Words by Dr Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of The LightHouse Arabia
Failure. Such a terrifying word that our inner critics tend to use so frequently. It is real, and it hurts. Overcoming the fear of failure in a way that you don’t let it hold you back is a seemingly impossible feat. Many feel deeply cut by failure, but your attitude upon failing will separate those who go on to achieve success and those who give up on their goals.
Every top CEO I’ve worked with has had to deal with failure on their journey to the top. Some have dropped out of school, been rejected by prospective employers, or even been fired, but they never gave up. In order to build resilience you must transform failure into success. In a study recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers found that success in the face of failure comes from focusing on what you hope to achieve rather than trying not to fail. While it’s tempting to try and avoid failure, people who do this fail far more often than those who optimistically focus on their goals.
The people who make history see failure as a mere stepping stone to success. Thomas Edison is a great example, as it took him one thousand tries to develop the light bulb. When someone asked him how it felt to fail one thousand times, he said, “I didn’t fail one thousand times. The light bulb was an invention with one thousand steps.”
So, taking a page out of Edison’s book, how do we focus less on our fear of failing and more on our end goal? Here are seven tips to bring with you into the new year before you set your resolutions and refocus on your goals.
Reframe your failure
Your reality is shaped by your language— instead of calling it failure, try using the words ‘experience’ or ‘attempts.’ Or to paraphrase Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, “I didn’t fail 1000 times, I just found 1000 ways it didn’t work.”
Have a curious mindset towards failure
If you approach life in the stance of curiosity, you are much more likely to move forward when you have ‘failed.’ Ask yourself what you learned through the process of attempting and ‘failing’? What would you do differently? How has it made you better? What did it teach you about the world or people? Wisdom is life experiences that have been processed and integrated.
Remind yourself of your courage
One difficult aspect of failure is thinking that everyone is now referring to you as a failure. Remind yourself that it is much easier to point out people’s faults and laugh at them from the stands rather than being the ‘man in the arena.’ You had the courage to step out of your comfort zone, took a chance and worked hard towards your goals — that is more than what most people can say. And it is a fact, when people on their deathbed were asked what was one of their biggest regrets, the number 1 regret was ‘I wished I had been true to myself and not cared so much about what people thought of me.”
Stop seeing failure as an end point
Shift your thinking from seeing each failure as a confirmation that you can’t succeed and that if you fail, it’s game over. Instead, work on accepting that failure is simply part of the process.
Zoom out and compartmentalize
One of the biggest symptoms of suffering from failure is that you are thrown off track. Instead of drowning in your emotions, get some perspective. Zoom out and compartmentalize the experience. Remind yourself of all that you have historically won and gained in your life so that you are not paralyzed by lost money, time and effort. Accept the failure and move past it as an isolated incident.
Own your mistakes
It is a human instinct to self-defend and preserve, and therefore when the proverbial wagon starts rolling downhill, people are quick to point fingers. Successful people own their mistakes. Without accepting your errors, you aren’t able to learn from them – the failure has then become meaningless. The goal is that you don’t make the same mistake twice.
Your fear of failure should be lesser in weight than your drive for fulfillment and accomplishment. Learn to operate outside of your comfort zone and let your dreams motivate you as you take a bold step guided by your goals. The research indicates that people who are seen as lucky keep their hearts and eyes open to opportunities even when they have failed and they see ‘failure’ as part of the process as they move towards success.
It is natural to fail. Good, even. And when you experience failure, stay calm, analyze the cause, devise a plan of action and keep going. This past year has been full of failures across the board, both big and small. From the global pandemic affecting businesses across the globe, to the period of quarantine affecting people’s relationships and emotions, 2020 has offered up a host of seemingly unavoidable fails. With 2021, we must look to the importance of new beginnings and reasserting your existing goals, setting new ones you’d like to work towards, and how to face the year behind us while looking forward to the future with a glimpse of hope, strength and perseverance.
As a clinical psychologist for the past 13 years, Dr Saliha Afridi has spent 12 years working in the UAE and founded The Lighthouse Arabia in 2011, a community mental health and wellness clinic providing quality psychological and psychiatric care to children, adults, couples and families. Dr Afridi has worked with prominent companies and ministries such as The Executive Council, The National Program for Happiness and Well-being from the Happiness Ministry, many professional service firms and fortune 100 companies in her bid to dissolve mental health stigma and be at the forefront of the mental health movement within the UAE and the region.