How to overcome a fear of failure
Thomas Edison is supposed to have said about developing one of his inventions ‘I never failed. I just found lots of ways not to make a lightbulb’! Or words to that effect. Unfortunately, it’s not just inventing lightbulbs that has a high ‘trial and error’ factor – learning anything new comes with failures pretty much guaranteed and sometimes we learn more from them than from our successes. So, why do we worry so much about failing and how can we get past it?
None of us likes to fail, and that’s natural enough, but fear of failure is an issue when it holds us back from even trying. That sort of fear of failure is called atychiphobia, and it can feel completely overwhelming.
Each person’s fear of failure is unique to them but the following might help you decide if it’s a problem for you.
- You have a past experience that involves failing publically so you felt embarrassed
- You have been laughed at or felt unsupported when things went badly
- You have low self-esteem or confidence
- You set impossibly high standards for yourself and fail to meet them (because no-one could)
- You self-sabotage (allow distractions or excuses to get in the way of doing things you want to do) or experience a ‘mental block’ when you try to move forward
- You find your levels of anxiety soaring if you do try something new
Overcoming fear of failure:
- Set goals which are manageable or break them down into smaller, easier steps. This is easier than heading straight for the end goal.
- Consider all the possible outcomes of what you want to do instead of just the negative ones. Balance the risk against the reward by thinking about the benefits of what you want to do.
- Identify exactly what you fear about failure – is it shame or being laughed at? Failing or upsetting someone else?
- Be realistic about the results of failing. Make a plan for the worst-case scenario then once you have it focus your attention on more positive things.
- Look at the elements of the situation you can control and get them working in your favour as much as possible.
- Avoid black and white thinking, where things are either totally successful or a failure. Accept shade of grey and embrace progress as a move in the right direction.
- Understand that excellence is something to strive for – perfection may be impossible.
- Acknowledge the positive aspects of failure: (they do exist).
- Each time you fail try to learn something from it to help you next time (now we’re back to Eddison).
- Recognise that you’re challenging your fears and be proud that you’re pushing your own boundaries instead of playing it safe. This will help boost your confidence, self-esteem, and overall life experience.
- Take inspiration from successful people. Observe them and you’ll see that they fail just as often as you, and maybe more. They just don’t let it stop them trying. You can find your own examples but here are some to get you started ...
- Michael Jordan was not chosen for his High School basketball team (they went with someone taller).
- J. K. Rowling tried twelve different publishers before finding a market for Harry Potter.
- Albert Einstein’s school report read ‘He will never amount to anything’.
Fear of failure holds us all back at times, but you can accomplish some amazing things if you’re willing to face it. So, follow the tips above and be the person you always wanted to be.*
* if these steps don’t improve things there may be something more at work than a simple fear of failure. Sometimes anxiety, depression and other health issues can be a factor, so visit your GP or contact me about using hypnotherapy to help you.
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter: Rachel Waller.