Failure – a single word that causes an endless influx of negative emotions, dread and anxiety. Some more than others, but everyone experiences a sense of discomfort when encountering a threat of failure. This very feeling fosters us to enter a “protective mode”. In this mode, we avoid taking half of the opportunities that, if taken, could be life-changing for us. Fear of failure and unwillingness to admit our mistakes determines the quality of our lives. It regulates our ability to open up to our fullest potential.
On the other hand, sometimes, success can be blinding and paralyzing. If we manage to avoid failure for a long time, we get accustomed to success. We start to believe that we are immune to failure. Yet as our self-esteem becomes heavily dependent on success, the dread of failure gets even more severe. Reasoning like this, we stop growing. We force ourselves to either lower our expectations or torture ourselves in our pursuits of perfection. Both cause cognitive dissonance and misery and decrease our efficiency. However, thinking critically, one realizes that it’s not about lowering our expectations; it’s about changing our perception of failure and our attitude towards it. If instead of avoiding failure we learn to accept it and gain valuable lessons from it, we will not only meet our expectations but even exceed them. Failure, in this case, can be sobering.
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering”
To be prepared, handle failures efficiently and learn from my mistakes, I have developed a scheme of thinking that might come in handy. This helps me not only to deal with failures more efficiently but also to be less vulnerable to my fears. I ask myself the following three questions and try to be as objective and critical as possible when answering each of them.
- What is the worst thing that can happen in a given situation?
Every time I feel doubtful about taking a particular opportunity because I see a probability of failure, I develop various scenarios. What is the worst thing that can happen? What is the best thing? What’s in the middle? Having a clear-cut picture of all the possible scenarios makes me more prepared. Psychologically, it is easier to handle any situation when we are initially aware of it. Humans are really bad at dealing with uncertainty. Besides, awareness reduces the intensity of fear.
- What did I do wrong?
Whenever I fail, the first thing I do is trying to understand my fault. Where did I go wrong? It’s easy to see tall the external factors that had an adverse impact on our success. However, frequently, we do not introspect and assess our thoughts objectively. Admitting our mistakes is probably the most difficult psychological barrier to overcome but it pays off in the long-run. Think about it this way: “If I admit my mistake, no one else can point it out. Therefore, I am becoming much stronger and less vulnerable. On the other hand, if I fully understand my faults, I am much less likely to repeat them. Hence, it makes me better than yesterday.”
- Do the costs of failure overweight the benefits of success?
In finance and economics, there is a notion called loss aversion. This essentially refers to humans’ distorted perception of gains and losses and respective irrational decision-making. In a given situation, we tend to overestimate the pain of losses and underestimate the pleasure of gains. However, this bias positions us inefficiently on the risk-return spectrum. To track my thinking and decision-making, I go as far as utilizing graphing. Visualizing insights can be useful in minimizing the irrationality that’s so inherent to humans.
The Bottom Line: Embrace your failures, learn from your mistakes and don’t let fear lead your life.