How many times do well-meaning colleagues set work or personal goals—goals that are entirely within their reach—only to report back to their team a few weeks or months later that they’ve failed to make any meaningful progress on them? It’s not uncommon in many organizations, and sometimes this lack of progress is partially rooted in a lack of follow-through.
Most people know what they want; they know what goals they want to accomplish and can break their goals down into the action steps they’ll need to take to get there. But they won’t follow through on those action steps. Why is this? For some people, the failure to take action can be traced back to a paralyzing fear of failure. If you fail to deal with a fear of failure properly, that fear can sabotage your highest goals and diminish your chances of success.
What is the Fear of Failure and How Does it Manifest?
Fear of failure actually has a scientific name— atychiphobia. When you begin to experience this fear of failure as a persistent and overwhelming phobia, you will likely find yourself confronting many other issues in your life. If you aren’t reaching your goals because you’re consumed with the fear of failing, for example, you may find yourself battling anxiety, depression, or even perfectionism.
According to Very Well Mind and Entrepreneur, individuals who fear failure may exhibit their fear through a variety of behaviors. One person may jokingly tell their coworkers that they have little to no expectation of making progress on their goals (i.e., “I’m going to try to lose those 20 pounds this year, but I’ll probably trip up by Valentine’s Day! You know how I love the chocolate!”). Another person may procrastinate starting on goals or projects by refusing to volunteer for projects or set goals at all.
Still, others with a fear of failure may, as Psychology Today points out, focus all their energy on preventing losses rather than achieving gains. Rather than pushing their business to new heights, these people instead put multiple safeguards in place to ensure the business retains its current value.
Where Does it Come From?
Fear of failure typically isn’t something that a person is born with, so why must some individuals learn to overcome this obstacle?
The Very Well Mind and Entrepreneur writers identify several underlying causes for the fear of failure. For adults who find themselves battling a severe aversion to failure or the risk of failure later in life, these causes may include a critical upbringing, wherein they were overly criticized for any failures in their childhood. For other people, these causes may include an unhealthy definition of failure or an understanding of failure as a reflection of self-worth.
Can You Overcome It?
For those individuals who recognize a slightly disruptive or absolutely overwhelming fear of failure in their own lives, the next question they may logically ask themselves is, “How do I overcome it?” If the fear of failure is preventing you from achieving your goals, what can you do to remedy the situation?
According to Inc, there are a few things you can do. The first step is to recognize what it is that you fear about failure and then work to reframe any cognitive distortions you hold in relation to your fear. You should ask yourself if you feel that failing will lead to irrefutable, irreversible consequences. If so, you may need to take a step back and more realistically realize the consequences of a failure.
In these situations, you must look at actual evidence by thinking back to a time that failure occurred in which there were not horrific consequences. You might ask yourself, “When did I experience failure and everything ended up being okay, or even better than expected?”
It’s also vital to realize that fear begets fear. Fear is like a tree. The longer one allows the acorn of fear to remain in their mind, the longer that fear has to take root and grow until it becomes a huge, mighty beast of a mental habit. Eventually, the fear tree that’s become such a large part of your life starts to drop new acorns of fear that then begin to grow their very own trees.
As mentioned above, those with a severe fear of failure may avoid growth, as it always comes with a degree of risk. They’d rather focus on what could be lacking and then protect themselves (or their business) from that lack. But this mindset in and of itself is one rooted in fear. So, the next time you find yourself focusing on all of your losses and setbacks, it’s important to refocus those thoughts on growth and progress instead. This refocusing can be difficult to do, but it is possible.
Is Fear Always Bad?
No—and that’s the caveat. A successful individual doesn’t necessarily need to strip their mindset of all fear, to the point that they become foolhardy. As Harvard Business Review points out, the best entrepreneurs and businesspeople can thrive despite fear by using tactics like the ones mentioned above to overcome their fear of failure. The key to this kind of success is never allowing fear to run your life. The fear should motivate you to build a network, learn, and problem solve.
The Bottom Line
If you fail to deal with a fear of failure properly, that fear can sabotage your highest goals and diminish your chances of success. Luckily, there are many ways to overcome this fear and take your life back. Shifting your mindset in such a dramatic way is difficult, but Arootah can help.
Arootah’s coaching services help clients overcome failure-based fears for more success in their personal and business lives. Clients learn to set and achieve goals and thrive despite their fear until they find that their fear of failure isn’t so huge after all.
Learn more about our coaching services here.