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Why you have the fear of failure (and how to overcome it)

How do you take that leap of faith? Here are some ways to get a running start.

THE BASICS

  • What Is Fear?
  • Find a therapist to combat fear and anxiety

For better or worse, there are lots of ways to feel like we’ve failed: the social failure of being rejected, the romantic failure of being dumped, the career failure of being fired. No matter what perceived failure we fear, the possibility of it looms large and makes us do our best possum-playing-dead impression to avoid even trying.

But how to move forward? Here are 5 ways to move past “But what if?”

Method #1: Pinpoint exactly what you’re afraid of.

“What if something goes wrong?” or “People will hate me.” or “Something bad might happen.” Fears of failure are often vague. And just like in X-Men, when a fear is indistinct and shape-shifting, it’s impossible to conquer.

Therefore, to fight your fear, get specific about what “failure” really means to you. “I’m going to get fired and I’ll have to move back in with my parents” or “I’m going to flub my presentation and the whole office will realize I’m incompetent.” Once your fear is sufficiently narrowed, it becomes much easier to challenge it or plan around it. It might even sound so unlikely that it ceases to be a fear.

Method #2: Answer your “what if?” questions.

“What if I fail my midterm?” “What if I actually get fired?” “What if I get caught doctoring photos and test scores so my kid can get into USC?” Well, OK, maybe that one is uniquely specific, but the question probably should have been asked.

Often we’ll voice our worries with all sorts of “what if” questions. Therefore, to get over your fear of failure, actually answer the question: If your fear came to pass, what would you do? How would you cope? Who could comfort you?

If you’re worried about failing your midterm, think about how you’d cope if that actually happened. You could get help from the TA, plan out a study schedule for the final, and not stay out until 3 a.m. before the next exam. If you’re worried about getting fired, think about how you’d cope if that actually happened: you’d tighten your budget, look for another job, and ask friends and family for connections and opportunities.

When you answer the “what if” question, you work through the worst-case scenario and come out the other side with a plan. Suddenly, you know how you would either rectify the situation or take care of yourself and move on, which instantly makes things less scary.

Method #3: Don’t just visualize success.

You heard that right. Conventional wisdom says to get your dream job, picture yourself nailing the interview and putting up your feet in the corner office. To hit your PR, picture yourself crushing it with every mile. Right?

Perhaps not. A series of studies by Gabrielle Oettingen, a psychologist at the University of Hamburg and NYU, challenged that wisdom. For study participants who were looking for a job, anticipating an exam, or facing other challenges or opportunities, having positive fantasies about those things was, on average, associated with lower effort and performance.

THE BASICS

  • What Is Fear?
  • Find a therapist to combat fear and anxiety

Our positive visualizations are idealized versions of our goals—in our mind’s eye, success is total and complete, costs are negligible, exertion is light, and the number of newbie “oopsies” are few. With this idealized image in mind, we may lose motivation to dig deep or focus our energy. Starry-eyed dreamers sometimes forget to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

What to do instead? Oettingen pioneered a technique you might have heard of: mental contrasting. Therefore, in addition to picturing the achievement of your goal, also visualize the obstacles that stand in the way.

For example, imagine the satisfaction of accepting your diploma to “Pomp and Circumstance,” but also picture the hours of studying and the number of times you’ll have to resist the urge to scroll through TikTok instead. Do indeed visualize the applause after giving the concert of a lifetime, but focus on the toil of practice and waitressing to make ends meet while launching a career in music.

Fear Essential Reads

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Love or Fear—What Motivates You?

In short, picture your desired future, but also reflect on the obstacles that stand in the way of that future. When you only do the former, you’re fantasizing. When you only do the latter, you’re perseverating, neither of which balances the drive and hard work that make you succeed.

Method #4: Focus on the process, not the final product.

Shooting for the stars is admirable, but sometimes you have to cool your jets. Setting a punishing, sky-high goal seems like it should fire up your motivation but all it causes is procrastination.

So instead, set a goal about the process, not the end result. Instead of, “Get 100,000 views on this video I made,” try, “Learn all I can about what makes good video content.” Instead of “Get my dream job by May” go for, “Attend three networking events a month.” Aim for experiences: learning, trying, mastering, rather than just a quantitative endpoint. Indeed, if you aim to experience, you can never go wrong—plus, you come away with truly valuable knowledge. And that is never a failure.

Method #5: Remember failure is fleeting.

When we say we fear failure, what we truly fear is being a failure, which we perceive as something permanent and irredeemable. With the possible exceptions of the Harvey Weinsteins and Enrons of the world, this is incredibly rare.

By contrast, the experience of failure is temporary and changeable. It doesn’t feel good while it’s happening, but you always learn something—and then? You get the opportunity to reinvent yourself. From Bill Clinton to Martha Stewart to General Motors, our society loves a good redemption story.

To wrap up: failure isn’t an end, it’s a stopover. Even if we do fail, we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and think about what we learned in the process, like how having sexual relations with that woman or taking private jets to a government bailout might not have been the best move.

So specify what you’re afraid of, answer your “what ifs,” visualize your obstacles along with your successes, and go easy on yourself. Failure won’t stand a chance.

Try this test, then find out how to gain confidence.

Posted March 31, 2014

THE BASICS

  • What Is Fear?
  • Find a therapist to combat fear and anxiety

Everyone periodically feels uncomfortable about falling short of a standard, but some of us exaggerate the risk and anxiously avoid situations where we have no guarantee of success. Tragically, many who fail to deal with their fear of failure accomplish less, and regret the loss.

If you fall into this group, can you turn things around?

Fear of Failure Test

Try this test: Answer true to any items that generally describe you, and false to any items that generally do not.

  1. I’m afraid to fail.
  2. I play it too safe.
  3. I’m afraid of choking before a group.
  4. I worry about making mistakes.
  5. I’m afraid of disapproval.
  6. I worry about looking incompetent.
  7. I dread I won’t do well enough.
  8. I lack confidence in my abilities.
  9. I feel anxious when uncertain.
  10. Others will evaluate me negatively.

Answer true to one or more of the items, and you have isolated an area, or areas, that you can profitably work to change.

Each item represents a different but excessive feeling of apprehension and dread about evaluation over performances in academic, work, social, and other personally relevant areas. The items you endorsed as true may have different meanings to you. However, they all represent self-improvement opportunities.

Now, let’s look at an angle for turning things around.

Why you have the fear of failure (and how to overcome it)

Why you have the fear of failure (and how to overcome it)

Error is an inevitable part of life. That is why pencils have erasers.

We can define failure as falling short of performance standards. In academic, work, and interpersonal relations, exceeding expectations normally has positive consequences; falling short can have negative consequences. One of the negative consequences is secondary procrastination, in which you put things off where you expect to fail, thus creating a vicious cycle.

You can eliminate a fear of failure in areas for self-improvement and view your efforts as experiments to discover what works, what doesn’t, and what lies in between. Through thoughtful experimenting, you can discover what to emphasize and what to avoid in your life.

Can you convincingly take the position that there is no failure, only experiments that prove productive to a lesser or a greater degree? Perhaps. However, rather than define failure out of existence, let’s accept the word for what it technically means and not fear the concept. Instead, you can experimentally act to widen the range of your constructive experiences.

Tips for Overcoming Anxiety about Self-Improvement

Here are five tips to move from fear of failure habits to an experimental perspective:

  1. Pretend to work as a scientist. A scientist tests many promising ideas in the process of finding solutions for challenging problems, realizing that many trials may be needed before the picture is clear. Unlike some scientific studies that have terminal points, self-improvement is something you can do over a lifetime.
  2. As with any useful scientific study, you start with a question: “What actions do I take to get past fear of failing?”
  3. Few things in life go as smoothly as we hope or as badly as we might expect. Undertakings that include uncertainties—even those with reasonable positive expectancies—can have unexpected complications as well as unexpected pleasant surprises. Expect variations and fluctuations in your performances, and you won’t be disappointed.
  4. When you fall short of what you set out to do, what does this mean? It means that you fell short of a standard against which you evaluate your performance.
  5. People who fear failure, adhere to high standards, and claim to value human worth and dignity, often have trouble answering this value question: If you value human worth and dignity, then how do you justify adhering to personal standards so strict that they exclude you from experiencing worth and dignity? Your answers to this question can start you on the path of separating your global worth from your individual performances.

Accepting failure as part of a self-improvement process can be especially useful for those who are too hard on themselves and are afraid to try out new ways of thinking, feeling, and doing because of evaluation fears, anxiety over uncertainty, overly restrictive inhibitions, and so on. An experimental self-improvement approach for discovering what works, and what doesn’t, in combatting anxieties, is a platform for advancing healthy personal interests where anxiety and fear of failure ordinarily interfere.

THE BASICS

  • What Is Fear?
  • Find a therapist to combat fear and anxiety

For more guidance on how successfully to combat anxiety, click on: The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety (Second Edition)

© Dr. Bill Knaus. All Rights Reserved.

Research suggests that we can change the way we think and feel about failure.

Posted April 12, 2018

THE BASICS

  • What Is Resilience?
  • Find a therapist near me

Why you have the fear of failure (and how to overcome it)

Most people don’t know this about me, but I applied to graduate school five times. Each collection of annual rejection letters stung. I failed again, I thought every time I didn’t get in. But now, looking back on these failures with my Ph.D. in hand, and as founder of a small business that helps people build happiness in the digital age, I see that each one was a learning experience, a part of the journey forward. Failure shows that we’re taking risks — risks that can either result in failure or pay off big. By being willing to take these risks, we make it possible to experience great success.

That all sounds good in theory. But how, exactly, do we use failure to our advantage when it feels so bad to fail?

When we fail, we worry that we’ll be punished, and we feel ashamed, so we try to avoid failure at all costs. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The first step is to overcome our fear of failure, and these three steps can help.

1. Find the benefits of past failures.

All negative experiences have some benefits, even if they are hard to see or appreciate in the moment. By practicing finding these benefits with past failures, you may be able to enhance this ability so that you are more resilient the next time you fail.

To find the benefits, start by picking a past failure and writing out three things you learned from it. For example, if you missed an important deadline, maybe you learned that you need to prioritize better, say no to more projects, or tone down the perfectionism. Ask yourself: Have you made any changes to prevent failures like this from happening in the future? If not, take the time now to make a few small changes.

Next, ask your friends how they have benefited from past failures. For example, a former boss of mine once published an error in a paper, and now she triple-checks everything. A colleague stumbled through giving a presentation, and now he’s less afraid to stumble again — he can handle whatever happens. Witnessing others overcome their failures can help decrease your fears and show you how to find the benefits of your own mistakes more easily.

Plenty of business experts will tell you that you should reflect on your failures right after you experience them as a way to extract maximum learning from the experience. Keep in mind that if you are still feeling upset about the failure, it will be harder to come up with effective solutions — so it might be better to wait until the sting has subsided.

2. When failure is possible, view it as a challenge.

Completing important tasks — tasks that you could fail at — is stressful. But how you choose to approach stress is up to you.

If you think of stress as a threat, as many of us do, your body will prepare for battle — and you’ll feel like you’re in a battle. On the other hand, if you choose to view this stress as a challenge, then you’re more likely to think you are capable of handling it. As a bonus, thanks to the calming effect it has on your body, you actually will be more capable and less likely to fail.

To build a challenge mindset, reflect on past challenges that you’ve overcome. Let’s say you’re worried about a meeting with your boss. Take a moment to think back to past meetings. Did you handle them successfully? What exactly did you do? When you remind yourself that you have succeeded before, the task in front of you doesn’t seem so insurmountable.

THE BASICS

  • What Is Resilience?
  • Find a therapist near me

Next, visualize success. By imagining yourself doing well, you feel more positive, which can enhance your performance. On the other hand, if you ruminate about what could go wrong, your fear builds, and the failure you fear becomes more likely.

Keep in mind that even if you are able to shift your brain to stop seeing something as a threat, you may feel similar physical sensations, like nerves and shakiness. If you notice these, try to see them as excitement, energy, and “good” stress — evidence that what you’re doing is important to you.

3. Treat yourself kindly when you experience failure.

There will never be enough hours in the day to do your best on every project. You’ll be cramped for time, or make a mistake and disappoint yourself. In these moments, you can be really mean to yourself. Or you can choose to be kind to yourself, taking steps and cultivating attitudes that can stave off guilt, shame, and embarrassment.

Resilience Essential Reads

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One way to be kind to yourself is with self-care. For example, you’ll benefit from seeking out a friend to talk to whom you know will be compassionate. Or you may prefer a stress-relieving activity, like exercise, to help you cope with intense negative emotions. Or you can try any of these workplace stress busters.

It’s also important to practice self-compassion when you make mistakes. Remember, everyone fails, and there is no need to be a bully to yourself, feel guilty, or put yourself down. Indeed, that kind of attitude won’t help you persist in the face of failure in the future. Instead, try talking to yourself in a way that is supportive, kind, and caring — and you’ll be more likely to acknowledge mistakes and do better next time.

. and 2 ways to overcome it and succeed.

THE BASICS

  • What Is Fear?
  • Find a therapist to combat fear and anxiety

Why you have the fear of failure (and how to overcome it)

Everyone hates to fail, but for some people, failing presents such a significant psychological threat their motivation to avoid failure exceeds their motivation to succeed. This fear of failure causes them to unconsciously sabotage their chances of success, in a variety of ways.

Failing can elicit feelings such as disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness, regret, and confusion that, while unpleasant, are usually not sufficient to trigger a full-blown fear of failure. Indeed, the term is somewhat of a misnomer because it is not failure per se that underlies the behavior of people who have it. Rather, a fear of failure is essentially a fear of shame. People who have a fear of failure are motivated to avoid failing not because they cannot manage the basic emotions of disappointment, anger, and frustration that accompany such experiences but because failing also makes them feel deep shame.

Shame is a psychologically toxic emotion because instead of feeling bad about our actions (guilt) or our efforts (regret), shame makes us feel bad who we are. Shame gets to the core of our egos, our identities, our self-esteem, and our feelings of emotional well-being. The damaging nature of shame makes it urgent for those who have a fear of failure to avoid the psychological threats associated with failing by finding unconscious ways to mitigate the implications of a potential failure—for example, by buying unnecessary new clothes for a job interview instead of reading up on the company—which allows them to use the excuse, “I just didn’t have time to fully prepare.”

10 Signs You Might Have a Fear of Failure

The following are not official diagnostics—but if you feel that these criteria are very characteristic of you—very being an important distinguishing marker, since we all feel these things to some extent—you might want to examine the issue further, either by doing more reading about it or talking to a mental health professional.

1. Failing makes you worry about what other people think about you.

2. Failing makes you worry about your ability to pursue the future you desire.

3. Failing makes you worry that people will lose interest in you.

4. Failing makes you worry about how smart or capable you are.

5. Failing makes you worry about disappointing people whose opinion you value.

6. You tend to tell people beforehand that you don’t expect to succeed in order to lower their expectations.

7. Once you fail at something, you have trouble imagining what you could have done differently to succeed.

8. You often get last-minute headaches, stomach aches, or other physical symptoms that prevent you from completing your preparation.

9. You often get distracted by tasks that prevent you from completing your preparation which, in hindsight, were not as urgent as they seemed at the time.

10. You tend to procrastinate and “run out of time” to complete you preparation adequately. (See procrastination expert Timothy Pychyl’s post about fear of failure.)

What to Do When You Have a Fear of Failure

The primary problem with addressing fear of failure is that it tends to operate on an unconscious level. For example, you might feel it’s essential to finish writing out your Christmas cards because you promised to send them off by the end of the weekend—even though you’re also about to take your final exams.

THE BASICS

  • What Is Fear?
  • Find a therapist to combat fear and anxiety

But there are two important things you can do to conquer the maladaptive ways fear of failure can influence your behavior:

1. Own the fear. It is important to accept that failure makes you feel both fear and shame, and to find trusted others with whom you can discuss these feelings. Bringing these feelings to the surface can help prevent you from expressing them through unconscious efforts to sabotage yourself, and getting reassurance and empathy from trusted others can bolster your feelings of self-worth while minimizing the threat of disappointing them.

2. Focus on aspects in your control. Identify aspects of the task or preparation that are in your control and focus on those. Brainstorm ways to reframe aspects of the task that seem out of your control such that you regain control of them. For example, If you’ve failed to find work because you just don’t know “the right people,” set the goal of expanding your network by going through your address book and Facebook and social media contacts, and reaching out to everyone you know who might help: Even if they are not in your field, they might know someone who is.

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Why you have the fear of failure (and how to overcome it)

My biggest failure is my fear of failure. As a child I was accustomed to my performance meeting up to my high expectations. But, as I grew older and eventually began attending high school I found myself time and time again not living up to my own expectations. My initial response to failure had been to continue persevering, but the more it occurred the more I turned to avoidance. The more I failed the greater my fear became and the more I feared pursuing what I wanted to do, what I wanted to say and when I wanted to speak. The pattern began to resemble a spiral of avoidance. One revelatory day this toxic and exponentially worsening pattern was brought to my attention. I noticed that my drive to avoid failure had become more powerful than my drive to succeed in the first place and I knew that there was something fundamentally wrong with that idea. So I began questioning whether my fear of failure was rational. I figured that in many of the things I had avoided due to my fear of failure I would not have lost anything material.

There was nothing that would have resulted in damage that I would not be able to fix. Along my journey, I started paying attention more to situations in which I failed. I noticed that failure can be a good teacher and is a good way to learn things fast. Every failure big or small made me less fragile and more resilient. I realized that the costs of avoidance outweighed its benefits. Instead of facing risks head on I was wasting my time and energy on calculating ways to avoid them. Also, when I avoided participating in something I was depriving myself of potentially valuable experiences. When I looked for benefits I realized that there were none at all. I decided to not allow fear to sculpt my life. After all humans are rational beings and can get wrongs right with the snap of a finger, right? Not that fast! It was of course easier said than done. My fear of failure did not go away overnight. I accepted the fact that I may need to fail a couple times before succeeding. I had to learn to become more open to risks of failing and tolerant to thoughts of distrust towards myself. I figured out the best way to deal with those thoughts was to simply to fight them by not acting upon them. The importance of taking risks in arts and science cannot be overstated. One of the most interesting and unexpected things that occurred to me when I allowed myself to fail was that I gained more creative confidence. I allowed myself to have and pose questions and was less defensive and more willing to participate in constructive discussions. When I looked at my paintings and noticed that event my brushstrokes had grown stronger.

I can delightedly state that I am no longer fearful of what I want to do, what I want to say and when I want to say it. I have successfully escaped the spiral of avoidance that I had immersed myself in. Now I am able to now enjoy spending time on things that I am passionate about rather than avoiding them. I know that my journey to accept failure is still progressing. I will never stop learning from the mistakes I make and the chances that I take. I hope that my failures will help me for the rest of my days.

Remember: This is just a sample from a fellow student.

Why you have the fear of failure (and how to overcome it)

On June 12, 2005, Steven Paul Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Incorporation and Pixar gave a Commencement address at Stanford University. In his address, he reflected on the times he fought with the fear of failure.

He too just like every other visionary you admire encounters the fear of failure. The difference however between those who end up succeeding and those who do not is the mastery of how to overcome that fear.

Steve Jobs as he is popularly called also narrated in his address his victory over the fear of failure. Just so you can quickly read through and have a feel of what he shared that day, below is an excerpt;

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

The fear of failure bridge

As I struggled to understand why the fear of failure offers itself so real than the hope of succeeding, I realized that there is valley between where we are and where we hope to be.

That valley is where the fear of failure builds a bridge and not everyone sums up enough courage to walk through to the other side.

As I write this article, I have spent more time thinking about the pain and the losses being a victim to the fear of failure has caused me.

I have lost valuable relationships. I started books which I never completed.

I have missed out on great opportunities and denied myself better rewards for my work all because I was a victim to the fear of failure.

“How to overcome the fear of failure is a lifelong practice but it starts off somewhere. It is not a one-time victory you gain, it is a lifestyle you maintain.”

Encountering this fear is not where the problem lies. Consistently being held back from accomplishing your goals, dreams, purpose and vision is where the problem lies.

You may read quotes about failure, but from experience I can say that is a temporal fix for a long-term problem.

What then should you do? Here is the first step you can take:

1. Stop making statements and start asking questions

Every time you face a challenge, why are you more prone to say, ‘this is impossible’?

There are statements that we somehow have found a way to familiarize ourselves with whenever we face challenges. Statements like;

‘This is too difficult.’

‘I cannot achieve that.’

‘I do not have any support.’

‘I have very little resources.’

‘No one believes in my dreams and my goals.’

Over the years, I cannot recount the number of times I have been tormented and held bound by the fear of failure whenever I speak those words.

It took a sincere desire to breakthrough and overcome the fear of failure before I realized that my words were creating my reality.

As often as I said the words, ‘this is too difficult‘, in the same measure I saw difficulties in achieving my goals and vision.

Whenever I consciously or unconsciously say ‘I cannot achieve that’, there and then, I empower my challenges more than my ability to overcome them.

How often have you been speaking the wrong words? How deliberately have you been dis-empowering yourself and empowering your challenges?

The more you speak the wrong words, the more you create the reality you do not desire.

You were made for much more than you have accomplished already.

How to overcome the fear of failure begins with you believing you can. Your beliefs are as powerful as your life. It is sadly also as destroying as death.

When you believe you can achieve and overcome the challenges you face as a Visionary, you then need to be mindful of the words you speak.

Instead of saying ‘this is too difficult’, ask ‘what steps can I take to overcome this?’

Instead of saying ‘I cannot achieve this’, ask, ‘What is stopping me from achieving this?’

Rather than grievously lament and say ‘I do not have any support’. Why not ask, ‘what kind of support do I need and who do I need to call for help?

Rather than complain about your little resources, why not ask, ‘what do I have that I can begin with?

You have to stop saying ‘no one believes in my dreams and my goals’. Instead learn to ask, ‘am I communicating my dreams and goals in the clearest possible way?’

You can also ask, ‘what better way can I communicate my goals and dreams’.

Am I communicating my goals and dreams to the right persons?’ That is another question that can empower you to overcome the fear of failure and find possibilities and solutions.

A positive shift will happen for you when you stop making dis-empowering statements and start asking questions.

When you ask questions, you are more likely to get help that will enable you find solutions. However, that isn’t all there is to this journey.

2. Overcome the fear of failure by asking the right questions.

It is not enough to ask questions, you have to ask the right questions.

The questions we ask in our everyday life are what increases our hope or destroys it. When your hope is destroyed, dead and buried, your doubt comes alive boldly. When your doubt increases the less likely you will overcome the fear of failure.

What questions are you asking? What inspires your questions, is it your hope or your doubts?

As a visionary, are you reliving your past and so destroying your future, your dreams and goals?

I have learned to stop asking questions like, “Why is it so difficult?” Instead I ask, “How can I get this done?

It is good to ask questions as a way to overcome the fear of failure. However, asking the wrong questions is as depressing as making statements that empowers your doubts and fears.

Once you learn to consistently overcome the fear of failure, you gain access to a new level of ideas, hope, faith, courage and confidence to do more and achieve more.

3. Get to work!

The bottom line of the strategies I have shared with you to help you overcome the fear of failure is simply, ‘go-do-it.’

If your goals and dreams are dearly important to your vision, purpose and calling, then just go-do-it.

Do not accept the false belief that it is an easy ride. However, hold firmly the truth that you were made for more than you have accomplished already.

The fear of failure will unashamedly challenge you more often than you are willing to confront it. But every time it looks you in the eyes to scare you and frighten your heart and mind, remind yourself that you were made for more.

Remind yourself of why your purpose, dreams, vision and goals matter. Remind yourself of why you started in the first place and just go do it.

It does not get any simpler than that but it sure gets more rewarding in the end.

Eli Straw

The reasoning for this deep fear comes from the aversive consequences that are perceived if you were to fail. Everyone views failure in a different light, and similarly sees threatening consequences to be different.

Imagine going through life with all these goals and aspirations, only to never accomplish them because of an underlying fear you will fail. Rationally, it doesn’t quite make sense due to the certain fact you will not accomplish your goals if you don’t even try. But, for those who suffer from a deep fear of failure, not trying is a relief from the pain felt by their constant worry. Fear of failure can take many forms depending on the individual.

Some will experience it and not even try to take action. Others will feel it in the middle of doing that which they fear. No matter how the fear of failure presents itself, one thing is for sure, it is a crippling and demoralizing feeling that no one should have to endure. However, it is real and many people, no matter their profession, will come face to face with it at some point in their lives. Before we go into the steps an individual can take to combat this fear, let’s take a closer look at what exactly the fear of failure is.

What is Fear of Failure?

Fear is not always bad and is an ingrained feeling in us for a reason, helping avoid dangerous situations and people. It can also serve as a motivator, indicating areas in life that need to be improved.

However, this type of fear is not what defines the fear of failure. Also known as atychiphobia, fear of failure occurs when an underlying fear becomes so great that it keeps you from moving forward to achieve your goals and aspirations.

The reasoning for this deep fear comes from the aversive consequences that are perceived if you were to fail. Everyone views failure in a different light, and similarly sees threatening consequences to be different.

While one player may not care if the coach yells at him or her for making a mistake, another player may be so petrified by this threat that he or she decides to quit the team.

Five reasons can be pointed to as to why individuals avoid fear. The first one is the expectation of feeling ashamed due to failure (Alkhazaleh & Mahasneh, 2016). Shame can take hold of an individual in many ways, all pointing back to one very specific thought process: allowing others to determine your value.

This is seen a lot in athletics when someone wants to impress their teammates, coaches, or parents. If they were to fail, then a deep shame would come over them like a dark cloud because of the disappointment they believe others have in them.

Secondly, failure tends to create negative self-talk in one’s head that makes them doubt their intelligence and talents (Alkhazaleh & Mahasneh, 2016). This type of reaction to failure leads to a never-ending cycle.

Say someone perceives their performance in something to be a failure. Negative phrases then begin to form in the mind, such as “I suck, I knew I couldn’t do this, I’m not really that good anyway,” etc. Self-talk such as this only worsens an individual’s confidence and perpetuates their fear of failure, so to avoid further personal insults.

Third, failure can negatively impact someone’s future plans (Alkhazaleh & Mahasneh, 2016). This is an aspect of fear of failure that gets really interesting. Suppose there is a college baseball player whose greatest goal is to get drafted.

To accomplish this, he must perform well on the field. However, one game he struck out five times and began to really doubt his abilities. Now, he fears failing more times because that could really hinder his hopes of being drafted.

But, by avoiding this fear, either through not playing or self-sabotaging his performance, he is worsening his chances of achieving his goal.

Fourth, many believe that success is the most important criterion for parents, peers, teachers, and coaches, meaning failure will result in a loss of their esteem (Alkhazaleh & Mahasneh, 2016). Once again, this plays into allowing others to dictate your value.

At a very fundamental level, many individuals feel this aspect of fear of failure when it comes to their parents. They have this belief that their parents will only be proud of them and will only truly love them if they succeed. Fear such as this takes the focus off the task at hand and redirects it to external circumstances.

If you are always worried about what others will think then you will never truly reach the flow state that so many athletes and individuals are after.

Lastly, individuals often see failure as not only losing the regard of others but also causing them stress (Alkhazaleh & Mahasneh, 2016). This can take form when a parent becomes overly invested in their child’s performance to the point where they get visibly upset when he or she fails.

Especially at a young age, this type of reaction from parents can drastically impact a child’s confidence and make them overly fearful of failing again.

As you can see, fear of failure can be quite devastating to any individual. The emotions that result from this type of thinking can make even the most dedicated and talented individual quit their respected work or sport just to avoid it.

So now that fear of failure has been outlined in more detail, it is important for you to understand what the signs and symptoms of it are in order to point it out in either yourself or someone close to you.

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Why you have the fear of failure (and how to overcome it)

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A teen who fears failure isn’t likely to reach his greatest potential. His fear of failing to make the team may cause him to avoid trying out for baseball. Or, the fear of getting a college rejection letter may delay him in completing his college application, which could cause him to miss the application deadline.

While some teens are able to use failure to become better, others become immobilized by their intense fears. The good news is, you can teach your teen how to conquer his fear of failure so he can bounce back better than before. Here are five ways to help your teen get over the fear of failure:

Teach Healthy Self-Talk

Sometimes teens draw incorrect conclusions about themselves based on failure. A teen who fails a math test may tell himself, “I’m stupid.” Or a teen who strikes out in baseball may think, “I can’t ever do anything right.”

Negative self-talk may decrease your teen’s willingness to put in effort when faced with future challenges.

Teach your teen about healthy self-talk. Encourage him to avoid self-downing statements and teach him to replace negative thoughts with a more realistic monologue. A more compassionate conversation with himself can help him bounce back from failure more effectively.

Praise Your Teen’s Effort Rather than Achievement

Praising your teen for achievement can backfire. Saying things like, “I’m so proud of you for getting an A on that test,” or “I think you’re the best trumpet player in the whole band,” could send the message that your love is conditional upon high achievement.

Praise your teen for trying hard, regardless of the outcome. Say something like, “I am so pleased you spent three hours studying for that science test. Looks like it really paid off.” When your teen’s efforts aren’t successful, offer encouraging words such as, “You sure hustled out there on the field today.” Praising your teen’s efforts emphasizes the importance of trying his best.

Talk About Failure

Talk to your teen about failure. Discuss the feelings that accompany failure – shame, embarrassment, guilt, sadness, or even anger. Teach your teen how to cope with the discomfort associated with failure.

Discuss successful people who overcame failure. Make it clear that failure can serve as a wonderful learning opportunity. Talk about how the fear of failure can lead some people to avoid trying things where they might not excel and discuss the potential consequences of that mindset.

Role Model How to Deal With Failure

Look for opportunities to show your teen how to bounce back from failure. When you fail to get hired for a job, or you aren’t able to negotiate a business deal, be a good role model. Avoid making excuses or pretending as if you don’t care.

Instead, talk about your disappointment. Then, make it clear how you’re going to turn this failure into a learning opportunity so you can do better in the future.

Get Involved With Your Teen’s School

Get involved in your teen’s education to help create a positive learning environment. Attending parent/teacher conferences, visiting during an open house, and volunteering for the PTA are just a few ways to show your child and the teachers that you’re invested in education.

Help your child form positive relationships with teachers. Studies show that students try their best when they have a positive relationship with their teachers.   Avoid talking negatively about your child’s teachers.

Encourage your teen to engage in active problem-solving when issues with a teacher arise. Sometimes teens mistakenly assume, “That teacher doesn’t like me,” or they draw conclusions like, “It doesn’t matter how hard I try in that class because that teacher will always give me a failing grade.” A teen who can ask the teacher for extra help when necessary or who can talk to the teacher about a grade can set himself up for success.

When to Seek Professional Help

Sometimes, the fear of failure can stem from an underlying mental health disorder, like anxiety or depression. At other times, a fear of failure can lead to problems. For example, a teen who stops engaging in activities due to the fear of failure may grow depressed. If your teen’s fear is impacting his education and activities, it’s important to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional.

Why you have the fear of failure (and how to overcome it)

What stops many people from achieving their big goals, making certain life changes, and living a life more true to who they are, is fear of failure.

What Is Fear Of Failure?

Fear of failure is one of the most common forms of fear, and it holds you back in life. It causes you to procrastinate, to avoid, to play safe, and ultimately to sabotage yourself.

This fear is normal, but not natural—meaning that you were not born with it. It’s a learned response, the result of how we interpret failure. Understanding this is actually really good news, because it means that we can “un-learn” this response.

Before we talk about the “how-to”, let’s first see where fear comes from.

Fear And The Lizard Brain

Our brain has three parts or layers, each with a different function:

  • The top layer is the rational brain, responsible for conscious thought. It’s the most evolved and “aware” part of the brain.
  • The mid layer is the mammalian brain, responsible for feeling and coordination of movement.
  • The deepest layer is our “reptilian brain”, or “lizard brain”. It’s the most primitive part of our brain.

The Lizard Brain is the fear and anxiety department of the brain. As such, it has one goal only: to keep you safe. It wants to avoid danger and pain at all costs (even if that means scrapping your dreams).

Fear of failure is a response from the Lizard Brain to the perspective of pain under the forms of: embarrassment, rejection, disappointment, or loss of money, social relations, credibility, or self-esteem.

Even though your rational brain may at times want to take an important (and big) step in your life, if your inner lizard feels that this step makes you vulnerable to any type of pain, it will do all it can to stop you. And it’s bloody hard to control that silly lizard!

So, basically this is the problem: different parts of you want different things. There is inner conflict and you feel that you are not in control of your mind and life. You’re torn in different directions.

How To Overcome Fear Of Failure

So how do we overcome fear of failure? Do we make the conscious brain so strong that it can fully overpower the lizard brain?

That can work, but it’s a very difficult path. It takes a lot of energy. Far easier is to learn how to communicate with the lizard brain more effectively. And we do that by changing the stories we tell ourselves and how we interpret failure.

If you consider not being selected for a job after an interview a form of failure, then the lizard brain will kick in and do its thing. It will try to prevent you from taking any steps in that direction or it will sabotage your efforts, so that “you fail before you fail”. But if you consider that same event simply as feedback—as a form of learning—then, that’s none of the lizard’s business! It’s just learning and growth.

Therefore, one powerful way to overcome fear of failure is to redefine failure. Here are some points to help you with this.

1. See failure as unavoidable

We are not perfect, so we will always make mistakes. It’s impossible to live without making mistakes—unless we don’t try anything meaningful at all (and that is the worst of failures).

Since failure is unavoidable, don’t try to avoid it. Instead, fail better—which means fail on purpose. Fail on the right things (the things that matter). And, as quickly as you can, learn from it and get back up.

2. See failure as just feedback

Failure says nothing about who you are or your value as a person. It is simply the result of an action that didn’t hit the intended goal (yet).

Failure is feedback. It is a learning. And, as so, it’s the teacher of success. Without failure you have no feedback; and without feedback you can’t learn, and therefore can’t grow.

So, no failures = no successes.

3. See inaction as real failure

Since failure is unavoidable—and essential for success—then the experience of failure is not the problem. The only problem is fearing failure, which leads to inaction.

Not taking steps in the direction of your goals, and not living a life in sync with your deepest values—that is the only failure there is. Everything else is simply a lesson on the way. A step supporting your journey upwards.

Mindset Work & Meditation

Above you learned three simple ways of changing the story you are telling yourself, about what failure is. They are all connected, and they are all effective.

However, for them to work for you, in the moment that fear arises, you need the ability to cool down your lizard brain and change what you are paying attention to. This is something that meditation helps you with.

There are many different types of meditation , each with unique methods and benefits. But one thing that they all have in common is allowing you to cool down the lizard brain—and thus empower you to tell yourself better stories.

Keep on reading or start your journey now by listening to day one of Giovanni Dienstmann’s 10-day course”Overcoming Fear Of Failure” that will give you all the meditation and mindset tools you need to completely overcome your fear of failure and fear of rejection.

Now It Is Your Turn

Fear of failure is quite universal—and quite limiting, too. It exists because our lizard brain wants to protect us from pain. But if we change the stories we are telling ourselves about failure, then it’s possible to break free from this fear. Because then the lizard won’t interpret those events as dangerous anymore.

If you let fear of failure slow you down (or even stop you), the result is missed opportunities, an average life, and not exploring your unique potential. But if you dare to take a step in the direction of your goals, regardless of fear… and if you learn the many ways of overcoming your fear… then you can live a life that you are truly happy with.

Meditation exists not only to help you calm down, let go, and have good sleep. Meditation also empowers you to persevere in the path of your calling, and choose freedom over fear—day after day.

Read more: Regretting is a given pain in our human existence, however, when it becomes a virus we need to set ourselves free. Explore how to let go of regret. Discover more from Giovanni Dienstmann.