Recognizing Fear of Failure
Whether you’re looking to earn respect, affection, or tangible rewards, the fear of failure can spoil your chances of success before you even get started. To be clear, it’s not a problem to consider the risks of pursuing a new goal. Risk analysis may even help you to succeed. However, a hyper-focus on these negatives represents a fear of failure, and the results are crippling. How to Overcome Your Fear of Failure is something all humans have to do.
How Fear of Failure Holds you Back
It can stagnate your career and ground would-be relationships. Playing through one dismal outcome after another, the fear of failure discourages risk-taking and innovation. As you ruminate over negative outcomes, you drain your mental energy, leaving nothing to focus on how you could be successful. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you fail because you simply feared that you would. The good news is, there are several concrete steps you can take to dispel the fear holding you back.
1. Get to the Bottom of Your Fears
Sometimes a fear is ambiguous. Maybe you just have a gut feeling that things will not go well. In order to address and resolve the fear of failure, it’s helpful to understand the true source. What exactly do you think could go wrong? It can be useful to write out the specific fears if you have more than one.
And, rather than stopping at a general fear of rejection, dig deeper. What specifically do you think would get you rejected? Are you afraid you’re lacking experience in a certain area? Are you nervous that you’ll stumble over your words? Many times, these areas that you identify are things you can act on. You can take an extra class, plan to practice the pitch or prepare a defence. These risk mitigation strategies will increase your chances for success and boost your confidence.
2. Develop a Growth Mindset and Redefine Failure
Perhaps you fear you will fail due to some personal attribute that you feel can’t be fixed or changed. If this is the case, you may be suffering from a fixed mindset. Fixed mindsets trap people into thinking that their current conditions and abilities cannot be changed. You can escape your fixed mindset by cultivating a growth mindset instead.
With a growth mindset, you focus your efforts not on the current state, but on the process, you’re working through to improve. You recognise that where you are right now is not where you will always be. Young children have this mindset mastered! A toddler will fall a thousand times in their effort to walk, but they will continue to pull themselves up and try again. With careful consideration, we can develop a growth mindset again.
To foster a growth mindset, you need to watch your inner dialogue. If you hear yourself saying you can’t do something. Try adding the word “yet” to the end of your thought. Perfectionist thinking must also be discarded. It’s better to embrace imperfection, and recognise that the progress you’re making, even if it is very small at first. As the name implies, a growth mindset is focused on learning and growth rather than obsessing over the current state of your ability.
If you are successful in switching to a growth mindset, you will be able to redefine failure. True failure is refusing to try. Any attempt, however successful it may or may not be, will teach you something. And learning is progress, which will improve your chance for future success.
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3. Make a Plan to Build Exposure
As with any fear, exposure therapy can help eliminate the fear. Make a plan to slowly build up to more and more exposure to the task you fear. For example, if you fear failing at a speech or pitch, practice in a low stakes’ environment first. You could start in front of a mirror or camera, by yourself. Then you can practice in front of a friend. Having success with smaller risks will build your confidence to tackle the bigger issue.
As you develop these exposure steps, be sure to set positive goals. For example, try not to pick a goal of not looking nervous. Instead, your goal could be to do the pitch while maintaining eye contact and calm breathing. Having a positive frame for what you’re trying to accomplish helps your mind focus on what you should be doing. Negatively framed goals based on what you don’t want to do may inadvertently lead you to ruminate on fears.
4. Evaluate All the Possible Outcomes
Many times we’re afraid of failure, but we haven’t thought through what would actually happen if we do fail. Or perhaps we imagine a worst-case scenario and stop there. Instead, it can be useful to think of the whole spectrum of outcomes that could happen. This helps us see that the worst possible scenario is not the only one. After listing out the outcomes, you can further assign likelihoods to each one. What are the realistic chances of each outcome? Chances are, your life is not at stake, and even the worst-case scenario is not as likely as you first imagined.
5. Have a Back-up Plan
By taking each negative outcome from the previous exercise, it can help to think through what your next steps would be in each case. There are always other jobs to apply for or relationships to develop. The comfort of knowing how you would proceed may take the sting off, should the worst-case scenario happen. One specific strategy to help you reframe the impact of a negative outcome is to consider how you will feel about the event in 3 days, 3 months, 3 years, and 30 years from now. Chances are that over time, a single failure will mean less and less to you, and that helps you keep the bigger picture in perspective.
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Overcoming Fear of Failure
Fear of failure can hold you back. But with these five tips, you can pursue your goals. Hone in on exactly what you’re afraid of so that you can address the risk and develop a growth mindset in your abilities. By making small goals and focusing on your incremental progress rather than the outcomes, you will move in the right direction. Even if the worst-case scenario you can imagine comes true, you will have a plan to keep moving your life in the direction you want to take it.
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