Fear of change

While there are some people out there who relish change and embrace new experiences, for many of us change instils a feeling of fear which can manifest in angry, destructive or self-limiting behaviours. 

Humans like security and certainty and we are generally creatures of habit. The idea of breaking our habits often leads to anxiety, which is why many of us don’t change until the discomfort of our situation becomes greater than our fear of change e.g. someone may only make a real and concerted effort to lose weight after a heart attack or similar .

Many of you reading this will have faced the situation of wanting a new job.  You may be unhappy in your current role, feeling undervalued and underpaid, and yet at the same time, something prevents you from looking for a new job.  This is often fear of the unknown.  In your current role, you may not be happy, but you know what you are unhappy about and you have become used to and prepared for that unhappiness.  Thinking about trying something new often brings with it that uncertainty which you can’t prepare for.  A well-known saying is: 

“The certainty of misery is preferable to the misery of uncertainty”. 

These feelings are very primal and instinctive.  For primitive man thousands of years ago, doing anything new or unknown could bring dangerous consequences, e.g. leaving the protection of the forest to hunt animals could leave you vulnerable to an animal attack yourself or eating an unknown berry could result in poisoning. 

This instinct is also reinforced through learnt behaviour.  As children, we are taught about the world around us and often allowed to feel safe in familiar surroundings but made to feel cautious and wary in unknown and unfamiliar situations, e.g. don’t talk to strangers, don’t leave my side, don’t go there, don’t do this, etc. 

So what can we do about it?  Consciously recognising the feelings is a fantastic start.  All too often, people feel an unpleasant feeling and react automatically to distance themselves from that feeling as quickly as possible.  Often this automatic reaction is unhealthy, limiting and reinforces the original belief that there is something to be worried about.  So instead, simply allow yourself to sit with the feeling.  Resist the temptation to get rid of it and just be interested in the discomfort and view it with curiosity.  Allow yourself to become aware of the feeling and understand the message it is trying to communicate.  This increased level of understanding and awareness will not make the feeling disappear, but will allow you to tolerate and control it, allowing you to make those changes you desire in your life.

Curiosity is not about what is right or wrong, it is about a greater understanding of yourself.  The more you allow yourself to be curious about your feelings and the thoughts and beliefs which accompany them, the greater control you will have over them.  

Turning failure into success

In modern society, there is often huge pressure for people to get things right, to succeed and to be perfect.  When we do achieve and get things right, we feel fantastic, however sooner or later we will fail and this sends us plummeting into feelings of disappointment, sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety and even depression.  Feelings of failure can last for a few hours to many months after the event and these feelings are often compounded by further failures.  We can become very hard on ourselves, lowering our expectations of our abilities and making us reluctant to take chances in the future, in case we “get it wrong” again.  It can also lead to self-sabotaging and self-fulfilling prophecies were we unconsciously help ourselves to fail, just so we can reinforce that belief.  

Failure is often seen as wholly negative whilst success is deemed as completely positive and this is something we usually pick up from parents when we are young.  As children, most of us were praised and rewarded for getting things right and told off when we got it wrong or made a mistake.  This way of bringing up children evolved from a concept called “Operant conditioning” where rats learnt to behave a certain way by either receiving food or an electric shock dependent upon which leaver they activated in a maze.  The idea was that if rats could be trained to behave in a certain way, then so could children.  And so parents set out to condition their children to aim for perfection and to encourage them to get things right first time by rewarding the positives and punishing the perceived failures.    

Throughout life, this belief system is reinforced first at school, then at work and in relationships.  Eventually we pass this same message onto our own children; that it is wonderful to get things right and awful to make a mistake. 

But are mistakes these awful things we have been programmed to believe?  Should we be feeling so down and hard on ourselves when things don’t go according to plan?  In actual fact, failure is just as important as success, maybe even more so, as long as you have the right mind-set.

You either succeed or you fail

Just think about the above statement for a moment.  Say it out loud and say it as if it were someone saying those words to you.  What feelings does it evoke in you?  Focus on the meaning of those words and what they represent to you.  And when you have done that, repeat the same with the statement below.       

You either succeed or you learn something valuable

Do you notice the difference?  Both statements are talking about exactly the same thing, but the first encourages you to feel negative, inadequate and down on yourself.  However the second is a win-win scenario.  It allows you to realise that when you haven’t succeeded, it is an excellent opportunity to learn something valuable.  Learning how to improve, how to better yourself and how to become more than you were before. 

If you take any of the big, influential names in business, such as Richard Branson, Sir Alan Sugar, Henry Ford (the inventor of the Ford Motor Company), they all experienced an untold amount of setbacks when building their first business.  They could have easily seen themselves as failures and decided to give up, thinking themselves as not good enough, however they decided to learn from each set back.  They allowed themselves to learn a valuable lesson every time something didn’t go to plan, allowing them to improve on it for the future and to build something bigger and better.

And mistakes can often lead to great discoveries.  Some of the greatest culinary creations, like the brownies, resulted from a failure to use a leavening ingredient. Often, our mistakes are actually the gateway to our success. And it’s not just a small success. Many times, it is a life-changing success. Failure helps us become more creative, explore the world around us, consider other options, break the rules, innovate, and steer clear from the conventional, which all could lead to much greater things.

Now I’m not saying to you to deliberately go out of your way to make mistakes or not to try to make a success of your life because that would be counter-productive.  However, next time you do make a mistake, just tell yourself this:

It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn and better myself

Because the truth is, without failure, we can never learn to succeed.  So embrace your mistakes.  Be proud of your errors and above all, learn from them.