Are You A Failure Germaphobe?

It’s been said that if you want to increase your success rate, you should increase your failure rate. Success comes at least partially from your volume of attempts. If you want to sell more, make more sales calls. If you want more dates, ask more people out. Pretty simple principle — one that’s been around a long time.

We all know you can try to increase your rate of success as well, but for this blog entry, let’s just stick with the concept of increasing the number of attempts.

Most people will take this advice to mean that you should take something where you have a reasonable probability of success and then do it more often. But I’ll take this idea a step further. Go out and attempt something at which you know you’ll fail.

Fail on purpose.

Keep reading and I’ll explain how this will benefit you.

I won’t suggest you do this when you have lots of investors who are counting on your success or when the consequences of failure are big. But there are many things you can do which you know you’ll fail at but which don’t have any serious long-term negative consequences. Try to learn to play a musical instrument when you have no talent at it. Attempt a small project that’s beyond your technical abilities. Ask for a job, promotion, or raise when you know the other person will say no. Ask for a date when you’re sure to get shot down cold. Cook a meal that’s beyond your cooking skills. Sign up to run in a 10K race when you can’t even run 1K, and show up and run half a block.

There are several significant benefits to attempting something even when failure is certain:

  1. You’ll gain experience failing, how to take it, and how to recover from it, which is at least as important as learning to handle success. You’ll become better prepared for handling future failures. You’ll learn how to recover quickly, extract the key lessons, and put them to good use.
  2. You’ll develop greater humility, and this will allow you to subvert your ego more, so you neither become too optimistic or too pessimistic, and your productivity will become more steady and consistent.
  3. You’ll run straight into your limits and become comfortable working butt-up against them, instead of lagging behind your untapped potential with a comfortable padding.
  4. You’ll strengthen your resistance to fear of failure in the future.
  5. Many tasks at which you ultimately fail will still yield partial success. For example, if you try to lose 10 pounds in a month, you may fail and only lose 3.
  6. You’ll become better at learning the difference between when a project is headed for failure and when it’s headed for success. And this will allow you to achieve more success when it really matters because you’ll have far more experience to draw upon. So you’ll succeed more often.
  7. You’ll develop a thicker skin. You’ll get used to having other people slam and reject you for failing, and you’ll be able to go out and tackle big projects without worrying what others will think.
  8. You’ll become more persistent. You’ll come to realize that failure just isn’t the big deal people made it out to be. About 50 million sperm failed in their effort to create you, while just one made it through. Yet what if none decided to try, the odds being overwhelmingly against success?
  9. You’ll condition yourself to take action and stop ruminating. You’ll tear yourself away from the state of analysis paralysis, and you’ll start making things happen instead of just pondering and planning them.
  10. Every once in a while, you’ll learn that you were wrong, and you’ll succeed at something even when failure seemed certain. You’ll drop limiting beliefs and gain a more accurate grasp of what’s realistically possible for you. You’ll discover new talents you never knew you had. You’ll learn that your previous concept of what you thought was realism was in fact too pessimistic, and you’ll slide it down a notch closer to optimism until you get it just right.
  11. You can say, “Hehehe. I meant to do that,” and actually mean it for a change. 🙂

Make failure your friend, and success will tag along as well.

This advice may seem paradoxical and ironic when compared to my previous posts. But what I’m suggesting here is to use intentional failure as a training/conditioning exercise. Don’t fail on purpose when it really matters. But embrace failure when it doesn’t matter. By going into a situation expecting to fail, you’re more likely to fail than if you expect success. But that’s OK because success isn’t the point in this case. You’re not trying to succeed in this training exercise. You’re trying to increase your tolerance for and understanding of failure and rejection.

Fear of failure and fear of rejection hold many people back from setting and achieving big goals. So it’s critical to develop a strong immunity to both. Taking in small, controlled doses of failure and rejection is one way to inoculate yourself against them. They won’t kill you, but they will make you stronger.

Without this inoculation you’re doomed to live as a failure hypochondriac. Even a medium-sized failure can take you down (into procrastination, depression, laziness). So you start avoiding those failure germs. Unfortunately, the places where success hangs out are all infested with nasty failure germs. So by avoiding failure, you won’t encounter much success either.

Another problem with failure germaphobia is that you’ll have to avoid successful people. Successful people are constantly sneezing out failure germs, so if you get too close, they’ll spray you. You’ll need to hang out mostly with other failure germaphobes then, so you’ll learn a lot more about avoiding failure than you will about achieving success. In the long run, you won’t be a failure, but nor will you be a success. You’ll basically just be unnecessary.

Mild failure inoculations are easier to take than confronting the most fearsome failure germs right away. By going into a situation expecting to fail, you take your ego offline. You aren’t emotionally invested in the situation. Imagine asking someone out on a date when you’re 100% certain of hearing a no, and you just do it to get the no out of the way. It’s a lot less stressful than doing it when you desperately want a yes but don’t think you can get one. By building experience failing, you’ll develop the backbone to still be able to do it even when you want the yes. You’ll be able to take your ego offline as needed, make the attempt, and then reboot and recoup quickly.

Take the failure/rejection inoculation, so you don’t have to live out your life as a failure germaphobe. Just ask yourself, “What small thing can I fail at today?” Then go do it. Have some fun with it. Let yourself discover that failure isn’t some monstrous scary thing to be avoided at all costs. My failure task for today is to convince my 4-year old daughter Emily to stop drawing the alphabet on her clothes. Then maybe I’ll teach my 1-year old son Kyle to eat without getting food in his hair.