funny and yet sad thing about it all is that we are so afraid to fail that we never try, yet our failure to try ensures failure.