How to make failure impossible

We normally feel fear when we think we might fail, but what if we could reframe our intention to make it impossible to fail?

Fear can stop us from growing and from having fun. We might fear being rejected, and keep ourselves out of situations where there is a risk of rejection. We might fear failure and prevent ourselves from trying things that are not guaranteed to work. But if we continue to do this, we will never increase our comfort zone, and the same fears will always stay with us.

You and I both know that taking action despite fear often turns out well in the long term. But how do you take action in the face of fear?

One approach is to tell yourself to simply “conquer that fear” or “bust through it”. But using different words won’t make a difference.

Instead, reframe your intention. Rather than seeing success as whatever outcome you ultimately desire—a successful business, a great relationship, a fit body—make it your goal to experiment.

In other words, adopt a scientist’s mindset: your goal is to run a successful experiment so you can learn what works.

Make it your immediate goal to learn, not to achieve what you want in the end. If your goal is to learn, it’s almost impossible to fail. And when you can’t fail, you will find it easier to act despite your fear.

Just so it’s 100% clear what I’m talking about, let me give you an example.

Imagine that I suggest that you try out a yoga class. You’re sort of interested, but you say: “Peter, I’m not flexible at all, I don’t come anywhere close to touching my toes when I bend forward. I’ll look like an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s doing. The other people will look at me funny. And I’ll fall over during half the yoga poses. I can’t do yoga!”

What’s going on? When you think this way, you set your goal for your first yoga class as “being an experienced yoga practitioner”. If that’s your goal, of course you’ll fail! You can’t be experienced at something on your first try.

In this case, you need to set a learning-based goal.

First, put on your scientist’s hat. Pose questions that you’d like to answer in your first yoga class, such as:

  • Do I like the people there? (Were they friendly? Was the instructor patient? Did you have a nice chat after class?)
  • How did I feel physically after the class? (Relaxed? Tired? Sore?)
  • How did I feel mentally after the class? (Proud? Excited? Awkward?)

Second, consider your “experiment” successful if you learned the answers to some of your questions. You don’t have to get all the answers on your first go, but if you can answer a few questions, you ran a successful experiment!

The beauty of setting learning-based goals is that you’ll almost always succeed in learning. So you can almost always feel proud of yourself for having taken action, regardless of the outcome.

You may feel even prouder if you “performed” better than expected (for example if it turned out that many yoga poses were not actually that difficult for you)—but the pride is there even if you very much turn out to be a beginner.

And pride leads to forward momentum, to more action despite fear.

It takes practice to wear your scientist’s hat when you feel fear. But start putting on that hat today, and eventually wearing it will become second nature.

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