When I was a little girl, I read a book about how to be a “perfect person”. Yup! (I know, I know!) The key message of it was that to be perfect, one should not rock the boat or take risks, but rather sit quietly in a corner.
But guess what? It’s practically impossible to never rock the boat. Even little things we do can have unintended or unexpected effects.
Me looking at you the wrong way on a bad day can cause you to yell at me. Not my fault, but I still rocked the boat there, right?
Basically, the only way to really be “perfect” is to not live your life at all, because one wrong move can lead to a mistake!
Eventually, I realized that no one can be perfect all the time. We can’t just spend our lives sitting quietly in a corner never taking any chances for fear of making mistakes.
That means taking risks, even when we know that some risks might not work out the way we want.
We all fear making the wrong move, embarrassing ourselves, or being negatively judged by others. Our (very human) need to belong and connect with others can make us also fear being cast out by others.
Unfortunately, if left unchecked, these fears can actually lead to mental, emotional, and even physical health problems, including depression, anxiety, and burnout. And if we let ourselves play into these fears, we can really sabotage our ability to reach our goals and grow.
So, how do we take calculated risks needed for growth, while also managing our inner fear of failing?
The answer is simpler than it seems. Below are three ways (backed by research) to practice strengthening our courage to try.
BRAVERY / TRY THIS
1. Focus on taking the chance to try things, not on having a successful outcome.
For example, let’s say you were asked to make a presentation to the class on a topic you know nothing about. You already hate talking in front of people and now you have to do it for a grade? On a topic that you don’t even understand? If you focus on the grade or your class’s reaction (the successful outcome) you will probably get even more nervous, which will only make things worse. So instead, think about the good things you ARE doing. You can tell yourself things that celebrate taking chances and growth:
- Whatever happens, at least I tried.
- I never did this before. I’m proud I tried.
- I can always make it better. I just need some more practice.
2. Take baby steps toward the goal. There is a lot of research that shows taking baby steps toward the goal will get you closer to your goal than just jumping head-in – especially when it’s a new skill you never tried before.
For example, let’s say that now your goal is to get more comfortable presenting in front of people. Here’s how you can try taking baby steps in a way that help you learn and improve along the way:
- First, imagine in your head what it might be like to present in front of people. Write down any fears that pop up for you.
- Then, talk to people who have succeeded presenting in front of others and ask them about your fears and how they handled them.
- Then practice – but again, in baby steps. First, practice in front of a mirror. Then practice on camera in your own home. Then try practicing in front of family members or friends. Finally, try it with a small audience before you try it with a larger audience.
- Every time you practice, see what you can learn from it and adjust it a little for the next time you do it.
It’s just like building muscles. You don’t go from lifting no weight to lifting 250 pounds, right? You start with 3 pounds, then 5 pounds, then 10 pounds, then adjust it down to 8 pounds for a while when you realize 10 pounds is too much. And keep moving slowly toward your goal!
3. Say positive mantras. Let’s keep going with the public speaking example. When we feel nervous, repeating supportivestatements (mantras) to ourselves can help us be less nervous and sometimes change our feelings about the outcome. So, when you are preparing to do your presentation, try repeating statements like these to yourself:
- Good enough is good enough.
- I’ll never know unless I try.
- I’ll be okay.
- This will help me get better.
Now, make your own mantras. What works for you?
By Dr. Mira Brancu
Consulting Psychologist, Author, Speaker