“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Michael Jordan

A Guide To Turn Failure Into Success

Much has been said about the so called fear of failure. It has been touted as one of the most common human fears, and even has it’s own clinical diagnosis (Atychiphobia). But I’m going to suggest that all this focus on failure has been misplaced. That is to say, you’re not really afraid of failure.

“Failure isn’t the problem.
Failure means: nothing.”

You may think you’re afraid of failure, but in fact, that is only a symptom of a deeper fear, of a more fundamental human frailty. Understanding the root of that fear puts failure in a totally different light. Your rationale probably sounds something like this:

If I fail, it means I’m not good enough (inadequacy).

If I fail, I will have missed my opportunity (scarcity).

If I fail, I will be humiliated (condemnation).

If I fail, I will be ruined (scarcity, again).

But when you overcome these deeper beliefs in limitation and lack and separation, failure completely loses its sting.

The mind without boundaries sees the universe in all its benevolent abundance. It knows you are worthy, and complete. It knows you are capable. And there’s no shortage of opportunity to become the person you are destined to be. So called “failure” is merely a pit-stop on the road to success. Given enough persistence, openness, and time, success in any endeavor is inevitable. That is, if you keep at it and are willing to learn and to change, you can’t help but succeed in the long run.

Unfortunately, most people never give themselves that opportunity. Most people are so petrified to come face to face with their deep seated fears of inadequacy, condemnation and scarcity, that they will do just about anything to avoid that confrontation. And that “survival” mechanism is very well practiced.

Failure means that we might have to face up to those demons. Failure means that we might have to examine ourselves and our self worth. That’s why we try so desperately to avoid it.

But until you’re willing to give yourself the opportunity to fail, you’ll never have the possibility of success. And until you’re able to let go of those demons, that path will always be a resistant one.

Earlier, I used to word persistence to describe the inevitability of success. But I do so somewhat reluctantly. It’s not really the word that I want. I don’t mean the kind of tenacious, dogged persistence that is so revered and romanticised in the the success literature. That kind of persistence leads to frustration and heartbreak as often as it does reward. What I really mean, is a softer kind of persistence. A more trusting, surrendering kind of persistence. Some might call it intention or faith. It’s a resolve not to force change onto the world, but to allow it to come about. And most often, the change you so desperately seek is from within yourself.

I think Calvin Coolidge may have been wrong when he said that “persistence and determination alone are omnipotent”. I think a better formula is determination and allowing—determination and trust. That’s why I say you need to mix your persistence with openness—with a willingness to change course, while staying true to your bearings.

The courage to try is its own victory

If something scares you, make your ambition not to succeed in doing it, but to succeed in conquering the fear to do it. Doing so moves an intimidating goal from outside your circle of influence to the inside; and that is the only change that is meaningful anyway.

Once you’ve conquered the fear to try, you can look at the end game with completely new eyes. This basically means changing your definition of failure:

“Failure is not an attempt which fell short.
Failure is falling short of attempting.”

Fear Smashing is about mustering the courage to step up to the plate and swing. What happens after that is all gravy. It matters not one iota. The deed is done. The Universe is changed. The you that steps down from the podium is not the same you that stood up.

I’ve set a lot of big challenges for myself. Challenges which frankly scare the hell out of me. And, really, that’s the whole point. But to be successful at this, I don’t have to master leadership or singing or stand-up comedy. I only have to master my fear. Because the person who can do that has the whole world at his feet.

Mastering the universe in three, easy steps

Here’s how to set goals so it’s impossible to fail:

1. Detach from material outcome

Choose your goals not based on outcomes, but based on how they are going to change you in the process.

This makes failure impossible. An honest commitment to the process is all that is required to reap the benefit. Any external change in circumstances that comes about as a result is gravy. Note: if you make a genuine shift in your patterns of thinking, a corresponding change in conditions is inevitable.

2. Redefine impossible

Choose goals that are so big, you have to stretch yourself just to contemplate actually doing them. A goal that seems easy from the outset is not worth bothering with.

A new action must be preceded by a new thought. In fact, a whole new pattern of thinking. Unless your goal is compelling enough to provoke from you an entirely new thought, you will not benefit from its attainment. You’re just wasting your time. You wont do anything meaningful staying within the confines of your present zone of comfort. You need to choose goals which challenge those former limits.

Choose a goal which makes you recoil with “but I could never…”, and then commit to the process of releasing the resistance which keeps you from accepting it as truth. I call this process Epic Reinvention.

Remember that the growth doesn’t come in the moment of action. The growth comes in the hours of internal meditation that precede the action. The action is just the test, not the lesson.

3. Work from within the circle

Use external metrics to measure your progress, but use internal metrics to focus your effort. This distinction is crucial. Internal factors are within your direct control, external factors are merely effects which are not within your direct control. Judging or orienting yourself by factors outside your control leads to dis-empowerment and frustration. Another way to say this is to work at cultivating habits rather than pursuing outcomes.

Let’s say you’ve just started blogging and you want to attract a certain number of subscribers. That’s an external indicator of which you really have no control. What you can control are things like:

  • How much of your time and energy you devote to writing
  • How well and how consistently you engage with your readers
  • How authentic you allow yourself to be

Or let’s say you have an acute fear of rejection that keeps you from initiating conversations with people you find interesting or attractive. Rather than making your goal to ‘close the deal’ where you’re afraid there is a high probability of failure, you can instead simply aim for feeling relaxed and comfortable in conversations with strangers. Yes, there’s still work to do, but now it is entirely within your control. It’s pretty hard to fail at a goal like this if you make an earnest effort.

Relax your grip on the external factors. They will manifest in their own good time. The fastest way to bring them into reach is to focus your attention on your personal power, the inner game, your circle of influence.

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