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Michael Traynor: The researcher’s fear of failure can drive self-destructive behaviour

Guidelines on writing an abstract are simple, but they don’t take account of the mysteries of human motivation.
Fear of Failure_tile_iStock.jpg

Guidelines on writing an abstract are simple, but they dont take account of the mysteries of human motivation

For many events in professional life we are given guidelines, for example how to structure your job application or how to write a report about a patient. The world of research is full of this kind of guidance. Submit an article to a research journal and if your headings are not what the journal editor requires it wont go far even though the paper itself may be world-changing.

Most research conferences ask for an abstract. For the RCN International Research Conference we ask for a particular structure background, aims, methods etc for research that involves its own data collection.

For many researchers these headings come naturally, and

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Guidelines on writing an abstract are simple, but they don’t take account of the mysteries of human motivation


Sometimes fear of failure makes it is easier to sabotage your professional chances. Picture: iStock

For many events in professional life we are given guidelines, for example how to structure your job application or how to write a report about a patient. The world of research is full of this kind of guidance. Submit an article to a research journal and if your headings are not what the journal editor requires it won’t go far – even though the paper itself may be world-changing.

Most research conferences ask for an abstract. For the RCN International Research Conference we ask for a particular structure – background, aims, methods etc – for research that involves its own data collection.

For many researchers these ‘headings’ come naturally, and I believe they probably make writing an abstract easier for those who are new to it. But some people disregard our generous advice. In fact, this year one of our reviewers wrote to us exasperated about having to review abstracts from authors who had ignored this guidance.

Avoiding failure

So why do people who, presumably, wish to present their work at a prominent event not do whatever they can to further this desire? The answer to this question might tell us something about the mysteries of human motivation.

There are many possible explanations, including failing to notice our guidelines or believing that we don’t really mean it. But one explanation could be that some people, paradoxically, go to the trouble of submitting an abstract to the conference but don’t actually want to attend. They submit to satisfy a manager/supervisor/super-ego that they are working hard, but secretly they are convinced that they will not succeed. So it is easier to sabotage their chances in order to lessen the disappointment of failure.

If this hunch is right, I wonder how much of our professional lives are made up of this slightly self-destructive behaviour. But returning to our conference, I’d like to make one thing clear. Research is labour: 90% effort and the remaining 15% attention to detail.


About the author 

 

 

 

Michael Traynor is professor of nursing at Middlesex University and chair of the RCN International Research Conference Scientific Committee

The RCN International Research Conference will be held in Oxford, 5-7 April. See more here.

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