Are You Avoiding This Psychological Trap?

When you’re a freelancer, having a steady stream of work can make a huge difference in your finances. No surprise there.

But the benefits of having steady business go far beyond the ability to pay your bills. There’s a huge psychological effect at work — one that you need to be aware of if you want to achieve long-term success.

Everything Was Going So Well!

Let me explain with a hypothetical situation. Say you’re booked solid at the moment. You have more work than you can handle and the money’s flowing in nicely. Life is good.

Suddenly, you hit a small bump in the road. One of your steady clients files for bankruptcy and closes its doors. You have three other clients, so you’re not terribly worried.

But a month goes by and you’re still thinking about this lost client. Fueled by media reports of bad economic news, what started off as worry has now turned into fear and anxiety.

You ask yourself, “What if I lose another client now? How will I deal with that?”

A few weeks later, another client puts on hold a series of projects you were counting on. Normally, this wouldn’t be a cause for concern. But summer (your slow season) is coming up and you’re starting to wonder if you can weather the storm.

You’re on the edge. It’s starting to show when you talk with prospective clients. In fact, rather than coming across as your regular calm and confident self, you sound a bit frazzled. The prospect senses your desperation and decides to go with someone else.

After getting two such rejections in two weeks, your anxiety has now turned into depression, pushing you deeper down an endless spiral of negativity.

Not a Good Place to Be

Folks, I’ve been in this dark corner of the world more times than I care to admit. If you’ve been freelancing for some time, you know what I’m talking about. In fact, you may even be there right now!

It’s not a good place to be. Regardless of how balanced a person you are, the negativity can quickly seep into every area of your life, destroying your psyche and causing great damage.

Which is why it’s so important to understand the power of self-fulfilling prophecies — and how to get out of these cycles before they eat you for lunch.

Gifted Stanford Students Buckle Under “Pressure”

I’ve seen the power of both positive and negative self-fulfilling prophecies in my own work and personal life. When it comes to negative prophecies, no one is completely immune to their threat.

Want proof? A few years ago, highly gifted and self-confident white male engineering students at Stanford University were asked to take a difficult math test.

The students were randomly split into two groups. One group was told that the test was just designed to measure their math skills. The other was told that they were part of a research study to determine why Asians seem to perform better in math.

Interestingly, the white male students in the second group scored significantly lower on the test. Why? The researchers concluded that this group buckled under the pressure of the “Asian mathematical superiority” stereotype!

In other words, they “bought” what they were sold. So they felt inadequate and inferior. And they performed accordingly.

What Are You Telling Yourself?

I’ve read similar studies pointing to the same conclusion: that we will perform according to our own expectations, which are often influenced by what others tell us.

In one such study, a grade-school teacher was told that a few of her students scored in the “gifted” range in standardized tests, even though they were actually average students. Yet by the end of the year, these students were consistently outperforming their classmates.

Why? Because the teacher treated them differently. She expected more from this “gifted” group of kids. And they performed as expected.

How to Avert Disaster

So how do you prevent negative self-fulfilling prophecies? How do you instead create a cycle of good, positive outcomes that help you sustain a healthy momentum?

Here are three proven strategies to do just that:

#1: Market yourself, even when you don’t need it. First, do yourself a favor: help your own cause by continually marketing yourself and your services. Don’t ever stop marketing, even when the work is plentiful. If anything, you’ll be in a position to choose the clients and work that best suit you. That alone can have very positive effects.

#2: Watch your language! If you hit a bump in the road, be extremely careful about what you tell yourself. Don’t panic. Just pick yourself up and keep moving confidently in the right direction.

#3: Find a “quick win”! Finally, focus ALL your efforts on securing a quick win to cancel out the negative event. And go about it with confident expectations and a sense of joy and purpose. The quick win may be landing a new client, securing a new large project with an existing client or anything along those lines.

Why go after a quick win? Quick wins provide the fuel you need to get back on the superhighway of success — and the protection you need to avert negative downward spirals.

So remember: A winning streak is much more important than the income it generates. It provides the fuel you need to stay motivated and maintain a successful solo business.

Keep the work coming in. Make it the priority it really is.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: October 5, 2010

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