By Kenneth W. Christian, Ph.D.
Three fears lead directly to underachievement: fear of failure, fear of success, and fear of making a mistake.
Any of these fears can paralyze initiative. When all three are working, initiative grinds to a halt.
How many of these fears plague you?
Usually, we experience some of each. If even one gets in the way of moving forward, it’s not good.
In this article I am going to tell you steps to take to get past the first of these three fears, fear of failure.
But first, let’s zero in on what each of these fears creates in us.
Fear of failure inclines us to duck out on challenges, pull back effort and quit.
Fear of success tempts us to procrastinate, fall behind and make excuses.
Fear of making a mistake prompts us to avoid going all the way to our dream for fear that what we held as our dream might turn out to disappoint us.
All three lead to adult underachievement—doing less with our abilities than we know we could.
And self-attack and energy-sapping mood swings follow.
Here’s what to do to get past fear of failure.
First realize that to duck out on a challenge, quit, or pull back effort, is to accept defeat from the outset.
You guarantee failure when you hold back effort. So if failure is what you want to avoid, perversely, by trying to avoid it, you acquiesce to it.
This is bombing the village to save it or setting fire to your house so you have an excuse for losing your keys.
Abstaining from effort is a no-contest way of submitting to failure—and by your own hand.
In effect, it’s a form of self-betrayal if not suicide to your opportunities. By your attempt to avoid failure, you embrace failure without resistance.
To move forward, instead of disengaging, engage.
Get in the game. Make your statement, be a presence and a participant in your own life. Do what you can do and decide to learn from the outcome. In other words, instead taking a perfect-or-nothing stance, be a beginner, a learner.
Make your effort a work in progress. Assess the results of your efforts, and then resume with the knowledge gained.
The rewards of engagement alone are colossally more pleasurable, no matter the outcome, than the relief you imagined you would have by yielding to fear in order to avoid failure.
Avoiding failure provides no satisfaction. And you feel like a coward. Engaging, on the other hand, immediately yields satisfaction, even when you are not successful the first time out.
In fact, you should presume you won’t be successful the first time out. Would what you are doing really be worthwhile or significant if it were so easy?
Only by engaging, do you learn.
Besides, where’s the satisfaction of sitting on the sidelines of life?
When you understand that what you do by the mere act of engaging is of inestimably greater importance than whether you fail or not, you immediately live on a different, more vivid, plane.
A failure makes judgment of who you are as a person in only one way: it stands as proof that you are a person who wants to go beyond the status quo and that you are in the process of stretching and learning.
The outcome of any effort reflects only what you have learned so far.
© Copyright Kenneth W. Christian, Ph.D. Re-published with permission.
Video: How to Change your Life: 4 Secret Steps to Successful Change
Article excerpted from the blog of Kenneth W. Christian, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist “whose sole focus for the last twenty years has been helping individuals, parents, educators and organizations and their leaders remove limitations and maximize potential.”
He is founder of the Maximum Potential Project and author of the book Your Own Worst Enemy: Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement. He has also authored, with Dianne Hales, An Invitation to Personal Change.
Get free access to his training videos at the site:
Photo of Thomas Edison added by site author Douglas Eby. My related article: Creativity and Innovation in Business.
Creative-thinking expert Michael Gelb comments, “Thomas Edison is the best example for those who wish to nurture the spirit of innovation in an organization.”
But there are some “dark sides” to this “greatest inventive genius.” The Wikipedia page for Thomas Edison notes the day after he died (1931), the New York Times quoted Nikola Tesla as saying about Edison:
“He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene. [...] His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90% of the labour.
“But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor’s instinct and practical American sense.”
The page adds that one of Edison’s famous quotations regarding his attempts to make the light bulb suggest that perhaps Tesla was right about Edison’s methods: “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”