Redefining Failure: 3 Steps to Overcoming Fear

I was a young bride. 24 years old. And ‘Everyday Cooking’ by Dr. Dean Ornish was all the rage. I mean, Everyday cooking? That means it’s something that I can do. Right?

I don’t recall why – maybe it was because I desired to be healthier, or if I felt like it was my role as a wife to cook – but I chose a recipe from the book, bought all of the ingredients, and started following the recipe.

That was 1/2 of my lifetime ago – but I still recall standing in that kitchen, looking in the pot of food, wondering where I went wrong?!?

It did not look like the picture.

And as the end result started to get more and more away from the picture in the cookbook, I started course correcting, however as a new cook, I ended up with a soupy mess that tasted just as bad.

Failure. Its a word that can produce a feeling in the pit of your stomach. It’s a feeling that we all relate to – because at some point, we’ve all failed at something. Whether its a diet, a relationship, a project, or an attempt at any goal.

Its something that I see with my clients who want to lose weight over and over again.

When we’re beginning a new skill or habit, failure is inevitable because we don’t yet know how to do the thing that we want.

But what is failure? And why are we so afraid of it?

3 steps: overcoming the fear of failure man giving up with book over his faceThe google says that failure is, “1. lack of success. 2. the omission of expected or required action.”

When we cultivate new habits and skills, we’re going to make a lot of mistakes – but that’s where learning happens.

What we perceive to be failure is really just feedback that the way we’re doing something isn’t exactly the way we should be doing it. It’s not right for us.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

The other side to consider is, why are we so afraid of failure?

What does it mean about us?

Are we really afraid to fail?

Are we afraid to give our brain another piece of evidence of why we’re not good enough?

Or are we afraid of what ‘people will think’ if we don’t live up to our own expectations of what success looks like?

I’d argue that we’re not afraid of failing, but rather the feelings we’ll have as a result of having a ‘lack of success’.

The shame.

As much as we can look back at our past failures and realize that we learned from that experience (and the sting of how crushing the experience was becomes less with time), how do we re-frame the failure simply as feedback when we’re in the moment? How do we talk ourselves off the ledge and not feel such intense shameful feelings?

Normalize It

As I said above, not hitting it out of the park on the first, second or even third time is entirely normal. And it’s totally normal to feel disappointment that all of the work that you put into your project didn’t pan out like you had hoped.

Its natural to want to crawl under the covers and never come out again. But you can’t do that.

Neutralize It

The next step is to talk about it. But here’s the thing. You don’t want to complain – because that doesn’t serve anyone, and no one wants to hear you bemoan how life isn’t fair.

Acknowledge what happened, and see if you can understand even 1 part that you played in the lack of success.

Side note: Women like to give each other excuses as to why we’re the victim. Don’t fall prey to that. It’s dis-empowering. When we take responsibility for the things as they are in our lives (and be aware than I’m not talking about fault, but responsibility; two different things), it can be scary, but we become empowered, because we realize that we are in complete control. Sure – things can happen to us that aren’t our fault, but it is within our power to respond and then take responsibility for the situation and our actions going forward.

When we can objectively look at the situation, and be able to see what happened, and then take some responsibility for it (this is totally hard to do!), then we can really learn.

Do Just One Thing

Don’t use this experience as proof to give up on your goal. One failed attempt isn’t the signal from the universe to throw in the towel – that you’re not destined for what it is that you want.

Because everything is achievable. And you are destined to succeed if you keep trying.

The fact that someone else has done what you want to do is proof that it is doable.

So, dust yourself off, and identify 1 thing that you can do today to get you closer to your goal.

And then do it.

That’s it.

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