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Barriers to long term change (and how to overcome them 2)

Last week we studied how the effect of parental pressure during childhood can affect our ability to commit to change. Today we'll demonstrate the negative impact of worrying about failure

No 2: The fear of failure

A well documented barrier to change is the fear that you will fail and that this will be humiliating. When intensified by real examples of past failure, for example starting a gym membership without attending, the fear is amplified. This can lead to a low opinion of yourself, a tendency to procrastinate and delay or anxiety when taking on new challenges. It can even induce a desire for perfectionism which can never be achieved, thereby spiralling into repeating feelings of failure.

Meet Andy. Andy is a self employed accountant. He is also a bossy and highly motivated person who finds it hard to take instruction from others. As a result of his sedentary job he is extremely overweight. Andy wants to lose weight but finds it hard to take the advice of others. He bounces from therapist to trainer but does not follow their advice or stay with them for enough time to achieve the success he craves.

Andy is scared he will fail at his weight loss so he jumps from expert to expert without following their advice. He is a natural leader and will not accept his own failure, choosing to lay it at the fault of these many advisors instead. In this way, he sabotages himself over and again.

You can recognise a fear of failure in yourself if you only take on tasks you are confident you can already achieve, if you worry about feeling embarrassed or stupid in the eyes of colleagues or if you make excuses when it comes to moving from a stage of planning to one of work.

There are many methods to manage this feeling. If you recognise it in yourself, why not think of the best and worst case scenario of failing and decide whether you could survive it, for example failing to gain a promotion but instead being offered extra training in your chosen field. Okay, so you didn’t get the new job but your boss has acknowledged your skills and is preparing you for future progression. Next, identify and measure the fear by imagining all the potential negative outcomes and the steps you could take to prevent them. Another good habit is to start with small and manageable changes before increasing their importance, as was discussed at the end of chapter one.

Much has been written about overcoming this fear and the internet is awash with well meaning quotes. Our favourite is “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” by Thomas Edison. Every person who has experienced success has learned from failure.

The ability to see this fear in ourselves is the first step in conquering it. Letting go of the fear of failure is one of the most profound shifts you can make and will affect all aspects of your life and relationships.

Next week we'll study the difference between reactive and proactive behaviour and how this impacts on successful change.

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