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The Five Myths That Are Holding You Back

Myths are based on reality — but they shouldn’t define your reality.

Alexandra Gorn/Unsplash
Source: Alexandra Gorn/Unsplash

Myths get in the way of success and cloud our perception. Without us noticing it, we take myths as real. They become our ideas.

Buddha said, “What we think, we become.”

All myths are based or inspired on reality. But they are not reality. Unless you let them hold you back.

Don’t let these five myths limit your potential.

1. You Are Either an Introvert or an Extrovert

The world has been divided in two since the 1920s.

That’s when psychoanalyst Carl Jung invented the terms extrovert and introvert. Since then, they’ve taken on a life of their own.

Myths and misunderstandings abound. Introverts don’t like people and lack opinions. Extroverts are shallow and awful listeners.

Our society loves extroverts. It’s hard being an introvert in an extrovert culture. We are all expected to broadcast our feelings and activities constantly.

As Susan Cain said, “Society favors a man of actions versus a man of contemplation.”

The author of Quiet uses college admission as an example. Recruiters favor students who show charisma, are outspoken, and look confident—traits often held by extroverts.

Research suggests that extroverts are 25 percent more likely to land a top job, though introverts can make better leaders.

But Jung saw introversion and extroversion as inclusive—not exclusive—traits. Most of us have a bit of both—we belong to a third group.

Ambiverts make up between half and two-thirds of the population, according to Adam Grant. Diehard introverts and extroverts do exist—but they’re exceptions.

Ambiverts combine the best of both worlds. A study shows that ambivert salespeople generated more revenue than their extroverts counterparts.

Scientists call this the "ambivert advantage": They can be twice as productive, as they can listen as well as assert themselves. They make ideal co-workers, business owners, and leaders.

Free yourself from the extrovert or introvert myth. Avoid labels. A study shows that believing you are a certain way creates a deceiving “self-as-story.” Labeling yourself as either introvert or extrovert limits the development of your other side.

Introverts get their energy from within. Extroverts are charged up by people and external stimuli. Silence is not the absence of words, but the presence of focus. It’s beneficial for both extrovert and introvert sides. Use it wisely.

2. Your Lizard Brain Controls Your Actions

Do you tend to overreact? Are you procrastinating? Do your emotions usually take over? Blame it on your ancient, reptilian brain. That’s what most gurus will tell you.

For over half a century, we turned the lizard brain into the scapegoat. That’s why the reptile brain metaphor stuck with people. It gave us an easy way out.

It’s comforting to pin our conflicts on our tiny lizard brains. We deflect responsibility from ourselves. Instead, we blame into our fight-or-flight instinct.

Paul MacLean developed the "Triune Brain" theory in the 1960s. He believed the brain had three parts: The reptilian brain controls our instincts, the limbic system manages our emotions, and the neocortex controls rational thought. But this so-called lizard brain is a myth. Neuroscientists no longer take it seriously, yet it arises again and again in the form of clickbait articles that tell you to “Beat Your Lizard Brain.” Even Seth Godin calls it “the source of all resistance.”

Modern neuroscientists think of the brain as a dynamic network of multi-directional connections. Most parts of the brain have interconnections. The emotions and rational thoughts are not separated. They feed off each other.

You don’t have a lizard brain—you are in charge. As Ben Thomas wrote in Scientific American, “We carry the history of a long, successful lineage in our genetic and biological makeup. The question of what to do with those resources, though, isn’t predetermined by the past. It’s up to you.”

Emotions and thoughts are interconnected, not separated.

Forget hierarchy. Rational thoughts are not superior to instincts and emotions. Effective decision-making requires integrating them all.

As Lisa Feldman Barrett wrote on How Emotions Are Made, “You are an architect of your experience. You are indeed partly responsible for your actions, even so-called emotional reactions that you experience as out of your control.”

Our brain is a fantastic tool. It’s not something fixed. We can train and develop it.

The idea of right-brained and left-brained people is a myth too. There’s no dominance of one half of the brain over the other half. Recent research using brain imaging technology has found no evidence.

We all have different personalities and talents. But you are in charge. You can develop your whole brain. Not just the half that is allegedly your dominant one.

3. Change Is Difficult

It’s OK to feel afraid of what we don’t know. What’s not OK is the cultural narrative around uncertainty. Our society screwed up our relationship with change. I’m not saying it’s easy. But change doesn’t need the extra drama. The myth that change is difficult makes things worse. Change is our natural state of being. Our mind and bodies are adaptive by design. When we stop resisting, life feels less stressful and uncomfortable.

Forget about the reptilian brain. Train your mind to become more open and adaptive. Regular practice strengthens neuron connections. New habits need time and repetition to stick.

Resistance is not a natural state but a signal.

Change makes us feel off-center. And that’s OK. Our initial response is to return to the way things were. Pay attention. What is the signal trying to tell you?

You are not fixed, but fluid. You are more resilient and adaptive than you think. Focus on what you can achieve because of change. Not on what change can do to you.

Resisting change is a signal. A window of opportunity has opened in front of you. Don’t let your fears get in the way of success.

Don’t fight reality. Change isn’t always quick or linear. Learn to become flexible in thought. Practice reframing your emotions.

Change is something that you are part of. Lead change in your life. Don’t just let things happen to you.

4. Perfectionism Produces Better Work

Perfectionists don’t just have a high standard—nothing is ever up to their standards.

The myth of perfectionism is believing that a high bar equals better work. But perfectionism harms our work. Beating yourself up for a mistake or unmet expectations creates more disappointment.

Most perfectionists are perfect at procrastinating. Nothing is ever perfect enough. They never jump into action.

Austin Kleon said, “The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us—we start editing ideas before we have them.”

Perfectionism has become an epidemic. A record number of people are suffering from severe depression or anxiety disorders. Perfectionism is a significant weakness.

But what about successful perfectionists? They are the exception to the rule. Successful perfectionists are successful in spite of it, not because of it.

Perfectionism is an impossible goal. Stop chasing a moving target. Action drives improvement. Don’t wait for the perfect thought or moment. Launch now.

Turn "good enough" into the new perfection. Become comfortable with making mistakes. Practice makes perfection—not the other way around.

Vironika Tugaleva wrote, “To be courageous, we must be willing to surrender our perfectionism, if only for a moment. If my self-worth is attached to being flawless, why would I ever try to learn anything new?”

You are not either perfect or mediocre. Stop seeing success in black and white terms. Life is a work in progress. Strive for your best, not for perfection.

5. Hustling Is Key to Succeeding

“Don’t stop when you’re tired. Stop when you are done.” Someone carved those words into cucumbers at WeWork’s water cooler.

Elon Musk believes that “Nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.” He suggests 80 hours or even more.

I could go on and on. The hustle culture myth pushes you to be producing all the time.

Relying on brute force can only take you so far. Sacrificing rest, free time, and deep focus has a limit.

Research found that working too hard harms your well-being. It produces stress, fatigue, and job dissatisfaction. Putting in too much extra effort actually impairs your performance.

Even the ultimate hustler, Gary Van Chuck, had to clarify his philosophy. Most people misunderstand what he means by "hustling" or "working your face off." As his team explains in this post, “Gary’s message is about being happy with your life and getting to a place where you don’t feel the need to complain. Not working yourself to the point of burnout or unhappiness.”

You don’t need to sacrifice your life to be successful. Work smart, not hard. What you accomplish matters more than the effort you put. Quality overrules quantity.

Your mind and body benefit from purposefully designed breaks.

A pause is the most productive time you can manage, as I wrote here. The best ideas show up when we stop looking.

Neuroscience suggests that we need to slow down to unleash our creativity. Or to take new information. Research found that open-minded and creative people have slower nerve connections.

Success is a curious thing. Take writers, for example. Some succeed at a young age; others find their voice in their 50s. Most authors get their big break in middle-age.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Find your pace. Don’t run out of gas before reaching the finish line.

There’s no such thing as the perfect life. Live the life you want. Don’t let someone else’s expectations define your choices.

Myths force you to think in binary terms. You are either a perfectionist or a mediocre. You are an introvert or an extrovert.

Overcoming myths requires integrating opposing concepts.

Use a "yes, and" approach. You are not one thing or the other. But both.

Your identity is fluid too. Don’t let these myths define you. You’ll never know what you are capable of until you try.

As Walt Whitman wrote, “We contain multitudes.”

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