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New Year resolutions: why failing first helps you succeed

New Year resolutions: why failing first helps you succeed

  • Does fear of failure hold you back? Do you shy away from activities you think you are no good at, just in case you might fail? Have you already stopped doing those positive New Year resolutions, because they were hard to keep up and because you started to think you might not succeed?

Does fear of failure hold you back? Do you shy away from activities you think you are no good at, just in case you might fail? Have you already stopped doing those positive New Year resolutions, because they were hard to keep up and because you started to think you might not succeed?

Giving yourself permission to be bad at something and potentially failing, may, paradoxically, ultimately lead to success. And here’s why.

Fear of failure

As humans we like to do activities which we are good at, and ones which we know we can do. We like to succeed. We do not like to fail. The positive feedback we get from ourselves and others when we succeed, feeds our brains and egos, and makes us feel good about ourselves. This in turn means we want to do more of that activity so we can feel those positive feelings of success once more. As children we are often encouraged to have a go at a lot of things and slowly, we find out if we can draw, run, climb, ride a bicycle, or play tennis. We also find out which activities don’t come so naturally, which are maybe harder, and we then put them in the ‘cannot do’ box.

Some of us are wired to keep going with difficult activities and some of us aren’t and drop it in less time than it took us to find the perfectly coloured / sized / priced tennis racket and try to hit a ball in the first place. As siblings, friends, family and teachers make comments and give us feedback, wanted or not, there is a tendency to slowly whittle out the activities we sense we are not good at, and to do more of the activities we are good at.

When we are not so good at something we get less praise and when we see what others can do, we often criticise ourselves for being rubbish at something and we quit. After all, as we all know, we are our own worse self-critic. All of this can stop us from trying something new or trying to change ourselves for the better…in case we fail.

It’s ok to be bad at first

So, if we are going to take up something new or stick to a new year’s resolution, we need to allow ourselves to be bad at it first. Maybe even fail. I recently went through this exact same rollercoaster ride when doing a painting for my wife for Christmas. It started off as a great idea.

I had a close-up photo of my 23 year old son with his eyes scrunched up as he tried to spoil the nice photo I was trying to take of him, in front of a bright yellow door, wearing a navy and white striped t-shirt. The colours were great, his hair was great, it was amusing, and it was very characteristically him.

I was going to do it in line and wash, which is watercolours and black ink outlines. I used to draw and paint a long time ago before careers, children and my various sporting addictions took control of my time. But I hadn’t really done anything for a while. Would I still be able to pull it off? And I had never done line and wash before. I had just seen lots of great stuff in a Line and Wash Facebook group I followed and loved the style. Was that enough? Could I do it?

No, push on

So, I started off with the drawing which was okay, but slightly out of proportion and I really didn’t think I’d successfully drawn the nose right. But ok, on with the watercolour. Yellow background for the door first. Going quite well but I ran out of the yellow wash before I’d finished and when I tried to remix the same colours for the yellow it wasn’t quite the same and by the time I’d completed the background I was ready to quit.

I’d messed up already. I should stop now. No push on. Do the hair and see how that goes. I used various shades of yellows and brown colours to build up the layers of his blond tousled hair…it looked more like a grandmother’s permed wig atop his head rather than the sexy, thick James Dean style his hair reminded me of that day. Again, time to throw it in the bin.

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Be brave enough to do it

But then I thought ahead to adding black ink detail and maybe white highlights and thought after that, if there were no clear improvements, I could throw it away then. On with the skin tones. Not too bad. Then the shirt. It was getting there. Then I used the fine black marker pen to add the outlines and wrinkles. It looked a mess!

The black outlines looked so stark and childish compared to the painting. It was definitely time to quit. I shared it with my daughter and spoke about how I thought I had ruined it with the ink, and I should have stopped after the watercolours. She told me not to worry and to add some hatching and shading from the lines to blend in the pen and paint work.

I didn’t feel brave enough to do it in case I made it even worse, but that evening, after a couple of glasses red wine, I thought why not and went for it. And you know what? It’s ok. I’m happier with it. But the number of times I was ready to quit and throw it out were numerous because I was so scared of failing.

“Just one minute”

So, if you are wondering why it is so hard for you to keep going with your New Year resolutions, not only this year, but every year, maybe the awareness that good habits are harder to stick to than bad habits will help, or that trying to do “just one minute” every day will assist you or perhaps sitting with the very real possibility of being bad or failing at it will be all you need to make 2022 the year you finally get one of your New Year resolutions to stick. I hope so. Good luck.

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