Why We Shouldn’t Be Afraid Of The F-word

A new study that looked at over 800 people from all over the world, led by the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that while there are several different types of toxic language, the worst offenders were those that were associated with a fear of being ostracized or losing social status.

It appears to me there are some people (particularly the more introverted, religious ones) who can be more prone to worry (and perhaps overreact to even the slightest stress) than others. When anxiety is a problem, it’s hard to escape the negative thought that we’re going to lose our place in the social pecking order. And when we feel like this, we have trouble just getting along with others. But at the same time, many of us are also social creatures who need to make friends, which is why I think we often fear our failure in that regard in some way. The good news is that we have all of our faculties to help us overcome the fear, and we don’t have to give up being our own judge of ourselves.

I’ve always been taught that you need to get over the fear of failing. It’s possible that our fear of failure is often what gets in the way of true, lasting success. We want to be able to “be ourselves.” So we might be resistant to the idea of getting over the fear of not achieving a goal, even if it would keep us feeling good about our work. After all, we don’t want to become the type of person who thinks their ego is threatened or their ego needs to be defended. And while there may be a psychological component to this, there could also be some health-related reasons behind our resistance.

So is this really fear of failure, or an unrealistic fear that prevents us from truly taking action? Let’s see if we can find out.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago conducted a study where they interviewed some people who were already working in a restaurant and asked them to rate the satisfaction with their work. Then one group was asked to read a statement that told them to keep a diary until they achieved their goals within a month. The other group read another version. After reading the statements, both group was sent out individually to ask about their happiness, health and other factors. The participants who read the promise of achievement journaled significantly more and the satisfaction of their work also improved by 8% (more positive results when you’re motivated).

While I understand that the promise of achievement led the people who saw the promises to feel excited and more hopeful about their work, I don’t think it made it easier for them to see success as a reality. The authors hypothesized that the people who saw the promise of achievement journaled more because they were less interested in getting back into their jobs, and also did worse in the second task because they were less motivated. As a result, the authors believe:

The failure expectations in the experiment may have been an effective tool to persuade some participants, particularly those not particularly motivated, to achieve their goal.

What did happen when you didn’t get back into your job? Were you even more motivated?

In my view, the most interesting result from this study is that it offers more evidence supporting behavioral economics. The participants who were told to keep a journal were no more motivated to work than the people who weren’t even asked to think about achieving their goal. Instead, they felt like their work was being taken away from them when they didn’t reach that goal immediately. The only difference was, one group was more willing to do whatever it took to reach their goals (because they felt they could get back in the workplace), whereas the other group was actually more willing to give up the chance.

The study also found that it really does have a negative effect on your health, not only physically, but psychologically as well.

Here’s what the researchers write on their blog post describing the study:

Interestingly, the journal group did worse on several key health measures. They reported greater physical symptoms of loneliness, greater self-esteem problems, and lower quality sleep, while less frequently eating well, and less frequently exercising.