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Self Defeating Beliefs

10th May 2018

Self Defeating Beliefs

‘Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right’

Famous words attributed to Henry Ford of the Ford Motor company in c.1927 and never a truer word was spoken. In this simple phrase, Ford encapsulates the essence of the psychology of Self-Defeating Beliefs. Amazingly, this was about 30 years before Dr Albert Ellis pioneered the concept of Irrational Beliefs.


Irrational Beliefs

Irrational Beliefs are the things we tell ourselves, or the rules we live by. We believe these thoughts to be true, but they are rarely based in fact. However, these powerful beliefs are the thoughts that stop us from achieving our goals and being the best we can be. These are the thoughts that create the fear of the unknown. They create fear of the future, or the fear of attempting new things in case we fail.  

Irrational thinking, as described by Albert Ellis, distorts reality and generates some illogical way of evaluating yourself. You judge other people and the world around you. More often than not you could be entirely wrong.


One of the common irrational beliefs I come across when coaching executives is perfectionism. Perfectionism is often thought of as a positive attribute. However it can actually set you up for procrastination and failure.  Perfectionism describes the belief that you can never be quite good enough. You may believe that any little mistake you make or imperfection you have makes you a less worthy person. 

You may put off doing things for fear of failure. Applying for a new job, learning a new skill or trying a different way. Henry Ford’s words once again: “the only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing”.

People who hold the self-defeating belief of perfectionism often think that others will not accept them for who they truly are.  

Perfectionism can also have a negative affect on your career. It can slow you down to such an extent that you could be thought of a slow, overly cautious, not dynamic or challenging. These are not good qualities if you’re trying to develop your career.

Perfectionism doesn’t exist. It is an impossible state, an unachievable ideal. If you are a perfectionist, you are likely to be less confident and often disappointed that you can never quite grasp this nirvana.

But where does this irrational thinking come from? 

Albert Ellis tells us that it is founded in one of the most common irrational beliefs. ‘To feel happy and be worthwhile I must achieve, and succeed at whatever I do, and make no mistakes’.

If you have this belief, I believe, you are setting yourself up for disappointment, it is not an achievable goal to go through life succeeding at whatever you do and making no mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone fails at something, sometime – they are still loved and happy.

Henry Ford again: “Failure is simply an opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently”.


David Holmes

Hurds Hill

Founder – Transformation Leadership Group

Lecturer In Leadership –  University Centre Yeovil College






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