Anais Nin once wrote, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”. In current uncertain times or otherwise, have you been so afraid of failing at something that you decided not to try it at all again? Be it losing your job or livelihood or something precious? Or has a fear of failure meant that, subconsciously, you undermined your own efforts to avoid the possibility of a larger failure? Many of us have probably experienced this at one time or another. The fear of failing can be immobilizing — it can cause us to do nothing, and therefore resist moving forward. But when we allow fear to stop our forward progress in life, we’re likely to miss some great opportunities along the way.
In this article, we’ll discuss fear of failure: What it means? What causes it? And how to overcome it to enjoy true success in work, and in life?
What is Failure?
It’s almost impossible to go through life without experiencing some kind of failure. We understand that life is full of problems and fears of unseen. People who do so probably live so cautiously that they go nowhere. Put simply, they’re not really living at all. But, the wonderful thing about failure is that it’s entirely up to us to decide how to look at it.
We can choose to see failure as “the end of the world,” or as proof of just how inadequate we are. Or, we can look at failure as the incredible learning experience that it often is. Every time we fail at something, we can choose to look for the lesson we’re meant to learn. These lessons are very important; they’re how we grow, and how we keep from making that same mistake again. Failures stop us only if we let them.
Most of us will stumble and fall in life. Doors will get slammed in our faces, and we might make some bad decisions. But imagine if Michael Jordan had given up on his dream to play basketball when he was cut from that team. Imagine if Richard Branson had listened to the people who told him he’d never do anything worthwhile without a high-school diploma.
Let’s think of the opportunities we miss if we let our failures stop us. Failure can also teach us things about ourselves that we would never have learned otherwise. Often, valuable insights come only after a failure. Accepting and learning from those insights is key to succeeding in life.
How We Experience Fear of Failure?
You might experience some or all of these symptoms if you have a fear of failure:
- A reluctance to try new things or get involved in challenging projects.
- Self-sabotage — e.g. procrastination, excessive anxiety, or a failure to follow through with goals.
- Low self-esteem or self-confidence — commonly using negative statements such as “I’ll never be good enough to get that promotion,” or “I’m not smart enough to get on that team.”
- Perfectionism — A willingness to try only those things that you know you’ll finish perfectly and successfully.
If you’re longing to expand your life by going after your dreams, here are seven ways to overcome fear which may be keeping you stuck.
1. Shed Some Light on Your Fear
As we do in darkness: switch on the light, the fear that’s plaguing you the most — about your body, finances, family life, career, dreams or yourself — and hold it up to the light of your awareness.
Ask yourself honestly: Is this thought really true? Can I know for sure? Is there another way of looking at this? What would the highest version of me say about this?
Remember, the word thought is not synonymous with the word truth. Your thoughts are not necessarily true or important and you don’t have to take them so seriously.
Think of them like passing clouds in the sky — they come and go. Your true self is the ever-present observer who watches your fear-based thoughts as they pass by.
2. Rephrase ‘Fear’ as ‘Excitement’
To our body and nervous system, fear and excitement are almost indistinguishable. So, feel your fear as excitement running up and down your body. The most successful people in the world don’t feel fear less than everyone else — they just don’t interpret fear as a stop sign. They feel the fear and proceed further, because they want their dream life more than they want to avoid the feeling of fear.
3. The ‘Right’ Choice
Be mindful what you say. The phrase This too shall pass is a great mantra to use whenever you feel fear rising in your body making you hesitant to take action.
It can help you remember that fear is a natural and temporary response in your body which rises and falls away like a wave in the ocean. When you realize it will pass, you don’t have to feel so afraid of experiencing it anymore.
4. Look at the Bigger Picture
Fear makes you feel uncomfortable but, in most cases, it won’t really harm you — but attempting to avoid the experience of fear will, because you are robbing yourself of the chance to experience the deep satisfaction which comes with listening to your heart and soul and creating a better life full of passion and purpose.
Check in with your future self. How will you feel a year from now if you don’t take action towards your dreams? How about five or ten years from now?
Remembering the bigger picture of your precious life can help you step out of your comfort zone and into the unknown.
5. Anchor in the present moment
The feeling of fear in our body is often triggered by thoughts in our mind — we are worrying about what may happen in the future, or we are creating our own negative stories about something that happened in the past — when nothing is actually threatening or disturbing us in the present moment.
You can take your focus away from your thoughts by switching your focus to what is going on in the present moment. Pay attention to the nature around you, notice the sensation of the air on your skin or the clothing against your body. Take a few deep breaths in and out, count your blessings, be grateful for what you have. Feel the energy in your hands and feet. You will immediately experience a sense of relief, relaxation and growing inner peace. You can use the present moment as a safe haven all throughout the day, whenever your mind is triggering fear.
If you take anything away outside of these steps, I hope it is to pursue your dreams now, despite your fear. The feeling you get from actually going from dreaming to doing is such an amazing one. You will learn, grow, and gain confidence as you take these steps to overcome your fears and pursue your dreams. Make yourself a priority. You can create any type of life you want for yourself. And while it may feel scary to make big changes, fear doesn’t have to stop you. Start taking steps right now to turn your dream into a reality.
Learn how sometimes smaller things in our lives make huge impact and you can take some learnings on a personal and professional level by following me on LinkedIn and on our official website. Also follow us on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Medium, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Muhammad Sajwani is the Founder, Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Evolve HR which aims at transforming, enriching and evolving Human Capital of Pakistan. At Evolve HR, him and his team thrives in challenging assumptions that hinder organisational aspirations, by creating innovative solutions that yield maximum impact, scalability & benefit to a wider base of stakeholders. As a Business Coach and Organisational Consultant, Sajwani knows how to combine business insights with people insights to transform organisations and put them on the path to growth.