Overcoming the Fear of Failure

No Success without Failure

People of greatness share a common attribute: failure. That might surprise you but if you go back and look at anyone that has had success, in any field, you will see that an important part of success is learning how to fail and how to rise above it.

Failure is something the average person does everything to avoid. They believe that successful people got there because they got lucky. Having that luck would meant an express pass to success and avoiding all failure.

The fact is successful people use failure, not as a reason to quit, but as a learning experience and motivator to achieve something bigger.

Nobody wants to fail. Just because failure is actually a good thing for you doesn’t mean that you should do everything you can to fail. If you start with the mindset that you’re going to fail, then you will. It also means you will just give it half your effort because you anticipate failure.

Successful people hate to fail. They just don’t fear it. The risk is worth it. They also understand how to view failure so it lessens the impact and use it to become better.

What does fear do to you?

Fear physically will stop you from doing any behavior that seems risky. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing your first book, asking a guy or girl for a date, or trying to start your own business. Your brain’s reaction is the same. It thinks, “I don’t know about this. It’s scary. Think of the worst possible results. Don’t take a chance.” It will stop you before you even get started.

Our brain wants to protect us from something that is new. It doesn’t like surprises and it definitely doesn’t like risks. However, doing that prevents us from taking chances to be successful or go after a big dream.

If we fail, we like to assume the worst will happen. The world will end! The whole will know! If I quit my job, I’ll run out of money. If I talk to that girl, she’s going to laugh at how stupid I am. If I start that business, I will lose time and money if it fails.

We let fear hold us back because we see the worst possible scenario as more important than the idea of any success. What that means is we do not want the worst possible scenario to happen. We will do whatever we can to avoid it and we believe the only way is to not take the risk. Even if that means missing a chance to succeed.

These days nobody has the time keep track of our failures. They have enough of their own problems to worry about. If we fail, at worst a small number of people will know and they will soon forget about it.

(Those that do have the time to constantly remind you of your failures are people you need to distance yourself from. Now.)

The only person we have to face every single day is ourself. Look in the mirror and ask if is it better to give it our best shot, and fail, or to live with regret knowing that we never tried at all?

Those that decide to take action will find amazing resources available for them to reach their goals.

Anything we want to learn is a Google search and a few clicks away. It is contained in books and courses. We have resources now to be a filmmaker (Youtube and Vimeo), a podcaster (iTunes), an author (Kindle), a writer (blog), an online instructor (Udemy) and more.

If we need money for a project, we don’t have to go to sell the house, borrow money from friends and family, or max out our credit cards. We can post our project on Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

Anyone has access to this, but it is fear that stops so many from using it.

How to overcome fear of failure

Almost all our fears are now self-created. We scare ourselves by imagining negative outcomes to any activity we might pursue or experience. Because we are the ones imagining, we are also the ones who can stop fear and bring ourselves into a state of clarity by facing the actual facts, rather than giving in to our imaginations. Psychologists like to say that fear means:

Fantasized
Experiences
Appearing
Real

To help you better understand how we actually bring fear into our lives, make a list of the things you are afraid to do. This is not a list of things you are afraid of, such as being afraid of snakes, but things you are afraid to do, such as being afraid to pick up a snake. For example, common fears are:

Quit my job I hate
Start writing my book
Start a business

Now go back and restate each fear this way:

I want to ______, and I scare myself by imagining ______.

The important words are I scare myself by imagining. All fear is created by us by imagining some negative outcome in the future. In these three examples, the fear of failure is really high. Using what I wrote above, the new sentences would look like this:

I want to quit my job I hate, and I scare myself by imagining I won’t find another.
I want to write my book, and I scare myself by imagining that it won’t be good.
I want to start a business, and I scare myself by imagining I’ll pick the wrong idea, and lose money.

Can you see that you are the one creating the fear? You’re giving up before you even try.

Make the fear disappear

One way to make it disappear is instead of imagining the worst possible scenario replace it with the opposite.

Take a sheet of paper write one top goal but have been too fearful to begin. Below it write down what would happen if you were to succeed. How would your life look? What results would you see? How would you feel every day? What would be able to do in life? What would you buy from the money you earn? Keep going until you write down all the positive results that can come from taking a risk.

Re-read it and as you do read it with feeling. Close your eyes after each one and imagine it. Put yourself in the future that you want.

How does that make you feel about taking action? A lot less scary right? Instead you feel motivated and ready to do what it takes. You might even begin smiling.

Find support

Consider how you would comfort a close friend who experienced the same failure as you imagine for yourself. What words of support would you offer? How would you encourage them to continue pursuing their goal? This perspective will help you get back on track and lessen the negativity you take from failure.

I just read a story about Oprah Winfrey in People magazine (it’s a guilty pleasure). In it she talks about her struggles after she ended her successful show in 2011. She went to start her own cable network, OWN, and everyone expected it to be a hit since everything Oprah touches turns to gold. Instead, it got off to a slow start, critics were harsh, and people were counting her out. It was hard for her because she’s been so successful. After years of advising viewers on how to face a crisis head-on, she had to dig deep. She said:

“This forced me not to just talk the talk. Failure is a great teacher – I knew this intellectually. But it’s another thing if you’re living it.”

Fortunately she has a great inner circle who helped her. Her longtime finance Stedman Graham said, “You can’t even think about quitting.” He also gave her tough love, telling her, “You have been in cruise control. It’s gonna turn around, but you’ve gotta do the work.”

A year after her network started, it’s on the rise.

This is why having the right people around you is so important. If you have a group of Stedman Graham’s, failures do not keep you down.

If you don’t have those type of people in your life, you can do the same by imagining what you would say to a friend. That puts into perspective how to handle failure for yourself if it does occur.

Conclusion

Most of the good stuff requires taking a risk. Taking a risk means the outcome is not guaranteed. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not.

Those who want to avoid failure will avoid taking risks. By avoiding risks, they will never reach their full potential. They will never even know what they are capable of. They will never have the life they want.

The ones who take risks know that failure is part of life. It should not be feared. The great ones have all experience some kind of failure, but it does not define them.

Photo by Chris Potter

 

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  • Paul

    Great post Benny and so true about getting around the right people and staying away from the negative people. I think a lot of people are in a comfort zone and they have lost the passion it takes to chase a dream. The negative people are afraid that you might prove them wrong.
    I always like the negative person who has never tried anything but has a opinion on what your doing and your success. People need to remember that THE OTHER SIDE OF FEAR IS FREEDOM.
    Fortune favors the bold and those who take action. Your right about finding the right suppoort to help you stay the course.
    Big dreams plus passion plus action = Success

  • This reminds me of the saying: “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.”

    Also, Nike has a slogan: “Just do it!”

    Sometimes, fear can be debilitating. However, consider fear and regret as a pair. In ten years, do you want to be in the same position you are now, with the regret that you didn’t give yourself a fair shot? Or would you rather have tried to do something that was, perhaps, out of your comfort zone – with the possibility of succeeding – and have no regrets as a result?

    I think I’ll choose the latter!

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  • Once again Benny, you have written an excellent and most inspiring piece. I like the idea of replacing the fear with a fantasy of what could happen if you were successful. Fear is truly an impediment. I was watching an interview on CNN of Sara Blakely, the billionaire founder of Spanx in which she said that her father would ask her and her brother when they were young, ” What did you fail at today?” If they couldn’t identify anything they had failed at, he would be disappointed. But if they came home saying, I tried this and failed, he would give them a high five. She said this removed the fear of failure and rejection from her mindset, which was what got her through so many obstacles and rejections on the way to establishing her now hugely successful shapewear empire.

    • That’s pretty awesome! Thanks for sharing her story. I’ve got to remember to do that when I have kids one day. 🙂

  • Benny!

    Awesome post dude. I love that acronym of fear..

    Fantasized
    Experienced
    Appearing
    Real

    Most of the time we just psych ourselves out instead of psyching ourselves up. Which definitely hurts us in the long run.

    It’s not even just about entrepreneurship either, it’s about life in general. How can we expect to live a truly fulfilled life if we never step outside of our comfort zone?

    I mean imagine how your life would have been had you not taken action – risk – on your app journey? I wouldn’t be posting this comment right now and we would have never ever connected.

    Truly crazy how things work out.

    Cheers dude

    – Chris

  • Wayne Rodden

    Hey Benny,

    Fear, man this had it’s claws into me at one time, & I beat the hell out of it. I just took a step back to evaluate what my fears were & constraints.

    I wrote them all down and just went through them like a Jack rabbit on a kangaroo’s back.

    What I realized was the amount of worrying I did over nothing & seeing it from a different angle does make a huge difference.

    great Post..

    ~Wayne

  • carlos

    Hi Benny,
    i was a great follower of your blog and i loved your newsletters and your ebook.
    thanks for this great source of inspiration – great source that come in for free, even better!!
    however i feel like the latest post are somehow redundant; for the long-time readers, the “fear of failure” thread would be no news story. Some of us (hopefully) already walked the path and moved on from the “initial” unsatisfatory and frustrating state of mind that lock you in in an unwanted position and are along the road “living the life they wanted”. And well, maybe this is no more “fear of failure”, a state of mind that i felt more at the very beginning of the move; then, when you jump, you’re off. Failure is not really the most important fear. It’s more a fact, a concrete part of the game. Instead, i’m living the “fear that the hard work required to reach my goal do not let me any free time to stay with my girlfriend” or also “fear that i can’t afford so much workload while i’ll be getting older”…and so on. would be great if you would kick in also some of these topic, also to share them between other readers of the blog.
    thanks for letting me share my view,
    all the best.

    • Hi Carlos,

      Thanks for your comment! You make great points, but based on what I read from the emails I get, failure is the biggest fear for many people. They are too scared to start anything because they already imagine they’ve failed. I wanted to write more about failure because I felt it was important. It’s great you’re past that, but I understand other fears are getting in your way. I like the topics you brought up. Will keep those in mind for a future blog post!

  • Colt Downs

    This really pinpoints one of the biggest problems many of us face today. I mean, we fear more from failing to the point that we won’t do something out of that fear. Sadly, this is one of the most prevalent problems in community today.
    Then, we do worse by justifying that our non-action is beneficial in the long run. I remember that I feared getting dumped by girls in the past that I never even bothered asking them in the first place. Worse, I just muttered to myself that “it was useless, either way” or stuff like that.
    I really love that acronym of Fear (Fantasized Experiences Appearing Real),it really homes in on what the sensation is when it takes over us. Our fear of failure should never define us; our way of dealing with it should.
    Anyway, great article! Would love to read more from you soon!

    • Thanks for leaving a comment Colt and sharing your experience.

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  • Davis Robert

    Undoubtedly that will motivate thousands!
    For me there exist the only motivation: Do you really need to do it? If yes – do it, if no – do what you need! 🙂

  • www.LifePurposeNow.com

    “The fact is successful people use failure, not as a reason to quit, but as a learning experience and motivator to achieve something bigger.”

    I am always trying to remind my clients and students of this. Well said! I also run into a lot of folks who have Artist or Innovator Life Purposes who are particularly prone to what I call a “fear of tomatoes”—they’re afraid that if they go out there and do what they do best, the outer critics will pelt them with rotten fruit.

    Great post… it reminded me to tackle a few of my own fears too.

    Best,
    Ronelle Coburn
    Life Purpose Now