Do you constantly worry about what could go wrong if you try something new? Here’s why letting go of this anxiety, and embracing the idea of failure, could lead to bigger and better things…
CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful
In a world where carefully-curated social media feeds show us pictures of perfection and success every day, failure is not something many of us like to admit to. In fact, a lot of us will go out of our way to avoid it, focusing on the ‘what ifs’, and shying away from any potential disappointments. But worrying too much about failing can hold us back in many ways.
This is something Iona Russell, life coach and author of Making Waves, focuses on a lot in her work. “A fear of failure stops us from trying new things, creates self-doubt and slows us down,” she explains. “If we give in to that fear all the time, we will never achieve anything. Imagine if, as an infant, we stopped trying to crawl or walk – we would never have learned to run!”
Psychotherapist and leadership coach Deborah Maloney-Marsden agrees. “When we don’t take risks, we keep ourselves small and we don’t live expansively,” she says. “Sadly, it means that so many of us are not living to our full potential.”
As these experts explain, failure is part of what makes us who we are. Often, we learn far more from our mistakes than we do from our successes, and this is what allows us to grow. It’s in these moments of risk-taking that we truly strip back our layers and discover things about our inner resilience and capabilities that we never knew.
“When we make mistakes we experience an essential part of being human,” Deborah adds. “We start to learn that we don’t need to be perfect, and it’s OK to be fallible. It helps us accept our whole self. When we see ourselves survive, even when we fail, we grow. We learn lessons for the future and we build resilience, confidence and self-esteem.”
It’s often these skills that will – ironically – help us succeed later in life. For life coaches such as Iona and Deborah, then, the key to feeling more fulfilled is working out how to limit our doubt, and instead focus on courage and curiosity. “We need to be careful to not fall into fear,” Iona says. “Our minds want to keep us safe in the circumstances we’re in, and in the comfort zone. But, magic happens outside the comfort zone.”
Keen to explore the magic of your dis-comfort zone? Our experts share their insights…
Consider whether there’s a reason you’re scared
While we all worry about not succeeding in certain areas of our life, for some this may stem from an event in our past. “Be aware of the roots of your fear,” advises Deborah. “Were you overly criticised in the past? Was too much expected of you, and now only perfection will do? Have you been painfully humiliated at some point?”
Answering these questions can help you move forward to embrace your fear. “Knowing and naming the difference between the past and the present is really important,” Deborah says. “It allows you to have dual awareness, and operate from the place in your life that you are in now, not the past.”
Ask yourself what you’re actually worried about
What is it that’s holding you back? Questioning this is really important, says Iona. “Is it being unsuccessful? Or people disliking you? If you know what’s holding you back, that’s half the battle. Address and acknowledge your worries, and let them go.”
Also consider all the benefits of trying something new – and focus on the positives. “Our self-esteem and confidence grow when we get out and try things,” says Deborah, adding that we should gently challenge any inner voices that tell us differently.
Realise the potential for growth
In Deborah’s opinion we need to embrace our ‘edge’ – this is where we challenge ourselves, and the area where we can learn the most. “This is the place where things can feel scary and uncertain,” she says, “and it’s often the point at which we decide to back out. But, if we can start to stay here longer, and tolerate the feeling of working at our edge, we have the potential for growth.”
Know the difference between a potential opportunity, and an irresponsible risk
Some things really are risky, and having a fear of failure in these cases is a must. This isn’t just about times where your life may be in danger but, for example, where your financial security may be impaired, or your mental wellbeing impacted. In these situations, taking a step forward should be properly considered.
“Evaluate what may be genuine danger,” says Deborah. “Remember, we’re trying to work at our internal edge, not endanger ourselves!” Take a moment to reflect, and don’t feel like you need to rush in. This can help us decide what risks we shouldn’t take, and also those we should. If you can distinguish between the two, confidently, then you should feel more secure taking the risks that are safe.
“Write a list of the things that you would love to do, or achieve,” Deborah says. “Start to make small steps in these areas. It’s not about the end goal, but little wins, learning, and growing as you go. It will build your confidence as you start to experience different outcomes, and your ability to flex and adapt. Ask for feedback, tips to move forward, and integrate these as you go.” You’ll soon see that being adaptable, and overcoming small setbacks, is easier than it looks.
See the lessons in failing
“Overcome disappointment by re-framing it,” says Iona. “Call it a lesson in life. Ask yourself what that perceived failure taught you, and then move forward. You’ve tripped, now focus on getting up. Consider how you can tackle the problem with a positive growth mindset.”
Evaluate what worked and what didn’t, and think about how you could have done things differently. The lessons learned here can help you thrive later.