Overcoming a fear of failure

fearoffailureThe biggest thing that holds you back in life is also most in your control. It has little to do with other people, or the circumstances you inherited, or the way you look. The biggest thing that holds you back is yourself – not your limits, which are real and have to be assessed realistically (I’ll never play in the NFL or any other professional sports league, for example), but your fear, specifically your fear of failure.

Fear of failure is self-limiting, but it can be overcome. If you never acknowledge and confront your fear of failure, you run the risk of achieving only a fraction of what you might realistically be able to achieve. If you’re afraid to fail, you’ll be afraid to try, and you’ll sit on the sidelines as life passes you by.

People who succeed see mistakes as outcomes or results, and they start over and make adjustments. People who don’t succeed see mistakes as permanent and personal, and they become discouraged.

There are ways to overcome fear of failure. If you have real problems with this fear, seek help, because it will impede your life. Here, however, are a few steps you can take to confront this fear:

  1. Take action. Fear of failure is immobilizing. To become unstuck, do something, anything constructive, to move off dead center. Action gives you a sense of control or power over yourself. If your action doesn’t work out, at least you’ve moved to a new place, and you might see new possibilities.
  2. Persist. A setback is just that – a setback, not an everlasting failure. You will encounter obstacles, but try different approaches to deal with them. (Hint: You don’t have to knock each one down. Sometimes you can go over, under or around an obstacle.)
  3. Don’t take failure personally. A mistake or a setback is about behavior, outcomes and results. It’s not about a character flaw. You can change your behavior to get a different outcome. Work on that instead of beating yourself up about what a bad person you are.
  4. Do something different. If you’re not getting the result you want, do something different. If you stop doing anything, you are guaranteed to fail.
  5. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Recognize that you’ve made progress, which might mean that you’ve learned something about what won’t work. See failure as an event or an outcome, not as something forever baked into your DNA.
  6. Treat failure as a learning experience. It’s not permanent. Take time to figure out what went wrong, why the outcome happened, how it could have been prevented, and what you’ll do better next time around.
  7. Look for opportunities that can come out of the experience. I have a friend who had to tell his bank that he could no longer make payments on the office building he owned. Instead of handing over the keys, he asked whether the bank could work with him to restructure his debt and lower his payments. The bank agreed, That’s being opportunistic in the face of failure.
  8. Fail fast, and move forward. You learn by making mistakes, so if you want to learn faster, make your mistakes faster. Just make sure you learn the lessons your mistakes have to teach you, and move forward with the knowledge you gain.

Do you suffer from fear of failure? If so, how do you plan to tackle it?

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