Growth Mindset

Overcome Fear of Failure

Despite our awareness that failure is necessary for growth, we often struggle greatly with failing. Intellectually, we know that we need a growth mindset in order to develop, and yet failure remains an experience that is often associated with shame and embarrassment. We can change the way we think and feel about failure and overcome our fear of failure.

So what is fear of failure?

Fear of failure can be defined as a fear of negative evaluation or fear of failure, also known as atychiphobia, is a psychological construct reflecting “apprehension about others’ evaluations, distress over negative evaluations by others, and the expectation that others would evaluate one negatively”. It can affect our self-esteem and cause procrastination, anxiety and panic attacks. While a severe, debilitating fear of failure is uncommon, a less pronounced and less extreme form of this fear is quite common. And even in its less extreme form, this fear can have serious adverse effects on wellbeing.

In some cases, fear of failure can be a good thing. It can prevent us from making foolish mistakes or getting ourselves into trouble. However, this fear can also hold us back from trying new things, venturing into the unknown, and taking risks of any kind. It may lead to us staying in situations that do not make us happy and that are not conducive to long-term growth. The fear of failure can cause us to avoid important tasks, and stagnate in our lives. This happens when we believe pessimistic things about our ability to succeed at what is important to us.

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway Susan Jeffers

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid? paper sign

We can change the way we think and feel about failure

How do we do that? Failure shows that we’re taking risks — risks that can either result in failure or pay
off big. By being willing to take these risks, we make it possible to experience great success.
That all sounds good in theory. But how, exactly, do we use failure to our advantage when it feels so bad to fail?

When we fail, we worry that we’ll be punished, and we feel ashamed, so we try to avoid failure at all costs. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The first step is to overcome our fear of failure, and these three steps can help.

Find the benefits of past failures

By learning the benefits of past failures, you may be able to enhance your resilience in the future. To do this, start by picking a past failure and writing out three things you learned from it. For example, if you missed a deadline, maybe you learned that you need to prioritize better. Maybe you need to say no to more projects or tone down your perfectionism. If not, take the time now to make a few small changes that will help prevent failures like this from happening again.

Next, ask your friends how they have benefited from past failures. Seeing others overcome their mistakes can help decrease your fears and show you how to find the lessons in your own mistakes more easily. A growing number of business experts will tell you that you should reflect on your failures right after you experience them as a way to extract maximum learning from the experience. However, if you are still upset about the failure or other negative emotions are preventing you from being able to think clearly, it might be better to wait until these feelings have subsided before attempting to come up with solutions.

The Fear of Failure: How to Become an Action Taker – Wilda Hale

When failure is possible, view it as a challenge

It’s important to remember that your body is preparing for battle, when you are faced with stressful situations. When our bodies perceive stress as a threat, we experience heightened levels of adrenaline and cortisol, which can cause physical symptoms such as headaches or nausea. The key to handling stress is recognizing that it is only temporary and that we can overcome it.

To build a challenge mindset, reflect on past challenges that you’ve overcome. Let’s say you’re worried about a meeting with your boss. Take a moment to think back to past meetings. Did you handle them successfully? What exactly did you do? When you remind yourself that you have been successful before, the task in front of you doesn’t seem so insurmountable.

Next, visualize success. By imagining yourself doing well and feeling positive, you can improve your performance. On the other hand, if you ruminate about what could go wrong and feel fear, this may impair your ability to do well. Keep in mind that even if you are able to shift your brain to stop seeing something as a threat, you may still feel similar physical sensations like nerves and shakiness. If you notice these emotions, try to see them as excitement – an indication that what you’re doing is important to you.

Fear of Failure: Fear of Not Trying – O. Robinson

Treat yourself kindly when you experience failure

You’ll never have enough time to do everything you want to do. You’ll feel rushed, or make a mistake and disappoint yourself. In these moments, it’s helpful to be kind to yourself by taking steps and cultivating attitudes that will prevent guilt, shame, and embarrassment. One way to be kind to yourself is with self-care. When you make mistakes, remember that everyone fails. Don’t be mean to yourself; don’t put yourself down for messing up or not doing everything perfectly every time. Instead of being critical or harsh with yourself when something doesn’t go according to plan, try talking to yourself in a way that is supportive and caring.

With these tips in mind, you can more easily overcome your fear of failure at work and in life.

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