The fear of failure manifests itself differently for everyone. Because you are so unique in how you perceive and understand the world, there is no “one size fits all” set of steps to overcome this fear. If you struggle with feeling this way, here are some ways your fear of failure may express itself. There are definitely other ways your fear of failure can manifests itself; these are just a few ways that I’ve experienced it happen within myself:
- Do-Nothing-ism: literally doing nothing because you feel as though anything you do will have no real effect, sometimes leaving you to feel hopeless
- Self-Sabotage: engaging in destructive behavior (consciously or unconsciously) that directly prevents you from getting started or moving forward
- Deflection/Diversion: distracting yourself with something that does not align with the path to your goal in order to avoid confronting your fear
- Self-Doubt: believing (even momentarily) that you are not good enough, or ready enough to meet a goal
To really understand your fear of failure, to dig deep for its root, you must see it as multi-layered, manifesting itself in multiple forms. It may appear as do-nothing-ism on one day, self-doubt the next day, or both throughout a single day. Which leads me to my next point: your fear of failing at a task, a job, or life in general has just as much to do with your habits as it does with who you are. It has just as much to do with external stimuli as it does with internal conviction. Your fear is not simple and to treat it as such would be dishonest. So, let’s be honest and get deep about this fear you have.
Digging Deep to Find Your Fear
Before you can even take action against your fear of failure, you need to spend time finding it. Recognizing it. Many of us struggle with internal conflict yet not many of us can really articulate what we feel conflicted about. Sometimes this type of confusion within or distance from our “self” can lead to a stronger sense of conflict as we become frustrated with our inability to pinpoint exactly what it is we are feeling and why.
I suggest allotting time in each day for introspection. Speculate about your fears, where they come from, and why they linger. Do you usually feel afraid in certain settings, like your office or at the gym? Is there a habit you keep up that is part of the reason you are scared, like checking social media often or eating out a lot? The reason you want to know the answers to questions like these is because they will tell you a lot about the things which shape your mindset and further your feelings. Maybe you consistently compare yourself to people who are living the life you want, so you begin to doubt your ability to achieve the same life – fear of failure. Or maybe you watched a video by a fitness guru on how they achieved their fitness goals and after hearing about the challenges they faced, the sacrifices they had to make, you freaked out. Instead of starting a workout regimen of your own, you avoid the topic altogether and find something easier to do.
Digging deep to find the reasons for your fear of failure means watching yourself and getting out of your own way. I know what it’s like to feel as though the barriers are outside of you. BUT, many times this is not case. Many times, the very thing standing between you and your dream is YOU.
Finally, Taking Action!
If you haven’t had a chance to check out my initial post on the fear of failure, feel free to go ahead and check it out before you get into the steps I’m about to list.
Combating our fears is an emotional process that forces us to confront issues deep within that we regularly avoid. It’s easy to be dismissive of inner turmoil nowadays when we’re being overstimulated by the world around us. This world does not always require emotional intelligence to the extent that we can help others, rather, it requires us to be okay enough so that we can get things done. In a sense, there is a cut off to how deep we can really get with ourselves because what’s outside of us may feel more worth our time than what’s inside of us. But that isn’t true.
How you take on life has a lot to do with how well you know yourself. The better you know yourself, the more in tune you are with life overall. The less you know yourself, the less in touch you are with life. Step 1:
- Get to know yourself. Learn who you are. Find the connections between your reactions and your actions. Ask yourself, “Why do I feel hopeless? When do I feel discouraged?” There is no better judge of your character than yourself and when you can judge yourself with a stronger sense of what makes you YOU, then you do it with grace instead of chastisement. As you begin to make light of all that you are – not just a student, CEO, teacher, firefighter, whatever – the world around you will start to look different. Essentially, learning more about you and not the people you see through your phone screen, tv screen, or computer screen will teach you to spend more time with yourself as you’ll realize that you are so much more than the image you assume through the eyes of others.
Once you’ve spent some time on the inside, you’ll be more comfortable on the outside. The next step is basically a fusion of both, learning who you are inside to grasp what it is you have to offer the world. So, step 2:
- Define your purpose. The conviction you have for the things you do in life is stronger when your actions are guided by a central purpose. For some people, helping others is purposeful enough while for others, their purpose needs to be more specific. Helping others can be specified into helping victims of child abuse or helping youth who come from broken homes. Take some times to write down what you believe your purpose is. Since you’ve already gotten to know yourself, defining your purpose should relate to who you are. Think about what excites you in life. Remember those moments when you felt extremely passionate about a cause or even a situation that happened. If you’re not ready to make it specific, meaning you aren’t sure who exactly you want to help or how you want to contribute to a cause, then start off slow. As you start to live life with this purpose in mind, it will take the shape you want it to.
Having a purpose in life truly makes all the difference. Once you define your purpose, you can create a life around it. In creating this life, there are strides to be made so that your purpose is fulfilled and in doing so, habits must be formed. Now to step 3:
- Rethink your habits. What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Do you go to the bathroom to brush your teeth or do you check your phone? Do you make yourself a glass of warm lemon water with honey or do you go back to sleep for another 5 minutes? No habit is a bad habit unless it interrupts the flow of things in a way that makes fulfilling your purpose difficult. This does not mean that every single thing you do in life has to revolve around this said purpose, but most things should – should they not? You know the cliché saying that humans are creatures of habit, but this saying says nothing about how our habits shape our lives. From the moment we wake up to the moment we lay to sleep, consistency is key in molding ourselves to be our best selves, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Adopting healthier or better habits takes time. As I usually say, baby steps. If you want to read more consistently, work yourself up to it by starting with 5 minutes every other day and then 10 minutes every day, so on so forth. If you want to make more time for yourself in the morning, start by not checking your phone for the first hour when you wake up. Speaking of checking your phone, this ties into step 4:
- Eliminate negative sources of comparison. This one gets a bit tricky because at times, comparing ourselves to others can actually be quite motivating. Like seeing our partners lose weight and witnessing how much happier they seem. That’s a good source of comparison. But comparing ourselves to Instagram profiles, fictional characters, fitness models, and the like can worsen our self-doubt. We see people who have what we think is “ALL”, but we aren’t able to witness their journey to that point. In our minds, we believe it’s too late or that if we try, even just a little bit, we’ll never be like her, him, or them. If you want to overcome your fear of failure, you’ve got to clean out the junk from your mind. If social media is a strong source of negative comparison for you, maybe try taking a 30-day break. Or even if you spend time with a friend whose life seems better than yours, let them know in a kind way that you need some personal time for a while. Removing sources of comparison from your life can become challenging as some of these sources may be out of your control. In situations where this is the case, it’s important that you remain strong and rethink your habit of self-comparison. Bring awareness to your mind that this is in fact what you are doing and remind your mind that there’s no need for it. Say, “I am ME. This is MY journey.”
It’s hard not to compare ourselves when the source of comparison is right in our face. But for the things we CAN change, we must take the opportunity to use what we are in control of to our advantage in order to create the world we want to live in. Our minds are very powerful and can trick us into believing things that are not true for the simple fact that our perceptions of that which is outside of us is shaped by that which is instilled deep within. This is obviously why eliminating sources of comparison is the fourth step because it is difficult to do without completing the first three. And when you’re confident that you’ve conquered the first four steps OR when all else fails, move on to step 5:
- Go for it! As I mentioned in my last post, DOING is better than not doing anything at all. What can break us in this step is the overwhelming feeling of perfection, wanting our first time to be the best time. But if we don’t mess up, we’ll never get better and if we don’t ever try, we’ll never know what the future holds. Apply to that job you think you’re unqualified for. If they say no, then keep it pushing. Train for that 10K race. If you make it last, at least you finished. The mentality that you have to be at the top to be successful or everyone has to like you for you to be somebody is much less a safe haven than it is a dead-end. For once, get out of your head, get on your feet, and move!
As you can see, when it comes to the fear of failure, YOU are your biggest challenge. Learning to navigate who you are within and the world without is a constant dialogue in which you have to remain engaged, present. Be your strength. Be your clarity. Be your focus. Your mind is the highest mountain of them all. You either stand on top of it or look up at its peak from below – in overcoming your fear of failure, you’re still climbing.