When Fear of Failing Stops Us From Starting

By Jess Cisco

I had a realization as I fell asleep last night: the fear of failure sometimes causes me to avoid even starting.  Here’s how I came to that conclusion.

Several years ago, I bought a book called Brilliant Memory Training by Jonathan Hancock.  I began reading it but stopped shortly after starting.  Since then, I have had the book on my to-do list.

Yesterday, I finally started reading it again.  The book has many exercises that, the first time I began the book, I promptly skipped. This time, I noticed that I wanted to skip the exercises again but didn’t realize why until I was falling asleep: I was afraid to have my poor memory or poor mind exposed to me, revealing that I was not intelligent enough.

But I did the exercises.  I created a visual story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to remember this list of items: camera, sunglasses, passport, sunscreen, hiking boots, books, and insect repellent. I also memorized a list of numbers: 2, 37, 29, 25, 54, 37, 16, 61, 88.  I just recalled the list and the numbers (in sequence, only making one mistake, missing the 14), despite only taking a few seconds to memorize both lists.  The visual images are so vivid.

Let’s get back to my realization. As I fell asleep, my brain felt so alive, with vivid images about my entire day–it was as if my brain had grown and was much more visual as a result of the activities in the book and in my willingness to practice with the activities.  I was thrilled.  And I realized that I almost didn’t even start the activities: I was–and likely often am–worried about failing, and so I almost didn’t even start.

It’s often difficult to begin without judgement or expectation.  But, at least in this example of my life, it’s worth trying.  I’ve grown.  Now, I am going to do it again today: read, do the practice, and grow again.

Jess Cisco is founder and managing partner of ActiveLeading. He will speak on this topic at IPMI’s 2019 Leadership Summit, Oct. 3-4 in Pittsburgh, Pa.