Fear has the power to stop you dead in your tracks, make you doubt yourself, and even lead you to act against your own morals. Yet, when it comes to failure, the fear is very often irrational and counterproductive.
Despite how illogical and needless fear of failure may appear to the observer, it still manages to grip a large number of people throughout society. This debilitating emotion holds people back and steals their chances of living a life true to their dreams and desires.
Where does this fear of failure come from, what else contributes to it, and what can you do to overcome it? These are all questions this article aims to answer for you.
Let’s start with where this paralyzing emotion comes from.
The Real Reason We Fear Failure
When you really start to think about it; when you look at all of the myriad reasons given for fearing failure, they all lead back to one common root. We are afraid to fail because of the hurt such failure might have to our egos.
We look to our future and we envisage the emotional pain we would suffer were we not to succeed in our endeavors. Only it’s not our higher selves that do this, but our egos. It is this abstract part of our being, the part that identifies with the ‘I’ and that sees itself as separate from and vulnerable to the outside world that practices such clairvoyance.
The ego is a closet pessimist; it may show bravado and self-confidence to onlookers, but it is a scared and ultimately downbeat character at heart. The last thing it wants to experience is pain, so it will avoid anything that it sees as risky. It simply can’t bear the idea of putting itself out there; to allow even the slightest chance that it might get hurt.
The reality is that failure represents a major potential threat to our egos, so they come to fear it. Given the hold that the ego so often has on our minds, it should come as no surprise that what it fears, we fear.
Essentially, we are afraid to fail at something because of the emotional pain our egos would experience, not because of any logical or rational reason.
Other Contributing Factors
If the ego is behind our fear of failure, what else plays a role? What makes the ego so sure it would get hurt if failure were to occur?
One large factor is social status and how others perceive us. Whether right or wrong, we believe that failing will be seen as a negative thing in the eyes of others. Or, more accurately, our egos think that we will be laughed at and humiliated should we put our all into something and come up short.
As hurtful as failing in secret would be to our egos, failing openly in front of others would be a thousand times worse. It would cause our egos so much pain that they would struggle to cope.
A second contributing factor to our fear of failure is that, should we fail at something, what becomes of our dreams? If we are so hopeful of realizing our desires, what would become of us should we fail in our attempts?
This also links back to our ego and the pain it would suffer. It is almost impossible for our egos to have dreams of their own – these come from a higher place – so if we try our hardest at something without success, our egos have no capacity to imagine what comes after.
Our egos adopt the dreams that originate in our higher selves and make them a part of their narrative, but because they cannot construct dreams of their own, they are not willing to let go of what they currently have. They cannot envisage what would happen should those dreams be snatched away from them.
So, they instill us with a sense of fear; that we might fail at our dreams and be left without a suitable replacement.
A final factor that plays a role in our fear of failure is that we would not be able to pin the blame on anyone else. Our egos are masters of deflecting criticism and pointing the finger at someone other than themselves. This defense mechanism aims to prevent anything hurtful from penetrating to the core.
The ego is so accustomed to blaming others that it is incapable of accepting responsibility for anything. Trying and failing at something deflates its ability to blame others (although it will still seek to) and leaves it facing its own shortcomings.
This is not a risk that the ego is willing to take. And so it creates a feeling of fear about trying in the first instance.
Now that you know what the root of this fear is, you can start to tackle it and eventually overcome it.
Here are two effective ways to achieve this.
1. Acclimatizing to failure.
Much like you would get your body used to high altitudes before climbing a mountain, you can help acclimatize your ego to failure by exposing it to very small, almost insignificant failures over time.
You might start by trying to learn a new skill such as taking up a second language; this can be done in private and in the comfort of your own home. Start by trying to learn a set of 10 common words from this language. Write them down on a piece of paper with their English equivalents next to them. Simply fold the piece of paper in half so that you can only see the English words and then try to reel off the foreign translations one by one.
Unless you’ve got a photographic memory, you will fail at some words to begin with. This will show the ego that, despite failing, the sky has not fallen in. It will also show it that, after a few days, you will be able to rattle off each of the 10 new words without fail. You will begin to teach it that success often comes after initial failure.
You might then move on to a challenge that involves another person; someone you trust and feel comfortable around. Eventually you can attempt more public feats once your ego’s grip has been loosened and you are ready to face up to the possibility of failure.
This is not always a fast process; it might take many smaller tasks and failures before your ego can be overpowered, leaving you free to chase your dreams.
2. Convincing your ego of the virtues of failure.
Right now your ego sees failure as something which is going to hurt, but what if you could trick it into believing that failure can be pleasurable?
What you need to do is replace the vision of humiliation talked about earlier, with one of pride. You need to convince your ego that the cuts and bruises it might suffer can actually be worn as battle scars to show people how much you fought for something.
This gives the ego a win-win situation because if you succeed, then it can boast, and if you fail it can find glory in your struggle.
How can you do this? One way that might work for you is to check out the inspirational backstories of as many rich and famous people as you can. It is very common for these individuals to have had to battle through hard times, suffer countless setbacks, and yet still come out with success.
Read autobiographies, watch documentaries, even find films about them and you might just be able to persuade your ego that failing and carrying on is a sign of character, determination, and a strong will that others look up to. Adoration is, after all, what the ego wants most and if you make this prize outweigh the risk of failure, you can overcome your fear and achieve what you so desire.
Have you found yourself frozen in fear, unable to attempt something that might end in failure? Has the article above helped you to see a path towards overcoming this fear? Let us know by leaving a comment below.