How to Overcome the Fear of Failure

The guilt of being a failure

How many times we are allowed to fail until we actually achieve something good?

Something great? Are we even allowed to fail? I haven’t been taught properly on how to fail. Instead, I just straight ahead failed, failed over and over again.

I failed as a good pupil or student – all I could do was working myself enough to pass the tests, pass the exams, pass the entrance to university, pass the final exams and diploma protection on fifth year, got my degree and out into the world, got myself a job, worked and landed another job aboard.

Along the way, all I do is keep repeating to myself: “you will get through it, you can do it”, but not forgetting to scream internally in a different, more desperate voice: “I’m so dead if I cannot pull this off”.  

Somehow, I get through each and every major milestone of my life (so far) with these contradict voices in my head. The failures I have faced with, are seldom big ones, partially, because my dreams and my wishes have never been wildly and crazily big enough for the failures to be a disaster, nor it would ever make any significant embarrassment or unforgettable turning point in my life.

But still, some of the failures are still burning in the back of my mind, and every time I think of it, I wish I could do better, could be better and somehow could make a bigger change. And the fear of failing is always there, always smirking with his look of: “let see how far you can get”. So I dig deeper to my fear, to understand why he has me wrapped around his finger for so long.  

How does the fear of failure affect us?

There are 10 signs showing the fear of failure, which speak to my case:

  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 your preparation adequately.  

If you have ticked the box “All of these above”, then the fear of failure has claimed another victim. What can we do to overcome the dreadful feeling of fear?

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How do I overcome the fear of failure?

I don’t know if this helps, but majority of us has this fear. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have had this fear for years, and although there are times I have successfully suppressed him, many other times he has won, leaving me with the regret of never knowing what could have happened if only I took the chance.  

It’s human nature to be afraid of failure, of leaving outside of the comfort zone where many unexpected things can happen and many people can be let down easily or affected by one’s actions of doing or not doing somethings, when things don’t go as expected, and feeling like the world has ended.   But instead of dwelling deeper into the self-pity, self-criticism, we can slowly work things out by these strategies and overcome our fear of failure.

Re-frame our goals

Instead of focusing too much on achieving an actual goal (say, $50,000 worth of sales this month – which is the current target that stresses me out every night before going to bed), it’s better to expand or broaden the goal into “learn to be more active and well-prepared for each and every project assigned, to gain more high-quality projects”. So, you know, there is no “failing” as a human, you are bound to gain something of value through this goal.

Visualize obstacles

This might sound weird, but when we visualize all the not-so-encouraging outcomes, or imagine all the possible obstacles that can cross our paths in the near future, or during our work process, it can help us to mentally prepare for the struggles we will encounter. How can we do it?

First, visualize ourselves hitting an obstacles, or in my case, I’ll visualize all kind of rejections possible (in fact, I have already received first hand three rejections from my prospects just on Monday – so utterly common that it kills me swiftly without torturing my soul).

Second, allow ourselves to feel the fear – the details of each rejection, the horror I felt when sending out an painfully clumsy and unprofessional email, have been rewound over and over again in my mind. But try spend a few minutes planning how to overcome whatever obstacles that stand in our ways. And lastly, see ourselves succeeding, despite these obstacles.

Uncover our own stories

Don’t take the outcome as something personal. Unless the story is you are a rude, inconsiderate person who doesn’t make any sense to anyone, lives in your own world and expects the universe to revolve around you, then yes, the bad outcomes will certainly be your personal issue. If this is not the case, then you can always re-write your story by creating a more positive response that encourages you to stand up, buckle up and keep moving on.

Three powerful questions

Sometimes having the right answer isn’t as important as asking the right question. The three powerful questions can turn your negative thoughts into better and more positive emotion:

  • What did I learn from this situation?
  • How can I grow, as a person, from this experience?
  • What are three positive things about this situation?

Stick with this exercise, and before you know it, anything can become a new opportunity, a way to shift from a loss to a gain of valuable lessons. Just keep reminding yourself, don’t make the same mistakes twice. ‘Cause once, an honest mistake, twice is already a poor choice.

Surrender and Feel the fear

By simply allowing yourself to feel the fear when it shows up, and expecting it is bound to happen sooner or later, you will notice that it quickly dissipates, and suddenly the situation feels more manageable.

Do a bit of exercise to calm yourself down the next time you feel stressed out, or feeling afraid of something not working out, sit quietly by yourself, take two minutes and start taking deep breaths. Where the tightness or tension concentrates, breathe into that area for the two minutes. The more you do this, the more you will trigger your body’s natural calm response, and will move through fear with greater ease.

Further reading

Overcome fear of failure at work

How to overcome the fear of failure

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