FIGHTING FEAR OF FAILURE
Pallavi Pinakin explains why it’s crucial to overcome the fear of failing
Fear of failure is encoded in the human race. In our earliest cave dwelling days, a small misstep while hunting or seeking shelter could mean the difference between life and death. Though times have moved on and minor mistakes rarely signify imminent death anymore, the fear of failure has remained programmed into our biological makeup.
So why should we unlearn the lessons that we’ve been taught since we were children especially as we live in a society that values security, the status quo and minimal risk taking?
The answer is paradoxical, yet obvious.
So the more you fail, the more you’ll win. Failure is unavoidable but success is sadly not. And the only way to reach your goals is try and try again; and by extension, fail and fail again.
If you try long and hard enough, your chances of succeeding will increase. But if you give up early enough, you’ll miss out on what is around the corner. In short, if failure is not on the agenda, success isn’t either.
Think about J. K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney… The list of incredible success stories where people did nothing but fail in their early days is endless.
Other examples are less grandiose but equally impressive. For instance, any scientist must conduct hundreds of futile tests and dead-end experiments before being rewarded with that ‘eureka’ moment.
Here are some ways in which we can unlearn the fear of failure that we’ve been carrying with us since we were young.
FACE THE WORST Try this exercise – if X, then Y. What’s the worst that can happen if you fail? For instance, a risk you take at work could go south and your boss may shout at you. Can you take the scolding, learn from it and move on?
A more extreme example would be if you want to quit your job and start working on something you love… but you might earn less. Can you get by with a little less for a while?
More often than not, the fear of consequences is worse than the actual ramifications that arise. This exercise provides the added bonus of being prepared for various scenarios and not being caught unaware. It will help you anticipate different pitfalls and create diverse backup plans.
LEARN FROM FEAR Bravery is famously – yet, counterintuitively – defined as ‘not the absence of fear but the triumph over it.’ The ability to fail itself is a victory because it means you acted. So don’t give fear too much power. Rather, welcome it as your teacher and learn from it.
With this mindset, you’ll have only two possibilities ahead of you: either you will win or you will learn. If you fail, you can congratulate yourself on having acquired an important business, relationship or life lesson.
Organisations ranging from Amazon to Pixar have established a culture of encouraging failure along every step of the way as it makes for the greatest learning curve.
TRY BEING BOLD Like any other skill, bravery can be acquired. Seize everyday opportunities to be courageous. Talk to a stranger in order to conquer shyness. Pick up a physically demanding sport, and leave behind your fear of pain and exertion.
Tell your annoying neighbour how you feel as a way to overcome your anxiety of confrontation. Rehearse being bold and enjoy those small daily victories. And soon, you will see the skill being transferred to other more significant aspects of your life.
BE UNRELENTING This can help to reset the all-or-nothing parameters we tend to set for ourselves. Quit smoking but faltered after two straight weeks of being cigarette free? Don’t be disheartened. Jump right back into chain-smoking, effectively setting your progress back to zero. Recognise it for what it is – a small step back; a blip on the radar. Dust yourself off and continue.
SET SMALL GOALS Can’t take the big leap? Rather than opening with a bang and failing big, start small and take progressively bigger leaps until you feel confident. For example, rather than aiming to finish a novel by year’s end, set a goal of writing one chapter by the end of the month.
This way, instead of jumping over a huge distance from starting point A to finish line B, you’ll lay out a series of sturdy stepping stones that are much easier to navigate. A misstep at any point will only set you back a short distance rather than send you plunging into a chasm.
KEEP TRYING Change the definition of failure – because viewing any undesired outcome in life as failure means never getting out of one’s comfort zone.
Try instead to think of true failure as what happens when fear paralyses you into remaining in a state of indecision and inaction.
Failure doesn’t mean losing; rather, it means not trying at all. Nobody likes not winning but that is usually a temporary state and has a fix. And the inability to even try permanently relegates you to a life of stagnation in a rut.