Fear of failure (and how to tackle it)
It’s the end of October. The nights are drawing in earlier, pumpkins with ghoulish carved faces are grinning in the windows, children are rushing about outside, already giddy with the thought of the sugar rush their trick or treating escapades will afford them.
Yes, it’s that time of year again: it’s Halloween!
Among the gleeful celebration of all things spooky and scary, however, there is an important point to be made.
The fact is, for many people, one of the scariest things out there is the threat of failure. It terrifies people so much that they hide themselves away in their comfort zone, avoiding risks but also avoiding all the potential rewards that come with taking those risks. As the great JK Rowling herself put it:
"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 have failed by default”.
Of course you’ll have failures. So will I, so will everybody.
In an ideal world, we would take this squarely on the chin and just keep going regardless, confident in the knowledge that failure is inevitable and in no way means success is not just around the next corner. In the very much not ideal real world, however, fear of failure is one of the biggest obstacles in both personal and professional lives.
Hypnotherapist Tellman Knudson claims that, in his 12 years of practising hypnotherapy, fear of failure is the #1 reason for his clients not achieving their goals. More importantly, however, this is usually the fear of failure to achieve something first time round! Knudson points out that this fear of failing something the first time we attempt it is ingrained in us from our school days, where first time success is rewarded. This means that, in later life, our instinctive fear of failure takes time to consciously unlearn.
On the flip side of this, confidence in oneself has been shown in studies to correlate strongly with subsequent success in achieving goals.This is great news, because although some people are naturally more gregarious and inclined to take risks than others (for example, adrenaline junkies), all of us, no matter how timid, can take steps to unlearn our trained fear of failure and become more confident in ourselves and our abilities.
It is also important to remember that overcoming your fear of failure does not mean making irrational decisions. Calculated risk taking has the potential to reap great rewards, but this is not the same as making rash and sudden choices without thinking them through. There is no shame in thinking through all the possible outcomes, including the worst case scenario, before taking a risk, and a Plan B is a sensible contingency, not an indication of self-doubt.
With that in mind, here are our top 3 tips for tackling your fear of failure.
Retrain your brain
Knudson recommends consciously retraining your brain to embrace new things and reducing the negative associations between new experiences and fear of failure by taking classes in something you have never done before. This could be a new type of gym class, a sport, a creative pursuit, or something technical. It has to be something you want to do, but something you have limited or non-existent previous experience or knowledge of.
The aim of this is to make yourself do something new in front of people and retrain your brain to become more comfortable with the perfectly natural concept of not succeeding at something at the first attempt. People start new hobbies all the time without expecting to be brilliant from the get-go, because they enjoy the journey of improving and learning more about the hobby and themselves, and while this seems like an obvious statement, it becomes a powerful tool for self-improvement when used in this context.
We all know, deep down, that perseverance and training are the key to becoming successful at something, but our brains need reminding and rewiring to adhere to this fact!
Open up your body language
In the spirit of the time honoured business cliché “fake it til you make it”, remember that if you project confidence, then no one is going to know that deep down you’re quaking in your boots, and, if you can convince them, you can convince yourself, too! This a particularly good strategy for using in presentations and face-to-face situations like meeting new people or negotiating with someone.
Financier Elle Kaplan points out that when things are not going well, people naturally slouch forwards and cross their arms. This is negative, defensive body language which folds your body in on itself and projects insecurity and lack of confidence, and has been linked to decreased interview success. It has even been suggested that the negotiations between Lib Dems and Labour following the 2010 election were negatively impacted by the slouchy body language of Ed Balls; if true, this emphasises just how crucial body language is when it comes to achieving important goals!
Kaplan instead recommends the use of open stances such as the Superhero Pose, as this has been shown to increase confidence and risk-taking. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-superheroes/201107/why-you-may-want-stand-superhero While adopting a power stance won’t magically make you as infallible as Superman, it works wonders if your kryptonite is not failure itself, but the fear of failure!
Embrace the abundance mentality
Kaplan also attributes a lack of willingness to try new things to something called the scarcity mentality. This is the idea that everyone is competing for the same things, and that there is a finite amount of success to be shared among everyone, and, by extension, that our own talents are too limited or specific to allow us to flourish in this competitive environment.
This mindset often leads to self-defeating thoughts and unhelpful comparisons with people you feel are more successful than you, and a tendency to focus on a lack of something rather than the abundance of possibilities for changing this lack. This can damage your professional development and can also stop you trying new experiences in your personal life, too.
The abundance mentality, meanwhile, is the opposite of this. It encourages us to remove our self-imposed mental limitations and view new challenges as unlockable potential, not a recipe for failure. When you start consciously acknowledging the things you appreciate, your world outlook quickly brightens, and with it, your self confidence increases! Writing down things you appreciate and goals you want to achieve can help you to visualise and literalise this mentality.
When the abundance mentality is combined with Knudson’s brain training technique, you should be raring to get started on all kinds of new endeavours, and no longer haunted by your fear of failure.