Usually, we’re only frightened of things that have happened or are happening. Like, you’re only actively frightened of spiders when they’re in front of you. And you’re only actively frightened of heights when you’re at the top of a tower. But the fear of failure is something we almost ALL suffer from regularly. And that's the fear of something that hasn’t happened yet. And might not happen at all. Isn't time we stop being frightened of failure?
You see, when something big is looming around the corner and you don’t want to face up to the fact that it might not go your way, that’s pretty terrifying. Even though the terrifying thing (the failure) hasn’t happened yet. That tells us that you’re not frightened of failure – you’re frightened of the potential for failure.
The feeling of having failed.
And the good news is that we can do something about that. And fast. So how do you stop being frightened of failure?
Let's dig into a bunch of quick and easy ways to fight back at that terrifying feeling when you feel it around the corner.
Dealing With Fear of Failure
The worse thing about ‘fear of failure' is that it can be completely paralysing. I think we've all experienced that terrifying sensation of being stuck. There are so many things that you want to do, but you can’t even take the first few steps because you’re worried it won’t work out. And you worry about the consequences of ‘failing’.
So here are 5 ways to solve it.
Tip 1 – Replace Fear With Curiosity
Remember when you were a kid, and you faced the world with a spirit of scientific exploration? You wanted to know the answer to everything, right? Kids still do it today, with their favourite 3-letter word.
It doesn’t matter what you say in answer, they'll ask again and again. They just want to know Why?
What if that childlike sense of absolute curiosity is the first answer to beating that feeling of fear? The older we get, the more fearful of things we become. Because as a little, tiny kid, you want to know the answers to all of the ‘what if?’ questions.
What happens if I walk on that wall?
What happens if I walk along this wall instead?
And what happens if I shine the sun through this magnifying glass?
Or what happens if I flick a bogey at the wall?
And as we grow up, that curious ‘What if?’ turns into a terrified ‘What if?’.
What if it doesn’t work?
What if everyone laughs at me?
And what if I can’t do it?
What if I fall on my face?
And so we’re back to being afraid of the things that might not ever happen.
Next time you feel that feeling, convert the terror of the unknown outcome into curiosity. Instead of ‘What if???’ turn it into ‘What if?’. It’s the same question, just with a different emphasis.
Approach the fear with the spirit of exploration and excitement.
Tip 2: Make a ‘Can Do' List
We need to get used to this fear of failure (and learn to handle it) because it’s going to keep popping up. It’s one of the most common things you’re ever going to feel as you make your way through the world.
That’s why it’s time to learn from the past.
It's time to make a ‘Can Do’ list.
That’s a list of all of the things that you can do now and you take for granted but you once thought that you’d never be able to do. Maybe you can speak a few words in a foreign language. Perhaps you learned a musical instrument. Maybe you nailed that job interview.
However big or small, there will be things you’re totally comfortable with now that once felt like they were a world away. Find those things and embrace them. Dive into them. Pay close attention to them.
Those things are your best friends in a time of unknown and fear. Because the way you currently feel about an upcoming big scary terrifying potential-for-failure thing is the way you once felt about these amazing things you take for granted now. And I know that right now you see a massive wall standing between you and victory with this new thing. That’s normal.
Use the ‘Can Do' List as a Ladder
So use the things on your ‘Can Do’ list as a ladder to give you the confidence to climb right on over that wall. And before you know it, you’ll have nailed the thing you’re currently frightened of failing at, and you’ll add it to your ‘Can Do’ list.
As your ‘Can Do’ list gets longer, the ladder gets higher, and you’ll soon be leaping over the things that once would have knocked you sideways. You’re literally training your brain to be hardwired for optimism and excitement in the face of potential failure.
And that is exciting.
It changes everything.
Check out my membership – Ignition
But before we move on to the third thing, training the way you think and how you engage with those thoughts is so powerful that I built an entire membership and online community around it. It’s called Ignition and it’s packed with everything you need to spark your personal growth every single day. If you’re serious about kicking yourself, your habits, thoughts, and behaviours up a notch, check it out here.
Tip 3: Focus On What You Can Control
In every part of your life, there are things you can control and things that you can’t. You can’t control what the economy does, but you can control how you handle your money. You can’t control what someone says about you, but you can control how you react to it. And you can’t control what someone does behind your back, but you can control the action you take in response.
To break away from anxiety and fear, always acknowledge the things you can control and be aware of them. Then focus on what you can control and what you’re going to do. After all, if the thing that causes you to “fail” is something that's outside of your control, there's nothing you could have done about it anyway.
Maybe you’re doing a work project and someone undermines you and goes behind your back. Or maybe you’re doing something to start up a business, and there’s a shift in the economy that slows you down. There’s no need to feel bad about that or take a confidence knock. Instead, figure out what you’re going to do to get back on your feet and fix things.
Tip 4: Fear Missing Out More Than Failure
In a scary time, we’re often told to ask the question “What’s the worst that can happen?” in the hope it’ll water down that fear of failure. The problem is, it's only painting the negative side of the equation.
“What’s the worst that can happen?”
“Well, I could fail dramatically and look like an idiot!”
Then we start painting all of these negative, dreary pictures of the ways that we might fail and what that would mean for our lives. And it kind of starts a downward spiral of negativity and fear of failure. So it’s important to ask yourself the opposite question too.
“What’s the best, most amazing thing I might miss out on if I don't go for it?”
The thing is, if you don’t even try to reach your goals, you’re 100% guaranteed to fail. If you try then you’re at least 1% likely to succeed.
So write a list of all of the amazing possible outcomes you’ll miss out on if you don’t even try.
Who won’t you meet?
Where won’t you go?
What won’t people say about you?
What experiences won’t you get to try?
The goal here is to fear missing out on these amazing things more than you fear failure. FOMO is powerful. And this is a bit like if you’re going to take a risk on something, like a bet. If the gains outweigh the risks, you’ll take the chance. If the excitement outweighs the fear of failure, you’ll take the leap.
Tip 5: Never Give Up (Until You're Ready)
It's easy to think of everything we do as having a beginning, a middle, and an end. You’re born, you grow up, and you die. You cook a meal, you serve it, you eat it. Or you read a book from the beginning to the end. We’re trained in this way of thinking that everything is a journey with an end.
But actually, it’s better to think of most things we do as a journey or an experience.
When you set out to achieve a goal, you only really fail if you quit, throw in the towel, and walk away. If you keep going at it, changing your approach and trying things slightly differently, then you’ll quickly find a different outcome.
Maybe you’ll do better but not quite make it. Maybe it’ll go worse, and you’ll realise you need to change the approach completely. Or maybe you’ll knock it out of the park and smash your goals. Nobody can know, you’ve just got to keep going.
Doing something once, or twice, or a thousand times and not succeeding doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Because do it once more and you might just make it work. Not succeeding is not the same as failing. You haven’t failed, you just haven’t succeeded yet.
With almost everything in life, you get multiple stabs at it. You get to keep going as often as you want (and as often as your resilience will allow you). This way of thinking really makes it impossible to fail.
Sure, it might be frustrating every time you stand yourself back up to start again. But every time you learn, adapt, improve, and take another run at it is also empowering to see the progress. Success isn’t linear, so don’t expect it to be. Just don’t quit. Then you’ve literally got nothing to be afraid of.
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And there you have it – 5 simple but effective tips to kick your fear of failure in the face and get started towards your goals, without that terrifying paralysis!
Fear of failure is one of the major types of ‘self-doubt’ we have, so if you enjoyed this blog post, you'll also enjoy this one, where I talk about what makes us doubt ourselves (and how to overcome it), so make sure to check that out. And if you'd like more tips on self-improvement without the ‘woo’, check out my YouTube channel Success Unlocked.
I'm Rob Temple, and I'm obsessed with how our thoughts can help us create incredible changes in our lives. It's why I share practical tips, strategies, stories, and inspiration for unstoppable personal growth to help you become the perfect version of yourself.