How to failure-proof your psyche with this 3-step tool
I may have had the most failure in any 12 month stretch of my life so far. It’s par for the course in start-up world. But it’s not nice to experience failure.
My first business Ink Interiors launched in 2016 and failed 5 months in because I couldn’t maintain the focus on the projects I set out to complete. From there I tried to become a writer and failed.
My book (or the first chapter that is in existence, the rest is in my head) languishes in a google drive folder, untouched. I couldn’t maintain the focus on that either.
When told as a series of failures 2017 was pretty depressing. It stings to admit to friends and family that you changed your mind and your latest project may not work out as you thought. Lying awake at night I am regularly haunted by cynical thoughts about my ‘fake’ job and my uncompleted goals.
But what if failure is not actually a failure? What if failure is just learning that does not feel nice?
Thomas Eddison put it like this: “I have not failed, I have just found 1,000 things that don’t work”
If only my ego did not get in the way and my pride did not sting then I could fail with impunity. If I didn’t care so much what other people thought of me then I’d be free to try 1,000 things that don’t work. And then, 1001 is a breakthrough the world is longing for.
How many times have I stopped just short of the breakthrough inspiration because I failed to develop the resilience needed to innovate?
And since no business or entrepreneur can afford not to innovate the resilience to fail well is also essential for success.
Steve Jobs said this:
If every 10-month-old on failing to walk decided that they were just not the walking type, or decided to let others do that walking and concentrate on something easier then we would still all be shuffling around on our bottoms. If my 10-month-old self can learn through repeated failure then my 35 yr old self can too.
Here is what will make the difference to me: do I have the psychology for handling failure well?
Can I get rid of the fear, anxiety and self-doubt that hangs around my failures? Can I maintain focus on purpose and let it fuel the fire of innovation?
Yes I can.
This is my three step tool for failure-proofing my psyche:
Visualise the worst possible scenario: What is the thing I fear most? The rejection of others, ridicule, financial loss, criticism from family? Imagine myself in that situation and allow the feelings to rise to the surface.
Then I become my own best friend. What would a best friend say to me in this situation?, “look at the positive, you have got so much to be thankful for?”, “don’t worry about them, their opinion doesn’t matter to you”, “you have got what it takes to handle this”, “it’s not that big a deal, you have been through worse”.
Whatever it is my best friend would say to me I write down and adopt as a daily verbal affirmation. I say this out loud (often in front of the mirror) when I need a boost or first thing in the day. (N.B I say it like I mean it. I pretend I do and then I find I actually do mean it)
In doing this I have been able to dial down on the fears and self-doubt that has come with the failure I have experienced and dial up the positive. It’s been a game changer. I’m still practising it regularly.
I don’t intend to slow down on the failure rate. I have got about 6 projects going on that could all fail in various ways. But I’m not that bothered about success or failure as a marker of anything significant. It has become fun to follow the path of my curiosity and try things and get really good at fear-bashing along the way.
Interestingly, failure has become something I like to write about. Is that success? Or just a happy by-product of learning to innovate with resilience.