“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
Robert F. Kennedy
I’m sure you’ve heard this statement before, “give it a try, what’s the worst that can happen”? I have to admit, it’s one I’ve used often. Yet, I never really pondered on the fact that for someone who has a fear of failing that statement carries a huge burden. This epiphany did not dawn on me, till I found myself backing away from new opportunities. The risk of failure, the possibility of humiliation, the shut doors, none of which anyone is every looking forward to.
This fear of trying is not one to be taken lightly. It deters a person from reaching their potential, from experimenting and honing in on opportunities, and in the end leaves behind remnants of self defeat and hopelessness. Eventually the fear of failure turns into fearing the act of trying itself. Even without the outcome present you start to back away from trying, avoiding the situation in efforts to prevent any negative feelings-pain, hurt, rejection, humiliation.
The root causes of this fear of trying are multifaceted. For many it can stem from early experiences of a non supportive environment (family, school, systemic). For example, a child that has faced constant humiliation, or who has been undermined for their attempts at home or school, can easily carry those negative emotions and feelings into their lives later on. Any attempts to try at anything quickly get shadowed by feelings of inadequacy, fear and eventually withdrawal from the situation.
What ever the background is that fueled your fear of trying, what happened overtime is the programming of your brain into a certain negative pattern of thinking. This pattern activates every time you face an opportunity in which you have to try. Somewhere along the lines of growing up, unsuccessful attempts resulted in humiliations or embarrassment, your inner voice spoke “I’m never doing that again, I’m such a loser, I’ll never succeed, they’ll just laugh at me”, statements. Overtime these statements became hardwired and now automatically activated inside your head in the face of any opportunity-big or small.
Even before you can make a realistic assessment out of a situation, this automatic response of fear activates and tells you not to go ahead.
Can this programming be reversed?
Of course it can!
We need to start believing in ourselves, increasing our self worth, we are bigger than any failure ahead of us. After all, most of us need pain to realize change is necessary. And feeling crippled by fear of trying is a painful experience as it keeps you from reaching, achieving and giving.
I can’t tell you how many times growing up, I was given the examples of successful people who failed at first and yet rose above odds. I won’t lie, I’ve probably tossed that strategy at my kids to band aid a melt down of self defeat. However, I realized that instead of wiping up the tears and gearing up to try again, they instead look at me with more confusion. Instead of using those examples for epiphany or motivation and transforming thoughts towards a more positive style, “Yes I can too, I will try harder, I am good at it, I am not intimidated, I get “but what’s the chance of that happening to me?, they’re just better than me.”
The truth is, as inspiring as these stories are, we dont’ get to see under the success. The failed attempts, the struggles, the let downs, the closed doors, the tears and anger and everything else messy that came along with their story before they succeeded. And when we are in the process of deterring ourselves from trying, our brain does not have time to think through all these stages of their success-we instead focus on the end product. Where they are now. A place that we can never be.
So I’ll propose a different strategy. One that requires you not reflecting into the lives of others, but instead focusing on yourself. Something proactive, so that you’re not sitting back and withering away at failed attempts, beating yourself up because your not worth it, or not as good as someone else. Instead you will work with yourself- your mind, your thoughts and emotions. You will learn that you have more control than you’ve made yourself believe. You will learn your mind is playing tricks just to keep you from being your best. You will re-program your mind from running from failure, to embracing it and learning from it.
I urge you to try these strategies with your children too, especially youth.
As you learn to do this exercise remember that Allah swt is greater than anything you are feeling. He is able to take away and replace in your heart strength, love, ability and will. So always check your intention, start with intention for His sake, and end with Dua for answers and solutions. The goal is become conscious of how you channel your thoughts and emotions, to be solution focused instead of staying stuck in a victimized mindset.
Step 1: Start with dua. Start with conviction of the Greatness of your Lord. Coat your heart with Dhikr, feed your soul with His beautiful names, ask Him to help you in this journey. By knowing who your Lord is, what His names mean to us, you will come to understand that the One you are asking from is Greater than anything emotion, obstacle or situation you are in.
Step 2: Become aware of your thoughts. Become more mindful of what’s happening inside your head. You will start noticing a pattern of thought, especially when faced with an opportunity big or small. What are you saying to yourself when you have to do a presentation, meet someone, go somewhere? You can use simple tools such as a track sheet, a diary, an app. The goal is to realize the type of thoughts you are having when faced with something to try.
Step 3: For this step, if you need support ask a loved one to hop on board. As you sift through the thoughts or statements you said to yourself in the face of opportunities ask yourself or your partner if these are rational? what are the chances of them actually happening? what’s the worst that can happen? Are you being true or harsh on yourself?
This step will allow you to step out of an emotional irrational view into a more realistic and objective one.
…If anything befalls you, do not say ‘If only I had done (such and such), the such and such would have happened,’ rather say: ‘Allah has decreed and what He wills He does,’ for ‘if only’ opens the door to the work of the shaytaan.” Narrated by Muslim.
Step 4: Make a list of positive thoughts, realistic statements, affirmations that will allow you to break the cycle of negative irrational thinking when you want to try something. Replace ” I can’t do this, what will people say, what if I look foolish, ” with, ” I’m prepared for this, people will say no matter what, I’m still going to try, I feel strong and confident.” Replace negative thoughts will dhikr, put words such as Inshallah in front of your affirmations, and put your trust in the One who controls the Heavens and the Earth.
“And I seek refuge in You, my Lord, lest they come near me.” (Quran 23:98)
These steps when done consistently and persistently will help break the automatic response of fear towards trying. Overtime your brain will activate kinder, gentler and more motivating thoughts and feelings instead of the negative deterring ones. By making it a habit to turn towards Allah swt, your heart will feel content and your soul nourished as it seeks the remembrance of the Majestic. Your body, mind and soul will learn to depend on it’s creator, and the strength to try even in the chance of failure will evolve. Remember, Allah swt will not burden you with what you cannot handle.
“O people, enlightenment has come to you herein from your Lord, and healing for anything that troubles your hearts, and guidance, and mercy for the believers (Quran 10:57) .