Fear of failure is the reason you’re not succeeding. Whether you think so or not, you are afraid to fail. Now’s the time to break free of the psychological preconditioning preventing you from maximising your potential.
“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” ~ Thomas Edison
Children are inherently creative. Why?
More heart, less head. No fear of failure. No self-editing. They are still learning and figuring out the world and what they are capable of. They aren’t afraid of what other people think.
Adults are more resistant. Afraid of not knowing. We fear failure. More importantly, we’re afraid of the way our failures are perceived by others – colleagues and superiors.
Appearances matter. And they hold us back.
Find Your Inner Child
Everyone has an inner child (the creative free spirit) but as we grow older and take on responsibilities we bury this deeper and ignore it.
Giving your inner child a chance to express itself and have fun helps the adult ‘you’ become more creative.
Creativity is play.
Creativity is exploring the world around you. Discover your limitations. Find ways of solving the problems you face. Experiment. Fail. And don’t worry about it.
“If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” ~ Katharine Hepburn
Would you stop your kid learning how to walk after they fell over once? Twice? Five times?”
You learn more through failure. Embrace it. Learn what doesn’t work. Get one step closer to discovering what does.
Quantity Is The Route To Quality
Quality is what we all strive for and are pressured to achieve immediately – deadlines!
You can only get true quality by going through a process of generating QUANTITY.
“In 1953, a fledgling company called Rocket Chemical Company and its staff of three set out to create a line of rust-prevention solvents and degreasers for use in the aerospace industry. Working in a small lab in San Diego, California, it took them 40 attempts to get the water displacing formula worked out… WD-40® [was] perfected on the 40th try.”
Get ALL your ideas down.
No matter how childish, insane or improbable they may seem, DON’T SELF-EDIT. One of those ideas, or a combination of those ideas, could be the killer creative solution to your problem.
Traditional approaches to education group and classify students depending on their age, background and perceived ability, based on standardised testing.
In school we are judged against static criteria. We are standardised. Everyone has their progress mapped out. We become part of an educational conveyor belt.
This model tells us what we are supposed to achieve by certain points in our life. When we should be able to read. What we should be able to read. How we should write. When we should be able to demonstrate these skills.
There’s one problem.
We don’t learn in a linear fashion.
(Adapted from an original image by Demetri Martin. Source: https://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/5935)
This is the major flaw in the system. We learn and develop at different rates, in different ways. Yet we have to conform.
Creativity is beaten out of us.
Independent thought is nothing more than an aspiration; spoon-feeding is the reality because failure is not an option.
Failure is the best option.
Resilience is key.
Prepare To Love Failure!
The following tasks and activities are designed to help you break free from the fear of failure. Shifting the importance away from the end product, they focus on the process. They encourage creative silliness and remove the pressure of how ideas will be received and perceived.
Because the outcomes don’t matter, we are freed to express ourselves with the same reckless abandon that children have. It’s playful.
You can’t fail. But you can learn from the process.
1. The Alternative Uses Test
Our brains are conditioned to protect us from risk and err on the side of caution, preferring things that have worked previously – the Comfort Zone. This is why we end up generating the same ideas. You need to trick your brain into thinking differently.
J.P. Guilford developed the Alternative Uses Test to stretch our creativity. You have two minutes to think of as many possible alternative uses for an everyday object – like a phone, a blob of sticky tack, or a chair.
For example, “paper clips” could move beyond simply keeping your papers together to become: cufflinks, earrings, imitation mini-trombones, something you use to push the emergency restart button on your router, a way of keeping headphones from getting tangled up, a bookmark.
Try it yourself and see:
- how many different uses you can come up with,
- how uncommon or original the uses are,
- how many different categories your answers cover (cufflinks and earrings are both accessories – one category )
- how detailed and elaborate your responses are.
2. Torrance’s ‘Incomplete Figure’
Ellis Paul Torrance developed the Incomplete Figure test. This drawing challenge formed part of the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT), a creativity-oriented alternative to traditional IQ tests. The result is a game similar to exquisite corpse.
You’re given a shape (like the one below, courtesy of What I See When I Look At), and then asked to complete the image.
(Click on the image to see some examples)
3. A Beautiful Constraint
Try imposing limits and restrictions on your work.
“Hang on a minute. You’ve been going on about breaking free from constraints and self-imposed limits. What gives?”
At the risk of sounding contradictory, limiting yourself can actually help you be more creative.
“Adopting a ‘Transformer Mindset’ means viewing our constraint positively and possibly increasing the ambition along the way.”
It is surprisingly easy to spend a lot of time doing very little.
Do more with less time! Force yourself to complete tasks quicker and with fewer resources.
Write a story in 50 words. Then halve it. Reduce it further to 10 words. Or 6 words.
Creative constraints are the premise behind the One Minute Briefs I regularly enter (One Rule. One Minute. Create an Ad). Or the lipograms I write (no ‘a’ and no ‘e’).
If you impose restrictions you force creative thinking and problem solving. But most importantly you build resilience and you get over the fear of failure.
Because you don’t allow yourself time to be afraid of the outcome.
All you are focused on is getting the task done. Who cares what anyone thinks? Just get something done.
This can be transferred to any number of creative scenarios. Take the Status Quo approach to music and only use a small handful of chords in your song. Or limit the amount of colours you use in your designs.
These restrictions can bring out your most creative side.
Take Away Thoughts
Free your inner child.
Be childlike in your approach to tasks. We are all always learning.
Have fun. Create without restraint. Don’t self-edit. Don’t worry about what anyone thinks of your ideas. This will be liberating.
Ideas are a process, not the end product.
Make mistakes. Learn from them.
Keep up to date with my regular creative challenges on Twitter and via my blog. Join me as I explore more ways to help you break free from the fear of failure.
Also published on Medium.