Why Failure is Good and Experimenting is Even Better

In my daily search for interesting opinions there was one article that really stood out to me this week. It was entitled “Visualize Failure” by Peter Bregman of the Harvard Business Review. It caught my eye because an article promoting failure is the last thing you would expect from a school that has educated some of the most successful people in the world. Even the idea itself of expecting failure seems so contrary to everything we learn from childhood to adulthood. However, in it’s simplicity it makes perfect complete sense.

In the article Bregman is discussing a kayaking trip in the Grand Canyon in which he finds confidence and fearlessness after capsizing his kayak. He went down and then was thrown back up and lifted into a boat. Instead of giving up, the incident actually made him feel more powerful when he got back in his canoe.

He explains the power of fear this way:

Try visualizing failure.

If you have a difficult conversation you need to initiate, close your eyes and imagine it going horribly wrong. Visualize yourself saying the wrong thing. In your mind, see the other person responding callously. Watch the whole thing blow up. Don’t just think about it; try to feel it. Experience the adrenaline flow. Notice your heart beating. Sense the disappointment.

Okay. Now, open your eyes and realize that you’ve been through the worst of it. Chances are, the conversation won’t go as badly as you’ve just imagined. And if it does, you’ve just experienced what you’ll feel like, and you know what? You survived. It’s only uphill from here.

That’s what makes visualizing failure so helpful for perfectionists who often have a hard time starting things. If the failure we’ve just visualized is as bad as it can get, then why not try? It lowers the bar and takes the power of failure away.

This technique is very similar to how I share the art of observing with my clients. When they have a plan but are not moving forward because they dread the possibility of failure; I have them move right into the failure. They imagine their worse case scenario and really feel the emotions that come up in their body. They observe the sensations and emotions that emerge and realize they are just fear. When we allow ourselves to feel our fears authentically without running away from them they actually become less scary. There is freedom in allowing yourself to experience fear and disappointment.

I have my clients practice the art of observing in every area of their life. A project goes poorly at work and they are okay with it. Why? Because they allowed themselves to be immersed in the fear so they are actually less attached to the outcome. The outcome does not control or define their destiny. They are able to observe what happened, notice their reaction and move onto the next project.

Too many people get stuck in not moving forward because they believe that both their plan and in fact their emotions (i.e., themselves) have to be absolutely perfect. The art of observing allows them to move forward knowing that they can handle whatever the outcome may be. The personal success and confidence comes from knowing that you are secure enough in your own kayak that you can handle whatever the rapids bring.

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