Last week I asked the question, ‘What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?’ on social media. It got a really big response as many of my friends and colleagues started thinking about things they would really love to do, but for whatever reason, hadn’t or weren’t.
It wasn’t always about fear of failure. Sometimes these responses were fantasies, such as being able to fly, or winning an Olympic medal, or visiting Heaven.
Very often these were things which people had been ‘meaning to do’ for a long time, but it was never the right time, or other things had got in the way. Learning to play a musical instrument was a popular one. I’d like to think that some of these old dreams may have been dusted off and put into action as a result of the post. [Danielle, I hope you can forgive me if Simon starts playing the trumpet!]
Fear and failure
But a great number of the answers were indeed situations where the only thing holding people back was fear. Now, don’t get me wrong, I fully recognise that anxiety can be a very real and paralysing thing, and saying ‘the only thing’ is in no way meant to minimise that. But there are a lot of different aspects to fear. For many people it was fear of how others might judge them, as too full of themselves perhaps, or as selfish, or greedy. For others it was fear of making a mistake, or not doing a good enough job.
Fear is a natural and extremely useful reaction. It helps to keep us safe. However, these kinds of fears are not anything that we were born with. No toddler worries about being seen as a show-off. We would never learn to walk in the first place if we worried about how often we were falling down. But somewhere along the way we have acquired these fears, and every time we listen to that little voice telling us not do something in case we fail, we are reinforcing the fear and making it stronger. Basically, we’re telling that part of our brain responsible for protecting us with the fight/flight response (the amygdala), that it is correct in its assumptions that public speaking, or singing in public or whatever it is that scares us, will actually kill us.
Dealing with fear
The only way to deal with this kind of fear is to challenge these assumptions, and, in the words of Susan Jeffers, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway. This probably shouldn’t mean signing up to do a TED talk straight off the bat if you have a fear of public speaking. If you over-face yourself in this way, it can actually be another sneaky Troll trick to make sure that you ‘fail’. But doing something on a smaller scale, that stretches your comfort zone, without leaving you completely exposed? Absolutely.
And remember, this is all about what you would do if you knew you couldn’t fail. I am not a fan of rollercoasters, and I am perfectly happy to live my life without ever getting on one. Maybe I would feel a huge sense of satisfaction afterwards at having overcome my fear…and maybe I’d just feel like throwing up. But if there is something that you would really love to do, and you know that it’s fear, not lack of desire, holding you back, then ask yourself if you want to stay trapped by this fear? If the answer is no, then, gently, start talking baby steps towards your goal. Because life is too short to be dictated to by your amygdala.