Flip the Script – Change the Game: Value-Orientation and the Fear of Failure

Why are some people able to go out there and make their dreams come true and others are stuck in dead end jobs, seemingly with no way out? Well, lots of reasons to be honest, the world is grossly unfair and generally quite shitty sometimes. People at the top are not always the nicest and the amount of potential that is wasted every day is probably enough to cure the worlds ills many times over.

One major problem that’s all too common involves fear of failure and people believing in how important it is that, if they do put themselves out there, they had better not make a hash of it or everyone will think they’re stupid and worthless. This post is going to try to de-construct that belief and hopefully help some of you that may be struggling with these types of thoughts.

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This is potentially going to be a tricky one for some of you. It involves a seismic shift in perspective and flies in the face of something that many of us are taught from a very young age. Before we fully submerge ourselves in this delta of discovery, let’s talk a little bit about scripting.

Scripting generally refers to a behaviour or series of behaviours that have been learned in response to certain situations or circumstances. There are many popular examples of behaviour scripting; the act of going shopping triggers a series of learned behaviours, as does doing to the doctors or meeting someone for the first time.

Scripts can be useful as they help our brain sleepwalk through routine activities like going shopping while we also plan exactly how we would survive if the zombie apocalypse broke out, right now, in the cereal aisle at Tesco (comment below with your top tip for surviving the zombie apocalypse! #engagement).

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Here I am referring to a very particular type of scripting, one that Professor Steve Peters describes in his excellent book, The Chimp Paradox. He talks about variation on scripting which he calls autopilots, meaning learned behaviours and beliefs that are deeply ingrained in our subconscious, the result of repetition many times.

Like scripts, autopilots can be very beneficial. They can also be quite damaging if they’re based on the wrong principles. If left unchecked, the latter can drastically influence our thinking in not-so-fantastic ways.

The example Prof. Peters gives is one of a child presenting a piece of work to their parents and the parents giving them praise for it. This happens a lot in parent-child interactions. “What a lovely picture!”, “you’re very clever for making that!”, “I’m so proud of how well you’re doing with your interpretive dance lessons, Gwendolyn!”

What we, as parents, are teaching poor little Gwendolyn and her chums here is that if you do or make something, you get praise. Not such a bad thing right? Look at it from another angle though…

The only way to reliably get praise (and therefore feel valued) is by making or doing something praise-worthy.

If you stop and think about that for more than half a second, that’s not a healthy lesson for them at all. In fact it’s a pretty fucked up thing to teach your kids. But the more fucked up thing is that we ALL do it.

It doesn’t stop at the example above, how often does it happen in work? If you bust your ass getting a project in on a tight deadline, or come up with some magical new marketing gimmick that lands a bunch of new clients, that’s great isn’t it? The results you got were stellar, well done. Do it again.

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Advertising is an absolute bastard for this as well. Take jewellery, women are advertised sparkly things on the basis that if their partner really cares, he or she will buy them the sparkly thing. The sparkly thing denotes their value.

Another example, cars. Men, if you want to be cool and have a great life that involves hitting the beach with your hot wife then driving up a mountain and jumping off it then you need to be driving the new Range Rover Dickthrust!

Everything I’ve talked about above (apart from the zombies bit) places value externally to the individual. External value-orientation is the belief that what you produce, buy, or have, determines your value as an individual.

This. Is. Not. True.

I don’t think anyone should to go through life feeling like this. A piece of jewellery is an accessory (an often grossly overvalued one at that), a car gets you from A to B. Everything else is surface level and, in the grand scheme of things, meaningless.

You are enough without any of this. No amount of stuff will make you content if you define your value as a person in these terms. Marisa Peer tells a story about a Hollywood start that she worked with. She doesn’t name him, but feel free to throw some guesses out there.

So this guy came to her in quite a state. He’d cheated on his wives all his life (he was on number 3 or 4 by this point), had houses across the globe, all the cars and other shit you could ever wish for. And he was miserable.

Marisa saw very quickly that this guy had been searching for happiness and meaning in things all his life. She needed to make him see that he didn’t need it. So what did she do? She told him to take his wife’s lipstick and write “I AM ENOUGH” on every mirror in the house, so he’d read it whenever he saw himself. Over time the message sank in.

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The thing I want you to understand here is that you are not your stuff. Nor are you the work you produce. You are not your behaviours and you are not your failures. You are enough.

I could devote several posts on this blog to the genius that is Tyler Durden from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, but just one line is needed here;

“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis”.

Tyler gets it. Tyler knows that living your life by the things you have, deriving your value as an individual based on whether you shop for groceries at Aldi or Waitrose, whether you did well in school or dropped out, whether you live in a big house or a shoebox, is the road to misery.

Let go of that and realise that you alone have the value and the potential. Just don’t go full Tyler and try and blow up half a city.

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“But what does this mean, being enough? If I’m enough then no can moan at me for sitting around all day playing COD or watching Jeremy Kyle (Jerry Springer – for any Americans reading) and eating my bodyweight in cookies, right? I have value just doing this so why get off my ass?”

OK let me stop you there – yes you have value just doing that but what a waste! All that potential just sitting there doing nothing! This is not an excuse for anybody to sit around doing nothing and feeling smug about it.

Remember when I said that you are not your behaviours or failures? That means you don’t have to be worried about failing. That means you can get off your ass and give something a go and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t pan out because if you have a perception of value that’s internal – all that failure means is you need to tweak your methods a bit and try again. You learned something. Good fucking job! You’re now beating most of the rest of the population!

Don’t keep your potential to yourself. It’s meant to be used and shared with other people. No, you won’t get it right first time (probably), but if you see your value as internal, inextricably linked to you as a person, that really, really doesn’t matter. What matters is you try, without fear, and know that you will come out the other side in tact, whatever happens.

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Ben Burrell-Squires

I’m just trying to stay out of trouble.

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