Imagine this scenario: You’re about to give a big presentation. There’s an eager audience waiting to hear what you have to say. You believe in your idea and you know that this opportunity could lead to bigger and better things for you. If you were facing this scenario, what mindset would you likely be in? What thoughts would be running through your head? Would you be focused on a plan for success, or on hopes of avoiding failure?
There’s a big difference.
If you were focused on success, you might think about how you’ll deliver your presentation in a way that will resonate best with the audience. If, however, you were focused on avoiding failure, you might only be thinking about how to survive your presentation without embarrassing yourself.
The way you think about challenges greatly influences your performance. Research (link is external) shows that if your goal is to avoid failure, you’ll actually increase the chances that you will fail.
Here are six ways a focus on avoiding failure can backfire:
1. You’ll persist longer on an impossible task.
At first, this might seem like a strength: After all, don’t you want to keep working hard when a task is really tough? The problem is, if you’re intent on avoiding failure, you won’t recognize when you really should give up. If your business is failing, you might insist that you keep going—until you’ve lost everything—rather than walk away before things get really bad.
2. You’ll experience more stress.
The desire to avoid failure causes grater emotional distress. Researchers report that people with avoidance goals experience more intense feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety during a difficult task.
It’s also really hard to make good decisions when you’re feeling emotional. Your intense feelings make it difficult to think clearly, which can cause you to grow even more frustrated and upset. Ultimately, your emotional arousal could harm your performance and increase your risk of failure.
3. You’ll waste time and resources.
If you’re intent on fitting a square peg into a round hole, you’ll waste a lot of time, energy, and mental power, and at some point, you’ll exhaust yourself. The worst part is, despite your insistence that you must continue, you might not make any progress.
4. You won’t recognize that failure is inevitable.
Lots of inspirational quotes tout messages like, “Failure isn’t an option.” But telling yourself that you can’t fail will prevent you from recognizing when you’re actually on a sinking ship.
5. You’re more likely to keep trying the same solutions.
Sometimes, the best way to reach a goal is to find a way around an obstacle, rather than forcing your way through it. But insisting you can’t fail could prevent you from seeing alternative solutions. People who focus on success are more likely to be open to, and to find, creative solutions that will help them reach their ultimate goals.
6. You’ll miss out on new information.
You may need to make adjustments or change course if you’re stuck. But if all you can think about is, “I can’t fail,” you’ll get tunnel vision. You’ll be more attentive to negative information and might overlook information that could help you move forward.
Think About Success
Ultimately, your mindset about success and failure plays a large role in your outcomes. The more you insist that failure isn’t an option, the more likely it will become the only possibility.
The next time you’re faced with a challenge, keep your focus on how you’re going to succeed, not how you’re going to escape failure. Instead of thinking, “I don’t want to lose,” think, “I want to win,” and you should boost your chances of success.