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Last Updated on March 2, 2021

Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Overcome It)

Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Overcome It)

Nobody enjoys failing. Fear of failure can be so strong that avoiding failure eclipses the motivation to succeed. Insecurity about doing things incorrectly causes many people to unconsciously sabotage their chances for success.

Fear is part of human nature. As an entrepreneur, I faced this same fear. My ego and identity became intertwined with my work, and when things didn’t go as planned, I completely shut down. I overcame this unhealthy relationship with fear, and I believe that you can, too.

Together we’ll examine how you can use failure to your advantage instead of letting it run your life. We’ll also look at how to overcome fear of failure so that you can enjoy success in your work and life.

What Is Fear of Failure?

If you are afraid of failure, it will cause you to avoid potentially harmful situations.

Fear of failure keeps you from trying, creates self-doubt, stalls progress, and may lead you to go against your morals.

What causes a fear of failure? Here are the main reasons why fear of failing exists:

Patterns From Childhood

Hyper-critical adults cause children to internalize damaging mindsets.[1] They establish ultimatums and fear-based rules. This causes children to feel the constant need to ask for permission and reassurance. They carry this need for validation into adulthood.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism is often at the root of a fear of failure.[2] For perfectionists, failure is so terrible and humiliating that they don’t try. Stepping outside your comfort zone becomes terrifying.

Over-Personalization

The ego may lead us to over-identify with failures. It’s hard to look beyond failure at things like the quality of the effort, extenuating circumstances, or growth opportunities.[3]

False Self-Confidence

People with true confidence know they won’t always succeed. A person with fragile self-confidence avoids risks. They’d rather play it safe than try something new.[4]

How the Fear of Failure Holds You Back

Unhealthy Organization Culture

Too many organizations today have cultures of perfection: a set of organizational beliefs that any failure is unacceptable. Only pure, untainted success will do.

Imagine the stress and terror in an organization like that. The constant covering up of the smallest blemishes. The wild finger-pointing as everyone tries to shift the blame for the inevitable messes onto someone else. The lying, cheating, falsification of data, and hiding of problems—until they become crises that defy being hidden any longer.

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Miss out on Valuable Opportunities

If some people fail to reach a complete answer because of the lure of some early success, many more fail because of their ego-driven commitment to what worked in the past. You often see this with senior people, especially those who made their names by introducing some critical change years ago.

They shy away from further innovation, afraid that this time they might fail, diminishing the luster they try to keep around their names from past triumph.

Besides, they reason, the success of something new might even prove that those achievements they made in the past weren’t so great after all. Why take the risk when you can hang on to your reputation by doing nothing?

Such people are so deeply invested in their egos and the glories of their past that they prefer to set aside opportunities for future glory rather than risk even the possibility of failure.

If your fear is holding you back from taking actions and causing you to lose valuable opportunities, I recommend you join our free Fast-Track Class – No More Procrastination. In this focused session, you will learn how to decode your inaction behavior, get over your fear, and start to take small actions to gradually make your goals happen. Sign up for the free class here.

High Achievers Become Losers

Every talent contains an opposite that sometimes turns it into a problem. Successful people like to win and achieve high standards. This can make them so terrified of failure that it ruins their lives. When a positive trait, like achievement, becomes too strong in someone’s life, it’s on the way to becoming a major obstacle.

Achievement is a powerful value for many successful people. They’ve built their lives on it. They achieve at everything they do: school, college, sports, the arts, hobbies, work. Each fresh achievement adds to the power of the value in their lives.

Gradually, failure becomes unthinkable. Maybe they’ve never failed yet in anything that they’ve done, so they have no experience of rising above it. Failure becomes the supreme nightmare: a frightful horror they must avoid at any cost.

The simplest way to do this is never to take a risk, stick rigidly to what you know you can do, protect yourself, work the longest hours, double and triple check everything, and be the most conscientious and conservative person in the universe.

If constant hard work, diligence, brutal working schedules and harrying subordinates won’t ward off the possibility of failing, use every other possible means to to keep it away. Falsify numbers, hide anything negative, conceal errors, avoid customer feedback, constantly shift the blame for errors onto anyone too weak to fight back.

Loss of Creativity

Over-achievers destroy their own peace of mind and the lives of those who work for them. People too attached to “goodness” and morality become self-righteous bigots. Those whose values for building close relationships become unbalanced slide into smothering their friends and family with constant expressions of affection and demands for love in return.

Everyone likes to succeed. The problem comes when fear of failure is dominant, when you can no longer accept the inevitability of making mistakes, nor recognize the importance of trial and error in finding the most creative solution.

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The more creative you are, the more errors you are going to make. Deciding to avoid the errors will destroy your creativity, too.

Balance counts more than you think. Some tartness must season the sweetest dish. A little selfishness is valuable even in the most caring person. And a little failure is essential to preserve everyone’s perspective on success.

We hear a lot about being positive. Maybe we also need to recognize that the negative parts of our lives and experience have just as important a role to play in finding success, in work, and in life.

How to Overcome Fear of Failure (Step-by-Step)

1. Figure out Where the Fear Comes From

Ask yourself what the root cause of your negative belief could be.[5] When you look at the four main causes for a fear of failure, which ones resonate with you?

Write down where you think the fear comes from, and try to understand it as an outsider.

If it helps, imagine you’re trying to help one of your best friends. Perhaps your fear stems from something that happened in your childhood, or a deep-seated insecurity.

Naming the source of the fear takes away some of its power.

2. Reframe Beliefs About Your Goal

Having an all or nothing mentality leaves you with nothing sometimes. Have a clear vision for what you’d like to accomplish but include learning something new in your goal.

If you always aim for improvement and learning, you are much less likely to fail.[6]

At Pixar, people are actually encouraged to “fail early and fail fast.”[7] They encourage experimentation and innovation so that they can stay on the cutting edge. That mindset involves failure, but as long as they achieve their vision of telling great stories, all the stumbling blocks are just opportunities to grow.

To help you reframe beliefs about your goal, I recommend you getting the Foolproof Guide To Reaching Your Goal This Year. It’s a free guide that will help you learn from your experiences and mistakes and redesign an actionable plan to get what you want. Grab your free guide here.

3. Learn to Think Positive

In many cases, you believe what you tell yourself. Your internal dialogue affects how you react and behave.

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Our society is obsessed with success, but it’s important to recognize that even the most successful people encounter failure.

Walt Disney was once fired from a newspaper because they thought he lacked creativity. He went on to found an animation studio that failed. He never gave up, and now Disney is a household name.

Steve Jobs was also once fired from Apple before returning as the face of the company for many years. [8]

If Disney and Jobs had believed the negative feedback, they wouldn’t have made it.

It’s up to you to notice your negative self talk and identify triggers[9]. Replace negative thoughts with positive facts about yourself and the situation. You’ll be able to create a new mental scripts that you can reach for when you feel negativity creeping in. The voice inside your head has a great effect on what you do.

How To Be A Positive Thinker: Positivity Exercises, Affirmations, & Quotes

    4. Visualize all Potential Outcomes

    Uncertainty about what will happen next is terrifying. Take time to visualize the possible outcomes of your decision. Think about the best and worst-case scenarios. You’ll feel better if you’ve already had a chance to mentally prepare for what could happen.

    Fear of the unknown might keep you from taking a new job. Weigh the pros and cons, and imagine potential successes and failures in making such a life-altering decision. Knowing how things could turn out might help you get unstuck.

    5. Look at the Worst-Case Scenario

    There are times when the worst case could be absolutely devastating. In many cases, if something bad happens, it won’t be the end of the world.

    It’s important to define how bad the worst case scenario is in the grand scheme of your life. Sometimes, we give situations more power than they deserve. In most cases, a failure is not permanent.

    For example, when you start a new business, it’s bound to be a learning experience. You’ll make decisions that don’t pan out, but often that discomfort is temporary. You can change your strategy and rebound. Even in the worst case scenario, if the perceived failure led to the end of that business, it might be the launching point for something new.

    6. Have a Backup Plan

    It never hurts to have a backup plan. The last thing you want to do is scramble for a solution when the worst has happened. The old adage is solid wisdom:

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    “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

    Having a backup plan gives you more confidence to move forward and take calculated risks.

    Perhaps you’ve applied for a grant to fund an initiative at work. In the worst-case scenario, if you don’t get the grant, are there other ways you could get the funds?

    There are usually multiple ways to tackle a problem, so having a backup is a great way to reduce anxiety about possible failure.

    7. Learn From Whatever Happens

    Things may not go the way you planned, but that doesn’t automatically mean you’ve failed. Learn from whatever arises.[10] Even a less than ideal situation can be a great opportunity to make changes and grow.

    “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”

    Dig deep enough, and you’re bound to find the silver lining. When you’ve learned that “failure” is an opportunity for growth instead of a death sentence, you conquer the fear of failure.

    For more tips on how to overcome fear of failure, check out the video below:

    Final Thoughts

    To overcome fear of failure, we can start by figuring out where it comes from and reframing the way we feel about failure. When failure is a chance for growth, and you’ve looked at all possible outcomes, it’s easier to overcome fear.

    Stay positive, have a backup plan, and learn from whatever happens. Your failures will be sources of education and inspiration rather than humiliation.

    “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” -Thomas A. Edison

    Failures can be blessings in disguise. Go boldly in the direction of your dreams and long-term goals.

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    More Tips for Conquering Fear

    Featured photo credit: Patrick Hendry via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd

    17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd

    If you are like most people, you probably have big goals and dreams that you would like to succeed in — you want to be the top in your career, live a healthy lifestyle, or flourish in your relationships.

    Everyone dreams of a positive future, but most people don’t realize the secret to a truly successful life:

    You determine your future in the way you spend your everyday moments. If you want to be a successful person, you must consistently develop good daily habits. As Aristotle pointed out:

    “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.

    Building positive daily habits is a huge challenge, but can you imagine the amazing things you could accomplish with just a little commitment and determination?

    Creating lasting, healthy habits is the real key difference between people who are successful in life and those who are unsuccessful.

    You might be wondering which specific habits make the biggest difference. Not to worry, I’ve compiled a comparison list to help you get a jump start on a successful future.

    1. Successful people embrace change. Unsuccessful people fear change.

    Change is a constant for all of humanity, and it is important that you develop a positive relationship with it.

    When unexpected or unwelcome changes arise, ask yourself how you can embrace it instead of running away. A few practical ways to reverse a change-fearing mindset include:

    • Take a moment to recognize and address any fears associated with the upcoming change.
    • Communicate with a person you trust about your negative feelings toward change.
    • Practice positive thinking, which you can read about in the next section.

    2. Successful people exude joy. Unsuccessful people think, say and do negative things.

    A joyful, positive disposition can seem like a distant reality in today’s cynical world, but it may be easier to achieve than you think. All you have to do is notice the good things around you and practice being thankful.

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    Mindfulness and gratitude are not just buzz words – choosing a positive attitude can honestly change your life. Many studies have found that thankfulness leads to greater happiness. Furthermore, research indicates that gratitude may even have a lasting positive impact on the brain and overall mental health.[1]

    3. Successful people forgive others. Unsuccessful people hold grudges.

    As a human being, you have likely been offended or hurt by others plenty of times. Don’t give in to the temptation to hold a grudge. Let it go.

    Note that forgiving someone does not equate to giving up your boundaries (which are very important) or even admitting that the offending party is right. You should choose to let go for your own peace of mind.

    4. Successful people track progress. Unsuccessful people just criticize.

    Some kinds of criticism, such as constructive criticism, are good for personal and professional development. The kind of criticism I’m talking about is the pessimistic, nagging, unhelpful variety. This is the kind of criticism in play when you are unfairly harsh to yourself or others.

    Toss unfounded criticisms aside and consider tracking your “wins” or your progresses, no matter how small. Take mental notes or keep a progress journal.

    If you have a solid sense of what you have achieved, you will be less tempted to be hard on yourself.

    5. Successful people share information, data and ideas. Unsuccessful people hoard.

    If you have useful information or generate brilliant ideas on the regular, your first instinct may be to keep it all to yourself for personal gain and solo recognition.

    Instead of hoarding bright ideas, share them with your team. Your talents will be on display for the team, and the team will be able to support you and make your ideas a reality.

    6. Successful people are humble. Unsuccessful people talk more than they listen.

    Humility is key. The ability to listen to other people, really listen and understand, is essential to success in both work and relationships — and to listen you have to be humble.

    Everyone has experienced the frustration of being in a one-sided conversation. When someone approaches you with a question or concern, put your own world aside for just a moment and give them the kindness of your full attention.

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    7. Successful people take risks. Unsuccessful people take the easy way out.

    The next time your heart is racing and you want to walk away, consider embracing the risk. You never know what might happen if you take a chance.

    Embracing risks looks like accepting the speaking engagement even though it seems a little scary. Success takes the courageous route, not the easy route.

    8. Successful people learn, improve and read every day. Unsuccessful people stop learning.

    Instead of binge-watching a show tonight, save an hour before bed to read a book and expand your mind.

    Unsuccessful people are afraid to be flexible – they don’t challenge themselves to learn new things. Avoid this pitfall by exposing yourself to new thoughts and ideas every day.

    9. Successful people handle problems well. Unsuccessful people act before they think.

    The next time you run into a problem or even an emergency, try to work through your initial panic reaction with a few deep breaths.

    Instead of acting rashly, think through your next actions as quickly but as logically as you can.

    Learning to handle problems thoughtfully is an absolutely essential tool in the successful person’s toolbox (that’s you!).

    10. Successful people accept responsibility for their failures. Unsuccessful people blame others.

    Along with a previous tip about humility, this is one of the hardest things you’ll ever learn to do – but also the most rewarding. When you’ve failed, you must fight the urge to pass the blame. Successful people are able to fail honestly and gracefully.

    And, hey, don’t feel bad about failing. Some of the most successful people in the world have failed too many times to count. It’s all a part of the process.

    You can check out this article for more tips on how to fail well:

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    How Failure Helps You To Succeed and Grow

    11. Successful people work with passion and commitment. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.

    A short and sweet lesson for you:

    You should never expect to achieve the things you want without working hard.

    Follow your passion and stay committed to pursuing it. Work hard and stick to your habits every day. You’ll earn your reward.

    12. Successful people spend time with the right people. Unsuccessful people think they already know it all.

    A lot of people miss out on useful relationships and information sharing because they think they can do it all alone.

    Spend time with people who inspire you, spur you to be a better person, and remind you that you can’t go it alone.

    13. Successful people make to-do lists and maintain proper life balance. Unsuccessful people waste their time.

    Ah, time management. Unsuccessful people never master the art of organization and planning.

    Here are a few tips for you when it comes to time management:

    • Make to-do lists. Seriously, this will help you. Make time to do it every morning, evening, or whenever you are able.
    • Keep track of your time. Are you happy with the way you are currently balancing things? What changes can you make?
    • Keep a calendar full of your long-term goals (see next tip).

    14. Successful people write down goals and think long term about their burning desires. Unsuccessful people get distracted every day.

    Why is it so important to keep a long-term goal calendar? Here’s the deal:

    The things you are passionate about today need a backbone.

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    Give your passionate ideas sustainability by writing down goals and staying on task instead of succumbing to distraction.

    15. Successful people compliment others. Unsuccessful people try to bring others down to their level.

    There is no greater confidence than saying “no” to sudden jealous or envious feelings and choosing to sincerely admire someone’s talents instead.

    Unsuccessful people live in a world driven by competition, but successful people know that building people up is far more rewarding than bringing them down.

    16. Successful people want others to succeed. Unsuccessful people secretly hope they fail.

    In the same vein as the point above, this tip is all about good intentions.

    Care for the people around you. Encourage them toward their successes. Hoping that others fail will not help you at all.

    17. Successful people know their purpose and mission. Unsuccessful people don’t know what they want to be.

    The last thing that differentiates successful people from unsuccessful people is one of the most important:

    Keep your mission in mind.

    Don’t be swayed to and fro by passing emotions and events. Know who you are and pursue your dreams wholeheartedly.

    Final thoughts

    Above all, stay confident. Truly believe that you can be and are successful. Strive to prove it in your day-to-day habits and activities!

    What are you waiting for? Choose one of the habits above and get started today.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Berkeley University of California: How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain

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