How to overcome fear of failure

Woman with fear of failure

Do you suffer from fear of failure? Is it stopping you from pursuing your hopes and dreams? Rachel Miller reveals the signs to watch out for and suggests ways to overcome it

Fear of failure is very common and it is often triggered during times of change. When you're doing something new, such as starting a business, it's natural to worry about the things that could go wrong. Fear of failure becomes a serious problem when it stops you from pursuing your goals.

Fear can be paralysing; it can affect your day-to-day decision-making as well as your long-term planning. At its worst, atychiphobia (the medical name for fear of failure) can lead to more serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

What is fear of failure?

Fear of failure can strike at any time and it's very common. Most people are naturally risk-averse so when they try something new, they worry about all the things that could go wrong. As an emotion, fear is there to protect us. Fear of failure becomes problematic when fear is calling the shots and affecting your ability to make decisions and take action.

Fear of failure doesn't always manifest itself in physical signs of anxiety but there are some clear signs that fear of failure is a problem. So how do you know if you have a fear of failure?

  • You play down your ambitions to others and set low expectations for yourself.
  • Or you self-sabotage by setting unrealistic goals knowing you can't achieve them anyway.
  • You worry too much about what other people think.
  • You struggle to make decisions.
  • You procrastinate and make excuses not to do things.
  • You dwell on past failures and find it hard to move on.
  • You suffer from analysis paralysis - you spend too much time crunching numbers and don't get projects past the planning stage.

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What are the dangers of fear of failure?

Fear of failure can become a serious road block that stops you making decisions and moving forward. It can take its toll on your self-belief and your wellbeing. Those that have a fear of failure can also suffer from low self-esteem, poor motivation and feelings of shame.

However, some people leverage fear to drive themselves forward; they want to prove to themselves and others that they can achieve something despite the obstacles in their way. But while fear can be a motivating factor, it also comes with a high level of stress that can be bad for your health in the longer term.

What causes fear of failure?

Some people develop a fear of failure because of things that have happened in their past, such as a presentation that went wrong or a failed exam. Those that were brought up in a critical family often experience fear of failure and worry that they can't meet the expectations of others. Perfectionism and fear of failure also go hand-in-hand. Perfectionists worry that unless they do things perfectly, they will fail.

How to overcome fear of failure

There are lots of ways to deal with fear of failure when you are starting or running a business. With practice and perseverance you can create a more positive mindset that will help you to move forward.

  • Visualise success. Write down your goals and plans and then imagine yourself reaching those milestones.
  • Recognise the contribution you make and give yourself credit for your achievements to date.
  • Reframe negative self-talk. Remember that fear is a state of mind, not a character trait. Try to look at failures and obstacles as learning opportunities.
  • Do your homework and give yourself the knowledge and tools you need to do a good job.
  • Identify potential risks and mitigate against them. Start small with a trial run before rolling out your business idea.
  • Anticipate problems and create back-up plans. Have a plan B and even a plan C.
  • Learn about the mistakes that other business leaders have made and work out how to avoid them. Watch TED talks and read interviews with business owners that talk about what they wish they'd known before they started their business.
  • Learn from others. Get a mentor or join a business networking group in your area. Talk to a counsellor if you think your fear of failure is affecting your chances of success.
  • Be patient. Building a business takes time.

Above all, remember that failing is not the same as being a failure. Every successful business owner has made mistakes and gone down some blind alleys with their business. You can be successful too - by accepting that you'll make some mistakes, learning from them when they happen and moving on.

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