Being afraid to fail causes anxiety for many of us, even when we don’t realize what’s wrong. In an instant we imagine a barrage of little disasters, and our hearts begin to race. What if I mess up? What if I can’t do it? People will laugh at me. People will think I’m stupid. I might get hurt, or the sky will fall. So rather than fail, we try to relieve our anxiety by deciding to never put ourselves in a position where we could be ridiculed. If our anxiety if too great, it can even send us into depression, because we’re too terrified to even move.
Surprise, failure is good for you.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” may be a cliché, but any inventor, entrepreneur, master chef or great artist will tell you that trying and failing a few times is the only way we learn things. And it’s the only way to succeed.
Look up some of your favorite heroines or heroes, and read their stories. They all failed countless times. Sometimes it gave them more resolve, and sometimes failure actually gave them the insights they needed for the problem they were trying to solve.
Is it really failure you’re afraid of?
If you look closely at something you’re afraid you’ll fail at, is it really the mistakes you’re afraid of, or what people will think? When you’re just playing around in the kitchen, even a colossal flop is no cause for anxiety. Instead it becomes a funny story to tell your friends. But having your boss to dinner, or making cupcakes that will be scrutinized by other mom’s at your child’s school, can stress you out just thinking about them.
If you discover that fear of other people’s opinions is where your anxiety is actually coming from, then you know where you need to build your confidence, and where you need to let go. If you want to look deeper, you can ask yourself why some people’s opinions seem to matter more than others, or if you have some need for approval that was never filled.
But a faster, easier way to get over trying to please people is to just stand up and say, “I don’t care.” Okay, maybe you do still care, but at least for a minute, play the part. Be the heroine. Be an Amazon warrior, be a goddess, be a clown. See yourself as someone who rolls with the punches, and laughs at her own mistakes. Imagine the biggest mistakes you can as a sort of an enormous pratfall, with the world laughing with you, not at you, and then you can dust yourself off and start again.
People may admire perfection, but they love an occasional flaw.
In this world of constant media attention, our society seems to worship the beautiful and successful. We follow every move of celebrities and demand perfection from those we admire. And yet, nothing seems to generate more attention than when our imagined heroes fall off their pedestals, and land in some well publicized muck.
What makes a celebrity or anyone we admire lovable, however, is when they skip the pedestal and let us see them as real human beings. People who don’t get everything right the first time, people who try but don’t always succeed, people who admit their mistakes but keep on going…just like us.
When you need emotional support or want to fit in, you don’t need a fan club, you need a friend. And friends don’t want to have to look up to you. They want to see you by their sides.
Follow a plan of action.
When you’ve given up your need to please, you can focus better on the task you are afraid of failing at.
I recently read a quote from Mark Twain that sums it up well:
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.”
When we are anxious and afraid of failing, we are usually looking at the end result we need to accomplish, and become frozen by the enormity of it all. But ever if we are afraid we’ll never make it, there is no reason to be afraid to start.
Accomplishing little bits of a task gives you a reason to celebrate small wins. Yes, you can do this, and now you can try the next thing you need to do. If you have problems along the way, or miss one particular mark, that does not mean that you should give up trying. A setback is not a failure. If you stumble now and then, that doesn’t mean you give up trying to walk.
Feel free to try some exciting failures.
One reason we feel so much anxiety about failure could be because we only try things that we consider vital to our lives. But about if we tried failing for fun? I will never be a figure skater. I can move forward okay, but I can’t do the little toe thing where you stop yourself in the middle of the rink. When I try that I stop myself face down on the ice. Yes, I’m clumsy, and yes I get a bruise or two. Still, I had fun trying, and failing at ice skating doesn’t bother me in the least because it is not crucial to my existence.
The more we try, fail, and have fun doing things for no reason, the more we can redefine failure, and see it as just one part of a long pattern to gain as many experiences as we can. When failure us just one more step along our journey, we have less reason for anxiety and fear.
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