How To Deal With The Fear Of Failure

One of the first things that tends to happen when we start to dream big and think about what we really want for our lives (instead of what everyone else tells us that we should want) is that our brains freak out and tell us all the ways why our dreams are not going to work.

It’s like an internal alarm system goes off when you cross the perimeter of your comfort zone and it’s one of those systems that keeps repeating “Warning! Warning!  Fire detected!” until you retreat back to your comfort zone and close the door.

And the most common concern that our brains raise is, “What if you fail?  And look like an idiot to everyone you know?”

To your brain, this prospect feels like death.  Going after what you want is too scary with too many alarm bells ringing, so we decide to sit tight and stay where we are.  Even if we’re not growing or fully utilizing our skills.  Even if we’re not becoming the person that we know in our hearts we were born to be.

But there are ways that you can “reprogram” your built-in alarm system, so that you can start venturing outside of your comfort zone.

You Get To Define What “Failure” Is

Just as nobody else can define what success is for you, nobody else can define what failure is for you, either.  Your definition of failure is basically your thoughts around failure.  And your thoughts are always optional.

For example, say you’re trying to get a manuscript published.  How many queries do you have to make that are rejected or unanswered before you decide that you’ve “failed”? For some people, it will be one query. For others, it might be 50 or 200.  And then some people will not consider themselves to have failed at all until they stop writing and submitting queries.  Those people are so committed to their long-term vision and their passion for writing, that they will never let themselves stop.  And thus, they will never let themselves fail.     

How do you want to define failure?  You can decide that you’ll only really fail if you give up and stop pursuing your goal.  This is a great definition because you always get to decide if you’re going to give up or not.  So whether or not you fail is completely within your control.     

You Get To Decide What It Means About You

Let’s consider two possible approaches to the concept of failure.

  1. There are people who are so frozen with fear about the prospect of failing at anything that they never pursue their dreams at all.
  2. And then there are people who have a standing goal of failing at something, at least five times per week.  They keep a “fail file” and they love to look back at that file and see how far they’ve come.

What’s the difference between the two groups of people?  It’s not their intelligence, it’s not their education, and it’s not their abilities.  It’s their thoughts about what failure means about them.

The people in the first group make failure mean something really terrible about themselves.

Their thought goes something like this: “If I try something and fail, it would mean that I am really stupid, fundamentally flawed, and not worthy as a human being.”  They might not actually be conscious of this thought, but it’s a belief that’s been adopted by their subconscious and it’s having a huge impact on them by creating a paralyzing fear, which prevents them from taking action.  (I mean, who would want to take a significant risk if their very worth were on the line?)

On the other hand, the people in the second group make failure mean something really good about themselves.

Their thought is more like this: “If I try something and fail, it means that I’m putting myself out there, I’m learning by doing, and I’m figuring things out as I go.  The faster I fail, the faster I will learn and grow.”  This way of thinking creates very different emotions, such as motivation and commitment, which drive action.  Massive action.

The fear of failure is likely to still be there at some level because the comfort zone alarm system is pretty much built-in for all humans, but these people are not letting the fear of failure hold them back.  They are acting despite the fear.

It’s kind of like a rollercoaster ride.  We all feel the rush of adrenaline when we’re falling.  Some people think “I could never do that” and so they never do.  Others think “wow, this is going to be a wild ride.”  And so it is.

Which one do you want to choose?

Go forth, fail, grow, and bloom.



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