Is Fear of Failure Holding You Back?




Do you have that voice in your head – the one that asks if you are sure, really sure that you can do it?The one that suggests that you just might not have what it takes, that you might fail? The one that speaks of how, if you fail you’ll be exposed as incompetent, useless, limited, flawed, a loser. The voice that reminds you how hurt you could get and how much safer it is to step back, stay small and stay silent, rather than step up and risk failure. This voice, that in its attempts to keep you ‘safe’, would have you live a ‘half-lived-life’.



Chances are the voice is as familiar to you as it is to the rest of us. Although we start life as these gung-ho little beings,approaching the world as something to be explored, poked, prodded and experimented with until it reveals its treasures, most of us succumb to fear of failure and a pattern of risk avoidance somewhere along the way.



Perhaps it has something to do with a system of schooling, where it’s all about one ‘right’ answer and getting it ‘right’ first time.Where we learn that whilst ‘right’ is good, ‘wrong’ is bad and often associated with feelings of disappointment, embarrassment, humiliation and shame.



To make matters worse, we often identify with our behaviour, taking it on in our beliefs as an enduring characteristic, letting it define us. Instead of making a mistake we become a failure, a dummy, or a loser – not good enough. 



Such patterning can so easily lead us to dull ourselves down, play safe, procrastinate and fall victim to the stagnation of perfection.



Imagine how life might be now if you had attended a school, like the one I discovered in India, whose approach to learning is based on the principles of design thinking. Where the focus is on facilitating the expression of your unique ‘genius’. You would have learned that the creative process is a wandering path path filled with potholes, unexpected turns, doorways and surprising vistas.  You would have found that failure is a a fantastic way to learn, to tune into and midwife an emerging idea into existence. You would have been encouraged to explore, experiment, fail, pivot, fail again, adapt, extend, listen and open to innovation. You would have been taught to see your experience as an experiment that yields data, affords learning, and unearths the resource of innovation. You would have absorbed completely different meanings for the words failure and mistake, had very different experiences of them and taken different actions as a consequence. You would be more willing to give yourself permission to screw up, and hence more likely to succeed with ease.



But yeah, I hear you, that all sounds great and it would have been just peachy, but unfortunately you didn’t get that particular educational gift. You got the version which carried the punitive, debilitating notion of  mistake and failure.



However all is not lost! You may have missed out on it then, but it’s never too late to begin to your own re-education. You can start now and learn to reframe your view of failure – learn to see it differently – create a new context and a new set of meanings – have a new experience of events, new feelings – take different actions and get new results. Instead of buying into the default idea of failure being a negative and permanent identity – evidence of your inadequacy. A hole you fall into that claims you forever, and that “could have been avoided if you were just smart enough.” You can rebrand it, as a normal, temporary, beneficial event, a part of the creative process that brings information and possibility. An invitation to continue to explore and experiment. A chance to develop your strengths and talents.


7 Things You Can Do to Support Rebranding. 


  1. Read biographies of people who have embraced failure as part of their success. The quotes below give a glimpse into some peoples perspectives.

” You have to be free to fail in this world.”    J.K. Rowling

” Mistakes are portals of discovery.”  James Joyce

“One fails toward success.”   C.S. Lewis

” When we give ourselves permission to fail, we at the same time give ourselves permission to excel.”  Eloise Ristad

” If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.”  Sir Ken Robinson



2.  Instead of trying to get to a place of ‘being good or right’, work on getting better, better at it than you were yesterday, last month or last year. Success and fulfilment are a process not a destination.



3. Practice seeing failure as an event, an outcome of actions, not who you are. You are someone who is engaged with life, who steps up, daring to do, to learn, to grow are create.



4. Compare yourself to how you did before, rather than to others.



5.  Take action. Learn. Take action. Learn. Take action. Bill Barren says he’s glad he learned to start projects that he’s not totally ready for. He attributes much of his success to starting fast and failing even faster.



6. Use EFT tapping to take the sting of of failure and move you into action.



7. Practice recognizing the voice that would have you avoid failure.  Bring it up to a conscious level. Remind yourself that you have a choice and that you have chosen to rebrand, to live a different meaning of failure. And then speak back to the voice with confidence and compassion.


eg. Voice“You might fail and then people will judge you.”

  Response ” Yeah I might fail and if I do I will learn something and be closer to my goal. People will do what they will do, but I am not prepared to give up on myself by not taking action. And hey loads of successful people see failures as essential stepping stones to success. So don’t worry. I’m fine whatever the outcome. Thanks for caring, but I can take it from here.” 


8. Practice catching yourself in those moments when you are about to throw negative judgement on someone else’s failure.  Or perhaps it’s more of an inner warm release as you give thanks that it wasn’t you. Recognize and acknowledge what you are thinking, forgive yourself and claim your choice to change. Switch to an attitude of acknowledging and celebrating the other’s courage, their willingness to engage, to step up and move themselves further down the road to success, fulfilment and  contribution.



     Studies have shown that it’s the risks we did not take that we regret the most.





















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