Failing for success: the key to resilience

There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve,
the fear of failure”.
Paul Coelho

A few months ago, I wrote an article on letting go of perfection and closely tied to this topic is the fear of failure and how this pushes people to do more, to become anxious and push themselves to exhaustion and burnout.

It all comes down to how you look at failure and the mindset that you adopt when faced with challenges. For all of us, failure is unpleasant.

The fear of failure is such a psychological threat, that our motivation to avoid failure exceeds our motivation to achieve success.  Our fear cripples us and sabotages chances of progress and growth. I can’t count the number of times I have coached executives on this subject- it touches almost everyone to varying degrees.

The inner voice

All of us experience fear of failure at some time. It’s a little voice that speaks to us and tells us that we are not good enough, that we don’t have the skills and that we are bound to fail. It tells us that we will be ashamed and ridiculous. All of this often happens at an unconscious level and we may not realize when that voice has spoken. This is why it is important to recognize your inner critic and be aware of the beliefs that you might hold. Self-awareness is the first step in working on a new approach to develop resilience and stress management.

Overcoming fears with a Growth Mindset

fixed mindset is one where you believe that your qualities or skills are carved in stone and that you are as you are. Your future is fixed. This mindset as described by Dr Carol Dwexck in her book “Mindset”, means that you have to prove yourself and in particular prove your amounts of competencies and intelligence so as not too look inadequate. This mindset causes you to push yourself and to be very worried about any failure.
However, a growth mindset in which you believe that your qualities and skills are things that you can cultivate through learning and effort helps to dispels the fear of failure by empowering individuals to see that through application and through trial and error great things can be achieved. Individuals with a growth mindset do not allow failure to define them. In a growth mindset failure is seen as a means of growing, creating, innovating and of gaining more insight into what is needed to progress.

Many great scientists, inventors and business moguls appreciate the virtues of failing.  General Motor’s Charles Kettering was one of the greatest inventors of our time. He understood perfectly the importance of failing and described it as one of the great arts in the world. And of course, everyone knows that Thomas Edison failed on many occasions before he finally invented the light bulb. When questioned on his many failures he said that he hadn’t failed 10 000 times but had succeeded in finding 10 000 methods that didn’t work.

Overcoming your fear of failure

As we have seen above it is important to reframe failure and to observe your inner thoughts. At HumanForce, we coach executives and provide specific resilience training to move beyond the fear of failure. Here are a few tips that we can share to get you started on this journey:

  • Spend time listening to your inner critic and become aware of the beliefs that you have on failure.
  • Consider whether your beliefs are holding you back and how you might see things from a different perspective.
  • When your fixed mindset says, ”What if I fail?” or ”I can’t do this as I might fail”, actively challenge those beliefs with questions such as “ is this really true” and “what is the proof for my belief?”
  • Learn to adopt a growth mindset and to see that failure is part of growing and necessary to becoming more proficient.
  • Learn not to be dismissive when you fail. Introduce the word “yet”. Adding this word at the end of a sentence implies work in progress rather than a fixed outcome. For example, “I haven’t learned how to do this task yet” is far better than” I can’t do this task”.
  • When faced with a challenge or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, focus on the process needed and break it down into small steps. This approach will reassure you and quell any worries about failure.
  • Spend time with positive people. Your attitude and mindset can be heavily influenced by the mindsets of those around you.
  • Try something new that is without too much risk and that doesn’t have any direct bearing on your work. This will help you get used to change and going out of your comfort zone.

For more information contact HumanForce consulting