Nobody sets out with the intention of failing, or particularly likes it when it happens. At best, failure is a frustrating experience, but at worst it can be utterly demoralizing.
It’s important to recognize that many successful business owners continue to fail over and over, and the odds are that somewhere along the way, you will too. Entrepreneurs are natural risk-takers at heart - but where there’s risk, there’s often failure.
While we can’t always control the circumstances that life throws at us, we can learn to control our reactions to them. In other words, we don’t have to like failing, but if we really want to succeed in business we need to recognize how it impacts us so we can learn from our mistakes and move on. Understanding the psychology behind failure can help set the stage to do just that.
When we fail, we tend to feel helpless because our brains want to translate our experience into rules for self-preservation. It doesn’t matter whether a perceived hurt is physical or emotional, our minds respond by encouraging us to avoid whatever it was that first caused us harm. By making you feel helpless, your brain may be protecting you from failing again but it’s also stealing away a large chunk of your chance for success.
Failure tends to warp the way we perceive ourselves, particularly where our natural abilities are concerned. Studies have shown that, once we’ve experienced failure, we’re far more likely to assess our own skills and intelligence as less than they actually are.
After failing to achieve a specific goal, there’s a natural tendency to see that goal as being further away and harder to attain than we’d originally thought. In reality, the objective itself hasn’t changed, but our perception of it has. It’s important to remember that your goals are just as attainable on the second, third and fourth go-rounds as they were on the first.
Fear of Failure
It only takes one negative experience to develop an unconscious fear of failing. This can make moving forward difficult because our fear of failing again is neither reasonable, nor based on any realistic likelihood. The trick is to try and stay focused on achieving future success, rather than on dodging future failures.
Once we’ve developed a fear of failure, rational or not, our brains kick in again to try and protect us from further pain – this time by encouraging self-defeating behaviors. If you’ve ever “accidentally” slept in on the morning of an important meeting, let your small business bookkeeping get way out of hand, or procrastinated to the point of not making the submission deadline for that crucial loan application, you’ll be familiar with the concept of self-sabotage. By setting ourselves up to fail in advance, it makes failure easier to deal with when it inevitably happens.
Choking is also known as performance anxiety and is very common when there’s pressure to succeed. But because choking is the result of overthinking and ultimately trying to correct for something we already know how to do, it can be mitigated by forcing ourselves to focus on something other than the task at hand. Dividing your focus will alleviate some of the pressure to perform by forcing your brain to automatically do what it does well, without the need for your conscious assistance.
Willpower is the key to overcoming much of what keeps us from success. Believe it or not, you can take better control of your willpower by simply ensuring that you eat properly and get enough rest. Over-exerting ourselves mentally and emotionally, without keeping our brains properly fueled, results in lowered cognitive function in areas like planning, decision-making, concentration and, yes, willpower.
The Bottom Line
Failure is mostly about perception, and our reaction to it is simply our brain’s attempt to protect us by tricking us into believing what isn’t necessarily true. The best way to overcome the inertia and lack of drive that often accompany failing is to understand what’s causing them in the first place - and to fight back with the adaptive behaviors that will eventually lead to success.