One of the main feelings that stops people from achieving their goals in life and realizing their potential is fear. Specifically, the fear of failure. Setting out to achieve something difficult, no matter the size of the goal, can cause stress and discomfort within a person. This can be for a number of reasons. People are naturally hesitant to venture outside their comfort zone and this is often due to the misconception that failing to meet a desired set of objectives will cause negative feelings, often due to a personal or social reaction to the perceived failure. By learning to overcome the fear of failure people are far more likely to achieve the goals that would bring happiness to their lives.
The reason that fear of failure is such a major stumbling block for many people who are looking to develop their self is due to the combination of a powerful negative emotion, fear, and an equally potent social or personal outcome, failure. These two concepts, in combination, feed off one another so that a person’s fear may make the prospect of failure seem worse, or past failures can increase a person’s present fear, and so forth. It is possible to break out of this cycle of self-defeating behavior by re-examining the concepts of fear and failure and turning them from limiting and negative to enabling and positive.
Firstly, the concept of fear. Fear is a state that has been instilled in people as an evolutionary safeguard against negative outcomes which would reduce a species’ ability to replicate. The reason that people are instinctively scared by heights is that a lack of fear in this area could result in death or serious injury. This is a useful, logical fear to have. The problem with fear in a modern context is that for most people it fails to serve a useful purpose in their life and the feared outcome is often made far worse mentally than it would be in actuality.
A practical way of dealing with fear is to change the personal significance it has. Instead of seeing fear as an omen of impending negative outcomes, a precursor to avoidant behavior, the nervous energy that fear manifests as can instead be usefully re-framed as excitement. Provided the fear does not relate to something genuinely dangerous or reckless then it can be utilized in order to achieve success. Over time, as people learn to associate fear as a positive sign that meaningful personal change is underway, then its previous limiting powers will diminish.
Due to the raw primal nature of fear it can be harder to address than the problem of failure. Failure lacks the raw emotional power of fear and is therefore less of a hindrance in self-development. Similarly to fear, understanding failure is the first step to mastering it and the limiting power it can have over lives. Everyone is likely to have their own personal definition of failure as well of a set of emotional reactions to it. The key is to understand how to take a personal set of ideas about the concept of failure and change them from limiting to empowering.
One technique that many people find helpful when dealing with their ideas related to failure is to simply delete the concept from their own personal beliefs entirely! This may sound extreme but is powerful when carried out properly. In order to remove failure and the power it has people need to disassociate emotional reactions with the logical realities of ‘failure’. For example, if a person had a goal to reach a set body weight by a certain date, and they did not meet this goal, they could look at this outcome in two ways.
A person who believes in failure would dwell on the negative side of their experience. This might include the fact they are not where they want to be, the shame they feel in their social circle and their own negative emotional reaction to looking in the mirror. An alternative, failure-free way of dealing with the same outcome, namely body weight being higher than desired by a particular date, would be to see it as feedback. Clearly the person has learned one way not to achieve their goal within a set date, and if lessons are learnt from this, then the experience has been a valuable one overall due to illustrating future mistakes to avoid.
In the context of self-development and achieving goals there are a number of different methods that people can use to overcome their own fear of failure. To use the example of a person who wishes to reduce their body weight it may be useful for a person to take the negative emotions they have regarding failure and instead attach them to inaction. So rather than thinking about how embarrassing and time-wasting it would be to set out on a program of diet and exercise, and not meet a weight-loss goal, the person should switch their mental focus to the negative outcomes of inaction, namely high body-weight, bad self-image etc. This approach doesn’t aim to make a person fearless, rather it aims to make them fearful of irrational behavior leading to undesired outcomes.
Practical and logical people may find it useful to make a rock-solid list of reasons why trying and failing to achieve a particular goal would be better than not trying to accomplish it at all. If their own reasons aren’t enough for them then they can turn to countless greats from the worlds of sport, politics and every other field who praise the value of perceived failure so long as it is learned from. In the words of Thomas Edison – “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” It is clear that this persistency and outlook can lead to great things.
The above techniques are powerful starting points for a person’s journey of overcoming their fear of failure. If understood and practiced successfully they can make a real difference to goals ranging from losing five pounds of body fat to climbing Mount Everest. No matter what you want to achieve in life, overcoming your fear of failure is a powerful tool. Learning to see negative failure as positive feedback is a major step on the path to success.