There are times in our lives when we become worried, scared, or downright anxious about what it would mean if we were to fail at something. Say you want to take up painting, but you’re scared that you won’t be any good: this is the fear of failure.
The fear of failure holds a lot of people back from pursuing what they really desire. Many dreams are left behind as individuals allow their fear of failure to dictate their choices in life. In this article, we'll discuss how to overcome fear of failure so you can avoid falling into that trap.
Here are some of the ways a fear of failure can present itself:
Fear can reveal itself in us by how perfect we think we need to be. Some people hide behind their need to be perfect because, ultimately, they're scared of failing. Maybe you're avoiding submitting your manuscript to an agent or publisher, instead saying, “it’s still not ready; it’s still not perfect yet.”
The truth is, perfect doesn’t exist. You may never be “ready” and so you need to stop hiding behind perfectionism when in reality, it is a fear of failure.
A lot of people keep pushing themselves back or purposely doing the wrong things because they are too afraid to go for what they really want, due to fear of failure. Things like drinking too much on the weekends so that you are too drunk or hungover to work on your goals. It’s choosing the easy job you hate, instead of the challenging one that you actually want.
Just like perfectionism, procrastination comes from a fear of failure. You put off applying for that amazing job or writing that chapter because you’re afraid of what it could mean if you begin. It’s not laziness or poor management, it’s the fear of failure. The fear of it going wrong. And so, you keep putting it off for another day.
The fear of failure keeps us firmly planted in our comfort zones. People who branch out of their comfort zones and try new things are not afraid of failure. Those who stay in their comfort zones forever will tell you all the stories under the sun as to why, but at the end of the day, it is only fear that truly keeps them there.
These are some of the ways fear of failure can manifest itself, let's look at how we can begin to overcome these fears.
Find success stories
The best way to settle your fear of failure is firstly to familiarize yourself with the success stories of people who have done what you aim to do. In most circumstances, the successful people that you hear about didn’t get there overnight. Instead, they went through years of failure, ups and downs, setbacks and disappointments before they got to where they are.
Find these stories, study them, and really get clear on the fact that failure is unavoidable and not an end result – unless you allow it to be. It’s simply a part of the process; of the journey.
Ultimately, if you trust yourself and your journey, then no amount of failure will get you down. Yes, there will be hard times and delays, but if you can trust yourself (even a little) then that will take you a long way.
Trust in yourself is one of the most important elements on the road to success. Not necessarily believing in yourself or knowing that you will succeed; instead, it’s all about trusting yourself to deal with whatever will come your way. If you can find this trust in yourself, then your fear of failure should dissipate and help you overcome any obstacles.
Focus on the goal
Many people who give up on their goals have their attention in all the wrong places. They focus on the negative, or the failures, or what could go wrong, instead of focusing on the important thing: the goal itself.
If you can keep reframing your attention and focus on what you want and why you want it, then the fear of failure will have less control over you. It won’t be a concern. Your perspective, your attention, your focus is what will manifest and grow in your life: so, it’s your choice what you choose to concentrate on.
Fear is your friend
Too many of us try to avoid fear entirely. If you take this view, then you will never do anything new or worthwhile in your life. Fear is inevitable; it’s unavoidable. Fear is normal and in fact, good for us. Fear either alerts us to what is dangerous, thus saving us from harm, or it shows us what is worth chasing.
We can fear going for a new job, or going on a rollercoaster, or writing a new story idea. The fear comes because we can tell that these are big or important things that are going to test us, push our comfort zone, or be really rewarding. It is showing you what is going to be worth it. As the saying goes, “feel the fear, and do it anyway!”
Know your whys
Getting clear on why you actually want to go for your goals is going to be detrimental to your pursuit of success. It’s not enough to be doing it just because; instead, you need to find your why.
Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to start a new career? Why do you want to take up Calligraphy? Why do you want to travel the South East of Asia with only a backpack?
Know your why and make it a good one. Once you have a real big, beautiful why, you will feel stronger and more motivated to get going. Your why can be something that you keep coming back to when times are tough to remind yourself of why you began in the first place.
Write your why down and keep it safe where you know you can keep coming back to it when the fear of failure creeps up.
Have a back-up
This isn’t always possible, and some may say that it’s a bad idea; but having some form of security can make you feel more comfortable on the road to success. This could be financial security like a savings account, or a back-up plan, or something else.
Put all your efforts into Plan A but have a quiet Plan B in your back pocket, if you feel like it would set your mind at ease as you go towards the unknown. This will then settle any fears of failure, because you know you’ll have a safety net to fall back on.
Rethink your idea of failure
You must remember that failure is not going to kill you. Failure is not as embarrassing as you may think. You need to redefine your definition of failure so that you are less afraid of it. Failure is not this big bogeyman that will harm you. Failure doesn’t mean you need to quit. The real failure is in the quitting itself. Instead, use the experiences of failure. Realise that failure provides lessons and a means of growth.
If you can get to the point where you see failure as normal and non-threatening, then of course, the fear will sift away.
How do you rethink your idea of failure?
- Tell yourself (and show yourself) that failure is a normal part of the road to success
- Learn to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes or fail
- Have a means for coming back from failure with resilience
- Fail! (see below)
Failure needn’t be this big thing that you’re afraid of in the first place. If you can reshape your thoughts about what failure is, then you will be in a better position to rid yourself of the fear of failure to begin with.
It is a good idea to get used to failure, so that it has less power over you. Set smaller goals and then tackle them in a way that is less overwhelming. This will help you to get used to the process of trying new things and being OK with failing at first. The aim is to get comfortable with trying and failing. It is only those who have never failed that feel the real scary effects of failure. So, if you’re used to it, then you’ll be better at it! It will no longer knock you sideways.
Fail, fail again, fail better, as they say.
What’s the worst that could happen?
Knowing the absolute worst that could happen, and then evaluating whether or not it is valid, will help you fear failure less. Say you want to write and publish a book. What’s the worst thing that could come from that? No book sales? Not even getting an agent or publisher to sign with you? Bad customer reviews? So what?
Take some time to do this with whatever you wish to pursue but are scared to do. What’s the worst thing that could come from it? Is it really that bad? Will it destroy you? Is there no coming back from it? Is it actually likely to happen anyway? Know this, and it will help you to see the failure as less scary, and in some cases, non-existent in the first place.
Remember that ultimately, you are the one who is holding yourself back, in the end, by fearing failure. This is easier said than done but it's something you must keep reminding yourself of. It is only you who can decide whether allowing the fear of failure to stop you is really worth it. How much do you want to succeed? How much do you want to obtain your goals? This is the question. If you want it, you won’t let the fear of failure get in your way.
As discussed at the beginning of this article, the fear of failure can show itself in many ways. But remember to not allow these things to continue. Recognize them when they crop up and stop them in their tracks.
Stop waiting for perfect. Stop putting off what you know you should do or truly want to do. Stop limiting yourself by staying in your comfort zone. Stop allowing negative emotions to be a barrier that you hide behind and attack the world with. Stop depriving yourself of what it good for you and best for you.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to this: face your fears, be comfortable with failure, and you will feel stronger on your journey to success. Good luck!