Why are you so afraid to fail? Why am I? It doesn’t make any actual sense, does it?
You’d think that your default state would be risky, bold, adventurous, and willing to do anything to succeed. Why? Because isn’t that the only logical conclusion you could come to? You only get one life. What’s the point of living below your potential?
Most of the things you and I are afraid of aren’t literally and physically dangerous, just emotionally and psychologically dangerous. What happens if you fail, really? What happens when you’re rejected or embarrassed, really?
The vast majority of people fall prey to the fear of failure when failure is just a construct of the mind. It’s not gravity. You can’t touch it. It’s completely conjured up and the idea of it ruins lives.
It’s sad. This resistance, this self-doubt, causes all sorts of negative ripple effects in our lives, but it’s hard to bring yourself to do anything about it sometimes because, imaginary as the ghost of fear may be, it feels real so it might as well be real.
What do you do about it?
Awareness is key in self-improvement. If you’re aware of why you’re doing what you’re doing, you at least have a fighting shot at changing your behavior.
As far as pushing through those barriers, though, nobody can force you to do anything, but sometimes repetition of these and a deep understanding of your mind can push you over the edge to make that leap in your actions.
To overcome your fear of failure, be aware of your mind’s ability to create stories and narratives. Your personality is a script you use to define reality. That script, and nothing more, dictates what’s possible in your life.
Sure, you can’t think your way into becoming a professional athlete, but barring true anomalies like that, you could do anything you put your mind to. So why don’t you?
You’ve created narratives that keep you from pursuing your goals. Some of them are simple, e.g., “Starting a business is risky.” Just a little societal narrative you’ve adopted. Others are elaborate. You’ve been around someone who has the most detailed stories, reasons, and facts for why they’re in their current position.
You do this to a degree, too. You’re carrying all these memories, even and especially from adolescence, and weaving them into a laundry list of reasons why you can’t be successful. They all sound justifiable, too. And the crazy thing? Sometimes you don’t even know the elaborate story you’re telling yourself because it’s woven in so deep.
In my books and programs, I’ll have people look into their past so they can unearth and articulate those stories. If you know your pitfalls, you can attempt to avoid them.
The number one story we all tell ourselves keeps us from getting what we want. No matter who you are, it’s basically the same.
You think failure says something about you. If you fail, it’s not simply an attempt you didn’t complete successfully. You take it as an attack on your character.
We look at everything in life through our identity. This is why I say ‘woe is me’ types and arrogant people are similar because they both have a large sense of self.
Woe is me people think they’re that important that other people or the universe is out for them. Arrogant people create a grandiose sense of self to protect themselves because they feel insecure.
Either way, all of our actions stem from what we think those actions say about us. You’re not above this. How do I know? Because if you were, you wouldn’t be reading an article about overcoming your fear of failure. You’d be out there doing whatever you want with impunity.
You might tell yourself you’re avoiding something you want to try because you’re being practical, or because you’re planning it out, or because you know you’ll do it eventually when you’re less busy. All stories. And they’re plausible stories, too. But the root of it all is the fact that you think failing means you’re a failure.
But why does that even matter? Even if you did become a failure, what’s the big deal? You have a deep-seated fear of social rejection from your great great great x10 grandparents and it runs you.
Have awareness of this all up-front and understand this counter-narrative deeply. Try to hammer it in your mind.
Your failures don’t say anything about you. Success in life is a mixture of many variables, including luck. Sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce your way. And even if you did everything right and failed because you didn’t have the talent, that also doesn’t say anything about who you are at your core.
The lesson we all struggle with and need to learn is that we paint the context over everything in our lives. Everything. Since you’re a narrating machine, try to change the story you tell yourself about yourself.
Here’s one I find quite useful.
Have you ever considered that ‘failure’ is bringing you closer to your goals?
The thing about trial and error? Once you get into the groove of it and take a few lumps, you start to appreciate how powerful it is. When you’re not trying at all, you imagine every bruise to your ego to be insanely large.
When you start to, you know, actually do something, not only do you see these ego bruises as less damaging, but you appreciate them because you’re getting closer to success by elimination.
You’re not ‘failing.’ You’re eliminating routes that don’t work until you’re left with the ones that do.
Instead of trying to get approval from others, you can think of yourself as actively filtering out the people who should and shouldn’t be in your life, audience, tribe, customer base, whatever. You don’t necessarily want everyone in those categories.
We always create this narrative that we’re trying to get something out of the world by becoming successful. What if we had the narratives that we were already successful and putting ourselves out there is simply a process of getting the right people to realize that?
The more you attempt, the more the universe respects you. The universe itself is a process of randomness, trial and error, growth, entropy, chaos, beauty, elaborate design.
You’re only guaranteed a piece of that potentiality.
You get odds.
When you play a poker game, do you quit because you lost one hand? Do you treat that single hand like your identity as a player? No. You keep playing.
I love the poker analogy because it’s one of the best ways to describe the process of finding success — equal parts luck and skill with bonus points for persistence, practice, and iterating.
I’ve tried many, many, many things in my life that didn’t work. I’ve made many mistakes, some terrible mistakes. But I wouldn’t go back and try to fix anything because perhaps those moments helped me get here, to a place I love.
As much as you’re afraid to fail, you don’t want everything to so smoothly and you don’t want to win on your first attempt. You don’t want constant struggle, but you want some. You don’t want insane difficulty, but you want that feeling that each little setback is moving you to the place you want to be.
The narrative runs deep. And changing it will take time. But even by reading this now, you’re a bit closer.