Whether you’re tackling a new job, launching an entrepreneurial venture or assigned a challenging work project, it’s conceivable that fear of failure may kick in. Fear is, after all, a biological condition that keeps us safe. But while it is a natural human survival instinct, it can also be irrational. In the end, experiencing career failures can be the best thing that ever happens to you. In fact, as Arianna Huffington points out, “Failure isn’t the opposite of success; it’s part of success.”
Fear of failure is basically a fear of shame, and it looks different for everyone. Some people experience feelings of avoidance, anxiety, helplessness and loss of control. You may underestimate your own abilities to avoid feeling disappointed or even tell people that you’ll probably fail to manage expectations.
Yet, it’s impossible to grow professionally or otherwise unless you push yourself beyond your limits. Here are five ways to combat the fear of failure so that you can conquer even the loftiest goals.
Identify the source
The first step is to pinpoint exactly what you’re afraid of. For example, are you concerned that you’ll get fired or look foolish in front of a room full of people? Do you fear rejection? Or are you simply afraid of the unknown? Once you get to the root of the issue, it is easier to understand and challenge it.
There’s a lot to be said about positive thinking—but it’s not enough to conquer the fear of failure. You also need to visualize the obstacles along the way. Gabriele Oettingen, the author of Rethinking Positive Thinking, describes how just dreaming about a goal makes people more frustrated and unhappy over the long term. So instead, she introduces a new way to visualize the future, called mental contrasting. It combines focusing on our goals and visualizing obstacles that may stand in the way.
Oettingen offers a four-step visualization process:
- Visualize your goal in as much detail as possible.
- Visualize the outcome.
- Visualize the obstacles.
- Create a strategy to overcome obstacles and visualize yourself putting that plan into action.
Following this approach will make you significantly more motivated to accomplish your goal.
Start with small goals
When we fear failure, procrastination often sets in. But inaction is exactly what causes anxiety. Instead, break down your larger goal into smaller, actionable steps. This approach helps organize your thoughts, create momentum and build confidence. You will also be less likely to procrastinate because your goal suddenly seems much easier to attain. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Create a fear checklist
Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4-hour Workweek, recommends a technique called “fear-setting.” First, start with three blank pages. On page one, write down everything you fear about the situation, including all the worst-case scenarios, in one column. In the second column, list ways to reduce the likelihood of each of the worst cases from happening. Then in the third column, write down ways you could repair the damage if the situation came true. On page two, list the positive benefits of even an attempt or partial success at taking action. Finally, on page three, consider the consequences of inaction—including the emotional, physical and financial components.
Adopt a growth mindset
When we adopt a learning or growth mindset, we’re able to see failures as learning experiences. According to Dr. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, “individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset.” So, while you may experience a few setbacks along the way, your focus needs to remain on the lessons you’ll take away with you.
Fear of failure can be paralyzing, but it doesn’t have to be. Fear will always be there. The key is acknowledging it and not letting it hold you back from achieving your dream. If it’s something you really want, take that leap of faith. You’ll be glad you did.