The launching of Chandaryan 3 has been a monumental step in the field of space exploration for India. Definitely, it gave me immense pride in my great nation and made me think a little deeper about something all of us deal with but rarely talk about.
When we set our goals and start moving towards them, there are numerous apprehensions that come to our mind. The most prominent would be a ‘fear of failure’ and many other apprehensions associated with it. Over the years, I have discussed similar stuff with my parents and they have often said to me – “It’s not your decision to make, you just do what you need to do”.
And, as often, they were right. We constantly limit our options by deciding for others. All I had to do was, keep on working towards my goal.
You probably have seen this pattern countless times in yourself and others. It’s far easier not to fail when you haven’t tried. It’s far easier to not be wrong when you’re not putting yourself out there. But it’s also much harder to grow as a human being when we avoid getting out of our comfort zone.
So the moot question that arises is this – If this fear of failure is so bad for our personal and professional growth, why is it so common?
We all want to be loved
Fear of failure starts in early childhood. We are social animals and feel the need to be accepted by others, which begins with the acceptance and love of our parents. The more the parents showed a negative reaction to what they perceived as a failure from their kid, the more the kid would fear the consequences of “failing.”
For most people, though, fear of failure manifests itself in a much more subtle way, mainly self-doubt that prevents us from exploring uncertain paths. For example :
- We put off doing things because we’re unsure how they will turn out.
- We avoid situations where we may have to try something new in front of other people.
- We avoid doing things we know will improve our lives because we don’t have all the necessary skills.
But the good news is that nobody is hoping for you to fail. Most people you know would be happy to see you succeed, and the ones who don’t know you don’t care.
So how can you shift your perception and overcome your fear of failure?
Build Your perception of possible
Let’s say, that when you start reading a novel, you rarely expect to finish it in one go. Instead, you will probably read a few chapters, then a few more, until you’re done with the book. Strangely, we’re not so pragmatic when it comes to personal goals.
It’s common to look at a long-term goal and never get started because it seems too far out of reach.
But we can reshape our perception of what’s possible by breaking our journey into smaller, more achievable parts.
Achievable, in this case, does not mean something where you are certain of succeeding, but rather something that you can put to the test in the short term, without being able to use any excuse to put it off.
Let’s say you have a fear of public speaking and use the excuse that, in any case, nobody has ever invited you to speak at a conference. A small, achievable experiment would be to become an MC in a social gathering or try to apply it to every Monday meeting ( I prefer to call them ‘ Morning Raga’).
Fail like a scientist
If you see life as a giant experiment where your goal is to explore as much as you can to obtain answers to your questions, failure becomes an investment to get closer to these answers.
Scientists often repeat experiments thousands of times to get a conclusive answer. And more often than not, the answer they get is that their initial hypothesis was wrong. Not performing the experiment would have allowed them to stay in a cozy limbo of being not wrong, but then we wouldn’t have any science.
This is why approaching failure like a scientist is so powerful. By making decisions that will let you learn something new, you are guaranteed to be successful—where success is learning, evolving, and growing as a human being. Failing becomes a way to cultivate aliveness.
Increments of curiosity
Have you ever heard a cliche saying – ‘ Keep your inner child alive and never let it go away’? This is another way to approach your fear of failure and think like a kid.
Reconnecting with your inner child is a great way to overcome your fear of failure.
For example: What will happen if I publish this post? How does it feel to speak my mind? Instead of imagining all the ways you may fail, turn your doubts into questions. Maybe nothing good will happen, but a child would not take the answer for granted.
Start with something small, then move on to another iteration—a bigger growth loop. With time, your mind will become increasingly comfortable trying new things and constantly expanding your horizons.
Practically, here is how you can start applying this approach of deliberate experimentation right now:
- Pick something you’ve been putting off because of your fear of failure. Is it public speaking? Starting a blog? Writing a Newsletter? Write it down.
- Define one small experiment you can design to explore this fear. It should be actionable. For example, apply to a few social gatherings to give a talk, or write an article as a Google Doc and share it with friends. It should be simple enough that you can do it in a few hours at most.
- Do it! Don’t plan anything. Don’t research the best way to go about it. Don’t announce it. Just do it.
- Rinse and repeat. Keep defining incremental steps in the form of experiments that fall out of your comfort zone but are not scary to the point of being paralyzing. Again, avoid overthinking it beforehand. Just do it, and reflect only after you have performed the experiment.
You may feel some anxiety or discomfort along the way, but addressing your fears and trying new things you care about with a perception of possibility is the best way to avoid another feeling that’s much harder to manage (regret).
Take good care & enjoy reading your dose of cerebral happiness.
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