The F Word

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I’m going to drop the ‘f-bomb’. Brace yourselves!

Failure.

Is it a bit unexpected?

To me, every derivative of this word seems like a threat and fosters a huge sense of disappointment and dissatisfaction. It is a word that I dare not speak but can be so overwhelming and decisive in my thought life, that once I associate myself with it I find my thoughts slipping downhill.

Personally, I have found that I can respond to failure or the threat of failure in two ways. The first way is adopting the Thomas Edison attitude. If you have not heard of him before, he invented the light bulb. And do you know how?

By persisting.
Just the casual 10,000 times.
Probably his most famous quote is as follows:

I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
— Thomas A. Edison

I know that we are not all inventors here, but can you see his reasoning? When I’m having a good day, my mind automatically challenges failure with this type of attitude. However, I've recently realised that small shifts in self talk over a long period of time can dramatically change my reaction to failure, without me being aware of it.

Which leads me to my second response to failure- negativity and discouragement.

Until recently (and unbeknown to me), I was in the middle of a blurry headspace, where the very thought of failure was ruling most aspects of my life: work, university, relationships and my identity. The fear of failure had manifested itself into unrealistic expectations of who I was and the perceptions of people around me. Even more frightening was that my headspace was influencing the way I thought the people around me were thinking of me. I was starting to sense the cracks and felt like they were beginning to show, but I had no idea why. Every little thing seemed to add to an ever present overwhelming feeling- getting a red light or running out of milk seemed like the end of the world.  

You see, it is easy to redirect your thinking from irrational to rational when life throws you a curveball. But the danger is when your thinking gets warped and worn down slowly,  your thought patterns are subtly changed without you even noticing. Suddenly, you are left with a new destructive train of thought that completely derails your world.

Fortunately, a few days ago I caught on to what was happening... and I was actually really surprised to find myself victim to this stealthy, small thinking that was now a huge monster, threatening the health of my thought-life and beyond. And in my immediate response, I almost slid further down this hole, with thoughts of failure towards my own hard work:

When I was seventeen I was diagnosed with depression and I have spent the last six years utilising strong Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Techniques (being aware of and challenging your thinking) to counteract and manage my thinking. I am painfully aware of my triggers and I am constantly learning how to catch my negative thoughts to stop them from developing.

I am so thankful that I stopped myself from entering into that downward spiral of perpetual thinking. The hard work (I like to call it brain training!) paid off and I was able to see the million warning flags set off by that word 'failure'. 

After halting my train of thought, I took a deep breath and smiled. Then my previous experiences of being in this headspace started to kick in. I am not perfect, I am human. I make mistakes and that’s ok. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed sometimes. And it’s ok for me to be in this place at the moment. But I need to get some perspective. I had to explicitly challenge my fear of failure in regards to my behaviour and life and what expectations I was holding. My biggest task is unravelling what I need and separating myself from other’s expectations of me and developing my own realistic expectations. Occasionally I can unconsciously absorb thinking patterns and behaviours of the people around me in my wider working/studying circles, and this time, that was the root of my negative thinking. The frustration in falling short of someone else’s unrealistic expectations of yourself makes you view yourself through that lens. 

So now I come back to the f-word. Failure is essentially an extreme definite conclusion that warrants no further change. Realistically, for all the challenges that life throws, is there ever just a black-and-white definite result or answer? Or are there little variables and a few splatterings of grey in there? Each challenge allows us to accept or reject our belief in failure and it is our choice to identify and shift our thinking.

Imagine the possibilities of ten thousand thoughts turned from failure to opportunity.

And it just starts with one.
Love Em xx