We all make goals. I even share my monthly goals on social media to help keep me accountable. As we attempt new challenges, we are faced with opportunities for growth. However, the fear of failure is a driving force behind why most people quit and never reach their goals.
It is important to remember that everyone has a different measurement for failure. While you may feel you have failed, someone else may have been really happy with the outcome you came to. It’s so easy to be hard on ourselves, especially when most people are more eager to share their successes publicly and personally.
Failure may seem final. However, it is how we respond to that failure, or potential failure, that can make or break who we are and what we can accomplish in the future. Failure is simply part of life, especially if you are someone willing to try new things and challenges.
Did you know that Michael Jordan didn’t make the varsity basketball team when he tried out his sophomore year? Or that that Oprah was fired from her first news reporter job?
Many of the most successful people failed when they first started out.
And only quite recently have we begun to hear more and more stories from successful people who have failed because they have been willing to share and be vulnerable – unafraid of judgment from others.
So, why do we fear judgement from others and failure from self – even when we know that everyone’s experienced it? Because of something called imposter syndrome, or the fear of being found incompetent. It was the biggest fear among CEO’s according to a Harvard Business Review study.
Here’s how we actually perceive failure:
Failure is embarrassing.
Failure is inhibiting.
Failure is final.
Here’s what failure actually is:
Failure is inevitable.
Failure is a learning opportunity.
Failure is the first step to success.
Of course, when we are successful, we experience a rush of positive emotions. Even physically, our bodies flood with endorphins and dopamine when we have success, prompting us to want to engage in that activity or task again. Conversely, when we fail, our bodies can be filled with cortisol, the stress hormone, and leave us without any feeling of safety to try again.
We need to remember that sometimes, stress (in small doses) can actually be beneficial. It can help drive us or even physically put us in fight or flight mode, potentially saving us. The two types of stresses I know all too well are the ones we can control and the ones we can’t.
When all the stresses are overwhelming me, and I start to fear failure, I try to find a stress that I can control and do something about it. I may not be able to control someone on my team not meeting a deadline, but I can control if the dishes get done at home. Reworking my brain to focus on control and having some success can alleviate some of the fear or negativity.
I’ve shared before How I Failed. I understand the challenges that can come up when trying to rewire your brain after a failure. However, I also know the importance of having goals. Setting goals help trigger new behaviors, helps guide your focus and helps you sustain momentum in life.
Goals help us by providing direction and also give us an opportunity for personal satisfaction. The fear of failure should not preclude us from the positive aspects of goals.
Here are some of my tips on how to deal with failure:
Be kind to yourself. You are only human. Everyone fails. No one is perfect. Mistakes are the opportunities for growth that can help us keep driving and avoid quitting.
Allow yourself to feel. Don’t ignore the negative feelings that are associated with failure. If we let ourselves feel them, and process them, we are more likely to learn and try again. If we simply ignore them and pretend it didn’t happen, we are far more likely to repeat patterns or even quit.
Recognize that failing is normal. Almost all of the strongest, smartest, most successful people we know (or idolize) have failed at something. They are all also the people who took that failure and pivoted, but did not quit.
Acknowledgement is key. Try to figure out what led to your situation of failure. Come up with ideas and ways you can do better next time. Focusing on a positive change will help you want to keep going and be in competition with yourself instead of giving up or quitting.
Try not to be afraid. Just tell yourself that failure is inevitable at some point. It really is all about what you do with that failure.
Ask for help. If you’re failing at school or didn’t get a job promotion, there are people around that can give you tips and tricks on how to do better next time. Ask for feedback and take it to heart.
Don’t dwell on it. If we dwell on our failures, we are likely to impair our performance on future efforts. Instead of dwelling on failures, try to reimagine and reframe.
Avoid threatening yourself. Saying things like “if you fail again it’s over” or “do it right this time or you’ll end up failing again” won’t be productive or put you in a positive headspace.
Rose Costas said in her article “8 Reasons You Should Be Happy When You Fail,” “We fail because we are growing, we are exploring and we want solutions to life’s problems. When you have failed and have gotten over your disappointment, you are much more likely to dig deeper within you for strength you didn’t even know you had. You will realize what you are truly made of and how resilient you are.”
The only way to guarantee failure is to not try.
If we eliminate the risk for failure, we eliminate trying at all. Therefore, we eliminate the ability to learn and grow. I love hearing about when people take failure as a driving force to try again or try something in a new way.
If you’re willing to share your stories of failure and how you responded, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.