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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

I always knew we would fail: a success story [Wise Wednesdays]

I once sang in a jazz ensemble. The drummer was going through a tough time and I was struck by something he said: when I play the drums I remember who I am. I understood that playing provided joy and relief from the challenges he was facing by taking his mind off things. But there was something else. Was he saying that being a drummer was his true identity? That seemed a little superficial as an interpretation.

[Read on or watch the video]

Neuroscientist, Charles Limb, works with jazz instrumentalists and hip-hop artists. He found that while these artists are improvising, the part of the brain responsible for self-monitoring and self-judgment in the prefrontal cortex switches off. He hypothesised that they are able to flow and improvise freely because the self-imposed limiting mental processes concerned with “me” and “what people think of me” are silent. They’re not worried about whether they’re doing well or failing. They’re just doing their thing. To enter their zone of genius they have to close the door to their inner-critic and stop worrying about their performance.

That explains some of what my drummer friend was saying. The harsh voice inside his head was silent while he was playing. He could let his inner-genius take over and enter flow. He identified this state as who he really was. The ramifications are significant if we apply this to everyday life: can you imagine who you would be without the inner-critic, and what you could do without fear of failure? Most of our thoughts are repetitive - imagine how you would feel if you freed up 80% of your thinking, attention and energy.

After the successful launch of a private rocket ship last year, 17 years after he founded SpaceX, Elon Musk said this: “I always thought we would fail, so, this is all upside.” He was expecting to fail and lose his PayPal fortune on the project. And the test launches failed a few times. But he didn’t seem to care. He certainly didn’t let any criticism or fear of failure stop him.

Knowing that you have vast career and life capital to carry you pretty much anywhere you want:

  • Where do you really want to go next?

  • What are the top 3 limiting beliefs you’re carrying on a daily basis?

  • What becomes possible when you let them go?

  • Who are you without the fear of failure?

Julia, an ex-banker who left to set up her own transformational business, started to let go of her fear of being judged after we questioned it in depth. She found that her schedule lightened, her relationship with her children became a dream and her business is becoming fun. She’s also transforming a few lives in the process through her work.

I often say to clients: you don’t have to believe in yourself, you just have to stop believing your inner-critic and its limiting propositions. Then you’ll find out who you really are – a source of endless ingenuity. And it’s magnificent.

Have a great week,


Update: It was a great to spend time in a psychologically safe space at the Leaders Circle exploring communication challenges. It's also wonderful to see incredible people form new connections and friendships. If you’d like to come to the next one, find out more and register here. Liked it? Subscribe to the Wise Wednesdays community – wisdom straight to your inbox.

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