Ep. 27 – Why You (Probably) Need To Fail More

FAILURE

Lack of success.

The definition of failure is quite a simple one. Lack of success. Or, “the neglect or omission of expected or required action”. Or, “the action or state of not functioning”. Basically, all meaning the same thing.

Failure arises in every area of life. As a nearly-business-school-graduate, I’ve heard of failure in business. There are ways to limit it, calculate and avoid it. All involve precise calculations, analyses and probabilities. In a business context, the difference between success and failure looks something like this. The cost of failure, is, quite literally, a cost. A monetary one.

 

But what does our non-business failure look like?

Because I’m somewhat of a geek, I did research on this topic, so this article would make sense and could provide some actionable life tips. Y’a know?

As human beings living in our modern society, what’s the first thing that comes to our minds when we think of failure? Fear. We don’t want to fail, and thus, we fear accidentally doing it, being it or having it. We’re constantly on guard to fight against it. Simple as that. Failure is a threat to us, which is why our most natural response to it, is fear and avoidance.

We run away from failure as if it were the plague.

Where does this fear of failure originate from?

Fear is one of the most researched and well-understood of all our emotions. What makes it easy to study, is the easily measurable physiological responses produced by it.

Fear, is also the most important emotion we have from an evolutionary standpoint. You’ve probably heard this already. Without fear, the earlier versions of humans in the prehistoric era, probably wouldn’t have survived. Learning to fear has allowed us to survive over the centuries, when your reaction to danger literally meant you either lived, or died. Danger was a big deal. We had to recognise a threat, fear it, and then act accordingly, in order to survive.

Neurologically, the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the limbic system, is considered to be the seat of fear in the brain (as well as other emotions). But fear is processed differently than other emotions, bypassing the sensory cortex on its way to the amygdala. This explains why emotional responses are often unconscious—and why phobias and anxiety may be caused by conditioned responses to stimuli that the sufferer may not consciously fear.

Fear has kept us alive. It continues to do so, even today.  We know what is dangerous because we learned it was dangerous. We fear the “danger”, we keep away from it, or fight it, and that helps us to not get killed. Great!

But, it’s not so crazy to ask ourselves why failure scares us still so much even in our modern, comfortable lives. Because, we know that even if we fail, we probably won’t die. So why do we fear failure so damn much?

Because, failure brings some not so pleasant feelings to the surface. When we fail at something, the first feelings that arise, are the feelings of disappointment (in your self), anger (at yourself or others), frustration (thrown out into the void), sadness, regret, and confusion. I know that every single one of us has ended up kicking ourselves for failing at something. More than once.

But, is fear the natural response to failure? If so, why?

You’ve probably heard some quotes shinning positive light on failure. For some, failure would be a good thing. Failure would be the stepping stone to great success! Yay!

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” – Ken Robinson

But wait… What?

Being positive about failing. Oh, what a beautiful thing that would be. I do my best to see even my short comings as a good thing. But, nonetheless, lets be honest with ourselves: failure sucks.

My positive side tells me that failing teaches you what not to do. My negative side tells me that I’ve wasted a shit ton of time and effort that I’m never gunna get back, and that I’m not as good as others.

But I understand the basis of taking failure as a positive thing. I really do. However, actually training our minds to think of it that way systematically, isn’t an easy task. It feels like the exact opposite of what we were taught to do. Ever wonder why?

Maybe now you’ve came to wonder: “Hey! Why is it that our first response to failure is fear?” “Why the heck am I so afraid to fail?!”

Maybe a part of you KNOWS, deep down, that failing isn’t that big of a deal, most of the time.

Maybe a part of you is extremely rational, and knows that it’s inevitable, because it’s physically impossible to do everything perfectly ALL THE TIME.

Lets just think about this clearly and rationally for a sec. Turn off the prehistoric voice in your head that tells you that failure = death. This is 2017.

Failure Virgin

Are you really afraid of failing at something you’ve  been repetitively and consistently been doing for the last 5, 10 or 20 years of your life? No. Of course you’re not. That’d be insane.

Then what kind of failure do we actually fear?

We fear failing to do something right THE FIRST TIME.

Is your mind as blown as mine? Do you realise that this makes no good sense, what so ever? Do you recognise this is the biggest thing holding you back? Because I’m guessing it is. If you were rational, accepting the fact that there’s a 99% chance that the first time you try something new, it’s not gunna be correct. How could it be?

We all know, realistically, that it takes years to develop a skill. We know that once we practice something enough, we will become good at it. We know that it’s impossible, to become a huge success over night.

Yet. Yet… What we fear most, quite stupidly, isn’t not being able to become good at it on the long term. We fear failing at the beginning.

Why????

Because it’s humiliating screwing things up, it hurts, and you’re not rewarded for failing. You want to feel good, and special. Failing at something new doesn’t make you feel special at all.

In school, when a teacher asked a question to the class, who got the “gold star”? The kid who tried to get an answer right, was brave enough to take a shot, but failed at providing the correct answer, or the kid who did give the right answer on his/her first try?

The one who gave the right answer, of course. As for the others, who provided no answer at all, they were able to spare themselves of the embarrassment that the one who got the answer wrong, brought upon himself/herself.

Failing > Not Trying

In high school, I loved my classes. I was one of those girls who chose to sit in front of the class, and I always participated. It was sort of a game for me, to put up my hand, and see if I had the right answer logged in my brain somewhere.

What I discovered is that, obviously, getting the answer correct on your first time, feels great. Seriously, huge confidence booster.

But, what I also found, is that getting the answer wrong, was so much better than giving no answer at all! There were about only a small handful of people who actually took part actively in the classes I took in high school. And, whether or not this sounds like I’m bragging, I felt so much better about myself getting something wrong, than just not giving a shit about the question in the first place, like many of my classmates did.

However, I’m not a superior human being. The topics discussed in class, on the grand scheme of things, really didn’t matter. Like I said, it was just kinda fun. It didn’t matter whether I was right or wrong, it never really affected me personally. But in every day life, there are a lot of things that matter to us a lot, personally and professionally. They matter because we’re invested in them, and we care dearly about the outcomes.

Getting back to the cost of failure. In business, when you fail, you loose profit. You loose a shit ton of money. But what about when you fail at a relationship? What about when you fail at getting the promotion or job you wanted? What about when your hard work doesn’t pay off? What about when you loose or have have to change paths when you arrived at a dead end?

What if we changed the currency of failure?

Actionable life tips. Failure for better success.

Highly successful people, such as JK Rowling and Richard Branson, among others,  promote failure as being the secret ingredient to their now successful lives: they failed their way to glory.

“How did they do it? But more importantly… How can I do it?? “

1/ Call it something else.

Failure is a dirty word. Well, no, actually, humans have made it into a dirty word. Call your failures something other than that. Keetering called them “practice shots”. Henry Ford called them “opportunities to begin again”. Kiyosaki called it “part of the process of success”. Rename and reframe your mishaps.

“An inventor fails 999 times, and if he succeeds once, he’s in. He treats his failures simply as practice shots.”
– Charles F. Kettering

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

“Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.”
Robert T. Kiyosaki

2/ Use it as a stepping stone.

Identify what went wrong, tell yourself you won’t do it again, and move forward.

“A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.”
John C. Maxwell

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”
Winston Churchill

3/ Don’t be a sneak.

It’s pointless hiding our failures, especially to ourselves (which is what a lot of us try to do). We think if we don’t admit to ourselves that we failed, its like it never happened, and no one will know. Don’t be silly. Be honest with yourself, learn and move on.

“There are no failures – just experiences and your reactions to them.”
– Tom Krause

“Success builds character, failure reveals it.”
– Dave Checkett

“Remember that failure is an event, not a person.”
– Zig Ziglar

4/ Refine and redefine.

Take a moment to assess what the hell just happened, and what your priorities are. Perhaps things have changed. Make sure you know where your motivation lies, why you’re trying to achieve whatever you’re trying to achieve in the first place. Get specific with yourself, and redefine the road ahead.

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”
C. S. Lewis

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”
– Michael Jordan

So there you have it folks! The keys so success and glory : Failure. Failure will open the doors to opportunity and accomplishments. Fear of failure, will close all of them, and inspire nothing but doubt and inaction. So you go do you, and don’t let fear of not doing something right the first time, keep you from doing anything at all!

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  • GoalsbyIna

    Well, I’ll keep failing until I’m not 🙂 Love your blog post 🙂

    • Thanks Ina! So glad you enjoyed it! 🙂 @goalsbyina:disqus