Fear of failure is the reluctance to start a task or make a decision due to the worry of failing. As per statistics, it is more common than the fear of ghosts.
As the alarm rings in the morning, Donald wakes you rubbing his eyes. Reluctantly he gets out of bed and heads for a shower. Rushing the rest, he heads to work and toils the whole day. Though he hates his job, he has no choice but to live with it.
Donald wishes to run his own business so that he could be his own boss. That wish has remained a wish for a long time. Even though he has the knowledge and plans to start an event management business, he never could muster the guts to start.
Donald is engulfed by the fear of failure. Millions all over the world succumb to the same fear of failure.
- What is the fear of failure?
- What are the reasons for the fear of failure?
- What are some examples of fear of failure?
- How to overcome the fear of failure
What is the fear of failure?
The fear of failure is the tendency to do nothing due to the worry of failing. The same fear stands like a tall wall between you and your goals preventing you from taking any action.
As per psychology, it is also called atychiphobia.
As a human being, your brain worries about what could happen if things fell apart. In Donald’s case, he visualizes his business failing, people mocking him, his struggle to find a new job, possible bankruptcy and more. The horrific images paint a picture so wild that Donald never even tries.
Just like Donald, you worry more about failure than the joy of success. While taking a risk, you give more weight to the consequences of failure than the results of success.
But here’s the kicker. You’re not alone. Statistics have shown that fear of failure is twice the fear of ghosts.
What are the reasons for the fear of failure?
The reasons for the fear of failure vary from person to person. Some experience fear due to one specific reason while some have many reasons behind the fear.
1. Past experience of failure
A past episode of failure can make you fear the experience itself. For example, if a kid learning to ride a bicycle has a hard fall as soon as he starts, the idea of cycling turns into a fear of hurting oneself. The pain of getting hurt again can prevent the little boy from stepping on the bicycle the next time.
If you have experienced any such pain while trying in the past, the next attempt can stimulate a bigger fear of failure.
2. Ego or shame
As human beings, you and I do not like to fail. Whenever you face a possibility of failure, you might worry about the shame you face due to failing.
For example, someone aiming to start his own business might worry that people will consider him a failure if he cannot build a successful business. If he fails, many people who already wished he failed would be proven right. Boy, that would hurt his ego so much!
When you see a possibility of failing and facing ridicule, you prefer not taking a step forward. If you failed without anyone knowing, you wouldn’t mind that as much. But failing in front of the world can turn emotionally hurtful.
For the same reason, people fear to speak on a stage. Read these tips to overcome your fear of public speaking.
Another example is students not attending an exam due to fear of scoring poor grades.
3. Trying to perfect every little thing
Sometimes you intend to do things such that nothing goes wrong. You try to plan each step, consider every border case scenario, mitigate possible risks and evaluate the safest path. Thinking in such a direction is a good start but trying to nail every little thing leads to inaction.
You spend hours, days, weeks and months planning and perfecting your plan, without any action. Perfection does not always exist and the quest for it can lead you to a point of no-decision. Sometimes you have to close your eyes and take a leap of faith.
A common example for perfection lies in business where an entrepreneur tries to add endless features to his product causing a delayed launch.
What are some examples of fear of failure?
While these are real life examples, they can also serve as symptoms of fear of failure manifesting in you.
1. Not quitting a job you hate
Even if you hate your job, you cannot make up your mind to quit. Your comfort in the current job blocks your mind from taking a risk. Starting your own business brings all kinds of scary pictures to your mind.
Compared to facing unknown consequences, putting up with the job you hate seems like the easy choice.
You can read the detailed article on why people don’t quit a job they hate.
2. Not willing to follow the career of your dreams
Most people are in a situation where the job that they work for and the dream career they aspire for are different. Their job and their passion do not go hand in hand.
You can notice such behavior in masses during campus recruitments. Students from all departments willingly take up an IT job whether their field of interest is Electronics, Mechanical or Computer Science.
Students fear to fail the interviews in their department. The anxiety of losing the opportunity and not having any job wins over the choice to follow their passion. Students do not realize that this choice can lead to decades of unhappy work life.
Even if your job is different from your passion, you can pursue your dream along with a full-time job.
3. Not trying to woo a member of the opposite sex
Your lady colleague who recently joined is the most beautiful girl you have ever met. You experience all the unicorns and the rainbows when she walks by. Yet, you cannot gather the guts to walk up to her and strike a conversation.
Think about this: she isn’t your girlfriend now and she will never be if you do not talk to her. But the fear of trying and failing stops you before you even take the first step. You think what would follow if she turned you down. Your friends would make fun of you, she would never make eye contact with you and her friends would giggle at you.
You prefer staying single because the fear of humiliation is harder to bear than the joy of having a gorgeous girlfriend.
4. Sticking to your comfort zone:
You prefer holding on to what you have than aiming for more. As human beings, loss aversion is deeply rooted in us. As a result, you and I experience more pain due to a loss than the pleasure due to a gain. For the same reason, losing a 100$ bill seems more painful than winning a lottery of 100$.
Due to loss aversion:
- You prefer safe investments instead of stock markets
- You prefer a monthly paycheck from a job than build income with your own venture
- You buy the peanut butter you know than choosing the new jar on the rack
5. Stage Fear
Stepping on the stage can send a cold shiver down the spine of many. People abscond or call out sick to avoid the fear of stepping on to the stage.
If you think about it, you face no harm even if things go wrong on stage. The only possibility is people judging you for your poor speech or anything else you did on stage. Do you think that such fear is justified given the consequences? Not at all.
Yet the fear of things going wrong on the stage scares you enough to not bother trying.
6. Not entering another relationship
People who go through a bad break up fear stepping into another relationship. The fear is not rooted in the new relationship or the person. The fear of experiencing another breakup, the emotions and time needed to recuperate causes people to stay away from a relationship for some time.
7. Not exploring a new option
Most people have a talent which other people are unaware of. Some have a melodious voice, some can strum a note on the guitar, some can move their body like Michael Jackson. Yet, they fear to show this side to the rest of the world.
Today, the internet and other platforms provide various opportunities to showcase your talent. One can post videos on Youtube, start a course, write blog posts and more. But the fear of being average prevents people from trying.
How to overcome the fear of failure
As an instinct, you will face the fear of failure often. Overcoming fear of failure lies more in the mind by preparing for failure. Here are some tactics you can use to reduce the fear of failure.
1. Identify the reason behind the fear
Fear seems like a standalone entity if you do not think about it enough. Sometimes identifying the reason behind the fear of failure helps you fight it better.
If you fear to put in all your money in a venture, ask yourself what do you fear the most? Chances are, you fear losing the luxury you have today. You can plan to overcome this fear by investing lesser or starting small.
Knowing the reason helps you find a solution for the fear.
2. Differentiate simple consequences from serious consequences
In most cases, fear of failure manifests itself into a size so large that it can scare the shit out of you. The consequences of failure are not usually as massive as they seem like.
Stage fear, looking for a job in a different profile, trying to woo a lady do not lead to dire consequences. But putting in all your savings into a business venture can cause a serious impact on your life.
The feeling of fear does not vary to a great degree whether the consequences are trivial or serious. Sometimes you experience grappling fear even for simple consequences.
Look at the consequences and decide if the fear of failure is helping you or harming you.
3. Practice Failing
Until you fail the first time, the fear of failure looms large. Once you fail a few times, dealing with it becomes easier.
Many girls would have turned down the Casanova you know. Yet, he tries again undeterred by any setbacks.
Fear of failure lessens with the number of times failed. However, keep in mind that fear of failure in one area does not carry over to another. For example, failing on stage a few times will not help you overcome the fear of another relationship. Each failure has a fear of its own.
4. Plan a backup
If you identify the reason behind the fear, you can plan a back up to handle the consequences. If you worry about losing all the money in the stock market, you can plan to back out when you lose a certain percentage of your money. Of course, the rationale behind buying and selling a stock is more complex than that in real life.
Knowing the reason behind the fear and planning for the consequences can help you plan an effective backup.
5. Can you handle the worst-case scenario?
Sometimes the worst-case scenario may not be as bad as it seems. For example, if you are in your twenties, making a bold move to start your venture may not have as many consequences. Even if you fail, you have enough time to get back on your feet.
Similarly, if you make a joke of yourself on the stage, people will crack jokes at your cost for a week or two, after which things fall back to normal.
Ask yourself if you can handle the worst-case scenario. If yes, go ahead. In most cases, the worst-case scenario does not cause as much impact as you think.
Here is what Anthony Robbins had to say about the fear of failure.
Failure will never be an easy pill to swallow. Failure will never make you happy. Failure will never stop spawning fear within yourself. You cannot control any of these.
What you can do is fight fear head-on. If you do, you will usually win. Most people won’t bother trying. Will you?
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.