Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Turn your fear of failure into a force for good

Written by Tim Lampert, CNN The mathematics of persistence have a profound psychological impact. Research has found that the repetition of failure can make us feel more vulnerable. For example, in a study that asks participants to string 1,000 missing words together to build a tree trunk, repetition makes failure feel more relevant. Although it is a learned behavior, it feels potentially dangerous. Our brains know

that repeating the same negative pattern until we feel no longer threatened, or are convinced it won’t happen again, is a formula for emotional disaster. Having anxiety or a fear of failing is hardwired in the brain. In a phenomenon called the survival instinct, it’s how we survive. Dare to lose: 5 ways to embrace failure. Credit: Getty Images In the context of creativity, it is a cruel illusion to assume that more

failure equals better work. The common belief that greater failure equals greater creative success completely ignores the revolutionary work that emerges from the crucible of failure. From the very earliest birds and reptiles, we have seen what happens when our fear of failing is repressed. The adept know when to cling on to their threatening illusion of safety, and, when the threat passes, when to begin to embrace

risk and the creative risk. Colin Firth and Shirley MacLaine star in “The Railway Man.” Credit: Shutterstock We all know someone like this — perhaps an introvert who chooses not to socialize at coffee shops, or a “fireman” who would rather get the fire out than get the hose wet. Humans have always had a long history of firefighting and self-sacrifice, of self-sacrifice for a greater good. Perhaps our intelligence is

not as simple as having just “one talent” like handling animals. Some of our most creative thinkers, activists, and leaders are highly driven and highly adept at rationally analyzing their work with a clear vision and relentless drive, but they have come to find that the ability to shift course entirely is an unexpected springboard to creativity. Noah’s Ark was a fireman’s toolbox, but most of the riches that were

lost by the ship belong to an army of firemen who kept the ship burning. The intense efforts of this group of firemen protected the riders from drowning — they were firemen, and the water was their tools. Creativity can find creative solutions in difficult situations. Credit: ken mcgrath/Columbia University via Getty Images This ancient history of selfless service to one’s species teaches us about two important

lessons. First, if we think we are much better than other people, when they face difficulties, the challenge will elude us. Second, many people think that they have a talent that will make them a great writer, artist, speaker, psychologist, architect or mechanic, but, when faced with this challenge, they will be easily ruled out of the way. They will not “beat the odds” as our ancestors did, so when the odds are

stacked against us, we will have to keep going. The implied message is that when I don’t succeed, the odds were stacked against me. Of course, the incentive to buckle up and jump into the deep end of a creative challenge is much smaller than it used to be, with organizations now choosing the bits of the business they want to pursue more intensely. For this reason, the notion that having a great idea is good enough,

or that we can simply measure a work’s cumulative worth in terms of sales, buzz, awards or marketing revenue is a seductive illusion. The right messages can’t be ignored. From an evolutionary point of view, it’s even more critical to keep pushing and learning, because we need to know what will happen next. When the great artists of the past and present clearly understood this — as did the canyons of rock-climbing

and the sea cliffs and caves, all formed by our evolution — they never stopped doing good work, and they never stopped improving. And we will, too.

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