Fear of Failing? Get a Dog

I honestly experience this type of fear so often that it sometimes feels as if I have actually learned to live with it. I'm pretty sure that even the most confident people fear failure every now and then.

Fear of failure makes sense when you think of it as a survival strategy--if it didn't exist, we'd be reckless and our species would be endangered. But, oh boy, is it unpleasant!

I'd also bet the fear is worse when you're doing something inherently stressful, such as:

  • Presenting a project (persuasively) to a group of decision-makers

  • Answering questions (smartly) when applying for a job you really want

  • Performing open heart surgery (successfully) on the president of your company


Now, let me ask you this: What do you think the effect of having a good friend with you while doing that stressful task would be? Do you think his or her presence would reduce your stress?

Here's the answer: No.

And yes.

According to an experiment conducted by researchers with the State University of New York at Buffalo, it depends on whether your friend is human or canine. If your friend is another human, your friend's presence would not reduce your stress. If the friend is a dog, his or her presence would definitely reduce your stress.

Most interestingly, they figured out why: because the dog is not judging you!

Other studies have shown that "non-evaluative others" help people reduce stress while performing challenging tasks.

Here are some lessons we can learn from this:

  • If you have a friend that's as non-evaluative as a dog, you're a very lucky person. Bring that friend over with you to stressful tests whenever you can! It will not only help you reduce stress, but it will also help you perform better.

  • If you really want to be supportive of your loved ones, tell them (and prove them) you won't judge them, no matter what.


Presence of Human Friends and Pet Dogs as Moderators of Autonomic Responses to Stress in Women, by Karen M. Allen, Jim Blascovich, Joe Tomaka, and Robert M. Kelsey. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1991, Vol. 61, No. 4, 582-589.

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