The fear of making a mistake, of messing up, almost always is surrounded by thoughts about yourself when it happens, or what will others think? I have always felt like there is two people inside of me, a bipolar struggle between the one voice that says, “Go for it,” whilst the other voice says, “be careful, it won’t work, you will mess up.” It does seem that this second voice has a lot more to say about how I should live my life.
The thing is, as far back as I can remember it was painfully obvious that messing up, that making a mistake was a bad thing. My earliest memory of this was coming home with my school report card, with good to great grades on almost everything, except for that one ‘F’ — and you guessed it, all the focus goes to that failure. In hindsight, what is clear now, is that nothing I did badly in at school growing up do I use today as an adult, and that everything I did well in, I still use. Culturally and societally, the obsession of getting things just right as others have defined it for us, is so pervasive, that most of us live unfulfilled lives. If we try to live a life of success as defined by others, then we can never truly experience personal success itself.
Ironically, and there are exceptions of course, almost all things we could fail in life — we can recover from. Almost all the things we are afraid of, like looking like an idiot in front of others, won’t end our lives. I am fascinated by this resistance as Pressfield calls it. This inner fear, often promoted by an inner critic that keeps telling us we are not good enough, that not looking bad in front of others is far more important than living our dreams. This resistance is so deeply ingrained in our psyche, that even when we attempt something that we know beforehand will result in little fall out if we fail — still holds us back from exploring our fullest potential.
As a martial artist, and jiu-jitsu practitioner I see this all the time on the mat. Guys and girls who won’t go for something just in case they mess up, or lose a position, or get caught in a submission. But here is the thing, they know before hand that even if they get caught in a submission they can simply tap and their opponent will let go. They can, therefore, immediately role again. Their ability to start over, can happen as many times as they choose. Yet, even knowing this, the resistance stops them from freely exploring all the possibilities before them. In life, most of the time, making a mistake never means you cannot restart.
As a coach I see my students struggle with their resistance, but what they likely don’t know is that I struggle with it too. Our collective conditioning of never feeling good enough, of being held back by fear of upsetting the status quo, or not giving it everything we have because facing the social fall out of failure seems so insurmountable. The question then arises what can we do about this? As simple as this may sound, I have found that you have to talk to your fear, just like it talks to you, but this time you have to put it in its place, where it belongs.
This is what I tell fear, “Just shut up, you are not the boss here!”
“fear, get out of my way, because what ever you say isn’t true”
You need to challenge that voice of fear, that voice of resistance as it arises. Don’t give it time to try to convince you otherwise. Shoot it down, before it even begins to tell you the myriad of ways that things can go wrong. Deep down, we know what we want, what we need to move towards in order to experience the world as we know we should. If you then never allow fear to have room to talk, then you leave a lot of room for exploring your full potential.