Have you ever been so afraid of failing at something that you avoided doing it altogether?
Or, has a fear of failure preventing you from encouraging your own efforts to limit the damage in the event of a greater disaster?
Most people will say yes, at least once in their lives.
However, the majority of people are never even aware of this fear because it is subconsciously controlled by an aversion to risk.
This article explains how to escape the prison of your fears and take control over the choices you make. The fear of failure exists for one reason – risk avoidance.
This is the result of conditioning which tells us that risk is bad, and that everything in life should be safe.
Fear of failure can be overcome by identifying it as a conditioned response, then choosing to override the fear with facts about the consequences involved when things go wrong.
Causes of Fear of Failure
Fear of failure can be developed as a result of many different experiences, some of which aren’t obvious at first. Here is a list of common causes:
- A parent who made you feel inferior or who was overly critical and controlling. This type of parenting instills the belief that you are weak and that it’s someone else’s responsibility to guide you.
- A parent who was unreliable, for example, they changed their mind frequently or displayed an unwillingness to take responsibility for their actions. This type of parenting establishes the belief that it’s not safe to trust anyone and that making your own decisions is wrong.
- Being told at school that you’re stupid or can’t do anything right, or being picked on by other kids and not having the self-confidence to fight back. This type of experience establishes a belief that you’re powerless and it’s inevitable that someone is going to take advantage of you.
- Losing out when competing with someone else in sports, business, educational environment or relationships because they cheated, were more experienced, more attractive or better connected. This type of experience establishes a belief that you’re going to be taken advantage of and you have to fight dirty if you want to win.
- Being cheated on by a partner or being made jealous by someone else who received the affection that was rightfully yours. This type of experience establishes a belief that people who want to play fair are naïve and that you’re going to be taken advantage of.
- Being diagnosed with a serious illness or disease. This experience establishes a belief that life is full of suffering and the only thing that matters is making the most of your time while you can.
These experiences instill beliefs such as: “I’m weak”, “I can’t trust anyone”, “I’m going to be taken advantage of”, “People who want to play fair are naïve” and “Life is full of suffering.”
It’s important to understand that these beliefs aren’t necessarily logical.
The likelihood of someone cheating on you again after a previous relationship has nothing to do with your relationship skills and everything to do with your own lack of integrity.
The chances of you losing out in life because someone else cheats don’t mean you’re naïve, it means they’re dishonest.
These beliefs are subconsciously activated when we experience social competition in the workplace or elsewhere.
We may not consciously think that people who want to play fair are naïve but our brain will cause us to feel uneasy and avoid these people if we think they’ll be a threat.
We may not consciously think that life is full of suffering but we can still feel sad or miserable when things don’t go our way. This is the fear of failure creating feelings that it claims are coming from somewhere else, such as “you’re worried about losing your job”, when in fact this isn’t the case at all.
An Alternative View on Failure
Unhelpful beliefs about failure are the result of conditioning which tells us that risk is bad, and that everything in life should be safe.
Fear of failure can be overcome by identifying it as a conditioned response, then choosing to override it with a logical response.
For example, if you’re feeling uncomfortable because you feel threatened by someone who wants to compete fairly then the fear of failure is preventing you from just asking them how they manage to be that way.
You might even end up avoiding this person completely instead of finding out that they’re actually really nice and good at what they do.
The fear of failure is telling you that the only way to survive in life is by fighting dirty or competing for resources at all costs, but this isn’t really true.
Life is much bigger than what we’re told it should be like and it’s important to remember that everyone has different values.
If you approach every situation with the assumption that everyone is out to harm you then you’re going to miss opportunities for growth and friendship.
You can’t afford to shut everybody else down just because they don’t want to play by the same rules as you.
Impact of the Fear of Failure
The fear of failure doesn’t just affect our relationships and social life, it can also be crippling to other aspects of our life such as our career.
If we’re trying to achieve something in the workplace but we’re hampered by a conditioned response telling us that risks are bad then we’ll resolve the dissonance by pushing risky ideas aside and sticking to the safe ones.
However, this means that we miss out on opportunities to develop our skills further and tap into different areas of expertise outside of what’s expected of us.
The fear of failure can also lead to anxiety about change because it tells us that things are going to go wrong or have a negative outcome. This prevents us from being open to new ideas and challenging the status quo.
Fear of Failure vs Fear of Rejection
Some people get so conditioned to avoid failure that they become afraid of rejection instead. This is different from fear of failure in that it’s usually a social fear and not an intrinsic one.
For example, if someone tries to talk about something personal then we might snap at them or try to change the subject because we don’t want to feel vulnerable.
Avoiding rejection is also hazardous to our career because it can lead us to hide our true talents and interests.
This won’t help us grow or develop professionally but instead have people avoid working with us because they think that we’re difficult to work with.
The fear of failure is a conditioned response that tells us that failing will be catastrophic. However, this isn’t true at all and we’re only holding ourselves back from reaching our full potential by letting it run our lives.
If you want to overcome the fear of failure then you can start by looking out for when it’s affecting your thoughts and behavior. Once you recognize it then you can choose to act against it by making conscious choices instead of letting it dictate how you feel and behave.