“Can’t Lose” System


The “Can’t Lose” System is a way to combat your fear of failure. It works by listing your fears, exposing distorted thinking, and identifying ways to cope.

In Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated, David Burns writes about using the Can’t Lose System.

Key Take Aways
Here’s my key take aways:

  • List your worst case fears.  Start by listing your worst case fears.  This gets them out of your head and down on to paper where you can analyze them.
  • Rationalize your list.  Look at the list objectively and identify how realistic they really area or how you might be blowing some things out of proportion.
  • Identify coping strategies.  Figure out some fallback strategies and coping mechanisms.

This technique strikes me as a great way to put things in perspective. I’m a fan of thinking on paper. I think that organizing your thoughts goes a long way for dealing with fears and coming up with rationale solutions.

Make a List of What Would Happen If You Failed
Burns writes that you should write your list of worst case fears and address them:

“You may feel hesitant to put your can’t’s to the test because you don’t want to run the risk of failure. If you don’t run any risks, at least you can maintain the secret belief that you’re basically a terrific person who’s decided for the time being not to get involved. Behind your aloofness and lack of commitment lurks a powerful sense of inadequacy and the fear of failure.  The ‘Can’t Lose’ System will help you combat this fear. Make a list of the negative consequences you might have to deal with if you took a risk and actually did fail. Then expose the distortions in your fears, and show how you could cope productively even if you did experience a disappointment.”

Example “Can’t Lose” System
Burns provides an example using the  “Can’t Lose” System when going for a job:

Negative Consequences of Being Turned Down for a Job Positive Thoughts and Coping Strategies
1. This means I’ll never get a job. Overgeneralization. This is unlikely. I can test this by applying for series of other jobs and putting my best foot forward to see what happens.
2. My husband will look down on me. Fortune teller error. Ask him. Maybe he will be sympathetic.
3. But what if he’s not sympathetic? He might say this shows I belong in the kitchen and don’t have what it takes. Point out to him I’m doing my best and his rejecting attitude doesn’t help. Tell him that I am disappointed, but that I credit myself for trying.
4. But we’re nearly broke. We need the money. We’ve survived so far and haven’t missed a single meal.
5. If I don’t get a job, I won’t be able to afford some decent new school clothes for the kids. They’ll look scraggly. I can get some clothes later on. We’ll have to learn to get along with what we have for a while. Happiness doesn’t come from clothes, but from our self-respect.
6. A lot of my friends have jobs. They’ll see I can’t cut the mustard in the business world. They’re not all employed and even my friends do have jobs can probably remember a time when they were out of work. They haven’t done anything so far to indicate they look down on me.