Overcoming the Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is one of the greatest fears people have. Fear of failure is closely related to fear of criticism and fear of rejection. Successful people overcome their fear of failure. Fear incapacitates unsuccessful people.

The Law of Feedback states: there is no failure; there is only feedback. Successful people look at mistakes as outcomes or results, not as failure. Unsuccessful people look at mistakes as permanent and personal.

Buckminster Fuller wrote, “Whatever humans have learned had to be learned as a consequence only of trial and error experience. Humans have learned only through mistakes.”

Most people self-limit themselves. Most people do not achieve a fraction of what they are capable of achieving because they are afraid to try because they are afraid they will fail.
Take these steps to overcome your fear of failure and move yourself forward to getting the result you desire:

Step One: Take action. Bold, decisive action. Do something scary. Fear of failure immobilizes you. To overcome this fear, you must act. When you act, act boldly.

Action gives you the power to change the circumstances or the situation. You must overcome the inertia by doing something. Dr. Robert Schuller asks, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” What could you achieve? Be brave and just do it. If it doesn’t work out the way you want, then do something else. But DO SOMETHING NOW.

Step Two: Persist. Successful people just don’t give up. They keep trying different approaches to achieving their outcomes until they finally get the results they want. Unsuccessful people try one thing that doesn’t work and then give up. Often people give up when they are on the threshold of succeeding.

Step Three: Don’t take failure personally. Failure is about behavior, outcomes, and results. Failure is not a personality characteristic. Although what you do may not give you the result you wanted, it doesn’t mean you are a failure. Because you made a mistake, doesn’t mean that you are a failure.

Step Four: Do things differently. If what you are doing isn’t working, do something else. There is an old saying, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” If you’re not getting the results you want, then you must do something different. Most people stop doing anything at all, and this guarantees they won’t be successful.

Step Five: Don’t be so hard on yourself. Hey, if nothing else, you know what doesn’t work. Failure is a judgement or evaluation of behavior. Look at failure as an event or a happening, not as a person.

Step Six: Treat the experience as an opportunity to learn. Think of failure as a learning experience. What did you learn from the experience that will help you in the future? How can you use the experience to improve yourself or your situation? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What was the mistake?
  2. Why did it happen?
  3. How could it have been prevented?
  4. How can I do better next time?

Then use what you learned from the experience to do things differently so you get different results next time. Learn from the experience or ignore it.

Step Seven: Look for possible opportunities that result from the experience. Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, says “every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or a greater benefit.” Look for the opportunity and the benefit.

Step Eight: Fail forward fast. Tom Peters, the management guru, says that in today’s business world, companies must fail forward fast. What he means is that the way we learn is by making mistakes. So if we want to learn at a faster pace, we must make mistakes at a faster pace. The key is that you must learn from the mistakes you make so you don’t repeat them.

Although we all make mistakes, fear of failure doesn’t have to cripple you. As self-help author Susan Jeffers says, “feel the fear and do it anyway.”


Terry Bragg runs a company called Peacemakers Training in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is the author of the book 31 Days to High Self-Esteem. He works with organizations to create a workplace where people want to work, and with managers who want their people to work together better.

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