Dissolving the Fear of Failure

Do you dread the idea of failing? Does the word failure bring up terrible images in your mind, images that show that when you “fail”  you just aren’t good enough? People that have this image often adopt a fear of failure, trying to avoid failure at all costs.

This fear of failure can lead you down a treacherous path because it can kill all your hopes and dreams. It does this by hampering your ability to even try to take the slightest risk, which, of course guarantees failure.

So today, let’s take a look at what the fear of failure is and what you can do about it.

What is the Fear of Failure?

In the 1960,s John Atkinson, a Stanford University psychologist, used a study to divide children into two groups, depending on the behavior he observed.

To measure a child’s motivation in the study, Atkinson had the children play a game. The object was to toss a hoop over a peg from a measured distance. The further they stood from the peg, the more points they earned.  

Children in the first group, who had a “need for achievement” stood a challenging but realistic distance from the peg. If they missed the peg, they would practice improving their technique or try concentrating better.

Alternatively, the children in the second group, that he called the “fear of failure” group either stood right next to the peg, making it impossible to fail, or at such a distance that it would have been pure luck if they succeeded. While it’s easy to understand why they would stand so close, since it was impossible to fail, it’s much harder to understand why some would stand so far away.

Atkinson theorized that the children that stood so far back believed that it was impossible to put the hoop around the peg. By standing at an impossible distance, they camouflaged their fear of failure. This allowed them to tell the other children that they hadn’t failed because they hadn’t tried but rather had tried their best and didn’t succeed because they were willing to take greater risks.

In their minds they were justifying their behavior while hiding their fear of failure from the other children.

We, like those children hate to fail. But if you, like the children in the fear of failure group, see failure as a huge psychological threat to your self-perception, then you too will avoid failure at all costs. This fear of failure will cause you to unconsciously sabotage your chances of success.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can adopt a different mindset and diminish the ability the fear of failure has on your life. You just have to learn how to put failure in the right perspective.

How to Use Failure to Succeed:

Here are some mindful mind hacks that will help you think about failure in a way that can help you to succeed.

1.     Failure isn’t final.

You don’t actually fail unless you give up. The problem is people confuse failing with failure. As any successful person will tell you, there is a lot of missteps along the road to success. The difference is the successful person doesn’t see failing as their final result, but only a step along their path toward success. They end up succeeding simply because they don’t quit.

So, the first thing to keep in mind is failure is just a short-term state. It means nothing, because it isn’t final, only temporary.

2. Everyone fails.

Failure is common. Every person who has ever lived has failed numerous times. You’ve failed thousands of times and you’re still here. Do you walk or ride a bike? How many times did you fall? When you started learning math did you make any mistakes? Of course you did. The difference is you didn’t label these events as “failures”.

There’s a story about  a young reporter asking Thomas Edison, “How does it feel to have failed so many times to make a light bulb?”

After a moment, Edison replied, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Instead of having a fear of failure, successful people understand that failing is simply the first part of succeeding. It’s how we human beings learn and get better. Like Thomas Edison, your job is, once you realize that your approach isn’t working, to adjust what you’re doing, and try again.

3.     Failure is simply feedback.

If you are willing to take some time and examine why you failed, you can learn something from every mistakes you make. Instead of fearing failure, examine it to become more knowledgeable and capable. Use this feedback to become stronger as you gain more resilience.

4.     Others are far less concerned about your failure than you think.

One of the biggest reasons the children in Atkinson ‘s study had a fear of failure was because they were afraid of what the other children might think. Now that might be rational thinking for a young child, but it certainly shouldn’t be for an adult. While a few people might notice your failure, they are too focused on their lives and their challenges to give your failures much thought.

Stop worrying about what other’s think. Go out and try and fail as many times as necessary. The key is to fail fast enough and succeed often enough that no one relevant cares.

5.     Focus on what you’ll get from succeeding.  

Focusing on failure doesn’t get you anywhere. Instead of worrying about the consequences of possible failure, consider the possible rewards of success. Visualize this success to make yourself feel excited and positive about taking the actions necessary to get what you want.

As you learn to focus on success, instead of having a fear of failure, you’ll wake up every morning excited about doing what you need to do to achieve your goals and dreams.

6.     Practice mindfully going after what you want.

Where does the fear of failure come from? From your imaginings of what might happen in the future. Instead of letting your imagination go wildly after things that don’t even exist, put your attention on what you’re doing.

Thinking about failing will freeze you in your tracks. While you may have a bump in the road that causes a negative outcome, if it isn’t going to cause you any real harm, forget about that outcome. Instead, stay mindfully focused on the actions you’re taking right now to get the outcome you desire.

7.     Consider the cost of doing nothing.

John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote, “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.”

The truth is taking action might be a little scary, but what will happen if you do nothing? How will you feel a month, year or decade from now or if you’re stuck in your current life? How  will you feel about yourself for failing to take action? Will you, like in the poem, think back and say, “What might have been?”

Don’t get to the end of your life full of regrets. Step out and give life a try. You don’t have to stay stuck in the fear of failure.

Stop Letting the Fear of Failure to Control You!

Dr. Robert Schuller once asked, “What would you do if you knew you would not fail?”

The answer is probably a lot more than you’re currently doing! How much has the fear of failure limited your life?

You don’t have to let the fear of failure influence your decisions. You can stop allowing this fear from stopping you from trying new things or taking risks. Your life can be so much bigger if you stop being concerned with what others think.

Rejecting the fear of failure is one of the greatest things you can do for your life and your future and you can start today. Use what you’ve found in this article to do something that, up until now, you’ve been afraid to try.

Let me know what a difference it makes in your life!

NLP Unlock Your Dreams

Ready to take control of your life? Start overcoming the fear of failure and learn how to unlock your highest potential with NLP! Pick up a copy of NLP – UNLOCK YOUR DREAMS: A Beginner’s Guide to Neuro Linguistic Programming on Amazon today!

Scroll to Top