If you’re one of the many American workers who judge themselves for their mistakes and shortcomings, you probably have a deep belief that this treatment can help you do better. Or you might worry that giving yourself too much leeway might turn you into a total slacker. Neither are true. After a setback, one of the worst forms of career sabotage is self-judgment. Studies show that it adds insult to injury. When you’re hard on yourself after a letdown, it’s more difficult to bounce back. Plus, you’re more prone to anxiety and depression—all of which create more obstacles to success.

Flip Your Perspective, Not Your Lid

Athletes have known for years that the mindset they bring to high-pressured sports can determine their success or failure. The same principle holds for job success and career advancement. Work pressures, frustrations and letdowns are natural consequences of a career trajectory. Sometimes they can create discouragement so large that it ghosts our confidence and cripples our motivation to persist. You can flip your perspective instead of your lid and make giant steps to take your career over the finish line. Babe Ruth applied this strategy to become one of the greatest baseball players in history. He said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” Leaders can translate Ruth’s wisdom into any career obstacle by reminding themselves and team members that, “Every setback brings us closer to our next success,” that is, if instead of giving up, you keep slugging away.

Five D’s Can Turn Negativity Around

We don’t get to choose how we’re going to die or what obstacles will block our career path. But we can always choose our response to those curve balls. A positive mindset is essential for career success. A new book by Jon Gordon, who works with major sports teams such as the LA Rams, Green Bay Packers and Clemson Football teams, offers tactics for players and teams to beat negativity. In The One Truth: Elevate Your Mind, Unlock Your Power, Heal Your Soul, Gordon explains that whether you realize it or not your mind is constantly holding you back. Once you learn about the unseen factors that lower your state of mind, you can elevate your state of mind to see life through a new lens and overcome any challenge, think with more clarity and shift from insecurity and fear to unshakeable confidence and power. He offers the five D’s of negative thought that lower your state of mind and get in the way of your performance.

  1. Doubt. Tune into trust and understand that negative thoughts are lies.
  2. Distortion.Focus on gratitude. Try taking a “thank you walk” for 20 minutes.
  3. Discouragement.Encourage yourself. Write negative thoughts on the left and words of encouragement on the right.
  4. Distraction.Focus on what matters most: YOU. When you become the best you, you bring out the best in others.
  5. Division.Unite your team with appreciation and positivity. Don’t focus on making a mistake, poor performance, disappointing people or critiques. Focus on why you enjoy what you do and love the moment and the process.

When we learn to recognize these five mental obstacles that keep us in a lower state of mind, we can elevate ourselves into a higher state of mind that spurs clarity, focus, belief and confidence—all of which manifest in career success. Sean McVay of the LA Rams, Matt LaFleur of the Green Bay Packers and Dabo Swinney of Clemson—all used this five-step exercise for their off-season programs this year to elevate their mindsets and achieve their performance goals.

Be For Instead of Against Yourself

You can extrapolate the same tactics athletes use for high-pressured performance to your own career pressures. After a smack down at work, the real obstacle is your self-judgment, not the setback. When you remove the second layer of self-judgment, you can see the original problem more clearly and have more ease in dealing with it. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s just as easy to build yourself up as it is to tear yourself down. The solution is to be for you—not against you.

Studies show that when you substitute self-compassion (a higher state of mind) for self-criticism (a lower state of mind), you rebound from the setback quicker and foster positive change in just about anything you attempt. Self-soothing is especially beneficial in the aftermath of such stressors as job loss, conflict with a coworker or missing a promotion. An arm around your shoulder is good medicine. I don’t mean someone else’s arm. Your own supportive arm raises motivation in the middle of a high-pressured situation such as job interviews, performing in front of your peers or competing for a job promotion.

So whether you’re dealing with a big crisis or small hassles, self-compassion is like a best friend that talks you off the proverbial ledge, bounces you back when you feel disheartened, propelling you closer to your goals. When you sidestep the five D’s and self-soothe through letdowns—instead of attacking yourself—you feel better and cultivate the confidence and courage to face just about any career challenge.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: https://bryanrobinsonphd.com.