How to Overcome Your Fear of Failure
Perhaps our fear of failure starts in grade school, with
the fear of receiving the dreaded big fat "F" on
your 3rd grade report card, and then seeing the dismayed looks
on your parents' faces (and perhaps facing an ensuing punishment
to boot). Even if an "F" doesn't apply, chances
are that you learned early on -- through being on that winning
soccer team, passing your driver's test on the first try,
or getting picked first in gym class -- that succeeding is
fun. Failing is not.
If you're not moving ahead with your goals, a fear
of failure may be holding you back.
As we make our way into adulthood, it is not hard to understand
why a fear of failure plagues many of us. Fear of failing
at your marriage, fear of being a bad parent, fear of losing
your job or not getting promoted. Indeed, fear of failing
can be applied to every meaningful milestone in life. And
what greater fear could there be than failing at your own
In America, and too in much of the world, failure is akin
to being powerless, unpopular, a loser. No one wants to set
themselves up for that, and so develops a fear, in some cases
a debilitating one.
How a Fear of Failure Can Put Your Life on Hold
In extreme cases, a fear of failing will cause a person to
avoid anything that isn't safe or a guaranteed success. Many
entrepreneurs never set out on their own for this very reason.
When confronted with a questionable task (i.e. asking someone
out on a date, giving a presentation at work), anxiety develops
and, like any fear, the person backs away from the scary item.
risks is one of the only ways to get ahead in life, and
with risk comes a chance of failure. Those who are not able
to overcome this fear don't take the risks needed to excel
at work, relationships and more. Their life may therefore
become stagnant, yet it is safe.
"What I encourage people to do is picture themselves
20 years from now in the same job at the same desk and with
the same people, simply to show them what will happen if they
don't take any risks. The color just drains out of their faces.
But if you don't make an effort to change and get what you
want, then life probably won't turn out how you want it to,"
says psychologist Gary Leboff.
Corporate Culture and Failure
Part of the problem is that while our
culture encourages innovation, it also punishes failure.
So in order to be innovative, invent something new or come
up with a unique way to solve a problem, you risk being punished,
particularly in the corporate world.
"Managers talk a lot about innovation and being on the
cutting edge, but on an individual level, many people are
not willing to try new things," says Fiona Lee, psychology
and business professor at the University of Michigan.
Why? "Corporate America has very little tolerance for
failure," she continues. Not surprisingly, a study she
conducted found that:
Employees who were rewarded for repeatedly trying new
things were more innovative and experienced more long-term
success -- even if their experiments failed.
Traditional management styles leave employees too scared
and rigid to try new things, so they are innovative less
A key to success: Turn your failure into a positive
by learning from your mistakes, and applying what you've
learned next time.
Fear of Failure and Your Health
When you experience a stressful event such as fear, catecholamines
-- powerful hormones including adrenaline and dopamine that
regulate heart rate, blood pressure and more -- increase.
This reaction can lead to symptoms that mirror a heart attack,
such as chest pain and a decreased ability of the heart to
In fact, one study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical
Institutions in Baltimore found that patients who had recently
undergone a stressful event had blood concentrations of catecholamines
that were more than seven times greater than normal -- and
two to three times greater than levels in patients having
actual heart attacks.
Researchers believe that excess levels of the hormones can
have a harmful effect on heart tissue over time. Further,
when adrenaline and other stress-related hormones remain elevated,
long-term problems including decreased immune function, sexual
disorders, fatigue and loss of appetite can occur.
Overcoming Fear of Failure
Only by overcoming a fear of failure will you be able to
succeed. Use these tips to focus on success and leave your
fear of failure behind.
Expect that you will sometimes fail.
When you do fail, embrace it. Turn the failure into a
positive by figuring out where you went wrong, then applying
what you learned to your next endeavor.
Don't take failure personally. According to University
of Washington psychologist Jonathon Brown, if you lack
self-esteem you may over-generalize your failures and
conclude that you are less competent than others. However,
the best way to build your self-esteem is to pick yourself
up after you have fallen down.
Realize that successful people fail, and have likely
failed many times to get where they are.
Picture yourself failing and imagine the consequences
that could follow. You will likely find that they're not
as bad as they seem. Then, go back to picturing yourself
If you fail, make it a point to keep going and try again.
Don't let failure stop you.
Talk about how you're feeling. Expressing your fear to
a trusted friend or family member may help you gain the
confidence you're looking for.
Risks: How to Take Calculated Risks to Get Ahead in Anything
Serious Health Risks of Loneliness & The Healing Power
Today: Embracing the Fear of Failure
News Online: Heartfelt Fear
Chally Focus: Confronting Your Fear of Failure