Life and business strategist Tony Robbins offers his best advice for getting over the fear of failure in a recent Business Insider video.
Whenever Robbins, now the star of a Netflix documentary titled “I Am Not Your Guru,” is hesitant about doing something that scares him, he imagines himself at age 85, sitting in his rocking chair and looking back on his life.
At that point, he asks himself, would he experience greater regret over having done the scary thing or opted out?
At least in the example he gives in the video — learning to fly a helicopter — he knows he’d feel better having tried to learn instead of assuming it would take too much time and energy.
“What if you never learned? What if you came up with all these fears?” Robbins say. “I look back on my life [at 85] and I missed out on all of it.”
This mental exercise is predicated on the idea that we’ll feel greater remorse over the shots we didn’t take than over those we did take and missed.
As it turns out, this assumption has been the subject of investigation by psychologists for at least two decades. And it would seem that Robbins is right — sort of.
In 1994, Thomas Gilovich and Victoria Husted Medvec proposed that while action prompts more regrets in the short-term, inaction prompts more regrets in the long-term. In fact, that phenomenon seems to apply cross-culturally.
Research, published in 2011 by Mike Morrison and Neal J. Roese, yielded similar findings. While people were just as likely to have regrets about action and inaction, regrets about inaction involved more elapsed time than regrets about action.
In other words, asking that guy on a date and getting laughed at might initially sting more than letting your chance to approach him pass by. But years later, when you’re sitting in your rocking chair, you’re more likely to regret letting him go and wondering “what if?” than if you’d asked him and been humiliated.
Of course, these findings don’t imply that you should or shouldn’t do something you’re afraid of failing at — that’s for you to decide. The takeaway here is that the frustration or embarrassment of trying and failing seems to fade faster than the pain of missing your chance.
Ultimately, it’s about learning that you may have to sit with negative emotions either way.
As Robbins says about dealing with the looming prospect of failure, “I don’t have to get rid of the fear. I just have to dance with it.”
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