Does a stressful event start a cascade that ends up making even you more stressed?
If an authority figure corrects your behavior, does the intervention lead you to push back and make the behavior worse?
Does a failure set you on a path to more failure?
These questions seem philosophical or even paradoxical, but in fact I think they get to the heart of why some people succeed and others don’t. We can choose to create cycles that move us up or endure cycles that drag us down.
A cop hassles a teenager who is acting out. The kid escalates. The cop escalates. Someone gets shot.
A sales call is going poorly because the prospect doesn’t perceive the salesperson is confident. She responds by becoming even less confident. No sale.
A mistake is made. The stakes go up. Rattled, another mistake is made, and then again, until failure occurs…
James Bond is a hero because the tougher the world got, the cooler he got. Symphony conductors don’t endure the pressure of a performance, they thrive on it.
If being a little behind creates self-pressure that leads to stress and then errors, it’s no wonder you frequently end up a lot behind. If the way you manage your brand inevitably leads to a ceaseless race to the bottom, it’s no wonder that you’re struggling. A small bump gets magnified and repeated until it overwhelms.
Customer service falls apart when mutual escalation or non-understanding sets in. Management falls apart when power struggles or miscommunication escalate. Education falls apart when students respond to negative tracking by giving up.
Someone who gets better whenever he fails will always outperform someone who responds to failure by getting worse. This isn’t something in your DNA, it’s something you can learn or unlearn.
The appropriate response is not to try harder, to bear down and grind it out. The response that works is to understand the nature of the cycle and to change it from the start. You must not fight the cycle, you must transform it into a different cycle altogether. It’s a lot of work, but less work than failing.
When the lizard pushes you to recoil in fear, that’s your cue to embrace the trembling fear and do precisely the opposite of what it demands. This won’t work the first time or even the tenth, but it’s the path to an upcycle, one where each negative input leads to more productivity, not less.