THE F WORD..

WHY FAIL­URE IS YOUR FRIEND Fail­ure: doesn’t sound great, feels even worse. But is there a chance it could be your new se­cret weapon?

Women's Health (South Africa) - - LIFE ETC - By A lexan­dra Jones

A few years ago, in a job go­ing nowhere fast, I de­cided to have a crack at a dif­fer­ent in­dus­try. Af­ter weeks of la­bo­ri­ous War and Peace-length ap­pli­ca­tions, I was in­vited for an in­ter­view and tasked with giv­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion. On e-soc­cer. To be clear, I’ve never owned a PlayS­ta­tion or an Xbox. Nor have I ever fol­lowed a real soc­cer tour­na­ment. In the 180 sec­onds that came next, I felt as if I were per­ilously perched on the edge of a 15m div­ing board, ready to fall. Stom­ach churn­ing and mind buzzing, I did the only thing I thought I could: I typed a re­ply po­litely apol­o­gis­ing and with­drew from the process. Why? Be­cause I was shit-scared I’d fail.

So the ques­tion is: why the ter­ror? “Our brains have evolved to be par­tic­u­larly adept at zon­ing in on the po­ten­tial neg­a­tive out­comes of our ac­tions,” says neu­ro­sci­en­tist Dr Rick Han­son. It’s a phe­nom­e­non demon­strated in a 1998 study by Ohio State Univer­sity, where re­searchers found that neg­a­tive images prompted more elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity in the brain than pos­i­tive ones. “Your brain is en­gi­neered to be trig­gered by threats, per­ceived or oth­er­wise,” says Han­son. “It’s why, af­ter glanc­ing at faces for just a tenth of a sec­ond, par­tic­i­pants fix­ated on an­gry or threat­en­ing ones, while barely notic­ing those that looked happy.” In­trigu­ing! It’s this neg­a­tiv­ity bias, found to oc­cur in ba­bies as young as six months old, that makes you so afraid of what could go wrong. In­deed, as soon as you take on some­thing po­ten­tially stuffup-able, the brain senses a threat and trig­gers the re­lease of stress hor­mones adren­a­line and cor­ti­sol. This prompts your body to en­ter fight-or-flight mode, which – ac­cord­ing to Dr Gre­gory Berns, pro­fes­sor of neu­roe­co­nomics and author of Sat­is­fac­tion: Sen­sa­tion Seek­ing, Nov­elty And The Science Of Find­ing True Ful­fil­ment – switches off “ex­ploratory ac­tiv­ity and risk-tak­ing”. Essen­tially, you be­come blind to the ben­e­fits of a new ex­pe­ri­ence, re­gard­less

of how ben­e­fi­cial it could be for your ca­reer, re­la­tion­ship, health, hap­pi­ness – or all of the above.

Be­yond the fail

“We fear fail­ure for two rea­sons,” says so­cial psy­chol­o­gist Dr Omar Yousaf. “First, we’ve evolved to see so­cial ac­cep­tance and sta­tus as crit­i­cal to sur­vival, so the thought of dam­ag­ing your rep­u­ta­tion is seen as a huge dan­ger when it comes to fac­ing a risky sit­u­a­tion. Sec­ond, we’ve learnt to un­der­stand fail­ure as an un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence that’s likely to prompt feel­ings of shame and hurt.” So, fear is a re­flex that pro­tects you when you’re faced with fail­ure. But, in a world where get­ting ahead means over­com­ing gar­gan­tuan chal­lenges like, you know, a 10-minute pre­sen­ta­tion on the wants of mid­dle-aged gamers, it can be pretty dam­ag­ing. So how do you rein in that neg­a­tive voice? If fail­ure it­self is a real prospect and our fear of it an in­nate chem­i­cal re­sponse, surely it’s game over? Well, not nec­es­sar­ily. There are things you can do to dial down the dread. It sounds sim­plis­tic, but em­brace the lit­tle wins – those so small you wouldn’t even bother hum­ble-brag­ging about them on your so­cials. When you nail life ad­min you’ve been putting off; when you keep a house plant alive for longer than a month. “Hold that small feel­ing of achieve­ment in your mind for 10 to 15 sec­onds – long enough for you to ac­tu­ally reg­is­ter it,” Han­son sug­gests. This is key be­cause, while bad ex­pe­ri­ences are stored to mem­ory al­most im­me­di­ately, pos­i­tives take around 12 sec­onds to stick, he says. So you’re train­ing your brain to buy into pos­i­tives, such as the up­side of risk. It’s also time to re­de­fine fail­ure. We’ve all been con­di­tioned to per­ceive suc­cess in a cer­tain way, which then makes us be­lieve that shift­ing those bound­aries is fail­ure. “A way to stop fear­ing fail­ure is to stop see­ing it by the stan­dards you may have been brought up with,” says psy­chother­a­pist Hilda Burke. Break­ing up with some­one who’s not right for you isn’t fail­ing, just like not be­ing of­fered a job be­cause it wasn’t the best fit wouldn’t have been a fail­ure on my part. It’s cer­tainly a men­tal­ity I wish I’d had for that pre­sen­ta­tion. Even if I had em­bar­rassed my­self, I’d have proven that I was ca­pa­ble of step­ping up to a chal­lenge.

Re­cruit a tu­tor

Still run­ning in the op­po­site di­rec­tion? Try bring­ing in a third party, but look be­yond your usual sus­pects, sug­gests life coach Dr Sally Ann Law. “Choose some­one out­side of your im­me­di­ate cir­cle. You’re more likely to dis­miss your mom’s well-in­ten­tioned ‘Of course you can do it’ than you would some­one you con­sider to have ob­jec­tiv­ity and au­thor­ity.” Grab a cof­fee with the for­mer boss you ad­mired or some­one older than you who’s been there and done that. Ul­ti­mately, the in­stinct to see the neg­a­tives is in all of us. “Neg­a­tive thoughts and small doses of anx­i­ety are a nat­u­ral part of life,” says life coach Vanessa Loder. “Your job is to man­age them. See the beat­ing heart and dry mouth as a sign that you’re pre­par­ing to tackle your next chal­lenge.” It’s scary, but Ever­est isn’t go­ing to climb it­self, is it?

IT’S AN OP­POR­TU­NITY TO GROW.

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