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Recently someone asked me how to overcome fear of failure. What can one do to solve this problem? An interesting way to approach this, before solving the problem, is to ask: “Is failure really a problem?” Before committing our attention to solving this problem, could we actually shift to a perspective where no problem exists? If so, we’ve used our attention more effectively.

We can begin to understand a fear relative to something else. I fear failure because that means I won’t succeed. This way of understanding fear is dual: we’re afraid of failure because we won’t achieve its opposite, success.

Understanding the relative nature of fear can be a helpful starting point. Asking “Why do I fail?” stimulates thinking. It can engage us to find problems in our physical strength, our technique, etc. We analyze why we’re afraid and take actions to solve the problem.

However, understanding fear in this relative structure has limitation. Duality focuses our attention on illusory elements and away from the real issue. Attention is on how to succeed or how to prevent failure. The real issue is skill related: lack of experience with falling or improving our ability to deal with stress.

If we can move beyond duality, seeing the unity of an event, we can shift to a perspective where no problem exists. Being afraid of failure, for instance, has no meaning if success has no meaning. Each outcome we create contains elements we did well and elements we need to improve. Both elements are united in one event: we had one effort that created one outcome. Our attention is focused on what we did or didn’t do to create that outcome. With this unity perspective, there is no problem. There is only skill development, which is learning.

Let’s look at this in the context of the learning process. If we label an outcome as a failure, we miss-understand the learning process. Learning requires us to create outcomes short of our goal. All outcomes are necessary. Each outcome has an important seed of information that we need to pay attention to in order to learn. Diminishing fear of falling or improving our ability to deal with stress are skills we never master. They are in a continual process of improving. Focusing on the learning process shifts our attention from duality to unity and makes us more effective.

Let’s take this a step further. “Failure” is a negative label we attach to an outcome. By understanding that failures are necessary for learning, we don’t see failures as problems anymore. In fact, we see failures as learning opportunities. So, if failures are learning opportunities then why use a word with negative connotations? We need to change the words we use when referring to the learning process. Eliminate the words failure (and success). Cleaning up our language helps us speak more intentionally about what we intend to focus our attention on. It also shifts our attention from “solving problems” to “acting on learning opportunities.” Problems focus our attention on how to prevent something negative from recurring. Opportunities focus our attention on how to continue to learn, understanding that we never arrive at a final problem-free end. We’re in a constant process of learning, which is one thing, not dual.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Thomas Beck

    Good post

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