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The Psychology of Why We Fail to Fail


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This talk investigates the premise that failure is an essential ingredient in the journey to becoming successful - and yet our brains are loaded with a treacherous arsenal designed to sabotage this process in it's desperate attempt to avoid failure at all costs.

The talk tries to arrive at an understanding of why traits like perfectionism and procrastination spiral out of control, especially when the stakes are highest and we are working on our passions and reaching for our dreams. It then suggests strategies we might use to overcome this creative paralysis.

The focus is naturally on creating games, but will be relevant to anyone who struggles with creative endeavours.

Published in: Career, Business, Technology
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The Psychology of Why We Fail to Fail

  1. 1. The Psychology of Why We Fail to Fail.
  2. 2. What is this talk about? I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody. -Bill Cosby
  3. 3. On being a successful person? "Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work" - Stephen King "I write one page of masterpiece to ninety- one pages of shit. I try put the shit in the waste basket" - Ernest Hemingway
  4. 4. On being a successful person? "Just make something, Don't worry about it, just make it. Stop overthinking it. Just make and put it out..." " go 'thats easy for me to say', then you have no idea! If you're 27 now that means I still had 5 years of complete and abject failure to go. So you're doing great!" - James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem)
  5. 5. On being a successful person? "Get going and just turn off thinking. Thinking is often demotivational when you're prototyping. Don't try to work towards something specific, the journey is what's important, don't forget the destination is not set." - Vlambeer
  6. 6. On being a successful person? "...and Jan Willem being a guy that made 300 tiny prototypes a year" - Vlambeer
  7. 7. On being a successful person? ● Creativity ● Passion ● Curiosity ● Working hard ● A large body of work ● Iteration
  8. 8. On being a successful person? ● Creativity ● Passion ● Curiosity ● Working hard ● A large body of work ● Iteration Learning from failure
  9. 9. The Fear of Failure
  10. 10. The Fear of Failure Failure is an emotionally painful experience In our efforts to avoid this pain, we form elaborate defense systems Whilst they limit our exposure to the risk of failure, they also limit our exposure to the personal growth necessary for success.
  11. 11. The Fear of Failure What we’re actually afraid of is the judgement of others.
  12. 12. The Power of Fear Humans evolved as social creatures who depend on others. Evolutionarily speaking: Social exile = death. Defense systems are powerful brain hax with root access.
  13. 13. The Manifestations of Fear ● Perfectionism
  14. 14. The curse of Perfectionism: Only able to see the flaws in your "babies": Gives perfectionism the power to sour achievements and goals. Which is, ya know, kinda really tragic.
  15. 15. The curse of Perfectionism: Perfectionism is a self-destructive belief system that places undue emphasis on the image of perfection as a measure of our value and worth as a person.
  16. 16. The curse of Perfectionism: The cognitive dissonance caused by perfectionism can lead to: ● Anxiety ● Depression ● Addiction ● Life Paralysis
  17. 17. The curse of Perfectionism: When faced with a blank canvas, the perfectionist feels there are no limits, and therefore no excuses for failure. Absolute perfection becomes the only acceptable result.
  18. 18. Photo by Flickr user Viktor Hertz
  19. 19. The Manifestations of Fear ● Perfectionism ● Procrastination
  20. 20. Procrastination != Laziness When faced with a difficult or insurmountable task where the outcome is uncertain, procrastination protects you from the discomfort of uncertainty.
  21. 21. Procrastination != Laziness We have a biological bias to favour immediate gratification. This was an evolutionary advantage in a time when things with sharp teeth didn’t want to be friends Photo by Ryan Somma
  22. 22. Procrastination != Laziness The internet is information pornography
  23. 23. Procrastination != Laziness A never ending, feel good hit that satisfies our brains craving for certainty and perceived learning/progress
  24. 24. Procrastination != Laziness Repeat the process enough times and it will become habitualized as an addiction. Ever opened your favourite site without even realising?
  25. 25. The Manifestations of Fear ● Perfectionism ● Procrastination ● Busy Work
  26. 26. Busy, busy, busy! Keeping ourselves busy with irrelevant work is a great way to feel that sense of certainty and accomplishment we crave. “I want to make a game, so I’m going to start by building my own engine” “I haven’t made a prototype, but here is my 500 page design doc”
  27. 27. The Manifestations of Fear ● Perfectionism ● Procrastination ● Busy Work ● Workaholism
  28. 28. Work is My Life! Workaholic warning label: ● Burnout ● A life of regret - a business won’t keep you company on your deathbed ● Physical Injury (RSI) ● Stifle creativity
  29. 29. Work is My Life! "Creativity is not a talent, it is a way of operating." -John Cleese ● Open mode (prototyping): Childlike state of play. ● Closed mode (implementation): Knuckling down and working. Hint: Creativity is impossible here.
  30. 30. Work is My Life! 5 conditions to encourage the open mode: ● Space ● Time ● Patience ● Confidence ● Sausages
  31. 31. Work is My Life! 5 conditions to encourage the open mode: ● Space ● Time ● Patience ● Confidence ● Sausages Humour
  32. 32. The Manifestations of Fear ● Perfectionism ● Procrastination ● Busy Work ● Workaholism ● Flawed beliefs
  33. 33. The Lies We Tell Ourselves ● “I’m just not the creative type” ● “I’m not talented” ● “One day, when [the house is paid off, I have more money, the kids are older, I have more time]” ● “Nothing has inspired me yet” ● “I’ve got a great idea, I just need someone to build it for me”
  34. 34. The Lies We Tell Ourselves Self deprecating behaviour and learned helplessness is a preemptive strike. You can’t hurt me because I’ve already hurt myself.
  35. 35. The Lies We Tell Ourselves You might be struggling with important work, because maybe it’s the wrong thing for you.
  36. 36. Motivation and drive: Extrinsic Rewards: ● Money ● Status ● Job Title Intrinsic Reward: ● Autonomy ● Mastery ● Purpose Hint: You want the second one!
  37. 37. Motivation and drive: Flow: Losing yourself in your work, being "in the zone"
  38. 38. How can I help myself? By doing a lot of really boring lame stuff
  39. 39. Helping your body: ● Exercise ● Eating Healthy ● Quality Sleep
  40. 40. Helping your mind: Time Management Tools: ● Get things done, Pomodoro technique ● RescueTime ● Subdividing tasks ● The Anti Todo List ● Pay yourself first
  41. 41. Helping your mind: Meditation: Lesson anxiety and develop focus. Tighten the feedback loop: Gamejams!
  42. 42. Helping your spirit: By practicing awareness and mindfulness - keeping a journal, introspection etc Learning to regard yourself with love, compassion and generosity instead of criticism.
  43. 43. Helping your spirit: Accepting and coming to terms with your inner sense of shame.
  44. 44. SHAME
  45. 45. Shame on you Shame is the inner fire that fuels the fear of failure. It is the voice in your head that says: “You’ re not good enough.” It runs so deep you might not even notice the ways in which it shapes you.
  46. 46. Fin There are no easy answers. This is possibly the most difficult journey you’ll ever undertake. The reward is a life well lived.
  47. 47. Thank you and good luck! by Peter Cardwell-Gardner @thefuntastic