Flipping Failure to Success

Flipping Failure to Success

Sometimes our fears and breakthroughs are two sides of the same coin. One I flipped was fear of failure.

As a child, I often followed a pattern of sticking to things I already knew or was sure I could master. That was me being a perfectionist — “Do it right or not at all.”

I couldn’t allow myself to fail. The fear lived in my mind like a stern commandment: “You can’t fail!”

I didn’t like it, but “You can’t fail,” was the rule, so during my childhood, I made sure I didn’t. I just didn’t try anything I wasn’t sure of. This went far beyond learning and well into experience. For example, at the amusement park, I hated “risky” rides like the roller coaster and loved safe, predictable rides like the merry-go-round. Thank goodness my parents honored my fears and validated my need to feel safe.

Instead of seeking out new challenges, I focused intently on getting really good at a few familiar things like art and math. As my confidence grew in those areas, I branched out into others until I mastered many things. That was my version of the Running Leap.

This breakthrough occurred a number of years ago at the close of the London Olympics when I noticed my old commandment resurfacing. Knowing the power of mental associations in the breakthrough process, I asked myself what the Olympics had to do with “You can’t fail?” The answer was, “Everything!”

Michael Phelps’ record-breaking 22 medals brought up a childhood memory of failure on a swim team. I remember trying to swim a couple of laps, hating it, and informing the coach I didn’t want to be on the team anymore. She called me a quitter — the epitome of failure. So I did what any kid would do to meet her need for power I made the coach the bad guy, the mean lady who called me a quitter.

But in replaying this story in my mind as an adult, I instantly saw it was just her way to spur kids on. It probably worked for her and her sons, but for me, the fear of failure gelled right there as the commandment, “You can’t fail!” I found the childhood source!

SAY WHAT YOU SEE® to myself undid the rest: “You can’t fail. You don’t dare fail. You hate to fail. You are afraid you will fail. No…you are sure you will fail!” When I let myself feel how scary and true that last version of my thought was for me, and let the tears flow, I realized that the core belief was actually that I had already failed. The instant that belief was heard and validated by me — bam! It flipped.

“You can’t fail,” suddenly became a truth instead of a commandment. What a jolt to go from fear to reassurance with the exact same phrase!

And, as it must to anchor a new belief, my mind provided instant proof. I realized that I had already not failed many times, but those just hadn’t counted before. Besides the many successes I have had and the wealth of skills I have mastered in my lifetime, the one proof that really mattered to me was that I was still alive! Weird, I know, but for me, that’s the biggest success of all — staying alive. So given that I am alive and have already succeeded, it is just true that I can’t fail; every future success is now a bonus.

This kind of two-sided belief is not as unusual as you might think. Eva had a great one: “You should love your life.” Interpreting it like a commandment had her trying for years to love her life the way it was but to no avail. When it flipped, she realized the phrase was just true. The problem wasn’t that she didn’t love the life she had, it was that she had the wrong life. She’s been in action changing it to one she loves ever since!

It’s like we encode the truth in our brains with language. When we assign the wrong meaning to it, we add an emotional charge like fear or sadness which guarantees we will revisit it (sometimes over and over) until we eventually set it right — if we have the right tools. SAY WHAT YOU SEE to yourself is definitely the right tool for flipping failure and other misinterpreted beliefs!

What complaints, fears, or “shoulds” would you like to flip?


  1. Me me me! (hand waving wildly)
    I’ve got one!

    “Started, but unfinished projects/ideas/poems etc. are wasted.”

    I find myself not starting things because I don’t want to be interrupted–or worse yet–stop and neer pick it up again–effectively “wasting” it.

  2. Katherine,

    Love your enthusiasm! OK, starting with SWYS: “You hate to be interrupted! You are afraid you will waste things,” I started wondering if you have a belief that “you never go back.” If so, that one’s ripe for flipping. Try it and let me know how it goes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *