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Be your own best friend

by Diana Patchett, Junior School Principal

Fear of failure is one of the biggest reasons why people do not pursue their dreams.

Imagine what you would do if you knew you could not fail?

History is full of powerful examples of ordinary people who have achieved extraordinary things as a result of their convictions and self-belief. New Zealand has numerous examples of extraordinary achievements - Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay defying the odds to conquer Mt Everest, and the tenacity of veterinarian Brian Ward, whose Mesynthes research team has developed an organic tissue substitute for people with burns or severe injuries; one that not only replaces the patient’s tissue but encourages the patient’s own cells to grow there and replace it.

More recently, Rex Bionics, a company in New Zealand, is developing robotic legs for people who have lost the ability to move their legs. Richard Little, founder of Rex Bionics, says the inspiration to build robot legs was a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis for his best friend.

These stories highlight the power of overcoming the fear of failure – being brave enough to step outside of your comfort zone, daring to dream and take risks to reach your goals.

Reflecting on these examples, we should challenge ourselves and our children to tune into the messages we are giving ourselves in difficult time. Are we ‘talking ourselves up’ or undermining our own confidence with thoughts of failure?

I recently questioned a group of students on how they would react if a friend came to them stressed and nervous, sharing their thoughts of failure, that they weren’t smart or good enough to succeed. The students were quick to respond that they would volunteer support and encouragement for their friend, offering words of praise and reassurance. This is fantastic, but too often young people do not act as a friend to themselves. They allow negative self-talk and fear to determine their actions, falling into a trap of self-deprecation, with counter-productive thoughts holding then back from embracing challenges.

According to sports psychologist Dr Jack Singer, we say 55 000 words a day, over 70 per cent of which are negative self-defeating messages to ourselves. People with more positive self-talk have been shown to: Live longer, perform better in work and sports, experience less stress and depression, recover better from illness, have better health outcomes overall. (Jack Singer, ‘Remarkable resiliency skills for uncertain times: Part 1’)

Positive thoughts must be realistic, so you can really believe them. Optimistic self-talks accepts that there may be obstacles, but looks for hope and a way around them. As a school community, we need to encourage our young people to be their own biggest supporters and cheer themselves on. As parents, you can assist by keeping an eye out for counter-productive thought patterns in your children:

Perfectionism, and unrealistic expectations, catastrophising, expecting the worst, self blaming, it’s all my fault, or always blaming others, ignoring other possible causes, over generalising, it always happens to me, and ‘all or nothing’ thinking, one thing goes wrong so they throw in the whole towel.

Assist your children to turn these negative thought patterns around by encouraging them to listen to those thoughts, evaluate them and realise they are holding them back. Then reminding them what they would say if it was their best friend that was feeling this way, and how to replace those negative thoughts, worries or fears with confident thoughts.

The students at Kristin are quick to support one another, which is fantastic. It creates an atmosphere of support and respect across the school, one where young people are encouraged to try new things, to step outside of their comfort zones and feel the thrill of conquering their fears.

Let’s challenge our students to think positive thoughts, and be a best friend to themselves.