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Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Conquer It Step-By-Step)

Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Conquer It Step-By-Step)

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. At times, I forgot that who I was wasn’t what I did. 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 look at what a fear of failure is, where it comes from, and how to overcome it so that you can enjoy success in your work and life.

What is fear of failure

Fear causes 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 fear of failure? Here are the main reasons why fear of failure 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 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 destroys success

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 cock-ups and messes onto someone else. The rapid turnover as people rise high, then fall abruptly from grace. The lying, cheating, falsification of data, and hiding of problems—until they become crises that defy being hidden any longer.

Miss out 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.

High achievers become losers

Every talent contains an opposite that sometimes makes it into a handicap. Successful people like to win and achieve high standards. This can make them so terrified of failure 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 handicap.

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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 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 your butt, 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.

The problems with ethical standards in major US corporations has, I believe, more to do with fear of failure among long-term high achievers than any criminal intent. Many of those guys at Enron and Arthur Andersen were supreme high-fliers, basking in the flattery of the media. Failure was an impossible prospect, worth doing just about anything to avoid.

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 best and most creative solution.

The more creative you are, the more errors you are going to make. Get used to it. 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.

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How to conquer the fear of failure (a step-by-step guide)

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. Re-frame 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.

3. Learn to think positively

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

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]

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

It’s up to you to notice your negative self talk and identify triggers. 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.

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.[9]

For example, when you start a new business, there’s bound to be a learning curve. 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?

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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.”

Ask yourself:

  • What did I learn?
  • How can I grow from this?
  • Did anything positive come from this situation?

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.

Failures can be blessings in disguise

Together we’ve learned what fear of failure is, and how it can have a crippling effect on our ability to achieve. This fear often stems from childhood, perfectionism, ego and over-personalization, and a lack of confidence.

Luckily for us, there are plenty of ways to tackle this fear. We can start by figuring out where it comes from and re-framing 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

Go boldly in the direction of your dreams and goals. Don’t allow fear to stand in your way.

Featured photo credit: Vecteezy via vecteezy.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever

How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever

Achieving personal goals deserves a huge amount of celebration but setting these goals in the first place is a massive achievement in itself.

While the big goals serve as a destination, the journey is probably the most important part of the process. It reflects your progress, your growth and your ability take control and steer your life towards positive change.

Whatever your goal is, whether it’s losing 20lbs or learning a new language, there will always be a set amount of steps you need to take in order to achieve it. Once you’ve set your sights on your goal, the next stage is to take an assertive path towards how you will get there.

The aim of this article is to guide you through how to take action towards your personal goals in a way that will help you achieve them strategically and successfully.

1. Get very specific

When it comes to setting your personal goals, honing in on its specifics is crucial for success.

It’s common to have a broad idea of where you want to go or what you want to achieve, but this can sabotage your efforts in the long run.

Get clear on what you want your goal to look like so you can create solid steps towards it.

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Say you have a vision on retiring early. This goal feels good to you and you can envision filling your days of work-free life with worldly adventures and time with loved ones.

If retiring early is a serious personal goal for you, you will need to insert a timeframe. So your goal has changed from “I’d like to someday retire early and travel the world” to “I’m going to retire by 50 and travel the world”.

It may not seem significant, but creating this tweak in your goal by specifying a definite time, will help create and structure the steps needed to achieve it in a more purposeful way.

2. Identify the preparation you need to achieve your goal

It’s easy to set a goal and excitedly, yet aimlessly move towards it. But this way of going about achieving goals will only leave you eventually lost and feeling like you’ll never achieve it.

You have to really think about what you need to do in order to make this goal possible. It’s all very well wanting it to happen, but if you just sit back and hope you’ll get there one day will result in disappointment.

Self-managing your goals is a crucial step in the process. This involves taking control of your goal, owning it and making sure you are in a great position to make it happen.

In the early retirement example, this would mean you will need to think about your financial situation.

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What will your finances ideally need to look like if you were to retire early and travel the world? How much money will you need to put into your retirement fund to retire at 50? How much extra savings will you need to support your travels? You could also start researching the places you’d like to travel to and how long you’d like to travel for.

Outlining these factors will, not only make your goal seem more tangible, but also create a mind shift to one of forward motion. Seeing the steps more clearly will help you make a more useful plan of action and seeing your goal as a reality.

3. Breakdown each step into more manageable goals

The secret to achieving your goals is to create smaller goals within each step and take action. Remember, you’re looking for progress, no matter how small it may seem.

These small steps build up and get you to the top. By doing this, you also make the whole process much less daunting and overwhelming.

In the early retirement scenario, there are several smaller goals you could implement here:

  • Decide to make an appointment with a financial advisor asking what financial options would be available to you if you were to go into early retirement and travel. Get advice on how much you would need to top up your funds in order to reach your goal on time.
  • Set up and start to make payments into the retirement fund.
  • Research savings accounts with good rates of interest and commit to depositing a certain amount each month.
  • Make sure you meet with your financial advisor each year to make sure your retirement plan remains the best one for you. Research new savings accounts to move your money into to reap the best returns in interest rates.
  • Start investing in travel books, building up a library that covers where you want to go.
  • Think about starting a language course that will help you get the most out of your travel experience.

4. Get started on the journey

Creating a goal planner in which you can start writing down your next steps is where the magic happens. This is where the real momentum towards your dream starts!

Create a schedule and start by writing in when you will start the first task and on which day. Commit to completing this small task and feel the joy of crossing it off your list. Do this with every little step until your first mini goal has been reached.

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In the early retirement example, schedule in a meeting with a financial advisor. That’s it. Easy.

As I mentioned before, it may seem such a small step but it’s the momentum that’s the most important element here. Once you cross this off, you can focus on the meeting itself, then once that’s ticked off, you are in a position of starting a profitable retirement fund…and so the momentum continues. You are now on your journey to achieving your dream goal.

5. Create an annual review

Taking a step back and reviewing your progress is essential for keeping yourself on the right track. Sometimes you can be moving full steam ahead towards your goal but miss seeing the opportunities to improve a process or even re-evaluate your feelings towards the goal.

Nominate a day each year to sit down and take a look at your progress. Celebrate your achievements and how far you’ve come. But also think about changing any of the remaining steps in light of new circumstances.

Has anything changed? Perhaps you got a promotion at work and you feel you can add more to your monthly savings.

Do you still feel the same about your goal? It’s normal for our desires to change over time and our personal goals need to reflect this.

Perhaps you’d like to take someone new with you on your travels and you need to take this into account regarding timelines. Are there any new steps you want to add as a result?

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Remember, reflection is a useful tool in realigning your goal to any changes and it’s important to keep on the right trajectory towards it.

Strive to become the best goal-setter you can be

Having personal goals gives you purpose and the feeling of becoming a better version of yourself.

But it’s the smaller steps within these big goals that the growth and achievement really lies:

  • Whatever your goal is, make sure you get specific on when you want to achieve it. This helps you focus on the necessary steps much more efficiently.
  • Research the actionable steps required to get to the end result and…
  • Break these down into smaller, manageable goals.
  • Create a daily or weekly schedule for these smaller goals and start the positive momentum.
  • Reflect each year on your goal journey and purpose, readjusting steps according to changes in circumstance or desire.

Keep going and always have the end goal in sight. Remember the ‘why’ behind your goal throughout to keep you motivated and positive.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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