Monday, March 26, 2012

Two posts in one day!  First of all, I cut and paste these things in their entirety because while the internet may be eternal, the stuff in it certainly isn't.  Anyway, this article has been stolen from CNN and copied and pasted.  I've left attribution to both CNN and the author in place.  Aside from some minor formatting, this article has been unchanged.

Is fear of failure holding you back? -
By Robert Kelsey , Special to CNN

Is fear of failure holding you back?
Fear of failure can stop you reaching your potential, says Robert Kelsey. Editor's note: Robert Kelsey is the bestselling author of "What's Stopping You? Why Smart People Don't Always Reach Their Potential and How You Can."

(CNN) -- Why was it that, while others in your class were happy to study law or go into finance, you wanted to be a popstar? Or maybe you were the rebel: an unruly and disruptive influence the teachers disliked. That said, you could have been the procrastinator -- somehow never getting started -- or the dreamy idler living in an invented parallel universe.

Their commonality? All are signs you are a High-FF: someone with a high fear of failure as I call them in "What's Stopping You?" my book on understanding, accepting and navigating the insecurities that drive career failure.
Fear of failure was first uncovered in the 1960s by psychologists such as John Atkinson. Working at Stanford University, Atkinson conducted a series of experiments on children -- setting them reward-based tasks in order to test their motivation.

He noticed they divided into two camps: those focused on winning the reward, who approached the task with what he called a "need for achievement," and those focused on their seemingly inevitable failure, who had what Atkinson termed a "fear of failure" based on their desire to avoid the public humiliation of failure. 

In one experiment the children played a game of hoop-the-peg, with greater rewards offered for greater distances.  The "need for achievement" kids stood a challenging but realistic distance from the peg -- adding concentration if they failed. Those with fear of failure, meanwhile, stood either right on top of the peg or so far back that failure was almost certain.

Of course, those choosing the impossible distance effectively disguised their fear of failure, not least because everyone failed at such a distance. Yet that was the better response. Many of the fear of failure kids became disruptive -- intonating that they didn't care for the game with some even trying to halt the entire process.
Norman Feather (an Australian psychologist) undertook similar experiments and came to similar conclusions,
although also found he could manipulate the response by telling the children the task was "very difficult." This encouraged the High-FF kids to continue -- the humiliation of failure having been lowered. And 1970s experiments by Carol Dweck and Ellen Leggett concluded that children were either "mastery oriented," meaning they were focused on acquiring new skills (and were unconcerned by temporary setbacks), or "ego oriented," which meant their main concern was to not lose face.

The impact of fear of failure 
From here, it's easy to see how such a divide can impact our career progression: indeed, our entire lives. High-FFs keep their ambitions either low or -- as a mask for their insecurities -- extraordinarily high (knowing that failing to become a TV star will be kindly judged). It's the challenging but achievable career choices (such as joining the professions) that are avoided by High-FFs.

So is there a way out? Not from our fears. Mainstream psychologists deride those -- such as hypnotists and acupuncturists -- that claim they can instantly cure our fears and phobias, stating they simply inject alien personality traits into us. These will eventually be revealed as such, producing an inevitable reckoning. Yet we can learn to accept our fears as part of us, and then navigate their destructive consequences.

To do this, however, we need a plan. So here are my seven steps to overcoming (but not curing) fear of failure.
1. Discover your true values. If those popstar goals are a mask you'll need to go back to square one and calculate what really motivates you. This requires you to establish the values and principles that underline your existence. It's these that should drive your goal setting, not your insecurities.
2. Establish your goals. With your values written down, visualise yourself 10-years' hence. Every detail should be imagined: house, car, partner, office, dog (or cat). Importantly, also focus on the details of your career. What will you do day-to-day, where and with whom? Then ensure it dovetails with your values -- otherwise it will almost certainly fail.
3. Work out the milestones. The 10-year horizon is long-enough to make anything possible: including professional exams. Yet you have to ensure the path you take is the right one. So visualize yourself in five years' time. What has to be in place to ensure the 10-year goals are achievable? Then do the same for two years -- thinking about the needs for the five-year horizon. Then one year. Then six months. Then three months, one month and one week. And what can you do tomorrow to make sure the one-week goal is conquered?
4. Develop a strategy and tactics. Of course, goals fail without strong execution, while "busyness" can lead us in the wrong direction. We need a strategy -- a plan that ensures our actions lead us towards our objectives. So undertake a SWOT analysis: looking at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. This should help a strategy emerge because we can execute tactics on our strengths while developing skills to overcome our weaknesses. Meanwhile, we can pursue the opportunities (if goal-focused) and plan to navigate the threats.
5. Execute efficiently. According to Stephen Covey, all activities fall into four boxes: urgent and important, urgent and unimportant, not urgent and important, and not urgent and unimportant. We spend our time on urgent-box activities neglecting the not-urgent-and-important box that is vital for achieving our long-term goals. Yet if we start here, our activities become driven by our goals allowing us to control urgent-and-unimportant activities (otherwise called interruptions) and potentially reframing our not-urgent-and-unimportant activities as refreshing moments where we can enjoy our progress.
6. Deal with people. For High-FFs, other people are a problem. Too often, we become reactive and defensive, or potentially manipulated by people leveraging off our insecurities. Yet dealing with difficult people is possible once we have "developed our compassion" -- i.e. we've stopped seeing the world from our own perspective and, instead, seen it from theirs. If done genuinely, we can then forge win-win strategies that turn potential enemies and barriers to our progress into allies that can help us achieve our goals.
7. Find your unique gift. Still struggling? Just maybe you haven't found your unique gift. Everyone has a specialtalent or insight that they should first discover and then offer to others. Mine was a curiosity regarding my condition(as a High-FF) and a background in writing. I combined the two to write "What's Stopping You?" What's yours?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert Kelsey.
© 2012 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

I don't know that I agree with all that's written, but it certainly is something that I should be thinking about.  I know that there are consequences for my plans for partial success that are worse than complete failure.  To date, rather conveniently, I've done nothing.  Well, not nothing, but close to it.  I've accomplished nothing.  It's not quite the same thing, I suppose, but it's functionally the same thing.  Worse, I've concentrated on things that ultimately have no value to the larger goals at hand. 

I'm not saying all that reading and research aren't noble goals.  Some of it was not only necessary, but has made me a better writer.  It's also made me a better typist.  It's been a while, but I can't count the number of times that I've been in a good writing mode and given up because I was frustrated that the ideas would come faster than I could record them.  It's one of the reasons I don't write in longhand as often as I used to.  Yeah, paper is still more convenient sometimes, and I do still take some notes in that fashion, but typing is faster for me.

Finally, I believe that everything happens for a reason.  I was going through similar thoughts for the past several days and I don't know that it's a complete coincidence that I find this article now. 

- Jim