On fucking up

How can we be convinced to do new stuff if we are scared to screw up?

The premise of all motivational literature is that humans can be influenced to change their ways and take action by the promise of gains and improvements in the near or distant future. This wouldn’t explain though why anyone would still keep smoking or voting far-right parties. Experiments have found that we are much more influenced by our fear of loss. A bit counter-intuitive, but the amount of unhappiness that we feel when, say, getting a salary reduction of 100€ is much much bigger than the happiness generated by a raise of the same amount.  “Loss” includes that of material goods (our country’s social security will be depleted by the damn immigrants!), but also that of social resources such as approval from others, security and social standing – basically, that no one will want to hang with us any more. The problem is, being motivated by fear of loss makes us stressed, overall fucking miserable, and unable to implement change. The sweet spot for improvement is apparently a mix of a lot of positive feelings and inspiration about the future self that we want, with just enough negative stress to get us to buckle up and do the work. However, because our strong response to loss, this balance usually hangs much more to the negative side.

So, what can we do to shake things up for ourselves and for others? There are two ways to influence this balance of positive and negative. One way is reinforcing the positive side (of which we will talk in a later blog), and one is trying to reduce the negative side-  making us less afraid of loss and screwing up.

In the case of fear of failure, there is a wonderful initiative that I wanted to tell you about. It is called FuckUp Nights, and you should go see if there is one near you ASAP! It’s a series of of Ted-style talks by people on their biggest failures. Speakers tell stories of failing at business, seeing movements they believed in collapse and messing up so badly at their jobs that they got fired. Look at the lineup of the event that I am going to tomorrow:

“- Philip Hellemans, skydiving teacher. Philip will talk about the ultimate skydiving failure: ‘losing’ a student in the air. This happened to him once. A student got separated and didn’t think to open his main parachute himself. His life was saved by the automatic opener, but still he landed hard and displaced his vertebra.

– Justine Harcourt de Tourville, American communication specialist. Six years ago she fell in love with a charming restaurant in Antwerp and bitten by the entrepreneurial virus, she decided to buy it, unaware of the skeletons that were about to fall out of the closet. She will share the story and lessons discovering all kinds of deadly business problems and having to let go of a dear dream.

– Roxane Kaempf, interactive experience & mobile consultant at IBM. After finishing her master thesis on sustainable tourism initiatives, Roxane decided to turn her research into a start-up. Together with her co-founders, they achieved funding and were invited to travel to cities all over Europe. But delays, communication problems and – most importantly – a lack of income led to them shutting down the website. Roxanne will talk about what went wrong and what could have perhaps prevented the business from going downhill.”

Not your average rosy TedX world, is it? The speakers share the facts, the aftermath of the fuckup and what they learned from it. I love that the talks do not even conform to the glossy self-help cliché where you only hear of failures once the person has established a supersuccesful new venture, thus presenting success as a necessary precondition to ‘fessing up about the struggle. Speakers are really candid about all that comes with messing up. The audience asks questions, in a super relaxed and empathetic atmosphere, which by itself is enough to give me a little warm and fuzzy feeling inside!

fuck3
They have pretty cool ads too

The awesome thing about the concept is that it lets us normalise failure and talk about it in terms that reduce the fear of it, thus acting on the negative side of that balance that I was talking about above. Going to a couple of these has already helped me to be open about my own fuckups with others (hello, community yoga class I organised where ZERO participants turned up).  It might also inspire you to :

  • Host your own Fuckup Night! The world needs more of these. Or just go to one that is organised nearby.
  • Try to be more open about failures, struggles and mistakes in your own life, be it a project in sports, self-improvement or your work. The way you phrase things is of course important, but in 99% of the cases, I have found people (even clients!) to be much more understanding, supportive and appreciative of the honesty than I would have given them credit for.
  • Engage with others when they open up about their fuckup. Share the love.

 

Do you have other tricks that help reducing your fear of loss?

(disclaimer: I am definitely not paid by FuckUpnights to promote their events, which are also free to attend)

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