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Success Mindset

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

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
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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.

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.

Together we’ll examine what can cause fear of failure and why it can hold you back. We’ll also look at how to overcome the fear of failure so that you can use failure to your advantage instead of letting it run your life.

As a disclaimer, the intense fear of failure, or atychiphobia, may require attention from a medical provider. If you are experiencing difficulty functioning in your daily life due to your fear of failure or symptoms of a panic attack, reach out to a medical professional for further help.[1]


What Causes Fear of Failure?

Fear of failure will cause us to avoid potentially harmful situations, but it will also keep us from reaching our full potential. Fear of failure keeps us from trying, creates self-doubt, stalls progress, and may lead us to go against our morals.

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

1. Childhood Environment

Being raised in an environment where you were taught that failure is unacceptable can cause fear of failure to be a learned behavior. That fear of failure can lead to emotional and psychological issues including panic attacks, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and shame.[2] You may have had people in your life who gave you ultimatums and enforced fear-based rules.

2. Perfectionism

For perfectionists, failure is so terrible and humiliating that they don’t try. Stepping outside your comfort zone becomes terrifying. Perfectionism can similarly arise from childhood if the idea of anything less than perfect was perceived as a failure. The ego usually leads us to want to aim for perfection and our wanting to please others.

3. Over-Personalization

Ego may lead us to over-identify with failures. You may believe that your failures significantly inform how others see you and you fear being viewed as a failure.[3]

Why the Fear of Failure Holds You Back

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.

Unhealthy Organization Culture

Too many organizations today have cultures of perfection: a set of organizational beliefs that any failure is unacceptable. Imagine the stress and terror in an organization like that. The lying, cheating, falsification of data, and hiding of problems—until they become crises that defy being hidden any longer.

Contrary to this mindset, a recent study shows that cultivating a fear mindset holds organizations back from making profitable decisions. [4].

Miss Out on Valuable Opportunities

Many fail because of their ego-driven commitment to what worked in the past. You often see this with people more advanced in their career, especially those who made their names by introducing some critical change years ago.

They shy away from further innovation because they are afraid of failure. 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.

High Achievers Become Losers

Successful people like to win and achieve high standards. 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 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.

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.


Loss of Creativity

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.

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. And a little failure is essential to preserve everyone’s perspective on success.

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

Confronting your fear of failure is proven to help you challenge it.[5]

1. Figure Out Where the Fear Comes From

When you look at the possible roots causing your 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.

Cultivating a growth mindset where you aim for improvement and learning makes you much less likely to fail.[6] 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.

3. Learn to Think Positive

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 start an animation studio that failed. He never gave up, and now Disney is a household name.

If Disney believed the negative feedback, he wouldn’t have made it.

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

4. Visualize All Potential Outcomes

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:

“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

Even a less-than-ideal situation can be a great opportunity to make changes and grow.

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.” – John C. Maxwell

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.

Final Thoughts

To overcome the 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.


Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

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

Overcoming fear of failure can help you start figuring out where it comes from and reframe how you feel about failure.

The fear of failure may be rooted in childhood experiences and feeding the perfectionist ego; we tend to feed our ego when we are driven to take (or not take) action in order to please people.

 When failure is a chance for growth and you’ve looked at all possible outcomes it’s easier to overcome.

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

Featured photo credit: Patrick Hendry via unsplash.com


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