I coach a little gymnast who struggles with his confidence. He easily and frequently reaches a state near catatonic from a single missed attempt. Several times each class I watch a single imperfect handstand literally bring him to his knees. Head down, shoulders slouched as he assumes the classic failure posture
Each time this happens I explain that he comes to gymnastics class each week to practice, that no one expects perfect handstands, and all I ask is that he do his best and continue trying. I tell him that no one, especially me, has perfect handstands and we are all trying to get better together. This typically gets him standing again but I can see his fear of failure and reluctance to try grow with each attempt. His aversion to failure prevents him from trying his best with each new attempt.
I constantly try to impart a valuable lesson: failure is feedback.
I am struck each time to how analogous his behavior is to mine and many others. I see this aversion to failure holding so many people back from realizing their true potential. My little gymnast offers an extreme example. While his response is worse than most it is not unlike how most people deal with failure.
What is your failure aversion preventing you from trying?
My fear prevents me from showing myself and publishing my work. Each time I make a piece of my work or ideas public I love the feeling and the public response. Yet, prior to publication a fear takes holds that pulls me away from sharing.
Failure aversion comes from allowing our focus to dwell on the two realms where we have no power: the past and the future.
Past Failures - Past failures are no guarantee of future results. We allow past failures to create and further the belief that we are likely to fail again. This pulls our focus from putting forth our best effort in the present.
Possible Future Failure - Fear of future failure create a hostile mental and emotional environment for the optimism and enthusiasm that enable success in the present. Dwelling on the possibility of failure only points you straight toward it.
Failure is Feedback
Re-frame unsuccessful ventures as information on how to adjust your course. Thomas Edison felt he never failed but learned 10,000 ways that the light bulb does not work. This classic tale offers us a valuable lesson: lack of success is only failure if we fail to learn from it. Failure is feedback.
Do not think of past failures as confirmation that you are ill-suited for success. Examine each failure for how it may inform your next attempt. Celebrate each failure for how it will improve your odds of future success.
A succession of failed attempts does not increase the likelihood of a subsequent failure. A conscious examination of each attempt brings you closer to success. Future failures are not to be feared . They only bring new and valuable information that brings you closer to succeeding.
Learn from the feedback but maintain your focus on the present. Just like my little gymnast, forget your last handstand and focus on doing your best right now.