Ask yourself: what is standing in the way of finding your passion, reaching your goals, and living your dream?
Maybe your immediate answer is money, time, confusion, lack of skills, or low motivation. But if you’re really honest with yourself, it all boils down to fear.
Fear of failure.
Fear of loss.
Fear of rejection.
Fear that you just don’t have what it takes to make it happen.
If you think you’re alone with these feelings, rest assured, you’re not. If you think the successful people around you possess some secret or unique genetic quality, they don’t.
Sure, there are those who might be more naturally confident or have opportunities and resources you don’t have. But then you might have qualities, skills, and resources they don’t possess.
So why is it that some people are able to reach their goals and dreams while others remain stuck? Are they fearless? Do they have a guarantee of success? The answer is no to both questions.
Fear and risk are inherent in virtually any endeavor. Every person on the planet feels some level of anxiety and self-doubt when they attempt to achieve their goals. However, those who ultimately succeed are able to do one thing that those who remain stuck aren’t able to do.
Successful people have learned to accept the discomfort of fear and uncertainty, and in spite of those feelings, they take action.
Fear, self-doubt, and the uncertainty of future success are deeply uncomfortable feelings. They are loaded with the most powerful, self-sabotaging ammunition you can produce — unlimited rounds of “what ifs.”
What if I do the wrong thing or make the wrong choice?
What if I lose my job?
What if I lose all of my money and end up on the street?
What if I embarrasses myself and look stupid?
What if people reject me?
What if I’m not smart enough or capable enough?
These “what ifs” are designed to shoot you down and destroy your confidence, your judgement, and your motivation. They stir up those deeply uncomfortable emotions so that the negative feelings become more powerful than reality. Although “what ifs” might serve you as you assess your risk, they eventually grow out-of-proportion to the true risk and smother your ability to move forward.
If you have a fear of failure that holds you back, here are 7 ways to get unstuck and take action:
1. Recognize that fear is just a feeling.
Fear itself can’t harm you. It is simply an emotion. Fear is available to warn us of imminent danger, but the fear of failure isn’t warning us of imminent danger. It’s warning us of a fabricated outcome at some distant point in the future.
Step outside of your feelings of fear and observe them. View these feelings as habitual reactions to negative thoughts and beliefs. Recognize they are just temporary manifestations in consciousness, but they aren’t reality. When you stop identifying with your fear, it disempowers the feelings.
2. Assess the risk that fear spotlights.
A little bit of fear isn’t such a bad thing. When you’re making a change, going after a goal, or pursuing your dream, you’ll want to realistically calculate the risk. This involves some due diligence on your part — maybe a lot of due diligence depending on the goal. Education will go a long way in reducing your fears.
Find someone or several people who are successfully doing what you what to do. Learn what they did to accomplish their goals. Find out what obstacles and difficulties they had to overcome. Discover what special skills, training, or resources they utilized.
This may involve meeting with these people, reading about them, doing additional research, and asking a lot of questions. Fill in the gaps where you need more training or additional resources. Take into account the differences in your situation and theirs. As you gather this information, you’ll gain more solid evidence about whether or not the risk is acceptable.
Don’t jump into any new venture or goal without knowing exactly what it takes, what the chances of success appear to be, and whether or not failure would be unacceptable.
3. Take small, manageable actions.
Even when you assess the possible risk, you have to take some action toward your goal in order to know what to expect. Often we feel if we begin something, we’re committed to the choice or path — so we get stuck and don’t begin.
However, you can take many small actions in the direction of your goal without compromising your security. In fact, just getting the ball rolling is often enough to assuage your fears.
Write a list of every possible action you’ll need to take to reach your goal or to begin the process. Break down each of these actions into smaller actions. Take one action a day or a few a week. Every few weeks, assess how you’re feeling about your goal and whether or not any further due diligence is needed.
Remember, competence and small successes are key to managing fear of failure. As you take action and become more skilled and knowledgeable, you’ll feel more confident about the possibility for success.
4. Expect fear to spike at big hurdles.
Some of the small actions you’ll take toward your goal will have negligible risk. Let’s say you want to change careers, so you begin the process of researching other opportunities, getting your resume in order, and taking a training program. None of these actions feel very threatening.
But then the time comes to resign from your current job or spend thousands to get your degree. Now you’re making a commitment that could potentially have negative consequences. There’s more risk involved, and you’ll feel the fear of failure more intensely.
If you’ve done your due diligence, weighed the pros and cons, sought advice and feedback from others, and the signs are pointing in the direction of action, then you’ll have to act in spite of your fear. I equate this moment to standing on the end of the high dive as a kid, deciding whether or not to take the plunge. You’ve watched the other kids do it and they survived. Now it’s your turn.
This is the point where you just have to hold your nose, close your eyes, and jump. It takes willpower and determination to spring forward when every part of your being is screaming, “Turn around!” But anyone who has ever reached a goal and succeeded at something important has faced this moment.
Feel the fear, and do it anyway.
5. Reframe your perception of success and failure.
Successful people appear to have reached their goals with ease. But if you pull back the curtain, you’ll discover that for every success, these people had a string of failures that preceded.
In fact, failure is a necessary stepping stone to success. Real success is created on the back of knowledge and experience learned from failures.
Rather than view failure as an indictment of your character or a statement about your capabilities, expect and accept failure as part of the journey toward success. Of course, we’d all like to reach success without any unpleasant or difficult detours, but that rarely happens. There are too many variables and unexpected challenges we meet along the way.
True success has much more to do with how you approach the journey than it does with the ultimate outcome. If you view life as an adventure and every day as a destination, then there won’t be so much hanging on the big success you envision down the road.
Ask yourself each day, “Did I do what I set out to do today? Did I enjoy myself? Did I learn something?” Create as many days as possible where you can answer “yes” to these questions, and you’ll be successful in life.
6. Surround yourself with positivity.
Invariably there will be people in your life who try to pull you down. There will be those who will warn you of doom and gloom and who feel threatened by your positive change.
You may have friends or family whose mere presence creates bad energy. Their negative attitudes, limited world view, or personal fears infect you and diminish your motivation and confidence.
While you are working to manage your fears and reach your goals, limit the amount of time you spend with these people. If you must spend time with them, ask them to use supportive, positive words — or to say nothing at all about your goals if they can’t be positive.
Seek out likeminded, goal-oriented, positive people who lift you up and inspire you to take action. Find meet-ups, forums, conferences, and events where you can engage these people. Listen to positive, uplifting podcasts and TED talks related to your goal, and read inspiring books. Do whatever you can to immerse yourself in positivity.
7. Challenge your thoughts.
I mentioned earlier that fear is a product of negative thinking. The more you ponder and ruminate about the possibilities for failure and the “what ifs,” the more fear you will feel.
If you take the time to examine your negative, fearful thoughts, you’ll discover that most of them hold very little truth — or no truth at all. What are the odds you’ll really lose everything, or that you’ll be completely rejected, or that you really don’t have what it takes?
Don’t allow your thoughts to run rampant without giving them a run for the money. Cross examine your thoughts to ferret out the real truth, and you can manage and even diminish your fears. This is a process you’ll have to repeat many times, as your thoughts want to control you. But you have to take control of your thoughts so they don’t fuel your fears.
Fear of failure doesn’t have to hold you back from achievement and success. Although it may always be present to some degree, fear of failure can be managed and controlled enough to allow you to take action on your goals.
Assessing your risks, creating small successes, and building on your competence will give you the fuel and motivation to move forward and create momentum.
Do you have a fear of failure? Does it seem like a legitimate fear or the result of negative thinking and self-doubt? Please share your experiences in the comments below.