Have you ever missed a fantastic opportunity because you were not sure how it might turn out? Or made an irrational decision because you were too scared to step out of your comfort zone?
If so, you're not alone. INTPs have a reputation for being apprehensive about, well, everything. Despite how illogical it may appear, you carry a haunting sense of impending failure like a mom carries her newborn baby - cautiously and possessively, with the sense that you're not sure how to handle it, but at the same time never wanting to let it go. This debilitating condition holds you back and steals your chances of getting what you want out of life.
Where does this paralyzing emotion come from? It's safe to say that you were not born with a fear of failure. But you were born with a distinct set of personality traits that combine to stop you in your tracks. Here are the real reasons why INTPs fear failure, and what you can do to break the chains.
#1: You're a perfectionist
If you're not competent, then what else are you? As an INTP, your self-esteem is attached to your competency. You are highly self-critical and will overdo simple issues until you are absolutely sure that something is right. And not only right, but right the first time out of the gate. Because if something isn't right, you know that you will feel stupid, slow, and powerless.
In his book, NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, Po Bronson says that the biggest parenting mistake is praising kids for their competency, something he calls "the inverse power of praise." The result is a person who is paralyzed from taking on any project that has a remote chance of failure, since their self-worth is slavishly dependent on their ability to appear smart and successful.
We're not suggesting that parents are the cause of your perfectionism. That could be down to genetics, childhood events or a host of other factors. But whatever the cause, the result of perfectionism is the same. It means that you gravitate toward the "easy wins" - the things you can do well without challenge. If you sail away from the safe harbor, you will essentially need to start at the beginning. Any work you do in the early days could be second rate at best. And when you are so concerned with being smart, second rate can feel like a personal violation.
Reframe: Stop measuring yourself by your successes and start rewarding yourself for trying something new. Start with something small - an art class, archery, yoga - it doesn't matter what it is as long as you've never done it before. As a beginner, you're bound to fail the first few times you try. This is a great way to train yourself to handle mistakes and enjoy the fun of discovering new things about yourself.
#2: You're a commitment-phobe
Like all Perceivers, INTPs remain open to new information until they run out of time to make a decision. Until then, you continually reexamine the evidence, worrying that you've missed some critical piece of data. In the absence of external pressure, you are prone to going round in dizzying circles, lost in a world of indecision where your ideas never truly crystallize.
Procrastination is linked to perfectionism, in the sense that it's not about getting things right. It's really the avoidance of shame. You are motivated to appear competent, so you subject your thoughts to endless scrutiny; to go for closure before there's an absolute guarantee of success triggers the fear center of your brain. If your ideas are especially risky, then there's a good chance that they will never see the light of day.
Reframe: There are two types of failure in this world: actions and inactions. You can fail by crashing out of college, or you can fail by never applying to college at all. Most people predict that it's the actions that will trip them up. But when people reflect on their life, it's failing to grasp opportunities that form the biggest regrets.
Research from the University of Illinois and Northwestern in Chicago suggests that while "action regrets" are initially very painful, the pain of lost opportunities lasts far longer than the short-term anguish of getting something wrong. Which means that every time you put something off, there's a good chance you'll be left wondering "what if?" in 10, 20 or 50 years' time. For INTPs the message is clear: find ways to take action. Even if it's a bad choice, at least you'll be able to say, "I tried."
#3: You're pretty zen
Being zen is a nice trait since it protects you from stress and everything that goes with it, such as heart disease, depression and strokes. But there's a fine line between "zen" and "apathetic ambivalence." The latter happens when you become so content inside your calm, contained and unhurried bubble that you lose all motivation to push yourself and achieve your goals.
INTPs are prone to apathy since you are more interested in what's going on inside your head than in the real world. In fact, you may find that you flick between apathetic and obsessed at the flick of a switch, depending on whether something has captured your interest.
Apathy becomes a problem when nothing is capturing your interest, either because you don't have any goals or you are working towards the wrong goals. Both of these things happen when you get cozy in your comfort zone and refuse to try the difficult things that might just make your heart sing.
Reframe: When apathy bites, it's important to not lose track of your goals. Rather, break your dreams down into smaller chunks and put up some deadlines. Mentors can be valuable people to have at this point since they can both encourage you and hold you accountable for getting started.
By breaking down dreams, there's less to fear each step along the way since each chunk is achievable. Soon you will have invested so much of your time and energy into a goal you feel you need to finish in order to break even. You'll carry on even when the going gets tough and you might otherwise be looking for excuses.
The bottom line is, if you want to win, you have to be ready to fail. It teaches you things that nothing else can teach you, namely that you can't keep seeking perfection at the expense of a life. That regret comes from not doing the things you want to do, and the more opportunities you let go, the less satisfied you will be.
We'll leave you with an excellent quote from one of the world's greatest athletes:
"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." - Michael Jordan