How the Fear of Failure Can Bring You to New Heights -- According to Your Brain
People with entrepreneurial mindsets cannot help but see the impossible solution at the next possible supernova. We laser-focus on differentiated innovation, often losing hours and friends in the process. We also sometimes lose our mojo and the ability to cope with the anxiety entrepreneurs often feel during times of failure and stagnation. While some forms of anxiety require the help of medical professionals, entrepreneurs can learn to enjoy and even benefit from flops or even catastrophic attempts at innovation by knowing which levers to pull to change how they view and experience failure.
Get to know your neurons.
Our brains contain 1 billion neurons that ignite each of our five senses. Neurons learn from the past to create the present. As someone with entrepreneurial tendencies, you will have tried something new several times in your life. Sometimes, those new things work out well and sometimes they do not. In either case, the experience leaves a footprint of positive, negative or indifference that gets transmitted and translated as fact by your neurons. Every time you enter a similar experience, your neurons send signals to your brain of what to feel based on previous experiences and mounting, resulting perceptions.
As you enter into a potentially anxiety-inducing experience, learn to preemptively orchestrate a new conversation in your head. You are not the victim of your neurons. You can control what your neurons signal to your brain. Be willing to question your fears as well as your sources of inspiration. Neurons create habits. Your job is to test your repetitive reactions, get rid of habitual feelings that no longer serve you and replace them with ones that do.
Identify the “why” of your mindsets.
Once the signals from neurons create habits, our mindsets get cemented. Mindsets are the most critical ally and enemy we possess. Mindsets are critical because they determine what we believe, what we value, and the actions we take. Our mindsets are also riddled with unconscious biases that are informed from our neurons. There are about 150 different unconscious biases swirling around in our brains just at work! If your mindset is one that values comfort, trying something big for the first time may not happen. If your mindset believes that being uncomfortable for periods of time indicate that you are doing something big and may be on the verge of a big breakthrough, then you possess and can act upon your trained grit.
When faced with debilitating failure, think about your values and your beliefs. Do you believe that risk is an enabler or inhibiter? Do you value transactions over relationships? Do you equate your personal worth with being the smartest person in the room or with possessing a personal culture of learning? Identify those mindsets that can transform how you translate and respond to opportunities, challenges, and outcomes. Learn from other innovators; study and practice the values and beliefs that they hold to be true.
Disrupt unconscious bias in your decision-making.
Entrepreneurs get so focused on the problem they want to solve or the innovation they want to birth that they forget to get outside of their heads. For most entrepreneurs, this has always been the way of life. My late-teens through my early twenties were particularly tough years. Everything was hard. Everything I tried or did failed. I started focusing on the wrong things. I worried about what people thought of me. I worried about failing all of the time. How could I not? It felt like everything I tried failed and therefore I was doomed to live a life of a failure. During what was probably a daily lamentation to my sister, she asked me a question that turned out to be a tipping point: “Will this matter five years from now? Will this matter a year from now?” My job was not to worry about being a failure or to worry about the distant future. My job, as an innovator was to focus on the problem I was aiming to solve; not to focus on myself. Rather than dreading or lamenting about my perceived failures, I learned that I had the power and the responsibility to address my resulting fear and anxiety associated by interrupting my decision-making with the knowledge that “this too shall pass."
Use every opportunity to detect, prevent and eventually replace your harmful unconscious biases that hinder progress and induce anxiety. Those words my sister uttered to me nearly 30 years ago were a tipping point. Without knowing it, she taught me how to interrupt my own thought process with objectivity instead of judgement. I was the one who was making things positive of negative. As I would learn during my doctoral studies of post-modernist philosophy, experiences, people, and things were not good or bad, they just were. I was the one assigning anxiety, elation or something in between. Nothing, the perceived good or the bad, lasts forever so why let your neurons and mindset believe otherwise.