How Fear of Failure Is Holding You Back
We all have goals for things we want to achieve in our life. However our goals are limited to the capacity of our thoughts and the influence these thoughts have on our emotions and our behavior.
This means that even when you dream big, the fear of failing will likely keep you from trying.
Fear is supposed to protect us from harm and keep us alive. It does this by activating the sympathetic nervous system into an acute stress response. When this happens we experience a physiological response (heart racing, shallow breathing, sweating, etc).
However, our minds cannot distinguish perception from reality, so we end up feeling fear and the physiological responses to fear when we start to consider something we are unsure of.
Fear in itself is a strong unpleasant feeling that has a huge influence on our behavior, however, fear that threatens how we view ourselves and our world is even stronger.
Failure, if we allow it, can damage our confidence and our hope for the future. Therefore, if we believe there is a possibility of failing, the fear of becoming a failure and feeling disappointed becomes too threatening.
For those with low self-esteem who have been put down by critical or unsupportive parents or by abusive partners as adults, this is even more challenging. These individuals may have internalized these beliefs and may feel they are unworthy of success.
So how can you overcome fear and not let it get
in the way of your goals and dreams?
Recognizing the thoughts influencing this fear is the first step in taking control. Notice the specific negative thoughts that trigger the fear. What is the worst case scenario and what is the probability that it will happen? What would it mean if it were to happen? Is there anything positive that would come from it?
It may be helpful to write these thoughts down. We created a simple thought record that may be helpful to use for this activity.
"Until you make the unconscious conscious,
it will direct your life and you will call it fate"
We all experience negative and at times irrational thoughts that are not helpful (for a list of common irrational thoughts, refer to this previous post). However, you can challenge these thoughts so that they have less influence onto your emotions and behavior.
In cognitive-behavioral therapy, challenging irrational thoughts (or cognitive distortions as we call them) is referred to as cognitive restructuring. We use socratic questioning to help clients through the process, but you can try this yourself with this worksheet from Therapist Aid.
Positive thinking helps to build confidence and self-esteem. Reframe negative thoughts into positive factual thoughts. For example, let's say you are worried about your performance in a presentation at work but have spent a lot of time preparing. Challenge negative thoughts by reminding yourself of the facts (you are well prepared, you know a lot about what you are discussing, you did the best you can and it is normal to not have all of the answers).
You can also print positive self-affirmations and place them where they are visible. Reading these self-affirmations daily will influence more positive thinking.
We like this one from Mind Body Soul
4. Mindset Shift
Failure is part of the learning process, without it it's difficult to achieve the level of insight and resilience required to overcome difficult obstacles. At one point or another in your life, you already experienced failure and that experience has shaped who you have become today. Focus on the lessons learned from the failure and try again. Remember that with each lesson, you are closer than the person who was too afraid to even try.
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts"