Fear is a natural feeling state for humans.
We experience it for many reasons: To avoid getting hit by a bus. To avoid getting eaten by a tiger. Its a really great warning system to have in place when faced with so many unknowns. Only, we don’t need fear as much as we used to; we are pretty smart. Maybe too smart. We know to avoid places/things that freak us out or could hurt us.
The only thing is is that fear hasn’t biologically gone away. Its still with us, and its bored. B O R E D bored. And grumpy about having nothing to do. Anxiety and fear are with many of us and holds on with vengeance. Anxiety gives new meaning to the colloquialism, “Idle hands make devils work”. In this case, unused brain space makes for fear.
So, what does fear do with all of its own anxiety about not being needed? It occupies itself with worrying about what to eat… buying the right tires… did my ex really just say that? Is the U.S.A. really going to lose this soccer match? You know, important things (well, anxiety would tell you that these things are life and death, but if you were to scale those anxious thoughts, would you really give them a 10?) If you don’t learn to manage your fear/anxiety, you’re going to find it hard to stay “happy”.
Additionally, we were likely taught while growing up to avoid negative feeling states. We avoid feeling fear/shame/anxiety and really never figured out how to manage it. Then we started school, and everything got even more complicated. Maybe as a child you ‘failed’ at something you felt anxious about, and then were shamed by a parent or friend. Maybe you did it all on your own! But, if you experience fear and shame with failure enough times. they become biologically linked. Fear and shame are anti-success feelings: they hinder our ability to be creative and to solve problems.
I’m not going to get into how our culture breeds fear. How busy parents cultivates an inner fear that we are not worthy of love and attention. I know that Carol Dweck talks about how children learn and she posits that our parenting methods over the last 30+ years have bred a culture deeply ashamed of failure.
While telling your children that they are “special” seems like the right thing to do, it fosters an unhealthy relationship between “special” and “success.”
Imagine that you linked “being special” to “being successful in tasks”. Now, if you fail at at task, you are unsuccessful. Such a simple idea. And destructive.
Example: Imagine that I am pretty good at math. And, for the first 6 years of school, I get straight A’s. Everyone tells me how smart I am. They praise me for it. Only, inside I know that I am not working that hard. That their “praise” is misguided and I read their praise as “you love me if I’m smart”, but my fear is, “if they ‘really’ knew me… they’d know I’m a fraud.”
I begin to avoid anyone “seeing” me as anything other than smart. Failure is “not an option”. Besides, the praise feels really really good. Feeling understood and seen is a key component in an individuals ability to regulate and experience happiness.
It gets worse… now, I have emotionally and biologically linked A’s to being good. Then, I hit a class where I am challenged. I have to work. And think. Problem solve and resolve an issue. I haven’t been taught to do this. I was just told I was smart because I got good grades. And that was easy. Now its difficult…. I suddenly feel afraid and stupid and ashamed, and do not want to tell the people who have been calling me smart for 6 years that I’m stupid.. right? Now, I’m even more cut off, won’t try new things for fear of failing. Boom. Fear and Failure are now linked. We challenge ourselves less and less to grow and to try and to face difficult tasks.
In reality, fear and failure are very different beasts. Fear means we need to get out of Dodge. Failure means we need to try something else. But, if you experience failure and fear as the same thing, my guess is that you become paralyzed or hindered when trying to get yourself out of a jam.
So, how do you start to work on this misconstruction? Ask yourself, what is the opposite of fear? Sure, courage – but more than that, its curiosity. It’s the love of self. Of learning.
So, I invite you to love yourself when afraid and to see what happens. Can you imagine your life without fear of failure?
What can you do?