Examining our failures isn’t an easy thing to do. Accepting reality means taking a hard look at your mistakes, owning them, and creating a new plan of attack to make your next approach more effective.
But look at it this way: You’re still standing, which means you have the opportunity to analyze, make corrections, and then move forward from whatever the failure taught you. The fact that you are still here also means that you have one less reason to fear failure. It didn’t kill you. Now you can use it to make you stronger.
The first step that you need to take is identifying when fear might be holding you back. You can’t achieve and sustain success until you learn to overcome fear’s attempts to stop you in your tracks.
Where fear originates
When imagined fear overwhelms you, it’s important to recognize that there are two sources of fear: an avoidance of loss or an aversion to change. Once you understand which one you’re dealing with, you can then weigh the course of action necessary to achieve your goals.
A word of warning–you’ll probably have to do something that goes against your brain’s preference for safety. And yes, you might fail. The more audacious the goal, the more likely you are to fail at some point. You need to be comfortable with this possibility because creating something of value often involves dissecting failure’s lessons.
Fear as procrastination
Without goals, you have no direction or destination. When you put pen to paper and inscribe those goals in your journal, realize that an unwritten challenge will accompany each goal. As you start to take action, you might understand that something else is stopping you: emotional uncertainty and the feeling of loss.
Once you recognize that fear is getting in your way, you must locate the source of your anxiety and find a way to move forward in spite of it. You don’t negotiate with it; you find a way to accept the uncertainty that accompanies the feeling of failure. Fear disguises itself as procrastination or distraction. You think to yourself, “I’m not ready. It’s not the perfect time. I’m not good enough. I’ll be better tomorrow.”
But you’ll find that distractions will come up every day–derailing or deferring the direct-line pursuit and obtainment of your goal. It’s the salesperson who, instead of making cold calls, creates files, rearranges the office space daily, takes an hour in the break room before, during, and after lunch, and then performs like a dilettante, not a professional. Dilettantes have a passing interest; professionals are invested in the outcome. Hours go by, and they lost momentum. And as the hours sweep by, so goes the day, the month, and the year.
Most fail to recognize that it’s an irrational fear that holds them back in life. We tend to blame external obstacles for our internal unwillingness to put ourselves in play. The things in life that are of value and critical to our success will bring us up close and personal with the genuine prospect of failure.
As babies, you’re born with only two fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises–you would have learned every other fear from your environment. As a result, you may never wholly unlearn your social fears, but you can deal with them once you understand their origin. This awareness is the first step in understanding the difference between danger and imagined fear. The second step is to make a conscious decision to change. At this stage, ask yourself this question: If everything goes up in flames, what’s the worst that can happen?
Know it, protect it, and then develop the means and methods to create your upside. Own this as your personal nonnegotiable: If you’re ever to achieve the success you seek, you must first be able to differentiate between irrational fear and real danger.
The three steps to framing your failure
1. Don’t let fear prevent your success. Fear prevents you from making an effort to improve. Facing your fear requires you to recognize the source of it. When you do confront it, you’ll have to make a decision. Do you move through it, or do you surrender to its existence through fear avoidance? To have any chance of success, you must be willing to do the former.
2. Learn which particular fear is causing your inertia. You are the sum of your fears, and some of your fears are greater than the rest. First, you need to identify which fear is causing your delay. The more exposure you have to your fear, the less in severity it will be. Start with small steps, but expose yourself to your fear.
3. Once you’ve learned which fear is holding you back, you need to move through it. Fear or need–whichever is the stronger emotion–will determine your direction. Either you’ll shrink up, make excuses, and create conditions and obstacles, or you’ll look in the mirror, understand the origin of your fear, face it, and make it happen.
Fear is a powerful tool. It can cripple you, but it can also take your life to a whole new level. Choose the latter by identifying where it comes from, and develop a plan of action to confront it. In that moment, it might seem like the hard thing to do–but it’s a choice you won’t regret.
This article is adapted from Fail More: Embrace, Learn, and Adapt to Failure As a Way to Success by Bill Wooditch. It is reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill Education.