Fear of Failure
Most of us recognize that fear of failure is not a good thing. We see how it negatively affects our self-confidence and magnifies mistakes in a way that can cripple our willingness, and even our ability to pursue our goals. And yet, this fear seems ubiquitous.
Why is that? In other words, if so many people see fear of failure as a problem, why is it so common… why does it still get in the way of so much of our happiness and success?
I believe the answer to this question lies in understanding how the brain works and how old, learned, perspectives can continue to influence our lives, even when we know they are problematic. For example, there is a part of the brain called the limbic system that is responsible for keeping us safe, and it does this by making us worried about not being safe.
This made sense when what we were dealing with was an environment where danger was ever-present. For example, when we were walking through the jungle and heard the roar of a sabertooth tiger, the fact that the limbic system kicked into to throw us into fight-or-flight was most adaptive.
However, in today’s world, we are rarely dealing with situations that call for a flight-or-fight reaction, however, our limbic system is still doing its thing, i.e., continually scanning the environment looking for anything it believes we should be worried about and triggering worry, stress, and fear thinking that this will keep us safe. Therefore, when it comes to any goal or behavior that has the potential for embarrassment or a negative ramification if not achieved, it tries to use fear of failure to keep us safe from any negative experience by keeping us from even trying.
While we weren’t born thinking this way, most of us were taught this “worry keeps us safe from failure” as a way to be successful in school. I mean, how many of us were encouraged or motivated to study based on the fear of getting a bad grade? Plus, it works! If we did study more, regardless of the motivation, chances are we would get a better grade, which only further validated the belief that fear of failure will lead us to success.
Sadly, however, continuing to give this fear-based belief value and validity can have several negative ramifications. One, we will live in a fairly constant state of worry/fear because our limbic system will almost always find things we “should be worried about.” Two, we will avoid trying something out of fear that we will fail, and thus never know whether we would have succeeded or not. And three, we may try new things, but we will be limited by the fact that our fear of failure will keep us stuck in the reactive brain, which means we won’t have access to all of the knowledge and skills that support success that reside in the upper 80% of the brain.
Therefore, I suggest we choose a different energy to keep us safe and support our achieving our goals… an energy that allows us to access the clear, confident, creative brain and one we would recommend to someone we love. What could that be? How about awareness versus worry, and optimism versus pessimism?
In other words, what if we looked at our life and our goals as an opportunity to define who we are, and we were choosing the qualities and characteristics that are congruent with this more purposeful self-definition in a more deliberate manner? Would we choose worry, fear, anxiety, or avoidance? Probably not. How about confidence, compassion, optimism, excitement, wisdom, caring, conscientiousness, creative, persistence, loving? Probably so.
What is the difference between these two ways of life? The first is based upon fear, and therefore engages and throws us into the fear-based brain (the brainstem). The second is not based upon the belief that worry keeps us safe, and therefore allows us to access the upper 80% of the brain (what I call “The Top of the Mind”) where these more purposeful qualities reside.
If you and/or those in your organization would like to learn a system for accessing this more purposeful brain, feel free to go to my website (BillCrawfordPhD.com), hit the contact button, and let me know what you are interested in, because until we choose to replace the “fear keeps us safe” belief with one that allows us to access our best, we will continue to allow the fear-based brain to dominate our experience of life.
~ All the best, Dr. Bill