Don’t believe everything you read in business books

It’s inevitable: No matter how often you face yourself in the mirror each morning and recite sweet nothings you learned from fortune cookies, failure will make an appearance during your plotted success story. Reading business books that tout failure as the path to success may give you the spiritual boner you’ve longed for. And it may be that venture capitalists won’t even invest in your techie start-up unless you have a resume peppered with failure. But above all of the superficial mumbo jumbo, you should understand that a perverse fear of failure is ironically leading to more failure.

Researchers at Cal Poly stumbled upon this dandy phenomenon when they used monetary compensation to incentivize people to perform an exercise. What they found was that the higher the reward, the more likely a person was to fail at the exercise — not your typical Goldman Sachs parable. This was especially true with loss-averse individuals (people who can’t stand losing something), who became so consumed with the fear of losing the high payout they actually psyched themselves into failing at the exercise and not winning the money. Irony is best served cold.

Let’s face it: Failure is a comfy word containing a dash of humility that boosts our happy-hour social monologue. The problem is failure brings about our critter state, regurgitating a life-long fear that has us identifying the loss in an opportunity over the gain. We’re not saying to ignore failure. We’re saying by focusing on the opportunities for success, you’ll mitigate the psychological impediment failure places on an ability to perform. After all, focus on what you have and you have it all; focus on what you don’t have and you’ll never have enough.