How To Overcome the Fear of Failure

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Nobody enjoys the feeling of failure. While dealing with failure is a natural part of life, some people are so afraid of failing that they actually prevent themselves from achieving a goal or passion.

This fear can be debilitating and can lead to feelings of entrapment, helplessness, low self-esteem, and shame.

The act of failing isn’t what people actually fear. Instead, people fear the negative emotions and consequences that go along with failure. Some of these consequences are real, while others are perceived and often, embellished.

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5 Ways to Identify If You Have a Fear of Failure

Although no one likes to fail, there are a few general ways to uncover if you might have a fear of failure. Figuring out if this fear is holding you back is crucial in making positive changes to help improve your mental state.

1. You obsess about what others will think of your failure

Sure, you’ll be disappointed if your new relationship doesn’t succeed, but you’re even more focused on what others will think of you after a breakup. You constantly worry and delay in making decisions because you’re trying to prevent others from thinking less of you.

2. You lower your expectations before pursuing a goal

Instead of confidently preparing for a job interview, you make it known to yourself and others that the possibility of landing the job is a longshot. You shrug off positive encouragement and focus only on the negative, so that you can minimize the blow if you “fail”.

3. You don’t prepare properly

When you focus on worrying about how others will view your failure, you place more weight on perceived value than actual value. What this means is that, you spend most of your time and energy looking prepared for a big presentation than actually being prepared.

You’ll avoid or rush through the tasks that would actually help you prepare and feel confident, instead focusing on looking your best and giving the illusion of confidence.

4. You constantly obsess over how capable or smart you are

If you have a fear of failing, you tend to believe you’re not as smart or capable as others around you. As a result, you focus on appearing smart and in control, and when things don’t go your way, you tend to put yourself down, believing you’re a fraud.

5. You don’t think you can achieve the future you desire (or lose sight of goals entirely)

Everybody has a vision or general idea of what they want to achieve in life, from getting married or owning your own business. Having goals keeps us motivated and striving.

Fear of failure, however, can prevent you from believing the future you want is possible, which opens you up to sabotaging your own dreams before you have a chance to achieve them.

If your fear of failure has been left unchecked for years, you might even find you no longer know what you want out of life, because you’ve let fear rule your decisions for too long.

3 Ways to Conquer Your Fear of Failure

Overcoming your fear of failure takes time and practice and could be a lifelong journey. But, there are ways to ensure your always try to achieve your goals, rather than watching life pass you by.

1. Set Less Specific Goals

Every January I sit down and set financial goals. I become energized at the prospect of saving “X” amount or finally paying off all of my credit card debt.

Then, around June, I begin to panic when I realize I’m only 33% into my overall goal for the year. At this point, it becomes easy to give up and stop saving altogether, simply because I failed to hit a specific number.

Get yourself out of this negative loop by setting less specific, short-term goals. Make it a monthly goal to have more in your savings account than the month before.

Don’t focus on set numbers or even if you had to dip into your savings (that’s what it’s there for, after all!). Instead, celebrate the fact that your savings account is growing. When you become more positive about a goal, it becomes even easier to continuously achieve.

2. Find Positive Opportunities in Failures

It took nearly a decade for me to move past not going to college at the university I had my heart set on. Even though I was accepted, I viewed not being able to afford that particular university as a failure.

Now, I’m able to look back and feel so grateful for what I once viewed as a failure. I think of all the opportunities that opened up as a result of not achieving that particular dream; the people I’ve met, the relationships I’ve grown, the places I’ve lived, and the different jobs I’ve explored.

When you fail to land a job, make a relationship work, or succeed at any task, it’s important to highlight the opportunities this failure presents.

Focus on what not getting this opportunity now allows you to do and write these opportunities down so you can really visualize and understand them.

Maybe it means more free time to enjoy hobbies and travel or maybe it means you have more time to focus on self care. Maybe it simply allows you to reexamine your life to figure out what’s most important to you.

3. Accept Your Fear

I’m not a public speaker. In fact, I still have nightmares about oral reports and presentations I had to give in high school and college. Yet, a few months ago, I gave a short presentation to a woman’s group on a piece I wrote for a local publication.

Afterwards, I felt extremely proud about an accomplishment I thought would be impossible for me. I didn’t care so much about the actual speaking gig – I cared more about mastering my fear.

I’ll never not be afraid of public speaking, but knowing I can still tackle this task in spite of my fears is empowering. Don’t convince yourself you have to eliminate your fear. That’s probably not possible.

Instead, focus on what you’ll feel like after you complete a task, whether you nail it or completely blow it. I always think, “in three hours this will be over and I’ll be able to laugh about it”.

Remember that this obstacle you’re afraid of is just a small moment in your life. Even if you embarrass yourself, you’ll get through it and can be proud you at least tried.

Additional Resources

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About the author

Courtney Johnston
Courtney is a freelance writer and editor living in Indianapolis. She's published work for The Chicago Tribune, Best Reviews, Culture Trip, Only in Your State, and Mellowed. She's addicted to coffee and french fries, and loves exploring new cities.

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