• Coach Kate

How much is your fear of failure holding you back?

Last week I wrote about the Fear of Success and how this can be really debilitating and stop us from moving forwards as we, subconsciously, want to remain in our comfort zone.

However, what if this is not you? What if you love succeeding and are not fearful of what success brings yet you are terrified of failing so much so you don’t even start that project or go for that promotion?

Needless to say, once this fear grips us it can be paralysing and stops us moving forward resulting in us missing out on so many opportunities – not only in work but in all areas of our life.

How many times have you said to yourself “If only I had asked that question?” “If only I had gone to that party?” “If only I had texted back…?”

Let’s take a moment to explore what Fear of Failure is.

What is ‘failure’ to you? This looks different to everyone as we all have different concepts of what failure is.

Atychiphobia is the crippling fear of failure which stops us from doing anything in relation to our goals.

Where does this come from though? Just as with Fear of Success there may be a multitude of root causes:

  • Critical or unsupportive parents or carers whilst growing up.

  • Experiencing a traumatic, impactful even such as giving a key presentation which went very badly and had negative ongoing effects.

  • Perfectionism

  • Fragile or even fake self-confidence

Overcoming your Fear of Failure

Ask yourself what are you actually afraid of if you were to fail? Psychologists have pinpointed that it is in fact the aftermath that causes this fear to manifest itself with these 5 areas we believe failure will lead to:

  1. Experiencing shame and embarrassment

  2. Readjusting how you see yourself

  3. Having an uncertain future

  4. Upsetting important others

  5. Important others losing interest

Identifying which of these 5 areas affects us we can then plan on how to overcome our failure rather than allow it to prevent us from achieving so much more.

Fearing the unknown is a major factor in blocking us from moving forwards so analyse all the potential outcomes of your actions or decisions – once you delve into these, chances are the worst case scenario will not be so bad or even unmanageable.

If the worst-case scenario seems disastrous then consider all the ways in which to prevent this and reach out to those who can help you – basically get a contingency plan in place to help mitigate the disaster fallout.

Positive thinking is so easy to talk about and much harder to do so think about what you can say to your failure fear to reassure it.

Perhaps your Inner Critic is piping up and needs some attention and proof that you have control and have a plan to cope with all outcomes.

Focus on how you are speaking to yourself and actively avoid negative self-talk. I find speaking in the third person to myself helps when fear of failure has taken its hold as I imagine I am speaking to my best friend or a client – support, encourage and reassure.

Language is incredibly powerful (I may have mentioned this before in a few posts … ahem!) so assess the language you are using around failure and reframe it. In fact – learn with the kids as a hugely positive step forward in education is that children are being taught to redefine the word failure and what it means:



In Learning

What great way to look at failure! After all it took Edison 1000 failures until he invented the lightbulb – so now is the time to start reviewing your language around failure starting with the word itself.

And of course, asking yourself what did you gain from that failure? Sounds counterintuitive but what did you learn? What insights have now appeared for you? What will you do differently next time?

Pixar encourage their people to actively fail “Fail early and fail fast” so that creativity is not blocked and so that they are constantly innovating.

Build failure into your goals or objectives – make it part of your development and if you are a leader make it part of your learning vision.

Visualisation of success can be hugely helpful; not just something to aim for but to help us map out how to achieve that success.

Start with the end point – what do you want to achieve and what does that success look like? Really sense it and get creative here too by drawing your success or finding an image that represents this or several! Use music or scents if pictures don't do it for you.

Once you have that solid ideal now work backwards to work out how to achieve that success – what needs to happen? Who needs to be involved and who can help? What resources do you require? What potential blocks may come up and how can you overcome them?

By focusing on the actions towards success you will not become overwhelmed with the fear of failing in reaching it.

A final thought - if we are not failing then we are not learning, growing or developing – we remain stuck. Now that might be super comfortable for some of us but is this going to lead us living a rich and full life? Probably not as we will never try anything new.

Recovering from failure reveals to us how resilient we are, how we can overcome challenges and tests our ingenuity. Take some time to look back at your past failures and how you overcame them, what did you learn that you may need a reminder of and, crucially, what can you take forward now.

If you would like to work on overcoming your fear of failure then contact me on coach@kate-bishop.co.uk or 0775 3397 143

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