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Fear of failure – Meaning, Causes and 7 Simple Actionable Tips to Overcome it

A corporate employee struggling with Fear of Failure

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Almost everyone wants to achieve success and avoid failure. That said many a times the road to success is laid upon what you have learnt from your past failures. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say, that in order to achieve success one needs to be comfortable with failure.

But for some people the fear of failure becomes such a significant psychological threat that it overpowers their motivation to succeed. This fear of failure can even cause them to unconsciously sabotage their chances of success. Let us understand what is this fear of failure, what are its causes and simple things that can help you overcome the fear of failure.

Two friends, Rahul and Raj are discussing a business idea. While they both discuss it, they agree that the idea is interesting and should be initiated. But implementing the idea involves some risks.

Rahul understands that he needs to be a bit more careful since it the first time that he is doing something like this. He is nervous. He also fears failure. But he is still willing to take steps ahead and explore and see how he can initiate the new business idea successfully.

Raj, on the other hand, likes the entire proposal. Yet he has this daunting fear of failure which stops him from taking any action at all.

Rahul and Raj are common examples of people experiencing fear, in general, and the fear of failure.

What is the fear of failure?

Fear of failure (also known as “atychiphobia”) is fear that stops us from doing the things that help us move forward to achieve our goals.

What causes this fear of failure?

  1. Some people develop this fear in childhood due to critical or unsupportive parents/teachers/family. Such children may constantly feel undermined or humiliated. They may carry those negative feelings into adulthood.
  2. For some, it could be past failures, for example, a presentation that went badly may make a person afraid of failing everywhere. The person may even carry that fear forever, if not dealt with.
  3. Perfectionists tend to have this fear. For them, it is all about doing everything perfectly. Anything less than perfection seems like a dismal and humiliating failure that can’t be tolerated.

This fear of failure may stop us from trying altogether. No matter how golden the golden opportunity looks, the fear of failure again may take over, freezing the person in his/her tracks!

Strategies to overcome the fear of failure

While it’s human to feel a little scared when trying something new, it should not become a hindrance in moving ahead in life. Here are some highly effective strategies that would help you overcome the fear of failure.

  1. Let your goal be a learning experience!

    Don’t start with the assumption that you would be a failure if you did not make it to your goal. If we fail, we grow and mature. We get new understandings and perspectives on our life goals.Most successful people had to overcome huge setbacks in their journey towards success. Consider Oprah Winfrey’s story.

    She was born into a poor family. She was sexually abused at the age of 9 and got pregnant at the age of 14 but her son died shortly after birth. She was later hired by a local television station but got fired because the producers found her unfit for the show.

    She still didn’t give up! She relocated to Chicago, to host a low ranked talk show, AM Chicago. But within a few months, the show improved in the ratings to become the highest one. The show was later renamed, and most of us know it now as The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah Winfrey is now on Fortune’s list of most powerful women in the world!

    Did she give up because she suffered trauma and setbacks?

    No, right?

    Just like her, you too have the ability to deal with whatever challenges life throws at you. You have the internal resources to overcome failures and begin a new journey.

    Remember everything that we do in life is a learning experience! We may fail. We may succeed. In either case, we are learning something. The times when we succeeded, we learned that a particular strategy worked in a particular way and led to success. The times when we failed, we learned that a particular strategy didn’t work.

    That does not mean that I am a failure, it simply means that the strategy did not work and needs modification.

    Anchor yourself to the goal of learning. Let your goals be your learning points. In this way, you wouldn’t “fail” because regardless of the goal, you are bound to learn something of value.

  2. When one door closes, another door opens

    Think about this: how many times in your life, you may have failed at something only to discover another opportunity? It could have been a failed relationship that finally led you to someone great and worthy of your love. It could have been a job that didn’t suit you and brought you a way better one. Failures create other opportunities! All we need to do is to develop the perspective that failures brings us an opportunity to get something even better.

  3. Do NOT Personalise

    There are times when we take failure very personally! We tend to associate the failure with a bigger picture of ourselves. We start having thoughts like “I am not good enough” or “I will never be successful in life” etc.In most cases, these thoughts are running on autopilot and we are not even aware of them.So, the next time you feel you have a similar thought, just close your eyes, observe your breath and examine the script that runs in your mind. You will be surprised to know how the script is becoming too generalised and personalised.

    Remember that a failure may really have nothing to do with you, as a person. To get over this mental chatter, once you become aware of such self-deprecating thoughts, focus on valuing who you are, not what you do.

    Remember, you are more than your failures and your accomplishments and “failure is a process, not a person”.

  4. Questioning failures

    The best response one could give to failures is by asking questions! Ask any of the questions below-

    • What did I learn from this failure? What is the silver lining in this failure?
    • How can I grow as a person from this experience?
    • If a similar situation were to arise in the future, how would I handle it differently?

    When you initially ask these questions, your mind may seem to be a bit resistant. But if you stick to this exercise, before you even know it, you will see a new opportunity coming out of this failure. For example, one might lose a big client and yet realise “that he now has more time to follow up with other clients who have the potential to generate even more revenue than the one he lost”.

  5. Be inspired

    Read about people who successfully overcame failures and achieved success. Let their stories inspire you! Read about how they overcame the failure and hindrances. It will motivate you to have courage and hope during adverse times.

    For instance, when Ratan Tata launched the car Indica, he failed miserably. People didn’t like the car and some even suggested him to sell his car division to which he agreed.

    He then went to Ford where the chairperson of Ford though showed some interest in buying his car division but ended up saying something that was taken as an insult by Ratan Tata. He said, “when you don’t know anything about passenger cars, why did you even start the business. We are doing a favour by buying your business”.

    This statement hurt Tata. He went back to his company and improved the car. It worked! Sometime later, Ford’s Jaguar-Land Rover was going through a terrible loss and Ratan Tata saved the company from bankruptcy. This time Ford’s words were, “You are doing us a favour by buying our company”.

  6. Take it easy

    Rushing into new ventures or new goals without any preparation can increase the likelihood of failure. Do not push yourself too far outside your comfort zone all at once. Take smaller steps you can take towards your goals that you feel comfortable with. Break down large, fear-inducing goals into smaller, less intimidating ones. When you reach each small goal, recognise that these are early successes in the grand scheme of the overall project. Moreover, achieving such small and early successes will release dopamine (the feel-good hormone) which is known for keeping us energetic and motivated.

    For instance, right now thinking about giving a TEDx speech makes me feel very anxious and overwhelming. But I can begin by setting small goals like delivering a talk in front of five people and then gradually increase the size of my audience. I can also join a skill building course to develop my public speaking skills. Now would the big goal of TEDx be as anxiety provoking as it was before?No, right?

  7. Visit a Coach or a Therapist

    If the above tips have not worked for you or you are not able to apply these tips to overcome the fear of failure, visiting a therapist can be extremely useful. Feel free to call +91-8080-2084-73 to connect with one of our trained therapists, you can assist you in overcoming the fear of failure and achieving success.

And let me congratulate you because the fact that you chose to read this article, counts as one of your steps towards the path of progress.

Therapists Niche: Helping clients overcome fear of failure

  1. The first step towards helping the client overcome the fear of failure, is to understand how the fear is impacting their life. What is it that they need to do or want to do that they are not because of this fear. Next it is important to also help the client list down the specific benefits of letting go of this fear. Describing the future in which they have already overcome this fear can also be very useful. You can use the SOFT SEA model of interview taking to achieve these objectives with your client.
  2. Next step will be to delayer the fear of failure to pinpoint its root cause. This can be done with the help of Corrective Therapy or Emotional Empowerment Technique or Self Validation and Integration Therapy or some other delayering techniques.
  3. Next step will be to help the client deal with the root cause and release the fear of failure. Circle therapy, Inner Child therapy or other catharsis techniques can be used for the same. It is also important to replace the release fear with appropriate replacement emotions like calmness or confidence… Hypnotic Suggestions, Anchoring can be used for the same. Levels of transformation can also be used to help the client identify and change other beliefs that are leading to the fear of failure.
  4. 3 or 4 follow up sessions can be taken after regular intervals to check that the client is able to do the things they needed to or wanted to, consistently and systematically. Once the client is able to do those things that the client wasn’t able to we know they have been able to overcome the fear of failure.

If you are a psychologist, who is looking for better and more effective ways of helping clients get over the fear of failure with the help of techniques mentioned in this post and more, you would love our Internationally affiliated program that integrates different approaches to psychotherapy into a single comprehensive curriculum. So go ahead read more about Cognitive Hypnotic Psychotherapy™ and decide for yourself.