No one likes to fail, but everyone fails at some point. For many people, the fear of failure paralyzes them from overcoming obstacles and reaching their goals.
The fear of failure creates negative self-talk that keeps people from learning and growing.
Overcoming the fear of failure is necessary to achieve personal goals and succeed. Scientists, psychologists, and business leaders have studied the fear of failure and how people can overcome it.
Overcoming the fear of failure is divided into three areas:
- Preparing for Fear of Failure
- Confronting Fear of Failure
- Recovering from Failure
How a person prepares for and confronts fear determines how well they can overcome it. Recovering from failure helps people overcome fear in future situations, and scientists have developed specific steps in each area to help people overcome fear of failure.
Preparing for Fear of Failure
A person must prepare to face failure to overcome the fear of it. The right mindset minimizes the fear of failure and puts it into perspective. While the fear of failure is a part of the achievement, overcoming it requires understanding what failure is and learning from it.
The steps to prepare for fear of failure are:
- Redefine Failure
- Find Benefits from Past Failures
- Understand Threats
- Create Approach, not Avoidance Goals
Redefining failure can change a person’s perception and fear level. Forbes business magazine industry leaders suggest redefining failure as a learning opportunity helps overcome fear.
It would not be a failure if a person learned something valuable from experience, even if what they discovered was that they didn’t have the right plan to succeed.
Psychologists suggest redefining failure as discrepancies or when outcomes didn’t meet expectations. There is less fear when failure is defined in less personal terms or as a learning experience.
Find Benefits from Past Failures
To redefine fear, a person should look to past failures and consider the benefits they received. Learning a better way, discovering a new path, and realizing a plan didn’t work all provide benefits to overcoming the fear of failure in the future.
When people use the information and experiences they gained from previous failures, they have less fear because they already know what to avoid.
Humans perceive failure as a threat. Because failure stops people from reaching their goals, they see it as a threat to their desires. Scientists at the University of California Berkley concluded that when people perceive a threat, their bodies prepare to fight it.
Physically, a person goes into “fight or flight” mode; breathing and heart rate increase. Preparing to fight is negative stress on a person’s body and mind and can cloud their judgment, increasing their fear.
These scientists suggest that a person should view failure as a challenge, not a threat. Considering failure as a challenge, a person can calmly and logically think through the problem and find a way to overcome it, decreasing their fear response.
To redefine a threat as a challenge, a person needs to visualize the obstacles they face. They must determine if their fear is real or an imagined threat.
People often fear failure because they think of the worst-case scenario instead of focusing on positive ways to reach their goals and avoid disappointment. Facing a challenge holds less fear than facing a threat.
Create Approach, not Avoidance Goals
Once a person has redefined failure, the next step is to create goals that approach success, not avoid defeat. Approach goals focus on positive outcomes: learning something new, achieving success, or growing to fill a need.
Avoidance goals focus on negative consequences:
- Not freezing up during a presentation
- Not missing a deadline
- Not falling short of a quota
Approach goals provide positive reinforcement, while avoidance goals create fear of failure.
Confronting Fear of Failure
When confronting the fear of failure, a person must accept fear as an emotion and move past it.
The steps to moving forward instead of letting fear stop a person include the following:
- Let the Fear of Failure Pass
- Change Goals as the Situation Develops
- Build Confidence
Fear is a human emotion, and everyone feels fear. Business leaders describe feeling the fear of failure when they started, but they acknowledged that fear and kept trying.
If a person’s goals are powerful enough, they can confront their fear of failure with a strong plan. When the desire for success is greater than the fear of failure, definite goals help a person overcome the fear.
People are often paralyzed by fear of failure when their plan isn’t working. They may start strong but begin to fear failure during a complex process. Psychologists suggest changing the goals in these situations.
Redefining failure by adjusting the goals limits fear. When forces beyond a person’s control block the path to success, a more limited purpose can help a person achieve success without worrying complete failure.
While carrying out a plan, a person also needs to build confidence. Leaders at the Harvard Business Review suggest focusing on what a person learns to build confidence for the next step in the process.
The fear of failure decreases when a person has confidence in their prior decisions and achievements. People limit their fear of the next step by reminding themselves of what they have already done.
Recovering from Failure
Even with the best intentions, any plan can lead to failure. Many successful people have failed multiple times. When a person does fail, they need to recover positively from experience.
The steps to recovering from failure include:
- Treating Yourself Kindly
- Accepting Mistakes
- Learning from the Experience
People often criticize themselves more harshly for failure than they would another person. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that self-compassion was associated with lower levels of worry and rumination, as well as increased positive emotions, among individuals who had experienced failure.
If a person makes the repercussions of failure too hard on themselves, they may develop a negative self-image or negative self-talk that causes them to fear the next challenge.
A person also needs to accept their mistakes when they fail. Without admitting responsibility, they repeat their mistakes repeatedly, limiting their success and developing a greater fear of failure each time they face a challenge. Recovering from failure includes preparing for the next challenge by accepting mistakes and correcting them.
If a person views failure as a learning experience, there is more to gain from failure and less to fear. Educators teach students that failure isn’t the end of learning. Instead, failure is the beginning of success.
Recovering from failure involves learning from the experience, so a person is better prepared to succeed when facing another challenge. Fear of failure is often fear of an unknown outcome, and learning from failure removes that fear because a person knows what does lead to loss and can make another choice instead.
Scientists understand that overcoming the fear of failure is based on human emotion and perception.
Overcoming the fear of failure involves defining failure more positively and using skills and abilities to confront it. When a person does fail, they can improve their outlook and limit fear by using failure as a learning experience.