How To Cope With The Fear Of Failure

Whether you’re starting a new job, starting an entrepreneurial venture, or handing on a challenging work project, it’s conceivable that the fear of failure will set in. After all, fear is a biological state that protects us. But while it’s a natural human survival instinct, it can also be irrational. In the end, experiencing career failure can be the best thing that can ever happen to you. As Arianna Huffington points out, “Failure is not the opposite of success; it is part of the success.”

Fear of failure is basically a fear of shame, and it looks different for everyone. Some people experience feelings of avoidance, fear, helplessness, and loss of control. You may underestimate your own abilities to avoid disappointment, or even tell others that you are unlikely to live up to expectations.

However, it is impossible to grow professionally or otherwise unless you push yourself beyond your limits. Here are five ways to combat the fear of failure so you can achieve even the highest of goals.

Identify the source

The first step is to determine exactly what you are afraid of. For example, do you fear getting fired or looking stupid in front of a room full of people? Are you afraid of rejection? Or are you simply afraid of the unknown? Once you get to the root of the problem, it’s easier to understand and challenge.

Visualize obstacles

There’s a lot to be said for positive thinking—but it’s not enough to conquer the fear of failure. You also need to visualize the obstacles on the way. Gabriele Oettingen, the author of Reconsider positive thinking, describes how just dreaming about a goal makes people more frustrated and unhappy over time. Instead, she introduces a new way of visualizing the future, called mental contrast. It combines focusing on our goals and visualizing obstacles that might stand in our way.

Oettingen offers a four-stage visualization process:

  1. Visualize your goal in as much detail as possible.
  2. Visualize the result.
  3. Visualize the obstacles.
  4. Create a strategy to overcome obstacles and visualize yourself putting that plan into action.

If you follow this approach, you will be much more motivated to reach your goal.

Start with small goals

When we fear failure, procrastination often sets in. But inaction is exactly what causes anxiety. Instead, break down your larger goal into smaller, actionable steps. This approach helps organize your thoughts, generate momentum, and build confidence. You will also hesitate less because suddenly your goal will seem much easier to achieve. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Make an anxiety checklist

Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4 hour week, recommends a technique called “fear-setting.” First, start with three blank pages. On page one, in one column, write down everything you fear about the situation, including any worst-case scenarios. In the second column, list ways to reduce the likelihood of each of the worst cases happening. Then, in the third column, write how you could repair the damage if the situation had happened. On page two, list those positive Benefits of even attempting or partial success in taking action. Finally, on page three, consider the consequences of inaction– including the emotional, physical and financial components.

Adopt a growth mentality

If we adopt a learning or growth mentality, we can see failures as learning experiences. according to dr Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The new psychology of success, “People who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategy, and input from others) have a growth mindset.” Even if you experience a few setbacks along the way, you need to focus on the lessons that you will take with you.

Fear of failure can be paralyzing, but it doesn’t have to be. Fear will always be there. The key is to acknowledge it and not let it stop you from pursuing your dream. If it’s something you really want, dare. You will not regret it.


Feeling stuck and not sure if it’s time to make a career change? Download my free guide: 5 signs it’s time for a bold career change!

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