Seductive Success Delusions that Fool You

Why is it so hard for us to change for the better?

“You have done a great job, Jawwad. Keep doing what you’re doing.”, said my mentor and handful of my friends after I appeared on TV for our company’s Dragons’ Den episode.

Likewise, I have gotten similar positive reinforcements in various points of my life – getting into a good college, starting companies, writing here for past six years and everything in between.

Yes, we all get such positive reinforcement on a daily basis from our parents, friends, and loved ones – even if it’s in the form of facebook or Instagram “likes”.

Fortunately, (and unfortunately?) over the past few years I got to observe the effects of such positive reinforcement.

The results from the observations were not pretty.

The more successful we become, the more positive reinforcement we get – and more likely are we to experience the success delusion. – Marshall Goldsmith

Success delusion is our belief that “I got here because I behave this way. Therefore, I must be successful for what I do.”

As we grow older and more experienced in our area of expertise, the more the people around us let us know how great we are! This is true if your doctor, entrepreneur, employee, or a Masters’ student.

This strengthens our success delusion and beliefs which makes us resist change. Elimination of these beliefs is not the goal, but rather effective management is what is required.

Here are those beliefs and how to make the most of them (instead of them getting the better of you);

Mental Belief 1: I Have Succeeded

I did not realize that I have this belief until I took a closer and honest look at myself. If you have the energy to wake up in the morning and charge into work (like I am as I write this), then you are very likely confident in yourself.

Here are the pros and cons of this belief;

Pros Cons
– gives you faith to take risks required for your future success

– optimism and confidence to go to the next level

– inspire us to create an image that is consistent with this belief

– make us delusional as to our true self-worth

– make us ignore our weaknesses and process making bets

Example of “I have Succeeded” Delusion in Real Life:

  • Whenever a team is asked to vote anonymously their percentage (%) contribution towards a project, the sum of their answers is greater than 100%. Try it with your team.
  • Lastly, there is mounting research that indicates that experienced doctors, lawyers, and researchers get worse in their profession with time.

Mental Belief 2: I Can Succeed

Most successful people I have met believe (truly believe) that they have what it takes to make their goals happen.

Unfortunately, this belief is fundamentally very mentally challenging as it is hard for them to embrace the failing forward philosophy.

It’s the reason why some people raise their hand and say, “I will do it!” when co-workers asks for volunteers – and others cower in the corner, praying that they won’t be noticed.

Example of “I can Succeed” Delusion in Real Life:

  • “Lottery Mentality” – where people believe that they can succeed and continue playing despite the fact that it is luck and serendipity – not probability.
  • The Black Swan – human’s tendency to find simplistic explanations for these events retrospectively. Examples include stock markets events etc.

Here are the pros and cons of this belief;

Pros Cons
– self-efficacy, they believe they can see opportunities where other see threats

– internal locus of control, everything is within their control (am I a victim of this?)

– view luck and serendipity as a result of their “hard work”

– articulate simple and even self-promo explanations for rare events

Mental Belief 3: I Will Succeed

This is the belief that gets that telemarketer to call you the fifth time – despite getting hung up on. Successful people persist and are optimistic in their tasks.

However, this persistence and optimism has its downfall. This is also the belief that I struggle with the most.

Examples of “I will Succeed” in Real Life

  •  Failed Business Executives – Every day we read about another very capable person who was not able to do his core job properly (CEO, CFO, etc). Most of them quote their inability to focus on the right things when they had the “fix everything” mentality.
  • Burnt Out Entrepreneurs – They tend to focus on all aspects of the business – getting sale or coding the website when those tasks are not even required. Instead, they should only focus on the bottleneck and build their company systematically.

Here are the pros and cons of “I will succeed” belief;

Pros Cons
– Motivation to work long hours

persistence to get them to the next stage

(Note: This is a belief, I am currently working on. Any help will be appreciated!)

– Chronically over-commit: we loose track of the outcome and want to do the task in the best way possible.

disregard the effect of 80/20 rule in most of our activities

– hard to say “no” to things

– inability to call it “quits” on failed projects

– doing too much of everything

Mental Belief 4: I Choose to Succeed

It is a central belief of most ambitious people that it is them who decided to be a better version of themselves – chose to succeed.

Here are the pros and cons of “I Choose to Succeed” belief;

Pros Cons
– don’t give up in hard times

– view the future with rose-tinted glasses

– stay the course and not give up

– make us less likely to question our strategy

– view the future with rose-tinted glasses

– avoid swallowing the “poison-pill”(making tough decisions)

How to Avoid Seduction from Success Delusions

Whenever we believe that our good luck or future is directly linked to our behavior, we can easily make false assumptions. To make things worse, achieving a fine balance between positive beliefs and honest self-evaluation is an art – something I am also still learning through these writings.

Now, if you’re like me who is trying to be immune to the success delusions, here are some notes and tips that I’m following for myself.

1. Accept that Change is Hard – You have to have a fail forward attitude and avoid the biases (cons) that each belief brings with itself.

2. Ask Key People in Your Life for Feedback – Explain them what success delusions are and take their feedback seriously (after all, these are the most important people in your life).

3. Analyze Yourself using “6 Levels of Change” Framework – Read this article to understand the different levels that influence you on a day-to-day basis.

4. Implement the Changes and Repeat. This part is easier said than done.

How do you do honest self-evaluations? Share your thoughts below.

Credits: Marshall Goldsmith, Mentors, Friends, Family and all others who stuck with me through the easy and hard times.

2 comments On Seductive Success Delusions that Fool You

  • I recently signed up for your blog and I enjoyed it very much….most especially Seductive Success Delusions. I found it very enlightening. I look forward to your daily emails.
    (on a side note…. as a fellow professional, i think it would be a great idea to have someone read your posts for grammatical errors prior to posting. It can/may be a distraction)

    Otherwise, great thoughts!

    • Porsche, thank you for your comment. I am working on improving my grammar and errors. I have fixed some that I found and will be more careful going forward. I must say that its hard to pick out your own errors.

Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.

Site Footer

Jawwad Siddiqui - Welcome

Join my email list?

85% of my writing goes directly to my private email list and not the blog. 

"I always find myself opening and learning from your emails" - Saba

Will you try out my emails too? 

Nice! Please check your email :)