What drives your decisions? The thrill of success or the fear of failure?

I was once asked in an interview: “What drives you more – the thrill of success or the fear of failure”? Since then I have always loved this question and admittedly have used it in a few interviews when I’ve been hiring people, and I’ll often use various versions of this when I coach people.

What’s going on when you fear failure?

Now it’s not a bad thing if this is what drives you – in fact it’s often our natural state. Our brains are wired for survival and therefore it makes sense that our brains are wired to ask “what’s the worst that can happen?” Coupled with the idea that many people have been wired over the years to believe that failure is inherently bad and something to be avoided, our protective wiring gets trained to be stronger and stronger.

And as you get older and more established, you may have more to lose and therefore more to protect and so the cycle continues.

How would you behave if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Imagine that you could be successful at everything you tried, how would that change your decisions? Would you go for that promotion? Would you start your business? Would you dive into that relationship?

Often it helps not to see failure as a bad thing. In fact, if things don’t go according to plan, you can see that as a learning experience or a path to move you forward in a better direction that you might not have necessarily taken on your own.

Look back to see what have motivated your decisions

I recently asked one of my clients what motivated him at various stages in his life. When we explored all of these they had one common thread… fear of failure.

It was therefore important for him to switch his mindset so that failure is no longer viewed as a bad thing – just more like a redirection to something better.

So we then switched the question around to ask what would he have done differently if he knew he couldn’t fail? He gave it some thought and then he realised that he probably would have taken a few more risks which could have potentially had a higher payoff.

So ask yourself, what really drives your decisions? You might be holding yourself back from your greater potential more than you realise.

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