The fear of failure is often at the heart of perfectionism. The idea of failure has such a powerful effect on so many of us. We hear messages from multiple sources about the importance of success, the perils of failure, and how failure can taint any accomplishment that one has worked hard to achieve. The more someone fears failure, the more likely they are to avoid trying something that they find challenging. This limits learning and the possibility of achieving something great. Obviously, without risk there can be no reward. So logically we know that we must risk failure to achieve success. I’ll take it further than that: We need failure (yes, failure) in order to achieve success.
Everything you have ever learned has been through the process of trying, failing, and trying again. The two necessary ingredients to learning are:
- Determination: You need to have the desire to change, to improve, to learn, to succeed. Often times this is motivated by the reward of success. But more often, this is motivated by the discomfort of your current situation. Dissatisfaction can be a helpful motivator to try something new.
- Interpreting failure as a part of the process: This is not wearing rose-colored glasses or practicing overly optimistic thinking. This is quite literally a fact of learning. The act of practicing is literally the act of failing over and over again until you achieve some level of competence.
It might be easier to convince ourselves of the value of failure on a logical level. It makes sense when you think it through. The more difficult task is to push through the feeling that failure produces. Failure in certain areas is more painful than other areas. This pain makes us want to avoid that particular failure. So how do you persevere through painful feelings? Wait for it…you fail your way through it.
- Try fast: Try new things. Don’t overanalyze your chances of success. Choose to do things that you will most likely fail at (at least to a certain degree). Doing it “fast” helps you to focus on the process and not get bogged down with the temporary outcomes.
- Fail fast: The more you choose to do things that include the experience of failure, the more desensitized you get to the feeling of failure. This increases your ability to withstand failure and to see it as a valuable process.
- Evaluate fast: Evaluating you progress is essential. This is where the “ah-ha” moments of learning occur.
- Try again fast: Put those “ah-ha” realizations to work and get back to it!
May you be encouraged in your failures.
Shawn Healy, PhD