Reach Success By Allowing Yourself To Fail

If you never know failure you will never know success Sugar Ray Leonard

We’ve all failed at some point. And even if we haven’t truly “failed” recently, there’s an even greater chance that we’ve squandered an important opportunity to grow.

Stopping ourselves from making mistakes is a disservice to progress. It holds us back from achieving our full potential, and in many cases, prevents us from ever understanding what that might even be.

The moment you fail is the moment you’ve found new territory to take or ground to cover. If we never fall down, skin our knees, and sweat, we’ll likely never get anywhere at all. When it comes to our businesses and our entrepreneurial endeavors, having a fear of failure is a good way to keep yourself from ever getting off the ground.

It’s Not A Fear Of Failure, It’s A Fear Of Shame

When psychologists talk about the fear of failure (or atychiphobia), what they’re really talking about is the fear of shame. What most often keeps us from taking a step forward isn’t a lack of desire, it’s an unwillingness to find out if we have what it takes.

It’s “armchair quarterback syndrome.” As long as we’re sitting on the sidelines, we don’t have to face the consequences of missing the winning shot. But we can always believe that if given the chance, we’d come through in the clutch.

And that’s just about the dumbest fear anyone could ever cook up for themselves.

When we maintain this type of egotism about ourselves, we go out of our way to protect our self-image—whether it’s self-sabotage, anxiety, low self-esteem, or a perfectionist persona. The problem with this is that it prevents us from ever realizing our full potential.

Life is about messing up. That’s why the few who live the greatest lives possible also profess to being the biggest screw-ups. It just comes with the territory. So if we want to live the fullest life we can, we have to be willing to find out who we are, what we can do, and just how much failure we can possibly take.

We must put ourselves out there.

Failing Your Way Forward

Success is never perfect. Nobody, and I repeat nobody, ever did anything worth doing without failing first.

Penicillin wasn’t discovered because some guy ran a perfect experiment and got the results he expected. No, penicillin was discovered because Dr. Alexander Fleming messed up. While collecting samples of staphylococcus, he left one petri dish uncovered by accident just before going on vacation. When he came back, he found that mold had grown in that dish and was killing off the staph bacteria. Do you think he’s ashamed of having stumbled upon one of the greatest medical discoveries in history? Fat chance. He worked hard and failed his way forward, ultimately pioneering a drug that would go on to save countless lives long after his death in 1955.

The same can be said for the discovery of the lightbulb, the combustible engine and gasoline, electricity, and the drafting of Tony Romo. When you go all in and don’t make decisions based on the possibility of failure, you get things done. And when you get things done, you make progress. And when you make progress, well, you wind up better off than when you started.

Overcoming the gut instinct to play it safe isn’t easy, however. Especially when we feel like something valuable is on the line. But lucky for us, there are four tried and true tools we can equip ourselves with to help us overcome our irrational fear of failure:

1. Have A Plan And Follow It

Failing for the sake of failure isn’t fun or necessary. When we fail it should be while doing something worthwhile and aimed in the right direction. That’s why it’s important to line up our dominos so we know that the reward is worth the effort.

Before you dive into a big goal that’s going to push you and cause you to fail, it’s important that you break down the steps to getting there. We call all of those steps leading to what you want to achieve “dominoes”. Because once they’re lined up and you start knocking them down in succession, your efforts are compounded.

2. Leverage Support

You are who you surround yourself with. And surrounding yourself with the right support whenever you embark on a quest for failure is important. Invite people into your life who aren’t afraid to mess up or get dirty, and you’ll watch some of your fears about failure disappear. Falling flat on your face just doesn’t have the same sting when you’re not the only one doing it.

Getting into a failure support group, or mastermind, works wonders for getting past mental roadblocks between you and success. It also offers you that little extra motivation and sense of safety that is sure to not only help you take those important steps, but pick you back up when you fall.

3. Take It One Step At A Time

Learning to fail is a skill. If we don’t give ourselves ample opportunity to fail, then we have no chance at getting better at it.

If you haven’t seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn or JJ Abraham’s 2009 reboot, you should probably stop reading this article right now and go do that instead. Or at least, just watch the first thirty minutes of each film. For those of us who have seen it, you may remember that all Starfleet Academy cadets must pass the Kobayashi Maru test. It’s a simulation exercise designed to shake their spirits by putting them in an impossible circumstance. They’re given command of a ship that, no matter the decision they make, is doomed to destruction. Those who show mental fortitude and outstanding character in the face of failure earn their long sought after prize. And those who don’t, well… Let’s just say not everyone can be Captain Kirk.

In philosophy and psychology this type of scenario is simply called a no-win situation, and life is filled with them. And when it comes to learning how to fail, they can be useful tools for figuring out how to learn from our decisions.

4. Keep A Log Of Your Results

What we measure improves. The only way to truly get better at anything is to commit to understanding where we are and how we got there. It’s not enough to fail, you have to know why you’ve failed.

Keeping a notebook of all your failures is helpful, especially if you’re working on a long project. You can study your observations to understand what you did, why you think it worked, and how you can improve the next attempt.

The key here is to not let yourself fall into the hindsight bias, where you focus too much on what should have happened instead of what can happen. This type of thinking leads us to a dead end. Stay fixed on what you can do to improve and on what you intend to do differently the second go around, and you’ll put yourself on a path for growth.

Failure is a bit of a misnomer here. You’ve only really failed if you’ve given up. In addition to these three tools, try to keep a healthy mindset and think in the long-term, not the short-term. Sure, you may have skinned your knees this time around, but that was just a part of getting where you want to be. By keeping everything in perspective, you’ll be setting yourself up for the best possible chance at experiencing success.

— Courtesy of The ONE Thing Blog

1 comment

  • Thank you!

    Brian Friel

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