Fear Of Failure: How To Overcome It & Start Living In Success
Updated on June 7, 2022 by Michele Pariza Wacek
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One of my very successful entrepreneurial friends announced that one of her 2019 goals was to fail 30 times. What?
Why on earth would you EVER set a goal to fail? Isn’t failing the very thing we want to avoid at all costs?
Well… Here’s the dirty little secret about success. If you’re successful, you’ve failed. Numerous times.
And, the more successful you are, the harder and more spectacular you’ve failed.
In fact, the only sure way to avoid failure is to also avoid success.
Consider all the ways successful people have also failed massively.
- Thomas Edison tried more then 10,000 times to invent the light bulb. (And when a reporter asked him about his 10,000 failures, he interrupted and said “I didn’t have 10,000 failures, I now know 10,000 ways a lightbulb doesn’t work.”)
- Walt Disney was reportedly fired by a newspaper editor for not having good ideas and no imagination!
- Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school 3 times!
- Tim Ferris, best known for his book “The 4 Hour Workweek” was turned down by 25 publishers.
The Internet is littered with stories of successful people who went for their dreams and fell flat on their faces.
But, that’s just part of the story. Successful people also have one OTHER thing in common.
They didn’t let their failures stop them.
They got up, dusted themselves off and went right back to work.
That ability to bounce back after a failure or setback is actually what sets apart successful people from the not-so-successful.
Now, all that said … I want to take a step back and be real for a moment.
It’s one thing to read about this in a motivational or personal development article, and nod your head and think “good to know, the next time I fail I won’t worry about it because it’s just a part of becoming more successful…”
… And, quite another to be knocked flat on the ground, completely overwhelmed by the emotions of a huge, massive disappointment.
If just reading articles like these was enough to help you look fear of failure square in the eye and say “I’m not afraid of you, bring it on!” we’d all be wildly successful right now.
But, that’s not the case.
The truth is for many of us, we DO let failure stop us. Sometimes it’s simply the fear of failure that keeps us from trying in the first place.
Sometimes we go for it, only to have a huge setback, and then we decide it’s not worth it.
Or, maybe, we decide the failure is the Universe or God’s way of telling us we’re on the wrong path. That our dreams are actually NOT what we’re supposed to be doing after all.
I know this because this was me.
Getting Rid Of Fear Of Failure – Why You Need To Look Your Fear In The Eye
Part 1: I almost let my own fear of failure stop me from my dreams.
My story starts when I was 3 years old. I taught myself to read because I wanted to write stories so badly.
With that kind of early determination, you would think I would have become a published author in my twenties.
However, that would not be the case.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-forties when I finally took the plunge and hit publish on my books.
It wasn’t because I didn’t have the novels written. I completed two novels in my early thirties, and both were sitting in my computer gathering dust.
It wasn’t because I hadn’t any interest. I actually had an editor at Bantam Dell who WAS interested in my books. (Although she ended up passing.)
Instead of looking for a way to send my books to other publishers, I simply stopped writing fiction. I put my attention and focus on my copywriting company. (Copywriting is writing promotional copy for businesses, nothing to do with putting a copyright on something.)
At the time, I told myself I was simply taking a break to build up my business and make some money so I could return to writing fiction.
That was a lie.
It wasn’t until my mother passed in 2015 that I realized the truth of what I was doing.
I had allowed my fear of failure to control my life.
Since then, I have published five fiction novels and five nonfiction books. Sitting in the ER with my dying mother, all I could hear in my head was a voice saying “I’m not going to die with my books inside me.”
And, I don’t want that to happen to you either.
So, let’s talk about WHY fear of failure stops us. Because, here’s the truth. If it was simply a mental thing, if we could simply tell ourselves “see, look at all of these stories about successful people who had horrible failures and we just need to keep going” then we’d all be successful.
But, it’s not just a mental exercise.
It’s about our emotions.
What stops us is our feelings.
The truth is, failure feels awful. There’s no getting around it. It sucks.
Who on earth would want to choose to feel awful?
Which is precisely how it stops us.
Let’s dig into this more.
PART 2: How our emotions create fear of failure
1. Something “feels” bad, so we decide that must mean we shouldn’t do it, because nothing that feels so bad could possibly be a good thing.
Here’s the truth about emotions. Emotions are not about truth. Or facts. Or reasons.
Emotions just want to be felt. That’s all. You can’t reason with them or talk to them. They’re not logical. They simply want to be felt. Once they’ve been felt, they go away.
The problem is, in our culture, we’re taught we shouldn’t be feeling our “bad” emotions (like grief, anger, fear, shame, etc.) We should push those down or deny them or run away from them and instead focus on feeling “good.”
However, you can’t just feel “good” emotions without feeling the bad ones. It doesn’t work like that. Either you feel all of your emotions or none of them.
In addition, you really can’t permanently not feel your “bad” emotions. Remember, emotions just want to be felt. So, if you have unfelt grief or anger or fear or shame you keep trying to suppress, it’s not going to go away. It’s going to keep haunting you until you actually feel it.
So, what does any of this have to do with not wanting to fail? Well, what it means is we can’t trust our emotions.
It could be that your emotions are simply trying to get your attention so you feel them.
But it could be more than that.
2. Your subconscious brain WILL use your emotions to stop you from making changes.
There’s a part of your subconscious brain, sometimes called your “reptile” brain, that exists to keep you safe.
Not HAPPY mind you. But safe.
So, what’s safe? Well, what you’re doing now!
Your reptile brain knows your safe this very instant, so it wants you to keep doing whatever it is you’re doing.
Because if you change and do something else, well, maybe that’s not safe! Maybe that will kill you!
(Yes, this is not logical, but remember, we’re dealing with lizard brain. Logic is a function in your “higher,” more evolved brain.)
So, because your lizard brain wants you to survive, it will do whatever it can to keep you from making a big change.
And that includes using your emotions against you.
For instance, let’s say you really want to write a book. But, every time you sit down to write, you don’t feel “inspired” to write. And, if you believe you MUST feel inspiration in order to write, you never actually get anything written.
It doesn’t have to be linked to inspiration. Maybe you just don’t “feel” like doing whatever it is that is going make you successful, so you don’t do it.
It can also show up as procrastination or lack of focus. Or deciding you really need to get laundry done first. Or as those voices in your head that are doubting yourself. “Who am I to be writing a book?” “Who would ever read a book from me anyway?” “I shouldn’t be taking the time to write a book, I have other things to do, like spend time with my family or my job.”
Maybe it also shows up as fear of success. What happens if your book takes off and you start making more money than your spouse? Will your spouse stay with you? Will your kids still love you?
Do you see how sneaky this can be?
PART 3: How to get rid of fear of failure, when it is standing right in your way of success?
Well, there are a few things you can do about fear of failure.
1. Understand that willpower is only going to get you so far.
There’s a reason why some days it’s super easy for you to go to the gym, and other days you can’t get off the couch. If you’re relying on willpower to exercise, those days where you already used up your “cache” of willpower on something else (perhaps you had to finish a much-hated task at work), there’s nothing left to get you to gym.
In fact, there have been numerous studies that have proven that as powerful willpower is, it is VERY limited. (Think of it like your battery in your cellphone, in the morning, it’s at full power, and as you use it throughout the day, you drain it until there’s nothing left and you have to wait for it to recharge.)
If you’re relying on willpower to push yourself through and make yourself more successful, you’re far more likely to quit in the face of a failure versus having the resources and wherewithal to pick yourself back up.
So, if you can’t use willpower to beat fear or failure, then what CAN you use?
2. Create powerful success habits.
If something becomes a habit, then it no longer requires willpower to do. So, if you can create a habit around, say, writing every day, or working on your business every day, you’ll have something to fall back even if fear of failure, or the failure itself smacks you in the face.
3. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Have you heard of that quote “everything you ever wanted is on the other side of your worst fear?” Well, a more accurate way of saying that is “everything you ever wanted you’ll get once you’re able to feel your worst fear.”
Studies of successful people have shown that the more of a capacity you have to feel your emotions without letting them stop you, the more successful you’ll be.
Don’t feel like writing today? So what? Write anyway.
Did you wake up feeling stressed and worried and overwhelmed? So what? Feel that way, but don’t let it stop you from taking the action you need to take today.
If you can do that, allow yourself to feel all those feelings you don’t want to feel, without letting them derail you, you’ll be able to keep taking action which will one day lead to success.
4. Understand that failure isn’t permanent.
Just because you fail doesn’t mean it’s not “meant to happen.” It just means it didn’t happen that particular way.
It could still happen another way.
Instead of viewing failure as a message that means “stop,” view it as feedback. Like Thomas Edison. You now know a way that this won’t work. So, what’s another way you can try?
5. When failure happens, and it will, allow yourself to feel the emotions.
It’s okay if you want to cry after a major setback. Or scream. Or beat a pillow.
If you keep not letting yourself feel those emotions, you’re setting yourself up to let your emotions beat you.
Don’t worry if it’s not “logical” or it “doesn’t make sense.” Emotions aren’t supposed to BE logical or make sense. They’re feelings. They just want to be felt.
So feel them. Surrender to them. Let them move through you.
I guarantee if you do that, you’ll get over your failure MUCH faster than if you fight or deny it.
The faster you feel them, the faster they’ll leave, and the faster you’ll be able to pick yourself up and get back to work.
Bonus! Best Books That Help You To Get Rid Of Fear Of Failure
Saying Goodbye To Fear Of Failure
What I just outlined in this article is simple, but not easy. It’s really tough to sit in the fire of your emotions. There’s a reason why a lot of people won’t do it. Because, when you’re in the middle of it, it feels awful.
It’s also the fastest way to change your life.
But, when you’re in the middle of it, be gentle with yourself. Drink a lot of water. Go to bed early or take a nap. It’s exhausting feeling emotions. Give yourself the gift of resting and self care.
You can do this. I believe in you.
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