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Why the fear of Failure is preventing you from reaching your full potential

Have you ever taken a moment to stop and reflect on your life? Have there been opportunities that you passed up because you weren’t sure if you’d be able to actually do them?

And if you tried and it didn’t work out that you’d be judged negatively for it?

If this is the case, this is completely normal so don’t worry. We live in a society where success is held to a very high standard and linked to your self-worth. 

But this idea that if you fail, it’s embarrassing or something is wrong with you is not serving you. It’s actually holding you back because you aren’t even putting yourself into the game to try to win. 

The ironic thing is that if you don’t fail, you’re never going to push beyond your current limits. You aren’t going to be able to find out how far you can really go. 

I was in this training at work when the instructor said something that really stuck with me. That the word ‘fail’ is actually an acronym meaning ‘First Attempt At Learning’. 

This is so true. We really aren’t learning if we don’t fail. Think of how many times you had to fail as a child to literally become a functioning human being. No one crawls, takes their first step, or speaks coherent words the first time they give it a go. 

It’s just part of the process. 

But somewhere along the way, we learn that failing is a bad thing. 

Maybe…

It’s when you were in school and you received a bad grade…

Your home life wasn’t the best and that was your way of surviving… 

You saw others negatively impacted by their failures and you don’t want that to happen to you …

You did try but you ‘failed’ and felt humiliated or it had negative consequences… 

It could even simply be because society tells us that failing is bad. 

Everyone seems to pick up this feeling somewhere along the way but it’s literally part of life. We need to fail in order to learn. 

What is the fear of failure?

In the psychological world, the fear of failure is known as atychiphobia. If it’s severe enough that it’s negatively impacting your life in a way that you can’t fail or is causing a lot of mental stress, I would strongly encourage you to talk to a mental health professional.

If you’re holding yourself back from trying new things out of the fear that it won’t work out, that is the fear of failure. 

It’s a self-sabotaging tendency of not trying in order to not fail. 

It can lead to many physical and emotional symptoms from the constant worry and stress that it puts on you.  

The fear of failure can be tied to perfectionism tendencies and lack of self-love.

If you believe that failing means you are a bad person or inadequate in some way that will take a direct hit on your self-worth. Which will leads to a decrease in self-love.

The impact of the fear of failing on personal and professional growth

If you’re afraid to fail then you aren’t going to try new things which is going to hinder your success. 

It’s going to be really hard to reach your goals that you set for yourself if you feel like you can’t make a mistake. 

You need to fail in some way in order to succeed. 

Because if we fail then we know what doesn’t work so we can try another approach. 

Or you simply need to put in more reps to master the skill you’re trying to learn because your brain is creating the neuro pathways needed to learn it. That is just how our brains work.

Most things that you do today, you weren’t good at the first time you did it. Things that seem so natural now were hard or scary the first time you tried them. 

Just think of the first time you tried typing on a keyboard, driving a car, or learning a new skill.

You made mistakes when you first tried these things. You were slow or hesitant but the important thing was that when you did fail, you re-evaluated, got back up, and tried again. 

That is what you have to do with any goal you want to achieve. It’s probably not clear how exactly you’re going to reach those big goals but you have to try to make any kind of progress.

And when you do mess up or experience a bump in the road, it’s an opportunity to pivot and try a different approach that you may not have thought of before you started. Now, you have more experience and new skills, even if they seem small. 

The Consequences of Allowing Fear to Hinder Success

If you allow fear to win then you’re going to stay stuck in the same place as you are. And as humans, we don’t typically like that feeling. 

We want to be learning and growing in some way. That is how you get that feeling of fulfillment that you may be craving. 

Because living on autopilot, doing the same thing every day can get kinda boring. I’m not saying that you have to be doing something life-changing every day … I’m a big believer that small consistent action leads to the biggest results after all… but simply learning something new can make a huge difference. 

If you sit too long in that discomfort, that is when you’re going to start feeling unwanted emotional and physical symptoms because you’re resisting the change that you’re craving. 

This could include anxiety, guilt, an upset stomach, procrastination, stress, and feelings of uneasiness to name a few. 

So pursue the things that are sparking your interest. If you end up not liking it then you know that’s not your thing and you can move on to the next thing. 

How to Combat the Fear of Failure

So you may be thinking that is all fine and dandy but I understand how fear can feel debilitating. I want to remind you that it is normal if you’ve let fear hold you back in some way.

After all, it is your mind trying to protect you from the unknown dangers that may come from it. So in a way, it isn’t inherently bad but it becomes a problem when this fear is so strong that you can’t seem to push yourself through that barrier. 

And then you end up just not doing it at all. 

Honestly, this fear of failure is never going to go away since it’s your brain’s natural response to the unknown. But there are ways to combat that fear, confront it, and push through it. 

Here are some practical steps that you can start taking today

This is what I’ve done to help myself push through that mental barrier when the fear of failing comes up.

1. Journal about what you’re afraid of

A lot of times getting the thoughts out of your head can make all the difference.

It makes these big scary thoughts seem less scary. 

But also ask yourself why you’re afraid. If you can identify where this fear is coming from it may help you combat the fear and confront it. 

Building self-awareness is the most powerful mindset tool if you ask me. With self-awareness, it is easier to understand where you’re coming from or what you need to do to get yourself out of a spiral. 

Another technique I use when my overthinking tendencies are getting the best of me is to let myself overthink for a minute. It sounds contradicting but it is nice to get those thoughts out of your head sometimes. It is important to set a timer since you should have a cutoff of when you’re going to move on.

During this time I usually write out the worst-case scenario for the situation. By writing down what I think is the worst-case scenario, I’m able to see that if I fail it really isn’t that bad.

However, I don’t like to stay in a negative mindset so then I do the opposite. I write what the best-case scenario would be. It helps to see that the best-case scenario usually outweighs the worst-case scenario. 

And if not, I don’t have to do it. I think it is a great way to weigh the pros and cons of the situation and see if pushing past the fear would be worth it. 

2. Check in with my inner critic and reframe any negative thoughts

Next, I check in with my good ole inner critic. A lot of times, the fear of failure is tied to low self-worth because you’re taking that failure as a personal attack against your character.

That failing means that you aren’t smart enough, good enough, fast enough, whatever it is.

But this isn’t true. You are worthy and amazing just the way you are. 

If this is the case, that’s when you need to give your inner critic a little TLC by reframing those negative thoughts and calling your inner critic out.

If you don’t have a negative voice inside your head telling you how you aren’t capable or you can’t do it, it’ll be a lot easier to take the first scary step.

3. Ask yourself if your perfectionist tendencies are coming out

We live in a world where we are constantly seeing someone’s perfectly curated life on social media so it’s easy to feel inadequate. 

But the thing is no one is perfect, no one has a perfect life, the perfect partner, friends, or family. We’re all human, we’re going to mess up, your house isn’t going to be Pinterest-worthy all the time, and your food isn’t going to look Instagram-ready, and that’s okay.

I say this with nothing but love but you aren’t perfect. Neither am I and that is completely normal so stop trying to live up to this unrealistic standard.

If you’re trying to be perfect all the time, you aren’t going to take the risks you need to take to live a life you love. You have to make mistakes and try new things to get the life you’re desiring and trying to do everything perfectly is preventing you from this.

4. Acknowledge the fear and then embrace it

Once you put perfectionism to the side and tell your inner critic to take their opinion elsewhere, it’s time to acknowledge that fear and accept it.

Because you’re never going to completely get rid of this fear of failure but you can develop tools to combat it. 

The first thing I would suggest is to take on a beginner’s mindset. After all, when we’re new at something it’s okay to mess up. It’s basically expected since you’ve never done it before. 

Just like a baby taking their first steps or when you’re learning a new skill like playing the piano or tennis, you know you aren’t going to be great at it but practice is what makes perfect.

So why not have this mindset when you approach anything in life whether that is chasing after big goals or joining that club that is sparking your interest?

By redefining failure as part of the process, then it takes the pressure off the whole situation. 

5. Practice your favorite self-care activity

Pushing back on that fear of failure is scary and stressful so you need to take the time to rest and recharge. 

So make sure when you’re pushing yourself past your comfort zone and taking those courageous steps forward that you’re also taking the time to take care of yourself. 

If you need some ideas, you know I’ve got you in this post.

6. Take that first step scared

You can do all the mindset work in the world but if you don’t take that first step scared, you’ll never push past that fear.

Fears are always going to come up. If you do end up ‘failing’, it isn’t necessarily fun but you have to prove to yourself that you’ll be okay. You aren’t going to die and your life isn’t going to fall apart, you just need to change directions or tweak your approach a little. 

So yes, do the mindset work to help yourself feel more confident in putting yourself out there but also do the thing even if you feel uneasy about it. 

It can be a little step if that will put your mind at ease. Think about it like this. If you’re at the pool, do you test the water by dipping your toes in to see what the temperature is like or are you someone who needs to jump in otherwise you won’t do it.

Approach anything like this. If you’re someone who dips their toes in, then slowly walk down the steps, then take baby steps towards that thing that you’re afraid to fail at.

Otherwise, pick an action that feels like you’re diving in head first and do that.

Trust me, once you take that initial step, you’re going to feel A LOT better because you’re going to prove to yourself that it really isn’t as bad as you thought. 

7. Create milestones and reward yourself along the way

And last but certainly not least, take some time to celebrate any milestone you hit. Take some time to map out what you think you need to do to be successful at the goal you’re trying to reach. 

This tactic is especially helpful for those big crazy dreams of yours because right now it may not seem possible. It’s going to put your mind at ease because it’ll make it seem more doable. 

Let’s say you want to run a marathon. You haven’t been running consistently but it’s something you’ve always wanted to do it. 

So you grab your running shoes and your favorite workout outfit, get out there, and run 26.2 miles right out of the gate. Easy peasy am I right?

Yeah right… I know I wouldn’t make it a mile before I’m out of breath, in pain, and discouraged.

But instead, if on day one I tell myself that I’m going to run for a mile, and if I have to walk for some of it that’s okay, that seems more doable. After I get my baseline, then I’ll map out a training schedule that isn’t going to kill me so by the time the marathon comes along I’ve put in the reps and I’m ready to succeed and run the full 26.2 miles. 

That would be way more encouraging, right? 

This is how we should approach any goal.

You have to break it down and as humans, we love ourselves some dopamine. 

And a simple way to get a dopamine hit is to celebrate when you’ve successfully completed a task. 

Just think how much more enjoyable the process will be if you’re giving yourself a pat on the back every so often. Telling yourself you’re doing an amazing job and that you can get closer to that big goal. 

Wouldn’t that make the process that much more enjoyable? 

So celebrate taking that first step because you overcame that fear even if it was just by a little bit. 

Celebrate when you run 1 mile out of the 26.2 that you want to. 

It doesn’t have to be anything crazy but once you hit that milestone you mapped out, reward yourself in some way. 

That fear of failing is going to be much quieter if you celebrate yourself often because it’ll boost your confidence in yourself. 

Success people who ‘failed’ first

I thought I would finish this post with some success stories of well-known people because sometimes it’s easy to think that they’re the exception. 

They got lucky and everything fell into their lap but this isn’t the case. 

Here are a few of my favorites and a quote by them about failing.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney was fired from one of his first animation jobs and was told he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”. He also had another animation studio prior that ended up going bankrupt. 

MGM even turned down his idea for Mickey Mouse, claiming a big mouse would terrify women. Just because you run into people who don’t believe in your vision doesn’t mean it’s not right.

“Everyone falls down. Getting up is how you learn to walk.” – Walt Disney

JK Rowling

While writing Harry Potter, JK Rowling was a single mom struggling to make ends meet. On top of that, several publishers rejected Harry Potter. But she kept on trying and I’m sure you know of the Harry Potter series which led her to make millions of dollars.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

Oprah

Did you know that Oprah was fired from her first TV anchor job in Baltimore? She was told that she is too emotionally invested in the stories that she covered but now Oprah owns her own TV network amount many other accomplishments.

“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

Abraham Lincoln

There are a lot of things that Lincoln ‘failed’ at. He ran for office multiple times (7 to be exact) before finally making his way to the Presidency and also had several failed business attempts. 

He even left for war as a captain and came back as the lowest rank, private. 

But yet, he’s one of the most well-known Presidents in US history. 

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”

These are just a few of the many examples of failures people experience before success. Failing first makes succeeding that much sweeter.

So while the fear of failure is very real, there are ways to combat it so you can live the life you’re meant to live. Failing is just part of the process, the important thing is what you do after that first attempt in learning.

So stop letting the fear of failure hold you back from reaching your full potential. 

Until next time,

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