Do you have trouble completing tasks on time? Are you afraid to try new things because you are afraid to fail at them? Are you self critical and a perfectionist? Do you use the word should and what if a lot? If you answered “yes” to these questions then you need to read further. We “should” on ourselves for what we did or didn’t do in our past and “what if” ourselves about the future. I should have made that investment, dated that girl or guy, gone bungee jumping. What if I lose everything, what if she rejects me, what if I don’t succeed and what if I fail? These all too common refrains that are heard in almost every quarter, along with “no fear” or “go for it.” These competing messages can be overwhelming. What to do?
First, where do these processes come from in the first place? Success and failure are really two sides of the same coin. They are both about not wanting to fail. Not wanting to fail is about not having faith in ourselves. It is a fundamental lack of trust in our abilities along with not knowing what it means to succeed or how to be successful. We lack the knowledge or the experience. There are steps to success and they are not the same steps as continued success. The hardest thing to do is to be successful every day. On the other side of the coin is failure. We fear that word, it conjures up the most depressing thoughts. Failure thinking is about feeling inadequate to the task. It is about not wanting confirmation that there is something inferior about us. So we don’t try.
The original sin of success and failure thinking is self criticism. This means that everything we do we see as negative in and it’s never good enough. Who would want to do anything if that is the way it will wind up. Self criticism is based on being perfect, an ideal, a “super-person”. This perfection comes from feeling distant from our parents. We tried to be perfect to bring them closer, then the anger we feel toward them must be held in. Once we hold in our anger we direct it at ourselves, enter self criticism.
Self criticism is also about having been criticized by people we trusted. To end self criticism is a task we have to complete if we want to be more productive. When I talk to people about being more active, I ask them to return to the basics. When we were children we did things for their own sake, because we liked doing them. We were less concerned about the product and more involved in the experience. It’s always the process not the product that matters. If the experience is good the product will follow. To be really good at anything takes time, practice and help. We need to understand that if we are get moving.
Of all the issues we must face in the world failure and success thinking is the most limiting. Self criticism holds us back because it is at the center of failure thinking. If we are afraid to fail we can’t function, we will procrastinate. At the heart of procrastination is self criticism and low self esteem. It is tantamount to slapping a child’s hands every time he reaches out. The child will stop extending his hand if it is slapped each time. We all will.
So, what do we do to make all this go away? The first thing is to understand where all this came from so we don’t continue to blame ourselves for something we did not create. Secondly, we need to separate ourselves from the pain in the sense that we understand that we are different from our poor self esteem. The next step is to understand that our lack of faith in ourselves is a distortion, it is not about who we really are. We get to decide who we want to be and our fate is in our own hands. We need to have a firm grasp of the difference between our ideal self and reality. We don’t have to be perfect, we only need to enjoy and learn. Learning and the experience have to be the the most important part of doing anything. We may need some help with reality because ours could be distorted.
Getting rid of success and failure thinking is the most liberating thing we can do. There is no such thing as success or failure. Things don’t work if they do. If we are full tilt into what we are doing we end up learning a ton of things we didn’t know before no matter how it turns out. That’s success. I often use the example of my experience with playing guitar. I wanted to be a great guitar player. I worked hard at it but no matter how hard I tried I just didn’t have the fingers for it. My small motor coordination was not good. I could throw a ball but was not good at small motor skills. So, I didn’t become a great guitar player but I can play. I can pick up a guitar and play music and it sounds good to me. Did I fail?