August 9, 2012
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Which is worse – the fear of failing or actually failing?
All of us have things that we won’t attempt to do since we believe we will fail when we try. We’re not interested in finding out if we are right about them or not. We’ve decided that whatever it is, it’s not worth attempting – the potential cost of failure is too high.
Note that it’s the fear of failure and not failure itself that keeps us from trying. We don’t actually know if we would fail, and fear keeps us from finding out if we are right or not.
I’m not in favor of failure, either. It’s no fun, it can be painful, and the memories can last a lifetime. But I am very much in favor of failure when it is the result of thoughtful planning and a sincere effort to achieve something. (More players lose at the Olympics than win.) Failure is a form of feedback, a form of learning. For example, when children fall off their bikes while they are learning to ride, they get feedback, and they can learn that they need to sit or balance in a different way. Then they can try again. When we try to solve a problem and the method we choose fails, we get feedback, and we can learn to adjust our approach.
Personally, I would rather deal with failure than fear. I can’t fight fear. It’s like a ghost that appears and taunts us, but when we try to suppress it, it vanishes only to appear later. Failure, on the other hand, is often concrete. We fall and hurt ourselves trying to climb a tree. We get a D and learn that being good at math requires far more work than we thought. We lose a job due to our lack of judgement, spend money on plans that fall through, and say or do things that drive people away from us. We can correct these mistakes, which failure has made clear. But we can’t remove the fear that colors our anticipation of failure.
So for me, failure beats fear. I can learn from my mistakes, but I’ll never grow from the mistakes I’m afraid to make.
March 21, 2012
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When faced with difficult choices most of us hesitate. Some of us hesitate longer than others, and some people simply freeze when confronted with hard choices. Most often we pause because we are waiting for more information. Sometimes we are waiting for a sign that it is OK to proceed. We crave clarity in our decisions and actions. And often it makes sense to wait until we have enough information to make a sound decision. But not always.
The hesitation that poisons the mind arises when we know what we need to do, but we delay. We say we need more information when in fact the real issue is our emotional discomfort. We don’t want to face the situation, person or decision right now. So we delay. And delay. And the opportunity or choice goes away. And then we doubt our ability to make decisions. So the next time we face a decision we question ourselves and hesitate again. Over time we develop a habit of waiting too long, and opportunities vanish and people no longer ask us for our opinion.
It’s OK to hesitate because we don’t know enough to make a good decision or because we are caught off guard. It’s not a good idea to hesitate simply because we are not emotionally prepared to choose or because we would rather wait. Choices go away and situations change rapidly. Opportunities evaporate.
So it’s good to learn to tell the difference between hesitating because you truly need more information, and hesitating because you are scared to make a commitment. And you can prepare yourself for situations and decisions that you see coming your way. When fortune calls, you don’t want your response to be, “Can it wait just a second?”
January 15, 2012
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Emotions can enrich our lives. Who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of pleasure that comes from accomplishing something difficult or helping someone who is in need? Who doesn’t like the delight that accompanies mastering a new skill? And who doesn’t comprehend the relief that comes when we forgive someone who has hurt us deeply?
Emotions add color to our lives. However they can also darken our experiences, and we need to understand how to recognize and manage the emotions that don’t serve us well. Here’s my list of the 5 most dangerous ones:
Let’s look at these one at a time:
Fear causes us to freeze, to hesitate and doubt ourselves and our abilities. It is often an instinctive response to new situations and experiences. If we don’t acknowledge it and factor it into our lives it will secretly dominate our lives. What we fear controls us. It distorts our thinking and limits our willingness to grow.
We can’t will fear away. We have to work around it. And we can use it to our advantage.
Personal example: I dislike heights. Climbing ladders freaks me out. But I own a house where I have to use a ladder to do certain jobs. So I have learned to manage my fear. I know I am going to be nervous when I’m 25 feet up, so I factor this into my actions. I acknowledge the fear, and use it to slow myself down and focus on doing things safely, one step at a time. The fear doesn’t go away. I redirect it to help me succeed.
The result? I’m still afraid but I get the work done. I don’t expect the fear to go away. I’ve learned to use it to my advantage. And the bonus is that now I know that fear doesn’t have to stop me. I know I can manage it and use it to perform better.
Don’t fight fear. Understand its value in protecting you and redirect its energy toward your goals.
December 2, 2011
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Fear often keeps us from doing what we want to do, or know we should do. It can paralyze us and make us act foolishly.
The bad news is we will always feel some fear when we take risks.
The good news is that we can learn to factor fear into our decisions so that it doesn’t hijack or hinder us. If we know how we react to risky and stressful situations, we can acknowledge the fear without letting it stop us.
Think about making a major change in your life – changing jobs, starting or ending a relationship, moving to another state or a foreign country. Major fear factor here. You may even feel the fear as a more or less permanent knot in your gut. Good. It means you are aware that you are moving out of your comfort zone, that you are about to grow. It means you are getting ready to move forward.
Expect to feel fear when making these changes. Remind yourself that some fear is good, that it raises your awareness of things that need attention. Turn the fear into an ally and listen to its warnings. But remember that feeling fearful is never a reason to stop doing what you know you need to do.
Fear should be your guide, not your enemy.