‘I keep failing, so I give up’ vs. ‘I keep failing, so I keep trying’

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Are you the sort of person who tries many different things, but can never seem to stick to anything? Perhaps you have tried so many things by now that you’ve stopped even trying anymore?

When I was a new homemaker, doing the housework seemed impossible to me (even before I had kids, and little did I know what I had in store for me then). I would go through various different methods to try to get on top of it. I tried schedules and routines, I tried to just do what needed to be done at any given moment, I tried various plans for cleaning one area and then another. I tried new methods and methods from times before. Nothing ‘worked’. I gave up each time in despair. As a predictable result, my house looked horrible for years.

In fact this ‘quitter syndrome’ followed me around in various areas of my life. Any sort of activity that simply required a bit of diligence, commitment or practice was likely to be banished the first time I either failed, or feared I would fail. This may explain why I was given piano, clarinet, flute, violin and guitar lessons at one point or another as a child but as an adult I can play zero instruments, nor can I read music (I’m sorry, mom!).

So what exactly is it that keeps us from picking ourselves up and trying it again?

If I had to condense it down into just one word, that word would be fear. Fear is the number one major roadblock that keeps us from moving forward on our path, but it’s a sneaky little bastard. As a shapeshifter it can disguise itself as perfectionism, a phobia of making mistakes, phobias in general, anxiety, procrastination, downright laziness, lack of commitment, extreme introversion and on and on it goes. That’s not intended to overly simplify any of these things, but to say that fear is generally at the base of all of them.

What do you tell yourself about your failures?

What’s your inner dialogue when something doesn’t turn out the way you expected or hoped? If you are a repeat quitter, most likely you have some combination of beating yourself up, confirming in your head that you are generally useless, hopelessness that you will ever find a way to progress and a sense of unfairness that life is so difficult for you. Your inner dialogue will actually tend to feed into and confirm your fears about yourself, making them even larger and stronger.

How do we overcome this fear of failure?

  1. The first thing I want you to do is to become mindful of your decision making process. If you have a tendency to be somewhat reactive or impulsive, slow things down. Try to recognise what is driving your responses — not only when you’re making a fear-based response, but in general. (If you have trouble ‘hearing’ your own reasoning or don’t understand why you’re doing things in a certain way or making certain choices, then take a step back for a moment and read this first.)
  2.  The next step is to recognise when you’re making a choice based on fear, and reevaluate that choice. Perhaps you are considering whether to try something again. Your initial response may be “no way, I tried that already and it just doesn’t work for me”. When you reevaluate that response, you may see that you don’t want to try again because you have failed once and you fear the feelings that arise when you fail. Assuming you will fail again, you feel unwilling to give it another shot. Recognise that this is a fear-based decision, and that fear is a roadblock on your path.
  3.  Now you need to work on changing the dialogue that occurs when you fail. Think about how you would react to someone else who was putting themselves out there and giving something a try but things were not going as well as hoped — perhaps a child of yours. Would you tell them, “you suck at this, you may as well quit”? Or, “you’ll never get the hang of this, you’re not smart enough”? Or, “why not just quit this, you quit everything anyway”? Of course not. Write down some of the things you would say to this vulnerable person, and then the trick is to start saying things like this to yourself instead of feeding into your fears with self-negativity.
  4. Finally, I want you to stop making decisions based on fear. Commit to yourself that you’re going to continue being mindful of your decision making processes, to recognise when you’re catering to fear, to reject decisions based on fear, and to change your dialogue around failure.

And then you pick up and try again.

What happens when we try again, and try again, and try again?

If you’re a habitual quitter, you may never have experienced this. When you pick up and try again…and again…and again…you have a little more success each time. In the same way a baby learns to walk, actually. He will fall the first time after just a step, but the next time he will make two steps before falling. Because he doesn’t have fear telling him that falling means that he is a terrible, hopeless failure, he keeps trying. Soon enough he will be making steps more than he is falling down. This is exactly what happens when you keep trying. You pick yourself up and try again enough times, and inevitably you find that you’re succeeding more often than you are failing.

If you’re still reading this article, most likely you are a serial quitter. You’re facing a crossroads right now and I want you to consider the trajectory of each path. To one side is a continuation of the quitters’ road, and to the other is a new path of rejecting fear-based decisions and cultivating the self discipline of simply trying again. Where does each road lead? And which road is the one that leads you to your life goals? Which road will you take?

 

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