I love failure and allow me to tell you why you should.
More and more I find myself working with people from all kinds of backgrounds who are afraid to change or start something new because they might fail.
I used to teach in prisons, while teaching I would work with prisoners on Level 1 Maths or English, it was my job to try and “stretch and challenge” the learners to best prepare them to take an exam as quickly as possible as you were never sure how long the prisoners would be with you. However, fear of failure would raise its ugly head. All too often they would rather redo work they knew they could do rather than start something new because it usually “messed with their head”.
So… not only is failure something to fear but it is now also a sign of weakness!
So why do I embrace it?
All failure is a learning experience and a lesson in what doesn’t work. There is no inherent reason for a fear of failure. You should welcome it; failure is great feedback.
Were it not for emotional entanglements, we’d all learn from failure and move on quickly. Scientists can spend a lifetime working on a breakthrough only to find that the theory or procedure they had been working on doesn’t work. While this can be seen as a failure you could also say that they have successfully proved what doesn’t work and that this need not be repeated by any other team. We are one step nearer success!
Alas, emotional turmoil abounds when it comes to failing, even when failure is an expected part of the process. Failing is part of the process in every learning experience. How many times did you tie your shoes incorrectly before you finally got the whole shoe tying thing sorted? I love watching young children trying with that “tongue out” look of intense concentration. It’s normal and expected to fail and fail again whenever you are learning something new isn’t it? So why are you any different?
Now back to the prisoners; if you’re ridiculed for failing, you’ll quickly learn that there IS something wrong. You may come to believe the problem has everything to do with you. You may even grow to feel that YOU ARE a failure.
The powerful emotion that drives fear of failure is… humiliation. When ridiculed, it is natural to feel humiliated, especially when you’re a child. If you’re ridiculed enough, you’ll grow accustomed to feeling humiliated and may become convinced that everything you do will turn out to be wrong because of who you are.
This is how negative psychological attachments form. Negative feelings can become so infused with your identity that it’s hard to distinguish the feelings from who you are.
So, you expect failure, rejection and general negativity to continue on as part of your existence. You anticipate these negative outcomes. You may even subconsciously seek them out, as we all tend to seek out the familiar and return to your childhood default setting.
There are other symptoms to watch out for, such as:
- extreme procrastination,
- avoiding potential conflict,
- social anxiety,obsessing about mistakes,
- unnecessary perfectionism, or
- feeling trapped, with no viable options.
It’s a self-sabotaging way to be. We could call it the humiliation adaptation. When we get accustomed to humiliation early in life, we learn to anticipate it…to expect more of the same in the future. This expectation creates fear, especially of any kind of failure or mistake.
There is a way to help yourself out of this. It requires thinking about humiliation differently. Rather than something to fear, humiliation should become something to process and resolve. When you realise that an unconscious fear of humiliation is running important aspects of your life and actually encouraging you to hang on to the negative, you may become more motivated.
For example, why don’t you try the following?
- View failure as feedback. Success or failure is just the outcome of a process where you can take this knowledge and use it to learn and grow.
- Take positive action. Take those learnings and use them to define what you do next i.e. tweak the plan and try again or move on.
- Enjoy successes when they happen. You have worked hard, enjoy it!
After some time in this positive cycle, fear of humiliation should reduce.
Fear of failure equates to being the same as a fear of learning; after all, the only real failure is not trying in the first place.
Don’t hesitate to contact me for a no-obligation chat if you think I could be of any benefit to you, your team or your users.