Why We All Have Fear of Failure
Sure, fear of failure affects lots of people. But how about you? Let’s start off by taking a short quiz.
Answer each question below honestly:
Do you ever put off doing something because you’re “not sure how it will turn out”?
Do you avoid situations where you will have to try something new in front of people?
Have you ever put off doing something you know will improve your life, even though you have “no good reason” not to do it?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of the above questions, you’re not alone. Most people are in this self-defeating boat with you. But there is a way to get out.
In my 12 years as a practicing hypnotherapist, one thing has become absolutely clear: ask the average person why they haven’t accomplished their goals yet, and fear of failure will always crop up as the #1 block to success for most people, most of the time.
But why is this? There are several reasons. Interestingly, they have nothing to do with being born with low self-confidence. It has everything to do with fear of failure being a socially acceptable behavior.
First let’s make sure we are clear on our definition of “failure.” What kind of failure do we actually fear the most?
Most fear of failure is short-sighted — meaning we don’t generally fear failing to do something well after years of practice, hard work and repetition.
What we really fear is failing to do something right the first time. This bears repeating: What we really fear is failing to do something right the first time.
If you read that sentence, you will begin to see why “fear of failure” is not a useful fear at all. It’s a kind of neurosis that keeps us from attempting to accomplish anything at all.
Is it really reasonable to expect ourselves (or anyone else) to do anything right the first time around? No. Most people require several attempts and lots of practicing to get things right at all. Yet we go on expecting ourselves to “do it right” the first time out of the gate. Crazy, right?
Let’s take a look at what may have caused this strange state of affairs.
If you went to school, then you have almost certainly been trained to fear failure from an early age. Here’s why: Getting the “right” answer the first time is the only thing that is rewarded in most schools. Getting the wrong answer is punished in a variety of ways: low grades, scolding and contempt from teachers and peers.
Failing is certainly not seen as a prerequisite for success. But is “getting it right the first time” really the way entrepreneurs succeed in the real world? Not at all.
When it comes to starting a business, any successful person will tell you that the fastest way to succeed is to jump in, make things happen, and be OK with failing repeatedly. “Fail fast and fail often” is a saying you’ve probably heard in entrepreneurial circles.
However, in school, were you taught to jump in and make things happen, even if that means you didn’t get it right the first time? Were you rewarded for not being afraid to fail? Probably not (unless you were extremely lucky). Most schoolchildren learn early that if they fail, they get a big, red F on their paper — and all the unpleasantness that goes along with that.
This means that by the age of 18, you’ve been very effectively trained to fear failure. You’ve certainly not been trained to embrace failure as a key step in learning.
If you went to school for 12 years, this means that you’ve basically been “in training” to fear failure not for one year, not for two, but for 12 years straight. (If you went on to college, we can extend that to 16 years or more.)
Does this mean that there’s no hope, since you’ve been steadily indoctrinated to fear failure from the age of 5?
Certainly not. If it did, there’d be very few people out there who experience any kind of success; although highly successful people are not the norm, they do exist. How did they do it? Did they simply never experience failure? Were they blessed with a magical existence?
Of course not.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, they learned to “unlearn” the lesson to fear failure. They learned to go after what they want regardless of how often they were probably going to fail. They even learned to embrace failure as a part of getting what they want out of life.
Somewhere along the way, something changed for them.
“Well, great,” you say. “But we can’t all be them, right?”
Most of us are still stuck with a big, ugly Fear of Failure staring us in the face whenever we try to break out of our current reality, go after big goals, or think about learning something new.
However, there are two things you can do to start breaking the cycle, and unlearning the fear of failure so that you can finally go after those big dreams before it’s too late.
- Start “retraining” your brain to go after new things and stretch your comfort zone by taking a class in something you’ve never done before. Yoga, writing, painting, archery — it doesn’t matter what it is. If you’ve never done it before, you’re bound to fail the first few times you try it. This is a great way to relearn how to court failure, and then overcome it on your way to achievement — even if you’ve already achieved a few “wins” in your life. There’s nothing like being a beginner in something to force you to remember that you have to be “bad” at something before you can get “good!”
- You can also use hypnosis to overcome your fear of failure with a free session. If you want to get over your fear even faster, hypnosis is a great option, because by definition it’s “accelerated learning” for the brain. Put this together with option no. 1 and three months from now you could be unstoppable in your fearless pursuit of new achievements.
Even if fear of failure seems like an integrated part of your personality today, it wasn’t always there for you. How do I know that?
Like everyone else on the planet, I bet you were once one-and-a-half years old. Correct? And at that age, you had absolutely no fear of failure. I can say that with confidence because if you were afraid to fail, you’d never have learned to walk!
Somewhere inside there’s a “you” that has absolutely zero fear of failure and wants to try to do everything. Access that brave little person once again, and you can achieve anything.
Knudson, T. (2014). Why We All Have Fear of Failure. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 6, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/06/23/why-we-all-have-fear-of-failure/