A conversation about failure

I once had a coaching session with a client and the subject of failure arose during the conversation. The subject came about when I asked the client why they had put off so many different plans for such a long time, so that I could begin to understand what it was that was preventing him from moving forward. He gave me an honest and simple response:

“I fear failure”.

Me: You fear failure?

Him: Yes, quite often. It gets in the way of a lot of things. I start a project and then drop it because I’m afraid that it won’t succeed.

Me: Every action has an end result. When you experience an undesired result, what goes through your mind?

Him: Thoughts and feelings of failure. I say things like “Why do I always pick the wrong project?”, or something like,  “I’m so stupid!”

I recall things that went wrong during the project and one after another they all sprout up in my mind. This kind of sets the scene for the rest of the day, making it a typically bad day.

Me: Is this why you put off a lot of the plans and ideas you have?

Him: Yes. I fear that I will mess things up and it will make me think and feel like I just described.

Me: To help you manage your fear in the future, how could you identify what you can and can’t control about your projects and plans?

Him: Errm. I could write down all the things I fear might go wrong and circle those I know I can do something about to avoid my plans failing.

Me: What about the things in that list you can’t do anything about?

Him: Well, I could go the extra mile and see if there is any way I could act on them. But if not, I guess I would just have to accept them and try not to worry about them.

Me: What questions and statements could you use that would be more helpful to you the next time you experience an undesired result?

Him: Well, I don’t completely fail, I get some things right. So how about:

“I have partially attained my result.”

“What could I do to make my partially correct result complete?”

“What have I learnt from doing this?”

“What did I do well?”

Me: Good. They sound like more helpful things you could be saying to yourself the next time the outcome isn’t as you expected.

The important things to take away from the above dialogue are the choices that can be made in connection with fear and failure.

Fear can be addressed by choosing to proactively take steps to manage the sources of fears that are in your control. See our blog On The Subject Of Fear – You Have Two Choices.

Failure can be addressed by choosing to think about the undesired result differently. This can be done through the use of solution-focused questions and helpful statements.

The statement “I fear failure” which the client provided at the beginning of the conversation is toxic for the mind. In this one statement the client made all the wrong choices, and that made all the difference!

Written by Prashant Jadav. For more information about coaching and personal development support, please get in touch here.