This post is strongly geared towards education, but the principles are universally applicable.
Failure isn’t what stops most people from achieving their full potential. It’s the fear of failure that is the real issue. It’s something that can be dealt with, and I’ll explain what I did to get past this. In fact, the goal -for me at least- was to become comfortable with failure, and know that I can get past it.
It’s important to fail because I know that if I’m not failing at least a few times every so often, that means I’m not trying anything new, working hard enough, growing, or taking enough risk.
My grandmother gave me a pivotal piece of advice when I was in my mid-teens. She quoted Henry Ford, who famously said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”. I have this quote plastered up on my goal-setting board (I know, what a creative name) and I live by this principle.
When it comes to achieving higher grades, many students fail before they even begin. The majority of battles are won and lost within the mind. Many of my friends have said some variation of the following to me when I ask them why they don’t aim for higher grades:
“If I don’t expect too much, then at least I won’t be disappointed if I fail. And If I end up succeeding, it’ll be a pleasant surprise”.
Getting Rid of Fear
Why be afraid of some disappointment and failure? That’s literally the worst that could happen. So why not aim really high and try your best to achieve it? What happens if you fail? You’ll come away knowing that you put in your best effort and that your tried everything within your power and therefore have no regrets.
You’ll definitely fail if you don’t try, so what do you have to lose if you do?
The “What do you have to lose?” question is incredibly powerful. Really ask yourself and list down some answers in your head or on paper. You’ll find that it’s really not as bad as you think.
People tend think that they have so much to lose and that the disappointment will be crushing if they fail. However, when I ask them to tell me exactly what it is that they’re going to lose, they usually don’t have much of an answer.
The feeling is psychological, and that’s what prevents them from trying. Once they realise that there really isn’t much on the line, and so much to gain just by trying, they usually end up much further than they expected.
Overcoming My Struggle with Math
Back in middle school, I was terrible at math. My friends could easily achieve a 90 percent in tests while I struggled in the low 40s. As many students in that position would, I decided math just wasn’t my subject and gave up.
This became a self-fulfilling prophesy. I believed that I was bad at math, and that’s exactly what I got. What you believe, you become. The secret is simple, alter the way you think.
Let’s go back to the quote by Henry Ford for a second. If I went into something, already convinced that I was going to fail, do you suppose that I’d somehow end up succeeding? 9 times of of ten, the answer is no. I might get lucky, but that’s the exception, rather than the rule.
Realising this, I changed the way I approached math in high school. Rather than think of it as horribly intimidating and difficult (which was pretty much guaranteeing failure), I began to consciously tell myself that math was easy and I was good at it. Of course, you probably won’t believe yourself at first and might even feel stupid doing it, as I certainly did.
It just needs to be an internal dialogue with yourself, so don’t be embarrassed and worry that you might fail and disappoint yourself. This seems pretty obvious when I say it, but most people seem to have an inbuilt system designed to prevent themselves from “bragging”, even to themselves. In this case, you need to brag. Just to yourself at least. Fake the confidence, until you start to believe it, and eventually it will become real.
This trick actually worked for me. After 3 months of repeating this to myself, I had literally convinced myself that math was easy and began to notice a dramatic improvement in my understanding of math, which translated into much higher grades. I applied this same trick to physics and chemistry in high school and the exact same thing happened. I went from barely scraping a 50 percent to averaging 80s and 90s.
It’s All About the Small Wins
I realised something else soon after this experience. I started having to study a lot less and put in a lot less effort. The reason was an increase in confidence. As a result of these early, small wins, I had begun to believe in my own ability, and I had removed the mental block that so many students, including myself, struggle with.
This has nothing to do with natural intelligence or talent. Of course, some people are naturally inclined towards these kinds of subjects, but I certainly wasn’t. I was extremely frustrated with myself until I started using this technique and I found that I could attain the same if not better grades than my peers whom I am still convinced were genetically tuned for excellence in math and science.
The power of belief is often underestimated. I’ve since applied this to almost everything in my life and noticed that it always works. Try this out for yourself and see how it goes. The caveat however, is that you have to try your absolute best to convince yourself until you really do believe in your ability. Doubt is always normal, but do your best to shove it into a corner, punch it until it loses consciousness, and leave it there.
Look to fail, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.
It’s lonely at the top. Ninety nine percent of people are convinced they can’t do great things, so they aim for mediocre.
– Tim Ferriss