Take a moment to picture the last time you wanted something really badly. How did you wait to find out if you were going to get it? Did you:
1) wait patiently, confident in the work you’d done to achieve it and secure in the knowledge that you deserved it? Or . . .
2) bite your nails for a week, picture the worst outcome, and tell everyone that you were sure it was a giant failure.
If you answered #2, then stick around!
Today, we’re going to be discussing our overwhelming urge to predict failure—not just why we do it, but how we can work to break the nasty habit.
Fact: predicting failure is something that we all do, whether we notice it or not.
Here are just a couple of examples from my own life:
- Recently a friend of mine got a final interview for his dream job. When he left, he was told that he would hear back from them by Friday. Sure enough, by Wednesday, he was already losing his mind and asserting his absolute certainty that he wasn’t going to get it.
- The other day, my sons and I were driving close to a bakery my sons love, so we decided to stop in and grab a couple of their favorite vegan pizza rolls. On the way there, my five-year-old—completely unprompted—starts lamenting that he was sure they would all be sold out already.
Why do we do this to ourselves?!
I even remember doing it to myself well after I’d established myself in this career and done so much work to build up my confidence and social fitness. It would be the weekend of a live event, and I’d start going in mental circles:
Nobody is going to come.
There’s no way people will fly in to see you.
Even if people do come, they’re not going to participate, and it will be a disaster.
Now, this was something I was sure in my heart would be a massive success—I was thrilled at the idea of impacting people’s lives so intensely and radically altering their self-image and way of viewing the world. Yet, even with all of that certainty and confidence in my idea, I still allowed the voice in my head to turn against me.
So, why do we go to such a dark place, even when we’ve worked so hard to get where we are?
The tendency to predict failure is nothing more than a protection strategy. We see the possibility of failure (because, yes, failure is always a possibility), and we freak out—especially when the outcome is completely out of our hands.
Think about it. My friend had done everything he could have done to win that job: he had prepared well, done several rounds of successful interviews, and presented himself in the best light possible—and then he just had to sit back and wait. It’s excruciating!
When faced with uncertainty and a lack of control, we grasp as hard as we can for any semblance of certainty we can muster . . . even if it’s a shitty one.
Allowing ourselves to be excited about positive things in our lives can be very vulnerable. For some of us, it just seems safer never to go there.
Unfortunately, that action usually results in the exact opposite of its intended purpose. We want to believe that the negative prediction is setting us up for less of a let-down, but all it’s really doing is producing unnecessary stress and anxiety.
In the end, the urge to protect ourselves from emotional discomfort is almost always ineffective.
In life, we guard ourselves from relationships, from social interactions, and rejections of every sort. We do everything we can to avoid what are statistically inevitable failures, and what we really end up doing is avoiding a full and joyous life.
The first step to altering this pernicious habit is to notice the problem!
Most of the time we’re doing it so often that it just becomes part of who we are, and that makes it tough to notice. Instead of letting your failure predictions wash over you day after day, get proactive—keep an eye out for that negative inner voice so that you can anticipate its attacks. Then, call it out!
“I can tell that I’m about to go negative, and that’s only because I’m feeling uncertain. But I’m not going to go there! I can live in the uncertainty. I can be vulnerable. I can open my heart and allow myself to want this fully. Maybe I’ll get it; maybe I won’t. But if I do, it will be that much sweeter, because I’ll have earned it from a place of knowing I deserve it. If I don’t get it, I know that I’ll be able to handle that too—but I refuse to go through life worried, closed down, and emotionally bruised.”
There is a particular mindset that samurais use: it’s called “dying before going into battle.” By accepting that they’re already dead, they can fight without fear for their own survival. This is how we have to be in life—refusing to play it safe because we know that any moment could be our last.
If that analogy doesn’t work for you, think of it this way: if you got hit by a bus five minutes from now, would you be happy with the way you spent the last week of your life? If your answer isn’t a resounding “YES,” then the only question you should be asking yourself is: What am I waiting for?
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Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are and to know on a deep level that you’re awesome.