Fear of failure is something that lots of us experience at some point in our lives, whether it’s in our personal lives or in business. It’s easy to get hung up on the prospect of not doing things ‘right’ or ‘well’ and it can often mean that we end up not taking action as a result, leaving us feeling stuck. Fear of failure is a common problem, but it’s something we need to tackle if we want to start moving forward so it doesn’t become a barrier to our dreams and goals.
It’s important to remember that failing at something does not mean you’re a failure, as John C. Maxwell puts it in his brilliant book Failing Forward, ‘Tell yourself I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something and that’s a big difference.’
Why do we fear failure so much?
Most of us are conditioned throughout our lives to think that failure is bad. It starts in our childhood, you pass or fail tests at school and there’s no middle ground, everything is seen as very black and white. I’m sure you, like me, have memories from your childhood where you failed at something, perhaps someone laughed at us or made a negative comment as a result. Cast your mind back … can you think of an example in your own past? These unkind comments are usually made by people without thinking, but it starts to create a belief pattern that failing means we’re not good enough.
We all have a core need to be enough, just look at the self-esteem category in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We want to be valued and we feel as though that’s under threat when we fail. It’s basic self-preservation really … if I don’t try, I won’t fail. But what are you missing out on if you don’t try? Think of all the opportunities in life that will pass you by.
What is failure really?
When you start to shift your perspective, you’ll begin to realise that failure is not a reflection on you. Not at all. Failing is part of learning. Failure is growth. Have a think about the last thing you ‘failed’ at. What did you learn from that experience? How would you do things differently next time? There’s a huge amount of learning to be had from failing, which is why it’s so important for us to fail. Imagine how the world would look if you only had to try everything once to succeed. If you got everything perfect on the first attempt. There would be no fulfilment, no sense of achievement in that. Truth bomb alert … there’s far more learning to be had in the stuff we find hard.
Another way to look at things is that you failed because you tried and that has to be a good thing, right? Imagine how life would look if you never took a risk, never stretched yourself outside your comfort zone. Life would be pretty boring as a result.
Changing our perspective
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of negative self-talk, telling yourself, ‘Oh no! It all went wrong/I shouldn’t have even bothered in the first place.’ Engaging in this kind of negative self-talk can lead to a spiral of negative thinking that can be hard to pull yourself out from. To tackle fear of failure we need to start flipping our thinking and telling ourselves a different story.
Have you ever heard the acronym FAIL? It stands for First Attempt In Learning. This is spot on for me. Reframe failure and use it as an opportunity to step forward and make progress. Take pride in having a go, in having done something outside of your comfort zone. Don’t berate yourself for not achieving what you set out to. Instead, think about everything you’ve learned from the experience and how it’s going to help you grow and move forward.
After reading this, I’d like you to sit and think for a moment. Can you think of something you’ve put off recently for fear of failing? How do you feel about giving it a try now? Want to give it a go?
If the answer is yes, I’d love to hear how you got on! If there’s someone in your life you think could benefit from this advice right now, share this blog with them. And finally, remember John C. Maxwell’s advice, ‘Tell yourself I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something and that’s a big difference.’
If you’re feeling as though you need some help and support in facing up to a fear of failing, do reach out and drop me a message. I offer a free, no-obligation discovery call and I’d love to hear from you!