It seems counterintuitive to think that embracing the fear of failure helps us succeed doesn’t it? After all we’ve been programmed to think and believe that fearing failure is a good thing, and it should be avoided at all cost. In this article I hope to change that perception, and to help you understand how fear can actually be used to your advantage.
Last week I went into the supermarket to get a few groceries. As I’m walking down one of the aisles, I noticed a lady, maybe in her late 30’s, in neon coloured gym wear shopping as well. As I walked passed her something beckoned to me to turn back. It’s one of those moments where my curiosity just wouldn’t allow me to let go the burning question I had in my head.
I made my way over, and politely said that I noticed she’s in gym wear, which I’m assuming she’s coming from the gym. I then asked her to tell me what her experience has been like trying to stick with exercising. She explained to me that she had a tendency to start the process, and typically two months in would stop once she started getting results. I then told her that I’m putting together a program to be launched in 2018 where I want to help those who struggle to stick with their fitness goals do so. Very quickly she said to me, “How? Using motivation?” I responded, “No, by using fear”.
I saw that she was taken aback by my answer, because it’s not what you would typically expect someone in my position to say. Especially due to the fact we’ve been brainwashed to believe motivation is what we need to achieve our goals. I gave her my email, and we said our goodbyes.
When working with others to help them be consistent with working towards the achievement of a goal they have, be it fitness or otherwise, I tend to focus a lot more on fear than motivation. This is because I’ve realized that as human beings, we’re more driven by fear than we are by motivation.
Understanding the Fear of Failure
Have you ever heard the saying that we fear what we don’t understand? Well that’s the same when it comes to failure. We fear it because we don’t understand it, but more importantly how to use the fear of failure to our advantage, instead of it controlling and crippling us.
We tend to fear failure for the main reason that we’re afraid of looking bad, and being judge for it by others, without understanding that failing doesn’t make us failures. It’s the fear that if I fail others will see me as a failure. Also, there is the perception that if I fail I will see and feel like a failure, and no one wants to feel like a failure.
Furthermore, we tend to fear failure based on past experiences. There was a particular time in our lives that we attempted a particular goal, but didn’t get the desired outcome we were after, and it felt painful. The pain experienced by failing caused us to see it as something negative. Therefore, our brains made an unconscious or unknowing association that attempting this goal leads to pain. Since our brains are biologically wired to avoid pain at all cost as a survival mechanism, without being aware of it, we avoid trying altogether.
However, what if instead of running away from fear we took a different approach? What if instead of avoiding it, we used the fear that we may fail as the driving force that causes us to push without giving up? That even if we don’t succeed at our first, or even several attempts, we use this fear of failure to empower us to keep going no matter how many times we fail?
Embracing the Fear of Failure to Help Us Succeed
Over the years I’ve gotten accustomed to experiencing fear, and learned how to embrace it to push me towards achieving my goals. This happened to me just recently.
Remember that program I mentioned earlier? Well how that came about was a gentleman I had worked with earlier this year and saw the results of the program approached me about working on a project. He knew the value that it brought to him and wanted to bring it others on a larger scale. I agreed as I’m always looking for new ways to make a greater impact with the knowledge I’ve acquired through my experiences over the years.
Here’s where it got tricky.
The more I started thinking about putting myself out there (spoiler alert I’m an introvert) the more I started to fear failing at it and being seen as a failure. I feared that I may not be able to live up to the expectation of imparting this knowledge and helping others make changes in their lives. I thought what if I don’t know what to do? What if I end up looking like a fraud?
Now keep in mind I’ve worked with several people on this program, and have spent the last 17 months refining my technique by working on myself and with others. Yet, there was still a fear that I would fail at something I had done so many times. It seems silly when you think about it, but that’s what we tend to do.
The benefit to this is that I quickly picked up on what my brain was doing, and knew how to use this fear to my advantage. This is where embracing fear can be used for your good. I began changing the meaning or perception of what it would mean to fail. Instead of thinking that I should not try because I would look bad if I failed, I changed it to I should do it as it will impact the lives of many people, however IF I allow myself to fail then I would not only look bad, but I would fail everyone. It’s the same fear of failure, just viewed differently.
By feeling the fear that I would fail it triggered something in me to work even harder, to put greater effort in preparation. Giving away more value to those who partake in the program than even they were expecting. To ensure that I followed through at a higher level than anyone else, because I needed to be the example for others to follow, and I can’t fail at doing so.
The intensity of feeling the fear that I may fail and look bad to others drove me to work harder, rather than cripple me and kept me from even trying.
How to Embrace Fear to Help You Succeed
Hopefully, I’ve done a good enough job in explaining how embracing your fear of failure can be used as the force that pushes you to take action and follow through on your goals, rather than not attempting them.
Let’s talk about the how-to of actually getting this done.
- Be consciously aware of when you are experiencing fear. Take note of the word consciously, what I mean is think about and pinpoint not just that you are afraid but what you’re afraid of. Unconsciously aware means that you feel the fear, you know that you’re afraid, but you may not know why or haven’t given it much thought
- Understand the fear by asking What and Why. When you’ve pinpointed what you’re afraid of ask yourself Why am I afraid of this. Then once you’ve identified that answer ask yourself What about that answer am I afraid of. Keep asking yourself What and Why questions until you feel a very heavy and uncomfortable feeling, then push pass that and keep asking, until you can no longer come up with an answer. The point is to dig deep and uncover the underlying root cause for the fear, so that we can tap into it and use it to your advantage
- Change the meaning of the fear. Now that you know what it is you are afraid of, change what it means to you internally. Therefore, if you believe the fear of failure means that you are a failure, change it to mean that I will use this fear to push and challenge myself to improve, and prove to myself (and others) that I’m not a failure. If you see and accept the fear as being there to help you and push you, rather than hurt you and paralyze you, then you’ll see it as something working for your good
- Feel the fear and use it anyway. Think about this fear and feel the pain that it will cause if you fail. Now take that fear and use it to take action, and take action consistently. How you do that is by using the fear to say to yourself “If I don’t take action on this then I will fail and be seen as a failure”. By doing so the terror that you experience should push you into taking action. This may be difficult if it’s your first time using this technique. What I recommend is taking action immediately without thinking, then once in action use the fear to keep you going
By taking action consistently, it’s only a matter of time before you succeed, and achieve your end goal.
The fear of failure, or any fear, is simply a matter of the mind. Understand that fear is neither good nor bad, it’s a matter of how we choose to perceive it, and the meaning we attached to it. Does fear push you or cripple? Is it an indication that you shouldn’t move forward, or an indication that because you’re afraid it means you’re making the right decision?
By learning how to face, embrace, and use fear to your advantage to break through and get a desired outcome, it develops a feeling of power, courage, and control over your life, with the certainty that you can conquer any challenge that comes in your way.
To your success my friend!
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