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Fear of Failure

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." This quotation is attributed to Robert the Bruce after watching a spider trying to climb back to its web. He saw that the spider was not afraid of failing; it simply kept failing until it succeeded.

Failure is a part of our daily lives; it is one of the ways that we learn. It could even be said that the only person who has never failed is the one who has never done anything. Many people are so afraid of failure that they would rather no try in the first place. If they don't try, then they can't fail.

One of the ways we cope with the fear of failing is by creating an invisible wall around us. This is called a comfort zone. We will do lots of things within our comfort zone, but if someone asks us to do something new, and we see it as being outside our comfort zone, we tend to shy away.

We make lots of excuses for not trying new things. Maybe "it's too hot" or "maybe another day". Whatever the excuse, what we are usually saying is that we are afraid that we will get it wrong and look foolish. Embarrassment is a major part of the fear of failure.

People who are not afraid of failure often make lots of mistakes, sometimes make fools of themselves, but they are not worried. They have a confidence about them; they are not confident of success, just not afraid if they do not get it right. It is the people who are too concerned about appearing undignified or not in control that are afraid of failing.

Many people have a fear of admitting when they have done something wrong. It is as if their whole ego is at stake. For some, the constant fear of failure results in a paralysis which prevents them from attempting anything at all.

Where does this fear of failing come from? It is usually built into us by the time we first go to school. If not, the school may have had a hand in it. When the consequences of getting something wrong are huge, then we become too afraid of failing and feel it is better to back away. If you tell a child to try something and if they get it wrong it doesn't matter, they will try many times until they work out how to succeed. If the child is punished for not doing something correctly, they will be taught that trying without a high probability of success is too risky.

Children learn by watching their parents. If a child sees a parent getting things wrong at first, but persisting until getting it right, the child will learn and not be afraid of failing. Remember the three Ps; "Perfect Parents are a Pain"; if parents are always getting things right, a child may be too afraid to try for fear of doing something wrong and displeasing them.

Parents often place unreasonable expectations on their children. Often parents compare one child's performance with another; this makes the poorer performer afraid of trying anything.

The fear of failure can be resolved but it takes a little work. Failing to do something simply means that you haven't succeeded yet. It is not that you cannot do something, it is just a matter of timing. Given a bit of time and being prepared to learn from your mistakes, you will find out how to succeed.

One of the most common ways of learning is called "trial and error". We keep trying and making mistakes but get closer and closer to the right answer until, eventually, we do it right. This is an acceptable strategy in all activities. An aeroplane on autopilot invariably arrives at its destination. During the flight, however, it is constantly correcting its position because 90% of the time it is off course. Minor course changes enable it to reach its destination safely. No one laughs at the autopilot.

In reality is does not matter if you get things wrong unless you are doing something with serious consequences. If your job is packing parachutes, making a mistake is not an option.

If you are afraid of failing, and will not do something which is outside your comfort zone, find out more about the problem. Ask how other people do it, do a little research. What this does is to enable you to bring the problem within your comfort zone instead of stepping outside it. You may still get it wrong but you will get it right much quicker.

The fear of failing usually comes from childhood conditioning, so it is important that you question things that you have been taught in early life. Look back at how you felt when you were learning things. If you were punished for getting things wrong, or ridiculed by people, the probability is that you will expect ridicule if you get things wrong today. By challenging how you were taught, you should be able to reprogram yourself to accept failure as a natural step on the road to success.

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