Fear is the Mind-Killer: Fail Forward in 2024

An image of a desert

Nearly a quarter of the way into 2024, some of us have probably long forgotten about the New Year’s Resolutions we committed ourselves to on January 1. If not, wow! We’re doing great. For the rest of us mere mortals, we wrote this blog post.

It’s okay if you’ve strayed from the path of success. Consider this a pass to let yourself off the hook—at least, temporarily. As soon as you’ve recovered, it’s time to set your eyes back on the prize. But, like that phone call you’ve been meaning to return for weeks, it’s hard to pick something back up after you’ve put it down. Acknowledging our imperfections is painful. As humans, we feel shameful, afraid, and awkward when allowing others to see our vulnerabilities. But, in the spirit of this month’s blockbuster movie, Dune: Part Two, remember: “Fear is the mind-killer.” Worrying about not living up to your goals wastes time you could spend striving toward them.

Failure isn’t a bad thing – fear of failure can be. This fear can cripple your progress.

Failure Precedes Success—Always

In a groundbreaking 2019 study, researchers at Northwestern University found that failure is an “essential prerequisite” for success. According to their analysis tracking the attempts and success rate of individuals entities across different domains—grant applications, startups, and other activities—success in each field was preceded by multiple unsuccessful attempts. But, even more importantly, they found that not all failure resulted in success. 

The researchers pinpointed two factors that seem to separate eventual success from ultimate failure. First, a common thread among successful entities is that they adapted over time from their original approach. They learned from each attempt and altered their plan, getting iteratively better results that ultimately led to their goal. As the saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The second indicator of success is time between attempts getting shorter and shorter. The more times you play card a game, the better your odds of winning, and imperfect action beats inaction, every time.

“Fear Is the Mind-Killer”

So, failure can actually be a good thing if you learn how to learn from it, but how do we overcome the fear of failure? Even if you have reached your benchmarks for the year thus far, you won’t likely reach your ultimate goals if you’re drive to reach them is fueled by fear. That’s because fear is a terrible motivator. Although fear may be effective in the short-term, it’s not a long-game strategy. It depends on activating your fight-or-flight instinct, which is a last-ditch effort, not a sustainable path forward.

Dr. Wendy Suzuki, a neuroscientist at NYU and the author of Healthy Brain, Happy Life, has studied the effects of fear and anxiety on long-term memory and creativity. She explains that fear is processed in a part of the brain called the amygdala. Over time, your body can become conditioned to fear, shrinking the size of other important parts of your brain like your temporal lobe and hippocampus and increasing the size of your amygdala instead. That’s bad news for creativity and long-term memory, which are processed in the hippocampus.

Although fear is a natural response, every person has the power to overcome fear. In fact, the famous line about fear from Dune comes during a test of the main character’s humanity. In essence, the ability to put mind over matter is what separates us from other animals. So, if you’ve failed thus far, never fear. After all, you’ve still got the rest of year.

Spend this week checking in on goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the year. If you start putting in the work now, you’ll be saying, “They had us in the first half, not gonna lie,” by next January.

How do you regain motivation and inspiration when you’ve strayed from the path of success? Let us know on our Facebook page. And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more insightful articles and research. 

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